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A MYSTERIOUS SIGNAL
"Good night!" ejaculated Harry, as the guide finished speaking. "You certainly have got us into a tight box now!"
"That's what I say," put in Jack, "you're a fine one!"
"Let me have your searchlight," commanded Ned, retaining his grasp on the other's cartridge belt, "hand it over quickly."
"I'll run the searchlight myself," declared the unknown in a crisp tone. "You've got my gun and I guess that's enough!"
"Yes, and I know how to use it, too," replied Ned.
"There, there, Ned, this isn't any time to start arguing," urged Jack, pacifically, "let's get out of here first of all."
"Second the amendment," laughed Ned, controlling himself with a slight effort, "I've got this fellow dead to rights, and if he will only help us with his searchlight, we will try to get outside quickly."
"Well, he's going to help us," volunteered Harry. "I'll see to that. Just notice this big rock I am holding."
"Don't get excited, hoys," urged the stranger. "I'm doing everything I can to get all of us out of this mess. Our troubles all came about simply because of the fact that we were not 'Prepared.'"
"Then you believe in being prepared?" asked Jack.
"That's my motto--'Be Prepared'!" answered the stranger.
"That's our motto, also," put in Harry eagerly. "I wonder where you got that motto. You don't talk like the United States."
"Huh! I should say not!" declared the other. "But I came from a place that is every bit as good as the United States," he added.
"There's only one place that I know of," stated Ned emphatically, "that answers that description. What part of Canada are you from?"
"Vancouver," was the ready response. "Do you know the place?"
"Well, we ought to. We put in some time in British Columbia chasing a man who robbed the United States government."
"Good," declared the stranger. "My name is Gilmore--David Gilmore. I belong to the Moose Patrol of Vancouver."
"Dave, for short, I suppose," put in Jack in a more friendly tone.
"To my friends--yes," answered David with a short laugh.
"Now, boys," began Ned, "if it's agreeable, I suggest--"
A shriek of agony cut short the suggestion Ned was about to make. By common consent the boys drew closer together as the awful sound echoed through the narrow confines of the low tunnel in which they were imprisoned. All thoughts of introductions were driven instantly from their minds, to be replaced by their desire to render aid.
"The searchlight, Dave," said Ned quickly, falling naturally into the use of the shortened appellation. "Let's make haste."
A circle of flame from the searchlight in David's hand was his reply to this request. It fell upon the damp, slimy walls of the tunnel, illuminating a small space in their immediate neighborhood. The boy swung the searchlight to a position where it would give them a view of the area through which they had just come.
An appalling sight met their eyes. The explosion had wrecked the roof and sides of the narrow space. Heaps of broken rock and other debris choked the passage. Beneath one of the lumps projected the feet of a man. Beyond that the boys could dimly see the forms of one or two others. It seemed that several men had been unfortunately caught.
"Where did that fellow come from?" queried Ned anxiously, pointing toward the feet of the luckless individual who was screaming in agony.
"I don't know," Jack stated briefly, "but we'll help him out."
"All right, boys; let's get busy," urged Harry.
No further suggestions were needed to enlist the aid of all four boys. As they moved forward, their progress somewhat hindered by fallen rocks, the cries grew fainter and presently ceased.
As they reached the spot where the man lay imprisoned, David thrust the searchlight to a favorable position, where it would show them the face of the stranger. He knelt but a moment. Rising again to his feet, the lad turned to his new-found companions.
"I guess we're too late, boys," he said in a hushed voice.
"That's too bad," said Ned sympathetically. "I'm sorry."
"What shall we do?" questioned Jack. "Can't we help him at all?"
David shook his head sadly. He again swung the searchlight around the place, examining the walls carefully as he did so.
"I'm sure that it's no use, boys," he said. "If the fellow had not been beyond help he would not have stopped crying out. In such a time as this, heartless though it may seem, we'll have to look out for ourselves without spending energy on those beyond help."
"You're right, I guess," agreed Ned sadly. "I heartily wish that we were all back in America again, beyond the influence of this awful war. I sincerely hope that it will be confined to Europe."
"I echo your sentiment," said David. "And now," he added briskly, "let us give our attention to getting out of this place. I wonder if we can move some of these looser stones and get through into the room beyond. We may be able to get out to the street that way."
"What do you know about the layout of this place?" asked Jack.
"We are now under one of the big buildings--I should say under the ruins of one of the big buildings of Peremysl. It got struck by shells during the early part of the engagement and was neglected after that. The men we heard were refugees from the Russian army who thought they would be able to appear after the German occupation and do some damage to the invaders. They were well equipped with supplies of various sorts, including ammunition, and intended to get out to-night."
"I wonder if they have all gone?" asked Jack.
"I suppose the most of them are dead," answered David. "And we may join them unless we get out. Our chances look slim."
"I don't know about that," objected Ned. "I notice that the smell of powder is not so pronounced as it was a while ago. The air in here seems much better than it did before the explosion, and I believe that somewhere a passage has been opened which permits the air to flow in. It seems to me I can smell sweet air."
"I believe you're right, Ned," declared Harry sniffing.
"Let's get at these stones, then," suggested Jack, suiting the action to the word, and beginning to lift away lighter pieces of rock from the heap that confronted the lads.
All the boys took hold eagerly and began the task of removing the barrier that prevented their exit. They took turns holding the searchlight upon the work. Presently Jack announced that he could see light through the crevices between the stones. This announcement was hailed joyfully by the others.
"Hurrah!" announced Harry gleefully, as he pushed a piece of rock forward, opening a space wide enough to penult him to thrust an arm through. "One more chunk out of here and we can get through."
In another moment the four boys stood erect in a space that had formerly been a cellar. They drew deep draughts of air into their lungs and looked up beyond ruined walls to see the sky overhead.
"That looks good to me," stated Ned, pointing upward.
"Here too!" put in David. "Now I can get a good look at you fellows and will be able to recognize you readily the next time I see you. My," he added, "you are Boy Scouts, too."
"Why, of course," said Ned in astonishment. "What did you think we were? I hope you didn't take us for soldiers."
"Well, not exactly," said David, smiling, "but I really didn't have time to form a definite opinion before I heard that you were captured. Would you like to get back to your plane?" he asked.
"Would we?" asked Jack in a tone expressive of his intense longing for the Eagle. "You are just right, we would!"
"Perhaps we can manage to make it if the Germans have not taken it away," suggested David. "I can't say for sure, but we can try."
"Let's be on our way, then," urged Harry, eager to start.
"Suppose we look about and look for something to eat," suggested Ned. "I'm beginning to appreciate Jimmie's feelings."
"I hope you're not hungry already?" laughed Jack, "Why," he added, "you had something to eat no longer ago than--"
"Yes, no longer ago than the last time we ate," interrupted Harry. "You may not believe it, but I'm getting so hungry I could eat anything."
"All right; call the waiter, then, and we'll all eat."
"Perhaps I can find something," volunteered David. "I know where the Russians kept most of their stores. They had a place over here at one side of this big space filled with things to eat and shoot and so on. They had a lot of stuff in there."
"Where do you suppose they have all gone?" asked Ned, glancing about.
"I rather imagine they have gotten away as fast as they could after the Germans began blowing down the tottering walls. Those fellows we saw back there in the tunnel were possibly trying to get away by that route," replied David. "I intended bringing you here when we left the cellar where the rats were. I thought the way was clear."
"How did you happen to be there?" asked Ned.
"I got tired of being a prisoner," answered David. "Naturally, when the chance offered, I just slipped into the passage and started. I counted my steps to the end and found I must go the other way. When I had reached the cellar where you were I was exploring it when I heard the noise overhead. I just stayed in the dark until you made a light."
"Then you thought you'd help us out?" asked Harry.
"Yes," was the reply. "I felt that you needed a guide, and I had to do one good turn a day, you know. I thought that would be one."
"Sure, we know," Harry stated in a low voice. "I guess that was pretty nearly three good turns, wasn't it, Ned?"
"We'll count it as three, anyhow," responded Ned heartily.
"Now, you're hungry," interrupted David, rather loath to hear his own praises. "Come over this way and we'll see what we can find."
As David had predicted, the boys found a smaller room opening off the large one in which they were gathered. There was a miscellaneous collection of articles comprising food, ammunition, arms and many other things. They at once attacked the food supply.
Harry gleefully announced the discovery of a can of beef from Chicago, while Jack went into ecstacies over a can of beans.
Without the loss of a moment the boys fell to and soon satisfied their hunger. Directly Jack began searching amongst the goods.
"Where did they store their water?" he asked David.
"I don't know that," replied the boy. "What is in that barrel?"
"Nothing but gasoline, judging by the smell," replied Jack.
"Hurrah!" shouted Ned, springing to his feet. "Just the thing!"
"Not to drink!" objected Jack scornfully. "Not for me, anyway!"
"No, but fine for the Eagle if we can get it there and find the plane still in working order. Let's hope they haven't taken it away."
"Let's go see," suggested David. "We can take along some of this gasoline in some of these empty tins and cans."
"You're a brick!" announced Jack. "I'm beginning to like you!"
Scrambling over the wreckage and ruins of the building, the four boys, each bearing a vessel with gasoline, gained the street. They turned a corner and passed along apparently unnoticed. In a short time they stood in the vacant space where the Eagle had landed.
Before them the planes loomed large. Ned almost shouted for joy.
"There are soldiers on that hill over there!" announced Jack.
"One of them has gone crazy or something," said Harry, pointing.
"That's Boy Scout semaphore signals!" declared David.
"Answer him, Ned," suggested Jack. "Maybe he means us."
"He's spelling 'Wolf' in American," stated Ned. "Here comes more."
"Right arm above head, left horizontal--that's 'J,'" said David. "Right diagonally down, left across chest--that's 'I;' right diagonally down, left horizontal--that's 'M;' he repeats it; he repeats 'I;' right down in front, left up diagonally--that's 'E.'"
"That spells 'Jimmie!'" cried Harry in excitement.
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