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   Chapter 4 THE PERILS OF ESCAPE

The Wonder of War on Land By Francis Rolt-Wheeler Characters: 62249

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The German firing-party, sobered by superstitious terror and stunned by the lightning flash, looked blankly at the charred body of their officer. Before they could make a move, however, from a house near by ran a gray-haired woman, a small starred banner in her hand.

Aunt Abigail faced the men with a fine scorn.

"You call yourselves German soldiers!" she cried in tones of utter contempt, "so much the worse for Germany! You sow the seeds of the Tree of Hate and for years to come you will eat its bitter fruit. Mark my words! Is that the work of men-" she pointed to the foot of the cross, "or of drunken, ignorant and fear-ridden brutes? And you are cowards, too, like all bullies," she cried, her voice rising as she shook the flag in their faces, "you dare not fire on this flag, for well you know that if you did, our young, clean-living American boys would come over here and drive decency into your souls with your own weapons!"

One of the men, half understanding English, lurched forward savagely, but a non-commissioned officer pushed him back.

"Let her alone," he said, "we've gone far enough."

Aunt Abigail saw the action.

"You're a man," she said, "at least."

Then stepping out before the rifles, she knelt beside the groaning form of little Jacques Oopsdiel.

Horace, who had followed his aunt, realized that the Germans might hold back from murder while they were still shaken by their lieutenant's death by lightning, but it was quite likely that they would shake off this merciful mood. A reckless desire on the part of each soldier to show his comrades that he was not afraid might spur them to any extremity. The moment must be seized. So, stepping forward quietly, he picked up the body of Jacques in his arms and started up the street.

"Where are you going, Horace?" his aunt demanded.

"To the house, Aunt," the boy replied, "this little chap needs nursing."

The word "nursing" was as a battle cry to Aunt Abigail. Ever since the first wounded man had been brought into Beaufays, she had slaved night and day, giving her time to Germans and Belgians alike. Hence, when Horace carried the injured lad toward the house, his aunt followed without further question.

Courtesy of "Le Monde Illustré."

French Cavalry on Patrol.

The dashing force which harassed and hindered the German advance upon Paris and twice routed the Uhlans.

In his inmost heart, Horace never expected to reach the threshold. At every step he seemed to feel the bullet in his back. None the less, he did not falter or look around and he reached the house in safety, without any further action from the soldiers.

Swift examination showed that little Jacques had no chance for life. He lingered until late in the evening and then breathed his last, one more of the thousands of children wantonly killed by the Germans during their occupation of Belgium.

Late that night, Horace was wakened by a light tapping at his window. He darted out of bed on the instant, knowing well that this cautious signal could not come from Germans, who, instead, undoubtedly would have battered the door with the butt-ends of their rifles. Peering out, he saw the hunchback, still carrying the caged eagle.

"Croquier!" he gasped, in astonishment, for the hunchback's disappearance had been a matter of the most intense curiosity and mystery in the village. "Wait a second, I'll open the door."

The hunchback shook his head and lifted up the cage.

"Take hold of this," he directed.

Horace took the cage and set it on the floor in his room. The amber eyes glittered as evilly as ever.

"Now," said Croquier, still in that same strained whisper, "give me a hand up."

Bracing himself firmly, Horace leaned down and held out his hand.

The hunchback grasped it in his terrible grip and with a jerk which almost pulled the boy's arm out of its socket, he clambered to the window and climbed in. Then, moving so quietly that he made absolutely no noise, he squatted down on the floor beside the cage.

"Where in the name of wonder have you been?" asked Horace.

The hunchback brushed the question aside.

"I've doubled on those fiends a dozen times," he said. "They haven't caught me yet, and they never will. Now, listen to me closely. Those pigs of Germans have found a keg of brandy and they're drinking themselves courageous so as to be brave enough to attack this house. You and your aunt must leave and leave now!"

"Aunt won't go," said Horace, "there's no use asking her. I spoke about it, again, this evening."

"She has got to go or there's no saying what will happen," the hunchback answered. "I'm not telling what I think, but what I know. Bring her here at once, but do it, if you can, so that none of the wounded suspect anything."

The boy thought for a moment.

"I'll try," he said.

Slipping on some clothes, the boy went stumbling noisily through the next room where two wounded German officers were lying. He knew, if he stepped softly, it might arouse suspicion. Reaching his aunt's room, he said loudly, as he knocked and was bidden enter,

"Aunt Abigail, I'll have to have that mustard poultice put on, after all."

The woman looked at him shrewdly. Knowing that nothing had been said that evening concerning a poultice, she realized that there was a meaning hidden behind the words.

"Do you need it now?" she asked.

"Right away, please," the boy replied. "I'll go back to my room and be ready as soon as you come."

The old maid got up hastily. Taking the still warm kettle from the stove and carrying a box of mustard, she passed by the wounded officers into the lad's room beyond.

A whispered word or two cleared up the situation.

As Horace had expected, she refused point-blank.

"No," she said, "I'm not going, no matter what happens. I said I'd stay, and I'll stay. If they kill me they'll have to fight America. If they take me to Germany as a prisoner, I'll probably find something for my fingers to do there. But run-that I won't."

"And the boy?" asked Croquier.

"He's got to go," the old maid replied sharply, "that's quite different. Those beasts wouldn't hesitate to fire on him when, perhaps, their officers might succeed in preventing the murder of their nurse.

"You're right, Monsieur Croquier, Horace must go."

"It's a matter of minutes," the hunchback warned.

"Then what are you waiting for?" she retorted testily. "Go, and go quick, both of you. And take that bird! I don't want it around here."

"You don't think I'd leave that, do you?" the hunchback said emphatically, and, grabbing it, he swung himself out of the window.

"Good-bye, Aunt," said Horace, and prepared to follow.

His aunt looked at him sharply but there was affection, also, in her glance.

"You'll need a wool shirt, wool socks, and your heavy boots," she said, "and if you break through the lines, send a cablegram to your father. Off with you, now!"

As she spoke, a sound of riotous singing was heard in the village street.

Horace did not hesitate. He dropped from the window-sill.

He had hardly picked himself up when some clothing came flying out of the window and landed beside him with a thump. He hastily picked up the shirt, socks, and boots.

"Follow me," said the hunchback, "and go quietly."

His heart in his mouth, Horace dived after Croquier into the bushes back of the house. They climbed two walls and a hedge, the hunchback clambering as soft-footed as a cat in spite of his ungainly shape, and then passed through a hedge. Crossing a couple of gardens they came to an old well. There the hunchback swung over the well-head and disappeared.

The hole was black, damp and uninviting, but a sound of hammering told that the soldiers had reached the house and the boy followed Croquier without hesitation. As he swung his legs over, his feet touched the rungs of a rough ladder. The hunchback gripped his arm and drew him sideways through a hole in the well-curb.

Drawing breath, Horace found himself in a tunnel.

"Where does this go?" he whispered.

"It connects with the vaults under the church," Croquier answered.

"How did you find out about it?"

"I didn't," said the hunchback; "I made it."

"When?"

"Last week. The story of me and the eagle was all over the village and the Germans were looking for me everywhere. There wasn't a corner they didn't search.

"To have a hiding-place which no one could reveal, even under torture, meant life and death. Therefore I had to make it myself. This well is in my neighbor's garden."

"Is it? I hadn't followed which way we were going. But wasn't it a lot of work?"

"Yes," said the hunchback, "but when it's your life that's at stake, you're willing to do some work. It wasn't so hard to figure the course of the tunnel from here to the church," he explained; "one couldn't help striking the vaults somewhere, they're so big."

"So that's how you escaped this afternoon from out of the church."

"Of course."

"It's a bully hiding-place," said Horace, "but how about food?"

"I've a whole storehouse here."

"And air?"

"None too good. I drove a length of iron pipe upwards to the surface of the ground. Just where it comes out I don't know. I never had a chance to look. It isn't much, but it's something."

"How much longer do you expect to stay here?" asked Horace.

"Not a minute longer than I can help. I'm clearing out to-night."

"To-night?"

"Just as soon as things quiet down, we start. It's our last chance. To-morrow the troops will march on, Liége will be put under regular German rule, patrols and sentries will be established and we'll be trapped. It's to-night or not at all. We have got to escape in the confusion of this last day's bombardment."

The boy thought a moment.

"I'm ready enough," he said. "I don't want to stay here under the Germans. The school's burned down, so that my promise to M. Maubin couldn't be kept."

"It couldn't be kept, anyway," the hunchback replied. "I overheard the Germans say that you were to be disposed of, no matter who escaped. You were present in the school defiance, don't forget, and it was you who carried off little Jacques. You're an American and an eye-witness of a good deal. No, they won't let you go, you know too much."

"So?" said the boy thoughtfully. "Well, I'm not surprised. But if we clear out from here, where do you plan to go?"

"To France."

"Why not to Holland?" queried Horace. "That's nearer. The Germans are all heading for France and we'll only run into them again."

"Go to Holland if you want to," said the hunchback, "but I'm not leaving here to save my own skin. I'm looking for a chance to fight."

There was a certain reproach in his tones and Horace felt it, but he hesitated before he replied.

"You're a Frenchman, Croquier," he said, "after all, and it's your scrap; but, you see, I'm an American, and however much I might want to, perhaps I ought to keep out of it."

The hunchback made no reply.

"Of course," continued Horace, slowly, "I know what Father would do."

"I don't know your father very well," said Croquier, "but if your aunt were in your place, I know what she'd do."

"Oh, yes, Aunt Abigail would fight. So would Father, especially if, like me, he'd seen the Germans blind Deschamps, burn Mme. Maubin alive, massacre the curé and kill little Jacques. I don't see any other decent way out of it, Croquier, I've got to fight."

"I never doubted that you would," the hunchback replied.

"Very well, then," said the boy, squaring his shoulders, "it's for France, then. How do we get there?"

"I've been working it all out," said the hunchback, "and keeping my ears open. We've got to go either by Namur or Dinant."

"I thought the Germans were going there."

"They are," Croquier agreed. "That shows they expect to face the French army there. If we want to join the French, it is necessary for us to be there before the Germans take up positions. Every hour makes it harder. With the fall of the forts, the railway lines are open to the Germans for troop transport. Besides that, several days ago, we saw divisions marching by to the southward, not stopping to join in the Liége attack. We've got to creep through or go round them. One must move quickly, for Namur won't hold long."

"I thought Namur was stronger than Liége."

"From the talk I've overheard this last week, while I've been hiding," the hunchback replied, "Von Buelow won't attack Namur with his infantry until the forts are smashed by their heavy siege guns. Those have gone on ahead."

"I guess they lost too heavily at Liége to want to repeat the dose," said Horace.

"It is that, exactly. So, what we've got to do is to slide through the German armies while they are on the march and before they take up definite positions on the battle-line. After that, a rat won't be able to get through."

Royal Boy Warriors.

British Official Photograph.

Captain the Prince of Wales, who fought with his regiment at the Battle of Neuve Chappelle.

Courtesy of "The Graphic."

Prince Umberto of Italy, who has joined the colors, now that his kingdom has been invaded.

"Can we do it?" asked the boy, anxiously.

"If we were Red Indians, I would say 'yes,'" Croquier answered; "being what we are, I only say, 'I don't know.' We may be killed if we go, but we'll have a chance to fight for ourselves and for France; we're sure to be killed if we stay, and we won't have a chance to fight."

"What's your plan?"

"To travel through woods and on by-paths. The armies crowd every road which is wide enough to take a wheeled wagon. We can dodge them if we go carefully and fast."

"When do we start?"

"Have you got your shoes on?"

"Yes."

"Then we start now."

The hunchback went to the well-head and peered out cautiously.

"All's quiet," he said, returning, "and, so far as I can see, your house is safe. They haven't burned it down, in any case. Now, fill your pockets with food as full as you can hold. We don't want to waste time looking for provisions. Are you ready?"

"Ready," said Horace, soberly, realizing the peril into which he was plunging.

"Have no fear," said the hunchback as a last piece of advice, "you're as safe with me as you could be with anybody. A poor chap, like I used to be, must know a good bit about the country. I ran away from a circus when I was a boy, so I learned early how to take care of myself. There's one rule-avoid the roads!"

"But an army might camp in the fields."

"At night, perhaps, but by day it is marching and that, not through the fields, but along the roads. In the old days, when men fought with cold steel, one could push troops over rough country and each company could forage for its own food, travel its own road and be ready for fighting when it was time to fight.

"There is nothing like that now. An army is ten times as large. It is fed at regular hours, in regulated companies, on a diet regulated in advance, cooked by motor kitchens supplied by a provision train of a score of heavy motor-trucks which are traveling at a regulated number of miles from a central supply depot.

"As a health measure it cannot be more than a certain number of miles from drinkable water. Even on the march, the ammunition column must be kept in close connection with the guns. It must operate or advance behind a cavalry screen, and, at all times, must be in direct communication with its staff officers. All that means travel on hard roads, at a certain pace, over a certain route, so that a general can know, at any given minute, where every section of his army is to be found. It is that which is in front of us, and we've got to outguess it and outmarch it."

The hunchback had filled his pockets and attended to a number of minor matters as he talked. Now he slipped out of the well and waited for the boy to follow, carefully closing the hole in the well curb after him.

"You're not going to carry that cage all the way to France, surely?" queried Horace in surprise, as he noted that Croquier held the black eagle in his hand.

His companion raised his eyebrows.

"Think you that I am going to donate it for the Germans?"

"Leave it in the tunnel," the boy said; "they'll never find it there."

"Mme. Maubin said it must never escape. It is my trust!" He lowered his voice suddenly.

"I see," said Horace, "it would break the prophecy."

"This cage is going to Paris," said the hunchback. "The Kaiser said he would be in Paris before the year is out. I will make good his boast. It will make all Paris laugh."

The eagle croaked harshly in the darkness.

"Can't you keep it quiet?" said Horace, his nerves on edge.

The hunchback laughed softly.

"Little noises don't mean much these days," he said, "when there's a wounded man groaning in every cottage."

They passed out of the kindly shelter of gardens into the fields beyond, and silently, stooping low, ran through a hollow into a small copse.

"Where now?"

"One must cross the river," said Croquier. "Not at Tilff or Esneux. The bridges there are guarded."

Horace thought a minute.

"Will it take us much out of our way to go down by Poulseur?" he asked.

"No. Why do you ask?"

"I remember a place where a big tree has fallen right across the stream," the lad replied. "We could crawl over it quite easily. I found it, one day, when I was bird's-nesting. I think I can find the spot again."

"Good. Now, as little noise as possible. Go round all clearings. Keep your ears wide open. If I stop, you stop. If in danger, don't move; remember that every wild animal's first defense is movelessness."

He slipped into the woods.

Horace had expected to find the hunchback a retardation to escape, and, in the tunnel, he had wondered whether he would not be wiser, after all, to escape to Holland and thence to America. However, when the boy remembered that the hunchback had saved his life, this idea seemed rank ingratitude.

Once on the trail, Horace found to his vast surprise that the shoe was on the other foot. Instead of being compelled to humor his companion and to help him from time to time, the boy had much ado to keep up with his comrade. At a stumbling pace which was neither walk nor run, the hunchback forced his way through bush and shrub, leapt clumsily from stone to stone and kept up a steady, swift gait which kept the boy panting for breath.

Safely and without raising the alarm, they reached the fallen tree spanning the river. The former time that Horace had been there, he had been content to lie down and wriggle across, but the hunchback, for all his apparent clumsiness, went across it like a tight-rope walker, and Horace, for very shame, could not do otherwise. The hunchback turned his head over his shoulder-he could do so, in the most uncanny way, without turning his body-and watched him.

"Your nerve is good," he grunted, approvingly.

They went on at the same swift pace, hour after hour, over stumps, fallen trees, and stones, down gullies and up ridges, all in the black dark, the hunchback scouting in advance. From time to time they crossed a road, and this was done with the utmost circumspection. At last, the chill which heralds the dawn warned them of the dangers of coming daylight. The hunchback commenced to quest about, like a dog seeking the scent.

"What are you looking for?" asked Horace.

"A place to hide and sleep," Croquier answered. "We won't move by day. A hunchback with a caged eagle accompanied by a boy-oh, no, that would be much too easy to trace! We can only travel by night. Well, we ought to be somewhere near the village of Hamoir. I don't want to be too close. The village might be occupied by the enemy."

Presently, with a low exclamation of satisfaction, Croquier called to the lad.

"I've found the place," he said. "Let us walk back a little way."

"Why?" asked Horace.

"You'll see," was all the reply he got.

Obediently the lad walked back to the point designated, where a narrow footpath crossed the stream.

"Now," said the hunchback, "walk through the water and over on the other side and then walk back again."

Though puzzled by this performance, Horace did so several times, the hunchback following in his tracks.

"Turn up-stream!" came the next order, and, with the word, he turned directly into the water.

"Whatever you do," warned the hunchback, "don't step on anything that projects out of the water and don't touch the bank."

Completely at a loss to understand his companion's purposes, Horace obeyed to the letter. After wading up stream for a hundred yards or so, Croquier handed the cage to Horace.

"Give me a leg up to that branch," he said, pointing to the limb of a large tree that overhung the river, bifurcating from the bank.

Taking the hunchback's foot in one hand, Horace gave a heave, just enabling his companion to reach the branch overhead. Next he handed up the cage. Then the hunchback, leaning down, grasped the boy's outstretched hand and pulled him to the bough, beside him. Thence he slid down the sloping trunk to the point where the roots divided, forming a natural deep hollow. Here he ensconced himself comfortably, and Horace followed.

"Breakfast and a good sleep," said the hunchback, "are the two things we need now."

Horace agreed heartily. He was worn out by trying to keep up with the hunchback.

"But why did you go to all this trouble to get here?" he asked. "We could have stepped right on to this tree from the bank."

"To have some stray village dog chance upon our scent and bark itself hoarse over our heads, attracting the attention of any one who might be passing in the fields? No, thank you! Coming the way we did, there's no trail for a dog to scent, no track to follow. We can afford to sleep soundly. Even if the crippled bird croaks, it will only sound like one of the natural noises of the wood."

Thus reassured, Horace ate a good breakfast, and, wearied by the night's exertions and excitement, fell into a sound sleep. It was late in the afternoon before he woke, but, as he slowly came to wakefulness, a hand was put over his mouth.

The boy struggled, for the first dazed moment not realizing where he was, but the hunchback's grip would have held a lion. Then Croquier, seeing recognition in the lad's eyes, freed him, but laid a finger on his lip.

Horace repressed a yawn and listened. Voices could be heard close by, talking in German. The boy could only distinguish a word here and there. Evidently the men were strolling along the river bank, at the end of a day's march. Horace shivered to think how near they might have been to discovery had the hiding-place been less carefully chosen.

"Could you catch what they said?" the hunchback queried in a whisper, when the voices had receded into the distance.

"I only caught a word or two. The name 'Bomal' was repeated several times. They seemed to be going to camp there for the night."

Croquier nodded. Bomal, a railway station on the road from Liége to Jemelle and a junction of four high roads, was evidently a good place to avoid.

As evening came on, the fugitives ate heartily from the contents of their pockets and, as soon as the darkness favored, struck south and a little east to avoid Bomal and the main roads.

The flames of a burning village, sure evidence that the Germans were near, drove them west again. A wide road thronged with motor-lorries, one following upon another so that they almost touched, delayed them for two hours, but they crossed under a culvert near Odeigne.

The woods were filled with refugees from near by villages, and though these were loyal Belgians, Croquier would not allow himself to be seen by them, lest they should let a word slip. The two fugitives passed scores of bodies of women and children, murdered by the Germans and left unburied. Corpses were thrown into the wells, contaminating the water. Those who had been wounded were abandoned, without any attempt to relieve their sufferings. The men remaining had been commandeered to dig trenches and build defensive works against troops of their own country, in defiance of the laws of warfare, just as, in other places, women were herded together to walk in front of the German troops during the fighting, their living bodies being made to serve as a human shield against machine-gun fire. When they fell they were left to die.[9] Horace and the hunchback passed through this zone of misery and camped for the succeeding day on the Ourthe River, three quarters of a mile north of Laroche.

Liquid Fire Projected from the German Trenches.

Courtesy of "L'Illustration."

Liquid Fire Projected from Portable Reservoirs.

Hilly and rugged country made the next night's traveling difficult, and, many times, with their hearts in their mouths, the two fugitives were compelled to dart for a few hundred yards along a road, though every highway leading to Jemelle-which seemed to be a German rendezvous-was choked with troops and supporting wagon-trains.

Near Grupont, they found a woman sitting on the bank of a road, beside the body of a boy, six years old.

"Can we be of any service, Madame?" Croquier asked, stopping.

"Not unless you can raise the dead," she answered bitterly, but dry-eyed. "See you, Monsieur, my little Theophile was playing with a toy gun, a thing of wood, Monsieur, and painted red, which shot a cork on the end of a string, when the Germans came.

"'He will learn to shoot a real gun some day,' an officer said, 'kill the young viper before he learns to bite.' So they shot him and marched on, laughing."[10]

There was little to say, little comfort to give. Though every moment was precious, Horace and his companion dug a grave and twisted two boughs into a rude cross. They left the woman sitting there, but weeping and more content. Owing to this delay, it was already daylight before they reached the Lesse River, where they might hide for the night.

Horace was slightly in advance, when, quite suddenly, he saw a German soldier on the path, not more than twenty yards ahead of him. He ducked into the bushes, Croquier, who was behind him, following suit.

The soldier heard the rustling and, though Horace had hidden so quickly that he had not been seen, the soldier pointed his rifle at the point where he had heard the noise and called:

"Who's there? Come out, or I fire!"

In a flash Horace saw the danger to Croquier, for the story of the "captive Kaiser" had traveled far and wide. Should the hunchback be seen and suspected, his death was certain. The boy parted the bushes and stepped out. He answered, in German:

"I am here."

The soldier dropped the butt of his rifle on the ground, seeing an unarmed boy. To all his questions Horace replied truthfully, except that he said he was alone. He stated that he was an American, hoping to make his way into France and there take ship for America.

"Why didn't you go to Holland?" the soldier asked.

"I couldn't break through to the north," the boy answered.

"Then, if you're an American, why didn't you stay in Liége? You would have been safe."

Horace looked the soldier firmly in the face.

"Would I have been safe?" he queried. "There was a woman on the road a little way back," he continued, and told the story of the toy gun.

The German listened, without comment.

"I've passed through villages where your army has been," the boy continued, "and I've seen-"

The soldier raised his hand.

"There's no need to tell me about it," he said, "I've seen it, too, and I don't like it any more than you do. You're a boy and you know nothing of war, but I tell you that sort of thing is bound to happen. I'll admit that it's horrible. Many of us are sickened by it. But don't believe that every German soldier is a brute. It's not true. War makes savages and you'll find them in every army.

"Then," he continued desperately, "what is a man to do? We've got to obey orders! Our officers tell us that a town is to be burned and pillage is allowed. It's not the soldiers who organize firing parties and order citizens to be lined up against a wall. Our officers do that.

"It's true that when you've been in the thick of blood all day, when your brain is dulled by the terrific noise and every nerve is jangled with the strain of fighting, when you see your friend fall dead by a bullet shot by a sniper from some house, when you've only got to put a bayonet to an inn-keeper's throat to get all the liquor you can drink, why, things look different then. All the standards by which you're accustomed to live have gone into the scrap-heap. You've gone back to the days of barbarism. It's another world altogether. You don't feel that you're the same person as the comfortable home-loving workman of a month before."

Horace listened, his hopes for personal safety rising, for he realized that his captor-if captor he should prove-was a man as well as a soldier.

"The blame is on the officers, then?"

"No," the German answered, shaking his head, "the blame is on War, on the horrible, necessary thing itself, War. The officers can't control the cruelties which go hand-in-hand with war any more than we can, at least, not individually. They are taught that an invaded country must be terrorized. Should any officer weaken, he would be suspected and refused promotion. They're as much a part of the system as we are. The system is deliberately intended to wipe out the instincts of kindliness. To be humane is to be weak. Still, I believe and most of us believe that the system is right. War is war. It is a struggle for life and death, not a duel of politeness. It is an appeal to force and the only rule that it knows is force. War is war, and we're going to win if we have to march on the corpses of men, women and children all the way from here to the sea."

Suddenly his tone changed.

"Here comes an officer!" he said. "Quick, boy, hide! I will say nothing!"

Horace slid into the bushes like a snake.

The officer came clanking by on the path, and Horace held his breath, lest the soldier should change his mind, or lest, in the presence of the officer, the force of military discipline should urge him to reveal the presence of the fugitive. The soldier, however, simply stepped off the path and saluted, as the officer passed with the customary insolent swagger and negligent salute in reply.

When the sound of footsteps could no longer be heard, the soldier spoke in a low voice.

"Stay where you are," he said. "Remember, I've not seen you. But if, when you get to America, you hear stories of German brutality, tell them your story that they may know the German soldier isn't cruel just because he wants to be. It is that he must be. War is war."

He turned on his heel.

Horace was bursting to reply that the soldier's confession was a worse indictment of Germany as a whole than if the outrages were merely due to a few brutal individuals in the soldiery, but he restraine

d himself.

A faint rustling told of Croquier's approach.

"That was a plucky thing to do," he whispered. "You meant it to cloak my being here."

"Of course."

"I'll not forget it," said the hunchback. "But we'd better move on a bit, even though it's daylight. That soldier might repent of his kindness or drop a word about having met an American. It's healthier for us to be somewhere else."

"I'm ready to go," said Horace. He was beginning to have an acute perception of the narrowness of his escape, for he saw that if there had been two soldiers instead of one, neither would have dared to trust the other, and, in all probability, he would have had a bayonet thrust through him before there was time for any explanations.

Next evening the two fugitives crossed ridge after ridge, on the high country to the south of the Lesse River, fortunately getting a midnight meal from a peasant who had a small farm between Hour and Pondrome. This man had picked up a great deal of information from a German transport corps which had commandeered all his grain and all his horses, leaving him poverty-stricken and unable to carry on the work of his farm. The information meant little to the peasant, but coupled with the items that Horace had been able to gather and that Croquier had found out, it gave a definite picture of the German Army's movements.

Thus they learned that, when leaving Liége, they had crossed the track of the army under Von Kluck (of which Von Emmich's army was only an advance guard). Soon after, they had crossed the path of the Second Army, under Von Buelow. The transport corps which had taken the horses, had come up from the south, from the Third Army, under the Duke of Würtemberg.

"Then what's the army we passed yesterday?" asked the boy.

The hunchback considered the problem thoughtfully.

"That's right," he said, "there is another army in between, but a day's march behind the rest. It seems," he continued, "that Von Kluck is striking due west, evidently to flank Namur; Von Buelow is moving on the forts themselves; Würtemberg's army is going to strike lower down, probably at Dinant."

He paused, for emphasis.

"But what's this other army in between?"

He sat for a few moments, sunk in thought.

"Hadn't we better be going on?" suggested Horace.

"Yes," said Croquier, rousing himself. "I was just wondering where. I think we'll have to try and cross the Meuse south of Dinant, between that and the French frontier, which is only four miles away."

"Why not go directly to the French frontier?" asked the lad.

"Too heavily guarded," was the reply. "Our only chance is south of Dinant. Luckily, I know a man who lives close to Waulsort. We ought to reach his place this evening."

By starting early in the evening from the loft where they had hidden all day, the fugitives reached the banks of the Meuse before midnight. There, the Meuse is deep and wide, flowing at the bottom of a deep valley. The hunchback skirted the woods in the direction of the little farm that he knew and cautiously knocked on the door.

A white, drawn face looked out.

"We are peaceful peasants here!" said a sullen voice, with both terror and hate in the tone.

"Sh! Pierre!" said the hunchback, "we are good Belgians, like yourselves. Let us in quickly."

Surprised and unwillingly the peasant opened the door.

"It is the circus boy!" he exclaimed.

Croquier wasted no time in greetings.

"We must cross the river," he said. "I have information of value to the French. You have a boat?"

"I did have," was the answer, "but the Germans took it to-day."

"Are they near here?"

"You can see the light of their fires."

"The river is guarded, I suppose?"

"Every foot of it."

"Yet we must cross."

"Swim, then," responded the peasant, laconically.

"Swim, carrying this?" retorted the hunchback, holding up the iron cage, and showing the "captive Kaiser," while, in a few words, he described the omen of victory.

The peasant nodded his head in evident appreciation of the symbol.

"The Germans must not be allowed to get it," he said, obviously more interested in the fate of the bird than of his friend. "But there are three men guarding the boat."

"Only three," said Croquier significantly; "there are three of us."

Horace shrank back as the meaning of the words became clear.

The hunchback looked at him.

"Remember Deschamps," he said. "Remember the curé, remember little Jacques, and remember Mme. Maubin!"

Horace pulled himself together.

"There are three of us," he agreed.

The peasant had not spoken but, from a hiding-place in the frame of the bed, he pulled out a long knife and offered it to Croquier.

"Keep it, you," said the hunchback; "I have my hands."

"And the boy?" asked the peasant.

"I've a pistol I took from a dead German near Liége," the boy answered, showing it. "It's loaded."

"Too much noise," said the peasant, shaking his head.

"It's all I can do," protested the boy. "I haven't Croquier's grip, and somehow, I couldn't use a knife. It's too much like murder."

"And you?" queried the hunchback, turning to his friend. "You dare? You are not afraid?"

"Hear you!" the peasant answered. "My brother-in-law lives in a mining village. There was a battle near by, the day before yesterday. They made him march in front of the troops and he was killed by a French bullet.

"A wounded French sergeant dragged himself to the house. My sister hid him. Soon after, a German officer came. He asked for food. When my sister commenced to get it ready, they complained that she was slow. He struck her. He behaved like a brute and-"

"Well?" queried Croquier, as the man paused.

"The wounded sergeant," the peasant continued, "drew his pistol and shot the German.

"Emile, my nephew, was there. The dying Frenchman asked for water. The boy went to the well and brought some. When he returned, other Germans were in the house. An officer asked him for the water. He answered, politely enough:

"'In a minute, sir,' and gave a drink first to the wounded man."

"That was sure to bring ruin," said the hunchback. "A German always thinks he is more important than any one else."

"The commanding officer immediately ordered Emile shot and his eyes were bandaged. Then the officer changed his mind. He took off the bandage and handed the boy a gun.

Boy Heroes of the Front.

Courtesy of "Le Miroir."

A Servian lad, sharpshooter, 12 years old, who fought gallantly at Belgrade.

Courtesy of "J'ai Vu."

"Petit Jean" of the Zouaves, who won revenge against the Germans who burned his French home.

Courtesy of "Ill. London News."

A Russian lad, 14 years old, full member of a gun crew, which saw much action.

"'Shoot the Frenchman, you!' he said. 'That will make you a good German.'

"The boy took the gun, pointed it at the French sergeant, then wheeled suddenly and fired point-blank at the German commander, who fell dead. So," said the peasant slowly, "they first tortured my nephew and then killed him. After that they set fire to the house and burned alive the wounded man inside. My sister escaped from the burning house and told me the story last night."[11]

"And she?"

"She went mad early this morning and drowned herself in the river. Do you think I would let fear stop me from revenge?"

No more was said. They filed out of the farmhouse, creeping through the forest down the steep slopes to the river below. At a tiny landing-stage two German soldiers were standing.

The hunchback held up two fingers and the boy's spirits rose with relief at the thought that he would not be compelled to take part in a cold-blooded though necessary slaughter.

"Take the bird," whispered Croquier to him, "and, whatever happens, see that the Germans do not get it. If you are about to be caught, throw the cage in the river. Its weight will sink it."

"I will," said the boy. He would have said more, as his fingers closed upon the iron ring, but his companions had slipped off into the darkness.

The few minutes of waiting that followed seemed like hours. Far, far away, there was a faint sound of cannonading, which, although the boy did not know it, was the advance-guard knocking at the gates of Namur. It rose and fell on the night breeze above the indistinguishable murmur around him, born of the presence of hundreds of thousands of men encamped on both sides of the river, of the rattle of harness, of the hum of motor-vehicles and of the tramp of feet. A dull, angry red flickered spasmodically in the sky, here and there, the reflections of burning villages below.

Silently, so silently that it seemed to Horace as though he were watching a play of shadows, two men arose from the ground behind the sentries. The blue steel in the peasant's hand flashed in the faint moonlight of an aged moon and the sentry fell with a choked cry. From the other sentry's throat there came no sound and the dumb struggle was a fearful thing to see. The hunchback's fingers, however, would have strangled an ox, and, before a minute had passed, a dead man lay on the ground, the iron grip still on his windpipe.

At that instant, Horace heard a voice humming the snatch of a German song and the third sentry came along the path, returning to his post.

The boy fingered his revolver, but he could not bring himself to shoot a man unprepared. His gorge rose at the thought. Yet, if he allowed the sentry to pass, the alarm would be given and he and his companions would be killed.

A trick of boyhood flashed through his mind.

Quickly seizing a dead branch which lay near by, he thrust it between the sentry's legs as he passed, with a sudden jerk tripping him up, so that he fell headlong from the narrow stony path into the bushes on the side. Then the boy sped for the wharf like a deer.

"The third sentry!" he gasped.

There was no time for explanations. The two fugitives and the peasant leaped into the boat and a few short, sharp strokes took them well into the strong current of the river.

The sentry who had been tripped, quite unsuspicious and blaming only the roughness of the path in the darkness, got up, grumbling, rubbed himself where he had been bruised and searched for his spiked helmet, which had fallen off.

These few seconds were salvation for the fugitives.

Before half a minute had elapsed, the sentry reached the landing-stage and saw the stretched-out bodies of his comrades. Taken by surprise, he lost another ten or twenty seconds staring around him before he caught sight of the boat on the river.

Then, and not till then, did the sentry grasp that a surprise attack had been made and that his fall on the path had been purposed and not due to an accident. Raising his rifle, he fired, but the shots flew wide.

"I heard the Germans couldn't shoot straight!" declared the hunchback, in contempt. "Now I know it's true."

Horace thought the bullets were quite close enough, and when one of them nipped the oar he was using and raised a sliver of wood from the feathered blade, he had an uncomfortable feeling inside. But, before the alarm could be widely given, the boat shot into the shadow of the western bank and reached the shore in safety.

French advance posts took the three in charge as soon as they touched land, and, when morning arrived, brought them before the ranking officer. Horace was able to give but little information, but Croquier, who had read widely of military tactics, was able to combine the various items that he had gleaned during the escape to make a report of great value and importance.

"You are sure," the officer asked him, "that, in addition to the armies of Von Kluck and Von Buelow to the north, and the Duke of Würtemberg and the Crown Prince to the south, there is another army, hurrying up between?"

"We saw it, sir," Croquier replied.

"Under whose command?"

"I couldn't find out, sir."

The officer gnawed his mustache.

"Our air men report a gap in the German line, there," he said. "We're counting on it."

"There isn't such a gap, sir," the hunchback insisted, earnestly. "Every road we crossed was filled with troops, and, sir," he added, "there seemed to be an independent siege-train. It looked like a complete army."

"It would be hard to distinguish such a force from divisions of the other armies," the officer said, "unless you had more facts than you were able to gather, but I'll convey your information to headquarters. It may prove very useful. Now, just what shall I do with you?"

"I'd like to fight, sir," said the hunchback, "if I could find some one to guard the Kaiser."

The officer stared at him as though he thought Croquier had gone mad.

"What are you talking about," he said, "to 'guard the Kaiser'?"

The hunchback pointed to the cage in his hand, which he had positively refused to give up to the orderly.

"Here's the Kaiser, sir," he said, "withered left arm and all!"

His questioner bent forward, as Croquier described the capture, and, in spite of the responsibilities weighing upon him, the officer laughed aloud.

"It is a true omen of victory!" he said. "Stay with this division. It will bring us luck."

"I'll be glad to, sir," said Croquier.

"Do any of the men know about it?"

"It must be all over the camp by now, sir," the hunchback answered. "I've told the story at least a dozen times this morning."

The colonel smacked his leg with delight.

"That bird," he said, "especially if we have to retreat, is worth half a regiment of men. Next to good food, good spirits keep an army going. You stay here and 'guard the Kaiser' yourself.

"As for the lad," he continued, turning to Horace, "why, we'll send you on to Paris, the first chance we get. The front is no place for a boy, and, in any case, military regulations are rigid against the presence of non-combatants. Even war correspondents are not allowed, no matter how strong their official credentials."

Horace would have protested, but he knew that while French military discipline is not as machine-made as that of Germany, it is not less strict. Boy-like, he trusted to chance that something might happen, and, in any case, he would probably see a battle that day. If he could just see one battle, he thought, he would be content, particularly if it were a German defeat.

Partly owing to his capture of "the Kaiser," because of the pluck he had shown in escaping from Liége, and partly owing to the stories he had to tell of German atrocities in Belgium, Horace was very popular with the "poilus,"[12] as the French soldiers familiarly called themselves.

It was in conversation, that morning, with one of the veterans of the army, a non-commissioned officer who had seen active service in Morocco and Madagascar, and who was studying with the aim of winning his shoulder-straps, that Horace gained his first clear idea of the huge scale upon which modern war operations are conducted. Evidently the veteran had worked out for himself the main elements of General Joffre's plan, and Horace's information concerning the location of the German troops revealed further developments of the campaign to the old soldier's eyes. Resting in readiness to support the advance line should the reserves be called on, the veteran delivered himself oracularly as to the situation.

"The battle-line now," he said, "is a right angle running north from Dinant to Namur and then west from Namur to Condé. The south to north line, where we are now, is held by the Fourth French Army, under General Langle de Cary. We're protected by the gorge of the Meuse, and it's our little job to try and keep the Boches[13] from crossing.

"Namur is the bend of the angle. It is strongly fortified, with nine forts in ring formation, and is held by the Belgian army under General Michel. From Namur westward through Charleroi to Binche is held by the Fifth French Army under General Lanrezac, and is protected by a narrow river, the Sambre. Westward from Binche, through Mons to Condé, is held by the British Expeditionary Force under Sir John French, only lightly protected by the Mons barge-canal. The first attack will fall on Namur. I hear it has already started."

"It won't last long," interjected Croquier, "for the lad and I saw the 42-centimeter guns (16.5-inch howitzers) on their way to Namur. Once those siege-guns get into position, the forts are gone. They won't be able to stand ten shells apiece."

"The forts will hold for a week," the veteran answered, for he discounted the rumors which had come of the power of the great siege-guns. "In any case, they'll hold for three days, and that's as long as necessary. So, you see, the English face Von Kluck, the Belgians face Von Buelow-and we're holding Würtemberg's army."

"All very well," said the hunchback, "but, as I've told you, we saw another army coming up through the Ardennes."

"If there were, our airmen would have seen it," said the veteran, "and our staff would know all about it. You're mistaken, that's all. The battle-line is just about the way I've said it and the real clash is between the French and German systems of strategy."

"Are they very different?" asked Horace. "I should have thought that strategy was pretty exact and every one worked in more or less the same way."

"Don't think it for a moment!" the veteran replied earnestly. "German strategy and French strategy are as far apart as the feelings of the two races. They are the result of different principles. They work in different ways. The German depends on massed force, the French on individual courage; the German thinks mainly of attack and his favorite word is 'annihilation,' the French thinks mainly of defense and his favorite word is 'France.' It is for this war to show which of the two is the stronger-German aggression or French defense.

"German strategy," he explained, "begins with the formation of an extended line. In action it plans heavy massed attacks at various points along a battle front, in order to keep the whole of the opposing line engaged, while, at the same time, at least a full army corps is thrown out on each end of the battle-line, two or three divisions of cavalry being thrown out farther still, to act as a screen and hide the movements behind it. This maneuver is for the purpose of curling round the ends of an enemy's line, flanking it and, by cutting its line of communication in the rear, rolling it up and annihilating it."

"That, I should think," said Horace, "needs a lot of men."

"It does," the veteran agreed, "and that is one of the reasons that Germany never advances unless she has a big preponderance of men. Don't think that because Germans seldom attack with equal forces they must therefore be cowards. It is because their tactics are based on the principle of flanking, enveloping and securing a decisive victory, rather than the principle of saving men, taking advantage of natural conditions and winning a number of small engagements. It is terribly wasteful of men, but it produces big military results-when successful-and an appalling human sacrifice, when unsuccessful.

"A German attack, therefore, my boy, means that you will have to suffer a succession of driving blows directed at two or three points of the main line, re?nforced by a concentration of artillery far greater than is possessed by any other army, coupled with wide flanking movements by huge bodies of troops supported by cavalry and a very mobile field artillery."

"All right," said the boy; "I understand that clearly. Now what's the French idea?"

"French strategy," the veteran replied, "always presupposes the necessity of being compelled to fight having an army less in numbers but superior in individual dash and bravery. It is the problem of winning a battle with a smaller number of men than the enemy. The principle is that of a spring bent back to the utmost, which, when released rebounds forward with tremendous force. We call it the 'strategic lozenge.'"

"I've heard of that," said Horace. "It's sometimes called the 'strategic square,' isn't it? It seems something like our baseball diamond," and, with boyish animation, he explained the position of the bases.

"It is very like," said the bearded poilu, smiling at the comparison of military strategy with a baseball game; "perhaps I can explain it to you in that way. In this strategic lozenge, the whole army is divided in four parts. The rear, or the reserve army, is where you call 'home base.' The fighting or operative corner is at 'second base,' and the other two armies are at 'first base' and 'third base' respectively. You understand the positions?"

Courtesy of "Panorama de la Guerre."

"Our Enemies Showed Great Gallantry."

German gunners saving their 77-mm. piece in the teeth of a French infantry attack in the Argonne.

"Of course," said the boy, "that's quite easy. But it doesn't look particularly strong. I should think a long line, like the German one you were telling me about, could come on both sides of that point, or 'second base' army and gobble it up."

"So it could," said the veteran, nodding appreciation of the lad's perception, "if the 'second base' army stayed there to be gobbled up. That, my boy, is exactly what it doesn't do. When the enemy line advances, it is halted by this sharp point. The flanking movement is impossible, because if the long line bends round the corner, it would take several days for the ends to close in, and, when they did close in, they would only be confronted by a new army, let us say at 'third base.' Long before they could reach there, the fourth army, at 'home base,' could have marched up to re?nforce the operative corner and smashed the weakened middle of the opposing line, which, with its wings gone, would have no reserves on which to fall back."

"Great!" cried the boy. "Then the German army would be cut in half!"

"Precisely! It would! And, my boy, if the line be cut, then our armies, which had broken through, could fall on the line of communications and cut off the enemy's provisions and supplies.

"If, on the other hand, the German commanders saw this danger, which, of course, they would, they could halt all along the extended line, re?nforcing from either side the masses thrown against the operative corner."

"Ow!" said Horace, "that would be awkward."

"Yes," the veteran responded, "if there were no strategical reply. But when the line halts, the three armies in reserve in the diamond can be swung either to right or left. So, since they have only a short distance to go, they can force the battle on their own chosen ground much more quickly than the opposing troops-which are stretched out in a long line-can come up to defend it."

"I don't see that," said Horace.

The veteran smiled.

"You don't see it," he said, "because you don't realize that the Wonder of War is not the machines used by the men who wage it, but the men themselves and the handling of them. Modern war, like ancient war, consists only in the spirit of the fighters and the skill of the commanders. There's not a great deal of difference between a bayonet and flint knife, a rifle is but an explosive form of bow and arrow, and the great 42-centimeter siege-gun of the Boches is only a sling-shot made a little bigger and throwing a little farther. The morale of men, my boy, and the strategy of generals are the wonders of war, as they were in the days of Rameses, C?sar and Napoleon. It's more difficult, now, because you're moving millions of men and tens of millions of tons of munitions and material.

"Let us take the strategy of the present situation, as the greatest armies of the world face it this sunny summer morning. Namur is the 'second base' or operative corner. Paris is the 'home base.' Verdun is 'first base.' Condé, to the extreme left of the English troops, is 'third base.' The German long line is bent round the angle. This has been very skillfully done, for it enables the line to attack at any point. But, see, we could throw our re?nforcing fourth army on either the left or the right wing in two days' time. Suppose we threw it on the western wing. It would take at least two weeks before the enemy's eastern wing could march up, even if it were good tactics to do so."

"Why?"

"Because of the enormous difficulty of moving hundreds of thousands of men. No civilian has any idea of it. Suppose you want to move five army corps-that's a quarter of a million men-how long do you think it would take? Your easternmost corps would have to begin the march by retreating at least thirty miles before they could begin to turn, in order to leave room for the rest to turn inside them. The first army corps would have to wait until the second countermarched in line with it, both first and second would have to wait for the third, and four corps would be idle while the fifth corps came into position.

"To deploy them in line would take weeks. Then, even after they had been got in order and were marching from south to north, the corps nearest to the battle line would have to mark time while the rest pivoted on it. That would mean a couple more days' lost time. The same delay would arise when it was necessary to pivot the line in position for attack. In addition to that, my boy, there would be the waste of time in strategical handling caused by the change of direction. New lines of communication would have to be established, new supply depots built, new routes mapped out, rolling stock shifted to other railway systems, all the plans which the General Staff had made before the opening of the campaign must needs be altered and the huge body of officers would have to receive new orders so that they might learn the entire change of tactics in detail. Meantime, the battle would be over."

"Well, then," said Horace, scornfully, "German strategy is all nonsense."

"Don't jump to conclusions," warned the veteran. "There's another side to it. Suppose that the operative corner is attacked so fast and so furiously that, instead of being able to retreat upon its reserves in good order, it is annihilated, what then? In that case, the enemy can plunge right in between the supporting armies, going to what, I suppose, you would call the 'pitcher's box,' cut the dissevered troops apart and deal with them one at a time.

"Everything depends upon the operative corner, especially on its tenacity. This strategy is possible in the French Army, where individual courage and resiliency is the highest of all armies of the world. It is only equaled by some of the Irish and Highland Scotch regiments of the British Army, and the Bersaglieri and other corps of the Italian Army. It is not suitable to the bulldog tactics of the English, which depend on wearing down the enemy; nor to the 'wolf-pack' system of the Germans, which depends on mere weight of numbers."

Horace leaned forward, thoughtfully.

"There's a good deal more to this than I thought," he said.

"The operation of war on land," said the veteran, "is one of the most marvelous processes known to the human brain. There is no machine so enormous, none that requires so much detail and fineness of adjustment. I've studied it from a soldier's point of view, ever since I've been in the army, and now that I'm trying to get my commission, I'm studying it all the closer.

"Men don't win a war. Guns don't win a war. Food and munitions don't win a war. You can have ten million men and a hundred million tons of food and munitions and what good will they be unless the food gets to the men, the munitions to the guns, and the men and guns to the front? What good will it do then, unless the men have, first, the spirit to fight, and second, the skill to fight?

"You say that the prophecy about the bird declares that America will have to join the war. Perhaps. But if the United States had started to prepare ten years ago, she would still have been twenty years too late. To expect to make an army by waiting until it is needed, is just about as sensible as to wait for the sowing of wheat until the harvest-time when the crop is needed. And when you get back to America, you can tell them so."

The poilu wiped his forehead, for he had become thoroughly roused on the point. Then, after a moment, he continued:

"To return to our strategy question. The present position of the French and English armies, supporting Namur, is that of an operative corner. Probably we will be driven back, but it is on the springiness of our resistance that the campaign hangs. The more we retreat, the stiffer grows the spring, for we are falling back on re?nforcements and shortening our lines of communication and transport all the time. The more the enemy advances, the weaker his line grows, for he is losing men which he cannot replace and is lengthening his lines of communication and transport all the time. Sooner or later, the rebound of the spring is stronger than the force pressing back, and then, if the pressure is weakened the least bit, the spring darts back. That is the rebound or recoil. It is the rebound which will save France."

"Then you expect to retreat?"

"What would be the use of an operative corner if we didn't retreat on the masses of maneuver?" the veteran retorted. "We all know that. The public won't understand it, of course, and a good many of the younger soldiers are apt to lose their heads over it, but the statesmen know, the generals know, the officers know, and arrangements are already made for it in advance. We are well prepared.

"The two greatest armies that the world has ever seen are facing each other, and the two great principles of strategy are to be fought out, as well as the moral principle between a nation that breaks its word and one that keeps it. Within a month will be settled, perhaps forever, the greatest question in military tactics-which is better, the massed line and flanking movements of the Germans or the strategic diamond of the French.

"If Namur holds, you will see the supporting armies swing up against one or the other side of the long German line and send it flying back. If Namur falls resistingly, you will see the whole operative corner from Condé through Mons, Binche, Thuin, Charleroi, Namur, Dinant, Givet, and Montmedy to Verdun narrow its lines, shorten its communications and draw closer and closer in. The spring will be stiffening for the rebound. If the corner is smashed and the Germans break clear through-the whole war is lost, the whole world is lost!"

* * *

FOOTNOTES:

[9] Report of Belgian Royal Commission.

[10] Report of French Commission of Inquiry.

[11] This happened in the village of Lourches, near Douchy. The boy's name was Emile Despres and he was fourteen years old.

[12] "Poilu" means hairy, and conveys the sense of shaggy strength.

[13] The Germans are called "Boches" by the French and "Huns" by the British. The origin of the word "Boche" is disputed; the word "Hun" is used to denote ruthless barbarity.

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