THE FIRST BATTLE

There was a movement in their front, and soon forms were outlined. One
appeared after the other, until seven men ranged alongside. Almost the
first to appear was Roland, who had left them the evening before, and
two of his associates.

Roland laughed, as he greeted the boys. Most of the men knew each
other, as they were all from the same commune.

“Where are you going?” asked Roland.

“To the bridge,” answered their companion.

“Too late,” responded Roland. “An advance guard, with two machine guns,
reached there less than an hour ago, and has taken possession.”

“That means that the Germans are on the other side, as well?” asked one
of the men.

“We do not know about that. They could easily come up from Tieff, and
from that point cross over.”

“Fortunately,” said Roland, “our troops are arriving from St. Trond and
Tongress, to reinforce the garrison.”

“Then we may be able to reach the soldiers,” said Alfred.

“Yes, unless the Germans are ahead of them,” answered Roland.

Without delay the company, now increased to eleven, turned to the east,
and marched down close to the river bank. Cottage after cottage was
passed, but they purposely avoided the roads. West of Jemeppe is a
little cluster of cottages, where some of the company knew boats were
obtainable, and as this was approached the bell of the château struck
three.

If the cottages along the way were silent, it was evident that the
cottagers were not asleep. As they neared the street they could see
many of the villagers, and at the shore were a dozen boats, and several
more could be seen out in the stream.

The appearance of the boys and the party attracted no particular
attention, but it was seen that the men were manning the boats, and
Roland and his men announced that they must cross in order to join the
forces beyond.

“The Germans are on the other side, but how near we do not know. They
have taken the bridge below here,” said one of them.

The boys were interested listeners and observers. They now noticed that
many of the men were armed, and that two of them had uniforms.

“Who is that man with the uniform?” asked Alfred, as Roland appeared.

“That is Captain Moreau. He is directing the movement of the reservists
in this section.”

The boys were startled at this as it meant the news of his capture was
not true. Pierre must be with him then, and they rushed around trying
to find him, but were unable to do so.

Over forty men manned the boats, and the boys were permitted to enter
one of them.

The Captain gave a brief order and they were under way. As they neared
the northern shore he said:

“Return as rapidly as possible to the next landing below and get those
assembled there. We will await the party at Grand Oak crossing.”

When all had landed they were quietly marched to the east until they
struck a road leading to the north. A quarter of a mile beyond was a
cross road, passing through a cluster of magnificent oaks. They were
led to a thick wood adjoining the cross road, and concealed in the
chapparal which commanded the main road.

It consumed an hour to reach this point, and it was now four in the
morning. In a half hour more the party from the downstream landing
appeared, and now the first streaks of dawn appeared. Without waiting
for explanations as to the course to be pursued, the Captain selected
four men, who were ordered to advance.

The scouts thus designated were armed, and immediately forged ahead,
and after a wait of five minutes, the party followed. All talking was
prohibited.

“We shall know within the next hour whether we shall meet friend or
foe,” said the Captain.

Every minute or two one of the scouts would appear and report to the
Captain. The party marched on without halting, until a little village
was reached, through which ran a main road.

Beyond was the railway from Tongres to Liège. This must be reached,
for, if the Belgian reinforcements were coming it is probable they
would come over this line.

“The party is too large to pass around the village,” said the Captain.
“We must divide, one-half going to the left and the other to the right.
We shall meet at the railway, a mile beyond.”

The boys were fortunate enough to accompany the party commanded by the
Captain, and Roland was also one of the company.

All was too much excitement, however, to enable them to ask for much
information. What if the road should be in possession of the Germans.
It required no information to tell them what that would mean.

A tramp of twenty minutes brought them in sight of the railway
embankment. The other party had arrived, and were in waiting.
The commander in charge of the other party came forward with the
information that no trains had come from the north since six o’clock
the night before.

“That means that the Germans have seized the road,” said the Captain.
“Where is your informant?” he asked.

One of the men, who lived in the immediate neighborhood, came forward
and he was carefully questioned. He could give no news as to the reason
for the delay in trains.

“How far is it to the nearest station?”

“One kilometer to the east, Captain. I will undertake to go there and
try to get some information.”

“Go at once, and Corporal Antonio will accompany you.”

Antonio was the non-commissioned officer who had charge of the other
party in their movement around the village.

They hurriedly departed, and the Captain then disposed of the company,
by ordering them to line the hedges along the embankment, and to remain
perfectly quiet, until ordered to move.

After a wait of twenty minutes the corporal reappeared and reported
that the Germans held the approach to the northern side of the bridge,
and that a troop train had left Tongres less than a half hour ago.

“Then we must march to the north at once,” said the Captain.

Now for the first time they felt the effects of the long strain. They
still carried one of the packages of luncheon and noticed that rations
were carried by the others as well. They had the pleasure of telling
Roland about the luncheon, and now that the morning sun was appearing,
and the company sat down to rest, they opened the package, and Roland
assisted them in disposing of the contents.

There was no trouble now in getting food. Everywhere, the peasants
supplied their necessities. Fruit was in abundance on all sides. This
was, indeed, a grand holiday; but they were excessively tired. This
was the second night without sleep. After nearly an hour’s march they
reached a village on the railway, and were gratified to learn that the
troop train was a mile beyond, and rapidly approaching.

The company during the march had been gathering recruits, so that when
the train came in sight more than a hundred formed the party. The Captain
boarded the train, and immediately consulted the officer in command.

After a wait of nearly an hour, all of the recruits, together with the
boys, got aboard, and the train slowly moved forward, passing several
villages. Here are numerous coal mines, foundries and factories, and it
was assumed that the Germans would first of all capture these places,
and this they were attempting to do at this time.

The only thing which prevented them was the lack of transportation.
They were concentrating an immense force to the south of the city, and
investing it on all sides as fast as the facilities for moving the
munitions of war and the troops permitted.

Beyond was Russau, which was soon reached, and as the boys looked out
they saw a magnificent panorama. This town is fully 500 feet higher
than Liège, and is over seven miles northeast. From that viewpoint
could be seen the beautiful valley of the Meuse, and the city with
its encircling forts, one of which, V Lautin, was directly to the
southeast, and the other to the south, Ft. V Laucin.

A quick command was given, and in the shortest possible time the entire
train was emptied of its living freight.

“What is the matter?” asked Alfred, startled at the sudden exodus.

“The Germans are across the railroad ahead,” said Roland.

The boys’ hearts sank within them. They watched the tracks which were
laid from the platforms of the cars, and saw the field pieces wheeled
down. Then the boxes that followed, that they knew contained the
ammunition.

“What are those curious looking bullets?” asked Ralph.

[Illustration: _Shrapnel Shell_]

“They are shrapnel. They are filled with bullets, and a bursting charge
so as to scatter the bullets,” said Roland.

“How are they made?” asked Alfred.

Roland then hurriedly explained it to them as follows:

“There is an outside shell A, which is provided with a charge of powder
sufficient to explode it. This has a time fuse of such length that it
will explode a sufficient distance ahead of the striking point, say
two or three hundred feet. These bullets scatter where they strike.”

“But why is it called ‘shrapnel’?” asked Ralph.

“It was named after a British general, Shrapnel, who invented it about
eighty years ago,” replied Roland.

[Illustration: _Exploding Shrapnel_]

The moment the guns were unloaded the train backed away, and the men
deployed on both sides of the road, the guns being moved forward toward
an advantageous position.

The German horsemen could be plainly seen at intervals between the
shrubbery, more than a half mile beyond.

“How many men were aboard the train?” asked Alfred.

“About three hundred, including the officers and men of the battery,”
answered Roland.

The guns were soon in position. The lines had been selected for the
men, but still there was no attack.

“What are they waiting for?” asked Ralph, impatiently.

“That is a pretty large force for us to attack. We are waiting for
reinforcements. Another train load is on the way, and within two hours
we shall have cavalry to support us,” was the response.

Evidently the enemy did not purpose waiting.

One part of their cavalry moved to the east, and the other came
directly forward. A command was given, and the guns, with shrapnel
shot, began to speak. Behind the battery, and on a slightly elevated
position, were some officers, with glasses. After each shot an order
was given, or an observation made for the benefit of the gunners.

“Elevate a little more.” “Farther to the left.” “Change position to
the right.” “Good shot.” And so on, as the boys and the others not
belonging to the force crowded around.

Few of the shots, however, took effect in such a manner as to
particularly make the actions of the troops noticeable. After each
telling shot there would be confusion in the lines; this was plainly
observable and when the shells exploded in front of the lines there
would be a halt, and reformation of the columns.

They came on, however, and now the infantry commenced to send its
volleys against the oncoming foe.

To reach the hill on which the battery was mounted it was necessary
for the cavalry to cross two fences, one of them being formed of rock,
along which had grown dense shrubbery. The force halted beyond the
second hill, where it was screened, and for a time the firing ceased.
Meantime the force which was detached to the right appeared to the left
of the screened force, in a valley, and awaited, apparently, further
orders.

The officer in command of the Belgians anxiously awaited word from
the north, but none came. After an hour of waiting the guns were
unlimbered, and with the infantry as a screen it retreated over the
road to the northwest. This was done under cover, of course, so that
the Germans supposed the battery was still on the hill.

Numerous scouting parties had been sent out, as soon as the command
disembarked from the cars, and reports from the different sections
now began to come in. The entire country south and between them and
the outlying forts was occupied by the enemy. It would be impossible
for them to enter Liège from that direction. The scouts reported that
they must go to the west, as the Belgians still held the railway from
Brussels and Louvain.

While all this was going on, a terrific bombardment was in progress.
All of the forts south of the Meuse were in action, and two to the
north. At least twenty German batteries had been planted within two
days, all directed against the fortified hills.

It was a grand and thrilling spectacle to the boys. The dense
haze caused by the burning powder, obstructed the rays of the sun;
everywhere was bustle and confusion, as they gazed out on the great
panorama before them. Ordinarily the great factories and foundries all
about the city produced a like condition. But now the industrial works
were silent. The hum of peaceful institutions was not like the noise of
war.

“Do you see that house over there?” said Gascon. “That is where we have
picknicked many a time. There is a beautiful grove over the hill, and
adjoining the house.”

“The Germans are there now; see them coming up the road!” exclaimed
Ralph in excitement.

“There is a big stone quarry back of the house—-”

The Captain heard Gascon, and quickly stepped over to him. “Do you know
this part of the country?” he asked.

“Yes, I have been here many times,” answered Gascon.

“Then come with me quickly,” said the commander.

“I formerly lived in Liège, and know every part of the country around
here. There is a large quarry beyond the red house. That would be a
good place to send the company.”

“I thank you very much for the information.”

“May we go along with the company?” asked Ralph.

The officer smiled at his eagerness, as he gave the assent.

“But we want some guns,” said Alfred, as he turned to address the
officer.

There was a moment of hesitation. “By all means, you shall have them,”
he replied.

It was but the work of moments to supply them with the desired
equipment, and when the boys marched down the hill with the detachment
they were the happiest pair in Belgium.

“Aren’t the guns heavy, though,” remarked Alfred. “Wouldn’t I like to
shoot?”

This was another problem. They must learn the use of the weapons. They
were soon to have an opportunity to learn that the soldier who uses the
gun frequently, as in battle, will have a sore and bruised shoulder,
from the recoil. It was sport to them now; how would it be later on?

Within twenty minutes the detachment reached the first of the quarries.
Here was an admirable defensive work, made ready for them, and
absolutely inaccessible to cavalry.

Roland was sent back to the commanding officer to report on the
condition of the quarry and its surroundings, and within an hour the
entire force was on its way, the artillery being mounted in a concealed
position on the hill above the quarry, while the infantry used the
entrenched part below.

Here the entire party awaited the expected reinforcements from the
north, and the Germans remained, for the time being, quietly on the
watch, a half mile below the red house.

Thus the boys spent the first day of their journeyings as soldiers. How
proud they were. They actually petted the guns. They had no uniforms, of
course, and it was the only thing needed to make them supremely happy.

Their joy was so great that they almost forgot home, and when, in the
dangers that later came, they thought of their parents, it was with
great pride that they were able to be of service to Belgium in her hour
of need.

There was another thing which awakened a sense of pleasure. The men
realizing that they were only boys treated them like privileged
characters. In accordance with the laws they had no right to bear arms;
but in war many things are permitted that would not be tolerated in
times of peace.

The boys had an early awakening. Ralph, who was first to arise and
emerge from the little cove, which was occupied by their squad, rushed
back into the enclosure, and cried: “An airship is coming.”

Alfred was out in an instant. There, circling above them, was an air
plane. The officers were viewing it with their glasses.

“What is it, Roland?” asked Alfred.

“It is a German flying machine, of the type called the Taube,” he
answered.

[Illustration: _German Taube Airplane_]

“What is the difference between the Taube and the monoplane?” asked
Ralph.

“The Taube is a monoplane. The word is the German name for _dove_. That
name was given to it on account of its shape. See the broadly-spreading
tail, and the peculiar wing-formation of the main planes.”

After passing above the quarry the machine flew to the south, and then
circled around so as to get a view of the tier of forts.

“See, there is another one off to the left,” exclaimed Ralph.

In the distance, and in the direction from which the boys had come,
in their wanderings, they noticed another ship of the same character.
These were used for the purpose of ascertaining the locations, not only
of the forts themselves, but to spy out the most convenient elevations
in the vicinity of the fortifications.

The most important duty of the airplanes is to watch the movement of
troops from one vicinity to the other, and to take particular note
of the effect of the shells. In this respect they have an undoubted
advantage over any other method ever used in warfare.

Heretofore the only way in which an attacking party could determine
whether the shells took effect was indicated by the failure on the
part of the fort to answer with their guns. But this was not the most
satisfactory thing to judge from, because, in many instances, the forts
would purposely cease firing, and thus delude the attackers into the
belief that they were silenced by the exploding shells.

There is no mistaking the explosions of shells, as they fall around a
fort. The flying machines are usually manned by a military observer,
who has powerful glasses. He also has a large flag with a white center,
and dark border. With this he can readily signal the effect of the
shots to the officer at the battery, the latter being provided with
field glasses.

The system of signals vary. Obviously, there are only four directions
necessary in order to tell the gunners where to shoot. That is, if the
shot should, for instance, go over the fort, the flag would be raised
far over the head to indicate that fact. If the shot fell short, the
flag would be lowered. In like manner, should the shot strike to the
right, the flag would be waved in that direction, and so on.

If the shots are properly placed the flag is waved around the head, to
show demonstration of approval.

The commander called Antonio, and directed him to take a squad and
mount the hill directly to the east, using that as an observation
point. Roland was one of the squad, and the boys begged permission to
accompany them.

They made a hurried rush across the intervening depression, the entire
force numbering fifty-five men. If the officer in command had known
that the mission would be a dangerous one he would have denied the boys
permission to go along; but it was too late now.

It was well that the commander had taken the precaution, for the moment
they gained the crest of the hill they could plainly observe a body of
infantry coming up the hill a mile to the east, and this was absolutely
unobservable from the quarry position.

Before Antonio had time to consider what to do a company of dismounted
cavalry appeared at the foot of the hill, evidently with the object of
using the elevation as an observation point. The Germans had no idea
that it was already occupied.

Antonio quietly gave instructions to the men. “Do not fire until I
give the order. Keep cool, and when you fire, shoot low, and aim
deliberately.”

Alfred and Ralph were now at fever heat. It was the most momentous
period of their lives. The excitement was most intense, and what made
it still more trying was that they must keep quiet and suppress their
feelings.

What emotions must be uppermost in the minds of soldiers when they are
about to engage in the first real battle. Gen. Grant describes the
feeling that overtook him while leading his company up the hill to
meet, for the first time, an enemy, who was waiting to receive him. He
said that the sensation was an indescribable one,–that his heart was
in his mouth, and a spasm of sickness passed through his frame, which
grew in intensity, until he began to think that, probably, the enemy
felt just the same as he did, and gradually that terrible agony passed
from him.

The enemy crossed the last fence and was now coming forward, fully a
hundred men, along the side of the hill, and over obstructions that
horses could not have passed.

Onward and upward. Why would not Antonio give the word to fire. The
boys saw more than one of the men look toward him. The rifles were
held ready for the trigger; still Antonio remained cool and impassive.

“Look at Antonio,” said Alfred, under his breath. Then when he turned
to look at Ralph he saw the gun in his hand trembling, and Alfred for
the first time realized that his own hand was not steady, and it might
be said that many a gun trembled at the first experience, for, aside
from Antonio, few, if any, in that firing line had ever been in actual
battle.

“Now, ready,” said Antonio. The great suspense was over. Nobody looked
toward Antonio now. They were looking toward the enemy. The guns ceased
their trembling. All were firmly clasped as they awaited the next word.

“Fire!” The word came like a shriek. There was no necessity for silence
now.

Every gun in the column spoke. And now each man, at command, began to
fire at will. The boys were so excited that they did not know whether
or not they served the guns properly. There was an overweening desire
to see what the results of the shots were. Then something occurred
which they had overlooked in the intensity of their feelings.

It was the roar of a hundred guns below them. They had momentarily
forgotten that the enemy could also shoot. The boys, like the others,
were behind a stone fence which ran directly across the hill.

Besides the roar of the guns they could now plainly hear the impact
of the leaden bullets on this barricade. They had an awfully sickening
sound. Sometimes, when the bullets passed over, they could hear a
whizzing sound.

“Do you hear the sounds like bumble bees?” said Ralph to Roland.

“They must be bullets,” said Alfred.

The latter nodded but did not reply. The boys now had an opportunity
to see a little through the clouds of smoke around them. Antonio
passed from one end of the column to the other incessantly. “Shoot
deliberately,” he said to one. “Don’t hurry,” to another. “Be sure to
aim carefully; it is the true shot that counts, not the number.”

Such coolness gave every one courage. It inspired them. If Antonio was
not afraid, why should they be alarmed.

“Isn’t Antonio brave!” said Ralph, who could not help admiring the calm
officer.

Alfred merely straightened up, as though he disdained the shelter of
the barricade, and brought his gun up for another shot.

“Good, boys!” cried Antonio. “We have them!” “Keep at it.” And he ran
back and forth in the greatest enthusiasm. Ralph jumped up in the
excitement, and felt a sting in his left arm, that seemed to turn him
around.

He sat down, and again threw his gun over the protection and kept
on firing. Alfred was very business-like. He handled the gun like a
veteran.

Roland called to Alfred, and said: “My boy, you will do us a good
service if you can bring up some water for the men.”

He jumped up and started for the cottage half way down the hill. He now
remembered that he was intensely thirsty. He knew there was something
lacking, but did not recognize what it was. A woman and three children
were there, terrified at the scene before her. To her he made known his
wants.

Instantly she brought forth several pails, and filling them at a nearby
spring, assisted Alfred in carrying them up the hill. He did not forget
the dipper and the other drinking vessels. What a mission of mercy
Alfred and the woman performed, as they passed the cool water to the
parched lips of the feverish fighters.

When Alfred returned to the firing line he saw Ralph leaning forward on
his gun, and a stream of blood flowing out of his sleeve.

For a moment he was paralyzed; then jumping up he ran over to Antonio,
and said: “Ralph has been shot!”

It was, indeed, a terrible thing to him, to see the blood, but the
moment he uttered that word, “_shot_,” it seemed to be much more of a
catastrophe than to see his friend lying there motionless.

Antonio sprang forward and pulled off Ralph’s coat. “Bring some water
here,” he said. This was plentifully applied to his head and face. “He
has only fainted,” was Antonio’s comment. This was, fortunately, true,
for Ralph soon opened his eyes and gazed on them in surprise. Roland
quickly bathed the wound, which was a shot through the arm from which
the blood was still flowing, and bound it up, while Ralph watched the
proceeding.

But Antonio did not forget his duties. The shots from the attacking
party came slower and at longer intervals. They were shielding
themselves along the hillside, but they were not yet defeated.

“Roland, you must go to the quarry and tell them that reinforcements
are coming up along the north road, and get the orders as to our
disposition.”

“Please let me go,” pleaded Alfred. “There is a wheel down at the
cottage.”

The voice and the earnest manner appealed to Antonio. “Yes, you are a
brave boy. You may take this order.”

Those words of commendation were like a stimulant to the boy. The
communication was quickly prepared, and Alfred hurried down the
hillside, and told the woman his mission. He then grasped the bicycle
and rapidly coasted down the hill along the main road which, although
it made a detour, in order to reach the quarry, was nevertheless the
most speedy means of reaching the main party.

The soldiers at the quarry had heard the firing and knew from its
intensity and continued character that a strong party was in front, and
were eager to hear from Antonio. Alfred was observed long before he
reached the bottom of the depression, and half a dozen of the soldiers
rushed down to the foot of the hill, and assisted him up the steep grade.

“We have whipped them,” cried Alfred. “Oh, it was glorious.”

“Have many been killed?” asked one of the men.

“I don’t know,” he responded. “Yes, several have been wounded. Ralph
was shot.”

“Who is Ralph?” asked one of the men.

“He is my cousin,” answered Alfred.

“Oh, you mean your boy friend?”

“Yes, he was wounded in the arm, but we whipped them. We shot, and
shot, and shot, until they stopped.”

The soldiers could have hugged him with joy. When Alfred came into the
quarry, still on his wheel, he handed the note to the commander, who
hurriedly perused it. Without waiting for questions he gave a command,
and soon a hundred men were on the way, under double time.

“So you two boys have been commended for bravery? We shall take
particular pleasure to see that a proper report is made about you. As
long as we have boys like you we shall have brave men,” was his comment.

Alfred was bewildered. Antonio had commended him and Ralph as well, in
the note. He did not know what to do or to say. “May I go back?” he
finally asked.

“Yes,” was the reply. “I will give you an order.” This was hurriedly
written and handed to him. With a salute, he mounted his wheel, and
was ahead of the moving column before it began the ascent of the steep
hill where Antonio’s forces lay.

Ralph looked cheerful when Alfred arrived, but apparently was
resentful, when the latter appeared.

“What is the matter?” asked Alfred.

“You have carried orders, and have really done something,” was the
halting reply.

Alfred looked around at the watchers, and then he smiled. “But you have
been wounded in battle,” he said.

“Yes, and mentioned in orders, too,” added Roland.

“Oh, I forgot about that. The General said so. Yes, you have been
wounded in battle and I haven’t been.” Alfred said this in a regretful
tone of voice, and Ralph’s face brightened at the thought.

Ralph looked up, and then turned to the men. “Well, is that anything?”

“Why, anybody can ride an old bicycle. That’s nothing. But it’s
something to get in the way of a bullet that has been shot by an enemy
for the purpose of killing,” said Alfred.

Ralph smiled, and the men about them turned their heads away. There was
a philosophy in that remark which went home to many of them that day.
Can it be possible that a man can be a hero because he is wounded on
the battle field?

This part of Belgium has a very curious formation. Many of the
limestone quarries are really subterranean passages, and are of very
ancient origin, and all this section of the country has a history which
goes back to the time of the Romans. Not far north of the elevation
where the present camp was formed, is an old Roman road, which runs in
an unbroken line to Mons, in southwestern Belgium.

Belgium soil is also rich in human blood in this vicinity. Near by is
a historic battle field, fought on Sept. 11, 1746; and northwest of
Liège, on the plains of Neerwinden, two great battles were fought, one
on July 29, 1693, when the French under Marshal Luxembourg defeated
the Allies under William III, of England, and in the second battle,
March 18, 1793, when the French under Dumouriez and Louis Phillipe were
defeated by the Austrians under the Prince of Coburg.

It is no wonder that their proximity to the great battlefields should
make the Belgians good soldiers. They knew that their forefathers had
fought on many a field, and they possessed the spirit to try to emulate
them.

That evening the boys had an opportunity to learn of many of the
battles fought in the vicinity, the commander being a descendant of a
famous family which contributed fighting heroes before Belgium became a
separate nation.

Before ten o’clock that night, several messengers appeared in camp from
the military commandant near Tondres, and they were ordered to proceed
to the north at once.

The scouts in the front, who had been deployed in many directions, were
informed that at twelve o’clock the command would break camp, and that
Capt. Renee would command the rear guard, composed of the outlying
pickets.

A large detail of men had been chosen to take care of the guns, which
were first taken down the hill, half of the force accompanying them in
the march toward Tondres, Ralph and the six wounded men being carried
along on the caissons. Alfred was with Roland, under command of the
Captain.

This was an opportunity that he had long awaited, as military
operations in the night were fascinating to him. Ralph bitterly
regretted his inability to be with them, but the loss of blood had
weakened him, and it was not prudent to permit him to walk.

Promptly at twelve that night the corporal made his rounds, and quietly
gathered in the picket patrols, which silently followed the two
companies that had been left behind, the retreat being effected without
the knowledge of the Germans. At two in the morning Alfred saw that
they came up with the halted division, which had reached the railroad
south of Tongres.

After a half hour’s rest the entire force moved on, and as daylight
began to appear the command was halted, and it was not long before many
of the men had found comfortable places and were sleeping soundly.

Alfred was too fatigued to care where he slept. Ralph, on the other
hand, was able to only after he became accustomed to the rolling motion
of the heavy ordnance wagon.

At six o’clock he was up, and looking around was gratified to see
Roland, who greeted the boy with the greatest enthusiasm.

“Are you looking for Alfred?” the latter inquired.

“Yes, do you know where he is?” asked Ralph.

“Poor fellow, he is almost dead with fatigue. You will find him on the
straw to the left.”

Ralph was over in an instant, and there was Alfred, lying on his side,
sleeping as peacefully as though dead.

What he now noticed for the first time was the condition of Alfred’s
clothing. There was not a clean thread on the boy. The trousers had
holes in the knees, the shoes were badly jagged, and the toes worn
through. It would have been hard to recognize the hat, as it had no
semblance of its former shape.

After gazing awhile he thought of his own clothing. It was no better,
although strange that he had never noticed its dilapidated condition
before. He remembered how they had to crawl through the brush, and
along the hedges, and it was not remarkable that their clothing hung in
threads.

No, he would not waken Alfred, much as he had to tell him, so he
quietly wended his way back to the caisson. As he did so he passed the
commandant’s quarters, and that officer greeted him.

“And you are the wounded boy?” he said.

Ralph blushed, and answered: “I am the wounded soldier, sir.” And then
he stammered to correct his answer.

The officer laughed, as he responded: “You are right; I should have
called you a man, because you have done a man’s work. You boys are made
of the right kind of stuff. But weren’t you afraid when the bullets
began to come whistling around you?”

“Yes, at first,” he said a little hesitatingly, “I was afraid before
Antonio told us to shoot.”

“So you were afraid before either you or the Germans had a chance to
shoot; is that it?”

“Well, yes; you see they seemed to come up pretty close before he gave
us a chance to fire; but when we once commenced to shoot we didn’t stop
to think whether we were in danger or not.”

“That is the right spirit, my boy. That is the way the true soldier
feels.”

At seven o’clock breakfast was ready and the entire camp was awake.
Alfred came from the hillside, where he had his bed, and was directed
to the caisson, where he greeted Ralph with many expressions of
delight.

“Oh, we had a big time during the night; it was fine. We trailed along,
but got awfully tired. But it was exciting,” said Alfred.

“Sorry I couldn’t be with you; but that is just my luck; had to be hit
the first pop,” answered Ralph, with a rueful look.

“But then you had a ride during the night. That was something,” said
Alfred.

Ralph didn’t think so. It would have been more to his liking to have
been with the moving column.

After breakfast the order was given to march. At ten o’clock they saw
ahead of them a force of cavalry, and the boys recognized the familiar
Belgian colors at the head of the column, and the well known uniforms
of the troopers.

From the officer in command they learned that they were to encamp on
the plains a little beyond the town, to await the arrival of the forces
gathering to support the defenders of Liège.

Part of the cavalry remained with the troops, but the main body rapidly
moved down the highway to intercept the Uhlans who were advancing from
the east.

Alfred noticed their departure, with considerable wonder. “What is the
object, Roland, of sending the cavalry down to fight, after we were
told to retreat?” he queried.

“The cavalry can move more rapidly than the infantry, and they are
to act as the scouts, to locate the positions of the enemy, report
the direction of their movements, the sizes of the forces, and the
character of the troops, and thus enable the main army to dispose of
its forces accordingly.”

“Do you know how long we shall remain in camp?” asked Alfred.

“That is difficult to tell,” responded Roland. “You must understand
that when war broke out Belgium did not know that her territory was to
be crossed. For that reason, believing that Germany would observe her
treaty obligations, our forces were not mobilized. Now we know better.”

“But why do they gather the soldiers here?” queried Ralph.

“Because the object is to gather the soldiers as near the scene of
action as possible. All our troops are being sent to the German
frontier. One of the camps will be here, on the plains of Neerwinden,
the great battle ground, where many of our army manœuvres have taken
place.”

“And is this the great battle ground?”

“Yes, the elevations about the plain have been filled with armies, and
many a soldier has been slain on these historic grounds.”

The boys looked about them, and they imagined how the soldiers of old
must have fought and rushed hither and thither in the fury of the
combat.

“It would be wonderful to see a battle here,” said Ralph, half to
himself, as he glanced at the hills beyond.

He little knew at that time that he would actually witness, not the
battle between the ancient knights, that his fancy pictured, but the
crash and roar of contending forces, with smoke and screeching shells
and that on that very spot they would soon see dead and dying men,
under conditions that would not permit them either to rescue or comfort
them.

The boys soon became known to the others, and Ralph was the hero of the
newcomers, as he had been wounded in one of the first fights that had
actually taken place between forces in the field. The men never tired
of telling how Alfred carried the first orders from a fighting force.

Here were two boys who had really been in an engagement, while most of
the men who had been in the ranks for years had never seen an enemy in
the field.

It had occurred to them that they ought to write home, but they
believed that such a task would be useless. However, Roland informed
them that the mails were still being carried and both boys now wrote
the first accounts of their wonderful experiences.

How they detailed all the events, and the trials in their wanderings,
and above all, of the great battle that they were in two days before,
can best be left to the imagination. They were vivid boys’ pictures,
told with enthusiasm, and with pride.

The troops arrived every hour, some trains being made up entirely of
artillery, others unloading great quantities of food and supplies.
Stores of every kind were set up for the comfort and need of the
troops, and it was a never-ending scene of bustle and activity.

Roland, who was with them much of the time, answered: “An army must
live, and to be effective must be well fed. Napoleon said that an army
fights on its stomach.”

“What did he mean by that?” asked Ralph.

“That without a well-filled stomach a soldier cannot fight well.”

“But how do they know how much food of this kind to send down here? It
seems to me they have enough here now to feed a big army,” said Alfred.

“And it will be a big army, too, before we are through with it. The
government has what is called a commissary department, whose duty it is
to calculate just how many rations are required for each company for a
certain period. They know it takes so much flour, and vegetables, and
meat, and all the other necessaries to sustain them. Then the ordnance
division knows how many guns are needed for that particular force,
and what ammunition is required. The transportation department is
called upon to deliver the requisite quantity of supplies to a certain
point within a certain time. They must calculate how many trains are
necessary to transport so many troops. In that way every department is
called upon by the commanding officer of an army.”

“But just what is meant by ‘mobilization’?”

“Mobilize means to move. To mobilize troops means not only to move
troops to a certain place but also to move food and ammunition
supplies. One without the other would be useless.”

“It must be a wonderful thing to have all those things so arranged that
it can be done promptly and without confusion,” said Alfred.

“Yes, that is what the German army has been noted for. To have all
those details arranged so that within twenty-four or forty-eight hours
fifty thousand troops can be moved even fifty miles appears a great
undertaking, but that is what the Germans have done.”

“How many German troops are now before Liège, do you think?” asked Ralph.

“I have heard it said there were over seventy-five thousand, either
there or else in the close vicinity, and probably three times that
number crossing the Rhine.”

“And war was declared only eight days ago!” said Ralph.

The next day the first definite news was brought to the camp concerning
the state of affairs in Liège. The forts had repulsed every storming
party and defeated the invaders, so there was great cheering in the
camp when the papers reached them.

Alfred carried a paper to Ralph. “We are whipping the Germans all along
the line,” he said, as he waved the paper.

Ralph read the startling head-lines, and gave the news the greatest
emphasis. The stubborn resistance added immensely to the spirit of the
soldiers and they commented on every feature.

Two days more passed, then ten days, and the forts still held. It was
a period of pride to the boys, as they read every line of the papers
brought into the camp. They gloated over the dismay of the Germans, who
believed that a bombardment of a day or two at most would enable them
to storm the town and capture the forts with their heavy guns.

“Why are they so anxious to capture Liège?” asked Ralph.

“Because they dare not leave a stronghold of that kind in their rear,
as they pass through Belgium,” answered Roland.

“What difference would it make?” asked Alfred.

“An enemy in a strongly fortified position in the rear, or on either
flank, will always subject the advancing army to attack, but the most
serious difficulty to an army under such condition is that, as the
advancing army must be daily supplied with provisions and ammunition,
a fortified city, like Liège, would always lay open to attack the
railroad lines, which supply them, and the cutting of the lines of
communication would subject them to defeat or capture.”

“I did not think of that,” answered Ralph.

“The General said in the first fight we had, that the Germans tried to
out-flank us. What did he mean by that?” asked Ralph.

“If an enemy goes around the end of the fighting line it has
out-flanked them. The object of flanking is to get behind one end of
the force, and thus make it change its position or, as is most usually
the case, compel the out-flanked party to fight on a front which is
not provided with earthworks or other means of protection.”

During all this time the bombardment continued. Sometimes it was an
incessant roar. In the meantime the Germans came closer, but the city
was not yet entirely surrounded. As infantry would be useless within
the town, the Belgian forces were waiting outside to resist the advance
of the foe, in its attempt to cross toward the border.