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"What was that noise?" asked Jack, instantly, as he busied himself with the levers in an effort to maintain the position of the Eagle.
"That sounded to me like one perfectly good aeroplane going to smash--just like that!" answered Ned, leaning over the rim of the fuselage and peering through the glasses.
"Was it the German who was pursuing us?" asked Harry, eagerly.
"I believe it was," declared Ned. "Yes," he went on, "I can see the smashed plane there beside the train now. That's peculiar!"
"What's peculiar?" asked Jack. "The train being there, or the plane, or what? Please be a little more explicit."
"No nonsense, now!" Ned replied. "I mean its peculiar how that plane came to be smashed that way. I didn't see anything drop on it."
"Perhaps a piece of the machinery gave way as he was starting."
"It needn't worry us a particle to explain how it happened," said Harry. "It's enough to know that the fellow can't chase us."
"That's a good thing, anyway," was Ned's comment.
Had the lads only known how close they had been to being again pursued they might not have felt so easy in their minds, but they assumed that their presence was not known to others than the pilot of the wrecked machine, and therefore felt secure.
"Now it's up to us to make a noise like a drum, I guess," said Jack.
"All right, let's get away from here as quickly as we can. If we hold a course a little south of west we ought to be able to follow the general line of the railroad and be able to overtake or meet Jimmie and Dave before they reach Verdun and are forced into the fighting."
Accordingly Jack increased the speed of the motors and brought the Eagle to the course suggested. Presently they were flying at good speed.
"Ned, I'm afraid," Harry said after some time. "Let's go lower."
"What's the matter, Harry? Does this altitude affect you?"
"Not in the least, except that it's cold. But you see that unless we fly lower the first rays of the rising sun will strike us and we can be seen and located by any one on the ground. They will still be in the deep shadow and we will be in the brighter sunlight."
"I guess you're right, Harry," replied Ned, "and your suggestion is a good one. Suppose we do seek a lower level, Jack."
"All right, hang on to your eye teeth and we'll get onto the toboggan," replied the lad at the levers. "Going down!"
"It's plain we'll have to run quite low from now on," said Ned, as he laid aside the binoculars. "Daylight is coming on rapidly."
"We'll have to find a spot uninhabited enough for us to hide during the daytime," ventured Harry. "We can't let them see us."
"You're right," acquiesced Ned. "Suppose you take the glasses and tell me if that dark spot ahead there looks like a good spot to hide in. It appears to be a forest or at least woods of some sort."
"That's what it is," declared Harry, after an extended observation. "I don't altogether like the looks of the place, for there's a road of some sort running near the woods, but it's perhaps better than no place at all. If we can get to earth without being discovered we can hide behind those trees until dark again."
"Keep a sharp lookout, Ned, while Jack tries to land," advised Harry. "I'll watch from this side and if we see any one who might observe us we can easily be on our way again."
Lower and lower circled the plane under the guidance of Jack, whose experience in handling the great craft well fitted him for the task. With scarcely a bump the machine rested in a little grade not far from a brook overshadowed by the arching branches of trees.
"There!" sighed Ned, clambering from the fuselage and springing to earth. "The Eagle is a good little machine, all right, but it seems good to get the ground under foot once more."
"And I'm glad that we came down when we did, for a little longer up there," said Jack, pointing to the graying eastern sky, "and we'd have been fair targets for any old 'Schutzenfest' these chaps wanted."
"Right you are!" declared Harry. "And now what I'd like would be a real old fashioned imitation of three boys eating a hearty breakfast. Just a plain, common, every-day square meal, I mean."
"This is a pretty place," observed Ned, "all sheltered and obscure. We ought to be able to get a dandy bath there in that brook and then make whatever breakfast we want off the supplies we got from Peremysl."
"My appetite is just about now equal to that of our absent and red-headed friend McGraw," said Harry with a laugh. "I'm hungry."
"A bath first," cried Ned, beginning to disrobe, "then the eats."
Soon the lads had divested themselves of the German uniforms and were enjoying the plunge in the cool, clear water of the brook. Presently they emerged from the stream and again donned the uniforms they had taken from the room that was intended as a prison.
"Now," said Ned, as the three were again dressed, "what shall be the menu of the morning? With this glorious sun peeping over the tops of the hills to the eastward of us we ought to have a fine breakfast. The weather looks mighty fine."
"Yes," agreed Jack, "but it don't sound very fine. I thought I heard a rumble of thunder just now. Did you hear it?"
"No," replied Ned, "I can't say I did. Was it thunder?"
"Sounded like it," declared Jack. "There it goes again!"
"That don't sound like thunder exactly," said Harry. "I wonder what it can be. I thought it was a wagon passing a bridge."
Ned's face went rather pale as he faced his comrades.
"Boys," he stated, "I believe that must be the sound of cannon firing we hear. It is coming more regularly now!"
"Then we're pretty close to Verdun," was Harry's rejoinder.
"Yes, that's my idea, too," said Ned. "Let's get breakfast and be prepared for whatever may happen. We don't know what may come along so close to the lines as we are now, and we must not be napping."
"I'll get a bucket of water from the brook," volunteered Jack, "while you and Harry make ready the fire and get out the provisions."
"There's plenty of wood hereabouts, I see," put in Harry, "so I'll gather some wood for a fire and have it burned down to coals in no time."
"I rather think," objected Ned, "that we should not use wood."
"And why not, if you please, Mr. Scout Master?" asked Harry.
"Because wood lying on the ground has more or less dampness in it and is apt to give off a smoke that might be seen by some one."
"Always on the lookout for trouble!" declared Jack, as he took the bucket and started for the brook. "Well, make a fire of any thing."
"Quite the contrary, Jack, as you know," protested Ned, laughingly. "I'm only trying to avoid trouble as much as possible, and a smoke now in this place would be a direct invitation to some one to investigate."
"Right again," returned Jack, "go to the head of the class."
"What shall I use, then, if not wood?" asked Harry.
"Make a gasoline stove like we used to do when we had plenty of fuel," answered Ned. "We have sufficient so we can spare a small amount."
"Perhaps you'd better make the stove, Ned," said Harry. "You're better at it than I am. You've had more experience. I'll get the supplies out of the boxes. We'll want coffee, of course."
"Yes," agreed Ned, "bring some coffee, to be sure, and try to find that tin of bacon. I feel just like having a strip of bacon done nice and crisp. It begins to smell good already."
"How'd you like a nice Spanish omelette and French fried potatoes with some hot Parker House rolls and lots of rich yellow butter?"
"Hush, boy, you'll have me so fussed up I can't light the fire," protested Ned. "I guess Jimmie's affliction is catching. I'm certainly getting an appetite or the appetite is getting me!"
He proceeded to at once prepare the "stove" by sharpening a stick about the size of a broom handle. When it was completed he thrust the sharp end into the soft earth and then withdrew it, leaving a hole about a foot or more deep. Another hole was made a short distance from the first, but slanted so that the lower ends would meet. The second hole was plugged up with a bit of turf.
"Now, then," said Ned, as he finished the first 'stove', "we want some gas. Can you bring it or shall I get it?"
"Here's the can," answered Harry, "I can fetch it. Make another."
Jack meanwhile had returned with the bucket of water and had filled the coffee pot, into which he put a quantity of coffee. This was then placed over one of the "stoves," while on the other was placed a bucket containing a quantity of beans, together with some of the cereal "sausage" found amongst the Russian supplies.
Presently the lads were sniffing, as an appetizing odor filled the air. A can of bacon was opened and set to sizzling in a frying pan.
"Wonder where we are, any how?" remarked Ned as the lads lay stretched at full length on the grass, waiting for the stew to cook.
"Don't know," responded Jack, removing the frying pan from the fire. "Suppose after we eat we get the wireless to work?"
"Good idea," remarked Ned, as the three gathered about the pot of stew. "After breakfast we'll draw straws to see who does the dishes and the other two will string the aerials."
"There won't be any dishes to wash," declared Harry, "if you fellows are as hungry as I am. There won't be any need."
"Maybe so," laughed Ned, helping himself to the bacon and coffee.
For a time the boys gave themselves over to a discussion of the most excellent breakfast. When they had finished, Ned said:
"Now, Jack, you and Harry get out the wireless while I clean up."
In a few moments the two were busy at their task selecting two small trees not far apart to act as masts. The equipment that had been stowed in one of the lockers was spread on the grass and they waited for Ned to return from the brook, where he had gone to wash the dishes.
"All right, Ned," said Jack. "Turn on the juice and we'll go."
Ned stepped to the aeroplane and started the engine in an attempt to operate the dynamo. No explosions followed his efforts.
"The engine's stalled!" he cried. "What's the matter?"
"Why, the spark plugs are gone!" declared Ned. "And look here," he went on, "here are tracks showing some one has been here!"
Jack and Harry sprang to the side of their chum. They easily detected the tracks mentioned by Ned. They were those of a man wearing heavy shoes or boots and led away through the thicket.
"After him, boys, while the tracks are fresh," said Jack.
All three boys began to follow the tracks. They led around a clump of brush near the aeroplane and seemed to be pointing in the direction of the hilltop to the westward.
"What's this?" said Jack. "Looks like other tracks here."
The lads gathered closely about the spot. A lasso whizzed through the air and settled about their shoulders. A jerk brought them locked close together. Another tripped them into a heap.
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