THE CAPTURE AND ESCAPE

The General looked at the boy for a moment and then exclaimed: “The old
wound! When were you wounded?”

“At Russon, more than a week ago,” he answered, without any attempt at
bravado. That story by this time had gotten to be an old one with him.

“We cannot give you a machine to take you back to headquarters, but
you may have a horse,” said the officer; so as soon as the wound was
dressed Ralph mounted a fine animal, and was told to take the cross
country route, as the animal would leap any ordinary barrier.

Although he had ridden from his earliest recollection this was
the first time that he was ever on a horse that could leap across
obstacles, and when the first fence came in sight the horse refused to
stop but with Ralph clinging to the saddle vaulted across with so much
ease that it gave him the utmost confidence.

Ralph found the commanding officer about two miles behind the former
location, with the Germans coming on in full force. The sound of battle
was incessant, and everywhere could be seen the ambulance wagons and
the doctors attending the wounded, but over all was the sad reflection
that they were being driven on and on.

St. Trond was entered by the defenders during the afternoon, but they
merely passed through, and before six that night the Germans had taken
possession. Then came the report that the enemy’s outposts had been
reported as far north as Wellon, in the direction of Hasselt.

It was late that night when Ralph found Alfred. To him he told the
story of his adventures; of the loss of his machine; of the assistance
given to the wounded soldier, of his mission on foot to the officer to
whom he bore a mission and on his return on a steed furnished him by
the General.

“But what have you been doing?” asked Ralph. “I want to hear your
story.”

“Well,” said Alfred, “after you left I was sent to the east, and made
several trips to the different officers who were directed what to do
as they retreated toward St. Trond. The last trip I ran into a German
force, and was made a prisoner.”

Ralph’s eyes opened wide and glistened at this announcement.

“What did you do?” he asked eagerly.

“Well, just wait; it didn’t amount to much,” continued Alfred. “They
took my machine away, of course, and then they searched me, and—-”

“And took your orders away,” said Ralph with a disgusted look.

“No, they didn’t,” answered Alfred.

“Why not?” asked Ralph.

“Well, just wait,” replied Alfred. “Do you remember when we were
coasting down the hill the first or second day we were trying out the
machine, that when we put on the brakes too suddenly it turned over on
us and we ripped a hole in the seat?”

“Yes,” answered Ralph.

“Well, when I saw that I was in for it, and that I couldn’t get away,
I tucked the paper in the torn hole in the seat, and it is there now,
I suppose, and even if they do find it now it won’t be of any use to
them; at any rate, that is what the General said.”

“But how did you get away? I want to hear about that,” asked Ralph,
eagerly.

“Get away? Well, I just walked away,” said Alfred.

“But how?” asked Ralph.

“Oh! It wasn’t any trouble,” was the answer. “I stood around, and
watched my chance. Of course, I heard an officer say something to a
kind of under officer, as he pointed to me, and I suppose he told him
to arrest me; but something happened just then that prevented—-”

“What was it?” asked Ralph.

“A big shot landed about fifty feet in front of us, and exploded, and I
never knew there was so much dirt in the whole of Belgium. You should
have seen how that German officer looked. He had a most lovely uniform;
but it was one mass of dirt, and I was just wondering, as I looked at
him, if he had another suit like it, when I happened to think of the
soldier who was going to arrest me. As he was not around just then I
marched down a little lane, which was directly in front of the place
where the shot struck, and there I crossed the double row of hedges,
and seeing no one ahead I just marched across to the first field, and
when I got there didn’t I make tracks for our lines?” said Alfred, with
glistening eyes.

“And you don’t think that amounts to much?” asked Ralph.

“Well, it is nothing compared with being blown up in a machine,”
answered Alfred.

Ralph mused a while, and then burst out laughing. “Well, that is too
good. Both of us to lose our machines on the same day. I am glad the
Germans didn’t get my machine,” he said.

“Well, didn’t they get it? I should think they did,” and it was
Alfred’s time to laugh.

The troops were now massed along the crest of a small hill which
crosses the road north of the town. Early in the morning the German
forces could be seen deploying in all the open spaces to the north and
east of the town, and before seven the shells began to fly as on the
previous day. The boys meantime were kept busy with orders, Ralph using
the horse which had been turned over to him, and Alfred, seizing the
first opportunity, secured a new machine.

[Illustration: _Map of Louvain_]

The second day’s fight was terrific. More than 1000 men fell on that
day, on the Belgian side alone. It was one continual scene of fighting
in the retreat from St. Trond to Tirlemont. Hasselt and Diest both
fell that day, but of this the boys had no knowledge until later.

The force passed through Tirlemont in good order, fighting every inch
of the way. The Germans were now, on the 19th of August, advancing on
Louvain by three roads, from Diest, Tirlemont, and from Hammeville. The
boys were with the central force on the Tirlemont road.

Orders were issued to continue the retreat to Louvain, as the Germans
were known to be east of the city in great force, and no one knew what
the end would be. Ralph still had his horse, but it had been wounded
late in the afternoon and he was forced to abandon it.

Alfred had his machine, but it was useless, as he had no oil for it,
and it was finally loaded in one of the wagons and the two boys were
forced to go along on foot.

Soon there was a halt, and they saw the men form along the road and
spread out along the sides of a hill. Then the shells began to fall and
the troops in front got into action. They were being surrounded and cut
off, and although the men knew it they continued to fight.

Then a desperate charge from the open field in the left told the story.
The order was given to cease firing and as a still greater force came
over the hill, and the entire rear guard of their regiment, together
with a battery, fell into the hands of the enemy.

Everything was confusion now. The boys plainly saw a white flag and
noted that the firing had ceased.

“Let us get out of this,” said Alfred, so together they ran across a
field and soon reached a fence beyond. The Belgian troops which filled
the road to the north in another hour had reached the gate of the city,
called Porte de Tirlemont. It was reported that the Germans had entered
the city at the eastern gate, but once within the city they hurried
through and passed out the gate Porte de Malines.

On all sides were people, some walking, others riding, many of them in
curious conveyances, and all excited to the utmost. They had now lost
all trace of the Belgian army, although they knew it was some miles
ahead of them.

That night they were aroused by a cry: “The Germans are coming.”

A half hour thereafter the first troop of horsemen came from the
east, and from that time until morning there was no cessation from
the galloping of horses, the tramp of infantry and the rumbling of
artillery wheels.

“I wonder where we can get something to eat?” said Alfred.

At a little cluster of houses, five miles south of Louvain, they found
some food, and after breakfasting they again resumed the tramp along
the main highway which led to Malines, ten miles away.

Before noon they reached the city where the Germans were. They had not
been molested on the highway, but now, as they passed the gate, an
officer gazed at them and commanded a halt.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

“We are American boys, on the way to Antwerp,” said Ralph.

“What uniform is that?” he demanded.

“Messenger service, sir,” responded Alfred, as he glanced at Alfred.

“In whose service?” asked the officer.

Neither replied.

Motioning to a soldier, the officer said: “Arrest them.”

They were marched to the great military prison, which was filled to
overflowing with men and women. Two days thereafter they were taken out
and marched through the town, past the great Cathedral. Crossing the
open place they were taken westwardly along a wide street and turned
to the left along a street that ran alongside a wide stream, which the
boys afterwards learned was the Dyle.

They were halted in front of a large building which had the inscription
“Salm Inn.”

They were met at the door by nurses with large red crosses on their
sleeves, and by smartly dressed uniformed men in white, also provided
with red crosses.

“This is now a hospital,” remarked their companion, “and it is one of
the Red Cross stations.”

“What do they want to bring us here for?”

“I suppose they are going to put us to work.”

Within was an appalling sight as the boys went through the ward
for the first time. Ralph’s duty was to attend the physicians in
their rounds each morning, and at two in the afternoon. He furnished
supplies, waited on the nurses and attended to the wants of the
sufferers.

Alfred was on like duty in the adjoining ward. While not together as
much as formerly, they were constantly meeting in the halls, and one
day Ralph was entrusted with the duty of going into the city on an
errand.

The only thing which the boys could not bear was the fact that they
could get no news of the outside world. All communication was shut off.
Had Liège fallen? Where were the Belgian forces? Had Brussels yielded?
Their captors would give them no information, and the nurses, most of
them could talk German only, did not seem to know any more than they did.

Ralph determined to get some information, and while on his journey
sought a stationery establishment in order to purchase some papers. The
first one he spied had a large assortment of papers but, singularly,
not a single French paper.

He was disgusted, and as he turned away, voiced his complaint. The
shopkeeper said: “This is now a German province, and no more French
will be spoken or printed here.”

During his absence Alfred, in making his rounds as usual, was startled
at hearing his name. He turned, and near him, with his head bandaged,
and an arm bound with many layers of surgeon’s tape, stood a young man.

“Don’t you recognize me?”

“No,” said Alfred, with open eyes.

“Have you forgotten Roland?”

Alfred was down by the bedside in a moment.

“Where were you wounded? Is it serious? How long have you been here?”
said Alfred.

“I was wounded over two days ago, and was in the field hospital a day.
My company was captured in the fight below Malines, and Colonel Moreau
is also a prisoner. What have you been doing?”

“We have had a wonderful time,” said Alfred.

“Where is Ralph?” asked Roland.

“He is here, in the next ward. I will surely tell him about you.”

At the hospital the boys saw every sort of wound, and soon learned to
distinguish between the gunshot and the shrapnel wounds.

“Why is it that the shrapnel make such awful holes?” he asked one of
the nurses one day.

“Well, you know, shrapnel does not go through the air as fast as the
bullets from the rifles, and it has been shown that the greater the
velocity the smaller the size of the wound. The bullets from the
Mausers and the Mannlichers, which have such a high velocity, seem
to go through so quickly that they sear the flesh, and thus form an
antiseptic path which aids the wound in healing. But the shrapnel
bullets are larger and this causes such terrible wounds.”

“But they seem actually to tear the flesh,” said Alfred.

“That is caused, not by the bullets which are in the shrapnel, but
by the shell itself. If the shell bursts near the soldiers it often
strikes the poor fellows and sometimes tears them to pieces.”

It would be too sickening to go over the many details that came to the
notice of the boys. They were kept at their duties daily for over two
weeks, when something happened which made them decide to effect their
escape, if possible.

“Let us get away,” said Alfred, after they had been on duty for a week.
“I think we can easily do it,” he added. Ralph hesitated, for a moment.

“Yes, by all means if we can,” responded Ralph. “But I don’t mind this
work, and do you know they intend to pay us for it?”

“How do you know?” asked Alfred.

“Because the steward told me so when he made the rounds to-day and was
making up the list.”

“Then let’s wait until we get some money,” answered Alfred.

Two days thereafter, to the gratification of the boys, they were handed
envelopes, each containing a number of pieces of silver coin.

“How much money have we earned?” asked Ralph.

“Well, each of you has nine marks, and that is about eleven francs, or
five and a half francs a week,” he was informed.

During their work they found that more and more liberty was accorded
them. Each had the Red Cross emblem on his sleeve, and after the first
week they were furnished with new suits. During their work they had
also been provided with clean rooms, and opportunities for daily baths.
However, they felt the restraint when that night as they had several
times done before they wandered down to the heart of the city it was
with a determination to cross the barriers at the first opportunity.

One day a soldier was brought in whose arm was completely shattered. On
examination it was found that only a single bullet had passed through.
The surgeon in charge said it was the first instance he had noted where
the high power missile had caused such a terrible fracture.

Colonel Moreau, who was present, said: “I can understand the reason for
that. The bullet, evidently, was deflected before striking the arm, and
as it came from a rifled gun, its screw-like action caused it to set up
a motion at its rear end, something like the upper end of a top, just
before it stops to spin. This is called a key-holing motion, and as the
bullet strikes the solid bone it simply tears its way through, instead
of making a clean round hole, as is ordinarily the case.”

The city was full of soldiers and every street was as lively at ten
o’clock that night as during any part of the day. Troops were moving
through the town, but most of them passed out through the Porte de
Adeghem toward the northwest.

“Do you notice that all the troops are going northwest and west?” asked
Ralph. “They must go that way to reach Brussels, and as Brussels is now
in the hands of the Germans,” he added, “we should by all means go to
the north or east and reach Antwerp.”

Without molestation they passed through the streets and moving north
through the Rue de Catharine crossed the great boulevard and out
through Porte de Anvers without being seen.

At twelve that night the road was still filled with troops, wagons and
paraphernalia of war. Watching an opportunity, Ralph sought information
from a peasant. The latter said:

“The Belgians are not far away, and there has been a battle hereabouts.
If you want to reach the troops do not follow the road, but go to your
left, directly west. In that way you will get in touch with them.”

“What does the great movement of troops toward Antwerp mean?” asked
Ralph.

“Why, the Germans have determined to capture Antwerp, and they are
moving up the big guns to batter down the forts,” he was informed.

About five miles north of Malines they reached the river Nethe. Acting
on the suggestion of the peasant, they left the road at this point and
determined to follow that stream as far as Boom, from which point they
would have a safer route to Antwerp.

After going less than a mile they saw a road which had the inevitable
cavalry patrols. They were now undecided what to do, but determined on
one thing–to get to the Belgian lines and to risk all rather than be
recaptured.

So they remained close to the hedge and moved up carefully to get a
more favorable view. They were soon convinced that the patrols were
Germans and this made it imperative for them to avoid the highway.

Awaiting the first opportunity they crawled through the hedge and found
themselves in the roadway, but before there was an opportunity to cross
they were spied by the advance sentries and the first cry they heard
was: “_Wer geht da?_”

The boys rightly interpreted this to mean “Who goes there?” but they
did not stop. This time they darted through the bush and ran to the
south along the hedge row, as fast as they could scurry, while the
sentry, putting the spurs to his horse, was over the fence at a leap,
and after shooting twice came directly across the field.

The boys knowing that the sentry could not see them after they crossed
the little ravine, entered the dense shrubbery which grew along the
river bank. Their hearts were in their mouths. As they looked around,
however, they saw three other horsemen following them.

Now began the flight of their lives. “Let’s go to the left along the
river bank. That may throw them off our tracks. They may turn to the
right, thinking that we would be most likely to go in that direction,”
proposed Ralph.

His prediction was verified, for without waiting to go directly to the
brink of the river the horsemen all headed for the river to the right,
thus enabling the boys to look about for some sort of protection.

The high grass and weeds enabled them completely to cover themselves
and they had the satisfaction of hearing the troopers a half-mile in
the distance, beating every clump of shrubbery, but soon all was quiet.

Ralph laughed as they lay there and reflected how the Uhlans were
outwitted. “What made you think of that ruse?” he asked.

“I happened to remember what the General said one day, when they were
planning some new movement of the troops. He said we ought to get east
and occupy the ridge. Our weakest movement would be to go to the left.
Napoleon’s policy was first to consider what a commander would be
likely to do to defend a position, and then do just the other thing. It
was by following this plan in the field that he won all his battles in
Italy, and it gave him wonderful fame. You see, they were driving us
down the river bank, and they would naturally think we would not go in
the opposite direction, as it would bring us closer to them, in stead
of farther away.”

“Well, that is a good lesson, any way. I suppose the proper thing for
us to do now is to follow them by going up the river?” said Alfred.

“Certainly. They won’t be looking for us in that direction now,” said
Ralph.

They were careful, however, not to expose themselves needlessly, but
keeping as much as possible alongside of the high grass they reached
the road. After safely crossing it they sprinted alongside of the
river, and soon covered another mile. At this point they saw a little
village at the end of a long bridge which crossed to the western side
of the stream. As it was necessary to pass this village, and to make a
detour around it would mean a long tramp, they consumed fully an hour
as they quietly made their way toward the town in order to ascertain
whether or not it was occupied by a force, whether friend or foe.

A woman who crossed their path was greatly startled at their
appearance, but their speech at once reassured her.

“Do you know, M’selle, whether the Germans are in the village?” asked
Ralph.

“No,” she answered. “But we were informed that they are coming up the
road.”

“They are not far away. They left the bridge last night.”

“I wonder why the bridge was not destroyed?” said Ralph. “Well, don’t
let us wait. We must go on while we have time,” was Paul’s eager and
hurried observation.

They leaped forward. They could now see the villagers,–that is, women
and children on the main road looking east. All were extremely excited
as the boys came up, and some of them began to retreat toward the
houses.

Ralph cried out: “We are Americans, and have just escaped from the
Germans. Which is the best road to Boom?”

The villagers pointed to the road leading along the river bank. One of
them cried out: “Don’t go that way; the Uhlans are on the road.”

Several men were now seen at the lower edge of the village, where they
stood waving their hands.

“That means the enemy are coming,” said Ralph. “Our only hope now
is the bridge,” and without waiting to hear further news, both boys
started on a run to make the crossing.

Throughout this section there was a vast amount of shrubbery, and the
inevitable rows of trees along the highways made it difficult for those
on the western side of the stream to notice the approach of any one
until they were within a few hundred feet of the bridge.

This was the boys’ salvation. Within a minute they were on the bridge
and they were then startled by the sound of the first gun behind them.
They did not stop, but on glancing back were somewhat relieved to
find that the shot was not intended for them. Possibly someone in the
village had been made a victim.

They were now in the middle of the bridge, when a most terrific
explosion shook them, and they stopped running as though they had been
struck. They looked at each other in consternation. Then they glanced
back, but the dense smoke hid them from the view of their enemies. A
section of the bridge had been blown up; but by whom they didn’t know,
so they now walked toward the end of the bridge. As they went down the
slight incline a soldier stepped in the roadway and halted them.

The boys halted for a moment and cried, “Belgique!” then rushed
forward, at which the sentry understood and permitted them to pass.
Behind the sentry were others who hurriedly motioned them to conceal
themselves by the side of the road. At the same time they noticed that
the lone sentry also had disappeared.

Looking back, they now saw a platoon of Uhlans at the other end of the
bridge.

“Too bad,” said Alfred, “that the explosion didn’t do more damage.” The
troopers advanced, some of them dismounting, and within fifteen minutes
sufficient repairs were made to allow a half-company to cross over.

The leaders were galloping off the bridge when two distinct explosions
took place, one near their end of the bridge and the other behind the
first explosion, thus completely cutting off those on the bridge and
also entrapping those who had crossed.

A brief order, “Tirez!” on the part of the Belgian officer brought
into view over a hundred concealed infantrymen, who fired volley after
volley as they made a rush toward the horsemen. Some of the Uhlans
turned and plunged into the stream, and many of those on the bridge did
likewise, while the officer in command of the Belgians called out to
them to surrender. Most of them did so, throwing down at the same time
their lances and guns.

Thus the moving column was checked, and at this very place the Belgians
held up the further movement of the Germans toward the west, until
after Antwerp had fallen.

The fighting was soon over, and when the prisoners had been rounded up
the men started to the rear with them.

Upon reaching the main camp the first one to greet the boys was
Antonio, and before nightfall every one in the camp had beard about
the boys and of their achievements. An amusing thing occurred as the
prisoners were being assigned to their quarters.

Marching along at the head of the tired troopers was a German
lieutenant. The boys now noticed for the first time that this officer
wore the helmet of the Death’s Head Hussar.

“There is a friend of ours,” said Ralph, with a smile.

“Who do you mean?” said Antonio.

“The German lieutenant, with the big helmet on.”

As they moved toward him the officer, who now recognized the boys,
looked at them in astonishment. He held up a hand in token of
recognition, as Alfred went up to him and said: “Well, Lieutenant, we
intend to put you to work in the hospital.”

The officer gazed at him in amazement for a moment, and then, as he saw
the twinkle in the boy’s eyes, said: “Ah! you are not serious. You do
not take these things seriously.”

Two days thereafter our young heroes marched into Antwerp with the
troops, where they were to meet Ralph’s family. During their three
weeks’ wanderings not a word had been heard from the boys or from
Pierre, and their parents were naturally much alarmed, knowing that
they were traversing the very section of Belgium where the first
fighting had taken place in the great conflict.

We shall now take leave of our young friends in the hope that we may
have the good fortune to follow their further adventures on European
battlefields.

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