Off to the Wars :
A Briton and a German Meet on the Way to Enlist
Robert E. Pinkerton
AT FIVE o’clock of a bright August morning Billy Throop rolled out of his blankets with no other thought in his unbarbered head than to cross the lake and spend the day in the raspberry patch. At ten o’clock he had started for Europe, singing “Rule Britania.” and at 10.05 he had taken his first prisoner of war.
At six o’clock hadn’t known there was a war, nor had he suspected that there might be one. Billy seldom gave thought to anything more important than the placing of wolf bait or the setting of a fisher trap. But, as it was through such things that Billy made his living, perhaps he was not in a deeper grove than most of us.
At seven o’clock he met old Sam MeIvor in the middle of White Otter lake. Half a mile away he knew that Sam had a new bunch of trouble. The swing of his paddle told it plainly, and Billy waited until his fellow trapper was alongside. “What’s wrong, Sam?” he asked. “Everything, Billy, everything,” was the mournful answer. “We’ll starve this winter sure. There’s no way out of it.” “What’s the matter? Have they quit making cartridges and snare wire?” “Worse than that. There won’t be any market for fur this winter because Europe won’t buy any. Sugar’s gone up a dollar a sack, and flour's going to be cheap at any money. A poor trapper’ll just naturally starve.”
“What’s eatin’ Europe that they won’t buy any fur?” asked Billy, genuinely interested for once in Sam’s troubles.
“This terrible war, son, this terrible war. It’s the greatest war the world has ever seen, and no one knows where it’ll end.”
“Are we fighting?” demanded Billy eagerly.
“Yes, we’re in it, too. The telegraph fellow in the station heard a message two days ago that England declared war on Germany.”
“And that means Canada, too?”
“Yes, Canada, too.”
The mournfulness of Sam’s tone had a depressing effect for a moment, and then Billy remembered that Sam would be mournful while he was taking a silver gray fox from a trap.
“Whoop!” he shouted as, with a mighty swirl of his paddle, he turned his canoe and started back across the lake.
“Where are you going?” cried Sam.
“To the war,” answered Billy, without missing a stroke or turning his head.
Billy paddled straight to his cabin. It was the work of half an hour to put a few clothes, a little grub, a tent and a blanket in a packsack. Then he took all the cartridges he could and, cleaned his
rifle and hurried down to the canoe without stopping to close the cabin door. Before nine o’clock he was headed for th*. railroad, fifty miles distant, singing “Rule Britannia” as he paddled.
There was nothing deep or intricate in Billy’s reasoning. Sentiment governed his actions as often as logic, and “how?” or “why?” rarely detained him. The main idea was all he cared about. Details he ignored or trod under foot.
Thus, when Billy started to war, the whyfor of the fighting or the means of getting into action never entered his head. He wanted to go, and he started. If he found rapids in his way, he’d run them or make a portage. But he wouldn’t worry about them until the white water showed over the bow.
Billy’s precipitance was not due to a martial spirit. In all his life in the wilderness he had not had a quarrel. He had even passed slights with a laugh, for he was so lacking in conceit that he didn’t consider himself, as plain Billy Throop, of much importance.
But now, with England at war, it was another matter. He was still Billy Throop, but a subject of the king, and he knew the king needed men like him. Even then, where there could have been reason for conceit, he lacked it. There is no more resourceful, self-reliant, competent individual in the world than the Can-
adian woodsman, and there were few better than Billy.
Billy’s only idea, however, was that England, and that meant Canada, was at war and that England needed men. The call was late in reaching through fifty miles of forest and lakes, but he was ready when it came. He knew little about armies and navies, nothing about discipline, but those were details, and, as he paddled, he pictured himself potting Germans from behind clumps of spruce or trailing fleeing Teutons through the muskeg.
As he neared the south end of White Otter lake, Billy had also developed a fair amount of animosity for Germany and Germans. He didn’t know anything about them but the mere fact that they were the objects of his country’s wrath was sufficient. He swung the canoe up to the shore at the end of the portage with a final burst of his song, only to stop in the middle of the last line. Or, rather, he ended with “B’jou’, b’jou’ ”, for a man
was sitting on a rock at the edge of the water.
“Good morning,” the stranger replied, and Billy felt a tingling stripe down the middle of his back. Never had he heard the words spoken with just that accent, and to him it was a subconscious warning, a warning recognized only by men who have developed a sixth sense in a life in the open. He glanced down to see that his rifle was ready.
“Could you tell me, please, from where you are going?” asked the stranger as Billy stepped carefully ashore.
“From where I’m going?” repeated Billy with some amazement. “Sure, I’m going from home.”
“And to where iss it you are going?”
“I’m going to town.”
That “iss” doubled a growing mistrust and he faced the stranger warily.
“Then perhaps it iss that you could take me?”
“Perhaps I could, but where’s your
“That I do not know. Since day before yesterday it has been lost already.”
The “already” settled it. Billy, on a trip to Winnipeg three years before, had seen two German comedians in a theatre. This man didn’t talk like them, but the “iss” and the “already” were the same.
“Say,” he demanded, “are you a Dutchman?”
“A Dutchman I am not. A Dutchman comes from Holland. I am a German.” The light danced in Billy’s eyes. He had not hoped to find the foe so soon. But his woods caution prevented his doing anything rash. It might be a trap. He turned with great unconcern to his canoe and lifted out the pack and rifle. Then, the rifle in his right hand, he faced the man on the rock.
“So you’re a German, eh? Well, just crawl down off that rock and don’t make any funny moves. You’re my prisoner.”
“But why should you make of me a prisoner? I have no money, nothing to steal.”
“I’m no robber!” exclaimed Billy angrily. “I don’t want your money. You’re a prisoner of war.” Then he added, when the other failed to show comprehension: “Didn’t you know we’re fighting?”
For the first time the expression of the stranger changed.
“You mean that it is declared, the war?” he asked eagerly.
“You bet, Dutchy. We’re fighting.”
“Then I would wish to get to the United States that I may return to fight with the Kaiser.”
“If wishes were sleigh dogs, every Indian in the bush would be driving through the front door of a wholesale liquor store. My wish is the one that goes this time, and you mooch along with me to Port
Editor’s Note.—This war story presents an entirely new phase of the war situation—the relation of individuals on opposite sides. T%oo men meet in the Canadian north—a young Briton and a Gemnan. The only possible cause of enmity between them is a quarrel in far-off Europe that one at least knows nothing of. What happens makes an interesting story ; and it is told in Mr. Pinkerton’s best style.
Arthur. They’ll be waiting for you
The German had slid down from the rock and stood before Billy. For the first time the woodsman noted the hollow cheeks, the dull eyes. Then he remembered what the other had said about losing his canoe.
“You look sort of peaked, Dutchy,” he said in a less belligerent tone. “Had anything to eat lately?”
“Not for two days, since I have lost myself.”
Billy instantly forgot the war. He knew too well what it meant to be lost in the woods; he had been hungry too many times himself.
“Get back onto the rock and take it easy while I rustle some grub,” he commanded. “There’s no reason you should starve just because you’re a German.”
Billy had out his axe before the stranger was back on his seat. In the next five minutes the “prisoner” saw faster movements than he had ever thought possible. Wood was cut, a fire started, a kettle hung in the blaze and lard heated in a frying pan. A loaf of sour dough bread was sliced and dried moose meat denuded of its black casing and laid in the grease.
Billy didn’t talk; he was too busy. The German didn’t speak because of amazement and a damp mouth. The odors that reached him were far more savory than ever emanated from a wiener schnitzel or hassenpfeffer. When at last the meal was ready, Billy watched his prisoner with interest.
The German did not eat rashly or hurriedly, however. He proceeded leisurely, but surely, without the rush with which the bushman attacks his three meals a day. Talking during meal time was against Billy’s code, but he saw that the German’s pace permitted time for words. And he was curious.
So, when the meal was finished, Billy had the story. Karl Sussdorf, graduate of Bonn—he didn’t teil Billy that, or some of the other things—son of a prosperous manufacturer, had come to America to study manufacturing methods, and, incidentally, to invest some of his father’s money. A gold mine in western Ontario had interested him, and he was returning from an inspection of the property, with an Indian guide, when he had wandered from camp one evening and never found his way back. When Billy met him, two days later, he had about given up, and, weak from hunger, had sat down at the end of the White Otter portage to await the possible chance of being found.
“Well, Dutchy, that’s hard lines,” was Billy’s comment as he picked up the dishes and began to wash them. “Here you are, lost in the bush and wanting to get back to fight me, and here I am, hurrying out to fight you, and we meet right here on White Otter portage. But I suppose that’s one of the chances of war, as they say. And, as the chances are against you, we’ll just mooch on down to the railroad.”
He stood up suddenly and looked at Sussdorf.
“I suppose I ought to tie you up,” he said, “but that would be a lot of bother. If you promise not to try to run away or hit me over the head with the axe when I ain’t lookin’, I’ll let you go that way.”
“I give you my word, Mr. John Bull, that I will not make an escape or with the axe or anything else hit you. I have served in der Kaiser’s army, and I know of war the rules, as do you.”
“Me? I don’t know anything about the rules. I never even saw an army. But I’m willing to take a man’s word.” Together they journeyed the rest of the day, Sussdorf in the bow with a sincere but inefficient blade, and Billy, again singing “Rule Britannia,” heaving the canoe along from the stern. He was not angered by the lack of assistance he received. Who’d ever expect a Dutchman to paddle anyhow?
Despite the German’s assurances, Billy was watchful. He kept the rifle near him and, on portages, he made Sussdorf take the canoe and go ahead. They had another meal in mid-afternoon, for Billy intended to paddle until late before he made camp. At Twin Lake portage, however, the woodsman saw that the two days of fasting were telling on his prisoner’s strength, and he decided to make camp at once. The tent was up and the meal consumed quickly, and five minutes afterward Karl was asleep.
Billy did not need rest, nor was he in the mood for it. There was still nearly two hours of daylight, and he had often wanted to investigate the country beyond the ridge at the foot of which they were camped. So, assured that his prisoner, was sleeping soundly, he took his rifle and disappeared in the brush.
When Billy returned an hour later, two canoes were leaving the portage southward bound. He ran across the open space to the tent, the first genuine anger of his life boiling furiously.
“I’ll catch him y e th e whispered to himself as he ran.
He threw back the flap of the tent. Karl was just crawling in between the blanket folds.
“W ell, holy mackinaw!” Billy cried. “You didn’t s n e a k, did you?”
Karl looked up,' blinking, slowly c o mprehending. Then he stiffened up suddenly.
Continued on Page 108.
Off to the Wars
Continued from Page 25.
“I gave to you my word that I would not an escape make,” he said slowly and with dignity.
Billy turned away from the tent and sat down on a windfall before the fire. He felt strangely subdued.
“He could of got away, and he wouldn’t,” he muttered. “Now, who’d a thought that of a Dutchman?”
A little later Billy went back and wakened his prisoner.
“Who were those fellows?” he demanded.
“They tell me they are from the United States, making a trip by canoes in the forest.”
“Did you tell them who you were?”
“No. They did not ask.”
“Did you know they would be in the States in another day?”
“Yes, so they told me.”
Billy went back to his windfall and sat for a long time. At last he crawled into the tent. He let Karl keep all of the one blanket, and he did not waken him the next morning until breakfast was ready. Then his tone was comradely as he called:
“Come on, lad, and throw some of this into you. We’ve got a long hike to-day.”
Breakfast over, Billy packed up, loaded the canoe and indicated that Karl should get in.
“Don’t we make this a portage, as you say?” he asked.
“Not this morning. There’s an easier way around.”
All day they paddled. Not once did Billy sing “Rule Britannia.” His arms worked steadily, hour after hour, but his mind was troubled. Karl had spoken the
day before of the rules of war and Billy didn't know whether he was following them. He had always thought of war as being closely linked with hatred, and he found that he could not hate a man like his prisoner. Then, at noon, he got an idea.
“I’m my own general yet awhile!” he exclaimed to Karl’s mystification, and the canoe shot ahead faster than ever.
Late that afternoon they rounded a point in a large lake and saw a long line of birch bark teepees on the shore before them. Still silent, Billy turned the canoe in, and he and his prisoner got out.
“Wait a minute, Dutchy,” he commanded and climbed the bank. Five minutes later he was back with an Indian.
“This is Moose-once,” he explained. “He’s a good Indian and he won’t let you get lost. And he won’t charge you too
“What is it you mean?” asked Karl blankly.
Billy grasped the German by the shoulder and about faced him.
“See that shore over there? That’s the United States. Didn’t you know you were traveling south all day to-day? Well, another half hour and you’d be where I couldn’t touch you. Moose-once will take you to Tower, and you can get along from there all right because there’ll be steel rails to keep you from gettinglost. B’jou,” and he ran down the bank to his canoe.
“But,” cried Karl as Billy was about to push off. “I do not understand. I am your prisoner.”
“That prisoner business is all off,” explained Billy. “Don’t want any pris-
“You mean I can—,” and Karl held out his hand to grasp Billy’s.
Billy smiled when he saw the expression in the other’s eyes.
“You can, lad,” he said. “Hurry and get started.”
Karl wrung his hand excitedly.
“I can’t thank you,” he began.
“Thank nothing,” exclaimed Billy. “I’m fighting Germany, not a German, but I’ll meet you in Europe next week.”