Chapter V. A Shot in the Dark
 

In the minds of each of the young people in the canoes, one word kept repeating itself over and over again: "Spy, spy, spy!"

Since the war had begun, the country had been overrun with them, that they knew; but out here on this remote island... Yet there was something about the very posture of the man, his hunched-up figure, the nervous twitching of the fingers that held the document, that branded him.

As they watched, he started to fold up the paper, glancing stealthily about meanwhile; then, as though satisfied that no one was watching, he picked up the heavy bag that lay beside him, evidently preparing for flight.

Betty, a little tense figure in the bottom of the boat, uttered a gasp of dismay, as Allen began carefully to lower himself into the shallow water.

The man on shore heard the slight sound and turned swiftly, staring suspiciously into the thick shadows of the foliage. Then did the boys and girls literally hold their breath.

After a few seconds, which seemed an eternity to the taut nerves of the watchers, the man turned with a guttural growl, and started cautiously to make off into the denser woodland beyond.

In a second, Alien was out of the boat, and lending a hand to the gallant Little Captain, who would not be outdone in any adventure, no matter how perilous.

The other boys and girls followed, silent as ghosts, their training in woodcraft standing them in good stead. For an instant, they stood in a tense, excited group on shore, Mrs. Irving in their midst.

"I'll tell you what we'll do," Alien was saying, and they had to lean close to catch the words, which were barely above a whisper. "There must be a guard around this mill somewhere. We'll get him, and head that fellow off."

"I'll take you to a guard," said Will suddenly. "We'll find him at the other end of the mill."

Without another word, he turned and led the way, careful of the betraying snap of twigs, along the shore, toward the mill. Even in that moment of tense excitement, the girls and boys looked at his suddenly stiffened back in surprise. It was the first time since he had come ashore that morning, that his comrades had been able to discover anything of the old Will.

However, they had little time for the solving of riddles. There was work to be done, work, which in these stirring times, might perhaps help to make history.

As they neared the mill, Will motioned to them to stay where they were, and ran ahead to intercept a guard. A moment later he returned with the latter, and the whole party made its way hurriedly and stealthily in a roundabout direction, which would almost certainly intercept the spy--if spy he were.

"Oh, Betty," whispered Grace, close to the Little Captain's ear. "I've always been horribly afraid of spies. Do you suppose he's got a gun?"

"I never heard of a spy that didn't," returned Betty grimly. "But don't worry--we have one, too."

"Better not talk," warned Roy, close at their side. "A whisper may mean a bullet."

Grace almost screamed, but Betty's firm little hand across her mouth smothered it into something between a sob and a squeak.

"Hush," whispered Betty fiercely. "You'll spoil everything."

At that moment, the sharp crack of a twig somewhere to the left of them in the woods, made them stop suddenly and stand motionless, listening.

Then with a shout, Will rushed forward, followed by the other boys and the home guard man.

"Hands up!" shouted the latter, leveling his pistol at something that moved among the bushes. "Stand where you are."

Like a flash of lightning the man wriggled out from his cover, and made a dash for liberty. With a yell, the guard ran forward, firing as he went, with the boys close at his heels.

"Oh, oh, they'll get shot!" wailed Amy, her hands before her face. "I don't see why we couldn't have left the old thing alone, anyway." "That's a nice thing to say!" cried Mollie, trembling with excitement. "Is that your idea of patriotism, to let a spy get away right under our very noses?"

"It's a good deal better than having the boys shot right under our very noses," retorted Amy with spirit.

"We'll be lucky if we don't get shot ourselves," said Grace, almost in hysterics. "Oh, there goes another one. I wonder who got shot that time."

"Let's go and see," said Betty, pale, but determined, "It isn't like us to stand in the background, when there may be something to do."

"But, Betty," wailed Amy, "we may get shot."

"Well, then, we shall," cried Betty, turning upon her fiercely. "That may have been the spy that was shot, or it may be one of our boys. Are we going to stay here, or are we going to find out?"

"I--I'm sorry, Betty," quavered poor Amy. "Of course, we'll go."

Without another word the Little Captain turned and, with Mollie at her side, made off in the direction the boys had taken. Amy and Grace, arms entwined about each other, followed a little lingeringly in the rear of their bolder companions.

They had not gone far, when they heard the welcome sound of masculine voices in excited altercation, and the heavy tramp of feet coming toward them.

"Oh," sighed Betty, her lip quivering, now that the need of courage had passed, "they never sounded so good to me before."

"Thank heaven you're safe," cried Allen, while relief banished the fear in his eyes. "I don't know what we could have been thinking of, to leave you all alone--"

"But did you get him?" cried Mollie impatiently.

"No, worse luck," responded Will disgustedly, while the guard mopped his perspiring forehead. "That spy was a slippery customer. We did get something out of it, though."

"What?" they cried eagerly.

"This," said Will, holding up something that gleamed white in the moonlight. "It's a letter, and it ought to tell us a number of things we want to know about Mr. Adolph Hensler."

"Oh, is that his name?" cried Betty eagerly. "That tells us a good deal without even opening the letter."

"It's German enough," agreed Will. "But, gee! I'm sorry we didn't catch the fellow. The government needs him."

"But we're so glad you didn't get shot," Amy ventured mildly. "We heard that last one back there in the woods, and we thought--"

"We'd gotten ours?" grinned Roy. "Well, we hadn't--not yet."

"It was too near for comfort, just the same," Frank added. "I could almost hear the wind from it as it whizzed past me."

Here Betty, who had been watching Allen closely, uttered a sharp exclamation, and all turned to her.

"Allen," she cried, for he had swayed a little and rested his hand against a tree as though to steady himself, "why didn't you tell us? Oh, Allen! It's blood!"

"Nothing at all," said Allen, laughing a little unsteadily, as Mrs. Irving and the girls and boys gathered about him anxiously. "A little thing will bleed like a shambles sometimes. It's nothing--Betty--"

But Betty, with a little catch in her breath, was tearing aside the soft shirt, which was clotted with blood at the shoulder.

"Oh, Allen, Allen!" she was murmuring over and over in a way that sent the blood pounding madly to Allen Washburn's head, and made the wound a blessing. "Why didn't you tell me? Oh, your poor shoulder! Some one get some water, quick," she ordered imperiously, turning to the anxious group. "I don't think it's serious, but we must stop this bleeding. Please hurry."

And hurry they did, bringing water from a near-by spring in cups they expertly improvised from leaves as they had done so many times just for the fun of it.

Then the boys produced some spotless white handkerchiefs, which served as a makeshift bandage, till they could reach the cottage. The bullet, as Betty had said, had not much more than grazed the shoulder, yet the wound had bled profusely, and Allen was beginning to feel a little sick and dizzy, from the loss of blood.

When at last all had been done, that it was possible to do, Allen was helped down to the canoe, and they paddled home, a very much sobered group of young people.

"Never mind," said Allen, in an attempt to lift the general depression, as they neared the cottage. "We found the letter anyway, which may be of considerable help to the government. And what's one shoulder more or less in the cause?"