E-text prepared by Al Haines
World's War Series, Volume 5
THE BELGIANS TO THE FRONT
COLONEL JAMES FISKE
Illustrated by E. A. Furman
[Frontispiece: "Unless you can prove that you are innocent, you will be tried as spies," said the lieutenant.]
The Saalfield Publishing Company Chicago ——— Akron, Ohio ——— New York Copyright, 1915 by The Saalfield Publishing Company
I A Discovery II The Marked Plans III The House of Mystery IV The Flight V Pursuit VI At Headquarters VII The Fire VIII The Uhlan IX War X Prisoners of War XI The Spy XII A Close Shave XIII The Civic Guards XIV Submission XV The Butcher's Wife XVI The Wine Shop XVII The Battle XVIII Victory
The Belgians To The Front
In the great public square of the ancient city of Liege, in Belgium, a troop of Belgian Boy Scouts stood at attention. Staffs in hand, clad in the short knickerbockers, the khaki shirts and the wide campaign hats that mark the Boy Scout all over the world, they were enough of a spectacle to draw the attention of the busy citizens of Liege, who stopped to watch them admiringly. Their scoutmaster, Armand Van Verde, had been addressing them. And now in the fading light of the late afternoon, he dismissed them.
At once the troop broke up, first into patrols, then into small individual groups of two or three. The faces of the scouts were grave for it was serious news indeed that Van Verde had communicated to the troop at the meeting just ended. Paul Latour called sharply to his great friend, Arthur Waller.
"Come on, Arthur," he said. "We'd better be getting along home. There may be something for us to do."
"All right," agreed Arthur, cheerfully. He was a little younger than his chum, and was nearly always willing to agree to anything Paul proposed.
The two boys were not natives of Liege. However, they spent their summers with relatives who lived in the country a few miles beyond the limits of the famous old town, in the direction of the village of Esneux. They themselves came from Brussels, and, while not themselves related, were both cousins of the family which they were now visiting, that of M. de Frenard.
So now, striking out with a good, swinging pace, they made their way rapidly through the streets of the old town of Liege, narrow and crooked, once they were beyond the great square. They passed over the new Exposition Bridge and so to the new town of Liege, where the great steel works of Seraing were beginning to cast red reflections against the darkening sky.
"They have begun to work all night long," said Arthur.
"It's a good thing, too," said Paul, soberly. "If there is to be a war, as Mr. Van Verde says, we may need all the guns they can turn out."
"But we shall not go to war, Paul! Belgium is neutral. All the powers joined in declaring Belgium to be a neutral state. We have learned that in our history in school!"
"I know that, Arthur. But will the Germans respect our neutrality? If they don't, we shall have to defend ourselves against them. And the first attack will be here, at Liege."
"Then these forts that Uncle Henri showed us will really be useful? They are strong forts, Paul."
"I hope not. But just because there are forts there it is a sign that the government has feared an invasion, Arthur. I hope that if there is war we shall stay out of it. But Belgium has always been exposed to war when her great neighbors fought. Some of the greatest battles in the history of the world have been fought on our soil."
"I know! Waterloo was where Napoleon was beaten finally. We have seen that battlefield, Paul, you and I. Do you think there may be a battle there again? That would be exciting!"
"Waterloo was only one. Ramillies was fought in Belgium, too, and many other battles. Even Caesar fought here. Do you remember the place where he says that of all the tribes he conquered, the bravest were the Belgians?"
"Oh, that's so! I'd forgotten that! But, Paul, you said there might be something for us to do. What did you mean?"
"I'm not sure yet, Arthur, and I'd rather not say anything more until I am. But I want you to slip out with me to-night, after dinner. We'll find out then, for certain. And I don't want to tell Uncle Henri or anyone else, and afterward find I was wrong. We'd be laughed at then, you see."
"Then you have found something! Oh, tell me, Paul! I won't repeat it to a soul!"
"You'll know all in good time. Do you remember that man who tried the other day to get work as a gardener?"
"Yes, I do. Uncle Henri didn't have any work for him, but he sent him to the factory in Seraing, and told him they would give him a job."
"That's the one. You know he said he was hungry, and that he hadn't been able to get any work for a long time, so he didn't have any money. Uncle Henri told the cook to give him a dinner."
"Yes, and I was sorry he didn't get a place. He looked as if he would have been all right."
"Well, Arthur, I saw him again, last night! He was in Esneux, and he seemed to have plenty of money, though he hadn't gone to Seraing to get work. He was in Madame Bibet's wine shop, and he was treating everyone. Do you know what he paid with?"
"A German gold piece! That's how I know about it, because Madame Bibet had never seen such a coin before, and she was afraid it wasn't good. So she came out, and when she saw me she asked me, and I told her it was good, of course."
"Well, that's nothing, Paul. We often see German money here in Liege. Isn't it like that in all places that are near a border? I suppose that on the other side there is a lot of French money. Why, there is, even in Brussels."
"It may mean nothing at all, Arthur. I hope it doesn't. But I think it's funny that that man should be staying around so. He must have told Uncle Henri a lie when he said he didn't have money. I'd like to know what he's up to. I'd like to be sure that he's not a German spy."
"Oh, I never thought of that! A spy! Why should the Germans have spies around here, though, Paul?"
"It's just the place where they would have them, Arthur. The forts! They want to find out all they can about them. Boncelles is near us; so is the fort of Embourg. They want to know if our people are ready. If they come through Belgium, you know, they will want to get through as quickly as they can, to attack the French."
"But I don't see why they should want to come through Belgium at all, Paul. Why can't they leave us alone? They can attack the French along their own border, I should think."
"They can. But the French know that, and they have their strongest fortresses all along there, from Belfort to Verdun. It would take the Germans weeks, months perhaps, to get past these fortifications along the border, and that would give the French time to bring up all their soldiers. And the Germans have to beat the French quickly this time, or else not at all. They aren't fighting France alone, but Russia as well, and their plan must be to beat France first and then turn on Russia. They think that here in Belgium it will be easy for them to get around these forts. If they once get behind them, the French will have to retreat. And the Germans think that the quickest way to bring that is for them to go through our country and so attack Paris."
"They ought to be stopped!" said Arthur, hotly. "England and France would help us, wouldn't they?"
"France certainly would, because she would have to. And I believe the English would help, too. I hope so. Because even if the Germans promised to go away as soon as they'd beaten France, I don't believe they would. They'd make Belgium a part of Germany."
"They can't do that! They shan't! Why, we're not German! We're a free country!"
"Yes, but we may have to fight to remain free, Arthur. Free countries have had to do that before. If there is war, I think we shall see the Germans here within a day of its declaration. We had better hope for peace. But we must be prepared for war—and we must not deceive ourselves. A treaty guarantees our neutrality, but I think the time is coming when treaties will be forgotten."
"We shall have to teach these Germans to remember them, then," said Arthur, valiantly. "We may be weak, but we are brave, we Belgians. I believe we can give them something to think about."
Paul smiled a little sadly. He understood the true facts, the real possibilities, better than his friend.
"If it comes to fighting, we will do our part," he said, "but we should be helpless against Germany alone, Arthur. The only thing we could do would be to try to hold them back long enough for the French and the English to come to our aid. Either that, or we would have to let them pass through without resisting them."
"So that they could fall on France? But that would be treachery!" said Arthur, indignantly. "I have heard of that treaty of neutrality. We are safeguarded from attack, but we are forbidden to allow the troops of a country that is at war to pass through our territory. If it was the French who talked of invading us to reach Germany, I should say that we must fight them."
"Yes, you're right, Arthur," said Paul. "I think we should make any sacrifice to keep faith. But be sure that it will be a terrible sacrifice, if we must make it."
"Look there!" whispered Arthur, suddenly. "Someone started up just now from behind the bushes. A man—and he is running away from us!"
"After him!" cried Paul. "It looks—yes, it is the man I spoke of!"
They ran as hard as they could, shouting as they went, in the hope that someone might intercept the fugitive. But he had too good a start, and in a few moments he had distanced them by climbing a rail fence and disappearing into a thicket that came down to the edge of a field.
"No use!" said Paul, disgustedly. "He got away from us. But I don't suppose it would have done us any good to catch him. We couldn't have done anything—hello!"
He ended with an exclamation of surprise, and stooped over. They were at the foot of the fence the flying figure had climbed a moment before.
"What is it, Paul?" asked Arthur, eagerly.
"This!" said Paul. He held up a small black pocket-book, and from it he took a package of papers, wrapped in oil silk. "I struck against it with my foot! I wonder if that man who was running could have dropped it?"
It was almost dark by this time; too dark, at any rate, for them to be able to see the papers. But then Arthur remembered the pocket flashlight he carried and produced it, switching on the light.
"Let's have a look," he said.
They unwrapped the oil silk covering. And, at the first sight of what was within it, they gasped. They were holding in their hands a complete sketch of the fort of Boncelles, the most important of the works defending Liege to the southwest. Before they could examine it more fully there was a shout from the fence. The spy had missed his papers. They saw him for a moment. But now it was their turn to run.
THE MARKED PLANS
The fierce shouting of the man as he called on them to stop did not terrify either of the scouts, but it did confirm Paul's guess. There could no longer be any doubt that his presence meant mischief; that he was indeed a spy. Or else why should he have such papers? Why, again, should their loss so greatly disturb him?
There was not a chance for him to catch them. Well as he might know the country, they knew it better. They had played in these fields and woods since they had been able to walk at all. Every hollow, every ridge, every tree, almost, was familiar to them. Circling about, they soon reached the garden of their summer home, a fine, spacious house, with ample grounds surrounding it, that belonged to their Uncle Henri de Frenard, whose wealth was derived from his considerable holdings of coal land around Liege.
"Did you get a good look at him, Paul?" gasped Arthur, when at last they felt that it was safe for them to stop running. "I couldn't really make sure of him—"
"I think I'll know him again, Arthur. What I'm wondering is if he'll know us."
"I don't see what difference that makes, except that if he saw us before we saw him, it would give him a chance to escape—"
"We're more likely to be trying to escape from him than he from us, I'm afraid, Arthur, for a little while. If the Germans are spying as openly as all that, it must mean that they're getting ready to come into Belgium. They wouldn't take such chances unless they felt that it didn't make any difference now."
"Don't you think we could find him, Paul? If we could, we could have him arrested, I think."
"Don't say a word—yet," cautioned Paul. "Uncle Henri would only laugh at us. Let's wait until we can look at his papers, and see what there really is there besides the sketch of Fort Boncelles. If that's all there was in the papers, I don't see why he was so awfully anxious to get them back. Perhaps we've done even better than we know, Arthur."
"All right, I won't say anything," said Arthur. "But you are going to do something about it, aren't you, Paul?"
Paul laughed. He knew that Arthur was a little disappointed at the idea of having to keep what they had done secret, especially as he had probably rehearsed already the astonishment with which all those at the dinner table would greet the startling announcement of the discovery of the spy.
"I certainly hope we're going to do something about it, Arthur," he said. "We'll slip away from the table as soon as we can, and then when we're alone, we'll see exactly what it is we've got."
But at the table there was a great surprise for them. Their uncle (though they both called him uncle the relationship was not really so close) was not in his accustomed seat, and Madame de Frenard's eyes were suspiciously red. She had been crying.
"Uncle Henri may not be back for two or three days," she said, gravely. "He is a member of parliament, as you know, and he has been called to Brussels on account—on account of what we all hope may not come."
"War?" asked Arthur, in a hushed voice.
"It looks terribly as if war must come," she said. "And if it does, I am afraid our poor Belgium must suffer as well as the lands that are really concerned. We have done nothing; we want nothing except to be left alone. If they will only do that! But I am afraid we must not hope for that. Your uncle expects to join the army at once if there is an invasion."
"Then we'll stay here and look after you," proposed Arthur, promptly. "Won't we, Paul?"
"For as long as we are needed," Paul said, gravely.
It was easy enough for them to cut their dinner short that night. The house was uneasy, stirring with a strange foreboding of what was to come. Servants, everyone, indeed, seemed to look always toward the east. There were the Germans. Often during the summer they drove to Aix-la-Chapelle, the first city over the German border—Aachen, as the Germans called it. Paul remembered, with a smile, as he thought of the German city, how indignant he had been when he had first discovered that the Germans invariably spoke of Liege as Luttich, and how he had been appeased when he was told that he and most people outside of Germany refused to adopt the German name for Aix-la-Chapelle.
No one in the house, least of all their aunt, had time that night to think of the two boys. As a matter of fact, it was that now famous Saturday upon which Germany finally cast the die by declaring war upon Russia in the interest of her Austrian ally, whose quarrel with Servia she thus made her own. France, as the ally of Russia, was bound to fight Germany. Belgium lay between the two huge powers on either side of her, well-nigh certain to be caught in the disaster that war meant. But the news that war had actually been declared had not yet come. Madame de Frenard was waiting with the utmost anxiety for a telephone message from her husband in Brussels, who had promised to send her word as soon as there were any important developments.
And so Paul and Arthur slipped out to the garage, which was a favorite hiding place. Now it was especially safe, since Marcel, the chauffeur, had gone to Brussels with their uncle, and there was no likelihood of any unwelcome interruptions. They repaired, therefore, to the room above the one in which their uncle's automobile was kept, and spread out the papers they had captured from the German spy. First there was the sketch they had already seen of the Boncelles fort; then, equally detailed, they found sketches and maps of the other forts—Flemalle, Embourg, Chaudfontaine, Fleron, Evegnee, Pontisse, Liers, Lanlin, Longin and Hollogne—the great chain of detached forts that made Liege, in the opinion of military engineers, one of the strongest fortified towns in Europe.
These forts were not immediately in the town; they were about five miles, on an average, from the old citadel, long since disused as a place for actual fighting. The connections between the various forts, intended, as both boys knew, for the greater facility of their defence by means of troops fighting more or less independently, were carefully traced on another map, in which the contour of the land and the natural shelter were shown. And on this map, at certain spots, there were strange marks—well beyond the perimeter of the forts themselves, that is, outside the line that might be drawn around Liege and passing through each of the forts.
"Look at those crosses," said Paul. "What do you suppose they mean, Arthur?"
"I don't know," said Arthur, frowning. "But we can find out, you know."
"You mean by going to one or two of these places? They're some distance off."
"But we ought to find out—don't you think so?"
"Yes, you're right, of course. We can find them easily enough."
"Yes. All we've got to do is to take the map along with us. Then when we get near we can make sure by looking at it."
"We could do that, but I think we won't, Arthur. Suppose we ran into the man it belongs to again? We might not get away from him another time, and I think it would be just as well to leave these maps here. We can hide them, and then write a note and leave it where it will be found in the morning, telling them where we hid the maps."
"What's the use of hiding them if we tell some one where they are, Paul?"
"Can't you see? Suppose something happens to us, so that we can't get back? We'd want the maps to be found and taken to the commander of the forts, wouldn't we?"
"Of course. I didn't think of that, that's all. But if we come back we can get the note back before anyone sees it. Is that what you mean, Paul?"
"Yes. Now study that map very carefully. I think we can remember where the cross marks are, all right."
"I can remember this one," said Arthur. "It's exactly on the spot where that new house was built last summer, near the Ourthe. Don't you remember? We stopped and got some milk there, and we wondered how a farmer could build such a solid looking house when he didn't seem to have much money or much of anything else. A stupid fellow, he was. He scarcely knew enough to give us the milk we wanted."
"Yes, I remember now," said Paul, looking at the map again. He was thinking hard, trying to fathom the connection between what they both remembered of that house and the strange, significant cross on the map. There was a connection; the cross did have some significance. Of so much he was sure. But for the life of him that was all he could guess. It was a perplexing problem.
"Come on," he said, at last, impatiently. "I may be very stupid, but I don't understand. The only way we'll find out will be by going there."
"All right," agreed Arthur, grinning. "I'm wiser than you for once, Paul. I haven't even tried to find out. I know I can't guess, so I'm not wasting time trying to. I think we'll be lucky if we find out when we do get there."
"So do I, come to think of it," said Paul. Somehow he felt better; before he had been inclined to blame himself for being stupid. "After all, you know, Arthur, even if they didn't expect anyone like us to get hold of these maps and sketches, that doesn't mean that they would make everything on them so plain that you could guess it at first sight. That sort of mark is awfully easy to understand when you have the key, but it's as bad as a cipher if you haven't."
It was quite dark, of course, when they finally set out. Though it was Saturday night few people were about, and the locality was a lonely one. Then, too, all of those who could had gone into the town. It was there that news of what was going on in the great world outside would first be had; it was there that the country people could count upon getting the first hint of the intelligence that was to have so frightful a meaning for them.
The course the two scouts took carried them along the bank of the placid Ourthe, flowing peacefully, calmly along toward its confluence with the more important stream of the Meuse at Liege. Behind them one strange thing proved that all was not quite normal. From Fort Boncelles a searchlight began to play. They had seen that light before, but only when it was being tested or when there were manoeuvres in progress. Now it seemed to have a sinister meaning.
"I think that means that there is war," said Paul. "They are keeping the searchlight going so that they may be sure to escape a surprise."
"I think it's the Germans who will get the surprise," said Arthur, confidently.
But most of the time they walked on in silence. Both were thinking a good deal; thinking of what war might mean, and wondering what part they themselves might play if it came. Of one thing they were sure. All Belgium would rise to repel the invader, no matter what the pretext for the invasion might be.
"Here we are," said Arthur, suddenly. "That's the house, Paul."
"It looks quite dark, Arthur. But let's go along toward it. Not by the road—we'll cut through this field here."
This they proceeded to do. But suddenly, as they neared the house, the ground seemed to give way beneath Paul. He suppressed a cry, and the next moment he was vigorously turning back the treacherous ground with his foot. Arthur turned on his light. And there, beneath the soft loam, they saw a plate of shining steel.
THE HOUSE OF MYSTERY
Utterly bewildered, they stared down at the steel.
"Put out your light!" said Paul, suddenly. His voice was tense. "Keep still a moment! See if you can hear anyone moving around near us."
They were absolutely still for a full minute, but there were only the familiar sounds of the night.
"All right," said Paul. "Now you watch and listen while I dig down here and see what this is about."
"Why can't I dig, too?"
"Because it's better for you to watch. Besides, I want to dig so that I can put the earth back in a hurry, and fix this place so that it won't look as if it had been disturbed."
Then he fell to, working silently and quickly, like a mole, digging with his hands until his nails were torn and his fingers were raw and bleeding. But Paul did not mind that. He had already made a guess, and a shrewd one, as to the meaning of this strange discovery that they had made. It was not long before he found that the steel plate extended for only a short distance. Around this, and spreading beneath it, was a bed of cement. As soon as he had satisfied himself of that, using Arthur's flashlight, Paul stopped digging, and began carefully to replace the earth. Then, calling on Arthur to help him, he trampled down the earth.
"There!" he said. "I don't believe anyone would know we had been here, unless they were suspicious already."
"But what is it?" asked Arthur. "Paul, tell me!"
"I'm going to, Arthur. Don't worry. But come away from here. We don't want to be caught around here—and, besides, there's still a good deal for us to do."
Swiftly they made their way to the road, away from the cottage and the field where they had made their discovery.
"Now!" said Arthur, after a little distance had been covered, stopping short. "I won't go a step further until you tell me what that place is meant for!"
"It's meant for a big gun—that's what it's meant for!" said Paul, vehemently. "Can't you see? A siege gun can't be fired from a carriage, or even from ordinary ground. The recoil would bury it in the earth if they tried that. There's got to be a regular emplacement for it—a firm base of concrete and steel, so that it will withstand the shock of firing!"
"You mean they'd mount a gun here?"
"I mean just that! It takes days, almost weeks, to do that. They have to pour the concrete and let it stand until it's set. But here they've got everything ready! They can bring up their guns, place them, and begin firing, all in less than twenty-four hours! They must have been preparing for this for months—perhaps for years!"
"The cowards! We've never done anything to them!"
"No, they're not cowards," said Paul, thoughtfully. "I suppose they think they're right, and that as long as that is so, they are justified in using any means at all to win. But I think we can put a spoke in their wheel, just the same."
"I don't see how, Paul. There aren't enough soldiers in Liege to watch every spot where there's a cross marked on these maps."
"No, but that's not the only way, Arthur."
"It's the only way to stop them from bringing up their siege gun, isn't it? I know what the plan is in case of an attack. It is for the forts to hold off the Germans until there's time for the French army to come up and relieve them. And they're not supposed to be able to stand the fire of heavy guns. The plan was made for use against an army that wouldn't have time to bring up its siege artillery."
"Yes, that's true enough. But, just the same, I think we can help. I'm so sure of it that I'm going to take these plans into Liege to-night and try to get them to General Leman."
"I'm with you, Paul! Are we to go now?"
"Not quite yet. I'm interested in this house, too. I want to find out whatever we can about it before we go in. Don't you see what our finding that gun mounting means, Arthur? Finding it just where we did—in a field that belongs to that house?"
"You mean there may be spies there now?"
"I don't say that they're there now. But I think they have been there. And I know I'm going to find out all we can."
"All right. I think we ought to do that, too. Let's get along! It'll be awfully late when we get into Liege, I'm afraid."
The house that had suddenly assumed such an air of mystery, so great an importance, was dark as they approached. Not a light showed from its windows. But they took no chances, none the less. They got very close to it without detection; they were able to go up to the windows. And, listening there, they heard not a sound inside to indicate that anyone was within.
"I'm going in," said Paul, suddenly. "Let me have your light, Arthur."
"Can't I come in, too?"
"One of us must stay outside and keep watch," said Paul. "It's the hardest part of the job, Arthur. If you stay outside, watch carefully, especially near the door. Hide, so that you won't be seen, but in a place where you can see anyone who comes. And if anyone is coming, call like a quail. I'll be listening, and I'll slip out of this back window and get back to you. But if they catch me, go back and get the plans, and then hurry into Liege. Tell General Leman, if you can get to him, or a staff officer, if you can't, everything that has happened since we found these papers, whether it seems important to you or not. Something that may not seem to mean anything at all may really be very important."
"But it seems to me you're taking all the risk," protested Arthur. "That isn't fair."
"It's just as risky outside as in," said Paul. "Here goes! Off with you, now, and find a good place to hide! We haven't any time to lose, I can tell you. If there's no one inside now, they won't leave a place like this deserted very long, I'm sure."
Arthur went off reluctantly, but, as usual, he obeyed Paul to the letter. He found a clump of bushes from which, without being seen himself, he could watch the door of the house, and there he crouched down to wait. It was dull work, and, after he had once settled himself, he was afraid to move lest unseen eyes be watching somewhere in the neighborhood.
Meanwhile Paul was busy getting into the house. It was easier than he had thought it likely to be. The catch on the window was simplicity itself and he forced it with his penknife without any difficulty at all.
"I feel like a burglar," he thought to himself, as he climbed in. "But I don't care. Even if there's nothing wrong in here, I've got the right, in a time like this, to make sure. Every Belgian has to think of his country first now."
And he was pretty sure that there was a decided connection between this cottage, so strangely stout in its construction, and the unquestionably threatening and sinister discovery he and Arthur had made in the field only a stone's throw away.
Inside, he found himself in a large room that took up all save a very small part of the ground floor of the cottage. To the left there was a wall, and in it an open door—he could see that much through the very faint light that filtered through the windows. Seemingly, he was in luck. There was absolutely nothing to make him doubt that he was alone in the house. Everything was still. There was not even the ticking of a clock, the one sound he might reasonably have expected to hear even in a temporarily deserted house. But he waited for quite a minute, to make sure that no one was about. He felt certain that, had anyone been there, he would have heard breathing, no matter how anxious the other occupant of the house might be to conceal his presence.
Then he switched on the light, shielding it with his hand, so that no reflection of its faint glow should betray him, by means of the windows, to anyone approaching from outside.
About the big room in which he found himself there was nothing to excite suspicion at first sight. The room seemed ordinary enough; the usual living-room of a peasant. One thing was curious; he could see a trap door, evidently leading to a cellar below. But that he reserved for later inspection, preferring at first to look upstairs. He reached the second floor by the stairs; there, too, there seemed at first nothing out of the ordinary. But when he threw aside all scruples and looked everywhere, he found something that confirmed some at least of his suspicions—a bundle of letters, all written in German script. He did not stop to read the letters, but on the chance that they might contain something that would prove valuable or important, he slipped them into his pocket.
As yet, however, he had made no real discovery. The letters might prove a great deal; for the moment he was obliged to leave them unread, since his time might prove to be very short. Down he went, light out, pausing in the big living-room to listen for some sound from the watcher outside. There was none.
Now he lifted the trap door, and found, as he had been sure he would, a ladder leading to the cellar below. He hesitated for a moment now. There seemed to be no safe way of propping up the trap door. To descend, closing it after him, meant that he would be shut into the cellar, where he could not hear the warning signal from Arthur, should it be sounded. But his hesitation lasted only a minute.
"It's a chance, but I've got to take it," he said to himself. "After all, I haven't really found anything anywhere else. The cellar's the last place to look—and the most likely, too."
One thing was a relief; when he was safely down he could turn on his light, unafraid. From the cellar, without a window, with no means of egress save that by which he had entered it, there was no danger that a stray beam of light would betray his presence to the lawful dwellers in this cottage, should they chance to return while he was there. And what he saw in the light when he switched it on was ample reward for his daring in braving the dangers of the place.
The place was an arsenal! Arranged against one wall were the parts of three powerful guns, all ready to be assembled. And all about, neatly stacked, were shells. He looked at them, pointing his light at them, to make sure. They bore the stamp of the Krupp works at Essen in Germany, the world-famous works whence the greater part of German munitions of war come.
Here was a discovery indeed! The Germans were ready to attack Liege. Of that there could no longer be even the shadow of a doubt. Not only had they prepared a place for the reception of guns; they had even smuggled the guns themselves over the border. It was, as he could see, not a matter of really great difficulty. The border was not far distant; the guards, on the Belgian side at least, had had no great reason in the past year or so to be especially vigilant. But Paul was horrified by this proof of the determination of the great power to the east and north not to hesitate to invade Belgium, should that course be necessary to enable it to reach its most formidable antagonist, France.
There was something horrible and cold-blooded about such minute preparation. He was thrilled by his discovery. No less was he thrilled by the feeling that it was within his power now really to serve the land he loved. He was not old enough to be a soldier, but he felt that if he could get back to Liege with the information that he and Arthur had garnered that night they might serve Belgium as well as soldiers could do.
Light in hand, he made his way back to the ladder. Then he switched off the light and started to climb the ladder. And as he did so, he stopped, appalled. Above there was the sound of a closing door; then heavy footsteps sounded on the trap door over his head.
From his hiding place outside the cottage, Arthur had been watching faithfully while Paul explored the inside. He heard the steps that heralded the approach of a man, and whistled at once, imitating the cry of a quail, since he thought it better to take the chance of giving a false alarm than of letting his chum be trapped inside. But it was already too late, as it turned out. Paul had gone down into the cellar and let the door fall behind him. So Arthur's warning fell on deaf ears.
The steps came nearer, and Arthur, wondering why Paul did not appear, and only half guessing the reason, whistled louder. It was hard for him to refrain from dashing at once to the rescue. But after a moment's thought he realized that this would do Paul no good, and that it was all important for him to remain free, so that, if Paul was made a prisoner, he could carry the news to Liege and so serve not only Belgium, but Paul, since that would be Paul's only chance of rescue. At least so it seemed then.
Now the man whose approach had alarmed Arthur came in sight. He was trudging along, looking like a veritable peasant. But, now, in the light of the suspicions that had been aroused that day, Arthur could see things about this man that distinguished him from the Flemish dwellers in the neighborhood.
"He is a German!" he thought. "What shall I do?"
For the moment he could do literally nothing. He could only lie still and watch the man go up to the front door of the cottage and unlock it. But then, after the German had gone in, Arthur saw that there was still a light—a light that became visible as soon as the pretended peasant lighted his lamp. Plainly the door had not been quite closed; the little streak of light showed that.
Arthur waited breathlessly for some sign that Paul's presence had been discovered. But none came. He was close enough to the door to hear the man in the cottage stamping about, and he could guess, of course, that Paul was concealed in some fashion. He had even the idea of the cellar but of course he could not be sure that Paul was not above—safe as long as it did not enter the German's head to climb the stairs. At any rate, Arthur was grateful for a respite, no matter how brief it might prove to be. Almost anything was better than the actual knowledge that his chum had been caught.
"While there's life, there's hope!" he said to himself, grimly.
But it was a good deal easier for him to determine that he would make some sort of effort to release his chum than it was for him to discover a practical way of doing so. He had the feeling that at any cost to Paul he must secure his own freedom; that was the thing that Paul had impressed most vividly on his mind. At last he determined to risk a trip to the window by which Paul had made his entrance. He wanted to look inside; to see, at least, what was going on. Then some means of helping Paul might suggest itself.
Of course Arthur had seen nothing of the inside of the room, since it had been dark when Paul had climbed in. Now the first thing he saw after the man of the house himself, was the trap door that led to the cellar. He understood at once that Paul must be down there.
"That's why he didn't hear me, of course!" he said to himself. "Now to get him out!"
Suddenly, just as he was about to leave the window, Arthur was startled into a stiff and rigid halt by the sound of a heavy knock on the door of the cottage. The German inside, busy just then in cutting up a huge sausage that was evidently to be his dinner, seemed to be almost as startled as Arthur himself. He jumped up, upsetting his chair, and flung the door open. At once his whole manner changed. He started back, then stiffened himself and stood at attention. A young man, dressed in a uniform of a greenish-gray cloth that Arthur had never seen before, and covered now with dust, walked in. Arthur could scarcely believe his eyes. Everything about the newcomer pointed to the fact that he was a German officer, for if the color of the uniform was unfamiliar, its cut was not. But a German officer in uniform here!
"Zu befehl, Herr Hauptmann!" said the man of the cottage.
"It's come, Froebel," said the captain. He stretched his arms, as if glad of the chance. "I've had a fine trip from Aachen! The worst roads I ever tried to push a motorcycle over! But I'm here—so that's even! There are more coming. General von Emmich's army is on the march already. We have even now taken possession of Luxembourg. To-night the Belgian government finally declined to give us the right to move our troops through their little toy country! So we must fight them, too."
"I'm not sorry," said Froebel. Some of the stiffness had gone out of his manner. "I'll be glad to get a chance to do some fighting instead of this eternal spying! And who knows? If I am lucky, I may get a little swifter promotion than I had hoped for."
"Oh, I forgot," said the other. "Congratulations, Froebel! You have your captaincy, and a staff detail. That's unofficial, of course. But I've seen the order."
"Good," said Froebel, impassively. "But if you stay with the line, Poertner, you'll be a colonel before I'm a major. Enough—to business! I have bad news."
"Bad news? What sort?"
"It's that clumsy fool Ridder! He has been mapping the whole field of operation here, as you know—details of the forts, and the location of all the concealed gun mountings and platforms we have put in in case the Belgians should be foolish enough to try to stop us by force."
"Yes, yes! What of it?"
"Eh? He had those papers—those simply invaluable papers! And he was alarmed by two Belgian boys in Boy Scout uniform—thought they were soldiers coming to arrest him! He took to his heels and naturally, being boys, they followed! He dropped his papers going over a fence! When he missed them he went back. But he found no trace of them. He is sure that the two boys got them."
"Donnerwetter! That's a bad business, Froebel! I fear for our friend Ridder! The intelligence department will not be altogether pleased by this. But what if the boys have them? Is there a chance, do you think, that they will understand them?"
"Who knows? Some devil might lead them to take them to a Belgian officer! However—even so, there is this much of good about it. There is no time for them to do anything. They can't get at our gun platforms. If they had a week! But you say General von Emmich is already on the march? That means that war has been declared?"
"No, only that it has begun," said Poertner, with a smile. "It is no longer the fashion to declare war formally—-unless the enemy is like Russia with us—so far away that we can't strike first. No. The modern way is to begin fighting and let the other side declare war. So they seem to take the aggressive."
"I see," said Froebel. "Well, at any rate, it is the time I am thinking of. They are fairly well prepared here at Liege. The forts are in order; they have good men, and plenty of ammunition for their guns. But against our Krupp pieces—"
He laughed to express the chance that the stout forts of Liege were to have against the German artillery. And outside Arthur, listening, ground his teeth. He was glad that he had come; already he had learned facts likely to prove of the first importance. No matter how well the garrison of Liege was prepared for any emergency, it would be vastly helpful to know when the blow might be expected to fall. It is one thing to be prepared for a trouble that may come some day; it is quite another to know that it is imminent, and to make plans accordingly.
In Arthur's mind an idea now began to take root. The voices of the two Germans inside died away, and he seized the opportunity to make his way quietly to the front of the cottage. There, lying on its side, was the motorcycle of which the new arrival had spoken. Arthur had ridden motorcycles himself, and now he went up to this one and examined it carefully. He found that while it was different from the ones he had ridden, the points of difference were really trifling and that he could understand it easily enough.
Then he went back for another peep in the window. The two German officers were busily engaged now in eating, and were washing down the sausage, amid a good deal of laughter at the rough fare, with two bottles of wine.
"When we have finished," said Poertner, "we will have a look at your little arsenal below."
"It's a real arsenal," said Froebel, proudly. "That was rather well managed, I think. We have managed to bring in the guns, one part at a time and the ammunition piecemeal, in the same way. These stupid Belgians never even suspected. It is only just lately that they have even begun to dream that there might be danger for them if it came to war. Before they woke up everything was here!"
"Well, your guns will be at work before many hours if all goes well," said Poertner. "This sausage of yours is not so bad, after all! Food is food when you are hungry! Ah, it will be some time, at best, before we can eat again in Berlin, my friend!"
"Yes. There will be garrison work, even after we have taken Paris. Still, even so, it should not be so long. Three weeks perhaps—that should be enough to beat the French this time. We are better prepared than we were in 1870."
"So are they, I hear. Well, they couldn't be worse off than they were then! No matter, though—we shall outnumber them from the start. Will the English fight, do you think?"
"Pah—the English! No! They will be too busy with their troubles at home. They will have a rebellion on their hands in Ulster. No, England will have too many troubles of her own at home, to be able to cross the sea to look for more."
Arthur had heard all he needed. Now he drew back from the window, picking up several good-sized stones as he did so. And when he was some distance away, but still able to see the two Germans, he stopped and waited.
He waited until the two officers had finished their meal and had risen. Even then he waited until they moved, together, to the trap door. Then, raising his arm, he let fly the first of his stones. It crashed through the window, shattering the glass. At once he threw another, and then still another. He had counted, and not in vain, on the instinct that would move the two Germans. With a single motion they leaped to the door. As they did so, even as they rushed out, he ran diagonally, so as to get away from them, toward the front of the house. As they stormed around in the direction from which he had thrown the stones, and so out of sight of the front of the house, he stopped. They passed within half a dozen feet of him, but, naturally, they had not expected him to come right toward them, and they passed him unnoticed.
Then, as soon as they were out of sight, he made for the cottage. He meant to call Paul. But Paul was at the door as he reached it for he had understood, from what he had been able to hear, something of what had happened.
"Come on! Here's a motorcycle we can take!" cried Arthur, eagerly.
He lifted the machine. In a moment he had started the motor, and Paul leaped up behind him as he got it going.
"Hurry! Here they come!" shouted Paul.
The put-put of the motor had aroused the Germans to what was going on. Now they stormed back around the cottage. They were just in time to see the motorcycle being ridden madly off; in time, too, to fire a couple of shots apiece from their pistols. But their aim was bad: the boys heard the bullets whistling over their heads. In less than a minute they were safe!
They had no thought of any further danger, as they sped along the road on the stolen—or, rather, the captured motorcycle. The road was smooth and good. There was nothing to detain them. Behind them the furious shouts of the Germans, even the firing, died away, until the only sound they could hear was the noise of the engine. The machine was a good one, evidently built for the hard work of an army in the field.
Before them now was the searchlight from Fort Boncelles, picking up one patch of darkness after another, flooding it suddenly with light, and then passing on to the next, swinging about endlessly in a great arc, so that the slightest movement that was out of the ordinary was sure to be seen. From time to time the great beam of light struck the road, before them or behind them. Then they were in the midst of it, riding in a sea of light. The searchlight winked off, came back to them, and went with them for nearly half a mile.
"They've spotted us, Arthur!" said Paul, with a laugh. "Well, I hope they're not frightened!"
"They must want to make sure of what we're doing, I suppose, Paul! Look at the other lights! It's a great sight when they all swing up together, isn't it?"
From the forts that ringed the ancient city the darting searchlights swept the heavens. At times all of them met, for a moment, making a blinding reflection against the sky. They would stay thus; then, one after another, the lights would go swooping down, keeping their vigil. Behind each were watchful eyes, ready to report immediately the first, the slightest sign of what might come now at any moment.
"Those searchlights make the idea of war seem more real than anything else has, Paul," said Arthur.
Paul gave a short laugh.
"If you'd seen those shells and the parts of the guns, all ready to be put together in that cellar, you wouldn't say that!" he exclaimed. "And how about the German officer—in uniform, on the soil of a friendly country? That's almost an act of war itself, Arthur! He has no business here!"
"I don't see what difference it makes, Paul. If they're coming, there'll be so many more that one more or less won't count."
"Well, they're coming! I'm more sure of that than ever since we found that house. I say, Arthur, I think you'd better stay right out here in the road with the motorcycle, while I run in and get the plans. If we both went, we might be caught—and I don't want to have to explain anything until we've told what we know to the staff officers."
"All right, Paul. But don't be long."
"I won't! Here we are! Now you wait—and I'll get back just as soon as I can."
It was an easy matter, as it turned out, for Paul to slip into the grounds and retrieve the plans. But it took time, and time, had he only known it, was the one thing he could not afford to waste just then. Somehow neither he nor Arthur had given a further thought to the two Germans they had so cleverly eluded in the mysterious cottage. They had felt that these two enemies, at least, might be counted out for that night.
And so Paul, returning to the spot where he had left Arthur, took no particular pains to conceal himself. He called out as he vaulted the low wall between the grounds of his uncle's place and the road.
"It was easy!" he cried. "No one was about. They're probably so excited that they haven't even missed us yet! Start your engine! We've got to hurry now."
Arthur tried to obey. But there was some slight hitch in the starting of the engine. Then the spark worked, and the motor began to throb. The cycle started; Paul leaped up to his place behind. And then, behind them, came a sudden roar, the sound of another motorcycle, and a flash of light swept over them.
"Stop!" cried a voice—a voice they knew! It was one of the Germans!
"Go on! Hurry!" cried Paul. "Perhaps we can get away from them—we're ahead, anyhow!"
The motorcycle leaped forward now, but from behind they could still hear the barking of the exhaust of the other machine, and the excited cries of the Germans. Luck was with them, however, for just at that most critical of moments something must have gone wrong with the pursuing machine. The noise of its motor ceased behind them. The shouting continued, but only one voice was raised. Plainly the other man was busy. While their luck held, Arthur pushed the machine at the best speed he could get out of it. And it was well that he did, since the trouble with the other motor was soon mended. It sprang into sputtering life again behind them. But now they had a good lead and were racing on toward the forts, toward the circle of wide swinging searchlights.
"How are we getting on, Paul?" asked Arthur. "Are we gaining?"
"I'm afraid—no, we're not. They're coming along awfully fast. That must be a much more powerful machine than this."
"I don't think it's that. I'm awfully afraid that our gasoline is running low! That German must have ridden a long way. Probably he expected to fill his tank back there! There's so much noise that I'm not sure, but I'm afraid one cylinder is missing. That's what is making us slower."
Over their heads now a bullet sang out sharply. There could be no doubt about it at all, now; the other motorcycle was rapidly making up lost ground. Then while they still raced on, and when the other machine was less than a hundred yards behind, the whole road was paved in light again, as the Boncelles searchlight swung around and down, and was focused full on the chase.
Still the other cycle gained, but there were no more shots. The reason for that was made plain in a few moments by a call to surrender.
"They're only boys!" one of the Germans had yelled to the other. "We can catch them. Don't let's hurt them."
And then, with the distance between the two machines being reduced every minute, they could hear one of the Germans shouting to them.
"Stop! Surrender!" he cried. "You can't escape—we're gaining all the time! If you stop now, you won't be hurt!"
Then the searchlight swung away, and in that same moment Paul had an inspiration. He remembered that in his pocket was a glass flask that had contained water. He took this out now, and broke it against the steel frame of the motorcycle. The fragments cut his fingers, but he ignored the cuts and the flow of blood. At the risk of hurting himself still more, he broke the fragments again in his hand. Then he began dropping the sharp pieces of glass. And in a minute he had his reward. From behind came two sharp explosions, and looking back, he saw the other motorcycle swerve and fall. The two riders went sprawling.
"Get all you can out of her, Arthur!" he shouted. "I spilled them. The glass punctured both their tires! That was luck! It won't stop them for long, but it's given us a little more time. I don't believe they'll put on new tires, even if they're carrying them. And if they don't, it will make them much slower. You can't go so fast on rims as you can on rubber tires!"
"That was fine! I never thought of doing that!" exclaimed Arthur. "I do believe it's going to save us, too. We can't be more than a mile and a half from Boncelles now."
"We'll get there—unless our gasoline gives out altogether before that, Arthur. And it may. The engine is certainly missing all the time, now. Oh, if it will only hold out!"
Their speed was greatly reduced now. And from behind the other motor started again.
"I admire those Germans!" said Paul. "A good many people wouldn't keep at it the way they're doing. It's no joke to ride on a motorcycle with both tires gone. They'll remember to-night for some time, I think! They'll be sore and shaken to pieces before they're done."
"They'll be better off than their machine," said Arthur, philosophically. "There won't be enough of that left to sell for junk if they ride it very far in that condition."
"Well, I don't believe they'll care about that, if they only catch us and get the plans—"
It was a sudden lurch of the machine, accompanied by a sputtering and a stopping of the motor, that interrupted him. The two scouts sprang off just in time, steadying the machine.
"Drop it! Into the fields here!" cried Paul. "We can't run any longer. We must try to elude them by tricking them. Come on!"
And so they were obliged to abandon the machine that had served them so well, leaving it lying in the road. They ran across a ditch that bordered the road, and into a field where they managed to conceal themselves in a hedge. They could still see the white road, and the collapsed motorcycle, but there was a chance, even if it was a slim one, that they themselves would not be seen.
Arthur wanted to run across the field, but Paul stopped him.
"That's what they'll expect us to do, isn't it?" he said. "And, besides, they could see us. There's no shelter for a long way. Here they may overlook us, just because we're so close—and it's the only chance we have, anyhow."
"Here they come!" cried Arthur, and crouched down, staring. For a moment it seemed that the pursuers might ride straight by, and Paul groaned suddenly.
"We ought to have dragged the machine in here with us!" he said. "Then I don't believe they'd have known we had stopped for quite a distance! I never thought of it, though, and now it's too late!"
It was too late, indeed, for the other machine stopped within a few feet of the overturned cycle.
"Ha! Now we'll have them! They can't have gone far!" said one of the Germans. "Accursed boys! They have given me a fright!"
"You haven't caught us yet!" whispered Paul, defiantly.
It was true, as the Germans soon discovered. For when they began looking for the two boys, they found that it was one thing to know that they must be somewhere about, and quite another to find out just where. They did not begin to look immediately in the field, but went along the road, toward Liege, evidently looking for footprints. Then when they did take to the field, they crossed the ditch fully a hundred yards further along the road.
"Come on!" said Paul, suddenly. "We got one of their machines—why shouldn't we take the other?"
Arthur saw the point as quickly as Paul. The carelessness of the two Germans had once more given them an opportunity. In a moment they dashed out, and, just as the Germans, with a yell of fury, saw them, they were off. Bullets flew about them, but they bent low over the machine, and they were going fast. Still two bullets found their mark, one puncturing the rear tire, the other perforating the gasoline tank. Once more they seemed to be caught. And then a searchlight swept down upon them again. But this time it was not the great light from Boncelles. It was the huge headlight of an automobile, and behind it they saw an armored car. Soldiers sprang from it, and in a moment the tables had been completely turned.
It was the two German officers who were made prisoners, while officers eagerly pressed about the scouts, asking question upon question.
"I must be taken to General Leman at once," said Paul, stoutly. "We have information of the utmost importance."
The Belgian officers laughed at him at first. But he was so earnest and persistent that he had his way at last.
The armored automobile, a queer looking affair with its machine guns and its steel parapets, pierced with holes through which rifles could be fired, made good time on the way back to Liege. It was really a fairly large motor lorry, converted very readily from a commercial use to its new purpose, and even the untrained eyes of the two scouts could see that it was likely to prove a formidable weapon in time of war.
"It would take a heavy gun to stop it. Rifle fire wouldn't bother us at all, you see," explained one of the Belgian officers. "Even the driver is thoroughly protected, because he could only be shot from above. I expect we'll have a lot of use for these."
"Are there many of them?"
"Not so many here. We don't need them. But at Brussels, where the field army is being mobilized now, there are a lot, and all through the open country where there will probably be a good deal of fighting."
"Will the Germans get so far?"
"They're sure to. We'll hold Liege with a small force as long as we can. But you must remember that they can send a million men against us! We're not supposed to beat them—no one expects us to do that. All we have to do is to hold them back as long as possible."
"But if there are so many of them, why can't they go right around us here?"
"They can, and they probably will. But even so, they'll have to account for the fortress of Liege and of Namur, as well, before they can get so very far."
"That's what I don't quite understand," said Arthur. "It seems to me that unless we have soldiers enough here to stop them they could go right on without bothering about Liege at all."
"You haven't studied strategy yet, I can see, my scout!" said the officer, with a laugh. "But I'll try to explain. You see, the Germans want to reach France—to conquer the French army and capture Paris, as they did in 1870. Then they went right through Alsace and Lorraine—beat the French around Metz, locked up the beaten army in that fortress, beat the only other army France had and captured it at Sedan, and then walked right through to Paris."
"Yes, I've read of that," said Arthur. "They didn't go through Belgium then, either."
"They didn't have to. But since then, you see, the French have learned their lesson. They've got the most powerful fortified line in the world, I suppose, all the way from Belfort to Verdun. It would take the Germans weeks to break through there, and by that time the whole French army would be mobilized behind that line of fortresses, and ready for them. If they were only fighting France they might try it. But now they've got to fight France and Russia too. And the only chance they have is to beat France even more quickly than they did in 1870. I happen to know that their plans require them to capture Paris within six weeks."
"Six weeks! Do you think they can do it?"
"No! Not if we do our part! And if they don't, they're likely to fail altogether. Because then Russia will have had time to mobilize, and more than half of the German army will have to help the Austrians to hold back the Russians from Vienna and Berlin. What they're counting on, you see, is smashing France, so that they can hold only a few corps back on this side, and throw all the rest of their army against Russia. Then they'd have a chance—more than a chance."
"But still I don't understand about Liege yet, and why it's so important," said Arthur.
"I'm coming to that. Now, to get at the French, they've got to go through Belgium. Well, they've got to supply their armies. They've got to send guns, and ammunition, and food from Germany. To do that they have to keep their line of communication open. Liege is right on one of their important lines of communication—the one that really starts at Aix-la-Chapelle, just across the border. Liege, if it wasn't reduced, or at least 'masked'—that means surrounded—would threaten these communications all the time. We could raid the railway, for instance. And if communications are interrupted, even for a day or so, it may mean the loss of a battle. They use a frightful lot of ammunition, for instance, in a modern battle. And if troops didn't get their supplies, they might be crushed utterly. That's why we'll hold them back."
Meanwhile the armored car was approaching Liege. And now they were near the old citadel, where, as both the scouts knew, General Leman had established his headquarters.
"I don't know whether the General will see you," said a captain, doubtfully. "But you can see one of his staff, anyway. Won't that do? He can decide whether what you have is important."
"Yes, and I think he'll take us to the General when he hears our story," said Paul. "But please hurry! There really isn't any time to be lost."
"I'll speak to Major du Chaillu," promised the captain. "I think he'll be able to arrange matters for you."
After a short delay, Major du Chaillu, a tall, harassed looking man, under whose eyes there were great, dark circles as if he had not slept for many weary hours, received them in his office. He was busy with a great map of Liege and the surrounding forts, on which he was arranging and rearranging many small flags.
"Now tell me briefly what you have discovered," he said, his manner quick and abrupt. It was plain that exhaustion had made him nervous.
"We have found out that the Germans have secretly prepared foundations for heavy guns all around Liege, sir," said Paul, quietly.
"What?" The major spun around and stared at them.
Paul repeated the statement, and produced the packet of papers they had gone through so much to retain.
"We didn't know what these marks meant," he explained. "So we decided to try to find out. And when we reached the place that was marked on this map we found not only a concrete and steel foundation for a big gun, but some smaller guns, all ready to be assembled and a store of ammunition."
"Tell me exactly what happened," said du Chaillu. But already he was comparing the sketch maps Paul had given him with his own big wall map, and was using his compasses and other instruments to determine ranges and distances. His eyes were shining, too. Busy as he was, however, he listened attentively.
"That was well done—well done, indeed!" he said, heartily. "You will hear more of this, I promise you, and from those whose praise will mean more than anything I can say. I shall take you at once to General Leman, although there are positive orders that he is not to be disturbed."
And so in a few minutes they found themselves in the presence of the heroic defender of Liege, the kindly faced, middle aged general who was to win a European, a world-wide reputation, indeed, in the course of the next few days. He heard du Chaillu's report; then he questioned both the scouts.
"You have served Belgium well to-day," he said, finally. "I shall report your conduct to His Majesty the King. Major, see to it that these boys reach their homes in safety, and if an escort is needed, or any other help, to enable them and their relatives to reach a place of safety, supply it. I shall see you again, I hope, my boys!"
"What we discovered will really prove useful, then?" asked Paul, when, with the major, they had left General Leman.
"Useful?" exclaimed the major. "Eh—but yes! Listen! What you have found is the location of all the heavy guns that will soon be thundering at our brave forts. Now we shall know just where those guns are. We can give the gunners the exact range, the exact spot at which to drop their shells. We shall put their heavy pieces out of business. Do you see? If you had not brought us this word we might have wasted many shots trying to do that. We should have sent up aeroplanes, we should have guessed by the smoke and the reports just where their guns were placed. But now we need not guess; we need risk nothing to learn the truth. We know it in advance."
"I was hoping there would be time to send men to destroy such places as we found," said Arthur.
"There might be time, but it is far better not to do so, you see," said the major. "As it is, we could destroy only the mountings. But if we wait until their guns are in position, we can smash the guns as well. It may well be that you have dealt a blow to Germany to-night more severe than the loss of a battle and fifty thousand men would be!"
"I hope so!" said Arthur, vindictively. "They have no business coming into peaceful Belgium, which asks only to be left alone!"
The major laughed a little bitterly.
"That is true," he said. "But our poor Belgium! They call her the cockpit of Europe, for whenever there is a general war, it is here in Belgium and in Flanders, both French and Belgian, that the fighting is at its fiercest, it seems. Marlborough fought Louis the Fourteenth here; it was near Brussels that Wellington crushed Napoleon. Blood and fire have been known in Belgium always. But perhaps after this war our neutrality will no longer be but a word. It may be that we shall be able to cease to think of danger then."
Outside there was a sudden bustle. Officers were running about, forgetful of their dignity. From the room in which they had left General Leman there was a constant double stream of officers and orderlies, one going in, the other coming out. Major du Chaillu looked startled.
"There must be something new!" he said. "Wait for me a minute—I will find out."
When he returned his face was very grave.
"A German army corps has occupied Luxembourg, against the formal protest of the Grand Duchess Marie Adelaide," he said. "And Belgian soil has felt the footprints of armed Germans at last! What we have known must come has come! The German invasion of Belgium has begun!"
"That means war," said Paul.
"Yes. I am afraid that we shall be fighting them within twenty-four hours. They will move swiftly. You had better hasten back to your home. If there are no men left there you may be badly needed."
"Very well, sir," said Paul. "I hope, though, that we may be of some service during the defence, after we have done what is necessary for my aunt."
"We shall see as to that later," said du Chaillu. "You have been of the greatest service to Belgium already. I shall order an escort for you."
"Please don't," said Paul. "We can get along all right. There can be no danger now. And I believe that every man in the garrison here will be needed."
"Well—" Du Chaillu hesitated. "Perhaps you are right. I myself cannot see of what use an armed escort can be to you. There is not the slightest real chance of any trouble between here and your home. Good luck to you—and may we meet again in a time when our anxieties and our fears for our country shall be at an end!"
"Good-bye, sir, and thank you!" said Paul and Arthur together.
In the town they got bicycles at a place where they were well known. Du Chaillu had given them the countersign, and they needed it near Boncelles, since they were challenged. They rode swiftly along, and as they neared the house, they saw a bright glare in the sky.
"That's from a fire, Paul!" said Arthur. "And it looks—"
"As if it came from Uncle Henri's house? It certainly does, Arthur! Oh, but I hope it isn't! That would be dreadful!"
They raced on now, and as they hastened, the sky before them grew ever brighter. They could no longer doubt that the glare they saw came from a conflagration, and it grew more and more certain every minute that it was their own summer home that was burning. There was no other house in that direction that would produce such a splendid reflection were it afire.
And soon, too, they came in sight of the house, and all hope that they were mistaken vanished. It was M. de Frenard's house, and a single glance showed that there was no hope of saving it. Flames were spurting from every window, and through the roof, even as they came into plain sight of the house, there burst a great pillar of fire. There seemed to be an explosion of some sort, for a great mass of sparks shot upward toward the heavens, raining down a moment later. In the light of the fire they could see the men-servants and some of the peasant neighbors busily engaged in dragging a few pieces of furniture and some pictures across the lawn—evidently what little there had been time to drag from the burning house. They could see also a group of women, where Madame de Frenard was calming the women-servants and trying to bring order out of chaos.
Dropping their bicycles, they ran quickly toward her, calling her name. As she heard them she turned, and they saw that her face was radiant.
"Oh, you are safe, then!" she cried. "Now nothing else matters, since no one is hurt! No one had seen you two since dinner—I was so frightened!"
"We're all right," said Paul, a little remorseful. "There was something we had to do, that I will tell you about later. But how did this fire start?"
"No one knows," said Madame de Frenard, her eyes darkening. "All that is certain is that we were awakened by a cry of fire. There was scarcely time for all of us to get out, and for the men to save a few of the best pictures. It seemed that oil must have been spread about, for the fire to burn so quickly! I do not believe it was an accident."
Paul and Arthur looked at one another. The same thought had come to both of them. It was Arthur who voiced it.
"The Germans?" he said, doubtfully.
"Just what I was wondering," said Paul. "But why should they?"
"Oh, I thought of them, too!" said their aunt. "And I, too, asked why. There is war but, even so, we have nothing to do with that. There is no reason for them to burn our home!"
"I think a great many things are going to happen for which it will be hard to find a reason," said Paul, thoughtfully.
"Well, the first thing to be done is for us to get a roof over our heads for to-night," said Madame de Frenard, with decision. "Your uncle is still in Brussels, unless he has already rejoined the army. I think we had better go into Liege and stay at a hotel."
"We can get into Liege," said Paul, rousing himself from his mood of reflection, "but I'm not sure about staying there. I think you had better take your maid and go to Brussels, Aunt Claire. The rest of the servants ought to go home, I think."
It was curious to see how their positions were reversed in this emergency. It was Paul who was in command now, not his aunt.
"Do you think so?" she said. "Why, Paul?"
"Because I am afraid that there will be hard fighting around Liege. I do not think the town will be defended for very long; it cannot be. It is supposed only to check the German advance, to gain a little time, so that the French and the English, if they come to our aid, may have time to mass their troops to the west and the north. I am sure Uncle Henri would say I was right, and I can arrange it for you to be sent to Brussels, I am sure."
Madame de Frenard was a little inclined to smile, in spite of the fire and all the woe it had brought with it.
"Why, Paul, how can you arrange anything?" she asked. "Have you, perhaps, suddenly acquired influence with the army?"
"He certainly has!" interrupted Arthur, his eyes shining. "Oh, Aunt Claire, we've done so many wonderful things to-night!"
So he let the cat out of the bag, and, with so much of a start, Madame de Frenard was not satisfied until she had the whole story out of them. She caught her breath when she heard of the shots that had been fired at them, but she looked very proud and happy, too.
"Oh, that was splendid!" she cried. "We may be a little nation, we Belgians, but we can meet them when even our boys can defy them and outwit them so magnificently! Now I know that I can trust you! Paul, it is as if your uncle were here! You shall take his place, and I shall do whatever you say is right."
Paul grew red, and embarrassment checked his speech for a moment.
"It was just luck, of course," he said, confusedly. "Anyone could have done what we did, you know. But I'm glad you'll go on to Brussels, Aunt Claire, and I think Major du Chaillu will be glad to make the arrangements, before the railway is interrupted. I will go now and get out the carriages."
"Very well, Paul, do so. It is lucky that we have those left, at any rate."
Paul and Arthur helped the men to get out the carriages and harness the horses, frightened by the noise and confusion of the fire. And Paul and Arthur, too, rode in the carriage that took their aunt and her maid into Liege.
"I didn't think we would be coming back to Liege quite so soon," said Arthur, a little ruefully. "This isn't as exciting as the first trip we made to-night, either."
"No, but I think it's safer," said Paul, rather dryly. "And there'll be more than enough excitement to make up for it when the Germans come, Arthur."
"Oh, I suppose so!"
"I am going to take you two boys to Brussels with me," said Madame de Frenard, suddenly.
Paul was quiet at that; it was Arthur who cried out in vigorous protest.
"Oh, no, Aunt Claire!" he exclaimed. "There's so much for us to do here!"
"There will be plenty for you to do in Brussels," she said, with decision. "It's settled. I can't allow you to stay here if it isn't safe for me."
Arthur looked to Paul for help, but Paul only smiled. His aunt looked at him curiously.
"So you are willing to go without arguing, Paul?" she asked.
"You said it was settled, Aunt Claire," he replied. "If a thing is settled, there is no use in arguing about it, is there?"
She smiled faintly. She knew Paul well enough to know that when his mind was made up he never was willing to admit that a thing was settled until it was settled as he wished. She wondered what he had up his sleeve, for she was sure that he was quite as anxious as Arthur to stay in or around Liege.
As a matter of fact, Paul was the only one of them all who had even a remote idea of what was coming. He could not foresee all the horrors of invasion and battle. No one can do that, or wars would never be begun. But he did realize that dire trouble was in store, and that a good many civilians, and especially women and young children, would be sent away from Liege before there was any fighting, if that were possible. There was something else that Paul grasped better than either Arthur and his aunt, and that was the probable course of the invasion.
He knew that in a few days Liege, strong fortress though it was, would be engulfed. It might hold out for a long time; he thought it probably would. But the Germans would be all about it. The Uhlans would sweep along, far beyond the range of the guns of the forts, cutting communications, interrupting railways, blocking the roads, and Liege must depend upon itself for food, for ammunition, for all the things that would be needed. For that reason, he thought, General Leman would encourage all who could to get out of the city before the actual siege began. And he had an idea that there was no real question of his going, or Arthur; that they would have to wait their turn, at least. That was why he submitted so quietly to his aunt's declaration that he and Arthur were to go with her.
When they arrived in Liege he found that, late as it was, the city was still awake and stirring. Outside of the railway station there was a great crowd. There were women there with children clinging to their skirts. They carried odd-shaped bundles. Plainly this was a sudden flight for most of them, and they had snatched up their greatest treasures, and wrapped them as best they could.'
"Why, it looks like a regular panic!" said Madame de Frenard. "I don't see what there is to be afraid of yet, at any rate. I don't see how we are going to get away, either, Paul."
"I'll try to find Major du Chaillu," said Paul. "Arthur, will you stay here while I go?"
He went off when Arthur nodded, and threaded his way through the confusion and the crowds to General Leman's headquarters. There, after a good deal of difficulty, and after he had been turned away several times by impatient sentries, he succeeded in finding his friend the major. To him he explained the situation.
"Your aunt and her maid?" said du Chaillu. "Yes, I shall be able to manage that."
"My cousin and I cannot go, I suppose?"
"Not to-night, I'm afraid, my boy. The orders are very strict." He looked a little puzzled, but went on: "I'd like to make an exception in your case, for you have done so much for Belgium—"
"Oh, I don't want to go and neither does Arthur!" cried Paul, with a laugh. "It's just as I thought. Only my aunt wants us to go, and I was afraid that perhaps we could."
The major laughed, too.
"That's more like what I had expected from you," he said. "Yet it would be better if you did go. However, women and children first. We've made the rule, and we must make no exceptions, or it would be impossible to enforce it at all."
"Oh, we'll get along all right," said Paul. "And—well, I have an idea that may not be of any use, so that I'd better not say anything about it yet. But I hope that Paul and I can still do something for Belgium and Liege."
"I've no doubt that you will try to do that," said du Chaillu. "Come, show me where you left your aunt, and I will see that she is allowed to go out on the next train. I will take her into the station by a private entrance for there is little chance of getting through the crowd in any other way."
He was as good as his word. Madame de Frenard listened to his explanation of how impossible it was for Paul and Arthur to be allowed to go on the train, and glanced at Paul. She thought that she understood his submissiveness better now!
"But—women and children?" she said. "Surely these boys?"
"We are not children!" protested Paul and Arthur in one breath.
Major du Chaillu smiled rather sadly.
"No, they are not children in such times as these, Madame," he said. "We have not quite come to the point of calling upon boys to fight, but we cannot treat them as children. Still, I shall see that they are looked to, as well as I can, be assured of that, Madame de Frenard."
And with that assurance she had to be content.
"Come along with me," said du Chaillu, when they had left Madame de Frenard in the station. "I'll see that you're put up for the rest of the night, and to-morrow we'll make other arrangements."
"Thank you," said Paul, "but I think we'd better go back. A good many things were saved, after all, when the house was burned. When so much was destroyed I think we ought to try to safeguard what remains, for my uncle's sake. And there is a place there where we can sleep very well, thank you."
"H'm!" Du Chaillu looked more than doubtful. "But there is no telling how soon the Germans will be there. Had you thought of that?"
"They won't hurt us, sir," said Paul.
"No, I suppose not. There's no reason for them to make war on boys or any other non-combatants. One word of warning, though. If the Germans do come before you can get away again, don't make any move against them. All the fighting must be done by soldiers. The Germans consider it is murder if a civilian fires on them, and they are in the right, according to the rules of war. They are justified in making any reprisals. So be careful yourselves, and warn all the men about your place. Tell them the message is from me. General Leman has issued orders that no civilians are to oppose the Germans or give them any excuse for destroying undefended places."
"I understand, sir," said Paul. "Then we may go?"
"Yes. But be careful. We have seen aeroplanes of the Germans already—one of our flyers chased one of their Taubes early in the evening. They dropped bombs on Fort Boncelles."
"I never thought of that!" exclaimed Arthur, sharply. "Do you suppose one of their aeroplanes could have dropped a bomb that would have set our house afire?"
"It is possible," said du Chaillu, shortly. "They might not have realized what they were doing. I hope they did not, if that is what happened. It is not the sort of work for soldiers."
"It makes very little difference now," said Paul. "The house is burned, so it doesn't matter, I suppose, how it came to catch fire. We will go back, then, major."
"Very well. Report to me at headquarters here when you return, although by that time I may be on duty in one of the forts. I cannot tell; we of the staff are in one place one minute, and far away the next. Good-night, again, and better luck, this time, than my wishes brought you before."
"Good-night!" they echoed, and set out to find their carriage. But before they reached it Paul stopped.
"I want to go to Henri Creusot's house," he said. "There is something in the stable there we shall need. I suppose we can't wake him up, but I shall get what I want, even if we cannot."
Arthur followed him willingly, although Paul volunteered no explanation of what it was that he was after. And he remained on guard outside the stable while Paul went in, to reappear presently with a large and cumbrous burden—a sack bulging with the spoil of his little raid. Then they went to the carriage, and soon they were driving back toward the ruined house. When they reached it the dawn was beginning to break in the east—toward Germany! It was a red, menacing dawn—the sort of daybreak one might well have expected to see in such a time. About the smouldering remains of the fine house the men employed about the place were still grouped. It seemed all had decided that in some mysterious fashion the Germans were responsible for the ruin that had been wrought, and they were talking sullenly of what they meant to do to the enemy.
Paul gave quick directions for housing and hiding the pictures and the few fine pieces of furniture that had been saved. When all that he ordered had been done there seemed a good chance that what the flames had spared would be safe from further risk. Then he and Arthur went over to look at the garage, which had not been touched by the fire.
"This is a piece of good luck, anyhow," said Paul, when he found the little building untouched. "I think we'll live here as long as the Germans will let us, Arthur, which probably won't be very long, even if we pretend to be stupid. We can be mighty comfortable."
"Of course we can," said Arthur. "It will be like a picnic, or like camping out, won't it?"
"I'm afraid it won't," said Paul. "But we'll make the best of it, anyway. Come along to the house. I think the ruins are cool enough for us to find out what I want to know."
He led the way and Arthur followed. But it was not to the house that Paul went first. Instead, he led the way to a post that had carried the telephone wire, and, finding the wire, began to follow it toward the wing where it had entered the house.
"What on earth are you looking at that telephone wire for?" asked Arthur, completely mystified. "It seems to me that that's the least important thing there is left."
"I think it's going to be about the most important thing!" said Paul, surprisingly. "Go get a shovel, will you? Or rather two, for we've got some digging to do."
Arthur obeyed, as he always did, but he was thoroughly mystified. And no light was shed upon the mystery when he returned, to find that Paul had disconnected the wire in the ruins of the house and was dragging it away from the post where it entered the grounds. But now Paul explained.
"Do you remember that several of the crosses on those maps we found were right over there?" he asked, pointing in a direction east of the burned house.
"Y—es," said Arthur, with an effort to remember. "Oh, yes, I do, now!"
"Well, that means that there will be a battery there. Do you see how it's screened? The woods hide it completely. It doesn't make any difference to the Germans that they can't see their target—they've got a fixed range, because they know just where the forts are, and they'll get the range of anything else from their aeroplanes."
"Yes, I see that."
"Well, I think this battery is likely to turn out to be the most important one on this side. I think that they will depend on it to silence Boncelles and Embourg. We haven't many aeroplanes and it's going to be mighty hard for our people in the forts to tell what the effect of their shell fire is, and to correct the range, especially if the Germans use comparatively light guns that they can move about, as I think they will. Now do you see?"
"Suppose we stay here in the garage? There's a chance that they may let us, isn't there? Well, if they do, we can see whatever goes on, with a little care. And if we have a buried telephone wire leading to Boncelles we can report just what happens when a shell is fired, and they can correct their aim. That's why I want to dig a trench for that wire from some distance outside the grounds here, and run it under the garage—into the pit, you know."
"Oh, now I see! You mean we would stay here and pretend not to have any idea of what's going on, while we were really sending information to the forts?"
"Yes. Now the first thing we've got to do is to tap that wire and tell them in Liege what we are doing, so that they can give us direct connection with Boncelles. Then we'll try to hide the wire, so that the Germans won't find it."
Now the mysterious errand Paul had had in Liege was explained. He had brought with him all he thought he could use of a lot of wire and telephone instruments that one of their fellow scouts had used in setting up a miniature telephone exchange of his own, with wires connecting his house with that of some of his chums.
"We'd better dig the trench and bury the wire first because we've got to be very careful in filling it up again, so that no one will notice what's been done," said Paul. "That's the most important part. You see, if we were caught at this we'd be treated as spies—and that's what we'll really be."
"Isn't there a chance that they won't really come as far as this?" asked Arthur.
"Yes, there is and a very good chance, too, I think. Really, if they do come up to this point, I believe we won't have much chance. But the grounds here will be well within the range of the guns from the forts, and I don't think they'll do any infantry work until they've tried to beat down our forts with their big guns. Not from this side, anyway. If they try to take Liege by storm they're more likely to attack between Liers and Pontisse, or between the Meuse and Barchon. The country's more open there. Here, you see, the Ourthe runs between Boncelles and Embourg, and the two forts command all the approaches. So I think there's a good chance for us. But we have got to take precautions, of course, because they are almost sure to throw out their scouts as far as this in the beginning, even if they recall them after the guns start firing."
Neither of the scouts thought of being tired after that. Arthur began the work of digging out the shallow trench in which they meant to bury the wire, while Paul tapped the main wire and explained to an officer at headquarters in Liege what they planned. It took him some time to overcome the doubts of this officer, but finally it was arranged that his wire should be connected with Fort Boncelles direct, and he talked to that important link in the chain of defending forts for some time, making final arrangements.
"No matter what happens, of course," he said, "you mustn't call us, because if we're quiet for any length of time, it may mean that the Germans are around us. We will watch the firing, after it begins, and tell you whatever we can find out."
Then he returned to help Arthur, and they worked until it was broad daylight. By that time they had the wire well hidden, so that it was entirely invisible. It came out under the garage, and the instrument at its end was well concealed in the pit under the place where the big car stood when repairs were to be made.
"Well, that's done!" Paul exclaimed at last, with a deep sigh of satisfaction. "Are you tired, Arthur?"
"I wasn't just a minute ago," said Arthur, rubbing his eyes. "But now I'm so sleepy that I feel as if I could go off standing up!"
"Well, there's no reason why we shouldn't get some sleep now. I'm like you. As long as we still had something to do I didn't feel tired. But now,—"
A great yawn interrupted him. They surveyed their work with blinking eyes, then they crept up to the little room above the garage, and in less than a minute were sound asleep.
It was broad daylight when they went asleep; when they awoke dusk had fallen. Paul woke first, and he went to the window and looked out. Everything, seemingly, was just as it had been when they had last looked out. The scene was one of profound peace. From the window he could not see the burned house, a patch of blackened ruin in the fair landscape. The fading light played on the leaves just as it had a thousand times before; shadows lay along the little mossy patches, the corners of the lawns that he knew so well.
"Wake up, Arthur!" he said, turning to his chum.
He had to shake Arthur before he could arouse him.
"It isn't time to get up yet—it's still dark, Paul," protested Arthur, sleepily. But then he began to recover his wits, and he dragged himself up, and went with Paul to the window. For a few moments they were quiet, listening.
"Perhaps they're not coming—perhaps it's all a false alarm. I don't hear any guns."
"Look!" said Paul, gripping him suddenly by the shoulder. He pointed to the road. Against the sky stood a horse, on its back a silent rider with a spiked helmet, in his hand a long lance. A German Uhlan!
"They've come, then!" said Paul. "That means war. Look at his uniform—I never saw a German soldier looking like that before."
It was true. The uniform seemed to melt into the landscape; it was indeterminate, greenish gray in color. Even the spike of the helmet did not catch the rays of the sinking sun; it was covered with the dull, neutral colored cloth.
"I hope he isn't going to stay there," said Arthur. Their voices had sunk to whispers. Though there was no chance that the vidette would hear them, his very presence had the effect of quieting them. There was a tremendous difference, somehow, between thinking of an invasion, between realizing that it was inevitable that German troops should pour into Belgium, and the actual sight of one of the enemy.
"I don't think he will," said Paul. "He's just scouting, I think. Probably he will ride back soon. And they can't be very near—the main body, that is. If they were we'd hear something of them."
Then before Arthur could answer, something happened. The air trembled, and a dull sound, echoing again and again, came to them. The two scouts stared at one another; then they turned, together, to look at the Uhlan, and saw that he had heard it, too, and was listening sharply. The light was full on his face, and they could see that it wore an awed expression. And well it might! They had heard the sound of the first heavy gun that was fired in anger in the war of the nations!
"That gun was some distance away. I should think it might have been fired at Fleron," said Paul. "The siege must have begun."
And now the air was full of sound. First from one side, then from the other, batteries and forts joined in the chorus. All around them, it seemed, the great voices of the guns were speaking. Soon individual explosions ceased to stand out; everything was merged into a heavy, dull roar that beat against their ears and filled the air with a continuous tremor. Sometimes the roar rose in volume when a new battery came into action. For a few minutes Paul and Arthur were absorbed. They listened, spellbound, to the roar of the guns. There was something unreal about it. It did not seem possible that those guns were being fired to kill and destroy, for, as they looked out, everything was peaceful still. Save when their eyes fell upon the Uhlan, mounted on his horse. He sat in his saddle, stiff, erect, the very type of the vast army of which he was a tiny, undistinguishable part—as a rule. Now he was that army, for the two who watched him. Still they stared while the shadows advanced, eating into the light spaces that remained, until grey dusk settled over everything, and he seemed to slip into it, and become a part of the landscape. Then his horse moved; he turned, and cantered slowly out of sight.