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A GUARD IN DISGRACE
Jimmie's momentum carried him toward the camp kettle with such violence that he was unable to check his speed. He could only swerve his course enough to avoid actually falling into the open door through which fuel had been fed. Unfortunately, however, the lad lost his footing and, as he fell, thrust a hand against the hot iron.
"Ow, wow!" yelled Jimmie, as he rolled over the ground, dragging with him the already burning Cossack uniform.
"Here, here!" shouted Otto, rousing from his phlegmatic attitude and springing forward in Jimmie's direction. "Leave dot alone!"
Jimmie rose to his feet nursing his burned hand and casting a glance of extreme disgust toward his new-found friend.
"What business have you got burning up my clothes, I'd like to know!" he indignantly began. "You big sauer kraut eater. You don't seem to know that clothes cost money and that these clothes were presented to me by the Imperial Czar of Russia!"
"Dot makes no difference about dot Russian bizness," answered Otto doggedly; "my orders iss to burn dot uniform, und dot's chust vot I'm going to do. Maybe you would like to watch me."
"Yes, I'll watch you," Jimmie stated aggressively, his face flushing until the freckles were scarcely distinguishable. "You can burn the old uniform as fast as you like, but there is something in it that I want before you start the conflagration."
Otto stretched forth a hand in an effort to wrest the already charred and smoldering garments from The Wolf. He evidently intended to take matters strictly into his own hands and obey orders to the letter, regardless of Jimmie's wishes in the matter.
Jimmie just as resolutely intended to have his own way about the matter, although he had no objection to the ultimate burning of the discarded insignia of the gallant troop he had at one time joined.
Although suffering keenly from the hand that had come in contact with the iron and that would be giving him pain for some time, Jimmie directed his attention to a search of the garments. He thrust his uninjured hand into one pocket after another, frantically groping for some object. Directly he gave a glad shout and withdrew his hand, clutching a small packet from which a loop of heavy cord hung.
Otto had lost some of the zest with which he had been imbued when he first raised an objection to Jimmie's action. His sluggish nature had dominated his movements, and now he moved forward with the ponderous motions of the average German agriculturist, although it was plain to the observers standing about that nothing short of a superior force could deter his progress or swerve him from his course.
"I've got it!" shouted Jimmie gleefully as he grasped the packet and attempted to gather up the scattered garments.
"Yes," put in Otto, in a voice which betokened his rage because his beloved orders had not been obeyed, "you haf got it, und now you will get someting else! I have someting for you right here!"
"You're welcome to the uniform now," was Jimmie's response. "I'm through with the uniform, and I hope with the Russian army."
"Maybe so," stated Otto, growling forth the words in a tone resembling the greeting usually given a tramp by a bulldog, "but you ain't through with the German army, by a long shot!"
"Oh, the German army ain't so much," scorned Jimmie. "I've seen lots of armies that could tie you Dutchmen into knots."
"Yes, they could--not!" derisively put in Otto, with an air that he had evidently picked up during his experience on the north side of Chicago. "You wait; I will show you someting!"
Jimmie's interest in the packet had absorbed his attention to such an extent that he had not noticed the approach of the German, and it was not until Otto's great arms surrounded his form that the boy realized his danger. He had considered Otto merely as a guide, and had not thought it possible for him to act in any other capacity. Now he understood that the German intended to do him bodily harm, if possible. Quickly as the realization of his danger flashed through the boy's active mind, he began to plan a means of escape. He well understood that, struggle as he might, his strength would be far less than that of his antagonist, and he knew that, in order to escape, he must resort to his knowledge of wrestling and boxing.
Although compelled to think and act quickly in the emergency, a recollection of Ned Nestor's training and the drills to which he had subjected his fellow Boy Scouts flashed across Jimmie's vision.
Otto's arms had encircled Jimmie's form and were slowly tightening in a python-like constriction that forced Jimmie's organs upward into his ribs and shut off his heart action. Again Jimmie recalled vividly his experiences in trying to break a "body scissors" on the mat, This time, however, he cast aside the rules of conduct that forbid fouls and determined to free himself at whatever cost.
Otto's surprise at feeling Jimmie's heels gouging up and down his shin was exceeded only by his astonishment at receiving a blow on the chin from Jimmie's red head. Butting in a fight was a part of "the game" that the former newsboy had picked up in his encounters on the Bowery when protecting his corner from other vendors.
Long since discarded, the accomplishment now served Jimmie well, and he used it effectively, not forgetting to keep one foot in action as he industriously pegged away at the foot upon which his heel had first landed. Jimmie believed thoroughly in the old adage that 'continual dropping will wear away a stone.'
Black specks began to float slowly across Jimmie's vision and his breath seemed to have left his body. In place of lungs the boy felt he had only a great raging furnace. His foot began to be heavier and heavier. He was about to give up in despair.
Without warning, Otto released his grasp to fling Jimmie from him as he stepped backward to escape the onslaught of kicks and blows from Jimmie's active head. As he released the boy he aimed a vicious swing that would have done a great deal of damage had it landed.
Luckily for the red-headed Uhlan, his feet became tangled in the remnants of the discarded and partly burned uniform that had been the innocent cause of the battle. Just as Otto aimed the blow at Jimmie's head the boy stumbled and fell backward.
There flashed to the lad's mind the thought that the Russian uniform had been the means of saving him from a most unwelcome hurt.
Perhaps one of Jimmie's most lovable qualities was the ability to see and appreciate a joke, no matter what the time or circumstances. This quality so dominated the lad that his comrades often declared he would laugh at his own expense even when he was hungry. Just now he was so impressed with the absurdity of the uniform's being the cause of his trouble and the means of his escape that he laughed aloud.
Unnoticed by either of the contestants, a considerable number of the cooks and "kitchen police" had gathered to witness the difficulty between the two. These bystanders now offered words of encouragement in an effort to prolong the battle. It seemed that the dominating spirit of battle had not been satisfied during the several days of awful history-making struggle between the armies around the stricken city. The bloodlust was strong in their souls.
Jimmie heard their cries, although he could not distinguish the words they used, nor could he have understood them had he done so. He realized that Otto would probably hear and understand, and that for very shame, if for no other reason, the other man would return to the conflict. He therefore drew a deep breath and braced himself for the expected advance. Something warm and wet seemed to be trickling down over Jimmie's face. He put up a hand to wipe it away. The hand came away wet and sticky. To Jimmie's astonishment the hand was red.
A roar of rage assailed his ears, and Jimmie turned just in time to duck under a mighty swing. Angered at the persistence displayed, Jimmie let fly a stinging hook that fell short of its intended mark. Instead of landing on Otto's chin, as he had purposed, Jimmie flung his fist full upon the "Adam's apple" of his antagonist, bringing forth a gurgling squawk that afforded merriment to the bystanders.
He lost no time in following up his advantage. Quickly springing forward, he landed a shower of blows, each one in a telling spot about Otto's head. The lad's ire was fully roused, and he entered into the matter of administering punishment with a zest.
Handicapped by his lighter weight, the boy could not hope successfully to cope with the burly German on anything like an equal footing, and consequently determined to press the advantage to the utmost, hence he wasted no blows, but made every one count.
Eager to administer what he considered ample punishment, yet wary and cautious, the lad gave his entire attention to his effort. He was looking for an opening through which he might slip a "knockout," and gave no heed to the events transpiring about him. Hence he did not notice the approach of a small party of officers until he felt a hand laid heavily upon his shoulder and a voice spoke in his ear.
"So, this is the way my soldiers behave when I am not present!" Jimmie heard the man say. He turned to gaze at the newcomer.
"Captain von Liebknecht!" he gasped in utter amazement.
"The same," replied the officer who had first interviewed Jimmie in the partly ruined house. "It seems to me," he went on in a severe tone, his pale blue eyes narrowing to mere points, "that my recruits might be in better business than trying to spoil my veterans!"
For a moment Jimmie forgot to be respectful. The old spirit of Bowery repartee, so long held in leash and thoroughly muzzled by Ned Nestor's training and Jimmie's own self-control, had broken bonds, and now showed itself upon the surface without restraint.
"You can't spoil a bad egg, Captain!" was the impertinent response. "This fool Dutchman got too gay and I just put him into the clear!"
"Silence!" roared von Liebknecht. "No reply is necessary."
"Well, I made one just the same," was Jimmie's undaunted retort.
"So I observe," remarked the officer, "and for that you shall be punished. It shall be my pleasant duty to see that you get your full share of regular work, and in addition I shall assign you to the delightful position of assisting the police detail."
"But I'm not big enough to be a policeman," objected Jimmie.
A smile spread over the face of the officer as he observed:
"That is your misfortune, not mine. If you had been so fortunate as to be a German, you would have been much bigger and perhaps more respectful. You will please remember in future to be at least civil."
Jimmie began to realize that it would not be to his advantage to continue the conversation, especially in the spirit already shown. He therefore drew himself up to his full height and gravely saluted, using the well-known Boy Scout form, with thumb and little finger touching and the other three fingers extended vertically, palm outward.
The action seemed to please von Liebknecht immensely, although he would not alter his decision in the least. A rapidly spoken order to an aide standing near resulted in Jimmie's being hurried away in the direction of the camp where the Uhlans' horses were quartered.
He thought he saw the wings of an aeroplane resting in an open space. Forms were moving about the plane. Jimmie started.
The lad began moving his arms as if stretching himself or going through a sort of setting-up exercise. Again and again he repeated the movements. A smile lighted the freckled face.
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