“If he’s any less than a general I’ll eat my gas mask!” Roger declared afterward.
Clearly the man was born to command, or he had acquired that right in some manner. There was an indefinable air of authority about him, even though now he was hurrying about almost frantically, looking for some weapon with which to attack the barrier that held the boys prisoners.
“That sure is a queer uniform he has on,” remarked Jimmy, as he tried in vain to move some of the beams from his side of the mass of timber that had fallen when the mill was blown up. “It’s mostly American, but it has a British air about it.”
“And his leather puttees look like some the Germans wear,” added Bob. “Maybe he’s a war correspondent, and had to pick up bits of uniform from all over.”
“He isn’t a war correspondent,” declared Jimmy.
“What makes you so sure?” Roger wanted to know.
“Because, if he was, he’d have a brassard with a large letter ‘C’ on it, around his arm,” went on Jimmy. “And he wouldn’t have a big automatic revolver strapped to his hip, either. The correspondents are classed as non-combatants, and aren’t allowed to go armed.”
“That’s right,” chimed in Franz. “But who is he!”
It seemed useless to speculate then, and, indeed, the boys were in little mood for it. The precariousness of their position was alarming. And while I have detailed the conversation among them, you are to understand that it all took place very quickly. In fact from the time they first observed the strange rescuer, until they had talked about his odd uniform, was only about half a minute.
Suddenly the man—officer let us call him—who was scurrying about just beyond the jagged barrier, uttered a cry of satisfaction. He hurried out of the boys’ vision for a moment, but lest they have any fear that he had deserted them and left them to their fates, he called:
“I’ve found what I’ve been looking for—an axe! I’ll soon have you out now!”
He came running back, carrying an axe of curious make. It was a large, keen one, however, and later it developed that it was one the French miller had used to chop his firewood. Throwing off his coat, and revealing beneath it a dark blue shirt, the officer began fiercely to chop at the beams.
And the boys remembered afterward, though at the time they were too excited to mark it, that the officer picked out what might be called the “key” beam. That is one which held all the other pieces of jigged and splintered timber in place, making a prison of that part of the cellar.
With vigorous blows of the keen implement, the unknown chopped away at a great hand-hewn beam. And he swung the axe as though he knew how to use it, and not as a tyro.
“He’s been in a lumber camp at one time of his life,” decided Jimmy, and the others were inclined to agree with him.
The fire was now gaining so rapidly that the heat of it, penetrating to the prison of the boys, was almost unbearable. The smoke, too, made their eyes smart and burn, and it choked them, causing them to gasp and cough.