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- The Boy Scouts in Front of Warsaw - 10/23 -
'Give us the children and set us free, and you may come," said Ivan after a pause.
"No; you are too amusing," said the woman. "Rather we will take you with us, or else leave you safely locked here where no one shall disturb you."
Ivan looked at the worn and haggard children and the form of Warren now stirring slightly, then he handed the great ruby to Michael.
"Take, this and let us go," he pleaded.
The man looked wonderingly at the flashing stone. "So you too help yourself in these war times?" he said sneeringly. "What else do you carry, little rat?"
He ran a practiced, light fingered hand over Ivan, searching for more jewels, but of course found none.
Night seemed to come all at once in the dark and partly underground room. Warren, untended, came slowly back to consciousness, and lay where he had fallen in a sort of doze. Little Elinor crept to him and, laying her head on his shoulder, went to sleep. Presently Martha began to yawn, and the men nodded where they sprawled on the benches. The woman drew out an armful of rags, and prepared for the night by wrapping another shawl around her shoulders.
The men rose after a whispered consultation, and taking Ivan to the furthest and darkest corner, tied him securely to a ring in the wall. His bonds were loose enough to permit him to lie down on the hard earth and stone floor, but he sat with his back against the wall, wide awake, every nerve tense and quivering.
Twice Michael came and looked at him in the light of a torch from the fire, and retreated muttering. Ivan decided to pretend sleep. The third time Michael gave a grunt of satisfaction.
He went back to the fire and beckoned the others from their pallets.
"He is dead asleep," he said in a low whisper. "We must make our plans."
"Good!" said the woman. "What do you want to do about it?"
She too whispered in a low tone and it struck Ivan that for some strange reason he was listening to a conversation spoken in tones that ordinarily could not be heard three feet away from the speakers. He listened intently. Every syllable was clear and distinct. Owing to some peculiar formation of the vaulted ceiling, the sounds were brought to him, forty feet from the speakers, as accurately as though spoken into a telephone. Ivan's courage rose once more.
He heard the man Michael light his pipe.
"I don't know," he said.
"Of course not!" sneered the woman. "You never do! I suppose you don't want to kill them?"
"What's the use?" asked the man. "Why blacken our souls further than we must?"
"I'll tell you why," said Martha suddenly. Her whisper cut like a knife. "I'll tell you. Because I fear them. Boys as they are, I fear them! There is a spirit in the eyes of the one who calls himself Ivan that will never die until death blinds them. The little rat! The smart little rat! Calling himself a prince! My, I wish I had had the training of him. Well, whoever he is, he is a Pole, and he will hurt us yet. I feel it. I can feel it, anyway, that harm will come to us through those boys. I warn you, Michael. Patro, I warn you.
Once, twice, thrice! You know I never fail."
There was a silence, and Ivan heard Patro catch his breath sharply.
"Well, what would you?" he said finally.
There was a note of triumph in the woman's voice when she spoke.
"Tomorrow night," she said, "we will leave them here, tied to the table. I will leave food on the table for them, just enough for one meal. I have still my little friends in the pill box on the chimney ledge. They are as strong as ever. We will not stay to see whether they eat or not. But I think they will, because I will see to it that they do not taste much food tomorrow. We will lock the door. I will go down to Prague. They say it is but little harmed, and I have a sister there. I will give the smaller child to her. I have a fancy for the light one myself, and they are too unlike to pass off for sisters."
There was a long pause. Then, "Have it as you like," said Michael. "Of course, the boys will bother a good deal, if they go free."
"Certainly they would," said Martha. "We would never know where they would crop up, especially that Ivan one."
"Suppose they do not eat?" asked Patro.
"Eat, eat!" cried Martha. "Well, know you nothing of boys! And they will suspect nothing. You are brutes, brutes, remember, and I so kind and so sorry," she laughed. "They will believe all I say," she added.
Michael nodded. "Then it is settled," he said.
In the United States, every possible precaution is taken to protect children from harm. Laws are made especially for their safety; societies exist in every town and city to look after them. They go unharmed through the streets. Noble men and women give their lives to visiting the poorest districts and making easier the lot of the unfortunate ones they find there. Special cases are frequently written up in the papers, and help found for them in that way. In factories, shops, stores, asylums, in the streets, in the slums, every possible, effort is made to make the lot of children an easier and happier one.
In a great number of the European countries, the case is different. There are no laws, for instance, governing the age at which a child shall be put to work. In fact, in order to keep body and soul together, children labor from the time they are babies. They do the work of farm animals when their little hands can scarcely grasp the implements of toil. There are many, oh, so many of them; and they are held cheaply. Poorly clothed, poorly fed, they take kindly to theft, as a means of getting the necessities of their bare, miserable little lives.
Once upon a time, there was a dark and dreadful age when making cripples and dwarfs was a regular trade. Children were taken (nearly always stolen ones) and their limbs twisted, or their faces distorted, in order to gain sympathy from the passersby, of whom they were taught to beg. That frightful time is long past; but the trades of begging and thieving are still taught.
And to criminals like those in whose hands the children had fallen, life, and child life especially, was too cheap and of too little account to matter much. They did not in the least mind the contemplation of a crime as horrible as the one they had just decided on. They were afraid of the bright, alert Scouts who had fallen into their clutches, and to them there was but one way to treat the matter -- the shackles and the poisoned food.
TO THE RESCUE
After this there was silence. The men slept with snores and grunts an they moved uneasily on their hard beds, and Ivan slept only at intervals. He was anxious to know whether the conversation had been heard by Warren, but did not dare to communicate with him in any way, although he could hear an occasional sigh as though his friend was suffering pain. Warren was indeed feeling badly from the blow that had nearly broken his skull. Fortunately the weapon, a piece of iron shod wood, had glanced and so saved his life. But his head ached worse than he had thought a head could ache; and when he finally came out of the, daze of the blow, he slept only in a sort of stupor. He had not heard the conversation that had been listened to so eagerly by Ivan, and so was at least saved that anxiety.
Day came, and to Ivan, who was prepared, there were signs of departure. Warren, who still lay silent on his pallet of rags, did not seem to see anything. He did not eat, but accepted a cup of' water from the woman's hand.
Elinor clung to him, and the woman did not object.
Ivan was afraid to speak to any of them. The day dragged away, and finally (it seemed years) the room grew so dark that Ivan knew that night must be approaching. Soon he would know their fate. It was uncertain, because he knew that at any time in the day they might have decided not to leave their death to the poisoned food, but to shoot them to death before leaving the place.
However, Martha commenced the preparation of the meal that was meant for supper, and Ivan noticed that she had made more than usual.
A crust of dry bread and a cup of water was given to Warren, and the same fare thrown on the floor beside Ivan, who did not eat it and watched anxiously to see if Warren would taste his. But the boy shook his head.
"Never mind," said the woman, slyly looking over to the door where the men were bundling some ragged garments in a big square of cloth.
"Never mind. I am sorry for you, my poor boy. Soon those brutes will take us away, but I will leave one good meal for you. I promise you that if they beat me for it you shall be decently fed for once. And I am a good cook; you shall see!"
Ivan shivered. Then as the woman turned to the fire and rattled the pans, he said sharply in English:
"Warren, do not eat!"
The three turned threateningly as he spoke, but as he made no effort to continue the speech in what was to them an unknown tongue, they once more went about their tasks. As they became interested in the tasks
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