“Perhaps you’re right,” admitted Jimmy. “Well, though I’m leader I’m willing to abide by the majority rule. Since you all want to go to the south, the south it shall be.”
“Don’t you think that’s the best way?” asked Roger.
“Well, it’s as good, perhaps, as any other,” was the reply. “I think we’re pretty well surrounded by Germans, and it doesn’t really make much difference which way we go. So the south is as good as any.”
“Then lead on!” exclaimed Bob.
“Yes—hike!” added Roger.
And once more they started off.
Their way lay through what had once been a beautiful farming country. In places, still, there were fields under cultivation—that is, they had been cultivated up to within a few weeks. But the tide of battle had swept over the region and the French farmers had either been killed or had left their homesteads. Still, where the fields had not been torn up by shell fire, grains were growing, and there were even orchards here and there.
But, as far as the soldier boys could see, there was no sign of life. Even the birds seemed to have flown away. There were no chickens, no dogs, no cattle nor horses—in fact none of the usual farm scenes. Here and there were farmhouses, some in ruins, others scarcely touched by the devastating wave of war. But in these latter, which were still habitable, there were no men or women, and no laughing children. In fact, throughout France it is probable that there were no laughing children at this stage of the war. Or if they laughed, it was because they were too young to appreciate the menace of the Boche invasion.
“We may not be so badly off for food, even if we eat up all our Secretary of the Interior has,” remarked Bob, as they trudged along a deserted road. They had, some time since, left behind them the burning mill. It was out of sight, though they could catch occasional glimpses of the smoke from it.
“What do you mean!” asked Jimmy.
“Well, there may be a lot of good things to eat in some of these farmhouses,” suggested the young corporal. “I vote we take a look.”
“It can’t do any harm,” decided Jimmy. “But I doubt if we find anything worth taking.”
And he was right—at least in the first few houses the boys entered. The cupboards had been cleaned out, if not by the unfortunate owners, then by the Germans who had devastated the region.
“We’ll have to live on what we have,” said Jimmy. “And we may not be so badly off for all that Lots of the boys have been without food for three days. If they stood it we can. And we may get to our lines sooner than we expect.”
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t get there by night,” observed Roger. “We didn’t hike very far when we were fighting, and our boys can’t have retreated far enough in the time that has elapsed since the fighting changed, to get entirely beyond our reach. I believe we’ll be with our own division by night.”