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- The Boy Scout Aviators - 5/24 -
"It's not the same thing," said Dick, stubbornly. "They're foreigners."
"But you'd be a foreigner if you were over there!" said Harry, with a laugh.
"I suppose I would," said Dick. "I never thought of that! Just the same, I bet Mr. Grenfel was right. London's full of spies. Isn't that an awful idea, Harry? You can't tell who's a spy and who isn't!"
"No, but you can be pretty sure that the man you suspect isn't," suggested Harry, sagely. "A real spy wouldn't let you find it out very easily. I can see one thing and that is a whole lot of perfectly harmless people are going to be arrested as spies before this war is very old, if it does come! We don't want to be mixed up in that, Dick -- we scouts. If we think a man's doing anything suspicious, we'll have to be very sure before we denounce him, or else we won't be any use."
"It's better for a few people to be arrested by mistake than to let a spy keep on spying, isn't it?"
"I suppose so, but we don't want to be like the shepherd's boy who used to try to frighten people by calling 'Wolf! Wolf!' when there wasn't any wolf. You know what happened to him. When a wolf really did come no one believed him. Wo want to look before we leap."
"I suppose you're right, Harry. Oh, I do hope we can really be of some use! If I can't go to the war, I'd like to think I'd had something to do -- that I'd helped when my country needed me!"
"If you feel like that you'll be able to help, all right," said Harry. "I feel that way, too not that I want to fight. I wouldn't want to do that for any country but my own. But I would like to be able to know that I'd had something to do with all that's going to be done."
"I think it's fine for you to be like that," said Dick. "I think there isn't so much difference between us, after all, even if you are American and I'm English. Well, here we are again. I'll see you in the morning, I suppose?"
"Right oh! I'll come around for you early. Goodnight!"
Neither of them really doubted for a moment that war was coming. It was in the air. The attack on the little shop that they had helped to avert was only one of many, although there was no real rioting in London. Such scenes were simply the result of excitement, and no great harm was done anywhere. But the tension of which such attacks were the result was everywhere. For the next three days there was very little for anyone to do.
Everyone was waiting. France and Germany were at war; the news came that the Germans had invaded Luxembourg, and were crossing the Belgian border.
And then, on Tuesday night, came the final news. England had declared war. For the moment the news seemed to stun everyone. It had been expected, and still it came as a surprise. But then London rose to the occasion. There was no hysterical cheering and shouting; everything was quiet. Harry Fleming saw a wonderful sight a whole people aroused and determined. There was no foolish boasting; no one talked of a British general eating his Christmas dinner in Berlin. But even Dick Mercer, excitable and erratic as he had always been, seemed to have undergone a great change.
"My father's going to the war," he told Harry on Wednesday morning. He spoke very seriously. "He was a captain in the Boer War, you know, so he knows something about soldiering. He thinks he'll be taken, though he's a little older than most of the men who'll go. He'll be an officer, of course. And he says I've got to look after the mater when he's gone."
"You can do it, too," said Harry, surprised, despite himself, by the change in his chum's manner. "You seem older than I now, Dick, and I've always thought you were a kid!"
"The pater says we've all got to be men, now," said Dick, steadily. "The mater cried a bit when he said he was going -- but I think she must have known all the time he was going. Because when he told us -- we were at the breakfast table -- she sort of cried a little, and then she stopped.
"I've got everything ready for you,' she said.
"And he looked at her, and smiled. 'So you knew I was going?' he asked her. And she nodded her head, and he got up and kissed her. I never saw him do that before he never did that before, when I was looking on," Dick concluded seriously. "I hope he'll come back all right, Dick," said Harry. "It's hard, old chap!"
"I wouldn't have him stay home for anything!" said Dick, fiercely. "And I will do my share! You see if I don't! I don't care what they want me to do! I'll run errands -- I'll sweep out the floors in the War Office, so that some man can go to war! I'll do anything!"
Somehow Harry realized in that moment how hard it was going to be to beat a country where even the boys felt like that! The change in the usually thoughtless, light-hearted Dick impressed him more than anything else had been able to do with the real meaning of what had come about so suddenly. And he was thankful, too, all at once, that in America the fear and peril of War were so remote. It was glorious, it was thrilling, but it was terrible, too. He wondered how many of the scouts he knew, and how many of those in school would lose their fathers or their brothers in this war that was beginning. Truly, there is no argument for peace that can compare with war itself! Yet how slowly we learn!
Grenfel had gone, and the troop was now in charge of a new scoutmaster, Francis Wharton. Mr. Wharton was a somewhat older man. At first sight he didn't look at all like the man to lead a group of scouts, but that, as it turned out, was due to physical infirmities. One foot had been amputated at the time of the Boer War, in which he had served with Grenfel. As a result he was incapacitated from active service, although, as the scouts soon learned, he had begged to be allowed to go in spite of it. He appeared at the scout headquarters, the pavilion of a small local cricket club, on Wednesday morning.
"I don't know much about this -- more shame to me," he said, cheerfully, standing up to address the boys. "But I think we can make a go of it -- think we'll be able to do something for the Empire, boys. My old friend John Grenfel told me a little; he said you'd pull me through. These are war times and you'll have to do for me what many a company in the army does for a young officer."
They gave him a hearty cheer that was a promise in itself.
"I can tell you I felt pretty bad when I found they wouldn't let me go to the front," he went on. "It seemed hard to have to sit back and read the newspapers when I knew I ought to be doing some of the work. But then Grenfel told me about you boys, and what you meant to do, and I felt better. I saw that there was a chance for me to help, after all. So here I am. These are times when ordinary routine doesn't matter so much you can understand that. Grenfel put the troop at the disposal of the commander at Ealing. And his first request was that I should send two scouts to him at once. Franklin, I believe you are the senior patrol leader? Yes? Then I shall appoint you assistant scoutmaster, as Mr. Greene has not returned from his holiday in France. Will you suggest the names of two scouts for this service?"
Franklin immediately went up to the new scoutmaster, and they spoke together quietly, while a buzz of excited talk rose among the scouts. Who would be honored by the first chance? Every scout there wanted to hear his name called.
"I think they'll take me, for one," said Ernest Graves. He was one of the patrol to which both Harry Fleming and Dick Mercer belonged, and the biggest and oldest scout of the troop, except for Leslie Franklin. He had felt for some time that he should be a patrol leader. Although he excelled in games, and was unquestionably a splendid scout, Graves was not popular, for some reason, among his fellows. He was not exactly unpopular, either; but there was a little resentment at his habit of pushing himself forward.
"I don't see why you should go more than anyone else, Graves," said young Mercer. "I think they'd take the ones who are quickest. We're probably wanted for messenger work."
"Well, I'm the oldest. I ought to have first chance," said Graves.
But the discussion was ended abruptly.
"Fleming! Mercer!" called Mr. Wharton.
They stepped forward, their hands raised in the scout salute, awaiting the scoutmaster's orders. "You will proceed at once, by rail, to Ealing," he said. "There you will report at the barracks, handing this note to the officer of the guard. He will then conduct you to the adjutant or the officer in command, from whom you will take your orders."
"Yes, sir," said both scouts. Their eyes were afire with enthusiasm. But as they passed toward the door, Dick Mercer's quick ears caught a sullen murmur from Graves.
"He's making a fine start," he heard him say to Fatty Wells, who was a great admirer of his. "Picking out an AMERICAN! Why, we're not even sure that he'll be loyal! Did you ever hear of such a thing?"
"You shut up!" cried Dick, fiercely, turning on Graves. "He's as loyal as anyone else! We know as much about him as we do about you, anyhow -- or more! You may be big, but when we get back I'll make you take that back or fight --"
"Come on," said Harry, pulling Dick along with him. "You mustn't start quarreling now - it's time for all of us to stand together, Dick. I don't care what he says, anyhow."
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