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The Wonder of War on Land By Francis Rolt-Wheeler Characters: 46987

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The windows rattled ominously as the first vibration from the cannon shook the school.

It was Tuesday, the Fourth of August, 1914.

The master laid down his book and rose. His shoulder crooked forward threateningly.

"The German guns!" he said.

There was a sharp indrawing of breath among the lads seated on the forms.

"It is War! Black, treacherous, murderous war!" exclaimed the master, his voice vibrant with passion. "Those shells, now falling on Belgian soil, are the tocsin for world-slaughter.

"You will remember, boys," he continued, his tones deepening, "that I told you, yesterday, how at seven o'clock on Sunday evening, without any provocation whatever, Germany announced she would invade Belgium on the false pretext that France was planning an advance through our territory.

"The dastardly invasion is accomplished. This morning a German force attacked us at Visé, bombarded the town and crossed the Meuse on pontoon bridges."

"How can Germany invade us, sir?" asked Deschamps, the head boy of the school. "You told us, sir, that Belgium is perpetually neutral by agreement of all the nations of Europe."

"She is so, by every law of international honor, by every pledge, by solemn covenants sealed and sworn to by Germany herself," came the reply. "Civilization, humanity, progress, liberty-all the things which men have fought and died for-depend on the faith of a plighted word. If a man's gauge and a nation's gauge no longer stand-then every principle that has been won by the human race since the days that the cave-man waged war with his teeth crashes into ruin."

"But what shall we be able to do, sir?" asked Horace Monroe, one of the elder boys.

"We can do what the cave-man did when the cave-bear invaded his rude home!" thundered the patriot. "We can fight with every weapon we have, yes, if we have to throw ourselves at the enemy's throat with naked hands. Such of our troops as we could mobilize at a moment's notice are ready, but every man who has served his time in training will be needed. I go to-night!"

"For the front, sir?" asked Deschamps.

"For the cave-bear's throat!"

The room buzzed with an excited whispering.

"Who will take the school, sir?" the head boy asked.

The old reservist looked down at the school, a somber fire glowing in his eyes. His gaze caught those of his pupils, one after the other. Some were bewildered, some eager, but all were alight with the response of enthusiasm.

He put both hands on his desk and leaned far forward, impressively.

"I wonder if I can trust you?" he said.

An expression of wounded pride flashed over the faces of several of the older boys.

"Not one of you can realize," the master continued, speaking in a low tense tone which none of the lads had ever heard him use before, "just what war means. It spells horrors such as cannot be imagined. It turns men into beasts, or-" he paused, "into heroes. There is no middle ground. There is patriotism and there is treachery. Either, one deserves trust, which is honor; or one does not deserve trust, which is infamy."

He looked at the boys again.

"I wonder if I can trust you?" he repeated.

"Trust us, sir!" shouted a dozen voices.

"Do you dare ask it," he replied, "knowing that any one who fails or breaks his trust will be a traitor?"

There was a moment's pause, as the master's solemnity sank deep into the boys' consciousness. Dimly they realized that the issue was something far greater and graver than anything they had known before.

Horace broke the silence.

"Have we deserved that you should distrust us, sir?" he asked.

The old patriot flashed a quick look at him.

"You are boys, still," he said, "that is all. It is your youth, not your disloyalty that I fear."

He studied the faces one by one. Each boy returned his gaze frankly and unflinchingly.

"I will trust you," the master said.

He leaned down to his desk and, with all the lads watching him, wrote in heavy letters on a sheet of paper that lay on his desk.

"There lack but ten days to the end of the term," the master said, when he had finished writing. "I am to trust you for that length of time. You give me your word of honor?"

A chorus of assent greeted him. Not a voice was missing.

"Hear me, then," the old patriot declared, straightening up from his desk. "As boys of Belgium, born and reared on Belgian soil; as boys of Belgium, sons of a land that has never known dishonor; as boys of Belgium, who have worked with me in this little village school of Beaufays together, I trust you. If any one of you fails in that trust, let the rest see to it!"

"We will, sir," they answered.

"I go to defend Belgium," said the master, "but I leave behind me a greater teacher than myself. That teacher is a boy's sense of honor."

He took a thumb-tack from a drawer of his desk and fastened the placard to the upper part of his chair.

It bore the one word:


"There is your master," he said. "School will meet daily, as usual, until the end of the term. My chair is not empty while that word stands there. Let no one be absent. Let none neglect his work. Let the older lads help the younger. As for your conduct, as for your work-I have your word of honor. Your Fatherland! Your Home-land! Your Belgium! There is no more to say."

In the great stillness that followed these words, the roar of the cannon was clearly heard in the distance.

"The guns, again!" said the master. "School is dismissed until to-morrow."

The boys filed out silently, despite their excitement, but, once outside, a babel of questions and exclamations arose. Deschamps' voice was heard above the rest.

"I know how to handle a rifle, sir!" he said, with eager determination.

The old reservist looked sharply at the lad.

"You have not had your military service, yet," he said.

"I could volunteer," the boy responded. "You said, sir, yesterday, that if there were an invasion, volunteers would be needed."

"Your mother-" the old patriot began, but Deschamps interrupted him.

"Mother is a Belgian, sir," he said. "She'll understand."

"I was counting on your example in the school," objected the master.

The lad shook his head confidently.

"There's no need of me, sir," he replied. "The fellows will all play square."

"I hope so," said the master, thoughtfully. Then, knotting his forehead, he asked, "Who is next in rank after you? Monroe, is he not?"

"Yes, sir," put in the boy named, "I'm next in place."

"That's what I thought. Let me think. You were not born in Belgium, Monroe, were you?"

"No, sir," responded Horace, "I'm an American."

The master pondered a moment.

"You have no part, then, in this war," he said slowly.

Horace flushed at the implication.

"I gave my word of honor with the others, sir," he said. "You don't think, sir, that means any less to an American boy!"

The master nodded in satisfaction at the retort.

"I beg your pardon," he replied, as though speaking to an equal, "I am satisfied."

He locked the school door and gave the key to Horace.

"Come with me to the house, Monroe," he added. "I want to give you some final instructions."

"Very well, sir," Horace replied.

"Deschamps," the master continued, turning to the head boy, "if you are really in earnest about volunteering, you had better go home at once and talk the matter over with your parents. I will call at your house on my way through the village. If your father and mother agree, you may accompany me."

"Oh, I'll persuade them to let me go!" announced the lad with assurance.

"And your ambitions to become an artist?" queried his old teacher.

"Belgium first!" Deschamps declared.

The master smiled indulgently at the tone of boyish bombast, but, none the less, it was evident that he was well pleased.

"Very well, Deschamps," he said, "in that case I will see you in an hour's time."

"Can't we go with you part of the way, sir?" asked half a dozen of the smaller lads, clustering around him.

"No," came the decided reply, "most certainly not."

"But we want to see the fun!" piped up one of the smallest boys in the school.

The master put his hand kindly on the youngster's shoulder.

"Ah, Jacques, Jacques," he said, "pray that you may never see it! I am sick at heart to think of what may happen to this little village if the red tide of war rolls over it. Good-bye, boys; remember your trust. Come, Monroe, we must be going."

Some of the elder pupils stopped to shake hands with their old master, but most of the younger ones went running in groups along the village street, with fewer shouts than usual, eager to tell at home the strange happenings of that day at school. Horace and the master turned toward the end of the village, the old patriot taking the opportunity to warn the American lad against allowing the boys to go to extremes in exercising their new-found responsibilities.

"They are much more likely to be too strict than to be too slack," he said, "balance and judgment come with age and experience. They will need the curb, not the whip. I am torn with the idea of leaving the school when no one knows what may happen, but I cannot stay away from Liége. Hear how those guns continue!"

"Just what are you going to do there, sir?" asked Horace.

"Whatever I am told to do," was the answer. "A soldier only obeys orders. I served my time with the artillery and my old battery is at Fort Boncelles. I hope they will let me go there, but guns have changed a great deal since my time, and perhaps my experience may be of little use. Yet the principles are the same, still."

"Does Madame Maubin know as yet that you're going, sir?" asked Horace, as they neared the house.

"No," said the master, "she does not. Of course, we have talked about the possible German invasion, but I said nothing which would alarm her. She will have to be told now."

Like all boys, Horace had a deep dislike for emotional scenes, especially of a domestic character, and he would have given a good deal not to be compelled to go into the house, but there was no help for it. Mme. Maubin had seen them coming, and she opened the door.

"Are those German guns?" she asked.

"Yes," said the master, halting on the threshold.

"Then it is all true?"

"The invasion?" he sighed. "Alas, it is all true."

She turned and walked into the house, the others following.

On a chair, near the window, lay the old uniform.

"Lucie!" cried the master, understanding.

"Did you think that I would fail you," she said, "or try to hold you back?"

They went into the inner room together.

In a few moments, the woman came out.

"You will drink a cup of milk before you go, won't you?" she asked, addressing Horace. "M. Maubin tells me that you are going to walk part of the way with him. You do not go all the way?" she added, wistfully.

"I'd like to, Madame," answered the boy, "I'd love to volunteer. But they wouldn't let me. You see," he continued, "I'm an American and that counts me out. Deschamps is going, though."

The woman looked at Horace with a sudden intensity that frightened him for a moment. He remembered having heard that the master's wife possessed strange gifts. But she shook herself out of her fixity of pose and continued,

"And the school is closed?"

"No, Madame," answered Horace, "the school is not closed. M. Maubin has put the school in our trust."

"In your trust? In the boys' keeping?" she queried. "I don't quite understand."

Whereupon Horace told the story of the appeal to the honor of the school and the One Word on the master's chair.

The woman's face glowed with pride.

"I will help you," she said, impulsively, "I will come to the school."

Horace stiffened up.

"Pardon, Madame," he said, "but the master's chair is not empty."

The master's wife smiled at the lad's quick defense of his charge.

"I had forgotten," she said, "it is a trust, yes? Then I will not come. But perhaps, after school hours, if there are any of the younger children who need help in their lessons, they may come here? This house will always be open to them."

Courtesy of "The Graphic."

"Please, Colonel, Can't I Join?"

The Boy Scouts of England, France and Italy have been of invaluable service during the war.

At this point, the door of the inner room opened and the master entered, in uniform. He looked quizzically at his wife.

"I was afraid," he said, "that it would not fit. It is twenty years since I wore it last. And I am not as slim, dear, as I was then."

"I altered it yesterday," she said, quietly.

"Yesterday we knew nothing!" exclaimed the master, in surprise.

"When the army was finally ordered to the front on Friday," she replied, "it was not difficult to guess that danger was very close. And, Jean, if there were danger, I would not need to be told that you would go."

The schoolmaster put his arm around his wife as he handed her to her seat at the table.

"Mark you this, Monroe," he said, "and remember it: The strength of a country is in proportion as its women are strong."

"M. Maubin," asked the lad, as they sat down to their hasty meal, "before you go, I wish you'd explain to me a little what this war is about. Being an American, I'm not up on European politics, and I can't quite make head or tail out of the muddle. So far as I understand, Austria quarreled with Servia because the Crown Prince was shot by a Servian. That's natural enough, although it doesn't seem enough to start a war. Suddenly, Germany invades Belgium. What's Germany got to do with Servia? And where does Belgium come in?"

The master glanced at his pupil.

"It's impossible to explain the tangle of European politics in a few words," he said, "but you are right in wanting to know the causes of the war. I'll put them as simply as I can.

"Every international war in the world's history has been an aggressive war, waged either to win new territory or commerce, or to take back territory or commerce which had been wrested from its former owner. Very often, this indirect but real cause is cloaked by some petty incident which looms up as the direct cause, and, not infrequently, the antagonism of one nation to another has a powerful effect. Civil wars, on the other hand, are generally due to money conditions."

"Was our American Civil War due to that?" Horace asked.

"Yes," the master answered, "it was due to the disturbed balance of economic conditions between slave-holding and non-slave-holding States."

"And was our Spanish-American War a war of aggression?"

"Certainly, on the part of Cuba. The Cubans tried to shake off the yoke of Spain and possess the territory for themselves, and Spain, not altogether unnaturally, resented America's sympathy with the rebels."

"And this war?" asked Horace. "Is it for commerce or for territory?"

"For both," the master answered. "The main, though indirect, cause of this war is Germany's need for commercial expansion. The direct cause of the war is Austria's desire for revenge on Servia's plotting against her, which, in its turn, grew out of Austria's theft of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"In this war, not only are great empires opposed, but two great international principles also are opposed. Belgium, France, and England hold the belief that international affairs can be regulated by honorable agreements, as between gentlemen. Germany holds the belief that international affairs can be regulated only by force, as between ruffians.

"Germany has always proclaimed the doctrine of 'blood and iron' or the policy that 'might makes right.' In accordance with this belief, Prussia has built up the greatest army the world has ever seen. She has done more, she has made militarism a part of the very fiber of the German soul. It is not the Mailed Fist which rules Germany, it is the Mailed Fist which is Germany. The Kaiser's Army, for the last dozen years, has been coiled like a snake, watching its chance to strike.

"Austria-Hungary is a ramshackle empire. Her people are disunited. Only one-third of her people are of Teutonic stock, though Austria is German in her rule. More than one-half of the population is Slav. The empire is a mass of disorganized units held together by force and since Austria lacks this force, she is compelled to depend on German force as an ally. Hence, whatever is done by Austria entangles Germany and Austria cannot take any action without Germany's permission."

"So that is where Germany comes in!" exclaimed Horace. "I begin to see, now."

"Next," continued the master, "consider Servia, a country about half as large again as Belgium. She gained her autonomy, under Turkey, a century ago. At the end of the Russo-Turkish War, by the Treaty of San Stefano, a strip of territory inhabited by Servians was given to Bulgaria. The Treaty of Berlin, supported by all the European Powers, declared Servia's independence but did not return the territory. For years Servia had struggled to get an outlet to the sea and when, after a sharp war, she succeeded, Austria opposed her and was backed by Europe. A Servo-Bulgarian war followed, in which Austria again intervened.

"In 1908, Austria, without rhyme or reason, annexed the great territories of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had been put under her protection by the Treaty of Berlin. This act of national dishonor almost precipitated a European War. To Servia's ambitions it was a death-blow, for it placed Austria between her and the sea. The result is that Servia harbors a grudge against Austria which is not less than her hatred for her old master, Turkey."

"No wonder Servia was spoiling for trouble," said Horace, thoughtfully.

"Unfortunately, she was," the master agreed. "The Pan-Serbs, who think Servia ought to include Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Old Servia, have long been a thorn in Austria's side. The Austrian emperor, himself, in an address from the throne, stated that 'the flame of the hatred of Servia for myself and my house has ever blazed higher,' and he declared-not without reason-that 'a criminal propaganda has extended over the frontier.' It must be remembered, however, that this propaganda was Austria's fault, for she tore up the Treaty of Berlin in 1908 just as Germany tore up her treaty with Belgium the day before yesterday.

"Just a word, Monroe, about the 'balance of power.' In order for Europe to live at peace, no one nation or group of nations must be allowed to get too strong. Since Germany and Austria are allies, other nations must form defensive alliances, and one of the strongest of these was between France and Russia."

"Why those two?" queried Horace. "They're not neighbors."

"No," the master replied, "but they are both neighbors of the Central Powers. France seeks revenge from Germany for the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, when Alsace-Lorraine was taken from her. Russia could never cope single-handed with the military forces of Germany and Austria. If, however, the Germanic powers attacked either France or Russia, by this alliance they would be confronted by an enemy on the opposite frontier."

"So when Russia had to back up Servia," said Horace slowly, "France had to back up Russia. Is that it?"

"Exactly. Now, see where England stands. By a naval agreement with France, the British possessions in the Mediterranean are watched over by a French fleet. The English Channel, which commands the north shore of France, is patrolled by a British fleet. On Saturday last, three days ago, England assured France that, in the event of trouble with Germany, she would protect French interests in the English Channel and the North Sea. This bottles up the German fleet. That, you see, my boy, is where the nations stand. Now let us come to the actual beginning of the war."

Horace redoubled his attention, leaning forward with one elbow on the table.

"On June 28, five weeks ago," the master continued, "the heir to the throne of Austria, the Grand-Duke Francis Ferdinand, together with his wife, were shot and killed by a Servian student. The crime occurred in the streets of Serajevo, capital of the province of Bosnia, which Austria had wrongfully annexed six years before. Austria claimed that the assassination was part of a plot known to the Servian government, but this charge was denied and has never been proved.

"For three weeks there were no outward signs of a storm. Probably the time was spent by Austria and Germany in arranging the details of war. On July 23, Austria sent an outrageous and peremptory ultimatum to Servia. That little country, realizing that the assassination had placed her in a false position, acceded to all Austria's demands save one, which she could not yield without giving up her own sovereign rights."

"Which, I suppose," interjected Horace, "she wouldn't do. No country would."

"The ultimatum," continued the master, "only gave Servia two days' time to reply. This haste was for the purpose of forcing the issue before the other Powers could take action. Russia, the next day, asked Austria to give Servia more time. Austria, in consultation with Germany, told Russia to keep 'hands off.' It was clear, then, that Austria intended to use the assassination as a pretext to gobble up Servia in the same way that she had gobbled up Bosnia and Herzegovina six years before. Russia commenced to mobilize her army to help Servia, if help were needed. The Austrian army was already mobilized on the Servian frontier."

"Just what is mobilization, sir?" asked the boy; "I've heard the word used so much during the last few days."

"Mobilization," answered the master, "means getting ready to move. It means the organizing of an army, bringing troops from distant garrisons, artillery from concentration points, arranging food depots from which provision trains can be run regularly, munition depots to feed the guns, preparation and equipment of hospitals in the field and at the bases, wounded transportation and ambulance systems, stables, forage depots and veterinary stations for the cavalry and artillery horses, repair shops for military machinery, supply depots for uniforms and equipment, and a thousand other things besides. Each of these must interlock and have its place. Each one must move along a route, mapped out in advance and by a time-table as rigid as that of a railroad. A modern army on the march is a segment of civilization on the move and almost every department of human industry is represented. The mobilization and handling of an army is the most staggering problem of organization known to the human race."

"One never thinks of all that," said Horace, thoughtfully.

"To proceed with the events that led to war," the master continued, looking at his watch and speaking more quickly. "On July 25, Austria notified Servia that she was dissatisfied with the reply to the ultimatum. This was equal to a declaration of war. The next day, Russia, seeing Germany's hand behind the Austrian plot, warned the Kaiser that interference would not be tolerated. This declaration from Russia imbroiled her ally, France. Belgium, being required to keep an army of defense on her frontier, commenced to mobilize also.

"The very next day, July 27, the Austrians invaded Servia. At almost the same hour, shots were exchanged between German and Russian sentries on the frontier. On July 28, war b

egan between Austria and Servia. Great Britain, at this time, was striving with might and main to keep the war from spreading and had urged both Germany and Russia to keep the peace.

"On July 31 Germany forced the European War by simultaneous action at two points. She sent an ultimatum to Russia, ordering her to cease mobilization within 12 hours. She sent an ultimatum to France demanding neutrality and asserting that she would require the keys of the French fortresses of Verdun and Toul as guarantee of that neutrality."[1]

"By what right?"

"None in the world! It was impossible for Russia to demobilize, with her neighbor and ally Servia already under the fire of Austrian guns; it was equally impossible for France to hand over the keys of her main defensive positions to her arch-enemy.

"On August 1, Germany declared war on Russia, and advanced her army to striking distance of the Belgian frontier. On August 2-that was the day before yesterday-German troops crossed the French frontier at three points and invaded Luxemburg, an independent state. That evening, Germany notified Belgium that she intended to violate her neutrality."

"Why is Belgium supposed to be neutral? Can't she go to war? Isn't she an independent country?"

"She is," was the reply, "but her war-making powers are withheld by the universal agreement of the Powers. Belgium is the key to Western Europe. Peace depends on Belgium's good faith. According to a treaty signed in 1839, we form 'an independent state of perpetual neutrality,' this treaty being signed by France, England, Prussia, Austria, and Russia. In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, Germany declared that this Belgian treaty could not be violated. In 1911, Germany repeated the assurance and again in 1913. All the while she had drawn maps for the invasion of Belgium and had built military railways to threaten our frontier.

"Germany has always stated that it was a matter of honor with her to keep Belgium intact. Those guns you hear, Monroe, mark Germany's denial of her national and international honor. History, with all its dark and bloody deeds, has never seen a more dastardly flaunting of disgrace and treachery. Observe that Germany had invaded Luxemburg, invaded France, invaded Belgium, declared war on Russia, and authorized Austria to invade Servia before a single hostile act had been committed by Russia, France, Belgium, or England.

"The Kaiser's armies count for victory on speed and surprise. For that reason, every day, yes, every hour that we can hold them back before Liége, gives Belgium and France the opportunity to prepare, gives the world a breathing space. Every minute counts, and that is why I am going to join the colors!"

"I wish I could go," pleaded Horace, as the master rose from the table.

"It is impossible," the master replied, "belonging to a neutral nation, it would not be permitted. The United States may be dragged into the war later-there is never any means of telling how long such a war may last-and then, perhaps, you will be called on. And now," he continued, "if you will step outside for a minute, I'll join you there, and we'll go on to Deschamps' house."

Realizing that the master wished to bid farewell to his wife, Horace put on his cap and waited in the village street. The master joined him in a few minutes and they walked along silently. At last the reservist spoke.

"I wonder," he said, musingly, "if I will ever see Beaufays again."

Horace was startled. This was bringing the war home to him with a vengeance.

"You don't mean that you think-" he stammered.

"That I may be killed?" queried the master, calmly. "Certainly. That is all War consists of-killing and being killed. Why should I expect to escape? One always hopes, of course."

For a few significant moments nothing more was said.

Deschamps' father and mother were standing at the door as the master and Horace approached. As they reached the gate, the would-be recruit came swinging out. He turned and kissed his father on both cheeks. His mother clung to him passionately.

"You will take care of him, M. Maubin?" she pleaded.

"Madame," he answered, "Belgium must take care of him. He is his country's son, now, not yours or mine."

His father said only,

"Shoot straight, my son!"

When, on the Friday before, the seventeen men in actual service in the Belgian Army who lived in Beaufays had marched from the little village to join the colors, there had been a certain air of martial gayety. This evening, however, the groups of villagers who passed the master and the two boys looked grave.

Courtesy of "J'ai Vu."

A Belgian Boy Hero.

Twice decorated by King Albert for service at the front and for discovering dangerous military spies.

One of the men, a hunchback, very powerful in build despite his distorted frame and who was known as the cleverest man in the village, came shuffling up beside them.

"You are going, M. Maubin?"

"It is evident."

"And where?"

"My old regiment is at Boncelles," the reservist answered, "I hope to be allowed to join it. They will know, at Liége, where I can be of the most service."

"Reynders and Vourdet also are going. They leave to-morrow," the hunchback said, naming two of the older villagers.

"It would be better, M. Croquier," rejoined the master, "if they went to-night."

"Why?" queried the other, in response, as he kept beside the three, his shambling gait keeping pace with their brisk walk. "You don't think a day will make any difference, do you, M. Maubin? Our good forts will keep the Germans back for a month, at least. Brialmont declared they were impregnable."

"Maybe," said the old patriot, "and maybe not. Brialmont's plans were made twenty years ago. This lad and I will help to keep the invaders back to-night. The Germans are prepared, we are not. Every rifle counts."

"I will see Reynders and Vourdet at once," the hunchback answered, eagerly. "They shall hear what you have said. Perhaps they, too, will go to-night. Good fortune!"

"Good-bye!" the master said.

The old reservist and the two boys, one on either side of him, passed the outskirts of Beaufays and struck out upon the road leading into Liége. It was a glorious evening, after a sultry day. The roads were heavy with dust, but a light breeze had sprung up.

Here and there a home with a little garden nestled beside a swift-flowing brook. The magpies flickered black and white among the thickets. The crows cawed loudly of their coming feast on early walnuts, not knowing that the plans of the German General Staff were providing for them a fattening feast on the horrid fruits of war. The crops were ripe for harvest. All was peaceful to view, but a sullen shaking vibration at irregular intervals told the cannons' tale of destruction and slaughter. Little, however, did any of the three realize that the smiling landscape was already ringed with steel or that the road they trod would, on the morrow, shake with the trampling of the iron-gray German hosts.

"I told them at home," said Deschamps, breaking the silence, "that you said every one would be needed. Why is there such a hurry, sir? Can't our regular army hold the forts?"

"No," said the master, "I am afraid not, because the Germans are counting on speed and surprise. They must take Liége and they must take it quickly."

"I don't see why," the lad objected. "Can't the Germans march either to the north or south of Liége and avoid the forts altogether?"

"They can, of course," the old reservist answered, "but that wouldn't do them any good. It is a question of the Line of Communication. An army is composed of human beings. First and foremost it must be fed. Remember Lord Kitchener's famous address to the Punjab Rifles:

"'You must not get into the way of thinking,' he said, 'that men can go on fighting interminably. Men get hungry, men get thirsty, men get tired. In real warfare, where many hours of hard marching and fighting may pass before you achieve success, you have to ask yourselves at the critical moment:

"'Can I trust my men, with gnawing pains of hunger in their stomachs, with a depressing sense of having suffered casualties and with fatigue in all their limbs; can I trust them to press upon the retreating enemy and crush him? Men cannot fight well unless they are fed well, and men cannot fight when they are tired. More than once on active service, I have taken the ammunition out of my ammunition carts and loaded them up with bully beef.'

"I could go on and point out to you that troops must be properly sheltered and properly equipped. Even without any battles, an army will have a considerable proportion of its men in hospitals from sickness, and, after the first battle, there are thousands of wounded to be surgically treated and nursed. What is true of men is true also of the horses for the cavalry and artillery; they cannot advance unless they are fed, nor when they are tired.

"Moreover, a modern army fights mainly with gunnery and rifle fire, very little with cold steel. Guns and rifles are useless without ammunition. Machine guns will fire 30,000 shots in an hour. Both light and heavy artillery depend for their results on continuous hammering. For every step in advance that troops make, they must be followed with food for the men, food for the horses, and food for the guns.

"Think, boys, of the size of a modern army. One single army corps of two divisions of three brigades each, contains over 43,000 combatants. Of this, over one half is infantry, the rest including the machine gun sections, the field artillery, the heavy artillery, the siege artillery and engineering and signal corps. It takes 9,000 non-combatants in the field to look after this army, the train including ten provision columns, with special field bakeries and field slaughter-houses, ten ammunition columns, twelve field hospitals, to say nothing of special bridge sections and a host of minor but essential units. Picture to yourselves the amount of food which has to be transported to feed these 52,000 men three times a day, most of which has to be brought from long distances to the front and there cooked and distributed. Conceive the thousands of tons of cartridges and shells needed to supply the infantry and the various kinds of artillery!

"The Line of Communication is the only thing which keeps an army going, which enables it to operate. If that be cut, the guns are silenced and the army starves. It is absolutely imperative to every advancing army that its rear, its Line of Communication, be safe from attack by the enemy. It is the artery which carries its life-blood. You can easily see that, for such an immense transportation work, control of the railways of a country is the first chief need of an invading army. No wagon system could provision an army or keep it supplied with munitions.

"Liége is Belgium's eastern railroad center. Six miles north of the forts of Liége lies the frontier of Holland. South of Liége lies the broken, mountainous country of the Ardennes, uncrossed by railways and impossible as a line of transport. Troops could only march through the difficult Ardennes country if they were sure of being able to secure supplies when they had reached the other side.

"Certainly, Deschamps, as you suggest, the German Army could divide and march by roads north and south of Liége. Suppose it did so. What then? After the main army had passed, we could sally forth from Liége, cut the Line of Communication and, by starvation and lack of ammunition, compel the surrender of the whole invading army.

"No, boys, not only must the Germans enter Liége, but they must capture every single fort before it is safe for them to proceed. Not until the last gun is silenced in Forts Loncin, Flemalle and Boncelles is Western Europe threatened. When Liége falls, Belgium falls, and if the fall comes too quickly, the whole of Western Europe may go."

"But will Liége fall?" asked Horace.

"That," answered the master, "is what we are going to see."

He held up his hand for silence.

"The shots are coming nearer," he said.

The words were hardly out of his mouth when the ground shook with a heavy detonation and both the boys staggered.

"That was not a German shell," declared the old reservist; "that was one of our forts replying."

"Fort Embourg?" queried Deschamps.

"Undoubtedly." He turned to the younger lad. "You will have to go back, Monroe," he said. "If Liége is already in a state of siege, you have no right to enter the ring of forts."

"Can't I go at least as far as Embourg?" begged Horace. "You might let me see one shot, sir."

"I only hope you won't see too many," answered the master, "but, if you're so keen about it, you may come as far as the ring of forts. At the cross-roads leading to Tilff, you must turn back."

"By Mother Canterre's bakery?"

"Exactly," said the master, smiling a trifle grimly. "But you need not expect to buy any little cakes there, now that the guns of Embourg have begun to reply. You may be sure that Mother Canterre has been sent away into safety. The forts must be left clear."

"I wish I were like Deschamps," declared Horace, enviously, "going right into the very thick of it!"

"I'm not so sure that Deschamps will go 'into the thick of it,' as you call it," responded the old reservist; "a raw recruit is not likely to be sent direct to the fighting front. It is much more likely that he will be sent back to cover Brussels or Antwerp."

"But if we are defending ourselves and there is such need for haste," said Deschamps, "why do I have to enlist as a soldier at all? Why can't I just take a rifle and join in?"

The master listened intently to the explosion of a bursting shell some distance away, before he replied.

"It is one of the recognized rules of war," he said, when the sound of the shell-burst had died away, "that battles are fought between the armies of opposing countries, not between the civilian populations of those countries. A civilian, not in uniform, who is caught in the act of fighting with the enemy, is treated as a spy and shot. The Germans even refused to recognize the organized French franc-tireurs in the war of 1871.[2] True, the Hague Convention permits an invaded people to take up arms to defend itself, but it is not likely that Germany will pay any attention to the rules of civilized warfare, even though she signed them.

"Treaties mean nothing to the Kaiser's government, which has declared, 'the State is a law unto itself,' and again, 'Weak nations have not the same right to live as stronger nations,' and yet again, 'the State is the sole judge of the morality of its own actions.' Massacre and barbarism lie behind Germany's announcement that 'if a single non-combatant in a city or village fires a shot against occupying troops, that city or village shall be considered as having rendered itself liable to pillage.' That means, Deschamps, that if you should fire a single shot in defense of your own home, before you join the army, the Germans would deem that a sufficient excuse for burning and sacking the entire town of Liége."

A shell screeched over them, exploding on the further side of a small hill to their left.

The master looked startled, but neither of the boys showed any signs of fear.

"Is that what a shell sounds like?" asked Horace curiously. "I thought it was much louder."

The master cast a sidewise glance at him.

"Have you ever seen a large shell burst?" he asked.

"No," responded the boy.

"After you do," the old reservist commented, "you will feel differently."

Another shell, not quite as near, whistled behind them.

"They may hit us!" exclaimed Deschamps, with a nervous laugh, the incredulity in his tone revealing how little he realized his danger, nor the devastation wrought by a modern shell.

"Go back, Monroe," said the master, quickening his steps.

Horace kept step by step beside him.

"You said I might go to the corner," he protested; "it's only a little way further."

From over the hill came drifting a smell of acrid smoke.

"Do you think I'll see-" began Horace.

An earth-shaking detonation cut short his words, and, in the early dusk, the flash and the cauliflower cloud of smoke could be seen arising from the fort.

"We're replying," cried the old patriot, elation in his voice. "Wait till they come within range of our 6-inch guns!"

A turn of the road brought them within direct sight of Fort Embourg.

"Look!" cried the master, "they're going to fire again!"

The boys halted.

As they looked, from the smoothly-cropped grass mound slowly arose an enormous steel-gray mushroom, like the dream of some goblin multiplied a thousandfold. Then, suddenly, without a sign or sound of warning, this dome belched flame and smoke, rocking the earth around. Then down, down sank the grim gray mushroom, leaving no mark of its presence save the green mound on which, the day before, sheep had been grazing, and the drifting puff of smoke overhead.

The exhilaration of the boys dropped. There was something terrible and malign in the slow rising of that goblin dome, in its sudden ferocity and in its noiseless disappearance.

"That shell will strike several miles away," the old reservist said, "perhaps where men are now fighting. If so, then you have seen a burden of death, of suffering and of carnage starting on its way. War is a horrible thing, boys, a horrible thing! But," he added sadly, "it is a necessity from which the world will never be free."

A hundred yards farther brought them to the cross-roads.

"Here you must go back, Monroe."

Horace looked wistfully at the quiet road ahead of him, winding peacefully under its green cloud of trees.

"I've never been in a war," he said. "I do want to see a little bit of this one!"

Courtesy of "The Graphic."

Smoke, the Herald of Death.

A 12-inch howitzer behind the British lines on the Somme, smashing the German lines several miles away.

"Count yourself happy," said the old reservist solemnly, "for every hour of your life up to this time that has been free from sight or sound of war. You-"

A crash and a flare!

A blast of fire struck the boy in the face and all became blank.

Then, slowly, slowly, out from a black void, Horace felt his consciousness struggling back. It was as though his brain were a jagged mountain which his mind was trying to climb. With an inward panic, he opened his eyes.

He found himself in a clump of bushes, stunned and dazed. Gropingly he passed his hands over his face.

His eyebrows and eyelashes were gone, scorched away by the flame. There was a smell of singeing on his clothes. A terrific nausea possessed him, caused, though he did not know it, by the vacuum produced by the shell-burst. Otherwise he was unhurt.

Painfully and with a strong feeling of unreality, the boy staggered to his feet and looked around him.

In the road was a deep hole, upon which a cloud of dust was slowly settling. The air still seemed to rock backwards and forwards with the vibration, and the falling leaves whirled irregularly to the ground.

But-where were the others?

For the moment, Horace lost his nerve.

"Where are they? Where are they?" he screamed, his high-pitched cry rasping his blistered throat.


"Steady, Monroe," he heard a voice behind him. "You will need all your courage."

Horace turned at the words.

The master was kneeling at the side of the road, beside Deschamps, who was stretched out limply, the blood oozing from a wound in his forehead.

The sight steadied Horace at once. He got a grip on himself, though he was still dizzy and sick with the shock of the shell and his head was ringing painfully. One ear seemed deaf. A black giddiness seized him as he crossed the road with staggering, uncertain steps.

"Is he killed?" asked Horace.

"No," answered the master, "but badly hurt. His wound will need instant attention. Unhinge a shutter from the cottage over there."

Running with stumbling steps to the deserted bake-shop, Horace lifted from its hinges one of the long shutters and dragged it back to where his comrade lay.

"Put him on this," said the master softly.

Together they lifted the would-be recruit and laid him gently on the shutter, then picked up the burden, the master taking the head and Horace the feet.

"Where to, sir?" asked Horace, as he took a firm grip on the improvised stretcher.

"To Embourg Village," was the reply; "we must find a doctor at once."

They had not gone another two hundred yards when the screech of an approaching shell was heard.

"Put him down," cried the master, "and lie down flat yourself!"

Horace did not delay. Gently, but rapidly, he lowered his end of the stretcher and laid himself flat on the bed of the road. He had hardly touched ground when a shell hit a house not more than eighty yards in front of them. The boy saw the great shell, like a black streak, just before it struck. Then, even before he heard the explosion, he saw the whole house lift itself into the air, quite silently.

"Put your fingers in your ears!" cried the master.

Horace saw the gesture but the words were lost in a terrific roar which projected the air in waves which seemed almost solid as they struck. In the place where the house had stood there remained only a rising column of brick-dust, rosy red. Above this towered a petaled cloud of black smoke, and above this, again, a fountain compounded of particles of the house, of earth, and of shell driven upwards by the force of the explosion.

Horace no longer felt any eagerness to see shell-fire. He was thoroughly frightened. A look of panic had crept into his eyes. Not for the world, though, would he have admitted it. He did not try to speak. His throat was parched and the roof of his mouth was dry.

They picked up the stretcher in silence.

"Here is the doctor's house," said the master, as they entered the village, and, turning, met the young surgeon on his way out of the gate.

"Patient for you, Doctor!" said the master.

"Father will attend to him," came the reply, "I'm hurrying to Liége. They need me there. What is it? Accident case?"

"Shell splinter," said the master.

The doctor halted and turned back.

"Already!" he exclaimed.

Horace and the master carried their burden into the house, the doctor following them.

"I'll look at him," he said, "and let Father dress the wound. He hasn't practiced for ten years, but every medical man will have to work now, I'm thinking."

They laid Deschamps on the operating table.

Quickly and deftly the young surgeon unwound the bandages which the master had tied around the wounded lad's head, and examined the injury carefully.

Then he reached for his instruments.

"He will be blind," he said, "totally blind, without hope of recovery."

"He was to have been an artist," said the master.

"Yes," replied the surgeon. "War is made up of broken lives!"

* * *


[1] The master could not have said this in 1914, for the secret documents were not made public until 1918. The author makes him say it, here, to show the political moves clearly.

[2] Later in August, 1914, Germany declared that the Belgian Garde Civique would be considered as non-combatant. It was therefore dismissed, though afterwards reformed.

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