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HOME > Short Stories > The Boy Volunteers on the Belgian Front > CHAPTER X IN THE MESSENGER SERVICE
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This part of Belgium has a very curious formation. Many of the limestone quarries are really subterranean passages, and are of very ancient origin, and all this section of the country has a history which goes back to the time of the Romans. Not far north of the elevation where the present camp was formed, is an old Roman road, which runs in an unbroken line to Mons, in southwestern Belgium.

Belgium soil is also rich in human blood in this vicinity. Near by is a historic battle field, fought on Sept. 11, 1746; and northwest of Liège, on the plains of Neerwinden, two great battles were fought, one on July 29, 1693, when the French under Marshal Luxembourg defeated the Allies under William III, of England, and in the second battle, March 18, 1793, when the French under Dumouriez and Louis Phillipe were defeated by the Austrians under the Prince of Coburg.

It is no wonder that their proximity to the great battlefields should make the Belgians good soldiers. They knew that their forefathers had fought on many a field, and they possessed the spirit to try to emulate them.


That evening the boys had an opportunity to learn of many of the battles fought in the vicinity, the commander being a descendant of a famous family which contributed fighting heroes before Belgium became a separate nation.

Before ten o\'clock that night, several messengers appeared in camp from the military commandant near Tondres, and they were ordered to proceed to the north at once.

The scouts in the front, who had been deployed in many directions, were informed that at twelve o\'clock the command would break camp, and that Capt. Renee would command the rear guard, composed of the outlying pickets.

A large detail of men had been chosen to take care of the guns, which were first taken down the hill, half of the force accompanying them in the march toward Tondres, Ralph and the six wounded men being carried along on the caissons. Alfred was with Roland, under command of the Captain.

This was an opportunity that he had long awaited, as military operations in the night were fascinating to him. Ralph bitterly regretted his inability to be with them, but the loss of blood had weakened him, and it was not prudent to permit him to walk.

Promptly at twelve that night the corporal made his rounds, and quietly gathered in the picket patrols, which silently followed the two companies that had been left behind, the retreat being effected without the knowledge of the Germans. At two in the morning Alfred saw that they109 came up with the halted division, which had reached the railroad south of Tongres.

After a half hour\'s rest the entire force moved on, and as daylight began to appear the command was halted, and it was not long before many of the men had found comfortable places and were sleeping soundly.

Alfred was too fatigued to care where he slept. Ralph, on the other hand, was able to only after he became accustomed to the rolling motion of the heavy ordnance wagon.

At six o\'clock he was up, and looking around was gratified to see Roland, who greeted the boy with the greatest enthusiasm.

"Are you looking for Alfred?" the latter inquired.

"Yes, do you know where he is?" asked Ralph.

"Poor fellow, he is almost dead with fatigue. You will find him on the straw to the left."

Ralph was over in an instant, and there was Alfred, lying on his side, sleeping as peacefully as though dead.

What he now noticed for the first time was the condition of Alfred\'s clothing. There was not a clean thread on the boy. The trousers had holes in the knees, the shoes were badly jagged, and the toes worn through. It would have been hard to recognize the hat, as it had no semblance of its former shape.

After gazing awhile he thought of his own clothing. It was no better, although strange that he had never noticed its dilapidated condition before.110 He remembered how they had to crawl through the brush, and along the hedges, and it was not remarkable that their clothing hung in threads.

No, he would not waken Alfred, much as he had to tell him, so he quietly wended his way back to the caisson. As he did so he passed the commandant\'s quarters, and that officer greeted him.

"And you are the wounded boy?" he said.

Ralph blushed, and answered: "I am the wounded soldier, sir." And then he stammered to correct his answer.

The officer laughed, as he responded: "You are right; I should have called you a man, because you have done a man\'s work. You boys are made of the right kind of stuff. But weren\'t you afraid when the bullets began to come whistling around you?"

"Yes, at first," he said a little hesitatingly, "I was afraid before Antonio told us to shoot."

"So you were afraid before either you or the Germans had a chance to shoot; is that it?"

"Well, yes; you see they seemed to come up pretty close before he gave us a chance to fire; but when we once commenced to shoot we didn\'t stop to think whether we were in danger or not."

"That is the right spirit, my boy. That is the way the true soldier feels."

At seven o\'clock breakfast was ready and the entire camp was awake. Alfred came from the hillside, where he had his bed, and was directed to the caisson, where he greeted Ralph with many expressions of delight.


"Oh, we had a big time during the night; it was fine. We trailed along, but got awfully tired. But it was exciting," said Alfred.

"Sorry I couldn\'t be with you; but that is just my luck; had to be hit the first pop," answered Ralph, with a rueful look.

"But then you had a ride during the night. That was something," said Alfred.

Ralph didn\'t think so. It would have been more to his liking to have been with the moving column.

After breakfast the order was given to march. At ten o\'clock they saw ahead of them a force of cavalry, and the boys recognized the familiar Belgian colors at the head of the column, and the well known uniforms of the troopers.

From the officer in command they learned that they were to encamp on the plains a little beyond the town, to await the arrival of the forces gathering to support the defenders of Liège.

Part of the cavalry remained with the troops, but the main body rapidly moved down the highway to intercept the Uhlans who were advancing from the east.

Alfred noticed their departure, with considerable wonder. "What is the object, Roland, of sending the cavalry down to fight, after we were told to retreat?" he queried.

"The cavalry can move more rapidly than the infantry, and they are to act as the scouts, to locate the positions of the enemy, report the direction of their movements, the sizes of the forces, and the character of the troops, and thus enable112 the main army to dispose of its forces accordingly."

"Do you know how long we shall remain in camp?" asked Alfred.

"That is difficult to tell," responded Roland. "You must understand that when war broke out Belgium did not know that her territory was to be crossed. For that reason, believing that Germany would obser............
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