“Well, it doesn’t do any harm to hope,” said Jimmy. “But we’ve got to be cautious just the same.”
They kept on, ever on the alert for a sight of the Germans, ever hoping for a sight of their own khaki-clad comrades. They appeared to be marching away from the scene of the battle, or battles. The firing became fainter. The country was now quite open, consisting of little hills and valleys. Each time they came to a height which afforded a place for observation, they looked all around. But all they saw, besides an occasional deserted farmhouse, or patch of woods, were rolling clouds of mist or smoke.
There had been considerable rain, and the ground was damp. The sun, shining on this, caused the moisture to condense into fog that swirled about here and there. The day had begun wonderfully clear, but now it looked like rain again.
They halted in a little grove of trees and ate some of their none-too-plentiful rations. Then, after a rest, they started on again. It was late afternoon when, as they were hiking down a lonely road, the rain suddenly began to fall.
“Whew! Now we’re in for it!” exclaimed Roger, as he did his best to protect the bag of food. “We might better have stayed back in the woods.”
“Let’s double-quick it!” suggested Bob. “Maybe there’s a house around the bend in the road.”
They hastened on, and the surmise of Bob proved correct. There was a lonely little house—more of a cabin, or shack—set in the midst of what had been a garden, but now overgrown with weeds.
“Shelter, at any rate!” cried Jimmy. “Come on, fellows!”
Roger was the first to enter the humble little cottage. But he had no sooner crossed the threshold than he started back.
“What’s the matter?” asked Bob, who was directly behind his chum. “Any Germans here?”
“No, but I fancy the owner is,” said Roger. “Look!”
He pointed to the figure of an old man, with white hair, seated at a table in what was evidently the kitchen. The man’s head was bowed on his arms which were resting on the table.
“Oh!” exclaimed Jimmy, as he looked in.
“Beg your pardon, sir,” said Bob, “but we’re Americans. May we stay here out of the rain, and perhaps for the night?”
There was no answer. The figure did not move.
“He doesn’t understand anything but French, very likely,” said Franz. “Can’t you take a hand, Blazes?”
“Yes,” assented Jimmy. “But it’s funny he didn’t wake up when Bob spoke, even if he didn’t understand. I’ll go ahead. But let’s get in out of the wet.”
They entered the room. The white-haired occupant of it did not stir from his position of bowed-down grief.
“He sleeps very soundly,” remarked Jimmy in a low voice.
Stepping forward he touched the old man on the shoulder, and then Jimmy knew what had happened.
“He’s dead!” he whispered.