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CHAPTER VII A THRILLING FLIGHT
"You must be hungry," said the kindly old man. The boys had not forgotten that they wanted something to eat, and Gascon smiled as he told the farmer that they had nothing but fruit during the entire day.

The farmer's wife had already made preparations for the evening meal, as it was now nearing six in the afternoon. The boys followed her every movement and when the meal was ready they both ate to the delight of the woman. As she looked at them, her eyes frequently filled with tears.

"Two of our boys are now at Liège. One of them is an officer in Fort V. Flerion," she said.

"Maybe we saw some of the shells which he has been throwing at the Germans," said Alfred, enthusiastically.

"Undoubtedly you saw some of them when you were down near the great forest," said Gascon, "but we are too far west now for the guns from that fort."

"I hope," said the woman, "that this trouble will not be for long. But our boys must serve our country, even though all of us suffer for it."

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After the meal, the boys were surprised to see the door leading to the kitchen, quietly open, and two young men entered. The father introduced the two, one of them being his son, and the other a neighbor. They then learned that the two formed part of a guard for the neighborhood, and that they had come in for the evening meal, while others kept guard in the meantime.

"Roland had an experience this afternoon," said the elder. "While passing down the orchard lane we heard two shots on the Thierry farm. He went forward to reconnoiter and ran into a troop of Uhlans who were escorting a prisoner whom they had taken in the field beyond."

The boys looked at each other. "Did he have on a red-bordered jacket?" eagerly asked Alfred.

"Yes," answered Roland. "How did you know?" he inquired.

"That was Joseph!" exclaimed Ralph.

"The trouble was that they came very near catching me, also," said Roland, with a twinkle, "as they were after me when they spied the man. I was ahead of Paul, after we passed through the lane, and when I crossed the road, they discovered me and gave chase. As I passed through the wheat field I had a good chance to hide, but the troopers came on and leaped over the fence only to catch sight of the stranger."

"So my friend saved you," said Gascon. "Well, I suppose that is what this war does. It does not respect anyone. You must suffer for what I do. In war nothing is right but might."

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"We have been attacked," responded Roland, "and our only course is to fight. I am sorry I waited so long before going to the city. Belgium needs all of us, so to-night we must start, Mother."

The boys looked on Roland in admiration. He was about twenty-four years of age, straight, tall and handsome-featured, the youngest of the family.

The mother did not reply, but she silently gathered up her apron and wiped the moisture from her eyes. She did not object, but quietly said: "Tell your brothers not to worry about us, but do let us hear from you often."

How often that same injunction goes forth from a mother's heart. "Don't forget to write!" Once in a slum lodging house which was established for wanderers, a tablet was placed over the door, on which was inscribed, in large letters the words:

    "WHEN DID YOU WRITE THE LAST LETTER TO MOTHER?"

Shortly after nine o'clock, Gascon, together with Roland, and two others, prepared to start for the Belgian lines. It was a sad parting, and it may be said to the credit of the mother that she bore her part well, and inspired those about her to act bravely.

The old man gave the boys careful instructions, as to the surrounding country. "My advice is that you go directly northwest for at least three miles, and that will bring you behind the German75 firing line. None of their batteries is so far west as that, but you must remember that the German forces are rapidly coming north from Verviers, and while they are mostly following the railroads, are, nevertheless, taking advantage of all the roads from Bleiburn and Eupen."

"But isn't it safer for us to travel at night than in the daytime?" asked Alfred.

"It is not safe at any time, my boy. The notices say you must be indoors after seven o 'clock. So by traveling at night you are violating one of the orders. On the other hand, if you travel in the daytime, you may be easily detected."

"But why should they object to people being out at night?" asked Ralph.

"Because they are in an enemy's country, and they know that as the inhabitants are acquainted with every section, they would be able to spread information, and offer great obstructions, if allowed their freedom."

The stern necessities of war were thus gradually instilled in their minds. They saw the peril of their enterprise, and it may be said to the credit of the boys that they determined to risk the journey. Unquestionably, the country through which they were now to go was more perilous for them than the trip from Quareaux.

Shortly after ten o'clock the boys decided on leaving. The mother handed them two packages neatly done up. "Here is some luncheon for you. You will need it before you reach Liège," she said.

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They were greatly touched at this material evidence of good will, and Alfred grasping her by the hand tried to thank her. Like a true mother, she put her arms around the boys, and said:

"God bless you both, and may you soon see your parents. Good-by!"

They moved toward the door, and passed out, with downcast eyes, afraid to utter another word, so strong were their feelings. They now realized that they were alone in a strange section of the country, and that the route was beset by perils. Somehow the terror of the situation had passed from them. Less than a week ago they were carefree boys, who had no great responsibilities, and who had never experienced the trials of life.

For the past two days they had violated the laws imposed on the community by the invaders; they knew the penalty was death. They had been hunted and pursued; had learned how to evade the searchers; how to crawl by stealth from one field to the next; how to cross a patrolled highway, and the precautions that must be taken to approach houses. Do you not wonder that boys under such conditions might well be pardoned for feeling faint and weakened in their determination to go on?

Ralph was the first to recover. "How noble those people are. I love them for the care and attention they gave us, and I hope we may be able to repay them some day."

"Yes," answered Alfred. "But it made me happy to see the way Roland left his mother. He77 is a brave fellow, and I hope he will be able to work his way through the lines."

"But here we are. We must not waste time. We had but little sleep last night, and must go as far as we can to-night. Didn't that bath feel good?" remarked Ralph.

They hugged the precious packages which had been given them, and moved to the east along the hedge row as suggested by the farmer.

"He said we should go east until we crossed the second stream, and then follow it down to the Meuse. We ought to be able to remember that," said Alfred, as they quietly walked along side by side.

"There is the road now," interposed Ralph. "Everything appears to be quiet. Let us go on carefully, and cross over."

This was accomplished without accident. It was now fully eleven o'clock, and it must not be imagined that there was quiet all about them. In the distance were sounds of the movement of horses, the clang of metal and the rumbling of wheels, even at this late hour.

Indeed, they had hardly passed the highway, when a train of vehicles came along. All these things became familiar to them, just as noises and sounds will become dull to the ear through frequent and constant repetition.

They talked but little, and moved across the next field with considerable speed. A field of barley was reached, and soon passed, then an orchard, and the inevitable vineyard. A house, or78 other building, would suddenly loom up, and then a new direction would have to be taken.

"What bothers me most is to get the right direction again after we circle about the houses," said Alfred.

"Yes, I forgot to look at the Great Dipper, so as to locate the North Star. Do you remember, Alfred, how grandfather instructed us to find the true north?" asked Ralph.

"I am afraid I would not be able to explain it," answered Alfred.

"Well, look at the two stars opposite the handle. A line run out from those two stars always points to the North Polar star," replied Ralph.

"I remember now," answered Alfred; "there it is, that bright star. Well, I shall try it the next time we are forced to go around a building."

For the benefit of the reader, a sketch is given of the dipper, and the relative position of Polaris, the great North Star. The dotted line A, which runs through the two stars Dubhe and Merak, also passes through Polaris.

Progress was slow owing to these detours, and when the first stream was reached the boys were glad to bathe their faces, then they sat down to rest. Where the stream was crossed appeared to be a secluded spot, and the silence was such that it was almost oppressive to them.

Suddenly a great bell rang out in the distance, and the boys counted the strokes. It was twelve o'clock, and they heard the bell of a great chateau, eight miles west of Liège.

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This startled them more than the reverberations of the great guns.

"We can now keep track of the time exactly," said Alfred.

"Unless we hear too many other noises," answered Ralph.
Great_Dipper
Using the Great Dipper to Find the True North

The tramp was again taken up. They began to grow tired now but they had gone in a direct line from the farmer's house, not to exceed a mile and a half, though in winding their ways around the houses they must have traveled twice that distance. Moreover, every step of the way was one of anxiety, which is more wearing than the bodily exertion.

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Over fields, some of them newly-plowed; along hedges and fences, walking between rows of vegetables; through orchards; crawling over obstructions; ever alert to note and weigh each new or unfamiliar noise; these were the strenuous times through which our heroes were compelled to go in their wanderings. No wonder they grew tired.

"Are we going down hill?" inquired Ralph.

"Undoubtedly," said Alfred. "I hope we shall soon reach the second stream."

Ralph's hope was realized. The stream was near at hand, flowing directly north.

"We must follow this," whispered Alfred.

"Why not have something to eat?" said Ralph. "I am awfully hungry." Alfred needed no urging. Selecting a sheltered position under an overhanging bank, they sat down, and carefully opened one of the packages. They were surprised to find not only substantials there but real dainties.

"Oh, but this is good," remarked Ralph.

"I thought——"

But Alfred's sentence was cut short by a sudden commotion to their right, followed by a gruff order in German. Soon the sounds of galloping horses were heard, and a number stopped not three hundred feet away.

They did not move. Some altercation or explanation took place, the nature of which was not explainable at that time.

"I believe the road runs along there and crosses the creek where the troops are," suggested Alfred.

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"I wonder what they are stopping for?"

A new order was given, and the command moved on to the west. In another instant two figures faintly appeared close to the stream, at a bend below them. They came on, directly toward them. The boys grasped each others hands. The figures were now only ten feet away, and the boys then saw that they were not enemies but friends.

"Don't be afraid of us," said Ralph, rising.

The men, thus suddenly arrested, started back, but quickly recovering inquired who they were.

"We are trying to get to Antwerp," said Alfred, "if the Germans will let us."

"Well, we are trying to get away from home, and they don't want us to do even that," said one of the men.

"Were they after you?" inquired Alfred.

"Yes, for the last hour."

"Is that a road beyond?" asked Ralph.

"That is the main road leading to Vise."

"We should have struck the creek considerably south of the road," said Alfred.

"It is fortunate that you did not reach it on the other side, because every foot of the road is patrolled. That is what caused us the trouble during the last hour,—trying to get across."

"But we made a run for it at last, and that is what caused the rumpus. If they know we are on this side they will surely follow along the stream, so we had better move up toward the Meuse, as fast as possible."

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One of the men now went ahead, the others following at a distance which enabled them to barely make out the advancing form. As they advanced the valley of the stream grew narrower and more rugged.

The man with the boys turned to them and said: "We are now less than a half mile from the Meuse. The railway track ahead will be the most dangerous part of our journey."

As he spoke they saw one of the telegraph poles through the darkness and the leader in advance halted. There was silence for some time. Soon he returned with the information that a body of troops were quartered at the small station beyond, and that the utmost vigilance was necessary.

Stealthily making their way along the hedge row at one side, the railway line was reached. As a precautionary measure the men searched the track in both directions, and returned with the information that the line was clear. Creeping as low as possible the four made their way across, just as an approaching train, filled with troops from the east, began to slow down.

The rear end of the train stopped within two hundred feet of the crossing place, and a number of the soldiers stepped from the train, while lanterns, in abundance, were seen all along the train.

"Don't let us waste time. The arrival of the train will give them something to think about while we make tracks for the river."

All precaution was now thrown to the winds.83 They actually scrambled along the ground, and over the rough limestone formation. Huge oak trees sprang up all along their pathway. This section is noted for the size and beauty of these trees. They now afforded fine hiding places.

"We must go to the left, and try the bridge," said the elder of the two.

This announcement was very welcome to the boys. Somehow, they felt that if they could once cross the river they would be safe from pursuit. To cross the stream otherwise would require a boat, or necessitate swimming.

"Are you sure there is a bridge near here?" asked Ralph, somewhat doubtfully.

"Yes."

Beyond the Meuse. How the boys enjoyed the sight.

"Now for the bridge," said the leader.

Keeping fully a hundred feet from the bank of the stream they marched to the west, without incident, until they had gone fully a quarter of a mile. Then, something moved in front of them. They quietly listened, for it was certain some one was approaching. Not a word was spoken.

Beyond question men were approaching. Quiet mumblings were heard from the approaching party.

The elder, in a suppressed breath, cried out "ami," meaning friend, and the noise instantly ceased. There was no response, however. The word was repeated. Soon the answer came: "Belguique."


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