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CHAPTER VIII THEY REACH THE BELGIAN FORCES
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.

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"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 chateau 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. Pierre86 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 party87 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.

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"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. This89 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.

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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.
Shell
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 will91 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.
Shrapnel
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 had92 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 was93 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 the94 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.

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"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.


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