THE SLEEP-WALKER

It was well past three o’clock in the morning, though he had no means
then of knowing the time, when Andy Flures turned stiffly upon his hard
couch of Mother Earth, rubbed his eyes, then his sore joints, finally
recollected where he was and looked about casually at the others in the
group.

Though they were in a thin grove of trees, the soft light of a full moon
bathed the landscape with a brightness that made everything easily
visible.

Andy sat up to limber his joints the more. As he did so he wondered how
the others felt.

“Pretty narrow escape all of us had today,” he murmured to himself; and
added, “Especially narrow for Andy.”

He looked down at Fred, who was close beside him. He was snoring
peacefully. He glanced over at Don, and he, too, seemed none the worse
for the day’s terrible work. His eye traveled on. He turned his head
suddenly, and then peered all around with something of a panicky
feeling coming over him.

He uttered an unconscious exclamation, and Fred moved and muttered in
his sleep. Andy jumped up and walked around the grove, circling over an
area of thirty or forty feet. Then he came back hurriedly to where Don
and Fred lay sleeping.

Big Jack Carew was nowhere to be found, and for the first time it came
to Andy with a terrible shock that there were times when, thoroughly
exhausted, Carew became a somnambulist.

He dropped to his knees beside Fred and shook him mercilessly, at the
same time calling Don.

Both men awakened about the same time; neither for the moment having any
knowledge of where they were; both muttering against this rude
awakening.

“You remember, the plane got away from us; we swam after it; we nearly
drowned–all of us,” Andy repeated hurriedly. “Remember?”

“Yes,” Don answered, sitting up and sensing somehow that something was
wrong.

“Well, why tell us about it now?” Fred complained sleepily.

“It’s Jack I’m trying to tell you about,” Andy answered in a shrill
whisper. “He’s gone. He isn’t anywhere about the grove.”

Don was on his feet in an instant, at the same time muttering a groan as
he too suddenly put his stiffened joints into action.

The significance of the situation also began to sink into Fred’s sleepy
brain, and he, too, arose, demanding to know what had awakened Andy, and
was he sure Jack was not playing a joke on them, or perhaps had gone
down to take a look at the plane.

“He was too tired out for that sort of a joke,” Andy responded, showing
his apprehension in his voice. “And as for the plane, he knew that was
safe enough.”

“Do you think he’s sleep-walking again?” Don asked nervously, still
trying to rub the sleep from his eyes.

“I’m afraid so,” Andy replied. “That’s the reason I wakened you two.” He
addressed himself particularly to Don: “You remember that night after
the all-day struggle with the Germans.”

“I’ll not forget it soon,” Don answered, buttoning his coat and
shuddering, although it was not cold.

“What was that?” demanded Fred. “What happened at that time?”

“We three had to bunk up much as we did tonight,” Andy explained. “It
was while you were on another sector. We had had a mighty tough day.
Along toward the middle of the night Don awakened just as I did tonight,
and he missed Jack. He called me. We couldn’t find him anywhere. We had
heard about his sometimes walking in his sleep, but we’d never had any
experience. A search though, proved that he must have gone that way.
Luckily, we picked up a police dog, and from Jack’s paraphernalia we
gave him the scent. He led us for half an hour straight toward the
German lines, and when we were almost in sight of their outposts, there
was Jack, tramping along, head up, but dead asleep. Ugh! It was the
weirdest thing I ever went through, and we had to waken him gently to
avoid a nerve shock.”

“Great Scott!” ejaculated Fred. “I never heard of that. You never told
me a thing about it.”

“Never thought to, I guess,” Don answered. “Never liked to think about
it, anyway.”

“And we haven’t any police dog with us tonight,” Andy supplemented. “I
haven’t the slightest doubt but that he’s wandered off from here the
same way, but how we’re going to get his trail is what is worrying me.”

Each of them experiencing a creepy sort of feeling, they emerged from
the grove for a survey of the landscape. Not a clue did it reveal.

Don dropped to the ground in a vain effort to discover footprints, but
the surface was so hard, and the moonlight so pale, that he found this a
useless effort.

“I’m not usually superstitious,” Fred said, finally, “but there are
times when, nothing else being available, at least it doesn’t do any
harm to try something of that sort. I’ve heard it said that in such
circumstances, when a thing has been lost or something like that, a
feather tossed in the air will, as it comes to the ground, indicate the
direction of the article sought. There is just a chance it might help
here.”

“But we haven’t any feather,” Andy complained helplessly.

“Doesn’t necessarily have to be a feather,” said Don. “Anything of the
sort will do.”

So saying he turned out the lining of his coat, swiftly tore a piece
from it, rolled it into the semblance of a ball and tossed it as high as
its light weight would permit into the air. It fluttered there for a
moment and then flitted lightly downward, carried this way and that as
it rode the air.

But one thing the eager lads grasped at as significant: although they
could not discern the slightest movement of the air, the piece of flimsy
goods took a distinctly northerly direction and fell at a spot at least
three feet in front of where Don had stood when he threw it.

“We’ll try it, anyway,” he said, leading the way.

They stalked forth without other guide than the fateful falling of the
bit of silken cloth. Their path led along the shore where the waves of a
calm sea lapped ceaselessly in a crooning lullaby. To the lads, on their
unhappy mission, it had a weird, wild, unnerving sound.

They walked rapidly, close together, searching the ground for
footprints, and as far ahead as they could see for any indication of the
missing man.

“Look!” said Don, with startling suddenness, as he, somewhat in the
lead, came to a spot where the ground was softer. The other two dropped
to their knees beside him. There was no mistaking the fresh
foot-prints, nor the fact that they were of about the size of Big Jack
Carew’s shoe.

“The sign was right!” exclaimed Andy, his voice shaky. “He has passed
this way, and not long ago.”

They arose and hastened onward. For a considerable distance the surface
was sufficiently soft to plainly show the prints and they were able to
jog along at a slow run. Then the ground suddenly became hard and rocky
and began to rise in hilly sections.

“No more foot-prints,” said Andy, “but the best thing we can do is to
keep right on.”

“Great guns!” exclaimed Fred, almost before Andy was through. He could
say nothing more, but stood as though transfixed, pointing ahead and
upward.

There, in plain sight of all, was Big Jack Carew, walking along the brow
of a hill and headed straight toward where the jagged rocks ended over a
cliff sheer over the ocean.

Fred cupped his hands to his mouth as though to shout.

“No! No!” Don warned. “Don’t do that!”

He broke into a run and the others followed. The way was hard going, and
several times they stumbled. It was a race against Fate, with the
unconscious Jack Carew steadily nearing the cliff that would mean his
instant death.

Don fell, and the other two continued on, his voice following them,
bidding them not to lose an instant. He had strained a tendon and from
that time on he made painful progress.

But he was in time to see Andy, breathless and nearly exhausted, come up
with Jack when the other was not ten feet from the edge of the
precipice.

Andy took no chances, and Don could have cheered as he saw him make a
flying football tackle, catching Big Jack just above the ankles and
throwing him heavily to the ground.

Fred arrived at that instant and sat down heavily on the big fellow’s
stomach.

As Don came up, Jack was just coming to his senses, his eyes indicating
that he was not yet fully aware of where he was or of what had happened.

His first question indicated this, but no one was as yet sufficiently
master of himself to answer. Fred merely waved a hand toward the cliff
and the ocean below. Big Jack seemed slowly to comprehend. For an
instant he buried his face in his hand. A shudder ran over his big
frame. He looked again toward where the rocks fell off sheer to the
water below, and then put out his hand.

All three grasped it at once. There was no need of words: all
understood, and most of all, Big Jack.

Silently they arose, and, walking slowly because of Don’s lameness,
headed back toward the grove.

They were half way there before anyone spoke. It was Jack.

“Who discovered I was gone?” he asked.

Don answered that it was Andy. Big Jack simply nodded, but he placed
upon Andy’s shoulder a shaking hand which said more than words.

There was something almost tragic about this rescue of a man who that
very day had rescued all of them.

“Well,” said Andy, always the first to recover, “it’s over. Let’s not
think about it. Here we are, almost at the grove, and by jiminy, day’s
breaking.”

And so it was. Dawn was chasing the moon, and daylight was only a matter
of a quarter or half an hour.

They entered the grove and sat down. Andy bound a handkerchief tightly
about Don’s strained leg, and they discussed their plans for the
immediate future.

“Well,” said Fred, in the midst of this, “we know there’s no road or
human habitation in that direction,” indicating from whence they had
just come. “I suggest that our next effort be over there.”

He pointed toward a gently rising slope to the north, and even as they
looked the increasing daylight showed them that there lay what seemed to
be a rough and seldom-used road.

“Right,” said Jack. “That little jaunt of mine was rather tiring: Give
me about fifteen or twenty minutes more and we’ll see what we can
discover out there.”

They sat about chatting for another quarter of an hour. Then, Jack
indicating that he felt fit, they took one more survey to make sure that
the plane was still riding safely where they had anchored it the night
before, and made ready to explore the unpromising road, in the hope of
finding fellow human beings and perhaps breakfast. For by this time they
felt nearly starved.