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CHAPTER XI PURSUED BY THE UHLANS
Still Liège did not surrender. Every day the glorious news would come of the terrible bombardment, and of thrilling deeds of heroism. Brave little Belgium was checking the giant which dared to molest her soil. Ten days of intermittent thunder followed, which could plainly be heard twenty-five miles beyond the outer circle of forts, to the north.
Fort
A Dome-Topped Fort of Liège

The twelve great forts were not silenced by the incessant hail poured on them from all sides. The Germans were astounded; the Belgians exultant. The resistance had held back the German advance for two weeks. They had expected to be in France, and well on the way to Paris, before this time.

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Each day rumors grew stronger, and more persistent, that the great German army had begun its march to overrun Belgium. Liège had been entirely invested. The Belgian army had stretched like a cordon across the highways between Liège on the one hand, and Tirlemont, St. Trond, Landin and Namur on the other.

Soldiers, camp outfits, guns, ammunition, food supplies, horses, and every sort of equipment for the use of soldiers were arriving by every train. In the meantime the boys were very busy at every sort of work which chanced to fall in their way.

During the first part of their stay at the camp Ralph's wound gave him some trouble, and Alfred was always ready to wait on him, but as the wound began to heal, Ralph's restless energy made itself manifest.

"We must have something to do," he said, as he was wandering around with Alfred, one morning.

"Let us see Capt. Moreau," said Alfred, as with a sudden inspiration.

The Captain welcomed them warmly.

"So you want something to do?" he asked.

"Yes," said Ralph. "We can do the work, just as well as men, and some things we may be able to do better than some men."

"And what may that be?" he asked.

Alfred laughed as he quickly responded: "Well, we can carry orders, anyway."

The officers standing about, who heard the conversation, heartily applauded.

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"I think we can fix you up," he said. "Do you know how to ride motorcycles?"

At this the hearts of Ralph and Alfred bounded and thumped.

"Of course," said Ralph, and his voice had just enough questionable expression in it to show that he felt some doubt of success in getting the wished-for machines.

The doubts were soon dispelled. "Make a requisition for two motorcycles, to be placed in charge of Alfred and Ralph," the Captain said.

They danced about in a delirium of joy. "When can we have the machines?" asked Alfred, as he turned to the orderly.

"We have plenty of them in the warehouse."

The boys looked at the Captain. "Yes, go at once. Get used to them as quickly as possible. The General may want you any time," he ordered.

They saluted the officer, then started out with the orderly.

"I have a new pattern. It is a machine that is light and strong, and it is also made with two seats," he said. "That is the kind you ought to have. They are made so that scouts who use them can bring in a comrade or a wounded soldier."

One of the temporary sheds, erected less than a week before, was the warehouse for the cycle brigade, and here the orderly halted. After selecting two of the crates he had the attendants open them, to the delight of the eager boys.

Within an hour the machines were ready. Alfred was the first to take his lesson, and, with the121 instructor, they were soon away, taking their course toward Tirlemont, to the north.

Ralph was not yet well enough to be able to risk a trip, as his arm was not yet out of the sling, but when Alfred returned he saw Ralph examining his own machine.

He was delighted to see Alfred on the front seat, and at once met him with a volley of questions.

"Yes, we went clear to St. Trond," said Alfred. "Oh, the machine works splendidly. Never had an accident. But you ought to see the soldiers and the guns, and wagons along the way,—thousands and thousands of them."

Just then there was an intense commotion at the southern border of the camp.

"See that man in a motorcycle. They are following him."

The messenger alluded to was waving his hand, as a signal to those in front to clear the way. He proceeded direct to headquarters, and dismounted.

Soldiers, civilians and workmen, rushed forward and crowded around. "What is the news?" everyone asked. An officer appeared at the door of the commandant's quarters.

"The Germans have entered Liège," he said. There was a murmur and Alfred and Ralph looked at each other in astonishment.

Soon those about, after recovering from the stunning news, began to make inquiries.

"While they have entered the city, they have not captured the forts," the officer said, and he spoke it proudly, too.

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"How could they capture the city and not the forts?" asked Alfred. Roland, who stood by, then explained that the fight was between the forts and the besiegers and that the possession of the city was of no value to the Belgians.

"The best way to protect the city itself, is to permit the Germans to occupy it, otherwise the shells directed against the forts might lay it in waste," he said. "With the Germans in the city they would not be likely to permit their shells to pass beyond the fort."

During the entire day Alfred was practising and later in the afternoon, when the instructor formally turned over the machine to him he invited Ralph to accompany him.

This time he turned the wheel toward the east. About four kilometers away (three miles), they passed through Ottenhoven then, six miles beyond, Kerckham, another village, on the main road, and turning directly to the south, they soon reached another village called Mielen, which was fully fifteen kilometers from Neerwinden, the site of their camp.

Everywhere they found pickets, and frequently were held up by the cavalry patrols. One such an incident will explain how this was done, and what the boys did to free themselves.

As they emerged from the southern edge of the village of Mielen, on the direct road to Waremme, a cavalry patrol halted them. Alfred dismounted, and drew from his pocket the order appointing him a special headquarters messenger, with a safe123 conduct to all places within the Belgian lines.

Noticing Ralph's arm in a sling, it was explained to them that he had received the wound in the battle fought below Tongres, the week before. The corporal in charge of the squad touched his hat, by way of salute. They had heard of the brave boys, and as they sped away the troopers cheered them heartily.

A mile east of Waremme they reached the great Roman road, called by the country folk in that neighborhood, Route de Brunhilde, and the people at the wayside readily directed them to follow it to the west. At the border of the city, they were again halted, and then allowed to pass on. Everything was excitement here, with people hurrying to and fro.

Up to this time the excitement of the ride had made them forget their own needs but now they soon recognized they were very hungry.

Ralph was the first to speak of it. "But what shall we do? We have no money," he remarked.

This was the first time in all their wanderings during the past two weeks, that the question of money became a matter of moment to them. They had found plenty to eat along the highways, and even in their wanderings they always had enough to eat.

But here was a new problem to them. They gazed longingly at the many good things all about them, but they did not have even a sou about them. While thus speculating a body of infantry passed, and the boys followed, more from habit than anything124 else. They had no definite object in view, in doing so.

Beyond was an open space where tents had been erected along the northern border of the green. They mounted the motorcycle, and were speeding across the space, when a cordon of guards held them up, and one of the soldiers called for the corporal.

A tall soldier marched up, and answered: "What is it?"

Alfred sprang forward: "Is that you, Pierre?" he cried.

It was, indeed, Pierre, who was the corporal, in charge of the squad. He recognized the boys with a smile and a handshake.

"What are you doing here?" he inquired.

It did not take the boys long to tell him of the wonderful things that had happened since the battle in which Ralph was wounded. Motioning them to follow, Pierre crossed the shaded portion of the commons, and entered the guarded enclosure where the commander of the post had his office.

Pierre, addressing the commander, said: "These boys have been detailed as special messengers from the commander at Neerwinden camp, and have been practising on their machine. These are the lads who were mentioned in General Orders a week ago, for bravery in battle, and for services rendered to the fighting force."

"But we used the guns, ourselves," said Ralph, with a little pardonable pride.

And Alfred nodded his head, as he looked at125 Ralph. There was a twinkle in the eyes of the officer, as he said: "I welcome men and boys like you. In what way can I be of any service to you?" he inquired.

The boys looked at each other for a moment, and then Alfred replied, "Well, we are awfully hungry and we haven't a sou between us."

"That can be quickly remedied. Your friend will take care of that," he said with a smile, as he looked at Pierre. "Do you intend to return to Neerwinden to-day?" he asked, as the boys were filing out.

"Yes," said Ralph, "if you have any orders for us."

"You are not on duty now, I understand, but I have some very important papers to transmit, and they should reach the camp to-day."

"Then we will return at once," said Alfred.

"No, get a good meal first, and rest a bit, and there will be plenty of time."

Pierre now had them to himself and with him they visited the commissary department where a meal was set before them and was greatly enjoyed. Pierre took them around to the soldiers, and introduced them everywhere, explaining what they had accomplished.

On all sides they heard their names mentioned, because the scene of their first exploits on the battlefield occurred not more than ten miles to the east, and many of the features of that engagement were known to the people of the town, which was about sixteen miles north of Liège.

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Pierre led the boys to a long, low building, in front of which were two dozen or more boys, about their ages, all dressed in uniforms. "These are the boy scouts," he said.

"What fine uniforms they have," said Ralph, as he looked at Pierre, and then at his own clothing.

Alfred did not answer for some time. He was thinking. As Pierre beckoned to several of the superior officers, they approached, and were at once introduced to the boys, as the heroes of the battle at Russon.

"Do they want to join us?" asked one of the scouts.

"No," said Pierre. "They are headquarters messengers at the camp at Neerwinden."

This, in itself, was sufficient to give them a proper introduction.

"How long have you been a scout?" asked Ralph, of one of the boys.

"Over a year, and it is fun, I can tell you."

"You must have had a lot of experience," said Alfred.

"Indeed, we have," answered several.

"But have you ever been in a battle?" asked Pierre.

"No," they replied.

"But these boys have," said Pierre, as he caressed Ralph's wounded arm.

And now, boy-like, they crowded around Ralph, and began to ply him with questions. "How did it feel to be hit?" "How many times did you127 shoot?" "Do you think you hit anybody?" "Did you feel afraid?" "Did you stand up and shoot?" These and many other questions were hurled at the boys who answered them as fast as they could.

But the boys, contented as they were to remain under such delightful surroundings, were impatient to return, so together with Pierre, they rapidly moved towards the commandant's quarters and after passing the guard were ushered in.

"I see you are determined to go back. Well, here are the papers, which must be delivered before nine o'clock to-night. Au revoir!"

Pierre helped them to mount the motorcycle, and with cheers and good wishes from the officers and men, they passed out of the enclosed green and soon reached the Route de Brunhilde. It was fun for Pierre to put on the speed throttle, and rush past the different groups which they occasionally met.

These gatherings were particularly noticeable at the intersection of roads. Before reaching the branch road which led to Mielen, they saw a particularly excited group, which hailed and motioned them to stop. But the boys knew their orders were to deliver their message as early as possible and presuming that the country people were trying to hold them up out of curiosity, they did not heed the warnings, but passed on.

Ahead of them was the main road leading to the north, which they must take. They saw, at the next road another group of peasants, who waved to them to go back. This now appeared threatening128 to them. They halted several hundred feet beyond the group, and one of the leaders pointed to the north, and there at a distance they saw twenty or more horsemen, which the boys at once recognized as the dreaded Uhlans.

"What shall we do?" asked Ralph. "They are on our road, and we cannot reach Mielen unless we go that way."

"Why not go to St. Trond, and then reach Neerwinden from that point?" said one of the neighbors.

"But what road shall we take?" said Alfred.

"There is a road a kilometer beyond."

"Then we must take it," said Ralph. "Come Alfred, we must not wait."

They were urged to remain but they mounted and some of the peasants accommodatingly pushed the machine forward and soon it was under full speed. Less than a half-mile away were the Uhlans. The boys did not stop to thank the peasants as they knew that their safety and the possibility of reaching St. Trond lay in gaining the road beyond.

The Uhlans saw the speeding machine, and were in motion at once down the road. Some of them leaped the hedges and started across the field diagonally, but the speed of the machine was too great to afford the pursuers any advantage, even with the short cut thus attempted.

Two of the troopers in the field dismounted, and taking deliberate aim, fired, but the boys did not hear the whiz of the bullets.

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"They are going to try it again, but it will do them no good," said Ralph. "The Uhlans are now turning the corner at the crossing. Put on all the speed you can and I'll keep you informed of all that happens. Yes, the troopers who tried the cross-cut have leaped the hedge and are now in the road. I wonder what is the matter with one of the horses. It seems to be lame."

And so Ralph kept up a constant flow of words to indicate the condition in the rear.

"I wonder what they are lining up that way for," said Ralph. "They are now coming on five abreast and they are going to shoot." But the buzz of the motor prevented their hearing the volley that followed.

Distance, and the moving figures on both sides, were the safety factors in the running fight, if it might be so termed. Suddenly Alfred gave a cheer and Ralph turned his head.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Our cavalry are coming. Hurrah," said Ralph.

Like an avalanche a troop of fifty horsemen came along, and Alfred did not check the machine. The cavalry opened an avenue through which he guided the motorcycle, and when they emerged from the lane thus made, he halted.

The boys heard an order, and one-half of the command started on a terrific pace to the south. The Uhlans did not wait to ask any questions, but turned and fled. The boys watched the fascinating scene until they were out of sight. The officer inquired130 as to their mission, and when they presented their papers, and stated that they must deliver the papers at the camp at Neerwinden as early as possible, the officer gave them minute instructions which would take them through Altenhoven without going to St. Trond, thus making it a much safer trip than it would otherwise have been.


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