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   Chapter 2 THE TWO FRIENDS.

The Boy Allies in Great Peril; Or, With the Italian Army in the Alps By Clair W. Hayes Characters: 10441

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

While Hal and Chester are still upon the ground and consciousness is gradually returning, it will be well to introduce a few words concerning them, that those who have not made their acquaintance before may learn just what sort of boys our heroes are.

Hal Paine and Chester Crawford were typical American boys. With the former's mother, they had been in Berlin when the great European conflagration broke out and had been stranded there. Mrs. Paine had been able to get out of the country, but Hal and Chester were left behind.

In company with Major Raoul Derevaux, a Frenchman, and Captain Harry Anderson, an Englishman, they finally made their way into Belgium, where they arrived in time to take part in the heroic defense of Liége in the early stages of the war. Here they rendered such invaluable service to the Belgian commander that they were commissioned lieutenants in the little army of King Albert.

Both in fighting and in scouting they had proven their worth. Following the first Belgian campaign, the two lads had seen service with the British troops on the continent, where they were attached to the staff of General Sir John French, in command of the English forces. Also they had won the respect and admiration of General Joffre, the French commander-in-chief.

As related in the third book of this series, "The Boy Allies with the Cossacks," Hal and Chester had seen active service under the Russian Bear in the eastern theater of war. They fought in the midst of the Russian forces and were among the troop of 60,000 that made the first wild dash over the Carpathians to the plains of Hungary.

Returning to the western war area with despatches from the Grand Duke Nicholas to the French commander-in-chief, they had again taken up their duties with the British army. As related in "The Boy Allies in the Trenches," they had been instrumental in defeating more than one German coup, and it was through them, also, that a plot to assassinate President Poincaré had failed.

Both lads were about the same age. Large and strong, they were proficient in the use of their fists and of the art of swordsmanship, and were entirely familiar with firearms. Another thing that stood them in good stead was the fact that both spoke French and German fluently. Also, each had a smattering of Italian.

Following their coup in saving the French president from the hands of traitorous Apaches in Paris, Hal and Chester had come to Rome with their mothers, whom they had found in Paris, and Chester's uncle. They had not come without protest, for both had been eager to get back to the firing line, but their mothers' entreaties had finally prevailed. As Chester's Uncle John had said, "This is none of our war. Your place, boys, is with your mothers."

Chester and Hal had sought consent to rejoin the army in vain. Neither Mrs. Paine nor Mrs. Crawford would hear of such a thing. So at last they agreed to return home. First, however, at Uncle John's suggestion, the party decided to stop in Rome.

"Italy is still a sane and peaceable country," Uncle John had said.

Naturally the lads had been greatly interested in the war demonstrations in Rome. Uncle John, who at first had "pooh-poohed" the prospect of Italy's entering the war, finally had been convinced that such a course was only a matter of time. Mrs. Paine and Mrs. Crawford, realizing how greatly interested their sons were becoming, immediately decided to return to America. They feared that some harm would come to Hal and Chester-feared that the boys might be drawn into trouble again-for they both knew their dispositions not to shirk danger.

The war situation at this time was anything but favorable to the Allies. Along the great western battle line, stretching out from the North Sea far to the south, the mighty armies were gripped in a deadlock. Occasional advances would be made by both sides and retreats would follow.

Having pushed the invader back from the very walls of Paris soon after the outbreak of hostilities, the French had shoved him across the Aisne and then across the Marne. But here the allied offensive halted. Grand assaults and heroic charges proved ineffectual. The Kaiser's troops were strongly intrenched and could not be dislodged. On their side, the Allies' positions were equally impregnable and repeated assaults by the enemy had failed to shake their lines.

In the eastern theater of war the Russians, at this moment, were meeting with some success. Several large Austrian strongholds had been captured after the bloodiest fighting of the war, and it was believed that it would only be a question of a few weeks until the Russian Grand Duke would develop his long-expected invasion of Hungary.

In the north of the eastern war arena, also, the Russians had met with some success, Poland had been invaded, and around Warsaw the great German drive had been checked. The sea was still free of German ships, with the exception of the submarines which still continued to prey upon all commerce, neutral as well as Allies'.

The situation in the Balkan states remained unchanged. It was hoped that the Balkan countries would rally to the support of the Allies, and thus form an iron ri

ng about the Germanic powers, but this matter was no nearer a successful issue than it had been months before. However, diplomats of both sides were still busy in the Balkans, and each hoped to gain their support.

But for the last few weeks all eyes had been turned toward Italy. A member of the Austro-German Triple Alliance at the beginning of the war, Italy had refused to support a war of aggression by the Kaiser and had severed her connection with the Alliance. She had announced that she would remain neutral.

At length, however, matters reached such a pass that Italy realized she must cast her lot with the Allies. She knew that should the Germans emerge from the war victorious she had all to lose and nothing to gain. The first act of the successful German army would be to crush her. Besides, there had always been antagonism between Austria and Italy, and the drawing of Italy into the Triple Alliance in the first place was considered an act of trickery. Austria and Italy could have nothing in common.

The people of Italy demanded that she throw her military as well as her moral support to the Allies. The matter had been threshed out in the Chamber of Deputies. Wild anti-German and anti-Austrian demonstrations were almost daily occurrences in the streets of Rome and other of the larger Italian cities. The people wanted war. Here was the one country of all the powers engaged in the mighty conflict that could truthfully say: "This is a popular war."

At the instigation of the Kaiser, Austria had agreed to make many concessions to Italy in return for her neutrality. She agreed to almost anything. But the Italian government was not fooled. Austria would yield anything at the present time, and then, with the aid of her powerful ally, Germany, at the close of the war, take it away from Italy again.

So the Italian people and the Italian government decided upon war on the side of the Allies. Millions of trained fighting men, fresh from the rigors of the recent Turkish war, were ready to take the field at almost a moment's notice. The reserves had already been ordered to the colors. The Italian fleet was ready for action.

There was now no question that Italy would enter the war. The chief topic of interest was as to where she would strike first. Would she send an army to join the French and British troops recently landed on the Gallipoli peninsula and a portion of her fleet to help force the Dardanelles, or would she strike first at Austria, and if so, would the first blow be delivered by her fleet in the Adriatic, or to the north, upon the border, and through the Alps?

The Chamber of Deputies had been in continuous session now for almost two days. It was known that upon the result of this conference hinged the issue, peace or war. The chamber was still in session, but the Premier had left and sought King Victor Emmanuel at the palace for a consultation.

News of this kind travels quickly. The great mob which had assembled outside the Chamber of Deputies wended its way to the palace, where it stood awaiting some word of what action was to be taken. The people knew that the answer would not be long coming.

Hal Paine and Chester Crawford were standing in the midst of this crowd when this story opens. They had just left their mothers and Uncle John at their hotel, announcing that they would get the latest war news. The two women had offered no objection, but Uncle John had instructed them:

"Don't be gone long, boys. Remember we leave in the morning, and we expect you to do your share of the packing."

So the two lads had strolled out and joined the crowd.

When they had decided to return to America, each lad had carefully packed his British uniform, so they were now in civilian clothes. This was a matter of some regret to them, for they had been proud of their uniforms, and not without cause, and even as they walked along to-day Chester had remarked:

"We should have our uniforms on, Hal."

"Why?" demanded the latter.

"Well, just look at all these Italian officers. It makes me feel lonesome to be without my uniform."

Hal laughed.

"By Jove! it does at that," he agreed. "I can sympathize with the soldier who has such an absolute disgust for a civilian. You know there is no love lost between them."

"Right! Well, I wish I had my uniform on."

"It's a good thing you haven't, I guess. That warlike spirit of yours might get us in trouble. Every time I look at mine, I want to run back to the front instead of going home."

"It is pretty tough," agreed Chester.

"You bet it is. But what else could we do? We must please our mothers, you know."

"I suppose you're right. But just the same, several times I have had a notion to disappear."

"The same thought struck me, too; but we gave our promise, you know."

Chester shrugged his shoulders.

"It can't be helped now," he said.

"Maybe we'll have a little war of our own some day," said Hal. "Then they'll have to let us fight."

"That would be too good to be true," was Chester's reply.

It was just at the end of this conversation that the lads had joined the crowd before the palace, and Chester had made the remark that opens this story.

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