THE BOY SCOUTS ON THE TRAIL
By GEORGE DURSTON
THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
Made in U. S. A.
Copyright, MCMXXI By The Saalfield Publishing Co.
THE BOY SCOUTS ON THE TRAIL
PLANS FOR THE HOLIDAYS
"Where are you going to spend the holidays, Frank?"
The speaker was Henri Martin, a French boy of the new type that has sprung up in France since games like football and tennis began to be generally encouraged. He asked the question of his schoolmate, Frank Barnes, son of a French mother and an American father. Frank's name was really Francois; his mother had that much to do with his naming. But he was a typical American boy, none the less, and there was a sharp contrast between his sturdy frame and that of the slighter French boy who had become his best chum in the school both were attending near Paris, at St. Denis.
"I don't really know, Harry," said Frank. "Not exactly, that is. My Uncle Dick is coming over a little later, and I think we'll go to Switzerland." His face clouded a little. "I—I haven't any real home to go to, you know. My father and mother—"
"I know—I know, mon vieux," said Henri, with the quick sympathy of his race. "But until your uncle comes—what then, hein?"
"Why, I'm to wait for him here, at the school," said Frank. "He's a very busy man, you know, and it's hard for him to get away just any time he wants to. He will get here, though, early in August, I think."
"But that won't do at all, Frank!" exclaimed Harry, impulsively. Like many French boys, he spoke English perfectly and with practically no trace of an accent. "To spend a week or two weeks here in the school, all alone! No—I tell you what! I've an idea!"
"What is it?" asked Frank, a little amused at the horror with which his friend heard of the notion of staying in school after the holidays had begun.
"Why, come home with me until your uncle comes!" said Harry. "That's what you must do. I live not so far away—not so very far. At Amiens. You have heard of it? Oh, we will have fine times, you and I. I am to join the Boy Scouts Francais these holidays!"
He called it Boy Scoots, and Frank roared. The word scout had been retained, without translation, when the French adopted the Boy Scout movement from England, just as words like rosbif, football, and le sport had been adopted into the language. But all these words, or nearly all, have been given a French pronunciation, which give them a strange sound in Anglo-Saxon ears.
"Excuse me, Harry," said Frank, in a moment. "I didn't mean to laugh, but it does sound funny."
"Of course it does, Frank," said Henri, generously. "I speak English, so I can see that. But there's nothing funny about the thing, let me tell you. We began by calling the Boy Scouts Eclaireurs Francais, but General Baden-Powell didn't like it, so we made the change. Really, we're a good deal like the English and American scouts. We have the same oath—we call it serment, of course, and our manual is just a translation of the English one."
"I was going to join in America, too," said Frank. "But then I came over here, and I didn't know there were scouts here. Do you wear the same sort of uniforms?"
"Yes—just like the English," said Harry. "You could join with me, couldn't you? You're going to be here for a whole year more, aren't you?"
"Yes. My mother"—he gulped a little at the word—"wanted me to know all about France, and never to forget that I had French blood in me, you see. My French grandfather was killed by the Germans at Gravelotte—he was a colonel of the line. And my mother, even though my father was an American, was always devoted to France."
"We are like that—we French," said Harry, simply. Into his eyes came the look that even French boys have when they remember the days of 1870. "The Germans—yes, they beat us then. We were not ready—we were badly led. But our time will come—the time of La Revanche. Tell me, Frank, you have seen the Place de la Concorde, in Paris?"
"Do you remember the statue of Strassburg? How it is always draped in black—with mourning wreaths?"
"The day is coming when the black shall be stripped off! Alsace-Lorraine—they are French at heart, those lost provinces of ours! They shall be French again in name, too. Strassburg shall guard the Rhine for us again—Metz shall be a French fortress once more. We shall fight again—and next time we shall be ready! We shall win!"
"I hope so—if war comes again," said Frank, soberly. "But—"
"If war comes?" said Harry, surprised. "Don't you know it must come? France knows that—France makes ready. We shall not seek the war. But it is not enough for us to desire peace. The Prussians are afraid of us. They will never rest content while we are strong. They thought they had crushed us forever in 1870—but France was too great for them to crush! They made us pay a thousand million francs—they thought we should take years and years to pay, and that meanwhile they would keep their soldiers on our land, in our fortresses! But no! France paid, and quickly. And ever since we have prepared for the time when they would try to finish their work."
"If war comes, I am for France," said Frank, still soberly. "But war is a dreadful thing, Henri."
"We know that—we in France," said Harry. "But there are things that are worse than war, Frank. A peace that is without honor is among them. We do not want to fight, but we are not afraid. When the time comes, as it is sure to come, we shall be ready. But enough of that. There will be no war this year or next. We have not settled about your coming home with me. You will come?"
"I'd love to," said Frank. "If the head master says I can, I will most gladly. But will your people want me?"
"My friends are their friends," said Harry. "My mother says always, 'Bring a friend with you, Henri.' Oh, there will be plenty for us to do, too. We shall take long walks and play tennis and ride and shoot. Let us settle it to-day. Come now to the office with me. We will ask the head master."
They went forthwith to speak to Monsieur Donnet, the head of the school, who received them in his office. The school was a small one but it numbered among its pupils several English and American boys, whose parents wanted them for one reason or another to acquire a thorough knowledge of French. He heard their request, which was put by Henri, pleasantly.
"Yes, that will be very well," he said. "I have been thinking of you, Barnes. Your uncle has written to me that he will be here about the tenth or fifteenth of August, and asked permission for you to stay here until then. But—"
They waited, while M. Donnet thought for a moment.
"Yes, this will be much better," he said. "I—I have been a little troubled about you, Barnes. If all were well, you might stay here very well. But—" Again he paused.
"These are strange times," he said. "Boys, have you read in the newspapers of the trouble between Austria and Servia?"
They looked startled.
"A little, sir," said Frank. "There's always trouble, isn't there, in those parts?"
"Yes, but this may—who knows?—be different. I do not say there is more danger than usual but I have heard things, from friends, that have made me thoughtful. I am a colonel of the reserve!"
Henri's eyes gleamed suddenly, as they had a few minutes before when he had talked of how France was ready for what might be in store for her.
"Do you mean that there may be war, sir?" he asked, leaning forward eagerly.
"No one knows," said the master. "But there are strange tales. Aeroplanes that no one recognizes have flown above the border in the Vosges. There are tales of fresh troops that the Germans are sending to Metz, to Duesseldorf, to Neu Breisach." He struck his hand suddenly on his desk. "But this I feel—that when war comes it will be like the stroke of lightning from a clear sky! When there is much talk, there is never war. When it comes it will be because the diplomats will not have time, they and the men with money, the Rothschilds and the others, to stop it. And if there should be trouble, not a man would be left in this school. So, Barnes, I should be easier if you were with Martin. I approve. That is well, boys."
Both boys were excited as they left the office.
"He talks as if he knew something, or felt something, that is still a secret!" said Frank, excitedly. "I wonder—"
"Of no use to wonder," said Henri. Really, he was calmer than his companion. "What is to come must come. But you are coming home with me, Frank. We know that much. And that is good—that is the best news we could have, isn't it?"
"It's certainly good news for me," said Frank, happily. "Oh, Harry, I get so tired of living in school or in hotels all the time! It will seem good to be in a home again, even if it isn't my own home!"
TO THE COLORS
In those days late in July, France, less than almost any country in Europe, certainly far less than either England or America, was able to realize the possibilities of trouble. As a matter of fact, not for years had the peace of Europe been so assured, apparently. President Poincare of France had gone to visit the Czar of Russia, and the two rulers had exchanged compliments. The alliance of France and Russia, they told one another, made war impossible, or nearly so. The Emperor of Germany was on a yachting cruise; even the old Austrian Kaiser, though required to watch affairs because of the death of his heir, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, murdered by a Serb fanatic at Sarajeve, had left Vienna.
Even when the storm cloud began to gather the French government did all it could to suppress the news. The readiness of France was not in question. France was always ready, as Henri Martin had said. Since the grim and terrible lesson of 1870 she had made up her mind never again to give the traditional enemy beyond the Rhine—and, alas, now on this side of the Rhine as well!—a chance to catch her unprepared.
What the government wanted was to prevent the possibility that an excited populace, especially in Paris, might force its hand. If war came it meant that Germany should provoke it—if possible, begin it. It was willing to sacrifice some things for that. And this was because, in the years of peace, France had won a great diplomatic victory, the fruits of which the country must preserve. In 1870 France had had to face Germany alone. She had counted upon help from Austria, now Germany's firm friend and ally, but then still smarting under the blow of the defeat four years before. She had hoped for help, perhaps, from Roumania and from Russia.
But all that Germany, by skillful trickery, had rendered vain. She had made France seem to be the aggressor, and France had forfeited the sympathy of England and of Austria as a result. Alone she had been no match for Germany. And alone she would be as little a match for Germany in 1914 as in 1870. But she had prepared herself. Now Russia, no matter what the reason for war, would be with her. And, if France was attacked, England was almost sure to join her. Everything would depend on that. With the great English navy to bottle up the German fleet, to blockade the German coasts, France felt that she was secure. And so the government was resolved that nothing should happen to make possible the loss of England's friendship; nothing that should give England even the shadow of an excuse for remaining neutral.
So what the newspapers printed of the threats that Austria was making against Servia was carefully censored. There was nothing to show that Austria was assuming a warlike attitude, and that Russia, the friend of the little Slav countries in the Balkans, was getting ready to take the part of Servia. There was nothing to show what the French government and every newspaper editor in Paris knew must be a fact—that Austria must have had assurance of German support, since she could not hope to make a winning fight, unaided, against the huge might of Russia.
That was why all over France life proceeded in the regular way, calm, peaceful, without event. Some there were who knew that Europe was closer to a general war than since the end of Napoleon's dream of conquest. But the masses of the people did not know it. All over France the soldiers were active; the new recruits, reporting for the beginning of their three years of military service, were pouring into the depots, the headquarters of the army corps, to be assigned to their regiments. But that was something that happened every year. In a country where every man, if he is not a cripple or diseased, has to be a soldier for three years, the sight of a uniform, even of a long column of marching troops, means nothing.
And then, with the most startling abruptness, there came a change. Nothing official, as yet. But suddenly the government allowed the real news, or most of it, to be printed. Austria had made demands of Servia that no country could meet! Russia had protested! Russia and Austria were mobilizing! Germany had sent an ultimatum to Russia, demanding that she stop massing her troops in Poland and on the borders of East Prussia.
"It means war," said Henri Martin to Frank. Gone was the exultation of his voice. Frank had noticed that, since the first appearance of the really ominous news, the excitability of his French schoolmates had disappeared. They were quiet; far quieter than American boys would have been in the same case, he thought.
"But this is not France's quarrel," said Frank. "She cares nothing for Servia."
"Servia? Bah! No one cares for Servia—except Austria and Russia! Servia is only an excuse. Austria wants to get some ports and Russia wants them, too, or wants a friendly country to have them. But I will tell you why it means war, Frank, my friend. It is because Guillaume, their Kaiser, thinks it is the chance to crush France!"
"Why now more than at any other time, Harry?"
"Lieutenant Marcel told me what he thinks. It is that England is having much trouble. In Ireland there is rebellion, almost, over the home rule. The Germans think England will be afraid to fight, that she will have to think of her own troubles. He does not know those English, that Kaiser! They have their quarrels among themselves. But if anyone else interferes—pouf! The quarrel is over—until the one who interferes is beaten."
"Yes, I believe that. We're like that in America, too. Why, right after the Civil War, we nearly had to fight about Mexico. And the men in the South, who had just been fighting the northern army, were all ready to volunteer and fight for the country."
"Well, that is one reason, then. And, for another, France is getting stronger, and Russia too. For a few years after the war with the Japanese, Russia was weak. But now she is getting strong again, and Austria is getting weaker. If Germany and Austria can ever win it is now—that is what the Kaiser believes. And why must France fight? Even if she is not attacked she must help Russia because of the treaty."
"But she didn't fight with Russia against Japan."
"Because only one country was at war against her. If England had joined Japan, we should have had to fight with Russia against her," Henri explained.
It was during the morning recess that they held this conversation. Now the bell called them back to school. The class to which they went was one that was being taught by M. Donnet himself, the head master. He was at his place by his desk, and the boys had taken their seats. Suddenly, just as the master was about to speak, a servant appeared with a telegram in his hand. He took it to the master. M. Donnet tore it open and read it, while a serious, grave look came into his eyes. Then he stood up.
"Mes enfants," he said, his whole manner somehow changed from the one they knew, "I am called away from you." He stood very straight now; Frank had no difficulty, as he had had before, in imagining the schoolmaster as a soldier. "France needs me—our France. I go to Luneville, to be prepared to receive the brave men who will fight under my command if—"
"If war shall come!" he finished the interrupted sentence. "I leave you. No man knows what the next few hours may bring forth. The order of 'mobilisation generale' has not yet been issued. Only superior officers are called for as yet. Perhaps I may return. If not, I shall exhort all of you who are sons of La Patrie to do your duty. You are too young to fight, but you are none of you too young to be brave and loyal, to help your parents, and your mothers if your fathers are needed by the fatherland for active service.
"You are not too young to show courage, no matter what may come. You are not too young to keep alive the spirit of the sons of France—the spirit that won at Austerlitz and Jena, that rose, like the phoenix from its ashes, after Gravelotte and Sedan, when the foe believed that France lay crushed for evermore! Perhaps you, like all who are French, may be called upon to make sacrifices, sometimes to go hungry. But remember always that it is not only those who face the foe on the battle line who can serve the fatherland!"
He drew himself up again.
"Farewell, then, mes enfants!" he said. "I go to meet again those other children I am to lead! Vive la France!"
For a moment, as he moved to the door, there was silence.
And it was Frank Barnes, only half French, who jumped to the top of a desk and raised his voice in the most stirring of all patriotic airs—the Marseillaise.
With a will they joined him, English, American and French, for all were there. Slowly, still singing, they followed the master from the class-room, and gathered outside in the open air of the school yard. And from other rooms, from all over the school, masters and boys poured out to join them and to swell the chorus. Outside, in the street, a passing battalion of the infantry of the line, made up of smiling young soldiers, heard and took up the chorus, singing as they marched.
There was no need of questions from those who heard the singing. In a moment the discipline of the school went by the board. And, when the song was done, they still remained together, waiting. In ten minutes, M. Donnet appeared from the door of his own house. But now he was transformed. He was in the uniform of his rank, his sword was by his side; a servant carried his bags. He strode through the ranks of cheering boys to the gate, saluting right and left as he did so.
THE CALL TO ARMS
"This does not yet mean war!"
So M. Donnet had cried, in a final word of warning, meaning, if possible, to do his part in the government's plan, still in force, of restraining the passions of the French people. No. It did not mean war. Not quite. But it meant that war was inevitable; that within a few hours, at the most, mobilization would be ordered. This was on Saturday. And that evening Germany declared war on Russia. Within an hour posters were everywhere. The general mobilization had been ordered.
The teachers in that school were young men. On the word they went. Each knew what he had to do. Each had his little book of instructions. He needed no orders. The mere fact that mobilization had been ordered was all he needed to know. He knew already where he must report, where his uniform and his equipment would be given to him, and which regiment he was to join. He was a soldier by virtue of the three years, or the two, he had spent already with the colors. He did not have to be drilled; all that had been done. He knew how to shoot, how to live in camp, how to march. If he was a cavalryman, he knew how to ride; if an artilleryman, how to handle the big guns.
And as with the teachers, so it was with the other men about the school,—the gardeners, the servants, all of them. Within an hour of the time when the order was issued, they were on their way and the school was deserted, save for boys and one or two old men, who bewailed the fact that they were too old to fight. In the streets St. Denis looked like a deserted village. All the young men were going.
Swiftly preparations were made to close the school. Madame Donnet, left in charge when her husband went, called the boys together.
"You must get home," she said. "Here you cannot stay. There will be no way to care for you. And soon, too, the school will be used as a hospital. So it was in 1870. I shall stay, and I shall prepare for what is to come. M. Donnet telegraphed yesterday to all the parents, bidding them be ready for what has come. I will give money for traveling expenses. And in happier times we shall meet again."
Save for the friendly offer Henri had already made, Frank Barnes might well have been in a sorry plight. And, indeed, he offered now to let his chum withdraw his invitation.
"I have plenty of money, Harry," he said. "And if I go into Paris, to the American ambassador, or the consul, he will see that I am all right until my uncle comes. Your family won't want a guest now."
But Harry wouldn't hear of this.
"Now more than ever!" he said. "It will be different. True—not as we had planned it before this came. But you shall come, and perhaps we shall be able to do something for France with the Boy Scouts. We shall see. But this much is certain—I think we shall not be able to go to Amiens at once. Amiens is in the north—it is that way that the soldiers must go, soldiers from Paris, from Tours, from Orleans, from all the south. It is from the north that the Germans will come. Perhaps they will try to come through Belgium. So, until the troops have finished with the railways, we must wait. We will go to my aunt in Paris."
And go they did to Madame Martin, Henri's aunt, who lived in a street between the Champs Elysees and the Avenue de l'Alma, not far from the famous arch of triumph that is the centre of Paris. At the station in St. Denis, where they went from the school, they found activity enough to make up, and more than make up, for the silence and stillness everywhere else. The station was choked with soldiers, reservists preparing to report on the next day, the first of actual mobilization. Women were there, mothers, wives, sweethearts, to bid good-bye to these young Frenchmen they might never see again because of war.
And there was no room on the trains to Paris for any save soldiers. The gates of the station were barred to all others, and Frank and Harry went back to the school.
"I know what we can do, of course," said Harry. "It isn't very far. We'll leave our bags here at the school, and make packs of the things we need. And then we'll ride in on our bicycles. We were stupid not to think of that before."
That plan they found it easy to put into execution. They had meant to abandon their bicycles for the time being, at least, but now they realized what a mistake it would have been to do that, since with every normal activity cut off by the war, the machines were almost certain to be their only means of getting from one place to another, in the beginning at least.
Mounted on their bicycles, they now found their progress easy. The roads that led into Paris were crowded, to be sure. They passed countless automobiles carrying refugees. Already the Americans were pouring out of Paris in their frantic haste to reach the coast and so take boat to England. On Saturday night automobiles were still allowed to leave Paris. Next morning there would be a different story to tell.
In Paris, when they began to enter the more crowded sections, they saw the same scenes as had greeted them in St. Denis, only on a vastly larger scale. Everywhere farewells were being said. Men in uniforms were all about. Officers, as soon as they were seen, were hailed by the drivers of taxicabs, who refused even to think of carrying a civilian passenger if an officer wanted to get anywhere, or, if there were no officers, a private soldier. The streets were crowded, however, and with men. Here there were thousands, of course, not required to report at once.
"When mobilization is ordered," explained Henri, "each man in France has a certain day on which he is to report at his depot. It may be the first day, the third, the fifth, the tenth. If all came at once it would mean too much confusion. As it is, everything is done quickly and in order."
"It doesn't look it," was Frank's comment.
"No," said his chum, with a laugh. "That's true. But it's so, just the same. Every man you see knows just when he is to go, and when the time comes, off he will go. Why, even in your America, now, all the Frenchmen who have gone there are trying to get back. I know. They will be here as soon as the ships can bring them. They will report to the consul first—he will tell them what to do."
They made slow progress through the crowded streets. Already, however, there was a difference in the sort of crowding. There were fewer taxicabs, very many fewer. And there were no motor omnibuses at all.
"What has become of them?" asked Frank. "Aren't there men enough to run them?"
"Yes, and they are running them," said Henri, dryly. "But not in Paris. They are on their way to the border, perhaps. Wherever they are, they are carrying soldiers or supplies. The government has always the right to take them all. Even at the time of the manoeuvres, some are taken, though not all. It is the same with the automobiles. In a few days there will be none left—the army will have them all. Officers need them to get around quickly. Generals cannot ride now—it is too slow to use a horse. You have heard of Leon Bollet?"
"No. Who is he?"
"He is a famous automobile driver in races. He has won the Grand Prix. He will drive a general. He is a soldier, like all Frenchmen, and that will be his task—to drive some great general wherever he wants to go."
That was how the meaning of mobilization really came home to Frank, who learned more from the things he missed that he was accustomed to seeing than from new sights. In the boulevards, for instance, where as a rule the little tables in front of the cafes would be crowded, all the tables had vanished. That was a result of what was happening. Everything brought the fact of war home to him. To him it was even more vivid perhaps than to Henri, who had been brought up to know that some time all this would come about, and saw little that he had not been sure, some time, of seeing.
The crowds delayed them. Sometimes they had to dismount from their wheels and walk for a space, but in the end they came to their destination. Madame Martin, Henri's aunt, greeted him with delight.
"We were thinking of you, Henri!" she said. "Your uncle said to me only to-night, when we heard of the mobilization: 'And what of Henri? He cannot go home yet.' I knew you would come to us! And you have brought a friend? That is very well."
"Oh—an American!" she exclaimed, a moment later. "You have done well, my nephew."
"I'm half French," said Frank. Somehow he was beginning to feel very proud of that. These last few hours, that had shown him how France rallied in the face of a terrible and pressing danger had made it easier for him to understand his mother's love of her own land. He was still an American above all; that he would always be. But there was French blood in his veins after all, and blood is something that is and always must be thicker than water.
So he had to explain himself, and when he spoke of the uncle who was to come for him Madame Martin looked concerned.
"I am glad that you are here," she said, simply. "It may be hard for him to get here. But we can look after you until he comes. There is room enough—and, ma foi, you shall have all that we have!"
August was drawing to its close. And still Henri and Frank were in Paris. Henri's father and his uncle had gone to the front; Frank's Uncle Dick, if he had tried to reach Paris or St. Denis, had not succeeded. Or if he had, he had been unable to get word to Frank. War in all its terrible reality was in full blast. Troops were passing through Paris still, going to the front. But they were older men now, the last classes of the reservists. Every night, too, the city was dark save for the searchlights that played incessantly from the high buildings and from the Eiffel Tower. For now there was a new menace. The Germans fought not on land alone, but in the air. At any time a German might appear, thousands of feet above the city, prepared to rain down death and destruction from the clouds.
Paris was quiet and resigned. Wounded men were coming back; hospitals, from which floated the Red Cross flag, were everywhere. The hotels were sheltering the wounded; churches, theatres, all sorts of buildings not commonly so used were in the hands of the doctors and the nurses. There were few newspapers; there was neither paper on which to print them, nor men to run the great presses or write what they usually contained. All were gone; all except the old and the children. Hundreds of thousands of men were still in Paris, but they were the garrison of the city, the men who would man the forts if the Germans came.
And now, to get the news, Harry and Frank went to the places where the bulletins were posted, becoming a part of the silent crowds that waited. Every day they took their places in the crowds, to learn what they could and carry the tale back to Madame Martin. She was too busy to stand among the crowds herself; every day she was doing her part, helping in the nursing, and helping, too, to relieve the distress among the poor.
One day the two friends turned away. They had seen the last bulletin; for some hours there would be no more news.
"I'm afraid it's not going well, Harry," said Frank.
"No," said Henri, almost with a sob in his voice. "It looks to me, too, as if the Germans were winning!"
"But many thought they would win, at first," said Frank. "It's not time to be discouraged yet, Harry. At first we all believed the Belgians were doing better than they could do—because they fought so well at Liege. Now Namur has fallen. And the English—they are falling back."
"Ah, well, that is so," said Henri, brightening a little. "We did not expect to fight in Belgium, we French. Wait till they try to enter France! We will stop them—at Lille, at Maubeuge, at Valenciennes!"
"I hope so, Harry," said Frank, soberly. "But do you know what I think? I believe we ought to go to your home at Amiens. I think you have been waiting here on my account—because you thought my uncle was coming. Well, I think he couldn't come. I am better off with you. And perhaps I can help, too. I think you should go to your mother, if she is alone at Amiens, because—"
Henri turned on him fiercely.
"Do you mean you think the Germans can get to Amiens?" he cried furiously. "Never! Never! They will never come so far! They will be stopped long before they get near it!"
"I think so—and I hope so," said Frank. "But if my mother were there I should want to be there, too. I've read a great deal about war and battles lately, Harry, and I know that often an army has to retreat, not just because it's beaten, but because it's necessary for battles that are planned later on. The English and the French toward the coast are retreating now—on the left of the allies. They are moving back toward Amiens, and the Germans are following them."
Henri continued to argue bitterly against the possibility that Frank suggested, but his arguments grew weaker. And when he told his aunt what Frank had said she sighed despairingly.
"I, too, have been thinking that," she said. "These are terrible times for our poor France. We shall win—everyone believes that. But we shall suffer greatly first. I have talked with General Broche—you know him, Henri. He is too old and weak to fight now, but he was active in 1870. And he says—he says that the government may move soon, away from Paris!"
"Then they think—!" cried Henri, almost overcome.
"They do not know—no one knows. But if there is to be another siege, it is better that the government should be where the Germans cannot bottle it up. I shall stay here, but I shall be safe. There are plenty to do what I need. Go to Amiens, Henri. Your place is near your mother. If there seems to be danger, beg her to come here, or even to go to her friends, the Douays, in Nice. There at least all will be safe."
Henri did not argue with his aunt. It was hard for him to realize the truth, as it was for Frenchmen older than himself. But he admitted it to Frank and even to himself, that night. And so the next morning they started for Amiens. An officer, returning to the front after bringing despatches to Paris, agreed to see that they reached the northern city safely. Without him, indeed, they would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to get aboard a train, for while other railways were open those that led to the front were entirely in the hands of the military authorities.
But thanks to the friendly officer, a friend of the Martin family in Paris, they reached Amiens quickly enough. On the way, more than once they passed long trains carrying wounded, and, several times, other trains on which were packed German prisoners. These, under close guard, looked out sullenly from the windows. The sight delighted Henri.
"That doesn't look much as if we were losing, does it?" he cried happily.
Amiens itself was a smaller Paris. In times of peace, Amiens is, like many other French cities, a curious place, owing to the contrast between its character as a busy, bustling, manufacturing town, and its other character as a place where there are many renowned examples of ancient art. But now it was quiet save for the ever present soldier. Troops were passing through the streets; in the station several hundred were entraining.
"Do soldiers go from here, too?" asked Frank.
"Yes. Amiens is the headquarters of the second army corps," explained Harry. "All the reservists of that corps report here, no matter where they live. When a regiment loses a lot of men, if it is in the second corps, new men from here go forward to fill their places. There is no sign of the Prussians, eh?"
"No," said Frank. "I hope there never will be! But, tell me, would they fight here? Are there fortifications?"
"Not new ones—no," said Harry. He pointed to the old citadel crowning one of the hills that commanded the town and the crooked, twisting course of the Somme river. "There is the old citadel. That still stands. But the ancient battlements have been dismantled. I believe that in time of war, if the enemy got past the troops in the field, they could come peacefully into Amiens. It is not a fortress, like Lille or Maubeuge. Oh, look, there are some of the scouts! I see Monsieur Marron. He is the directeur of the troop—the scoutmaster. Let us speak to him."
They went over to a tall man in khaki, who was speaking to an officer in the red and blue uniform of the French army. Henri saluted, and when the officer went away, the scoutmaster turned to him with a smile.
"Well—so you are here, Martin," he said. "Are you going to join? We will waive formalities—we need all the scouts we can get."
"Yes, sir, and I have brought a recruit. He is half French—the rest of him is American. But he wants to join, too. May he?"
"Certainly," said the scoutmaster. "Report to-night or in the morning. Get your uniforms. Who is your recruit?"
Frank was introduced, and the tall Frenchman shook hands with him.
"You will be welcome," he said. "My boys are at work, you see. They are serving as messengers. There has been plenty for us to do in these days, too. Pray God there may not be more—and of a less pleasant sort."
Frank observed the French scouts with interest. They were in khaki uniforms, with wool stockings, and short trousers that stopped just above the knee, and the soft campaign hats made famous by the pioneer scouts in England. Indeed, they looked like the English and American scouts in many respects.
"One moment," said Marron, checked by a sudden thought. "You speak French well?" He asked the question of Frank, who smiled.
"Yes, sir," he said, in French. "My mother was French, you see."
"That is very good," said the scoutmaster. "Never fear, I shall be able to keep you busy as long as I am here. Soon, I hope, they will let me go to the front, where I should be right now."
"I thought you would have gone, sir," said Henri.
"They wanted me to stay with my boys at the first," said Marron, with a shrug of his shoulders. "But they can do their work alone now, and there is no fear that they will not do it well."
Then Frank and Henri went off, on their way to Henri's house.
"So we have come to Amiens after all and we are to join the Boy Scouts, just as we planned that day when I said there would be no war this year!"
"Yes—but it's different, isn't it, Henri?"
"Yes, and we can be of some real use now."
"I am glad that we are here, aren't you? When we get our uniforms and go to work, I shall feel that we are really being used in the war. I—I'm an American, of course, but I've hated the idea that I was so close to this war and wasn't having anything to do with it."
"And I—I have been wishing, Frank, that they might have waited until I was old enough to fight for France!"
THE FIRST DUTY
Morning brought awakening to the two friends with the sounding of reveille from bugles, seemingly just outside their window. Together they sprang from bed, raced to the window, wide open as it had been all night, and looked out. Not far away, in a small park, one of those for which the city of Amiens is famous, they saw an array of white tents that they had not seen the night before when they had gone to bed. Already the camp was stirring; even as they watched the soldiers were all about. And early as it was, they saw a scout ride up on a bicycle, speak to the sentry who challenged him, and wait. In a moment an officer came out, the scout saluted, and his salute was returned as stiffly and gravely as it had been given. Then the scout handed the officer a letter, saluted again and, receiving permission, turned away and vaulted on his wheel.
Henri was vastly excited.
"Come on!" he cried eagerly. "Let's get dressed, Frank. I see that we should be out already."
"Yes. It's time we were getting busy if the others are at work," said Frank. "Where do you suppose those chaps came from?"
"I don't know—that's exactly what's puzzling me," said Henri, his brow knitted. "They don't look like reserve troops. I don't know exactly why, either, but we can soon find out."
They bathed and dressed hurriedly, and went down to find that Marie, the cook who had been with the Martin family ever since Henri could remember, was ready to give them their breakfast. In a time when many families for reasons of economy were allowing their servants to go, Henri's mother had kept all of hers.
"Now, more than ever," she said, "they need the work and the wages. It is a time for those who can possibly afford it to engage more servants, rather than to discharge those they have already in their employ and service."
Madame Martin, who, like Henri's aunt in Paris, was busy all day long in helping the wounded, doing voluntary duty in the Red Cross hospital to which she had been assigned, was not yet up. She had greeted the two boys on their arrival the previous evening, but had left the house immediately after dinner, since it was her turn to do some night work.
"She is wearing herself out," complained old Marie. "A fine lady like her dressing the wounds of piou-pious, indeed!"
Frank laughed. He knew by this time what piou-piou meant. It is the endearing term of the French for the little red-trousered soldiers who form the armies of the republic, just as the English call a soldier Tommy Atkins.
"It is for France," said Henri, gravely. "I shall perhaps be a piou-piou myself before so very long, Marie."
"You will be an officer, will you not?" exclaimed Marie.
"It may be. I do not know," said Henri. "But the best and the greatest men in France, those who govern us and write books and plays, and paint pictures, and make fine statues, are in the ranks to-day. It is a privilege even for my mother to nurse them."
"All very well—but I won't have her getting all tired out," grumbled Marie. "Your father told me himself, when he went off, to look after her. And I'm going to do it."
"Where did the soldiers who are in the park come from?" asked Henri, changing the subject.
"Who knows? They come, they stay a few hours or a day, then they go, and others take their places! More soldiers have been in Amiens than I knew were in the world! We had some English—strange, mad men, who wore dresses to their knees and had music that sounded like a dozen cats fighting at night on a back yard fence."
Both the boys laughed at this description of the kilted Highlanders with their bagpipes, but they exchanged meaning glances. Paris did not know where the English troops were; barely knew that some had crossed the channel, and had landed in France. How many had come no one knew except those who would not tell. All that was announced was that England had sent help to her ally, and that English troops were again, as on so many occasions in the past, on French soil. But this time they came as friends, not as the enemies that Marlborough and Wellington had led.
"Well, we'll soon know, even if she can't tell us," said Henri. And as soon as they had had their breakfast, they slipped around to the kitchen. Henri and Frank both laughed, for they surprised half a dozen blushing, awkward infantrymen, who were receiving hot coffee and rolls—fare of a different sort from that afforded by the camp kitchens.
"Welcome, welcome!" said Henri. "My father is with his regiment, or he would speak, so I speak for him. Of what regiment are you, my friends?"
One of them mentioned its number, and Henri exclaimed in his surprise.
"But you are of the Nancy corps—the twentieth!" he cried. "You were fighting in Lorraine! Were you not among those who captured Mulhouse?"
"Yes." The soldier's face grew dark. "Ah, you are right! Of a truth we captured Mulhouse! How the Uhlans ran! We beat them there, and we were chasing them. Ah, the delight of that! There we were, in Alsace! The lost province! For the first time in forty-four years it saw French uniforms. For the first time since 1870 it was free from the Germans. The people sang and cheered as we went into the villages. They brought us food. The young women spread flowers before us. And then—we came back. We were not beaten! We had orders to recross the border. And we were put on trains and brought here. The shame of it!"
"But you came?"
"Soldiers must obey! But even our officers, I can tell you, did not like it!"
"Sometimes an army must retreat to fight better somewhere else," said Henri in defense.
"But here? At Amiens? There are no Prussians here!"
"Perhaps they are not so far away. One hears—they were in Brussels a week ago—they are pouring toward the border—perhaps they have passed it. It may be that there is a battle to be fought here in France."
"Oh, well, if there is a battle to be fought, that is different again. That is what we want. In Alsace there were no battles. They ran as soon as they saw our uniforms—the pigs of Prussians!"
"Good luck to you, then! May you beat a thousand of them!"
"We shall! Never fear! I will bring you a pretzel from Berlin when we come back in exchange for your good rolls!"
Laughing again, Frank and Henri went out.
"That fellow is like the French soldiers I've read about," said Frank, much interested.
"Yes. He is the sort who fights well, but does not think. But, Frank, I begin to think you were right. If they give up the fight in Alsace to re-enforce the army here, the Germans must be winning."
"Perhaps not. It may be only for the time."
"Yet it looks serious. Listen! Can you hear the sound of guns?"
Henri said that as a jest. But Frank listened—he took him seriously.
"Not yet," he said.
"Nor ever shall—from here!" exclaimed Henri. "I did not mean that! They will be held on the border."
Yet, even as he spoke, though he did not know it, the Germans, victors at the great battle of Mons-Charleroi, were driving the left wing of the allied army remorselessly, steadily back through the fertile fields of Champagne, where bullets were tearing the laden grapevines to pieces. The Uhlans were riding along the coast. Forced back by the defeat of the left, the centre was yielding. It was well that they did not know then what was in store; that they could not foresee the coming days when the Germans seemed to be the sure victors.
As they talked, Frank and Henri were making their way to the place where M. Marron, the scoutmaster, had told them to report. He was there, listening to reports and giving orders when they arrived. They had provided themselves the night before with uniforms, and now they were true scouts in appearance save that they did not wear the badge. They waited until he was ready to speak to them.
"You know the scout law?" he asked them, briefly.
Together they recited it.
"In war," he said, "rules may be forgotten. There are other tests, but these I shall not impose. Recite after me the scout oath. It binds you to be faithful, to be honorable. You are to obey the ten points of the scout law. And now that war has come, you are to obey all orders from officers of the army as you would those of your scoutmaster. If I go—and that may be to-day—you will obey the leader of the third patrol, to which you are assigned, as you would me. If things so come about that you can get orders from no one you will still do all you can for France."
Then he repeated in French the scout oath, and they said it after him.
"Now you are scouts," said Marron. He pinned badges on their sleeves. "Wear this always. Remember that it typifies your honor."
He raised three fingers in the scout salute; they returned it.
"That is well," he said, then. "Now for your first duty, you will accompany other scouts, to see how they perform their work. When you have done that for a little while, you may be trusted with independent commissions."
All morning, first with other scouts, and then alone, they did errands of one sort and another. After a brief rest for a hurried noonday meal, M. Marron gave them new orders.
"Here is a list of houses," he said. "Soon a train will arrive with refugees from districts where the Germans are. You will take these refugees around with you, in parties of twenty-five, with two scouts to a party, until all are cared for. The owners of the houses on your list have agreed to give these poor people food and shelter until they can safely return to their homes. Treat them kindly and chivalrously. Remember that though they may not have fought, they have suffered for the fatherland! You understand?"
They saluted, and were off.
TO THE FRONT
There was real news to be gleaned from these unfortunates who came into the station at Amiens soon after the boys took their places there with some of the other scouts of the troop. Women, children and old men—not a young man was among them, of course—they poured from the freight cars that in the main they occupied. And they were willing to talk; more than willing, indeed. They told of how the Germans had come. First the Uhlans riding through, stern and silent, willing to leave the inhabitants alone, as a rule, if they themselves were let alone. Then the infantry, rolling along in great grey masses. And with them came the spoiling of the countryside.
"They took everything—food, wine, everything our army had not had," said one woman to Frank and Henri, as she walked through the streets with them. Frank was carrying her baby for her. "They left us with nothing! And then they burned all the houses in my street because, they said, there must be clear space for their guns to fire!"
It was a simple matter to distribute these poor refugees. The town of Amiens had troubles of its own but it forgot them now, and set itself doggedly to work the relief of the far more acute distress of those from the countryside to the north and east. Always the stories of those who had fled before the German hosts were the same.
"The Germans haven't got an army!" cried Henri, bitterly. "It's a war machine they send against us! They do not fight like men, but like railroad trains!"
They were learning more in this task of escorting the refugees than all the bulletins had been able to tell them. No censors could close the mouths of these poor people, and they were not only willing to talk—they craved listeners.
"It makes it easier to bear what we have suffered when we know that others know what the Germans have done," said the woman with the baby. "We women—we gave our husbands, and those who had sons gave their sons. Now we have given all to France. Let the men win back enough for us to live—that is all that we ask."
They did not know the meaning of the military movements they had seen. Indeed, they had not seen military movements in the strict sense of the word. All they knew was that soldiers, first in one uniform, then in another, had passed through their villages, first going north and east, then south and west. They had heard firing, dim and in the distance at first, but coming always nearer. Then the tide of battle had rolled by. That was all they knew.
But to boys who from the beginning of the war had followed every move on the great chessboard of the struggle, these things meant knowledge for which the editors of newspapers would have given fortunes. In Paris they had had a great map, and every day they had shifted the tiny flags that showed where the troops were. They had flags for each of the allies and for the Austrians and Germans at first. Later they had become more particular. They had worked out as well as they could the different armies, even to the army corps, and had marked their flags accordingly. And so this exact knowledge of where troops of particular commands had been, made it possible for them, when there was time for them to go home, to make changes in the positions of the little flags that dotted their map.
When they had finished doing that they looked at one another.
"The French and the English are retreating," said Henri, soberly. "You were right, Frank. They fought on the line of Mons to Charleroi in Belgium, and then they began running away."
"Not exactly that, either," said Frank. "Look here—look at the map, Henri. There is Paris. There is a great army there under General Gallieni. There are enormous fortifications. That is the great base. There is this line with three fortresses—Rheims, La Fere, Laon, with other forts between them. That backed the centre when the French army retired from the border. But there is another army on the left of that line—because, if the Germans get around the left, behind that line of fortresses, they could be surrounded."
"But they could be defended—"
"Yes, as Bazaine defended Metz—until he was starved out," said Frank. He was beginning to be excited. "I think I see what may happen, Harry. The German right is moving out, always—far out, toward the sea. It wants to get around our left, and cut it off. If it gets between our left and Paris, there will be a disaster—another Sedan, perhaps. That is why there is a retreat. It is necessary. We are not ready to fight yet. But wait!"
"Wait! Wait? Is that the thing for French soldiers to do? That is not how Napoleon won his battles! He struck—and he struck first!"
"Never until he was sure of victory."
"But if they keep on retreating, they will be south of here! The Germans can take Amiens, if they like!" exclaimed Harry in much alarm.
"What of it? It will be sad for Amiens, but it will do the Germans no good. Amiens has no strategic value. Less than Rheims or Laon—and we know now that the Germans have them both, though that has not been in the bulletins."
"Then why are troops going south? The troops from here?"
"We don't know where they are going, Henri. They start south but perhaps they turn, and go to re-enforce the centre. Don't you suppose our generals have their plans, too? You spoke of Napoleon. Don't you remember the march to Moscow? How the Russians retreated, always, and drew him on? And what happened then, when they were ready to fight?"
Frank had awakened a memory terrible for any Frenchman. But there was no more time for argument. The telephone rang out sharply and Henri went to answer it. M. Marron was on the wire. When Henri returned his eyes were shining.
"We are wanted. Perhaps it is for real work," he said, happily. "He wanted to know if we could both speak English—if I could, that is. None of the other scouts can do that, he says, and so we are to report at once. Oh, I wonder what can be wanted?"
"Well, the best way to find out is to go and see," said Frank, practically.
M. Marron was ready for them when they reached him. He was no longer in his khaki scoutmaster's garb, but in his uniform of captain of the line.
"You are to report to Colonel Menier," he said, briefly. "I do not know what service is required of you. I can only say to you, do your best. My orders have come. I join my regiment to-day. From this moment the troop of Boy Scouts of Amiens has no organization, until such time as it can be restored. Each scout must act for himself, taking his orders whenever it is possible from officers of the army. When he has no such orders he must use his own best judgment. Before you report to Colonel Menier you are to wait here—I intend to address all the scouts of the troop."
They had not long to wait before the other scouts arrived. At the sight of the scoutmaster in his uniform they cheered him heartily.
"Scouts!" he said, speaking in French, when all were there. "I leave you now, for the fatherland has called me to its service in ways different from those to which I have been assigned so far. I leave you free to your own devices. But you are free only in name. You are bound by your scout oath, by your scout law. You are bound by those principles of honor which the scouts teach and enforce. Never forget them!
"While you are still boys, before it is time for France to call you to the army, the enemy thunders at our gates. In our millions we have risen to repel them, to drive the iron heel of the invader from France, France the beautiful, the loved of all! It is for you, as for all who are worthy of the name of Frenchmen, to help in that great work, to make sacrifices, to do your part.
"But your part gives you no right to fight. You are to bear no arms. That does not mean you have no service to render to your native land; that France does not ask anything of you. She asks much; she expects much from the Boy Scouts.
"It may be you can do most by quietly filling the place made vacant in your home—made vacant by father or older brother gone to serve in the ranks. It may be your privilege to aid in caring for the wounded as they come back to their homes from the scene of conflict. It may be you will find a place to help on the battlefields. But wherever you are, whatever you do, remember that Scouts are ever faithful, ever loyal, ever true to the trust reposed in them.
"It is cowardly to shirk a duty. Perform your part in the struggle as becomes true Scouts—as becomes men who have been born and reared in our fair France.
"Mark my word well. So, if I am spared to return to you, after the war, I shall meet all of you again, and I shall be able to grasp the hand of each one of you, and say: 'Well done! You have deserved well, you of France and of the Boy Scouts Francais!'"
His sword flashed from his scabbard, and he held it stiffly to the salute. Then sheathing it, he turned and stamped from the room. He went with a high head and a happy heart to the service of the land he loved—as millions of Frenchmen had gone or would go.
There was silence when he had gone. Quietly the scouts melted away to the tasks they had in hand. The words of their departing leader had made a great impression on them. Nor had his reminder of what they should and should not do against the Germans been unnecessary.
"I suppose he must be right," said Henri, a little wistfully. "I shall obey. But I had hoped that I might have a shot at a few Germans! Frank, I have practiced so often with my rifle! I have killed hawks and rabbits—"
"Let's find Colonel Menier," said Frank. "We can hurt the Germans far more, I expect, by obeying orders than by killing a few. It is not the killing of a few men that will settle this war, Henri! War is bad—war is terrible. Let us not make it worse."
Then they went to the barracks, inquiring, as they had been told to do, for Colonel Menier. Soon they were brought to him, a busy, tired looking officer of the staff. He eyed them keenly.
THE GLORY OF WAR
One glance at Henri seemed to satisfy him. The French boy, so typical of his race, he was ready to take for granted. He asked just one question.
"You speak English well? You can understand thoroughly?"
"Yes, my colonel," answered Henri.
Then the officer turned to Frank.
"You are English—one of our allies?" he asked.
"No, sir." And Frank had to explain, for the hundredth time since the war began, as it seemed to him, his nationality and his mixed blood. He threw up his head a little proudly now as he told of his French mother.
"That is well enough," said the colonel. "You are neutral—in America. But I think—ah, yes, I believe that you Americans remember Lafayette and the help you had from Frenchmen once."
"I am ready to do what I can for France, colonel," said Frank, simply. "That is all I can say."
"Or I, or any of us," said Colonel Menier. "Listen well, then. I shall tell you things that no one else is to know. You, Martin, know the country here? You can find your way about?"
"Yes, my colonel."
"I want you to take certain messages for me to the English headquarters. Where it is to-day, I know. It is here—see, on the map?"
They looked at the spot he indicated, and concealed their surprise. They had supposed the English much nearer the border.
"Where it may be to-morrow I cannot tell. But it is of the greatest importance that the papers I give you be delivered at headquarters. It is so important that we will not trust them to the telephone, to the telegraph, to the field wireless. They are reports of the most confidential nature, having to do with movements that will be of great importance a few days from mow. You will not wear your uniforms of Boy Scouts for the work in hand."
Neither of them said anything.
"That, you will understand, is because the uniforms would make you more than ever conspicuous to the Germans. I do not think you will be anywhere near the Uhlans. But in war one must not think; or, if one does, one must think of all things that may happen. So you will wear your ordinary clothes. You have one day, two days, three, if necessary, to find the British headquarters. No more. These papers are written on the thinnest of paper. It is so thin that the messages are contained in these marbles that I give you—one to each of you."
They took the marbles and still they made no comment.
"If you are captured and searched, I believe you will have very little to fear. It is not likely that a German officer, no matter how zealous he may be, will be over-suspicious of a lot of marbles in a boy's pocket. You will have a pocket full of them, and they will all look alike. And if the Germans find you are only boys moved by the curiosity of boys to see battlefields, they will not hurt you. I do not believe they will even hold you. Probably they will not even take your marbles away from you, thinking them harmless playthings, never once dreaming of their secret. Only the officer at our headquarters who knows of your coming will be able to distinguish one marble from another. How he will do so, it is better that you should not know."
"Someone then will know that we are coming, my colonel?" said Henri, a smile brightening his face.
"Evidently. When you reach the British lines, you will be challenged, probably arrested and detained. Say to the soldier that he is to give a word to his officer—Mezieres. That will insure your being taken to headquarters. Everywhere, all through the field, the giving of that word will mean that he who gives it is to be taken at once to the nearest staff officer."
"Mezieres. We will remember, my colonel," said Henri. "We will change into our ordinary clothes and start at once. On our return we report to you here?"
Colonel Menier smiled sadly.
"When you return there will be no French troops in Amiens, I fear," he said. "Indeed, I know it. The time to stop and turn to fight is not yet. We shall not play into the hands of the Germans by fighting on their chosen ground. We shall wait until we are ready. This is not 1870 when armies were thrown away rather than retreat to ground where the chances of victory were even, at the worst. Remember that, if you think the retreat is shameful. If, in 1870, the army of Chalons had retreated upon Paris, instead of marching to the trap at Sedan, French history might well be different."
"Then Amiens is to be evacuated, my colonel?"
"It is the order. When you have done your errand, return here or do whatever the British staff may require of you. It will not be for long that Amiens shall be deserted. We shall return. But whether I shall be here then, I do not know. Farewell! Obey the orders I have given you, and you will deserve well of France."
They saluted then and went to make their preparations for the start.
"Harry," said Frank, "if the Germans are coming to Amiens, your mother must go. She should be where she will be safe."
"You are right, Frank. We will try to persuade her to go. But will she leave her task with the wounded?"
"She can take it up elsewhere."
But though they had expected to have difficulty in persuading her, they found that Madame Martin was already making plans to go.
"The wounded are to be taken to Tours in great numbers," she told them. "They will need nurses there, and I shall go. Henri, will you and Francois come with me?"
"We cannot," said Henri. "There is work for us to do. You would want me to do my share?"
"Of course I do!" she said, her eyes filling with tears. "And so speaks every mother in France to-day! Stay, then, and serve your land in whatever way you can, for France needs even the boys now. Remember, Henri, that somewhere your mother is serving too, and she expects her son to do his whole duty. More, she knows he will do it." And her face glowed with pride in her son as she clasped his hand in her own.
"I will remember," said Henri.
Then they went to their room, laid away their newly acquired uniforms of Boy Scouts, and, keeping not even their new badges of which they had been so proud, especially Henri, dressed in their ordinary clothes.
"Let's start on bicycles, anyhow," proposed Frank. "We may not be able to stick to them, but we can save a lot of time on our way to Le Cateau. That's where we shall go first, isn't it?"
"Yes. We had better start for there. You're right about the bicycles, too. Even if we lose them, that does not matter so much," said Harry.
"And, Harry, we've got to pretend to be pretty stupid, if we are caught. You mustn't act as if you knew too much. Don't let the Germans see how you really feel about them. Pretend to be terribly frightened, even if you're not," instructed Frank.
"All right. I see what you mean. Come on, then. Let's be off!"
Already, as they rode through the streets of Amiens, the signs of what was to come were multiplying. Troops were marching out of the town, but they were going south, away from the battle line, it seemed. And the townspeople were not slow in taking the hint. They were gathering such things as they could carry with them, and all those with anything of real value, and with a place to take it, were preparing to get away before the coming of the Germans. The refugees from Belgium had told them lurid tales of the German treatment of captured places; they had no mind to share the fate of their unhappy neighbors in the plucky little country to the north. And so the exodus was beginning.
Henri was very much depressed.
"And this is war!" he said, sadly. "So far, except for the wounded, we have seen only the suffering of women and children. Where is the glory of war of which history tells? I want to see some fighting! I want to know that we are really resisting the invaders of the fatherland."
"You'll know it soon enough," said Frank, with a smile. "You are too impatient, Harry. And you must remember this. While all this is going on, Russia is advancing too. The Austrians have been well beaten all along their front already. Soon it will be the turn of the Germans to meet Russia. They cannot long devote all their energy to France and the British."
"That is so, Frank. But the Russians won't fight here."
"Perhaps not. But it will be the same. For every army corps that Russia sends into Prussia means that Germany can spare so many troops less for the war on this side. Harry, do you know what I think? I think Germany is beaten already!"
"How can you say that, Frank? We know now that they have pushed us back everywhere—that they are all over Belgium, and are marching on Paris, just as they did the last time—"
"No, not just as they did the last time, Harry. For then they marched on Paris with the field armies of France beaten—one of them captured, the other locked up in Metz. Now the armies of France are still in the field. And I say that Germany is beaten because her one chance in this war was to destroy France as she did in 1870—quickly. If she had done that, she might have been able to turn back, away from France, and meet Russia with her full strength."
"Oh, I see what you mean. But I'll feel better when we turn and fight, instead of running away from them."
"So will I and everyone else, Harry. But the great thing for our side now is to win delay. Every day is as important as a battle. Russia moves slowly, but when she is fully in the field she will have as great an army ready as France and Germany together."
"Well, I hope you are right. Ah, now we are out of the town. We can go a little faster. En avant!"
In the fields women and young boys were working hard, getting in the harvest that the men had abandoned. Never had a countryside looked more peaceful, except that at every bridge they passed now was a sentry, usually a man of the reserve, held back from the front for this sort of duty, while the younger men were at the front to do the actual fighting.
For a long time they were not challenged. The sentries looked at them idly, but decided that they were not at all likely to be Prussian spies, and let them pass. But when they came to the railroad line leading from Amiens to Arras, which they had to cross, it was different. Their crossing was at a culvert, where the road passed under the tracks. Here there was not one sentry, but a post, under the command of a one-legged veteran.
To him they were forced to make explanations, which he received gravely, studying Frank with particular attention.
"So you carry despatches," he said. "You have a word, a countersign, perhaps?"
"Mezieres," said Henri, promptly.
"Very well. Pass, then, but keep an eye open. There were Uhlans here before daybreak."
"They are beginning to show now. We hear they were in Arras yesterday. Some stayed with us. They sought to blow up the culvert here."
Then they went on. And just after they had passed the post, they saw what the crippled veteran had meant when he had said that some of the Uhlans had stayed. They lay beside the road, in their greenish gray uniforms. They were the first German soldiers either of the boys had seen. And, in the field, two old peasants were digging a grave.
THE HANDS OF A CLOCK
The sight was a sobering one. There had been only half a dozen of the Uhlans, and they knew from what they had heard and read that thousands, scores of thousands probably, had already died in the war. But they hadn't seen the others, and these men had lain by the roadside within a few feet of them. For a time neither of the two scouts had much to say.
"There's some real war for you, Henri," Frank said, finally.
"Don't!" said the French scout with a shudder. "It must be, but it is terrible. And only a few hours ago, I suppose, they were riding along as well as you and I!"
Then for a mile or more they rode along in silence. They made good time for the roads were level. There were no interruptions to their progress now. In the fields, as before, they could see the women and a few old men about the work of the harvest, but in spite of that, there was an air of desolation. Everything seemed to have stopped. And there was a curious something that made itself felt. For a long time, though each of them felt this, they made no comment on it. Finally Frank called a halt.
"Listen, Harry," he said. "There's something curious. It's a noise, and yet it isn't, exactly. It sounds a little like thunder or like the surf when you are quite a little way inland—"
They stopped together, listening.
"I know!" said Henri, suddenly. "It's the guns we hear. The wind is changing and that is why it is coming to us now. There is a battle. In olden days we could see its smoke but now they fight without making smoke. And the noise, too, seems to come from the direction in which we are going."
Once he had named the cause, there was no mystery about the sound. It was less a sound, however, than a beating of the air. There were no sharp reports; it was a steady, ceaseless murmur. But even so, there was no mistaking it. For the first time they were within hearing distance of a battle.
"We will soon be on our way to Berlin, now," said Henri. "That must mean that we have turned—that the great battle has begun."
"It needn't mean that," said Frank. "It may be only artillery covering a rear guard action. I wish you'd remember, Harry, that a retreat may mean mighty hard fighting. Not a rout—a retreat. It isn't easy for an army to move backward. But it's been done by a good many armies that won later."
"Well, come on! We're not getting any nearer to the English by stopping here to talk."
"No. We'll be off again. That noise is getting nearer, Harry. Or louder, anyhow. Perhaps that only means that more guns are going into action."
Somehow the nearness of the battle stimulated them. They found themselves making better time, though they had certainly seemed to be riding as fast as they could before. And all the time the sound of the cannon in front of them grew louder, and the quality of the noise gradually changed. Soon loud explosions began to be distinguishable amid the general hum of battle, and, too, there was an overtone,—a sharper, less steady noise.
"Rifle fire, I think, too," said Frank. "It's lighter than the sound of the cannon, but it seems to be just about as steady. And to think that that's going on, all the way from here to the Swiss border nearly! They're fighting here and near Verdun, and in the Vosges mountains."
"Look over there," said Henri, suddenly. "Do you see? That looks like an omnibus!"
"It is—one of the sort they use in London!" said Frank, in surprise.
The great, unwieldy vehicle came lumbering toward them. It rolled along the road, raising a tremendous cloud of dust, and they could see that behind it were many more. Just behind it, too, a man on a motorcycle came suddenly into view. He was mounted on a high-powered machine, and they could hear the roar of his motor as he came up to them.
"Halte!" he cried, in a broken French. "Arretez vous!"
They were off their machines in a moment, saluting, as he stopped his motor and put one foot on the ground to steady his machine. He was dressed in khaki, and both of them recognized his uniform as that of the British forces.
"We speak English," said Frank.
"The deuce you do! That's good! Well, tell me how to get to Guise. We've lost our blooming way, that's what we've done! And we've got supplies for the troops."
"You're going the wrong way—straight to Amiens," said Henri. "The road to Guise is back four miles, at least. Can you turn your 'buses here? We will guide you. We are going that way."
"You are, are you?" said the English officer. He laughed, curtly. "I doubt that, young fellow! I do, indeed! However, you can come along with us as far as that. Then I'll wash my hands of you. But I can tell you that if you go on much further, you'll get into some fighting that isn't meant for boys!"
They made no reply, for as they understood their errand, they were not supposed to tell every officer they met what they were doing, but were to answer questions only when it was plain that not to do so meant that they would be prevented from reaching their destination.
It was not the easiest of tasks to manage the reversing of the supply train of omnibuses, but the officer in charge was efficient, and it was managed. When the convoy had turned around, he rode up beside the boys.
"Seen any signs of Germans?" he asked.
"Only at a culvert a few miles back," said Frank. He described the fight there as best he could, and the officer looked a little worried.
"As far as that, eh?" he said. "We hadn't heard of their being in that quarter at all. H'm!"
Then he rode on ahead, to what had, until a few moments before, been the rear of his train.
"He's doing well enough, now that he knows his way," said Frank in an undertone to Henri. "But I think he was in a bad way. I've got an idea that the Germans are behind us. Do you know what I think? It's funny for a supply train like this to be here without any escort of troops, isn't it?"
"Yes. I thought of that, too."
"Well, I believe he was supposed to meet a guard, and missed it. Suppose he'd run into the Germans?"
"Yes, that would have been a nice mess! I suppose some English soldiers would have gone hungry to-night!"
The road was rising a little, enough for them to feel the added pull in propelling their wheels. And now, at the crest of the little rise, they saw that the officer had dismounted. He had unstrapped a box from his machine and was setting it up. In a few minutes, as they reached him, he had set up a tripod-like machine, not unlike a surveyor's instrument, and was flashing a small mirror.
"Hello!" he said. "Field heliograph kit. Ever see it before?"
"No, sir, but I know about it," said Frank, while Henri looked on admiringly. "I know the Morse code, too."
"Do you? Good! Then watch those answering flashes. Check off the message for me."
Harry obeyed, having spotted in that moment the answer of a similar instrument on a hill perhaps five miles away. He read off the Morse signs carefully, and the officer nodded.
"And that's all right," he said, with a sigh of relief. "They'll have an escort here for us as quickly as it can ride over. I suppose you know I signalled for that?"
The officer was plainly puzzled by Frank and Henri. He could not quite understand what they were doing in what was decidedly disputed ground. But he had not the instinct that would have prompted a French, and more especially, a German officer, to question them and, if he was not fully satisfied, to put them under restraint.
"All right. We'll be getting on," he said. "Ride along, now. I'm going back. Don't get out of touch. And if I'm not around when we get to the road where we are to turn off for Guise, stop them. They know you're guiding us."
He went off, with a great sputtering of his engine, and Frank and Harry rode along quietly. But Frank felt a strange uneasiness.
"I feel as if there was something wrong around here," he said.
"What do you mean, Frank? Everything's quiet now. Even the firing is not as heavy as it was."
"I know, but just the same, that's how I feel. As if there was something in the air. What's this—a village we're coming to?"
"Yes, and the crossroads where the 'buses must turn, for Guise is just beyond here, too."
"Doesn't look much like war, does it?" said Frank. "Look at that church. I suppose it's been there for centuries. But the clock looks new, doesn't it?"
"Yes, and it's stopped, too," said Henri, with a laugh. "I suppose they are so excited about the war that they've forgotten to wind it properly."
"The time of day doesn't matter much just now," said Frank. "I think—" He stopped short, staring as if fascinated at the clock. Then with a cry to Henri to wait for him, he turned and pedalled furiously back in the direction the officer had taken.
"Who is the commander?" he called to the soldier driver of one of the 'buses.
"Capting 'Ardy," replied the man.
"Thanks," Frank called, and went on as fast as he could. He met Captain Hardy coming toward him. Swiftly he told him what he had seen, and Hardy, tugging at his revolver, sped on. Frank followed but was left far behind, naturally, by the speed of the motorcycle. When he reached the church he looked up at the clock again. Captain Hardy's motorcycle was lying in the street, and Henri was staring at the church door greatly puzzled.
"What is the matter?" cried Henri. "The officer came back, jumped off his machine and tore into the church as if his life depended on it. He was pulling out his pistol, too. What—"
The sharp bark of a revolver interrupted him. It spoke three times and there was a cry from above. They looked up, to see the figure of a man dropping from the opening of the clock. A moment later Captain Hardy came down, reloading his revolver.
"Good work, youngster!" he said. "Your eyes were sharp that time! If you hadn't seen the hands of that clock moving we might have been caught in a nice trap! Wait here—I'm going to make a barricade of the omnibuses."
"What does he mean?" cried Henri, almost frantic with curiosity.
"Why, I saw that the hands of the clock had moved! You said it had stopped, and I looked up. Then the next time I looked, the hands had moved around—two or three hours!"
"But how—and why—if the clock had stopped?"
"That's just it! That clock must be visible for some distance around, Harry. Suppose a German was there? He could be signalling, couldn't he?"
"Oh, a spy! I never thought of that! You mean he would tell other Germans to come here—that there was work for them to do?"
"Yes. I only hope Captain Hardy stopped him in time."
But Hardy was taking no more chances than he could help. He had guessed as quickly as Frank the probable reason for the strange antics of the clock's face. And now he made his dispositions quickly. Counting the armed drivers of each omnibus, and the extra man each carried, he had less than thirty men. But he drew up several of the omnibuses in a square formation in the central square of the village, and thus had an improvised fort. When he had done that he called sharply to the two boys.
"Get along with you—get away from here!" he said. "If we're going to have a fight it's no place for you. You've done us a mighty good turn—I don't want you running into danger because of it."
Even as he spoke a shot rang out. It was from the direction in which they had come!
"Just in time, too," he said, coolly.
A soldier came up to report.
"Uhlans, sir—a sight of them, too. Coming from the road we were taking. I think we got one of them, sir. Toppled him off his horse, anyhow, sir."
"All right. Let them come," said Captain Hardy. "Go along now, boys. If you see the cavalry sent to escort us, tell them to hurry! We'll try to beat them off until we get help."
He turned away, and Frank picked up his wheel.
A GLIMPSE OF THE ENEMY
Other ears than theirs had heard that firing, too. As they rode along they saw a cloud of dust before them, and soon men and horses emerged from the dust.
"Let's hide in the hedge along the road," said Frank. "Come on—they'll never see us."
"But they won't hurt us, Frank. They're English—our friends."
"Probably they are. But how do we know? They may be more Germans."
"Oh, I never thought of that! If they are—"
"Yes, if they are, it's good-bye to Captain Hardy and his supplies. But we can't help it. We've already done all we could for him."
They watched the oncoming cavalry, but even at a little distance, what with their speed and the dust, it was impossible to tell to which army they belonged. They were either English or German; that was all that could be certain. And that could be deduced from their khaki uniforms. There were no colors to emerge, bright and vivid, from their dun mass; no points of steel, on which the rays of the sun might shine and be reflected.
"If they were French we could tell," said Henri, proudly. "We could see their red and blue uniforms and, if they were cuirassiers, their breastplates!"
"Yes. The French are far behind the times in that," said Frank, a little impatiently. "Nowadays armies don't try to act as if they were on dress parade. They wear uniforms that can't be seen any great distance away."
"The French army fights in the uniform in which its famous victories were won," said Henri.
"And it gets killed in them, too," said Frank. "Gets killed when it doesn't do any good. But that doesn't matter now. Ah, they're English! I can see that now. We needn't tell them to hurry—they're going for all they're worth now. They've heard the firing and are hastening."
The English horsemen swept by. They were riding low in the saddle, urging their horses on. Each man carried a carbine, ready to dismount at any moment and give battle as seemed best. In five minutes they had swept by.
"Two troops," said Frank. "Well, that ought to be enough, though there's no telling how many Uhlans there were. Ah, here come some more!"
This time it was a battery of light artillery—four guns, going along almost as quickly as the cavalry had done.
"That ought to settle it," said Frank, with satisfaction. "Even if they run into a brigade of Uhlans, the guns ought to do the trick. I don't believe they had any guns or we'd have heard them by this time."
"They're still fighting back there," said Henri, as they wheeled their bicycles back to the road. "I can hear the firing."
"Yes, and I think it must be a pretty lively skirmish, too," said Frank. "Captain Hardy would keep them at it. Listen! The Uhlans must outnumber them three or four to one. I hope the others get up in time."
A few minutes gave assurance that they had. They heard the firing still more loudly; then, a few minutes later, the heavier sound of the guns chimed in. And then there was silence behind them.
"Score one for our side," said Frank. "We know a little more than we did before, too. I think it's a safe guess that the Germans aren't in this direction. We can go along without worrying about them."
As he said that they were coasting down a little hill, at the bottom of which, Henri had said, another road crossed the one on which they were riding just around a little turn in the road. And as they took that turn, their feet off the pedals, they almost fell off their wheels in astonishment. For the transverse road was gray-green with soldiers; soldiers with spiked helmets, marching south!