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- The Boy Scout Aviators - 6/24 -


He managed to get his fiery chum outside, and they hurried along, at the scout pace, running and walking alternately, toward the West Kensington station of the Underground Railway. They were in their khaki scout uniforms, and several people turned to smile admiringly at them. The newspapers had already announced that the Boy Scouts had turned out unanimously to do whatever service they could, and it was a time when women -- and it was mostly women who were in the streets -- were disposed to display their admiration of those who were working for the country very freely.

They had little to say to one another as they hurried along; their pace was such as to make it wise for them to save their breath. But when they reached the station they found they had some minutes to wait for a train, and they sat down on the platform to get their breath. They had already had one proof of the difference made by a state of war.

Harry stopped at the ticket window.

"Two-third class -- for Ealing," he said, putting down the money. But the agent only smiled, having seen their uniforms.

"On the public service ?" he questioned.

"Yes," said Harry, rather proudly.

"Then you don't need tickets," said the agent. "Got my orders this morning. No one in uniform has to pay. Go right through, and ride first-class, if you like. You'll find plenty of officers riding that way."

"That's fine!" said Dick. "It makes it seem as if we were really of some use, doesn't it, Harry?"

"Yes," answered Harry. "But, Dick, I've been thinking of what you said to Graves. What did you mean when you told him you knew more about me than you did about him? Hasn't he lived here a long time?"

"No, and there's a little mystery about him. Don't you know it?"

"Never heard of such a thing, Dick. You see, I haven't been here so very long and he was in the patrol when I joined.",

"Oh, yes, so he was! Well, I'll tell you, then. You know he's studying to be an engineer, at the Polytechnic. And he lives at a boarding house, all by himself. Not a regular boarding house, exactly. He boards with Mrs. Johnson, you know. Her husband died a year or two ago, and didn't leave her very much money. He hasn't any father or mother, but he always seems to have plenty of money. And he can play all sorts of games, but he won't do them up right. He says he doesn't care anything about cricket!"

"How old is he?"

"Sixteen, but he's awfully big and strong."

"He certainly is. He looks older than that, to me. Have you ever noticed anything funny about the way he talks?"

"No. Why? Have you?"

"I'm not sure. But sometimes it seems to me he talks more like the people do in a book than you and I do. I wonder why he doesn't like me?" pondered Harry.

"Oh, he likes you as well as he does anyone, Harry. He didn't mean anything, I fancy, when he said that about your being chosen just now. He was squiffed because Mr. Wharton didn't take him, that's all. He thinks he ought to be ahead of everyone."

"Well, I didn't ask to be chosen. I'm glad I was, of course, but I didn't expect to be. I think perhaps Leslie Franklin asked Mr. Wharton to take me."

"Of course he did! Why shouldn't he?"

Just then the coming of the train cut them short. From almost every window men in uniform looked out. A few of the soldiers laughed at their scout garb, but most of them only smiled gravely, and as if they were well pleased. The two scouts made for the nearest compartment, and found, when they were in it, that it was a first-class carriage, already containing two young officers who were smoking and chatting together.

"Hullo, young 'uns!" said one of the officers. "Off to the war?"

They both laughed, which Harry rather resented. "We're under orders, sir," he said, politely. "But, of course, they won't let us Scouts go to the war."

"Don't rag them, Cecil," said the other officer. "They're just the sort we need. Going to Ealing, boys?"

Harry checked Dick's impulsive answer with a quick snatch at his elbow. He looked his questioner straight in the eye.

"We weren't told to answer any questions, sir," he said.

Both the officers roared with laughter, but they sobered quickly, and the one who had asked the question flushed a little.

"I beg your pardon, my boy," he said. "The question is withdrawn. You're perfectly right - and you're setting us an example by taking things seriously. This war isn't going to be a lark. But you can tell me a few things. You're scouts, I see. I was myself, once - before I went to Sandhurst. What troop and patrol?"

Dick told him, and the officer nodded.

"Good work!" he said. "The scouts are going to turn out and help, he? That's splendid! There'll be work enough to go all around, never you fear."

"If, by any chance, you should be going to Ealing Barracks," said the first officer, rather shyly, "and we should get off the train when you do, there's no reason why you shouldn't let us drive you out, is there? We're going there, and I don't mind telling you that we've just finished a two hour leave to go and say good-bye to - to -"

His voice broke a little at that. In spite of his light-hearted manner and his rather chaffing tone, he couldn't help remembering that good-bye. He was going to face whatever fate might come, but thoughts of those he might not see again could not be prevented from obtruding themselves.

"Shut up, Cecil," said the other. "We've said good-bye - that's the end of it! We've got other things to think of now. Here we are!"

The train pulled into Ealing station. Here the evidences of war and the warlike preparations were everywhere. The platforms were full of soldiers, laughing, jostling one another, saluting the officers who passed among them. And Harry, as he and Dick followed the officers toward the gate, saw one curious thing. A sentry stood by the railway official who was taking up tickets, and two or three times he stopped and questioned civilian passengers. Two of these, moreover, he ordered into the ticket office, where, as he went by, Harry saw an officer, seated at a desk, examining civilians.

Ealing, as a place where many troops were quartered, was plainly very much under martial law. And outside the station it was even more military. Soldiers were all about and automobiles were racing around, too. And there were many women and children here, to bid farewell to the soldiers who were going - where? No one knew. That was the mystery of the morning. Everyone understood that the troops were off; that they had their orders. But not even the officers themselves knew where, it seemed.

"Here we are - here's a car!" said the officer called Cecil. "Jump aboard, young 'uns! We know where you're going, right enough. Might as well save some time."

And so in a few minutes they reached the great barracks. Here the bustle that had been so marked about the station was absent. All was quiet. They were challenged by a sentry and Harry asked for the officer of the guard. When he came he handed him Wharton's letter. They were told to wait - outside. And then, in a few minutes, the officer returned, passed them through, and turned them over to an orderly, who took them to the room where Colonel Throckmorton, who was seemingly in charge of important affairs, received them. He returned their salute, then bent a rather stern gaze upon them before he spoke.

Chapter IV

The House of the Heliograph

"You know your way about London?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," said Harry.

"I shall have messages for you to carry," said the colonel, then. "Now I want to explain, so that you will understand the importance of this, why you are going to be allowed to do this work. This war has come suddenly -- but we are sure that the enemy has expected it for a long time, and has made plans accordingly.

"There are certain matters so important, so secret, that we are afraid to trust them to the telephone, the telegraph -- even the post, if that were quick enough! In a short time we shall have weeded out all the spies. Until then we have to exercise the greatest care. And it has been decided to accept the offer of Boy Scouts because the spies we feel we must guard against are less likely to suspect boys than men. I am going to give you some dispatches now -- what they are is a secret. You take them to Major French, at Waterloo station."

He stopped, apparently expecting them to speak. But neither said anything.

"No questions?" he asked, sternly.


The Boy Scout Aviators - 6/24

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