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HOME > Short Stories > The Boy Volunteers on the Belgian Front > CHAPTER XIII THE LOSS OF THEIR MACHINES IN BATTLE
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CHAPTER XIII THE LOSS OF THEIR MACHINES IN BATTLE
When the camp was reached it presented an entirely different scene. The tents had been loaded into wagons. The kitchen was stored away in one of the vans specially designed for field purposes, and the first detachment had already started on the march toward the north.

After asking permission, Alfred mounted his machine and sped away after the troops, and soon overhauled them. With considerable difficulty he worked his way through the marching troops, and when he had cleared the train put on full speed.

He hoped to be able to reach the great camp before nightfall, and as it was now nearly four o\'clock he knew it would not take more than an hour to reach it. A kilometer beyond, the road parted, one branch going to the right and the other to the left.

A peasant near by told him that either road would take him to Neerwinden, but that the better road was to the right. He did not hesitate, and was off without further questionings.

148

In twenty minutes he came to a stream and crossing the well-built stone bridge which spanned it approached a little village that lay beyond. The town, like many others throughout Belgium, was distributed out along little lanes, which shot out at all angles, and it was not surprising that Alfred should become confused, and lose his way.

To add to the confusion there was great excitement in the village. Men were running to and fro. Women were holding their children, and looking pale. Alfred stopped.

"What is the trouble, Monsieur?" he asked as a man slowly moved along, quite in contrast with the people who formed the excited crowd.

"Trouble? Don\'t you know the Germans are beyond, and that all the roads are patrolled. They will be here any moment now."

This was an ominous warning, and he was glad he had stopped to inquire, otherwise he might have been a prisoner by this time. Then he reflected that Colonel Neerden ought to know this at once, so he ran his machine forward and, mounting it, turned it toward the bridge.

"Stop, stop," cried a dozen voices. Some waved their hands to indicate that he should turn back, but for some reason or other Alfred determined to recross the bridge. Then he heard what appeared to be a rifle shot, and something struck the machine.

He was now determined not to stop, as the bridge was less than two hundred feet away. He had not looked back, but now that he saw the149 stone walls which formed the sides of the bridge he cast his eyes over his shoulder, and riding through the village were a dozen German cavalrymen, with their carbines at their shoulders, all aiming at him.

You may well imagine that it was a thrilling thing for him to know that he was being hunted down and shot at. The bridge was finally reached and to his great relief was built out at an angle to the road on which the pursuers were following him.

Long before he had reached the bridge the machine was at full speed and as he emerged from the other side a dozen or more shots rang out; but he did not stop, or slacken his pace. He knew the friendly troops were coming toward him, so he went forward with the Germans behind him.

The welcome sight of the dust in the road beyond was appreciated now. As he dashed forward he held up his hand, and shouted to the advancing patrol: "The Germans are coming." On and on he went, and as each body of troops passed he cried the same warning.

Beyond was the Colonel and his staff, and toward him Alfred rushed the machine. "I met the Germans at the village beyond the bridge. The forward part of the column saw me and are going forward," he explained.

This information galvanized the officers into action and orders to clear the way went forward at once. Alfred turned his machine to follow, but after going a few hundred feet the power ceased,150 and in spite of all he could do the machine refused to move.

Several men kindly came to his assistance, and the trouble was soon apparent. "You have no petrol," said one of them.

"That is strange. I was told there was enough for a whole day\'s run, and I have not——"

"Ah! but there is a hole in the tank. Yes, two of them. See!"

"They were made by German bullets," said another.

"Look at the seat," said the first speaker. "You had a close call, my boy."

Alfred looked at the damage ruefully. "What shall I do?" he asked.

"We\'ll fix that up in short order," replied the man who made the examination and discovered the trouble. He was an expert motorcycle man, and this was an opportunity for him to be of service. He approached the commanding officer of his company and explained the situation, and was detailed to effect the repairs at once.

The tool box of the machine was opened, and the rolls of tape taken out.

"Now watch me, my boy. Let me show you how to make a temporary repair, in cases of this kind."

The tank had been perforated by two shots, which went entirely through, thus causing four perforations. As the machine had the type of tank which rested vertically between the fork, it was obvious that, since the lowest perforation was151 not at the bottom, there was still enough petrol left to enable Pierre to reach the command before the remaining portion was used up.

"First, take these patches, and put cement around the edges, and apply them over the holes. Then wind the tape around the tank and over the patches, just as I am doing, and be sure to stretch the tape well. There; now we must get some strong cord, or twine, and wind that over the tape. You will find that absolutely tight, and will hold the petrol for a time."

"Well, will it leak at all if it is put on right?", asked Alfred.

"In time the petrol will eat up, or dissolve the rubber, so that proper repairs should be made as soon as possible," he was informed.

"Now that it is fixed where can I get some petrol? I forgot all about that," said Alfred.

"Well, I didn\'t," said the workman.

Alfred stared at him. "Do you know where to get some?"

"Certainly; they have plenty in the kitchen wagon."

Alfred might have thought of that, but he couldn\'t think of everything. Where was the kitchen wagon?

It was coming up, and Alfred applied to the officer in charge of the commissary department for a supply, and after some questioning the permission was granted. In a few minutes more the boy was supplied and was under way.

The command went forward with a rush and152 was now well along on the road to the bridge, but before Alfred had time to go any distance he heard a volley, followed by the rattle of musketry. The battle was on and he hastened to the front.

Two field pieces were with the regiment, and those were hurriedly drawn to the front by the dogs, and mounted, so that they cleared the road in short order. The Uhlans tried, ineffectively, to destroy the bridge, but the advance column was too far ahead for them and they slowly retreated down the road.

And now Alfred saw the first results of the running fight. Numbers had been killed at the first onslaught, and many more wounded. The Germans did not attempt to relieve their wounded, but the improvised hospital wagons were brought into service, and the wounded, Germans and Belgians alike, were gathered up and given first relief.

Thus, for three kilometers, the fight raged, and when the railway line was reached the enemy had disappeared, as it was learned that the commandant at the camp had sent out a large detachment to relieve the two regiments which had thus been on outpost duty, and which had been recalled by the commanding officer.

When Alfred reached the camp he was delighted to find Ralph there, and he reported to the commanding officer at once. Ralph, while he did not run into danger, as had Alfred, nevertheless rendered most efficient service during the day.

But the camp of the morning had undergone a153 great change. Everything which could be loaded on the trains was already under way, and hundreds of wagons were still in the camp and stretched along the road in the direction of St. Trond.

During the night news came that Tongres had been captured after a hard fight. That would mean serious business at St. Trond, whither they were now going.

They had little sleep that night. Much of the time the boys were hurrying thither and thither, delivering messages which gave the disposition of the forces, the delivery of the various things required by the fighting forces and the special orders to the different officers.

The breaking up of a camp is a wonderful transformation of materials. It must not only be completely disorganized, but every article, and each unit, must be so arranged that it will be handy and ready for immediate use the next morning, or in the evening.

At four o\'clock in the morning the whole camp, or what remained of it, was in motion. The last infantry force to leave had a rear guard of cavalry, although the boys were well in the lead, with the commanding officer.

St. Trond was reached, just as the reports came in that the German forces were below the town, and that the first conflict had taken place.

The boys were interested to learn that their force was to go direct to the field, south of St. Trond. They arrived there at one o\'clock in the154 afternoon and the kitchen wagons were soon in readiness for a hurried meal.

Firing was going............
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