Chapter XV -- A Daring Ruse
Harry, furious as he was when he saw Graves allowed to go off after false accusation that had caused his arrest, was still able to control himself sufficiently to think. He was beginning to see the whole plot now, or to think he saw it. He remembered things that had seemed trivial at the time of their occurrence, but that loomed up importantly now. And one of the first things he realized was that he was probably in no great danger, that the charge against him had not been made with the serious idea of securing his conviction, but simply to cause his detention for a little while, and to discredit any information he might have.
He could no longer doubt that Graves was in league with the spies on whose trail he and Dick had fallen. And he understood that, if he kept quiet, all would soon be all right for him. But if he did that, the plans of the Germans would succeed. He had already seen an example of what they could do, in the destruction of the water works. And it seemed to him that it would be a poor thing to fail in what he had undertaken simply to save himself. As soon as he reached that conclusion he knew what he must do, or, at all events, what he must try to do.
For the officer who had arrested him he felt a good deal of contempt. While it was true that orders had to be obeyed, there was no reason, Harry felt, why the lieutenant should not have shown some discretion. An officer of the regular army would have done so, he felt. But this man looked unintelligent and stupid. Harry felt that he might safely reply on his appearance. And he was right. The officer found himself in a quandary at once. His men were mounted on cycles; Harry was on foot. And Harry saw that he didn't quite know what to do.
Finally he cut the Gordian knot, as it seemed to him, by impounding a bicycle from a passing wheelman, who protested vigorously but in vain. All he got for his cycle was a scrap of paper, stating that it had been requisitioned for army use. And Harry was instructed to mount this machine and ride along between two of the territorial soldiers. He had been hoping for something like that, but had hardly dared to expect it. He had fully made up his mind now to take all the risks he would run by trying to escape. He could not get clear away, that much he knew. But now he, too, like Graves, needed a little time. He did not mind being recaptured in a short time if, in the meantime, he could be free to do what he wanted.
As to just how he would try to get away, he did not try to plan. He felt that somewhere along the route some chance would present itself, and that it would be better to trust to that than to make some plan. He was ordered to the front of the squad - so that a better eye could be kept upon him, as the lieutenant put it. Harry had irritated him by his attempts to cause a change in the disposition of Graves and himself, and the officer gave the impression now that he regarded Harry as a desperate criminal, already tried and convicted.
Harry counted upon the traffic, sure to increase as it grew later, to give him his chance. Something accidental, he knew, there must be, or he would not be able to get away. And it was not long before his chance came. As they crossed a wide street there was a sudden outburst of shouting. A runaway horse, dragging a delivery cart, came rushing down on the squad, and in a moment it was broken up and confused. Harry seized the chance. His bicycle, by a lucky chance, was a high geared machine and before anyone knew he had gone he had turned a corner. In a moment he threw himself off the machine, dragged it into a shop, ran out, and in a moment dashed into another shop, crowded with customers. And there for a moment, he stayed. There was a hue and cry outside. He saw uniformed men, on bicycles, dashing by. He even rushed to the door with the crowd in the shop to see what was amiss! And, when the chase had passed, he walked out, very calmly, though his heart was in his mouth, and quite unmolested got aboard a passing tram car.
He was counting on the stupidity and lack of imagination of the lieutenant, and his course was hardly as bold as it seemed. As a matter of fact it was his one chance to escape. He knew what the officer would think - that, being in flight, he would try to get away as quickly as possible from the scene of his escape. And so, by staying there, he was in the one place where on one would think of looking for him!
On the tram car he was fairly safe. It happened, fortunately, that he had plenty of money with him. And his first move, when he felt it was safe, was to get off the tram and look for a cab. He found a taxicab in a short time, one of those that had escaped requisition by the government, and in this he drove to an outfitting shop, were he bought new clothes. He reasoned that he would be looked for all over, and that if, instead of appearing as a Boy Scout in character dress of the organization, he was in ordinary clothes, he would have a better chance. He managed the change easily, and then felt that it was safe for him to try and get into communication with Dick.
In this attempt luck was with him again. He called for the number of the vicarage at Bray, only to find that the call was interrupted again at the nearest telephone center. But this time he was asked to wait, and in a minute he heard Jack Young's voice in his ear.
"We came over to explain about the wire's being cut," said Jack. "Dick's all right. He's here with me. Where are you? We've got to see you just as soon as we can."
"In London, but I'm coming down. I'm going to try to get a motor car, too. I'm in a lot of trouble, Jack - it's Graves."
"Come on down. We'll walk out along the road towards London and meet you. We've got a lot to tell you, but I'm afraid to talk about it over the telephone."
"All right! I'll keep my eyes open for you."
Getting a motor car was not easy. A great many had been taken by the government. But Harry remembered that one was owned by a business friend of his father's, an American, and this, with some difficulty, he managed to borrow. He was known as a careful driver. He had learned to drive his father's car at home, and Mr. Armstrong knew it. And so, when Harry explained that it was a matter of the greatest urgency, he got it - since he had established a reputation for honor that made Mr. Armstrong understand that when Harry said a thing was urgent, urgent it must be.
Getting out of London was easy. If a search was being made for him - and he had no doubt that that was true - he found no evidence of it. His change of clothes was probably what saved him, for it altered his appearance greatly. So he came near to Bray, and finally met his two friends.