The Wildcat

by Albert Payson Terhune

When Cassius Wyble came down from his mountains to the 2OOO-population metropolis of Clayburg on his half-yearly trip for supplies he thought the old custom of Muster Day had been revived.

No fewer than eleven men in khaki were lounging round the station platform or sitting on the steps of the North America general store. Enlistment posters, too, flared from windows and walls.

These posters—except for their pretty pictures—meant nothing at all to Cash Wyble. For, as with his parents and grandparents, his knowledge of the written or printed word was purely a matter of hearsay.

Yet the sight of the eleven men in newfangled uniform—so like in color to his own butternut homespuns—interested Cash.

“What’s all the boys doin’—togged up thataway?” he demanded of the North America’s proprietor. “Waitin’ for the band?”

“Waiting to be shipped to Camp Lee,” answered the local merchant prince; adding, as Cash’s burnt-leather face grew blanker: “Camp Lee, down in V’ginia, you know. Training camp for the war.”

“War?” queried Cash, preparing to grin, at prospect of a joke. “What war?” 

“What war?” echoed the dumfounded storekeeper.

“Why, the war, of course! Where in blazes have you been keeping yourself?”

“I been up home, where I b’long,” said Cash sulkily. “What with the hawgs, an’ crops an’ skins an’ sich, a busy man’s got no time traipsin’ off to the city every minute. Twice a year does me pretty nice. An’ now s’pose you tell me what war you’re blattin’ about.”

The storekeeper told him. He told him in the simplest possible language. Yet half—and more than half—of the explanation went miles above the listening mountaineer’s head. Cash gathered, however, that the United States was fighting Germany.

Germany he knew by repute for a country or a town on the far side of the world. Some of its citizens had even invaded his West Virginia mountains, where their odd diction and porcelain pipes roused much derision among the cultured hillfolk.

“Germany?” mused Cash when the narrative was ended. “We’re to war with Germany, hey? Sakes, but I wisht I’d knowed that yesterday! A couple of Germans went right past my shack. I could ’a’ shot ’em as easy as toad pie.”

The North America’s proprietor valued Cash Wyble’s sparse trade, as he valued that of other mountaineers who made Clayburg their semiannual port of call. If on Cash’s report these rustics should begin a guerilla warfare upon their German neighbors, more of them would presently be lodged in jail than the North America could well afford to spare from its meager customer list. 

Wherefore the proprietor did some more explaining. Knowing the mountaineer brain, he made no effort to point out the difference between armed Germans and noncombatants. He merely said that the Government had threatened to lock up any West Virginian who should kill a German—this side of Europe. It was a new law, he continued, and one that the revenue officers were bent on enforcing.

Cash sighed and reluctantly bade farewell to an alluring dream that had begun to shape itself in his simple brain—a dream of “laying out” in cliff-top brush, waiting with true elephant patience until a German neighbor should stroll, unsuspecting, along the trail below and should move slowly within range of the antique Wyble rifle.

It was a sweet fantasy, and hard to banish. For Cash certainly could shoot. There was scarce a man in the Cumberlands or the Appalachians who could outshoot him. Shooting and a native knack at moon-shining were Cash’s only real accomplishments. Whether stalking a shy old stag or potting a revenue officer on the sky line, the man’s aim was uncannily true. In a region of born marksmen his skill stood forth supreme.

He felt not the remotest hatred for any of these local Germans. In an impersonal way he rather liked one or two of them. Yet, if the law had really been off——

The zest of the man hunt tingled pleasantly in the marksman’s blood. And he resented this unfair new revenue ruling, which permitted and even encouraged  larger than Clayburg—which he knew to be the biggest metropolis in America—Cash set out to nail the lie by a personal inspection of Petersburg. He neglected to apply for leave, so was held up by the first sentinel he met.

Cash explained very politely his reason for quitting camp. But the pig-headed sentinel still refused to let him pass. Two minutes later a fast-summoned corporal and two men were using all their strength to pry Wyble loose from the luckless sentry. And again the guardhouse had Cash as a transient and blasphemous guest.

He was learning much more of kitchen-police work than of guard mount. At the latter task he was a failure. The first night he was assigned to beat pacing, the relief found him restfully snoring, on his back, his rifle stuck up in front of him by means of its bayonet thrust into the ground. Cash had seen no good reason why he should walk to and fro for hours when there was nothing exciting to watch for and when he had been awake since early morning. Therefore he had gone to sleep. And his subsequent guardhouse stay filled him with uncomprehending fury.

The salute, too, struck him as the height of absurdity—as a bit of tomfoolery in which he would have no part. Not that he was exclusive, but what was the use of touching one’s forelock to some officer one had never before met? He was willing to nod pleasantly and even to say “Howdy, Cap?” when his company captain passed by him for the first time in the morning. But he saw no use in repeating that or any other form  of salutation when the same captain chanced to meet him a bare fifteen minutes later.

Cash Wyble’s case was not in any way unique among Camp Lee’s thirty thousand new soldiers. Hundreds of mountaineers were in still worse mental plight. And the tact as well as the skill of their officers was strained well-nigh to the breaking point in shaping the amorphous backwoods rabble into trim soldiers.

Not all members of the mountain draft were so fiercely resentful as was Cash. But many others of them were like unbroken colts. The strange frequency of washing and of shaving, and the wearing of underclothes were their chief puzzles.

The company captain labored with Cash again and again, pointing out the need of neat cleanliness, of promptitude, of vigilance; trying to make him understand that a salute is not a sign of servility; seeking to imbue him with the spirit of patriotism and of discipline. But to Cash the whole thing was infinitely worse and more bewildering than had been the six months he had once spent in Clayburg jail for mayhem.

Three things alone mitigated his misery at Camp Lee: The first was the shooting; the second was his monthly pay—which represented more real money than he ever had had in his pocket at any one time; the third was the food—amazing in its abundance and luxurious variety, to the always-hungry mountaineer.

But presently the target shooting palled. As soon as he had mastered carefully the intricacies of the queer new rifle they gave him, the hours at the range were  no more inspiring to him than would be, to Paderewski, the eternal playing of the scale of C with one finger.

To Cash the target shooting was child’s play. Once he grasped the rules as to sights and elevations and became used to the feel of the army rifle, the rest was drearily simple.

He could outshoot practically every man at Camp Lee. This gave him no pride. He made himself popular with men who complimented him on it by assuring them modestly that he outshot them not because he was such a dead shot but because they shot so badly.

The headiest colt in time will learn the lesson of the breaking pen. And Cash Wyble gradually became a soldier. At least he learned the drill and the regulations and how to keep out of the guardhouse—except just after pay day; and his lank figure took on a certain military spruceness. But under the surface he was still Cash Wyble. He behaved, because there was no incentive at the camp that made disobedience worth while.

Then after an endless winter came the journey to the seaboard and the embarkation for France; and the awesome sight of a tossing gray ocean a hundred times wider and rougher than Clayburg River in freshet time. Followed a week of agonized terror, mingled with an acute longing to die. Then ensued a week of calm water, during which one might refill the oft-emptied inner man.

A few days later Cash was bumping along a newly repaired French railway in a car whose announced capacity was forty men or eight horses. And thence to  billet in a half-wrecked village, where his regiment was drilled and redrilled in the things they had toiled so hard at Camp Lee to master, and in much that was novel to the men.

Cash next came to a halt in a network of trenches overlooking a stretch of country that had been tortured into hideousness—a region that looked like a Doré nightmare. It was a waste of hillocks and gullies and shell holes and blasted big trees and frayed copses and split bowlders and seared vegetation. When Cash heard it was called No Man’s Land he was not surprised. He well understood why no man—not even an ignorant foreigner—cared to buy such a tract.

He was far more interested in hearing that a tangle of trenches, somewhat like his regiment’s own, lay three miles northeastward, at the limit of No Man’s Land, and that those trenches were infested with Germans.

Germans were the people Cash Wyble had come all the way to France to kill. And once more the thrill of the man hunt swept pleasantly through his blood. He had no desire to risk prison. So he had made very certain by repeated inquiry that this particular section of France was in Europe; and that no part of it was within the boundaries or the jurisdiction of the sovereign state of West Virginia. Here, therefore, the law was off on Germans, and he could not get into the slightest trouble with the hated revenue officers by shooting as many of the foe as he could go out and find.

Cash enjoyed the picture he conjured up—a picture of a whole bevy of Germans seated at ease in a trench, smoking porcelain pipes and conversing with one another  in comically broken English; of himself stealing toward them, and from the shelter of one of those hillock bowlders opening a mortal fire on the unsuspecting foreigners.

It was a quaint thought, and one that Cash loved to play with.

Also it had an advantage that most of Cash’s vivid mind pictures had not. For, in part, it came true.

The Germans, on the thither side of No Man’s Land, seemed bent on jarring the repose and wrenching the nerve of their lately arrived Yankee neighbors. Not only were those veteran official entertainers, Minnie and Bertha, and their equally vocal artillery sisters called into service for the purpose, but a dense swarm of snipers were also impressed into the task.

Now this especial reach of No Man’s Land was a veritable snipers’ paradise. There was cover—plenty of it—everywhere. A hundred sharpshooters of any scouting prowess at all could deploy at will amid the tumble of bowlders and knolls and twisted tree trunks and battered foliage and craters.

The long spell of wet weather had precluded the burning away of undergrowth. There were tree tops and hill summits whence a splendid shot could be taken at unwary Americans in the lower front-line trenches and along the rising ground at the rear of the Yankee lines. Yes, it was a stretch of ground laid out for the joy of snipers. And the German sharpshooters took due advantage of this bit of luck. The whine of a high-power bullet was certain to follow the momentary exposure of any portion of khaki anatomy above or  behind the parapets. And in disgustingly many instances the bullet did not whine in vain. All of which kept the newcomers from getting any excess joy out of trench life.

To mitigate the annoyance there was a call for volunteer sharpshooters to scout cautiously through No Man’s Land and seek to render the boche sniping a less safe and exhilarating sport than thus far it had been. The job was full of peril, of course. For there was a more than even chance of the Yankee snipers’ being sniped by the rival sharpshooters, who were better acquainted with the ground.

Yet at the first call there was a clamorous throng of volunteers. Many of these volunteers admitted under pressure that they knew nothing of scout work and that they had not so much as qualified in marksmanship. But they craved a chance at the boche. And grouchily did they resent the swift weeding-out process that left their services uncalled for.

Cash Wyble was the first man accepted for the dangerous detail. And for the first time since the draft had caught him his burnt-leather face expanded into a grin that could not have been wider unless his flaring ears had been set back.

With two days’ rations and a goodly store of cartridges he fared forth that night into No Man’s Land. Dawn was not yet fully gray when the first crack of his rifle was wafted back to the trenches.

Then the artillery firing, which was part of the day’s work, set in. And its racket drowned the noise of any shooting that Cash might be at. 

Forty-eight hours passed. At dawn of the third day Cash came back to camp. He was tired and horribly thirsty; but his lantern-jawed visage was one unmarred mask of bliss.

“Twelve,” he reported tersely to his captain. “At least,” he continued in greater detail, “twelve that I’m dead sure of. Nice big ones, too, some of ’em.”

“Nice big ones!” repeated the captain in admiring disgust. “You talk as if you’d been after wild turkeys!”

“A heap better’n wild-turkey shootin’!” grinned Cash. “An’ I got twelve that I’m sure of. There was one, though, I couldn’t get. A he-one, at that. He’s sure some German, that feller! He’s as crafty as they make ’em. I couldn’t ever come up to him or get a line on him. I’ll bet I throwed away thutty ca’tridges on jes’ that one Dutchy. An’ by an’ by he found out what I was arter. Then there was fun, Cap! Him and I did have one fine shootin’ match! But I was as good at hidin’ as he was. And there couldn’t neither one of us seem to git ’tother. Most of the rest of ’em was as easy to git as a settin’ hen. But not him. I’d ’a’ laid out there longer for a crack at him but I couldn’t find no water. If there’d been a spring or a water seep anywheres there I’d ’a’ stayed till doomsday but what I’d ’a’ got him. Soon’s I fill up with some water I’m goin’ back arter him. He’s well wuth it. I’ll bet that cuss don’t weigh an ounce under two hundred pound.”

Cash’s smug joy in his exploit and his keen anticipation of a return trip were dashed by the captain’s reminder that war is not a hunting jaunt; and that Wyble  must return to his loathed trench duties until such time as it should seem wise to those above him to send him forth again.

Cash could not make head or tail out of such a command. After months of grinding routine he had at last found a form of recreation that not only dulled his sharply constant homesickness but that made up for all he had gone through. And now he was told he could go forth on such delightful excursions only when he might chance to be sent!

Red wrath boiled hot in the soul of Cash Wyble. Experience had taught him the costly folly of venting such rage on a commissioned officer. So he hunted up Top Sergeant Mahan of his own company and laid his griefs before that patient veteran.

Top Sergeant Mahan—formerly of the Regular Army—listened with true sympathy to the complaint; and listened with open enthusiasm to the tale of the two days of forest skulking. But he could offer no help in the matter of returning to the battue.

“The cap’n was right,” declared Mahan. “They wanted to throw a little lesson into those boche snipers and make them ease up on their heckling. And you gave them a man’s-size dose of their own physic. There’s not one sniper out there to-day, to ten who were on deck three days ago. You’ve done your job. And you’ve done it good and plenty. But it’s done—for a while anyhow. You weren’t brought over here to spend your time in prowling around No Man’s Land on a still hunt for stray Germans. That isn’t Uncle Sam’s way. Don’t go grouching over it, man! You’ll  be remembered, all right. And if they get pesky again you’ll be the first one sent out to abate them. You can count on it. Till then, go ahead with your regular work and forget the sniper job.”

“But, Sarge!” pleaded Cash, “you don’t git the idee. You don’t git it at all. Those Germans will be shyer’n scat, now that I’ve flushed ’em. An’ the longer the news has a chance to git round among ’em, the shyer they’re due to git. Why, even if I was to go out thar straight off it ain’t likely I’d be able to pot one where I potted three before. It’s the same difference as it is between the first flushin’ of a wild-turkey bunch an’ the second. An’ if I’ve got to wait long there’ll be no downin’ any of ’em. Tell that to the Cap. Make him see if he wants them cusses he better let me git ’em while they’re still gittable.”

In vain did Top Sergeant Mahan go over and over the same ground, trying to make Cash see that the company captain and those above him were not out for a record in the matter of ambushed Germans.

Wyble had struck one idea he could understand, and he would not give it up.

“But, Sarge,” he urged desperately, “I’m no durn good here foolin’ around with drill an’ relief an’ diggin’ an’ all that. Any mudback can do them things if you folks is sot on havin’ ’em done. But there ain’t another man in all this outfit who can shoot like I can; or has the knack of ‘layin’ out’; or of stalkin’. Pop got the trick of it from gran’ther. An’ gran’ther got if off th’ Injuns in th’ old days. If you folks is out to git Germans I’m the feller to git ’em fer you. Nice big ones.  If you’re here jes’ to play sojer, any poor fool c’n play it fer you as good as me.”

“I’ve just told you,” began the sergeant, “that we——”

“’Nuther thing!” suggested Cash brightly. “These Germans must have villages somew’eres. All folks do. Even Injuns. Some place where they live when they ain’t on the warpath. Get leave an’ rations an’ ca’tridges for me—for a week, or maybe two—an’ I’ll gar’ntee to scout till I find one of them villages. The Dutchies won’t be expectin’ me. An’ I c’n likely pot a whole mess of ’em before they c’n git to cover.

“Say!” he went on eagerly, a bit of general information flashing into his memory. “Did you know Germans was a kind of Confed’? The fightin’ Germans, I mean. Well, they are. The hull twelve I got was dressed in gray Confed’ uniform, same as pop used to wear. I got his old uniform to home. Lord, but pop would sure lay into me if he knowed I was pepperin’ his old side partners like that! I’d figered that all Germans was dressed like the ones back home. But they’ve got reg’lar uniforms. Confed’ uniforms, at that. I wonder does our gin’ral know about it?”

Again the long-suffering Mahan tried to set him right; this time as to the wide divergence between the gray-backed troops of Ludendorff and the Confederacy’s gallant soldiers. But Cash merely nodded cryptically, as always he did when he thought his foreigner fellow soldiers were trying to take advantage of his supposed ignorance. And he swung back to the theme nearest his heart. 

“Now about that snipin’ business,” he pursued, “even if the Cap don’t want too many of ’em shot up, he sure won’t be so cantankerous as to keep me from tryin’ to git that thirteenth feller! I mean the one that kep’ blazin’ at me whiles I kep’ blazin’ at him; an’ the both of us too cute to show an inch of target to t’other or stay in the same patch of cover after we’d fired. That Dutchy sure c’n scout grand! He’s a born woodsman. An’ you-all don’t want it to be said the Germans has got a better sniper than what we’ve got, do you? Well, that’s jes’ what will be said by everyone in this yer county unless you let me down him. Come on, Sarge! Let me go back arter him! I been thinkin’ up a trick gran’ther got off’n th’ Injuns. It oughter land him sure. Let me go try! I b’lieve that feller can’t weigh an ounce less’n two-twenty. Leave me have one more go arter him; and I’ll bring him in to prove it!”

Top Sergeant Mahan’s patience stopped fraying, and ripped from end to end.

“You seem to think this war is a cross between a mountain feud and a deer hunt!” he growled. “Isn’t there any way of hammering through your ivory mine that we aren’t here to pick off unsuspecting Germans and make a tally of the kill? And we aren’t here to brag about the size of the men we shoot either. We’re here, you and I, to obey orders and do our work. You’ll get plenty of shooting before you go home again, don’t worry. Only you’ll do it the way you’re told to. After all the time you’ve spent in the hoosgow since you joined, I should think you’d know that.” 

But Cash Wyble did not know it. He said so—loudly, offensively, blasphemously. He said many things—things that in any other army than his own would have landed him against a blank wall facing a firing squad. Then he slouched off by himself to grumble.

As far as Cash Wyble was concerned the war was a failure—a total failure. The one bright spot in its workaday monotony was blurred for him by the orders of his stupid superiors. In his vivid imagination that elusive German sniper gradually attained a weight not far from three hundred pounds.

In sour silence Cash sulked through the rest of the day’s routine. In his heart boiled black rebellion. He had learned his soldier trade, back at Camp Lee, because it had been very strongly impressed upon him that he would go to jail if he did not. For the same reason he had not tried to desert. He had all the true mountaineer horror for prison. He had toned down his native temper and stubbornness because failure to do so always landed him in the guardhouse—a place that, to his mind, was almost as terrible as jail.

But out here in the wilderness there were no jails. At least Cash had seen none. And he had it on the authority of Top Sergeant Mahan himself that this part of France was not within the legal jurisdiction of West Virginia—the only region, as far as Cash actually knew, where men are put in prison for their misdeeds. Hence the rules governing Camp Lee could not be supposed to obtain out here. All of which comforted Cash not a little. 

To him “patriotism” was a word as meaningless as was “discipline.” The law of force he recognized—the law that had hog-tied him and flung him into the Army. But the higher law which makes men risk their all, right blithely, that their country and civilization may triumph—this was as much a mystery to Cash Wyble as to any army mule.

Just now he detested the country that had dragged him away from his lean shack and forbade him to disport himself as he chose in No Man’s Land. He hated his country; he hated his Army; he hated his regiment. Most of all he loathed his captain and Top Sergeant Mahan.

At Camp Lee he had learned to comport himself more or less like a civilized recruit because there was no breach of discipline worth the penalty of the guardhouse. Out here it was different.

That night Private Cassius Wyble got hold of two other men’s emergency rations, a bountiful supply of water and a stuffing pocketful of cartridges. With these and his adored rifle he eluded the sentries—a ridiculously easy feat for so skilled a woodsman—and went over the top and on into No Man’s Land.

By daylight he had trailed and potted a German sniper.

By sunrise he had located the man against whom he had sworn his strategy feud—the German who had put him on his mettle two days before.

Cash did not see his foe. And when from the edge of a rock he fired at a puff of smoke in a clump of trees no resultant body came tumbling earthward. And  thirty seconds later a bullet from quite another part of the clump spatted hotly against the rock edge five inches from his head.

Cash smiled beatifically. He recognized the tactics of his former opponent. And once more the merry game was on.

To make perfectly certain of his rival’s identity Cash wiggled low in the undergrowth until he came to a jut of rock about seven feet long and two feet high. Lying at full length behind this low barrier, and parallel to it, Cash put his hat on the toe of his boot and cautiously lifted his foot until the hat’s sugar-loaf crown protruded a few inches above the top of the rock.

On the instant, from the tree clump, snapped the report of a rifle. The bullet, ignoring the hat, nicked the rock comb precisely above Cash’s upturned face. He nodded approval, for it told him that his enemy was not only a good forest fighter but that he recognized the same skill in Wyble.

Thus began two days of delightful pastime for the exiled mountaineer. Thus, too, began a series of offensive and defensive maneuvers worthy of Natty Bumppo and Old Sleuth combined.

It was not until Cash abandoned the hunt long enough to find and shoot another German sniper and appropriate the latter’s uniform that he was able, under cover of dusk, to get near enough to the tree clump for a fair sight of his antagonist. At which juncture a snap shot from the hip ended the duel.

Cash’s initial thrill of triumph, even then, was dampened. For the sniper—to whom by this time he had  credited the size of Goliath at the very least—proved to be a wizened little fellow, not much more than five feet tall.

Still Cash had won. He had outgeneraled a mighty clever sharpshooter. He had gotten what he came out for, and two other snipers, besides. It was not a bad bag. As there was nothing else to stay there for, and as his water was gone, as well as nearly all his cartridges, Cash shouldered his rifle and plodded wearily back to camp for a night’s rest.

There to his amazed indignation he was not received as a hero, even when he sought to recount his successful adventures. Instead, he was arrested at once on a charge of technical desertion, and was lodged in the local substitute for a regular guardhouse.

Bewildered wrath smothered him. What had he done, to be arrested again? True, he had left camp without leave. But had he not atoned for this peccadillo fifty-fold by the results of his absence? Had he not killed three men whose business it was to shoot Americans? Had he not killed the very best sniper the Germans could hope to possess?

Yet, they had not promoted him. They had not so much as thanked him. Instead, they had stuck him here in the hoosgow. And Mahan had said something about a court-martial.

It was black ingratitude! That was what it was. That and more. Such people did not deserve to have the services of a real fighter like himself.

Which started another train of thought.

Apparently—except on special occasions—the Americans  did not send men out into the wilderness to take pot shots at the lurking foe. And apparently that was just what the Germans always did. He had full proof, indeed, of the German custom. For had he not found a number of the graybacks thus happily engaged? Not for one occasion only, but as a regular thing?

Yes, the Germans had sense enough to appreciate a good fighter when they had one. And they knew how to make use of him in a way to afford innocent pleasure to himself and much harm to the enemy. That was the ideal life for a soldier—“laying out” and sniping the foe. Not kitchen-police work and endless drill and digging holes and taking baths. Sniping was the job for a he-man, if one had to be away from home at all. And in the German ranks alone was such happy employment to be found.

When Cash calmly and definitely made up his mind to desert to the Germans he was troubled by no scruples at all. Even the dread of the mysterious court-martial added little weight to his decision. The deed seemed to him not a whit worse than was the leaving of one farmer’s employ, back home, to take service with another who offered more congenial work.

Wherefore he deserted.

It was not at all difficult for him to escape from the elementary cell in which he was confined. It was a mere matter of strategy and luck. So was his escape to No Man’s Land.

Unteroffizier Otto Schrabstaetter an hour later conducted to his company commander a lanky and leather-faced man in khaki uniform who had accosted a sentry  with the pacific plea that he be sworn in as a member of the German Army.

The sentry did not know English; nor did Unteroffizier Otto Schrabstaetter. And though Cash addressed them both in a very fair imitation of the guttural English he had heard used by the West Virginia Germans—and which he fondly believed to be pure German—they did not understand a word of his plea. So he was taken to the captain, a man who had lived for five years in New York.

With the Unteroffizier at his side and with two armed soldiers just behind him Cash confronted the captain, and under the latter’s volley of barked questions told his story. Ten minutes afterward he was repeating the same tale to a flint-faced man with a fox-brush mustache—Colonel von Scheurer, commander of the regiment that held that section of the first-line trench.

A little to Cash’s aggrieved surprise, neither the captain nor the colonel seemed interested in his prowess as a sharpshooter or in his ill-treatment at the hands of his own Army. Instead, they asked an interminable series of questions that seemed to have no bearing at all on his case.

They wanted, for instance, to know the name of his regiment; its quota of men; how long they had been in France; what sea route they had taken in crossing the ocean; from what port they had sailed; and the approximate size of the convoy. They wanted to know what regiments lay to either side of Cash’s in the American trenches; how many men per month America was sending overseas and where they usually  landed. They wanted to know a thousand things more, of the same general nature.

Cash saw no reason why he should not satisfy their silly curiosity. And he proceeded to do so to the best of his ability. But as he did not know so much as the name of the port whence he had shipped to France, and as the rest of his tactical knowledge was on the same plane, the fast-barked queries presently took on a tone of exasperation.

This did not bother Cash. He was doing his best. If these people did not like his answers that was no affair of his. He was here to fight, not to talk. His attention wandered.

Presently he interrupted the colonel’s most searching questions to ask: “You-all don’t happen to be the Kaiser, do you? I s’pose not though. I’ll bet that old Kaiser must weigh——”

A thundered oath brought him back to the subject in hand, and the cross-questioning went on. But all the queries elicited nothing more than a mass of misinformation, delivered with such palpable genuineness of purpose that even Colonel von Scheurer could not doubt the man’s good faith.

And at last the two officers began to have a very fair estimate of the mountaineer’s character and of the reasons that had brought him thither.

Still it was the colonel’s mission in life to suspect—to take nothing for granted. And after all, this yokel and his queer story were no more bizarre than was many a spy trick played by Germany upon her foes. Spies were bound to be good actors. And this lantern-jawed  fellow might possibly be a character actor of high ability. Colonel von Scheurer sat for a moment in silence, peering up at Cash from beneath a thatch of stiff-haired brows. Then he ordered the captain and the others to leave the dugout.

Alone with Wyble the colonel still maintained his pose of majestic surveillance.

Then with no warning he spat forth the question: “Wer bist du?

Not the best character actor unhung could have simulated the owlish ignorance in Cash’s face. Not the shrewdest spy could have had time to mask a knowledge of German. And, as Colonel von Scheurer well knew, no spy who did not understand German would have been sent to enlist in the German Army.

The colonel at once was satisfied that the newcomer was not a spy. Yet to make doubly certain of the recruit’s willingness to serve against his own country Von Scheurer sought another test. Pulling toward him a scratch pad he picked up a pencil from the table before him and proceeded to make a rapid sketch. When the sketch was complete he detached the top sheet and showed it to Cash. On it was drawn a rough likeness of the American flag.

“What is that?” he demanded.

“Old Glory,” answered Cash after a leisurely survey of the picture; adding in friendly patronage: “And not bad drawed, at that.”

“It is the United States flag,” pursued the colonel, “as you say. It is the national emblem of the country  where you were born; the country you are renouncing, to become a subject of the All Highest.”

“Meanin’ Gawd?” asked Cash.

He wanted to be sure of every step. While he did not at all know the meaning of “renounce,” yet his attendance at mountain camp-meeting revivals had given him a possible inkling as to what “All Highest” meant.

“What?” inquired the puzzled colonel, not catching his drift.

“The ‘All Highest’ is Gawd, ain’t it?” said Cash.

“It is His Imperial Majesty, the Kaiser,” sharply retorted the scandalized colonel.

“Oh!” exclaimed Cash, much interested. “I see. In Wes’ V’ginny we call Him ‘Gawd.’ An’ over in this neck of the woods your Dutch name for Him is ‘Kaiser.’ What a ninny I am! I’d allers had the idee the Kaiser was jes’ a man, with somethin’ the same sort of job as Pres’dent Wilson’s. But——”

“This picture represents the flag of the United States,” resumed the impatient Von Scheurer, waiving the subject of theology for the point in hand. “You have renounced it. You have declared your wish to fight against it. Prove that. Prove it by tearing that sketch in two—and spitting upon it!”

“Hold on!” interposed Cash, speaking with tolerant kindness as to a somewhat stupid child. “Hold on, Cap! You got me wrong. Or may be I didn’t make it so very clear. I didn’t ever say I wanted to fight Old Glory. All I said I wanted to do was to fight that crowd of smart Alecks over yonder who jail me all the  time an’ won’t let me fight in my own way. I’ve got nothin’ agin th’ old flag. Why, that ’ere’s the flag I was borned under! Me an’ pop an’ gran’ther an’ the hull b’ilin’ of us—as fur back as there was any ’Merica, I reckon. I don’t go ’round wavin’ it none. That ain’t my way. But I sure ain’t goin’ to tear it up. And I most gawdamightysure ain’t goin’ to spit on it. I——”

He checked himself. Not that he had no more to say, but because to his astonishment he found he was beginning to lose his temper. This phenomenon halted his speech and turned his wondering thoughts inward.

Cash could not understand his own strange surge of choler. He had not been aware of any special interest in the American flag. A little bunting representation of the Stars and Stripes—now faded close to whiteness—hung on the wall of his shack at home, where his grandmother, a rabid Unionist, had hung it nearly sixty years earlier, when West Virginia had refused to join the Confederacy. Every day of his life Cash had seen it there; had seen without noting or caring.

Camp Lee, too, had been ablaze with American flags. And after he had learned the rules as to the flag salute Cash had never given the banners a second thought. The regimental flags, too, here in France, had seemed to him but a natural part of the Army’s equipment, and no more to be venerated than the twin bars on his captain’s tunic.

Thus he could not in the very least account for the fiery flare of rebellion that gripped him at this ramrod-like Prussian’s command to defile the emblem. Yet  grip him it did. And it held him there, quivering and purple, the strange emotion waxing more and more overpoweringly potent at each passing fraction of a second. Dumb and shaking he glowered down at the amused colonel.

Von Scheurer watched him placidly for a few moments; then with a short laugh he advanced the test. Reaching for the sheet of paper whereon he had sketched the flag the colonel held it lightly between the fingers of his outstretched hands.

“It is really a very simple thing to do,” he said carelessly, yet keeping a covert watch upon the mountaineer. “And it is a thing that every loyal German subject should rejoice to do. All I required was that you first tear the emblem in two and then spit upon it—as I do now.”

But the colonel did not suit action to words. As his fingers tightened on the sheet of paper the dugout echoed to a low snarl that would have done credit to a Cumberland catamount.

And with the snarl six feet of lean and wiry bulk shot through the air across the narrow table that separated Cash from the colonel.

Von Scheurer with admirable presence of mind snatched his pistol from its temporary resting place in his lap. With the speed of the wind he seized the weapon. But with the speed of the whirlwind Cash Wyble was upon him, his clawlike fingers deep in the colonel’s full throat, his hundred and sixty pounds of bone and gristle smiting Von Scheurer on chest and shoulder. 

Cash had literally risen in air and pounced on the Prussian. Under the impact Von Scheurer’s chair collapsed. Both men shot to earth, the colonel undermost and the pistol flying unheeded from his grasp. Over, too, went the table, and the electric light upon it. And the dugout was in pitch blackness.

There in the dark Cash Wyble deliriously tackled his prey, making queer and hideous little worrying sounds now and then far down in his throat, like a dog that mangles its meat.

And there the sentry from the earthen passageway found them when he rushed in with an electric torch, and followed by a rabble of fellow soldiers.

Cash at sound of the running footsteps jumped to his feet. The man he had attacked was lying very still, in a crumpled and yet sprawling heap—in a posture never designed by Nature.

With one wild sweep of his windmill arms Cash grabbed up the sheet of paper on which Von Scheurer had made his life’s last sketch. With a simultaneous sweep he knocked the glass-bulbed torch from the sentinel, just as a rifle or two were centering their aim toward him; and, head down, he tore into the group of men who blocked the dugout entrance.

Cash had a faintly conscious sense of dashing down one passageway and up another, following by forestry instinct the course he noted when he was led into the colonel’s presence.

He collided with a sentinel; he butted another from his flying path. He heard yells and shots—especially shots. Once something hit him on the shoulder, whirling  him half round without breaking his stride. Again something hot whipped him across the cheek. And at last he was out, under the foggy stars, with excited Germans firing in his general direction and loosing off star shells.

Again instinct and scout skill came to the rescue as he plunged into a bramble thicket and wriggled through long grass on his heaving stomach.

An hour before dawn Cash Wyble was led before his sleepy and unloving company commander. The returned wanderer was caked with dirt and blood. His face was scored by briers. Across one cheek ran the red wale of a bullet. A very creditable flesh wound adorned his left shoulder. His clothes were in ribbons.

Before the captain could frame the first of a thousand scathing words Cash broke out pantingly: “Stick me in the hoosgow if you’re a mind to, Cap! Stick me there for life. Or wish me onto a kitchen-police job forever! I’m not kickin’. It’s comin’ to me, all right, arter what I done.

“I git the drift of the hull thing now. I’m onter what it means. It—it means Old Glory! It means—this!

He stuck out one muddy hand wherein was clutched a wad of scratch-pad paper.

Then the company commander did a thing that stamped him as a genius. Instead of administering the planned rebuke and following it by sending the wretch to the guard house he began to ask questions.

“What do you make of it all?” dazedly queried the captain of Top Sergeant Mahan when Cash had been  taken to the trench hospital to have his shoulder dressed.

“Well, sir,” reported Mahan meditatively, “for one thing, I take it, we’ve got a new soldier in the company. A soldier, not a varmint. For another thing, I take it, Uncle Sam’s got a new American on his list of nephews. And—and, unless I’m wrong, Kaiser Bill is short one crackajack sniper and one perfectly good Prussian colonel too. War’s a funny thing, sir.”

Albert Payson Terhune.