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Title: With Haig on the Somme
Author: Parry, D. H.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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WITH HAIG ON THE SOMME



WITH HAIG ON THE SOMME


BY


D. H. PARRY

_Author of "Gilbert the Outlaw"; "The Scarlet Scouts"; "The V.C.: Its
Heroes and their Valour," etc. etc._


WITH FOUR COLOUR PLATES BY

ARCHIBALD WEBB


CASSELL AND COMPANY, LTD

London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne



First Published 1917 [Illustration: "The Commandant threw up his arms
and pitched backward; Dennis dropped his weapon and caught him as he
fell"]



  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER                                                    PAGE

   1. AN UNCENSORED LETTER READ ALOUD                           1

   2. OFF TO THE FRONT                                         14

   3. "AT TEN O'CLOCK SHARP!"                                  22

   4. HIS FIRST TIME UNDER FIRE                                33

   5. HOW DENNIS CAME IN FOR A TASTE OF DISPATCH RIDING        42

   6. A TERRIBLE ADVENTURE AT DAWN                             50

   7. A FRIEND IN NEED                                         60

   8. IN THE ENEMY TRENCHES                                    70

   9. IN THE SNIPER'S LAIR                                     78

  10. IN WHICH DENNIS MEETS CLAUDE LAVAL, PILOTE AVIATEUR      87

  11. A DARING DASH                                            97

  12. IN THE HANDS OF THE ENEMY                               107

  13. A MAD GAMBLE FOR LIBERTY                                116

  14. THE SING-SONG IN THE DUG-OUT                            128

  15. "REEDSHIRES!--GET OVER!"                                136

  16. THE SILENCING OF THE GUNS                               146

  17. THE EXPLOITS OF A COMPANY                               155

  18. WITH THE LEWIS GUN--AND AFTER                           163

  19. WHAT THEY LEARNED ON THE GERMAN TELEPHONE               173

  20. THE LAST RUNG OF A BROKEN LADDER                        183

  21. VON DUSSEL'S REVENGE                                    191

  22. THE ROW IN THE RESTAURANT                               200

  23. "GAS!"                                                  210

  24. THE CHÂTEAU AT THE TRENCH END                           219

  25. FROM KITE BALLOON TO SADDLE                             229

  26. UNDER THE GERMAN EAGLE                                  240

  27. ON THE PART DENNIS PLAYED IN THE RECAPTURE OF BIACHES   247

  28. THE EXCITING ADVENTURES OF "CARL HEFT"                  255

  29. AN OLD FRIEND--AND A BITTER ENEMY!                      265

  30. UNDER THE ENEMY WALL                                    275

  31. WITH DASHWOOD'S BRIGADE                                 284

  32. THE REWARDS OF VALOUR                                   295



  LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

  "THE COMMANDANT THREW UP HIS ARMS AND PITCHED             _Frontispiece_
  BACKWARD; DENNIS DROPPED HIS WEAPON, CAUGHT HIM
  AS HE FELL"

                                                                      PAGE

  "DENNIS FLUNG HIS BOMBS INTO THE SPACE AND
  TREMENDOUS EXPLOSIONS ENSUED"                                         96

  "BEFORE THE GERMANS REALISED WHAT WAS HAPPENING,
  THERE WAS AN UGLY BIT OF BAYONET WORK"                               150

  "NOTHING COULD CHECK THE VICTORIOUS RUSH"                            286



WITH HAIG ON THE SOMME



CHAPTER I

An Uncensored Letter Read Aloud


Private Harry Hawke, of the 2/12th Battalion Royal Reedshire Regiment
(T.F.), sat on the step of the fire trench, his back against the
parapet, busy with the bolt of his rifle.

There were two things he loved more than anything else in life, and that
rifle was one of them. The other was his platoon commander, Captain Bob
Dashwood, who chanced to be coming along the communication at the
moment, and the Cockney private's eyes lit up as he saw him.

"Hallo, Hawke! All quiet?" said Captain Dashwood with a jerk of his head
in the direction of the German lines, only one hundred and twenty yards
across the mangled strip of Dead Man's Land that intervened.

"Quiet as the bloomin' grave, sir," replied Harry Hawke with a grin,
though he had almost to shout to make himself heard.

A howitzer battery was shelling the enemy from the wood on the left, and
the Germans were replying with "crumps," which luckily all went wide.

"Seen anything more of that sniper that picked Marshall and Brown off
last night?" questioned the captain.

"Not likely, sir. I got 'im 'arf an hour after we took over the relief,"
grinned the marksman of A Company, pointing with an oily finger to a
fresh notch cut on the rifle stock. "He tumbled out of the willer tree
flat, same as if you chucked a kipper from the top of a bus."

Dashwood smiled, and the smile was reflected with interest in the
wizened, mahogany-coloured face that looked up at his own from under the
rim of the steel helmet.

"You're a terrible chap, Hawke," he said. "How many does that make?"

"Seventeen with the rifle, sir, but I've kept no tally of all I've done
in wiv the bayonet," and he caressed his beloved weapon.

"Don't get up, Hawke," said his officer, moving along the trench. "I'm
only going to take a squint at the beggars," and as the private dropped
back into his seat again, Bob Dashwood put his foot on the fire step and
raised his head above the parapet.

He looked across a broken waste, full of shell holes and mine craters,
with a line of barbed wire fencing that followed the curve of the white
enemy trench capped by sandbags.

The marksman, having got rid of an imaginary speck of rust that had
troubled his soul, replaced the bolt, and was putting away the oil rag,
when there was a sharp stifled gasp, followed by a slithering fall, and
Captain Dashwood lay in a heap among the white wet mud at the bottom of
the trench. His cap had spun round and dropped into a sump, and the
blood was pouring down his face and neck as Hawke reached him.

"'Strewth, he's dead, and it's my fault!" he moaned, as a sergeant and
several other men ran up.

"It was nobody's fault but his own," said the sergeant savagely. "I've
warned him a dozen times--and he's not dead, either. Pass the word
there. We must get him down to the aid post sharp."

While Hawke supported the battered head upon his knee the sergeant
hastily applied a field dressing, and when a couple of bearers came
running along the communication trench they laid the wounded man
carefully on the stretcher, Hawke watching the receding figures with a
dazed look until the angle hid them from view.

"Now, you rotter, I've got to get you set!" he muttered, bending down
and peering into the periscope with his rifle gripped tightly in his
hands.

Two or three days later news came up that the captain, still
unconscious, had been sent to London straightway from the base hospital,
and then for several weeks they heard no more of him, and a fresh notch
cut on the stock of the Mark III. gave Private Harry Hawke very little
satisfaction.

"If I hadn't told him that all was clear he'd never have shoved his 'ead
over the blinkin' sandbags," he kept muttering to himself. "Home ain't
like home without a mother, and I reckon 'e was father and mother to us
all art 'ere. Wish I was dead--I'm fed up!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"By Jove, mater, this is good news indeed. Fancy Dennis being gazetted
to our battalion after all!" and Captain Bob's face lit up as he looked
across the breakfast table with the telegram that had just arrived in
his hand. "Only got a week's kit leave too, which means that he's to
join at once. I'll put him through his facings and show him just what to
get and what not to get, and if the Medical Board will only pass me fit
for service again we can go over together. He will be here this morning
too!"

A chorus of delight went up from the four youngsters on one side of the
table, and Master Billy Dashwood, aged eight, clapped his hands and
overturned the milk jug.

"Billy, Billy!" said his mother reprovingly. "When will you learn to
behave yourself and to take care?"

"When will you let me join the Boy Scouts?" retorted her youngest born,
gazing up at the ceiling with the face of an innocent cherub, and Mrs.
Dashwood was obliged to smile as she looked at her eldest son.

"Your father will be very pleased, Bob," she said. "There have been
Dashwoods in the regiment for generations, and it is nice to feel that
both my boys will be in a battalion in their father's brigade."

"You should be very proud, madame, that yours is such a military
family," said a young man who sat opposite to the children with his back
to the tall windows. "Let me see, you will now have four members serving
at this great crisis?"

"Yes, it is an honour of which I am indeed more than proud, Monsieur Van
Drissel," said his hostess.

"But Uncle Eric doesn't count--he's only at the War Office, and they do
nothing there," interposed the irrepressible Billy.

"I shall send you out of the room if you're rude," said his mother. "The
War Office is a most important branch."

It was a pleasant room in a charming house, whose grounds sloped down to
the ornamental water in Regent's Park, and if one had not known it, one
might have imagined it to be one of those countless English homes into
which the war had not penetrated.

Captain Bob, looking very different now from the crumpled figure at the
bottom of the trench, had escaped death from the sniper's bullet by a
fraction of an inch, but he had made quick recovery, and before his
month's sick furlough was at an end he was already secretly yearning to
get back again. He knew that there was a great push in contemplation,
and his only fear was that he might not be in it.

Everything in that room spoke of comfort and money, and everything was
very English, except the young man with his back to the windows, and the
young woman with the dark eyes on the opposite side of the table.

Lieutenant Van Drissel, of the Belgian army, whose wound, received in
the fighting outside Dixmude long months before, obstinately refused to
heal, found himself in very pleasant quarters, thanks to the hospitality
of Mrs. Dashwood, who had also given his sister an asylum as French
governess to the small fry.

Like Captain Bob, he was in khaki, but the contrast between the two
officers was very striking. The one was lean and athletic in every line
of his figure, with laughing grey eyes in a handsome face; the other, a
stolid, fair-haired Fleming, whose square visage would have been rather
colourless and commonplace but for the pleasant smile which showed his
white teeth.

He followed Mrs. Dashwood's every movement with the expression of a
grateful dog, and waited upon her hand and foot, doing his best to
justify his presence there.

"Ah, you have better luck than I, Dashwood," he said in perfect English,
with a doleful shrug of his shoulders.

"Don't worry, Van Drissel; keep smiling, as my fellows sing," laughed
Captain Bob encouragingly. "Your turn will come, and we shall both march
into Berlin one of these days."

"It is a long time," said the Belgian lieutenant gravely. "Even Ottilie
here loses heart," and he looked across the table at his sister.

Mademoiselle Ottilie, as dark as her brother was fair, heaved a deep
sigh and made a funny little gesture with her hands. "For myself, I
dread to go back to poor Belgium," she murmured in broken English. "I
wish it might be possible that perhaps I might stay here for evaire--you
are all to me so kind."

"Mamma," said Billy with a perfectly grave face as he mimicked her
accent, "I wish it might be possible that perhaps I could have that last
piece of toast, eh?"

"Billy, go out of the room," said Mrs. Dashwood severely, but
Mademoiselle Ottilie threw an impulsive arm round the young monkey's
neck, and looked appealingly at his mother.

"Oh, no, please not, madame. He is so young," she interposed.

"Well," said Captain Bob, rising, "I think it's the weather that has
given you the hump, old chap. Still raining," and he glanced at the
windows. "What do you say to a game of billiards? I'll play you three
hundred up if you like."

"With all my heart," replied Van Drissel, getting up with a limp and
opening the door for Mrs. Dashwood, and the two officers went into the
billiard-room, whence they were no more seen for a couple of hours.

"Hard luck," said Bob Dashwood at last, as the Belgian missed an easy
shot. "And you've left them for me, too. I'm afraid your leg is worrying
you."

"Oh, that is nothing," replied his companion with a wry smile, as he
limped towards the scoring board. "You only want five to win."

"And there they are," said Bob apologetically, as the white ball
followed the red into a pocket. "But, you know, you're playing a very
good game."

"It is nice of you to say so," replied the Belgian. "Unhappily, I have
so much time for practice these days," and he lit a cigarette. "There is
not much news in the papers this morning."

"The calm before the storm, my boy," smiled the captain with a twinkle
of his grey eyes. "There will be some big news directly. By Jove! you
ought to see the munitions they're piling up behind us. It is
incredible! The worst of it is, our sector simply swarms with spies, and
the beggars get to know everything almost as soon as we know it
ourselves; in fact, sometimes before.

"They're very slick," the captain went on. "As a matter of fact, Germans
often come over into our lines in British uniforms, and they are so
thundering clever that you can't tell the difference. Why, not long ago,
I yarned for half an hour with a major of the R.E., as I thought--didn't
tell him much, luckily, but we hadn't parted five minutes when he was
'wanted,' and there was no end of a hunt, but he managed to get clear,
and a genuine English major was within an ace of being shot in mistake
for him if he hadn't been recognised by one of the staff in time."

"Ah, there you are," said Van Drissel. "When do you think Sir Douglas
Haig will make a move?"

"Almost directly," said Captain Bob. "The day before I was wounded I had
it on first-rate authority that---- Hallo! here's my young brother.
Excuse me, Van Drissel," and without further ceremony he darted into the
hall as a lad in the uniform of the O.T.C., who had just got out of a
taxi, flew up the steps three at a time and dashed in with a shout.

"Why, Bob, old boy!"

"Dennis, dear old man! This is a bit of luck! How are you?"

"Top-hole!" laughed the new-comer, beaming all over his face, which was
a clean-shaven, boyish reproduction of his brother's, brown as a berry
from the arduous training he had undergone with the Artists', and,
breaking loose from Bob's grip, he kissed his mother tenderly.

"You got my wire, dear little mater, but you didn't expect me so soon.
It is good to be home again, even if it's only 'How d'you do?' and
'Bye-bye.' But isn't it fine putting me in Bob's battalion? How are the
kids? And, I say, mater, is there any grub going? I didn't wait for
breakfast before I left, and I'm hungry as a hunter."

The wounded Belgian lieutenant in the adjoining room bit his lips as he
overheard the joyful greetings. The rain had cleared, and as he stood
looking out where the trim lawn sloped down to the water, he saw a
couple of English Tommies in hospital blue sculling round one of the
tufted islets.

"Dennis, let me introduce you to Lieutenant Van Drissel, of the Belgian
army," said Bob, coming in as Van Drissel turned round. "This is my
brother whom we have been talking about," and the two shook hands.

"Glad to meet you," said Dennis frankly.

"Lucky bargee," smiled Van Drissel. "Isn't that right?"

"Ah, you speak English? Yes, it is quite right. I am," laughed Dennis.

"He speaks everything under the sun," said his brother. "And, by the
way, Dennis is a great stunt on languages. You two will be able to make
us feel thoroughly ashamed of ourselves. My regular verbs are as rusty
as a trench button."

"Will you smoke?" said the Belgian, producing a silver cigarette-case.

"Not just now, thanks. I'm going to have some grub first, and if you
don't mind I'll bunk upstairs and get a sluice."

"That boy is one of the best in the world, although he's my own
brother," explained Bob Dashwood when Dennis had gone.

"How old?"

"Eighteen and a half," replied Bob.

"It is young to be killed," said Van Drissel gravely.

"But he isn't killed yet. Never knew such a fellow for falling on his
feet. Of course, we all have to take our chances out there, but I don't
mind betting you he comes off with a D.S.O. or a Military Cross, or
something or other. You will hear of him yet, mark my words."

Thanks to Bob's experience, the kit buying did not take long, and in
three days the boy sported his service uniform, to the rather oppressive
admiration of Billy and the huge delight of his sisters. The Medical
Board, too, had passed Bob as fit for service again, and the kit leave
went like a flash.

Altogether, it had been a great week, with Dennis like a sea breeze
filling the house with his wonderful spirits. There were people to
dinner almost every evening, among them Uncle Eric, who was a staff
captain at the War Office.

And then it all came to an end, and the last night arrived, and the
mother and her two soldier sons sat down to dinner alone.

Mademoiselle Ottilie pleaded a headache, and her brother also invented
an excuse for being absent.

"You would like to be together," he had said confidentially in Bob's
ear.

"They are very charming and considerate," said Mrs. Dashwood when Bob
told her. "I do not care very much for Belgians, as a rule, but the Van
Drissels are exceptionally nice people."

Dennis said nothing, but he had his own thoughts. He did not like
mademoiselle's bright black eyes, and the lieutenant's perpetual smile
had begun to get on his nerves.

Mrs. Dashwood had kept up very bravely, though her heart was sad enough
in all conscience, and when eleven o'clock struck, and Dennis, who had
been living at high pressure, suddenly yawned and said: "Would you mind,
mater, if I turned in? I'm as tired as a dog." Mrs. Dashwood made no
demur, but signed to her eldest son to remain a little longer.

"Come into the drawing-room, Bob," she said, when they heard Dennis
close his bedroom door with a bang. "I have a letter from your father
which I want you to read. I did not show it to Dennis because he is
excited enough already."

"Any news, dear?" questioned the captain as they seated themselves on
the great padded settee, into which one sank so luxuriously that one
never wanted to get out of it again.

"Yes, there is news. I suppose he has really told me more than he ought
to have done. The date of the Great Push is fixed. But here is the
letter; it only came this evening, and you can read it aloud to me."

As he did so, Captain Bob's eyebrows lifted, for the brigadier had been
remarkably outspoken.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We are going to make a simultaneous advance, we and the French on our
right," he wrote in one place. "Our sector will bear the brunt of it.
The thing has been kept wonderfully quiet, and so far the enemy knows
nothing. All their attention is turned on the 'Clown' Prince's insane
operations against Verdun, and the German General Staff seem to have
forgotten the Somme region altogether, and to underrate the British as
usual. But there will be a big surprise for them.

"My fellows are in fine fettle; in fact, so is the whole army corps in
this region," he continued. "You should see the artillery we have massed
ready for the preliminary bombardment, which promises to be the biggest
in history. I hope Bob will be out in time, but I have no news of
Dennis, and, between ourselves, I am not really sorry."

       *       *       *       *       *

"By Jove! the governor's let himself go for once in his life," said Bob,
when he had finished the letter. "Half a minute, mater, I'll show you
all these places on the map, and then when the thing comes off you will
be able to follow it," and, going out into the hall where his brother's
kit was ready for the morning and his own simple outfit with it, he
returned with a chart of that sector of the British line where it joined
up with the French.

The ormolu clock on the mantelpiece struck half-past twelve before he
had finished his lecture, which Mrs. Dashwood followed with the keenest
interest, and when at last they got up, the brave little mother clung to
him for a moment, very near to the breaking point.

"You will look after Dennis, Bob, as far as you can?" she said in a
hushed voice. "He is very young and very impetuous, and regards the
whole thing as a glorious game to be played as keenly as he plays
rugger."

"You know I will do all I can, darling," he said, taking her face in his
hands and kissing it, and then she passed out, and he switched off the
lights.

When the drawing-room door closed a figure rose from behind the settee,
where he had crouched all the time, and Anton Van Drissel dusted the
knees of his khaki trousers.

"Ach Himmel!" he muttered in German. "It is worth a stiff back to have
heard what I have heard to-night!"



CHAPTER II

Off to the Front


He stood quite still for fully five minutes to make sure that they had
really gone, and then he stole with catlike tread over the noiseless
carpet, and, opening the door, listened again.

The billiard-room was at the opposite end of the vestibule, and, closing
the door gently behind him, he switched on the electric light, which
revealed Mademoiselle Van Drissel evidently waiting for him.

"What have you learned, Anton?" she whispered in German.

"I have learned everything, my little wife," he replied. "We leave this
house to-morrow, as soon as those two fools have gone to catch their
boat-train."

"Zo!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands. "I, for one, shall be
delighted. I shall have but one regret."

"And what is that, Ottilie?" inquired her husband.

"That I shall not be able to twist the neck of that detestable little
pig-dog, Billy, before I go. Ach, Anton, you do not know how I hate the
little beast!"

"I do not love him myself," said the spy, seating himself beside her.
"Listen, this is a good opportunity for us to talk without interruption,
and there is much to be arranged. You will stay in London; I shall cross
over to-morrow night from the usual place, for my information must be
in the Kaiser's hands without delay. It is now June 20, and the great
attack is to take place on the first day of July."

As he spoke he drew out a pocket-book, and the girl leaning over his
shoulder read the words he wrote down rapidly while all he had overheard
was still fresh in his memory.

"Is it possible?" murmured his female confederate. "Our time has not
been wasted after all, then. Our people knew what they were doing when
they sent us to this house."

"Our people always know what they are doing," said the sham Belgian,
with a cunning leer. "What would you have? A family, the father of which
is a brigadier-general at the front; the eldest son also a captain at
the front; and the young boy on the point of joining the Army. They were
just the very people likely to talk, to say nothing of that greatest
fool of all, Uncle Staff Captain, who told me a great deal when he dined
here on Wednesday. Ottilie, these English are lunatics, and it is not
for nothing that we have opened their letters for the last six months
without their discovering it. Still, I must confess I had never expected
a piece of luck so complete and so timely as this," and he tapped the
notebook in which he had recorded everything.

He stooped towards her and kissed with as much affection as lies in the
German nature to bestow upon anyone outside itself, and when he spoke
again his whisper was very earnest.

"You had a headache to-night--good. You can make the excuse in the
morning to visit the pharmacy in Shaftesbury Avenue. I need not tell you
where you will really go. But tell them that word must be sent to Fritz
Hoffer to take me off at the old spot at seven o'clock to-morrow night."

"Are you certain of a train that will get you there in time?"

"I shall not bother about trains," he replied. "The Kilburn Rifles are
doing coast duty there, and I will borrow Dennis Dashwood's motor-bike
ten minutes after their car has left for Charing Cross. I shall be in
the vicinity of Folkestone before their train arrives, and may possibly
pass them in the Channel."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Sure everything's in?" said Captain Bob with a keen glance round the
hall, which looked so pathetically empty now that the little pile of
brown cases had been carried to the car. "Well, time's up. Au revoir,
mon lieutenant. I must air my bad French, you know," and he shook hands
warmly with the "Belgian officer," who stood bareheaded on the step to
see them off. "Hope to meet you over there one of these days. Buck up
and get all right, you know."

"We shall meet, never fear; perhaps sooner than you think," said Van
Drissel with a quiet smile. "Good-bye and good luck to you both."

Then the skunk saluted, and the car drove off, Mademoiselle Ottilie
waving her handkerchief. Now they were gone, and as the three little
girls filed back into the hall wiping their eyes, the Van Drissels
exchanged a look.

"You have nothing that matters if you leave it behind?" said the man.

"Nothing at all--a refugee is not supposed to have belongings," replied
his wife.

"Very well, do not go yet until you have heard me start the engine. Then
when I have gone, walk quietly out of the house just as you are. They
might trace a taxi."

       *       *       *       *       *

The motor-car came to a stand outside Charing Cross Station, and Mrs.
Dashwood's heart seemed to come to a stand with it. In less than half an
hour she knew she would have parted with her boys, perhaps for the last
time, but she kept a brave face as Bob helped her out, and they found
themselves on the fringe of the busy throng that every day marks the
departure of the boat-train.

There were not quite so many people as usual, for nearly all leave had
been stopped.

A porter, well over military age, followed them through the barrier on
to No. 2 platform, where the long train was waiting. Three men of the
Lincolns, loaded with packs and rifles and bulging haversacks, were
looking for three seats in the same compartment.

A family of eight, of assorted sizes, were gathered round a short
private of the A.S.C., all talking at once. Farther along, a very pale
officer of the Northamptons, going out for the first time, stood with
three ladies, keeping his end up very well. Three lieutenants going back
from short leave, and lucky to get it, stood chattering, with red V's on
the back of their tunics, and as he passed them Dennis saw that they
belonged to the Northumberland Fusiliers.

Bob had secured places in the Pullman, and they walked along the train
until they reached it, and read the name "Clementina, seats 1-19," and
when their clobber had been put inside they stood on the curving
platform, watching the scene.

A chaplain with three stars on his black shoulder-straps and a pipe in
his mouth was talking to a tall curate, and two French officers in the
new blue-grey uniform, with black belts and gaiters, gave a touch of
unusual colour as they passed backwards and forwards through the groups.
One of them had a long beard; the other, a merry little man talking very
good English to three friends, wore the red ribbon of the Military Cross
on his breast.

Quite a number of British staff officers came along, one with a very
purple face, and the three Lincolns, who had been turned out of a
second-class carriage, made their way back again in search of a third.

A collector came along and examined the tickets, and everyone drew a
little closer to his carriage door.

"Only five minutes now," said Bob, glancing at the clock.

The staff officer with the purple face sat in his corner in the
dining-car, but almost everybody else was still out on the platform.

Then the railway officials moved quietly among the little groups,
saying: "Time is up, gentlemen. Please take your seats," and the little
groups separated, the officers climbing into the carriages.

From the rear of the platform a low whistle sounded, and another
official pressed a button close to the clock at the other end and blew a
little note himself. That was all, and almost imperceptibly the
boat-train glided away, with here and there a wave of a khaki arm, and
from the third-class compartments at the end a heedless cheer from some
youngsters who were going back again and did not seem to mind.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What is this, Smithson?" said Mrs. Dashwood, as the parlourmaid handed
her an envelope when she reached home.

"Mademoiselle asked me to give it to you as soon as you arrived, ma'am,"
said the maid, and she opened the letter.

    "My husband and I are much obliged to you for your
    hospitality," the German girl had written in scornful mood. "We
    shall not trouble you any further, as we have learned all we
    came to know. Gott strafe the English, and in particular your
    detestable little boy.

    "OTTILIE VAN DRISSEL."

"Good heavens! What vile ingratitude!" exclaimed Mrs. Dashwood. "I have
harboured spies!"

       *       *       *       *       *

A drizzling rain blurred the Channel, and it was high tide.

The lap of the wavelets on the pebbles sounded in the ears of a sentry
who swung suddenly round and challenged, rather surprised to see by the
scarlet band that the man who had approached to within two paces of him
unheard was a staff officer.

"That's all right, my boy, you needn't look so flurried," said the
"brass hat." "Do you know if the boat has gone over yet?"

"I ain't seen her, sir, but, then, you can't see much in this drizzle.
But I'll tell you what happened last night, sir; them there lights
showed again up yonder."

"That is precisely what I have been sent down to investigate," said his
interrogator.

"We are all certain there's something going on," said the sentry,
"though they ain't been seen for ten days now."

They stood side by side looking inland, and the staff officer, with his
hands behind the back of his drab mackintosh, pressed the button of a
tiny electric torch rapidly three times.

The sentry was only a boy, and he talked volubly, not heeding the
melancholy call of a sea-bird from the water.

"Ah, well, I think we shall have them to-night," said the staff officer.
"I see you have still got the old Mark II.?"

"Yes, sir," smiled the unsuspecting lad. "They took the others away from
us when we came down on this job."

"Let me look at it," said the staff captain, holding out his hand, and
the moment his fingers closed round the rifle the boy dropped senseless
on to the stones, felled by a smashing blow from the heavy butt.

"You'll do!" said his assailant, and, laying the rifle down and
gathering up the skirts of his mackintosh, he walked deliberately into
the sea!

A collapsible boat, rowed by two men in German naval uniforms, was
rising and falling on the top of the tide, and in another moment the men
were pulling out into the rain blur with their mysterious passenger.

No one spoke, until the nose of the boat met the dark grey hull of the
submarine waiting less than a quarter of a mile out, and as the beam of
a searchlight suddenly flashed through the mist, the top of the
periscope sank noiselessly beneath the waves, and Captain Von Dussel,
alias Van Drissel, sank with it.

"Good luck again, Kamerad?" inquired the commander as they stood in the
conning-tower.

"The best of good luck this time, Heffer," laughed the spy. "How soon
can you put me ashore on the other side?"

"As soon as I have accomplished a little scheme of my own," replied the
commander of the U50, with a strange glitter in his eyes. "The boat is
coming out of Folkestone now."

"That is not my affair," said Von Dussel.

"No, it is mine," replied the commander haughtily. "In less than an hour
I shall send her to the bottom."

"You will do no such thing," said the spy in a low piercing voice,
producing a Browning pistol and clapping it to his head. "In an hour I
must be in France. The news I carry is worth the loss of forty Channel
steamers. Hesitate another moment, and I will shoot you like a dog!"



CHAPTER III

"At Ten o'Clock Sharp!"


"Hawke!"

"Sir!" And the marksman of A Company jumped across the floor of the
trench to the door of the dug-out with surprising alacrity, as the merry
laughing face of Dennis Dashwood showed in the square hole in the wall
of the parados.

From the moment Bob Dashwood had made Dennis known to Harry Hawke as "my
brother," that worthy had attached himself to the new arrival with the
same devotion he showed to the captain, and the more he saw of Dennis
the more devoted he became.

"Hawke," said the subaltern, "I'm going over to-night, and I want three
old hands to go with me. The Divisional C.O. wishes the enemy wire
examined, and I've put in for the job. You can come if you fancy it.
What do you say?"

"I says yus!" cried Harry Hawke, with a widening of the grin that
puckered his dirty, mahogany-coloured face. "Better let me pick you out
two more, sir, what knows the game."

"Right-o!" assented Dennis. "Of course, it all depends on whether their
guns start strafing our trench at dusk. If not, and everything is fairly
quiet, we'll move out at ten sharp," and he consulted his wristlet
watch--Mrs. Dashwood's last present.

"What's this conspiracy? Can't I be in it too?" said a strange voice
that made Harry Hawke jump round, ready to salute, but his hand dropped
to his side again, for it was only an Australian corporal, who had come
along the trench behind him unnoticed.

"Why, Dan, old fellow! Where on earth have you sprung from?" cried
Dennis, emerging from his burrow and seizing the outstretched hand as
though he never meant to let it go again.

"It isn't a long story, Dennis," laughed the corporal, who was a
broad-shouldered young fellow a year or two the boy's senior. "They've
just moved our crowd in behind the brigade on your right, and the first
person I set eyes on was Uncle Arthur, who happens to know our old man.
So, as we are in the reserve trenches and nothing doing, I asked leave
to come over here to see you, and got it too. Uncle told me you had only
just arrived. How long have you been here?"

"Forty-eight hours," said Dennis. "Come and see my quarters."

His cousin ducked his head and followed him down the three steps that
led into the dug-out.

"'Will you walk into my parlour, said the spider to the fly,'" murmured
Dan Dunn.

"Quite so," laughed Dennis. "But we haven't room for even a spider's
web, though the rats are an infernal nuisance."

"There are worse things in this world than rats," said his cousin,
looking round at the little square cave excavated months before by the
Germans in the chalky soil, and seating himself on one of the two cots.
"Who's your room-mate?"

"My brother Bob. He's our platoon commander, you know. He'll be in
presently for tea. But, I say, isn't this just ripping?"

"It's certainly better than Gallipoli," said Dunn with a quiet,
retrospective smile. "Gad, Dennis, that was an awful hash up!" And he
blew a cloud of tobacco smoke to circle upwards among the shelves and
lockers, where all sorts of things were stowed away.

"Beg pardon, sir," said Private Hawke, thrusting his head in at the
door. "You didn't answer this gentleman's question. Does he want to come
with us to-night?"

"Oh, yes--did you mean that, Dan? It's like this," explained Dennis.
"The Boches have been putting up some fresh wire over yonder, and they
want to know at D.H.Q. whether it's permanent or temporary. I rather
fancy there's a bit of a raid on the cards, and I'm going out to
reconnoitre."

"Do I mean it!" laughed his cousin. "As long as I report myself at
sun-up it's all right."

"Very well, Hawke, my cousin will go with us."

"Then we'll only want one other man, sir, and I'll warn Tiddler. He can
smell Germans in the dark."

"That doesn't take much doing," smiled Dennis. "They're a filthy crowd,
anyhow. Ten o'clock sharp! And ask Smithers if that kettle's boiling."

Harry Hawke had scarcely removed his drab figure from the doorway when
Captain Dashwood blotted out the light and dived in upon them with a
dexterity born of much practice.

His greeting with the Australian cousin was warm enough, but they both
saw something unusual in his face as Dan squeezed up on the cot and made
room for him.

"Read this, Dennis," he said. "The mater's just sent it over," and he
tossed Ottilie's farewell letter across the dug-out.

"The pigs!" cried Dennis hotly. "I can't say it doesn't surprise me,
because it does; but, you know, I never tumbled either to the man or to
his sister. What does the governor say?"

"He's very sick," replied Bob. "Especially as he gave the whole show
away in his letter. Luckily the mater took it from the postman herself,
and she doesn't think they can possibly have seen it. But there it
is--one never knows. It is the beastly ingratitude that gets over me.
The mater rigged that girl out from top to toe, and paid her jolly well,
too, and Van Drissel had the run of the house, and then went away with
three boxes of the brigadier's cigars into the bargain. A German isn't a
human being when you come to look at it--he's just a mean beast, a bully
when he's top dog, and a grovelling worm when he's cornered. Does your
crush take many prisoners, Dan?"

Dan Dunn smiled, and his faultless teeth gleamed in the coffee-brown of
his face.

"Am I compelled to answer that question, your worship?" he said, with an
odd twinkle in his grey eyes, but he had already answered it to their
complete satisfaction. "Do you?" he said.

"A few Saxons now and again, when they put up their hands," replied
Captain Bob. "They're sick to death of the whole business, but Prussians
or Bavarians, no. We've 'had some,' and we're not looking for more
trouble."

Smithers made his appearance from the adjoining dug-out, which was their
kitchen, and when Bob had fixed up the folding table and Dennis had
dragged a Tate sugar box, which acted as cupboard, into the centre of
the floor, they drank hot tea, which was good, and ate sardines and
bread and butter, and finished up with jam, which Dan Dunn passed with
an apologetic grin.

"No, thanks; we had enough of that at Anzac," he said. "Forty flies to
the spoonful and enteric to follow. Our boys put in a requisition for
apricot so that you could see them better, but it didn't come off."

After tea they smoked and talked over things, especially the new
divisions that were marching up in a never-ending stream, and the huge
shell stores at the artillery dumps, which had struck Dan Dunn very
forcibly as his battalion passed them. And then Bob, having duties to
attend to, went away in the gathering dusk, and they hung a ground sheet
over the door and lit a candle, and Dan, with his huge arms behind his
head, told in his quiet drawl of Quinn's Post and Lone Pine, and had
hard things to say about the Higher Command, to all of which Dennis
listened, enthralled, with his elbows on his knees.

At five minutes to ten by the wristlet watch there came a cough from the
other side of the ground sheet, and Dan picked himself up.

"Right-o, Hawke!" called Dennis, with a glance at the watch. "Here's a
spare revolver for you, Dan, or would you rather have a rifle?"

"Rifle's in the way if it's a long crawl," said his cousin. "I'll take
the Smith and Wesson, old man."

Dennis settled his cap firmly on his head and extinguished the candle.
On either side of the door of the dug-out, as they pulled aside the
ground sheet and came up the steps, a dark figure loomed--Harry Hawke
and his chum, Tiddler.

Against the lighter grey of the sky one could make out the ragged edge
of the sandbags, and a little way off the rosy glow from a brazier
showed through the trench mist which hung low over the ground.

"The listening post knows we're coming through 'em, sir; they're lying
out in front of the bay on the left," volunteered Hawke.

"Very well," said Dennis in a low voice, "the idea is this: we want to
strike a bee-line--barring shell holes, of course--straight out to their
wire. You and Tiddler will keep twenty yards behind to cover us if
necessary, but no firing unless you are absolutely obliged. You
understand that?"

Both men whispered "Yus, sir!" in a ready chorus, and Dennis led the way
to the bay in the trench, and climbed on to the fire step.

Another figure stood motionless there, his rifle on a sandbag before
him, and everything was unusually still.

"Anything moving?" said Dennis, in the man's ear.

"Haven't known it so quiet all the week, sir," was the reply. "But don't
forget there's a machine-gun yonder, thirty paces to the left of the
willow stump, and they generally shove one of their posts out in front
of that, sir."

"I won't forget," said Dennis. "Come on, Dan! Over we go!" And the next
moment four dark forms clambered across the parapet and dropped on to
their faces on the other side.

A little way out, glued to the ground with their eyes and ears wide
open, our listening post lay, and as they crawled towards it one of the
men tapped with the toe of his boot to let them know that their coming
had been heard.

A long way off to southward, so far that it came only as a dull booming,
the German guns were shelling the French lines intermittently, and there
was the sharp bark of rifles to the north.

"How long do you calculate it will take us to reach their wire, Baker?"
whispered Dennis to the last man of the listening post as he crawled up
beside him.

"Somewhere about ten minutes, sir," was the reply. "There's one biggish
crump-hole straight ahead, and two more on the left a bit farther on,
and there's a tidy lot of dead lying out there."

Shoulder to shoulder Dennis and Dan crept forward across that No Man's
Land, the wind rustling in the tangled grass, bringing with it the acrid
odour of unburied corpses. Dan's hand encountered one of them, and he
nudged his cousin to work away more to the right.

This brought them to the edge of the first crump-hole, and glancing
every few yards at the luminous dial, they kept on for some distance
unchecked.

"We ought to be on it now," murmured Dennis. "It's a quarter of an hour
since we left the listening post." And he felt cautiously to the full
extent of his arms, but without encountering an upright standard.

They did not know it, but they had passed through a gap!

"Hold on!" whispered the Australian; "I thought I heard something quite
close on the left there."

Dennis heard it, too, at the same moment. It was like the solemn rattle
of earth falling into a newly made grave.

"It's only the chalk settling in those other crump-holes Baker warned us
about," he said, after they had listened breathlessly for a few moments.
"Our two fellows must have gone wide and struck them."

But he was wrong. The crump-holes were on the left, far behind, if they
had only known it; and it was from their right rear that a sudden
muffled exclamation came out of the stillness.

"'Evins!" said Tiddler, as he felt the sharp barbs of a low-stretched
strand bury themselves in the slack of his pants. "'Arry, I'm 'ung up!"

"Shut yer 'ead! What's the trouble?" growled his companion; and as Harry
Hawke groped for his mate he shook the strand; the well-known jangle of
an empty bully-beef tin warning them all that they had struck one of the
simplest expedients of modern warfare, freely used by both sides.

A tin dangling on the barbed wire does not ring like a cracked bell
unless somebody touches it; and from the darkness just in front and
above their heads, Dan and Dennis heard a guttural whisper, and,
realising that they were immediately under the enemy's parapet, lay as
flat as playing cards.

"It's those two fellows of mine," breathed Dennis in his cousin's ear.
"But how the dickens have we passed the wire without giving the alarm?"

Dan, with recollections of Anzac fresh upon him, remembered that slither
of earth from those crump-holes on the left.

"I'll bet you anything there's a party gone out to your trench, and
they've shifted a section of the wire to let them through," he replied.
"We may meet them on the way back. Don't move! We know, anyhow, that
their new wire's not fixed!"

Voices were humming above them now, and the German trench guards were
evidently on the alert. Still nothing happened, and Dennis was just
congratulating himself that their presence there was unsuspected when
there was a sharp sound from the top of the sandbags, and a pistol light
soared above their heads, illuminating the darkness.

For a moment everything was distinctly visible, although they themselves
were so far hidden by the German sandbags; but as Dennis looked back
over his shoulder, he saw the luckless Tiddler lying prone and helpless
in the open, and the white face of Hawke telling out strong in the
glare.

A hoarse shout from the German trench went up as the pistol flare died
down, showing that they had been seen.

"Give us a hand, matey; I ain't 'arf caught!" entreated Tiddler, who,
resting principally on his face and one knee, was making violent efforts
to disengage himself.

"'Old still!" growled Hawke, producing his nippers and snapping the
strand in two places, leaving a short piece about a foot in length
embedded in the tough cloth. "Now yer clear; back out of it." And as he
seized his rifle a green star-shell soared overhead, and there was an
ear-splitting screech above them.

"That's high velocity," whispered Dan Dunn, as they heard the splosh of
a heavy shell in rear of the British parapet, followed by a deafening
explosion and a red flame. "We've drawn them this time, old man, but I
can't make out why these beggars in the trench here don't fire. I'm for
making a bolt for it before they start. What do you say?"

Dennis gathered his legs under him, and signalled with his arm to Hawke
and Tiddler to go back, and expecting nothing but death for themselves,
the two cousins suddenly jumped up under the very noses of the men
lining the parapet behind them, and sprinted for the gap in the barbed
wire.

One bullet sang by Dan's ear, and another spurted up the chalk dust a
few feet ahead of Dennis, and as the vicious rat-tat of the machine-gun
farther down the trench opened, they found themselves at the edge of a
deep crump-hole, into which they rolled.

It was cover from the machine-gun, at any rate, but a cry of surprise
broke from the young lieutenant's lips as he landed on something soft at
the bottom of the hole, something which gripped him with a similar cry
of surprise.

       *       *       *       *       *

A shell-burst eighty yards away drowned the crack of Dan Dunn's
revolver, and two out of the three Germans who had taken refuge in the
same place rolled back and lay very still, just as another star-shell, a
bright white one this time, broke above them and lit up the hole like
day.



CHAPTER IV

His First Time Under Fire


Over the edge leapt Hawke and his companion, and Hawke shortened his
bayonet as he saw his idol's brother clutching the Saxon in tight
embrace.

"Stand clear, sir!" he shouted, but the German's hands went up above his
head, and in a quavering voice he cried, "Kamerad! Mercy, officer! I am
married with two little ones, and this hateful war is not my fault!"

Harry Hawke's bayonet was only half its length from the man's ribs when
Dennis put it aside.

"Strewth, Tiddler! I can't see no difference myself between one Boche
and another," grumbled Hawke. "It's one more prisoner to feed, and Lloyd
George talks about economy."

"I will tell you," said the Saxon, crouching down as half a dozen shells
in quick succession hummed overhead. "We were sent out to reconnoitre
your trench. You passed us just now, and we hid ourselves here. There is
going to be an attack in a few minutes, only you gave the alarm a little
sooner."

"Do you hear that, Dan?" said Dennis. "We must let them know somehow."

"Hum! If we'd nine lives apiece like a cat there might be some sense in
risking eight of them," said the Australian corporal. "But it's no good
stirring out of this hole just yet. Look at that!"

A perfect hurricane of shells was going over now, and the air was filled
with a succession of explosions.

"They're firing shrapnel!" shouted Tiddler in Dennis's ear. "You can
tell by the white burst and the sound of the flying balls, but we're
safe enough in here for the present."

He dropped into a sitting position as he spoke, and instantly sprang up
again with a yell.

"Are you hit?" said Dennis, feeling himself turn pale.

"No, I ain't hit, sir, but I'm 'urt. You don't do your jobs 'arf
properly, 'Arry!" And he exhibited the piece of barbed wire on which,
forgetting all about it, Tiddler had sat down heavily.

Hawke's uproarious laughter as he disengaged the offending thing sounded
oddly to Dennis in the midst of that fearful din that shook the ground
and brought the chalk rattling down into the hollow, but it was the
first time he had been under fire, and he was yet to learn the absolute
disregard of danger which the best and worst alike learn in the
trenches.

"What's the strength of the attack?" said Dan Dunn to their prisoner,
while the two privates went through the pockets of the men he had shot.

"Three battalions of us, and we were told the Brandenburgers were to be
brought up in reserve," replied the Saxon. "Look! they are beginning
now. That is a smoke shell that has just burst to cover our advance, and
the other guns have ceased."

A dense white cloud rolled along the ground in front of the crump-hole,
and Hawke and Tiddler instantly faced round, gripping their rifles as
they looked up the jagged slope behind them.

"Don't say no this time, sir," said the Cockney private, "or there'll be
a rare shermozzle darn 'ere if some of the blighters come on top of us
in the dark."

"You can do as you like, Hawke," replied Dennis abstractedly. "But, I
say, Dan, I can't stick this any longer. I wonder if our chaps would
hear us if we shouted together?"

"Don't shout!" said the Saxon, pulling his sleeve. "See, they are going
past now."

Looking up, Dennis made out a bunch of men against the smoke cloud
passing on either side of their hole, and his impulse was to scramble up
out of it and empty his revolver into their midst.

"What's the northernmost limit of the attack just here?" he said to the
Saxon, speaking in such excellent German that the man was obviously
surprised.

"Ten yards this side of the machine-gun, Herr Officer, and they will
keep well within it," he added. "They are Prussians on that gun, and
they don't care who they kill as long as they hit somebody."

"Look here, Dan, you can stay where you are if you like," said Dennis.
"I'm off!"

"Wait a moment--don't be an ass," expostulated his cousin. "What's your
plan? I'm with you if there's an earthly chance of doing anything."

"It's this," replied Dennis, slipping his revolver back into its case.
"The top of our parapet is a couple of feet higher than that
machine-gun emplacement. I noticed that yesterday. I'm going to crawl
out under the line of their fire, and I'll bet you I'm back in our
trench in ten minutes."

"It's risky," said his cousin. "But not as bad as Lone Pine. What about
the prisoner?"

"If I am alive and we have not carried your trench," said the Saxon very
earnestly, "I shall report myself to your people before daybreak."

"All right, that's a promise," said Dennis, and he climbed cautiously up
to the lip of the hole and peeped over.

A wave of the enemy had just passed on, swallowed up in the dense vapour
of the smoke-bombs, and as the two cousins flung themselves on their
faces they heard the Lee-Enfields opening from their own trench.

So long as the smoke lasted they were safe from detection, but the whole
air seemed alive with singing bullets, and Dennis felt a jar all along
his right side as one of our own shots carried off the heel of his boot.

"Keep your direction, for Heaven's sake!" he called over his shoulder.
"We've a hundred yards to go in a straight line," and then no one spoke,
as the quartet wormed themselves on their stomachs as fast as they could
crawl, parallel with the two trench lines which bordered that strip of
No Man's Land.

Tiddler's bayonet was wrenched from the muzzle of his rifle, and a
bullet chipped the brim of Hawke's steel helmet.

"Now look out for yourselves," called Dennis. "We're level with the
gun," and, trying to squeeze themselves flatter, if such a performance
had been humanly possible, they heard the rhythmical tac-tac abreast of
them and the weird whistle of the deadly stream of bullets a few feet
above their heads.

"That's better," said Dan Dunn when they had left it behind them. "Where
shall we turn off, old chap?"

"Not yet," replied Dennis through his clenched teeth. "A bit farther,
and then we shall have to face the music of our own men. That's why I'd
rather have come on this job alone."

"Are you playing up for the V.C.?" he heard his cousin say, but he made
no answer, and at the end of another couple of minutes he paused to take
breath.

"Talk abart a bloomin' obstacle race--I got fust prize at Aldershot at
the regimental sports--but this 'ere takes the cake," said Harry Hawke,
as he and Tiddler overtook them.

"Hawke!" said Dennis sharply, "we're going to turn here and make for our
own trench. Do you know any signal or any call that would prevent our
platoon blazing at us?"

"Let's get a bit nearer fust," replied Harry Hawke. "Then I'll tip 'em a
whistle. Wust of it is, the Boches are so bloomin' ikey--they 'aven't
'arf played us up before--but we'll try it on," and he said something to
his companion.

Still on their faces, but swinging round at right angles now, the little
party groped its perilous way towards their own sandbags, hearing the
roar of the fight apparently limited in their direction by the spot on
which the German machine-gun was working.

In front of them all was quiet.

The whole air trembled with the roar of firing, but perhaps the most
trying thing to the nerves was the sudden transition from brilliant
glare to black darkness in the momentary intervals between the
extinguishing of one star-shell and the bursting of the next. For an
instant they would see the line of their trench standing out as clear as
at noonday, with the glint of bayonets above the sandbags, and then it
would be blotted out, to be lit up again the next moment.

When they had crawled to within fifty yards of it, Harry Hawke thrust
two fingers into his gash of a mouth and let loose a piercing whistle.

"Now, Tiddler, pipe up!" he shouted, and their two voices rose in a
discordant rendering of a popular trench song, their rifles waving
wildly the while.

At any other time Dennis would have been constrained to laugh at the
incongruity of their choice, but Harry Hawke knew what he was doing, and
that no German could have imitated the Cockney twang in which they
brayed their chant at the top of their strident voices.

  "There's a silver linin'--froo the dyark clard shinin',
   Turn the dyark clard inside art till the boys come 'ome!"

they howled, and as a fresh star-shell lit up the trench they saw a man
in khaki thrust his head and shoulders over the topmost bag and look
under his hand in their direction.

"Cut it out, 'Arry--there's Ginger Bill, and 'e's 'eard!" cried
Tiddler, jumping to his feet. "Run for all you're worth, sir!"

His companions needed no second bidding, and in another minute they were
clambering up the outer face of the parapet and falling in a heap on to
the fire step inside.

"Well, I'm blowed!" said Ginger Bill, as they picked themselves up.

"And you ain't the only one," panted Harry Hawke. "Where's the other
chaps?"

And then he saw that Ginger Bill was bleeding badly.

"Ordered over there at the double--ain't none of you got any ears?" said
Ginger Bill, pointing to the hand-to-hand scrimmage which seemed to end
in front of the Dashwoods' dug-out.

Harry Hawke, very excusably overstepping the deference due to
commissioned rank, clutched the skirt of Dennis's tunic and nearly
pulled him backwards.

"We four ain't no good, sir, in that scrum, but there's a shell-proof
bomb store not a minute's run down this 'ere traverse. We could give 'em
socks then!"

"Bravo, Hawke!" shouted Dennis. "Come on, Dan; he's right!" And they
tore along the traverse like men possessed.

Back they came, Hawke and Tiddler girdled with a belt of racket bombs,
Dennis and Dan Dunn each laden with two bags of that deadly variety so
handy to the arm of the bowler.

Ginger Bill gave them a cheer as they went past him, but they heard
nothing and saw nothing but that solid mass of grey German uniforms,
wedged like herrings in a barrel where they had no right to be--in a
British trench!

Without a moment's hesitation Dennis sprang on to the parados, and
hurled bomb after bomb with perfect aim into the grey mass, which
instantly began to yell and squirm as panic seized it. Nothing human
could withstand that terrific shower that rained upon the victorious
Saxons, who had been recovering their second wind; and as a lucky shell
from one of our 18-pounders put the Prussian machine-gun out of action,
Dan Dunn mounted the parapet, leaving the trench clear for Hawke and
Tiddler.

The four advanced steadily, bombing as they went.

"Hold on!" sang a voice as Dennis reached the mouth of the next
traverse. And, looking down, he saw that it was Bob who spoke, and
behind him thirty or forty men of the platoon, who had been forced to
take refuge there from the overwhelming rush of the enemy.

"Oh, it's you, is it?" cried the captain, darting out, revolver in hand.
"Come on, boys! The bombers have got a move on them; it's our turn now!"
And as Dennis launched a long ball, the men of the platoon poured out
into the trench again and clambered over the hideous carpet of dead and
dying.

Without hesitation Dennis leapt across the traverse, and was soon at the
head of the bayonet party, Dan Dunn keeping neck and neck with him on
the parapet, and only when he groped to the bottom of his second bag and
found it empty did he jump down and flatten himself against the side of
the trench.

"Here, what's wrong?" he shouted, as his own men came pouring back.

"Order's come to retire, sir; we've got to fall back on the next
trench!" cried a panting private.

"Oh, hang it! I thought we'd got the beggars out!" exclaimed the lad,
almost overthrown by the jostling crowd with packs and rifles that
streamed past him. "I wonder what's become of Bob?"

Tiddler and Harry Hawke were nowhere to be seen, and Bob was equally
invisible; but there could be no doubt about the order, for a
staff-captain, his uniform stained with the white chalk, came running
along the trench, crying: "Retire! Hurry up, there! Here come the
Bavarians!"

"But I say, sir," expostulated Dennis, "isn't this all wrong? We've
piled the Saxons up six deep behind us yonder, and surely we can hold on
here?"

"The order has been given by the Brigade Commander. Who the deuce are
you, young man, to dispute it?" thundered the staff-captain furiously.

Dan Dunn saw his cousin's eyes suddenly blaze and his clear-cut face
turn crimson as he whipped out his revolver and covered the speaker!

The Australian's first impression was that in the excitement of it all
his cousin had gone stark staring mad--he had seen such things happen in
Anzac.

"Great Scott, Den! Do you know what you're doing?" he yelled, flinging
his powerful arms round him.

But he was too late. The barrel of the revolver gleamed blue in the
lurid glare of a big H.E. which burst behind them, and Dennis had
already pressed the trigger!



CHAPTER V

How Dennis Came in for a Taste of Dispatch Riding


The staff cap, with its scarlet band and gold-edged peak, spun round in
the air and dropped half a dozen yards away, as its late wearer sprang
on to the parapet and vanished out of sight.

"Great Scott! Are you mad, Dennis?" shouted Dan, still holding him
tightly; but there was no madness in the boy's face as he turned it to
his cousin.

"You blithering ass! You seventeen different assorted kinds of an utter
idiot!" yelled Dennis. "I know that man--he is a German spy, and you've
made me miss him!"

Dan Dunn's arms released their grip and fell nerveless to his sides.

"Old chap!" he exclaimed in a voice of bitter regret. "How was I
possibly to tell that? Perhaps it's not too late now!" And he bounded on
to the sandbags, but there was no sign of Anton van Drissel.

For a moment they leaned side by side over the parapet, trying to
penetrate the darkness that once more enveloped No Man's Land, and then
as Captain Bob came hurrying up, blowing his whistle for all he was
worth to recall the retiring platoon, Dennis drew his own, and the
shrill signal brought the men tumbling back again into the fire trench.

"Line up!" cried the captain as Dennis and Dan, both speaking at once,
told him what had happened.

"I knew something had gone wrong," said Bob bitterly. "What a thousand
pities the skunk got clear! Well, it's no use crying over spilt milk,
and the artillery's on them now. Do you hear that?"

The momentary lull was broken by a tremendous booming from our guns in
the rear, and a hurricane of shells began to burst on the German front
line trench and the ground beyond it, a steady, systematic bombardment,
which grew in volume and increased in intensity.

"Do I hear it?" shouted Dennis. "One can't help hearing it. What do you
mean?"

"I mean," replied his brother, making himself heard with considerable
difficulty, "that it is the beginning of the artillery preparation,
which will continue day and night without ceasing for the next week.
After that the great push is coming. That is what I mean!"

The 18-pounders, the 9.2's, the big howitzers farther to the rear--guns
of every kind and calibre blended in one infernal concert, which
extended for more than eighty miles, from the Yser to the Somme.

"If those Brandenburgers are wise they'll stay where they are to-night,"
said the Australian corporal. "Hallo, Fritz! Why, Dennis, here's your
prisoner, after all."

A white-faced man, crying "Kamerad!" at the top of his voice, climbed in
over the sandbags, trembling like a leaf, and Dennis saw that it was
indeed the Saxon he had captured at the bottom of the crump-hole over
there.

"I told you I would come," said the prisoner. "I am sick of it all--it
is horrible. The Emperor is a man without heart. He takes good care to
keep out of harm's way, and sends us to our death by the thousand.
Himmel! Look! This was my company!" And he lifted his quivering hands as
he saw the litter of corpses that filled the trench from side to side.
"We are told that you kill all prisoners and all the wounded, but I do
not believe that. They feed us on lies and very little bread, while our
officers have wine and even pianos in their dug-outs," and the
nerve-shattered man burst into tears.

Captain Bob was in the act of giving instructions to one of his
sergeants to pass the deserter to the rear, when another "brass hat"
came along the trench--the genuine article this time, and one of the
best, for it was Brigadier-General Dashwood himself, followed by his
brigade-major.

The brigadier was a thick-set, soldierly looking man, fit as a fiddle in
spite of the grey hairs which mingled with his brown moustache, and his
eyes lit up as he saw his two sons still safe and well.

He was not one of those officers who paid a hasty visit now and then to
the lines, ducking his head when his guide said, "Duck, sir!" where the
wall of the traverse was low, and who, after a perfunctory glance about
him through a gold-rimmed monocle went back again to headquarters,
"having seen nothing and learned nothing." General Dashwood knew that he
had a certain section of the front to defend, and did his work
thoroughly, and the whisper often ran along the fire trench by night as
well as day: "Look out, boys, here's the brigadier!"

He listened to all they had to tell him, and questioned the deserter
closely, turning to his brigade-major several times and exchanging a
meaning nod.

"The battalion has done very well, but that is nothing new," he said
with a proud smile. "Still, it won't hurt them to hear my opinion. You'd
better come with me, Dennis; there'll be nothing more doing here
to-night, and I want someone to go to Divisional Headquarters with a
message. You'll be back at your post by daylight," and, after picking
his way along the trench to the far end and examining the German line
carefully through a periscope, he returned, to find the men of Bob's
platoon lifting out the dead Saxons and laying them on the reverse side
of the parados to await the arrival of the sanitary squad with their
picks and shovels.

"Well, so long, old chap," said Dan Dunn, as Dennis passed him. "I've
enjoyed my visit. When you look me up I hope we shall be able to give
you an equally good time. Fearfully sorry I spoiled your shot."

The cousins shook hands, and as Dennis followed his father and the
brigade-major, Bob carried Dan into their dug-out, where he found that
Australian panacea for all evils--hot tea.

It was only a short walk to Brigade Headquarters, a couple of cottages
by the roadside under the lee of a rising bank which had so far
preserved them from the German shells. One red lamp burned there, and a
sentinel stood by the doorway, leaning on his rifle.

"I'm sorry you have got that confounded cigarette habit so soon," said
Dashwood senior with a dry smile. "But you will find a box on that
table, and you can amuse yourself while we get out a report."

Dennis looked round the bare little room, contrasting it with their
luxurious home in London. A flagged map was pinned on one wall, some
British warms and mackintoshes hung on pegs, a couple of field
bedsteads, whose disarranged blankets showed that they had been hastily
left when the alarm was given, occupied one end, everything else was
bare and comfortless.

Standing in the doorway, Dennis heard the click of a typewriter, and
could not help catching some of the report as his father paced backwards
and forwards, filling a pipe with his favourite mixture as he dictated.

"Three Saxon battalions delivered a surprise attack at 10.35 to-night,
and one of them succeeded in penetrating my first line trench, No. ----,
through the failure of a machine-gun, which was put out of action by an
H.E.," began the brigadier. "The 2/12th Royal Reedshire Battalion,
Platoons 1 and 2, behaved with great gallantry, and scarcely a man of
the enemy was left alive. The bodies were lying six deep when I visited
the position. Some confusion was caused by a German in British staff
uniform making his way along the trench shouting 'Retire!' but I have
the honour to report that through the initiative of Second-Lieutenant
Dashwood, of the battalion, and Corporal Daniel Dunn, of the
Australians, gallantly supported by two privates, whose names I shall
forward later on, and who successfully bombed the enemy, the attack
completely broke down, and was not supported by the Brandenburg
Division, which, I am informed by a prisoner, was waiting in reserve."

When Dennis heard his own name mentioned he stepped out into the
darkness with a strange tingling all over him. It seemed like
eavesdropping to listen any more, but he knew that proud thrill in his
father's voice, and the boy's heart beat high with a great happiness.

Some horses, picketed under the lee of the bank, fidgeted at their
shackles, and over everything was the thunder of that incessant
bombardment which, as Bob had said, was to go on night and day. He was
watching the shrapnel bursting in the distance far over the German
lines, where our guns were delivering a barrage fire to isolate the
front enemy trenches from food and supports, when the sentry called to
him.

"The general is asking for you, sir," said the man, and Dennis stepped
back and re-entered the cottage.

"Here you are, my boy," said his father. "You know the way to Divisional
Headquarters. There are a couple of motor-cycles standing at the end of
the cottage, take your pick and away with you."

"You will find the road has been badly shelled at the next village,"
said the brigade-major, holding up his map-case and tracing the route
Dennis would have to follow. "And here, at this point, the supply column
got it rather badly earlier in the night--there may be wagons still
lying about. When you've passed that it's all plain sailing."

"Do I report to you, sir, on my return?" inquired the boy.

"Yes," said the brigadier. "Then you can leave the bike and rejoin your
company. I could have 'phoned this, but it's all experience, and may
stand you in good stead."

Perhaps the brigade-major, as he nodded a cheery good night, understood
the father's wish to place the youngster out of danger, if it were only
for a few hours, but as Dennis swung into the saddle and waved his hand,
neither he nor the brigadier foresaw the things that were going to
happen.

The road was a fairly straight one, and Dennis found the shell holes
without difficulty, shutting off his engine only just in time as he
plunged down into the first of them like Quintus Curtius of old.

"Hang it, that's a bad start," he laughed when he found the machine had
sustained no injury, but it took him a good five minutes to get it up
again, and after that he was more careful.

A little farther on he encountered a supply column of the A.S.C., and
coasted by them without much difficulty, until at last a red lantern
gleaming above a green one told him that he had reached Divisional
Headquarters.

There he found the staff busy, and a good deal of quiet bustle as the
various brigade commanders' reports arrived, and a telegraphic operator
in a shell-proof dug-out was transmitting the night's news to Sir
Douglas Haig at ----.

Dennis handed in his dispatch, which was duly read by the
lieutenant-general commanding the division, a florid officer with a
white moustache, who held the communication in one hand while he rubbed
his chin thoughtfully with the other.

"Where is the officer from General Dashwood?" he inquired suddenly, and
word was passed for Dennis.

The divisional general looked him up and down for a moment, and his brow
cleared. "If you are not wanted immediately I should like you to carry
a query for me to the officer commanding the brigade on the right of the
division," he said. "There is something I do not quite understand in his
report, and unfortunately, the field wire has broken down somewhere and
we can't get through to him. Is your machine in order?"

"Yes, sir," said Dennis, and the general turned to a shorthand clerk.

"Just take this down, will you? And type it out quickly," he said, and
he rapidly dictated to the man.

"Captain Thompson," he said when he had finished, "kindly explain to
this officer how he is to reach Donaldson," and the staff captain took
the young lieutenant to the large scale map at the end of the room,
where everything was marked out in squares, each numbered and lettered.

The captain was lucid, and Dennis quick of intelligence, and in less
than five minutes from entering the room he was turning his cycle round
and darting off on his new mission.



CHAPTER VI

A Terrible Adventure at Dawn


The Divisional Headquarters had been fixed at a spot where several roads
branched off like the sticks of a fan, and the one Dennis followed was a
typical French chaussée, paved down the centre and bordered on either
side by tall trees.

It had been a good deal cut up by the passage of distribution columns,
but its surface was fairly free from shell holes, and he covered the
distance without much difficulty, a slight drizzle blowing in his face
as he hung low over the handle-bars with his eyes fixed on the acetylene
beam in front of him.

A man riding in the opposite direction whizzed past with a shout of,
"Cheer-oh!" and he was not challenged until he drew near the brigade.

"Thought there was something wrong with the wire," said the C.O. "I've
been trying to get through for the last half-hour."

"A wiring party went out just before I left, sir, to look for the
damage," said Dennis.

"Very well, take this back to the general--that will tell him all he
wants to know," and Dennis retraced his way, rather enjoying the ride,
although it had not proved particularly exciting so far.

But the excitement was to come. Overhead the scream and whistle of our
shells never ceased, but he was growing used to the thunder of the
bombardment, until there was an explosion not far ahead in the centre of
the road, and he slowed down with a glance over his shoulder.

"That's the enemy replying," he murmured, as another shell fell in the
dark fields on the left, and another and another, so quickly that he
lost count of them.

"Bit of a danger zone, this," he thought. "The sooner I'm through it the
better," but as his thumb sought a lever there was a blinding flash very
close to him, and following on the heels of the explosion he felt his
machine quiver and the front tyre burst with a report like a rifle shot.

"By Jingo! I'm done," he cried, jumping off as his head-lamp went out.
"That's shrapnel. Now what's to be done? The tyre's in ribbons!"

As he looked ahead his heart gave a bound as he saw a motor-car pull up
some forty yards away and the driver spring out on to the road. Dennis
left the damaged cycle where it was and ran forward.

"I say, I'm in no end of a hat, chauffeur. Can you give me a hand?" he
cried.

The man stared at him with a white face, apparently dazed, and replied
in a shaky voice: "Can you give _me_ a hand, sir? Look at this!" and
unshipping one of his lamps he turned the light on to the car.

Sitting rigidly erect was the body of a staff officer, decapitated.

"Great heavens!" exclaimed Dennis, bending over with eyes of horror as
he recognised the officer who less than half an hour before had shown
him his own route at Divisional Headquarters. "It's Captain Thompson!"

"It was Captain Thompson, and one of the nicest gentlemen I've ever
driven," said the man. "I don't know what to do. He told me he was
taking a message to the French general on the other side of Hardecourt,
and that it was of the very greatest importance. We were doing sixty
miles an hour, even on this road, when that shell copped us."

There were sobs in the man's voice as he pointed to the leather
dispatch-case still clutched tightly in the dead hand.

"Look here," said Dennis. "My machine's smashed up. How long would it
take you to reach the French lines?"

"A quarter of an hour--twenty minutes at the outside. But what's the
good of that, sir? I can't speak a word of their blooming language."

"I can," said Dennis, gently disengaging the wallet. "I'll carry the
dispatch, and I'll drive if you like, if your nerve's gone."

"My nerve's all right, sir. Haven't any left after eighteen months of
this job," and as Dennis climbed into the front seat, the chauffeur
turned the handle over and the engine began to whir.

It was good to turn one's back on that hideous thing, and when they
heard the headless trunk topple over on to the floor of the car behind
them, both shivered, and the chauffeur's knuckles stood out white as he
gripped the steering-wheel.

"I've seen two officers, one a brigadier-general, treated the same way,
and their shover huddled forward against the screen dead as a door
nail," said the man. "That was up near St. Julien, when Princess Pat's
got wiped out; but it sort of hits you when you know the man, and this
was his own car too. You'd better have your papers ready now, sir;
they'll stop us at yonder white house."

The examining post at the little cabaret detained them, but did not hold
them up more than a moment or so.

"A dispatch for Monsieur le Général," said Dennis to the sergeant in
charge, who recoiled as he saw the tragedy that had taken place.

"_Décapité, mon Dieu!_" he exclaimed. "Pass, mon lieutenant," and they
proceeded, leaving a red pool on the road where the car had halted.

While Dennis was inside the farmhouse a crowd of commiserating officers
surrounded the car, and they would have rid it of its grim burden and
interred poor Thompson among the little harvest of rude crosses that
marked where their own dead were laid, but when one of them, who spoke
English, suggested so doing, the chauffeur said "No."

"Beg your pardon, sir, but he'll be better buried in our own lines,
where they'll give him the Last Post and all that." He was protesting
when Dennis came out again quickly.

"It's a very good thing we took the bull by the horns," he said. "That
message was tremendously important, and the general has been good enough
to say all kinds of nice things about our bringing it along. We've got
to go back top speed to Divisional Headquarters," and he stepped in.

All the officers saluted the dead man as the motor started on its return
journey, and already the darkness was giving place before a ghostly grey
feeling in the east, which was not light as yet, but heralded the near
approach of dawn.

The chauffeur turned up his coat collar, for it had grown very cold, and
he could not get rid of the oppression of that dread something which
they were carrying--that something which a short hour before had been so
full of life and vigour and kindly thought for all with whom it had come
in contact.

"I shall put in for a rest after this," said the man as they repassed
the post at the cabaret, and he opened out the engines. "They tell me
there's going to be a week of this firing, and upon my sam, I don't
think I can stand it now!"

"I suppose one gets used to the guns," said Dennis. "But what an
infernal row they make!"

"Been out here long, sir?" said the chauffeur, whose quick eye had
detected the newness of his companion's uniform, notwithstanding the
chalk stains which were the result of his adventure earlier in the
evening.

"As a matter of fact, I haven't been up at the front three days yet,
but, of course, I've done a lot of training at Romford with the
Artists'," replied Dennis.

"Lord! you don't know you're born yet, in a manner of speaking, sir,"
said the driver with a little toss of his head. "You've got a lot to go
through before you've seen as much as I have. Blow 'em! Those Boches are
still at it," and he craned his head forward over his wheel. "They've
got the range of this blooming road to a T. I don't funk risks, but
it's madness to shove ahead through that!" And he slowed the car down as
a rain of shells crashed among the trees in front of them, bringing half
a dozen tall poplars down on to the road itself, while the whole
_terrain_ to their left hand was alive with bursts of high explosives.

"Well, what's to be done? I must reach the general at once. Isn't there
another way round?"

"There's only this turning on the right, sir," replied the man. "It
seems to be pretty clear, and it will run us close behind our own line.
I've been there before, and we can double back past General Dashwood's
headquarters."

"Right-o!" assented Dennis eagerly, and the car swung into a narrow
track between two swelling rises that had not long before been peaceful
farm land under cultivation.

It was little more than a cart track, and they plunged and swayed like a
boat on a choppy sea, the wheels now mounting the bank at a dangerous
angle in the uncertain light of the dawn.

"It's better going a bit farther ahead," said the chauffeur. "You sit
tight, and I'll bring you through somehow."

The words had scarcely left his lips when everything seemed to be
suddenly swallowed up in a soul-terrifying roar. A vivid orange flame
rose skyward, and as Dennis soared upward through the air and fell with
a plump into a field of beetroot, the world turned black and he lost
consciousness.

How long he lay he did not know, but when he opened his eyes it was
almost light, and the face of his wristlet watch had been smashed to
atoms.

For a few seconds he remained quite still, not daring to move from fear
of what movement might tell him, but at last, sitting up, he felt
himself all over and breathed a sigh of deep thankfulness to find that
he had no bones broken.

He remembered that they had been running into an avenue where the trees
met overhead and formed a species of tunnel, and the avenue was still
there before him, one of the poplars headless like poor Captain
Thompson, and showing a great white scar where the shell had caught it.

And then he rose to his feet, to find himself half a dozen yards from
the narrow road, his heart standing still as he saw the mangled chassis
of the motor, entirely stripped of its body works, reared up on one end
at the edge of the crater.

The whole road seemed to have been scooped out to the depth of several
feet, and how he had escaped destruction was little short of miraculous.
The skirt of his own tunic was rent to rags and ribbons, his Sam Browne
belt, map-case, and glasses were gone, and the French general's message
with them, and a great sob shook the lad as he walked slowly to the
ruined car.

The first thing he saw was a human leg swathed to the knee in a stained
puttee, and a stride farther on was the rest of his companion, so
shockingly mutilated that it was only with an effort he could bring
himself to examine it.

"Poor chap, poor chap!" he muttered. "An end like this after eighteen
months at the wheel!"

There was no trace of the captain's body; it was probably buried deep
in the shell hole, or else plastered far and wide over the hillside with
the debris of the motor.

He stooped and opened the chauffeur's coat, which bulged suggestively,
and drew out a little case containing his identification papers and
driver's licence, perhaps also letters from home.

Pulling himself together, he placed the case in one of his own breast
pockets which had escaped injury, with a soldier's "small book" he had
picked up from one of the dead Saxons in their own trench as a memento
to send home to his mother, and then he looked about him, without seeing
sign or trace of living thing or human habitation.

There was a green wheatfield on his right hand, from which the mist was
curling away, and in the glory of the dawn overhead the larks were
trilling. A patch of scarlet poppies was almost startling in its
vividness, and beyond the poppies a long ribbon of yellow mustard was
backed by a thick wood.

"Where on earth am I?" was the thought that passed through his brain.
"This poor chap said the road would bring us near to our firing line,
and I may be able to borrow another motor-bike there. I must return to
the French headquarters and get that message duplicated, or I'm not
worth my salt."

He straightened one of his leggings which had been twisted round, and,
skirting the shell hole, started out on his voyage of discovery, feeling
rather dizzy at first, but surprised to find that his cap was still upon
his head, for he had not yet been served out with a trench helmet.

The narrow way wound along the edge of the wood through a hollow, the
banks of which were clothed with purple scabious, and he had gone some
distance before he thought of taking his bearings by the sun, which
showed him that he was heading due south.

"I'm on the right road, anyhow," he muttered, and then he suddenly
stopped and crouched low.

In the mist wreath that still filled the hollow he had caught sight of a
figure in uniform, which recalled the field grey of the Saxon. The man
was standing motionless beside a clump of trees that tufted the skyline,
and, uncertain whether he could gain the shelter of the wood behind him
unseen, Dennis was looking backwards over his shoulder when the decision
was taken very unexpectedly out of his hands by the appearance of
another man, who suddenly covered him with a rifle from the bank top not
a yard away, and challenged him in German.

"_Wer da!_" said the man, and although he recognised that his
interrogator was wearing a French uniform, Dennis unthinkingly replied
to the question in German also.

"I am an English officer," he said. "Perhaps you will be good enough to
direct me to our nearest brigade."

The man rose slowly from the wet wheat which had concealed his coming,
and, still covering Dennis with his rifle, slid down the bank until he
was within arm's length, a thick-set Alsatian corporal, powerful as a
bull.

"So," he said with a short laugh, as he seized Dennis by the collar.
"You are an English officer, are you? We shall see. We had one of your
sort through our lines yesterday--a staff captain, who gave us orders
from the British general which turned out to be false. Come along, my
pig. We will see what our captain has to say to you. English officers do
not speak German with a Prussian accent. You are a Boche, I tell you;
and you will breakfast off ball cartridge unless I am very wrong!"



CHAPTER VII

A Friend in Need


Dennis Dashwood laughed aloud, but though there was genuine amusement in
his voice at the beginning, it quickly tailed off into a broken quiver,
for the lad was still suffering from the effect of the shell burst.

"You will laugh on the other side of your mouth directly, if I know
anything," said his captor gravely.

"I am quite content to leave that to the judgment of your officer, my
friend," replied Dennis in French. "But have the goodness not to shake
me like a rat. I've got a splitting headache as it is."

"Ha, you spies speak all languages. _Ma foi!_ What a lot of clever
scoundrels you are!" grunted the Alsatian corporal. "What a pity, for
you have not got a really bad face when one comes to look at it."

"Is it far to your headquarters?" inquired his prisoner wearily.

"Not far, so you had better make the most of it. It will be your last
walk on earth. How beautiful is the song of the lark! The little animals
do not seem to mind the gunfire at all. Do you have larks in Prussia?"

"I hope we shall, my corporal, when you and I get there with our
battalions," but the corporal was impervious to the harmless jest, and
squared his shoulders as they came in sight of his commander's post.

The other man whom Dennis had seen on the slope had come down and joined
them, and the pair marched their prisoner in with a brisk, businesslike
stride.

The French trench ended, or began, whichever way you like to take it, in
a wood of oaks, and the smoke of many fires drifted among the
tree-trunks. At the door of a dug-out a group of officers sat round a
trestle table taking their coffee, and they all looked up as the
corporal cried, "_Halt_, prisoner!" and saluted with his rifle.

"Mon Commandant, I found this man hiding by the roadside behind yonder.
He speaks German and French and all the languages under the sun, and I
am convinced he is a spy."

The commandant was a spare, black-bearded man, whose uniform of horizon
blue gave one rather the impression that it had been made by a
dressmaker, but on the left breast was a little strip of crimson and
green ribbon, showing that he had won the Military Cross during the war.
He had black leggings and narrow black belts, and the wristbands of his
shirt were spotlessly clean.

"What have you to say for yourself, prisoner?" said the commandant,
eyeing him keenly from top to toe, through the chalk and dirt that
encrusted him, and Dennis in excellent French told him who he was.

"Where is the dispatch of which you speak?" was the next question, and
Dennis pointed to his torn tunic. "It was destroyed when the car was
blown up, Monsieur le Commandant," he replied.

"But you must still have some proofs of your identity. What is that in
his pocket?" And the commandant, who had lit a cigarette, pointed with
the match.

The corporal thrust his hand into the drab tunic and produced two things
which he laid on the table by the long loaf from which the officers had
cut slices to dip in their coffee.

"Ha!" said the commandant, opening the wallet. "You told me your name
was Dashwood, but here it is given as Alfred Robinson."

"I brought that away from the body of the man who drove me," explained
Dennis. "That is the English chauffeur's licence from Scotland Yard."

"And this?" continued the officer, his face becoming graver as he
examined the German soldier's "small book." "Here you are described as
Hans Schrettelmeyer, Private in the 24th Reserve Battalion of the 108th
Saxons; how do you account for it?"

"That I picked up in the fire trench of my own battalion when we
repulsed the attack last night," said Dennis, drawing himself up a
little and colouring indignantly as he found his position becoming
serious.

"Oh, come, you are evidently fond of picking things up, my friend," said
the commandant with a dry smile. "Is there anything else that you have
found that will help you?"

"I have my own identification disc," said the lad hotly, and then he bit
his lips as he groped between his shirt and undervest.

"Unfortunately, monsieur, it has also gone!" he exclaimed, turning pale.

"Ah, well, I do not think we want it," said the commandant, tilting his
chair backwards. "We have had several of your kind prowling about our
lines lately--one only last night, and an example is necessary. You are
a spy, my friend, and that is the end of the matter."

"Look here, sir, this is all bosh!" exclaimed Dennis hotly in his own
language, realising for the first time that appearances were dead
against him.

"Quite right, my boy," laughed one of the other officers in English.
"You are all Boche. I think there is very little doubt about that."

The commandant leaned across the table and said something in a low voice
to the others, and they all nodded.

"May I be permitted to make an observation, sir?" said the lad.

"With pleasure," replied the commandant, bowing politely.

"A very short question over your wire to Monsieur le Général commanding
this army corps will convince you that I am what I tell you I am," said
Dennis.

"Even if I thought there were any necessity it would, unfortunately, be
impossible," said the commandant in a cold voice. "Your wires are not
the only ones that suffer, and ours has undergone some damage during the
night. It may be two hours before it is repaired, and you must not be
surprised if we make short shrift of you."

"But, monsieur!" expostulated Dennis. "This is an outrage! My country
and yours are firm friends, and I repeat, upon my word of honour, that I
am an Englishman."

The officer who had laughed at him and who spoke English, said in an
undertone: "Do you know, monsieur le commandant, I should feel
inclined--with all due respect I say it--to postpone the execution. I
must confess this boy is a marvellous linguist, and there is not a trace
of fear in his bearing."

"My dear Laval, for myself I am convinced, and I shall take all
responsibility," replied the commandant. "Prisoner, if you would like to
write a letter to your friends you are at liberty to do so. We will
endeavour to forward it afterwards. Also, if you care to avail yourself
of the good offices of our chaplain they are at your disposal. But do
not waste time, for you will be shot in half an hour," and he made a
grave inclination with his head to intimate that the interview was at an
end.

A contemptuous smile passed across the young lieutenant's face, and he
bowed in return.

"Very well, sir, I can only say that you will be sorry for this
decision," he said. "I have a fountain pen--will somebody kindly lend me
a sheet of paper?"

One of the officers at the table handed him a blank form, at the same
time offering his cigarette-case.

"No, thanks, I won't smoke," said the boy, and, sitting down on a billet
of wood, he laid the paper on his knee.

    "DEAR PATER," he wrote with a steady hand. "It seems a
    rotten thing to have to tell you, but the French are going to
    shoot me for a spy. The fool man in command here, who was
    probably a successful pork butcher before the war started,
    declines to communicate with headquarters, and I rather hope
    you'll rub it into him when you learn all. It seems I speak
    German too well, and I should not be surprised if the sham
    English 'brass hat' who upset them last night were that
    scoundrel, Van Drissel, whom I nearly shot."

He got thus far, the Alsatian corporal standing rigidly at his elbow,
when he became aware of a bustle at the table, and looked up.

A French _liaison_ officer had just arrived, and was explaining his
mission to the group, while the commandant read a dispatch he had
brought.

Dennis sprang to his feet, and the laugh which brought the corporal's
grip on to his collar again turned every eye towards him.

"Good morning, mon Capitaine!" he cried. "Will you be good enough to
tell the commandant the circumstances under which we met last night, and
why I came to your headquarters with a message?"

"My dear lieutenant," said the _liaison_ officer. "Enchanted to meet you
again! But what in the name of heaven has happened to you?"

"Nothing to what was going to happen in a few minutes if you had not
arrived," replied Dennis, unable to repress the triumph he felt at the
consternation in the faces of his judges.

"_Ciel_, mon Commandant!" exclaimed the _liaison_ officer. "It is a very
fortunate thing for you that I came in time. If you had shot this young
Englishman, Father Joffre would have had something to say about it."

In a few words he established the prisoner's identity beyond any shadow
of doubt, and the good-hearted fellows were round him in a moment,
clamouring out their apologies, while the commandant, with tears
rolling into his beard, kissed him on both cheeks.

Dennis was ashamed that he had called him a pork butcher, for the poor
man was pathetically apologetic, and trembled like a leaf at the thought
of what might have been.

"You certainly gave me a very tight squeeze for the moment," laughed the
lad. "But it was a string of extraordinary coincidences that might have
deceived anyone."

"Then our general's reply has not reached your headquarters?" queried
the _liaison_ officer.

"Unhappily not," said Dennis. "It is somewhere among the wreckage of the
car and the remains of those two poor fellows."

"Never mind," said his preserver. "We will let you into a little secret.
The dispatch you brought to us was a request that this division should
join with your nearest brigades in a raid on the enemy's lines. The
Allied artillery is even now lengthening its fuses, and we are on the
point of giving the Germans a surprise. Will you find your way back,
or----" And he made an expressive wave of his hand in the direction of
the German trenches.

"If Monsieur le Commandant has no objection, and somebody will lend me a
revolver, I should love to take part with the battalion that was going
to shoot me," laughed the boy.

"_Cher ami!_" cried the black-bearded officer. "You heap the coals of
fire upon my head. You and I will march together!"

While Dennis swallowed a cup of coffee the commandant dived into his
dug-out and reappeared with a revolver case, which he buckled on the
boy with his own hands; and meanwhile the little group at the wood fires
had snatched up their rifles and donned their blue-painted steel
helmets, and were falling in by companies, eager to exchange the
monotony of trench warfare for a brisk dash at the hated foe.

The Alsatian corporal, a typical poilu, still kept very close to his
late prisoner, but there was an altogether different look in his eyes
now.

"I should never have forgiven myself, mon lieutenant," he blurted out,
as he slung his rifle behind his back and festooned himself with racket
bombs. "I hope monsieur will bear me no ill will for my stupidity."

"It is nothing, my friend," said Dennis laughing. "A brave man should do
what he thinks to be his duty, and you did yours. What is the distance
to the enemy trench?"

"About a hundred metres, mon lieutenant," replied the corporal, "and
uphill all the way. _Voilà!_ There goes the signal!"

A low blast on a whistle, and the long grey-blue line went quickly
forward among the trees, and jumped down into the deep excavation which
wound like a dirty white ribbon along the outskirts of the wood.

The 75's were barking loudly in their rear, the shells now falling
behind the enemy trench, the sandbags of which showed in an irregular
line on the slope against the sunrise.

The _liaison_ officer had come with them thus far, and was looking at
his watch.

"_Bon chance_, lieutenant," he said. "Unhappily, I may only see the
attack launched, but I hope this will not be our last meeting."

"My boys, it is time!" cried the commandant. "_En avant!_" And, climbing
swiftly over their parapet, the active little poilus scampered up the
hill through the yellow charlock.

Half-way up every man flung himself flat upon his face, and looking
back, Dennis saw the second line coming over to their support. Again the
whistle sounded, the little blue figures jumped up, scurrying like
rabbits, and the machine-guns on the German trench opened fire.

Down on their faces sank the first line again, so suddenly that an
onlooker might have thought that everyone of them had been shot, and as
Dennis found himself in a bed of stinging nettles close to the ruins of
a cottage, with the corporal and the commandant on either side of him,
he caught the distant sound of an English yell away to the left, and
knew that the British raid had been well timed, and was acting in
concert with his new friends.

For an instant the commandant, whistle in mouth, lifted his head and saw
that his supports had come up to within twenty yards of their comrades.

"Now, my dear friend," he mumbled, giving Dennis's arm a warm squeeze.
"One bound, and we shall be there!"

The whistle shrilled loudly, and, jumping to his feet, the commandant
shouted, "Forward with the bayonet! _Vive la patrie!_"

Instantly the sandbags in front of them bristled with heads wearing flat
caps, and the volley from the mausers mingled with the murderous tac-tac
of machine-guns.

It floated dimly through the boy's mind that he had no right to be
hazarding life and limb in that place, but the joy of that mad rush with
a fight at the end of it banished the thought on the spot, and, scarcely
conscious of those few remaining yards which they traversed at top
speed, he found himself scaling the sandbags.

Above him was the commandant, sword in one hand and revolver in the
other, but as the active little man poised for an instant on the top of
the parapet and fired into the trench at his feet, he threw up his arms
and pitched backward, Dennis dropping his weapon to dangle at his wrist,
and catching him as he fell at the foot of the obstacle.

"It is nothing," gasped the French officer, clutching at his throat, but
the blood was pouring between the fingers of his hand.

"He is wrong," said Dennis, as the Alsatian corporal knelt beside him.
"We must get him back under cover at once. It is only a surgeon who can
stop this hæmorrhage."

"And I haven't thrown a bomb yet!" growled the corporal, tossing the
racket he held in his hand over the top of the sandbags.

Its explosion seemed to satisfy him for the moment, and passing his
powerful arms under the commandant's shoulders, while Dennis lifted his
legs, they walked carefully backwards down the slope again beneath a
whistling hail of bullets.



CHAPTER VIII

In the Enemy Trenches


By great good fortune, when they reached the crumpled ruins of the
cottage, they found two stretcher-bearers kneeling among the nettles, on
the look-out for casualties. They had seen them coming, and the
stretcher was already unrolled, and as they laid him upon it the wounded
man motioned with his hand.

"Stand round me," he said in a husky whisper, speaking with difficulty.
"Do not let them see who it is that is hit."

One of the brancardiers placed a pad under the commandant's ear, and
passed a bandage round his neck.

"Tighter, tighter!" motioned the sufferer. "How is it going? For me, I
do not mind if you pull my head off, provided we take the trench."

Dennis peeped through a crack in the wall and bent over him.

"The attack has been completely successful," he said. "The supports are
swarming in now."

"_Vive la patrie!_" cried the wounded man, whose grey-blue tunic was
stained crimson with his own blood. "I thank you from the bottom of my
heart, lieutenant. Again you heap the coals of fire upon me."

Then he fainted.

"Come along, Alphonse," said one of the stretcher-bearers to his
companion. "We must get him to the surgeon at once."

"And we," said the Alsatian corporal, touching Dennis on the arm. "Shall
we return up yonder?"

The commandant's revolver lay among the nettles, Dennis picked it up,
and the pair raced side by side again up the trampled slope.

Lithe and active as Dennis was, his new friend, loaded with his pack and
hung about with bulging wallets and strings of racket bombs, was over
the parapet before him, and the boy's after-recollection of the ten
minutes that followed was a chaotic jumble of mad slaughter.

The French infantry were in terrible earnest, and out to kill. They had
old scores to wipe off, and at the outset nothing could stay them.

Figures in blue grey and figures in greeny grey wrestled and fought in
the drifting smoke, and what with the hideous gas helmets and their huge
goggles, and the mediæval-looking trench helmets, Dennis seemed to have
suddenly found himself in the company of weird demons from some other
world.

Men stabbed and hewed and hacked at each other. Others, gripped in tight
embrace, were seen revolving in a species of grim waltz, until a chance
bullet or a piece of shell ended the dance of death.

The wounded squeezed themselves against the boarded sides, the dead lay
where they fell, and the living took no notice of either. If there was
any shouting the guns drowned it, and the lust of slaughter was in every
face.

"I do not think there will be any poison gas," shouted the Alsatian
corporal, whose name was Aristide Puzzeau. "The wind is in the wrong
quarter, but you never know what these Boches are up to."

He handed him a gas helmet, which he took from a dead comrade, and
without waiting for any thanks, Corporal Puzzeau pursued his way.

Dug-out after dug-out he bombed, and when his supply was exhausted he
unslung his rifle with its long, thin bayonet, Dennis following upon his
heels.

The barrage fire, playing a couple of hundred yards in rear of the
German parados, effectually kept the enemy's supports in check, and
Dennis wisely possessed himself of a steel helmet, for the shrapnel had
a habit of raining down on friend and foe alike, but after they had gone
some distance in a northerly direction, they found that the enemy had
recovered from the first surprise, and a strong counter-attack was
forcing a company of poilus back.

At first it was difficult to find where the enemy sprang from, until
Puzzeau located the mouth of a subterranean dug-out from which they
poured in rushes, and, crouching down, he waited at one side of the
opening like a terrier at a rat-hole, Dennis standing beside him with a
revolver in his hand.

"Wait, do you hear that?" said Puzzeau. "There are plenty more of them
inside," and they waited.

"Good morning, my pig!" said Puzzeau, lunging forward, and the sergeant
reeled against the trench boards.

Almost before he could recover his weapon the opening was filled with a
surge of men, and Dennis emptied a revolver into the middle of them.

"That is the style!" grunted the corporal approvingly, as a dull shout
boomed from the dug-out and those behind paused. "If there were only
half a dozen of us here now, or, better still, a bomb-thrower," and,
lifting up his powerful voice, he bellowed to a man he knew: "Rabot,
surely there are some bombs left?"

"That is all very well," replied Rabot. "I have been sent myself for
reinforcements. Do you know every officer of our company is down, and
the men are falling back?"

"There is something yonder that will serve our purpose," cried Dennis,
pointing to an ugly grey muzzle behind an iron loophole on the parados.

It was almost opposite to the door of the dug-out, and before the
Alsatian knew what he was doing, Dennis had scrambled up to the
machine-gun emplacement and vanished. The next moment his head appeared
round one side of it.

"Stand clear!" he yelled, waving with his arm, and vanished again.

"Who is that?" inquired Rabot. "He looks English and speaks French like
Monsieur le Président."

"You will hear him speak German out of that gun in a moment," laughed
the corporal. "_Voilà!_ there she goes. And to think we were going to
shoot that boy less than an hour ago!"

Dennis, who had qualified as a machine-gun officer, had indeed lighted
upon a piece of great good fortune, for under the gun he found three
Germans recently bayoneted and the cartridge-jacket in position. He had
only to depress the muzzle to send a stream of bullets straight into the
mouth of the dug-out.

The stream ceased in a moment, and they saw him beckoning to them.

"Look yonder!" he cried, as the corporal and Rabot joined him. "The
rabbits will not bolt again if we can leave someone here, but the
company is in difficulties, and we are wanted. Can you take charge, _mon
garçon_? See, the mechanism is quite simple; it works like this," and he
loosed half a dozen rounds by way of illustration.

"Stay here and do as the lieutenant has shown you if they show their
noses again," said the corporal, and Rabot took his post at the
machine-gun.

The French soldier is intelligent because he has imagination, and Rabot
understood. Corporal Puzzeau understood also, and his eyes danced as
Dennis bounded along the top of the parados towards the retreating
company.

They were bunched up in the trench, and some of them were even
scrambling out over the other side, when that slim brown figure in the
uniform of their British Allies with one of their own helmets on his
head, and the corporal behind him, appeared above them.

"Comrades of the 400th of the Line!" cried Dennis. "You are surely not
going back to Paris? Berlin lies in this direction. Follow me, and I
will show you the way."

"_Vive la patrie!_" bellowed Corporal Puzzeau, and the men who had
recoiled, took up the shout and scaled the wall of the parados again.

A furious rat-tat-tat sounded a little way off, and Dennis heard Puzzeau
laugh.

"It is only Rabot," he said. "He has learnt the trick already."

In a few minutes the ground behind the German trench was strewn with
bodies in field grey, and it was with some difficulty that Dennis and
the corporal could check the victorious company from penetrating into
the zone of their own artillery barrage fire. As it was, a good many of
the helmets were dented, and not a few of the poilus paid the toll of
their own eagerness.

"Mon lieutenant, if I return to our own lines," said the Alsatian
corporal, "the general shall hear of this thing you have done. In the
name of my country I thank you," and he held out his hand.

Dennis shook it, and laughed. "There is nothing to make a fuss about,
corporal," he said. "We've taken the trench, anyhow; and as I see our
right brigade yonder, who seem to have been lucky also, I think I'll get
along now and join them."

He was gone before Aristide Puzzeau could say any more, and after a
quick sprint he came up with an English Fusilier battalion consolidating
the position they had just secured.

"Hallo, Dashwood!" hailed a voice, as a very young officer with a very
large eyeglass turned round and stared at him. "You look as though
you've had a rough night of it. Where on earth have you sprung from?"

"I've been with the French for a spell," said Dennis, looking down
ruefully at his tattered uniform. "Where shall I find my crush?"

"Good heavens! they're miles away," said his interrogator, who had been
with Dennis in the same training corps. "Pretty good raid, what? What
price Romford after this? Bet you a lemon squash your C.O. will
reprimand you for appearing on parade improperly dressed."

"I'll chance that, Jimmy. So long, old man," and he threaded his way
past the rear of the brigade, not without some good-humoured banter at
his dishevelled appearance.

It was twelve o'clock in the day when, rather leg weary, he struck the
nearest battalion of his own brigade, and arrived in time to find
himself once more in the very thick of it.

During the fighting on their right General Dashwood's command had lain
doggo, but word had just come that they, too, were now to make a
surprise attack on the enemy's first line trench, and smoke bombs were
already preparing the way for them.

"By Jove! Den. The governor's been tearing his hair about you!" was
Bob's greeting as they met on the fire-step. "You look pretty well
knocked. Better turn in, old man, for a spell."

"Turn in be hanged!" cried Dennis. "Here, Hawke, you've no business with
three bags of bombs. Give one of them to me. I'm going to be in this."

He had scarcely fitted the leather strap to his shoulder when his
brother, who had been looking at his watch for the last minute said:
"Ready, boys! Get over!" And the Reedshires cleared the parapet with a
low glad murmur.

Dennis had lost all count of time, and only knew that he had crossed
the strip of "No Man's Land" with his platoon, somehow, and was bursting
bombs mechanically along the German trench.

Turning round as he came to a narrow door on his left, he was surprised
for the moment to find the French corporal no longer at his elbow, and
his laugh of amusement as he entered alone sounded odd and hollow.

With abrupt suddenness he ran down a flight of thirty wooden steps
leading from the end of a short passage into a large hall, lit by
electric light.

The huge underground dug-out was empty, save for some wounded Germans in
bunks, and with a glance at the pictures on the walls, and the piano on
a platform, he ran towards another door at the far end.

"Great Scott! they've got a regular town here!" he exclaimed aloud,
gazing at the floor of the inner dug-out, which was quite thirty feet
below the level on which he stood. "More electric light, and cases of
ammunition enough for an army corps!"

"Perhaps you would like to count them, Dashwood?" said a mocking voice
behind him.

But before he could turn round a coward's blow flung him forward into
space. The electric lights went out, and while he was still falling he
heard the heavy slam of the shell-proof door boom out of the darkness
above him.



CHAPTER IX

In the Sniper's Lair


"You hound!" shouted the lad, as with great presence of mind he held his
right arm aloft with the last bomb tightly clutched in his fingers.

There was a moment of agonised suspense which seemed extraordinarily
protracted, and then he alighted, unhurt, on a pile of blankets, the
unexploded bomb still in his hand!

"Thank Heaven!" were his first words as he lay, his heart beating
furiously and his overwrought frame quivering from the shock.

The atmosphere of the vault--for it was nothing less--was close and
stuffy, and there was a greasy smell in the still air, emanating from
some lubricant used to protect the stocks of spare rifles which he was
presently to discover.

"By Jupiter! if this bomb had gone off down here there wouldn't be much
of me left," he muttered, gathering himself up and remembering that he
had placed a spare torch in one of his breast pockets.

He was thankful then that he had not had time to change his tattered
tunic, and, drawing it out, he pressed the button and played the bright
beam up and down the vault.

It was one of those marvellous underground constructions for which the
Germans seem to have a positive genius. The chalk had been excavated for
trench building, the walls were boarded, and square balks of timber
supported the roof in a double row of pillars.

He could not count the cases of ammunition--there were so many--nor the
stacks of rifles that were stored in the place, but he saw enough to
convince him that he had made a very important haul, if only things were
going well above ground.

The distance he had fallen surprised him when he mounted the steps, but
the steel door resisted all his efforts to open it, and though he
thundered with his fists, there was no response from the other side.

"I've got to get out of this somehow," he thought, and, descending to
the floor again, he made a minute inspection of the vast dug-out without
finding any means of egress, until he came to an open case of rifle
ammunition, from which several packets of cartridges had been removed.

As he read the description printed on the others he felt cold air
blowing on him from somewhere not far away. At first he thought there
must be some hidden ventilation shaft, but the draught was low down and
fluttered the tatters of his abbreviated tunic.

"It's a jolly odd thing," he murmured, turning his light in the
direction of the current. "Surely there is not another dug-out below
this one?"

He passed round the angle of some piled-up boxes stamped with strange
hieroglyphics, and then he stood still, for there was another door, the
entrance to a gallery, as he saw in a moment.

But this time it led upward in a rather steep slope, and the floor was
marked with the print of heavy boots, showing that the passage had been
well used.

"I suppose it would take a month of Sundays to come across some revolver
ammunition, and then the chances are it wouldn't fit these French
chambers," he thought, examining the commandant's second revolver, which
had only one charge left. "Anyway, I must find where this leads to."
And, veiling the light with his fingers, he entered the gallery.

The sides had been roughly smoothed and faced by the pioneers' shovels,
and he shivered involuntarily, for it was cold.

Making no noise, he crept for some distance in a straight line, until he
came to a right-angle bend in the gallery, which he followed for sixty
or seventy yards, and then switched off his torch as a loud explosion,
not far ahead, seemed to drive the air against his cheeks, followed by
the acrid odour of a German cartridge.

For an instant he believed himself to have penetrated an enemy sap, but
now he knew that somewhere close in front lurked a German sniper!

Dennis Dashwood dropped on to one knee and peered along the passage. A
faint light filtered through the darkness and a voice boomed dully.

"That is my first miss to-day," came the words in German. "This wind has
given me a bloodshot eye, and I am shivering. Will you go back and bring
me a couple of bottles of wine, Joachim?"

"With pleasure, Kamerad," said another voice, and the light was blotted
out as a figure rose from the ground where he had been sitting on his
heels. Dennis made out the outline of the sniper stretched at full
length on a blanket, his rifle in front of him on a wooden stand, but it
was too far to get back unseen, for the man was slouching heavily
towards him, and in another moment discovery would be inevitable.

Dennis raised his right arm and fired his last cartridge, and the
messenger fell forward, dead as a herring.

With a startled shout of surprise the sniper faced about, but Dennis was
upon him, and, locked in a terrible embrace, the pair fell with a crash
on to the chalky floor.

All fatigue seemed to vanish from the boy's limbs as he and his opponent
rolled over and over, and he strained every nerve in a struggle which he
knew could have only one end.

For a whole minute the narrow passage was filled with the sound as of a
terrific dog fight, for Dennis had managed to get his head well fixed
under the sniper's jaw, effectually preventing any words leaving his
lips. Instead there came a stream of weird snarls and hisses and
spluttering coughs, accompanied by the savage kicking of heavy boots
against the walls of the gallery.

Their arms were round each other, and they struck out with their knees,
but the thin muscular frame proved more than a match for the stouter
man, and at last, pinning him down in a corner, where he panted quite
out of breath, Dennis withdrew his head, and they looked into each
other's faces by the light that filtered in again through a crevice at
the end of the tunnel.

"You'd better surrender without any more fuss," said Dennis. "Perhaps
you don't know that we've taken your first line trench. Otherwise I
shouldn't be here."

"You are a liar," was the polite reply. "All Englishmen are liars."

"Have it your own way," said Dennis with a superior smile, as he began
to get his own breathing under control. "Judging from your official
statements, and your Bethmann-Hollweg, Germany hasn't much reputation
for truth-telling! So you are the beast we've been trying to locate, are
you?"

The man had a red moustache, the ends of which lifted as he smiled.

"Yes, I am the beast; the 'great blonde beast' your papers are so fond
of talking about," he said ironically. "I've been here for a month, and
I have shot on an average twenty of your fools every day."

"Well, you'll shoot no more," said Dennis grimly.

"That we shall see," retorted the man, suddenly stiffening his spine and
almost succeeding in reaching a sitting position.

Up went the lad's arm and down came his clenched fist full on the bridge
of the German's nose, dropping him back again. He had slid the French
officer's empty revolver into its case, and as the man blinked at him
with the water in his eyes from the force of the blow, Dennis drew it
and clapped the cold muzzle to his ear.

"Now will you surrender?" he said, and he saw a wave of terror pass over
the German's face.

"Yes, yes--don't shoot. I will surrender!" he cried, but as he spoke the
beam of daylight was eclipsed, and Dennis looked up.

It was an artfully contrived place, for the tunnel ended against a
little scarp of chalk, through which a crescent-shaped hole had been
cut, commanding a wide view of the English trench and looking from the
outside like an innocent, natural crevice. Immediately behind it was a
steel grating, firmly embedded in the sides of the tunnel, and on one of
the bars the muzzle of the sniper's rifle was laid, its stock resting on
an ingenious wooden fork, which could be raised or lowered by a rack and
pinion.

Through the crescent-shaped opening a human face looked in, and a voice,
which Dennis instantly recognised, gave warning of more trouble.

"What-oh, Fritz!" said Harry Hawke. "You shouldn't speak so loud. As you
can't come art and I can't come in, 'ere's a little present for yer."
And he stepped back with a loud chuckle.

"Hold on, Hawke, you ass!" shouted Dennis at the top of his voice, but
he was too late. Harry Hawke had already drawn the pin and lobbed a hand
grenade neatly through the crevice.

Dennis knew that there were less than five seconds between him and
eternity, but bracing his foot against the side of the tunnel, he
suddenly wrenched the German sniper on top of him and lay there.

"Ach, I have you now!" laughed the man triumphantly, but his words were
drowned by the explosion, and as the end of the passage was blown into
the open air, the steel grating with it, Dennis felt the man he clutched
grow strangely limp in his hands, and his own face bathed as with a hot
rain.

"That's the way to do 'em in, Tiddler. What-oh, it's put the tin hat on
one of 'em, and not 'arf, it 'asn't!"

"Yes, you confounded jackass; and it's nearly put the tin hat on me!"
exclaimed Dennis, rolling the thing which had once been a man to one
side with a shudder.

Harry Hawke's face was a picture. Consternation at what might have
happened, and a huge joy that it had not happened, struggled for
mastery, and between the two the game little Cockney broke down and
sobbed like a child.

"Why didn't yer sing out, sir?" he wailed.

"I did sing out, my boy, but you sang in! However, never mind. How is it
going?" said Dennis, squeezing the disconsolate one's shoulder.

"We've got the trench, sir," said Tiddler, whose face was as white as
Hawke's under the dirt that grimed it. "Our chaps are consolidating the
position now."

"Then one of you go and bring my brother here," said Dennis. "You go,
Tiddler; and Hawke, come with me."

A great rent had been torn in the mouth of the sniper's gallery, and the
sniper himself was not good to look upon, every rag of clothing having
been stripped from his back and lower limbs by the bomb, while a couple
of yards farther on lay the man whom Dennis had shot.

Picking his way past them, Dennis flashed his torch on again, and,
followed by Hawke, made his way back into that underground storehouse,
which had so nearly been his grave.

As he entered it he gave a prodigious yawn, and felt an indescribable
lassitude creep over him.

"I'm frightfully tired, Hawke. I've been through a lot since we crawled
over to their wire last night, and I'm hanged if I can keep up much
longer. You see those steps? A spy fellow pitched me down them neck and
crop. I fell just here, with a bomb in my hand too!"

"Lumme!" ejaculated his listener, as Dennis sat down heavily on the pile
of blankets, just as the shell-proof door above them was opened from the
other side.

Lights flashed into the lower vaults, and several officers chorused
their surprise, among them Captain Bob. Tiddler had not yet reached him,
and Bob was searching anxiously for some trace of his brother.

"My hat!" he cried. "We've touched lucky to-day, but Dennis can't
possibly be down there. I'll go back and question No. 2 Platoon; he may
have gone to the right."

"Arf a mo', sir!" sang out Harry Hawke. "'E is 'ere right enough, and
bust me if he ain't snorin' already!"

Hawke, looking up the steps, saw the group part and General Dashwood
himself come quickly down the ladder, and the store of shot and shell
and the piles of rifles were as nothing to the brigadier as he saw the
boy he thought he had lost for ever lying on the blanket pile, sleeping
the sleep of physical exhaustion.

"That blood's nothing, sir," explained the delighted private, coming to
attention. "It ain't 'is own. I can show you the man wot that come art
of. 'E was that sniper we never could spot, and I reckon it was 'arf me
and 'arf Mr. Dashwood wot killed him." And he gave his listeners a brief
outline of what had happened, as Dennis had told him on their way there
from the tunnel.

"And I sent him out of harm's way, as I thought!" was the brigadier's
inaudible whisper under his moustache, and then aloud he said: "Get
four men and carry him back to his own dug-out. It will do him good to
sleep the clock round, and he will do it better there."

So, oblivious of the jolting, Dennis Dashwood was borne across what had
lately been No Man's Land, and was now ours, and tucked up tenderly in
his bunk, where, if he did not exactly sleep the clock round, he
certainly did not open an eyelid until sunrise next morning.



CHAPTER X

In which Dennis Meets Claude Laval, Pilote Aviateur


When Dennis awoke he saw Captain Bob looking at him, and he became
conscious of a very pleasant odour of coffee permeating the dug-out.

"Oh, I say, why didn't you turn me out before, old chap?" Dennis cried.
"I shall be late for the blooming inspection."

"Never mind about that," laughed his brother. "And it's no use looking
about for your duds; we've moved into new quarters over yonder, and all
our clobber's gone across, but I've had some breakfast brought in here
for you, so peg in, and tell me the whole story. There are some funny
yarns knocking about, and I left the governor doing a sort of war dance.
He only left out the whoop from deference to the B.M.'s feelings. But
all joking apart, old chap, the pater's in the very seventh heaven of
delight, for a letter has come from some wounded French officer who has
recommended you for the Military Medal."

Dennis sprang out of his bunk, fresh as paint, and flung himself on the
coffee and bacon ravenously, and while he ate he talked in his simple
boyish way, making light of his own share in the story, and Captain Bob,
filling in the gaps for himself, beamed like the rising sun which flung
a rosy glow into that dismal mud-hole.

"By Jove! old chap, I congratulate you heartily," he said, grasping his
brother by both shoulders. "If you go on like this you'll either go far,
or you'll be very suddenly nipped in the bud. You mustn't take too many
chances, Dennis, for the sake of the little mater at home. But this is
good news!"

"Some have greatness thrust upon them, and I've had the luck to be one
of those," said Dennis, looking rather ashamed of himself. "I did
nothing at all, old man, that you wouldn't have done, or any of our
crush. It just happened to come my way, and it just happened to come out
all right, but I don't know which was the worst--that ride with poor old
Thompson and that shell that blew us to smithereens, or Hawke's bomb.
They were tight places, both of them! And, I say, Bob, I'll swear on
oath it was Van Drissel or Von Dussel, or whatever he calls himself, who
pitched me down that ladder. I recognised his voice distinctly."

"I should like to recognise his ugly mug," said the captain. "But he
must have gone under, for he certainly wasn't among the prisoners. I saw
them all."

"Well, Bob, I'd rather have a wash now than the Victoria Cross itself,
and I must get into another tunic. Where's our new Little Grey Home on
the western front?"

"Come on," said his brother. "I'll show you."

The Germans had sunk a well deep down through the chalk, and there was a
stand-pipe close to the Dashwoods' new quarters.

Dennis stripped himself to the buff, and sallying out to the pipe,
enjoyed the unexpected luxury of a glorious shower-bath, which he
wanted badly. Then he dressed himself, appropriating the belts and
equipment of a poor youngster named Binks, who had been killed during
the raid, and, emerging from the door, almost ran into the arms of his
father and the Divisional General.

"You are the very man I have been looking for," said the general. "Let
me give you my heartiest congratulations, Mr. Dashwood. I have been in
communication this morning with the G.O.C., and I think there's another
slice of good luck coming your way. I wish I'd paid as much attention to
languages when I was your age."

For a moment Dennis failed to grasp the drift of his words, but the
Divisional Commander soon made himself quite clear.

"I had no sooner telegraphed a report of your doings from the commandant
of the 400th Regiment of the Line than a wire came back from Sir Douglas
Haig, who wants an intelligent officer with a fluent knowledge of
French, and he asked me if I thought you would fill the bill. I at once
answered in the affirmative, and you will go back with me in my car on
your way to Sir Douglas, and it may be a very good thing for you."

Dennis glanced at his father, and saw approval in his face, and after a
brief consultation between the generals about the consolidation of the
ground we had gained, Dennis found himself whirling along the familiar
road that he had traversed on the motorcycle two evenings before.

"I hope I shall be back in time for the big push, sir," he said, as the
car pulled up in front of D.H.Q., and the general smiled.

"You must leave that to circumstances," he replied. "I'm afraid the 'big
push,' as you call it, is becoming too much public property." And he
turned to an officer who was just mounting a motorcycle.

"One moment, Spencer," he called. "You going to Sir Douglas? Ah, yes, I
remember. Will you give Mr. Dashwood a lift and take him with you?"

There was a blanket strapped on the carrier, and away they whizzed, the
continued thunder of the guns making conversation difficult, and the
Allied aircraft circling high above their heads.

League after league they passed through a vast camp of armed men; brown
battalions marching up to the front singing as they marched, brigades
under canvas to right and left of them, miles of supply columns, some
cavalry eating their hearts out, kite balloon sections 'phoning results
to hidden batteries, all the seething mass of military activities to be
found behind the firing line.

And then his companion slowed down as they approached the quiet château,
where worked the keen, well-balanced brain that guided and controlled
all those activities, and Dennis found himself in the presence of Sir
Douglas Haig, who, after an interview of half an hour's duration, summed
up the result of it in a few brief soldierly words.

"You are the very man I was wanting, Mr. Dashwood," he said pleasantly.
"Your one object in life now is to find General Joffre, lay these
papers before him, and explain any point upon which the French
Generalissimo may be doubtful. Exactly where he is you will have to
discover, but if you are fortunate you should be back here again before
the end of the week."

"I hope to return well before that, sir!" said Dennis, and Sir Douglas
smiled.

"I know what is in your mind, Mr. Dashwood, but that will rest entirely
with yourself," said the Commander-in-Chief. "So far, from what I am
told, you seem to have surprisingly good luck. Good-bye, the car is
ready for you now."

The frank, handsome face of the distinguished cavalry soldier was still
before Dennis's eyes as the little six-cylinder motor, with the small
Union Jack fluttering from one of the lamp brackets, whirled him away on
a long journey and an important errand.

His driver was a young Frenchman, who enjoyed that mad dash every whit
as much as the English lad.

At Soissons they were told that the Generalissimo had left for Châlons
that morning, and at Châlons opinions were divided as to whether he
would be found at Reims, or Bar-le-Duc, which were in opposite
directions.

"Which shall we try?" said the driver. "Reims means going back."

"Then get ahead," decided Dennis. "We can always return." And opening
out the magnificent little car, they tore along the white ribbon of
road at terrific speed.

"Peste!" cried an officer to whom they made known the object of their
search when they reached Bar. "Only one hour ago Father Joffre passed
through here. How unfortunate! But I can tell you where you will find
him. He has gone to Saint Dié to present medals to a battalion of the
'Little Blue Devils' at that place. Lose no time, and you may assist at
the very interesting ceremony."

"Allons!" said the chauffeur, using the stump of his nineteenth
cigarette to light the twentieth. "If we finish up on two wheels we will
reach him." And reach him they did in a small village half a dozen
leagues farther on, where they pulled up, white with dust from head to
foot, after a fine run.

The well-known figure of the famous general paced backwards and forwards
under the shade of a row of lime trees, in earnest conversation with
another officer with three silver stars on his cuffs, and Dennis paused
a moment as he got out of the car.

"I am going to put on two fresh front tyres," said his driver. "But I
shall be ready in half an hour, and if you are going back we have still
two hours of daylight left."

Dennis nodded, and stepped forward, saluting as the two generals turned
towards him, and a genial smile widened Father Joffre's good-humoured
visage.

"At your service, monsieur," he said, unable to distinguish the
officer's rank for the white chalk dust that hid his solitary star.

"I have come straight from Sir Douglas Haig, mon Général," said Dennis,
presenting his dispatches, which General Joffre instantly opened and
perused intently.

"There are matters here," he said to his companion, "which will require
some consideration. You are the Lieutenant Dashwood whom Sir Douglas
mentions?" And he turned to Dennis: "I am going forward now, but I shall
be back in this place at eight o'clock to-morrow morning. Our officers
here will amuse you, mon lieutenant, in the meantime, and find you a
bed. I am greatly indebted to you for the rapidity with which you have
carried this most important document." And he walked quickly to the
powerful car which was waiting by the side of the road. He was gone in a
moment in a whirl of dust, the dispatch still in his hand, and the young
Frenchman followed the general's automobile with an envious look in his
eyes.

"That is a beauty," he said. "One could get seventy or eighty miles an
hour out of her. But here comes an interesting personality, monsieur.
This man who is approaching is Claude Laval, one of our most famous
aviators, who has brought down sixteen German machines already, and
killed fifteen enemy pilots. Something has vexed him too. He looks like
a bear with a sore ear."

A tall man approached, clad in leather flying costume, with a
close-fitting helmet on his head, and his thin, good-looking face bore
an expression of extreme annoyance.

"Ah, Martique, my friend, is that you?" he said, nodding curtly to the
chauffeur. "It is easy to see you have come from the other end of
everywhere. I suppose it is not possible that you have any news of my
brother?"

"If monsieur's brother is the Capitaine Felix Laval, _officier de
liaison_, with the --th Division, I can give you some news of him," said
Dennis, who had been struck by the strong resemblance between the
aviator and the man who had saved his own life.

"It is the same," said the aviator, all trace of ill-humour vanishing as
they shook hands. "Well, well," he continued after Dennis had told him
of his adventure and how he came to be acquainted with his brother. "Yon
will dine with me, and, _ma foi_, I want a good comrade to put me in a
better temper."

"Might I inquire what it is that troubles you?" said Dennis, as they
walked towards the door of a little restaurant with green-painted chairs
and tables outside it.

"Oh, it is too bad!" exclaimed his new acquaintance with a despairing
shrug of his shoulders. "I brought down a German Aviatik this afternoon,
and by the greatest good luck in the world it is absolutely unhurt.
To-night I had planned a little expedition across into the enemy's
country, a friendly visit to a Zeppelin shed, whose existence none of
our fellows are aware of. I have overhauled the engines myself; I have
got ten beautiful bombs all ready, and now my observer has broken his
arm, and I cannot find anyone to assist me."

Dennis looked at him with a pair of twinkling eyes.

"Could you be certain of returning to this village by eight o'clock in
the morning?" he said eagerly, "for I am to meet General Joffre here at
that hour. I hold an English pilot's certificate from the Hendon
school."

"_Embrassons nous!_ (let us embrace), my dear friend!" exclaimed Claude
Laval. "I am now the happiest man in all France. Listen! The machine is
at the edge of the wood not a kilometre from this spot, and the Zeppelin
hangar is in the centre of the Black Forest. Come, let us eat something
and drink a bottle of the good red wine. We will give the Boche a fine
surprise, and I swear to bring you back in plenty of time for Father
Joffre in the morning. Martique, remember, not a word to a living soul,
and come you to the café with us; you can attend to that sewing-machine
of yours after monsieur and I have gone on our little trip."

They dined in the open air, and the meal was a joyous one, Lieutenant
Claude Laval keeping a keen eye on the sinking sun at the same time.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the red rim dipped into the jagged line of dark poplars on a low
ridge to westward Laval called for the bill, lit his pipe, and rose with
an air of supreme indifference for the benefit of the groups of other
officers at the adjoining tables, but his eyes spoke to Dennis as they
walked away into the shadow of the trees.

"Now, lieutenant," he said, with a fierce thrill of exultation in his
voice, "you know, of course, that old scoundrel, Count Zeppelin, stole
the idea of his invention during the war of '70. We will see if we can't
get a little of our own back to-night!"

[Illustration: "Dennis flung his bombs into the space, and tremendous
explosions ensued"]



CHAPTER XI

A Daring Dash


As they left the village the two companions, who seemed quite old
friends already, quickened their pace to a run.

"My observer is in there," said the French _pilote aviateur_, pointing
to an isolated cottage as they passed it. "It would be cruel to tell him
that I have already found a fresh comrade. The good news shall keep
until we return. And now, _cher ami_, we have no time to lose, as we
have only something like four hours of darkness before us, and we must
be well on the way back when daylight breaks."

"How far is it to the Zeppelin den?" inquired Dennis, as they turned
aside through a cornfield.

"About two hundred kilometres," replied the pilot. "A trifle more than a
hundred of your English miles. _Voilà_, there she lies--a brand-new
Aviatik, and that is my machine over there."

"How did you succeed in bringing the German down without injury?" asked
Dennis, as they reached the biplane, which loomed large and weird in the
twilight.

"More by good fortune than anything else," said Lieutenant Laval
modestly. "You see, first of all I killed his observer with a lucky
shot from my mitrailleuse and wounded the pilot himself. It was death or
capture for him--it proved to be both. My machine--a Voisin--was one of
the best, and, finding it impossible to escape, the Hun certainly made a
very fine descent. He must have died at the moment the 'plane came to
ground. And that reminds me--our success will depend on our masquerading
as Germans, and we must use their clothing; they are both here."

There was a tinge of gravity in his voice as he led the way to some
bushes a few yards off, where, stretched out side by side, lay two dead
men with a mackintosh spread over them.

"They were brave, although they were Boches," said Laval. "And you will
see that one of them is wearing an Iron Cross; I have not disturbed it."

In a few minutes they had removed the leather jackets lined with
sheepskin from the two aviators.

"Henceforward we had better speak entirely in German, you and I; it will
be good practice in case we require to use it," said Laval. And when
they had equipped themselves they climbed up, and the Frenchman
explained the compressed-air starting-gear and the various methods of
control to Dennis.

"You must know these things," he said, with a smile, "so that you can
take charge if anything happens to me; but these are first-rate
machines, and with their dual ignition and the two separate carburettors
they tell me there is very little engine trouble with them. However, my
friend, we are about to see what we are about to see."

He glanced at his watch in the rapidly fading light.

"For some reason observer and pilot sit back to back," said Laval. "But
you can slue your seat round and work your gun from the right if you
like. You will find everything ready for use, signalling lamp and a fine
map." And with a blue pencil he marked off the course they were about to
take and the various landmarks, for which a sharp look out must be kept.

Then the whir of machinery cut off all possibility of further
conversation; Dennis gazed round at the darkening landscape as Laval
released her, and after a short run forward over the grassland the
Aviatik began to rise.

So far, Dennis had not counted the cost of his adventurous expedition,
or the by no means remote possibilities of his being captured and sent
to terrible Ruhleben. He had only seen the dash and daring of it all,
and now he could only see the velvety blackness that lay thousands of
feet beneath, where the earth was.

Once from very far below them the boom of guns made itself heard, even
above the flogging of the engines and the whir of the tractor in front
of him, and his pilot handed back a scrap of paper on which he had
scrawled some words.

Switching on his torch Dennis read: "We are crossing our own lines now.
That light away to my left is Metz. We are over Lorraine, and I am going
to turn south-east."

Through his glasses Dennis could see a dull glow in the distance, which
was soon left behind as Laval altered the course, and for some time
their flight was through cloud-banks which hid everything.

After a while the pilot passed him another message. "Look down; we
cannot be far from the Rhine now, and it is important to know when we
cross it. Keep a sharp look out."

The depression of the point of the _nacelle_ told Dennis that the
Aviatik was planing down to a lower altitude, and when, some distance
ahead, he saw the milky gleam of a river winding away to right and left,
he hung over the side with the powerful German glasses glued to his
eyes.

The moment it passed beneath them he touched Laval on the shoulder, and,
swinging round again to the right, they flew almost due south, still
coming down lower and lower.

It was a clear night, and the visible difference in the blackness of the
ground here and there told Dennis that they were traversing above
mountainous country, while the little bright specks shining like
glow-worms marked the existence of enemy towns and villages, whose
inhabitants fancied themselves secure from the daring French airmen.

With the exception of the historic raid upon Karlsruhe they had seldom
journeyed so far afield.

For a moment the engines ceased working, and Laval shouted to his
companion: "We must be close to the place now. There should be a hill
covered with pine trees in front of us, and the hangar lies within a
league beyond it on a flat plain."

"Then yonder it is!" cried Dennis. "There is no end of a strong light
showing ahead. That ragged edge that looms against it must be your tree
tops."

"Good!" replied the pilot. "Get your bombs ready. When I shut off again
we shall he as nearly above the spot as one can judge."

He restarted the engines. In the distance a curious yellow glow outlined
the hill, and as they sailed clear of the pines the glow resolved itself
into a considerable illumination, for which the pilot steered.

Rows of electric lamps formed a huge parallelogram, in the centre of
which was a long black object, undoubtedly the airship hangar.

"By Jupiter!" yelled Dennis; "we're in luck to-night! The Zeppelin's
coming out!"

He forgot that his words were completely drowned, and he received a
sudden shock when the brilliant beam of a searchlight flashed up from
the ground, and, after a circling swoop, found them and held them in its
fierce eye. Every stay and rivet was as clearly visible to him as though
it had been noonday, and it was a trying moment.

As another light challenged them, and asked "Who are you?" he remembered
Laval's previous instructions, and showing his signal lamp, replied in
the Morse code, "Blumberger, returning from reconnaissance beyond
Mülhausen."

Blumberger was lying dead under the mackintosh in the cornfield near
Bar-le-Duc, and Dennis was wearing his outer garments; but the message
had been understood, and was followed by the command: "L30 coming out
now. Be careful until all is clear; then report, Blumberger!"

"Yes, we will be very careful!" muttered Claude Laval, who had read off
the message at the same time; and flying slowly at scarcely more than
five hundred feet above the ground he steered towards the hangar.

Out of the giant shed the great grey nose of the Zeppelin came gliding
into view, shining like some silver thing in the light of the electric
lamps, the army of men who guided its movements looking like so many
busy ants as the searchlights switched off the Aviatik and focused on
the airship, evidently for their own guidance.

Suddenly the Aviatik dipped, and Laval made a gesture with his helmeted
head. There was no Rolland releasing apparatus fitted to the machine,
and the Frenchman's ten bombs were ranged on either side of the
observer.

He knew the moment had come, and with a rapid movement Dennis flung them
over into space! As the sixth left his hand he felt the machine begin to
mount steeply as Laval opened the throttle and put the engines to their
fullest power, and the remaining four death-dealing missiles were
dropped out at random.

Peering down over the edge, three tremendous explosions reached their
ears, followed by another and another; and then everything was drowned
in the mightiest explosion of them all, as Zeppelin and hangar burst
into a sheet of flame.

Wider and wider it spread, and higher it rose, a great red and yellow
roar of lapping tongues, sometimes hidden by dense black smoke, only to
flare out brighter than before.

And still the raider climbed at a perilous angle, and at such a speed
that Dennis gave up all attempts to use his glasses.

As he clung with one hand to a gun bracket, looking giddily down,
something screamed past the aeroplane, missing the wings by only a few
feet, and a shrapnel shell burst overhead.

"I thought 'Archibald' would have something to say to us," muttered
Dennis, as Laval banked away to the right, still rising. "Hallo! Now
they've got us!" And three brilliant beams shot into the night sky, one
of them focusing the Aviatik and the two others instantly joining it, to
show the anti-aircraft gunners their target.

Laval dived--a breathless, daring swoop down--as two shells burst above
their heads; but, quick as he was, a shower of bullets rained through
one of the wings. Dennis could see the holes when the searchlights got
them again, and the side of the fuselage was pitted with dents.

Right and left, above and below, in front and behind them, the whole sky
was suddenly alive with shell bursts; and into the observer's brain came
the recollection that he had an interview with General Joffre at eight
o'clock that morning! He found himself actually smiling at the thought,
and wishing that he could speak to the man in front of him--the helmeted
man with rounded shoulders bent over his wheel, who pressed levers and
bent the control pillar this way and that, as he sent the biplane
zigzagging through the heavens with a suddenness that bumped Dennis
about, and threatened more than once to fling him out into eternity.

He did not feel the cold, although it was intense; and he had the
presence of mind to pass a strap round his waist and fasten himself in.
And then he crouched there, marvelling at their luck and the iron nerve
of his companion, who, so far, was responsible for their escape.

He knew that they were already a long way from the blazing airship which
they had destroyed, and a feeling of exultation took possession of the
lad. They were going to win through--they would do it yet; it was
written that they were to get free, and he closed his eyes, giddy with
the whirl of mingled emotions that filled him.

They had eluded the searchlights for a moment, but another screaming
shell overtook them, and as it burst he opened his eyes, and saw Claude
Laval sink forward and huddle up on top of his wheel.

"By Jingo, they've got him!" gasped Dennis, sickening with fear for the
first time; but recovering himself on the instant, he flung off the
strap and reached forward in an attempt to get to the wounded Frenchman
without any very distinct idea of what he could do if he succeeded.

But Laval, as though he had read his thoughts, straightened himself and
gave a jerk with his head, at the same time sending the machine
earthward in a nose dive at an appalling angle.

Dennis clung to the front of the circular cockpit which was the
observer's post, and again his eyes closed as the downward rush took his
breath away.

"Poor little mater!" And there was a world of agony in the boy's
thought, interrupted by finding himself precipitated backwards in a
heap, as the _nacelle_ lifted and the dive was checked.

Only for a moment, however, for down they shot again, the downward
course being a harrowing succession of switchback curves, which ended in
a curious silent glide on even keel, a terrific jolting and a dead stop.

"Are you there?" said an odd, far-away voice, as Dennis slowly gathered
himself up with a sigh of heartfelt relief.

"Yes, I'm here. You don't mean to say we're actually on the ground and
safe!" he cried hoarsely.

"Hush! Do not speak too loud!" groaned Laval. "We are as safe as we can
be on German soil, but I am afraid my right shoulder is broken; and
worse still, the engines stopped of their own accord before we made that
last dive."

Dennis, as soon as he had recovered from the species of partial
paralysis which had taken possession of his limbs, climbed forward to
his companion, who rested his head against his shoulder for a moment,
and groaned faintly through his clenched teeth.

"That was magnificent, Laval!" whispered Dennis. "Where is the flask of
cognac? Here, drink this!"

"Thanks, my dear friend," murmured the wounded Frenchman. "Do not worry
about me. It is a question of what is wrong with the Aviatik. There is
just one hope for us. Look at the petrol tank. Oh, you can use a light,
for, remember we are Germans now if anyone comes along."

Torch in hand, Dennis examined the petrol tank carefully, and his voice
shook with renewed hope.

"The tank is untouched," he reported. "But there is only an inch of
spirit left at the bottom of it. That's the trouble. There is something
like a house yonder among the trees. What do you say?"

"There is only one thing to be said, my dear Blumberger," replied Laval,
with a faint smile. "We must commandeer petrol without delay. I find my
arm is not broken after all, but I am bleeding like a pig. It is running
into my boot. Help me out, and we will see what the good people over
there can do for us."

"Have you any idea where we are?" queried Dennis, as he assisted his
wounded companion to the ground with some difficulty.

"Somewhere in the Black Forest," replied Laval. "And unfortunately not
much more than ten miles, scarcely that, from the Zeppelin shed. They
will search for us, never fear; they are searching now! Moreover, it
will be daylight directly, and it is necessary that we hurry ourselves
if you want to keep your appointment."



CHAPTER XII

In the Hands of the Enemy


Some distance away, and seemingly on slightly higher ground, a light was
shining, and a second light moved with a curious jerky motion and then
disappeared.

The raiders knew that their safety depended on playing a tremendous game
of bluff, and that before the news of their adventure spread.

Already a faint grey veil was creeping over the darkness, and at the end
of several minutes they found themselves approaching a beech wood which
clothed the base of a high hill, and saw that the stationary light came
from a curious castellated building at the edge of the wood, where a
rustic bridge spanned a swift stream. There was no one about, and the
iron-bound door was open.

"Somebody's hunting-lodge," muttered Laval. "They have gone up the hill
to see what the explosion meant. That was a lantern we saw moving among
the trees."

"Well, it's nothing venture nothing have," said Dennis; and they went in
noisily.

The walls of the hall were covered with boar spears and trophies of the
chase, but they had scarcely time to glance round them when an old woman
came forward out of the darkness with her hands raised.

"Gentlemen!" she cried; "can you tell us the cause of that terrible
noise that shook the castle a little while ago?"

"Yes, good wife; it was an awful explosion at the Zeppelin shed over
yonder," replied Dennis. "We had the misfortune to be flying over the
spot when it happened, and my observer was struck. I am the Lieutenant
Blumberger of whom you may have heard." And he imitated the overbearing
manner of a Prussian officer.

He had condescended to satisfy the woman's curiosity, but now he must be
obeyed.

"To whom does this house belong?"

"It is the hunting-schloss of Count Rudolf von Rudolfstein," said the
old woman. "But my master is away serving with the army, and there are
only my husband and myself here. Karl has gone up the hill. He said it
was an accident, and one can see the ground from there."

"I know the Count very well," said Dennis, looking round the
entrance-hall as though the place were his own. "Get me a basin of hot
water and some towels. And is it possible that you have any petrol
here?"

"There is plenty in the garage," said the old woman, "but I cannot get
it until Karl returns. But, _Himmel_, the gentleman will bleed to
death!" And she pointed to a great red pool gathering on the stone floor
as Laval leaned heavily against a table. "Come in here!" And, carrying a
lamp with her, she unlocked another door, and led the way into a
handsome room, lined with polished pine, with a huge stove at one end.

Laval, who was suffering agonies, sank with a groan into the first
chair, and with an exclamation of commiseration the caretaker's wife
hurried away in search of bandages.

"It is good so far," whispered Laval through his clenched teeth. "Leave
me to the mercies of this ancient dame; she will stop the bleeding if
she can do nothing else. But, for Heaven's sake, find that petrol!"

"That's all very well," said Dennis desperately, when a cough made him
turn, and he swung round to see a bent old man, with a long white
moustache and a lantern in his hand, standing in the doorway.

"Good! You are Karl," he said at once, repeating his explanation of
their presence. "Count von Rudolfstein is my friend, and if he were here
his house would be at our disposal. I must fill my tank without delay
and return yonder."

"It is terrible, Herr Officer. The whole ground seems to be burning!"
said the old man, completely disarmed by the cleverness of the lad's
impersonation. "How much petrol do you require?"

"Twenty gallons, if you have it. Let us lose no time. Here is your good
frau who will look after my observer."

"And to think, Herr Officer," said the old man. "One of the new
super-Zeppelins that was going to punish England for her treachery! Oh
that I was a young man again, and I had an Englishman within reach of
these arms! They are still strong enough to strangle him!"

Dennis let him ramble on, and followed him as he strode out of the hall
to a coach-house that had been converted into a garage.

A very handsome car stood over the inspection pit, and at one end of the
building was a great stack of petrol tins. Evidently the Count was a
wealthy man, and evidently too there was not that shortage of petrol in
Germany that some of the English papers had been exulting over of late.

"Wait a moment," said the old forester, as Dennis seized a couple of
tins in each hand. "We can sling more of them than that on this pole,
and carry it between us."

Dennis inwardly congratulated himself that the old forester had not only
no suspicions, but was also a man of resource; and the pair were soon
crossing the bridge on their way to the aeroplane, which was now
distinctly visible in the growing light.

"Ah!" chuckled the old man, pointing to the distinguished mark painted
in black on the Aviatik's side, "they gave my son the Iron Cross for
bravery at a place they call Verdun, but I am sorry he did not win it
for killing Englishmen."

"Well, you can tell me what he did do while you hand me the tins," said
Dennis, climbing up and unscrewing the cap of the tank, and the gurgle
of the liquid into the big receptacle was like music to his ears.

"I tell you what it is, my friend," he said, when he had emptied the
last tin; "we could do with a few more, and I also see there is
something here that requires my attention."

His quick eye had noticed that one of the stays which supported the
upper plane wanted tightening, and he opened a tool bag.

"I will bring them; I will not be long," said the old man, who was
delighted to have had a listener to the story of his son's exploits,
never thinking how little of it the herr lieutenant had really heard.

"There, that's secure," said Dennis to himself. "I wonder why that old
dodderer is so long? I must get back and see how poor Laval is getting
on, and then, heigh-ho for La Belle France!"

As he straightened his back the dull thud of galloping hoofs made him
turn round, and to his dismay he saw a couple of German officers
approaching across the sandy plain.

"By Jupiter! Talk about bluff now!" he thought. "Thank goodness they're
coming from the right direction!" And drawing himself stiffly up, he
saluted as they reined in below him.

They were both of high rank--one of them a colonel; and it was the
colonel who spoke first as he and his companion flung themselves from
their horses.

"You heard it?" he cried in a voice that thrilled with excitement.

"Everyone within twenty miles must have heard it, Herr Colonel," said
Dennis solemnly.

"Do you know the extent of the damage?" was the next question.

"I do not. I had a little trouble with my engines, and was just on the
point of going there to see what had happened."

It was perhaps the worst thing he could have said, for the two officers
immediately climbed up and squeezed themselves into the observer's
cockpit.

"Quick! You will carry us there. It is a command!" said the colonel. And
Dennis's eyes roved in vain round the pilot's seat for any sign of a
weapon.

He bent down under pretence of examining the shaft of the steering-wheel
to collect his thoughts and compose his features, and then a thought
came to him.

Had they been on the ground he would have pleaded that his engines were
still wrong, but it was too late now.

"I will take you willingly, Herr Colonel," he said. And, sitting down,
he passed the two ends of the securing strap round his waist, and drew
the buckle tight.

"You are a long time, young man," said the colonel's companion.

"We are off now," replied Dennis, starting the engines to avoid any
awkward questioning, and breathing a silent prayer that they were all
right.

He thought of Laval, too, and wondered what he would think when he heard
the whir; and it was as well that he did not know what was happening to
his French friend, or possibly he would have failed to keep his nerve
for the task he had set himself!

The horses shied, and bolted across the plain, but no one thought of
them as the Aviatik ran uneasily forward over the soft ground and rose
like a bird.

For a few minutes they mounted skyward, climbing slowly, and the stout
General tried to make his companion understand by much gesticulation
that the blockhead was taking the wrong direction.

But the "blockhead" knew what he was about, and after a half circle to
test the working of the engines, he opened the throttle and shot her
upwards at a terrific speed.

Well might his two passengers cling desperately to the gun brackets and
to each other, but their shriek of terror was drowned as the machine
gained an altitude of fifteen hundred feet and deliberately _looped the
loop_!

For a moment Dennis braced himself and clutched the wheel like a vice,
but the strap held, the circle was completed, and the Aviatik, righting
herself, skimmed over the pine-topped hill behind the hunting lodge, and
planed majestically down towards the starting-point.

Dennis's face was as white as a sheet of paper as he turned and glanced
back over his shoulder. He was alone!

"I hope it was playing the game," he muttered, as he brought the machine
to a stand. "At any rate, it was the only game I could play under the
circumstances."

He jumped down and ran towards the lodge, feeling shaken and trembly,
wondering what he would find. It struck him as odd that the garrulous
old forester had not returned. Was Laval dead or dying?

As he crossed the stream and mounted the slope he stopped, for the old
man's voice was bellowing furiously, and the old woman screamed in
concert.

"What on earth is going on?" thought the lad, and seeing that the
shutters of the ground-floor room in which he had left his friend had
been opened, and it being very nearly broad daylight, instead of
entering the hall he sprang to the window and looked in.

Claude Laval, terribly weak from loss of blood, but with an odd, defiant
smile on his face, was sitting upright in the carved chair, the sleeve
of his wounded arm slit from shoulder to wrist, revealing the drenched
blue-grey of his own French uniform beneath it. In front of him, his
white moustache bristling with fury, and murder in every line of his
wolf-like face, the old forester lifted a hatchet in both hands, while
his wife, no longer the trembling servile old peasant of half an hour
before, was tightening the knots of the rope she had thrown round
Laval's body, binding him tightly to the chair!

       *       *       *       *       *

In the little village three leagues from Bar-le-Duc a powerful car drew
up in a cloud of dust in front of the restaurant where our friends had
dined the night before, and General Joffre stepped from it on to the
pavement.

"Ah, what? You do not know where he is? No one has seen him--the young
English lieutenant who was to meet me here?" said the General, knitting
his white eyebrows. "That is strange; but never mind"--and he drew out
his watch--"it still wants four minutes to eight."

Leaning his elbow on the side of the automobile with one foot planted
on the step, the great Frenchman waited, talking meanwhile with a
Divisional General who had something to report.

"Yes, yes," said the Generalissimo, and then he looked at his watch
again. The minute hand pointed to the hour, but Sir Douglas Haig's
messenger had not come!



CHAPTER XIII

A Mad Gamble for Liberty


When Dennis Dashwood saw that terrible tableau through the window of Von
Rudolfstein's hunting-lodge, his first thought was that he had arrived
too late to save his friend; and, drawing his revolver from beneath
Blumberger's flying coat, he raced for the front entrance.

"Scoundrel and pig! I will split your skull even as I ground that cross
of yours beneath my heel!" Dennis heard the old man bellow. "I will be
bound you know more about the destruction of that fine Zeppelin than you
will admit. Come, have you not finished yet, thou clumsy old fool?"

"Clumsy old fool, indeed!" screamed the woman. "Who was it discovered
that he was a Frenchman, I'd like to know? You will be taking the whole
credit to yourself, worthless one!"

"No, I want some of the credit myself," said a stern young voice from
the doorway. "Shame on you both to treat a wounded man thus!" And he
fired at one of the huge hands that held the woodcutter's axe.

The formidable weapon fell with a clang on to the floor, and the
forester gave a howl like a wounded beast.

"Quick, Gretchen, ring the alarm bell! They will hear it at the
village!"

The old woman, who had sent up a piercing shriek, ran towards another
door; but Dennis was too quick for her, and, putting out his foot, she
pitched headlong on to the stone floor and lay quite still.

"Move your own length," he cried to the husband, laying his revolver by
the side of the basin of hot water, "and I will shoot you like a dog!
Courage, Laval! All is ready, and I'll have you out of this in a brace
of shakes."

"_Ma foi!_ you must forgive me, my dear friend," said the wounded
officer. "When I heard the machine rise, I thought for a moment that you
had deemed it wiser to save yourself."

"I'll tell you all about that afterwards," said Dennis grimly. "I'm
going to save you now." And, cutting the cord, he threw the knife into
the basin and proceeded to make a slip-knot. "We must make this old
ruffian secure first."

"Look out!" exclaimed Laval. And Dennis raised his eyes just in time,
for the cunning German had made a spring for the table, and already his
unwounded hand had clutched the knife-handle. It was a huge thing, such
as a butcher might use, and sharp as a razor.

"You _will_ have it, will you?" said Dennis grimly, and he shot the man
through the heart. "It has saved me the trouble of binding him, and that
makes the third Boche I have accounted for this morning. By Jove, old
chap! you've got it pretty badly. Whatever happens, I must stop that
bleeding."

The knife with which the woman had cut the sleeve of the leather jacket
had revealed a terrible jagged wound in the Frenchman's shoulder, from
which the blood welled through his fingers as he grasped it; but Dennis,
tearing some linen that the woman had brought into strips, improvised a
couple of tourniquets, utilising the spindles of a chair which he
smashed to pieces for the purpose, and to his intense satisfaction he
found the hæmorrhage considerably reduced.

"Now, do you think you can walk?" he said anxiously. And Laval got up,
reeling from the enormous quantity of blood he had lost.

"Half a mo!" said Dennis quickly. "This noose I had meant for Karl there
will make a first-rate sling for that arm of yours. Another pull at the
flask--that's good--and now we absolutely _must_ make a move."

"One moment!" exclaimed Laval, pointing across the room. "There is a
French flag yonder. Will you do me the goodness to tear it from the wall
and bring it with you? I cannot leave that trophy in the hands of these
hogs. Besides, it may be useful to us later on."

Dennis ran across the room and lifted the silk tricolour from the hooks
on which it hung, reading as he did so an inscription in faded gold
letters on the shot-riven folds.

Von Rudolfstein's father had captured that colour in the war of 1870 at
the head of his Cuirassiers, and it had hung there ever since.

"Look at all that remains of my beloved decoration!" murmured Laval,
pointing to the floor.

"They shall give you another for last night's work," said Dennis.

Leaning on the boy's strong arm, the _pilote aviateur_ set out gamely,
crossed the entrance hall, and had almost gained the rustic bridge when
the clanging notes of a deep-tongued bell broke out behind them.

"The old vixen has soon come to her senses. Let us hope the village is
not too near, for it will take us ten minutes at this rate," said Laval,
squeezing the arm that supported him as his companion looked back.

He had heard it at the same moment--a hoarse shout from many voices and
the trample of hoofs at the hunting-lodge.

"By Jingo! Cavalry!" said the lad.

"You must leave me and run for it. Good luck, old fellow!" exclaimed
Claude Laval. But Dennis gave an odd smile and stooped down.

"Put your arm round my neck!" he cried. "I'm not going without you, so
argument is useless and will only waste time. It will give you a bit of
a twisting, I know. Now, stick tight!" And he started to run with the
wounded man on his shoulders.

Several times he nearly stumbled, for the ground was sandy, but he had
accomplished two-thirds of the distance when the alarm bell stopped, and
there was a chorus of savage shouts from the house they had left.

"Hold on like grim death!" panted Dennis. "We'll do it yet!" And
bracing himself for the last few yards, he doubled the pace and reached
the shadow of the aeroplane as the leading files of a troop of Uhlans
thundered across the bridge.

A stifled cry broke from Laval's lips, though he tried hard to repress
it, as Dennis dragged him up by main force and tumbled him into the
observer's cockpit.

"I know I've given the poor chap beans," he muttered to himself, as he
handed him the captured tricolour. And, jumping down into the pilot's
seat, he started the engines going for the second time that morning.

The officer at the head of the yelling horsemen was not thirty lengths
away when the Aviatik began to move; and, roaring out an order to his
men to draw their carbines, he emptied his own revolver at random.

Afterwards, when Dennis came to think calmly of that moment, he grew
cold and shivered; but at the time itself his heart had given a mighty
throb as the rubber-tyred wheels of the chassis left the ground, and
they started on their long flight for home.

He knew perfectly well, as several bullets pierced the lifting planes
and one starred on the stay he had tightened, that their troubles had by
no means ceased when they left the Uhlans behind them. By that time keen
eyes would be watching, not only the earth, but the sky, and he had only
his wits to guide him.

There was the sun just rising to show him which was the east, and
already far down below he saw the ribbon of the Rhine which they must
cross; but sluing round to look back, he saw the thing he feared--an
escadrille of German aircraft rising from the plain over which the smoke
from the Zeppelin hangar still hung.

Already the enemy airmen were in pursuit!

Claude Laval had turned towards him at the same moment, and their eyes
met. He had seen it too, but the blanched face of the wounded man shone
with hope and confidence. His mouth opened, though the words were lost,
but he made a gesture with his sound arm, and Dennis understood.

They were heavy clouds to which Laval had pointed, and Dennis steered
straight for them, devouring the chart with his eyes.

Far down below and ahead of them in the extreme distance was the blue
line of the Vosges, and he thought he could distinguish the Ballon
d'Alsace, but of that he was not sure. His pursuers would naturally
imagine that he would make for the nearest point of the French frontier,
but that was not in his mind. If he had to deal with the fast-rising
Fokkers, his only chance he knew was to gain the cloud-bank and keep
within its protecting folds.

To fight with a wounded observer was out of the question, and already he
had decided to steer north-west rather than due west, which would bring
him, roughly, somewhere between Epinal and Nancy--always provided that
he was not overtaken.

There were a thousand risks to run, not only from the enemy fleet, but
from the French guns when he should come in sight of them; but as they
soared into the chill blanket of vapour his spirits rose, and for a
moment he shut off the engines to listen.

The whir and throb of their pursuers already seemed to come from every
point of the compass--from below, from either side and, what was more
alarming, from above; but banking sharply to the right he thrashed his
course at topmost speed, praying that the cloud-bank might not cease.

The baragraph showed him that he was already eight thousand feet above
the earth, and, straightening out the machine, he wiped the mist from
his goggles with the back of his glove and kept on.

All at once the Aviatik shot out of the cloud with a clear stretch of
sky in front of them, and, looking back and upwards, he saw the wicked
nose of a Fokker emerge into view on their right beam a couple of
hundred yards away and well above them.

Already their own machine was approaching another cloud-bank, but the
Fokker had seen them, and plunged downward in their direction.

The instant the cloud swallowed them up Dennis concentrated all his
efforts on the foot-bar which controlled the vertical rudder, and,
grasping the wheel at the same time, swung sharply to the left, leaving
their pursuer to dive down five hundred feet into space before he
discovered that he had missed his mark.

Neither of them knew that the nose of the Fokker had been within twelve
inches of the Aviatik's tail-planes; and but for the fact that the
German suspended his fire at the moment of diving, it would have been
all over with the raiders.

Dennis reverted to his old tactics when he found that they had escaped,
and turning to the right again, with an anxious eye on the compass, saw
no more of the enemy for nearly a quarter of an hour, until, emerging
into a burst of bright sunshine and looking down, he found himself
immediately over a fierce engagement on the eastern crest of the Vosges
mountains. Shells were bursting below them, and though he did not know
it, they were passing above the Col de la Schlucht, from which the
French guns were bombarding Munster. He could see the enormous puffs of
smoke--white, black, and some of them tinged with yellow--but what was
of greater moment to them both was the presence of the enemy machines a
few miles to the southward.

They, too, were just leaving the cloud-bank, which ended there, misled
by the idea that their prey would make a bee-line for safety; but they
saw the Aviatik at the same moment that Dennis saw them, and circled
round to cut him off from home.

Dennis realised that he was now above French soil. His engines were
working magnificently, and dropping to an altitude of two thousand
metres, which gave him a clear view of towns and buildings, he consulted
his chart, identified Nancy far away on his right front, and trusted all
to Providence.

He had judged wisely, as it proved, and knew that he was out-distancing
the enemy aircraft tearing in hot pursuit--all but one persistent Fokker
that evidently meant business. He even found time to glance backward at
his companion, who, with the folds of the French flag wrapped round his
shattered shoulder to dull the force of the keen air, sat huddled up in
his cockpit, apparently insensible.

Once a shell came up from the ground, and burst between pursuer and
pursued, and a gleam of fierce hope shot through the lad's heart as he
saw the French "75" making good practice against the vicious little
gadfly.

Higher and higher mounted the Fokker to get out of range, and still
Dennis kept on, remembering his appointment with the French
Generalissimo, and glancing alternately from the chart to the little
clock beside the aneroid barometer, whose registration was useless at
that height.

"Twenty-five minutes! Great Scott! can I do it?" he muttered, clutching
the control wheel with his frozen fingers.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well, messieurs, it is a pity, and I am afraid something must have
happened to that young officer," said General Joffre, consulting his
watch for the last time. "I must find another messenger to carry my
reply to the Commander-in-Chief of our Allies."

And then he stopped as a murmured exclamation broke from the group of
officers, and everyone looked up to the grey sky across which some
rainclouds were drifting.

"It is an aerial combat, mon Général," said one of them. "_Ma foi!_ I
should not care to travel at that speed, let alone fight with nothing
under one's feet!"

Two dots scarcely larger than flies on a window-pane had suddenly
detached themselves from the rain clouds, and were manoeuvring
curiously in the direction of the village. Larger and larger they grew,
the smaller dot obviously trying to gain the advantage of height, and
mingling with the throb of the engines they could now hear the rattle of
a machine-gun.

"What is the meaning of this?" said the Generalissimo, fixing them with
his glass. "These machines are German. I can see the Iron Cross painted
upon them both. Send word to the battery yonder to make ready. It is a
raid, and they are adopting those manoeuvres to deceive us."

By the wall of the restaurant the young French chauffeur, Martique, who
had driven Dennis to that place, waited with a smile dancing in his
eyes, hoping against hope that the thing of which he alone knew was the
thing that was taking place up yonder!

He started when he heard the Generalissimo's order, for even yet he
could not be sure, but the dots had now grown so large that it was
possible to tell the make of the two machines, and somebody said: "The
first one is an Aviatik; the other is a Fokker."

If the seeming chase were a piece of German stage management it was
certainly being carried out with marvellous realism, for now Martique
could distinctly see the puffs of the machine-gun, and that the bullets
were ripping through the lifting planes of the Aviatik.

"Mon Général!" he cried suddenly, "for the love of heaven order our
battery not to fire! Look! The observer in that machine is waving a
French flag. He has dropped it now, and he slues his gun into
position--but with one arm only! He is wounded!"

"Do you know what you are talking about, young man?" said the
Generalissimo sternly.

"Forgive me, mon Général!" faltered Martique. "It was a little secret.
Oh, look! The Fokker has got the top place, and is about to ram poor
Laval and his English companion!"

Everyone held his breath, for indeed it was as Martique had cried. The
Aviatik was volplaning down in a wide spiral now, and above it the
relentless pursuer poised like a hawk. He was judging the circumference
of those spiral curves, and even the Generalissimo himself tightened his
lips under the huge white moustache.

Over the side of the fuselage there was no mistaking the glorious red,
white and blue that fluttered wildly in the descent, and then the
Aviatik's swivel-gun spoke three times. A German always speaks French
badly, but that German gun rang out with a true accent that time, and
the Fokker gave a strange quiver, burst into a sheet of flame, and
dropped like a stone to death and destruction six thousand feet below!

The engines of the Aviatik ceased; the _nacelle_, pointing earthwards,
curved suddenly up again, and floating for some distance like a tired
bird, the machine dropped out of sight on the other side of the tall
poplars.

There was an instant stampede to the spot, the Generalissimo himself
following, unable to curb his curiosity; but as he reached the bank at
the edge of the cornfield a running figure in leather jacket and flying
helmet checked his pace and, throwing up his goggles, saluted smartly.

"Mon Général, I hope you will accept my apology," said Dennis Dashwood.
"I am five minutes behind my time, but I am here, and I have a good deal
to tell you!"



CHAPTER XIV

The Sing-Song in the Dug-out


Three surgeons, hastily summoned to the spot, knelt with their
instruments beside Claude Laval, not twenty yards from the bodies of the
two German airmen whom he had brought down the afternoon before, and in
the circle that surrounded them stood the Generalissimo, holding the old
French colour which would never ornament the walls of that distant
hunting-lodge again.

"He will recover," said one of the doctors, getting up from his knee.
"But he will want the most careful attention. The whole thing is
marvellous. There is not one man in a thousand that could have lived
through such an adventure!"

The _pilote aviateur_ opened his eyes, for he had heard the surgeon's
words.

"Mon Général," he said, but so faintly that the Commander of the French
Armies had to stoop over him, "I should not have lived if it had not
been for my companion. He is brave, that boy--oh, braver than I can make
you understand. But, mon Général," and a wistful look came into the
deep-sunk eyes, "they have taken my Cross of the Legion and destroyed
it!"

"You were a chevalier of the Order, mon lieutenant, if I remember," said
the Generalissimo. "The Republic does not forget her sons when they
behave as you have behaved. You shall have another Cross, and this time
it will be the Cross of an Officer of the Legion of Honour. And listen!
The English lieutenant shall have one too, if the word of César Joffre
carries any weight in France. Messieurs, let us salute these two brave
men who have both deserved so well of the Republic!" And, lifting his
kepi, the gallant Frenchman kissed Dennis on both cheeks amid a burst of
generous applause that came from the hearts of all of them.

"_Cher ami_," whispered Claude Laval, "if you see my brother, you will
tell him of our little escapade, hein?"

Dennis pressed Laval's left hand in both his own as he left him with a
happy smile on his face; and with a last look at the Aviatik, followed
General Joffre to his automobile.

"Adieu, lieutenant!" said the great soldier, with a lingering grip after
an interview that lasted half an hour, "I have no other message for your
General. He will find it all written in that envelope, which you will
give him."

"Now, Martique," said Dennis, settling himself beside him in the motor,
"I am in your hands." And almost before the car had started, Second
Lieutenant Dennis Dashwood, of the 2/12 Battalion, Royal Reedshire
Regiment, was sound asleep!

       *       *       *       *       *

"Oh, hang it, Martique! What did you wake me for? I haven't been asleep
five minutes," grumbled Dennis. And then he sat bolt upright as he
recognised the handsome face of the man who had shaken him by the
shoulder, and saw the amused smile in his eyes.

"It is a good car, I admit," said Sir Douglas Haig. "But I hardly think
it has done the mileage between this place and Bar-le-Duc in so short a
time as that, and your chauffeur tells me that you have snored all the
way."

Dennis gasped, to find himself once more in front of the headquarters of
the General Commanding in Chief, and turned scarlet.

"I took the liberty of abstracting General Joffre's reply from your
pocket without disturbing you," continued Sir Douglas. "And I have had
the story of your extraordinary exploit from Martique here. Take my
advice, Dashwood, and be chary in future about embarking on such
adventures; they hardly come within the scope of your day's duty."

And then, seeing the shamefaced look that came over the lad, he added
quickly: "Do not read any censure into my words; they were only intended
to convey a little fatherly advice. And now the question arises, what is
to be done with you? You have shown a most remarkable aptitude, and
General Joffre has given such an account of your nerve that I am in two
minds whether or not to transfer you to my personal staff--or would you
prefer a spell of duty with your regiment?"

"Do you mean for the Great Push?" said Dennis, in an eager voice.

"Confound your great push!" said the General, with a faint flash of
sternness in his expressive eyes. "There's too much talk knocking around
about our future movements."

For the life of him Dennis could not help smiling all over his face.

"Well, I see where your heart lies," said the G.O.C. in Chief; "and
Martique, who is going your way, shall give you a lift. I wish you the
best of good luck, Mr. Dashwood, and I am very much obliged to you for
the way you have carried out your mission."

"By Jove!" whispered Dennis, as the car started for the firing-line. "He
did not deny it. There _is_ to be a push, and I'm going to be in it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The guns still thundered, and the shells had never ceased to rend and
pulverise the enemy position day and night. Otherwise, everything was
quiet on our front. The raids had ceased, and the wind was unfavourable
to any German gas attack.

"Come on, Dennis," said his brother; "there's nothing doing, and I'm fed
up. Let's drop in to that sing-song for an hour. They've got an awfully
good chap I'm told, who plays the piano like a blooming Paderewski."

"I'm with you," said Dennis. And they made their way into the
subterranean dug-out which had so nearly proved his tomb on the night we
had carried the front-line trench.

It seemed odd to plunge suddenly into an atmosphere of merriment within
a few yards of the men posted at the periscopes along the sandbagged
parapet. The electric lights were burning, and a blue haze of tobacco
smoke obscured the air from a semicircle of listeners, sitting on
packing-cases and forms round the piano on the platform, and the chorus
of "Gilbert the Filbert," sung with a will, greeted them as they
descended the stairs.

All sorts and conditions of men were gathered there--officers and
privates in mutual good fellowship. The Second-in-Command of the
Reedshires had just given them a ballad, and sung it jolly well too; and
the armourer sergeant and one of their own lieutenants were fooling
about as they waited to appear in a comic turn.

The lieutenant was dressed as a French peasant girl, and really looked
quite pretty; and the armourer sergeant was supposed to resemble George
Robey!

"Oh, there's the chap I was speaking to you about," said Captain Bob,
pointing to a wounded Highlander, whose head was enveloped in a bandage.
"He's a regular genius on the keyboard; that is why there are such a lot
of chaps here to-night. He only blew in a couple of days ago from the
brigade on our right when he heard we were lucky enough to have a
piano."

They made room for the two new-comers; and as the closing lines of the
chorus died away, there were great cries of "Jock, Jock! We want Jock!"
from the audience.

The Highland private's face expanded into a sheepish grin, and as he
stepped up on to the platform you could have heard the proverbial pin
drop. Not a sound but that dull burst and boom that they had all got
used to and scarcely heard now, and then the keys of the piano broke in
upon the tense hush, touched by a master hand.

"Isn't that fine!" whispered the Second-in-Command, who was sitting next
to Dennis. "When this beastly war has finished that man would fill
Queen's Hall to the roof. And to think he's just one of Kitchener's
privates, and the first pip-squeak that comes his way may still that
marvellous gift for ever!"

Dennis nodded, for the improvised melody which had just ceased had
touched him, as it had touched every man in the room.

But there is no time for sentiment in the trenches; it is out of place
there, and after a roar of "Bravo!" and a great clapping of hands had
succeeded a momentary pause, voices cried clamorously: "Give us that
thing you sang last night, Jock--that song with the whistling chorus!"

"Now you'll hear the reverse of the medal, and upon my soul, it's
equally good!" explained the Second-in-Command. "He's like poor old
Barclay Gammon and Corney Grain and half a dozen of those musical-sketch
men rolled into one. It's his own composition too."

There was a great chord on the piano, the performer laid his cigarette
on the music rest, and made an amazing face by way of introduction.

"Gentlemen, I call this song 'All Boche'--because it is," he remarked.
And then he sang a string of purely topical verses, brilliantly clever
in their allusions to the everyday events in which they all bore their
part, and he did not spare the failings of various officers and
N.C.O.'s, who were supposed to be imaginary, but whom everybody
recognised; and when he had done he resumed his seat quietly on the edge
of the platform as though it had been nothing, and Dennis went over to
him.

"I say, you know, that's the best thing I've heard for years," said the
lad enthusiastically. "Would it be possible to have a copy of the words,
or is it asking too much?"

"I'll write them down with pleasure, sir," said the wounded Highlander;
"but I've got no paper."

Dennis whipped out his pocket-book and tore out some leaves, withdrawing
to his packing-case to leave the obliging soldier undisturbed.

But man proposes--you know the old proverb, and before Dennis could seat
himself, the voice of the Company Sergeant-Major rang out from the head
of the staircase: "Fall in, everybody, and as sharp as you like!"

There was an instant stampede up and out into the thunder of the guns;
and as men scurried along the trench the wounded Highlander handed one
of the folded leaves to a sergeant of Dennis's platoon.

"Give that to your Second Lieutenant," he said, "and guid necht." And
the sergeant, spying Dennis in front of him, delivered his message.

"By Jingo, he's written them quickly! I hope they're all here," said the
boy, diving into his new dug-out in search of his trench helmet. And
opening the paper in the candlelight, he read to his utter astonishment
and rage:

    "If you want the words of my song you must come and fetch them,
    little beastly Dashwood! What a lot of fools you English are!
    And so your Great Push will begin at 7.30 in the morning. Very
    well, we shall be ready for you!"



CHAPTER XV

"Reedshires!--Get Over!"


Dennis sprang from his dug-out into the trench, and the first person he
encountered was Harry Hawke.

"Where's that wounded Highlander?" he cried, so fiercely that Hawke
stared at him open-mouthed.

"If you mean the singing bloke, sir--last I seed of 'im he was doin' a
bunk for his own battalion," replied the Cockney private. And Dennis
Dashwood's teeth closed with a snap, realising the utter futility of any
search for von Drissel just then.

"If you clap eyes on that man again, Hawke!" he exclaimed, "shoot him on
sight. He is a German spy!" And, leaving the astonished private to make
what he might of the information, he passed along the trench to find his
brother.

He came across him in whispered conversation with the Reedshires'
colonel in one of the trench bays on the right, and before he could
speak Captain Bob took him by the arm.

"It has come at last, old chap," he said, with the mysterious air of one
imparting an item of precious information.

"Yes," said Dennis grimly, "I know; we make the great attack at
half-past seven, and the Germans know it too. Look at this!"

Captain Bob and the C.O. read von Drissel's words by the light of a
star-shell, and the trio exchanged glances.

"Well, it can't be helped," said the C.O. "And I don't think the
information will do the enemy much good. Do you notice how dull the
sound of our guns is? It strikes one as odd."

It had not occurred to them before, but they realised it now as they
stood there in the trench bay, and others remarked the fact and wrote of
it afterwards. A hurricane of shells of every calibre, from the
whiz-bang of the field-guns to the enormous projectile of "Mother,"
passed continuously overhead in the darkness, to burst in the enemy
trenches, and yet the sound was less loud than many a purely local
bombardment had been.

It was a trying wait, and the dawn came with provoking slowness, a grey
mist veiling the ground until the sun gained power and the sky showed
pale-blue flecked with fleecy clouds. Men blew on their fingers, for the
morning was cold.

"It ain't 'arf parky," growled Harry Hawke.

"It'll be 'ot enough in a bit," said his pal, Tiddler. "What price Old
Street, 'Arry?"

"Chuck it!" replied the marksman of No. 2 Platoon. "No good thinking of
love and sentiment now." But for all that, perhaps, a fleeting vision of
his Lil passed through his untutored brain, and made him a shade paler
about the gills.

Tiddler noticed it and smiled to himself, knowing what it meant, for
when Hawke looked white it was time for his enemy to look out, and the
moment was rapidly approaching.

The trench was packed with men, all waiting. Those of the reserves who
were not yet in their places were pouring steadily up, and immediately
behind the front line Staff cars and motor cycles dashed backwards and
forwards; and overhead, where, oddly enough, the larks were trilling, an
English aeroplane was flying just above the scream of the shells.

Dennis saw it, and wondered how Claude Laval was faring; and as he
looked at his wrist-watch he saw that it was nearly six o'clock.

At that moment the most terrific bombardment the war had witnessed burst
with devastating fury upon the German lines. Nothing had been heard like
it, and men smiled grimly, knowing that their turn would come soon.

The C.O. left the bay, and walked along the front of his beloved
battalion from one end of it to the other; a quiet, keen-eyed English
officer, brave as a lion they all knew, but showing no trace of the
slightest excitement as his eye scanned the faces of the waiting men.

He had been appointed to the command when the Dashwoods' father was
given the brigade, and he realised that the brigadier expected great
things of his old battalion.

"I never saw a fitter lot," was his gratified comment as he returned to
the two brothers. "Heaven help the enemy yonder if our artillery has
only cleared the wire."

"It's sincerely to be hoped they have, sir," said Captain Bob dryly.
"There was a dickens of a lot of it. But we shall get through without a
doubt. Not long to wait now, for there go the trench mortars."

Mingling with the continuous roar of our guns came a still louder and
very insistent sound, to which they listened in silence, every officer
of the battalion with his eye on his watch.

"Well, good luck, old chap!" said Bob suddenly, gripping Dennis by the
hand. And the two brothers looked at each other with the same thought
behind the quiet confidence of their smile.

It might be the last time they would ever meet on earth, but they faced
the possibility without fear, and already a dense cloud of smoke,
released along our whole front, was shrouding the waiting line.

"Seven-thirty to the tick," said the C.O. "Reedshires--Get over!" And in
an instant the battalion was swarming out of its trench, and advancing
over the two hundred yards of broken ground which separated the brigade
from the enemy, with sloped arms.

It was terrible going, for the whole earth was honeycombed by craters
large and small; but out of the smoke-cloud rose a ringing cheer, which
was still floating on the air when the vicious tac-tac of machine-guns
from the German lines told that even high explosives had their
limitations, and that some at least of the enemy gun-emplacements
remained undestroyed.

"Double!" cried the C.O., seeing that a kilted battalion on his left was
racing forward as the best means of escaping the continuous stream of
bullets.

"Charge, boys, charge!" yelled Dennis, taking up the cry; and that
brown avalanche of eager, helmeted men poured on clear of the smoke into
the bright sunshine, which glinted on their fixed bayonets.

In spite of the carefully prepared staff maps and plans which they had
all studied closely, Dennis looked in vain for any sign of a definite
objective. There was no sandbagged parapet, nothing but a confused mass
of holes and heaps scattered broadcast over the landscape--the result of
the terrific spade-work of the guns--which had to be crossed before the
village was reached. The village, too, of which he caught a glimpse, was
only a pulverised mass of debris, with here and there the angle of a
shattered house or the ribs of a roof to mark what had once been human
habitations.

But he knew that the strength of the enemy's position lay in the
wonderful subterranean works, the deep dug-outs, the covered-in
communicating trenches, and for these he and his men rushed with great
determination.

Suddenly, from the other side of a chalk heap, a row of heads appeared,
wearing flat blue forage caps with white bands round them, and a shout
of rapture rose from No. 2 Platoon as they saw at last something to go
for.

Between them and the row of heads yawned a huge shell crater, and as the
platoon divided automatically to avoid the obstacle, a heavy volley
across the crater caught them, and several of the running men pitched
forward and lay where they fell.

Perhaps they had orders to retire, perhaps it was our yell that scared
them; but the heads disappeared; and when our men reached the spot where
they had been the Germans had vanished. One stout fellow, dropping into
a hole thirty yards away, was the only indication of what had become of
them; but it was sufficient, and with a "Come on, boys!" Dennis sprinted
for the spot.

He had armed himself with a rifle and bayonet for the advance; but,
changing it to his left hand, he opened the bag of bombs he had also
brought and, drawing the pin, flung one of them into the hole, a square
opening, evidently the entrance to a covered communication trench.

"Wait a moment!" he shouted, shouldering back the next man up, who in
his excitement was about to plunge in; and then he heard the bomb burst
below, and a shower of earth and fragments of clothing bespattered the
pair of them, a piece of the bomb making an ugly gash on the man's
cheek.

Then Dennis sprang down, regardless of the fumes. At the bottom of the
steps he was conscious of treading on something soft, but did not stay
to examine it, for a ray of light filtering in from a fissure in the
roof showed him dark forms scurrying away in the distance along the
boarded passage.

The hand-grenade had got a move on the enemy, and, followed by a dozen
men of the platoon, he led the way, gripping his rifle, and loosing a
couple of rounds from the hip as he ran.

One of the bullets evidently found its mark, for a man lay writhing on
the ground where another passage turned off at right angles. The man
tried to seize his legs, but instantly let go his hold with a hoarse cry
as Tiddler's bayonet settled all disputes, and Dennis darted round the
angle.

The passage ended in a strange place; a large dug-out which had been
partially unroofed by one of our shells earlier in the morning, and knee
deep amid the loose earth which had poured in, half filling it, twenty
Germans turned at bay, under the command of a very tall officer.

There were only eight men with Dennis, for the other four were still
groping their way somewhere behind in the darkness of the passage, and
the young lieutenant realised in a flash of time that he was seriously
outnumbered and must act promptly.

A big sergeant jumped at him with a shout, but before the lunging
bayonet had crossed his own, Dennis fired and shot the man dead.

"Put your hands up and surrender!" he said sternly in German to the
rest; and the first to obey was the tall officer, who came scrambling
over the loose earth with both arms outstretched.

"We are your prisoners, sir," he said, holding his revolver as though he
were presenting the butt to Dennis. And the men of the British platoon
lowered their bayonets with disappointment in their faces.

It meant some of their number escorting the prisoners to the rear, they
knew, and that was not the hope they had had in their hearts.

But their disappointment was short-lived, for, as the tall officer came
within a stride of the young lieutenant, he suddenly shouted: "Now you
have them, men! Down with these infernal English!" And, reversing his
own weapon, he fired three shots at Dennis Dashwood in rapid succession.

The treachery was so unexpected that Dennis could do no more than duck
his head, and even then the third bullet buckled the brim of his trench
helmet; but as the barrel of the German's revolver clicked harmlessly
round, showing that it was empty, Dennis lunged upward.

"Sorry, sir!" said a voice at his elbow. "He was your bird." And a man
of the platoon, who had been a gamekeeper before he joined up, withdrew
his own bayonet, which had buried itself simultaneously in the cowardly
brute's ribs.

But there was no time for thanks, for the enemy had responded to the
treacherous command, and a terrific hand-to-hand fight ensued in the
half-demolished dug-out.

When the magazines had been emptied, butt and bayonet came into play at
close quarters, and men clutched each other in a death struggle, and
rolled over and over, howling like wolves.

Once, indeed, Dennis found himself driven backwards into the mouth of
the passage by two beefy fellows attacking him at the same time, and it
was only by dropping his rifle and using his revolver that he saved
himself from certain death.

As it was, although the Reedshires had taken heavy toll and reduced the
odds considerably, three of the platoon were down, and a fourth reeled,
badly wounded, against the side of the dug-out.

The four who should have provided a welcome reinforcement had missed
the turning, and continued straight along the covered communication, and
now nine of the enemy, springing back on to the top of the fallen earth
to take breath, collected for a rush that could have but one end.

"Quick, men!" cried Dennis, snatching up the ex-gamekeeper's rifle,
which the poor chap would never use again, "get into the passage, and
slip in another clip! You've just time, if I can hold them up for a
moment!"

The survivors of that little band each told the story afterwards with
variations, but all were agreed on two points.

One was the blinding flash as a bomb fell into the middle of the Germans
through the shell-hole in the roof. The other was the voice of Captain
Bob, sounding strangely distinct in the death-like silence that followed
the explosion as he called out: "Have you had enough in there, or would
you like another one?"

Then they lifted up their voices in a great shout of "Hold on, sir!" And
Dennis yelled: "Bob, you juggins, do you want to do the lot of us in?"

"Oh, it's you, is it?" cried his brother, sliding through the opening
with a sergeant and a couple of bombers. "I might have known you'd be
mixed up in it somehow. We heard some German jabbering and chanced our
arm."

"And a lucky thing for us you did," said Dennis, pointing to the
hideously bespattered grey-green uniforms that littered the earth heap.
Only one of the nine men was moving, and after a convulsive opening and
shutting of his hands the movement ceased altogether. "How is it going
up above?"

"Top-hole, so far," said the Captain. "At least, as far as our battalion
is concerned, though there seems to be a bit of a check among those
chaps on our left. Nobody else down here? Very well; this is the
quickest way out, and every minute is an hour. We've got their
first-line trench, or all that was left of it." And they scrambled once
more up the land slide into the open-air.



CHAPTER XVI

The Silencing of the Guns


The German guns were flinging a terrific barrage fire behind us in a
vain attempt to prevent our reserves coming up, and Dennis found that
the spot at which they had emerged was close to the entrance of the
village, if one could dignify those shapeless heaps of brick and mortar
by such a name.

Oddly enough, above his head towered a gilded Calvary, untouched by our
previous bombardment or the rain of bullets that sang through the air.

He found the rest of his company lining a low bank on which flowers were
growing, and replying to some hot fire from the other side of the
street, at the entrance to which a company of the kilted battalion which
had gone over on their left was re-forming after suffering severely.

A good score of them were lying face downwards between what had been the
first houses of the village, and he recognised the regiment by the
green-and-yellow tartan.

There was no need to ask the reason of their pause, for eye and ear told
him that machine-guns were trained along the street, into which no man
might pass and live.

Somebody gave a tug at the skirt of Dennis's tunic as he knelt on one
knee, looking sharply about him, and he saw that it was Private Harry
Hawke, lying prone on his stomach, in the act of recharging his
magazine, and there was an odd grin on the little Cockney's face.

"I know what you're thinkin' abart, sir," he said. "Them guns is yonder
in the church. I got 'em set the moment we took cover 'ere. You and me
and Tiddler could do it on our own, if you'd only say the word!"

Dennis had followed the directions of Hawke's dirty finger, and he
smiled, for the thing had been in his own mind before the private spoke.

Sixty yards up the village street the ways forked, passing to right and
left round what had once been a white-walled church with a square tower,
and it was easy to see that, although our guns had played havoc with the
sacred edifice and reduced it to a shapeless mass of rubbish, with the
mere stump of the tower remaining, the enemy had turned it into a point
of vantage.

The door at the foot of the tower had been built up by a great pile of
sandbags, leaving a narrow embrasure in the corner--a mere slit like
that of an exaggerated slot in a pillar box.

But that slit commanded the street, and from it came that continuous
stream of lead which had stayed the Highlanders' attack. It was an
isolated fortress, and, so far, none of our troops had reached it; but a
few resolute men might accomplish much, and Dennis bent down.

"We'll have a go at it, Hawke," he said. "But we'd better have half a
dozen." And as Hawke and Tiddler crawled back out of the firing-line,
Dennis called four others by name, and beckoned them to follow him
behind the ruins of an adjoining house.

"We're going to take that gun, boys," he said.

"There are two guns, sir," corrected one of the men.

"Then we're going to take both of them," said Dennis; and, stooping down
on his hands and knees, he crawled through the ruined gardens, only
pausing as they came to a gap where there was no cover, and darting
across it to the shelter of the next heap.

Two such openings they negotiated successfully, but as they crossed the
third a German bullet smashed the water bottle at Hawke's hip.

"My bloomin' luck!" he grinned. "And me wiv a thirst I wouldn't sell for
'arf a crown, 'cos it's honestly worth three-and-six. Look out, sir!
We're coming level with the church now." And, glancing to their left as
they lay flat, they saw a curl of smoke wreathing out of the embrasure,
and another succession of little puffs above it, which told them that
the second gun had been hoisted to the first floor of the ruined belfry.

Dennis raised himself on his hands and reconnoitred carefully. The air
was full of sound. The rifle-fire behind them mingled with the
continuous rattle of the guns they had planned to capture, and yet not
an enemy was to be seen, although they knew that there were thousands of
them hidden away in their immediate neighbourhood. Now all depended on
their gaining the back of the church unseen.

Far away on the right they could hear an English cheer, and knew that
the battalions on that flank of the brigade were making good, while
their own portion of the line was held up.

In front of them lay a team of dead horses, attached to the fragments of
a wagon, and the flies were buzzing about them. A little farther on was
a German reservist on his back with his knees up, and the flies were
busy with him too. The rest was an extraordinary wilderness of shattered
homes and shell craters, which seemed of no possible value to anybody,
but it had to be captured, and time was flying.

"You see that third heap in front of us?" said Dennis. "We'll make for
that, and, if we reach it, then dash straight across the open for the
back of the church, and leave the rest to chance. It's rotten work
fighting broken bricks and mortar, but there it is; it's got to be
done."

He jumped up suddenly and ran forward, his companions streaming out
behind him, everyone bending double, for bullets were flying in every
direction, some from their own battalion, and some no doubt from hidden
snipers, who would have to be reckoned with later on.

"Are we all here?" said the lad, as they reached the third heap, which
had been an estaminet before a British 9.2 had brought it down like a
house of cards. "Now for it!" And they bolted across the open square,
and gained their goal at last.

Only the skeleton of the church walls remained, and the sun slanted in
through the ruined windows on to a scene of indescribable wreckage.

Where the roof had fallen in the debris formed a barrier across the
aisle, and the eastern end of the ruin had evidently been used as a
dressing-station. Several stretchers lay on the floor there, and on one
of them was a dead man with a tourniquet still clamped on his thigh.

The saw on the ground, and the ugly contents of the bowl beside it, told
of an interrupted amputation--perhaps the other man huddled up in the
corner had been the surgeon himself!

But they had no time to waste on idle speculation, for beyond the pile
of beams and tiles, red bricks and plaster, the machine-guns were still
firing; and, motioning his companions to caution, Dennis crept round a
broken pillar.

Under what remained of the belfry tower behind the rampart of sandbags
the grey-painted 77 mm. showed its square shield, and a crew of five men
were busy about it.

Somewhere above them in the bell chamber another and a lighter gun was
in full blast, and Dennis made a quick sign to Harry Hawke.

The crack shot of No. 2 Platoon raised his rifle, and the sergeant on
the seat behind the gun-shield reeled round and dropped, Hawke's second
bullet sending the man who was feeding the breech two feet into the air.

"Charge, boys, charge!" shouted Dennis. And before the three Germans who
remained realised what was happening, there was an ugly bit of
bayonet work, and the gun was silenced!

[Illustration: "Before the Germans realised what was happening, there
was an ugly bit of bayonet work"]

Then Tiddler jumped back with a shout, as the head and shoulders of
another German appeared like a Jack-in-the-box from a hole in the floor
of the church.

From the box he carried in his arms it was evident that the ammunition
supply was stored below; and as the man fell backwards from Tiddler's
bayonet with a scream of agony, an answering shout came up from the
depths beneath.

"Bombs, quick!" cried Tiddler. But Dennis seized Hawke's arms as he
already drew a deadly missile from his bag.

"Do you want to blow us all to smithereens?" shouted his officer. "Close
the trap, and haul the gun over it. That will keep them quiet down there
until we want them." And everyone lending a hand, as the trap-door shut
down with a dull boom, they dragged the gun back until the end of the
trail rested upon the covering and effectually secured it.

"Now for those chaps up there," said Dennis, with a thrill of
exultation. And they bolted for a little door in the thickness of the
tower wall.

A man named Rogerson was the first to enter, and he went pounding up the
winding stone steps in his heavy hobnailed boots, followed by Tiddler,
Dennis having to content himself with third place.

But their shout, the two rifle shots, and the sudden lull in the firing
of the 77 mm. had not been lost upon those above. The boarded floor of
the bell chamber was full of cracks and fissures, and through one of
them a sharp voice cried in German: "What's going on down there?"

"Wait and see!" retorted Dennis at random; and his men laughed at the
familiar catchword.

There was a great stamping of feet overhead, and Harry Hawke, who
chanced to be the last to reach the little door, cast his eyes upward as
he was about to enter.

A man's head was looking down, and Hawke fired at it.

The head remained where it was, but the marksman chuckled, knowing his
own powers; and as he stepped inside the doorway something splashed on
to the pavement where he had stood, something wet that shone very red in
the sunshine.

Their haversacks and water bottles brushed against the narrow sides of
the winding stairway; and as Rogerson reached the last step a revolver
cracked out, and he threw up his arms.

Tiddler immediately behind him caught the falling body on his head and
shoulder, and passed his rifle to Dennis.

"Poor old Jim!" muttered Tiddler, as he gripped the dead weight in both
hands, and, using the body as a shield, staggered into the bell chamber.

There, in the full blaze of the sun, the bells still dangled from a huge
transverse beam; but everything else had been carried away, and the
floor presented an open platform exposed to the sky, with a screen of
sandbags at its western edge, through which the Germans had worked a
Nordenfeldt.

There were only two men, and the one who had emptied his revolver into
Jim Rogerson held up his hands, crying in a terrified voice: "Mercy,
Kamerad!"

"Yus!" hissed Tiddler, dropping the dead man and snatching his rifle
from Dennis's hand before he could interfere. "The mercy you showed to
my mate!" And he ran him through.

As the grim khaki figures sprang out on to the platform, the other
German clubbed his rifle and made a dart for the head of the stairs, but
the man Hawke had shot lay between him and liberty; and, tripping up, he
plunged over the edge into space, clutched wildly at a broken beam that
still spanned the ruined walls, and dropped with a sickening crash on to
the floor below.

"Reckon he won't do that any more, sir," chuckled Harry Hawke; but
Dennis had already jumped on to the sandbags, and was semaphoring wildly
with both arms.

"Guns captured! Come on, you chaps!" he signalled. And as the message
was seen and understood, a wild cheer rose from the other end of the
street as the Highlanders and his own battalion jumped from their cover
and tore forward at the double.

He would have liked to linger on that point of vantage, which afforded a
fine view of the surrounding country; but their work was done, and he
followed the others down the stair again, only pausing for a moment to
secure poor Rogerson's identification disc as he passed him.

He found Hawke waiting at the stair-foot with a happy smile on his
snub-nosed visage, and the pair ran out into the little square to mingle
with the platoon which was going by at the double.

"Lumme!" exclaimed Harry Hawke, as a fearful burst of high explosive
shook the very ground; and, looking over their shoulders, they saw the
ruined tower they had just left sink to the ground amid a huge column of
dust!

Their eyes met, but before either of them could speak Bob Dashwood's
voice was heard shouting: "Look out, A Company! Ten rounds rapid, and
load up for your lives! Here's a whole Bavarian battalion on top of
us!"



CHAPTER XVII

The Exploits of A Company


"Tomkins!" cried the Captain, "bunk back to the C.O. if you can find
him, and tell him there's a strong counter-attack on. Say it's a matter
of minutes if we're going to hold the village."

Fifty yards beyond the outer fringe of those crumbled heaps a little
stream flowed, a shattered willow here and there marking its course, and
from the opposite bank the ground rose to what had once been a thick
wood.

In front of the wood a solid mass of German infantry had suddenly sprung
into view as if by magic, and, forming up elbow to elbow, moved down the
slope, breaking into a brisk run. The great grey wave overlapped A
Company for a considerable distance on either flank.

A strip of ragged garden hedge on our side of the stream, a well-head,
and the wooden ribs of a stable which had somehow survived the
bombardment were the only available cover, if one excepted two large
shell craters.

"Hadn't we better fall back, Bob?" said Dennis, as he arrived
breathlessly at his brother's side. "The thin red line at Balaclava was
a fool to this."

"Fall back be hanged!" cried the Captain. "If we give them an inch we
shall let them in. No, there's a better stunt than that. Where on earth
are our machine-guns I'd like to know?"

His words were almost lost as the company poured a terrific fusillade
into the advancing enemy, and the target being too big and too near to
miss, every bullet found its billet. Men in the front rank went down
like ninepins, but the rest came on over their bodies, and everyone
realised that they meant business.

For once the enemy had resolved to use the bayonet, and less than sixty
yards now separated them from the Reedshires.

Bob Dashwood sprang on to a heap of bricks, and his words rang out even
among the bang and clatter that filled the morning air:

"Platoons One and Two, line the edge of that crater on your front, and
hold your fire until they reach the water. Three and Four, form up at
the hedge here, and if a man of you touches a trigger until he gets the
word I'll give him four days' field punishment." Then he added, "Go to
your own platoon, Dennis, and keep your eye on me. As soon as the
beggars have felt our fire we'll try the cold steel on them."

As Dennis reached his men the Bavarians were already entering the water,
which took them to the waist, and the two platoons delivered a burst of
rapid fire as Bob had ordered.

The result was appalling, and for an instant the Bavarians seemed to
waver, but those behind urged the rest on, and they came splashing
through the brook, whose course was choked and reddened by at least a
couple of hundred dead and wounded.

It seemed an age before the other platoons at the hedgerow fired, but
the welcome crash of their volley suddenly rang out, followed by a
shrill blast on Bob's whistle.

"That's 'Cease fire,'" said Hawke; "and there goes the 'Charge.'"

"A Company, make ready!--go!" yelled their Company Commander, and he
might very well have said "Come," for he was the first off the mark, and
with a yell of wild delight, out of the crater, through the hedge, and
across the half-dozen strides that divided them from the determined
enemy, went the eager lads after their leader.

Dennis was conscious of a feeling of uncertainty as he raced forward,
for he had not seen two things that had caught his brother's eye.

One was a row of Kilmarnock bonnets bobbing up over a communication
trench a hundred yards away on the left flank of the company, and the
other, three little brown dots at the corner of a wrecked barn
considerably in advance of their right--little brown dots very busy
about a Lewis gun.

If A Company could only succeed in holding back the advancing line for
eighty seconds, their leader knew what would happen, and it was worth
the effort.

Bob Dashwood's speciality was bayonet fighting, and every man of his
command was a past-master in the art.

Brother officers had smiled indulgently at the Captain's enthusiasm for
inter-company contests in that war of trench and dug-out, but Bob
Dashwood had persisted on every possible opportunity, and it would be
hard now if he did not reap his reward.

With a clash, Lee-Enfield and Mauser met on the bank of the stream, and
Bob Dashwood scored first blood with the cold steel.

Three Bavarians went down before him with lightning rapidity, and as a
fourth fired at the Captain from the hip and missed him, the Company
Sergeant-Major was on him like a knife.

"Let 'em have it, boys!" shouted Bob, and as a voice replied, "Look to
yourself, sir, we're all right," the foremost rank of the enemy was
hurled into the water, through which the khaki lads splashed to the
opposite bank.

There was a scramble and a squeeze. One or two slipped back, and the
weight of their accoutrements took them to the bottom, but the bulk of
them gained foothold, and nothing "made in Germany" could stay the rush.

Then the Lewis gun barked from the barn end, and a tremendous yell from
the opposite flank told that the Highlanders were coming.

For the life of him, when he came to think over it afterwards, Dennis
could recall nothing of that mad minute but the crack of his own
revolver as he emptied it into the closely packed mass before him, and
then a sea of terrified faces, growing grey like the uniforms they wore,
as the Bavarians broke and went back helter-skelter up the slope.

Somebody shouted "Keep 'em moving, boys!" and the next thing he knew was
that the fugitives were flinging themselves into the trench on the
hill-top, and that he and A Company were dropping in after them,
regardless of all consequences.

Here and there a too eager man was spitted on a German bayonet; here
and there also a pair of arms went up, and the hated word "Kamerad"
smote the ear with a false note. But the Reedshires were taking no
prisoners that morning, and having reached the trench on the very heels
of the foe, the Bavarians made no attempt to hold it, and went streaming
away along the communication that led into the heart of the wood.

Dennis looked back for a moment as he came to the shattered trees, which
lay about in all directions in the most extraordinary confusion, and saw
that the C.O. and the rest of the battalion had already cleared the
stream, and were coming up in support.

"Keep on, old chap!" cried a voice, as Bob ran up. "Are you all right so
far?"

"Yes, I'm all right; but, by Jove, you look a pretty beauty!"

The once smart captain, who somehow or other even in the wet trenches
had generally managed to appear spotless, like the officers of the
French army, who always looked as though they had been turned out of a
band-box, now presented a most disreputable appearance.

His helmet was gone, his Bedford cords were torn in seven or eight
places, and his left sleeve hung in ribbons. Up to his waist-belt he was
soaked by his passage through the stream. Above that his tunic was
covered with blood; on the whole, not a man you would have cared to sit
next to in a railway carriage or anywhere else.

But he only smiled as Dennis pointed to him. "Yes, I know," he said;
"but what's the odds? We've done a big thing, and the rest of the
battalion's done a big thing, and we've got to keep the beggars on the
go before they dig themselves in. Come on, dear old Den.; you'll hardly
believe it, but I haven't got a scratch of my own. All this gore belongs
to the enemy, and I don't think we've lost more than a couple of dozen
of A Company."

They ran side by side, and soon came up with a khaki mob of their own
men and the Highlanders streaming along each side of the German
communication trench, up which the Bavarians were still flying. Every
now and then they fired into it or threw bombs, but the older hands knew
that the walk-over would not last for ever, and kept their eyes skinned.

Suddenly, where the shattered trees thinned out and the still rising
ground showed an irregular ridge against the skyline, a sound which they
all knew only too well fell upon their ears.

There were two machine-gun emplacements on the ridge, and a murderous
fire was opened upon the victorious pursuers.

Bob Dashwood blew the order to take cover, and, as there was plenty of
it, A Company promptly flopped down behind the fallen trunks which our
bombardment had uprooted in every direction.

"Phew! 'Ot stuff!" ejaculated Harry Hawke, as he made room for Dennis
beside him, and wiped the perspiration from his forehead with the sleeve
of his jacket.

He was blowing like a grampus, for the pace had been fast.

"When we've got our wind, I reckon there's a little job up there for us,
sir," said Hawke, pointing over the top of the fallen beech behind which
they crouched.

"You mean the machine-gun, of course," said Dennis, nodding. "But
unfortunately, whilst we're getting our wind, so are the enemy, and
there's forty yards of open climb before we reach those sandbags up
yonder. It isn't like that village behind us, and you may bet your boots
the trench on the top of the ridge is packed with Germans like herrings
in a barrel, waiting for us. We'll have to lie low until the battalion
overtakes us."

Harry Hawke squinted thoughtfully down the short length of his snub
nose.

"There's two of those bloomin' tac-tacs of theirs--one covering the
communication trench, and t'other one yonder sweeping the front of the
wood," he said. "What price that Lewis gun, sir, that chipped in on our
right flank? Couldn't I go back and 'urry it up? If we could bring it
into action from the other corner of this 'ere wood, it 'ud mean saving
a lot of lives, for it's a sure thing the ridge has got to be taken."

While he was speaking they heard men running behind them, and looked
round, hoping to see their own people, but it turned out to be a little
party of the engineers laying a field telephone; and Dennis crawled on
hands and knees towards them.

"What's become of the machine-guns?" he inquired of an intelligent
corporal.

"Can't get 'em through the wood, sir. There are half a dozen on the
other side hung up. I rather think they're waiting for you to give 'em a
lead."

"Oh, are they? Any Lewis guns there?"

"Yes, there's one, sir. They were just starting along a path over yonder
when we left."

"I say, do you hear that, Bob?" Dennis called out, as his brother came
back, dodging from trunk to trunk, as every now and then one of the
German guns on the ridge raked the wood with a stream of bullets. "The
corporal says our Lewis is over yonder. What about my going over with a
couple of chaps to give them a hand? I believe we could do something."

"Right you are," said Bob. "I've just been talking to that Highland
officer, and he agrees with me that we must lie doggo until we are
reinforced. I have sent two men back to the C.O. Bunk off and see what
you can do."

"Thanks, old man," said Dennis, his face beaming with delight. "Hawke
and Tiddler, this way!" And at his call the two inseparables crept back
to where he stood.

"We're through now, sir, if you'd like to give them a shout at the other
end," said the corporal of the engineers.

"Oh, good business!" cried Captain Bob. "If I can get on to the Governor
that will buck things up a bit." And, leaving him kneeling behind a tall
poplar, the telephone receiver in his hand, Dennis and his companions
ran back a few yards into the shelter of the trees, and struck away at
right angles.



CHAPTER XVIII

With the Lewis Gun--and After!


In the old Elizabethan days, before scene-painting was invented, they
used to hang a placard on a black cloth behind the actors with such
inscriptions as "This is the seashore," "This is a wood." And such a
description would have well passed for the spot through which they now
threaded their way.

It _had_ been a wood--a wood of tall, straight trees in full summer
leaf, with bramble bushes and pleasant undergrowth before the British
batteries had flung their devastating hail into it; but now it resembled
an old toothbrush more than anything else, with bristles long and short,
and sticking out at every angle.

Hundreds of fallen saplings barred their way. Here and there a beech had
been uprooted, and a great shell crater yawned where it had stood, and
the scarred trunks and bare poles were stained orange and yellow and
vivid metallic green by the explosive agents.

A line of Tennyson occurred to Dennis, as odd things will occur at the
oddest of moments.

"'I hate the little hollow behind the dreadful wood,'" he murmured, as
he made an enforced circuit round a larger crater than usual; and Hawke,
who was just ahead of him, stopped short and shrank back with a shout
of "Mind your eye, sir!"

Something had crashed among the stumps in front of them, and a German
60-pound shell burst with a deafening roar.

For an instant everything was obscured by a volume of dense black smoke,
and a rain of splinters and broken branches fell about them as the smoke
curled away.

"That was a near thing," said Dennis. "Another minute, and there would
have been three vacancies in the company."

"I'm not sure there ain't some already, sir," said Hawke in a curious,
hushed voice. "What's that yonder?"

They hurried forward, for they had all seen a writhing figure in khaki a
few yards ahead, and a sickening chill passed over Dennis as he
recognised his brother subaltern, young Delavoy-Bagotte, lying on his
back with a tree-trunk across his legs. Over the same trunk was another
figure, which did not move, and face downwards a yard away lay a third
man with his back broken.

Half buried in the chalky soil was the Lewis gun they had been carrying
forward when the shell fell.

"By Jove, Bagotte, old man, this is rotten luck!" exclaimed Dennis. "I'm
afraid you've got it badly."

The boy--he was only eighteen, but the ribbon of the Military Cross was
on the breast of his tunic--set his teeth hard and nodded as they
removed the body of the other man and lifted the tree-trunk away from
his legs by main force.

"Yes, pretty badly, Dashwood. My thighs are smashed to a jelly," he
said. "But don't worry about me. I believe the Lewis is all right. Get
along with it. The stretcher bearers will be up presently. Are my mates
dead?"

"Yes," said Dennis--it was no good mincing matters--"but I can't leave
you like this."

"Don't be an ass," said Delavoy-Bagotte. "You can do no good by staying,
and you will only worry me. Look to the gun, I tell you. Your company
would never have crossed that stream behind yonder if I hadn't got on to
the beggars' flank with it."

"That's a fact, old man," assented Dennis. "And it won't be forgotten
when Bob makes his report." And while he was speaking he picked up that
most marvellous of modern weapons, the Lewis gun, and found it unharmed.

"She's all right," he said. "Do you really mean me to go on?"

"Yes, confound you! I shall have to howl in another minute, and I want
to do it alone," said the plucky boy between his teeth.

He was suffering untold agonies and they knew it; but they knew also
that he was right; and Dennis made a sign to Hawke and Tiddler, who
saluted the young lieutenant as they left him.

Keeping just within the fringe of the wood, Dennis shouldering the gun,
while Hawke and Tiddler carried the field mount and the spare magazines,
the adventurous three soon reached the angle in front of the ridge.

The stump of a well-grown beech stood up there, towering above the
ground twenty feet or more. Its crest had been carried away by a shell,
but one stout branch jutted out like the arm of a gallows; and Harry
Hawke had a brain wave.

"'Arf a mo, sir," he said, laying his wallet down. And the next moment
he was clambering up the tree until he reached the bough, where he
supported himself for a minute or two on his elbows, taking stock of the
enemy.

When he came sliding down again his eyes were dancing, and his voice was
husky.

"If we could only get the gun up there, sir," he whispered excitedly,
"the rest's as easy as kiss your hand. You can see the trench and the
head of the bloke what's working that tac-tac of theirs. Have a look for
yourself, sir." And Dennis made the climb, finding it as Hawke had said.

He saw something else, too--C Company now creeping through the wood, and
taking possession of the cover along its northern edge, which told him
that the battalion had arrived.

When he descended, after a careful reconnaissance, he found that Hawke
and Tiddler had already anticipated his decision, and were buckling
their straps together.

"Ain't it a little bit of all right?" grinned Hawke. "That there bough
might have been made for it, and foothold on that other branch
underneath. She weighs twenty-five pounds; but if you think the strap of
your map-case will hold, sir, it's as good as done."

Dennis slipped the map from his shoulder, and, buckling the strap end
round the muzzle of the Lewis, Tiddler held the weapon up to the full
extent of his arms while Dennis, taking the other end of the improvised
line in his hand, climbed up the beech again.

The straps held, to their great joy, and the pair below watched the
thing dangling in mid-air above their heads as Dennis hauled it slowly
upwards.

The men of C Company also watched the manoeuvre with keen interest;
and Hawke, with a couple of charged magazines in his hand, climbed up
and clung within arm's reach of his officer.

The Germans were flinging a terrific barrage fire upon the village in
our rear, and our own barrage was pulverising the ground beyond the
enemy ridge, almost drowning the sound of the two machine-guns which
were checking the British advance at that spot.

Dennis could see the gunner behind his sandbags, sweeping the front of
the wood, and, laying the gun, he pressed the trigger.

The detachable magazine of a Lewis holds forty-seven cartridges in two
layers; and, loosing a couple of trial shots, both of which drew a spurt
of earth from the sandbags, he kept his pull on the trigger, and emptied
the rest in a continuous stream.

He saw the gunner drop, and several heads peer anxiously round as
another man took his place. They were trying to locate the whereabouts
of this unseen enemy, but they fell back out of sight before they could
place it, and a third and a fourth gunner likewise.

The machine-gun was silenced before Dennis passed his hand down to the
delighted Hawke.

"Now's your time!" he yelled to the waiting line beneath, as he fixed
the deadly disc in position. And as he heard the whistles shrilling, he
almost lost his balance in the wild excitement that seized him.

"Charge, boys, charge!" was the cry, as the Reedshires sprang over the
tree-trunks and rushed up the slope, and a row of forage caps popped up
above the parapet.

They made a splendid mark for the lad; and it was a very broken volley
that met the khaki rush as Dennis played his weapon along the Bavarian
trench.

"Get down, Hawke!" he shouted; "we must be in this." And, leaving the
gun where it was, he clambered down, to find Hawke and Tiddler waiting
for him.

Before they were clear of the wood, the rearmost files of the Reedshires
were in the trench; and when they reached the crest the trench floor was
covered with dead and wounded, and the victorious battalion was bombing
its way along the sinuous windings which curved off northward.

Far away to the east a tremendous fusillade told where the division on
their right was attacking Montauban; but Dennis's anxiety was to pick up
A Company again, and that was a difficult matter.

"Seen anything of Captain Dashwood?" he cried to a wounded Reedshire on
the fire-step, who was trying to staunch an ugly wound.

"No, sir. They went over on the left there with the Highlanders."

In the distance across the shell-torn ground behind the trench they saw
clumps of brown dots growing smaller and smaller, as our successful rush
carried us far into the enemy's lines, and there was nothing for it but
a long sprint to overtake them.

Even Dennis, fit as he was, and Hawke and Tiddler, both hard as nails,
were puffed and blown before they had run very far; and so confusing was
the maze of craters and battered trench-lines that Dennis suddenly
realised that he was alone.

The sing of bullets passed his ears, and the spurting up of the ground
in his immediate vicinity told him that the spot was "unhealthy"; and,
seeing an empty communication trench a few yards on the left, he jumped
down into it, reloaded his revolver, and went forward cautiously.

The trench, which had somehow escaped our bombardment, had been hastily
evacuated when we carried the third line; but, finding that it curved in
the direction where he had last seen those running figures, he followed
it until a clamour of voices ahead of him made him shrink behind the
angle of a bay as a mob of Germans came running towards him.

Dennis felt in his bomb sack and found he had three of those deadly
missiles left, and a grim smile twitched the corners of his compressed
lips.

"If they're bolting it means that our chaps are behind them," he thought
to himself. "If it's a counter-attack, a friendly dug-out wouldn't be a
bad place. But here goes, anyhow!" And, jumping on to the fire-step of
the bay, he lobbed a bomb into the trench about fifteen yards higher up,
where it burst with a loud report.

Then he sprang down, and, shouting loudly as though he had a whole
party at his back, he pitched another bomb, which burst as it touched
the ground.

His last bomb struck the side of the trench, dislodging the sandbags;
but, covering the terrified mob with his revolver, he stalked boldly
forward, calling to them to surrender.

They were big fellows, and they were Prussians; but their unexpected
reception had demoralised them, and their hands went up in the air with
a shout of "Mercy, Kamerad!"

There must have been twenty at least that had survived the explosions.
How many he had killed he never knew; but he realised that he must carry
matters with a very high hand, and give them no time to think.

"Come on, then--you are my prisoners," he said in German. "File along
the trench; my men will escort you to the rear." And, stepping back a
few paces to the angle of the bay, he stood aside to let them go by.

There was terror in their faces, and the sight of the revolver held
threateningly in the officer's hand sent them past at a shambling trot.

Dennis had counted seventeen, and there were still four more to pass
him, when, from the head of the drove, there came a loud laugh, and a
guttural voice shouted back: "Sergeant, the Englishman is alone!"

Dennis saw the speaker jump on to the side of the parados with his hand
to his mouth, and he raised his revolver; but the shot was never fired,
for the butt of a rifle descended on his trench helmet from behind, and
Dennis dropped with a groan.

When he opened his eyes he was lying on his back and it was dark. The
action of turning his head caused a terrible spasm of pain, and made him
lie quite still again for some moments.

Low cries and a distressing moaning mingled with a voice that spoke in
German; and, opening his eyes again, he saw by the light of a lantern
three figures bending over a prostrate man, who had been stripped to the
shirt. His tunic lay on the ground, so close to Dennis that he could
have reached out and touched it, and one of the figures was just rising
from his knee.

"You have wasted my time for nothing," he was saying. "The man is dead
as a herring. Himmel! That makes eighty-seven I have examined to-night,
and not one of them will see the Fatherland again."

He picked up his case of instruments, and, followed by two hospital
orderlies, passed by Dennis and out through a doorway.

"Great Scott!" murmured the lad, "I must be a prisoner in a German
dressing-station. What's happened?"

He had to piece it all together, until he reached the point in the day's
happenings when the Prussians filed past him in the empty trench; then
he remembered, and wondered if he were much hurt.

His head felt three times its normal size; but he could move his arms
and legs, and presently sat up, holding his head in both hands, for the
pulsation within it was so terrific that it seemed the next throb must
split it in two.

Guns were still firing in the distance, and as his eyes grew accustomed
to the darkness he saw that he was in an unroofed barn.

"I must get out of this at once," he thought. And, remembering the torn
tunic which had belonged to the dead man beside him, he reached
carefully for it, slipped his arms into the sleeves, and was buttoning
it up when two stretcher bearers entered and dumped their burden down on
the other side of him.

"That's two of those English pig officers we've brought in to-night,"
said the lantern bearer who accompanied them. "This one may think
himself lucky if he gets attended to before daylight." And Dennis, who
had thrown himself backwards, felt his heart stand still as the orderly
flashed his lantern on the new-comer's face.

It was only a glimpse he caught, but he knew that the crumpled figure
was his brother Bob!



CHAPTER XIX

What They Learned on the German Telephone


The shock of the discovery was so great that Dennis lay paralysed, and
everything seemed very black indeed, until a low murmur in English
brought him to his senses at his elbow.

"Well, I'm hanged! This is a pretty nice ending to a glorious day!"
muttered Captain Bob. "But I shouldn't mind so much if I only knew that
Dennis had come out of it all right."

A hand grasped his own, and the speaker started as someone whispered in
his ear: "Dear old chap, keep your hair on, and don't speak above your
breath. Half these poor beasts understand English. Are you badly hit?"

Bob's fingers closed on his brother's like a vice.

"Thank God!" he murmured, "I'm not hit at all. I trod on an unexploded
shell, and gave my leg an infernal wrench just as our fellows had to
fall back. I couldn't move a yard, and got collared in consequence, and
when it was dark they brought me along here. Where are you hurt, Den?"

"Welt over the head with a rifle-butt," whispered Dennis excitedly. "I
say, old chap, if we've any luck, I'll get you out of this. Do you know
the lie of the land?"

"Yes, we're about a mile and a half in front of our new first line. Do
you think you could rub my leg? You'll have to take the gaiter off; I've
had several shots at it, but my fingers are all to pieces trying to get
over some of their wire, and I couldn't slip the buckle for little
apples."

Dennis had the gaiter undone in a moment, and Bob writhed as his brother
felt the injured limb.

"You've got no end of a sprain, old man," whispered Dennis. "No wonder
you couldn't walk. Your instep's swollen up as big as my two fists, and
there's nothing for it but rest and cold water bandages to put you
right."

"H'm! If I didn't know you for my own brother, I should put you down as
a near relation of the late lamented Mr. Job," said Bob Dashwood, with a
wry face. "But never mind, keep on rubbing. I'm feeling more life in it
already. But, I say, Den, this is a weird place we're in. These German
fellows don't seem to take their gruel like our chaps. It's a gruesome
thing to hear a man cry."

"And it's worse to hear a man die, Bob," said Dennis solemnly. "I don't
fancy from what the doctor said that many of these poor wretches will be
here when the sun rises."

It was indeed a trying thing to be there, in the darkness with those
sounds of human suffering all about them, and it made them both very
anxious to make a start for that freedom which seemed such a long way
off. Every now and then a piercing cry rose above the constant
undercurrent of moans, and the sobbing was distressing in the extreme.

A strong man from the far side of the barn calling piteously on
"_Mütterchen_," made them both think of their own "little mother"; and
after Dennis had rubbed for several minutes until the palms of his hands
were terribly hot, Bob clutched his shoulder and whispered: "For
goodness' sake, old chap, let's chance our arm! I can't stand any more
of this!"

"Just as you like," assented his brother, strapping the gaiter loosely
round the limb again. "If you can't walk you must crawl, and when you
can't crawl I'll carry you; but I wish my head wouldn't ache so
confoundedly. Do you notice no one's been near this place since they
brought you in? That tells me the sanitary squad will be busy
to-morrow."

He helped Bob up as he spoke, not to his feet, for he could not put the
right one to the ground; but by passing an arm round Dennis's neck he
managed to hop to the door, which was only a yard away, and there they
paused to take their bearings before leaving the shelter of the barn.

Every step was as painful to the one as to the other, but the night air
was very sweet, and the hope of liberty sweeter.

"This door opens to the east," whispered the Captain. "Consequently, our
road lies yonder; and, by Jove! it is a road too! What stunning chaps
the British gunners are when they're properly supplied with ammunition!"

"You're quite sure you're right, old man?" said Dennis. "The shells are
bursting yonder like one o'clock."

"Exactly!" was Bob's dry rejoinder. "That's the German barrage falling
behind our new line. It's about there we shall probably get pipped on
the post, brother of mine. That barrage lies between us and safety."

Overhead the shells rushed, clanging, booming, whistling, screeching,
according to their different species and calibre; and every now and then
a star-shell burst in the sky, lighting everything up for a few seconds
in an unearthly brilliance.

"So long as we're between the two fires," said Bob, as they began their
perilous journey, "there is nothing much to fear, it seems to me. The
next mile is No Man's Land with a vengeance; after that it will be
Dante's Inferno with the lid off."

Every time a star-shell burst the fugitives flung themselves on to the
ground. After one of those enforced pauses, and before they had covered
a quarter of a mile, they rested for quite a considerable time at the
edge of an enormous crump-hole, and, Dennis still having his haversack,
they divided its contents and ate ravenously.

"I suppose we shall be returned missing," said Bob. "But surely the
governor will keep the news back for a day or two on the mater's
account. Let's get a move on, old chap; our non-appearance is robbing
him of all the satisfaction he'd have got out of a fine day's work." And
as they went on again, the Captain using a Mauser rifle which Dennis had
picked up as a crutch, he told his brother how completely successful the
British advance had been up to the moment when the Reedshires were
obliged to fall back. The battalion had lost terribly, but we had taken
two villages, and what we had we meant to hold.

At the end of another quarter of a mile they took cover again very
suddenly; no star-shell that time, but a very businesslike German high
explosive, which scooped up tons of earth, and it was followed by
another and another, which all burst in their immediate neighbourhood.

"I say, Bob, this is getting rather serious," said Dennis. "They're
shortening their fuses for some reason or other, and we're just in the
line of fire. I wish there was a safe spot where we could lie up until
we see what it means. What's the matter with that building over there
with the broken chimney shaft? The beggars are shelling right and left
of it as though they didn't want it to get hit--mean to use it when they
counter-attack, I suppose; and if we're questioned, I must pass you off
as my prisoner, eh?"

"It certainly is getting sultry," assented Captain Bob. "Let's try that
place yonder. One may as well get killed by falling bricks inside as by
T.N.T. in the open."

His voice grew very solemn as he added: "I believe it was in front of
that place that our battalion got its fearful gruelling, and poor old A
company was wiped out."

It was the only building anywhere visible, and a zigzag walk between
shell craters brought them to it.

A bristling hedge of very thick barbed wire was the first thing they
encountered; but, thanks to another star-shell, they discovered an
opening at the back leading to what had evidently been a brewery in the
piping times of peace. The shattered sheds about the yard and the
half-ruined main building had been sandbagged and strengthened by the
enemy's engineers, as though they had intended to hold it.

But for some reason or other it was now deserted. The machine-guns had
been removed from their positions, and there were signs of a hasty and
recent exodus. The tall shaft of the chimney-stack stood sentinel over
the deserted place; but as the two brothers penetrated into the main
building, the thought that was in both their minds was voiced by Dennis.

"I believe we've touched lucky," he said. "You're right, old chap; they
don't want to hit this show for some reason best known to themselves."

A perfect hurricane of shells was passing on either side of the ruined
brewery from batteries not very far behind it, and it was a relief to
steal inside the big dark chamber where the thunder seemed less loud.

"I've still got my torch," said Dennis in a low voice, after an anxious
pause. "I wonder if it would be safe to have a look round the place?"

"Why not?" replied Bob. "There must be water somewhere here, and my
throat is like the sole of an old boot. If there had been anyone hiding,
we should have heard them by this time."

Dennis turned on his light, and the beam showed them that the ground
floor of the building had been utilised as a bathroom. Rows of vats and
coppers were ranged along one side, and a network of pipes communicated
with some large stoves, in one of which there was still a handful of red
embers.

"Can't make out why the beggars scooted," muttered Bob Dashwood. "This
place has been turned into a regular redoubt, and might have been held
successfully against a division. There is something at the bottom of it,
Dennis, and the mind of Brother Boche is a subtle and a crafty mind.
Look!" And he pointed to a long line of underclothing hanging above the
stoves. "They've even left their washing when they cleared out."

His speculations terminated abruptly as an electric bell rang somewhere
in the darkness.

"Great Scott!" cried Dennis, stabbing the gloom with the beam of his
pocket-torch. "There's another room here, and the place is evidently in
communication with their headquarters."

He ran in the direction of the sound, and the door led him into the
engine-room of the brewery, a mysterious place smelling of oil. Wheels,
shafts and boilers met his eye, but he paid no heed to them, for the
bell still rang; and Bob, limping painfully after him, heard the sharp
cry he gave, and saw him bending down in a huge cavity on which he
flashed his light.

"I say, Bob!" he called excitedly. "The chimney overhead is fitted with
a wireless installation, and here's a complete outfit of field telegraph
and telephone!"

"Smash it; it's worse than useless to us, for we don't know their code,"
was the practical advice of the captain.

"Hold on!" chuckled Dennis. "They don't talk by code. We may hear things
yet!" And he unhooked the telephone receiver.

Bob's eyes opened very wide, and, leaning on his rifle-crutch, he
explored his brother's pocket for a cigarette and lit it.

"Well, what's it all about?" he asked impatiently, his eyes riveted on
the delighted smile that wreathed the listener's face.

Dennis made a hasty gesture with his hand and continued to listen.

It was a very angry voice that came along that wire, and the
quick-witted lad instantly saw great possibilities here.

"What are you doing with yourself, Von Dussel?" demanded the voice.

"Pardon, sir," said Dennis, in his best German, "I have difficulty in
catching your words; the noise of the shells is so great." And he winked
delightedly at Bob. "Who is speaking, please?"

An imprecation preceded the reply. "I am the General von Bingenhammer at
the headquarters of Prince Rupprecht, who is furious at the delay."

"A thousand apologies, your excellency!" said Dennis into the receiver.
"The truth is, we are so hard pressed here that it is difficult to get
the necessary information. My three assistants have been killed, and I
have this moment returned from a personal reconnaissance, where I
managed to get within fifteen yards of the trench we lost this evening,
and I am afraid the news I have will be decidedly unpleasant."

"Well, what is it?" snapped the general. "Unpleasant or no, we rely
implicitly on your judgment."

"Your excellency is pleased to be very kind," said Dennis, scarcely able
to disguise the laughter which convulsed him.

"By Jupiter, Bob, here's a chance to rub it in!" he whispered aside. And
then he very gravely gave an account of what Prince Rupprecht's agent
was supposed to have discovered!

"The enemy has consolidated himself in what were our support trenches,"
reported the mock spy. "The _Königin Augusta_ Redoubt was carried with
great fury at six o'clock this evening, and its brave defenders
practically destroyed. The English have now seventy machine-guns mounted
on the work, and to take it will be impossible. In my opinion, there is
nothing for it but to fall back. We can do nothing against the horde of
reserves massed behind the English firing line. It is incredible the
number of battalions I have seen to-night, and their howitzer batteries
have been moved forward."

"Here, I say, go slow!" interjected Bob, marvelling at the clever way in
which Dennis conducted his ruse.

"Shut up!" snapped Dennis shortly. "He is asking me questions now, and
we shall learn something."

"Has the evacuation of the brewery taken place?" inquired Von
Bingenhammer.

"It has, your excellency," answered Dennis promptly.

"And there is nothing to prevent that Australian Division taking
possession of the place--nothing to warn them of the trap?"

"I am expecting their arrival at any moment, your excellency. In fact,
it will be difficult for me to escape if I stay here much longer."

"Good," assented the speaker at the other end of the 'phone. "And the
land mine is charged ready to blow them back to their antipodes, _nicht
wahr_?"

"Everything is ready as your excellency has ordered it," replied Dennis,
with a startled grimace at his brother.

"Then you had better look after your own safety, only remaining to see
the mine properly fired, and then come back to His Highness's
headquarters. We are preparing a heavy counter-attack for the early
hours of the morning. That is all, captain. May the God of the
Fatherland protect thee!"

Dennis laid the receiver down, and was rapidly recounting all the
general had said to his brother, when he stopped and switched his light
off.

A quick step was heard in the outer room. The real spy was approaching,
and their old acquaintance, Von Dussel, alias Van Drissel, came through
the doorway, turning on his own light as he did so!



CHAPTER XX

The Last Rung of a Broken Ladder


For a couple of strides he advanced towards them, deceived for an
instant by the jacket of the dead German which Dennis was wearing. Then
he sprang back with a startled cry, his light vanished, and the clang of
the heavy door echoed dully in the pitch darkness.

Bob Dashwood's hand gave his brother's shoulder a warning grip, and the
pair listened, scarcely breathing. In both their minds was the one
thought: Had their enemy gained the outer room before the door closed,
or was he still there, waiting for the first sound that should betray
their whereabouts?

Dennis, who had been standing erect when the torch beam found him, now
crouched low; but Bob stood motionless, his head turned sideways to
listen, the half-smoked cigarette still in his mouth.

The silence of the room seemed to be intensified by the gunfire outside;
and, without thinking, Bob Dashwood pulled at the cigarette.

The tiny end shone faintly, with a brighter glow, a loud report broke
the unnatural stillness, and the bullet of an automatic pistol carried
the cigarette from the smoker's lips and struck the wall behind him!

Even Bob Dashwood, to whom physical fear was unknown, felt himself turn
pale at the narrowness of his escape.

The spy was still there, and evidently a crack shot, while they had no
firearms!

After a long, thrilling pause, a gloating laugh came out of the
darkness.

"The English are the greatest fools in the world; or is it perhaps that
they have no weapons, hein?" said the spy's voice, the soliloquy being
evidently intended for his listeners' benefit.

Dennis was conscious that his brother had edged away behind a large
boiler, and groping desperately in the pockets of the German coat,
hoping against hope that he might find something that would turn the
tide in their favour, his own fingers closed on--a raw potato!

An idea occurred to him, and with a silent jerk of his forearm he threw
it to the other end of the room. As the potato fell, Von Dussel swung
round and fired two shots in the direction of the sound, and under cover
of the reports Dennis joined Bob in his temporary shelter.

A snarl of vexation broke from the angry Prussian at his second failure;
and, taking Bob's hand in his own, Dennis tapped out a Morse Code
sentence on the back of it with his first finger, relieved to find from
his brother's answering squeeze that Bob understood him.

"Give me that rifle," he tapped. "There might be an unused cartridge
left in the magazine, after all."

Bob supported himself on the side of the boiler, and Dennis took the
Mauser from him without noise.

He knew the barrel must be choked with earth from the use it had been
put to, but, after all, it was a chance.

_Bur-r-r-r!_ The telephone bell struck an odd, imperative note at that
moment, and Von Dussel spoke sharply.

"You hear that, you hound?" he thundered. "You Dashwoods, you! How long
have you been here?"

They knew it was only a ruse to make them betray themselves, prompted by
their enemy's keen anxiety to answer the summons, and they stood behind
the boiler perfectly still.

_Bur-r-r-r!_

"So you will not speak," snarled Von Dussel. "Very well, I am going to
answer that message. I shall have a Browning pistol in one hand and the
receiver in the other. You had better look out; you will never leave
this room alive, either of you."

Dennis, groping silently in front of him along the brick base in which
the boiler was fixed, had found a heavy screw wrench, and, repeating his
former manoeuvre, hurled it this time to the opposite end of the
engine-room.

It dropped with a loud clang; but Von Dussel was on his guard, and
before he fired he switched his light on for an instant, and Dennis
pulled the trigger of the rifle.

It was only for a second's space that Dennis saw the man with his hand
raised, and he could not repress a fierce shout of joy as a Mauser
bullet dashed the Browning pistol from Von Dussel's hand.

"Perhaps we English are not such fools, after all!" he laughed. But
when the spy's voice answered him, it was from the opposite side of the
room.

"That remains to be seen," was his reply. "I tell you, you will not
leave this place alive. The brewery is mined, and I am going to fire the
charge. Good night. I will send Madame Dashwood a field post card
to-morrow!"

In vain Dennis had pulled on the trigger while he spoke, the rifle
pointed in the direction of the voice. That cartridge had been the last
one; and as they heard the heavy door bang for the second time that
night, they knew that the man had gone and would keep his word!

"Dennis, boy," said Bob quickly, "I'm rather afraid our number's up,
after all. I'm useless with this leg, but where there's life there's
hope. There's a permanent ladder at the end of this hole. Give me my
crutch again, and, meanwhile, see where it leads to."

Dennis did not require telling twice.

"You're right, Bob," he said. "There's death on the other side of that
door, so it's wasting time to try whether that hound has fastened it or
no." And while he spoke he flashed his own pocket torch to the far end
of the engine-room. "You'll be able to pick your way, and I'll be back
in a shake," he concluded, tearing along the floor and bounding up a
permanent ladder to the next storey.

A circling sweep of his invaluable light showed the lad a low-ceilinged
room corresponding to the one he had just left, and a cool wind blowing
in from somewhere reminded him of his adventure in the German dug-out,
and the friendly passage he had discovered.

"Come on, Bob!" he called down the ladder. "I'll be back in a minute and
give you a hand. We'll do the beggar yet."

He bounded through the door which his light revealed, and found himself
in the open air upon an iron gallery running along the outside of the
building.

His impulse was to lift up a shout of thankfulness at the sight of
another iron ladder, obviously leading into the yard below. To make
quite certain that the way was clear he ran towards it, and stole
cautiously down for a short distance, trying to penetrate the intense
blackness in quest of any sign of Von Dussel.

All at once his feet dropped into nothingness, for, unknown to him, an
English shell had carried away the rest of the ladder a week before,
and, clutching wildly at the last step, he clung there, dangling in
space!

To let go, even had he known the distance between him and the ground,
was absolutely unthinkable with his brother helpless and unwarned within
the building, and though the explosion of the mine might happen any
moment, his one and only effort was to get back by sheer strength of arm
and return to Bob's assistance.

"If we've got to go out to-night we'll go out together," he muttered
between his teeth, and he added something of a prayer to the resolve.

The fragment of the ladder vibrated under his weight as he worked
himself slowly and cautiously to one edge, and the sharpness of the
jagged iron rungs hurt his hands terribly.

"If I can only haul up high enough to get my knee on the first step
it'll be all right," he thought, when something scrunched immediately
underneath him, and he dangled motionless, as a brilliant star-shell
burst directly overhead, making everything around as bright as day.

       *       *       *       *       *

Caught in the open by the sudden fire of uncountable machine-guns, the
2/12th Battalion of the Royal Reedshires had gone down like grass before
the scythe. Another fifty yards, and they would have reached the uncut
wire in front of that ruined building with the broken chimney shaft.

So close were they that the word was already given to divide and sweep
round the flank of the obstacle when cruel Fate said no; and as he lay
with three bullets through him, tears of rage and anger had dimmed the
keen eyes of their C.O. as he groped for his whistle and blew the
retire.

They had made a fine rush by successive waves across the open, taking
advantage of the tumbled ground to get close up to that seemingly
deserted brewery which had shown no sign of occupation, and from which
no shot had been fired. And then that thing had happened, and he blamed
himself as he sent the brave remnant scurrying back to the trench they
had captured, knowing that he should have rested content with his
capture and not been greedy for more.

He did not realise that he was badly wounded, and he did not care. It
was his own fault, and the tears in his eyes were for those khaki heaps
that lay to right and left of him. He even resisted three of the
survivors who ran to his help. They only grinned when he threatened them
with pains and penalties; and, picking him up, they had carried him in
under a murderous rain of bullets.

The battalion was barely half its strength when it reached the trench,
and it had all happened just as the dusk drew down on the land.

When they called the roll the voices of the company sergeants were
hoarse and shook with an odd quiver.

"Abbot, Anstey, Ashwell?" No answer. "Bellingham?"--"Here."
"Burton?"--"Just died, sergeant," somebody else replied. And so it went
on alphabetically from A to Z, and of the A's there were very few, and
of the Z's there were none.

A senior captain took over command, and word was sent back to the
brigadier.

"It's bad enough as it is, sergeant-major," said the senior captain.
"He'd better not be told just now that both his sons are among the
missing."

Later on there came to the young lieutenant, who was the only officer
left in A company, two dusty, fierce-eyed little men who had gone
through the burden and heat of the day without a scratch, although their
bayonets were red enough.

And they had begged leave to go and search for Captain Dashwood and
Dennis, and the young lieutenant had choked audibly as he refused the
permission.

"Yes, I know, Hawke," he had replied to their earnestly repeated
entreaties. "But I'm acting under strict orders. Not a man is to cross
the parapet on any consideration whatever. If we're counter-attacked
before reinforcements arrive, Heaven help us!"

Then the two fierce-eyed little men had gone away, having apparently
accepted the inevitable, and neither had said a word until they reached
the far end of the trench.

"Tiddler?"

"I should bloomin' well think so, 'Arry!"

That was all, but it was enough; and that was how Harry Hawke and his
bosom pal came to be wandering under the eastern wall of the deserted
brewery after a fruitless search among those khaki heaps that lay so
still in front of the German wire.

For three hours they had crawled backwards and forwards, questioning the
wounded and giving a hand where they could with the field dressing, but
always receiving the same reply.

At length one man told them that the German stretcher-bearers had come
out and carried some bodies away, but they had been recalled before they
reached him, and there had been a great skedaddling from the building in
front. He had heard them removing machine-guns; he could swear to that.

"Come on, Tid!" said Harry Hawke. "We may find them in there. It is our
last chance."

They were working their way very carefully along the wall when a
star-shell of unusual brilliancy burst, and Hawke jumped forward,
gripping his rifle.

"Swop my goodness! Tiddler!" he cried, with a fierce chuckle, "here's a
bloomin' Allemong trying to escape! You've left it a bit too late,
sonny!" And he lunged upwards at the dangling figure in the light of the
star-shell!



CHAPTER XXI

Von Dussel's Revenge


It was not a moment in which to mince matters, and Dennis drew up his
legs with a yell.

"Don't play the giddy ox, Hawke. Where are your eyes?" he shouted, as
the point of the bayonet grazed his brown gaiter; and then, in spite of
the terrible danger overhanging them all, Dennis laughed oddly as his
sworn admirer recovered his weapon, and the star-shell went out.

"You don't mean to say it's you, Mr. Dashwood!" came up a tremulous
voice very unlike Hawke's own. "Drop, sir, your toes ain't above seven
feet from the ground. Tiddler and me's been looking for you and the
Captain for the last three hours."

"Well, you've found us," said Dennis, still clinging where he was; "and
I hope you're in time. My brother should be up in the building by now,
but he can only hobble on one leg, and the whole caboodle may be blown
up any minute. What's to be done?"

Harry Hawke did not hesitate, but, slipping off his pack, handed his
rifle to Tiddler, who stood speechless with amazement.

"Give us a back, Cockie," said Hawke. "Can you hold on, sir, if I climb
up yer? Will the ladder bear?"

"It'll bear, and I can stick it if you're not too long," replied Dennis,
twining his fingers tighter round the ironwork and bracing his arms for
the strain.

The German shells had ceased to hum past the eastern end of the brewery,
although they were falling rapidly about the captured trench, where the
Reedshires were ensconced five hundred yards to the south.

"For Heaven's sake look sharp, man!" urged Dennis, and then he felt
Hawke grasp his knees, pass a hand over his shoulder, hang there a
moment, and grab at the broken step overhead.

"Sorry if I 'urt you, sir," muttered the Pride of Shoreditch, planting
his hobnailed boot where his hand had been the moment before; and,
active as a cat, he gained the iron ladder which had so nearly meant a
broken neck for Dennis Dashwood.

"Now, sir!" panted Harry Hawke, seizing his officer's right wrist, "let
go yer 'old while I give yer a 'aul. Up we come!"

Dennis gave a spring at the same time, and his fingers clutched the
banister that supported the rail. The rest was easy, and between them he
scrambled to his feet as a curious stumping made the iron gallery ring
above them, and Bob's voice was heard calling, "Where have you got to,
Den?"

They helped him down the broken ladder, Dennis explaining the position
as he hopped between them.

"Can't say I fancy that drop you speak of, with this gammy leg of mine,"
said Bob ruefully; "but I must chance it. I suppose you haven't got a
coil of rope concealed about your valuable person, Hawke?"

"Not arf, I 'aven't, sir," grinned the practical one, unfastening one
end of the Mauser sling and tying the other round the last rung. "I
reckon this'll do us."

"Bravo, Hawke," said Dennis gratefully. "Now then, Bob."

"No, you go first, old man."

"See you hanged before I do," was Dennis's blunt response, and with an
"Oh, very well," Bob Dashwood grabbed the leather sling, and, lowering
himself to the ground, was caught by Tiddler in his outstretched arms.

The other two dropped at the same moment, Dennis smothering a groan as
his head seemed to open and shut from the jar.

"It'll save time, sir, if you'll carry my pack," said Harry Hawke, with
a backward glance at the brewery. "Make a chair, Tid, and look slippy";
and before he quite knew what was happening the two privates had joined
hands, and Bob Dashwood was being carried forward at a run across that
deadly No Man's Land.

"First stop, British trench, Tiddler!" sang out the irrepressible Hawke,
as they blundered along the side of a crater. "We'd given you up as a
bad job, sir. Lord! You ought to see A Company. Don't believe there's
more than thirty of us left." And a strain of gloomy seriousness
vibrated in the speaker's voice.

"Yes, I know," said Captain Bob savagely, adding sharply, "Bear away to
the left here."

"Beg pardon, sir, but that's our trench yonder," expostulated his
bearers.

"Quite so," said Bob Dashwood. "But do you hear that?"

Under the perpetual thunder of the guns a sudden low roar came out of
the darkness at right angles to the trench for which they had been
making--the eager clamouring of hoarse voices, and many of them.

"That's the Australian Division on its way to storm that infernal
brewery, and we must stop them at any cost."

"Lumme! They'll want a bit of stopping," muttered Tiddler through his
nose. "They're more likely to stop us. Them Anzac blokes don't let much
grass grow in front of their bayonets."

"Dennis," sang out the Captain, "get on ahead and see what you can do
with them; and you, lads, put me down and go forward with my brother.
I'm only an incubus."

"No, sir," replied Harry Hawke firmly. "You ain't no nincompoop. It's
only an orficer's voice those chaps will listen to. We'll carry you
right enough."

The trench from which the Australian Division was advancing branched off
northward, and as Dennis sprinted forward to meet them he could make out
the first rush tearing across the broken ground, yelling like fiends.

Still running, he shrilled out the order to halt on his whistle again
and again, without result, and then as a hand gripped his throat, he
felt the cold barrel of a revolver clapped to his throbbing forehead,
and an angry voice with a colonial twang in it cried, "Who are you,
blowing calls on our front? Is this another German wheeze?"

"I am an officer of the Reedshires, and we've had it badly!" shouted
Dennis, as he clutched his opponent in his turn. "We're pretty well
wiped out, but it's nothing to what you'll get if you don't stop your
men. That building you're making for is mined. The moment you reach it
they'll blow the whole show sky high."

"Nonsense, you're pulling my leg," said the voice incredulously. "Don't
you know we're making history?"

"History be blowed! You're making fools of yourselves!" cried the lad.
"Loose my throat, or I'll let you have it!"

"Hallo, that sounds like Dennis Dashwood!" said another voice out of the
surge that raced by them, and a broad-shouldered corporal pulled up
short.

"What, Dunn--do you know this man?" said the Australian Captain,
releasing his grip.

"Yes, sir, he's my cousin," said Dan Dunn. "What's wrong, Dennis?"

Dennis hurriedly repeated his warning, and as three rockets sailing up
from the German lines showed Bob and his bearers shouldering their way
perilously forward within an ace of being bayoneted at every step,
Captain Dashwood lifted up his voice, and the two privates joined in.

The testimony was overwhelming, and although the fire-eating Anzacker
was only half convinced, he reluctantly blew a call, and told Corporal
Dunn to find the C.O.

"If you've made a fool of us you'll have to go through the hoop," said
the Australian savagely, as the call was taken up along the charging
line, which flattened out and said things loudly.

And then the angry Captain suddenly thrust out his hand.

"Sorry, old man," he said. "You were right, and I take it all back."

There was no malice in the hearty squeeze with which Dennis met the
proffered fingers as they all flung themselves on their faces.

       *       *       *       *       *

Von Dussel, half blinded by a British shell which dropped close beside
him as he knelt, knew that to stay any longer was to court death.
Something had happened to delay the expected division, but he had a
little matter of private revenge which must not be neglected.

"Now, you Dashwoods, you! You have interfered with me too long," he
muttered with a vindictive glitter in his grey eyes. "Up you go!" And he
fired the fuse!

There was a dull boom. A strange shiver seemed to pass over all that
shell-torn ground, and with an extraordinary roar the earth lifted
skyward, thousands of tons of it rising in a weird black mass flecked
with tongues of crimson flame. Higher and higher it mounted, preceded by
dense black smoke that afterwards hung for an hour or more above the
battlefield. Woods and trenches, men lying out dead in the open--the
whole landscape was reddened by the glare, and as it faded out the
debris from the explosion rained over a wide radius in a deadly shower.

Chimney, buildings, barbed wire, everything had disappeared, and where
the brewery had stood the moment before a huge crater now yawned.

"You admit there was something in it, after all," said Dennis, unable
to repress a ring of exultation in his voice.

"Gee-whiz! I'll admit anything you like," replied his new acquaintance.
"There would have been some heavy hearts in Queensland if you hadn't
come along to-night. But, say, there goes the order for us to occupy
that hole. See you later on, I hope, Dashwood."

"I hope so," responded Dennis, as the Australian Division sprang up and
bolted forward to dig themselves in.

"Now, lads, if you don't mind giving me another lift," said Bob. "It's
about time we were getting home. What do you say, Dennis?"

Dennis said nothing. He was holding his head in both hands; that last
explosion had left him more than ever convinced that it would fall into
two halves if he were not very careful.

And meanwhile, Von Dussel, with an evil grin, was making his way to the
German headquarters to report to General Von Bingenhammer that an
English shell had exploded the mine before the Anzac Division had
reached the brewery.

"Ah, you Dashwoods, you!" he murmured, rolling the name round his tongue
as though it were a sweetmeat, "I should like to go to sleep, for I am
very tired, but I should not like to be sleeping as sound as you.
Himmel! You must have lived a lifetime in that last half-hour on earth!"

Somewhere about the moment when the scoundrel was indulging in those
pleasant reflections, Bob's bearers had reached the British parapet,
and, helping the Captain over, they set him down for a moment with a
grunt of relief.

"I have no words for you, boys," he said. "But your devotion shall not
be forgotten."

"'Arf a mo, sir," interrupted Harry Hawke, with an expressive wink at
Tiddler, and they had him up again between them in the twinkle of an
eye.

"No, no," expostulated Bob Dashwood. "I shall do very well now."

"Yus, sir, but we shan't!" said Hawke, with a sheepish grin. "We must
carry you a bit farther to save our skins"; and a light began to dawn on
their officer.

Farther along the trench, which spades and feverish hands were
strengthening, two men stood, and the Senior Captain knew that the
moment he dreaded had come.

Brigadier-General Dashwood, very set and stern, his heart struggling
between pride at the fine fight his battalion had put up and sorrow at
the heavy losses they had sustained, cleared his throat as he put a
question to the other man.

With the Brigadier it was duty first and private interest afterwards,
but now that everything had been done he spoke.

"By the way, Littlewood, I don't see either of my boys," he said; and a
spasm crossed the face of the Senior Captain as he looked out over the
parapet.

"Where are Bob and Dennis, Littlewood?" repeated the Brigadier.

"Here we are, sir!" said a laughing voice out of the darkness. "We're
both a bit bent, but we're safe and sound for all that"; and Captain
Littlewood echoed the Brigadier's hearty "Thank God!" as Hawke and
Tiddler dumped their burden down before them.

Hands met, and the lieutenant, who had taken over the command of the
survivors of A Company, and who had come up at the moment, felt the
muscles of his throat tighten, and became very duty-struck to cover his
emotions.

"Is that you, Hawke?" he said sharply. "Do you mean to say you disobeyed
my orders and left the trench?"

"Captain Dashwood--sir!" said Harry Hawke, with a ring of ill-used
innocence in his husky voice, "didn't we pick you up at the other end of
this trench when you tumbled over the sandbags? And didn't you say you
was all right, sir, but we would carry you?"

"Perfectly true, Hawke, that's a fact," said Captain Bob, the light
strong upon him now; and no one saw the grip that fell on Harry Hawke's
wrist, a grip that cemented the friendship between officer and man for
ever and a day.

"Very well," said the lieutenant. "Get back to your company now--or all
that's left of it"; and as the two rascals hurried away he looked from
Bob to Dennis, and said, with a laugh of immense relief in the words of
Galileo of old, "All right, you beggars, 'but it moves for all that!'"



CHAPTER XXII

The Row in the Restaurant


"Stand down, Reedshires! File off by your right!" And the shattered
remnant of that fine battalion groped its way along a broken
communication trench to the rear, as a fresh battalion from the reserves
took over the trench they had won at such terrible cost.

They carried Bob Dashwood with them, and Dennis stumbled along like one
in a dream; back past the shell-torn wood, through the village, or
rather, the village heaps, and so to the rear, where they were to go
into billets until the drafts should bring them up to fighting strength
again.

It was a toilsome march, and the little band seemed strangely
insignificant as it passed other eager battalions hurrying up into the
firing line, all eleven hundred strong, some even more.

One of these came swinging by, singing a lusty chorus: "We're
here--because we're here--because we're here--because we're here!" etc.,
and a voice called out, "What cheer, mateys--who are you?"

"The Royal Reedshires!" was the proud reply. "What's your crowd?"

"Dirty Dick's!"

"Then good luck to you"; and Harry Hawke, remembering a certain famous
hostelry in his native land of Shoreditch, felt a fierce thirst come
over him.

"I'd give somethink to be in Dirty Dick's just na'--wouldn't you,
Cockie?" he murmured hoarsely to his left-hand file.

"Not 'arf, I wouldn't," responded Tiddler with a great gulp.

Before long they left our own batteries behind them, and the roar of the
firing, which never ceased, grew muffled in the distance.

They turned aside after a while, for the road was wanted for the motor
ambulances carrying their loads of maimed and mangled men from the
advanced dressing-stations to the Divisional Field Hospital, and meeting
them were the big lorries rushing up food, their headlights shining
brightly in long perspective until the approach of dawn extinguished
them.

Then, when the grey light stole over the gently undulating country,
officers and men looked at each other and at the battalion, and the
tired faces were wan and sunken with something that was not mere
physical fatigue.

The C.O., with his keen smile, and well-waxed little grey moustache, was
no longer in his accustomed place; "Nobby" Clark, who sang such good
songs at their improvised smokers, would never sing to them any more. As
for A Company, reduced to little more than a platoon and a half, it
straggled along like a sort of ragged advance guard, savage and
sleepy--oh, so sleepy, and covered with dust from head to heel, which
did not hide the ugly red splotches and smears that told of fierce grips
and the "haymaker's lift."

But at last they reached the little village, which was the end of the
journey, and broke off and crowded into a big barn that they had once
occupied before; and Dennis, who had tottered along without seeing
anything through his staring eyes for the last mile and more, tripped
and fell on his face, and lay so still that no one worried about him.

Very few of them worried about anything, as a matter of fact; even the
ration parties provoked no enthusiasm. All they wanted was to sleep, and
on many of the war-grimed faces was a smile of satisfied content. They
had helped to lift the curtain of the Great Push, and it had been
completely successful.

When Dennis opened his eyes, or rather, when he was conscious of opening
them, he found Bob standing beside him with a colonel of the R.A.M.C.

"They're not hurrying themselves over that dinner," said Dennis. "I'm
just as hungry as a hollow dog."

"He'll do," said the army doctor. "But for all that, a run home won't
hurt him."

"A run where, sir?" exclaimed Dennis, sitting bolt upright. "The thing's
only just beginning."

"For all that, my dear lad, you came very near making an end of it. Do
you know you've had a slight concussion and lay unconscious for two
days? But you're all right now, and you're going back to town for a week
with your brother. The Push will be going on when you return, and you
will be able to take up the thread where you left it."

The Colonel nodded with a friendly smile and went away, adding over his
shoulder, "I'll make out the papers at once, and you can both of you
get away by the next train that leaves railhead."

The next few hours were a dream to Dennis Dashwood, and when he had put
on a fresh uniform, which his man had mysteriously procured, and had
satisfied his terrific craving for food, Bob told him that our advance
was steadily pushing forward, and the weight of our superior artillery
was making itself irresistibly felt.

"Fact is, old man," said the Captain, "if you hadn't had an uncommonly
thick head you'd have gone under, and the P.M.O.'s quite right. A week
at home is absolutely necessary to set you up. My leg will be better at
the end of that time, and we shall both come back with the draft as fit
as fiddles."

Dennis groaned, but he felt the truth of what his brother said, and,
whisked down to the port of embarkation, they crossed the Channel with
an escort of T.B.D.'s, and both experienced that glorious thrill which
strikes every Englishman worthy of the name when the white cliffs of the
Old Country grow nearer and nearer.

Some day someone will write the epic of the Straits of Dover, and it
will be worth the reading.

The moment they had set foot on shore they were consumed by a terrific
impatience to reach their journey's end. But at last the hospital train
slowed up at Charing Cross, and their taxi passed between the double
crowd which every day waited to see the arrival of the wounded.

"Can you believe it, old chap?" said Bob, as they whirled through the
heavy summer foliage of Regent's Park and came to a halt.

"I've passed beyond that stage when anything surprises me, Den," laughed
his brother. "I believe if I woke up some morning and found myself on
the top of St. Paul's I should simply look upon it as an observation
post, and proceed accordingly."

He broke off as the glass doors opened and a well-known figure came out
on to the steps, and the next moment Mrs. Dashwood was in the arms of
her two soldier sons.

Their arrival had been witnessed from the window of the schoolroom, and
the new governess was powerless to repress the joyful yell or to check
the stampede as her young charges tore down the stairs.

"I've got something for you in my haversack, Billy," laughed Dennis,
producing a German helmet minus the spike; and what with buttons and
bits of shells, when the small fry retired to resume their study of
French irregular verbs it is to be feared the verbs were even more
irregular than usual.

The talk of the elders naturally turned on the Von Dussels, and Mrs.
Dashwood listened with bated breath to the account of their various
meetings with the German spy.

"I suppose you've seen nothing more of Madame Ottilie of the big eyes?"
laughed Bob.

"I am certain that I passed her at the Piccadilly Tube station two days
ago," said Mrs. Dashwood. "But she has dyed her hair red. I am convinced
it was the woman, and she knew that I recognised her. Oh, it is a shame
that these people are allowed to remain in our midst with their
wonderful system of transmitting intelligence."

"Well, I don't think their intelligence is likely to help them now,"
said Dennis. "We've got the beggars set. We've proved that, man to man,
our fellows are miles better than the enemy, and it's only a matter of
time. Whatever we take now, we retain--no falling back as in the old
days. And, by Jove, mater, you should just hear our artillery!"

"I hear it every day, sleeping and waking," said his mother, putting her
hands to her ears. "And oh, how I wish your dear father had been with
you! He hasn't had a day's leave since the war started."

"And I'm afraid he isn't likely to put in for one," said Bob. "The
Governor's great idea is to stick to his job. He's made our brigade one
of the finest in the Army, and they just worship him out there."

How the time flew!--faster even than the week's kit leave that had
brought Dennis home before--and though Bob still walked with a slight
halt, his leg was getting better every day; while Dennis openly declared
that it was simply absurd to have given him leave at all.

"Look here, old chap," said the Captain on Monday, "I'm going up to the
War Office to-day to report myself fit and receive my orders about
taking that draft over. Of course, it's delightful to be at home again,
but there's no earthly reason why we should put in our full leave and
feel that we're slacking."

"Right-o!" responded Dennis promptly, "I want to buy one or two things
to take over, and I'll come into town with you."

Mrs. Dashwood's heart beat quicker, but she made no attempt to stand in
their way, feeling secretly proud of their eagerness, and the two
brothers parted outside the Strand Tube, having arranged to meet at a
certain well-known restaurant at a given time. It was easier to get into
the War Office than to get out of it, and Dennis, his own mission
accomplished, was cooling his heels outside the appointed rendezvous
when someone tapped him on the shoulder.

"I thought I couldn't be mistaken, Dashwood," cried a cheery voice.

"What, Wetherby, old chap!" And Dennis looked at the badge on the
brand-new uniform of the lad who had accosted him. "Great Scott! Have
they sent you to ours?" And his old schoolfellow grinned delightedly.

"Yes, I've just been getting my things. Left the O.T.C. last week--join
the reserve battalion to-morrow."

"And if I've anything to say about it, you'll come out with the draft on
Wednesday. Bob will work that for you. Remember Bob, of course? Look
here, I'm waiting for him now. Let's go in here and have some grub. He's
bound to turn up in a few minutes"; and linking his arm in that of his
old schoolfellow, they passed into the restaurant together.

"The Red Tulips" was filling up rapidly, but they secured a little
table, and turned down a chair for Bob. It was a gay place, all gilt and
glitter, with a string band on one side of the long hall, and at
hundreds of other little tables well-dressed people were lunching, a
goodly sprinkling of officers in uniform among them.

At the next table to their own was a stout Major, whom Dennis instantly
identified as a "dug-out."

His face was flushed and he was talking loudly, names of battalions
flowing glibly from his well-oiled tongue. His companions were an
over-dressed lady and a young "nut" who ought to have been in uniform.

"There's no doubt about it," said the Major. "My battalion--the
Sloggers, you know--absolutely take the biscuit. The --th are a very
decent crush, and so are the --th and the --th. They make up our
brigade, you know. I shall just get back in time, and as soon as I
arrive we have orders to leave Barbillier to support Dashwood's Brigade,
which has been awfully cut up in this last business."

"Confound that old gasbag!" muttered Dennis, leaning across the table to
Wetherby. "That's the way information gets about--he's no right to be
talking like that."

"Certainly not," replied Wetherby, "but I think they're going now. That
waitress girl is making out the bill--a pretty long one, too--she's been
writing hard for the last five minutes."

"You see, what really happened was this," continued the red-faced Major,
"Dashwood's Brigade was at ----"

"You'll excuse me, sir," said a voice, "but I happen to be in Dashwood's
Brigade, and we're not at all anxious that our movements should be given
broadcast in a place like this."

"Eh, what!" stuttered the field officer, looking at the single star
that adorned Dennis's cuff, and waxing furious. "What the dickens is the
service coming to? Do you know who I am, sir?" And he fixed his eyeglass
into the frown that was intended to slay this young whippersnapper who
presumed to dictate to a man with a crown on his shoulder.

But Dennis made no reply, for his eyes were resting on the white-aproned
waitress, who was busy with her pay-book, and he saw two things.

One was that it was no bill she was making out; the other, that the red
hair under her coquettish little cap matched oddly with the great black
eyes that were bent on her writing.

"Pardon me," he said, striding behind the Major's chair; and as his hand
stretched forward for the pay-book the waitress looked up, and he knew
that it was Ottilie Von Dussel!

"You here!" he exclaimed, and the perforated leaf on which she had been
writing came away in his fingers as she closed the book.

She gave a little cry, and one of the musicians stepped down from the
platform and came up to them.

"You must not make a disturbance here, sir," he said rudely, and the
next moment he was flung back across an adjoining table with a cut lip.

Dennis swung round as people sprang to their feet, but Ottilie Von
Dussel was making her way swiftly towards a neighbouring door.

"Stop that woman!" he shouted. "She is a German spy!" But everybody was
talking at once, and the white cap vanished out of sight.

"I shall report you, sir," thundered Dennis to the loquacious Major,
flourishing the leaf he had secured. "Every word of your conversation
has been written down. There was a carbon in that book, and that
she-fiend has escaped with the duplicate. Within forty-eight hours the
German headquarters will receive information that may cost us a thousand
lives!"



CHAPTER XXIII

"Gas!"


The hubbub in the restaurant was tremendous. Well-dressed people can
jostle and clamour and crush just as selfishly as anybody else, and
those of the lunchers who were not near enough stood up on their chairs
to get a better view.

The musician picked himself up with a fried sole embossed on the back of
his dress coat and two portions of hot soup running down his neck, to
say nothing of blobs of mashed potato and the contents of overturned
cruets all over him.

"I've got one of you, anyhow," said Dennis in German, as he seized him
by the collar. "You'd better have sat tight among your fiddles, and
allowed Madame von Dussel to play her own dirty game."

If the musician's look could have killed, there would have been another
vacancy in the Reedshires.

The cause of all the tumult confronted Dennis, purple with indignation,
and began to bluster. But another officer had wormed himself resolutely
forward through the crush.

"I want to know what the deuce you mean, sir!" demanded the indignant
major, but the new-comer interrupted him.

"I am the Assistant Provost-Marshal," he said. "What is the meaning of
this fracas?"

"The explanation is very simple, sir," replied Dennis, handing him the
slip of paper. "My friend and I were astonished to hear this officer
talking so unguardedly. It is charitable to suppose that he has taken
too much wine, and when I expostulated with him I recognised one of the
waitresses as a remarkably clever German spy."

The A.P.M. nodded.

"I gathered that," he said. "I will ask you, gentlemen, to accompany me
to the manager's room." And the excited crowd fell back to let them
pass.

As Dennis brought up the rear with his prisoner he met Bob coming in,
and young Wetherby told him what had happened.

"By Jove! it's a thousand pities we missed that woman," said the
captain. "We haven't seen the end of that vixen and her husband."

What happened in the manager's room it is not for us to reveal, but the
placards of the evening papers had the startling announcement:

  "DRAMATIC CAPTURE OF A GERMAN SPY AT
  A WELL-KNOWN WEST-END RESTAURANT!

  ESCAPE OF HIS FEMALE ACCOMPLICE!
  BRITISH OFFICER'S WINE DRUGGED!"

In the _Gazette_ a few days later was an announcement among the
promotions: "2/12th Royal Reedshire Regiment, Captain Robert Oswald
Dashwood to command the battalion with the rank of major. Second
Lieutenant Dennis Dashwood to lieutenant."

Probably none of the lunchers knew what that meant; it was not their
affair.

       *       *       *       *       *

Up the muddy road swung a brown detachment to the music of mouth organs,
and Harry Hawke, who was lounging at the door of a big barn, chewing a
woodbine and looking fed up with life generally, lifted his snub nose in
the air as the head of the detachment came round a bend in the road.

In an instant the sulky, discontented look vanished from his face, and
he let off a yell.

"Turn out, you beggars!" he yelped. "Tiddler, look at this! 'Ere's our
bloomin' draft at larst. Give 'em a cheer, boys! Now we shan't be long!"

From the barn and the adjacent cottages the Reedshires poured and lined
up at the roadside.

  "Never mind the weather,
   Now then, all together:
   Hallo! Hallo! Here we are again!"

sang the draft, to the accompaniment of the mouth organs, the battalion
joining in with a lusty roar of welcome.

"Lumme, Tiddler! They're a bloomin' fine lot!" was Harry Hawke's
approving comment. "And if there ain't our little 'ero with two blinkin'
stars on 'is blinkin' sleeve! Are we down'earted?"

And eleven hundred and fifty throats gave a thunderous "NO!" as the
draft halted.

Within twenty-four hours of the arrival of the draft the battalion fell
in with packs and rifles. The little pillar-box at the end of the barn,
with the time of the next collection scored in chalk on the wall, had
been filled to overflowing with field post cards for home, and the
Reedshires left their billets to join the brigade again.

It was all new to young Wetherby, and Dennis seemed quite a seasoned
veteran as he pointed out things to his old school chum while they drew
nearer and nearer to the thunder of the guns.

Contalmaison had already been taken with great slaughter before they
reached the firing-line, and the shadows were lengthening as they came
to a captured trench and prepared to make themselves snug for the night.

Dennis and Wetherby were taking possession of a half-demolished dug-out
when Bob made his appearance.

"If you fellows have got any coffee to spare, I'll have some with you,"
said the major. "And I recommend you to turn in all standing, for we're
expecting a big counter-attack from the direction of that wood on our
front. How have you stood the march up, Wetherby? Feel a bit knocked?"

"Nothing to speak of," laughed the new subaltern of A Company. "I'm not
too tired to enjoy the fun when it starts."

"Well, if our informations are correct, you'll see plenty of 'fun,' as
you call it, before sunrise. I've just had a chow with the Governor, and
he's as pleased as Punch that we're up in time, for I think it's going
to be pretty serious. Our airmen have brought news of exceedingly heavy
enemy reinforcements, and the German guns are holding their fire on this
sector, which all points to something."

"How's the wind?" said Dennis, over the rim of his enamelled mug.

"Dead right for Brother Boche," replied Bob, with a smile.

"I don't quite understand," ventured young Wetherby, who, in spite of
the tan of arduous training that browned his clean-shaven, boyish face,
was not ashamed to ask questions.

Like Dennis himself, he was not one of those pert modern boys who think
they know everything.

"What has the wind got to do with it?" said young Wetherby.

"Gas, old chap, gas!" replied the two brothers. "The moment you hear the
alarm, ram on your gas helmet and see the tube is working."

"And by the living Jingo!" cried the major, "there it goes!" And he shot
out of the dug-out into the trench as a man on the look out beat
furiously upon an empty shell-case dangling there for the purpose.

"Pull it right down!" shouted Dennis, giving young Wetherby a helping
hand with his helmet. "Now you're fixed. Wish there was a mirror handy;
you've no idea how well you look in it, old man."

Despite the seriousness of the moment Wetherby roared with laughter
inside the stifling, smelly cowl that made them both seem like familiars
of the Spanish Inquisition.

And then, revolvers in hand, they took their places in the trench and
waited.

"Are you certain it's gas?" said Dennis to Tiddler, who had sounded the
alarm in their front, for beyond the parapet there was a strange
stillness, and the night was as black as your hat.

"Yes, sir; I see it right enough, just as their last flare died down. I
saw it at Hill 60, and I've 'ad some. It'll be 'ere in a tick."

But the enemy was impatient that night, and on a sudden a group of
star-shells burst overhead, lighting everything up brilliantly, and
revealing a long line of grey figures advancing stealthily.

"How do we go now?" inquired Wetherby, as another bunch of star-shells
went up. "Do we wait until they're on top of us?"

"That depends on Bob's judgment," replied Dennis, making himself heard
with some difficulty through the flannel folds of his mask; and while he
was speaking there came the shrill signal for "ten rounds rapid."

As the Lee-Enfields crashed out our machine-guns began to hammer, and
the boy fresh out from England felt a fierce thrill of exultation seize
him, for this was the real thing at last--the thing he had been longing
for so eagerly!

The long grey line seemed to shiver in front of the machine-guns, and
great swathes of the enemy went down. But our trench was on a ridge, and
the rear ranks filling up the gaps with a precision that astonished
young Wetherby, the German line began to mount the slope, breaking into
the double.

Dennis suddenly gripped his arm.

"Yes, what is it?" cried the boy, as the "Cease fire" blew and was
immediately followed by another signal.

"Reedshires, get over!" shouted Dennis. "That's what it is. Good old
Bob! He's a beggar for the cold steel. Come on, Wetherby! There's a fine
bit of free wheel for us--all down hill and a walk over at the bottom.
Charge, boys, charge!"

Looking like demons suddenly gone mad, the battalion let go a muffled
yell, and tore down the slope to meet those other demons, still more
hideous in the steel-faced masks they wore as a protection against their
own gas; and at the end of a dozen strides brown and grey mingled with a
terrific shock.

"Jove, what a ripping scrum!" laughed Wetherby, as he and Dennis plunged
into the struggling mass of men; and when his revolver was empty he
wrenched a Mauser and bayonet from one of the enemy and used them.

The Reedshires were fresh, and made up for that lost time in billets,
yielding not an inch, but forcing the Germans farther and farther down
the slope, until they broke and ran.

They were artful enough to avoid the shell holes, where the gas lay
thick; but they had little time to pick and choose their way, for the
relentless Reedshires clung to their heels so closely that our
machine-guns had to cease fire.

Here and there, where the fugitive mob was tightly wedged in some narrow
gap between a couple of yawning craters, the rearmost of them would turn
at bay, and at just such a place, scarcely wide enough for two men to
pass abreast, young Wetherby overtook a hefty little private tackling a
huge German, who towered head and shoulders above him.

It was impossible to get by until that single combat should be ended;
but as Wetherby paused the big German made a circling swipe with his
rifle, and his bayonet tore a great gash in the Reedshire's gas helmet.
The little man in jumping back lost his balance, and rolled head over
heels into one of the craters, his adversary resuming his flight at the
sight of young Wetherby, who dropped him with a bullet in the back.

The splendid pluck with which the little man had tackled the giant had
appealed to Wetherby's sporting instincts, and realising the hideous
death that lurked in the bottom of the shell hole, he sprang down to his
assistance, and found Tiddler--for it was he--grasping the torn mask
with both hands, while he vainly struggled to scramble out.

But the earth crumbled under his feet, and, already exhausted, the
doomed man sank on his knees, and looked wildly round for help.

He should by rights have had a spare helmet in his haversack, but the
careless fellow had lost it when they were in billets.

"Go back!" he gasped with a wave of his arm; but the officer boy was no
fool, and, opening his wallet, he forced his own spare mask over
Tiddler's head and dragged him to his feet again.

A German lay writhing in fearful convulsions beside them, and young
Wetherby pointed to that terrible object lesson.

"Come on!" he shouted. "Never mind your gun." And, seizing him by the
arm, the pair struggled panting together up the precipitous side of the
hole.

"It's all right up here--the gas has passed over!" shouted Tiddler's
rescuer. And away he bolted, leaving the grateful man to recover his
breath and pick up a spare rifle.



CHAPTER XXIV

The Château at the Trench End


The wake of the battalion was marked at every stride by enemy dead and
wounded, and when Wetherby overtook them he found them bayoneting and
bombing their way along a zigzag trench, and Harry Hawke in the act of
scoring "2/12th R.R." on the shield of a captured machine-gun with the
point of his dripping weapon.

"Where is Mr. Dashwood?" cried young Wetherby.

"Straight ahead, sir. 'Follow the tram-lines,' and you can't miss him!"
And Harry Hawke pointed with a grin to the zigzag trench.

They ran together along the broken parapet as the explosion of the hand
bombs suddenly ceased, and from the way the battalion was crowded in the
trench below them with a goodly assortment of unwounded prisoners,
progress seemed to have been checked for a moment.

Stumbling over bodies, and every now and then getting entangled among
strands of broken wire; blundering down into some trench-mortar hole and
up again at the other side, Wetherby and Hawke at length came upon Bob
Dashwood and Dennis, where the trench ended abruptly without any
apparent rhyme or reason.

"Hallo, what's up?" Wetherby called, removing his mask and putting on
his helmet, seeing that his brother officers had done the same, the
battalion being now beyond the gas zone.

"Wait a minute," replied Dennis. "They'll send up another flare, and
then you'll see."

Overhead soared a rocket from the German lines, and as the light made
everything grotesquely visible, the outline of a building showed blackly
fifty yards from the trench end.

It was a small château, which, from its position in a fold of the ground
behind a little ridge, had somehow escaped the havoc of our bombardment.

The ridge round which the trench end curved had been ploughed and
mangled and heaped up into a ragged contour, but beyond some gaping
holes in the high-pitched slate roof and a yawning gap in the northern
wing, the château stood behind a tall wall, with an iron gate obligingly
open, as if inviting them to enter.

"You see what's happened," explained the O.C. "The place would be so
obviously dominated by the capture of this ridge that the beggars
haven't thought it worth while turning it into a redoubt. It's very
tempting, but it might prove a death-trap if they've got their heavy
guns trained on it."

"There's another thing," said Dennis in further explanation to Wetherby.
"We've taken about a couple of hundred prisoners, and killed somewhere
about the same number, but the rest of the enemy battalion has
mysteriously disappeared. We've bombed all the dug-outs we can find, but
there's one we must have missed, and the bulk of them have got clear
away somehow. What are you going to do, Bob?"

Bob Dashwood lit a cigarette before he replied. Then he reloaded his
revolver.

"Those two runners should have reached our supports," he said; "and the
field wire will be coming up now. We'll chance our arm, Den, and take
possession of the place. Come on, Reedshires!" And he climbed out.

Another rush of brown figures ran forward to the big gate, and Hawke,
who was the first to reach it, held up a warning hand as he thrust his
head round one of the brick piers, expecting nothing less than
machine-guns.

But the place seemed deserted, although the trampled garden bore every
sign of recent occupation. A bullock had been slaughtered by the
fountain, and its horns and hide lay there. The flower beds had been
ruthlessly trodden under foot, but a wealth of beautiful blossom still
remained, and Harry Hawke plucked a Gloire de Dijon rose and chewed the
stem between his teeth as he scampered up the grass slope on to the
terrace.

The front door was wide open, as were several of the white casement
windows, and from a magnificent candelabra suspended from the ceiling of
the hall guttering candles threw a blaze of yellow light on to the tiled
floor.

Even Hawke gaped with astonishment at the gorgeous gilded decorations of
the walls and the white marble staircase that led to the upper floor.

"Why, it's like Madame Tussord's arter yer paid yer bob to go in," he
said.

"And they've made a chamber of horrors of it," muttered Dennis, who
overheard him, as he looked at the shattered mirrors, the full-length
portraits fluttering in rags in their frames, and the gilt furniture,
whose upholstery of silk brocade showed the traces of muddy boots and
spurred heels.

One end of the hall was taken up by a huge open fireplace carved with
life-size figures of laughing nymphs and fawns, and, with that coarse
imbecility which passes current in Germany for humour, some wag had
daubed the noses of the figures with vermilion.

Empty wine bottles lay beside a priceless marquetry table, whose top had
been burned with cigar ends; and as the men scattered rapidly through
the adjoining rooms, they found everywhere traces of German "kultur"
which the vandals had left behind them.

Upstairs it was the same thing; hangings torn and slashed for the mere
lust of destruction, smashed china, objectionable caricatures scrawled
upon the walls, and upon the open grand piano in the _salon_ a copy of
the _Hymn of Hate_, with a half-smoked cigarette beside it.

"The beasts!" exclaimed young Wetherby, hot with indignation. "Wouldn't
you like to turn our chaps loose in the Kaiser's palace at Potsdam,
Dashwood?"

"My dear chap," said Dennis, "they wouldn't touch a thing if you did.
It's only the Prussians who behave like this. Our fellows are gentlemen.
At the same time, I know what you mean, and it makes one sick."

They went rapidly from room to room, A Company having been entrusted
with the examination of the château, while Bob halted the rest of the
battalion in the grounds until they had satisfied themselves that the
house was empty.

Bob was making a tour of inspection round the high brick wall to
discover what possibilities there might exist of defending it in case of
attack, and he and one of the platoon commanders who accompanied him had
just reached the stabling, which was some distance from the house, when
a sudden hubbub came from the château itself.

"Hallo, they've found something," he said to his companion. And they ran
back; but before they could reach the terrace firing mingled with the
roar of voices, and above the rattle of Mausers rose the bark of a
machine-gun.

There were perhaps sixty or seventy men of A Company in the upper part
of the house when that hubbub arose; and, rushing out on to the gallery
that surrounded the entrance hall, Dennis and Wetherby found the floor
beneath them swarming with German infantry in the act of running a
couple of machine-guns forward from the huge fireplace.

They belonged to the same battalion which had so mysteriously
disappeared, and it was obvious that in their subterranean excavations
the Germans must have come upon a secret passage, old as the château
itself, and connected it up with their new works.

The back of the fireplace opened and revealed a black cavity, which
vomited a never-ending horde in the wake of the machine-guns, one of
which was slued round to command the garden, while the other was placed
at an open window, and was the first to fire.

"This is going to be very hot stuff!" shouted Dennis above the deafening
din, as the men of A Company came running on to the gallery. "Be
steady, lads, and let 'em have it."

They lined up at the gilded balustrade, and fired down into the mob
below them. A sea of upturned faces was turned to the gallery, and a
stout Prussian officer, who took very good care to jump back under the
shelter of the fireplace, pointed frantically to the marble stair and
bellowed out a command.

"Quick! Lend a hand, Wetherby!" shouted Dennis, seizing the end of a
large settee. "Hawke, Davis, Johnson, bring all the heavy stuff you can
find in that room behind us!" And as they dragged the settee across the
head of the staircase, volunteers rushed into the adjoining rooms,
staggering out again with chairs and tables to add to the barricade.

They were in the nick of time, for the enemy came boldly up the
staircase five abreast.

"Carry on, lads!" cried Dennis. "And you stay here with them, Wetherby.
I'll be back in a brace of shakes." And he ran round the gallery until
he came opposite to the machine-guns, which were pouring their hail of
death into the darkness of the garden.

"This has got to be stopped," he muttered grimly between his teeth. And,
groping in his bomb wallet, he took one out, withdrew the pin, and
pitched the missile to the other side of the hall.

It dropped where he had intended it should drop--immediately beneath the
machine-gun at the open door, one of the gun crew trying to pick it up
with a shout of warning to his comrades; but he was too late, and as his
fingers grasped it there was a terrific explosion.

The man who was firing fell backwards on to the marble floor, both his
legs blown off, and a circle of grey-green heaps surrounded him.

Before another man could spring into his place there was a heartening
yell from the darkness, and the Reedshires poured in, their bayonets
flashing in the candlelight.

Dennis had hoped to put the second gun out of action, but the thing was
too risky for his own men, who were smashing their way into the crowd of
Germans that filled the hall.

Besides, something closer at hand claimed his attention, for, in spite
of A Company's fire, the head of the storming party had reached that
slender barrier, and were already laying hands on the piled-up furniture
at the top of the staircase.

He had two bombs left, and, with a shout of warning, he flung them one
after another on to the crowded stair. The effect was appalling, for
they burst almost simultaneously, rending the gilded balustrade into a
hundred pieces, and pouring an avalanche of mangled bodies on to the
heads of the rest below.

Harry Hawke signalised his delight by hurling a heavy chair down the
staircase, and in a trice the barricade was torn aside, and A Company
went down with the bayonet to do their bit.

Taken in the rear, the crew of the second machine-gun fought gamely
enough; but the thing was a matter of moments, and, seized with
excusable panic, the Prussian battalion fled back again into the passage
behind the fireplace.

There was no need for Bob Dashwood to give any command, for strong arms
had already seized the gun, and, sluing it round, pointed it at the
opening.

A sergeant sprang into the operator's seat, but before he could fire, a
crowd of white-faced men, with hands raised above their heads, came
running out of the secret passage, crying: "Mercy, mercy!"

"Shall I let her go, sir?" said the sergeant, with a red gleam in his
eye.

"Not unless they play any tricks," said Major Dashwood.

He stood there, revolver in hand, and as they filed past him, all the
fight gone out of them now, he counted 580 prisoners, including 20
unwounded officers.

"I am the colonel commanding this battalion," said a black-moustached
Prussian haughtily. "I shall, of course, be permitted to keep my sword."

"No; hand it over and fall in with the rest of your men," said the major
coldly. "And be thankful you are permitted to keep the clothes you stand
in."

Within half an hour, thanks to the magnificent energy of our Royal
Engineers, a message had been 'phoned to the brigadier, and the answer
came back: "Bravo, my boy! Send an officer to me who can explain the
exact position verbally, and one who speaks German, who will be useful
in interrogating your capture. Let me have Dennis if you can spare him."

That was why, very much against his own inclination, Dennis accompanied
the long column of disarmed men that found its way under escort to
brigade headquarters just as the dawn was breaking, passing a joyous
battalion sent up by the brigadier to consolidate the splendid gains of
his beloved Reedshires.

Dennis woke at noon in his father's dug-out.

"I want you to stay here until I get an answer from the general,
Dennis," said the brigadier. "If you've never seen the workings of a
kite balloon, they're just sending one up over yonder. You'll probably
be able to join Bob inside an hour."

Behind a little hollow, close to brigade headquarters, Dennis saw the
section busy about the huge sausage-shaped observation balloon, which
had been hurried up to direct some batteries already concealing
themselves in the vicinity.

"This is the sort of job that would try the nerves of some of you foot
sloggers," said a perky little officer, as the lieutenant approached.
"By Jove, we're a bit too close to be pleasant! Would you like to go up
with me?"

There was something in the observer's tone that rather nettled his
hearer, and Dennis replied promptly: "I should like it very much, if you
mean it?" without giving a thought on the spur of the moment as to how
long the balloon would remain in the air.

"Of course I mean it. Come on!" And as Dennis flung his leg over the
edge of the basket the perky youngster gave the order to let her go.

The steel cable began to unwind as the men of the section loosed their
hold, and Dennis soon enjoyed the novel experience of seeing the
panorama unfold beneath him, and identifying the white-walled château
they had captured the night before.

At an altitude of two thousand feet the observer 'phoned down to the men
at the windlass to stop. A stiff wind was blowing, but the "sausage"
behaved itself well until, as the observation officer turned to Dennis
with a cheery laugh, something passed screaming beneath them and burst!

Some fragments of shrapnel struck the bottom of the basket; but that was
not all. The shell had hit the cable fair and square, the observation
officer's laugh changed to a shout of consternation as it snapped, and
with an upward jerk the freed balloon floated away towards the German
lines!



CHAPTER XXV

From Kite Balloon to Saddle


The two occupants clung to the side of the padded basket, from which it
was a marvel they had not been flung by the sudden upward rush of the
huge sausage-shaped envelope above their heads.

The observer's face was very white, but he pulled himself together
pluckily enough, and took the now useless receivers from his ears.

"I'm awfully sorry to have got you into this mess, old man," he said
apologetically.

"It isn't a bit of use being sorry," snapped Dennis. "Get a move on you!
What's the best thing to be done?"

The sharp anger in his companion's voice acted like a tonic, and the
observation officer pulled a cord.

"I don't think it's an atom of good, for all that," he volunteered
doubtfully. "It's a thousand chances to one, with this breeze, that we
shall drop on our side of the fence, and those blessed guns of theirs
have got us set. Look at that!"

A shrapnel burst above them, and as its fleecy white cloud unrolled
there were two more bursts, one immediately below, which carried away
the parachute, the other about eighty yards to the left.

"Beggars who fire on the wounded are not likely to miss such a target as
we make, although it must be perfectly clear to them that we're coming
down," said the youngster between his teeth.

"And suppose they hit us?" questioned Dennis.

"Why, we'll burst, that's all, and descend in flames, with death at the
end of the drop and no glory attached to it."

"I wish you'd been in Jerusalem before you asked me to come on this
fool's errand!" exclaimed Dennis.

"I shouldn't mind being in Jerusalem just now," said his companion; and
somehow they both laughed.

The valve at the nose of the sausage was releasing hydrogen, and the
kite balloon dropped slowly as the envelope became deflated. But the
wind increased, and already Dennis saw through his glasses the château
and the wood pass under them.

"I'd half a hope," he said gloomily, "that we might have come to ground
near that house. My battalion's there; we took the blooming place last
night."

Luckily the wind buffeted them in an irregular course, and the shrapnel
flew wide. Seven shells in all were fired at them, and then, ammunition
being precious to the enemy, word was evidently given to cease.

It was no use wasting any more on an object whose capture was certain in
a few minutes; and lower and lower they dropped, until the observer
slackened his pull on the valve cord.

"We may as well save our necks," he interjected over his shoulder. "I
wonder if we shall clear that wood?"

Below them stretched a great irregular patch of trees, through which
alleys had been torn by our own guns, although much of the wood was
still standing, and already a hoarse roar of voices came up to their
ears as the enemy lining a trench cheered their misfortune.

"We're dropping right into the trees," said Dennis. "Can't we do
anything? Are there no means of guiding this brute?"

"None at all," was the reply. "We're entirely at the mercy of the wind;
and look out if our cable catches, that's all--unless you want to be
jerked into eternity."

They were both peering down over the edge of the basket as he spoke, and
the shouting Germans underneath loosed a volley at the derelict.

Dennis heard the envelope tear in fifty places, and their pace lessened
perceptibly; and then it seemed to him that his companion threw himself
on to the floor of the basket, and he looked at him.

A little red rivulet was flowing from a round hole in the centre of his
forehead, and he realised that the lieutenant had been killed
instantaneously!

It was a moment or two before he ventured to look down again, and,
peeping cautiously over the edge of the car as the cheering became very
distinct, he saw the enemy trench pass out of sight beneath him, and
felt the basket tearing its way among the topmost branches of the wood.

Something had got to be done, he knew; and as the top of a tall tree
rose above the level of his eyes, and the doomed balloon paused with a
sickening jerk, he grasped at a branch, flung himself out, and dangled
there.

Relieved of his weight, the balloon, almost on the point of collapsing,
dragged itself free of the twigs that held it with a last effort, and
floated away to drop on the other side of the wood.

He could hear the excited clamour as men left the trench and ran towards
it; and even in the midst of his extraordinary peril he was fired with a
wild desire to escape.

His manoeuvre had not been seen, and, lowering himself rapidly hand
under hand, he gained the foot of the tree which had proved his
salvation, torn and bleeding, but with every nerve of mind and body on
the alert.

"They've not got me yet!" he muttered, as he looked about him; and,
crawling on hands and knees, crept under the trunk of a fallen tree half
a dozen yards away, where he lay down flat on his face.

The very ground beneath him seemed to shake with every discharge, and
the roar of the firing was continuous. Not only were both sides flinging
a terrific barrage to check the arrival of reinforcements, but half a
dozen isolated actions were taking place at various points of the
extended battle line. From Trônes Wood to Contalmaison Villa heavy
fighting was in progress, and Dennis raged inwardly that by his own
fault he should have neither act nor part in any of it.

Presently, as he lay with his ear to the ground, he caught another sound
much nearer than that of the firing--the thud of men running in heavy
boots in his vicinity; and, worming himself still deeper among the
undergrowth that surrounded the fallen tree, he drew his Webley revolver
and waited.

About a dozen of the enemy came past the tree on either side of it,
peering this way and that, and stirring such brushwood as remained with
their fixed bayonets.

"Pooh!" said one of them, "this is a fool's quest. What is the good of
looking for a man who has got a broken neck by this time?"

"What is the good of the war, I should like to know?" replied one of his
companions. "For my part, I am so sick of this terrible life that I
would willingly surrender."

"You had better not let our captain hear you talk like that, or you will
be shot, my friend," said another of them; "though I dare say, if we
were honest, two-thirds of the battalion would agree with you. But it is
very certain the Englishman is not here, and the sooner we get back the
better."

They passed on; and as the crackle of their going among the bushes died
away quickly, Dennis drew a deep breath of relief. He had no idea where
he was, for the whole of that rolling country was dotted with irregular
patches of woodland, his map case was gone, and the balloon had drifted
considerably to the east before it fell.

He knew it would be wiser for him to wait until nightfall and take
advantage of the moonlight; but the desire to rejoin his men was too
strong to be resisted; and after cautiously peering over the undergrowth
he crept from his concealment, and dodged from bush to bush until he
reached the edge of the wood.

There the hum of voices warned him that he was only a few yards from the
parados of an enemy trench--and not a very deep one at that--for as he
parted the brambles behind which he cowered, he could see the round
forage caps and shaven heads in front of him.

For an hour he lay there, watching and listening, hoping against hope
that our fellows would deliver a frontal attack on the trench, which was
thinly held.

Once, indeed, the alarm was given; the enemy manned the fire-step, and
the machine-gunners were on the _qui vive_; but after a while the
threatened danger had evidently passed, for they stood down again,
greatly relieved.

Every now and then a British shell burst in the wood behind him, tearing
off branches and great strips of bark, and bringing the slender trees
down with a crash.

"This won't do, Dennis Dashwood, my friend," he murmured. "The way is
barred here. Let us see how far their trench extends. I'll swear that
was a British cheer on the left." And he crawled back again deeper into
the trees, whose shadows were now falling in long lines as the afternoon
waned.

Taking his bearings, he worked his way from shell hole to shell hole,
now passing through a belt of timber comparatively unscathed, now
encountering a stretch that had been heavily shelled, where the trees
seemed to stand on their heads with their roots in the air.

Always keeping his eyes on the sky, across which the clouds were
drifting, he suddenly found himself on the edge of a rolling strip of
open country sloping gradually down in what he imagined to be the
direction of the British line; but to attempt to cross it would have
been suicidal, for a rain of German shells burst furiously among the
neglected fields.

The wood, straggling out still eastward, seemed to indicate the route
he must follow; and, without knowing it, he crossed the identical road
our troops had taken earlier in the day when they went up to the capture
of Bazentin village.

If he could only pass the limit of the German barrage he had an idea
that he would find himself among friends before long; and he was right,
although the manner of his meeting them was very unexpected.

He paused as the trees suddenly came to an end, and was astonished to
see a riderless horse trotting towards him. His astonishment increased
as he recognised the saddlery to be British. There was no other living
creature in sight. A waving wheatfield, among which some scarlet poppies
were growing, marked the skyline, beyond which the ground fell away, and
far off in the distance across the wheat was the top of another wood.

"That's a trooper's mount if ever I saw one," said Dennis. And as the
mare, with nostrils distended and ears set forward, neighed loudly, he
jumped out of his concealment and caught her rein.

"Whoa, little lady--steady!" he said soothingly. "Ah, if you could only
speak, and tell me where you have come from!"

He had some difficulty in bringing her to a stand, for she was quivering
from the effects of recent alarm; and he saw a red smear on the leather
wallets, and the saddle flap on the near side had been cut by a bullet.

As he placed his foot in the stirrup and swung himself up, rifle fire
suddenly opened from somewhere beyond the ridge of the wheat. He was
down again in an instant, and leading the mare cautiously forward
through the corn.

Craning his neck above the waving grain, he saw the white line of a
trench farther down the slope, and beyond it, retiring at a hand gallop,
a row of brown dots in extended order, which he knew to be British
cavalry!

A glance had shown him that there was a machine-gun in the trench, and
his course was clear now. He must warn the horsemen if they did not know
it already; and, turning the mare, he led her back out of sight of the
enemy and, mounting, rode off in a wide detour before he put her to top
speed across the open.

The sergeant who had ridden her was lying on his back at the edge of the
cornfield, and the greyness of his face told that he was dead.

"Now, my beauty!" he cried, with a squeeze of his knees. And away he
dashed, taking a barbed wire entanglement like a bird, and coming up
with a little bunch of horsemen re-forming in a hollow.

They were Dragoon Guards, and with them was a detachment of the Deccan
Horse, whose lance-points and steel helmets twinkled in the sunshine,
with here and there a turban among them.

Horses and men betrayed their eagerness, for it was the first time since
the dark days of 1914 that the cavalry had had their chance.

"Hallo, sir! Who are you?" was their commander's greeting, as Dennis
reined up beside him.

"Lieutenant Dashwood, of the Reedshires, sir--just escaped from the
German lines, thanks to the mare which I found running wild up yonder. I
want to report a machine-gun in the corn up there."

[Illustration: "Nothing could check the victorious rush"]

"The dickens you do!" was the response; and the officer glanced at his
men.

Every eye was turned upon him, and the horses were pawing impatiently,
shaking the foam from their bits.

"It would be cruelty to animals to disappoint my chaps," he said, with
an odd laugh. "This is our day out, you know, and we've waited a tidy
while for it." And, raising his voice, he cried: "Come on, men! Slap
through 'em--and hang the consequences!"

A rapturous shout greeted his words, and the lance-points came down.

The next moment Dennis found himself galloping beside the leader through
the green corn-stalks. Grey figures sprang up in front; someone made a
prod at him with a bayonet and missed. Mausers cracked out and a
machine-gun began to bark, while here and there little knots of the
enemy pressed in close together and prepared to receive cavalry, others
flinging up their arms, crying: "Pity, Kamerad!"

But nothing could check the victorious rush.

When his revolver was empty, Dennis drew the sword attached to the
saddle, and though he could not distinctly remember what happened, he
saw that the blade was red from point to forte, when a parapet stopped
the charge, and voices shouted "Retire!"

They streamed back in any sort of order, laughing like schoolboys; and
though a few saddles had been emptied, they carried thirty-two prisoners
with them--men whose courage had failed at the sight of their glittering
lance-points, with the driving force of the galloping steeds behind
them.

It had been short and sharp, perhaps a little foolish, but it had been a
charge in the old style, and no one minded a cut or a slash when the
squadron sergeant-majors formed them up again in the hollow from which
they had started.

"Great, eh?" said their leader, binding a silk handkerchief round his
wrist.

"Yes, I think it was worth it," laughed Dennis, tying the knots for him.

"I should rather think it was. Didn't some poet Johnny say something
about 'one crowded hour of glorious life'? And by gad, boy, if you only
knew how we've been eating our hearts out to get a show! Now you can do
as you like, but we're going to work up along that wood over yonder.
That's Delville Wood, you know. You're miles from your crush."

"Then I'll come with you if I may," responded Dennis, as the line opened
out and pushed slowly forward on reconnaissance.

They had not gone very far when machine-guns on their front suddenly
opened, and this time the leader deemed discretion the better part of
valour. Besides, an aeroplane flying very low came over their heads, and
for some minutes they were uncertain whether it was an enemy craft or
no, until it swooped above the hidden enemy among the corn and opened
fire upon them.

"By Jupiter, that's a good plucked 'un!" said the squadron commander, as
the airman swooped for the fourth time before he flew away unscathed.

But out of the ragged volley which the panic-stricken enemy fired at the
plane one ball found its billet in the neck of Dennis's mare, and with
a squeal and a bound that almost unseated him she tore madly northwards,
in spite of all his efforts to stay her.

In vain he hauled on the bit reins; the maddened creature was beyond all
human control. The shout of warning from the men behind him died away.
The trampled wood and the shell-torn grassland merged into a confused
carpet of greeny white beneath him. She took an empty trench in her
stride without checking perceptibly, until a crater yawned before them,
into which she plunged, tried gamely to keep her feet, and finally
rolled over and over to the bottom, flinging her rider clear as she fell
dead.



CHAPTER XXVI

Under the German Eagle


Dennis picked himself up with a sob of bitter disappointment, as he
realised that the dead mare, which had carried him for a brief moment
among his own people, had now landed him once more a good mile within
the enemy's lines.

His first act was to bury the sergeant's sword in the earth; his next to
reload his Webley revolver; and then, spying a gap in the rim of the
crater above him, he clambered up, to find himself on the floor of a
German trench!

Not twenty yards away men were busy with pick and shovel, making good
the effect of the shell explosion on their parapet; and on the impulse
of the moment he dived unseen into the mouth of a dug-out immediately in
front of him.

It was empty, but a brazier was burning under a cooking-pot, and on one
side of the wall of the unspeakably filthy place hung a row of uniforms.

"I shall never get out of it in these togs," he thought, looking
ruefully at his own tattered rags; and with no very fixed idea of what
to do or how to do it, he put on the first tunic he found, drew a pair
of baggy slops over his own gaiters and breeches, and crammed a forage
cap, with a red band and cockade, on to his head.

Something bulky in the pocket of the tunic attracted his attention. It
was a book, half filled with German shorthand notes, and on the fly-leaf
was inscribed the name--"Carl Heft, 307th Reserve Battalion."

Carl Heft was evidently a stenographer, and to the lad's horror he heard
a harsh voice calling out the name.

"Great Scott! What have I done now?" he thought. And as a
black-whiskered sergeant loomed in the doorway of the dug-out, he
clicked his heels together in the approved German fashion, and stood
stolidly to attention.

"What are you skulking here for, Heft?" demanded the sergeant angrily.
"Come along, pig's head--the general wants you!"

Dennis stepped briskly forward without a word, fastening the last button
on the soiled tunic as he reached the open air.

"They're either in a high state of nerves, or I must be something like
the real Carl Heft," he thought. "Not very flattering to one's vanity,
but it might be useful, who knows? What on earth is going to happen now?
I'm perfectly certain to give the show away this time."

No one paid any attention to him as he passed the busy groups of men in
the firing bays, for everyone was working feverishly to repair the
damage of the British shells; and after some twists and turns, the
sergeant vanished into a covered communication at the entrance to which
was planted a pennant, whose horizontal stripes of black, red and white
denoted the headquarters of a division.

Dennis could not restrain a smile of huge delight, for the flag told
him that we must have penetrated a considerable distance into the enemy
lines.

The passage ended abruptly in a luxurious bomb-proof shelter, where
electric light was burning. There was a carpet on the floor marked with
the white chalk prints of many boot soles, and several comfortable
arm-chairs told a story of loot. There were pictures on the walls, and
various doorways indicated the existence of quite a suite of apartments.

The place was full of the blue haze of cigar-smoke, and there were three
officers standing there, all talking at once.

As Dennis clicked his heels again and saluted with his back to the
entrance, his heart beating sixteen to the dozen, one of the officers
turned towards him and scowled sourly.

"Zo! You have condescended to come at last, miserable hound!" he
snarled--a bald-headed man with a general's shoulder-straps.

"Take this message on to the machine in duplicate." And he pointed to a
corner of the dug-out, where there was a telephone board and a stool;
and on a Louis XV. table, with beautiful brass mountings, stood a
typewriter.

Dennis seated himself with alacrity, thanking his stars that he had
learned typewriting in an odd moment, without any distinct idea of it
ever being any good to him.

And somehow at that moment there flashed through his mind the
recollection of Ottilie von Dussel and the carbon in the pay-book, which
had enabled her to escape with her notes.

"Why not a third copy?" he thought. "If I ever get back to H.Q., who
knows what use it might not be to us?"

Opening the box beside the machine, he quickly inserted two carbons and
three sheets of typing paper; and without a second glance at him the
general began to dictate:

"'To Colonel Schlutz, commanding the 307th Bavarian
Battalion.--Immediately upon receipt of this order you are to entrain
your men with the 89th Ersatz Battalion for transportation to Péronne.
Five Prussian regiments will relieve you here to-night, to fill up the
gap in our third line of defence. You are to be as sparing as possible
of ammunition, both for the rifles and the machine-guns, as we are
warned that the supply may be interrupted. You will use the bayonet on
every opportunity.' Have you done?"

"Yes, your excellency," replied "Carl Heft."

"Then I will sign the first copy." And he unscrewed a fountain-pen as he
spoke.

Handing him the uppermost sheet, Dennis seized the opportunity to fold
up the end one and slip it into his pocket; and he had just succeeded
when the general added the last scrawl to his indecipherable signature.

"Place this in an envelope," he said, "and deliver it yourself into the
hands of the Oberst" (colonel).

"And the second copy, your excellency?" volunteered the supposed Heft.

"Place it upon the file as usual, and be off!"

The three men resumed their excited conversation, to which he would
dearly have loved to listen.

But he filed the sheet, made an elaborate salute, and joined the
sergeant, who was waiting in the communication.

"Where are we going?" whispered the man, when they were out of earshot.

"To Péronne," replied Dennis.

"Good! I am not sorry!" grunted the sergeant. "I have had enough of
these cursed Englanders! Let the Prussians come and see how they like
it. It was their war."

All doubt as to how he would find the battalion to which he was supposed
to belong was resolved by the sergeant turning sharply to the right, and
already Dennis began to feel a little easier in his mind.

Obviously a man employed on the headquarters staff would to some extent
lose touch with his comrades; and as the sergeant had not discovered
him, he might very possibly pass unrecognised--unless, of course, the
real Carl Heft turned up!

Not that he was happy by any manner of means, for he did not see his way
an inch beyond the broad back of the man he was following; and before he
could formulate any plan, the sergeant saluted a stout officer with the
words: "An order from his excellency, Herr Colonel!"

The stout man snatched the paper, read it, and looked up at the sky,
which was cloudy and lowering.

"Very well," he said gravely. "Let the men fall in by companies at
once." And he retired into his own dug-out, which was a few paces away,
to secure some of his personal belongings.

With incredible quickness the word was passed along the trench, and
Dennis found himself shouldering up in a jostling line, staring at the
sandbags in front of him, while sergeants shouted as a low murmur rolled
along the trench. If only he could make one dash over those sandbags he
might be free, but the thing was impossible; and, picking up a rifle, he
resumed his place, wondering what Bob and Wetherby and the other fellows
would say if he lived to tell them of this extraordinary adventure.

A tall captain with a foxy face and a pair of gold-rimmed glasses forced
his way along the front of the line, and the soldier on Dennis's left
had the misfortune to leave his rifle-butt sticking out in advance of
his feet.

The captain tripped over it, ripped out an oath, and confronted the man.

"Clumsy hound!" he hissed, dealing him a sounding box on the ears. "Let
that teach you to be careful in the future." And he deliberately spat
three times in the offender's face.

Dennis's blood boiled at the coarse indignity, but the man stood rigid
without the slightest sign of resentment; and when the beast had passed,
he quietly wiped his face with his chalk-stained sleeve.

A sharp command came down the line, everyone turned to his right, and
away they shuffled--that grey-green battalion, with Dennis in the middle
of them!

For a long distance they stumbled mechanically through trenches and a
labyrinth of mystifying communications, until the head of the column
reached a light railway, where a train of open trucks was waiting.

The sound of escaping steam mingled with the perpetual thunder of guns,
and the train seemed to stretch away in never-ending perspective along a
chalk cutting.

Hoping against hope to the last minute that something would happen,
almost praying in his heart that one of those whistling shells might
fall in their midst and, tearing up the lines, so stop their going, he
realised how lonely one can be even in the midst of a crowd.

Already the leading companies were entraining, and a hum of voices rose
as the non-commissioned officers drove the men like sheep, with their
rifles held crosswise, now and then pounding some bungler in the ribs
with the butt end.

Even if he had been able to slip aside, he knew that to stay in that
place was to court certain discovery; and now no alternative was left
him, as half a dozen shouting sergeants cut off his retreat, and with a
wildly beating heart Dennis Dashwood climbed up into the nearest truck
with a herd of unwashed, unshaven enemies, packed tightly almost to
suffocation.

Then he grasped the side of the wagon as a great jolt ran along the
train from end to end, and the couplings tightened.

The 307th Reserve Battalion was on its way to fight the French, and
Dennis was going with them!



CHAPTER XXVII

On the Part Dennis Played in the Recapture of Biaches


It was growing dark now, and the rolling country through which they
passed became rapidly blurred. The white excavations that here and there
marked the presence of a trench were like a child's scribbling on a
slate, if the occasional glow of a brazier had not told Dennis that
those trenches were full of men, all waiting to repulse the great Allied
push.

He was happier now that the night was at hand, for it lessened his
chances of being recognised; but most of all was he pleased that no one
seemed to bother his head about him--no one entered into conversation.

For all that his condition was one of cramped discomfort, apart from its
peril. The tightly packed mass of human beings smelt offensively, for
the German, even in peace time, is a dirty animal, not fond of washing
himself.

The train moved so slowly--it was one of half a dozen similar trains all
using a single line--that he seriously contemplated trying to escape
when it should become quite dark, only the obvious presence of large
bodies of troops in every direction made him abandon the idea.

He was conscious that a feeling of sullen discontent was present in the
battalion.

"'Tis a blessing we're not going to Verdun, or to Hindenburg's command,"
said one of his neighbours in a low voice. "I myself have been spirited
three times to Poland and back, until the very sight of a troop train
gives me a feeling of sickness."

"And I can go one better than that," grunted another voice. "I have been
wounded five times, and they've patched me up and sent me back again,
and my wife has died since I have been at the front. I am waiting for my
sixth wound, and I hope it will find the heart."

Dennis gathered from such and other scraps of conversation all around
him that the little British cavalry dash had been witnessed from the
trench they had just left, and that the spirits of the battalion had not
been improved by the sight. They obeyed their orders like sheep, but
they were sheep that had gone astray, and their confidence in their
leaders' powers to lead them back into the path of victory was growing
less every day.

Stopping every now and then, and waiting sometimes a quarter of an hour
at a stretch, the train took a terrible time to reach the vicinity of
Péronne, although the distance was little more than ten miles, and
Dennis found it difficult to keep his patience under control; but at
last glimmering lights showed in the distance, lights that were
reflected in wavy lines on the marshes that surrounded the town, and
speculation became rife in the truck.

"I wonder if they will put us in the barracks, or shall we go into
billets?" said somebody in the darkness. "Billets, I hope. It would be
heaven to sleep in a bed again with soft pillows, and to make the
housewife clean one's things, and kick her if she did not do them
properly."

Everyone watched the lights with keen interest, but to their
disappointment they passed away behind. The train went swaying and
clinking on; and when it reached its destination at last, there was
nothing to be seen but a wood of tall trees topping a ridge against the
fitful moonlight.

Somewhere beyond the ridge was the sound of gunfire again, striking
strangely familiar on the ears that had almost lost it at times during
the journey.

"Get out!" shouted the sergeants. "Have you pigs gone to sleep? Fall in
here beside the line!" And, extricating their legs with some difficulty,
they scrambled over the edge of the trucks, dropped down, and sorted
themselves somehow into sections and companies after much bullying and
some blows struck.

Dennis found himself between the repeatedly wounded man and the private
who had been three times to Poland, and presently the battalion was
formed up four deep and marched.

As they swung off it began to rain.

For an hour they continued their route, getting uncomfortably damp
during the process; and then they were halted and told that they might
lie down. Some of the men lit their pipes, and Dennis would have dearly
loved a cigarette; but he was afraid that the odour might betray him, so
he contented himself with curling up between his two new acquaintances
and went to sleep.

He had no plans; everything must depend upon chance and what the
daylight showed him; and when the man on his right shook him and he rose
to his feet, he saw that they were on the bank of a navigation canal.

Behind them the mist was curling from the water meadows of Picardy, and
along the river tall poplars lifted their heads above the fog.

"Do you know what we are going to do, Kamerad?" he said to the
much-wounded man.

"Die, I hope," was the response.

Circumstances had not unnaturally made him a pessimist.

The roll was being called, but the fog was so thick that one could
hardly see the sergeant and his notebook; and keeping his lips tight,
Dennis was overlooked, and nobody noticed it.

It so happened that the real Carl Heft belonged to another company, and
was marked absent on duty at Divisional Headquarters.

There was a bread distribution, and Dennis got his share. It was black,
but distinctly palatable, and was better than the coffee that was served
out later on.

He knew the masquerade could not last for ever, and at kit inspection
the moment he had been dreading came.

Luckily for him the sergeant was a good-humoured fellow, although he
opened his eyes with a start when he saw that the boyish-looking private
in front of him had no belts.

"Where is your equipment?" he said.

"I left it behind me, sergeant," replied Dennis. "We were mustered so
quickly that I had no time to go to our dug-out, which was at the other
end of the trench close to the big crater."

"Ha! We have cause to remember that crater, is it not so?" said the
sergeant gravely. "Eighteen men and two officers it cost us, and that
was why I was appointed to this company three days ago. What is your
name?"

"Carl Heft, sergeant."

"Carl Heft? Were you not attached to headquarters? What are you doing
here?"

Dennis lowered his voice.

"It is like this, sergeant," he said. "I want to be a soldier, not a
clerk. I have not fired a shot at the enemy for two months, and when the
order came to fall in I could not resist it."

The sergeant raised his eyebrows, and then a smile crept into his face.

"My boy, you are in the way to get into trouble, but never mind; I like
your spirit, and I will see what I can do for you. Can you throw bombs?"

"Ja."

"Very well, you shall join the bombers; and presently I will bring you a
bag of sweetmeats of the sort the French do not find to their liking."

His nod implied that there was already a secret understanding between
them, and as he passed on Dennis saw possibilities looming in the
future. A bomber acted more or less independently, and an avenue of
escape was opened up to him.

All that July day, however, the battalion remained on the bank of the
canal resting; and during the afternoon the mist, which had never
entirely cleared away, returned, and a thick grey fog muffled the
marshlands.

True to his promise, the sergeant had provided him with a sheaf of
grenades with copper rods to be fired from the rifle and a collar of
racket bombs, and Dennis sprang smartly to his feet when the word was
given to fall in.

"We are going to attack in ten minutes," said the sergeant. "There are
two places--the village of Biaches over yonder, and the hill of La
Maisonette more to the left. The French carried them on the 9th; they
will be ours again to-night. The fog is the very thing for us; nothing
could be better. Our battalion will take Biaches, and it will be hot
work."

"What are the troops we shall have to face, sergeant?" said Dennis.

"Senegalese, I am told--Black Devils, who stick at nothing--and some
Territorials, mostly old men and fathers of families; but we shall see."

"Yes, we shall see!" murmured Dennis, as the command "_Links
schliessen!_" was given, and the battalion touched in to its left.

Hoarse voices bellowed out of the thick mist, and the 307th Reserve
Battalion, after marching for a short distance along the river, filed
across a lock bridge and plunged into the woods.

Smoking was forbidden, and strict silence enjoined. Other battalions had
come from Péronne by way of the Faubourg de Paris, and there were
several halts to establish communication.

Overhead the fog was tinged with a rosy hue, but round about the men all
was grey, and one could see very little farther than the spectral
tree-trunks in one's immediate vicinity.

The foxy-faced captain with the gold-rimmed glasses marched behind his
company, and in his hand he carried a brutal whip, a veritable
cat-o'-nine-tails. When a man stumbled over some hidden tree root he
would hiss out "Pig!" or "Clumsy hound!" And Dennis felt his heart leap
as he heard himself addressed.

"You with the bombs there--what are you doing with those brown boots?"
said the captain.

"They belong to an English prisoner," said Dennis, with perfect truth.

"That is no excuse," said the officer sternly. "You will report yourself
after this affair is over for daring to go into action improperly
dressed. What is your name?"

"Carl Heft, Herr Captain," said Dennis, over his shoulder.

"Very well, I shall remember it," snarled the bully. And, changing his
tone, he shouted "Vorwärts!" as a shot rang out ahead of them, and they
heard the French sentries give the alarm.

Instantly the hoarse roll of drums rose from the advancing battalions,
and everyone quickened his pace. The wood thinned out, and, bursting
from the trees, the 307th Reserve Battalion flung themselves with the
bayonet upon the ruined village of Biaches.

There was a belfry tower still standing, and the chimney of a
factory--all the rest was a heap of shattered dwelling's round which the
greeny-grey wave surged with a roar.

In front of them figures in blue-grey ran scurrying, and were joined by
others, and the rifles began to speak.

"This is all very well," thought Dennis, finding himself between two
fires. "I had better lie doggo for a bit while they get on with it."
And, stepping inside the ruins of a small shop, he flung himself down on
a heap of bricks in the posture of a wounded man.

It would have been madness to do otherwise, for the machine-guns were
raining bullets everywhere; and, trembling with excitement, he lay
unnoticed for a good half-hour, until a hoarse cheer in German told him
that Biaches had passed into the enemy's hands. At almost the same
moment the modern château, surrounded by its park of fine trees on the
hill of La Maisonette, had been retaken by the Germans from Péronne.

But Dennis smiled quietly to himself.

"My chance will come when the counter-attack begins," he thought. "Those
brave Frenchmen don't take this sort of thing lying down."

As the firing died away cheer after cheer rent the air, followed by a
babel of voices in German as every man worked hard to consolidate the
position; and as the dusk drew down Dennis thrust his rifle grenades
inside the broken chimney of the little shop, and ventured out into the
open air.



CHAPTER XXVIII

The Exciting Adventures of "Carl Heft"


The strain of lying there hour after hour had become unbearable. The
idea had also struck him that now was his opportunity to glean some
information, if possible, about the lie of the land. There would be warm
work, he knew, and that before long, for the French "75's" were barking
in the distance, and shells were falling about Biaches and upon the hill
away to the left.

Field wagons from Péronne had clattered past his hiding-place, carrying
reels of barbed wire, and if he were fortunate he might be able to slip
through the advanced German trench before it was hedged in by that
difficult barricade. Bodies were lying thickly strewn among the brick
heaps, and one little alley down which he tried to pass was piled up six
deep with corpses.

"I wish I could get on a listening post," he thought to himself. "That
would give me a fine chance." And just then he collided with somebody,
who shook him by the shoulder and swore lustily; and he recognised the
voice of the good-natured sergeant.

"You should look where you are going, Kamerad," said the man. "And, by
the way, where _are_ you going?"

"To the front trench, sergeant," replied Dennis, speaking at a venture.
"I have just secured a fresh supply of racket bombs."

"What, you are Carl Heft, surely! Good lad, I did not see you in the
mêlée, but I have no doubt you acquitted yourself well. I also am going
to the front trench, to our company's sector. We will go together."

Dennis clenched his teeth, but he knew that he must put a good face on
the matter.

"With pleasure, sergeant," he made answer. And the pair walked along
side by side. "Have we lost many?" he inquired.

"Yes, a good few, and I believe it was their own fault. To tell you the
truth, Heft, the battalion is not in a good state; they were left too
long over there in the front line without being relieved. Our company in
particular is very homesick, and can you wonder when you look at the
captain they have?"

"True, he is a great brute. You will let me say that to you, sergeant?"
replied Dennis, anxious to draw the man out.

"Have no fear; I shall not report you," said his companion, with a
friendly squeeze of the arm. "He is not only a great brute, but he is an
arrant coward into the bargain. The men do not mind being cuffed and
bullied, because they are used to it; but when they see their officer
never expose himself, and always shouting from the rear 'Get on, you
pigs!' they don't like it. But, Himmel!"--and he chuckled--"our
engineers have surpassed themselves to-night. I have never seen wire so
strong during the war. Our whole front is covered with it; not so much
as a rat could get through."

"That is good," assented his listener, mentally feeling how bad it was
for himself, and that, short of a miracle, he must stay where he was
until daylight.

"I have just been making a report to Colonel Schlutz," went on the
sergeant. "Now you and I will go to a snug little dug-out I have taken
possession of. I have a nice piece of sausage which we will share, and
what do you think?--four bottles of lager beer! What do you think of
that?"

"I say that you are a good comrade, sergeant--the best I have met for
many a long day," said Dennis, with a warmth he really felt. This man
was evidently a good fellow at heart, an exception to the general run of
German non-commissioned officers. And yet it might come about that he
would have to kill him, in spite of that nice piece of sausage and those
four bottles!

The sergeant had called it a snug little dug-out, that square hole in
the chalk, with earth piled on a piece of corrugated iron by way of
roof, and great rats peering at them as they sat with their knees
touching by the light of a piece of candle.

But to Dennis it was a palace, hiding him, as it did, from inquisitive
eyes.

"Surely it is written that I shall win through," he thought to himself.
"Everything seems to point to it."

A shell burst close to them and rattled the corrugated iron, bringing a
shower of earth down in front of the dug-out door.

"I will go and see if that has done any damage," said the sergeant. "You
may stay here until the alarm is given. Your post will be in that bay in
front of us. Why don't you go to sleep? I should if I were not an
_Unteroffizier_."

He came back again in a few minutes, to find that Dennis had taken him
at his word, and was watching the rats fearlessly searching for crumbs
between his very feet.

"A corporal and five men," said the sergeant laconically. "And a
splinter has broken the Herr Captain's glasses. Oh, he is in a rare
fury!"

Another shell burst farther away behind the dug-out, and Dennis wondered
whether the French gunners were lengthening their fuses preparatory to
the counter-attack.

Mist still hung about the ground, and the moon gave it a very ghostly
effect.

Peeping through the door from the dark dug-out--for a rat had suddenly
pounced upon the lighted candle and made off with it--he saw the
look-out motionless and alert behind the sandbagged parapet, and,
sitting on the fire-step, the men of No. 6 Company huddled up. Some of
them were asleep with their heads on their comrades' shoulders. The man
who had been five times wounded bent forward, grasping one wrist with
the other hand, and staring into vacancy; perhaps he was thinking of his
dead wife!

Without warning a terrific fire suddenly opened on the village; and
Dennis, used as he was to the British bombardment, sat dazed in his
cubby-hole as shell after shell burst in such quick succession that the
explosions seemed like the continuous fire of some giant machine-gun. He
put his hands to his ears and crouched there, bowed, like one awaiting
inevitable doom, wondering how it fared with the company outside in the
trench and with the rest of the battalion.

For a quarter of an hour the inferno continued, and then ceased as
suddenly as it had begun; and in the lull that followed he rose to his
feet, knowing that the dug-out would not be a safe place in which to
await the counter-attack which would come on the heels of that terrible
devastation.

In the doorway he stumbled over something soft, and recognised the
upturned face of the good-natured sergeant! The lower part of him from
the waist downwards had been blown away; and, stooping down, Dennis
gently disengaged the Iron Cross from the breast of his tunic.

"Poor chap!" he muttered. "This will be something for dear little
Billy." And then he looked round.

The trench existed no longer as a trench, and terrified, trembling men
crawled from among the tumbled sandbags, and out of nooks and corners
where they had lain.

The barbed wire looked like a parrot's cage that had been run over by a
motor-car, and everyone saw that the position was untenable.

So No. 6 Company, or all that was left of it, hurried towards a wood
between Biaches and the hill of La Maisonette, and no sooner had they
cleared the broken trench than the first wave of the French poured over
it.

The ferret-faced German captain had made his way back to headquarters
just before the bombardment began. He had a cousin on the staff, from
whom he hoped to borrow a spare pair of spectacles to replace his own.

He secured the glasses, and found that he could not have arrived at a
better moment, for a message had just been received from the Divisional
General!

"You are the very man we want," said Colonel Schlutz. "There is a spy in
No. 6 Company masquerading under the name of Carl Heft. It is very
serious and altogether extraordinary. The real Carl Heft was wounded by
a shell splinter, and has turned up again over there. The spy actually
took down the general's order for our move, and he must be discovered at
once. He is young, and he wears brown boots."

"Himmel! I know the fellow!" exclaimed the captain. "He shall be
arrested within the next twenty minutes!"

But the French fire began, and it was impossible to move; and they
cowered in their temporary shelter, expecting death.

"Where is the company?" demanded its captain when the 75's ceased, and
he encountered a wounded man dragging himself to the rear.

"The survivors have retired into yonder wood, Herr Captain. May I beg a
draught of water from your bottle?"

"You will get some farther back; I have no time now," was the brutal
response. And, grinning with secret satisfaction, he ran in the
direction of the tree-tops, hugely elated as every stride carried him
farther away from the ruined village, against which he knew the
counter-attack would be delivered.

As soon as he judged himself to be out of danger he skulked among the
trees for more than an hour. He was in no hurry to find his men;
besides, the sky was lightening, and he preferred to wait until
daylight.

During that hour the fury of combat raged among the brick heaps of
Biaches and upon the hill of La Maisonette, and when morning came the
French had recovered both positions.

He could hear them cheering, and was hoping that all was over, when the
crackle of rifle fire commenced from the western edge of the wood, and
he knew that he could delay no longer. His smile gave place to the
blustering frown that No. 6 Company knew so well, and, striding forward,
he became aware from the hoarse roar of voices that something serious
was taking place.

The growing daylight had revealed to the French that the enemy was
holding the wood in some strength; and Dennis, who had spied a long line
of blue-painted helmets in the distance, was stealthily working his way
forward from tree to tree, intent on making a bolt towards them, when
that same roar fell upon his ear.

Looking round, he saw a double company of the battalion that had
entrained with them forming up for an advance with the bayonet. In sixty
seconds they would go charging across the open strip of ground which he
had decided upon as his own line of escape, and their right flank would
pass within a dozen yards of a white-walled cottage that had been
unroofed by a French shell.

He looked at the solid, desperate mass, and then at the thin, struggling
French line feeling its way cautiously forward; and a daring resolve
came to him as the drums began to roll and he heard the command
"Vorwärts!"

Safe from observation in the ruined hovel, he unslung the festoon of
racket bombs, and with all the power of his strong young arm hurled them
one after another over the top of the wall among the advancing Germans.

Through the aperture where the window had been he marked the effect of
the explosions.

Officers brandished their swords, but the unexpectedness of the bomb
attack produced panic in the broken ranks, which lost their formation
and retired precipitately into the cover of the trees.

But something closer at hand gave Dennis furiously to think!

Led by an officer, half a dozen men ran pluckily forward towards the
hovel, but Dennis did not wait for their arrival. Already he was bolting
for his life for the shelter of a big shell crater, where he meant to
strip off his hated disguise and let the uniform of a British officer
act as a passport to the rapidly advancing French.

As he reached the lip of the huge hole his laugh of triumph died away,
for before he could check himself he had slid down among the remnants of
No. 6 Company, huddled together, leaderless, demoralised.

At the same moment a shell burst on the other side of the crater,
flinging an iron rain into the already terrified mob, and half burying
a man who had been descending into the pit.

It was the ferret-faced captain who picked himself up, white as a sheet
of paper, and then gave a guttural cry of surprise. Drawing his revolver
he strode forward and stopped in front of Dennis, covering him with the
weapon.

"I am looking for you, Carl Heft," he laughed hoarsely. "Possibly you
know why they want you at headquarters!"

No one knew exactly how it came about, but there was a sharp report, the
captain staggered back and fell, shot through the heart; and "Carl Heft"
stood like some avenging spirit, looking down at him, with the smoking
Webley in his hand.

"Kamerads!" he cried to the throng, "there lies the cause of half our
troubles! That beast would have driven us on again while he slunk in the
rear. Look at this!" And he pointed to the man who had already been
wounded five times. A fragment of the shell had just carried away his
right hand. "The game is up; we have the right to choose whether we die
like sheep, or live to rejoin our families. You can do as you like, but
I am going to surrender. I have had enough!"

Very erect, he swung round and began to walk up the side of the crater
in the direction of the French, and fifty voices cried: "He is right; we
have all had enough!" And they sprang forward in his wake, every man
with his hands raised above his head.

Dennis had planted one foot on the firm ground when a skewer-like
bayonet passed within an inch of his ear; and with a disappointed roar
its owner flung a pair of terrible arms about him, and the two rolled
backwards into the hole again.

"Now you had better say your prayers, Boche!" growled his assailant, as
a hairy hand closed on his throat; "I am going to kill you!"



CHAPTER XXIX

An Old Friend--and a Bitter Enemy!


The terrified German herd sprang aside as the two figures hurtled down
through the middle of them. Arms were raised sky-high, and quavering
voices clamoured "Mercy, Kamerad--we surrender!" but never a finger was
lifted to help Dennis. He lay on his back looking into the bloodshot
eyes of his old acquaintance, Aristide Puzzeau, who, having dropped his
rifle as they rolled, was searching grimly for his knife.

"Puzzeau, you fool!" gurgled the lad, as the huge paw of the Herculean
_poilu_ tightened its pressure on his throat.

"Eh, what!" exclaimed the Alsatian. "Who are you, then?" And the
terrible grip relaxed ever so slightly.

"Look again," was the reply, and Dennis managed to tear Carl Heft's grey
tunic open wide enough to reveal the khaki shirt and tie of an English
officer.

"_Zut alors!_" cried the man, greatly puzzled; "still I do not know
you!"

It was hardly to be wondered at, for the face of his captive was
encrusted with chalky mud and badly wanted a shave.

"How goes it with the brave Commandant you and I carried out of action
that night we silenced the machine-gun? Do you remember now, thickhead?"

"_Mon Dieu!_" exclaimed Aristide Puzzeau, "Mon Lieutenant, you have
saved me from a great crime! But why will you keep such bad company? Let
us embrace!" And he kissed him on both cheeks.

"And you have saved me from a most unpleasant death, my brave fellow,"
said Dennis, rubbing his throat; "and now you must save these wretched
beasts who are my prisoners."

The corporal clapped a hand to his head like one in a dream as the men
of his company, whom he had outstripped, reached the edge of the crater
above them.

"Halt, my boys!" roared the corporal with the full strength of his
leathern lungs, but he made a wry face and scowled savagely.

"If I had my way, mon Lieutenant, we would take no prisoners, hands up
or hands down," he said; "we are too soft-hearted in this war."

The howl of disappointment from the French Territorials mingled with the
piteous whine of the terrified Germans, and before he scrambled after
Puzzeau out of the hole, Dennis rid himself of the grey tunic and
slacks, and stood revealed in his proper character.

"_Ma foi!_" said the captain of the company, as he shook hands heartily
with him, "you have indeed had a marvellous escape, my friend, but there
is firing in the wood over yonder; I shall leave twelve men to escort
this scum to our lines, and you will no doubt wish to proceed with
them--unless you care to renew your acquaintance with your old comrades,
the----"

"A thousand thanks, mon Capitaine," laughed Dennis, remembering the
German dispatch in the pocket of his tunic; "my duty calls me elsewhere.
Good-bye and good luck!"

As he turned to go, and the foremost wave of the Territorials was
already racing towards the trees, whence came the sharp crackle of
musketry, a hand was laid upon his shoulder, and he saw Puzzeau looking
at him with an expression of profound remorse on his black-bearded face.

"One never knows," said Puzzeau in a deep bass whisper. "I want to hear
you say again that you have forgiven me. Also, our old Commandant, who,
thank the stars, is recovering, charged me that if ever you and I met I
was to tell you----"

A dozen voices shouting "Corporal!" interrupted his speech, and with a
despairing shrug of his huge shoulders the honest fellow ran after his
men, leaving the Commandant's message undelivered.

At the edge of the wood he turned and waved his powerful arm, and as he
vanished, Dennis, still rubbing his throat, stepped out briskly beside
the German prisoners, who numbered eighty all told.

The big powerful brutes could have eaten their little guards, and Dennis
with them, but they shambled along almost at a run, perfectly
demoralised.

A short tramp across some ploughland, where brigades of active little
men in blue-painted helmets were waiting, brought the prisoners to the
French trenches, where Dennis had to run the gauntlet of half a dozen
very wide awake but very polite officers, who passed him still farther
to the rear.

He was long leagues from the British Army away to the north of the
Somme, and was puzzling how on earth he was to join it, when an
automobile dashed from a side road, hooting imperiously for him to get
out of the way.

"Confound you!" said Dennis to himself as he jumped rather ignominiously
on to the bank, but the car stopped, and the driver rose in his seat,
looking back at him.

"No, monsieur--it is not possible! It cannot be the Lieutenant Dashwood,
surely!" called out the young Frenchman, and instantly forgetting his
annoyance, Dennis ran towards the car.

"What, Martique, my dear fellow! Will wonders never cease? It is indeed
the Lieutenant Dashwood, as you call him, and in no end of a hat, too!
How can I get back to our lines?"

The good-looking young Frenchman, perhaps a little thinner and more
fine-drawn since the time when he and Dennis first met, laughed aloud
with delight.

"_Cher ami_, nothing is simpler. Jump in. I am going straight to
Fricourt, if that will help you."

"Great Scott! I left my Governor not a mile from there the day before
yesterday!" shouted Dennis, vaulting into the motor-car. "How are things
with us?"

"Magnificent!" laughed Martique; "but what are you doing down here?"

"Just escaped from the German lines, old chap," was the reply; and as
the brave little car raced away at a really dangerous speed he recounted
his latest adventure, to the delight and envy of his old acquaintance.

By good roads and bad roads and no roads at all Martique found his way
across country with unerring sagacity, until they found themselves at a
level crossing a few miles behind the British advanced line.

A long hospital train was waiting in a siding for the next convoy of
motor ambulances which should arrive from the various dressing-stations.

The little village, not much knocked about by shell-fire, was occupied
by a reserve brigade, and as the cap crossed the rails Martique shut off
his engines.

"I thought so," he said, getting out and looking at one of his back
tyres, "we punctured half a mile back on the road, and I must put on a
spare wheel. She wants some water too, and an oil up, so I am afraid you
will have to cool your heels for the next quarter of an hour. No," he
added, as Dennis prepared to help him, "I do all my own repairs--much
rather. Thanks, yes, I will have a cigarette," and Martique slipped off
his coat.

It was good to be back among his own people once more, and with a smile
of immense satisfaction on his face Dennis strolled along the little
street, taking everything in.

There were Army Service Corps motor wagons on supply, and an infantry
platoon came swinging round the corner, looking very bronzed and fit.
From their black buttons he saw that they belonged to a rifle battalion
in the reserve.

An orderly was holding horses outside a dirty little estaminet, and,
riding his machine on the cobbled sidewalk, a motor dispatch-rider
threaded his way with marvellous skill among the little groups of
villagers and fatigue parties.

Where a lane crossed the street at right angles he saw the white line of
a trench close to the backs of the houses, and walked towards it.

At the corner of the trench a Red Cross nurse was in the act of posting
a letter in the field collection box. There were nurses from the waiting
ambulance train among the crowd in the street.

After a long gaze over the country beyond the trench he returned to
retrace his steps, when something in the attitude of the nurse at the
pillar-box attracted his attention. Her back was towards him, and she
was peering round the angle in a furtive kind of way.

He stood still, and then he noticed that the door of the collecting box
was open, and that while she peered along the deserted trench she was
gathering the letters and dropping them into a receptacle beneath her
white apron.

"I didn't know they had women letter carriers out here," thought Dennis;
"possibly they take them down on the hospital train for quickness'
sake--and yet----"

An indefinable suspicion followed on the heels of his surmise as the
girl turned her head, and in an instant he recognised the red hair and
dark eyes of the waitress in the London restaurant.

The rumble of the motor lorries at the cross-roads deadened the noise of
his approach as he came softly up behind her, and then his suspicions
were confirmed beyond any possibility of doubt.

"Got you at last, Frau von Dussel!" he exclaimed, seizing her arm; and
with a low cry she dropped a bunch of letters on to the ground, thrust
her hand into the breast of her apron, and drew out a Browning pistol.

But he was too quick for her, and his fingers closed like a vice on her
wrist.

"Brute, you are hurting me!" she wailed.

"Not half so much as you have hurt some people I could mention!" he
retorted hotly. "You are my prisoner, you vixen!"

For a moment the big dark eyes blazed unutterable hatred, and then she
laughed aloud.

The unrestrained laugh of a German woman is the index to the German
character. It is one of the most horribly unmusical sounds on earth.

"You shall never take me alive!" she hissed.

"And there I beg to differ; I _have_ taken you, though how long you will
remain alive will rest with the higher powers."

He kicked the Browning which she had dropped aside with his foot, and
for an instant she struggled with a violence that surprised him, giving
vent to a piercing shriek which brought several soldiers running to the
spot. Among them was one of the Military Police.

"Your handcuffs, my man!" said Dennis, "this is one of the most
dangerous German spies at large. I accept all responsibility for my
action, but I am going to take her to our Brigade Headquarters for
further identification."

A Red Cross nurse is a very sacred personality to the British soldier,
but Dennis's voice carried conviction with it, although the artful jade
made a bold bid for liberty.

She ceased her struggles and said in a plaintive tone without a trace of
foreign accent, "It is a wicked mistake. I am a Welsh woman, and my name
is Margaret Jones. The Sister on the train will bear witness for me."

"I have yet to learn," said Dennis, fully aware of the renewed look of
doubt in the faces of the men, "that a Red Cross nurse has any right to
pilfer a field letter-box, or that she usually carries a Browning pistol
for that purpose. Besides----" And at a venture he suddenly transferred
his grip from her left wrist to the nurse's headgear she wore.

"There you are!" he said, sternly triumphant, as the splendidly made red
wig came away and revealed the black hair beneath it. "Those handcuffs!"
And they closed with a snap on the wrists of the German spy.

Martique was sounding his horn as a signal that he was ready, but he was
not prepared for the sight that greeted his eyes as Dennis and the M.P.
came up to the car with their prisoner.

"You might give me a bit of a chit, sir, to show it's all right," said
the policeman, when they had lifted her into the front seat, pale and
rigid now. "And if you take my advice," he whispered, "you'll keep an
eye on her; she can wriggle like an eel, and if she grabs the
steering-wheel when you're moving, she'll break all your bloomin' necks
for you."

"I'll watch it," said Dennis with a smile.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the telephone dug-out at Brigade Headquarters a man was speaking into
the receiver, and the man at the other end of the wire out in a certain
sector of the firing line smiled as he recognised the voice.

"That's you, Pater, isn't it?" said Bob.

"Yes," replied Brigadier-General Dashwood. "Any news yet?"

"None at all, sir," said Bob, his face changing; "the balloon's been
found pretty well riddled, with the observer dead in the basket. The
Highlanders took the wood this morning, you know, but there's no sign of
Dennis. We can only hope for the best, Pater, and that is, that he is a
prisoner. Eh? What did you say?--I can't hear you--are you there?"

"Hold the wire a moment," came the response, delivered in a startled
voice; and Bob Dashwood sighed as he rested his elbow on his knee and
looked about him at the appalling destruction of the place.

The Great Push was still continuing without a check, and the Reedshires
had again made good with the other regiments of the Brigade.

Somebody came up to him for orders, and he gave them, and somebody else
arrived with a request for his presence in another part of the new
position.

"You must wait a moment; I am talking to the Brigadier," he said, and
then feeling the pause had been a long one, he turned to the receiver
again.

"Hallo! Hallo! Are you there, Pater?" he queried, and the reply that
reached his ear was a startling one.

"Yes, I'm here, and who do you think is here too? The cat with nine
lives has turned up again, and, by Jupiter! Bob, he's brought another
cat with him. Dennis is with me without a scratch, and he's captured
Ottilie von Dussel, red-haired and red-handed!"

"Oh, good egg!" shouted Major Dashwood, commanding the 2/12th Battalion
of the Royal Reedshire Regiment. "Where did he find her? How did he do
it?"

"Gently, my dear Robert," said the Brigadier; "he will be with you in a
couple of hours, and then he'll tell you the whole thing."



CHAPTER XXX

Under the Enemy Wall


With the coming of dusk came Dennis Dashwood back to the old battalion,
just at roll-call. The last quarter of a mile he performed at the
double, and burst into the fire-trench like a bolt from the blue.

When his brother officers shook hands with him--for all were delighted
at his return--an irresistible murmur of welcome rippled along A
Company, and as Hawke's name was called at the moment, that worthy
replied with a ringing yell.

"Report yourself at office to-morrow," said the lieutenant in charge of
No. 2 Platoon, and Harry Hawke so far forgot himself as to answer,
"Right-o, Governor!" at the same time lifting his trench helmet on to
the point of his bayonet and waving it frantically.

An enemy sniper promptly sent it spinning on to the top of the parados.

"You shall do four days' field punishment, Hawke!" said the outraged
officer.

"Forty days if you like, sir--I don't care what becomes of me. 'Ere's
Mr. Dashwood back agin--that's good enough!"

No. 2 Platoon, carried away by the infectious enthusiasm, joined in the
shout.

"Another word," cried the lieutenant, "and No. 2 Platoon shall go back
into the reserve!" And amid the dead silence that followed that awful
threat, Dennis reached them, lifting a warning finger.

"Steady, men," he said. "Thank you for the welcome, but it's not done in
the best platoons, you know. How are you, Littlewood?"

"Top-hole, old chap! Where have you been, you beggar? You've managed to
completely demoralise the company."

"You shall have a narrative of my expedition all highly coloured, by and
by," laughed Dennis. "I've had no end of a time, and I've brought back
the news that we've got the Prussians in front of us by way of a
change."

"The dickens we have!" said Littlewood. "Any chance of their
counter-attacking?"

"That's the idea, old man. I'm going on listening-post to-night, and I
shouldn't wonder if we get it pretty hot. Bob tells me you've had it in
the neck whilst I've been away."

"By Jove, yes!" said Littlewood gravely, "seventy-five casualties last
night. Spencer's gone, young Fitzhugh, Blennerhasset, and Bowles, all
killed. There wasn't enough of Bowles left to bury even--nothing but one
boot with a foot in it--high explosive, you know, and he was only
married two days before he came out!"

"Rotten hard lines!" said Dennis, passing along the front of the
platoon, and stopping before Harry Hawke.

"You and Tiddler are 'for it' to-night, remember," he said, and the two
men grinned delightedly. "Ah, Wetherby! Going strong?"

"A1," replied the boy, as the parade was dismissed, "but I say, we've
got beastly quarters this time. Look here," and he pointed to a mere
dint in the side of the trench with a piece of sacking by way of
protection from the vulgar gaze.

"Hum! we'll alter that to-morrow--it's certainly not palatial," said
Dennis. "I suppose there's none of my clobber come up?"

"Oh yes, it's all here; I saw to that," said young Wetherby, blushing
like a girl, as he pointed to a haversack and a brown valise which
contained his friend's campaigning kit.

"What a good little chap you are!" exclaimed Dennis.

"Not at all. I fagged for you at Harrow, and somehow I had the idea
you'd turn up," and young Wetherby blushed again.

He was a pretty pink-faced boy, who wrote extremely sweet poetry in his
odd moments.

"Well, I'm going to have a shave," said Dennis; "and I say, Wetherby,
you might grope in the kit-bag and put a refill in that spare torch of
mine. I've got an idea it may be useful to-night. Oh, hang this rain!"

The steady drizzle which had set in as the light faded had turned to a
heavy, pitiless downpour.

"What a night!" murmured Harry Hawke, as he lay on his stomach in two
inches of water some twenty yards in front of the trench with his pal,
Tiddler, beside him. "An' me on the peg to-morrer!"

"Bet you there won't be no show," said Tiddler.

"Don't you make too sure of that, Cocky. I'll put a shilling on Mr.
Dashwood both ways, and he's got a notion that something's up."

They both looked round, as a slim figure in a thin mackintosh crawled up
alongside.

"Hear anything, Hawke?" said Dennis.

"Not so far, sir, but it's bloomin' difficult to 'ear to-night--the rain
makes such a patter on the chalk, and it's fillin' up the shell 'oles a
fair knock-art."

"Well now, look here," said Dennis impressively, "I'm going to shove
along, and I want you both to listen with your eyes. You know the Morse
code, and if you see anything straight in front of you, pass the word
back to Mr. Wetherby on the parapet behind."

"But you ain't goin' alone, sir! You'll let one of us come wiv yer!"

"I am going alone, Hawke. I marked the lie of the ground before the
light went, and it's as easy as walking down Piccadilly. If I can't find
out what I want I shall come back; anyhow, look and listen!" And he
glided off into the rain and was lost to view long before the slither of
his footsteps had died away.

Two hundred yards separated friend and foe; two hundred yards of
pulverised No Man's Land, now soaked like a sponge. About midway
stretched an unfinished German trench, from which our guns had driven
the enemy before they had had time to complete it. It was little more
than a wet shallow ditch now, with a line of sandbags on the British
side, and when Dennis had crossed it he continued his perilous course on
hands and knees.

It was a zigzag course to avoid the thirty or forty shell holes that
our guns had made, and as he wormed himself forward the darkness of the
night and the strange silence of the enemy batteries on that sector
confirmed him more than ever in his conviction that something was in
preparation.

The trench he was approaching was of quite unusual strength, with a
formidable redoubt making a salient in one place, and as he reached the
foot of it he knew that a wall of sandbags nearly fifteen feet high
towered above his head.

He had seen that before the light went. Now, in the pitchy darkness of
the drenching rain, as he crouched at the foot of the wall he could hear
the hoarse murmur of many voices behind it, as it seemed to him.

He looked back across that dreary No Man's Land, and then again at the
barrier in front of him, and, carrying his life in his hand as he well
knew, began to worm his way up the face of the sandbags.

The actual climb presented little difficulty to an athlete; the danger
was if a rocket should soar into the sky and some sharp eye discover
him.

But the desire to learn something of the enemy's movements from their
conversation deadened all sense of risk, until he had reached the last
row of sandbags but one, when, without any warning, a group of heads
popped up over the parapet, and five officers with night glasses
examined the British line.

He could have reached out and taken the first one by the collar, so
close was he, and clinging there, ready to drop and bolt for it, he
listened with all his ears.

Secure from all eavesdropping--for who would venture across that No
Man's Land on such a night?--the five men talked freely, with all the
blatant self-assumption of Prussian sabre rattlers, and the wet wind
that brought their words to him brought also the smell of their cigars.

But if the listener's pulse quickened at their conversation, his heart
beat faster still at the conclusion of it.

"By the way, Von Dussel," said one of them, "how comes it that you are
going in with us to-night? Surely you are not abandoning the role that
you have filled with such success?" And Dennis recognised the short
laugh that preluded the reply.

"Not at all, Herr Colonel," said the nearest of the five, "but I have
had no word to-day from my wife, so I know it is of no use penetrating
their lines. Besides, I have an old grudge against the regiment in front
of us--a quarrel I hope to settle to-night."

"You may rest quite easy that you will do so," laughed the colonel; "our
five battalions of Prussians are going to do what their Bavarian and
Saxon comrades failed to accomplish. Let me see, it is General
Dashwood's Brigade that is before us here, _nicht wahr?_"

"Yes," chortled Von Dussel; "and it is with the Dashwood family that I
hope to renew an interrupted acquaintance, the pig hounds!"

Dennis had never found it necessary to place such a powerful restraint
upon himself as he did at that moment, and it was perhaps a lucky thing
that the five men withdrew as the spy spoke.

His own clutch on the sandbags had been gradually relaxing, and his
feet were so cramped that he regained the ground with difficulty.

For several seconds he paused irresolute, figuring out how long it would
take him to crawl back to the British trench, and then, suddenly coming
to a very hazardous decision, he sat down on his heels with his back
against the German sandbags.

Spreading the skirt of his saturated mackintosh over his knees, and
holding the Orilux torch which young Wetherby had recharged for him
between his ankles, he breathed a silent prayer to Heaven, and pressed
the button.

Before he had started he had pasted a strip of paper over the electric
bulb to reduce the light, leaving only a tiny aperture in the centre of
it.

But the two men on listening-post in the distance caught the gleam
distinctly, and read off the Morse code message in whispered chorus
without a mistake.

"Wetherby," twinkled the tiny speck from the foot of the enemy trench,
"find Bob at once, and tell him that five Prussian battalions will
attack in half an hour. They are to form up on this side of the line of
sandbags midway between us, and the signal for their advance will be the
turning on of their searchlights. If he'll move our chaps forward to
your side of the sandbags and lie doggo, the brutes will get the
surprise of their lives, for they're cocksure of a walk-over. Tell Bob
they're attacking with emptied magazines, and it will be bayonet
work--that'll fetch him."

The listening-post waited eagerly for more, but the Orilux did not show
again, and when Hawke crawled back to find Mr. Wetherby, his heart sank
into his muddy boots, for the officer boy was not there.

Meanwhile Dennis had gathered himself together for the return journey.

It seemed an hour since the voices above him had ceased, and a thousand
wild doubts chased one another through his brain, but he had not left
the shelter of the wall three yards when he glided back to it again, and
wormed himself into a crevice at its base.

Earth had come dribbling from the top of the parapet, and following the
earth panting men scrambling down the sandbags until they reached the
ground. One trod upon his shoulder as he lay there, but the lad never
moved, and whispered words all about him told that the enemy was
mustering for the assault.

At the end of a few minutes the soft squelch of heavy boots died away in
the direction of the British line, and Dennis Dashwood swallowed rapidly
and felt sick. He could not see his hand in front of him, and the rain
continued to hiss without cessation, falling into a neighbouring shell
hole with an ever-increasing plop.

Had they seen his signal and understood it? was his agonised thought, as
eight powerful searchlights were suddenly turned on to the ground in
front.

Everything was now as light as day, and he saw the Prussian battalions
lying on their faces, packed like sardines in a tin, behind those
sandbags that concealed them from his own people.

The iron plates on their boot soles gleamed like silver, and not a man
of them moved. Then, without warning, a hurricane of German shells
plumped into the trench where he had left his beloved battalion, raking
it from end to end.

No need for those waiting bayonets now, was his soul-rending thought, as
he saw the trench disappear in a holocaust of flame and smoke. He had
acted for the best, but he ought to have gone back with his news, for,
if the battalion was where he had left it, then the 2/12th Royal
Reedshires must have been wiped off the face of the earth!



CHAPTER XXXI

With Dashwood's Brigade


High overhead three red rockets burst in the sky, and the German guns
ceased at the signal.

In the dazzling gleam of the concentrated searchlights, Dennis saw a
Prussian officer raise himself cautiously to peer across the sandbags,
and reconnoitre the obliterated British trench.

His eyes reached the edge of the parapet, but no farther, and in the
white figure that leapt up into view and shot him dead, Dennis
recognised young Wetherby.

Like magic the whole line of sandbags became alive with other white
figures pouring in one crashing volley at point-blank range, and with a
full-throated British cheer the Reedshires vaulted over the wet ditch
and hurled themselves upon the astonished Prussians with the bayonet.

Taken completely by surprise, the first line of lying-down men died
practically on its knees, and before the second line could press a
trigger the battalion was into them.

There was no quarter asked or given. The Reedshires were out to kill,
and they killed. In the black shadow of the German redoubt Dennis
Dashwood watched one of the finest fights of the war, every fibre of his
being itching to be in it. But between him and that raving, raging
tumult stretched the tightly packed files of the enemy, thrown into
panic-stricken confusion by the unexpectedness of the attack, and after
a mad few minutes, in spite of the efforts of their officers to hold
them up, the vaunted Prussians broke and streamed back to the protection
of the strong trench.

In a flash of time Dennis saw many things: the slanting rain on our
helmets, the wisp of fog that rolled lazily between him and that Homeric
combat. He recognised his brother, half a head taller than anybody else,
thrusting and hewing like a hero of old, and Littlewood working a Lewis
gun on the top of the sandbags, the shots just clearing our own fellows'
heads.

From an embrasure in the angle of the salient above him the hateful
hammering of a German machine-gun began. The brutes were playing into
the mêlée, regardless of their own men, in a frantic endeavour to stop
the Reedshires' rush, and as A Company recoiled before that stream of
bullets, Dennis drew his revolver.

Already one of the Prussian battalions had swarmed over into their own
trench, paying no heed to the solitary figure in the black shadow as
they passed him, and, marking the position of the gun, Dennis scrambled
up in their wake with the agility of a cat, and darted into the gun
emplacement single-handed, just as young Wetherby and Hawke saw him and
gave a shout of recognition.

The Germans were chained to the piece, and as he shot the last man of
the gun crew, his brother officer overtook him.

At his heels A Company had arrived with a heartening roar, and jumped
down on to the crowded mass in the trench below them, a perfect forest
of arms going up as the demoralised runaways bellowed for mercy.

"Bravo, Hawke! Go it, boys!" shouted Dennis, almost overturning
Wetherby.

"My hat!" exclaimed the boy, as they gripped each other to save falling
into the tightly packed trench below them, "that was no end of a stunt
of yours. If we hadn't shifted forward we should have been killed to a
man. Hadn't left our position five minutes before their shells found
us!"

"And I never knew you'd moved," said Dennis. "Look at those chaps
bolting into that dug-out there! Give 'em a couple of bombs!"

Young Wetherby hurled two Mills grenades into an opening in the wall of
the German parados, and the double explosion was followed by a chorus of
piercing screams. As for the trench, it was piled up with bodies five
and six deep, for the Prussians were sturdy men and fought like wild
cats.

But already the Highland battalion on the Reedshires' left had come up.
Other battalions away to the east were making good, and the brigade was
carrying all before it.

"Forward!" rang the whistles, and, leaving the supports to consolidate,
the leading battalions cleared the parados and pushed on.

It was a wild flounder over the sodden ground, three hundred yards of
it, with shell-holes where the rain took you up to your armpits, but the
Reedshires had tasted the glories of conquest, and there was no holding
them back, if, indeed, anyone had wished to do so.

"Next stop, Berlin!" yelled Harry Hawke, tripping up as the words left
his mouth, and sliding twice his own length to the edge of a crump-hole,
into which another inch would have plunged him head foremost.

"Stick it, Den!" shouted a voice in his ear, and he saw that it was his
brother Bob, a red smear on his cheek and a light in his eyes Dennis had
only seen there on the football field.

"Come on, old chap!" yelled the C.O., "every fifty yards is worth a
monarch's ransom to Haig. Let's see if we can't carry that wood yonder
while their searchlights last"; and he pointed to the ridge beyond the
captured trench. "I'd like to know who silenced that machine-gun just
now. I suppose half a dozen men will claim it to-morrow, while the real
chap may be dead."

"Oh no, he isn't," laughed a voice.

"Shut your head, young Wetherby, unless you want it punched!" was
Dennis's angry retort, but his fellow subaltern only laughed the louder.

"It was Dennis," said the boy; "he went in alone and shot the whole lot,
Major!"

Bob Dashwood opened his lips to speak, but made a mental note instead,
for the searchlights had been suddenly withdrawn, and were now
concentrated in one blinding blaze about fifty yards in front of the
charging brigade.

The German gunners also had shortened their fuses, transferring their
barrage to the spot, where they poured in a hail of shells through which
no man might try to pass and live.

"Halt there--hang you--halt!" roared the Major commanding; "don't you
see we've reached our limit for to-night?"

The whistles shrilled amid the red and yellow shell bursts, and the
victory-maddened men, realising the impossible, even before the word
reached them, pulled up and looked to their right.

"Dig in--dig in!" shouted somebody.

"No, fall back, you fools!" bellowed a stentorian sergeant, and, checked
in full career, they fell back by companies in any sort of order under a
rain of shrapnel.

Bob and his brother, still side by side, were retiring after them at a
brisk walk, when a man of Dennis's section passed them at the double,
going in the direction of the redoubt which they had carried, and they
saw him run up alongside Hawke, who was a few yards ahead of them.

The crash of the shells in their rear drowned Hawke's exclamation, but
they saw him stop and turn, look under his hand at the barrage, and dart
back towards it like a hare.

"Hawke, stop! Are you mad?" cried Bob, making a grab at him as he went
by, but Hawke's face was white and set, and he paid no heed as they
watched him curiously.

"I know!" shouted Dennis in his brother's ear, "his chum's hit. Look at
that, Bob--there's devotion for you! Those two fellows are the greatest
toughs in the regiment, and they're inseparables."

They saw the little Cockney private fling himself down on his knees
beside a fallen man, tear with both hands at the front of his tunic, and
then fling his arms up above his head with a tragic gesture of despair.
Then he slung his rifle, and, stooping again, dragged the figure up,
hoisted him across his shoulder, and came staggering back under the
heavy load, the heroic group telling blackly out against the
searchlights' white glare.

A shell burst thirty feet way, but the little Cockney came doggedly on,
and they waited for him, even retracing their steps to meet him.

"What's up, Hawke?" shouted Dennis; "do you want us to give you a hand?"
And he was about to add something else, but the look of piteous entreaty
in Hawke's eyes checked the words.

"I'd rather take him in myself, sir," he said hoarsely; "it's true what
they says in the papers abart making a man a new face in the 'orspitals,
ain't it? They'll be able to patch 'im up, don't you think, sir?"

Dennis and Bob exchanged a look, for the savage earnestness hit them
both hard from its very hopelessness.

Tiddler's visage was nothing but a hideous pulp.

And they knew in a moment that poor Tiddler had already passed beyond
all human aid; Major Dashwood made another mental note, to be placed
upon official record later on--if he himself should be spared!

At the mouth of a communication Hawke paused to readjust his burden. The
limp figure was somehow slipping from his grasp, and, seeing at last, he
realised that his errand had been in vain.

As he stood looking down at the crumpled thing that a few minutes before
had been a living, moving part of the great war machine, Dennis laid a
hand on his shoulder.

"He was a good plucked 'un, Hawke, and you did your best for him," said
Dennis; "now you've got to keep a stiff upper lip."

"Yus, I know, sir," was the husky reply, as something rolled glistening
down the dirty cheek. "'Im and me 'listed the same day, and Tiddler was
the only pal I ever 'ad."

He turned a fierce and flashing eye towards the enemy barrage; an eye
that positively flamed vengeance to come, and then he pointed with his
hand.

"See that, sir?" he cried hoarsely, "ain't that Mr. Wetherby?"

A long way out across the wet slope, where the raging Reedshires had
taken heavy toll of the flying foe before the German gunners had drawn
that barrier of fire across the way, a figure was crawling back towards
them, dragging one useless leg behind him.

A very wicked piece of shrapnel had carried young Wetherby's knee-pan
away, and, lodging in the joint, gave the sufferer excruciating agony
every time he knocked it. More than once he almost fainted, and each
time the wounded knee jarred against the rough ground young Wetherby
groaned through his clenched teeth.

"Why don't the stretcher bearers come out?" he moaned.

He could see the strong enemy trench from which they had made their
final advance, and knew by the bustle there that active preparations
were being made to hold it should the Prussians counter-attack again,
which was not unlikely.

The enemy searchlights still concentrated upon it, and the barrage never
ceased to boom and burst behind him with useless expenditure of shells
which had already served their object.

No doubt behind that barrage the discomfited Prussian battalions were
being reorganised, but young Wetherby had no thought of them, all his
energies were directed to getting in as soon as possible that the doctor
might ease his pain.

An unusually heavy burst of shrapnel cut up the ground round about him
as he gained the crest of a bank, where three dead men lay piled one on
top of the other, and, taking advantage of that gruesome cover, a
Prussian officer was crouching on his face. Wetherby paused a moment as
he came alongside him.

"Have you any water in your bottle, Kamerad?" said the man in excellent
English.

"Yes, here you are," replied the boy, unshipping it and handing it to
him; "are you badly hurt?"

The Prussian emptied the bottle before he made answer. "Both legs
broken," he said; "might be worse, might be better."

The man's cynical laugh jarred on young Wetherby's finer feelings,
shaken as he was by the acute agony he was suffering, and he dragged
himself on again, the cold sweat standing in great beads on his
forehead.

He had scarcely placed twice his own length between himself and the
Prussian officer when the brute, who was shamming wounded all the time,
levelled his revolver at the tortured boy, and lodged two blunt-nosed
bullets in his back!

"Great Scott! Did you see that?" shouted Dennis.

"Yus, not 'arf!" And he and Hawke jumped off the mark together, racing
neck and neck out into the open, heedless of a withering fire from some
machine-guns that began to play on the slope.

The German cowered flat as a pancake, his head turned sideways, watching
them as they came.

"Had they seen?" he thought, "or was this some senseless freak of those
mad-brained English?"

The next moment any doubt in his mind vanished, all the blood left the
scoundrel's face, and, starting to his knees, he covered the foremost
figure with his weapon. Twice he raised it, staring hard, and a feeling
as of an electric shock passed through Dennis Dashwood as the pair
recognised each other.

Then they fired their revolvers simultaneously, but the cylinders of
both were empty, and into the livid face of Von Dussel there came an
extraordinary look of mingled doubt and terror.

"But you are dead!" he gasped, as the memory of the mined brewery came
back to him.

"Not the first mistake you have made, you infernal scoundrel!" shouted
Dennis; and clubbing his revolver, he smote him fair and square between
the eyes, dropping the spy like a stone.

"Stop, Hawke, I want that man alive!" panted the avenger, "he's got
enough to go on with"; and, checking the remorseless bayonet with which
Hawke was about to run him through, Dennis turned and knelt beside the
body of his chum.

Little Wetherby was lying on his side, but his eyes brightened as he saw
who it was.

"Go back, Dashwood," said the boy, speaking with difficulty, "it's no
use, I'm done."

"Nonsense, old chap; we're going to get you in between us," said Dennis.
"Hawke and I can carry you."

"No, no--do go back, there's a dear fellow," gurgled the boy, a rush of
blood from his lungs almost choking him. "But I say, Dashwood, there is
one thing you might do for me. You'll find a writing pad in my kit-bag,
the Mater would like to have it."

"She shall, Wetherby. But let's have a look at you, and see if we can
stop the hæmorrhage before we pick you up. Where did that fiend get
you?"

"Through the heart," replied the dying boy. "Please let me lie here, and
tell the Mater I don't regret it, except for her sake; say that I
wouldn't have missed this for anything. I've only known what it was to
live since I came out here!" And then, with his hand clasped in his
friend's hand, Cuthbert Wetherby knew what it was to die, and passed
into the great beyond with a fearless smile on his young lips.

Dennis had seen so many men "go out" in the few brief weeks of his
fighting that he had deemed himself case-hardened against anything, but
now he had to look away, a little ashamed that Hawke should see the
spasm that came into his face.

"You are not the only one that's lost a pal to-night, Hawke," he said in
a choking voice; "now give me a hand with this Prussian hog."

As Hawke jumped up with alacrity he gave a yell of positive anguish.
"Why didn't you let me tickle 'im in the ribs, sir? He's gone!" he
howled.



CHAPTER XXXII

The Rewards of Valour


Von Dussel's head must have been as hard as his black heart, for he had
recovered his senses at the moment Wetherby died, and a mighty gust of
passion swept over Dennis Dashwood's soul.

"He can't be far off, and I'll find him if I die for it. Get you back to
cover, Hawke."

"Is it likely?" cried his companion, giving vent to his overcharged
feelings by a very ugly laugh, which changed into a howl of delight as a
bullet grazed the tip of his ear. "There he is, sir, hiding in that
there crater!--and he's some shot too--look out!"

Von Dussel, armed with a rifle--there were scores lying about littering
the ground--lodged his second bullet in the leather case that held
Dennis's field glasses, and, instantly dividing, the two ran a zigzag
course towards the crater as they saw his head dodging down.

It was not twenty yards away, but as they reached it, one on either
flank, they saw their prey scramble out of the opposite side and bolt
like a hare across the open ground beyond.

There were two shell-holes in the distance, for one of which he was
obviously making, but just as Hawke dropped to his knee and covered him
with his rifle, the German searchlights went out, leaving everything
pitch dark.

"That's done us, Hawke," cried Dennis bitterly, as the marksman of A
Company fired a random shot.

"'Arf a mo, sir. If I didn't wing 'im, I'll bet I've 'eaded 'im orf to
the right"; and he sent a brace of bullets pinging into the darkness.

"Lor lumme!" he chuckled the next moment, "there ain't no fool like an
Allemong. What did he want to fire back for?" And he wiped a great gout
of the chalky mud that had splashed up into his face as a Mauser bullet
struck the ground between them. "'E's in that 'ole to the right--that's
where we'll find 'im, sure as my name's 'Arry 'Awke. Come on, sir, don't
make a sound!"

With the switching off of the searchlights the enemy barrage had ceased,
and the deafening crash of the German shells was succeeded by a weird
silence.

The distant boom of the British firing seemed very far off and almost
insignificant in that sudden transition, and recharging his empty
revolver as he went forward, Dennis wormed himself cautiously to the
edge of the crump-hole, where he hoped to find his enemy.

It was still pouring in torrents as his chin came on a level with the
ragged rim, but the fierce hope died out of his heart.

The shell-hole was an old one, the rain had filled it almost to the
brim, and he ground his teeth, knowing that the spy had outwitted them
after all. He knew now that, in spite of Hawke's shots, the villain with
the charmed life must have chanced his arm and kept straight on between
the two shell-holes, and would even then be nearing the German position,
gloating over his success.

"I have missed the chance of my lifetime," he thought bitterly, when a
star shell burst directly above him, lighting up the rain pool like a
sheet of silver.

He had already picked himself up, and was clearing his throat to give
his unseen companion a hail, when a warning whistle came from the
opposite edge of the hole, and he saw Hawke's head and shoulders and a
pointing arm.

Among the splashing raindrops in the centre of the pool a white face
parted the water.

It was Von Dussel come up to breathe, and as the face sank out of sight
again, Dennis dived in after it, regardless of all consequences.

       *       *       *       *       *

Major Dashwood and the Brigadier, stumbling forward along the German
communication, met three men carrying something between them, and the
third man had the fingers of his left hand twined in a tight clutch on
the collar of one of the bearers.

"What is all this, Dennis?" demanded the Brigadier, who had been an
indignant witness of that strange chase, without in the least
understanding what it meant.

"Little Wetherby dead, pater, and Von Dussel very much alive, and none
the worse for a cold bath," came the answer; "the court martial that
sits on his wife to-morrow will be able to kill two birds with one
stone."

"My wife!" exclaimed the spy. "Ottilie in your hands!"

"Yes, you brute, we've bagged the pair of you," said Dennis, with a grim
laugh; "it's been Von Dussel versus Dashwood for a long time, but the
Dashwoods have 'won out' in the end."

"I do not understand," faltered Von Dussel in a choking voice, and then
instantly recovering his true Prussian bluster: "I demand the right
treatment accorded to every officer who has the misfortune to be taken
prisoner. I have high connections in my country, and I am willing to
give you my parole."

"Parole for a cowardly murderer!" interrupted Dennis hotly. "You are
talking through the back of your neck, and you know it. Besides, apart
from all that, there is only one end for spies."

Then all the bluster went out of the cur, and he shivered like a man
with ague as they took him away under escort into a safe place.

In the rear of that formidable trench, which they had taken with such
gallantry, the Reedshires buried their dead. There were not many of
them, considering the fury of the fight, but the little row of white
wood crosses told of good comrades gone for ever, and had a grim
significance all its own.

Harry Hawke stood in the rain, leaning on his rifle before one of the
crosses, reading the simple inscription which the armourer-sergeant had
painted for him on the rough wood: "Jim Tiddler, 2/12th R.R.R., aged 21.
He was a good pal."

"Yus, he was a good pal," muttered Hawke, "one of the best, and so was
Mr. Wetherby. I'm glad old Tiddler's planted alongside 'im."

His wicked little eye ranged away to another chalk mound which had no
name upon it. It stood apart from the rest, and was close to that angle
of the German salient where Dennis had crouched on the night that all
the survivors would remember as long as they remembered anything. An
ugly red smear on the sandbags at the head of the mound had not been
washed away by the rain.

Two spies had been buried there, after a court martial held in a
dug-out, and one of them had been a woman, who had tried to brazen it
out in spite of the overwhelming evidence produced against them.
Threats, tears, piteous appeals for mercy, Ottilie's big black eyes, all
had proved in vain.

Then she had swallowed poison, but the tabloid she tried to pass to her
husband was intercepted, and the volley of ball cartridge that dealt
stern justice in the grey light of a wet afternoon had rid our lines of
a deadly and insidious peril that had cost us many lives.

"Shooting was too good for 'im, the dirty dog," said Private Hawke, as
he lit a woodbine and turned away.

And that was the requiem of the Von Dussels!

       *       *       *       *       *

The weather brightened and the Great Push still rolled on. Day by day
the shell dumps grew to incredible size, and the British guns never
ceased their remorseless preparations. Names hitherto unknown to British
readers became household words to those at home, who, reading between
the lines, knew that at last our great and glorious armies were on the
high road to victory.

It was not to be yet, but it was coming, slowly but surely, and Mrs.
Dashwood, in the old home with the green lawn sloping to the water's
edge, wished a thousand times that she had been born a man that she
might have taken her share in the great achievement.

A month passed, and to the house in Regent's Park came a letter, written
on a folding-table by the light of a candle stuck in a bottle, and in
the writer's ears as he scrawled the lines was the tramp of the relief
filing past his dug-out door.

    "Darling little Mater," wrote Dennis, "I'm going to give you a
    surprise, unless the _Gazette's_ out already. You've heard me
    speak of Private Hawke of ours, the crack shot of my company,
    well, he and I have got three days' leave for a special reason.
    The King is going to present Hawke with the V.C., which he has
    deserved over and over again, at Buckingham Palace next
    Thursday. Incidentally I might mention that I am also to
    receive it on the same day. Also the Military Cross, likewise
    the D.S.O. It makes me positively blush as I sit here, and I
    really believe I'm the most fortunate beggar in the whole of
    our crush, if not in the Army.

    "Don't make any mistake, dear, it has been sheer luck on my
    part. I've just happened to be there at the right moment. Some
    beggars who have done far more than I have have got
    nothing--but there it is.

    "By the way, the French have been awfully decent to me.
    Somehow, Joffre got to know about a little scrap I had when the
    French attacked a German trench, and I helped to carry out the
    commandant, who was badly wounded. They have given me their
    Military Medal for that, and for inducing a German company to
    surrender I've got the Croix de Guerre, their newest
    decoration, you know; and I'll be hanged, but on top of it all
    the Cross of the Legion of Honour has come along for a little
    air raid into the Black Forest with a charming
    _pilote-aviateur_ named Laval. It was really only a sort of joy
    ride, but I managed to bring Laval back after he was hit. Thank
    goodness, they tell me he's almost well again, and I must say I
    like the French awfully.

    "I never told you anything about that business, because I was
    afraid you might think I was risking my neck unnecessarily, but
    you know, dear, one's got to do it on a job like this. And oh,
    I say, what a pig I am, gassing about myself before I tell you
    that dear old Bob is coming over with us to receive the M.C.
    It's an awfully pretty thing with silver-and-blue
    ribbon--and--though mind you, mater, this is not to be put
    about yet in case it doesn't come off--but there's a strong
    rumour round here that the Governor's to have a division! Haig
    was awfully delighted at the way he handled that business about
    a month ago--I mean when we downed your old friend Van Drissel.
    Hope you are not running any more refugees, eh, what? Now be at
    the station to meet us, and if you like to kiss Hawke, you may.
    He's saved my life more than once."

Mrs. Dashwood closed her eyes, and her lips moved in silent prayer. She
was thanking Heaven that her husband and sons were "making good" in the
hour of her country's triumph!



  PRINTED BY
  CASSELL & COMPANY, LIMITED, LA BELLE SAUVAGE,
  LONDON, E.C.4
  F40.617



    +---------------------------------------------------+
    | Transcriber's Note:                               |
    |                                                   |
    | Typographical errors corrected in the text:       |
    |                                                   |
    | Page  22  Right-oh changed to Right-o             |
    | Page  26  Right-oh changed to Right-o             |
    | Page  55  Right-oh changed to Right-o             |
    | Page 180  reconnaisance changed to reconnaissance |
    +---------------------------------------------------+





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