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The Wonder of War on Land By Francis Rolt-Wheeler Characters: 53680

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

When, on the night of that first bombardment, Horace Monroe struck across the fields to take the river path homewards, the boy's spirit thrilled with a keen eagerness for the future. To his very finger-tips he seemed to be a-quiver with life. Action and the clacking blare of the cannonade heightened his sensations.

Death had come near to him but it had not made him afraid, rather it had given him a sense of exultation. He was still partly deaf from the shock of the shell-burst and to his memory was continually returning the scene of Deschamps lying on the Embourg road, the blood trickling from his forehead.

"It's hard luck for Deschamps, though," he muttered to himself, "to be put out of everything, without even having seen the fighting!"

This, the fact that his chum had been debarred from participation in the Great War which seemed to be bursting over his head, loomed up to Horace as far more lamentable than the wreck of his chum's life and the ruin of his ambitions to be an artist.

The footpath by the river, as the master had premised, was well protected. The Ourthe ran swiftly at the bottom of a wooded gully and the path closely followed the windings of the stream. The shells, Horace thought, would scarcely reach him there. The boy's mind, however, was not running on personal danger, but he was reviewing the tangled skein of circumstances which the master had explained to him as forming the cause of the war.


From far away came a sound like the crushing of tissue-paper, which rapidly deepened and angered into a high droning hum suggestive of a hurricane of flying hornets.

A shell!

Facing it alone was a very different matter from when he had been with the master. In a flash the boy realized the value of companionship in peril.

Choking suddenly in panic and with a prickling sense all over his body as though the blood had gone to sleep and would not run in his veins, Horace threw himself down on the soft ground. The shell seemed to be coming straight for where he lay. The air quivered like a violin-string across which a demon-bow was drawn. One-two seconds passed, each apparently an hour long.

Then-a flash!

The shell had fallen on the other side of the river.

A frantic desire urged Horace to leap to his feet and run on, but his legs refused to obey.

"My legs are cowards," said Horace, half aloud, "but I'm not. I'm going to get up."

Yet he lay there, and lay there for some time. It was fear, and he recognized it, but the cool, moist earth of the forest was very welcome. His forehead was hot and he rested it against the mulch of the fallen leaves.

Another shell buzzed in the distance.

Again the soft swish, again the loud hum and again the deafening crash, this time within the little valley of the river itself. Stones and earth flew in every direction. The boy could hear them snitch through the trees. He flattened himself closer to the ground.

With a certain tranquillity he watched the cloud of dust settling, not sure whether his inward quietness was the regaining of control or a certain numbness of the senses. Gradually he realized that it was the former. This was the fourth shell which had struck quite near him and he was still unhurt.

French Official Photograph.

The Modern Ogre Of The Forest.

Mammoth French howitzer, well camouflaged in a dense wood.

A strange sense of safety took possession of the boy. If four shells had missed him, why not forty, why not four hundred?

With that thought, the strange fiber of life which welds will and muscle into action resumed its course, like a wire when electric contact is made, and Horace, ere he was aware, leaped to his feet and found himself walking along the path again.

Where the shell had struck, he stopped. The hole was twenty feet across. Dust was still sifting through the trees and the tearing radius of the steel splinters could be traced in the riven and mangled branches overhead.

Then, in his new spirit of confidence, Horace laughed aloud.

"How could I be killed now?" he said aloud. "I've got those messages to deliver. A chap can't stop to think about himself when he's got a job to do!"

Although he did not realize it, the lad had passed his baptism of fire, had learned the first great lesson of the battlefield-that only those things happen which are fated.

He broke into a smooth, easy run. The cloud lifted from his thoughts, the weakness from his body. A wonderful lightness and ease possessed him, a joy, an exaltation. Life took on new values. He had fought out his battle with himself, by himself, alone in the woods by the river, his teacher a high-explosive shell.

Again he heard the soft swish in the air, but, this time, the sound had a different character. Horace paused before throwing himself on the ground for safety, for the sound did not grow louder. It came nearer, however, rustling like the flutter of great wings.

Certainly it could not be a shell.

Nearer and nearer came the uncertain fluttering sound until it was directly overhead, and Horace, looking up, saw two amber eyes glittering in the fast-falling dark.

The pinions of the creature beat hard but with quick irregular strokes which failed to sustain the body, and down, down it came, striking ground heavily almost at the boy's feet.

The instinct of the chase welled up in the lad and he stretched out a hand to seize, but the bird sprang upwards from the ground, dealt him a blow in the face with its powerful wing and threw him headlong. At the same time, it cluttered away through the bushes.

Thoroughly roused, now, Horace dived into the undergrowth after the bird. The huge creature turned and faced him, with a vicious croak.

A flash from one of the guns of Fort Embourg lighted up the scene.

Boy and bird faced each other, and, when he saw his opponent, the lad's pulse beat quick and high.

It was an eagle, a black eagle from the forest of Germany!

Was it a symbol? Was this a personification of the ravening invader?

He, Horace, had seen the first boy victim of the war; he, Horace, would make the first prisoner. He set his determination to the task.

The baleful amber eyes followed the boy as he maneuvered round in the deepening dark. Horace feared for his face, for he knew that the eagle's method of attack would be an endeavor to peck his eyes out. In the faint light that remained, the bird's wings gave it the advantage, even though the fluttering fall suggested injury.

The boy slipped off his coat.

Advancing imperceptibly, inch by inch, until he felt that he was within reach, suddenly Horace threw himself forward, holding his coat outstretched before him as he fell with all his weight on the eagle.

The rending beak and talons of the savage bird entangled in the yielding cloth. Horace, dragged over the ground by his captive's struggles, felt blindly with his hands until he grasped the creature's neck.

"I meant to strangle it, then and there," said Horace, when telling the story afterwards, "but when I got hold of the neck, I found I couldn't choke it because of the layers of cloth. All my squeezing didn't seem to do any good. Then I thought that it might be more fun if I brought him in alive, but it was a tussle!"

The struggle lasted long and, before the bird was mastered, its talons had scored the boy's thigh. None the less, he succeeded in pinning the fierce beak and talons into the coat and tying the sleeves together in such wise that the bird was tightly nipped. Thus triumphant, he set out with his capture. It was not long until he reached the Tilff road and turned off towards his home.

The flickering light from the flaming streaks of the guns of Fort Embourg gave the outlines of the village houses a queer look of unreality and Horace received a sudden shock.

How long was it-how many days, how many weeks-since he had passed by the school in that walk to Liége in the twilight? Not, surely not the same day, only three hours before! Three hours! Yes, three hours of experience, more than three years of untroubled boyhood life.

He had gone out of Beaufays seeking, as a matter of excitement, to see something of the war. He returned, one who had been under fire, a bearer of war tidings, ready to fight for Belgium. He had learned, besides, the soldier's fatalism which keeps him from flinching because of the belief that he will not be shot as long as he has his work to do.

From the task of notifying the parents of Deschamps he shrank.

If only his father were there! Horace was proud of his father, regarding him as the ideal of what he would like to be himself. It was one of his greatest sorrows that his father spent only half his time in Belgium, where he represented the interests of certain American manufacturers. He was expected back on the first of September, but that was nearly a month away.

On his way through the village, Horace met Croquier, the hunchback. He told his news.

"And what's queer about the bird," he said, "is that it seems to have one wing shorter than the other."

Croquier stopped dead.

"Is it the left wing?"

Horace thought for a moment.

"Yes," he answered, "I think it is."


Cautiously the boy loosened his grip, and, in the light from the guns, displayed his prize.

The eyes of the hunchback burned. He caught the lad eagerly by the arm.

"But you must tell Mme. Maubin at once!" he cried. "At once!"

"Why?" protested Horace, hanging back.

"She must know. She is the wise woman!" the other spluttered in his excitement. "She sees unseen things. She hears the voices of the future! Come! Come quickly!"

He half-led, half-dragged the boy on.

The hunchback's excitement was infectious. Besides, Horace remembered that he had a message to give.

The master's wife was standing a step or two from the door of her house. The window was open and the lamplight, shining through, fell on her spare figure. Few people were asleep in Beaufays that first night that red-eyed War stalked abroad.

"I hear footsteps that bear a message," she said, peering into the darkness as they approached.

"It is I, Madame, Horace Monroe," the boy answered.

"You carry news of disaster and triumph on your shoulders," she declaimed, "disaster that has been, triumph that is to come."

"I-I don't know, Madame," the boy replied, hesitatingly, surprised and a little afraid of this oracular form of address.

"Show her your capture!" ejaculated the hunchback, in a hard fierce whisper.

Horace stepped forward into the oblong of light shed by the lamp shining through the open window.

The woman advanced swiftly and looked down at the bird, which, pinned under the boy's arm, snapped at her viciously.

She looked long and movelessly.

"The Eagle of Germany!" she said at last, "hungry and exhausted, vanquished and a captive in Belgium."

"The left wing is withered," put in Croquier, but she did not seem to hear.

"Your news?" she asked, not turning to the boy but staring fixedly at the eagle, which glared at her evilly.

"M. Maubin is safe, Madame," the boy began, with a blunt desire to give good news first.

"Yes," she said, "as yet. But he will not return."

Horace jumped at this repetition of the master's prophecy.


"I warned them that the lad would suffer. He is dead?"

"No, Madame, but he was struck by a splinter of shell, and-" the words stuck in his throat.

"Yes?" she queried, gently.

"The doctor says he will be totally blind, Madame!"

The bird croaked harshly, as though with a laugh of evil satisfaction. It never took its eyes from the woman nor did she relax her gaze upon the bird.

"So," she said, "he is blind, my husband has gone to his death, and you, an American, return safe, bearing a captive."

The woman's figure stiffened, as though in a trance.

The hunchback clenched the boy's arm in a grip so powerful that he had difficulty in repressing a cry.

"Listen to every word," warned Croquier.

Even the bird ceased struggling against his bonds, only the rumble of the cannonade and the irregular crashes of the replying guns ripping apart the stillness.

"It is much," the woman said at last, in a faraway voice, "for the Fates to show on the first day of the war. Look you," she continued, "the signs are clear.

"Our own dear Belgium will suffer, will suffer so terribly that for many years to come she will grope among the nations as one that has been blinded, but not as one that has lost courage or is mortally hurt. France will suffer, even unto death, but her spirit will be undefeated to the last. Germany shall come fluttering down to ruin only when a young America throws herself upon a famished and half-exhausted Germany."

Croquier listened with arrested breath. To him, every word of the prophecy was a gospel.

"Then America will come to the aid of Belgium, Madame?" the boy queried, eagerly.

The woman did not reply. She tottered back and rested her hand heavily upon the window-sill, as though her strength were spent.

Horace moved restlessly, with a certain disquieting fear of the supernatural, although his heedless American nature disregarded superstition. Could it be true that one might look into the future?

The woman spoke again.

"Croquier," she said, "you are a Frenchman. Take you the captive Kaiser with his withered pinion. See that it does not escape. You understand? It must never escape. Look you! Never!"

"Never!" said the hunchback, in a deep solemn voice that registered a vow.

Horace hesitated. A boyish pride held him back. The bird was his prize. He wanted to show his captive to the school, and, perhaps, brag a little of his exploit. Suppose Croquier should let the bird escape! Then he remembered the hunchback's phenomenal strength and felt a momentary shame at his own desire to boast.

"You may not keep the bird, American boy," said the woman, "it is not for you. To win, but not keep, so runs the future."

"Give me the bird!" The hunchback's voice was rasping and authoritative.

Horace turned and held out the eagle.

The hunchback took it in his iron grip, catching the boy's hand with it. The clench was like a vise.

"You've my hand!" the boy cried out.

The grip relaxed. Horace withdrew his fingers. They were bruised as though he had been caught in a closing door.

"You'll kill the bird," said Horace, "if you grip it that way."

"I shall not kill the bird," boomed the hunchback. His tones became sinister, "And it shall not escape!"

There was a gripping prescience in the scene: in the figure of the master's wife, all in black, standing by the window, the light just catching the side of her chalk-white face; in the twisted shoulder and large head of the powerful hunchback; in the evil glitter of the eagle's amber eyes which, despite the change of owners, had not wavered from their intent malevolence upon the woman's face; in the overtones of sullen wrath vibrating from the cannonade.

The silence became unendurable and Horace, uncomfortable in the tension, blundered into the breaking of it.

"Madame," he hazarded, "about Deschamps?"

She turned her head slightly to listen.

The boy had a sudden plan.

"If you could come with me to tell his folks?" he pleaded timidly.

The expression and manner of the master's wife changed on the instant. From the personification of vengeance, she turned to tenderness and sympathy.

"Dear lad," she said, at once, "it is a hard thing for you to do, is it not? I will come at once. Shall I tell them, or will you?"

"If, Madame," begged Horace, "you could speak. I-I-" he broke off, with a lump in his throat. "You see, Madame, Deschamps and I were chums."

"I understand," she answered softly. "I will tell them, as gently as I can, and you will answer what they ask you. Is not that best?"

Courtesy of "The Sphere."

The Charge Irresistible.

Bengal lancers in the open warfare of the first few months driving the Germans before them like chaff before the wind.

"Oh, Madame!" His voice was full of thankfulness.

She sighed long and heavily.

"We shall soon grow accustomed to telling and hearing sad news in Belgium," she said. Then, turning to Croquier, she added, "You have the bird safe?"

"Safe as the grave!" boomed the hunchback in reply and disappeared into the darkness.

The village street, usually so quiet at this hour, stirred feverishly. Lights glimmered in every house. One woman was kneeling at the foot of the great wooden cross which stood in the marketplace. Another came out from the church, weeping silently. Their husbands were in the army.

The boy's heart sank as he came up to the little house from which he had started a few hours before with Deschamps and the master. He opened the garden gate and Mme. Maubin entered. The click of the latch, as the gate closed behind Horace, had been heard. The door opened and the burly figure of Deschamps' father stood outlined. He welcomed the master's wife with hearty hospitality. The woman said nothing, but entered the house. She went straight to the mother, who had risen to her feet and was standing by the table, a frightened look in her eyes.

"You are of Belgium, Madame?" the master's wife began.

The mother winced.

"But yes," she said.

"Then you will know how to be brave."

Mme. Deschamps' lips trembled.

"Is it my boy?" she asked anxiously, turning to Horace.

"He is not killed, Madame," said the boy, chokingly.

"He is hurt! He is dying!"

"No, Madame," Horace answered, "the doctor said that he would soon get well. But-"

The master's wife intervened.

"Your son will need you now more than ever before," she said softly. "He is not lost to you. He is closer to you."

The mother struggled for composure.

"He is crippled?"

"He is blind, Madame," said Horace.

She staggered back a step and steadied herself with a hand on the table.

"My boy! My boy! Blind!" she cried.

No one moved. The distant guns beat their menace more insistently into the room.

"M. Maubin told me to say," added Horace, in a low voice, "that he bid you remember that your son was Belgium's first boy hero."

"Where is he?" broke in the father.

"At Embourg, Monsieur, at the house of Dr. Mallorbes."

"I will go see him. Tell me exactly how it happened."

So Horace, overcoming his embarrassment in the sight of the mother's courage, told the story of the bursting shell, of the splinter which struck the boy's forehead and of the removal to the doctor's house. Then he told of the surgeon's work and, finally, of the departure for Liége and his own return.

It was late before the boy had finished his story and he was beginning to drop with sleep. Moreover, he expected that all his adventures would have to be recounted anew at home, where, possibly, his old maid aunt would have begun to grow nervous over his non-return.

Leaving Deschamps' house, relieved of the strain of telling his tale of sorrow, Horace sank under a terrible fatigue. The sound of the guns rapped at his brain and the night air was heavy with the pulsing of evil destiny. He stumbled with weariness as he reached his own house, glad to find the place dark and his aunt asleep. Evidently, his return was not expected.

The boy's rest was troubled and disturbed by dreams of war. He wakened in the morning, stiff and sore, wondering where he was and what had happened. The tumult of the shells bursting on Fort Embourg, a mile away, brought all back to his remembrance. Besides, through the morning haze, which bore promise of a sultry day, a vicious drumming which had not been audible the night before betrayed itself to the lad's instinct as rifle-fire. He got up and dressed hurriedly.

His aunt was already seated at breakfast and was surprised at seeing the boy, for she had not heard her nephew's entrance the night before. Though eager to get out into the village and learn the news, Horace was compelled to tell the night's doings in detail, but his aunt was utterly unable to realize the significance of the breaking-out of war. Having lived nearly all her life in the United States, she was unable to grasp the serious importance of European alliances. Moreover, she possessed to the full a certain American love of words and Horace could not make her see that the time for speechmaking had gone by. Being, herself, always ready to bluff a little, she suspected the same in every one else. The guns, thundering near by, did not disturb her confidence a whit.

"Of course they'll fire a few rifles and shoot off some guns," she said, "that's always done for effect. But the governments will get together and fix it up; you'll see."

The boy groaned inwardly at this slack belief in the policy of "fixing things up" which he knew so well, but he replied, earnestly,

"I don't think so, Aunt Abigail, from what the master told us. He thinks it's going to be a big war, like the kind you read about in history."

"Nonsense," retorted the old maid, sententiously. "The world has got much too civilized for people to go around killing each other. Finish your breakfast!"

Horace knew that there was little likelihood of changing the ideas of Aunt Abigail. Though kindly and generous at heart, in spite of her brusque ways, she belonged to that class of Americans which is honestly convinced that everything in the New World is progressive and sound and that everything in the Old World is backward and decaying.

"Did you say that the schoolmaster had gone to the war?" she asked.

"Yes, Aunt."

The old maid sniffed.

"More fool he," she said crisply; "he's old enough not to get romantic. What's going to be done with the school?"

"That's all been arranged," the boy replied, without explaining further, for he knew that his aunt would regard the master's action as "high-falutin and romantic."

"Well, you'd better get ready," she said sharply, "though I don't see how you can do much study with all the noise those forts are making. I should have thought they'd have had sense enough to build them farther away from where folks live."

"Aunt," said Horace, "suppose the Germans should take Beaufays?"

"Well, what about it?"

"If they burn the houses and steal everything and kill everybody and-"

"Get along with your foolishness," his aunt replied. "I've known plenty of Germans. They weren't much different from any other kind of humans I ever saw. Burn and steal and murder? What next! Get on to school, Horace, or you'll be late."

The boy put on his cap and left the house.

The air was heavy with the smell of powder, drifting from the not-distant bombardment. Groups of villagers and peasants loitered aimlessly about the streets. Work was at a standstill. One of the old men called him.

"Was it you who caught the eagle?" he asked.

"Yes," Horace answered, "I caught him."

The old peasant chuckled with toothless gums.

"Perched on a pole he is," he said, "and we'll have the Kaiser himself there, presently."

"Where is the bird?" asked the boy.

"In front of the inn. Croquier's got it. He won't take his eyes off it."

A few steps brought Horace to the estaminet and there, blinking in the strong August sunlight, perched the eagle that he had captured the night before. During the night an excessively strong cage had been made of twisted strips of wrought iron. It would have resisted an elephant's strength. Welded into the top of the cage was a ring and to this ring was fastened a steel chain. The end was clamped around Croquier's wrist.

So much, at least, ensured that the bird would not escape, but there was a surer sign still, for Horace, looking on the hunchback's face, saw the face of a man who had been transfigured. The savage petulance, born of misfortune, had been replaced by an equally savage determination, born of confidence and trust. It did not need two looks to see that the man would be cut in pieces before he would betray his trust. He spoke as soon as the lad approached.

"I have been wondering," he said, "how you, with your little strength, managed to capture this bird. Bird! It is an evil spirit. I have never seen a bird so strong, and I know what is strength. Twice, last night, it tried to escape."

"How?" asked the boy.

"When I left you, I went home, put it in a huge cage of twisted wicker and closed my eyes, to see what would happen. I kept my fingers crooked for action, though. I did not close my eyes for more than ten seconds. There was a cracking sound and when I opened my eyes, the cage was a tangle of splinters and the bird was preening its wings to fly."

"But it can't fly!"

"I'm not so sure of that," the hunchback answered, "but it had no chance, my fingers were round its throat in a second. I had hard work to hold it and I am three, yes, ten times as strong as you.

"Then I put it in a wire frame in which a badger had once been kept. Its amber eyes glared, but it made no resistance. Again I closed my eyes, to tempt it, and when I opened them again, beak and talon had riven the frame apart and the body was rasping through. I grappled it again. It pecked at me, almost reaching my eyes, but my hands are strong, and it could not get away."

He looked down at his hands with a touch of pride.

"There's not another man in the village could have done it," he said.

"I believe that," said Horace, whose hand was still sore and bruised from the grip of the day before. "What did you do then?"

"I went to my brother, the blacksmith.

"'Pierre!' I said to him, 'get up! Get up at once and light the fire in your forge. We have a demon to cage.'

"'Are the Germans here?' he asked.

"'Come at once,' I said, 'you are needed.'

"So, when he came out, I showed him the bird and told him the words of the master's wife.

"'What do you want me to do?' he asked.

"'Make me a cage of bands of twisted iron,' I said, 'which would defy the beak and talon of Jupiter's eagle that wields the thunderbolts, and finish it before daybreak.'

"So, all the long night through, I sat there in the forge, while the fetters were being made to hold this evil thing a prisoner. There is no bolt or screw in the cage, every bar is welded on the other, save for one intricate opening. Just before daylight it was done.

"'Good,' said I, 'now come with me to the curé, Pierre, and we will speak to him.'"

"To the curé?" queried Horace, "why?"

"That was what my brother asked," the hunchback answered, "but to the church we went. The curé was there already, praying at the altar, though it was yet more than an hour before the service.

"'Bless me this cage, Monsieur le Curé,' I said to him, 'it has been made to hold an evil spirit, a dem

on, a German demon.'

"The curé looked at the eagle and crossed himself.

"'It is ill to traffic with demons, Croquier,' he said to me, 'but I have never heard of anything made by God or man which was the worse for a blessing. Give me the cage and I will bless it before the altar, as you ask.'

"He blessed the cage and gave it back to me. I got ready to put the bird in it. There followed such a fight as I have never seen. Into the wicker cage the bird had gone willingly enough, I had put it into the wire frame without difficulty, but when I tried to put it into the cage that the good priest had blessed, a thousand furies entered the bird's black heart and he fought with beak and claw as though he were inspired by fiends. It took the three of us, the curé, my brother, and myself-"

"The curé helped you?" interrupted the boy, in surprise.

"He said it was the business of a churchman to fight demons, whether in the spirit or in feathers," the hunchback answered, his hard face softening into a smile. "Together we forced it into the cage. There it is now and there it stays. My brother has riveted the door."

Horace looked at the bird.

"It certainly is curious," he said, "especially with that crippled left wing. It does seem symbolic of the crippled left arm of the Kaiser.[7] Perhaps it may be a prophecy. Perhaps Mme. Maubin's words may come true. Perhaps America may have to join in the war!"

The hunchback nodded portentously.

"Her words will come true," he said. "I don't know what she will say over the fact that the curé had to help us cage the bird. Will it turn into a Holy War?"

This was beyond Horace, but, just as he was about to answer, the "last bell" pealed from the little school building down the street.

Croquier started.

"But I saw the schoolmaster going to Liége!" he cried. "The boy has forgotten!"

"He hasn't forgotten," answered Horace; "I'll tell you about it after school," and dashed across the street lest he should be late.

The boys filed in quietly, with a profound solemnity. It is not easy to touch a boy's honor to the depth, but when it is reached, and especially when no adult is present, it is a force more sensitive and more ruthless than that of any man or woman. Which fact the master knew.

When the bell had stopped ringing, there was a moment's hesitation, for the masterless boys knew scarcely how to begin. Horace, rising in his seat, told the school the master's message and spoke of the blinding of Deschamps. A deft word led the boys to a voluntary resumption of their class-work.

One lad, less responsive to the spirit of boy-honor, whispered to his neighbor.

A roar of anger burst over the school and the culprit slunk into his book. It is not good to awake the primitive and rude justice of self-governing boys.

In spite of the distracting influence of the continuous bombardment, the morning passed without incident. Some of the boys wandered in their attention and many shuffled restlessly, but the sense that each one was on honor kept them in hand and the school dismissed itself at the regular hour, proud of its own accomplishment of self-control.

That evening Horace found his aunt in defiant mood.

"While you were at school to-day," she said, "the mayor came to tell me to go away, either to Brussels or Antwerp, where, perhaps, I could escape to America."

"And what did you say, Aunt Abigail?" the boy asked anxiously.

The old maid tossed back her head.

"I told them that the little finger of the American minister in Brussels was stronger than Germany a dozen times over. I told him that the United States wasn't looking for trouble, but was perfectly willing to whip any one when necessary. I said we could whip our weight in wild-cats, and we can.

"Then he had the nerve to talk the way you talked this morning. He said that the Germans would commit all sorts of horrible atrocities if they broke through Liége. I told him that just as I didn't think the Germans were fools enough to fight with Americans, so I didn't think they were brutes enough to fight against women and children."

"What did the mayor say to that?" queried the boy, regretting that he had not heard the discussion.

"He didn't tell me I was a fool, but I could see he thought I was, and I didn't tell him he was a fool, but he could see I thought he was, so the matter stopped at that."

"But, Aunt Abigail," said Horace, puzzled between the truth in the master's words and the grain of truth in his aunt's ideas, "suppose the army runs amuck and the officers can't control it?"

"Then it isn't much of an army," she snapped back. "I hear a lot of talk about discipline. If the officers can't keep the men from turning into savages, the way you and the mayor think they will, then it's time a war came along for somebody to beat sense into their heads. Not that that has anything to do with it. I told your father I'd be here when he came back, and it'll take more than a fight between two of these little European countries-which we could tuck into the State of Texas without noticing it-to make me break my word."

Horace realized the ignorant narrowness of his aunt's position. He had often deplored the arrogant Americanism which estranged her foreign friends. It hurt him, sometimes, when his schoolfellows made fun of America's boastfulness and bluff, for he knew that many of their criticisms were just. At the same time, he knew, too, that there were many things in America wherein his country was superior to Europe. And, while he raged inwardly at his aunt's prejudices, he could not but admire her pluck.

"Lots of people are leaving to-night," he ventured.

"I know. I've been helping them to pack. Some of them have gone with nothing more than the clothes they stood in, others wanted to carry their house, yes, their gardens, too, I reckon, on their backs. Such weeping and making a to-do I never saw. I'm not criticizing any one, understand, only-I stay. Do you want to go?"

"No," said Horace, "I stay, too."

"Good thing," she said, tartly; "I'd hate to see any nephew of mine show a yellow streak."

Horace spent a large part of that night in helping householders who had decided to flee from the German advance, every one having been warned by the mayor. Hardly any one slept that night in Beaufays. Up to midnight and after, the roads were thronged with the people of the little village, escaping for their lives. Every horse in the village or on the farms around was hitched to the largest vehicle that it could draw, while many walked, carrying their goods. It was the first installment of that host of misery which, for the next month, crowded Belgium from Liége to the sea. All night the bombardment grew heavier and heavier, and, toward morning, heavy cannonading to the west told that the fort of Boncelles was being attacked. Beaufays, lying just outside the line of defense, as yet had seen no other evidence of the battle than the drifting clouds of smoke by day and the flashes of fire by night.

Breakfast-time came on the morning of August 6 in the little village of Beaufays, the last breakfast its citizens would eat under their own flag for many a weary year. Horace was just finishing his meal when a bugle-call rent the air, followed by the clattering of horses' hoofs. He jumped up and went to the door.

"Aunt! Aunt! The Germans!" he called.

A party of Uhlans, lances raised, magnificently mounted and looking soldierly, every inch of them, scouted in advance. The officer in command summoned the mayor of the village and informed him that the village was in German hands. He ordered that every door be left open so that the houses might be searched for arms. The mayor had no alternative but to comply.

A short distance behind the cavalry came a company of cyclists and then the ground shook under the short slow tread of the infantry, swinging along the Verviers road.

Horace stood at the cottage door watching what was, at that time, one of the most perfect examples of human organization that the world had seen-the march of the German invading army. These troops had not seen action. As yet, they were not a fighting army, they were advancing into the plains of Belgium, to take up the forward charge when the fall of the Liége forts would enable the establishment of a sound line of communication.

In these marching men, there was no hint of parade. These troops were prepared for war. They swung along by tens, by hundreds, by thousands, by tens of thousands, grimly organized and made for slaughter. The eye reeled with the steady onward motion, the brain dizzied with the ponderous human force of it all. These were not a part of Von Emmich's advance divisions, which were busily engaged in the effort to reduce Liége, but divisions of the great army under General Von Kluck. Though, probably, less than a division passed Beaufays, to Horace it seemed that all the soldiers in the world were in iron-gray uniforms and pouring through the village street in front of him.

Courtesy of "The Sketch."

A Mammoth German War Car.

The terror of the road, armored with 6-inch Krupp steel, shell-proof, carrying 120 men and two 4.7-inch quick-firers; speed 25 miles per hour.

Rank by rank, company by company, regiment by regiment, weapons of death at their sides, messages of death in their cartridge belts, thoughts of death in their hearts, they passed, all dressed in the earthly iron-gray which betokened that the death they gave they would have to face and that it were well to be as protectively concealed as possible.

Rank by rank, company by company, regiment by regiment, the sun glinting on their field equipment, the sun burning the frames already wearied by the march from garrisons in Germany, the sun waiting to turn the slain bodies of those marching men to sights of which a soldier even fears to dream, years after the war is over.

By tens, by thousands, by tens of thousands they came. The details of organization were incredible. Waiting for each column to pass were men with buckets of drinking water into which the men dipped their aluminum cups. Temporary field post-offices were established so that messages could be gathered as the armies passed and forwarded back to Germany. Here and there men passed out handfuls of biscuits and prunes.

The infantry strode through in heavy marching order, many of them lame and footsore, heads and beards shaved under the spiked helmets, bearing the look of bestial stolidity which is the inseparable result of the deliberately brutalizing German discipline.

Two trucks passed by with cobblers at work on the march. When a soldier's shoes wore out on the road, he dropped out of rank, mounted the running board of the cobbler's truck until he received back his foot-gear, mended.

Machine-gun companies accompanied the infantry, sprinkled with a few quick-firers of 2.6-inch caliber, easy to man-handle in action, firing 15 shots a minute. Secondary batteries of this arm also accompanied the heavy artillery.

Behind the infantry came the field artillery, in which, at this time, the German Army was weaker than the armies of the other powers. The field gun was the .96NA, corresponding closely to the British 15-pounder which had been discarded, save for the Territorial Army. It could not be compared to the famous French "Soixante-Quinze," the most marvelous of all field-guns, with a 2.9-inch (75 mm.) caliber and the most mobile weapon known.[8]

On the other hand, the light field howitzers of 4.1-inch caliber and the heavier field howitzers of 5.9-inch caliber were far in advance of those of any other army. They were modern, formidable and admirably handled. This 5.9-inch howitzer shared with the French "Soixante-Quinze" the dubious honor of being the most death-dealing weapon of the war.

Following upon the light artillery came the heavy artillery, with 8.4- and 11-inch howitzers. Parts of a heavy siege train followed. Behind that, again, came the ammunition and provision columns, heavy horses attached to sections of pontoons for bridges, huge motor plows for excavating trenches, field hospitals, field motor repair shops, field forges and field kitchens of every sort. Behind these, again, came motor busses for the officers of the staff, whom Horace could see studying their road maps within, and high-powered automobiles for the military commanders. The stamping of the tens of thousands of feet, of the horses' hoofs, the grinding of the wheels, and the pounding of the caterpillar treads filled the air with a cloud of dust through which the army marched as though it had lungs of steel.

A small detachment, by prearranged orders, was detailed to search and occupy the village. Few resisted, but the spirit of Belgium was to find at least one exemplar.

At the door to her house stood Mme. Maubin. A soldier entered the house, went up-stairs, pulled things into general confusion, and left. Swiftly the woman reached from the outside through the open window, struck a match and set the fluttering window-curtains ablaze. In seconds the flames blazed up and threatened the house.

The officer in command sharply ordered his men to put out the fire, then turned to the master's wife.

"Why did you do that?" he asked.

"Because the house was defiled by a German foot," she answered.

The officer ground his teeth and turned away. Not for a few days yet did the Hun want to show his hand. Germany wanted first to seize the telegraph lines and means of communication before slipping the leash on the brute instincts of mankind.

"I suppose they'll want to search this house," Aunt Abigail remarked when the army had passed and the news was spread abroad that a search-party had been left behind to take possession of the village.

"Why, of course, Aunt, they're sure to," the boy replied.

"Well, they won't!"

She pointed to the Stars and Stripes which she had hung out over her door.

"I'm going to lock my door," she announced, "and never mind about any of their old regulations or military rules. If any German tries to break in under Old Glory, he'll be sorry he started. We've licked England twice and we'd lick Germany just as easy."

Several times since his aunt had come to keep house after his mother's death three years before, Horace had disputed this highly inaccurate historical reference, but always uselessly. He let the point pass by.

"They may respect the flag," he said, "but suppose they don't?"

The old maid faced him.

"There's been a power of soldiers gone by this morning, hasn't there?" she retorted. "Well, if the whole lot of them were drawn up in front of my house and they all shouted together 'Open the door!' I wouldn't open it. So there!"

Horace laughed admiringly. Decidedly his aunt had grit. The passage of the German Army had not shaken her nerve a scrap.

"Well, Aunt," he said, "if that's the way you feel about it, there's no need for me to stay. I've got to go to school."

"If you take care of yourself as well as I can take care of myself, there'll be no trouble," quoth she, and went back to wash her breakfast dishes as nonchalantly as though a detachment of men were not searching cottage after cottage.

When, a little later, there came a knock at the door, she went and looked out. The officer spoke to her in French.

Aunt Abigail, who, in the three years that she had been in the country, had only learned enough French to do her marketing, answered,

"Talk English!"

"Are you English?" the officer demanded in that tongue, a look of hate on his face.

"Is that an English flag?" she replied testily.

"We have come to search the house," said the officer and strode forward.

"Search nothing!" declared Aunt Abigail. "This is an American house!" and she slammed the door in his face.

There was a heated conference outside between the German officer and the mayor, but the result was that the search-party passed on. The telegraph lines were not yet closed and Germany was still trying to keep the friendship of the United States.

Meantime, school had opened with but few boys present, for almost half of the boys had fled with their families, and many of those remaining had been kept at home by their frightened parents. As the morning wore on, however, a few of the boys came straggling in. Jacques Oopsdiel, the bell-ringer, the youngest boy in the school, was one of those who had remained. The lads struggled hard to keep discipline under the strong spirit of the placard on the master's chair, but the excitement of the morning had been too great and little work was done.

Suddenly, an ominous figure darkened the wide-open door.

"What is this-a school?" the officer of the search-party asked, in German.

"Yes," answered Horace, taking the lead, as head boy, now that Deschamps was no longer there, but answering in French.

"Where is your schoolmaster?"

"At Liége."

Horace ached to add that he was probably aiding in the defense of the forts but thought that such a statement might bring vengeance on the school, and so he desisted.

"But where is the schoolmaster who is teaching you now?"

"In his chair!" replied Horace, a trifle defiantly.

The officer strode in, followed by six of his men. He clanked up to the chair and read the word on the placard. With a German oath he tore it off, threw it on the floor and ground it under his heel. Then he picked up a piece of chalk and wrote heavily on the blackboard the word:


"There," he said. "That is your master now!"

Jacques Oopsdiel, the little lad, who was known throughout the village for his obstinate Holland ways, slipped off his chair. Without a word to any one, in absolute disregard of the German officer and the six soldiers, he took the sponge and erased the offending word.

"M. Maubin said before he went away," he declared in his high-pitched childish voice, "that no one was to write on the blackboard without his permission."

In the astonished silence that followed he returned to his seat.

The officer growled audibly, but he was only empowered to search for arms and had received strict instructions not to allow any violence to the civilian population until the invasion was actually accomplished. So, swearing vengeance on the school in general and on Jacques in particular, he did not order the child slain on the spot-as he would have done had it been a week later-but smothered his wrath and walked out.

The placard, showing the nail-marks of the invader's heel, was replaced on the master's chair, but it was out of the question to expect that the school could settle down to work after such intrusion. Jacques was the hero of the hour, and Horace, though he feared trouble would result, said nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of his fellows.

The next day witnessed the deepening of the hate between the invaders and the villagers. The story of the "captive Kaiser" had been spread abroad and, wherever the Germans went, the prophecy was dinned into their ears. Wherever they went, jeers and allusions greeted them, for as yet the people of Beaufays did not realize what malice the Germans brooded. The erection of a field hospital not far from the borders of the village increased the friction, for there the Germans saw their wounded being brought in such countless numbers that they could not be accommodated. The wounded were billeted in many of the houses of the village and such of the men and women as remained in Beaufays were ordered about like slaves.

Each succeeding day the cloud fell blacker. German surgeons and hospital orderlies strode here and there with kick and curse. Steel was drawn several times. And still, everywhere, the story of the "captive Kaiser" percolated, yet, though every house was searched over and over again, no trace of the crippled eagle could be found. Each day the restraint upon the soldiers grew slacker and deeds grew more reckless. The inn-keeper, who had asked for payment of wine drunk by an officer, was answered by a swordslash across his face. As yet no murder had been done, but savagery lurked in eye and lip.

One morning, a proclamation was posted on the village walls. It read:

The inhabitants of the town of Andenne, after having declared their peaceful intentions, have made a surprise attack on our troops.

It is with my consent that the Commander-in-chief has ordered the whole town to be burned and that about one hundred people have been shot.

I bring this fact to the knowledge of the City of Liége, so that citizens of Liége may realize the fate with which they are menaced if they adopt a similar attitude.

The General Commanding in Chief

Von Buelow.

From that morning on, terror ruled. Human wolves, emboldened by official permission, wrought whatever crime they would in Beaufays. The Germans, checked before Liége and held up to the world's scorn by a handful of Belgian soldiers, took their vengeance on women and children, on the aged and on babies alike.

Aunt Abigail, though doubting the evidence of her senses, was compelled to admit that the hysteria of blood had changed the bodies inside those iron-gray uniforms and made them something other than human beings. It was the were-wolf come again.

"These are not men," she said, to Horace, one dreadful night, "they are maddened machines marked with the Mark of the Beast."

On Saturday, August 15, the eastern forts fell and the troops which had been billeted in Beaufays received orders that they were to march westward the next day, but, before they left, they were given full liberty to ravage the village as they would.

The orgy of devastation began. The soldiers racked and pillaged every house, seizing every valuable article they could find and committing acts so vile that they cannot be told. They came, at last, to the house of Mme. Maubin. Remembering her defiance, the officer in command, in cruel jest, bade his men leave the house unpillaged and as they drew back in surprise at this unexpected mercy, he added,

"But she wished her house burned down!"

His men grinned comprehension.

With the special incendiary fuses and bags of compressed powder officially served out to the German soldiers for their work of "frightfulness," they set fire to the house, men with fixed bayonets being stationed at the door to drive the master's wife back into the flames should she try to escape.

Horace heard the cries of the woman, as she was being burned alive, and, boy though he was, vowed to avenge her.

The horrors of the day continued under a sky like blue-hot steel. The heat was terrific and rendered hotter by the flaming houses of the village. The wild delirium of license gleamed in the eyes of the soldiers. The school was among the buildings set on fire. It was the officer's poor revenge.

Late in the afternoon, darting out from some hiding-place, probably chased by the flames, suddenly the hunchback shot across the street carrying the black eagle which had been sought so long. At the sight of the iron cage a shout of rage went up. The officer would have ordered his men to fire, but the superstition that this might be regarded as an evil omen seized him. The "captive Kaiser" must be rescued, not killed.

"After him, men!" he cried.

The soldiers, most of them drunk and all of them blind with blood and fire, raced after the hunchback.

Into the open door of the church the fugitive turned-and disappeared.

The soldiers stormed in after him in a transport of fury and expectation, but the church was empty save for the figure of the curé standing at the altar. They searched for the hunchback, but he was nowhere to be seen. They threatened the curé, but he made no answer.

Then a corporal, avarice overcoming revenge, seeing a gold cross on the church wall above the pulpit, rushed up the pulpit steps and laid hand on it.

A "click" resounded through the church.

The curé said, quietly,

"The first man who robs the Church, dies, and dies with the sin on his head."

The words rolled down in German-the first German words ever spoken from those altar steps.

A peal of thunder crashed overhead and the soldiers paused as they gazed at the dimly-lit figure of the priest, standing in the chancel, in full vestments but-strange contrast-with a pistol in his hand.

The moment passed and then the corporal, with a rude oath, laid both hands on the cross and tore it from the wall.

There came a quick report and a cry.

While one might count five, the corporal stood erect, holding the cross, then slowly his body sank, collapsed, crumpled in a heap and he fell huddled down the pulpit steps-dead.

A howl of rage answered the shot and a dozen men rushed forward and leaped over the altar rail. The curé made no resistance and a bayonet thrust through his shoulder pinned him to the ground.

"Why did you shoot?" cried the officer, stamping his foot angrily.

The curé looked up calmly.

"Shall a man be less a patriot for his Church than for his country?" he asked, simply.

"Drag him out!" came the order.

In the market place, a few steps from the church, stood the great wooden cross. They dragged the curé there and set him against it, binding his hands.

Jacques Oopsdiel, who was one of the acolytes of the church, saw the curé, with the blood flowing over his white vestments, and ran forward to him with a cry, throwing his arms about him.

A non-commissioned officer caught hold of the lad and tried to pull him from the priest.

The boy turned like a flash and put his teeth into the soldier's hand.

There was a glint of steel and a bayonet passed through the child's body. He fell at the feet of the priest.

Overhead, the sky grew darker.

The firing party took up its position.


The villagers, such as dared to listen, heard the crackle of the volley, but, before the sound died away, a vivid flash threw the scene into fierce relief, accompanied by a crash as though the vaults of heaven had been smitten asunder.

In that one second's glare, those who watched saw the German officer leap upwards, writhing, and then fall, struck by the thunderbolt.

The thunder pealed on and rolled into the distance, as the figure of the curé, which had remained for a moment supported by the cross, fell dead beside the moaning figure of the little acolyte.

* * *


[7] This happened in Alouville, on Dec. 11, 1914. The German eagle with a deformed left wing fluttered down in an exhausted state into the hands of a French gamekeeper. It was widely heralded as an omen of victory.

[8] Later (in 1915) the Germans added a 3.9-inch and a 5.1-inch field-gun, with ranges of 6 and 8 miles respectively.

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