ON THE ROAD TO LIÈGE

It was fully nine o’clock before they left Mr. Revigne’s place, for
such was his name. He was one of the prosperous small farmers of that
section, and he and his sons knew every foot of the country for miles.
Henri was a bright, intelligent fellow, and his brother, who had joined
the Captain’s band, was a reservist.

They went across fields, keeping the stream in sight, and they had not
gone far before the boys learned to repose the greatest confidence
in their new companion. After passing two well-travelled roads, they
approached a third, which Henri informed them was the main road to
Rivage east of their location.

“It wouldn’t be much of a trick for those fellows to cut across from
Martin River, so we must be very careful now,” said Henri.

There was but a single field to cross, and Henri advised the boys to
keep out of sight while he went forward to examine the road. In a few
moments he returned with the information that the road was clear, and
both boys bounded forward and made a run for the fences. As ill luck
would have it a troop appeared on the highway to their right, before
they reached the fence. Henri stopped.

“Wait,” he said. “Line up by the side of me, so you will be hidden
beside me; then let us all walk together to the fence.”

In that manner they reached the moss-grown stone barrier, so well known
in many parts of the country.

“Drop down now, and keep out of sight,” said Henri.

So saying he mounted the fence and crossed over. The horsemen beyond
were now hurrying down the road. He mounted the fence on the other
side, and awaited their approach. An officer in front halted and
inquired, in German, if Henri had seen any people on the road.

Henri shook his head slowly, to indicate that he did not understand
them. The question was repeated in French, and he responded that no one
had gone by since he came on the road. The troopers proceeded without
further questions, and when they were well out of sight the boys arose,
crossed over, and made up for lost time in the effort to cross the
adjacent field.

“A friend of my father’s lives in that house,” said Henri, pointing
ahead. “We might stop there and learn if there is any news.”

The owner of the house was greatly surprised at the appearance of Henri
and the boys. He was told their story, and he smiled at them proudly.
“And where are you going now?” he asked.

“Father asked me to take the boys over to Borlon’s. They want to go to
Clavier, as they are on the way to Antwerp,” said Henri.

“Then I have bad news for you; the Germans are well above the road
leading to Rivage. You must avoid Borlon, and you cannot go to Clavier,
as they are trying to cut the road between Clavier and Huy,” said the
man.

“Then what would you advise us to do?” asked Alfred.

“Go to the north of Borlon, and make straight for the road that runs
from Huy to Liège,” was the reply.

“Then we shall have to leave you,” said Ralph, sorrowfully.

“No, no; I will stay with you all day, and leave you to-morrow some
time,” said Henri.

“Now, my boy, go straight across to Ladeau’s place and get something to
eat there; you know where that is,” said the man, addressing Henri.

“Indeed, I do; and he will tell us the best way from that place,” said
Henri.

Notwithstanding the gravity of their journey, the trip of the three
boys was fascinating. Henri steered a course directly to the east, but
it was tiring work, as constant vigilance was necessary. Night set in
too soon for them, but the moon lighted the way for an hour before they
reached Ladeau’s place.

There they learned some bad news. Information had reached Mr. Ladeau
that Capt. Moreau and his companions had been captured, or, at least,
there was a fight with a superior force.

“We heard they were captured,” said Ralph.

“That is quite possible,” remarked Mr. Ladeau, sadly. “Just before you
came we learned that the Germans had taken possession of the road to
the north, and it is likely that a visit may be expected from them at
any moment.”

“Then we must go at once,” said Alfred, “and if you will direct us
which way to travel we will go on without Henri, as it would be wrong
to take him further from home.”

Henri protested, but the boys both agreed that it would be the proper
course for him to return, and Mr. Ladeau concurred in their view of
it. The parting was a hurried one, and they at once struck across the
fields, taking good care to keep one particularly bright star directly
in front of them.

Thus, for two hours, they met with no incident until they approached a
road, when they heard voices speaking in German. Silently approaching
the fence they waited until the sound died away, then rushed across the
road and entered an orchard with tempting fruit all about them.

“Well, it is about the only thing you can do,” said a voice in French.

This was, assuredly, a relief to the boys, as they saw two men descend
from a tree.

“What were you doing in the tree?” asked Alfred.

“We heard you long before you came up to the tree,” said the tall one,
“and we supposed you might be the Germans, until we came near enough so
we could distinguish your language.”

“Hereafter,” remarked Ralph, “we shall be more careful.” The boys
related their experiences, and the fact that they had been captives,
and the troubles they went through since their release.

“While it might be possible for you boys to travel during the daytime,
it would not be so for us, and it is equally dangerous, in view of
the orders sent out in the printed notices, for all of us to travel
at night. We must, however, get away from this section as soon as
possible, so we might as well go on.”

All villages were avoided and they passed by the farmhouses as though
they suspected a pestilence. It was a trying, weary night as they were
frequently compelled to wait while one scouted ahead. In the early
morning their tall companion announced that they were nearing the town
of Esneux.

They were now less than six miles from the Meuse, the country was
growing rough, and the hills, on the banks of the little stream which
flowed to the north, were rugged, like all this section bordering on
the river.

They must either avoid the town by going to the right, or cross the
river, the latter a hazardous undertaking in daytime, if there were any
Germans in that section. They well knew that if the enveloping movement
had extended up as far as Tilff, the town, in all probability, would be
occupied by the enemy.

Gascon, the tall companion, would not consider the attempt to cross the
river. “Let us go to the left, and attempt to cross on the other side
of the town.”

Their other companion took up the duty of scout, walking along the
ridge of the hill, above the stream, while the others followed in the
little valley below. In the next hour they were west of the town, and
approached the road which led from Huy.

The morning light plainly showed that this road was also patrolled by
the Uhlans, but to cross it was their only hope. Otherwise, it would
mean an entire day lurking in some hiding-place.

It was a painful experience, to crawl along the low hedge that ran up
to the highway, for it was now early morn, and light enough so that
cavalry could be seen in the screen formed by the trees along the road.

Gascon knew what scouting meant, and he gave them a word of caution.
“We must not go along the hedge together. We should be separated at
least ten meters apart” (a little over 30 feet), “and the movement must
be made without any noise.”

He then threw himself on the ground and showed them how to crawl. “Just
watch me for a moment and you will learn an easy way to do it.”

Gascon stretched himself full length on his face, lying partly on his
left side. “Now,” he said, “draw up the right leg, and stretch the
right arm upward past your head. If you will now turn your body over
to the right, or, in other words, roll yourself over on the right arm
and leg, the left foot can be used to propel yourself forward, without
appreciably raising the body.”

The boys remembered the terribly trying act of crawling on the first
day of their experience, and this exhibition was a most gratifying
thing to them, now that there was more of it to do.

“Where did you learn how to do this?” asked Ralph.

[Illustration: _German 42-Centimetre Gun._]

“This is part of the drill in the army. This creeping movement is
characteristic of the North American Indian, and is also practised by
some of the African tribes.”

Gascon now started on his peculiar movement along the fence followed
by Joseph, their other companion, and then Ralph, observing the proper
interval, followed and after him came Alfred.

Early as it was there were sounds of activity that did not arise
from the ordinary farming operations. The roads here, as everywhere
throughout Belgium, were found at frequent intervals in their pathway,
and while they must avoid them, it was also necessary that they should
cross them.

Another characteristic of Belgian roads is, that they are, usually,
lined with trees, and the hedges afforded ample protection for lurking
enemies, while, at the same time, it served to hide their movements.

As the first streaks of the morning sun began to show over the
landscape, the party came to a halt for the purpose of considering
their further movements. Suddenly, it seemed as though the ground moved
upwardly, as a terrific crash burst on their ears.

Not a word was spoken by anyone for a minute, and Ralph’s voice, when
he spoke, was gruff and unnatural. “What can that be?” he asked, as he
turned to their leader.

“That is a heavy field piece–there, you can see the smoke. It is
mounted on the hill directly in front of us. Lucky for us that we did
not cross the field,” answered Gascon.

“We are in a trap,” said Alfred.

Gascon smiled. “Yes, if they have advanced beyond the battery we shall
have to wait until night, because it would be unsafe to cross the Meuse
in their rear.”

A boom from the east, followed by another, and still another, was
sufficient notice to them that the great forts at Liège were answering
the challenge. They burrowed into the hedge, and made enclosures with
bushes and leaves. Meantime, the battery on the hill opened fire with
its three guns, and soon the surrounding atmosphere grew misty, and
they could smell an unmistakable odor of burning powder.

Soon another battery, farther to their right, began to fire. “How
fortunate we did not get any further than this,” said Gascon.

“Why?” asked Alfred, in astonishment.

“Because we should have run into another battery and encampment to the
rear of this.”

They were hardly settled in the temporary shelter, when they heard a
peculiar hissing sound, and immediately felt, a peculiar shock as of a
falling body, followed by an explosion of a huge shell which threw dirt
and sand over them. This was really more terrifying to the boys than
their experience at the mouth of the mine on the first day of their
wanderings.

“That must have been awful close,” said Alfred, with a perceptible
tremor in his voice.

“It was fully fifty metres (163 feet) beyond us. That was, probably,
an eight-inch shell, and if it had come within ten meters, (about 32
feet), of the battery the latter would have been put out of action.”

Within the next half-hour a dozen or more shells burst within five
hundred feet, more or less, of their position. It was evident that the
forts south of the river were trying to get the range of the battery
which had thrown the challenge which the boys witnessed.

It was their first actual experience in war. They had seen the
soldiers, and the trappings, but now the actual conflict was before
them. It was fascinating, but it was also dangerous. Did they stop to
talk over things connected with their homes and their friends? They
doubtless thought of them, but they knew they must think of something
more important than distant things. They must meet the actual realities
at hand.

For two hours they lay thus, and watched the entrancing sight of the
guns on the hill, firing at regular intervals, and noted the bursting
of the great shells from the forts, speculating where the next one
would strike. They became reckless now. The boys were both trembling
when the first shells began to come, but now they had a different
feeling. At first they had a vague idea that there was some safety
in the bushes, and lay there concealed, but now very strangely each
bursting shell made them less anxious and subdued their curiosity.

They crawled from the shelter, and moved into the opening. Gascon and
his companion had been thus exposed for some time. They now had little
fear of the troops. The air was filled with smoke, as a slight breeze
blew toward them from the battery.

Gascon turned to the boys, noted their composure, and said: “We think
it would be well for us to make a start.”

This information was a welcome one, you may be sure, for it was better
than waiting to be shot at.

Hardly had the boys turned toward the hedge, when a peculiar explosion
was heard. It was like a combination of explosions, and Gascon ran out
into the field, swinging his hat.

“What is the matter?” asked Ralph, excitedly.

Gascon waved his arms and smiled, but was silent for a time.

He pointed to the hill. “That will settle those fellows for some time,”
he said, turning toward them. The boys looked toward the hill and saw
that it was giving up an immense cloud of the densest smoke.

“They have hit the battery,” said Alfred, in intense excitement.

“But what makes all that smoke?” asked Ralph.

“Ah!” said Gascon, with a broad grin, “they have struck the caisson and
exploded the ammunition.”

Without waiting for more information, the party rapidly ran along the
hedge to the north, but before they had crossed half-way to the hedge
which formed the enclosure for the field along the roadway, a troop of
horsemen appeared in the road to their left, and rode furiously toward
the hill.

The atmosphere was a dusky gray but unlike a haze it was much more
dense and heavy. The heavy shells from the fort came at regular
intervals. The moment the horsemen passed, Gascon held up his hand as a
signal to go forward, and they soon reached the road. He was the first
through the brush, and crawling out across the road, gave a peculiar
whistle to indicate safety, and the boys followed, crouching as low as
possible, Ralph following Alfred, after an interval, as they had been
instructed. Their companion was the last to cross.

When Alfred reached the other side, he saw Gascon fully a hundred feet
away. The battery on the hill had ceased, but the one beyond was still
keeping up its regular shots.

“I believe we are forward of the most advanced batteries,” said Gascon,
“and if such should turn out to be the case we will have little trouble
in reaching our lines.”

The misty condition of the atmosphere was most fortunate for the boys
and their companions, but it also frequently brought them close up
to the patrols, which were constantly in their path. Thus by careful
manœuvring they found themselves approaching an elevation which Gascon
estimated to be ten miles west of Liège.

The ascent was slow, as they crept most of the way, to avoid any
sentries who might be in that locality. Up to this time they had found
the inevitable Uhlans in their way wherever they went.

Gascon, who was in the lead, held up a warning hand as they reached the
summit, where, spread before them, was a great panorama. To the east,
and less than a mile away, was a much higher hill, that dominated the
position in which they found themselves, and there they discovered a
battery, also in action.

Directly before them was the winding Meuse. A little to the right, and
probably a mile and a quarter away, was a little town, and to the left,
four miles distant, was Huy, a town of about 4,000 inhabitants, also on
the northern bank of the stream.

The railway, from Liège to Huy, was at the foot of the hill, winding
its way along, and below the great hill to the east, was discernible, a
German encampment, which supported the battery on the hill.

The frowning forts around Liège were distinctly visible, because their
great guns were now in action. The sounds which reached them were like
the continual reverberations of thunder, only sharper and punctuated
by the occasional heavy discharges. Above every fort floated a Belgian
flag.

The boys looked at Gascon, whose countenance portrayed anxiety, which
they noticed for the first time in his demeanor.

“Do you think we shall be able to cross the river?” asked Alfred.

“We can find means to do that, if we are able to reach it. The trouble
will be to get there, and we cannot possibly do that during the day.”

“Do you see any of the Germans near the stream?”

“No, but they have plenty of places to conceal themselves. It is clear
that we must avoid the railroad.”

“Why not move to the right?” said Alfred. “That is the most direct way
to the city.”

Gascon did not reply, but in a few minutes, he began to descend to the
west, and all followed him at a distance. The valley was reached after
passing by a dozen or more cottages, all of which were unoccupied.

“The empty houses make it look bad to me,” was Gascon’s observation, as
they were moving from the last one. “The Germans have been here, that
is—-”

His remarks were cut short, as he dropped to the earth and made a
signal. They were astounded to find that a company of horsemen occupied
the orchard to the west of the house. This made a hurried retreat
necessary and they passed to the east, skirting the hill formerly
occupied.

They commenced to feel the pangs of hunger. Fruit had been the morning
meal, and of this they had found plenty; but something else was needed.
Gascon spoke to his companion, and after selecting a secluded spot, the
latter moved forward, and crouching along the hedges was soon beyond
their view.

“Joseph will forage for us,” said Gascon. “It is better for one to do
this than for all of us to join in the hunt.”

They waited for more than a half-hour, without a sign of Joseph, and
Gascon now made frequent trips to the nearby road, but returned each
time without tidings.

The last time he came back with the cheerful intelligence that Joseph
was returning. But alas! for their expectations! Two shots in the
neighborhood of their returning friend, caused Gascon and the boys to
leap to their feet. Beyond the second field they saw Joseph running
from a half-dozen troopers who were leaping the fences in pursuit.

Joseph saw that escape was useless, and turned toward his pursuers.
Evidently, he had not been hit by the shots. An officer galloped up to
him, and he exposed the contents of his bundle.

“They will suspect that Joseph is getting food for companions and we
will have to depend on our wits to escape capture,” said Gascon.

They were evidently questioning the captive. Joseph was shrewd enough
to endeavor to effect his escape by running to the east, instead of
going to the south, where his companions were.

“Do you think that is why he ran in the direction he did?” asked Ralph.

“Undoubtedly,” replied Gascon. “Now that they are trying to learn where
we are, let us move to the north and east, as fast as we can.”

“But,” said Alfred, “that will take us right into the German lines.”

“Quite true, but that will be better than attempting to go forward.”

It was but the work of a moment to crawl through the hedge, and move
down the hill, making their way as fast as possible toward an orchard,
through which they passed, emerging at a small vineyard which afforded
them shelter. They hurriedly passed through the rows of vines, and soon
approached a small farmhouse.

“I will investigate; stay here until you hear from me. If everything is
clear I will appear at the side of the building to the right of the elm
trees.”

The boys nestled close to the bushy vines, occasionally standing up
to see whether Gascon was in sight. Within fifteen minutes they were
delighted to see the form of Gascon, and hearing the welcome signal,
rejoined him.

The Germans had not disturbed this house, which was accounted for by
the fact that the homestead was quite a distance from the main road.
The owner of the place had, however, heard all the news up to the
preceeding day, and this was what the boys were interested in.

“Liège is being surrounded,” he said. “It would be almost impossible to
make your way through, though it might be done by taking a route which
would enable you to approach the city from the north.”

“I must get back to my regiment,” said Gascon. “So if you will permit
me to remain here until night, I will attempt the journey.”

“We know it is the right thing for you to try to reach your command.
We do not wish to hamper you, but we will follow you during the night.
Never fear, we shall find a way to get home,” said Ralph.

“You must be hungry,” said the kindly old man. The boys had not
forgotten that they wanted something to eat, and Gascon smiled as he
told the farmer that they had nothing but fruit during the entire day.

The farmer’s wife had already made preparations for the evening meal,
as it was now nearing six in the afternoon. The boys followed her every
movement and when the meal was ready they both ate to the delight of
the woman. As she looked at them, her eyes frequently filled with tears.

“Two of our boys are now at Liège. One of them is an officer in Fort V.
Flerion,” she said.

“Maybe we saw some of the shells which he has been throwing at the
Germans,” said Alfred, enthusiastically.

“Undoubtedly you saw some of them when you were down near the great
forest,” said Gascon, “but we are too far west now for the guns from
that fort.”

“I hope,” said the woman, “that this trouble will not be for long. But
our boys must serve our country, even though all of us suffer for it.”

After the meal, the boys were surprised to see the door leading to the
kitchen, quietly open, and two young men entered. The father introduced
the two, one of them being his son, and the other a neighbor. They then
learned that the two formed part of a guard for the neighborhood, and
that they had come in for the evening meal, while others kept guard in
the meantime.

“Roland had an experience this afternoon,” said the elder. “While
passing down the orchard lane we heard two shots on the Thierry farm.
He went forward to reconnoiter and ran into a troop of Uhlans who were
escorting a prisoner whom they had taken in the field beyond.”

The boys looked at each other. “Did he have on a red-bordered jacket?”
eagerly asked Alfred.

“Yes,” answered Roland. “How did you know?” he inquired.

“That was Joseph!” exclaimed Ralph.

“The trouble was that they came very near catching me, also,” said
Roland, with a twinkle, “as they were after me when they spied the
man. I was ahead of Paul, after we passed through the lane, and when
I crossed the road, they discovered me and gave chase. As I passed
through the wheat field I had a good chance to hide, but the troopers
came on and leaped over the fence only to catch sight of the stranger.”

“So my friend saved you,” said Gascon. “Well, I suppose that is what
this war does. It does not respect anyone. You must suffer for what I
do. In war nothing is right but might.”

“We have been attacked,” responded Roland, “and our only course is to
fight. I am sorry I waited so long before going to the city. Belgium
needs all of us, so to-night we must start, Mother.”

The boys looked on Roland in admiration. He was about twenty-four years
of age, straight, tall and handsome-featured, the youngest of the family.

The mother did not reply, but she silently gathered up her apron and
wiped the moisture from her eyes. She did not object, but quietly said:
“Tell your brothers not to worry about us, but do let us hear from you
often.”

How often that same injunction goes forth from a mother’s heart. “Don’t
forget to write!” Once in a slum lodging house which was established
for wanderers, a tablet was placed over the door, on which was
inscribed, in large letters the words:

“WHEN DID YOU WRITE THE LAST LETTER TO MOTHER?”

Shortly after nine o’clock, Gascon, together with Roland, and two
others, prepared to start for the Belgian lines. It was a sad parting,
and it may be said to the credit of the mother that she bore her part
well, and inspired those about her to act bravely.

The old man gave the boys careful instructions, as to the surrounding
country. “My advice is that you go directly northwest for at least
three miles, and that will bring you behind the German firing line.
None of their batteries is so far west as that, but you must remember
that the German forces are rapidly coming north from Verviers, and
while they are mostly following the railroads, are, nevertheless,
taking advantage of all the roads from Bleiburn and Eupen.”

“But isn’t it safer for us to travel at night than in the daytime?”
asked Alfred.

“It is not safe at any time, my boy. The notices say you must be
indoors after seven o ‘clock. So by traveling at night you are
violating one of the orders. On the other hand, if you travel in the
daytime, you may be easily detected.”

“But why should they object to people being out at night?” asked Ralph.

“Because they are in an enemy’s country, and they know that as the
inhabitants are acquainted with every section, they would be able to
spread information, and offer great obstructions, if allowed their
freedom.”

The stern necessities of war were thus gradually instilled in their
minds. They saw the peril of their enterprise, and it may be said
to the credit of the boys that they determined to risk the journey.
Unquestionably, the country through which they were now to go was more
perilous for them than the trip from Quareaux.

Shortly after ten o’clock the boys decided on leaving. The mother
handed them two packages neatly done up. “Here is some luncheon for
you. You will need it before you reach Liège,” she said.

They were greatly touched at this material evidence of good will, and
Alfred grasping her by the hand tried to thank her. Like a true mother,
she put her arms around the boys, and said:

“God bless you both, and may you soon see your parents. Good-by!”

They moved toward the door, and passed out, with downcast eyes, afraid
to utter another word, so strong were their feelings. They now realized
that they were alone in a strange section of the country, and that the
route was beset by perils. Somehow the terror of the situation had
passed from them. Less than a week ago they were carefree boys, who had
no great responsibilities, and who had never experienced the trials of
life.

For the past two days they had violated the laws imposed on the
community by the invaders; they knew the penalty was death. They had
been hunted and pursued; had learned how to evade the searchers; how to
crawl by stealth from one field to the next; how to cross a patrolled
highway, and the precautions that must be taken to approach houses. Do
you not wonder that boys under such conditions might well be pardoned
for feeling faint and weakened in their determination to go on?

Ralph was the first to recover. “How noble those people are. I love
them for the care and attention they gave us, and I hope we may be able
to repay them some day.”

“Yes,” answered Alfred. “But it made me happy to see the way Roland
left his mother. He is a brave fellow, and I hope he will be able to
work his way through the lines.”

“But here we are. We must not waste time. We had but little sleep last
night, and must go as far as we can to-night. Didn’t that bath feel
good?” remarked Ralph.

They hugged the precious packages which had been given them, and moved
to the east along the hedge row as suggested by the farmer.

“He said we should go east until we crossed the second stream, and then
follow it down to the Meuse. We ought to be able to remember that,”
said Alfred, as they quietly walked along side by side.

“There is the road now,” interposed Ralph. “Everything appears to be
quiet. Let us go on carefully, and cross over.”

This was accomplished without accident. It was now fully eleven
o’clock, and it must not be imagined that there was quiet all about
them. In the distance were sounds of the movement of horses, the clang
of metal and the rumbling of wheels, even at this late hour.

Indeed, they had hardly passed the highway, when a train of vehicles
came along. All these things became familiar to them, just as noises
and sounds will become dull to the ear through frequent and constant
repetition.

They talked but little, and moved across the next field with
considerable speed. A field of barley was reached, and soon passed,
then an orchard, and the inevitable vineyard. A house, or other
building, would suddenly loom up, and then a new direction would have
to be taken.

“What bothers me most is to get the right direction again after we
circle about the houses,” said Alfred.

“Yes, I forgot to look at the Great Dipper, so as to locate the North
Star. Do you remember, Alfred, how grandfather instructed us to find
the true north?” asked Ralph.

“I am afraid I would not be able to explain it,” answered Alfred.

“Well, look at the two stars opposite the handle. A line run out from
those two stars always points to the North Polar star,” replied Ralph.

“I remember now,” answered Alfred; “there it is, that bright star.
Well, I shall try it the next time we are forced to go around a
building.”

For the benefit of the reader, a sketch is given of the dipper, and the
relative position of Polaris, the great North Star. The dotted line A,
which runs through the two stars Dubhe and Merak, also passes through
Polaris.

Progress was slow owing to these detours, and when the first stream was
reached the boys were glad to bathe their faces, then they sat down to
rest. Where the stream was crossed appeared to be a secluded spot, and
the silence was such that it was almost oppressive to them.

Suddenly a great bell rang out in the distance, and the boys counted
the strokes. It was twelve o’clock, and they heard the bell of a great
château, eight miles west of Liège.

This startled them more than the reverberations of the great guns.

“We can now keep track of the time exactly,” said Alfred.

“Unless we hear too many other noises,” answered Ralph.

[Illustration: _Using the Great Dipper to Find the True North_]

The tramp was again taken up. They began to grow tired now but they had
gone in a direct line from the farmer’s house, not to exceed a mile and
a half, though in winding their ways around the houses they must have
traveled twice that distance. Moreover, every step of the way was one
of anxiety, which is more wearing than the bodily exertion.

Over fields, some of them newly-plowed; along hedges and fences,
walking between rows of vegetables; through orchards; crawling over
obstructions; ever alert to note and weigh each new or unfamiliar
noise; these were the strenuous times through which our heroes were
compelled to go in their wanderings. No wonder they grew tired.

“Are we going down hill?” inquired Ralph.

“Undoubtedly,” said Alfred. “I hope we shall soon reach the second
stream.”

Ralph’s hope was realized. The stream was near at hand, flowing
directly north.

“We must follow this,” whispered Alfred.

“Why not have something to eat?” said Ralph. “I am awfully hungry.”
Alfred needed no urging. Selecting a sheltered position under an
overhanging bank, they sat down, and carefully opened one of the
packages. They were surprised to find not only substantials there but
real dainties.

“Oh, but this is good,” remarked Ralph.

“I thought—-”

But Alfred’s sentence was cut short by a sudden commotion to their
right, followed by a gruff order in German. Soon the sounds of
galloping horses were heard, and a number stopped not three hundred
feet away.

They did not move. Some altercation or explanation took place, the
nature of which was not explainable at that time.

“I believe the road runs along there and crosses the creek where the
troops are,” suggested Alfred.

“I wonder what they are stopping for?”

A new order was given, and the command moved on to the west. In another
instant two figures faintly appeared close to the stream, at a bend
below them. They came on, directly toward them. The boys grasped each
others hands. The figures were now only ten feet away, and the boys
then saw that they were not enemies but friends.

“Don’t be afraid of us,” said Ralph, rising.

The men, thus suddenly arrested, started back, but quickly recovering
inquired who they were.

“We are trying to get to Antwerp,” said Alfred, “if the Germans will
let us.”

“Well, we are trying to get away from home, and they don’t want us to
do even that,” said one of the men.

“Were they after you?” inquired Alfred.

“Yes, for the last hour.”

“Is that a road beyond?” asked Ralph.

“That is the main road leading to Vise.”

“We should have struck the creek considerably south of the road,” said
Alfred.

“It is fortunate that you did not reach it on the other side, because
every foot of the road is patrolled. That is what caused us the trouble
during the last hour,–trying to get across.”

“But we made a run for it at last, and that is what caused the rumpus.
If they know we are on this side they will surely follow along
the stream, so we had better move up toward the Meuse, as fast as
possible.”

One of the men now went ahead, the others following at a distance which
enabled them to barely make out the advancing form. As they advanced
the valley of the stream grew narrower and more rugged.

The man with the boys turned to them and said: “We are now less than
a half mile from the Meuse. The railway track ahead will be the most
dangerous part of our journey.”

As he spoke they saw one of the telegraph poles through the darkness
and the leader in advance halted. There was silence for some time.
Soon he returned with the information that a body of troops were
quartered at the small station beyond, and that the utmost vigilance
was necessary.

Stealthily making their way along the hedge row at one side, the
railway line was reached. As a precautionary measure the men searched
the track in both directions, and returned with the information that
the line was clear. Creeping as low as possible the four made their way
across, just as an approaching train, filled with troops from the east,
began to slow down.

The rear end of the train stopped within two hundred feet of the
crossing place, and a number of the soldiers stepped from the train,
while lanterns, in abundance, were seen all along the train.

“Don’t let us waste time. The arrival of the train will give them
something to think about while we make tracks for the river.”

All precaution was now thrown to the winds. They actually scrambled
along the ground, and over the rough limestone formation. Huge oak
trees sprang up all along their pathway. This section is noted for the
size and beauty of these trees. They now afforded fine hiding places.

“We must go to the left, and try the bridge,” said the elder of the two.

This announcement was very welcome to the boys. Somehow, they felt that
if they could once cross the river they would be safe from pursuit.
To cross the stream otherwise would require a boat, or necessitate
swimming.

“Are you sure there is a bridge near here?” asked Ralph, somewhat
doubtfully.

“Yes.”

Beyond the Meuse. How the boys enjoyed the sight.

“Now for the bridge,” said the leader.

Keeping fully a hundred feet from the bank of the stream they marched
to the west, without incident, until they had gone fully a quarter of
a mile. Then, something moved in front of them. They quietly listened,
for it was certain some one was approaching. Not a word was spoken.

Beyond question men were approaching. Quiet mumblings were heard from
the approaching party.

The elder, in a suppressed breath, cried out “_ami_,” meaning _friend_,
and the noise instantly ceased. There was no response, however. The
word was repeated. Soon the answer came: “_Belguique_.”

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