“This is just where caution ought to pay big dividends,” he told himself. “A path is usually made to lead to where human beings live and congregate. I’ll stop every few feet and listen.”
The first sound that came to his ears from out of the veiled distance ahead made the young American officer almost laugh aloud. It was the crowing of a rooster.
“If you know how hungry I am, my bird, I doubt if you’d make any noise to draw me your way.”
However, the crowing had given him a valuable clew, for he reasoned that the barnyard home of Mr. Rooster must be near the general buildings of a farm. These buildings he decided to avoid. So, when he came to a fork in the path he chose the direction that led him further from what he believed to be the location of the farm buildings.
By this time he was moving more rapidly, though striving to make no noise in moving. Suddenly he came to a road and stopped, gasping.
“I don’t want anything as public as this,” Dick told himself. “Troops use roads. However, as I’ve reached the road, and want to get as far from the train as possible, I believe I’ll take a look from the other side of the road. There may be a field there better suited to my needs.”
Directly opposite, at the other edge of the road, two tree trunks reared themselves close together, looking tall and gaunt against the white of the fog. After listening a moment Dick started to cross the road to them.
Just as he reached the trunks he saw something move around the further one, and drew back quickly. It was well that he did so, for the moving thing was a man armed with an axe which he had swung high and now tried to bring down relentlessly on Prescott’s head.
But Dick’s arms shot up, his hands catching the haft and wrenching the ugly weapon away from its wielder.
“No, you don’t!” Dick muttered in English, taking another step backward from the wild-looking old peasant who had attempted to brain him.
“But a thousand pardons, monsieur!” cried the old man hoarsely in French, and now shaking from head to foot. “I did not see well in the fog, and I mistook you for a German. You are a British soldier!”
“An American soldier,” Dick replied in the same tongue.
“Then, had I killed you, grief would have killed me, too, as it has already sent my wits scattering. For I am a Frenchman and hate only Germans.”
“Is this a safe place to stand and discuss the Germans?” asked Dick mildly, in a voice barely above a whisper. “This road-----”
“No, no! It is not safe here,” protested the peasant. “Soldiers and wagons move over this road. That was why I was here. I hoped to find some German soldier alone, to leap on him and kill him—–and I thought you a German until after I had swung at you. Heaven is good, and I have not to reproach myself for having struck at the American uniform. But you are in danger here. You are-----”