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A gasp rose from the four boys as they saw Fritz hurl himself over the rim of the car. They knew that nothing could be done, yet all threw themselves toward the Uhlan in the vain hope of rescue.
It needed little exercise of the imagination to picture the result of Fritz's rash act. Too well the boys understood what would happen when the soldier fell from such an altitude.
"Good night!" gasped Jimmie, turning a pale face toward his friends.
"How did he do it?" asked Jack, a tremble in his voice.
"He must have been an acrobat of the first water to manage such a thing!" declared Harry. "I thought he was as secure as anything."
"Too late now to help him, and we've still got the German aeroplane to reckon with," warned Ned. "Keep a sharp lookout for the fellow!"
"What is the stranger doing now?" asked Jack, pointing to the plane that had appeared from the westward.
"He seems to be heading directly for us," replied Ned. "I wonder if he takes us to be Germans, trying some trick or other."
"Better take off these German uniforms," advised Jimmie, stripping off his jacket as he spoke. "I'm going to drop mine overboard!"
As he spoke the lad flung the jacket as far as he could and watched its descent with interest. The others were not long in following his example.
"I'll tell you what we'll do!" offered Dave. "When we get near enough, shut off the engine so it won't make any noise and we'll all shout 'Vive la France!' at him. He'll know then we're not enemies."
"Good idea, but I can't speak French," returned Jimmie.
"Well, then, try something!" urged the lad.
"I don't believe anything at all is necessary," stated Ned as the two came nearer. "They seem to be after the Germans and not us!"
"What's that place down there?" asked Harry after some time. "It looks to me as if it were a camp of some sort. I see several tents."
"That's an aviation camp just like the one we saw when we came through France and gave General Joffre his fast ride!" declared Jimmie.
"Sure enough!" declared Ned. "They have painted the tops of the wings that peculiar color so that they cannot be readily seen from an enemy air craft. That's rather a good idea, too!"
With scarcely a bump the Eagle settled to the earth and was at once surrounded by French soldiers, some garbed in the well-known suits and helmets of aviators, others dressed as ordinary infantrymen, while still others wore greasy overalls and jumpers.
The language used was French, and they were at a loss to know what their questions meant.
"You'll have to talk United States!" declared Jimmie, rising and holding up a hand for attention. "We can't understand that stuff."
"Ah, so you speak English?" questioned one of the men.
All five boys gathered about their prisoner as he stood beside the Eagle.
As the lads looked at the newcomer they saw a short, broad shouldered man wearing a white moustache. The figure looked strangely familiar.
"Do you recognize that man, Jimmie?" asked Ned.
Jimmie's answer was lost in the roar of exhaust from one of the other aeroplanes parked nearby. All turned in amazement at the noise. With a rush the French plane swept by the group and began soaring into the air. One glance showed the lads that Otto was at the levers.
During the brief moment that their attention had been diverted, the Uhlan had taken advantage of their preoccupation and had silently stolen away to the machine whose engine had been left running. Now he was beyond recall, and in a short time would be again on the eastern side of the fighting line, where he would no doubt join his regiment.
Chagrined, the lads looked at each other with crestfallen glances.
As the clamor of the other motor died into a steady drone they turned to look again at the advancing figure.
"Why, that's General Joffre!" gasped Jimmie. "Hope he don't recognize us. I feel too cheap for anything!"
"I think I have seen these young men before," he began cordially. "You are the young men who were of so much assistance to me at one time."
"Thank you, General," replied Ned. "We are glad to see you again."
"And what can I do for you in return for that kindness?" asked the general without going into the details of the event with which those of our readers who have read the previous volumes of this series are already familiar. "If there is anything I can do, please command me."
"We'd only like safe conduct to some seaport, sir," answered Ned, "where we can take passage to the United States. We want to get home!"
"That can be arranged, I am sure!" stated the general, heartily. "But you must be rather hungry. Will you not step into the tent here and have some lunch? You can tell me of your adventures while you eat."
There they related to the general and some of his aides the incidents leading up to their flight of that morning, not omitting to tell of their neglect to retain the prisoner they had so strangely brought to camp.
As they finished, the general said, as he looked at Jimmie:
"And so the Germans are rushing train loads of soldiers to the front, are they? And are they bringing any guns?"
"They're bringing lots of troops," replied Jimmie, "but I didn't see any big guns. They've got some trains of ammunition on the way."
"Thanks!" acknowledged General Joffre. "That news is important!"
"Great Frozen Hot Boxes!" cried Jimmie, rising. "There I've gone and given away a lot of perfectly good information! And all the time I said I was going to remain perfectly neutral! Just my luck!"
"But at least," continued the general, "you have your packet and will be glad to return to your home so that you may carry out the wishes of your acquaintance who was responsible for so many of your adventures. Besides, you didn't intend to tell me anything, did you?"
"If you would consider selling your airship we would like to purchase it," the general said, turning again to Ned. "It appears to be a fine machine and I think we could use it to advantage."
"You are very kind, sir. We will be glad to sell it if you wish."
In a short time, details of the purchase had been arranged and the boys were on their way toward Havre, where they were to take boat for the United States. As they left the camp they gave three rousing cheers for General Joffre and swung their caps in farewell.
As the camp was left behind, Dave turned to his companions with grateful thanks for their kindnesses to him.
"Oh, pshaw!" declared Jimmie. "Don't say a word about that! You did as much for us as we did for you. Now we're headed for home again let's forget all about how we served under the Enemy and how the Forces escaped!"
"Just the same, I'll have a lot to tell the members of my Patrol when I get back to Vancouver!" declared Dave, earnestly. "I'm glad I had the chance to meet with the Black Bears and Wolves!"
"And I hope that the next time you meet any of the Bears and Wolves you won't have to come over here and meet them while they are in the German army," put in Ned. "Hereafter I'm going to be like Jimmie. I'm going to be neutral if I have to fight for it!"
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