The Four Stragglers - Frank L. Packard - ebook

The Four Stragglers ebook

Frank L. Packard

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Written in 1923, this thrilling novel by the thrilling author of the „Adventures of Jimmy Dale”, teems with intrigue and unforgettable characters. „The Four Stragglers” is a war story with rockets flaring in the heavens, guns crashing, four men on the battlefield and they meet again afterwards amid mysteries and still greater thrills. In the beginning we meet four allied soldiers, who found themselves lost behind the enemy lines. When story moves on, three of them are running high-class international burglary organization running scams in England and France. They stumble upon the great opportunity to make a big score in one action, and it leads to a complex and thrilling journey to the USA.

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Liczba stron: 382

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Contents

PROLOGUE: THE FOUR OF THEM

BOOK I

SHADOW VARNE

I. THREE YEARS LATER

II. AN IRON IN THE FIRE

III. THREE OF THEM

IV. GOLD PLATE

V. "DEAR GUARDY"

VI. THE WRITING ON THE WALL

BOOK II

THE ISLE OF PREY

I. THE SPELL OF THE MOONBEAMS

II. THE VOICE IN THE NIGHT

III. THE MAD MILLIONAIRE

IV. THE UNKNOWN

V. THE GUTTER-SNIPE

VI. THE MAN IN THE MASK

VII. THE FIGHT

VIII. THE MESSAGE

BOOK III

THE PENALTY

I. THE WHITE SHIRT SLEEVE

II. THE BRONZE KEY

III. THE WARP AND THE WOOF

PROLOGUE

THE FOUR OF THEM

The crash of guns. A flare across the heavens. Battle. Dismay. Death. A night of chaos.

And four men in a thicket.

One of them spoke:

“A bloody Hun prison, that’s us! My Gawd! Where are we?”

Another answered caustically:

“Monsieur, we are lost–and very tired.”

A third man laughed. The laugh was short.

“A Frenchman! Where in hell did you come from?”

“Where you and the rest of us came from.” The Frenchman’s voice was polished; his English faultless. “We come from the tickling of the German bayonets.”

The first man elaborated the statement gratuitously:

“I don’t know about you ‘uns; but our crowd was done in good and proper two days ago. Gawd! ain’t there no end to ’em? Millions! And us running! What I says is let ’em have the blinking channel ports, and lets us clear out. I wasn’t noways in favour of mussing up in this when the bleeding parliament says up and at ’em in the beginning, leastways nothing except the navy.”

“Drafted, I take it?” observed the third man coolly.

There was no answer.

The fourth man said nothing.

There was a whir in the air... closer... closer; a roar that surged at the ear drums; a terrific crash near at hand; a tremble of the earth like a shuddering sob.

The first man echoed the sob:

“Carry on! Carry on! I can’t carry on. Not for hours. I’ve been running for two days. I can’t even sleep. My Gawd!”

“No good of carrying on for a bit,” snapped the third man. “There’s no place to carry on to. They seem to be all around us.”

“That’s the first one that’s come near us,” said the Frenchman. “Maybe it’s only–what do you call it?–a straggler.”

“Like us,” said the third man.

A flare, afar off, hung and dropped. Nebulous, ghostlike, a faint shimmer lay upon the thicket. It endured for but a moment. Three men, huddled against the tree trunks, torn, ragged and dishevelled men, stared into each others’ faces. A fourth man lay outstretched, motionless, at full length upon the ground, as though he were asleep or dead; his face was hidden because it was pillowed on the earth.

“Well, I’m damned!” said the third man, and whistled softly under his breath.

“Monsieur means by that?” inquired the Frenchman politely.

“Means?” repeated the third man. “Oh, yes! I mean it’s queer. Half an hour ago we were each a separate bit of driftwood tossed about out there, and now here we are blown together from the four winds and linked up as close to each other by a common stake–our lives–as ever men could be. I say it’s queer.”

He lifted his rifle, and, feeling out, prodded once or twice with the butt. It made a dull, thudding sound.

“What are you doing?” asked the Frenchman.

“Giving first aid to Number Four,” said the third man grimly. “He’s done in, I fancy. I’m not sure but he’s the luckiest one of the lot.”

“You’re bloody well right, he is!” gulped the first man. “I wouldn’t mind being dead, if it was all over, and I was dead. It’s the dying and the thinking about it I can’t stick.”

“I can’t see anything queer about it.” The Frenchman was judicial; he reverted to the third man’s remark as though no interruption had occurred in his train of thought. “We all knew it was coming, this last big–what do you call it?–push of the Boche. It has come. It is gigantic. It is tremendous. A tidal wave. Everything has gone down before it; units all broken up, mingled one with another, a mêlée. It has been sauve qui peut for thousands like us who never saw each other before, who did not even know each other existed. I see nothing queer in it that some of us, though knowing nothing of each other, yet having the same single purpose, rest if only for a moment, shelter if only for a moment, should have come together here. To me it is not queer.”

“Well, perhaps, you’re right,” said the third man. “Perhaps adventitious would have been better than queer.”

“Nor adventitious,” dissented the Frenchman. “Since we have been nothing to each other in the past, and since our meeting now offers us collectively no better chance of safety or escape than we individually had before, there is nothing adventitious about it.”

“Perhaps again I am wrong.” There was a curious drawl in the third man’s voice now. “In fact, I will admit it. It is neither queer nor adventitious. It is quite–oh, quite!–beyond that. It can only be due to the considered machinations of the devil on his throne in the pit of hell having his bit of a fling at us–and a laugh!”

“You’re bloody well right!” mumbled the first man.

“Damn!” said the Frenchman with asperity. “I don’t understand you at all.”

The third man laughed softly.

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