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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Boy Volunteers on the Belgian Front » CHAPTER II THEIR EXPERIENCE WITH THE UHLANS
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CHAPTER II THEIR EXPERIENCE WITH THE UHLANS
After an hour's search in every street and alley they learned that such a thing as shelter for the night, was impossible. Tents were being put up everywhere. Great army vans came lumbering in along the roads from the north, and were assigned positions. At twelve o'clock that night the town was just as lively as during the day, and in despair Pierre finally appealed to the driver and keeper of one of the vans, begging for place under the canvas top.

A pourboire (or tip, as the boys called it), was the power that found a way. The keeper suggested that sleeping under the burlap would be uncomfortable, as it was very warm; so a dozen or more bags of feed were unloaded and distributed on the ground beneath the van, and on those they finally found comfortable places.

Tired as they were, sleep seemed to be out of the question. The noise and bustle, the yells of incoming drivers, the creaking of the wagons and the incessant chatter of the soldiers all about them, kept them alert.

Two hours thereafter they felt a decided change26 in the temperature and soon rain began to fall. A gentle breeze at first dashed the light rain over them, and as the wind increased the drops fell faster and faster. The bags were moved over and some were propped up to provide shelter, but to no avail.

"Here, boys; get into the wagon quickly," shouted Pierre.

They crawled out and drew themselves up under the tarpaulin over which the water was now streaming in torrents. Once in the van they were soon asleep.

They were awakened before the sun appeared in the east. What they heard was like a suppressed murmur at first, evidently the quiet talk of the excited people outside. Distinct booms were heard, followed, as it were, by suppressed noises, which might have been echoes.

"What is that?" asked Ralph.

"Where?" inquired Alfred, raising the tarpaulin and gazing out.

"They don't know, but the driver thinks the firing is at Liège," answered Pierre.

"But that is more than forty miles away," said Ralph.

"Very true," replied Pierre, "but there are immense guns in the forts, and the Germans have heavy ordnance also."

When they left the vans, the sun was just appearing above the hill east of the town, bringing promise of a beautiful day.

"Now, for breakfast, boys, and then we start,"27 suggested Pierre. Immediately after breakfast they marched to the station and Pierre requested three tickets for Liège. The agent smiled as he said:

"I can book you for Liège, but you will have to take the risk in getting there. The Germans have passed Verviers, and are investing the city. The first train leaves at nine o'clock, unless, in the meantime, there are orders to the contrary."

"Then we shall go to Brussels," replied Pierre.

"Ah, but that is impossible. The road is filled with troop trains coming this way. You cannot go west until to-morrow, or, perhaps, day after," answered the agent.

Here was, indeed, a dilemma. Pierre knew that to take a south-bound train, would involve a wide detour, as it would take them through Luxemburg. The road to the north branched at Trois Ponts, one line going directly east to Pepinster, the other to the north leading to Rivage and Liège. From Rivage they might be able to go directly north to Huy, by a highway, and thus avoid Liège. A train in either direction was impossible.

Pierre was determined, however, to proceed to the east on the first available train, and by the liberal use of money ascertained from those in charge of the station that a train would leave early in the morning. They were on hand and ready before five o'clock and were directed to cross the bridge and board the train at the extreme end of the track which connected with the main line. Arriving there they found a train already switching over,28 but, apparently, there were no passengers aboard.

"Come on," said Pierre, "let's take the chance."

Fortunately, the doors were unlocked and the boys entered a compartment.

"Get out of there," shouted a voice.

Pierre followed, as an attendant rushed up.

"We are taking no passengers," he said.

"Hello, Jean," said Pierre.

"And what are you doing here?" said the man.

They grasped hands as the attendant inquired about the boys.

"They are in my charge; come in. This is my cousin, Jacques," remarked Pierre, addressing the boys.

"But where are you going?" asked Jacques.

"Home to join the colors," said Pierre.

"You can go on this train, of course," said Jacques. "Why, you were in Berlin when I last heard of you. As for myself, I came over with the last load of troops from Huy, and if we find the road blocked to Liège we shall stop at Rivage and cross by motor cars to Huy—that is, if such a thing is possible."

The train rushed on for six miles without a stop. Then there was a halt and a long wait at Grand Halleux. Thus, at every telegraph station there was a wait, and it was nearly noon before the train had gone twelve miles.

They were still several miles from the junction, Trois Ponts, the main line of which led northeast to Liège, when the first disquieting rumors were29 heard by Pierre and the boys. The Germans had cut the direct road to Liège, below Tilft. Jacques appeared at the door of the compartment, and hurriedly said:

"We are trying to reach the main road and go north to Rivage. The trains behind have returned to Bovigny. We may be able to make it before their scouting parties can cross the country."

The junction was reached, and the train continued to the north without stopping.

Five miles north of the junction Ralph was the first to notice a peculiar moving dust cloud a mile or so distant east of the train. He called Pierre's attention to it. A turn in the road gave them a better view of the phenomenon.

"That is a troop of cavalry," said Pierre, in excitement.

Jacques burst in and cried: "The Germans are to head us off. I suppose you and I will have to make a run for it."

"I am sorry for that," said Pierre, looking at the boys. "But you will be safe here. You are Americans, and they will not molest you."

"If you go we will go, too," said Alfred.

Pierre smiled and shook his head, as he replied: "They know we are Belgians, and will suspect we are going to join our regiments. If they capture us we will be sent to Germany. It is different with you. Insist on your right to go to Antwerp."

The train had just passed a small village, Le Gleize, and was slowing down. That was a bad sign, and Jacques eagerly glanced toward Pierre.

30

"Now is the time," nodded Pierre, as he opened the door and glanced out. For a moment he stood on the running board and suddenly dropped to the side of the roadway, followed by Jacques. The boys watched them as they crossed the ditch and quickly entered a thick copse of brush. Not until they disappeared did the boys recover their shock. The train was now moving along scarcely faster than a walk. The place where Pierre and Jacques concealed themselves was still in sight, when the train halted.

Almost immediately a dozen horsemen rode along the train and finally placed themselves in position. An officer and two soldiers passed through the train, and as they did so, one coach after the other was emptied of its passengers, to the surprise of the boys, who had no idea that there were so many aboard.

The officer opened the door of the compartment occupied by the boys. In a peremptory tone the order was given to vacate, and they were quick to respond. Once outside, several other officers were noticed engaged in rounding up the detrained passengers, and all were finally marched to an open space along the roadway.

The boys explained who they were. One of the officers who spoke English told them that the train had been taken by the Germans and would be sent back.

"But how are we to get to Antwerp?" asked Ralph.

The officer smiled and merely shrugged his31 shoulders as he passed on. There were thirty passengers, among them seven men, the latter of whom were ordered to remain on the train.

As they were about to obey the order one of the women shrieked and begged them not to take her husband; but the officer paid no attention to her pleadings. Two little children were hanging to her skirts. The husband turned, kissed her affectionately and was about to embrace the children, when one of the guards brutally struck the man in his eagerness to hurry the departure.

"That makes my blood boil," said Alfred, as he grit his teeth.

"And that reminds me you had better keep a close mouth, young man," said a voice behind him.

The boys turned and faced an officer who stared at them menacingly, one hand on the hilt of his sword. For a moment a flush overspread Alfred's face, but he was quick to respond:

"I am an American, sir; and you have no right to dictate to me or to stop my saying what I think."

With a sarcastic smile the officer said: "Then we will teach you to respect the German arms."

"I am glad Pierre and Jacques got away," said Ralph as he stepped forward toward the others.

The officer's face changed in an instant: "Who are Pierre and Jacques?"

Ralph now realized that he had been imprudent. Neither replied to the question, and it was repeated, this time with a threatening gesture.

32

"So you refuse to answer the question?" said the officer. "Arrest these young men," he said to a corporal. "Take this gentleman to the front," he continued, pointing to Ralph.

Ralph was led off, while Alfred, now greatly alarmed, stood facing the officer.

"Now, then," he said, "for your convenience and comfort it would be better for you to tell me who Pierre and Jacques are?"

"I know nothing about Jacques, as I never saw him until this morning. Pierre was my father's chauffeur," said Alfred.

"Where is he now?" inquired the officer.

"I don't know," said Alfred.

"You are lying to me," quickly responded the officer.

"Then, if you know I am lying you can probably tell me where he is and save some trouble in asking the question," replied Alfred, without intending the reply to be at all disrespectful.

The answer so quickly given somewhat nettled the officer and he turned on his heels to go. Then turning suddenly he inquired:

"When did you last see either of the men?"

"They got off the train when they saw your troops pass around the forest," answered Alfred.

The officer quickly made his way to Ralph. "Where and when did you last see Pierre and Jacques?" he inquired brusquely.

Ralph hesitated a moment before replying.

"Out with it, young man; I have no time for trifling," he continued.

33

"They got out before the train stopped," said Ralph.

Within a few minutes the train, now in charge of an officer and a half dozen men, was backed down the road toward the junction, while the troopers, at a word of command, mounted their horses and at top speed passed out of sight along the road to the east.


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