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CHAPTER I AN INTERRUPTED JOURNEY
"Give it more gas; more gas, Pierre; they are coming up the cross road!" exclaimed Ralph excitedly, as he leaned forward.

Pierre the chauffeur looked straight ahead and nodded, as he answered: "Oui, oui!"

Before he had gone a hundred feet farther the occupants of the machine heard something like a shot, and Pierre turned his head slightly.

"Two kilometers more and we shall be in Belgium," he said.

This information did not seem to appease the two boys in the tonneau. Of the two, Alfred was the more excited, but Ralph kept up a constant flow of talk as he leaned out and gazed across the valley along which the machine was now shooting with tremendous speed.

Several more gunshots were heard as they passed an open stretch and ascended a hill.

16

"Are they firing at us?" inquired Ralph.

Pierre nodded.

"What for?" asked Alfred.

"They are Germans," replied Pierre.

"Well, those fellows on horseback can never catch us," said Alfred.

Pierre smiled, and gave two long blasts on the Klaxon.

"Say, Pierre, two machines are racing down the road ahead of the troops."

The smile left Pierre's face as he gave the throttle lever a push. The machine bounded forward with an additional impulse. Ralph and Alfred looked at each other in still greater surprise.

A bridge was crossed and as the road beyond described a slight bend to the right, Pierre glanced over his shoulder for an instant to observe the new pursuers; then he glanced back to the rear wheel and the boys understood. The day before the tire had given trouble, but Pierre patched it up in the hope that by careful driving they would be able to reach Antwerp two days later.

There was no time for explanations. The two boys were too excited to think of anything else than the two autos which had now reached the road on which they came.

"Yes, they are coming this way now," said Ralph.

"Can we beat them?" asked Alfred.

"Well," replied Pierre, after some reflection, "the car ahead is a racing Mercedes."

The boys knew what that meant.

17

"What'll they do if they catch us?" said Ralph, as his eyes expanded and he nervously glanced back.

Pierre merely shook his head and remained silent.

The Mercedes was not gaining, however. The second car was trailing along some distance in the rear.

"Hurrah for Belgium!" shouted Pierre, as he gazed forward intently and nodded in the direction of two low structures which were now plainly visible at the sides of the roadway. The boys saw a distinctive flag on each building.

Pierre's hand was on the throttle as he neared the frontier, but he held the lever without drawing it back, while the car sped on. He gave two blasts on the horn, and repeated the signal.

In Europe every road which crosses the frontier has two sets of guards, one belonging to each country, and it is necessary for every one crossing the line to make a formal entry under the inspection of a government official.

No one appeared in the road in front of the lodges but it was a hazardous thing to cross the border without stopping, as the guards were authorized to shoot anyone who refused to halt, and the boys were equally aware of this danger in attempting such an escapade.

They were now not a hundred feet from the posts which marked the frontier and the speed of the car was not cut down. They were surprised to see Pierre's right hand withdrawn from the18 lever while he leaned forward and grasped the steering wheel with an intense grip.

ZIP! They shot past the boundary line without a challenge. The flag on the first lodge was German, indicated by the three horizontal stripes, black, white and red, and the flag on the other building had three vertical stripes, black, yellow and red, the colors of Belgium.
Flag
The Belgian Flag

The car fairly sizzled as it glided forward on a road that wound around a long curve parallel with the river and they had an excellent opportunity now to watch the pursuing car.

"That has a cross on the side of it, see?" said Ralph.

"It is a German military car," said Pierre.

19

"But why did they cross the frontier; and what right have they to try and to run us down, here in Belgium?" asked Alfred.

"Because Belgium is now at war with Germany," answered Pierre.

The boys drew back in astonishment.

"Since when?" asked Ralph.

"Since five o'clock last night," was Pierre's reply.

"When did you hear about it?" asked Alfred.

"While we were getting our luncheon at Dann," said Pierre.

"Is that why you were in such a hurry to start?" asked Ralph.

"Yes," was the reply.

The Mercedes now appeared to be gaining. It was becoming very exciting now to the boys, because the news stimulated their imagination. The pursuing car swung around the last curve in plain sight, but the other car was far in the rear. An officer could be seen in the front seat leaning out, with a gun pointing toward them and at the next turn of the road he deliberately fired.

The boys heard the crack of the rifle and in another instant were on the floor of the car, shielded by the rear seat. A hundred feet farther and there was a second explosion, much closer and more ominous than the noise of the gun. The machine gave a sudden lurch, and the boys arose, grasped the back of the front seat as Pierre shouted: "There it goes! It's all up!"

Pierre gained control of the machine which had20 violently swung to one side, but he did not slacken its speed.

They had barely time to recover from the shock when they were aroused by a fusilade of shots, and in a half-dazed condition they felt the shock of a suddenly-stopping car, and hear Pierre shout:

"Hurrah for the chasseurs!"

Alfred was the first to lean out and take note of the quickly passing events.

"Oh, look! see the horses leap the fences," he said.

The machine stopped dead still. The crashing noise of the horses and the shouts of the men held their attention.

Ralph opened the door of the car in excitement, as he sang out:

"Look at the machine back there; it's trying to turn around; it's starting."

But the Germans were too late. A half dozen of the chasseurs cut off their retreat. It thus happened that three officers, a sergeant, and a military chauffeur, became captives, three kilometers within Belgian territory, at 5 P. M., August 14, 1914, exactly twenty-four hours after war was declared. The first actual conflict, in which blood was shed, occurred the day previous—in fact, before war was declared, but this is the earliest recorded instance of the taking of prisoners of war in the great European conflict.

The troopers ordered the Mercedes car turned around and it was escorted forward to the delight of the boys, Pierre grinning at the occupants of21 the car as it passed. The Belgian officer in command halted and Pierre saluted him.

"There is another car beyond," said Pierre.

The officer gave a quick order and six men were detached for the pursuit, but they were too late. The car disappeared and could be seen crossing the bridge in the distance.

"Where are you from?" said the officer to Pierre.

"We left Mayence day before yesterday," answered Pierre.

"Did you see any troops on the way?"

"No; but the forces at the garrisons were very active," responded Pierre.

"Whose car is this?" he then asked.

"It belongs to an American, Mr. Elton. We left him in Darmstadt and are taking the car to Antwerp," said Pierre.

"Who are the young men with you?" asked the officer.

"This young man is Mr. Elton's son, and the other is his nephew. After going to Berlin Mr. Elton expects to go to Antwerp to take the steamer," answered Pierre.

"Follow us," said the officer to Pierre.

Several hamlets were passed and they motored along a beautiful valley. Beyond, on a slight elevation, appeared numerous houses, indicating a village of some importance.

"Is that Bovigny?" asked Pierre.

The officer nodded.

As they entered the town the streets were22 crowded. A regiment was encamped in the green which was, evidently, a park. Two squadrons of cavalry were drilling, and an artillery company was moving its guns toward the crest of a hill to the right. A band was playing; flags and pennants were flying everywhere, and the scene was one of intense excitement.

The troops had difficulty in keeping the people from the Mercedes, although they exhibited no enmity toward the Germans. It was more a matter of curiosity. The villagers appeared to be interested also in the boys and when Pierre informed the spectators that they were Americans, there was a cheer. The boys blushed as some of the more venturesome ones approached and shook their hands.

"Oh, no! they couldn't catch us," said Alfred with a laugh.

"How did you happen to pass the frontier officers?" asked one of them.

"Nobody there," replied Ralph. "We captured those fellows in Belgium."

There was a roar of laughter at this. The boys seemed to take pride not only in getting out of the clutches of the Germans, but also in the fact that they were instrumental, in a measure, in effecting the capture.

The crowd understood, and "L Americain" was frequently heard. It did not look like war. Everyone knew, of course, that Belgium had refused Germany's demand, and that war was upon them, but the scene reminded the boys of a huge picnic,23 with a lot of extras thrown in. Everyone was laughing and talking.

As an officer approached, Pierre saluted.

"You must drive to the rendezvous," said the officer.

Pierre nodded and followed the mounted lancer until they drew up before a military barracks where Pierre was requested to follow an orderly. The boys jumped out and accompanied him. After entering a long wide hall, filled with soldiers, they were conducted to the Commandant's office.

Without ceremony the orderly marched them to an officer who sat at the head of a long table, and who seemed to know the object of Pierre's visit.

"Who is the owner of your car? What is his address? What is its value?" These and other details were quickly asked and put down by a clerk.

At the close of the examination the officer said: "The car has been requisitioned by the Belgian government for military uses. The clerk will furnish you a certificate, and the owner will receive compensation for it in due time."

Pierre was out of a job, and the boys stranded without a machine. Pierre smiled, and the boys walked down the hill with a sort of jolly feeling. Why, they did not know.

"I shall join the colors at once," said Pierre.

"Good for you!" cried Ralph.

"Then you are a Belgian?" asked Alfred.

"Yes; and I must leave you, for it is necessary that I report in Brabant," he replied.

24

"And where is Brabant?" asked Ralph.

"This side of Antwerp; northeast of Liège," answered Pierre.

"How far are we from Liège?" asked Alfred.

"About forty miles; possibly fifty," said Pierre, at a venture.

"Then we can go with you," said Ralph, enthusiastically.

"I had that plan in my mind," answered Pierre. "But for the present we must find a place for the night."

They soon found that this was not an easy matter. Every place was crowded to its utmost. People were coming in from all directions in every kind of conveyance, the railway lines from Liège, to the east and north, and the main highways being crowded with soldiers and war equipment. Hundreds of soldiers were detailed to unload the cars, and they were all busily at work when the bugle gave the signal for the evening meal.

Before night set in several regiments of troops marched southeast, to points along the border, while new regiments came in to take their places.


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