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CHAPTER III THE WRECKED TRAIN
Left in the party by the roadside were two old men, several children, besides the two little toddlers belonging to the woman whose husband was so ruthlessly forced into captivity.

They were fully a mile from the small hamlet which the train had passed through just before they were halted by the Uhlans. By common consent the company decided to walk back.

"Too bad!" said Ralph. "Let's help the woman with the babies."

"Of course," replied Alfred, and he picked up the little fellow, while Ralph held out his arms for the baby. This simple act met with approving remarks. The fact that they had been arrested by the Germans for protesting against a brutal act, was, in itself, a bold thing, and commended them to the passengers.

Before going a quarter of a mile they came in sight of their train. Some of the coaches at the rear end seemed to be out of line. Evidently something was wrong, as the officer and some of the soldiers were at the rear end of the train examining the wreck, for such it was.

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The switch had been thrown over and locked, indicating that someone had a hand in the affair, and the officer was furious at the detention, for he knew he must depend on his own exertions to get the train to the junction. The command of which he had been a part, was now miles away; so it was essential that he should clear the track and take back his prisoners.

Alfred drew Ralph aside and whispered: "Who do you think did that?"

Ralph hesitated a moment, then, his eyes opened wide and sparkled: "I'll bet Pierre had a hand in it; and I'll tell you something else, too——" Ralph's sentence remained unfinished, for two shots were fired from a nearby hill. The officer jumped fully five feet and stared about.

One of the soldiers pointed to the hill, but before he could reply two more shots were fired.

Instantly there was confusion. The two guards in the coaches appeared at the doors, and the officer ordered them forward. Evidently they were being attacked, so with a seemingly concerted motion the boys and their fellow passengers moved back toward the road, some of them pointing to the hills.

"There they come!" shouted Alfred in German.

Ralph looked at Alfred in astonishment but the look on Alfred's face was sufficient for him.

The German officer knew he was not in a position to withstand the attack of a foe with the few men under him, and the order was quickly given36 to withdraw. They passed down to the rear end of the train on a double quick, and instead of following the track as it curved to the right, left the roadbed and ascended a slight elevation beyond the trees that fringed the main wagon road.

On their way a half dozen rifle shots greeted them but did no damage. The prisoners were still in the coaches, but none of them made his appearance, as they had all been bound to the seats. Singularly, no one appeared from the hills to the right to rescue them, although the soldiers had disappeared.

No one seemed to have the least idea what to do. The engineer suggested that he could uncouple the car next to the last wrecked coach and proceed under double speed to Rivage.

"Come on, Alfred, let's go up the hill," shouted Ralph.

That was an inspiration, and without waiting to reply Alfred leaped the hedge and rushed across the field, followed by Ralph, and one of the men. They were half-way across the field before their fellow passengers realized the importance of the boys' actions.

The crest of the hill was reached but no one was in sight. They passed within fifty feet of the spot where they saw the smoke of the guns, and beyond, hidden in the trees was a farmhouse.

"Let's go up there?" said Ralph.

"Hello, boys!" said a suppressed voice. They turned around in astonishment.

"Where are you?" asked Ralph.

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"That's Pierre, I'm sure," said Alfred.

"So it is," said Pierre, as he arose from a cozy position behind a rock. "Are any of the soldiers aboard?"

"No, no! they've gone," said Ralph. "Alfred gave them an awful fright."

"How's that?" asked Pierre.

"Why, I yelled out: 'there they come!' and they thought there was a regiment after them."

"Did you block the track?" asked Ralph.

"Jacques did; he has the keys for the switches, you know," said Pierre.

"How did you know that they intended to run the train back?" asked Alfred.

"Well, we suspected they would either do that or destroy the whole train, but here comes Jacques," said Pierre.

When the latter appeared he was accompanied by three men, all armed.

"There are no soldiers aboard; we must run the train to the north as quickly as possible," said Pierre. Then turning to the farmers he said: "I thank you for the service you have rendered us. Follow up the other men and capture the Germans if you can. We must be off at once."

It was the work of a few moments only to uncouple the rear coach and after the passengers were again in their seats the engineer put on full speed, soon passed the spot where they had been held up and within fifteen minutes the train halted in a small town, Guareaux, where the people exhibited the greatest excitement.

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"What is the matter?" asked Pierre.

"Germans to the north of us have cut the railway, and taken possession of the junction Trois Ponts below us," replied a voice.

There they were, trapped between two forces and the train was now no longer of any service to them. There was steady firing to the east, indicating that the investment of Liège was under way and the sound of guns was heard in the north. Telegraph and telephone wires had been cut so that no news reached them. Night was close at hand, and every hour meant a closer investment of the place.

"We cannot remain here all night," said Pierre. "The Germans may be on us at any moment. I suggest that we start across the country so as to reach the road which runs from Clavier to Huy. It is not likely that they have surrounded Liège entirely, and by striking the road from Huy we can go east until we reach Jemeppe, and then go north from that point without entering the city."

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

"Of course," replied Pierre, "but it may be a rough and tiresome journey."

At eight o'clock, just as they were about to leave, a horseman came into town at top speed, with the information that the Uhlans were at Martin River, and rapidly advancing. Jacques and Pierre had been busy acquiring information about the route to Clavier and the villagers were quick to learn the plans of the two men.

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Several young men enrolled themselves at once to accompany Pierre and Jacques. Four sturdy fellows had indicated their willingness to go with them but as they were about to leave there was a commotion in the village, and shortly thereafter a horseman dismounted. One of the volunteers who had joined Pierre's band cried out:

"That is Capt. Moreau. I wonder what he is doing here?"

"He lives at Martin River," replied a young man.

"Let us see him at once," said Jacques.

The captain was dressed in civilian's clothes; but he carried a bundle strapped to his back. He was known to all the villagers, and they crowded around him.

"The Germans will be here in less than a half-hour," he said hurriedly. "Every road is blocked, and I want as many volunteers as possible. With them we must cut across the country and reach Liège."

"I am on my way to join the colors," said Pierre, saluting.

"That is the right spirit, my man. But you are, undoubtedly, a stranger here," said the Captain.

"Yes, but I am a Belgian, from Brabant," answered Pierre.

Pierre's prompt action was the signal for an immediate respond from a dozen or more.

"I shall be back in a few minutes, and I designate you to enroll the volunteers," said the Captain, addressing Pierre.

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Pierre shouted: "Come on, boys, the King needs you."

The recruits came forward and signed their names. In an incredibly short time the Captain reappeared clothed in his uniform, and he proceeded to business at once.

"Now, men," he said, "without wasting time, get firearms—anything that will shoot, and report to me within ten minutes."

The whole village was now a scene of the greatest activity. A varied assortment of guns and pistols were produced which were hurriedly inspected by the Captain and accepted by him.

"Line up, my men," he ordered. "Belgium is at war with Germany, and our soil has been invaded. It is the duty of every one to assist in this crisis. I shall administer the oath to each of you. This makes our company a fighting force in the King's service and in case of capture entitles you to the treatment accorded to prisoners of war."

Pierre exhibited a troubled look in his face, and Ralph observed it. "I am afraid," he said, "that the Captain will not allow you to accompany us."

This information was the first shock to the boys. Pierre was right. The Captain, while sympathizing greatly, could not be moved. He pointed out that their mission was a dangerous one, and that it would be impossible for them to accompany the squad. The boys were almost heart-broken, but there was no hope for them. The final good-byes were given, and Captain Moreau's little band disappeared in the darkness toward the north.


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