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- The Boy Allies with Haig in Flanders - 3/33 -
"One moment, sir," he said, "and I'll be with you."
Deliberately he drew back his arm again, and, a moment later his last bomb was hurled into the foe. As the explosion resounded from the German trenches, Briggs leaped down lightly, approached Hal and Chester, and saluted.
"I'm ready now, sir," he said.
"Then run!" cried Hal.
The four suited the action to the word, and dashed back toward the American trenches. From behind a volley a rifle fire crackled after them.
"Anybody hit?" cried Hal, as they dashed along.
There were four negative answers.
Five minutes later the four were safe in the American trenches.
A DANGEROUS MISSION
It was noon of the following day. Hal and Chester stood at attention before General Pershing, the American commander-in-chief. The latter gazed at them long and earnestly. With a half shrug he muttered, as he turned to his desk:
"But they are so young."
The words were not meant for the lads' ears, but Hal and Chester overheard them. Hal spoke:
"If you please, Sir," he said quietly, "we are not so young as you seem to believe. To me, Sir, our experience seems very old."
General Pershing glanced up from a pile of papers he was perusing. Again he looked at the two lads in silence. The two boys bore the close scrutiny unflinchingly. At length General Pershing got to his feet, and, approaching Hal and Chester, laid a. hand on the shoulder of each.
"You are brave youngsters," he said quietly. "From what you have done since the American troops reached France, I know that Marshal Joffre and General Haig have not spoken too highly of you; and yet," here the American commander hesitated a moment before continuing; "and yet the piece of work I have in sight will entail, perhaps, more danger, more finesse, and more resourcefulness than any mission you have ever undertaken."
"You will find that we shall not be found wanting, sir," said Chester respectfully.
"I am sure of that," was General Pershing's response. "It isn't that I question your courage or your resourcefulness; but, because of your youth, in this particular business, I question your wisdom. It is a task for older and wiser heads, but --"
General Pershing broke off and became silent. Hal and Chester did not interrupt his meditations. At length the general continued:
"I wish to say before going any further that this mission, if you undertake it, in all probabilities, will mean death for one of you. It is for this reason that the task in hand requires the services of at least two men. One to go and come back, and the other to go -- and come back if he can. It may be that neither will return, and yet one must return if the safety of his country is to be maintained."
"We shall do our best, sir, if we are entrusted with the mission," said Chester quietly.
Again General Pershing hesitated. Then he took his decision.
"Draw up stools here," he said, and made room at his desk.
The lads did so. General Pershing spoke in a low voice.
"You both undoubtedly know," he said, "that since the American declaration of war on Germany, the activity of German agents and spies in the United States has grown to startling dimensions?" The lads nodded and General Pershing continued: "Very good. Now, I have before me a cable, in code, from the state department, which advises me that the department of state must have, at all hazards, a list of the most important German agents in America. It is essential. Here," the general pushed a slip of paper in front of the lads, "is the translation of the code message."
Hal and Chester glanced at the paper. It read:
"German prime minister has lists of agents and spies in United States. Realize it is not in your province to get list, but would enlist your aid, because our diplomatic agents have all left Germany. List is essential to safeguarding coast defenses and munitions plants. Do what you can."
The message was signed by the secretary of state.
Hal passed the paper back to General Pershing. The latter eyed him keenly.
"'You realize the dangerous nature of the work?" he questioned.
"Perfectly, sir; also its importance. We shall be glad to undertake it, sir."
"Very well. Now I have a little information that may be of value. In another code message from the state department I am advised that efforts are being made to get a member of the diplomatic staff back into Berlin. There is one person in the German capital whom you may trust." General Pershing lowered his voice. "That person," he said, "is the wife of the German undersecretary for foreign affairs. She is an American woman, and upon several occasions has been of service to her own country. Her name is Schweiring."
"We shall remember, sir," said Chester.
"Now," said General Pershing, "I have no advice to offer as to how you shall reach Berlin, nor how you shall go about your work. Once in Berlin, however, you will have to be governed by circumstances. You speak German, I am told?"
"Like natives, sir," said Hal with a grin.
"Very well. I shall see that you are granted indefinite leave of absence. There is just one thing more. I want to say that I do not like to ask my men to become spies."
"Why, sir," said Chester gravely, "it's all for our country; and the day when a spy was looked down upon has gone. It is just another way of serving ones country, sir."
"Nevertheless," said General Pershing, "the punishment is the same as it has been down the ages: death."
"If caught," Hal added with a smile.
"True," was his commander's response, and a slight smile lighted, up his own features.
He arose and extended his hand. Both lads shook it heartily.
"I hope," said General Pershing, "that you may both come through safely. But if you don't -- well, good-bye. I don't need to tell you that if one can get through with the list that, from the nation's standpoint, what happens to the other is insignificant."
"I have a request to make, sir," said Hal, as they turned to go.
"Consider it granted," replied his commander.
"It is this," said Hal. "I believe that it would be well for us to take a third man along. It may be that he will never reach the German lines, but he should prove of help for the other two."
"Have you the man in mind?" asked General Pershing.
"Yes, sir. A man named McKenzie, a private in our troop. He's a Canadian, and has seen years of active service. Also, as I happen to know, he speaks German fluently."
"I shall give you a paper authorizing his indefinite leave of absence," said General Pershing.
He scribbled a few words on a piece of paper, and passed it to the lad. The boys drew themselves to attention, saluted, and left.
"A pretty ticklish piece of business," said Chester quietly, as they made their way to their own quarters.
"Rather," said Hal dryly; "and still it must be done. The safety of America depends upon the success of our mission. It may be well that it has been entrusted to us rather than to older men. We are less likely to be suspected if we reach Berlin safely. Besides, we have been there before, and are somewhat familiar with the city."
"Yes," said Chester grimly, "we've been there several times before. I recall that we went there once very much against our will -- prisoners."
"Well, we didn't stay very long," said Hal.
"Let's hope we don't stay for keeps this time either," said Chester. "To tell the truth, I don't think much of this spy business myself."
"Somebody has to do it," Hal declared.
"Of course, but I am not very fond of that sort of work."
"If you don't want to go -" Hal began, but Chester interrupted.
"Of course, I want to go if it must be. I am ready to do what I can for my country in whatever way I may."
"I knew it," said Hal; "I was only fooling. Come, we will acquaint
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