As the officer in charge of the prisoners came to the side door of the first car Dick made bold to prefer a request.
“We have had no water all day. May we have a bucket of it in here before the train starts?”
“There will not be time,” replied the German officer coldly, and moved away. Yet two hours passed, and the train did not start.
Suddenly German guns behind the front, along a stretch of miles, opened a heavy bombardment. Dick and his French friends gazed out at a sky made violently lurid by the reflection of the flashes of these great pieces. Then the French guns answered furiously, nor did all the French shells fall upon the German trenches or batteries. The French knew the location of this railway yard. Within twenty minutes five hundred large caliber shells had fallen in or near this yard. Freight and passenger coaches were struck and splintered.
Into the forward cattle car bounded the corporal who had tormented them that day. Behind him, in the doorway, appeared the German officer.
“Count the prisoners,” ordered the latter, “and make sure that all are there. We are going to pull out of here before those crazy French yonder destroy all our rolling stock.”
Fifteen minutes later, though the French shell-fire had ceased coming this way, the train crawled out of the yard. It ran along slowly, though sometime in the night it increased its speed.
Dick Prescott will never forget the misery of that night. When the train was under way the cold was intense in these half-open cattle cars. No appeal for water to drink was heeded.
Despite their discomforts, most of the prisoners managed to sleep some, though standing up.
In the middle of the night Prescott awoke, stiff, nauseated, hungry and parched with tormenting thirst. Though he did not know it at that moment, the train had halted because of a breakdown in a train ahead.
Along the track came that tormenting corporal. While a soldier held up a dim lantern the corporal unlocked the padlock, sliding the side door back.
At that moment an order was bawled lustily in German.
“Will you be good enough to repeat, Herr Lieutenant?” called the corporal, glancing backward down the length of train.
Heavy footsteps were heard approaching. Corporal and private turned to take a few steps back to meet their officer. Dick, standing in the open doorway, saw that a fog had settled down over the night.
Acting on a sudden impulse, without an instant’s hesitation, he leaped down, striking softly on the balls of his feet. Without even turning sideways to see if German eyes had observed him, Prescott stole across another track, and down to the foot of an embankment.
“They’ll shoot me for this!” he muttered. “Let them! Death is better than being a German prisoner!”