Read CHAPTER X - ANDENNE of The Day of Wrath A Story of 1914, free online book, by Louis Tracy, on ReadCentral.com.

Madame Joos was old for her fifty years, and heavy withal.  Hers was not the finer quality of human clay which hardens in the fire of adversity.  She became ill, almost seriously ill, and had to be nursed back into good health again during nine long days.  And long these days were, the longest Dalroy had ever known.  To a man of his temperament, enforced inactivity was anathema in any conditions; a gnawing doubt that he was not justified in remaining in Verviers at all did not improve matters.  Monsieur Garnier, the cure, was a frequent though unobtrusive visitor.  He doctored the invalid, and brought scraps of accurate information which filtered through the far-flung screen of Uhlans and the dense lines of German infantry and guns.  Thus the fugitives knew when and where the British Expeditionary Force actually landed on the Continent.  They heard of the gradual sapping of the defences of Liege, until Fort Loncin fell, and, with it, as events were to prove, the shield which had protected Belgium for nearly a fortnight.  The respite did not avail King Albert and his heroic people in so far as the occupation and ravaging of their beautiful country was concerned; but calm-eyed historians in years to come will appraise at its true value the breathing-space, slight though it was, thus secured for France and England.

Dalroy found it extraordinarily difficult to sift the true from the false in the crop of conflicting rumours.  In the first instance, German legends had to be discounted.  From the outset of the campaign the Kaiser’s armies were steadily regaled with accounts of phenomenal successes elsewhere.  Thus, when four army corps, commanded now by Von Kluck, were nearly demoralised by the steadfast valour of General Leman and his stalwarts, the men were rallied by being told that the Crown Prince was smashing his way to Paris through Nancy and Verdun.  Prodigies were being performed in Poland and the North Sea, and London was burnt by Zeppelins almost daily.  Nor did Belgian imagination lag far behind in this contest of unveracity.  British and French troops were marching to the Meuse by a dozen roads; the French raid into Alsace was magnified into a great military feat; the British fleet had squelched the German navy by sinking nineteen battleships; the Kaiser, haggard and blear-eyed, was alternately degrading and shooting Generals and issuing flamboyant proclamations.  Finally, Russia was flattening out East Prussia and Galicia with the slow crunching of a steam roller.

Out of this maelstroem of “news” a level-headed soldier might, and did, extract certain hard facts.  The landing of Sir John French’s force took place exactly at the time and place and in the numbers Dalroy himself had estimated.  To throw a small army into Flanders would have been folly.  Obviously, the British must join hands with the French before offering battle.  For the rest though he went out very little, and alone, as being less risky he recognised the hour when the German machine recovered its momentum after the first unexpected collapse.  He saw order replace chaos.  He watched the dragon crawling ever onward, and understood then that no act of man could save Belgium.  Verviers was the best possible site for an observer who knew how to use his eyes.  He assumed that what was occurring there was going on with equal precision in Luxembourg and along the line of the Vosges Mountains.

Gradually, too, he reconciled his conscience to these days of waiting.  He believed now that his services would be immensely more useful to the British commander-in-chief in the field if he could cross the French frontier rather than reach London and the War Office by way of the Belgian coast.  This decision lightened his heart.  He was beginning to fear that the welfare of Irene Beresford was conflicting with duty.  It was cheering to feel convinced that the odds and ends of information picked up in Verviers might prove of inestimable value to the allied cause.  For instance, Liege was being laid low by eleven-inch howitzers, but he had seen seventeen-inch howitzers, each in three parts, each part drawn by forty horses or a dozen traction-engines, moving slowly toward the south-west.  There lay Namur and France.  No need to doubt now where the chief theatre of the war would find its habitat.  The German staff had blundered in its initial strategy, but the defect was being repaired.  All that had gone before was a mere prelude to the grim business which would be transacted beyond the Meuse.

During that period of quiescence, certain minor and personal elements affecting the future passed from a nebulous stage to a state of quasi-acceptance.  There was not, there could not be, any pronounced love-making between two people so situated as Dalroy and Irene Beresford.  But eyes can exchange messages which the lips dare not utter, and these two began to realise that they were designed the one for the other by a wise Providence.  As that is precisely the right sentiment of young folk in love, romance throve finely in Madame Beranger’s little auberge in the Rue de Nivers at Verviers.  A tender glance, a touch of the hand, a lighting of a troubled face when the dear one appears these things are excellent substitutes for the spoken word.

Irene was “Irene” to Dalroy ever since that night in the wood at Argenteau, and the girl herself accepted the development with the deftness which is every woman’s legacy from Mother Eve.

“If you make free with my Christian name I must retort by using yours,” she said one day on coming down to breakfast.  “So, ’Good-morning, Arthur.’  Where did you get that hat?”

The hat in question was a purchase, a wide-brimmed felt such as is common in Flanders.  Its Apache slouch, in conjunction with Jan Maertz’s oldest clothes and a week’s stubble of beard, made Dalroy quite villainous-looking.  Except in the details of height and physique, it would, indeed, be difficult for any stranger to associate this loose-limbed Belgian labourer with the well-groomed cavalry officer who entered the Friedrich Straße Station in Berlin on the night of 3rd August.  That was as it should be, though the alteration was none the less displeasing to its victim.  Irene adopted a huge sun-bonnet, and compromised as to boots by wearing sabots en cuir, or clogs.

Singularly enough, white-haired Monsieur Garnier nearly brought matters to a climax as between these two.

On the Wednesday evening, when the last forts of Liege were crumbling, Madame Joos was reported convalescent and asleep, so both girls came to the little salon for a supper of stewed veal.

Naturally the war was discussed first; but the priest was learning to agree with his English friend about its main features.  In sheer dismay at the black outlook before his country, he suddenly turned the talk into a more intimate channel.

“What plans have you youngsters made?” he asked.  “Monsieur Joos and I can only look back through the years.  The places we know and love are abodes of ghosts.  The milestones are tombstones.  We can surely count more friends dead than living.  For you it is different.  The world will go on, war or no war; but Verviers will not become your residence, I take it.”

“Jan and I mean to join our respective armies as soon as Monsieur Joos and the ladies are taken care of, and that means, I suppose, safely lodged in England,” said Dalroy.

“If Leontine likes to marry me first, I’m agreeable,” put in Maertz promptly.

It was a naïve confession, and every one laughed except Joos.

“Leontine marries neither you nor any other hulking loafer while there is one German hoof left in Belgium,” vowed the little man warmly.

The priest smiled.  He knew where the shoe pinched.  Maertz, if no loafer, was not what is vulgarly described as “a good catch.”

“I’ve lost my parish,” he said jestingly, “and, being an inveterate match-maker, am on the qui vive for a job.  But if father says ‘No’ we must wait till mother has a word.  Now for the other pair. What of you?”

Irene blushed scarlet, and dropped her serviette; Dalroy, though flabbergasted, happily hit on a way out.

“I’m surprised at you, monsieur!” he cried.  “Look at mademoiselle, and then run your eye over me.  Did ever pretty maid wed such a scarecrow?”

“I must refer that point to mademoiselle,” retorted the priest.  “I don’t think either of you would choose a book by the cover.”

“Ah.  At last I know the worst,” laughed Dalroy.  “Who would believe that I once posed as the Discobulus in a tableau vivant?”

“What’s that?” demanded Joos.

Dalroy hesitated.  Neither his French nor German was equal to the translation.

“A quoit-thrower,” suggested Irene.

“Quoits!” sniffed the miller.  “I’ll take you on at that game any day you like for twenty francs every ringer.”

It was a safe offer.  Old Joos was a noted player.  He gave details of his prowess.  Dalroy, though modestly declining a contest, led him on, and steered the conversation clear of rocks.

Thenceforth, for a whole day, Irene’s manner stiffened perceptibly, and Dalroy was miserable.  Inexperienced in the ways of the sex, he little dreamed that Irene felt she had been literally thrown at his head.

But graver issues soon dispersed that small cloud.  On Saturday, 15th August, the thunder of the guns lessened and died down, being replaced by the far more distant and fitful barking of field batteries.  But the rumble on the cobbles of the main road continued.  What need to ask what had happened?  Around Liege lay the silence of death.

Late that afternoon a woman brought a note to Dalroy.  It bore no address.  She merely handed it to him, and hurried off, with the furtive air of one afraid of being asked for an explanation.  It ran: 

“DEAR FRIEND, Save yourself and the others.  Lose not a moment.  I have seen a handbill.  A big reward is offered.  My advice is:  go west separately.  The messenger I employ is a Christian, but I doubt the faith of many.  May God guard you!  I shall accompany you in my thoughts and prayers. E.  G.”

Dalroy found Joos instantly.

“What is our cure’s baptismal name?” he inquired.

“Edouard, monsieur.”

“He has sent us marching orders.  Read that!”

The miller’s wizened face blanched.  He had counted on remaining in Verviers till the war was over.  At that date no self-respecting Belgian could bring himself to believe that the fighting would continue into the winter.  The first comparative successes of the small Belgian army, combined with the meteoric French advance into Alsace, seemed to assure speedy victory by the Allies.  He swore roundly, but decided to follow the priest’s bidding in every respect save one.

“We can’t split up,” he declared.  “We are all named in the laisser passer.  You understand what dull pigs these Germans are.  They’ll count heads.  If one is missing, or there’s one too many, they’ll inquire about it for a week.”

Sound common-sense and no small knowledge of Teuton character lurked in the old man’s comment.  Monsieur Garnier, of course, had not been told why this queerly assorted group clung together, nor was he aware of the exact cause of their flight from Vise.  Probably the handbill he mentioned was explicit in names and descriptions.  At any rate, he must have the strongest reasons for supposing that Verviers no longer provided a safe retreat.

Jan Maertz was summoned.  He made a good suggestion.  The direct road to Andenne, via Liege and Huy, was impracticable, being crowded with troops and transports.  Why not use the country lanes from Pepinster through Louveigne, Hamoir, and Maffe?  It was a hilly country, and probably clear of soldiers.  He would buy a dog-team, and thus save Madame Joos the fatigue of walking.

Dalroy agreed at once.  Even though Irene still insisted on sharing his effort to cross the German lines, two routes opened from Andenne, one to Brussels and the west, the other to Dinant and the south.  Moreover, he counted on the Allies occupying the Mons-Charleroi-Namur terrain, and one night’s march from Andenne, with Maertz as guide, should bring the three of them through, as the Joos family, in all likelihood, would elect to remain with their relatives.

In a word, the orderliness of Verviers had already relegated the excesses of Vise to the obscurity of an evil but half-forgotten dream.  The horrors of Louvain, of Malines, of the whole Belgian valley of the Meuse, had yet to come.  An officer of the British army simply could not allow his mind to conceive the purposeful criminality of German methods.  Little did he imagine that, on the very day the fugitives set out for Andenne, Vise was completely sacked and burned by command of the German authorities.  And why?  Not because of any fault committed by the unfortunate inhabitants, who had suffered so much at the outbreak of hostilities.  This second avalanche was let loose out of sheer spite.  By this time the enemy was commencing to estimate the fearful toll which the Belgian army had taken of the Uhlans who provided the famous “cavalry screen.”  Over and over again the vaunted light horsemen of Germany were ambuscaded and cut up or captured.  They proved to be extraordinarily poor fighters when in small numbers, but naturally those who got away made a fine tale of the dangers they had escaped.  These constant defeats stung the pride of the headquarters staff, and “frightfulness” was prescribed as the remedy.  The fact cannot be disputed.  The invaders’ earliest offences might be explained, if not condoned, as the deeds of men brutalised by drink, but the wholesale ravaging of communities by regiments and brigades was the outcome of a deliberate policy of reprisal.  The Hun argument was convincing to the Hun intellect.  How dared these puny Belgians fight for their hearths and homes?  It was their place to grovel at the feet of the conqueror.  If any worn-out notions of honour and manhood and the sanctity of woman inspired them to take the field, they must be taught wisdom by being ground beneath the heel of the Prussian jack-boot.

If the dead mouths of five thousand murdered Belgians did not bear testimony against these disciplined marauders, the mere journey of the little party of men and women who set out from Verviers that Saturday afternoon would itself dispose of any attempt to cloak the high-placed offenders.

They arranged a rendezvous at Pepinster.  Dalroy went alone.  He insisted that this was advisable.  Maertz brought Madame Joos and Irene.  Joos, having been besought to curb his tongue, convoyed Leontine.  Until Pepinster was reached, they took the main road, with its river of troops.  None gave them heed.  Not a man addressed an uncivil word to them.  The soldiers were cheery and well-behaved.

They halted that night at Louveigne, which was absolutely unscathed.  Next day they passed through Hamoir and Maffe, and the peasants were gathering the harvest!

Huy and Andenne, a villager told them, were occupied by the Germans, but all was quiet.  They pushed on, turning north-west from Maffe, and descended into the Meuse valley about six o’clock in the evening.  It was ominous that the bridge was destroyed and a cluster of houses burning in Seilles, a town on the opposite, or left, bank of the river.  But Andenne itself, a peaceful and industrious place, seemed to be undisturbed.  While passing a farm known as Dermine they fell in with a priest and a few Belgians who were carrying a mortally wounded Prussian officer on a stretcher.

Then, to his real chagrin, Dalroy heard that the Belgian outposts had been driven south and west only that morning.  One day less in Verviers, and he and the others would have been out of their present difficulties.  However, he made the best of it.  Surely they could either cross the Meuse or reach Namur next day; while the fact that some local residents were attending to the injured officer would supply the fugitives with an excellent safe-conduct into Andenne, just as a similar incident had been their salvation at Argenteau.

The stretcher was taken into the villa of a well-to-do resident; and, it being still broad daylight, Joos asked to be directed to the house of Monsieur Alphonse Stauwaert.  The miller was acquainted with the topography of the town, but the Stauwaert family had moved recently to a new abode.

“Barely two hundred metres, tout droit,” he was told.

They had gone part of the way when a troop of Uhlans came at the gallop along the Namur road.  The soldiers advanced in a pack, and were evidently in a hurry.  Madame Joos was seated in the low-built, flat cart, drawn by two strong dogs, which had brought her from Verviers.  Maertz was leading the animals.  The other four were disposed on both sides of the cart.  At the moment, no other person was nearer than some thirty yards ahead.  Three men were standing there in the roadway, and they moved closer to the houses on the left.  Maertz, too, pulled his team on to the pavement on the same side.

The Uhlans came on.  Suddenly, without the slightest provocation, their leader swerved his horse and cut down one of the men, who dropped with a shriek of mingled fear and agony.

Retribution came swiftly, because the charger slipped on some rounded cobbles, crossed its forelegs, and turned a complete somersault.  The rider, a burly non-commissioned officer, pitched clean on his head, and either fractured his skull or broke his neck, perhaps achieving both laudable results, while his blood-stained sabre clattered on the stones at Dalroy’s feet.  The nearest Uhlans drove their lances through the other two civilians, who were already running for their lives.  In order to avoid the plunging horse and their fallen leader, the two ruffians reined on to the pavement.  They swung their weapons, evidently meaning to transfix some of the six people clustered around the cart.  The women screamed shrilly.  Leontine cowered near the wall; Joos, valiant soul in an aged body, put himself in front of his wife; Maertz, hauling at the dogs, tried to convert the vehicle into a shield for Leontine; while Dalroy, conscious that Irene was close behind, picked up the unteroffizier’s sword.

Much to the surprise of the trooper, who selected this tall peasant as an easy prey, he parried the lance-thrust in such wise that the blade entered the horse’s off foreleg and brought the animal down.  At the same instant Maertz ducked, and dodged a wild lunge, which missed because the Uhlan was trying to avoid crashing into the cart.  But the vengeful steel found another victim.  By mischance it transfixed Madame Joos, while the horse’s shoulder caught Dalroy a glancing blow in the back and sent him sprawling.

Some of the troopers, seeing two of their men prone, were pulling up when a gruff voice cried, “Achtung! We’ll clear out these swine later!”

Irene, who saw all that had passed with an extraordinary vividness, was the only one who understood why the order which undoubtedly saved five lives was given.  A stout staff officer, wearing a blue uniform with red facings, rode with the Uhlans, and she was certain that he was in a state of abject terror.  His funk was probably explained by an irregular volley lower down the street, though, in the event, the shooting proved to be that of his own men.  Two miles away, at Solayn, these same Uhlans had been badly bitten by a Belgian patrol, and the fat man, prospecting the Namur road with a cavalry escort, wanted no more unpleasant surprises that evening.  Ostensibly, of course, he was anxious to report to a brigade headquarters at Huy.  At any rate, the Uhlans swept on.

They were gone when Dalroy regained his feet.  A riderless horse was clattering after them; another with a broken leg was vainly trying to rise.  Close at hand lay two Uhlans, one dead and one insensible.  Joos and Leontine were bending over the dying woman in the cart, making frantic efforts to stanch the blood welling forth from mouth and breast.  The lance had pierced her lungs, but she was conscious for a minute or so, and actually smiled the farewell she could not utter.

Maertz was swearing horribly, with the incoherence of a man just aroused from drunken sleep.  Irene moved a few steps to meet Dalroy.  Her face was marble white, her eyes strangely dilated.

“Are you hurt?” she asked.

“No.  And you?”

“Untouched, thanks to you.  But those brutes have killed poor Madame Joos!”

The wounded Uhlan was stretched between them.  He stirred convulsively, and groaned.  Dalroy looked at the sword which he still held.  He resisted a great temptation, and sprang over the prostrate body.  He was about to say something when a ghastly object staggered past.  It was the man who received the sabre-cut, which had gashed his shoulder deeply.

Oh, mon Dieu!” he screamed. “Oh, mon Dieu!

He may have been making for some burrow.  They never knew.  He wailed that frenzied appeal as he shambled on always the same words.  He could think of nothing else but the last cry of despairing humanity to the All-Powerful.

Owing to the flight of the cavalry, Dalroy imagined that some body of allied troops, Belgian or French, was advancing from Namur, so he did not obey his first impulse, which was to enter the nearest house and endeavour to get away through the gardens or other enclosures in rear.

He glanced at the hapless body on the cart, and saw by the eyes that life had departed.  Leontine was sobbing pitifully.  Maertz, having recovered his senses, was striving to calm her.  But Joos remained silent; he held his wife’s limp hand, and it was as though he awaited some reassuring clasp which should tell him that she still lived.

Dalroy had no words to console the bereaved old man.  He turned aside, and a mist obscured his vision for a little while.  Then he heard the wounded German hiccoughing, and he looked again at the sword, because this was the assassin who had foully murdered a gentle, kind-hearted, and inoffensive woman.  But he could not demean himself by becoming an executioner.  Richly as the criminal deserved to be sent with his victim to the bar of Eternal Justice, the Englishman decided to leave him to the avengers coming through the town.

The shooting drew nearer.  A number of women and children, with a few men, appeared.  They were running and screaming.  The first batch fled past; but an elderly dame, spent with even a brief flurry, halted for a few seconds when she saw the group near the dog-team.

“Henri Joos!” she gasped.  “And Leontine!  What, in Heaven’s name, are you doing here?”

It was Madame Stauwaert, the Andenne cousin with whom they hoped to find sanctuary.

The miller gazed at her in a curiously abstracted way.  “Is that you, Margot?” he said.  “We were coming to you.  But they have wounded Lise.  See!  Here she is!”

Madame Stauwaert looked at the corpse as though she did not understand at first.  Then she burst out hysterically, “She’s dead, Henri!  They’ve killed her!  They’re killing all of us!  They pulled Alphonse out of the house and stabbed him with a bayonet.  They’re firing through the openings into the cellars and into the ground-floor rooms of every house.  If they see a face at a bedroom window they shoot.  Two Germans, so drunk that they could hardly stand, shot at me as I ran.  Ah, dear God!”

She swayed and sank in a faint.  The flying crowd increased in numbers.  Some one shouted, “Fools!  Be off, for your lives!  Make for the quarries.”

Dalroy decided to take this unknown friend’s advice.  The terrified people of Andenne had, at least, some definite goal in view, whereas he had none.  He lifted Madame Stauwaert and placed her beside the dead body on the cart.

“Come,” he said to Maertz, “get the dogs into a trot. Leontine, look after your father, and don’t lose sight of us!”

He grasped Irene by the arm.  The tiny vehicle was flat and narrow, and he was so intent on preventing the unconscious woman from falling off into the road that he did not miss Joos and his daughter until Irene called on Maertz to stop.  “Where are the others?” she cried.  “We must not desert them.”

In the midst of a scattered mob came the laggards.  Joos was not hurrying at all.  He was smiling horribly.  In his hand he held a large pocket-knife open.  “It was all I had,” he explained calmly.  “But Margot said Lise was dead, so it did his business.”

“I’m glad,” said Dalroy.  “It was your privilege.  But you must run now, for Leontine’s sake, as she will not leave you, and the Germans may be on us at any moment.”

Luckily, the stream of people swerved into a by-road; the “quarries” of which some man had spoken opened up in the hillside close at hand.  On top were woods, and a cart-track led that way at a sharp gradient.  Dalroy assisted the dogs by pushing the cart, and they reached the summit.  Pausing there, while Irene and the weeping Leontine endeavoured to revive Madame Stauwaert, to whom they must look for some sort of guidance as to their next move, he went to the lip of the excavation, and surveyed the scene.

Dusk was creeping over the picturesque valley, but the light still sufficed to reveal distances.  The railway station, with all the houses in the vicinity, was on fire.  Nearly every dwelling along the Namur road was ablaze; while the trim little farms which rise, one above the other, on the terraced heights of the right bank of the Meuse seemed to have burst into flame spontaneously.  Seilles, too, on the opposite bank, was undergoing the same process of wanton destruction; but, a puzzling thing, rifles and machine-guns were busy on both sides of the river, and the flashes showed that a sharp engagement was taking place.

A man, carrying a child in his arms, who had come with them, was standing at Dalroy’s elbow.  He appeared self-possessed enough, so the Englishman sought information.

“Are those Belgian troops in Seilles?” he inquired.

The man snorted.  “Belgians?  No!  They retreated to Namur this morning.  That is a Bavarian regiment shooting at Brandenburgers in Andenne.  They are all mad drunk, officers and men.  They’ve been here since eleven o’clock, first Uhlans, then infantry.  The burgomaster met them fairly, not a shot was fired, and we thought we were over the worst.  Then, as you see, hell broke loose!”

Such was the refuge Andenne provided on Monday, 20th August.  Hell by order!