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"What's coming off here?" asked Jimmie, jumping to his feet.
"Halt!" cried the voice from the shrubbery again as Jimmie rose.
"Who's there?" asked the lad, wheeling toward the low undergrowth which concealed their visitor. "Come out into the open if you dare."
"Ach, yes!" replied the other. "I dare come out. You will all stand--and in a line, please. Aber you don'dt, I shoot!"
"What's this," asked Ned, "a hold-up or a joke?"
"Nein," the newcomer replied. "Aber you don'dt line up dere you find oudt it is no joke, not. Beside yourself stand, quick!"
"This is enough to make anybody fairly beside themselves!" Jimmie declared, unable to repress his tendency toward a joke.
"Come on out, you Dutchman," taunted Jimmie in a moment. "I can see you crouching there and see your uniform. Come on out!"
As the faces appeared, Jimmie gave a gasp of astonishment.
"Otto! Fritz!" he almost shrieked. "We left you guarding that old barn up there. How does it come that you are here?"
"My post I deserted," he began, stepping from the bushes, but with his rifle still cautiously pointed toward the lads. "This country is familiar to me, for that house was my uncle's. Many times have I in this brook waded and swam. Today I thought of it when we over the hill came and when we had put you in the barn I came right here to see the beautiful brook once more and hear the birds singing in the trees."
"Otto, open your left hand and let me see what you have in it!" commanded Jimmie, as the other finished speaking.
"Nothing have I in my hand," declared Otto, opening and extending the member palm outward. "See, nothing in there is!"
"Oh, I thought you had the spark plugs from the Eagle," remarked the lad. "You know you took them out. Where did you put them?"
"In my pocket have they gone," answered Otto, simply as if stating the most casual fact. "They are all there safe and sound."
"So I see," acknowledged Jimmie. "That's very obvious. What are you going to do now that you and Fritz have returned?"
"We shall take you back to the barn and put you in the loft once again," declared Otto in the same tone of voice he might have used in commenting on the fact that the sun was shining.
"Oh, you shall, shall you?" almost sneered Jimmie. "All right, but you wouldn't put us back there hungry, would you? We were just about to eat a little lunch. This won't be quite as good as you used to get at Dick Stein's place, but it's eatable at any rate. If you think you could eat a bit, we'll ask you to join us."
"I can not eat now," replied the other. "I must guard you as prisoners. But if you are hungry, we will let you eat."
"Oh, I say," protested Jimmie, "you'll have at least a cup of coffee with us! That isn't sociable to stand and hold a gun at a fellow's head while he's eating. It looks rather rough, too!"
"You are now prisoners," replied Otto, shaking his head.
"Why, of course, we are!" admitted the boy with an attempt at a laugh. "We're prisoners in more ways than one. You have the spark plugs and we couldn't make a decent get-away if we tried. Besides, you two fellows have your rifles and we are unarmed."
"I guess you've got us dead to rights," put in Dave.
"Sure you have," resumed Jimmie. "Now, I'll tell you what," he went on, "you sit here," indicating a position between the fire and the aeroplane, "and we'll sit on the opposite side of the fire. You may have your rifles across your laps or ready at your side. If we break and run for it, you may shoot as fast as you please."
"That's fair enough," urged Ned. "It isn't just the square thing to take us prisoners without letting us get some food."
"See here," continued Jimmie, reaching out a hand toward the coffee pot bubbling over the tiny flame and lifting the lid, "did you ever smell better coffee in your life? That's worth drinking, I say!"
"Dot's goot cooffee!" announced Fritz, solemnly. "I take a cup."
"Sure, you'll both have a cup!" declared Jimmie.
"That's a real compliment, Otto," laughed Jimmie, winking at Dave as he spoke. "When a German admits that any other nation on earth can make good coffee it is going some. The Germans can make real coffee!"
"We generally let Dave pour the coffee, because he's an extra boy in the crowd and we make the newcomers do all the heavy work, but he's awkward at it yet owing to his just recently coming off a cattle ranch in Canada, where he had to lasso a lot of cattle every day. This time I'm going to pour the coffee myself."
As Jimmie spoke he glanced back toward Dave, sitting with the others.
"Now, you just sit there, Dave," Jimmie chattered on, "until I tell you to move. Remember," he added, "I'm doing this part of it. All you are to do is to follow instructions. You're better at the lasso than you are at pouring coffee!"
"Yes, I guess that's the truth," admitted Dave with a mock sign of resignation at finding his short-comings flaunted before strangers.
It was well that the meal was served in the open, for Jimmie poured until every cup ran over, thereby wasting much of the liquid.
"Have some more, won't you?" he asked, grasping the coffee pot.
"Just a little more," replied Otto. "I never had better."
"Why," cried Jimmie in a surprised tone, "the pot is almost empty. I guess you boys didn't make very much, did you? Here, Dave," he hurried on, "you chase yourself up to the Eagle and get some of that coffee out of the locker on the right-hand side. We'll brew another pot of it. I haven't begun to eat yet."
"See how quickly you can lasso a cup or two of the real stuff and hurry back here," commanded Jimmie. "We'll have more in a jiffy."
"Have a little of this stew while you're waiting," urged Ned, extending the pot of stew toward the soldiers. "It's mighty good!"
Ned and Jimmie rattled on in a whirlwind of conversation to keep the attention of the soldiers in their own direction. So absorbed were Otto and Fritz in listening to the chatter that they failed to hear the faint whistle of a rope through the air, and it was not until the noose of Dave's lasso settled about their shoulders and they were jerked incontinently backward that they suspected anything wrong.
Otto and Fritz were compelled to surrender to a superior force. Lengths of small line secured from the Eagle were brought by Dave when he saw that the two were securely held by his companions.
"Let me get at this chap's pockets a moment," said Ned, advancing. "I think he has some spark plugs that would look better in another place. We can use them to good advantage ourselves."
"Just the thing!" cried Jimmie, gleefully. "How thoughtful of him to bring them back here so we could run the little old Eagle."
Ned lost no time in producing the plugs and fitting them into position.
"Now we 're off!" declared Jimmie. "Let's get the cooking utensils aboard and beat it out of here. We won't want no wireless now!"
"For one, I want to get to some place where I can exchange this uniform for some real clothes!" stated Jack, vehemently.
"And I want a real feed!" protested Jimmie. "I haven't eaten in weeks. All I could do was to lunch along on this awful grub!"
"All right, boys, I guess you're right," Ned agreed with a laugh. "We'll load up and be on our way even if it is daylight."
"Won't the Germans see us rise out of here and take a shot at us?"
"What if they do?" scorned Jimmie. "They'll be so busy with all this fighting they won't have time to chase us very far. Hear those cannons going all the time?" he went on. "They're wasting a lot of good powder shooting at the Frenchmen and the allies!"
As the aeroplane rose above the tree tops, two other planes were sighted high overhead.
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