Grace Harlow - Chapter 2
BOCHES MISS THEIR PREY
When the car stood up on its nose, both girls were hurled violently over the dashboard. They landed on reasonably soft sod, with a jolt that left each almost breathless. Elfreda was somewhat stunned because she had not been quick-witted enough to keep her head up.
"Oh, Grace!" moaned Elfreda.
"Stop it! Roll! Roll away as fast as you can!" commanded Grace sharply.
"I-I can't," wailed Miss Briggs.
"Runs, Elfreda! They will be here in thirty seconds. Roll, I tell you!"
The word "Runs" had the desired effect on Elfreda Briggs, who quickly collected her wits and began rolling up the bank, followed by Grace, who kept urging her to go faster.
They made the top and rolled over the crest. "Up! Run for your life I" commanded Grace, giving her companion a violent push as Elfreda staggered to her feet. Grace took firm hold of Elfreda 's arm and ran her down the slope, Elfreda groaning and protesting.
"The barn!" cried Grace. "It's our only hope."
The building for which she was heading was but a short distance away, not more than five hundred feet, but unless they reached it before their enemies discovered them, the chances were that the two girls would be captured.
They failed. As they were almost within reach of the goal a shout and a shot told the Overton girls that they had been discovered. There was no need to look back for they well knew that men were running after them. Grace formed her plans on the instant.
"Into the barn!" she cried. "Pay close attention and do exactly as I tell you, but do it quickly."
Once inside, Grace turned for a brief glance at their pursuers to see how much time she might reasonably have, to secrete herself and her companion. The men already were half way across the space intervening between the road and the barn.
"We can make it. Climb through the window on the other side!"
There was no time to waste words. Grace grabbed Elfreda by an arm and rushed her toward an open window at the rear side of the building, and, grabbing her foot, tumbled her
out headfirst. Grace dove through the window, falling on Elf reda, who screamed. Springing up, Grace pulled the sliding window shut.
"Stop that noise! Keep it up and you will find yourself in a German prison camp!" rebuked Grace.
"I don't care. I might as well be taken prisoner as to be killed in trying to get away from them. We'll be caught here anyway."
"Of course we shall," agreed Grace. "Crawl under the barn. You will have to pinch yourself a little, but you can make it. Move it"
Elfreda was assisted, none too gently, in her effort to squeeze herself between the floor of the barn and the ground, tearing her skirt and inaltreating herself generally, at the same time groaning and protesting so loudly that Grace was certain the sounds must reach their pursuers.
Once under the barn floor there was more room, for the floor of the barn was a full eight inches higher than the level of the ground.
"Far enough," whispered Grace. "Please stop that moaning, Elfreda. Moaning will not help you, but getting yourself together will. I hardly think they will find us here."
"I-I don't care much whether they do or not, Grace Harlowe. I knew it-I knew that if I went out with you I should regret it. Not that I blame you, but you simply cannot keep out of trouble. Trouble is your strongest weakness."
"Fine, fine! So sorry that Professor Morton can't hear you so far forget your college training as to mix your English in that fashion. 'My strongest weakness!' I must remember that and tell it to the Overton unit as a terrible example of what a college education does for one. Sh-h-h-h-h! They are in the barn! Don't speak."
Both girls could hear the thud of heavily booted feet and guttural explosions as
enemy searched for their prey. Things were being overturned up there, grain bins prodded with a pitchfork, straw thrown about, and every nook and corner explored by the Runs.
"They are here! They couldn't get out without leaving by the door," Grace heard a German voice declare. "Find them!"
The search was resumed, and with renewed vigor, as the sounds from above reaching the two Overton girls indicated, both of whom were listening with every faculty on the alert, J. Elfreda in an agony of apprehension. Grace liarlowe admitted to herself that their position was a perilous one. She did not believe that the enemy would go away without looking under the barn, but if they used no light they would have difficulty in finding the two women who lay flattened on the ground beneath the barn.
"They are going out," whispered Grace. "Be guided by me and make no move unless I tell you. I wish I might be able to see them."
After a few moments they heard voices quite near. The enemy were now at the rear of the barn, and at least one of them was trying to find a place large enough to enable him to crawl in underneath. Re found it at last.
"Crawl toward the front of the building. They're in!" whispered Grace.
Ellreda made no reply, but began creeping in the direction indicated by her companion, with Grace close beside her.
Grace had already discovered that the ground was higher as they moved toward the front of the building and she felt, too, that thi9 very condition might make for their safety, for if the two girls could not find sufficient room 113 which to crawl, a man surely could not.
"Flatten out and squeeze yourself in and go as far as you can, but be sure that you will be able to get out. I can't assist you much in that."
"I can't move another inch," whispered Elfreda. "Oh, what shall I do!"
"Lie down and rest. Control your breathing, hold your breath when he gets close to us,
if he does. It is our only hope. If they discover us they are fully equal to hurling a grenade at us. Silence "
Elfreda restrained her breathing so completely that her companion could not be certain that she heard it at all. By now the man under the barn was so close to them that his breath-lug sounded unnaturally loud. He was having a difficult time of it too, for the narrow space between the barn floor and the ground was not suitable for his bulk.
Grace, with an ear turned toward him, fig-tired that he was within gun length of them. A yard more and he would be able to reach them. The man never covered that yard, however. He simply found it impossible to make it. What was more, Grace gathered from his utterances that he could not even turn around.
To the delight of the Overton ambulance driver the fellow began struggling, and raging in alarm lest he fail to extricate himself. The more he struggled the more excited be grew, &ally ending in his calling for help.
A companion crawled in and, grabbing the soldier by the feet, assisted him backward inches at a time.
"I hope he sticks, I hope he sticks!" whispered J. Elfreda.
"If he does we are surely lost. They will find a way to get in here even if they have to rip up the floor," replied Grace. "Be careful! A word too loud and we are lost."
The man's alarm seemed suddenly to lessen, from which Grace inferred that he had reached a position where he found it possible to help himself to some advantage. This was confirmed a few moments later by the man himself declaring that never would lie crawl under that barn again even though ordered to do so by Hindenburg himself. Soon after that the voices of both men were heard outside.
"Thank goodness they got him out!" exclaimed Grace in a low voice.
"Yes; let's hope they now go on about their business. I know I never shall be able to mould myself back into my former shape," complained Elfreda. "How long shall we be forced to stay in this awful place!"
"Not long, I hope. I don't like the air here. Let mis keep quiet and listen. They seem to have suddenly stopped talking."
Elfreda said she thought she heard some one walking on the barn floor.
"Yes, I heard it too," agreed Grace. "Let them walk. If they do not do anything worse than that I shall be well satisfied."
The two girls lay listening to the movements above them, movements that told them another
search was in progress up there. After a time the men left the barn and silence settled over
it. Grace was about to propose that they investigate when she was halted by a voice on the outside, close by them.
"Step lively in there! All hands under cover!"
"Those fellows are up to mischief," declared Grace Harlowe, not a little disturbed. "Let's move down toward the other end. I have a feeling that the quicker we get out of this place the more healthful it will be for us."
"You mean the quicker we get back home," corrected Miss Briggs. "Never again for Elfreda Briggs. She has had enough-an elegant sufficiency. As the soldiers say, 'well fed up.' Hark! What was that!"
"Keep moving," urged Grace. There was a trace of excitement in her tone. "I think we had better try to go out the way we came m. I-I don't believe we can waste time making experiments-and please keep your voice down. You don't realize how loudly you are speaking. Remember, we are in peril, very great peril."
"Grace Harlowe, I smell smoke I" cried Miss Briggs despite the warning of her companion about raising her voice.
"Never mind, keep going. Do your sniffing after we are out of this."
Grace for several minutes had been sni~ng the air. She too had smelled smoke, and now the odor was so strong that she could scarcely keep herself from sneezing.
"They are trying to smoke us out, I do believe, Loyalheart," decided Miss Briggs. "The fiends!"
"Right you are, but not for the reason you name, Elfreda. The reason is that they are what you have called them. I think-"
A sudden exclamation from Miss Briggs cut short what Grace was saying. She crawled forward demanding to know what new trouble Elf reda had gotten into.
"I'm in a hole! Help me out. Please! Will there be no end to this awful experience?"
Grace crept forward as rapidly as possible; then she too uttered an exclamation.
"We are in a ditch," she whispered excitedly. "Don't you understand, Elfreda? Now we shall be able to make better progress for the ditch is wide enough so that we can crawl on all fours. The only question in my mind is as to where it leads. It seems to lead in the right direction, toward the western end of the building. Wait! Let me go ahead. I can't trust you to be the pathfinder."
Creeping around her companion, the ambu]ance driver felt her way back into the ditch
and began groping ahead of her. It was a queer place for a ditch, but Grace reasoned that it had been dug out at the time of the erection of the building, to drain the water off and thus prevent early rotting of the woodwork. She had seen such things done in America. The wise farmers near Oakdale always dug a trench before laying the foundation for their barns and stables.
"Hark I Do you hear that roaring?" demanded Elfreda. "Listen, Grace!"
"I hear it, dear."
"What is it? For mercy sake, don't tell me this is something else that we must face"
"Keep moving. I see light ahead, but if it shouldn't prove to be what I think it is, we are in a predicament. Keep cool. Don't lose your presence of mind for an instant, for we shall both very shortly need all we have."
Grace was crawling forward rapidly, at the same time feeling her way cautiously, not knowing what she might encounter. Finally reaching a point which she concluded was the end of the barn she raised her hand and groped. The hand came in contact with a solid foundation 'waIL The faint light that she had observed ahead of her had disappeared; the light that she had thought came from the light of the stars proved a phantom.
"We are at the end. We must cut back and try the rear of the building, nor have we a second to Lose."
"See now light it is getting. Oh Grace, what does it mean?" cried Miss Briggs as a dull glow dispelled the gloom of their hiding place.
"It means, Elfreda, dear, that the Huns have set the barn on fire and that unless we get out of here quickly we shall be burned to death. That is real Boche kultur," answered Grace calmly. "Hurry, please hurry!"