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CHAPTER XIV THE CAPTURE AND ESCAPE
The General looked at the boy for a moment and then exclaimed: "The old wound! When were you wounded?"

"At Russon, more than a week ago," he answered, without any attempt at bravado. That story by this time had gotten to be an old one with him.

"We cannot give you a machine to take you back to headquarters, but you may have a horse," said the officer; so as soon as the wound was dressed Ralph mounted a fine animal, and was told to take the cross country route, as the animal would leap any ordinary barrier.

Although he had ridden from his earliest recollection this was the first time that he was ever on a horse that could leap across obstacles, and when the first fence came in sight the horse refused to stop but with Ralph clinging to the saddle vaulted across with so much ease that it gave him the utmost confidence.

Ralph found the commanding officer about two miles behind the former location, with the Germans coming on in full force. The sound of battle was incessant, and everywhere could be seen the162 ambulance wagons and the doctors attending the wounded, but over all was the sad reflection that they were being driven on and on.

St. Trond was entered by the defenders during the afternoon, but they merely passed through, and before six that night the Germans had taken possession. Then came the report that the enemy\'s outposts had been reported as far north as Wellon, in the direction of Hasselt.

It was late that night when Ralph found Alfred. To him he told the story of his adventures; of the loss of his machine; of the assistance given to the wounded soldier, of his mission on foot to the officer to whom he bore a mission and on his return on a steed furnished him by the General.

"But what have you been doing?" asked Ralph. "I want to hear your story."

"Well," said Alfred, "after you left I was sent to the east, and made several trips to the different officers who were directed what to do as they retreated toward St. Trond. The last trip I ran into a German force, and was made a prisoner."

Ralph\'s eyes opened wide and glistened at this announcement.

"What did you do?" he asked eagerly.

"Well, just wait; it didn\'t amount to much," continued Alfred. "They took my machine away, of course, and then they searched me, and——"

"And took your orders away," said Ralph with a disgusted look.

"No, they didn\'t," answered Alfred.

"Why not?" asked Ralph.

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"Well, just wait," replied Alfred. "Do you remember when we were coasting down the hill the first or second day we were trying out the machine, that when we put on the brakes too suddenly it turned over on us and we ripped a hole in the seat?"

"Yes," answered Ralph.

"Well, when I saw that I was in for it, and that I couldn\'t get away, I tucked the paper in the torn hole in the seat, and it is there now, I suppose, and even if they do find it now it won\'t be of any use to them; at any rate, that is what the General said."

"But how did you get away? I want to hear about that," asked Ralph, eagerly.

"Get away? Well, I just walked away," said Alfred.

"But how?" asked Ralph.

"Oh! It wasn\'t any trouble," was the answer. "I stood around, and watched my chance. Of course, I heard an officer say something to a kind of under officer, as he pointed to me, and I suppose he told him to arrest me; but something happened just then that prevented——"

"What was it?" asked Ralph.

"A big shot landed about fifty feet in front of us, and exploded, and I never knew there was so much dirt in the whole of Belgium. You should have seen how that German officer looked. He had a most lovely uniform; but it was one mass of dirt, and I was just wondering, as I looked at him, if he had another suit like it, when I happened164–165 to think of the soldier who was going to arrest me. As he was not around just then I marched down a little lane, which was directly in front of the place where the shot struck, and there I crossed the double row of hedges, and seeing no one ahead I just marched across to the first field, and when I got there didn\'t I make tracks for our lines?" said Alfred, with glistening eyes.

"And you don\'t think that amounts to much?" asked Ralph.

"Well, it is nothing compared with being blown up in a machine," answered Alfred.

Ralph mused a while, and then burst out laughing. "Well, that is too good. Both of us to lose our machines on the same day. I am glad the Germans didn\'t get my machine," he said.

"Well, didn\'t they get it? I should think they did," and it was Alfred\'s time to laugh.

The troops were now massed along the crest of a small hill which crosses the road north of the town. Early in the morning the German forces could be seen deploying in all the open spaces to the north and east of the town, and before seven the shells began to fly as on the previous day. The boys meantime were kept busy with orders, Ralph using the horse which had been turned over to him, and Alfred, seizing the first opportunity, secured a new machine.
Map
Map of Louvain

The second day\'s fight was terrific. More than 1000 men fell on that day, on the Belgian side alone. It was one continual scene of fighting in166 the retreat from St. Trond to Tirlemont. Hasselt and Diest both fell that day, but of this the boys had no knowledge until later.

The force passed through Tirlemont in good order, fighting every inch of the way. The Germans were now, on the 19th of August, advancing on Louvain by three roads, from Diest, Tirlemont, and from Hammeville. The boys were with the central force on the Tirlemont road.

Orders were issued to continue the retreat to Louvain, as the Germans were known to be east of the city in great force, and no one knew what the end would be. Ralph still had his horse, but it had been wounded late in the afternoon and he was forced to abandon it.

Alfred had his machine, but it was useless, as he had no oil for it, and it was finally loaded in one of the wagons and the two boys were forced to go along on foot.

Soon there was a halt, and they saw the men form along the road and spread out along the sides of a hill. Then the shells began to fall and the troops in front got into action. They were being surrounded and cut off, and although the men knew it they continued to fight.

Then a desperate charge from the open field in the left told the story. The order was given to cease firing and as a still greater force came over the hill, and the entire rear guard of their regiment, together with a battery, fell into the hands of the enemy.

Everything was confusion now. The boys167 plainly saw a white flag and noted that the firing had ceased.

"Let us get out of this," said Alfred, so together they ran across a field and soon reached a fence beyond. The Belgian troops which filled the road to the north in another hour had reached the gate of the city, called Porte de Tirlemont. It was reported that the Germans had entered the city at the eastern gate, but once within the city they hurried through and passed out the gate Porte de Malines.

On all sides were people, some walking, others riding, many of them in curious conveyances, and all excited to the utmost. They had now lost all trace of the Belgian army, although they knew it was some miles ahead of them.

That night they were aroused by a cry: "The Germans are coming."

A half hour thereafter the first troop of horsemen came from the east, and from that time until morning there was no cessation from the galloping of horses, the tramp of infantry and the rumbling of artillery wheels.

"I wonder where we can get something to eat?" said Alfred.

At a little cluster of houses, five miles south of Louvain, they found some food, and after breakfasting they again resumed the tramp along the main highway which led to Malines, ten miles away.

Before noon they reached the city where the Germans were. They had not been molested on168 the highway, but now, as they passed the gate, an officer gazed at them and commanded a halt.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

"We are American boys, on the way to Antwerp," said Ralph.

"What uniform is that?" he demanded.

"Messenger service, sir," responded Alfred, as he glanced at Alfred.

"In whose service?" asked the officer.

Neither replied.

Motioning to a soldier, the officer said: "Arrest them."

They were marched to the great military prison, which was filled to overflowing with men and women. Two days thereafter they were taken out and marched through the town, past the great Cathedral. Crossing the open place they were taken westwardly along a wide street and turned to the left along a street that ran alongside a wide stream, which the boys afterwards learned was the Dyle.

They were halted in front of a large building which had the inscription "Salm Inn."

They were met at the door by nurses with large red crosses on their sleeves, and by smartly dressed uniformed men in white, also provided with red crosses.

"This is now a hospital," remarked their companion, "and it is one of the Red Cross stations."

"What do they want to bring us here for?"

"I suppose they are going to put us to work."

Within was an appalling sight as the boys169 went through the ward for the first time. Ralph\'s duty was to attend the physicians in their rounds each morning, and at two in the afternoon. He furnished supplies, waited on the nurses and attended to the wants of the sufferers.

Alfred was on like duty in the adjoining ward. While not together as much as formerly, they were constantly meeting in the halls, and one day Ralph was entrusted with the duty of going into the city on an errand.

The only thing which the boys could not bear was the fact that they could get no news of the outside world. All communication was shut off. Had Liège fallen? Where were the Belgian forces? Had Brussels yielded? Their captors would give them no information, and the nurses, most of them could talk German only, did not seem to know any more than they did.

Ralph determined to get some information, and while on his journey sought a stationery establishment in order to purchase some papers. The first one he spied had a large assortment of papers but, singularly, not a single French paper.

He was disgusted, and as he turned away, voiced his complaint. The shopkeeper said: "This is now a German province, and no more French will be spoken or printed here."

During his absence Alfred, in making his rounds as usual, was startled at hearing his name. He turned, and near him, with his head bandaged, and an arm bound with many layers of surgeon\'s tape, stood a young man.

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"Don\'t you recognize me?"

"No," said Alfred, with open eyes.

"Have you forgotten Roland?"

Alfred was down by the bedside in a moment.

"Where were you wounded? Is it serious? How long have you been here?" said Alfred.

"I was wounded over two days ago, and was in the field hospital a day. My company was captured in the fight below Malines, and Colonel Moreau is also a prisoner. What have you been doing?"

"We have had a wonderful time," said Alfred.

"Where is Ralph?" asked Roland.

"He is here, in the next ward. I will surely tell him about you."

At the hospital the boys saw every sort of wound, and soon learned to distinguish between the gunshot and the shrapnel wounds.

"Why is it that the shrapnel make such awful holes?" he asked one of the nurses one day.

"Well, you know, shrapnel does not go through the air as fast as the bullets from the rifles, and it has been shown that the greater the velocity the smaller the size of the wound. The bullets from the Mausers and the Mannlichers, which have such a high velocity, seem to go through so quickly that they sear the flesh, and thus form an antiseptic path which aids the wound in healing. But the shrapnel bullets are larger and this causes such terrible wounds."

"But they seem actually to tear the flesh," said Alfred.

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"That is caused, not by the bullets which are in the shrapnel, but by the shell itself. If the shell bursts near the soldiers it often strikes the poor fellows and sometimes tears them to pieces."

It would be too sickening to go over the many details that came to the notice of the boys. They were kept at their duties daily for over two weeks, w............
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