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A Hero of Liége by Herbert Strang

They were trained on Boncelles


"Eight

inchers," murmured Granger. He had his eye fixed on the officer who had been pointed out as the commandant, and who, at this moment, was listening at the receiver of a field telephone. As the car approached he dropped the receiver and gave an order. The soldier next him ran towards the guns, shouting to the artillerymen, who appeared to be laying their weapons.

"The game is up!" said Granger. "He's had word of us. Press her, Amory."

Kenneth opened the throttle to the utmost, and the car leapt forward like a living thing. It dashed past the commandant, past the group of gunners, topped the rise, and thundered down the slope beyond. A few revolver shots rattled on the armour.

"We're safe for a little, while they alter the range," said Granger, assuring himself at a glance that no one had been hit.

The car was now running at a furious pace, the road having recently been repaired, no doubt for the easier passage of the guns. Kenneth knew that he was directly in the line of fire of the battery. On his left wound the Ourthe, with the railway almost parallel with it beyond; and as the car rushed between two clumps of woodland Pariset called over his shoulder that he had just caught sight of Fort de Boncelles, two or three miles to the west, and Fort d'Embourg a little nearer to the east.

"Which shall we

make for?" gasped Kenneth.

"Boncelles," replied Granger. "It is nearer the French lines. We can cross by the iron bridge just below Tilff."

On they went. Second after second passed; a minute, two minutes. They swept round to the left towards the bridge. There was still no shot from the guns.

"They were trained on Boncelles," said Granger. "We are too near them still."

He had scarcely spoken when there was a moaning in the air, followed instantly by a roar and crash, and a thick cloud of black smoke sprang up some four hundred yards to the right. They all crouched low in the car, which dashed across the throbbing bridge at forty miles an hour. Another shell plunged into the river, a third struck the road a few yards behind them, as they entered the railway arch, bespattering them with earth. No sooner had they emerged on the other side than still another shell burst ahead of them, in the field beside the road. They all caught their breath: if it had fallen a few yards to the right, it would have dug a hole large enough to engulf the car.

Shells now began to explode, as it seemed, all around them. The sky was darkened by the smoke, poisonous fumes almost choked them. Only the great speed of the car and the slight changes in its direction due to the windings of the road preserved them from annihilation. The thought that flashed through Pariset's mind was that if the Germans had used shrapnel instead of shell they must almost certainly have been destroyed, for he could not doubt that the whole battery was now playing upon them.

With shells hurtling around at intervals of a few seconds Kenneth, so intent upon his work as to be scarcely conscious of them, steered the car up the road, taking the curves at a pace that would have made his hair stand on end at less critical times. It almost seemed that he and his companions had charmed lives. At moments, as the road wound, the fort came in sight beyond the ruined village--burnt by the Belgians to clear their line of fire. Would they reach it in safety? The nearer they approached it, the greater their danger. The gunners had the range of the fort; a shell falling short even by a few yards might strike the car at the very moment when escape seemed sure.


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