“You are brave, mon garcon?”
Jimmie did not reply so promptly to that; but the officer was too tactful to wait. Instead, he asked, “You know French?” And when Jimmie shook his head: “It needs that you learn. Say this: Botteree Normb Cott. Try it, if it pleases you: Botteree Normb Cott.”
Jimmie, stammering like a schoolboy, tried; the officer made him repeat the sounds, assuring him gravely that he need have no doubts whatever; if he would make those precise sounds, any Frenchman would know what he was looking for. He was to take the main road east from the village and ride till he came to a fork; then he was to bear to the right, and when he came to the edge of a dense wood, he was to take the path to the left, and then say to everybody he met: “Botteree Normb Cott!”
“Is it that you have a weapon?” inquired the officer; and when Jimmie answered no, he pressed a button, and spoke quick words to an orderly, who came running with an automatic revolver and a belt, which Jimmie proceeded to strap upon him with thrills, half of delighted pride and half of anguished terror. “You will say to the men of the botteree that the Americans come soon to the rescue. You will find them, my brave American?” The officer spoke as if to a son whom he dearly loved; and Jimmie, who had never received an order in that tone of voice, reciprocated the affection, and clenched his hands suddenly and answered, “I’ll do my best, sir.” He turned to leave the room, when whom should he see coming in—Mike Cullen! Jimmie gave him a wink and a grin, and hustled outside and leaped upon his machine.
And now here was the little machinist from Leesville, U.S.A., flying down the battered street of this French village with something like a mid-western cyclone going on in his head. They say that a drowning man remembers everything that ever happened in his life; perhaps that was not true of Jimmie, but certainly he remembered every pacifist argument he had ever heard in his life. For the love of Mike, what was this he had let himself in for? Bound for the spot where the whole German army was trying to break through—upon an errand the most dangerous of any in the war! How in the name of Karl Marx and the whole revolutionary hierarchy had he managed to get himself into such a pickle? He, Jimmie Higgins, Bolshevik and wobbly!
And he was going through with it! He was going to throw his life away—just because he had started—because he had pledged himself—because he was carrying maps which might enable a “botteree” to win the war! Did he really care that much about this infernal capitalist war? So cried out the proletarian demons in the soul of Jimmie Higgins; and meantime the engine hammered and chugged, and a miraculous power in the depths of his subconsciousness moved the handle-bars so that he dodged shell-holes and grazed automobiles.