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Title: The Day of Wrath - A Story of 1914
Author: Tracy, Louis, 1863-1928
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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Internet Archive)



 THE DAY OF WRATH

 A STORY OF 1914

 BY
 LOUIS TRACY

 Author of "The Wings of the Morning," "Flower of the
 Gorse," etc., etc.

 NEW YORK
 EDWARD J. CLODE
 PUBLISHER



 COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY
 EDWARD J. CLODE
 All Rights Reserved



PREFACE


This book demands no explanatory word. But I do wish to assure the
reader that every incident in its pages casting discredit on the
invaders of Belgium is founded on actual fact. I refer those who may
doubt the truth of this sweeping statement to the official records
published by the Governments of Great Britain, France, and Belgium.

                         L. T.



CONTENTS


 CHAPTER                                          PAGE

    I THE LAVA-STREAM                               1
   II IN THE VORTEX                                23
  III FIRST BLOOD                                  39
   IV THE TRAGEDY OF VISÉ                          58
    V BILLETS                                      75
   VI THE FIGHT IN THE MILL                        94
  VII THE WOODMAN'S HUT                           111
 VIII A RESPITE                                   129
   IX AN EXPOSITION OF GERMAN
      METHODS                                     147
    X ANDENNE                                     166
   XI A TRAMP ACROSS BELGIUM                      186
  XII AT THE GATES OF DEATH                       206
 XIII THE WOODEN HORSE OF TROY                    226
  XIV THE MARNE--AND AFTER                        246
   XV "CARRY ON!"                                 264



CHAPTER I

THE LAVA-STREAM


"For God's sake, if you are an Englishman, help me!"

That cry of despair, so subdued yet piercing in its intensity, reached
Arthur Dalroy as he pressed close on the heels of an all-powerful escort
in Lieutenant Karl von Halwig, of the Prussian Imperial Guard, at the
ticket-barrier of the Friedrich Strasse Station on the night of Monday,
3rd August 1914.

An officer's uniform is a _passe-partout_ in Germany; the showy uniform
of the Imperial Guard adds awe to authority. It may well be doubted if
any other insignia of rank could have passed a companion in civilian
attire so easily through the official cordon which barred the chief
railway station at Berlin that night to all unauthorised persons.

Von Halwig was in front, impartially cursing and shoving aside the crowd
of police and railway men. A gigantic ticket-inspector, catching sight
of the Guardsman, bellowed an order to "clear the way;" but a general
officer created a momentary diversion by choosing that forbidden exit.
Von Halwig's heels clicked, and his right hand was raised in a salute,
so Dalroy was given a few seconds wherein to scrutinise the face of the
terrified woman who had addressed him. He saw that she was young, an
Englishwoman, and undoubtedly a lady by her speech and garb.

"What can I do for you?" he asked.

"Get me into a train for the Belgian frontier. I have plenty of money,
but these idiots will not even allow me to enter the station."

He had to decide in an instant. He had every reason to believe that a
woman friendless and alone, especially a young and good-looking one,
was far safer in Berlin--where some thousands of Britons and Americans
had been caught in the lava-wave of red war now flowing unrestrained
from the Danube to the North Sea--than in the train which would start
for Belgium within half-an-hour. But the tearful indignation in the
girl's voice--even her folly in describing as "idiots" the hectoring
jacks-in-office, any one of whom might have understood her--led impulse
to triumph over saner judgment.

"Come along! quick!" he muttered. "You're my cousin, Evelyn Fane!"

With a self-control that was highly creditable, the young lady thrust
a hand through his arm. In the other hand she carried a reticule. The
action surprised Dalroy, though feminine intuition had only displayed
common-sense.

"Have you any luggage?" he said.

"Nothing beyond this tiny bag. It was hopeless to think of----"

Von Halwig turned at the barrier to insure his English friend's safe
passage.

"Hallo!" he cried. Evidently he was taken aback by the unexpected
addition to the party.

"A fellow-countrywoman in distress," smiled Dalroy, speaking in German.
Then he added, in English, "It's all right. As it happens, two places
are reserved."

Von Halwig laughed in a way which the Englishman would have resented at
any other moment.

"Excellent!" he guffawed. "Beautifully contrived, my friend.--Hi, there,
sheep's-head!"--this to the ticket-inspector--"let that porter with the
portmanteau pass!"

Thus did Captain Arthur Dalroy find himself inside the Friedrich Strasse
Station on the night when Germany was already at war with Russia and
France. With him was the stout leather bag into which he had thrown
hurriedly such few articles as were indispensable--an ironic distinction
when viewed in the light of subsequent events; with him, too, was a
charming and trustful and utterly unknown travelling companion.

Von Halwig was not only vastly amused but intensely curious; his
endeavours to scrutinise the face of a girl whom the Englishman had
apparently conjured up out of the maelström of Berlin were almost rude.
They failed, however, at the outset. Every woman knows exactly how to
attract or repel a man's admiration; this young lady was evidently
determined that only the vaguest hint of her features should be
vouchsafed to the Guardsman. A fairly large hat and a veil, assisted
by the angle at which she held her head, defeated his intent. She
still clung to Dalroy's arm, and relinquished it only when a perspiring
platform-inspector, armed with a list, brought the party to a
first-class carriage. There were no sleeping-cars on the train. Every
_wagon-lit_ in Berlin had been commandeered by the staff.

"I have had a not-to-be-described-in-words difficulty in retaining these
corner places," he said, whereupon Dalroy gave him a five-mark piece,
and the girl was installed in the seat facing the engine.

The platform-inspector had not exaggerated his services. The train was
literally besieged. Scores of important officials were storming at
railway employés because accommodation could not be found. Dalroy,
wishful at first that Von Halwig would take himself off instead of
standing near the open door and peering at the girl, soon changed his
mind. There could not be the slightest doubt that were it not for the
presence of an officer of the Imperial Guard he and his "cousin" would
have been unceremoniously bundled out on to the platform to make room
for some many-syllabled functionary who "simply must get to the front."
As for the lady, she was the sole representative of her sex travelling
west that night.

Meanwhile the two young men chatted amicably, using German and English
with equal ease.

"I think you are making a mistake in going by this route," said Von
Halwig. "The frontier lines will be horribly congested during the next
few days. You see, we have to be in Paris in three weeks, so we must
hurry."

"You are very confident," said the Englishman pleasantly.

He purposely avoided any discussion of his reasons for choosing the
Cologne-Brussels-Ostend line. As an officer of the British army, he was
particularly anxious to watch the vaunted German mobilisation in its
early phases.

"Confident! Why not? Those wretched little _piou-pious_"--a slang term
for the French infantry--"will run long before they see the whites of
our eyes."

"I haven't met any French regiments since I was a youngster; but I
believe France is far better organised now than in 1870," was the
noncommittal reply.

Von Halwig threw out his right arm in a wide sweep. "We shall brush them
aside--so," he cried. "The German army was strong in those days; now it
is irresistible. _You_ are a soldier. You _know_. To-night's papers say
England is wavering between peace and war. But I have no doubt she will
be wise. That Channel is a great asset, a great safeguard, eh?"

Again Dalroy changed the subject. "If it is a fair question, when do you
start for the front?"

"To-morrow, at six in the morning."

"How very kind of you to spare such valuable time now!"

"Not at all! Everything is ready. Germany is always ready. The Emperor
says 'Mobilise,' and, behold, we cross the frontier within the hour!"

"War is a rotten business," commented Dalroy thoughtfully. "I've seen
something of it in India, where, when all is said and done, a scrap in
the hills brings the fighting men alone into line. But I'm sorry for the
unfortunate peasants and townspeople who will suffer. What of Belgium,
for instance?"

"Ha! _Les braves Belges!_" laughed the other. "They will do as we tell
them. What else is possible? To adapt one of your own proverbs: 'Needs
must when the German drives!'"

Dalroy understood quite well that Von Halwig's bumptious tone was not
assumed. The Prussian Junker could hardly think otherwise. But the
glances cast by the Guardsman at the silent figure seated near the
window showed that some part of his vapouring was meant to impress the
feminine heart. A gallant figure he cut, too, as he stood there,
caressing his Kaiser-fashioned moustaches with one hand while the other
rested on the hilt of his sword. He was tall, fully six feet, and,
according to Dalroy's standard of physical fitness, at least a stone too
heavy. The personification of Nietzsche's Teutonic "overman," the "big
blonde brute" who is the German military ideal, Dalroy classed him, in
the expressive phrase of the regimental mess, as "a good bit of a
bounder." Yet he was a patrician by birth, or he could not hold a
commission in the Imperial Guard, and he had been most helpful and
painstaking that night, so perforce one must be civil to him.

Dalroy himself, nearly as tall, was lean and lithe, hard as nails, yet
intellectual, a cavalry officer who had passed through the Oxford mint.

By this time four other occupants of the compartment were in evidence,
and a ticket-examiner came along. Dalroy produced a number of vouchers.
The girl, who obviously spoke German, leaned out, purse in hand, and was
about to explain that the crush in the booking-hall had prevented her
from obtaining a ticket.

But Dalroy intervened. "I have your ticket," he said, announcing a
singular fact in the most casual manner he could command.

"Thank you," she said instantly, trying to conceal her own surprise. But
her eyes met Von Halwig's bold stare, and read therein not only a ready
appraisement of her good looks but a perplexed half-recognition.

The railwayman raised a question. Contrary to the general custom, the
vouchers bore names, which he compared with a list.

"These tickets are for Herren Fane and Dalroy, and I find a lady here,"
he said suspiciously.

"Fräulein Evelyn Fane, my cousin," explained Dalroy. "A mistake of the
issuing office."

"But----"

"_Ach, was!_" broke in Von Halwig impatiently. "You hear. Some fool has
blundered. It is sufficient."

At any rate, his word sufficed. Dalroy entered the carriage, and the
door was closed and locked.

"Never say I haven't done you a good turn," grinned the Prussian. "A
pleasant journey, though it may be a slow one. Don't be surprised if I
am in Aachen before you."

Then he coloured. He had said too much. One of the men in the
compartment gave him a sharp glance. Aachen, better known to travelling
Britons as Aix-la-Chapelle, lay on the road to Belgium, not to France.

"Well, to our next meeting!" he went on boisterously. "Run across to
Paris during the occupation."

"Good-bye! And accept my very grateful thanks," said Dalroy, and the
train started.

"I cannot tell you how much obliged I am," said a sweet voice as he
settled down into his seat. "Please, may I pay you now for the ticket
which you supplied so miraculously?"

"No miracle, but a piece of rare good-luck," he said. "One of the
attachés at our Embassy arranged to travel to England to-night,
or I would never have got away, even with the support of the State
Councillor who requested Lieutenant von Halwig to befriend me. Then,
at the last moment, Fane couldn't come. I meant asking Von Halwig to
send a messenger to the Embassy with the spare ticket."

"So you will forward the money to Mr. Fane with my compliments," said
the girl, opening her purse.

Dalroy agreed. There was no other way out of the difficulty.
Incidentally, he could not help noticing that the lady was well
supplied with gold and notes.

As they were fellow-travellers by force of circumstances, Dalroy took a
card from the pocket-book in which he was securing a one-hundred-mark
note.

"We have a long journey before us, and may as well get to know each
other by name," he said.

The girl smiled acquiescence. She read, "Captain Arthur Dalroy, 2nd
Bengal Lancers, Junior United Service Club."

"I haven't a card in my bag," she said simply, "but my name is
Beresford--Irene Beresford--Miss Beresford," and she coloured prettily.
"I have made an effort of the explanation," she went on; "but I think it
is stupid of women not to let people know at once whether they are
married or single."

"I'll be equally candid," he replied. "I'm not married, nor likely to
be."

"Is that defiance, or merely self-defence?"

"Neither. A bald fact. I hold with Kitchener that a soldier should
devote himself exclusively to his profession."

"It would certainly be well for many a heart-broken woman in Europe
to-day if all soldiers shared your opinion," was the answer; and Dalroy
knew that his _vis-à-vis_ had deftly guided their chatter on to a more
sedate plane.

The train halted an unconscionable time at a suburban station, and again
at Charlottenburg. The four Germans in the compartment, all Prussian
officers, commented on the delay, and one of them made a joke of it.

"The signals must be against us at Liège," he laughed.

"Perhaps England has sent a regiment of Territorials across by the
Ostend boat," chimed in another. Then he turned to Dalroy, and said
civilly, "You are English. Your country will not be so mad as to join
in this adventure, will she?"

"This is a war of diplomats," said Dalroy, resolved to keep a guard
on his tongue. "I am quite sure that no one in England wants war."

"But will England fight if Germany invades Belgium?"

"Surely Germany will do no such thing. The integrity of Belgium is
guaranteed by treaty."

"Your friend the lieutenant, then, did not tell you that our army
crossed the frontier to-day?"

"Is that possible?"

"Yes. It is no secret now. Didn't you realise what he meant when he said
his regiment was going to Aachen? But, what does it matter? Belgium
cannot resist. She must give free passage to our troops. She will
protest, of course, just to save her face."

The talk became general among the men. At the moment there was a fixed
belief in Germany that Britain would stand aloof from the quarrel. So
convinced was Austria of the British attitude that the Viennese mob
gathered outside the English ambassador's residence that same evening,
and cheered enthusiastically.

During another long wait Dalroy took advantage of the clamour and bustle
of a crowded platform to say to Miss Beresford in a low tone, "Are you
well advised to proceed _viâ_ Brussels? Why not branch off at
Oberhausen, and go home by way of Flushing?"

"I must meet my sister in Brussels," said the girl. "She is younger than
I, and at school there. I am not afraid--now. They will not interfere
with any one in this train, especially a woman. But how about you? You
have the unmistakable look of a British officer."

"Have I?" he said, smiling. "That is just why I am going through, I
suppose."

Neither could guess the immense significance of those few words. There
was a reasonable chance of escape through Holland during the next day.
By remaining in the Belgium-bound train they were, all unknowing,
entering the crater of a volcano.

The ten-hours' run to Cologne was drawn out to twenty. Time and again
they were shunted into sidings to make way for troop trains and
supplies. At a wayside station a bright moon enabled Dalroy to take
stock of two monster howitzers mounted on specially constructed bogie
trucks. He estimated their bore at sixteen or seventeen inches; the
fittings and accessories of each gun filled nine or ten trucks. How
prepared Germany was! How thorough her organisation! Yet the hurrying
forward of these giant siege-guns was premature, to put it mildly? Or
were the German generals really convinced that they would sweep every
obstacle from their path, and hammer their way into Paris on a fixed
date? Dalroy thought of England, and sighed, because his mind turned
first to the army--barely one hundred thousand trained men. Then he
remembered the British fleet, and the outlook was more reassuring!

After a night of fitful sleep dawn found the travellers not yet
half-way. The four Germans were furious. They held staff appointments,
and had been assured in Berlin that the clock-work regularity of
mobilisation arrangements would permit this particular train to cover
the journey according to schedule. Meals were irregular and scanty. At
one small town, in the early morning, Dalroy secured a quantity of rolls
and fruit, and all benefited later by his forethought.

Newspapers bought _en route_ contained dark forebodings of England's
growing hostility. A special edition of a Hanover journal spoke of an
ultimatum, a word which evoked harsh denunciations of "British
treachery" from the Germans. The comparative friendliness induced by
Dalroy's prevision as a caterer vanished at once. When the train rolled
wearily across the Rhine into Cologne, ten hours late, both Dalroy and
the girl were fully aware that their fellow-passengers regarded them as
potential enemies.

It was then about six o'clock on the Tuesday evening, and a loud-voiced
official announced that the train would not proceed to Aix-la-Chapelle
until eight. The German officers went out, no doubt to seek a meal; but
took the precaution of asking an officer in charge of some Bavarian
troops on the platform to station a sentry at the carriage door.
Probably they had no other intent, and merely wished to safeguard their
places; but Dalroy realised now the imprudence of talking English, and
signed to the girl that she was to come with him into the corridor on
the opposite side of the carriage.

There they held counsel. Miss Beresford was firmly resolved to reach
Brussels, and flinched from no difficulties. It must be remembered that
war was not formally declared between Great Britain and Germany until
that evening. Indeed, the tremendous decision was made while the pair
so curiously allied by fate were discussing their programme. Had they
even quitted the train at Cologne they had a fair prospect of reaching
neutral territory by hook or by crook. But they knew nothing of Liège,
and the imperishable laurels which that gallant city was about to
gather. They elected to go on!

A station employé brought them some unpalatable food, which they made a
pretence of eating. Irene Beresford's Hanoverian German was perfect, so
Dalroy did not air his less accurate accent, and the presence of the
sentry was helpful at this crisis. Though sharp-eyed and rabbit-eared,
the man was quite civil.

At last the Prussian officers returned. He who had been chatty overnight
was now brusque, even overbearing. "You have no right here!" he
vociferated at Dalroy. "Why should a damned Englishman travel with
Germans? Your country is perfidious as ever. How do I know that you are
not a spy?"

"Spies are not vouched for by Councillors of State," was the calm reply.
"I have in my pocket a letter from his Excellency Staatsrath von
Auschenbaum authorising my journey, and you yourself must perceive that
I am escorting a lady to her home."

The other snorted, but subsided into his seat. Not yet had Teutonic
hatred of all things British burst its barriers. But the pressure was
increasing. Soon it would leap forth like the pent-up flood of some
mighty reservoir whose retaining wall had crumbled into ruin.

"Is there any news?" went on Dalroy civilly. At any hazard, he was
determined, for the sake of the girl, to maintain the semblance of
good-fellowship. She, he saw, was cool and collected. Evidently, she
had complete trust in him.

For a little while no one answered. Ultimately, the officer who regarded
Liège as a joke said shortly, "Your Sir Grey has made some impudent
suggestions. I suppose it is what the Americans call 'bluff'; but
bluffing Germany is a dangerous game."

"Newspapers exaggerate such matters," said Dalroy.

"It may be so. Still, you'll be lucky if you get beyond Aachen," was the
ungracious retort. The speaker refused to give the town its French name.

An hour passed, the third in Cologne, before the train rumbled away into
the darkness. The girl pretended to sleep. Indeed, she may have dozed
fitfully. Dalroy did not attempt to engage her in talk. The Germans
gossiped in low tones. They knew that their nation had spied on the
whole world. Naturally, they held every foreigner in their midst as
tainted in the same vile way.

From Cologne to Aix-la-Chapelle is only a two hours' run. That night
the journey consumed four. Dalroy no longer dared look out when the
train stood in a siding. He knew by the sounds that all the dread
paraphernalia of war was speeding toward the frontier; but any display
of interest on his part would be positively dangerous now; so he, too,
closed his eyes.

By this time he was well aware that his real trials would begin at Aix;
but he had the philosopher's temperament, and never leaped fences till
he reached them.

At one in the morning they entered the station of the last important
town in Germany. Holland lay barely three miles away, Belgium a little
farther. The goal was near. Dalroy felt that by calmness and quiet
determination he and his charming protégé might win through. He was very
much taken by Irene Beresford. He had never met any girl who attracted
him so strongly. He found himself wondering whether he might contrive to
cultivate this strangely formed friendship when they reached England. In
a word, the self-denying ordinance popularly attributed to Lord
Kitchener was weakening in Captain Arthur Dalroy.

Then his sky dropped, dropped with a bang.

The train had not quite halted when the door was torn open, and a
bespectacled, red-faced officer glared in.

"It is reported from Cologne that there are English in this carriage,"
he shouted.

"Correct, my friend. There they are!" said the man who had snarled at
Dalroy earlier.

"You must descend," commanded the new-comer. "You are both under
arrest."

"On what charge?" inquired Dalroy, bitterly conscious of a gasp of
terror which came involuntarily from the girl's lips.

"You are spies. A sentry heard you talking English, and saw you
examining troop-trains from the carriage window."

So that Bavarian lout had listened to the Prussian officer's taunt, and
made a story of his discovery to prove his diligence.

"We are not spies, nor have we done anything to warrant suspicion," said
Dalroy quietly. "I have letters----"

"No talk. Out you come!" and he was dragged forth by a bloated fellow
whom he could have broken with his hands. It was folly to resist, so he
merely contrived to keep on his feet, whereas the fat bully meant to
trip him ignominiously on to the platform.

"Now you!" was the order to Irene, and she followed. Half-a-dozen
soldiers closed around. There could be no doubting that preparations had
been made for their reception.

"May I have my portmanteau?" said Dalroy. "You are acting in error, as
I shall prove when given an opportunity."

"Shut your mouth, you damned Englishman"--that was a favourite phrase on
German lips apparently--"would you dare to argue with me?--Here, one of
you, take his bag. Has the woman any baggage? No. Then march them to
the----"

A tall young lieutenant, in the uniform of the Prussian Imperial Guard,
dashed up breathlessly.

"Ah, I was told the train had arrived!" he cried. "Yes, I am in search
of those two----"

"Thank goodness you are here, Von Halwig!" began Dalroy.

The Guardsman turned on him a face aflame with fury. "Silence!" he
bellowed. "I'll soon settle _your_ affair.--Take his papers and money,
and put him in a waiting-room till I return," he added, speaking to the
officer of reserves who had affected the arrest. "Place the lady in
another waiting-room, and lock her in. I'll see that she is not
molested. As for this English _schwein-hund_, shoot him at the least
sign of resistance."

"But, Herr Lieutenant," began the other, whose heavy paunch was a
measure of his self-importance, "I have orders----"

"_Ach, was!_ I know! This Englishman is not an ordinary spy. He is a
cavalry captain, and speaks our language fluently. Do as I tell you. I
shall come back in half-an-hour.--Fräulein, you are in safer hands.
You, I fancy, will be well treated."

Dalroy said not a word. He saw at once that some virus had changed Von
Halwig's urbanity to bitter hatred. He was sure the Guardsman had been
drinking, but that fact alone would not account for such an amazing
_volte-face_. Could it be that Britain had thrown in her lot with
France? In his heart of hearts he hoped passionately that the rumour was
true. And he blazed, too, into a fierce if silent resentment of the
Prussian's satyr-like smile at Irene Beresford. But what could he do?
Protest was worse than useless. He felt that he would be shot or
bayoneted on the slightest pretext.

Von Halwig evidently resented the presence of a crowd of gaping
onlookers.

"No more talk!" he ordered sharply. "Do as I bid you, Herr Lieutenant of
Reserves!"

"Captain Dalroy!" cried the girl in a voice of utter dismay, "don't let
them part us!"

Von Halwig pointed to a door. "In there with him!" he growled, and
Dalroy was hustled away. Irene screamed, and tried to avoid the
Prussian's outstretched hand. He grasped her determinedly.

"Don't be a fool!" he hissed in English. "_I_ can save you. He is done
with. A firing-party or a rope will account for him at daybreak. Ah!
calm yourself, _gnädiges Fräulein_. There are consolations, even in
war."

Dalroy contrived, out of the tail of his eye, to see that the
distraught girl was led toward a ladies' waiting-room, two doors from
the apartment into which he was thrust. There he was searched by the
lieutenant of reserves, not skilfully, because the man missed nearly the
whole of his money, which he carried in a pocket in the lining of his
waistcoat. All else was taken--tickets, papers, loose cash, even a
cigarette-case and favourite pipe.

The instructions to the sentry were emphatic: "Don't close the door!
Admit no one without sending for me! Shoot or stab the prisoner if he
moves!"

And the fat man bustled away. The station was swarming with military
big-wigs. He must remain in evidence.

During five long minutes Dalroy reviewed the situation. Probably he
would be executed as a spy. At best, he could not avoid internment in a
fortress till the end of the war. He preferred to die in a struggle for
life and liberty. Men had escaped in conditions quite as desperate. Why
not he? The surge of impotent anger subsided in his veins, and he took
thought.

Outside the open door stood the sentry, holding his rifle, with fixed
bayonet, in the attitude of a sportsman who expects a covey of
partridges to rise from the stubble. A window of plain glass gave on to
the platform. Seemingly, it had not been opened since the station was
built. Three windows of frosted glass in the opposite wall were, to all
appearance, practicable. Judging by the sounds, the station square lay
without. Was there a lock and key on the door? Or a bolt? He could not
tell from his present position. The sentry had orders to kill him if he
moved. Perhaps the man would not interpret the command literally. At any
rate, that was a risk he must take. With head sunk, and hands behind his
back, obviously in a state of deep dejection, he began to stroll to and
fro. Well, he had a fighting chance. He was not shot forthwith.

A slight commotion on the platform caught his eye, the sentry's as well.
A tall young officer, wearing a silver helmet, and accompanied by a
glittering staff, clanked past; with him the lieutenant of reserves,
gesticulating. Dalroy recognised one of the Emperor's sons; but the
sentry had probably never seen the princeling before, and was agape. And
there was not only a key but a bolt!

With three noiseless strides, Dalroy was at the door and had slammed it.
The key turned easily, and the bolt shot home. Then he raced to the
middle window, unfastened the hasp, and raised the lower sash. He
counted on the thick-headed sentry wasting some precious seconds in
trying to force the door, and he was right. As it happened, before the
man thought of looking in through the platform window Dalroy had not
only lowered the other window behind him but dropped from the sill to
the pavement between the wall and a covered van which stood there.

Now he was free--free as any Briton could be deemed free in
Aix-la-Chapelle at that hour, one man among three army corps, an unarmed
Englishman among a bitterly hostile population which recked naught of
France or Belgium or Russia, but hated England already with an almost
maniacal malevolence.

And Irene Beresford, that sweet-voiced, sweet-faced English girl, was a
prisoner at the mercy of a "big blonde brute," a half-drunken, wholly
enraged Prussian Junker. The thought rankled and stung. It was not to be
borne. For the first time that night Dalroy knew what fear was, and in a
girl's behalf, not in his own.

Could he save her? Heaven had befriended him thus far; would a kindly
Providence clear his brain and nerve his spirit to achieve an almost
impossible rescue?

The prayer was formless and unspoken, yet it was answered. He had barely
gathered his wits after that long drop of nearly twelve feet into the
station yard before he was given a vague glimpse of a means of
delivering the girl from her immediate peril.



CHAPTER II

IN THE VORTEX


The van, one among a score of similar vehicles, was backed against the
curb of a raised path. At the instant Dalroy quitted the window-ledge a
railway employé appeared from behind another van on the left, and was
clearly bewildered by seeing a well-dressed man springing from such an
unusual and precarious perch.

The new-comer, a big, burly fellow, who wore a peaked and lettered cap,
a blouse, baggy breeches, and sabots, and carried a lighted hand-lamp,
looked what, in fact, he was--an engine-cleaner. In all likelihood he
guessed that any one choosing such a curious exit from a waiting-room
was avoiding official scrutiny. He hurried forward at once, holding the
lamp above his head, because it was dark behind the row of vans.

"Hi, there!" he cried. "A word with you, _Freiherr_!" The title, of
course, was a bit of German humour. Obviously, he was bent on
investigating matters. Dalroy did not run. In the street without he
heard the tramp of marching troops, the jolting of wagons, the clatter
of horses. He knew that a hue and cry could have only one result--he
would be pulled down by a score of hands. Moreover, with the sight of
that suspicious Teuton face, its customary boorish leer now replaced by
a surly inquisitiveness, came the first glimmer of a fantastically
daring way of rescuing Irene Beresford.

He advanced, smiling pleasantly. "It's all right, Heinrich," he said.
"I've arrived by train from Berlin, and the station was crowded. Being
an acrobat, I took a bounce. What?"

The engine-cleaner was not a quick-witted person. He scowled, but
allowed Dalroy to come near--too near.

"I believe you're a _verdammt_ Engl----" he began.

But the popular German description of a Briton died on his lips, because
Dalroy put a good deal of science and no small leaven of brute force
into a straight punch which reached that cluster of nerves known to
pugilism as "the point." The German fell as though he had been
pole-axed, and his thick skull rattled on the pavement.

Dalroy grabbed the lamp before the oil could gush out, placed it upright
on the ground, and divested the man of blouse, baggy breeches, and
sabots. Luckily, since every second was precious, he found that he was
able to wedge his boots into the sabots, which he could not have kept on
his feet otherwise. His training as a soldier had taught him the
exceeding value of our Fifth Henry's advice to the British army gathered
before Harfleur:

     In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
     As modest stillness and humility;
     But when the blast of war blows in our ears
     Then imitate the action of the tiger.

The warring tiger does not move slowly. Half-a-minute after his would-be
captor had crashed headlong to the hard cobbles of Aix-la-Chapelle,
Dalroy was creeping between two wagons, completing a hasty toilet by
tearing off collar and tie, and smearing his face and hands with oil and
grease from lamp and cap. Even as he went he heard a window of the
waiting-room being flung open, and the excited cries which announced the
discovery of a half-naked body lying beneath in the gloom.

He saw now that to every van was harnessed a pair of horses, their heads
deep in nose-bags, while men in the uniform of the Commissariat Corps
were grouped around an officer who was reading orders. The vans were
sheeted in black tarpaulins. With German attention to detail, their
destination, contents, and particular allotment were stencilled on the
covers in white paint: "Liège, baggage and fodder, cavalry division, 7th
Army Corps." He learnt subsequently that this definite legend appeared
on front and rear and on both sides.

Thinking quickly, he decided that the burly person whose outer garments
he was now wearing had probably been taking a short cut to the station
entrance when he received the surprise of his life. Somewhat higher up
on the right, therefore, Dalroy went back to the narrow pavement close
to the wall, and saw some soldiers coming through a doorway a little
ahead. He made for this, growled a husky "Good-morning" to a sentry
stationed there, entered, and mounted a staircase. Soon he found himself
on the main platform; he actually passed a sergeant and some Bavarian
soldiers, bent on recapturing the escaped prisoner, rushing wildly for
the same stairs.

None paid heed to him as he lumbered along, swinging the lamp.

A small crowd of officers, among them the youthful prince in the silver
_Pickel-haube_, had collected near the broken window and now open door
of the waiting-room from which the "spy" had vanished. Within was the
fat lieutenant of reserves, gesticulating violently at a pallid sentry.

The prince was laughing. "He can't get away," he was saying. "A bold
rascal. He must be quieted with a bayonet-thrust. That's the best way to
inoculate an Englishman with German _Kultur_."

Of course this stroke of rare wit evoked much mirth. Meanwhile, Dalroy
was turning the key in the lock which held Irene Beresford in safe
keeping until Von Halwig had discharged certain pressing duties as a
staff officer.

The girl, who was seated, gave him a terrified glance when he entered,
but dropped her eyes immediately until she became aware that this
rough-looking visitor was altering the key. Dalroy then realised by her
startled movement that his appearance had brought fresh terror to an
already overburthened heart. Hitherto, so absorbed was he in his
project, he had not given a thought to the fact that he would offer a
sinister apparition.

"Don't scream, or change your position, Miss Beresford," he said quietly
in English. "It is I, Captain Dalroy. We have a chance of escape. Will
you take the risk?"

The answer came, brokenly it is true, but with the girl's very soul in
the words. "Thank God!" she murmured. "Risk? I would sacrifice ten
lives, if I had them, rather than remain here."

Somehow, that was the sort of answer Dalroy expected from her. She
sought no explanation of his bizarre and extraordinary garb. It was
all-sufficient for her that he should have come back. She trusted him
implicitly, and the low, earnest words thrilled him to the core.

He saw through the window that no one was paying any attention to this
apartment. Possibly, the only people who knew that it contained an
Englishwoman as a prisoner were Von Halwig and the infuriated lieutenant
of reserves.

Jumping on to a chair, Dalroy promptly twisted an electric bulb out of
its socket, and plunged the room in semi-darkness, which he increased
by hiding the hand-lamp in the folds of his blouse. Given time, no
doubt, a dim light would be borrowed from the platform and the windows
overlooking the square; in the sudden gloom, however, the two could
hardly distinguish each other.

"I have contrived to escape, in a sense," said Dalroy; "but I could not
bear the notion of leaving you to your fate. You can either stop here
and take your chance, or come with me. If we are caught together a
second time these brutes will show you no mercy. On the other hand, by
remaining, you may be fairly well treated, and even sent home soon."

He deemed himself in honour bound to put what seemed then a reasonable
alternative before her. He did truly believe, in that hour, that Germany
might, indeed, wage war inflexibly, but with clean hands, as befitted a
nation which prided itself on its ideals and warrior spirit. He was
destined soon to be enlightened as to the true significance of the
_Kultur_ which a jack-boot philosophy offers to the rest of the world.

But Irene Beresford's womanly intuition did not err. One baleful gleam
from Von Halwig's eyes had given her a glimpse of infernal depths to
which Dalroy was blind as yet. "Not only will I come with you; but, if
you have a pistol or a knife, I implore you to kill me before I am
captured again," she said.

Here, then, was no waste of words, but rather the ring of
finely-tempered steel. Dalroy unlocked the door, and looked out. To the
right and in front the platform was nearly empty. On the left the group
of officers was crowding into the waiting-room, since some hint of
unfathomable mystery had been wafted up from the Bavarians in the
courtyard, and the slim young prince, curious as a street lounger, had
gone to the window to investigate.

Dalroy stood in the doorway. "Pull down your veil, turn to the right,
and keep close to the wall," he said. "Don't run! Don't even hurry! If I
seem to lag behind, speak sharply to me in German."

She obeyed without hesitation. They had reached the end of the
covered-in portion of the station when a sentry barred the way. He
brought his rifle with fixed bayonet to the "engage."

"It is forbidden," he said.

"What is forbidden?" grinned Dalroy amiably, clipping his syllables, and
speaking in the roughest voice he could assume.

"You cannot pass this way."

"Good! Then I can go home to bed. That will be better than cleaning
engines."

Fortunately, a Bavarian regiment was detailed for duty at
Aix-la-Chapelle that night; the sentry knew where the engine-sheds were
situated no more than Dalroy. Further, he was not familiar with the
Aachen accent.

"Oh, is that it?" he inquired.

"Yes. Look at my cap!"

Dalroy held up the lantern. The official lettering was evidently
convincing.

"But what about the lady?"

"She's my wife. If you're here in half-an-hour she'll bring you some
coffee. One doesn't leave a young wife at home with so many soldiers
about."

"If you both stand chattering here neither of you will get any coffee,"
put in Irene emphatically.

The Bavarian lowered his rifle. "I'm relieved at two o'clock," he said
with a laugh. "Lose no time, _schoene Frau_. There won't be much
coffee on the road to Liège."

The girl passed on, but Dalroy lingered. "Is that where you're going?"
he asked.

"Yes. We're due in Paris in three weeks."

"Lucky dog!"

"Hans, are you coming, or shall I go on alone?" demanded Irene.

"Farewell, comrade, for a little ten minutes," growled Dalroy, and he
followed.

An empty train stood in a bay on the right, and Dalroy espied a
window-cleaner's ladder in a corner. "Where are you going, woman?" he
cried.

His "wife" was walking down the main platform which ended against the
wall of a signal-cabin, and there might be insuperable difficulties in
that direction.

"Isn't this the easiest way?" she snapped.

"Yes, if you want to get run over."

Without waiting for her, he turned, shouldered the ladder, and made for
a platform on the inner side of the bay. A ten-foot wall indicated the
station's boundary. Irene ran after him. Within a few yards they were
hidden by the train from the sentry's sight.

"That was clever of you!" she whispered breathlessly.

"Speak German, even when you think we are alone," he commanded.

The platform curved sharply, and the train was a long one. When they
neared the engine they saw three men standing there. Dalroy at once
wrapped the lamp in a fold of his blouse, and leaped into the black
shadow cast by the wall, which lay athwart the flood of moonlight
pouring into the open part of the station. Quick to take the cue, it
being suicidal to think of bamboozling local railway officials, Irene
followed. Kicking off the clumsy sabots, Dalroy bade his companion pick
them up, ran back some thirty yards, and placed the ladder against the
wall. Mounting swiftly, he found, to his great relief, that some sheds
with low-pitched roofs were ranged beneath; otherwise, the height of the
wall, if added to the elevation of the station generally above the
external ground level, might well have proved disastrous.

"Up you come," he said, seating himself astride the coping-stones, and
holding the top of the ladder.

Irene was soon perched there too. He pulled up the ladder, and lowered
it to a roof.

"Now, you grab hard in case it slips," he said.

Disdaining the rungs, he slid down. He had hardly gathered his poise
before the girl tumbled into his arms, one of the heavy wooden shoes she
was carrying giving him a smart tap on the head.

"These men!" she gasped. "They saw me, and shouted."

Dalroy imagined that the trio near the engine must have noted the
swinging lantern and its sudden disappearance. With the instant decision
born of polo and pig-sticking in India, he elected now not to essay the
slanting roof just where they stood. Shouldering the ladder again, he
made off toward a strip of shadow which seemed to indicate the end of a
somewhat higher shed. He was right. Irene followed, and they crouched
there in panting silence.

Nearly every German is a gymnast, and it was no surprise to Dalroy when
one of their pursuers mounted on the shoulders of a friend and gained
the top of the wall.

"There's nothing to be seen here," he announced after a brief survey.

The pair beneath must have answered, because he went on, evidently in
reply, "Oh, I saw it myself. And I'm sure there was some one up here.
There's a sentry on No. 5. Run, Fritz, and ask him if a man with a
lantern has passed recently. I'll mount guard till you return."

Happily a train approached, and, in the resultant din Dalroy was enabled
to scramble down the roof unheard.

The ladder just reached the ground; so, before Fritz and the sentry
began to suspect that some trickery was afoot in that part of the
station, the two fugitives were speeding through a dark lane hemmed in
by warehouses. At the first opportunity, Dalroy extinguished the
lantern. Then he bethought him of his companion's appearance. He halted
suddenly ere they entered a lighted thoroughfare.

"I had better put on these clogs again," he said. "But what about you?
It will never do for a lady in smart attire to be seen walking through
the streets with a ruffian like me at one o'clock in the morning."

For answer, the girl took off her hat and tore away a cluster of roses
and a coquettish bow of ribbon. Then she discarded her jacket, which she
adjusted loosely across her shoulders.

"Now I ought to look raffish enough for anything," she said cheerfully.

Singularly enough, her confidence raised again in Dalroy's mind a
lurking doubt which the success thus far achieved had not wholly
stilled.

"My candid advice to you now, Miss Beresford, is that you leave me," he
said. "You will come to no harm in the main streets, and you speak
German so well that you should have little difficulty in reaching the
Dutch frontier. Once in Holland you can travel to Brussels by way of
Antwerp. I believe England has declared war against Germany. The
behaviour of Von Halwig and those other Prussians is most convincing on
that point. If so----"

"Does my presence imperil you, Captain Dalroy?" she broke in. She could
have said nothing more unwise, nothing so subtly calculated to stir a
man's pride.

"No," he answered shortly.

"Why, then, are you so anxious to get rid of me, after risking your life
to save me a few minutes ago?"

"I am going straight into Belgium. I deem it my duty. I may pick up
information of the utmost military value."

"Then I go into Belgium too, unless you positively refuse to be bothered
with my company. I simply must reach my sister without a moment of
unnecessary delay. And is it really sensible to stand here arguing, so
close to the station?"

They went on without another word. Dalroy was ruffled by the suggestion
that he might be seeking his own safety. Trust any woman to find the
joint in any man's armour when it suits her purpose.

Aix-la-Chapelle was more awake on that Wednesday morning at one o'clock
than on any ordinary day at the same hour in the afternoon. The streets
were alive with excited people, the taverns and smaller shops open, the
main avenues crammed with torrents of troops streaming westward.
Regimental bands struck up martial airs as column after column debouched
from the various stations. When the musicians paused for sheer lack of
breath the soldiers bawled "_Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles_" or
"_Die Wacht am Rhine_" at the top of their voices. The uproar was, as
the Germans love to say, colossal. The enthusiasm was colossal too.
Aix-la-Chapelle might have been celebrating a great national festival.
It seemed ludicrous to regard the community as in the throes of war. The
populace, the officers, even the heavy-jowled peasants who formed the
majority of the regiments then hurrying to the front, seemed to be
intoxicated with joy. Dalroy was surprised at first. He was not prepared
for the savage exultation with which German militarism leaped to its
long-dreamed-of task of conquering Europe.

Irene Beresford, momentarily more alive than he to the exigencies of
their position, bought a common shawl at a shop in a side street, and
threw away her tattered hat with a careless laugh. She was an excellent
actress. The woman who served her had not the remotest notion that this
bright-eyed girl belonged to the hated English race.

The incident brought back Dalroy's vagrom thoughts from German methods
of making war to the serious business which was his own particular
concern. The shop was only a couple of doors removed from the Franz
Strasse; he waited for Irene at the corner, buying some cheap cigars and
a box of matches at a tobacconist's kiosk. He still retained the
lantern, which lent a touch of character. The carriage-cleaner's
breeches were wide and loose at the ankles, and concealed his boots.
Between the sabots and his own heels he had added some inches to his
height, so he could look easily over the heads of the crowd; he was
watching the passing of a battery of artillery when an open automobile
was jerked to a standstill directly in front of him. In the car was
seated Von Halwig.

That sprig of Prussian nobility was in a mighty hurry, but even he dared
not interfere too actively with troops in motion, so, to pass the time
as it were, he rolled his eyes in anger at the crowd on the pavement.

It was just possible that Irene might appear inopportunely, so Dalroy
rejoined her, and led her to the opposite side of the cross street,
where a wagon and horses hid her from the Guardsman's sharp eyes.

Thus it happened that Chance again took the wanderers under her wing.

A short, thick-set Walloon had emptied a glass of schnapps at the
counter of a small drinking-bar which opened on to the street, and was
bidding the landlady farewell.

"I must be off," he said. "I have to be in Visé by daybreak. This cursed
war has kept me here a whole day. Who is fighting who, I'd like to
know?"

"Visé!" guffawed a man seated at the bar. "You'll never get there. The
army won't let you pass."

"That's the army's affair, not mine," was the typically Flemish answer,
and the other came out, mounted the wagon, chirped to his horses, and
made away.

Dalroy was able to note the name on a small board affixed to the side of
the vehicle: "Henri Joos, miller, Visé."

"That fellow lives in Belgium," he whispered to Irene, who had draped
the shawl over her head and neck, and now carried the jacket rolled into
a bundle. "He is just the sort of dogged countryman who will tackle and
overcome all obstacles. I fancy he is carrying oats to a mill, and will
be known to the frontier officials. Shall we bargain with him for a
lift?"

"It sounds the very thing," agreed the girl.

In their eagerness, neither took the precaution of buying something to
eat. They overtook the wagon before it passed the market. The driver was
not Joos, but Joos's man. He was quite ready to earn a few francs, or
marks--he did not care which--by conveying a couple of passengers to
the placid little town of whose mere existence the wide world outside
Belgium was unaware until that awful first week in August 1914.

And so it came to pass that Dalroy and his protégé passed out of
Aix-la-Chapelle without let or hindrance, because the driver, spurred to
an effort of the imagination by promise of largesse, described Irene to
the Customs men as Henri Joos's niece, and Dalroy as one deputed by the
railway to see that a belated consignment of oats was duly delivered to
the miller.

Neither rural Germany nor rural Belgium was yet really at war. The
monstrous shadow had darkened the chancelleries, but it was hardly
perceptible to the common people. Moreover, how could red-fanged war
affect a remote place like Visé? The notion was nonsensical. Even Dalroy
allowed himself to assure his companion that there was now a reasonable
prospect of reaching Belgian soil without incurring real danger. Yet, in
truth, he was taking her to an inferno of which the like is scarce known
to history. The gate which opened at the Customs barrier gave access
apparently to a good road leading through an undulating country. In
sober truth, it led to an earthly hell.



CHAPTER III

FIRST BLOOD


Though none of the three in the wagon might even hazard a guess at the
tremendous facts, the German wolf had already made his spring and been
foiled. Not only had he missed his real quarry, France, he had also
broken his fangs on the tough armour of Liège. These things Dalroy and
Irene Beresford were to learn soon. The first intimation that the
Belgian army had met and actually fought some portion of the invading
host came before dawn.

The road to Visé ran nearly parallel with, but some miles north of, the
main artery between Aix-la-Chapelle and Liège. During the small hours of
the night it held a locust flight of German cavalry. Squadron after
squadron, mostly Uhlans, trotted past the slow-moving cart; but Joos's
man, Maertz, if stolid and heavy-witted, had the sense to pull well out
of the way of these hurrying troopers; beyond evoking an occasional
curse, he was not molested. The brilliant moon, though waning, helped
the riders to avoid him.

Dalroy and the girl were comfortably seated, and almost hidden, among
the sacks of oats; they were free to talk as they listed.

Naturally, a soldier's eyes took in details at once which would escape
a woman; but Irene Beresford soon noted signs of the erratic fighting
which had taken place along that very road.

"Surely we are in Belgium now?" she whispered, after an awed glance at
the lights and bustling activity of a field hospital established near
the hamlet of Aubel.

"Yes," said Dalroy quietly, "we have been in Belgium fully an hour."

"And have the Germans actually attacked this dear little country?"

"So it would seem."

"But why? I have always understood that Belgium was absolutely safe. All
the great nations of the world have guaranteed her integrity."

"That has been the main argument of every spouter at International Peace
Congresses for many a year," said Dalroy bitterly. "If Belgium and
Holland can be preserved by agreement, they contended, why should not
all other vexed questions be settled by arbitration? Yet one of our
chaps in the Berlin Embassy, the man whose ticket you travelled with,
told me that the Kaiser could be bluntly outspoken when that very
question was raised during the autumn manoeuvres last year. 'I shall
sweep through Belgium thus,' he said, swinging his arm as though
brushing aside a feeble old crone who barred his way. And he was talking
to a British officer too."

"What a crime! These poor, inoffensive people! Have they resisted, do
you think?"

"That field hospital looked pretty busy," was the grim answer.

A little farther on, at a cross-road, there could no longer be any doubt
as to what had happened. The remains of a barricade littered the
ditches. Broken carts, ploughs, harrows, and hurdles lay in heaps. The
carcasses of scores of dead horses had been hastily thrust aside so as
to clear a passage. In a meadow, working by the light of lanterns, gangs
of soldiers and peasants were digging long pits, while row after row of
prone figures could be glimpsed when the light carried by those
directing the operations chanced to fall on them.

Dalroy knew, of course, that all the indications pointed to a
successful, if costly, German advance, which was the last thing he had
counted on in this remote countryside. If the tide of war was rolling
into Belgium it should, by his reckoning, have passed to the south-west,
engulfing the upper valley of the Meuse and the two Luxembourgs perhaps,
but leaving untouched the placid land on the frontier of Holland. For a
time he feared that Holland, too, was being attacked. Understanding
something of German pride, though far as yet from plumbing the depths of
German infamy, he imagined that the Teutonic host had burst all
barriers, and was bent on making the Rhine a German river from source to
sea.

Naturally he did not fail to realise that the lumbering wagon was taking
him into a country already securely held by the assailants. There were
no guards at the cross-roads, no indications of military precautions.
The hospital, the grave-diggers, the successive troops of cavalry, felt
themselves safe even in the semi-darkness, and this was the prerogative
of a conquering army. In the conditions, he did not regard his life as
worth much more than an hour's purchase, and he tortured his wits in
vain for some means of freeing the girl, who reposed such implicit
confidence in him, from the meshes of a net which he felt to be
tightening every minute. He simply dreaded the coming of daylight,
heralded already by tints of heliotrope and pink in the eastern sky.
Certain undulating contours were becoming suspiciously clear in that
part of the horizon. It might be only what Hafiz describes as the false
dawn; but, false or true, the new day was at hand. He was on the verge
of advising Irene to seek shelter in some remote hovel which their guide
could surely recommend when Fate took control of affairs.

Maertz had now pulled up in obedience to an unusually threatening order
from a Uhlan officer whose horse had been incommoded in passing. Above
the clatter of hoofs and accoutrements Dalroy's trained ear had detected
the sounds of a heavy and continuous cannonade toward the south-west.

"How far are we from Visé?" he asked the driver.

The man pointed with his whip. "You see that black knob over there?" he
said.

"Yes."

"That's a clump of trees just above the Meuse. Visé lies below it."

"But how far?"

"Not more than two kilomètres."

Two kilomètres! About a mile and a half! Dalroy was tortured by
indecision. "Shall we be there by daybreak?"

"With luck. I don't know what's been happening here. These damned
Germans are swarming all over the place. They must be making for the
bridge."

"What bridge?"

"The bridge across the Meuse, of course. Don't you know these parts?"

"Not very well."

"I wish I were safe at home; I'd get indoors and stop there," growled
the driver, chirping his team into motion again.

Dalroy's doubts were stilled. Better leave this rustic philosopher to
work out their common salvation.

A few hundred yards ahead the road bifurcated. One branch led to Visé,
the other to Argenteau. Here was stationed a picket, evidently intended
as a guide for the cavalry.

Most fortunately Dalroy read aright the intention of an officer who came
forward with an electric torch. "Lie as flat as you can!" he whispered
to Irene. "If they find us, pretend to be asleep."

"Hi, you!" cried the officer to Maertz, "where the devil do you think
you're going?"

"To Joos's mill at Visé," said the gruff Walloon.

"What's in the cart?"

"Oats."

"_Almächtig!_ Where from?"

"Aachen."

"You just pull ahead into that road there. I'll attend to you and your
oats in a minute or two."

"But can't I push on?"

The officer called to a soldier. "See that this fellow halts twenty
yards up the road," he said. "If he stirs then, put your bayonet through
him. These Belgian swine don't seem to understand that they are Germans
now, and must obey orders."

The officer, of course, spoke in German, the Walloon in the mixture of
Flemish and Low Dutch which forms the _patois_ of the district. But each
could follow the other's meaning, and the quaking listeners in the
middle of the wagon had no difficulty at all in comprehending the
gravity of this new peril.

Maertz was swearing softly to himself; they heard him address a question
to the sentry when the wagon stopped again. "Why won't your officer let
us go to Visé?" he growled.

"Sheep's-head! do as you're told, or it will be bad for you," was the
reply.

The words were hardly out of the soldier's mouth before a string of
motor lorries, heavy vehicles with very powerful engines, thundered up
from the rear. The leaders passed without difficulty, as there was
plenty of room. But their broad flat tires sucked up clouds of dust, and
the moon had sunk behind a wooded height. One of the hindermost
transports, taking too wide a bend, crashed into the wagon. The startled
horses plunged, pulled Maertz off his perch, and dragged the wagon into
a deep ditch. It fell on its side, and Dalroy and his companion were
thrown into a field amid a swirl of laden sacks, some of which burst.

Dalroy was unhurt, and he could only hope that the girl also had escaped
injury. Ere he rose he clasped her around the neck and clapped a hand
over her mouth lest she should scream. "Not a word!" he breathed into
her ear. "Can you manage to crawl on all-fours straight on by the side
of the hedge? Never mind thorns or nettles. It's our only chance."

In a few seconds they were free of the hubbub which sprang up around the
overturned wagon and the transport, the latter having shattered a wheel.
Soon they were able to rise, crouching behind the hedge as they ran.
They turned at an angle, and struck off into the country, following the
line of another hedge which trended slightly uphill. At a gateway they
turned again, moving, as Dalroy calculated, on the general line of the
Visé road. A low-roofed shanty loomed up suddenly against the sky. It
was just the place to house an outpost, and Dalroy was minded to avoid
it when the lowing of a cow in pain revealed to his trained intelligence
the practical certainty that the animal had been left there unattended,
and needed milking. Still, he took no unnecessary risks.

"Remain here," he murmured. "I'll go ahead and investigate, and return
in a minute or so."

He did not notice that the girl sank beneath the hedge with a suspicious
alacrity. He was a man, a fighter, with the hot breath of war in his
nostrils. Not yet had he sensed the cruel strain which war places on
women. Moreover, his faculties were centred in the task of the moment.
The soldier is warned not to take his eyes off the enemy while reloading
his rifle lest the target be lost; similarly, Dalroy knew that
concentration was the prime essential of scout-craft.

Thus he was deaf to the distant thunder of guns, but alive to the least
rustle inside the building; blind to certain ominous gleams on the
horizon, but quick to detect any moving object close at hand. He made
out that a door stood open; so, after a few seconds' pause, he slipped
rapidly within, and stood near the wall on the side opposite the hinges.
An animal stirred uneasily, and the plaintive lowing ceased. He had
dropped the sabots long since, and the lamp was lost in the spill out of
the wagon, but most fortunately he had matches in his pocket. He closed
the door softly, struck a match, guarding the flame with both hands, and
looked round. He found himself in a ramshackle shed, half-barn,
half-stable. In a stall was tethered a black-and-white cow, her udder
distended with milk. Huddled up against the wall was the corpse of a
woman, an old peasant, whose wizened features had that waxen tint of
_camailleu gris_ with which, in their illuminated missals of the Middle
Ages, the monks loved to portray the sufferings of the early Christian
martyrs. She had been stabbed twice through the breast. An overturned
pail and milking-stool showed how and where death had surprised her.

The match flickered out, and Dalroy was left in the darkness of the
tomb. He had a second match in his hand, and was on the verge of
striking it when he heard a man's voice and the swish of feet through
the grass of the pasture without.

"This is the place, Heinrich," came the words in guttural German, and
breathlessly. Then, with certain foulnesses of expression, the speaker
added, "I'm puffed. That girl fought like a wild cat."

"She's pretty, too, for a Belgian," agreed another voice.

"So. But I couldn't put up with her screeching when you told her that a
bayonet had stopped her grandam's nagging tongue."

"_Ach, was!_ What matter, at eighty?"

Dalroy had pulled the door open. Stooping, he sought for and found the
milking-stool, a solid article of sound oak. Through a chink he saw two
dark forms; glints of the dawn on fixed bayonets showed that the men
were carrying their rifles slung. At the door the foremost switched on
an electric torch.

"You milk, Heinrich," he said, "while I show a glim."

He advanced a pace, as Dalroy expected he would, so the swing of the
stool caught him on the right side of the head, partly on the ear and
partly on the rim of his _Pickel-haube_. But his skull was fractured for
all that. Heinrich fared no better, though the torch was shattered on
the rough paving of the stable. A thrust floored him, and he fell with a
fearsome clatter of accoutrements. A second blow on the temple stilled
the startled oath on his lips. Dalroy divested him of the rifle, and
stuffed a few clips of cartridges into his own pockets.

Then, ready for any others of a cut-throat crew, he listened. One of the
pair on the ground was gasping for breath. The cow began lowing again.
That was all. There was neither sight nor sound of Irene, though she
must have heard enough to frighten her badly.

"Miss Beresford!" he said, in a sibilant hiss which would carry easily
to the point where he had left her. No answer. Nature was still. It was
as though inanimate things were awake, but quaking. The breathing of the
unnamed German changed abruptly into a gurgling croak. Heinrich had
traversed that stage swiftly under the second blow. From the roads came
the sharp rattle of horses' feet, the panting of motors. The thud of
gun-fire smote the air incessantly. It suggested the monstrous
pulse-beat of an alarmed world. Over a hilltop the beam of a searchlight
hovered for an instant, and vanished. Belgium, little Belgium, was in a
death-grapple with mighty Germany. Even in her agony she was crying,
"What of England? Will England help?" Well, one Englishman had lessened
by two the swarm of her enemies that night.

Dalroy was only vaguely conscious of the scope and magnitude of events
in which he was bearing so small a part. He knew enough of German
methods in his immediate surroundings, however, to reck as little of
having killed two men as though they were rats. His sole and very real
concern was for the girl who answered not. Before going in search of her
he was tempted to don a _Pickel-haube_, which, with the rifle and
bayonet, would, in the misty light, deceive any new-comers. But the
field appeared to be untenanted, and it occurred to him that his
companion might actually endeavour to hide if she took him for a German
soldier. So he did not even carry the weapon.

He found Irene at once. She had simply fainted, and the man who now
lifted her limp form tenderly in his arms was vexed at his own
forgetfulness. The girl had slept but little during two nights. Meals
were irregular and scanty. She had lived in a constant and increasing
strain, while the real danger and great physical exertion of the past
few minutes had provided a climax beyond her powers.

Like the mass of young officers in the British army, Dalroy kept himself
fit, even during furlough, by long walks, daily exercises, and
systematic abstention from sleep, food, and drink. If a bed was too
comfortable he changed it. If an undertaking could be accomplished
equally well in conditions of hardship or luxury he chose hardship.
Soldiering was his profession, and he held the theory that a soldier
must always be ready to withstand the severest tax on brain and
physique. Therefore the minor privations of the journey from Berlin,
with its decidedly strenuous sequel at Aix-la-Chapelle, and this
D'Artagnan episode in the neighbourhood of Visé, had made no material
drain on his resources.

A girl like Irene Beresford, swept into the sirocco of war from
the ordered and sheltered life of a young Englishwoman of the
middle-classes, was an altogether different case. He believed her one
of the small army of British-born women who find independence and fair
remuneration for their services by acting as governesses and ladies'
companions on the Continent. Nearly every German family of wealth and
social pretensions counted the _Englische Fräulein_ as a member of the
household; even in autocratic Prussia, _Kultur_ is not always spelt
with a "K." She was well-dressed, and supplied with ample means for
travelling; but plenty of such girls owned secured incomes, treating
a salary as an "extra." Moreover, she spoke German like a native, had

small sister in Brussels, and had evidently met Von Halwig in one of the
great houses of the capital. Undoubtedly, she was a superior type of
governess, or, it might be, English mistress in a girls' high school.

These considerations did not crowd in on Dalroy while he was holding her
in close embrace in a field near Visé at dawn on the morning of
Wednesday, 5th August. They were the outcome of nebulous ideas formed in
the train. At present, his one thought was the welfare of a hapless
woman of his own race, be she a peer's daughter or a postman's.

Now, skilled leader of men though he was, he had little knowledge of the
orthodox remedies for a fainting woman. Like most people, he was aware
that a loosening of bodices and corsets, a chafing of hands, a vigorous
massage of the feet and ankles, tended to restore circulation, and
therefore consciousness. But none of these simple methods was
practicable when a party of German soldiers might be hunting for both
of them, while another batch might be minded to follow "Heinrich" and
his fellow-butcher. So he carried her to the stable and laid her on a
truss of straw noted during that first vivid glimpse of the interior.

Then, greatly daring, he milked the cow.

Not only did the poor creature's suffering make an irresistible appeal,
but in relieving her distress he was providing the best of nourishment
for Irene and himself. The cow gave no trouble. Soon the milk was
flowing steadily into the pail. The darkness was abysmal. On one hand
lay a dead woman, on the other an unconscious one, and two dead men
guarded the doorway. Once, in Paris, Dalroy had seen one of the lurid
playlets staged at the Grand Guignol, wherein a woman served a meal for
a friend and chatted cheerfully during its progress, though the body of
her murdered husband was stowed behind a couch and a window-curtain. He
recalled the horrid little tragedy now; but that was make-believe, this
was grim reality.

Yet he had ever an eye for the rectangle of the doorway. When a quality
of grayness sharpened its outlines he knew it was high time to be on the
move. Happily, at that instant, Irene sighed deeply and stirred. Ere she
had any definite sense of her surroundings she was yielding to Dalroy's
earnest appeal, and allowing him to guide her faltering steps. He
carried the pail and the rifle in his left hand. With the right he
gripped the girl's arm, and literally forced her into a walk.

The wood indicated by Maertz was plainly visible now, and close at hand,
and the first rays of daylight gave colour to the landscape. The hour,
as Dalroy ascertained later, was about a quarter to four.

It was vitally essential that they should reach cover within the next
five minutes; but his companion was so manifestly unequal to sustained
effort that he was on the point of carrying her in order to gain the
protection of the first hedgerow when he noticed that a slight
depression in the hillside curved in the direction of the wood. Here,
too, were shrubs and tufts of long grass. Indeed, the shallow trough
proved to be one of the many heads of a ravine. The discovery of a
hidden way at that moment contributed as greatly as any other
circumstance to their escape. They soon learnt that the German
hell-hounds were in full cry on their track.

At the first bend Dalroy called a halt. He told Irene to sit down, and
she obeyed so willingly that, rendered wiser by events, he feared lest
she should faint again.

When travelling he made it a habit to carry two handkerchiefs, one for
use and one in case of emergency, such as a bandage being in sudden
demand, so he was able to produce a square of clean cambric, which he
folded cup-shape and partly filled with milk. It was the best
substitute he could devise for a strainer, and it served admirably. By
this means they drank nearly all the milk he had secured, and, with each
mouthful, Irene felt a new eichor in her veins. For the first time she
gave heed to the rifle.

"How did you get that?" she asked, wide-eyed with wonder.

"I picked it up at the door of the shed," he answered.

"I remember now," she murmured. "You left me under a hedge while you
crept forward to investigate, and I was silly enough to go off in a dead
faint. Did you carry me to the shed?"

"Yes."

"What a bother I must have been. But the finding of a rifle doesn't
explain a can of milk."

"The really important factor was the cow," he said lightly. "Now, young
lady, if you can talk you can walk. We have a little farther to go."

"Have we?" she retorted, bravely emulating his self-control. "I am glad
you have fixed on our destination. It's quite a relief to be in charge
of a man who really knows what he wants, and sees that he gets it."

He led the way, she followed. He had an eye for all quarters, because
daylight was coming now with the flying feet of Aurora. But this tiny
section of Belgium was free from Germans, for the very good reason that
their cohorts already held the right bank of the Meuse at many points,
and their engineers were throwing pontoon bridges across the river at
Visé and Argenteau.

From the edge of the wood Dalroy looked down on the river, the railway,
and the little town itself. He saw instantly that the whole district
south of the Meuse was strongly held by the invaders. Three arches of a
fine stone bridge had been destroyed, evidently by the retreating
Belgians; but pontoons were in position to take its place. Twice already
had Belgian artillery destroyed the enemy's work, and not even a
professional soldier could guess that the guns of the defence were only
awaiting a better light to smash the pontoons a third time. In fact,
barely half-a-mile to the right of the wood, a battery of four 5.9's was
posted on high ground, in the hope that the Belgian guns of smaller
calibre might be located and crushed at once. Even while the two stood
looking down into the valley, a sputtering rifle-fire broke out across
the river, three hundred yards wide at the bridge, and the volume of
musketry steadily increased. Men, horses, wagons, and motors swarmed on
the roadway or sheltered behind warehouses on the quays.

As a soldier, Dalroy was amazed at the speed and annihilating
completeness of the German mobilisation. Indeed, he was chagrined by it,
it seemed so admirable, so thoroughly thought-out in each detail, so
unapproachable by any other nation in its pitiless efficiency. He did
not know then that the vaunted Prussian-made military machine depended
for its motive-power largely on treachery and espionage. Toward the
close of July, many days before war was declared, Germany had secretly
massed nine hundred thousand men on the frontiers of Belgium and the
Duchy of Luxembourg. Her armies, therefore, had gathered like felons,
and were led by master-thieves in the persons of thousands of German
officers domiciled in both countries in the guise of peaceful traders.

Single-minded person that he was, Dalroy at once focused his thoughts on
the immediate problem. A small stream leaped down from the wood to the
Meuse. Short of a main road bridge its turbulent course was checked by a
mill-dam, and there was some reason to believe that the mill might be
Joos's. The building seemed a prosperous place, with its two giant
wheels on different levels, its ample granaries, and a substantial
house. It was intact, too, and somewhat apart from the actual line of
battle. At any rate, though the transition was the time-honoured one
from the frying-pan to the fire, in that direction lay food, shelter,
and human beings other than Germans, so he determined to go there
without further delay. His main purpose now was to lodge his companion
with some Belgian family until the tide of war had swept far to the
west. For himself, he meant to cross the enemy's lines by hook or by
crook, or lose his life in the attempt.

"One more effort," he said, smiling confidently into Irene's somewhat
pallid face. "Your uncle lives below there, I fancy. We're about to
claim his hospitality."

He hid the rifle, bayonet, and cartridges in a thicket. The milk-pail he
took with him. If they met a German patrol the pail might serve as an
excuse for being out and about, whereas the weapons would have been a
sure passport to the next world.

It was broad daylight when they entered the miller's yard. They saw the
name Henri Joos on a cart.

"Good egg!" cried Dalroy confidently. "I'm glad Joos spells his
Christian name in the French way. It shows that he means well, anyhow!"



CHAPTER IV

THE TRAGEDY OF VISÉ


Early as was the hour, a door leading to the dwelling-house stood open.
The sound of feet on the cobbled pavement of the mill-yard brought a
squat, beetle-browed old man to the threshold. He surveyed the strangers
with a curiously haphazard yet piercing underlook. His black eyes held a
glint of red. Here was one in a subdued torment of rage, or, it might
be, of ill-controlled panic.

"What now?" he grunted, using the local argot.

Dalroy, quick to read character, decided that this crabbed old Walloon
was to be won at once or not at all.

"Shall I speak French or German?" he said quietly. The other spat.

"_Qu'est-ce que tu veux que je te dise, moi?_" he demanded. Now, the
plain English of that question is, "What do you wish me to say?" But the
expectoration, no less than the biting tone, lent the words a far deeper
meaning.

Dalroy was reassured. "Are you Monsieur Henri Joos?" he said.

"Ay."

"This lady and I have come from Aix-la-Chapelle with your man, Maertz."

"Oh, he's alive, then?"

"I hope so. But may we not enter?"

Joos eyed the engine-cleaner's official cap and soiled clothes, and his
suspicious gaze travelled to Dalroy's well-fitting and expensive boots.

"Who the deuce are you?" he snapped.

"I'll tell you if you let us come in."

"I can't hinder you. It is an order, all doors must be left open."

Still, he made way, though ungraciously. The refugees found themselves
in a spacious kitchen, a comfortable and cleanly place, Dutch in its
colourings and generally spick and span aspect. A comely woman of middle
age, and a plump, good-looking girl about as old as Irene, were seated
on an oak bench beneath a window. They were clinging to each other, and
had evidently listened fearfully to the brief conversation without.

The only signs of disorder in the room were supplied by a quantity of
empty wine-bottles, drinking-mugs, soiled plates, and cutlery, spread on
a broad table. Irene sank into one of half-a-dozen chairs which had
apparently been used by the feasters.

Joos chuckled. His laugh had an ugly sound. "Pity you weren't twenty
minutes sooner," he guffawed. "You'd have had company, pleasant company,
visitors from across the frontier."

"I, too, have crossed the frontier," said Irene, a wan smile lending
pathos to her beauty. "I travelled with Germans from Berlin. If I saw a
German now I think I should die."

At that, Madame Joos rose. "Calm thyself, Henri," she said. "These
people are friends."

"Maybe," retorted her husband. He turned on Dalroy with surprising
energy, seeing that he was some twenty years older than his wife. "You
say that you came with Maertz," he went on. "Where is he? He has been
absent four days."

By this time Dalroy thought he had taken the measure of his man. No
matter what the outcome to himself personally, Miss Beresford must
be helped. She could go no farther without food and rest. He risked
everything on the spin of a coin. "We are English," he said, speaking
very slowly and distinctly, so that each syllable should penetrate
the combined brains of the Joos family. "We were only trying to
leave Germany, meaning harm to none, but were arrested as spies at
Aix-la-Chapelle. We escaped by a ruse. I knocked a man silly, and took
some of his clothes. Then we happened on Maertz at a corner of Franz
Strasse, and persuaded him to give us a lift. We jogged along all right
until we reached the cross-roads beyond the hill there," and he pointed
in the direction of the wood. "A German officer refused to allow us to
pass, but a motor transport knocked the wagon over, and this lady and I
were thrown into a field. We got away in the confusion, and made for a
cowshed lying well back from the road and on the slope of the hill. At
that point my friend fainted, luckily for herself, because, when I
examined the shed, I found the corpse of an old woman there. She had
evidently been about to milk a black-and-white cow when she was
bayoneted by a German soldier----"

He was interrupted by a choking sob from Madame Joos, who leaned a hand
on the table for support. In pose and features she would have served as
a model for Hans Memling's "portrait" of Saint Elizabeth, which in
happier days used to adorn the hospital at Bruges. "The Widow Jaquinot,"
she gasped.

"Of course, madame, I don't know the poor creature's name. I was
wondering how to act for the best when two soldiers came to the stable.
I heard what they were saying. One of them admitted that he had stabbed
the old woman; his words also implied that he and his comrade had
violated her granddaughter. So I picked up a milking-stool and killed
both of them. I took one of their rifles, which, with its bayonet and a
number of cartridges, I hid at the top of the ravine. This is the pail
which I found in the shed. No doubt it belongs to the Jaquinot
household. Now, I have told you the actual truth. I ask nothing for
myself. If I stay here, even though you permit it, my presence will
certainly bring ruin on you. So I shall go at once. But I _do_ ask you,
as Christian people, to safeguard this young English lady, and, when
conditions permit, and she has recovered her strength, to guide her into
Holland, unless, that is, these German beasts are attacking the Dutch
too."

For a brief space there was silence. Dalroy looked fixedly at Joos,
trying to read Irene Beresford's fate in those black, glowing eyes. The
womenfolk were won already; but well he knew that in this Belgian nook
the patriarchal principle that a man is lord and master in his own house
would find unquestioned acceptance. He was aware that Irene's gaze was
riveted on him in a strangely magnetic way. It was one thing that he
should say calmly, "So I picked up a milking-stool, and killed both of
them," but quite another that Irene should visualise in the light of her
rare intelligence the epic force of the tragedy enacted while she lay
unconscious in the depths of a hedgerow. Dalroy could tell, Heaven knows
how, that her very soul was peering at him. In that tense moment he knew
that he was her man for ever. But--_surgit amari aliquid_! A wave of
bitterness welled up from heart to brain because of the conviction that
if he would, indeed, be her true knight he must leave her within the
next few seconds. Yet his resolution did not waver. Not once did his
glance swerve from Joos's wizened face.

It was the miller himself who first broke the spell cast on the
curiously assorted group by Dalroy's story. He stretched out a hand and
took the pail. "This is fresh milk," he said, examining the dregs.

"Yes. I milked the cow. The poor animal was in pain, and my friend and I
wanted the milk."

"You milked the cow--before?"

"No. After."

_"Grand Dieu!_ you're English, without doubt."

Joos turned the pail upside down, appraising it critically. "Yes," he
said, "it's one of Dupont's. I remember her buying it. She gave him
fifty kilos of potatoes for it. She stuck him, he said. Half the
potatoes were black. A rare hand at a bargain, the Veuve Jaquinot. And
she's dead you tell me. A bayonet thrust?"

"Two."

Madame Joos burst into hysterical sobbing. Her husband whisked round on
her with that singular alertness of movement which was one of his most
marked characteristics.

"Peace, wife!" he snapped. "Isn't that what we're all coming to? What
matter to Dupont now whether the potatoes were black or sound?"

Dalroy guessed that Dupont was the iron-monger of Visé. He was gaining a
glimpse, too, of the indomitable soul of Belgium. Though itching for
information, he checked the impulse, because time pressed horribly.

"Well," he said, "will you do what you can for the lady? The Germans
have spared you. You have fed them. They may treat you decently. I'll
make it worth while. I have plenty of money----"

Irene stood up. "Monsieur," she said, and her voice was sweet as the
song of a robin, "it is idle to speak of saving one without the other.
Where Monsieur Dalroy goes I go. If he dies, I die."

For the first time since entering the mill Dalroy dared to look at her.
In the sharp, crisp light of advancing day her blue eyes held a tint of
violet. Tear-drops glistened in the long lashes; but she smiled
wistfully, as though pleading for forgiveness.

"That is sheer nonsense," he cried in English, making a miserable
failure of the anger he tried to assume. "You ought to be reasonably
safe here. By insisting on remaining with me you deliberately sacrifice
both our lives. That is, I mean," he added hastily, aware of a slip,
"you prevent me too from taking the chance of escape that offers."

"If that were so I would not thrust myself on you," she answered. "But I
know the Germans. I know how they mean to wage war. They make no secret
of it. They intend to strike terror into every heart at the outset. They
are not men, but super-brutes. You saw Von Halwig at Berlin, and again
at Aix-la-Chapelle. If a titled Prussian can change his superficial
manners--not his nature, which remains invariably bestial--to that
extent in a day, before he has even the excuse of actual war, what will
the same man become when roused to fury by resistance? But we must not
talk English." She turned to Joos. "Tell us, then, monsieur," she said,
grave and serious as Pallas Athena questioning Perseus, "have not the
Prussians already ravaged and destroyed Visé?"

The old man's face suddenly lost its bronze, and became ivory white. His
features grew convulsed. He resembled one of those grotesque masks
carved by Japanese artists to simulate a demon. "Curse them!" he
shrilled. "Curse them in life and in death--man, woman, and child! What
has Belgium done that she should be harried by a pack of wolves? Who can
say what wolves will do?"

Joos was aboil with vitriolic passion. There was no knowing how long
this tirade might have gone on had not a speckled hen stalked firmly in
through the open door with obvious and settled intent to breakfast on
crumbs.

"_Ciel!_" cackled the orator. "Not a fowl was fed overnight!"

In real life, as on the stage, comedy and tragedy oft go hand in hand.
But the speckled hen deserved a good meal. Her entrance undoubtedly
stemmed the floodtide of her owner's patriotic wrath, and thus enabled
the five people in the kitchen to overhear a hoarse cry from the
roadway: "Hi, there, _dummer Esel_! whither goest thou? This is Joos's
mill."

"Quick, Léontine!" cried Joos. "To the second loft with them! Sharp,
now!"

In this unexpected crisis, Dalroy could neither protest nor refuse to
accompany the girl, who led him and Irene up a back stair and through a
well-stored granary to a ladder which communicated with a trap-door.

"I'll bring you some coffee and eggs as soon as I can," she whispered.
"Draw up the ladder, and close the door. It's not so bad up there.
There's a window, but take care you aren't seen. Maybe," she added
tremulously, "you are safer than we now."

Dalroy realised that it was best to obey.

"Courage, mademoiselle!" he said. "God is still in heaven, and all will
be well with the world."

"Please, monsieur, what became of Jan Maertz?" she inquired timidly.

"I'm not quite certain, but I think he fell clear of the wagon. The
Germans should not have ill-treated him. The collision was not his
fault."

The girl sobbed, and left them. Probably the gruff Walloon was her
lover.

Irene climbed first. Dalroy followed, raised the ladder noiselessly, and
lowered the trap. His brow was seamed with foreboding, as, despite his
desire to leave his companion in the care of the miller's household, he
had an instinctive feeling that he was acting unwisely. Moreover, like
every free man, he preferred to seek the open when in peril. Now he felt
himself caged.

Therefore was he amazed when Irene laughed softly. "How readily you
translate Browning into French!" she said.

He gazed at her in wonderment. Less than an hour ago she had fainted
under the stress of hunger and dread, yet here was she talking as though
they had met in the breakfast-room of an English country house. He would
have said something, but the ancient mill trembled under the sudden
crash of artillery. The roof creaked, the panes of glass in the dormer
window rattled, and fragments of mortar fell from the walls. Unmindful,
for the moment, of Léontine Joos's warning, Dalroy went to the window,
which commanded a fine view of the town, river, and opposite heights.

The pontoon bridge was broken. Several pontoons were in splinters. The
others were swinging with the current toward each bank. Six Belgian
field-pieces had undone the night's labour, and a lively rat-tat of
rifles, mixed with the stutter of machine guns, proved that the
defenders were busy among the Germans trapped on the north bank. The
heavier ordnance brought to the front by the enemy soon took up the
challenge; troops occupying the town, which, for the most part, lies on
the south bank, began to cover the efforts of the engineers, instantly
renewed. History was being written in blood that morning on both sides
of the Meuse. The splendid defence offered by a small Belgian force was
thwarting the advance of the 9th German Army Corps. Similarly, the 10th
and 7th were being held up at Verviers and on the direct road from Aix
to Liège respectively. All this meant that General Leman, the heroic
commander-in-chief at Liège, was given most precious time to garrison
that strong fortress, construct wire entanglements, lay mines, and
destroy roads and railways, which again meant that Von Emmich's
sledge-hammer blows with three army corps failed to overwhelm Liège in
accordance with the dastardly plan drawn up by the German staff.

Dalroy, though he might not realise the marvellous fact then, was in
truth a spectator of a serious German defeat. Even in the conditions, he
was aglow with admiration for the pluck of the Belgians in standing up
so valiantly against the merciless might of Germany. The window was
dust-laden as the outcome of earlier gun-fire, and he was actually on
the point of opening it when Irene stopped him.

"Those men below may catch sight of you," she said.

He stepped back hurriedly. Two forage-carts had been brought into the
yard, and preparations were being made to load them with oats and hay.
A truculent-looking sergeant actually lifted his eyes to that particular
window. But he could not see through the dimmed panes, and was only
estimating the mill's probable contents.

Dalroy laughed constrainedly. "You are the better soldier of the two,"
he said. "I nearly blundered. Still, I wish the window was open. I want
to size up the chances of the Belgians. Those are bigger guns which are
answering, and a duel between big guns and little ones can have only one
result."

Seemingly, the German battery of quick-firers had located its opponents,
because the din now became terrific. As though in response to Dalroy's
desire, three panes of glass fell out owing to atmospheric concussion,
and the watchers in the loft could follow with ease the central phase of
the struggle. The noise of the battle was redoubled by the accident to
the window, and the air-splitting snarl of the high-explosive shells
fired by the 5.9's in the effort to destroy the Belgian guns was
specially deafening. That sound, more than any other, seemed to affect
Irene's nerves. Involuntarily she clung to Dalroy's arm, and he, with no
other intent than to reassure her, drew her trembling form close.

It was evident that the assailants were suffering heavy losses. Scores
of men fell every few minutes among the bridge-builders, while
casualties were frequent among the troops lining the quays. Events on
the Belgian side of the river were not so marked; but even Irene could
make out the precise moment when the defenders' fire slackened, and the
line of pontoons began to reach out again toward the farther shore.

"Are the poor Belgians beaten, then?" she asked, with a tender sympathy
which showed how lightly she estimated her own troubles in comparison
with the agony of a whole nation.

"I think not," said Dalroy. "I imagine they have changed the position of
some, at least, of their guns, and will knock that bridge to smithereens
again just as soon as it nears completion."

The forage-carts rumbled out of the yard. Dalroy noticed that the
soldiers wore linen covers over the somewhat showy _Pickel-hauben_,
though the regiments he had seen in Aix-la-Chapelle swaggered through
the streets in their ordinary helmets. This was another instance of
German thoroughness. The invisibility of the gray-green uniform was not
so patent when the _Pickel-haube_ lent its glint, but no sooner had the
troops crossed the frontier than the linen cover was adjusted, and the
masses of men became almost merged in the browns and greens of the
landscape.

The two were so absorbed in the drama being fought out before their eyes
that they were quite startled by a series of knocks on the boarded
floor. Dalroy crept to the trap door and listened. Then, during an
interval between the salvoes of artillery, he heard Léontine's voice,
"Monsieur! Mademoiselle!"

He pulled up the trap. Beneath stood Léontine, with a long pole in her
hands. Beside her, on the floor, was a laden tray.

"I've brought you something to eat," she said. "Father thinks you had
better remain there at present. The Germans say they will soon cross the
river, as they intend taking Liège to-night."

Not until they had eaten some excellent rolls and butter, with boiled
eggs, and drank two cups of hot coffee, did they realise how ravenously
hungry they were. Then Dalroy persuaded Irene to lie down on a pile of
sacks, and, amid all the racket of a fierce engagement, she slept the
sleep of sheer exhaustion. Thus he was left on guard, as it were, and
saw the pontoons once more demolished.

After that he, too, curled up against the wall and slept. The sound of
rifle shots close at hand awoke him. His first care was for the girl,
but she lay motionless. Then he looked out. There was renewed excitement
in the main road, but only a few feet of it was visible from the attic.
A number of women and children ran past, all screaming, and evidently in
a state of terror. Several houses in the town were on fire, and the
smoke hung over the river in such clouds as to obscure the north bank.

Old Henri Joos came hurriedly into the yard. He was gesticulating
wildly, and Dalroy heard a door bang as he vanished. Refusing to be
penned up any longer without news of what was happening, Dalroy lowered
the ladder, and, after ascertaining that Irene was still asleep,
descended. He made his way to the kitchen, pausing only to find out
whether or not it held any German soldiers.

Joos's shrill voice, raised in malediction of all Prussians, soon
decided that fact. He spoke in the local _patois_, but straightway
branched off into French interlarded with German when Dalroy appeared.

"Those hogs!" he almost screamed. "Those swine-dogs! They can't beat our
brave boys of the 3rd Regiment, so what do you think they're doing now?
Murdering men, women, and children out of mere spite. The devils from
hell pretended that the townsfolk were shooting at them, so they began
to stab, and shoot, and burn in all directions. The officers are worse
than the men. Three came here in an automobile, and marked on the gate
that the mill was not to be burnt--they want my grain, you see--and, as
they were driving off again, young Jan Smit ran by. Poor lad, he was
breathless with fear. They asked him if he had seen another car like
theirs, but he could only stutter. One of them laughed, and said, 'I'll
work a miracle, and cure him.' Then he whipped out a revolver and shot
the boy dead. Some soldiers with badges on their arms saw this. One of
them yelled, '_Man hat geschossen_' ('The people have been shooting'),
though it was their own officer who fired, and he and the others threw
little bombs into the nearest cottages, and squirted petrol in through
the windows. Madame Didier, who has been bedridden for years, was burnt
alive in that way. They have a regular corps of men for the job. Then,
'to punish the town,' as they said, they took twenty of our chief
citizens, lined them up in the market-place, and fired volleys at them.
There was Dupont, and the Abbé Courvoisier, and Monsieur Philippe the
notary, and--_ah, mon Dieu_, I don't know--all my old friends. The
Prussian beasts will come here soon.--Wife! Léontine! how can I save
you? They are devils--devils, I tell you--devils mad with drink and
anger. A few scratches in chalk on our gate won't hold them back. They
may be here any moment. You, mademoiselle, had better go with Léontine
here and drown yourselves in the mill dam. Heaven help me, that is the
only advice a father can give!"

Dalroy turned. Irene stood close behind. She knew when he left the
garret, and had followed swiftly. She confessed afterwards that she
thought he meant to carry out his self-denying project, and leave her.

"You are mistaken, Monsieur Joos," she said now, speaking with an
aristocratic calm which had an immediate effect on the miller and his
distraught womenfolk. "You do not know the German soldier. He is a
machine that obeys orders. He will kill, or not kill, exactly as he is
bidden. If your house has been excepted it is absolutely safe."

She was right. The mill was one of the places in Visé spared by German
malice that day. A well-defined section of the little town was given up
to murder, and loot, and fire, and rapine. Scenes were enacted which are
indescribable. A brutal soldiery glutted its worst passions on an
unarmed and defenceless population. The hour was near when some
hysterical folk would tell of the apparition of angels at Mons; but old
Henri Joos was unquestionably right when he spoke of the presence of
devils in Visé.



CHAPTER V

BILLETS


The miller's volcanic outburst seemed to have exhausted itself; he
subsided to the oaken bench, leaned forward, elbows on knees, and thrust
his clenched fists against his ears as though he would shut out the
deafening clamour of the guns. This attitude of dejection evidently
alarmed Madame Joos. She forgot her own fears in solicitude for her
husband. Bending over him, she patted his shoulder with a maternal hand,
since every woman is at heart a mother--a mother first and essentially.

"Maybe the lady is right, Henri," she said tenderly. "Young as she is,
she may understand these things better than countryfolk like us."

"Ah, Lise," he moaned, "you would have dropped dead had you seen poor
Dupont. He wriggled for a long minute after he fell. And the Abbé, with
his white hair! Some animal of a Prussian fired at his face."

"Don't talk about it," urged his wife. "It is bad for you to get so
excited. Remember, the doctor warned you----"

"The doctor! Dr. Lafarge! A soldier hammered on the surgery door with
the butt of his rifle, and, when the doctor came out, twirled the rifle
and stabbed him right through the body. I saw it. It was like a
conjuring trick. I was giving an officer some figures about the contents
of the mill. The doctor screamed, and clutched at the bayonet with both
hands. And who do you think the murderer was?"

Madame Joos's healthy red cheeks had turned a ghastly yellow, but she
contrived to stammer, "_Dieu!_ The poor doctor! But how should I know?"

"The barber, Karl Schwartz."

"Karl a soldier!"

"More, a sergeant. He lived and worked among us ten years--a spy. It was
the doctor who got him fined for beating his wife. No wonder Monsieur
Lafarge used to say there were too many Germans in Belgium. The officer
I was talking to watched the whole thing. He was a fat man, and wore
spectacles for writing. He lifted them, and screwed up his eyes, so,
like a pig, to read the letters on the brass door-plate. '_Almächtig!_'
he said, grinning, 'a successful operation on a doctor by a patient.' I
saw red. I felt in my pocket for a knife. I meant to rip open his
paunch. Then one of our shells burst near us, and he scuttled. The wind
of the explosion knocked me over, so I came home."

The two, to some extent, were using the local _patois_; but their
English hearers understood nearly every word, because these residents on
the Belgian border mingle French, German, and a Low Dutch dialect
almost indiscriminately. Dalroy at once endeavoured to divert the old
man's thoughts. The massacre which had been actually permitted, or even
organised, in the town by daylight would probably develop into an orgy
that night. Not one woman now, but three, required protection. He must
evolve some definite plan which could be carried out during the day,
because the hordes of cavalry pressing toward the Meuse would soon
deplete Joos's mill; and when the place ceased to be of value to the
commissariat the protecting order would almost certainly be revoked.
Moreover, Léontine Joos was young and fairly attractive.

In a word, Dalroy was beginning to understand the psychology of the
German soldier in war-time.

"Let us think of the immediate future," he struck in boldly. "You have a
wife and daughter to safeguard, Monsieur Joos, while I have Mademoiselle
Beresford on my hands. Your mill is on the outskirts of the town. Is
there no village to the west, somewhere out of the direct line, to which
they could be taken for safety?"

"The west!" growled Joos, springing up again, "isn't that where these
savages are going? That is the way to Liège. I asked the officer. He
said they would be in Liège to-night, and in Paris in three weeks."

"Is it true that England has declared war?"

"So they say. But the Prussians laugh. You have no soldiers, they tell
us, and their fleet is nearly as strong as yours. They think they have
caught you napping, and that is why they are coming through Belgium.
Paris first, then the coast, and they've got you. For the love of
Heaven, monsieur, is it true that you have no army?"

Dalroy was stung into putting Britain's case in the best possible light.
"Not only have we an army, every man of which is worth three Germans at
a fair estimate; but if England has come into this war she will not
cease fighting until Prussia grovels in the mud at her feet. How can
you, a Belgian, doubt England's good faith? Hasn't England maintained
your nation in freedom for eighty years?"

"True, true! But the Prussians are sure of victory, and one's heart
aches when one sees them sweep over the land like a pestilence. I
haven't told you one-tenth----"

"Why frighten these ladies needlessly? The gun-fire is bad enough. You
and I are men, Monsieur Joos. We must try and save our women."

The miller was spirited, and the implied taunt struck home.

"It's all very well talking in that way," he cried; "but what's going to
happen to you if a German sees you? _Que diable!_ You look like an
Aachen carriage-cleaner, don't you, with your officer air and commanding
voice, and your dandy boots, and your fine clothes showing when the
workman's smock opens! The lady, too, in a cheap shawl, wearing a blouse
and skirt that cost hundreds of francs!--Léontine, take monsieur----"

"Dalroy."

"Take Monsieur Dalroy to Jan Maertz's room, and let him put on Jan's
oldest clothes and a pair of sabots. Jan's clogs will just about fit
him. And give mademoiselle one of your old dresses."

He whirled round on Dalroy. "What became of Jan Maertz? Did the Germans
really kill him? Tell us the truth. Léontine, there, had better know."

"I think he is safe," said Dalroy. "I have already explained to your
daughter how the accident came about which separated us. Maertz was
pulled out of the driver's seat by the reins when the horses plunged and
upset the wagon. He may arrive any hour."

"The Germans didn't know, then, that you and the lady were in the cart?"

"No."

"I hope Jan hasn't told them. That would be awkward. But what matter?
You talk like a true man, and I'll do my best for you. It's nothing but
nonsense to think of getting away from Visé yet. You're a Liègeois whom
I hired to do Jan's work while he went to Aix. Everybody in Visé knows
he went there four days ago. I can't lift heavy sacks of grain at my
age, and I must have a man's help. You see? Sharp, now. When that fat
fellow gets his puff again he'll be here for more supplies. And mind you
don't wash your face and hands. You're far too much of a gentleman as it
is."

"One moment," interrupted Irene. "I want your promise, Captain Dalroy,
that you will not go away without telling me."

She could not guess how completely old Joos's broken story of the day's
events in Visé had changed Dalroy's intent.

"I would as soon think of cutting off my right hand," he said.

Their eyes met and clashed. It was dark in the mill's kitchen, even at
midday; but the girl felt that the tan of travel and exposure on her
face was yielding to a deep crimson. "Come, Léontine," she cried almost
gaily, "show me how to wear one of your frocks. I'll do as much for you
some day in London."

"You be off, too," growled Joos to Dalroy. "When the Germans come they
must see you about the place."

The old man was shrewd in his way. The sooner these strangers became
members of the household the less likely were they to attract attention.

Thus it came about that both Dalroy and Irene were back in the kitchen,
and clothed in garments fully in keeping with their new rôles, when a
commissariat wagon entered the yard. A Bavarian corporal did not trouble
to open the door in the ordinary way. He smashed the latch with his
shoulder. "Why is this door closed?" he demanded fiercely.

"Monsieur----" began Joos.

"Speak German, you swine!"

"I forgot the order, Herr Kaporal. As you see, it was only on the
latch."

"Don't let it happen again. Load the first wagon with hay and the second
with flour. While you're at it, these women can cook us a meal. Where do
you keep your wine?"

"Everything will be put on the table, _mons_--Herr Kaporal."

"None of your lip!--Here, you, the pretty one, show me the
wine-cupboard. I'll make my own selection. We Bavarians are famous
judges of good wine and pretty women, let me tell you."

The corporal's wit was highly appreciated by the squad of four men who
accompanied him. They had all been drinking. It is a notable fact that
during the early days of the invasion of Belgium and France--in effect,
while wine and brandy were procurable by theft--the army which boasts
the strictest discipline of any in the world was unquestionably the most
drunken that has ever waged successful war.

Irene was "the pretty one" chosen as guide by this hulking connoisseur,
but she knew how to handle boors of his type.

"You must not talk in that style to a girl from Berlin," she said icily.
"You and your men will take what is given you, or I'll find your
_oberleutnant_, and hear what he has to say about it."

She spoke purposely in perfect German, and the corporal was vastly
surprised.

"Pardon, _gnädiges Fräulein_," he mumbled with a clumsy bow. "I no
offence meant. We will within come when the meal is ready. About--turn!"
The enemy was routed.

The miller and his man worked hard until dusk. The fat officer turned
up, and lost no opportunity of ogling the two girls. He handed Joos a
payment docket, which, he explained grandiloquently, would be honoured
by the military authorities in due course. Joos pocketed the document
with a sardonic grin. There was some fifteen thousand francs' worth of
grain and forage stored on the premises, and he did not expect to see a
centime of hard cash from the Germans, unless, as he whispered grimly to
Dalroy, they were forced to pay double after the war. Meanwhile the
place was gutted. Wagon after wagon came empty and went away loaded.

Driblets of news were received. The passage of the Meuse had been
achieved, thanks to a flanking movement from Argenteau. Liège had fallen
at the first attack. The German High Sea Fleet was escorting an army in
transports to invade England, where, meanwhile, Zeppelins were
destroying London. Visé, having been sufficiently "punished" for a first
offence, would now be spared so long as the inhabitants "behaved
themselves." If a second "lesson" were needed it would be something to
remember.

The first and last of these items were correct, inasmuch as they
represented events and definite orders affecting the immediate
neighbourhood. Otherwise, the budget consisted of ever more daring
flights of Teutonic imagination, the crescendo swelling by distance.
Liège was so far from having fallen that the 7th Division, deprived of
the support of the 9th and 10th Divisions, had been beaten back
disastrously from the shallow trenches in front of the outer girdle of
forts. The 10th was about to share the same fate; and the 9th, after
being delayed nearly three days by the glorious resistance offered by
the Belgians at Visé, was destined to fare likewise. But rumour as to
the instant "capture" of Liège was not rife among the lower ranks alone
of the German army. The commander-in-chief actually telegraphed the news
to the All-Highest at Aix; when the All-Highest discovered the truth the
commander-in-chief decided that he had better blow his brains out, and
did.

The fact was that the overwhelming horde of invaders could not be kept
out of the city of Liège by the hastily mobilised Belgian army; but the
heroic governor, General Leman, held the ring of forts intact until they
were pulverised by the heavy ordnance of which Dalroy had seen two
specimens during the journey to Cologne. Many days were destined to
elapse before the last of the strongholds, Fort Loncin, crumbled into
ruins by the explosion of its own magazine; and until that was achieved
the mighty army of Germany dared not advance another kilomètre to the
west.

When the Bavarian corporal had gone through every part of the house and
outbuildings, and satisfied himself that the only stores left were some
potatoes and a half-bag of flour, he informed the miller that he and his
squad would be billeted there that evening.

"Your pantry is bare," he said, "but the wine is all right, so we'll
bring a joint which we 'planted' this morning. Be decent about the wine,
and your folk can have a cut in, too."

Possibly he meant to be civil, and there was a chance that the night
might pass without incident. Visé itself was certainly quiet save for
the unceasing stream of troops making for the pontoon bridge. The
fighting seemed to have shifted to the west and south-west, and Joos put
an unerring finger on the situation when he said pithily, "Liège is
making a deuce of a row after being taken."

"How many forts are there around the city?" inquired Dalroy.

"Twelve, big and little. Pontisse and Barchon cover the Meuse on this
side, and Fleron and Evegnée bar the direct road from Aix. Unless I am
greatly in error, monsieur, the German wolf is breaking his teeth on
some of them at this minute."

Liège itself was ten miles distant; Pontisse, the nearest fort, though
on the left bank of the river, barely six. The evening was still, there
being only a slight breeze from the south-west, which brought the loud
thunder of the guns and the crackle of rifle-fire. It was the voice of
Belgium proclaiming to the high gods that she was worthy of life.

The Bavarians came with their "joint," a noble piece of beef hacked off
a whole side looted from a butcher's shop. Madame Joos cut off an ample
quantity, some ten pounds, and put it in the oven. The girls peeled
potatoes and prepared cabbages. In half-an-hour the kitchen had an
appetising smell of food being cooked, the men were smoking, and a
casual visitor would never have resolved the gathering into its
constituent elements of irreconcilable national hatreds.

The corporal even tried to make amends for having damaged the
door. He examined the broken latch. "It's a small matter," he said
apologetically. "You can repair it for a trifle; and, in any case,
you will sleep all the better that we are here."

Though somewhat maudlin with liquor, he was very much afraid of the
"girl from Berlin." He could not sum her up, but meant to behave
himself; while his men, of course, followed his lead unquestioningly.

Dalroy kept in the background. He listened, but said hardly anything.
The turn of fortune's wheel was distinctly favourable. If the night
ended as it had begun there was a chance that he and Irene might slip
away to the Dutch frontier next morning, since he had ascertained
definitely that Holland was secure for the time, and was impartially
interning all combatants, either Germans or Belgians, who crossed the
border. At this time he was inclined to abandon his own project of
striving to steal through the German lines. He was somewhat weary, too,
after the unusual labour of carrying heavy sacks of grain and flour down
steep ladders or lowering them by a pulley. Thus, he dozed off in a
corner, but was aroused suddenly by the entry of the commissariat
officer and three subalterns. With them came an orderly, who dumped a
laden basket and a case of champagne on the floor.

The corporal and his satellites sprang to attention.

The fat man took the salute, and glanced around the kitchen. Then he
sniffed. "What! roast beef?" he said. "The men fare better than the
officers, it would seem.--Be off, you!"

"Herr Major, we are herein billeted," stuttered the corporal.

"Be off, I tell you, and take these Belgian swine with you! I make my
quarters here to-night."

Joos, of course, he recognised; and the miller said, with some dignity,
that the gentlemen would be made as comfortable as his resources
permitted, but he must remain in his own house.

The fat man stared at him, as though such insolence were unheard-of.
"Here," he roared to the corporal, "pitch this old hog into the Meuse.
He annoys me."

Meanwhile, one of the younger officers, a strapping Westphalian, lurched
toward Irene. She did not try to avoid him, thinking, perhaps, that a
passive attitude was advisable. He caught her by the waist, and guffawed
to his companions, "Didn't I offer to bet you fellows that Busch never
made a mistake about a woman? Who'd have dreamed of finding a beauty
like this one in a rotten old mill?"

The Bavarians had collected their rifles and sidearms, and were going
out sullenly. Each of the officers carried a sword and revolver.

Irene saw that Dalroy had risen in his corner. She wrenched herself
free. "How am I to prepare supper for you gentlemen if you bother me in
this way?" she demanded tartly.

"Behave yourself, Fritz," puffed the major. "Is that your idea of
keeping your word? _Mama_, if she is discreet, will go to bed, and the
young ones will eat with us.--Open that case of wine, orderly. I'm
thirsty.--The girls will have a drink too. Cooking is warm work.--Hallo!
What the devil! Kaporal, didn't you hear my order?"

Dalroy grabbed Joos, who was livid with rage. The two girls were safe
for the hour, and must endure the leering of four tipsy scoundrels. A
row at the moment would be the wildest folly.

"March!" he said gruffly. "The _oberleutnant_ doesn't want us here."

"_Le brave Belge_ knows when to clear out," grinned one of the younger
men, giving Dalroy an odiously suggestive wink.

Somehow, the fact that Dalroy took command abated the women's terror;
even the intractable Joos yielded. Soon the two were in the yard with
the dispossessed Bavarians, these latter being in the worst of temper,
as they had now to search for both bed and supper. They strode away
without giving the least heed to their presumed prisoners.

Joos, like most men of choleric disposition, was useless in a crisis of
this sort. He gibbered with rage. He wanted to attack the intruders at
once with a pitchfork.

Dalroy shook him to quieten his tongue. "You must listen to me," he said
sternly.

The old man's eyes gleamed up into his. In the half-light of the
gloaming they had the sheen of polished gold. "Monsieur," he whimpered,
"save my little girl! Save her, I implore you. You English are lions in
battle. You are big and strong. I'll help. Between us we can stick the
four of them."

Dalroy shook him again. "Stop talking, and listen," he growled
wrathfully. "Not another word here! Come this way!" He drew the miller
into an empty stable, whence the kitchen door and the window were in
view. "Now," he muttered, "gather your wits, and answer my questions.
Have you any hidden weapons? A pitchfork is too awkward for a fight in a
room."

"I had nothing but a muzzle-loading gun, monsieur. I gave it up on the
advice of the burgomaster. They've killed him."

"Very well. Remain here on guard. I'll go and fetch a rifle and bayonet.
Nothing will happen to the women till these brutes have eaten, and have
more wine in them. Don't you understand? The younger men have made a
hellish compact with their senior. You heard that, didn't you?"

"Yes, yes, monsieur. Who could fail to know what they meant? Surely the
good God sent you to Visé to-day!"

"Promise, now! No interference till I return, even though the women are
frightened. You'll only lose your life to no purpose. I'll not be long
away."

"I promise. But, monsieur, _pour l'amour de Dieu_, let me stick that fat
Busch!"

Dalroy was in such a fume to secure a reliable arm that he rather
neglected the precautions of a soldier moving through the enemy's
country. It was still possible to see clearly for some distance ahead.
Although the right bank of the Meuse that night was overrun with the
Kaiser's troops along a front of nearly twenty miles, the ravine, with
its gurgling rivulet, was one of those peaceful oases which will occur
in the centre of the most congested battlefield. Now that the crash of
the guns had passed sullenly to a distance, white-tailed rabbits
scurried across the path; some stray sheep, driven from the uplands by
the day's tumult, gathered in a group and looked inquiringly at the
intruder; a weasel, stalking a selected rabbit as is his piratical way,
elected to abandon the chase and leap for a tree.

These very signs showed that none other had breasted the slope recently,
so Dalroy strode out somewhat carelessly. Nevertheless, he was endowed
with no small measure of that sixth sense which every _shikari_ must
possess who would hunt either his fellowmen or the beasts of the jungle.
He was passing a dense clump of brambles and briars when a man sprang at
him. He had trained himself to act promptly in such circumstances, and
had decided long ago that to remain on the same ground, or even try to
retreat, was courting disaster. His plan was to jump sideways, and, if
practicable, a little nearer an assailant. The sabots rendered him less
nimble than usual, but the dodge quite disconcerted an awkward opponent.
The vicious downward sweep of a heavy cudgel just missed his left
shoulder, and he got home with the right in a half-arm jab which sent
the recipient sprawling and nearly into the stream.

Dalroy made after him, seized the fallen stick, and recognised--Jan
Maertz! "How now," he said wrathfully, "are you, too, a Prussian?"

Jan raised a hand to ward off the expected blow. "_Caput!_" he cried.
"I'm done! You must be the devil! But may the Lord help my poor master
and mistress, and the little Léontine!"

"That is my wish also, sheep's-head! What evil have I done you, then,
that you should want to brain me at sight?"

"They're after you--the Germans. They mean to catch you, dead or
alive. A lieutenant of the Guard pulled me away from in front of a
firing-party, and gave me my life on condition that I ran you down."

Here was an extraordinary development. It was vitally important that
Dalroy should get to know the exact meaning of the Walloon's disjointed
utterances, yet how could he wait and question the man while the
Prussian sultans were feasting in the mill?

Dalroy stooped over Maertz, who had risen to his knees, and caught him
by the shoulder. "Jan Maertz," he said, "do you hope to marry Léontine
Joos? If so, Heaven has just prevented you from committing a great
crime. She, and her mother, and the lady who came with me from Aix, are
in the mill with four German officers--a set of foul, drunken brutes who
will stop at no excess. I'm going now to get a rifle. You make quietly
for the stable opposite the kitchen door. You will find Joos there. He
will explain. Tell me, are you for Belgium or Germany in this war?"

The Walloon might be slow-witted, but Dalroy's words seemed to have
pierced his skin.

"For Belgium, monsieur, to the death," he answered.

"So am I. I'm an Englishman. As you go, think what that means."

Leaving Maertz to regain his feet and the stick, Dalroy rushed on up the
hill. The unexpected struggle had cost him but little delay; yet it was
dark, and the miller was nearly frantic with anxiety, when he returned.

"Is Maertz with you?" was his first question.

"Yes, monsieur," came a gruff voice out of the gloom of the stable.

"Do you know now how nearly you blundered?"

"Monsieur, I would have tackled St. Peter to save Léontine."

"Quick!" hissed Joos, "let us kill these hogs! We have no time to spare.
The others will be here soon."

"What others?"

"Jan will tell you later. Come, now. Leave Busch to me!"

"Keep quiet!" ordered Dalroy sternly. "We cannot murder four men in cold
blood. I'll listen over there by the window. You two remain here till I
call you."

But there was no need for eavesdropping. Léontine's voice was raised
shrilly above the loud-clanging talk and laughter of the uninvited
guests. "No, no, my mother must stay!" she was shrieking. "Monsieur, for
God's sake, leave my mother alone! Ah, you are hurting her.--Father!
father!--Oh, what shall we do? Is there no one to help us?"



CHAPTER VI

THE FIGHT IN THE MILL


As Dalroy burst open the door, which was locked, the heartrending
screams of the three women mingled with the vile oaths of their
assailants. He had foreseen that the door would probably be fastened,
and put his whole strength into the determination to force the bolt
without warning. The scene which met his eyes as he rushed into the room
was etched in Rembrandt lights and shadows by a lamp placed in the
centre of the table.

Near a staircase--not that which led to the lofts, but the main stairway
of the domestic part of the dwelling--Madame Joos was struggling in
the grip of the orderly and one of the lieutenants. Another of
these heroes--they all belonged to a Westphalian detachment of the
commissariat--was endeavouring to overpower Irene. His left arm pinned
her left arm to her waist; his right arm had probably missed a similar
hold, because the girl's right arm was free. She had seized his wrist,
and was striving to ward off a brutal effort to prevent her from
shrieking. Busch, that stout satyr, was seated. Dalroy learnt
subsequently that the sudden hubbub arose because Irene resisted his
attempt to pull her on to his knee. The last of the younger men was
clasping Léontine to his breast with rascally intent to squeeze the
breath out of her until she was unable to struggle further.

Now Dalroy had to decide in the fifth part of a second whence danger
would first come, and begin the attack there. The four officers had laid
aside their swords, but the lieutenants had retained belts and
revolvers. Busch, as might be expected, was only too pleased to get rid
of his equipment. His tunic was unbuttoned, so that he might gorge at
ease. Somehow, Dalroy knew that Irene would not free the hand which was
now closing on her mouth. The two Walloons carried short forks with four
prongs--Joos had taken to heart the Englishman's comment on the
disadvantage of a pitchfork for close fighting--and Jan Maertz might be
trusted to deal with the ruffian who was nearly strangling Léontine.
There remained the gallant lieutenant whose sense of humour permitted
the belief that the best way to force onward a terrified elderly woman
was to plant a knee against the small of her back. He had looked around
at once when the door flew open, and his right hand was already on the
butt of an automatic pistol. Him, therefore, Dalroy bayoneted so
effectually that a startled oath changed into a dreadful howl ere the
words left his lips. The orderly happened to be nearer than the officer,
so, as the bayonet did its work, Dalroy kicked the lout's feet from
under him, and thrust him through the body while on the floor. A man
who had once won the Dholepur Cup, which is competed for by the most
famous pig-stickers in India, knew how to put every ounce of weight
behind the keen point of a lance, because an enraged boar is the
quickest and most courageous fighter among all the fierce creatures of
the jungle. But he was slightly too near his quarry; the bayonet reached
the stone floor through the man's body, and snapped at the forte.

Then he wheeled, and made for Irene's assailant.

The instant Dalroy appeared at the door the girl had caught the
Prussian's thumb in her strong teeth, and not only bit him to the bone
but held on. With a loud bellow of "Help! Come quickly!" he released
her, and struck fiercely with his left hand. Yet this gentle girl, who
had never taken part in any more violent struggle than a school romp,
had the presence of mind to throw herself backward, and thus discount
the blow, while upsetting her adversary's balance. But her clenched
teeth did not let go. It came out long afterwards that she was a
first-rate gymnast. One day, moved by curiosity on seeing some
performance in a circus, she had essayed the stage trick of hanging head
downward from a cross-bar, and twirling around another girl's body
girdled by a strap working on a swivel attached to a strong pad which
she bit resolutely. Then she discovered a scientific fact which very
few people are aware of. The jaw is, perhaps, the strongest part of the
human frame, and can exercise a power relatively far greater than that
of the hands. Of course, she could not have held out for long, but she
did thwart and delay the maddened Prussian during two precious seconds.
Even when he essayed to choke her she still contrived to save herself by
seizing his free hand.

By that time Dalroy had leaped to the rescue. Shortening the rifle in
the way familiar to all who have practised the bayonet exercise, he
drove it against the Prussian's neck. The jagged stump inflicted a wound
which looked worse than it was; but the mere shock of the blow robbed
the man of his senses, and he fell like a log.

In order to come within striking distance, Dalroy had to jump over
Busch. Old Joos, piping in a weird falsetto, had sprung at the fat major
and spitted him in the stomach with all four prongs of the fork. Busch
toppled over backward with a fearsome howl, the chair breaking under his
weight combined with a frantic effort to escape. The miller went with
him, and dug the terrible weapon into his soft body as though driving it
into a truss of straw. Maertz, a lusty fellow, had made shorter work of
his man, because one prong had reached the German's heart, and he was
stilled at once. But Joos thrust and thrust again, even using a foot to
bury the fork to its shoulder.

This was the most ghastly part of a thrilling episode. Busch writhed on
the floor, screaming shrilly for mercy, and striving vainly to stay with
his hands the deadly implement from eating into his vitals.

That despairing effort gave the miller a ghoulish satisfaction. "Aha!"
he chortled, "you laughed at Lafarge! Laugh now, you swine! _That's_ for
the doctor, and _that's_ for my wife, and _that's_ for my daughter, and
_that's_ for me!"

Dalroy did not attempt to stop him. These men must die. They had come to
the mill to destroy; it was just retribution that they themselves should
be destroyed. His coolness in this crisis was not the least important
factor in a situation rife with peril. His method of attack had
converted a fight against heavy odds into a speedy and most effectual
slaughter. But that was only the beginning. Even while the frenzied
yelling of the squirming Busch was subsiding into a frothy gurgle he
went to the door and listened. A battery of artillery was passing at a
trot, and creating din enough to drown the cries of a hundred Busches.

He looked back over his shoulder. Madame Joos was on her knees, praying.
The poor woman had no thought but that her last hour had come. Happily,
she was spared the sight of her husband's vengeance. Happily, too, none
of the women fainted. Léontine was panting and sobbing in Maertz's
arms. Irene, leaning against the wall near the fireplace, was gazing
now at Joos, now at the fallen man at her feet, now at Dalroy. But
her very soul was on fire. She, too, had yielded to the madness of a
life-and-death struggle. Her eyes were dilated. Her bosom rose and fell
with laboured breathing. Her teeth were still clenched, her lips parted
as though she dreaded to find some loathsome taste on them.

Maertz seemed to have retained his senses, so Dalroy appealed to him.
"Jan," he said quietly, "we must go at once. Get your master and the
others outside. Then extinguish the lamp. Hurry! We haven't a second
to spare."

Joos heard. Satisfied now that the fork had been effective, he
straightened his small body and said shrilly, "You go, if you like. I'll
not leave my money to be burnt with my house.--Now, wife, stir yourself.
Where's that key?"

The familiar voice roused Madame Joos from a stupor of fear. She fumbled
in her bodice, and produced a key attached to a chain of fine silver.
Her husband mounted nimbly on a chair, ran a finger along one of the
heavy beams which roofed the kitchen, found a cunningly hidden keyhole,
and unlocked a long, narrow receptacle which had been scooped out of the
wood. A more ingenious, accessible, yet unlikely hiding-place for
treasure could not readily be imagined. He took out a considerable sum
of money in notes, gold, and silver. Though a man of wealth, with a
substantial account in the state bank, he still retained the peasant's
love of a personal hoard.

Stowing away the money in various pockets, Joos got down off the chair.
Busch was dying, but he was not unconscious. He had even watched the
miller's actions with a certain detached curiosity, and the old fellow
seemed to become aware of the fact. "So," he cackled, "you saw, did
you? That should annoy you in your last hour, you fat thief.--Yes, yes,
monsieur, I'll come now.--Léontine, stop blubbing, and tie up that piece
of beef and some bread in a napkin. We fighting men must eat.--Jan, put
the bottles of champagne and the pork-pie in a basket.--Léontine, run
and get your own and your mother's best shoes. You can change them in
the wood."

"What wood?" put in Maertz.

"We can't walk to Maestricht by the main road, you fool."

"That's all right for you and madame here, and for Léontine, perhaps.
But I remain in Belgium. My friends are fighting yonder at Liège, and
I'm going to join them. And these others mustn't try it. The frontier is
closed for them. I was offered my life only two hours ago if I arrested
them."

"Jan!" cried Léontine indignantly.

"It's true. Why should I tell a lie? I didn't understand then the sort
of game the Prussians are playing. Now that I know----"

"Miss Beresford," broke in Dalroy emphatically, "if these good people
will not escape when they may we must leave them to their fate."

"Do come, Monsieur Joos," said Irene, speaking for the first time since
the tragedy. "By remaining here you risk your life to no purpose."

"We are coming now, ma'm'selle."

Suddenly the miller's alert eye was caught by a spasmodic movement in
the limbs of the last man whom Dalroy struck down. "_Tiens!_" he cried,
"that fellow isn't finished with yet."

He was making for the prostrate form with that terrible fork when Dalroy
ran swiftly, and collared him. "Stop that!" came the angry command. "A
fair fight must not degenerate into murder. Out you get now, or I'll
throw you out!"

Joos laughed. "You're making a mistake, monsieur," he said. "These
Prussians don't fight that way. They'd kill you just for the fun of the
thing if you were tied hand and foot. But let the rascal live if it
pleases you. As for this one," and he spurned Busch's body with his
foot, "he's done. Did you hear him? He squealed like a pig."

Dalroy was profoundly relieved when the automatic pistols and ammunition
were collected, the lamp extinguished, the door closed, and the whole
party had passed through a garden and orchard to the gloom of the
ravine. The hour was about half-past eight o'clock. Twenty-four hours
earlier he and Irene were about to leave Cologne by train, believing
with some degree of confidence that they might be allowed to cross the
frontier without let or hindrance! Life was then conventional, with a
spice of danger. Now it had descended in the social scale until they
ranked on a par with the dog that had gone mad and must be slain at
sight. The German code of war is a legal paraphrase of the trickster's
formula, "Heads I win, tails you lose." The armies of the Fatherland
are ordered to practise "frightfulness," and so terrorise the civil
population that the inhabitants of the stricken country will compel
their rulers to sue for peace on any terms. But woe to that same civil
population if some small section of its members resists or avenges any
act of "frightfulness." Soldiers might murder the Widow Jaquinot and
ravish her granddaughter, officers might plan a bestial orgy in the
miller's house; but Dalroy and Joos and Maertz, in punishing the one set
of crimes and preventing another, had placed themselves outside the law.
Neither Joos nor Maertz cared a farthing rushlight about the moral
consequences of that deadly struggle in the kitchen, but Dalroy was in
different case. He knew the certain outcome. Small wonder if his heart
was heavy and his brow seamed. His own fate was of slight concern,
since he had ceased to regard life as worth more than an hour's purchase
at any time from the moment he leaped down into the station yard at
Aix-la-Chapelle. But it was hard luck that the accident of mere
association should have bound up Irene Beresford's fortunes so
irrevocably with his. Was there no way out of the maze in which they
were wandering? What, for instance, had Jan Maertz meant by his cryptic
statements?

"We must halt here," Dalroy said authoritatively, stopping short in the
shadow of a small clump of trees on the edge of the ravine, a place
whence there was a fair field of view, yet so close to dense brushwood
that the best of cover was available instantly if needed.

"Why?" demanded Joos. "I know every inch of the way."

"I want to question Maertz," said Dalroy shortly. "But don't let me
delay you on that account. Indeed, I advise you to go ahead, and
safeguard Madame Joos and your daughter. I would even persuade, if
I can, Mademoiselle Beresford to go with you."

"I don't mind listening to Jan's yarn myself," grunted the miller. "And
isn't it time we had some supper? Killing Prussians is hungry work. Did
you hear Busch? He squealed like a pig.--Léontine, cut some chunks of
beef and bread, and open one of these bottles of wine."

There was solid sense in the old man's crude rejoinder. Criminals about
to suffer the death penalty often enjoy a good meal. These six people,
who had just escaped death, or--where the women were concerned--a
degradation worse than death, and before whose feet the grave might yawn
wide and deep at once and without warning, were nevertheless greatly in
want of food.

So they ate as they talked.

Maertz's story was coherent enough when set forth in detail. He was
dazed and shaken by the fall from the wagon; but, helped by the sentry,
who bore witness that the collision was no fault of his, being the
outcome of obedience to the officer's order, he contrived to calm the
startled horses. The officer even offered to find a few men later who
would help to pull the wagon out of the ditch, so Jan was told to "stand
by" until the column had passed. Meaning no harm, he asked what had
become of his passengers. This naturally evoked other questions, and a
search was made, with the result that the lamp and Dalroy's discarded
sabots were found. The lamp, of course, was numbered, and carried the
initials of a German state railway; but this "exhibit" only bore out
Maertz's statement that a man from Aix had come in the wagon to explain
to Joos why the consignment of oats had been so long held up in the
goods yard.

In fact, a squad of soldiers had put the wagon right, and were
reloading it, when the bodies of Heinrich and his companion were
discovered in the stable. Suspicion fell at once on the missing pair.
Maertz would have been shot out of hand if an infuriated officer had not
recollected that by killing the Walloon he would probably destroy all
chance of tracing the man who had "murdered" two of his warriors. So
Maertz was arrested, and dumped into a cellar until such time as a
patrol could take him to Visé and investigate matters there.

Meanwhile the unforeseen resistance offered to the invaders along the
line of the Meuse and neighbourhood of Liège was throwing the German
military machine out of gear. In this initial stage of the campaign "the
best organised army in the world" was like a powerful locomotive engine
fitted with every mechanical device for rapid advance, but devoid of
either brakes or reversing gear. As the 7th and 10th Divisions recoiled
from the forts of Liège in something akin to disastrous defeat,
congestion and confusion spread backward to the advanced base at Aix.
Hospital trains from the front compelled other trains laden with
reserves and munitions to remain in sidings. The roads became blocked.
Brigades of infantry and cavalry, long lines of guns and wagons, were
halted during many hours. Frantic staff-officers in powerful cars were
alternately urging columns to advance and demanding a clear passage to
the rear and the headquarters staff. No regimental commandant dared
think and act for himself. He was merely a cog in the machine, and the
machine had broken down. Actually, the defenders of Liège held up the
Kaiser's legions only a few days, but it is no figure of speech to say
that when General Leman dropped stupefied by an explosion in Fort Loncin
he had established a double claim to immortality. Not only had he
shattered the proud German legend of invincibility in the field, but he
had also struck a deadly blow at German strategy. With Liège and Leman
out of the way, it would seem to the student of war that the invaders
must have reached Paris early in September. They made tremendous strides
later in the effort to maintain their "time-table," but they could never
overtake the days lost in the valley of the Meuse.

What a tiny pawn was Jan Maertz in this game of giants! How little could
he realise that his very existence depended on the shock of opposing
empires!

The communications officer at the cross-roads had not a moment to spare
for many an hour after Jan's execution was deferred. At last, about
nightfall, when the 9th Division got into motion again, he snatched a
slight breathing-space. Remembering the prisoner, he detailed a corporal
and four men to march him to Visé and make the necessary inquiries at
Joos's mill.

For Maertz's benefit he gave the corporal precise instructions. "If this
fellow's story is proved true, and you find the man and the woman he
says he brought from Aachen, return here with the three of them, and
full investigation will be made. If no such man and woman have arrived
at the mill, and the prisoner is shown to be a liar, shoot him out of
hand."

A young staff-officer, a lieutenant of the Guards, stretching his legs
while his chauffeur was refilling the petrol-tank, overheard the
loud-voiced order, and took a sudden and keen interest in the
proceedings.

"One moment," he said imperatively, "what's this about a man and a woman
brought from Aachen? Who brought them? And when?"

The other explained, laying stress, of course, on the fractured skulls
of two of his best men.

"Hi, you!" cried the Guardsman to Maertz, "describe these two."

Maertz did his best. Dalroy, to him, was literally a railway employé;
but his recollection of Irene's appearance was fairly exact. Moreover,
he was quite reasonably irritated and alarmed by the trouble they had
caused. Then the lamp and sabots were produced, and the questioner swore
mightily.

"Leave this matter entirely in my hands," he advised his confrère. "It
is most important that these people should be captured, and this is the
very fellow to do it. I'll promise him his life, and the safety of his
friends, and pay him well into the bargain, if he helps me to get hold
of that precious pair. You see, we shall have no difficulty in catching
and identifying him again if need be. Personally, I believe he is
telling the absolute truth, and is no more responsible for the killing
of your men than you are."

Lieutenant Karl von Halwig's comparison erred only in its sheer
inadequacy. The communications officer's responsibility was great. He
had failed to control his underlings. He was blind and deaf to their
excesses. What matter how they treated the wretched Belgians if the road
was kept clear? It was nothing to him that an old woman should be
murdered and a girl outraged so long as he kept his squad intact.

"So now you know all about it, monsieur," concluded Maertz. "When I met
you in the ravine I thought you were escaping, and let out at you. God
be praised, you got the better of me!"

"Was the staff officer's name Von Halwig?" inquired Dalroy.

"Name of a pipe, that's it, monsieur! I heard him tell it to the other
pig, but couldn't recall it."

"And when were you to meet him?"

"He had to report to some general at Argenteau, but reckoned to reach
the mill about nine o'clock."

"Oh, father dear, let us all be going!" pleaded Léontine.

"One more word, and I have finished," put in Dalroy. He turned again to
Maertz. "What did you mean by saying a little while ago that the
frontier is closed?"

"The lieutenant--Von Halwig, is it?--sent some Uhlans to the major of a
regiment guarding the line opposite Holland. He wrote a message, but I
know what was in it because he told the other officer. 'They're making
for the frontier,' he said, 'and if they haven't slipped through already
we'll catch them now without fail. They mustn't get away this time if we
have to arrest and examine every ---- Belgian in this part of the
country.'"

"Ho! ho!" piped Joos, who had listened intently to Jan's recital, "why
didn't you tell us that sooner, animal? What chance, then, have I and
madame and Léontine of dodging the rascals?"

"_Caput!_" cried Maertz, scratching his head, "that settles it! I never
thought of that!"

"Oh, look!" whispered Léontine. "They're searching the mill!"

So earnest and vital was the talk that none of the others had chanced to
look down the ravine. They saw now that lights were moving in the upper
rooms of the mill. Either Von Halwig had arrived before time, or some
messenger had tried to find the commissariat officers, and had raised an
alarm.

Joos took charge straight away, like the masterful old fellow that he
was. "This locality isn't good for our health," he said. "The night is
young yet, but we must leg it to a safer place before we begin planning.
Leave nothing behind. We may need all that food.--Come, Lise," and he
grabbed his wife's arm, "you and I will lead the way to the Argenteau
wood. The devil himself can't track me once I get there.--Trust me,
monsieur, I'll pull you through. That lout, Jan Maertz, is all muscle
and no brain. What Léontine sees in him I can't guess."

For the time being, Dalroy believed that the miller might prove a
resourceful guide. Before deciding the course he personally would pursue
it was absolutely essential that he should learn the lay of the land and
weigh the probabilities of success or failure attached to such
alternatives as were suggested.

"We had better go with our friends," he said to Irene. "They know the
country, and I must have time for consideration before striking out a
line of my own."

"I think it would be fatal to separate," she agreed. "When all is said
and done, what can they hope to accomplish without your help?"

Joos's voice came to them in eager if subdued accents. He was telling
his wife how accounts were squared with Busch. "I stuck him with the
fork," he chortled, "and he squealed like a pig!"



CHAPTER VII

THE WOODMAN'S HUT


The miller was cunning as a fox. He argued, subtly enough, that if a man
just arrived from Argenteau was the first to discover the dead
Prussians, the neighbourhood of Argenteau itself might be the last to
undergo close search for the "criminals" who had dared punish these
demi-gods. Following a cattle-path through a series of fields, he
entered a country lane about a mile from Visé. It was a narrow,
deep-rutted, winding way--a shallow trench cut into the soil by many
generations of pack animals and heavy carts. The long interregnum
between the solid pavement of Rome and the broken rubble of Macadam
covered Europe with a network of such roads. An unchecked growth of
briars, brambles, and every species of prolific weed made this
particular track an ideal hiding-place.

Gathering the party under the two irregular lines of pollard oaks which
marked the otherwise hardly discernible hedgerows, Joos explained that,
at a point nearly half-a-mile distant, the lane joined the main road
which winds along the right bank of the Meuse.

"That is our only real difficulty--the crossing of the road," he said.
"It is sure to be full of Germans; but if we watch our chance we should
contrive to scurry from one side to the other without being seen."

Such confidence was unquestionably cheering. Even Dalroy, though he put
a somewhat sceptical question, did not really doubt that the old man was
adopting what might, in the circumstances, prove the best plan.

"What happens when we do reach the other side, Monsieur Joos?" he
inquired.

"Then we enter a disused quarry in the depths of a wood. The Meuse
nearly surrounds the wood, and there is barely room for a tow-path
between the river's edge and a steep cliff. The quarry forms the
landward face, as one may say, and among the trees is a woodman's hut. I
shall be surprised if we find any Germans there."

"From your description it seems to be a suitable post for a strong
picket watching the river."

"No, monsieur. The slope falls away from the river, while the opposite
bank is flat and open. I have been a soldier in my time, and I
understand these things. It would be all right for observation purposes
if these pigs hadn't seized the bridge-heads at Visé and Argenteau; but
I saw their cursed Uhlans on the left bank many hours ago."

"Lead on, friend," said Dalroy simply. "When we come within a hundred
mètres of the main road let me do the scouting. I'll tell you when and
how to advance."

"Is monsieur a soldier then?"

"Yes."

"An officer perhaps?"

"Yes."

"Ah, a thousand pardons if I presumed to lecture you. Yet I am certainly
in the right about the wood."

"I have never doubted you, Monsieur Joos. Do you know what time the moon
rises?"

"Late. Eleven o'clock at the earliest."

"All the better, if you are sure of the way."

"I could find it blindfolded. So could Léontine. She goes there to pick
bilberries."

The homely phrase was unconsciously dramatic. From the highroad came the
raucous singing of German soldiers, the falsetto of drunkards with an
ear for music. In the distance heavy artillery was growling, and high
explosive shells were bursting with a violence that seemed to rend the
sky. Over an area of many miles to the west the sharp tapping of
musketry and the staccato splutter of machine guns told of hundreds of
thousands of men engaged in a fierce struggle for supremacy. On every
hand the horizon was red with the glare of burning houses. The thought
of a village girl picking bilberries in a land so scarred by war and
rapine produced an effect at once striking and fantastic. It was as
though a ray of pure white light had pierced the lurid depths of a
volcano.

Dalroy advised the women to take off their linen aprons, and Madame Joos
to remove as well a coif of the same material. He unfastened and threw
away the stump of the bayonet. Then they moved on in Indian file, the
miller leading.

A definite quality of blackness loomed above the low-lying shroud of
mist which at night in still weather always marks the course of a great
river.

"The wood!" whispered Joos. "We are near the road now."

Dalroy went forward to spy out the conditions. A column of infantry was
passing. These fellows were silent, and therefore sinister. They marched
like tired men, and their shuffling feet raised a cloud of dust.

An officer lighted a cigarette. "Those guzzling Prussians would empty
the Meuse if it ran with wine," he growled, evidently in response to a
remark from a companion.

"Our brigadier was very angry about the broken bottles in the streets of
Argenteau," said the other. "Two tires were ruined before the chauffeur
realised that the place was littered with glass."

These were Saxons, cleaner-minded, manlier fellows than the Prussians.
Behind them Dalroy heard the rumble of commissariat wagons. He failed
utterly to understand the why and wherefore of the direction the troops
were taking. According to his reckoning, they should have been going the
opposite way. But that was no concern of his at the moment. He knew the
Saxon by repute, and hurried back to the two men and three women
crouching under a hedge, having already noted a little mound on the left
of the cross-roads where cover was available. He explained what they
were to do--steal forward, one by one, hide behind the mound, and dart
across when a longer space than usual separated one wagon from another,
as the mounted escort would probably be grouped in front and in rear of
the convoy.

"Ah, that is the cavalry," said Joos. "It stands on a rock by the
roadside."

"It is hard to distinguish anything owing to mist and dust," said
Dalroy. "Of course, the darkness is all to the good.--If you ladies do
not scream, whatever happens, and you run quickly when I give the word,
I don't think there will be any real danger."

In the event, they were able to cross the road in a body, and without
needless haste. A horse stumbled and fell, and had to be unharnessed
before being got on to its feet again. The incident held up the column
during some minutes, so Dalroy was not compelled to abandon the rifle,
which it would have been foolish in the extreme to carry if there was
the slightest chance of being seen.

Thenceforth progress was safe, though slow and difficult, because the
gloom beneath the trees was that of a vault. Even the miller perforce
yielded place to Léontine's young eyes and sureness of foot. There were
times, during the ascent of one side of the quarry, when whispered
directions were necessary, while Madame Joos had to be hauled up a few
awkward places bodily.

Still, they reached the hut, a mere logger's shed, but a veritable haven
for people so manifestly in peril. They were weary, too. No member of
the Joos household had slept throughout the whole of Tuesday night, and
the women especially were flagging under the strain.

The little cabin held an abundant store of shavings, because its normal
tenant rough-hewed his logs into sabots. Here, then, was a soft, warm,
and fragrant resting-place. Dalroy took command. He forbade talking,
even in whispers. Maertz, who promised to keep awake, was put on guard
outside till the moon rose.

The wisdom of preventing excited conversation was shown by the fact that
the five people huddled together on the shavings were soon asleep. There
was nothing strange in this. Humanity, when surfeited with emotion,
becomes calm, almost phlegmatic. Were it otherwise, after a week of war
soldiers would not be sane men, but maniacs.

Dalroy resolved to sleep for two hours. About eleven o'clock he got up,
went quietly to the door, and found Maertz seated on the ground, his
back propped against the wall, and his head sunk on his breast. As a
consequence, he was snoring melodiously.

He woke quickly enough when the Englishman's hand was clapped over his
mouth and held there until his torpid wits were sufficiently clear that
he should understand the stern words muttered in his ear.

"Pardon, monsieur," he said shamefacedly. "I thought there was no harm
in sitting down. I listened to the guns, and began counting them. I
counted one hundred and ninety-nine shots, I think, and then----"

"And then you risked six lives, Léontine's among them!"

"Monsieur, I have no excuse."

"Yet you have been a soldier, I suppose? And you gabble of serving your
country?"

"It will not happen again, monsieur."

Dalroy pretended an anger he did not really feel. He wanted this stolid
Walloon to remain awake now, at any rate, so turned away with an
ejaculation of contempt.

Maertz rose. He endured an eloquent silence for nearly a minute. Then he
murmured, "Monsieur, I shall not offend a second time. Counting guns is
worse than watching sheep jumping a fence."

The moon had risen, revealing a cleared space in front of the hut. A
dozen yards away a thin fringe of brushwood and small trees marked the
edge of the quarry, while the woodcutter's path was discernible on the
left. A slight breeze had called into being the myriad tongues of the
wood, and Dalroy realised that the unceasing cannonade, joined to the
rustling of the leaves, would drown any sound of an approaching enemy
until it was too late to retreat. He knew that Von Halwig, not to
mention the military authorities at Visé, would spare no effort to hunt
out and destroy the man who had dared to flout the might of Germany, so
he was far from satisfied with the apparent safety of even this secluded
refuge.

"Have you a piece of string in your pockets?" he demanded gruffly.

Trust a carter to carry string, strong stuff warranted to mend
temporarily a broken strap. Maertz gave him a quantity.

"I am going to the cross-road," he continued. "Keep a close watch till I
return. When you hear any movement, or see any one, say clearly 'Visé.'
If it is I, I shall answer 'Liège.' Do you understand?"

"Perfectly, monsieur. A challenge and a countersign."

Dalroy believed the man might be trusted now. Taking the rifle, he made
off along the path, treading as softly as the cumbrous sabots would
permit. He was tempted to go bare-footed, but dreaded the lameness which
might result from a thorn or a sharp rock. At a suitable place,
half-way down the steep path by the side of the quarry, he tied a pistol
to a stout sapling, and, having fastened a cord to the trigger, arranged
it in such fashion that it must catch the feet of any one coming that
way. The weapon was at full cock, and in all likelihood the unwary
passer-by would get a bullet in his body.

It was dark under the trees, of course, but the moon was momentarily
increasing its light, and the way was not hard to find. He memorised
each awkward turn and twist in case he had to retreat in a hurry. Once
the lower level was reached there was no difficulty, and, with due
precautions, he gained the shelter of a hedge close to the main road.

The stream of troops still continued. Few things could be more ominous
than this unending torrent of armed men. By how many similar roads, he
wondered, was Germany pouring her legions into tiny Belgium? Was she
forcing the French frontier in the same remorseless way? And what of
Russia? When he left Berlin the talk was only of marching against the
two great allies. If Germany could spare such a host of horse, foot, and
artillery for the overrunning of Belgium, while moving the enormous
forces needed on both flanks, what millions of men she must have placed
under arms long before the mobilisation order was announced publicly!
And what was England doing and saying? England! the home of liberty and
a free press, where demagogues spouted platitudes about the "curse of
militarism," and encouraged that very monster by leaving the richest
country in the world open to just such a sudden and merciless attack as
Belgium was undergoing before his eyes!

Lying there among the undergrowth, listening to the tramp of an
army corps, and watching the flicker of countless rifle-barrels in
the moonlight, he forgot his own plight, and thought only of the
unpreparedness of Britain. He was a soldier by training and inclination.
He harboured no delusions. Man for man, the alert, intelligent, and
chivalrous British army was far superior to the cannon-fodder of the
German machine. But of what avail was the hundred thousand Britain could
put in the field in the west of Europe against the four millions of
Germany? Here was no combat of a David and a Goliath, but of one man
against forty. Naturally, France and Russia came into the picture, yet
he feared that France would break at the outset of the campaign, while
Austria might hold Russia in check long enough to enable Germany to work
her murderous design. Be it remembered, he could not possibly estimate
the fine and fierce valour of the resistance offered by Belgium. It
seemed to him that the Teuton hordes must already be hacking their way
to the coast, leaving sufficient men and guns to contain the Belgian
fortresses, and halting only when the white cliffs of England were
visible across the Channel.

If his anxious thoughts wandered, however, and a gnawing doubt ate into
his soul lest the British fleet might, as the Germans in Visé claimed,
have been taken at a disadvantage, he did not allow his eyes and ears to
neglect the duties of the hour.

A fall in the temperature had condensed the river mist, and the air near
the ground was much clearer now than at eight o'clock. The breeze, too,
gathered the dust into wraiths and scurrying wisps through which
glimpses of the sloping uplands toward Aix were obtainable. During one
of these unhampered moments he caught sight of something so weird and
uncanny that he was positively startled.

A sorrow-laden, waxen-hued face seemed to peer at him for an instant,
and then vanish. But there could be no face so high in the air,
twenty feet or more above the heads of a Prussian regiment bawling
"_Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles_." The land was level XXXX
thereabouts. The apparition, consequently, must be a mere trick of the
imagination. Yet he saw, or fancied he saw, that same spectral face
twice again at intervals of a few seconds, and was vexed with himself
for allowing his bemused senses to yield to some supernatural influence.
Then the vision came a fourth time, and a thrill ran through every fibre
in his body.

Because there could be no mistake now. The face, so mournful, so
benign, so pitying, bore on the forehead a crown of thorns! Even while
the blood coursed in Dalroy's veins with the awe of it, he knew that he
was looking at the figure of Christ on the Cross. This, then, was the
calvary spoken of by Joos, and invisible in the earlier murk. The beams
of the risen moon etched the painted carving in most realistic lights
and shadows. The pallid skin glistened as though in agony. The big,
piercing eyes gazed down at the passing soldiers as the Man of Sorrows
might have looked at the heedless legionaries of Rome.

The travelled Briton, to whom the wayside calvary is a familiar object
in many a continental landscape, can seldom pass the twisted, tortured
figure on the Cross without a feeling of awe, tempered by insular
non-comprehension of the religious motive which thrusts into prominence
the most solemn emblem of Christianity in unexpected and often
incongruous places. Seen as Dalroy saw it, a hunted fugitive crouching
in a ditch, while the Huns who would again destroy Europe were lurching
past in thousands within a few feet of where he lay, the image of Christ
crucified had a new and overwhelming significance. It induced a vague
uneasiness of spirit, almost a doubt. That very day he had killed four
men and gravely wounded a fifth, and there was no shred of compunction
in his soul. Yet, in body and mind, he was worthy of his class, and this
gray old world has failed to evolve any finer human type than that
which is summed up in the phrase, an officer and a gentleman. For the
foulest of crimes, either committed or contemplated, he had been forced
to use both the scales and the sword of justice; but there was something
wholly disturbing and abhorrent in the knowledge that two thousand years
after the Great Atonement men professedly Christian should so wantonly
disregard every principle that Christ taught and practised and died for.
He reflected bitterly that the German soldier, whether officer or
private, is enjoined to keep a diary. What sort of record would
"Heinrich," or Busch, or the three Westphalian lieutenants have left of
that day's doings if they had lived and told the truth?

The answer to these vexed questionings came with the swift clarity of a
lightning flash. Another rift in the dust-clouds revealed the upper part
of the Cross, and the moonbeams shone on a gilded scroll. Dalroy knew
his Bible. "And a superscription also was written over Him in letters of
Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew: 'This is the King of the Jews.' And one of
the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him, saying, 'If Thou be
Christ, save Thyself and us.'"

From that instant one God-fearing Briton, at least, never again allowed
the shadow of a doubt to darken his faith in the divine if inscrutable
purpose. He had passed already through dark and deadly hours, while
others were then near at hand; but he was steadfast in doing what he
conceived his duty without seeking to interpret the ways of Providence.
"If Thou be Christ?" It was the last taunt of the unbeliever, though the
veil of the temple would be rent in twain, and the earth would quake,
and the graves be opened, and the bodies of the saints arise and be seen
by many!

A harsh command silenced the singing. An officer had reined in his
horse, and was demanding the nature of the errand which brought a squad
of men from Visé.

"Sergeant Karl Schwartz, _Herr Hauptmann_," reported the leader of the
party. "An Englishman, assisted by a miller named Joos and his man,
Maertz, has killed three of our officers. He also wounded Herr Leutnant
von Huntzel, of the 7th Westphalian regiment, who has recovered
sufficiently to say what happened. The general-major has ordered a
strict search. I, being acquainted with the district, am bringing these
men to a wood where the rascals may be hiding."

"Killed three, you say? The fiend take all such _schwein-hunds_ and
their helpers! Good luck to you.--_Vorwärts!_"

The column moved on. Schwartz, the treacherous barber of Visé, led his
men into the lane. There were eleven, all told--hopeless odds--because
this gang of hunters was ready for a fight and itching to capture a
_verdammt Engländer_. And Joos's "safe retreat" had been guessed by the
spy who knew what every inhabitant of Visé did, who had watched and
noted even such a harmless occupation as Léontine's bilberry-picking,
who was acquainted with each footpath for miles around, from whose
crafty eyes not a cow-byre on any remote farm in the whole countryside
was concealed.

This misfortune marked the end, Dalroy thought. But there was a chance
of escape, if only for the few remaining hours of the night, and he took
it with the same high courage he displayed in going back to the rescue
of Irene Beresford in the railway station at Aix. He had a rifle with
five rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber. At the worst, he
might be able to add another couple of casualties to the formidable
total already piled up during the German advance on Liège.

The sabots offered a serious handicap to rapid and silent movement, but
he dared not dispense with them, and made shift to follow Schwartz and
the others as quietly as might be. He was helped, of course, by the din
of the guns and the rustling of the leaves; but there was an open space
in the narrow road before it merged in the wood which he could not cross
until the Germans were among the trees, and precisely in that locality
Schwartz halted his men to explain his project. Try as he might, Dalroy,
crouched behind a pollard oak, could not overhear the spy's words. But
he smiled when the party went on in Indian file, Schwartz leading,
because the enemy was acting just as he hoped the enemy would act.

He did not press close on their heels now, but remained deliberately at
the foot of the hill and on the edge of the quarry. Standing erect, with
the rifle at the ready, he waited. He could hear nothing, but judged
time and distance by counting fifty slow steps. He was right to a fifth
of a second. A shot rang out, and was followed instantly by a yell of
agony. He saw the flash, and, taking aim somewhat below it, fired six
rounds rapidly. A fusillade broke out in the wood, the Germans, like
himself, firing at the one flash above and the six beneath. A bullet cut
through his blouse on the left shoulder and scorched his skin; but when
the magazine was empty he ran straight on for a few yards, turned to the
right, stepping with great caution, and threw himself flat behind a
rock. As he ran, he had refilled the magazine, but now meant using the
rifle as a last resource only.

In effect, matters had fallen out exactly as he calculated. Schwartz had
blundered into the man-trap set on the path half-way up the cliff, and
was shot. The others, lacking a leader, and stupefied by the firing and
the darkness, bolted like so many rabbits to the open road and the
moonlight as soon as the seeming attack from the rear ceased.

Uncommon grit was needed to press on through a strange wood at night,
up a difficult path bordering a precipice when each tree might vomit the
flame of a gunshot. And these fellows were not cast in heroic mould.
Their one thought was to get back the way they came. They were received
warmly, too. The passing regiment, hearing the hubbub and seeing the
flashes, very reasonably supposed they were being taken in flank by a
Belgian force, and blazed away merrily at the first moving objects in
sight in that direction.

Dalroy does not know to this day exactly how the battle ended in rear,
nor did he care then. He had routed the enemy in his own neighbourhood,
and that must suffice. Regaining the path, he sped upward, pausing only
to retrieve the pistol which had proved so efficient a sentinel. Judging
by the groans and the stertorous breathing which came from among the
undergrowth close to the path, Karl Schwartz's services as a spy and
guide were lost to the great cause of _Kultur_. Dalroy did not bother
about the wretch. He pressed on, and reached the plateau above the
quarry. The clearing was now flooded with moonlight, and the doorway of
the hut was plainly visible. Jan Maertz was not at his post, but this
was not surprising, as he would surely have joined old Joos and the
terrified women at the first sounds of the firing.

"Liège!" said Dalroy, speaking loudly enough for any one in the hut to
hear. There was no answer. "Liège!" he cried again, with a certain
foreboding that things had gone awry, and dreading lest the precious
respite he had secured might be wasted irretrievably.

But the hut was empty, and he realised that he might grope like a blind
man for hours in the depths of the wood. The one-sided battle which had
broken out in the front of the calvary had died down. He guessed what
had happened, the blunder, the frenzied explanations, and their sequel
in a quick decision to detach a company and surround the wood.

In his exasperation he forgot the silent figure surveying the scene at
the cross-roads, and swore like a very natural man, for he was now
utterly at a loss what to do or where to go.



CHAPTER VIII

A RESPITE


Never before in the course of a somewhat varied life had Dalroy felt so
irresolute, so helplessly the victim of circumstances. Bereft of the
local knowledge possessed by Joos and the other Belgians, any scheme he
adopted must depend wholly on blind chance. The miller had described the
wood as occupying a promontory in a bend of the Meuse, with steep cliffs
forming the southern bank of the river. There was a tow-path; possibly,
a series of narrow ravines or clefts gave precarious access from the
plateau to this lower level. Probably, too, in the first shock of
fright, the people in the hut had made for one of these cuttings, taking
Irene with them. They believed, no doubt, that the Englishman had been
shot or captured, and after that spurt of musketry so alarmingly near at
hand the lower part of the wood would seem alive with enemies.

Dalroy blamed himself, not the others, for this fatal bungling. Before
snatching a much-needed rest he ought to have arranged with Joos a
practicable line of retreat in the event of a night alarm. Of course he
had imposed silence on all as a sort of compulsory relief from the
tension of the earlier hours, but he saw now that he was only too ready
to share the miller's confidence. Not without reason had poor Dr.
Lafarge warned his fellow-countrymen that "there were far too many
Germans in Belgium." Schwartz and his like were to be found in every
walk of life, from the merchant princes who controlled the trade of
Antwerp to the youngest brush-haired waiter in the Café de la Régence at
Brussels.

Dalroy was aware of a grim appropriateness in the fate of Schwartz. The
German automatic pistols carried soft-nosed bullets, so the arch-traitor
who murdered the Visé doctor had himself suffered from one of the many
infernal devices brought by _Kultur_ to the battlefields of Flanders.
But the punishment of Schwartz could not undo the mischief the wretch
had caused. The men he led knew the nature and purpose of their errand.
They would report to the first officer met on the main road, who might
be expected to detail instantly a sufficient force for the task of
clearing the wood. In fact, the operation had become a military
necessity. There was no telling to what extent the locality was held by
Belgian troops, as, of course, the runaway warriors would magnify the
firing a hundredfold, and no soldier worth his salt would permit the
uninterrupted march of an army corps along a road flanked by such a
danger-point. In effect, Dalroy conceived a hundred reasons why he might
anticipate a sudden and violent end, but not one offering a fair
prospect of escape. At any rate, he refused to be guilty of the folly of
plunging into an unknown jungle of brambles, rocks, and trees, and
elected to go back by the path to the foot of the quarry, whence he
might, with plenty of luck, break through on a flank before the Germans
spread their net too wide.

He had actually crossed some part of the clearing in front of the hut
when his gorge rose at the thought that, win or lose in this game of
life and death, he might never again see Irene Beresford. The notion was
intolerable. He halted, and turned toward the black wall of the wood.
Mad though it was to risk revealing his whereabouts, since he had no
means of knowing how close the nearest pursuers might be, he shouted
loudly, "Miss Beresford!"

And a sweet voice replied, "Oh, Mr. Dalroy, they told me you were dead,
but I refused to believe them!"

Dalroy had staked everything on that last despairing call, little
dreaming that it would be answered. It was as though an angel had spoken
from out of the black portals of death. He was so taken aback, his
spirit was so shaken, that for a few seconds he was tongue-tied, and
Irene appeared in the moonlit space before he stirred an inch. She came
from an unexpected quarter, from the west, or Argenteau, side.

"The others said I was a lunatic to return," she explained simply; "but,
when I came to my full senses after being aroused from a sound sleep,
and told to fly at once because the Germans were on us, I realised that
you might have outwitted them again, and would be looking for us in
vain. So, here I am!"

He ran to her. Now that they were together again he was swift in
decision and resolute as ever. "Irene," he said, "you're a dear. Where
are our friends? Is there a path? Can you guide me?"

"Take my hand," she replied. "We turn by a big tree in the corner. I
think Jan Maertz followed me a little way when he saw I was determined
to go back."

"I suppose I had unconscious faith in you, Irene," he whispered, "and
that is why I cried your name. But no more talking now. Rapid, silent
movement alone can save us."

They had not gone twenty yards beneath the trees when some one hissed,
"Visé!"

"Liège, you lump!" retorted Dalroy.

"Monsieur, I----"

"Shut up! Hold mademoiselle's hand, and lead on."

He did not ask whither they were going. The path led diagonally to the
left, and that was what he wanted--a way to a flank.

Maertz, however, soon faltered and stopped in his tracks.

"The devil take all woods at night-time!" he growled. "Give me the
highroad and a wagon-team, and I'll face anything."

"Are you lost?" asked Dalroy.

"I suppose so, monsieur. But they can't be far. I told Joos----"

"Jan, is that you?" cried Léontine's voice.

"_Ah, Dieu merci!_ These infernal trees----"

"Silence now!" growled Dalroy imperatively. "Go ahead as quickly as
possible."

The semblance of a path existed; even so, they stumbled over gnarled
roots, collided with tree-trunks which stood directly in the way, and
had to fend many a low branch off their faces. They created an appalling
noise; but were favoured by the fact that the footpath led to the west,
whereas the pursuers must climb the cliff on the east.

Léontine, however, led them with the quiet certainty of a country-born
girl moving in a familiar environment. She could guess to a yard just
where the track was diverted by some huge-limbed elm or far-spreading
chestnut, and invariably picked up the right line again, for the
excellent reason, no doubt, that the dense undergrowth stood breast high
elsewhere at that season of the year.

After a walk that seemed much longer than it really was--the radius of
the wood from the hut being never more than two hundred yards in any
direction--the others heard her say anxiously, "Are you there, father?"

"Where the deuce do you think I'd be?" came the irritated demand. "Do
you imagine that your mother and I are skipping down these rocks like a
couple of weasels?"

"It is quite safe," said the girl. "I and Marie Lafarge went down only
last Thursday. Jules always goes that way to Argenteau. He has cut steps
in the bad places. Jan and I will lead. We can help mother and you."

Dalroy, still holding Irene's arm, pressed forward.

"Are we near the tow-path?" he asked.

"Oh, is that you, _Monsieur l'Anglais_?" chuckled the miller. "Name of a
pipe, I was positive those _sales Alboches_ had got you twenty minutes
since. Yes, if you trip in the next few yards you'll find yourself on
the tow-path after falling sixty feet."

"Go on, Léontine!" commanded Dalroy. "What you and your friend did for
amusement we can surely do to save our lives. But there should be
moonlight on this side. Have any clouds come up?"

"These are firs in front, monsieur. Once clear of them, we can see."

"Very well. Don't lose another second. Only, before beginning the
descent, make certain that the river bank holds no Germans."

Joos grumbled, but his wife silenced him. That good lady, it appeared,
had given up hope when the struggle broke out in the kitchen. She had
been snatched from the jaws of death by a seeming miracle, and regarded
Dalroy as a very Paladin. She attributed her rescue entirely to him, and
was almost inclined to be sceptical of Joos's sensational story about
the killing of Busch. "There never was such a man for arguing," she
said sharply. "I do believe you'd contradict an archbishop. Do as the
gentleman bids you. He knows best."

Now, seeing that madame herself, after one look, had refused point-blank
to tackle the supposed path, and had even insisted on retreating to the
cover of the wood, Joos was entitled to protest. Being a choleric little
man, he would assuredly have done so fully and freely had not a red
light illumined the tree-tops, while the crackle of a fire was
distinctly audible. The Germans had reached the top of the quarry, and,
in order to dissipate the impenetrable gloom, had converted the hut into
a beacon.

"_Miséricorde!_" he muttered. "They are burning our provisions, and may
set the forest ablaze!"

And that is what actually happened. The vegetation was dry, as no rain
had fallen for many a day. The shavings and store of logs in the hut
burned like tinder, promptly creating a raging furnace wholly beyond the
control of the unthinking dolts who started it. The breeze which had
sprung up earlier became a roaring tornado among the trees, and some
acres of woodland were soon in flames. The light of that fire was seen
over an area of hundreds of miles. Spectators in Holland wrongly
attributed it to the burning of Visé, which was, however, only an
intelligent anticipation of events, because the delightful old town was
completely destroyed a week later in revenge for the defeats inflicted
on the invaders at Tirlemont and St. Trond during the first advance on
Antwerp.

Once embarked on a somewhat perilous descent, the fugitives gave eyes or
thought to naught else. Jules, the pioneer quoted by Léontine, who was
the owner of the hut and maker of sabots, had rough-hewed a sort of
stairway out of a narrow cleft in the rock face. To young people, steady
in nerve and sure of foot, the passage was dangerous enough, but to Joos
and his wife it offered real hazard. However, they were allowed no time
for hesitancy. With Léontine in front, guiding her father, and Maertz
next, telling Madame Joos where to put her feet, while Dalroy grasped
her broad shoulders and gave an occasional eye to Irene, they all
reached the level tow-path without the least accident. Irene, by the
way, carried the rifle, so that Dalroy should have both hands at
liberty.

Without a moment's delay he took the weapon and readjusted the magazine,
which he had removed for the climb. Bidding the others follow at such a
distance that they would not lose sight of him, yet be able to retire if
he found the way disputed by soldiers, he set off in the direction of
Argenteau.

In his opinion the next ten minutes would decide whether or not they had
even a remote chance of winning through to a place of comparative
safety. He had made up his own mind what to do if he met any Germans.
He would advise the Joos family and Maertz to hide in the cleft they had
just descended, while he would take to the Meuse with Irene--provided,
that is, she agreed to dare the long swim by night. Happily there was no
need to adopt this counsel of despair. The fire, instead of assisting
the flanking party on the western side, only delayed them. Sheer
curiosity as to what was happening in the wood drew all eyes there
rather than to the river bank, so the three men and three women passed
along the tow-path unseen and unchallenged.

After a half-mile of rapid progress Dalroy judged that they were safe
for the time, and allowed Madame Joos to take a much-needed rest. Though
breathless and nearly spent, she, like the others, found an irresistible
fascination in the scene lighted by the burning trees. The whole
countryside was resplendent in crimson and silver, because the landscape
was now steeped in moonshine, and the deep glow of the fire was most
perceptible in the patches where ordinarily there would be black
shadows. The Meuse resembled a river of blood, the movement of its
sluggish current suggesting the onward roll of some fluid denser than
water. Old Joos, whose tongue was seldom at rest, used that very simile.

"Those cursed Prussians have made Belgium a shambles," he added
bitterly. "Look at our river. It isn't our dear, muddy Meuse. It's a
stream in the infernal regions."

"Yes," gasped his wife. "And listen to those guns, Henri! They beat a
sort of _roulade_, like drums in hell!"

This stout Walloon matron had never heard of Milton. Her ears were not
tuned to the music of Parnassus. She would have gazed in mild wonder at
one who told of "noises loud and ruinous,"

                   When Bellona storms
     With all her battering engines, bent to raze
     Some capital city.

But in her distress of body and soul she had coined a phrase which two,
at least, of her hearers would never forget. The siege of Liège did,
indeed, roar and rumble with the din of a demoniac orchestra. Its
clamour mounted to the firmament. It was as though the nether fiends,
following Moloch's advice, were striving,

     Arm'd with Hell flames and fury, all at once,
     O'er Heaven's high towers to force resistless way.

Dalroy himself yielded to the spell of the moment. Here was red war such
as the soldier dreams of. His warrior spirit did not quail. He longed
only for the hour, if ever the privilege was vouchsafed, when he would
stand shoulder to shoulder with the men of his own race, and watch with
unflinching eye those same dread tokens of a far-flung battle line.

Irene Beresford seemed to read his passing mood. "War has some elements
of greatness," she said quietly. "The pity is that while it ennobles a
few it degrades the multitude."

With a woman's intuition, she had gone straight to the heart of the
problem propounded by Teutonism to an amazed world. The "degradation" of
a whole people was already Germany's greatest and unforgivable offence.
Few, even the most cynical, among the students of European politics
could have believed that the Kaiser's troops would sully their country's
repute by the inhuman excesses committed during those first days in
Belgium. At the best, "war is hell"; but the great American leader who
summed up its attributes in that pithy phrase thought only of the
mangled men, the ruined homesteads, the bereaved families which mark its
devastating trail. He had seen nothing of German "frightfulness." The
men he led would have scorned to ravage peaceful villages, impale babies
on bayonets and lances, set fire to houses containing old and bedridden
people, murder hostages, rape every woman in a community, torture
wounded enemies, and shoot harmless citizens in drunken sport. Yet the
German armies did all these things before they were a fortnight in the
field. They are not impeached on isolated counts, attributable, perhaps,
to the criminal instincts of a small minority. They carried out bestial
orgies in battalions and brigades acting under word of command. The
jolly, good-humoured fellows who used to tramp in droves through the
Swiss passes every summer, each man with a rucksack on his back, and
beguiling the road in lusty song, seemed to cast aside all their
cheerful camaraderie, all their exuberant kindliness of nature, when
garbed in the "field gray" livery of the State, and let loose among the
pleasant vales and well-tilled fields of Flanders. That will ever remain
Germany's gravest sin. When "the thunder of the captains and the
shouting" is stilled, when time has healed the wounds of victor and
vanquished, the memories of Visé, of Louvain, of Aershot, of nearly
every town and hamlet in Belgium and Northern France once occupied by
the savages from beyond the Rhine, will remain imperishable in their
horror. German _Kultur_ was a highly polished veneer. Exposed to the hot
blast of war it peeled and shrivelled, leaving bare a diseased,
worm-eaten structure, in which the honest fibre of humanity had been
rotted by vile influences, both social and political.

Women seldom err when they sum up the characteristics of the men of a
race, and the women of every other civilised nation were united in their
dislike of German men long before the first week in August, 1914. Irene
Beresford had yet to peer into the foulest depths of Teutonic
"degradation"; but she had sensed it as a latent menace, and found in
its stark records only the fulfilment of her vague fears.

Dalroy read into her words much that she had left unsaid. "At best it's
a terrible necessity," he replied; "at worst it's what we have seen and
heard of during the past twenty-four hours. I shall never understand why
a people which prided itself on being above all else intellectual should
imagine that atrocity is a means toward conquest. Such a theory is so
untrue historically that Germany might have learnt its folly."

Joos grew uneasy when his English friends spoke in their own language.
The suspicious temperament of the peasant is always doubtful of things
outside its comprehension. He would have been astounded if told they
were discussing the ethics of warfare.

"Well, have you two settled where we're to go?" he demanded gruffly. "In
my opinion, the Meuse is the best place for the lot of us."

"In with you, then," agreed Dalroy, "but hand over your money to madame
before you take the dip. Léontine and Jan may need it later to start the
mill running."

Maertz laughed. The joke appealed strongly.

Madame Joos turned on her husband. "How you do chatter, Henri!" she
said. "We all owe our lives to this gentleman, yet you aren't satisfied.
The Meuse indeed! What will you be saying next?"

"How far is Argenteau?" put in Dalroy.

"That's it, where the house is on fire," said the miller, pointing.

"About a kilomètre, I take it?"

"Something like that."

"Have you friends there?"

"Ay, scores, if they're alive."

"I hear no shooting in that direction. Moreover, an army corps is
passing through. Let us go there. Something may turn up. We shall be
safer among thousands of Germans than here."

They walked on. The Englishman's air of decision was a tonic in itself.

The fire on the promontory was now at its height, but a curve in the
river hid the fugitives from possible observation. Dalroy was confident
as to two favourable factors--the men of the marching column would not
search far along the way they had come, and their commander would recall
them when the wood yielded no trace of its supposed occupants.

There had been fighting along the right bank of the Meuse during the
previous day. German helmets, red and yellow Belgian caps, portions of
accoutrements and broken weapons, littered the tow-path. But no bodies
were in evidence. The river had claimed the dead and the wounded
Belgians; the enemy's wounded had been transferred to Aix-la-Chapelle.

Nearing Argenteau they heard a feeble cry. They stopped, and listened.
Again it came, clearly this time: "Elsa! Elsa!"

It was a man's voice, and the name was that of a German woman. Maertz
searched in a thicket, and found a young German officer lying there. He
was delirious, calling for the help of one powerless to aid.

He seemed to become aware of the presence of some human being. Perhaps
his atrophied senses retained enough vitality to hear the passing
footsteps.

"Elsa!" he moaned again, "give me water, for God's sake!"

"He's done for," reported Maertz to the waiting group. "He's covered
with blood."

"For all that he may prove our salvation," said Dalroy quickly. "Sharp,
now! Pitch our firearms and ammunition into the river. We must lift a
gate off its hinges, and carry that fellow into Argenteau."

Joos grinned. He saw the astuteness of the scheme. A number of Belgian
peasants bringing a wounded officer to the ambulance would probably be
allowed to proceed scot-free. But he was loath to part with the precious
fork on which the blood of "that fat Busch" was congealing. He thrust it
into a ditch, and if ever he was able to retrieve it no more valued
souvenir of the great war will adorn his dwelling. They possessed
neither wine nor water; but a tiny rivulet flowing into the Meuse under
a neighbouring bridge supplied the latter, and the wounded man gulped
down great mouthfuls out of a _Pickel-haube_. It partially cleared his
wits.

"Where am I?" he asked faintly.

Dalroy nodded to Joos, who answered, "On the Meuse bank, near
Argenteau."

"Ah, I remember. Those cursed----" Some dim perception of his
surroundings choked the word on his lips. "I was hit," he went on, "and
crawled among the bushes."

"Was there fighting here this morning?"

"Yes. To-day is Tuesday, isn't it?"

"No, Wednesday midnight."

"_Ach, Gott!_ That _verdammt_ ambulance missed me! I have lain here two
days!"

This time he swore without hesitation, since he was cursing his own men.

Jan came with a hurdle. "This is lighter than a gate, monsieur," he
explained.

Dalroy nudged Joos sharply, and the miller took the cue. "Right," he
said. "Now, you two, handle him carefully."

The German groaned piteously, and fainted.

"Oh, he's dead!" gasped Irene, when she saw his head drop.

"No, he will recover. But don't speak English.--As for you, Jan Maertz,
no more of your 'monsieur' and 'madame.' I am Pierre, and this lady is
Clementine. You understand?"

Dalroy spoke emphatically. Had the German retained his wits their
project might be undone. In the event, the pain of movement on the
hurdle revived the wounded man, and he asked for more water. They were
then entering the outskirts of Argenteau, so they kept on. Soon they
gained the main road, and Joos inquired of an officer the whereabouts of
a field hospital. He directed them quite civilly, and offered to detail
men to act as bearers. But the miller was now his own shrewd self again.

"No," he said bluntly, "I and my family have rescued your officer, and
we want a safe conduct."

Off they went with their living passport. The field hospital was
established in the village school, and here the patient was turned over
to a surgeon. As it happened, the latter recognised a friend, and was
grateful. He sent an orderly with them to find the major in charge of
the lines of communication, and they had not been in Argenteau five
minutes before they were supplied with a _laisser passer_, in which they
figured as Wilhelm Schultz, farmer, and wife, Clementine and Léontine,
daughters, and the said daughters' fiancés, Pierre Dampier and Georges
Lambert; residence Aubel; destination Andenne.

There was not the least hitch in the matter. The major was, in his way,
courteous. Joos gave his own Christian name as "Guillaume," but the
German laughed.

"You're a good citizen of the Fatherland now, my friend," he guffawed,
"so we'll make it 'Wilhelm.' As for this pair of doves," and he eyed the
two girls, "warn off any of our lads. Tell them that I, Major von
Arnheim, said so. They're a warm lot where a pretty woman is
concerned."

Von Arnheim was a stout man, a not uncommon quality in German majors.
Perhaps he wondered why Joos looked fixedly at the pit of his stomach.

But a motor cyclist dashed up with a despatch, and he forgot all about
"Schultz" and his family. As it happened, he was a man of some ability,
and the hopeless block at Aix caused by the stubborn defence of Liège
had brought about the summary dismissal of a General by the wrathful
Kaiser. Hence, the Argenteau major was promoted and recalled to the
base. His next in rank, summoned to the post an hour later, knew nothing
of the _laisser passer_ granted to a party which closely resembled the
much-wanted miller of Visé and his companions; he read an "urgent
general order" for their arrest without the least suspicion that they
had slipped through the net in that very place.

Meanwhile these things were in the lap of the gods. For the moment, the
six people were free, and actually under German protection.



CHAPTER IX

AN EXPOSITION OF GERMAN METHODS


Three large and powerful automobiles stood at rest in the tiny square of
Argenteau. Nearly every little town in Belgium and France possesses its
_place_, the hub of social and business life, the centre where roads
converge and markets are held. In the roadway, near the cars, were
several officers, deep in conversation.

"Look," murmured Irene to Dalroy, "the high-shouldered, broadly-built
man, facing this way, is General von Emmich!"

By this time Dalroy was acquainted with the name of the German
commander-in-chief. He found a fleeting interest in watching him now,
while Joos and the others loitered irresolutely on the pavement outside
the improvised office of the _Kommandantur_.

Though the moon was high and clear, there was no other light, and the
diffused brilliance of the "orbèd maiden, with white fire laden," is not
favourable to close observation. But Von Emmich's bearing and gestures
were significant. He put an abrupt end to the conclave by an emphatic
sweep of his right arm, and the larger number of his staff disposed
themselves in two of the cars, in which the chauffeurs and armed escorts
were already seated. They made off in the direction of Aix. It was easy
to guess their errand. More cannon, more cannon-fodder!

The generalissimo himself remained apart from the colonel and captain
who apparently formed his personal suite. He strode to and fro,
evidently in deep thought. Once he halted quite close to the little
company of peasants, and Dalroy believed he saw tears in his eyes, tears
instantly brushed away by an angry hand. Whatever the cause of this
emotion, the General quickly mastered a momentary weakness. Indeed, that
spasmodic yielding seemed to have braced his will to a fixed purpose,
because he walked to the waiting car, wrote something by the light of an
electric torch, and said to the younger of the staff officers, "Take
that to the field telegraph. It must have priority."

Somehow, Dalroy sensed the actual text of the message. Von Emmich was
making the humiliating admission that Liège, far from having fallen, as
he had announced during the first hours of the advance, was still an
immovable barrier against a living torrent of men. So the heart of this
middle-aged warrior, whose repute was good when measured by the Prussian
standard, had not melted because of the misery and desolation he and his
armed ruffians had brought into one of the most peaceful, industrious,
and law-abiding communities in the world. His tears flowed because of
failure, not of regret. His withers were wrung by mortification, not
pity. He would have waded knee-deep in the blood of Belgium if only he
could have gained his ends and substantiated by literal fact that first
vainglorious telegram to the War Lord of Potsdam. Now he had to ask for
time, reinforcements, siege guns, while the clock ticked inexorably, and
England, France, and Russia were mobilising. Perhaps it was in that hour
that his morbid thoughts first turned to a suicide's death as the only
reparation for what he conceived to be a personal blunder. Yet his
generalship was marked by no grave strategical fault. If aught erred, it
was the German State machine, which counted only on mankind having a
body and a brain, but denied it a soul.

Von Emmich's troubles were no concern of Dalroy's, save in their
reaction on his own difficulties. He was conscious of a certain surprise
that Irene Beresford should recognise one of the leaders of modern
Germany so promptly; but this feeling, in its turn, yielded to the vital
things of the moment. "Let us be moving," he said quietly, and led the
way with Joos.

"Why did you give Andenne as your destination?" he inquired.

"My wife's cousin lives there, monsieur. She is married to a man named
Alphonse Stauwaert. I _had_ to say something. I remembered Madame
Stauwaert in the nick of time."

"But Andenne lies beyond Liège. To get there we shall have to traverse
the whole German line, and pass some of the outlying forts, which is
impossible."

"We must go somewhere."

"True. But why not make for a place that is attainable? Heaven--or
Purgatory, at any rate--is far more easily reached to-night than
Andenne."

"I didn't say we were going there at once," snapped the miller. "It's
more than twenty-five kilomètres from here, and is far enough away to be
safe when I'm asked where I am bound for. My wife couldn't walk it
to-morrow, let alone to-night."

"Andenne lies down the valley of the Meuse too, doesn't it?"

"Ay."

"Well, isn't that simply falling off a rock into a whirlpool? The
Germans must pass that way to France, and it is France they are aiming
at, not Belgium."

"They talk mostly about England," said Joos sapiently.

"Yes, because they fear her. But let us avoid politics, my friend. Our
present problem is how and where to bestow these women for the night.
After that, the sooner we three men leave them the better. I, at least,
must go. I may be detected any minute, and then--God help you others!"

"_Saperlotte!_ That isn't the way you English are treating us. No,
monsieur, we sink or swim together."

That ready disavowal of any clash of interests was cheering. The little
man's heart was sound, though his temper might be short. Good faith,
however, was not such a prime essential now as good judgment, and Dalroy
halted again at a corner of the square. To stay in Argenteau was
madness. But--there were three roads. One led to Visé, one to Liège, and
one to the German frontier! The first two were closed hopelessly. The
third, open in a sense, was fantastic when regarded as a possible avenue
of escape. Yet that third road offered the only path toward comparative
security and rest.

"I wish you wouldn't look so dejected," whispered Irene, peeping up into
Dalroy's downcast face with the winsome smile which had so taken his
fancy during the long journey from Berlin. "I've been counting our gains
and losses. Surely the balance is heavy on our side. We--you, that
is--have defeated the whole German army. We've lost some sleep and some
clothes, but have secured a safe-conduct from our enemies, after
knocking a good many of them on the head. Some men, I know, look
miserable when most successful; but I don't put you in that category."

She was careful to talk German, not that there was much chance of being
actually overheard, but to prevent the sibilant accents of English
speech reaching suspicious ears. Britons who have no language but their
own are often surprised when abroad at hearing children mimicking them
by hissing. Curiously enough, such is the effect of our island tongue on
foreign ears. Monosyllables like "yes," "this," "it's," and scores of
others in constant use, no less than the almost invariable plural form
of nouns, lead to the illusion, which Irene was aware of, and guarded
against.

Yet, despite the uncouth, harsh-sounding words on her lips, and the
coarse Flemish garments she wore, she was adorably English. Léontine
Joos was a pretty girl; but, in true feminine parlance, "lumpy." Some
three inches less in height than her "sister," she probably weighed a
stone more. Léontine trudged when she walked, Irene moved with a grace
which not even a pair of clumsy sabots could hide. Luckily they were
alike in one important particular. Their faces and hands were soiled,
their hair untidy, and the passage through the wood had scratched
foreheads and cheeks until the skin was broken, and little patches of
congealed blood disfigured them.

"I may look more dejected than I feel," Dalroy reassured her. "I'm
playing a part, remember. I've kept my head down and my knees bent until
my joints ache."

"Oh, is that it?" she cooed, with a relieved air. How could he know then
that the sabots were chafing her ankles until the pain had become
well-nigh unbearable. If she could have gratified her own wishes she
would have crept to the nearest hedge and flung herself down in utter
weariness.

Joos, having pondered the Englishman's views on Andenne as an
unattainable refuge, scratched his head perplexedly. "I think we had
better go toward Herve," he said at last. "This is the road," and he
pointed to the left. "On the way we can branch off to a farm I know of,
if it happens to be clear of soldiers."

Any goal was preferable to none. They entered the eastward-bound road,
but had not advanced twenty yards along it before the way was blocked by
a mass of commissariat wagons and scores of Uhlans standing by their
horses.

Two officers, heedless who heard, were wrangling loudly.

"There is nothing else for it, _Herr Hauptmann_," said one. "It doesn't
matter who is actually to blame. You have taken the wrong road, and must
turn back. Every yard farther in this direction puts you deeper in the
mire."

"But I was misdirected as far away as Bleyberg," protested the other.
"Some never-to-be-forgotten hound of hell told me that this was the
Verviers road. _Gott in himmel!_ and I _must_ be there by dawn!"

Dalroy was gazing at the wagons. They seemed oddly familiar. The painted
legend on the tarpaulins placed the matter beyond doubt. These were the
very vehicles he had seen in the station-yard at Aix-la-Chapelle!

At this crisis Jan Maertz's sluggish brain evolved a really clever
notion. The Germans wanted a guide, and who so well qualified for the
post as a carter to whom each turn and twist in every road in the
province was familiar? Without consulting any one, he pushed forward.
"Pardon, _Herr General_," he said in his offhand way. "Give me and my
friends a lift, and I'll have you and your wagons in Verviers in three
hours."

Brutality is so engrained in the Prussian that an offer which a man of
another race would have accepted civilly was treated almost as an insult
by the angry leader of the convoy.

"You'll guide me with the point of a lance close to your liver, you
Belgian swine-dog," was the ungracious answer.

"Not me!" retorted Maertz. "Here, papa!" he cried to Joos, "show this
gentleman your paper. He can't go about sticking people as he likes,
even in war-time."

Joos went forward. Moved by contemptuous curiosity, the two officers
examined the miller's _laisser passer_ by the light of an electric
torch.

The commissariat officer changed his tone when he saw the signature. The
virtue of military obedience becomes a grovelling servitude in the
German army, and a man who was ready to act with the utmost unfairness
if left to his own instincts grew almost courteous at sight of the
communications officer's name. "Your case is different," he admitted
grudgingly. "Is this your party? The old man is Herr Schultz, I
suppose. Which are you?"

"I'm Georges Lambert, _Herr General_."

"And what do you want?"

"We're all going to Andenne. It's on the paper. This infernal fighting
has smashed up our place at Aubel, and the women are footsore and
frightened. So is papa. Put them in a wagon. Dampier and I can leg it."

The Prussian was becoming more civil each moment. He realised, too, that
this gruff fellow who moved about the country under such powerful
protection was a veritable godsend to him and his tired men.

"No, no," he cried, grown suddenly complaisant, "we can do better than
that. I'll dump a few trusses of hay, and put you all in the same wagon,
which can then take the lead."

Thus, by a mere turn of fortune's wheel, the enemy was changed into a
friend, and a dangerous road made safe and comfort-giving. Jan sat in
front with the driver, and cracked jokes with him, while the others
nestled into a load of sweet-smelling hay.

"For the first time in my life," whispered Dalroy to Irene, "I
understand the precise significance of Samson's riddle about the honey
extracted from the lion's mouth. Our heavy-witted Jan has saved the
situation. We enter Verviers in triumph, and reach the left of the
German lines. Just another slice of luck, and we cross the Meuse at
Andenne or elsewhere--it doesn't matter where."

Irene had kicked off those cruel sabots. She bit her lip in the darkness
to stifle a sob before answering coolly, "Shall we be clear of the
Germans then?"

"I--hope so. Their armies dare not advance so long as we hear those
guns."

The girl could not reason in the soldier's way. She thought she would
"hear those guns" during the rest of her life. Never had she dreamed of
anything so horrific as that drumming of cannon. She believed, as women
do, that every shell tore hundreds of human beings limb from limb. In
silent revolt against the frenzy which seemed to possess the world, she
closed her eyes and buried her head in the hay; and once again exhausted
nature was its own best healer. When the convoy rumbled into Verviers in
the early morning, having followed a by-road through Julemont and Herve,
Irene had to be awaked out of deep sleep. Yet the boom of the guns
continued! Liège was still holding out, a paranoiac despot was frantic
with wrath, and civilised Europe had yet another day to prepare for the
caging of the beast which threatened its very existence.

The leader of the convoy was greeted by a furious staff officer in such
terms that Dalroy judged it expedient he and the others should slip away
quietly. This they contrived to do. Maertz recommended an inn in a side
street, where they would be welcomed if accommodation were available.
And it was. There were no troops billeted in Verviers. Every available
man was being hurried to the front. Dalroy watched two infantry
regiments passing while Maertz and Joos were securing rooms. Though the
soldiers were sturdy fellows, and they could not have made an
excessively long march, many of them limped badly, and only maintained
their places in the ranks by force of an iron discipline. He was puzzled
to account for their jaded aspect. An hour later, while lying awake in a
fairly comfortable bed, and trying to frame some definite programme for
the day which had already dawned, he solved the mystery. The soldiers
were wearing new boots! Germany had _everything_ ready for her millions.
He learnt subsequently that when the German armies entered the field
they were followed by ammunition trains carrying four thousand million
rounds of small-arm cartridges alone!

He met Joos and Maertz at _déjeuner_, a rough but satisfying meal, and
was faced by the disquieting fact that neither Madame Joos nor Irene
could leave the bedroom which they shared with Léontine. Madame was done
up; _cette course l'a excédé_, her husband put it; while mademoiselle's
ankles were swollen and painful.

These misfortunes were, perhaps, a blessing in disguise. An enforced
rest was better than no rest at all, and the constant vigil by night
and day was telling even on the apple-cheeked Léontine.

Joos wanted to wander about the town and pick up news, but Dalroy
dissuaded him. The woman who kept the little _auberge_ was thoroughly
trustworthy, and hardly another soul in Verviers knew of their presence
in the town. News they could do without, whereas recognition might be
fatal.

Irene put in an appearance late in the day. She had borrowed a pair of
slippers, and the landlady had promised to buy her a pair of strong
boots. Sabots she would never wear again, she vowed. They might be
comfortable and watertight when one was accustomed to them, but life was
too strenuous in Belgium just then to permit of experiments in footgear.

When night fell Joos could not be kept in. It was understood that the
_Kommandantur_ had ordered all inhabitants to remain indoors after nine
o'clock, so the old man had hardly an hour at his disposal for what he
called a _petit tour_. But he was not long absent. He had encountered a
friend, a curé whose church near Aubel had been blown to atoms by German
artillery during a frontier fight on the Monday afternoon.

This gentleman, a venerable ecclesiastic, discovered Dalroy's
nationality after five minutes' chat. He had in his possession a copy of
a proclamation issued by Von Emmich. It began: "I regret very much to
find that German troops are compelled to cross the frontier of Belgium.
They are constrained to do so by sheer necessity, the neutrality of
Belgium having already been violated by French officers, who, in
disguise, have passed through Belgian territory in an automobile in
order to penetrate Germany."

The curé, whose name was Garnier, laughed sarcastically at the
childishness of the pretext put forward by the commander-in-chief of the
Army of the Meuse. "Was war waged for such a flimsy reason ever before
in the history of the world?" he said. "What fire-eaters these
'disguised' French officers must have been! Imagine the hardihood of the
braves who would 'penetrate' mighty Germany in one automobile! This
silly lie bears the date of 4th August, yet my beloved church was then
in ruins, and a large part of the village in flames!"

"Verviers seems to have escaped punishment. How do you account for it?"
inquired Dalroy.

"It seems to be a deliberate policy on the part of the Germans to spare
one town and destroy another. Both serve as examples, the one as typical
of the excellent treatment meted out to those communities which welcome
the invaders, the other as a warning of the fate attending resistance.
Both instances are absolutely untrue. Every burgomaster in Belgium has
issued notices calling on non-combatants to avoid hostile acts, and
Verviers is exactly on a par with the other unfortified towns in this
part of the country. The truth is, monsieur, that the Germans are
furious because of the delay our gallant soldiers have imposed on them.
It is bearing fruit too. I hear that England has already landed an army
at Ostend."

Dalroy shook his head. "I wish I might credit that," he said sadly. "I
am a soldier, monsieur, and you may take it from me that such a feat is
quite impossible in the time. We might send twenty or thirty thousand
men by the end of this week, and another similar contingent by the end
of next week. But months must elapse before we can put in the field an
army big enough to make headway against the swarms of Germans I have
seen with my own eyes."

"Months!" gasped the curé. "Then what will become of my unhappy country?
Even to-day we are living on hope. Liège still holds out, and the people
are saying, 'The English are coming, all will be well!' A man was shot
to-day in this very town for making that statement."

"He must have been a fool to voice his views in the presence of German
troops."

The priest spread wide his hands in sorrowful gesture. "You don't
understand," he said. "Belgium is overrun with spies. It is positively
dangerous to utter an opinion in any mixed company. One or two of the
bystanders will certainly be in the pay of the enemy."

Though the curé was now on surer ground than when he spoke of a British
army on Belgian soil, Dalroy egged him on to talk. "My chief difficulty
is to know how the money was raised to support all these agencies," he
said. "Consider, monsieur. Germany maintains an enormous army. She has a
fleet second only to that of Britain. She finances her traders and
subsidises her merchant ships as no other nation does. How is it
credible that she should also find means to keep up a secret service
which must have cost millions sterling a year?"

"Yes, you are certainly English," said the priest, with a sad smile.
"You don't begin to estimate the peculiarities of the German character.
We Belgians, living, so to speak, within arm's-length of Germany, have
long seen the danger, and feared it. Every German is taught that the
world is his for the taking. Every German is encouraged in the belief
that the national virtue of organised effort is the one and only means
of commanding success. Thus, the State is everything, the individual
nothing. But the State rewards the individual for services rendered. The
German dotes on titles and decorations, and what easier way of earning
both than to supply information deemed valuable by the various State
departments? Plenty of wealthy Germans in Belgium paid their own spies,
and used the knowledge so gained for their private ends as well as for
the benefit of the State. During the past twenty years the whole German
race has become a most efficient secret society, its members being
banded together for their common good, and leagued against the rest of
the world. The German never loses his nationality, no matter how long he
may dwell in a foreign country. My own church claims to be Catholic and
universal, yet I would not trust a German colleague in any matter where
the interests of his country were at stake. The Germans are a race
apart, and believe themselves superior to all others. There was a time,
in my youth, when Prussia was distinct from Saxony, or Würtemberg,
or Bavaria. That feeling is dead. The present Emperor has welded his
people into one tremendous machine, partly by playing upon their vanity,
partly by banging the German drum during his travels, but mainly by
dangling before their eyes the reward that men have always found
irresistible--the spoliation of other lands, the prospect of sudden
enrichment. Every soldier marching past this house at the present
moment hopes to rob Belgium and France. And now England is added to the
enticing list of well-stocked properties that may be lawfully burgled.
I am no prophet, monsieur. I am only an old man who has watched the
upspringing of a new and terrible force in European politics. I may live
an hour or ten years; but if God spares me for the latter period I shall
see Germany either laid in the dust by an enraged world or dominating
the earth by brutal conquest."

But for the outbreak of the war Dalroy would have passed the
"interpreter" test in German some few weeks later. He had spent his
"language leave" in Berlin, and was necessarily familiar with German
thought and literature. Often had he smiled at Teutonic boastfulness.
Now the simple words of an aged village curé had given a far-reaching
and sinister meaning to much that had seemed the mere froth of a
vigorous race fermenting in successful trade.

"Do you believe that the German colony in England pursues the same
methods?" he asked, and his heart sank as he recalled the wealth and
social standing of the horde of Germans in the British Isles.

"Can the leopard change his spots?" quoted the other. "A year ago one of
my friends, a maker of automobiles, thought I needed a holiday. He took
me to England. God has been good to Britain, monsieur! He has given you
riches and power. But you are grown careless. I stayed in five big
hotels, two in London and three in the provinces. They were all run by
Germans. I made inquiries, thinking I might benefit some of my village
lads; but the German managers would employ none save German waiters,
German cooks, German reception clerks. Your hall porters were Germans.
You never cared to reflect, I suppose, that hotels are the main arteries
of a country's life. But the canker did not end there. Your mills and
collieries were installing German plant under German supervisors. Your
banks----"

The speaker paused dramatically.

"But our God is not a German God!" he cried, and his sunken eyes seemed
to shoot fire. "Last night, listening to the guns that were murdering
Belgium, I asked myself, why does Heaven permit this crime? And the
answer came swiftly: German influences were poisoning the world. They
had to be eradicated, or mankind would sink into the bottomless pit. So
God has sent this war. Be of good heart. Remember the words of Saint
Paul: 'So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in
corruption; it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonour; it is
raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.'"

The curé's voice had unconsciously attained the pulpit pitch. The clear,
incisive accents reached other ears.

The landlady crept in, with a face of scare. "Monsieur!" she whispered,
"the doors are wide open. It is an order!"

Dalroy went rapidly into the street. No loiterer was visible. Not even a
crowd of five persons might gather to watch the military pageant; it was
_verboten_. And ever the dim shapes flitted by in the night--horse,
foot, and artillery, automobiles, ambulance and transport wagons. There
seemed no end to this flux of gray-green gnomes. The air was tremulous
with the unceasing hammer-strokes of heavy guns on the anvil of Liège.
Staid old Europe might be dissolving even then in a cloud of
high-explosive gas.

The scheme of things was all awry. One Englishman gave up the riddle. He
turned on his heel, and lit one of the cheap cigars purchased in
Aix-la-Chapelle less than forty-eight hours ago!



CHAPTER X

ANDENNE


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"If Léontine likes to marry me first, I'm agreeable," put in Maertz
promptly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ah. At last I know the worst," laughed Dalroy. "Who would believe that
I once posed as the Discobulus in a _tableau vivant_?"

"What's that?" demanded Joos.

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

"A quoit-thrower," suggested Irene.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dalroy found Joos instantly.

"What is our curé's baptismal name?" he inquired.

"Edouard, monsieur."

"He has sent us marching orders. Read that!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Barely two hundred mètres, _tout droit_," he was told.

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

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

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

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

Some of the troopers, seeing two of their men prone, were pulling up
when a gruff voice cried, "_Achtung!_ We'll clear out these swine
later!"

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

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

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

"Are you hurt?" she asked.

"No. And you?"

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

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

"_Oh, mon Dieu!_" he screamed. "_Oh, mon Dieu!_"

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

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

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

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

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

"Henri Joos!" she gasped. "And Léontine! What, in Heaven's name, are you
doing here?"

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

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

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

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

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

"Come," he said to Maertz, "get the dogs into a trot.--Léontine, look
after your father, and don't lose sight of us!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Are those Belgian troops in Seilles?" he inquired.

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

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



CHAPTER XI

A TRAMP ACROSS BELGIUM


The stranger, a Monsieur Jules Pochard, proved a most useful friend. In
the first instance, he was a cool-headed person, who did not allow
imagination to run riot. "No," he said, when questioned as to the chance
of reaching Namur by a forced march along country lanes, "every road in
that section of the province is closed by cavalry patrols. You cannot
avoid them, monsieur. Come with me to Huy, and you'll be reasonably
safe."

"Why safer in Huy than here, or anywhere else where these brutes may
be?"

"Huy has been occupied by the Germans since the 12th, and is their
temporary headquarters. From what I gather, they usually spare such
towns. That is why we never dreamed of Andenne being sacked."

Dalroy remembered the aged curé's exposition of _Kultur_ as a policy.
"Is this sort of thing going on generally, then?" he asked.

Monsieur Pochard was a Frenchman. He raised his eyebrows. "Where can you
have been, monsieur, not to know what has happened at Liège, Visé,
Flemelle Grande, Blagny Trembleur, and a score of other places?"

"Visé!" broke in the cracked, piping voice of Joos. "What's that about
Visé?"

"It is burnt to the ground, and nearly all the inhabitants killed."

"Is anything said of a fat major named Busch, whom Henri Joos the miller
stuck with a fork?"

"A Prussian, do you mean?"

"Ay. One of the same breed--a Westphalian."

"I haven't heard."

"He tried to assault my daughter, so I got him. The second one, a Uhlan,
killed my wife, and I got _him_ too. I cut his throat down there in the
main street. It's easy to kill Germans. They're soft, like pigs."

Though Joos's half-demented boasting was highly injudicious, Dalroy did
not interfere. He was in a mood to let matters drift. They could not
well be worse. He had tried to control the course of events in so far as
they affected his own and Irene Beresford's fortunes, but had failed
lamentably. Now, fate must take charge.

Pochard's comment was to the point, at any rate. "I congratulate you,
monsieur," he said. "I'll do a bit in that line myself when this little
one is lodged with his aunt in Huy. If every Belgian accounts for two
Prussians, you'll hold them till the French and English join up."

"Do you know for certain where the English are?" put in Dalroy eagerly.

"Yes, at Charleroi. The French are in Namur. Come with me to Huy. A few
days, and the _sales Alboches_ will be pelting back to the Rhine."

For the second time Dalroy heard a slang epithet new to him applied to
the Germans. He little guessed how familiar the abbreviated French form
of the word would become in his ears. Briton, Frenchman, Slav, and
Italian have cordially adopted "Boche" as a suitable term for the common
enemy. It has no meaning, yet conveys a sense of contemptuous dislike.
Stricken France had no heart for humour in 1870. The merciless foe was
then a "Prussian"; in 1914 he became a "Boche," and the change held a
comforting significance.

Dalroy, of course, did not share the Frenchman's opinion as to the
speedy discomfiture of the invader; but night was falling, the offer of
shelter was too good to be refused. Nevertheless, he was careful to
reveal a real difficulty. "Unfortunately, we have a dead woman in the
cart," he said. "Madame Stauwaert, too, is ill, but she has recovered
from a fainting fit, I see."

"Ah, poor Stauwaert!" murmured the other. "A decent fellow. I saw them
kill him. And that's his wife, of course. I didn't recognise her
before."

Dalroy was relieved to find that the Frenchman and the bereaved woman
were friends. He had not forgotten the priest's statement that there
would be a spy in every group in that part of Belgium. Later he
ascertained that Monsieur Pochard was a well-to-do leather merchant in
Andenne, who, like many others, refused to abandon a long-established
business for fear of the Germans; doubtless he was destined to pay a
heavy price for his tenacity ere the war ended. He behaved now as a true
Samaritan, urging an immediate move, and promising even to arrange for
Madame Joos's burial. Dalroy helped him to carry the child, a
three-year-old boy, who was very sleepy and peevish, and did not
understand why he should not be at home and in bed.

Joos suffered them to lead him where they listed. He walked by the side
of the cart, and told "Lise" how he had dealt with the Uhlan. Léontine
sobbed afresh, and tried to stop him, but he grew quite angry.

"Why shouldn't she know?" he snapped. "It is her affair, and mine. You
screamed, and turned away, but I hacked at him till his wind-pipe
hissed."

Monsieur Pochard brought them to Huy by a rough road among the hills.

It was a dreadful journey in the gloaming of a perfect summer's evening.
The old man's ghoulish jabbering, the sobs of the women, the panting of
two exhausted dogs, and the wailing of the child, who wanted his
father's arms round him rather than a stranger's, supplied a tragic
chorus which ill beguiled that _Via Dolorosa_ along the heights of the
Meuse.

Irene insisted on taking the boy for a time, and the youngster ceased
his plaint at once.

"That's a blessed relief," she confided to Dalroy. "I'm not afflicted
with nerves, but this poor little chap's crying was more than I could
bear."

"He is too heavy that you should carry him far," he protested.

"You're very much of a man, Arthur," she said quietly. "You don't
realise, I suppose, that nature gives us women strong arms for this very
purpose."

"I hadn't thought of that. The fact is, I'm worried. I have a doubt at
the back of my head that we ought to be going the other way."

"Which other way?"

"In precisely the opposite direction."

"But what can we do? At what stage in our wanderings up to this very
moment could we have parted company with our friends? Do you know, I
have a horrible feeling that we have brought a good deal of avoidable
misery on their heads? If we hadn't gone to the mill----"

"They would probably all have been dead by this time, and certainly both
homeless and friendless," he interrupted. Then he began telling her the
fate of Visé, but was brought up short by an imperative whisper from
Pochard. They were talking English, without realising it, and Huy was
near.

"And why carry that sword?" added the Frenchman. "It is useless, and
most dangerous. Thrust it into a ditch."

Dalroy obeyed promptly. He had thoughtlessly disregarded the sinister
outcome if a patrol found him with such a weapon in his hand.

They came to Huy by a winding road through a suburb, meeting plenty of
soldiers strolling to and from billets. Luck befriended them at this
ticklish moment. None saw a little party turning into a lane which led
to the back of the villa tenanted by Monsieur Pochard's married sister.
This lady proved both sympathetic and helpful. The cart, with its sad
freight, was housed in a wood-shed at the bottom of the garden, and the
dogs were stabled in the gardener's potting-shed.

"The ladies can share my bedroom and my daughter's," she said. "You men
must sleep in the greenhouse, as every remaining room is filled with
Uhlans. Their supper is ready now, but there is plenty. Come and eat
before they arrive. They left on patrol duty early this morning."

And that is where the fugitives experienced a stroke of amazing good
fortune. That particular batch of Uhlans never returned. It was supposed
that they were cut off while scouting along the Tirlemont road.
Apparently their absence only contributed to an evening of quiet talk
and a night of undisturbed rest. In reality, it saved the lives of the
whole party, including the hostess and her family.

Early next morning Monsieur Pochard interviewed an undertaker, and
Madame Joos was laid to rest in the nearest cemetery. Maertz, Madame
Stauwaert, and Léontine attended the funeral. Joos showed signs of
collapse. His mind wandered. He thought his wife was living, and in
Verviers. They encouraged the delirium, and dosed him with a narcotic.

Irene helped in the kitchen, and Dalroy dug the garden. Thus, the
confederacy remained split up during the morning, and was not noticed by
an officer who came to inquire about the missing Uhlans.

About noon Monsieur Pochard drew Dalroy aside. "Monsieur," he said, and
his face wore anxious lines, "last night the old man implied that he was
Henri Joos, of Visé. No, please listen. I don't want to be told. I can
only give you certain facts, and leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Active inquiries are being made by the authorities for Henri Joos,
Elisabeth Joos, Léontine Joos, their daughter, and Jan Maertz, all
of Visé. With them are an Englishwoman aged twenty, and an English
officer named Dalroy, both dressed as Belgian peasants. The appended
descriptions seem to be remarkably accurate, and a reward of one
thousand marks is offered for their capture."

"They may be willing to pay double the price for freedom," said Dalroy.

The Frenchman was not offended. He realised that this was not a
suggestion of a personal bribe.

"You have not heard all," he continued. "These people were traced to
Verviers, but the trail was lost after Maertz bought a cart and a
dog-team in that town three days ago. Unfortunately, some Uhlans,
passing through Andenne last night, have reported the presence of just
such a party on the main road. Other soldiers believe they saw a similar
lot entering Huy after dark, and the burgomaster is warned that the
strictest search must be made among refugees at Huy. To make sure, a
German escort will assist. It is estimated that Joos and the others will
be caught, because they will probably depend on a _laisser passer_
issued in Argenteau under false names, which are known. Joos figures as
Wilhelm Schultz, for instance. Don't look so surprised, monsieur. The
burgomaster is my brother-in-law's partner. He will not reach this
quarter of Huy till half-past three or four o'clock."

"But there is the record of Madame Joos's burial," put in Dalroy
instantly.

"No. The poor creature remains a 'woman unknown, found dead.' The
Germans don't worry about such trifles. But, by a strange coincidence,
Madame Stauwaert practically takes her place for identification
purposes. By the mercy of Providence, no German soldier was in this
house last night, or he would now be the richer by a thousand marks. The
notice is placarded at the _Kommandantur_, and is being read by the
multitude."

"We shall not bring further trouble on a family which has already run
grave risk in our behalf," vowed Dalroy warmly. "We must scatter at
once, and, if caught, suffer individually."

"I was sure you would say that, monsieur; but sworn allies carry
friendship to greater lengths. Now, let us take counsel. Madame
Stauwaert can remain here. Fifty people in Huy will answer for her. My
sister can hire a servant, Léontine. If Joos is tractable he can lodge
in safety with some cottagers I know. Maertz wishes to join the Belgian
army, and you the British; while that charming young lady will want to
get to England. Well, we may be able to contrive all these things. I
happen to be a bit of an antiquary, and Huy owns more ruined castles and
monasteries than any other town of similar size in Belgium, or in the
world, I imagine. Follow my instructions to the letter, and you will
cheat the Germans yet. They are animals of habit and cast-iron rule.
When searching for six people they will never look for one or two. Yet
it would be folly if you and mademoiselle wandered off by yourselves in
a strange country. Then, indeed, even German official obtuseness might
show a spark of real intelligence; whereas, by gaining a few days, who
knows whether your armies may not come to you, rather than you go to
them?"

The good-hearted Frenchman's scheme worked without a hitch. The cart was
broken up for firewood, the harness burnt, and the dogs taken a mile
into the country by Maertz, who sold them for a couple of francs, and
came back to a certain ruined priory by a roundabout road.

Irene and Dalroy had gone there already. The place lay deep in trees and
brushwood, and was approachable by a dozen hidden ways. Although given
over to bats and owls, its tumbledown walls contained one complete room,
situated some twenty feet above the ground level, and reached by a
winding staircase of stone slabs, which looked most precarious, but
proved quite sound if used by a sure-footed climber.

Here, then, the three dwelt eleven weary days. During daylight their
only diversion was the flight of hosts of aeroplanes toward the French
frontier. Twice they saw Zeppelins. For warmth at night they depended on
horse-rugs and bundles of a species of bracken which throve among the
piles of stones. They were well supplied with food, deposited at dusk in
a fosse, and obtained when the opening bars of "La Brabançonne" were
whistled at a distance. The air itself was a guarantee that no German
was near, because the Belgian national anthem is not pleasing to Hun
ears.

A typed note in the basket formed their sole link with the outer world.
And what momentous issues were conveyed in the briefest of sentences!

"Namur has fallen after a day's bombardment by a new and terrible
cannon."

"Brussels has capitulated without resistance."

"After a fierce battle, the French and English have retired from
Charleroi and Mons."

"The retreat continues. France is invaded. Valenciennes has fallen."

On the eleventh morning Dalroy hid among the bushes until the daily
basket was brought. Monsieur Pochard himself was the go-between. He
feared lest Léontine would contrive to meet Maertz, so the girl did not
know where her lover was hidden.

The Frenchman started visibly when Dalroy's voice reached him; but the
latter spoke in a tone which would not carry far. "I'm sorry to seem
ungrateful," he said, "but we are growing desperate. Do us one last
favour, monsieur, and we impose no more on your goodness. Tell me
where and when we can cross the Meuse, and the best route to take
subsequently. Sink or swim, I, at any rate, must endeavour to reach
England, and mademoiselle is equally resolved to make the attempt."

"I don't blame you," came the sorrowful reply. "This is going to be a
long war. Twenty years of deadly preparation are bearing fruit. I am
sick with anxiety. But I dare not loiter in this neighbourhood, so, as
to your affair, my advice is that you cross the Meuse to-morrow in broad
daylight. The bridge is repaired, and no very strict watch is kept.
Make for Nivelles, Enghien, and Oudenarde. The Belgians hold the
Antwerp-Gand-Roulers line, but are being driven back daily. I have
been thinking of you. If you delay longer you will--at the best--be
imprisoned in Belgium for many months. Are you determined?"

"Yes."

"Do you want money?"

"We have plenty."

"Farewell, then, and may God protect you!"

"Is there no chance of nearing the British force?" was Dalroy's final
and almost despairing question.

"Not the least. You would be following on the heels of a quick-moving
and victorious army. Progress is slower toward the coast. You have a
fighting chance that way, none the other. Good-bye, monsieur."

"Good-bye, best of friends!"

The sudden collapse of Namur, and the consequent failure of the
Anglo-French army's initial scheme, had served to alter this shrewd
man's opinion completely. His confidence was gone, his nerve shaken. The
pressure of the jack-boot was heavy upon him. Dalroy was certain that
he walked away with a furtive haste, being in mortal fear lest the
people he had helped so greatly might put forth some additional request
which he dared not grant.

Next morning they left the priory grounds separately, and strolled into
the town, keeping some fifty yards apart. It was only after a struggle
that Jan Maertz relinquished the notion of trying to see Léontine before
going from Huy, but the others convinced him that he might imperil both
the girl and their benefactors. As matters stood, her greatest danger
must have nearly vanished by this time; it would be a lamentable thing
if her lover were arrested, and it became known that he had visited the
villa.

They crossed the river on pontoons. The Germans were already rebuilding
the stone bridge. They seemed to have men to spare for everything. That
the bridge was being actually rebuilt, and not made practicable by
timber-work only, impressed Dalroy more forcibly than any other fact
gleaned during his Odyssey in a Belgium under German rule. There was no
thought of relinquishing the occupied territory, no hint of doubt that
it might be wrested from their clutch in the near future. He noticed
that the post-office, the railway station, the parcels vans, even the
street names, were Germanised. He learnt subsequently that the schools
had been taken over by German teachers, while the mere sound of French
in a shop or public place was scowled at if not absolutely forbidden.

There were not many troops on the roads, but crowded troop-trains passed
on both sides of the Meuse, and ever in the same direction. Two long
hospital trains came from the south-west, and Dalroy knew what _that_
meant. Another long train of closed wagons, heavily laden, as a panting
engine testified, perplexed him, however. He spoke of it to Maertz, the
three being on the road in company as they climbed the hill to Heron,
and the carter promptly sought information from a farmer.

The man eyed them carefully. "Where are you from?" he demanded in true
Flemish.

"What has that to do with it?" grinned Maertz, in the same _patois_.

The questioner was satisfied. He jerked a thumb toward the French
frontier. "Dead uns!" he said. "They're killing Germans like flies down
yonder. They can't bury them--haven't time--so they tie the corpses
together, slinging four on a pole for easy handling, ship them to
Germany, and chuck them into furnaces."

"So," guffawed Maertz, "the swine know where they are going then!"

To Dalroy's secret amazement, Irene, who understood each word, laughed
with the others. Campaigning had not coarsened, but it had undeniably
hardened her nature. A month ago she would have shuddered at sight of
these dun trucks, with their ghastly freight. Now, so long as they only
contained Germans, she surveyed them with interest.

"Allowing forty bodies to one wagon," she said, "there are over a
thousand dead men in that train alone."

The farmer spat approval. "I've been busy, and have missed some; but
that's the tenth lot which has gone east this morning," he remarked
cheerfully.

"Is the road to Nivelles fairly open?" Dalroy ventured to inquire.

"One never knows. Anyhow, always give the next village as your
destination. If doubtful, travel by night."

This counsel was well meant. In the silent bitterness of hours yet to
come, Dalroy recalled it, and wished he had profited by it.

Roughly speaking, they had set out on a fifty miles' tramp, which the
men could have tackled in two days, or less. But the presence of Irene
lowered the scale, and Dalroy apportioned matters so that twelve miles
daily formed their programme, with, as the _entrepreneurs_ say, power to
increase or curtail. Thus, that first afternoon, the date being
September 2nd, they pulled up at Gembloux, quite a small place, finding
supper and beds in a farm beyond the village.

Next day they pushed ahead through Nivelles, and entered the forest of
Soignies, that undulating woodland on which Wellington depended for the
protection of a dangerous flank during the unavoidable retreat to the
coast if Napoleon had beaten the British army at Waterloo.

Dalroy explained the Iron Duke's strategy to Irene as they paced a road
which provides an ideal walking tour.

"That a General was not worth his salt who did not secure the track of
his army if defeated was one of his fixed principles," he said. "He
would never depart from it, and his dispositions at Waterloo were based
on it. In fact, his solicitude in that respect nearly caused a row
between him and Blücher."

"Let me see," mused the girl aloud. "The Germans have never fought the
British in modern times until this war."

"That is correct."

"And how far away is Mons?"

Dalroy smiled at the thought which had evidently occurred to her.

"We are now just half-way between Mons and Waterloo. Each is about ten
miles distant."

"We were allied then with the Belgians, Germans, and Russians against
the French. Now we have joined the Belgians, French, and Russians
against the Germans. It sounds like counting in a game of cribbage. A
hundred years from to-day our combination may be with the Belgians,
Germans, and French against the Russians."

"You mustn't even hint treason against our present Allies," he laughed.

"What are Allies? Of what avail are treaties? You men have mismanaged
things woefully. It is high time women took a lead in governing."

"Awful! I do verily believe you are a suffragette."

"I am. During what periods has England been greatest? In the reigns of
Elizabeth and Victoria."

"Why leave out poor Queen Anne?"

"She was a very excellent woman. As soon as she came to the throne she
declared her resolution 'not to follow the example of her predecessors
in making use of a few of her subjects to oppress the rest.' The common
people don't err in their estimate of rulers, and they knew what they
were about in christening her 'Good Queen Anne.'"

"Now I'm sure."

"Sure of what?"

"You have never told me what you were doing in Berlin."

"You haven't asked me," she broke in.

"Did it matter? I----"

Irene's intuition warned her that this harmless chatter had swung round
with lightning rapidity to a personal issue. Sad to relate, she had not
washed her face or hands for eleven days, so a blush told no tales; but
she interrupted again rather nervously, "What is it you are sure of?"

"You must have been a governess-companion in some German family of
position. I can foresee a trying future. I must brush up my dates, or
lose caste forever. Isn't there a doggerel jingle beginning:

     "In fifty-five and fifty-four
     Came Cæsar o'er to Britain's shore?

"If I learn it, it may save me many a trip."

"Here, you two," growled Jan Maertz, "talk a language a fellow can
understand."

The road was deserted save for themselves, and the others had
unconsciously spoken English. Dalroy turned to apologise to their rough
but trusty friend, and thus missed the quizzical and affectionate glance
which Irene darted at him. She was still smiling when next he caught her
eye.

"What is it now?" he asked.

"I was thinking how difficult it is to see a wood for the trees," she
replied.

Maertz took her literally.

"I'll be glad when we're in the open country again, mademoiselle," he
said. "I don't like this forest. One can't guess what may be hiding
round the corner."

Yet they stopped that night at Brainé le Comte, and crossed Enghien next
day without incident. It is a pity that such a glorious ramble should be
described so baldly. In happier times, when Robert Louis Stevenson took
that blithe journey through the Cevennes with a donkey, a similar
excursion produced a book which will be read when the German madness
has long been relegated to a detested oblivion. But Uhlan pickets and
"square-head" sentries supply wretched sign-posts in a land of romance,
and the wanderers were now in a region where each kilomètre had to be
surveyed with caution.

Maertz owned an aunt in every village, and careful inquiry had, of
course, located one of these numerous relatives in Lierde, a hamlet on
the Grammont-Gand road. Oudenarde was strongly held by the enemy, but
the roads leading to Gand were the scene of magnificent exploits by the
armoured cars of the Belgian army. Certain Belgian motorists had become
national heroes during the past fortnight. An innkeeper in Grammont told
with bated breath how one famous driver, helped by a machine-gun crew,
was accounting for scores of marauding cavalrymen. "The English and
French are beaten, but our fellows are holding them," he said with a
fine air. "When you boys get through you'll enjoy life. My nephew, who
used to be a great _chasseur_, says there is no sport like chasing
mounted Boches."

This frank recognition of Dalroy as one of the innumerable young
Belgians then engaged in crossing the enemy's lines in order to serve
with their brothers was an unwitting compliment to a student who had
picked up the colloquial phrases and Walloon words in Maertz's uncouth
speech. A man who looked like an unkempt peasant should speak like one,
and Dalroy was an apt scholar. He never trod on doubtful ground.
Strangers regarded him as a taciturn person, solely because of this
linguistic restraint. Maertz made nearly all inquiries, and never erred
in selecting an informant. The truth was that German spies were rare in
this district. They were common as crows in the cities, and on the
frontiers of Belgium and France, but rural Brabant harboured few, and
that simple fact accounts for the comparatively slow progress of the
invaders as they neared the coast.

It was at a place called Oombergen, midway between Oudenarde and Alost,
that the fugitives met the Death's-Head Hussars. And with that
ill-omened crew came the great adventure.



CHAPTER XII

AT THE GATES OF DEATH


Had Dalroy followed his own plans, supported as they were by the
well-meant advice tendered by the farmer of the Meuse valley, he might
have led his companions through the final barrier without incurring any
risk at all comparable with the hair's-breadth escapes of Visé,
Argenteau, Andenne, and Huy.

But the weather broke. Rain fell in torrents, and Irene's presence was a
real deterrent to spending a night in a ditch or lurking in the depths
of a wood till dawn. Maertz, too, jubilant in the certainty that the
Belgian outposts were hardly six miles distant, advocated the bold
policy of a daylight march. Still, there was no excuse for Dalroy, who
knew that patrols in an enemy's country are content to stand fast by
night, and scout during the day. Unluckily, Irene was eager as their
Belgian friend to rush the last stage. She was infected by the prevalent
spirit of the people. Throughout the whole of September these valiant
folk in the real Flanders held the Germans rather cheap. They did not
realise that outpost affairs are not battles--that a cavalry screen, as
its very name implies, is actually of more value in cloaking movements
of armies in rear than in reconnoitring.

Be that as it may, in the late afternoon of 5th September the three were
hurrying past some lounging troopers who had taken shelter from the
pouring rain in the spacious doorway of a ruined barn, when one man
called to them, "Hi! where are you off to?"

They pretended not to hear, whereupon a bullet passed through Dalroy's
smock between arm and ribs.

It was useless to think of bolting from cavalry. They turned at once,
hoping that a bold front might serve. This occurred a mile or more from
Oombergen. Maertz had "an aunt" in Oosterzeele, the next village, and
said so.

"If she's anything like you, you're welcome to her; but let's have a
look at your cousin," grinned the German, striding forward, carbine in
hand, and grasping Irene by the shoulder.

"You stop here, _Fräulein_--or, is it _Frau_?" he said, with a vilely
suggestive leer. "Anyhow, it doesn't matter. If one of these pig-heads
is your husband we can soon make you a widow."

Now to Irene every German soldier was a boor, with a boor's vices and
limitations. The man, a corporal, spoke and acted coarsely, using the
_argot_ of the barrack-room, and she was far too frightened to see in
his satyr-like features a certain intellectuality. So, in her distress,
she blundered twice.

"Leave me alone!" she said shrilly, trying in voice and manner to copy
Léontine Joos.

"Now don't be coy, pretty one," chuckled the trooper, beginning to urge
her forcibly in the direction of the barn.

Dalroy and Jan Maertz had remained stock-still when the hussar came up.
Suddenly the Belgian sheered off, and ran like a hare into the dense
wood surrounding the small cleared space in which stood the barn. The
building had evidently been meant to house stock only. There was no
dwelling attached. It had served, too, as a rallying-point during some
recent scrimmage. The outer walls were chipped with bullets; the doors
had been torn off and burnt; it was typical of Belgium under German
rule--a husk given fictitious life by the conqueror's horses and men.

Irene had seen Jan make off, while Dalroy lurched slowly nearer. She
could not hear the fierce whisper which bade their sturdy ally bolt for
the trees, and, if he got away, implore a strong Belgian patrol to come
to the rescue. But she knew that _some_ daring expedient had been
devised on the spur of the moment, and gathered all her resources for an
effort to gain time.

The corporal heard Jan break into a run. Letting go the girl, he swung
on his heel and raised the carbine.

Dalroy had foreseen that this might happen. With a calm courage that was
superb because of its apparent lack of thought, he had placed himself in
the direct line of fire. Standing with his hands in his pockets and
laughing loudly, he first glanced over his shoulder at the vanishing
Maertz, and then guffawed into the hussar's face.

"He's done a bunk!" he cried cheerfully. "You said he might go, _Herr
Unteroffizier_, so he hopped it without even saying '_Auf wieder
sehn_.'"

Meanwhile, as he was steadily masking the German's aim, he might have
been shot without warning. But the ready comment baffled the other for a
few precious seconds, and the men in the barn helped unconsciously by
chaffing their comrade.

"You've got your hands full with the girl, Franz," said one.

"What's she like?" bawled another. "I can only see a pair of slim ankles
and a dirty face."

"That's all you _will_ see, Georg," said Franz, believing that a scared
Belgian peasant had merely bolted in panic. "This little bit is mine by
the laws of war.--Here, you," he added, surveying Dalroy quite amicably,
"be off to your aunt! You'll probably be shot at Oosterzeele; but that's
your affair, not mine."

"You don't know my aunt," said Dalroy. "I'd sooner face a regiment of
soldiers than stand her tongue if I go home without her niece."

If he hoped to placate this swaggering scoundrel by a display of
good-humour he failed lamentably. An ugly glint shone in the man's eyes,
and he handled the carbine again threateningly.

"To hell with you and your aunt!" he snarled. "Perhaps you don't know
it, you Flemish fool, but you're a German now and must obey orders. Cut
after your pal before I count three, or I'll put daylight through you!
One, two----"

Then the hapless Irene committed a second and fatal error, though it was
pardonable in the frenzy of a tragic dilemma, since the next moment
might see her lover ruthlessly murdered. To lump all German soldiers
into one category was a bad mistake; it was far worse to change her
accent from the crude speech of the province of Liège to the
high-sounding periods of Berlin society.

"How dare you threaten unoffending people in this way?" she almost
screamed. "I demand that you send for an officer, and I ask the other
men of your regiment to bear witness we have done nothing whatsoever to
warrant your brutal behaviour."

The hussar stood as though he, and not Dalroy, had been silenced by a
bullet. He listened to the girl's outburst with an expression of blank
amazement, which soon gave place to a sinister smile.

"_Gnädiges Fräulein_," he answered, springing to "attention," and
affecting a conscience-stricken tone, "I cry your pardon. But is it not
your own fault? Why should such a charming young lady masquerade as a
Belgian peasant?"

On hearing the man speak as a well-educated Berliner, Irene became
deathly white under the tan and grime of so many days and nights of
exposure. She nearly fainted, and might have fallen had not Dalroy
caught her. Even then, when their position was all but hopeless, he made
one last attempt to throw dust in the crafty eyes which were now
piercing both Irene and himself with the baneful glare of a tiger about
to spring.

"My cousin has been a governess in Berlin," he said deferentially. "She
isn't afraid of soldiers as a rule, but you have nearly frightened her
to death."

Their captor still examined them in a way that chilled even the
Englishman's dauntless heart. He was summing them up, much as a
detective might scan the features of a pair of half-recognised criminals
to whom he could not altogether allot their proper places in the Rogues'
Gallery.

"You see, she's ill," urged Dalroy. "Mayn't we go? My aunt keeps a
decent cellar. I'll come back with some good wine."

Never relaxing that glowering scrutiny, the corporal shouted suddenly,
"Come here, Georg!"

The man thus hailed by name strode forward. With him came three others,
Irene's fluent German and the parade attitude assumed by Franz having
aroused their curiosity.

"You used to have a good memory for descriptions of 'wanteds,' Georg.
Can you recall the names and appearance of the English captain and the
girl there was such a fuss about at Argenteau a month ago?"

Georg, a strongly-built, rather jovial-looking Hanoverian, grinned.

"Better than leaving things to guess-work, I have it in my pocket," he
said. "I copied it at the _Kommandantur_. A thousand marks are worth a
pencilled note, my boy. Halves, if these are they!"

Dalroy knew then that he, and possibly Irene, were doomed. A struggle
was impossible. Franz's reference to Oosterzeele being in German
occupation forbade the least hope of succour by a Belgian force. There
was a hundred to one chance that Irene's life might be spared, and he
resolved to take it. It was pitiful to feel the girl trembling, and he
gave her arm an encouraging squeeze.

Georg was fumbling in the breast of his tunic, when he seemed to realise
that it was raining heavily.

"Why the devil stand out here if we're going to hold a court of
inquiry?" he cried. Evidently, the iron discipline of the German army
was somewhat relaxed in the Death's-Head Hussars.

"Go to the barn," commanded Franz. "And, mind, you pig of an Englishman,
no talking till you're spoken to!"

Dalroy wondered why the man allowed him to assist Irene; but such
passing thoughts were as straws in a whirlwind. He bent his wits to the
one problem. He was lost. Could he save her? Heaven alone would decide.
A poor mortal might only pray for guidance as to the right course.

Inside the tumbledown barn the light was bad, so the prisoners were
halted in the doorway, and a score of troopers gathered around. They
were not, on the whole, a ruffianly set. Every man bore the stamp of a
trained soldier; the device of a skull and cross-bones worked in white
braid on their hussar caps gave them an imposing and martial aspect.

"Here you are!" announced the burly Georg, producing a frayed sheet of
paper. "Let's see--there's six of 'em. Henri Joos, miller, aged
sixty-five, five feet three inches. Elizabeth Joos, his wife, aged
forty-five. Léontine Joos, daughter, aged nineteen, plump, good-looking,
black eyes and hair, clear complexion, red cheeks. Jan Maertz, carter,
aged twenty-six, height five feet eight inches, a Walloon, strongly
built. Arthur Dalroy, captain in British army, about six feet in height,
of athletic physique, blue eyes, brown hair, very good teeth, regular
features. An English girl, name unknown, aged about twenty, very
good-looking, and of elegant appearance and carriage. Eyes believed
brown, and hair dark brown. Fairly tall and slight, but well-formed.
These latter (the English) speak German and French. The girl, in
particular, uses good German fluently."

"Click!" ejaculated Franz, imitating the snapping of a pair of
handcuffs. "Shave that fellow, and rig out the lady in her ordinary
togs, and you've got them to the dots on the i's. Who are the first two
for patrol?"

A couple of men answered.

"Sorry, boys," went on Franz briskly, "but you must hoof it to
Oosterzeele, and lay Jan Maertz by the heels. You saw him, I suppose?
You may even pick him up on the road. If you do, bring him back
here.--Georg, ride into Oombergen, show an officer that extract from the
Argenteau notice, and get hold of a transport. These prisoners are of
the utmost importance."

Irene, who lost no syllable of this direful investigation, had recovered
her self-control. She turned to Dalroy. Her eyes were shining with the
light which, in a woman, could have only one meaning.

"Forgive me, dear!" she murmured. "I fear I am to blame. I was selfish.
I might have saved _you_----"

"No, no, none of that!" interrupted the corporal. "You go inside,
_Fräulein_. You can sit on a broken ladder near the door. The horses
won't hurt you.--As for you, Mr. Captain, you're a slippery fellow, so
we'll hobble you."

Dalroy knew it was useless to do other than fall in with the orders
given. He did not try to answer Irene, but merely looked at her and
smiled. Was ever smile more eloquent? It was at once a message of
undying love and farewell. Possibly, he might never see her again. But
the bitterness of approaching death, enhanced as it was by the knowledge
that he should not have allowed himself to drift blindly into this open
net, was assuaged in one vital particular. The woman he loved was
absolutely safe now from a set of licentious brutes. She might be given
life and liberty. When brought before some responsible military court he
would tell the plain truth, suppressing only such facts as would tend to
incriminate their good friends in Verviers and Huy. Not even a board of
German officers could find the girl guilty of killing Busch and his
companions, and this, he imagined, was the active cause of the hue and
cry raised by the authorities. How determined the hunt had been was
shown by the changed demeanour of the corporal. The man was almost
oppressed by the magnitude of the capture. Dalroy was convinced that it
was not the monetary reward which affected him. Probably this young
non-commissioned officer saw certain promotion ahead, and that, to a
German, is an all-sufficing inducement.

The prisoner's hands were tied behind his back, and the same rope was
adjusted around waist and ankles in such wise that movement was limited
to moderately short steps. But Herr Franz did not hurt him needlessly.
Rather was he bent on taking care of him. Throwing a cavalry cloak over
the Englishman's shoulders, he said, "You can squat against the wall and
keep out of the rain, if you wish."

Dalroy obeyed without a word. He felt inexplicably weary. In that
unhappy hour body and soul alike were crushed. But the cloud lifted
soon. His spirit was the spirit of the immortals; it raised itself out
of the slough of despond.

The day was closing in rapidly; lowering clouds and steady rain
conspired to rob the sun of some part of his prerogatives. At seven
o'clock it would be dark, whereas the almanac fixed the close of day at
eight. It was then about half-past six.

Resolutely casting off the torpor which had benumbed his brain after
parting from the woman he loved, Dalroy looked about him. The hussars,
some twenty all told, reduced now to seventeen, since the messengers had
ridden off without delay, were gathered in a knot around the corporal.
Some of their horses were tethered in the barn, others were picketed
outside.

Scraps of talk reached him.

"This will be a plume in your cap, Franz."

"A thousand marks, picked up in a filthy hole like this! _Almächtig!_"

"What are they? Spies?"

"Didn't you hear? They stabbed Major Busch with a stable fork. Jolly old
Busch--one of the best!"

"And bayoneted two officers of the Westphalian commissariat, wounding a
third."

"The devil! Was there a fight?"

"Some of the fellows said Busch and the others must have been drunk."

"Quite likely. I was drunk every day then."

A burst of laughter.

"Lucky dog!"

"_Ach, was!_ what's the good of having been drunk so long ago? There
isn't a bottle of wine now within five miles."

"Tell us then, _Herr Kaporal_, do we remain here till dawn?"

Dalroy grew faintly interested. It was absurd to harbour the slightest
expectation of Jan Maertz bringing succour, but one might at least
analyse the position, though the only visible road led straight to a
firing-party.

"Those were our orders," answered Franz. "Things may be altered now. You
fellows haven't grasped the real value of this cop. It wasn't stated on
the notice, but somebody of much more importance than any ordinary
officer was interested in the girl being caught--she far more than the
man."

"Well, well! Tastes differ! A peasant like that!"

"You silly ass, she's no peasant. That's the worst of living in a
suburb. You acquire no standard of comparison."

These men were Berliners, and were amused by a sly dig at some locality
which, like Koepenick, offered a butt for German humour.

"Hello! isn't that a car?" said one.

There was silence. The thrumming of a powerful automobile could be heard
through the patter of the rain.

"Attention!" growled Franz. A few troopers went to the picketed horses.
The others lined up. A closed motor-car arrived. Its brilliant
head-lights proclaimed the certain fact that the presence of Belgian
troops in that locality was not feared. Dalroy recognised this at once,
and forthwith dismissed from his mind the last shred of hope.

The chauffeur was a soldier. By his side sat the usual armed escort.
Georg galloped up. Oombergen was only a mile and a half distant, and the
road through the wood was in such a condition that the car was compelled
to travel slowly.

A cloaked staff-officer alighted. The hussars stood stiff as so many
ramrods. The new-comer took their salute punctiliously, but his tone in
addressing the corporal was far from gracious.

"What's this unlikely tale you've sent in to headquarters?" he demanded
harshly.

"I don't think I'm mistaken, _Herr Hauptmann_," was the answer. "I've
got that English captain and the lady wanted at Visé. They've
practically admitted it."

"Where are they?"

"The man is sitting there against the wall. The lady is in the
barn.--Stand up, prisoner!"

Franz snatched away the cloak. Dalroy rose to his feet. He was smiling
at the ruthlessness of Fate. He was still smiling when Captain von
Halwig, of the Prussian Imperial Guard, flashed an electric torch in his
face. It was unnecessary, perhaps, to render thus easy the task of
recognition. But what did it matter? That lynx of a corporal was sure of
his ground, and would refuse to be gainsaid even by a staff-officer and
a Guardsman.

Von Halwig's astonishment seemed to choke back any display of wrath.

"Then it is really you?" he said quietly in English.

"Yes," replied Dalroy.

The torch was switched off. Dalroy's eyes were momentarily blinded by
the glare, but he heard an ugly chuckle.

"Where is the female prisoner?" said Von Halwig, with a formality that
was as perplexing as his subdued manner.

"Here, _Herr Hauptmann_."

The two entered the barn. So far as Dalroy could judge, no word was
spoken. The torch flared again, remained lighted a full half-minute, and
was extinguished.

Von Halwig reappeared, seemed to ponder matters, and turned to the
corporal.

"Put the woman in my car," he said. "Fall in your men, and be ready to
escort me back to the village. You've done a good day's work, corporal."

"Two men have gone in pursuit of Jan Maertz, sir."

"Never mind. They'll have sense enough to come on to headquarters if
they catch him. How is this Englishman secured?"

The jubilant Franz explained.

"Mount him on one of your horses. The trooper can squeeze in in front of
the car. Has the female prisoner a dagger or a pistol?"

"I have not searched her, _Herr Hauptmann_."

"Make sure, but offer no violence or discourtesy. No, leave this fellow
here at present. I want a few words with him in private. Assemble your
men around the car, and take the woman there now."

Irene was led out. She paused in the doorway, and the corporal thought
she did not know what she was wanted for.

"You are to be conveyed in the automobile, _Fräulein_," he said.

But she was looking for Dalroy in the gloom. Before anyone could
interfere, she ran and threw her arms around him, kissing him on the
lips.

"Good-bye, my dear one!" she wailed in a heart-broken way. "We may not
meet again on this earth, but I am yours to all eternity."

"With these words in my ears I shall die happy," said Dalroy. Her
embrace thrilled him with a strange ecstasy, yet the pain of that
parting was worse than death. Were ever lovers' vows plighted in such
conditions in the history of this gray old world?

Franz seized the girl's arm. She knew it would be undignified to resist.
Kissing Dalroy again, she whispered a last choking farewell, and
suffered her guide to take her where he willed. She walked with
stumbling feet. Her eyes were dimmed with tears; but, sustained by the
pride of her race, she refused to sob, and bit her lower lip in
dauntless resolve not to yield.

The rain was beating down now in heavy gusts. Von Halwig, if he had no
concern for the comfort of the troopers, had a good deal for his own.

"Damn the weather!" he grunted. "Come into the bar. You can walk, I
suppose?"

He turned on the torch, which was controlled by a sliding button, and
saw how the prisoner was secured. Then he flashed the light into the
interior of the barn. It was a ramshackle place at the best, and looked
peculiarly forlorn after the rummaging it had undergone since the fight,
a recent picket having evidently torn down stalls and mangers to provide
materials for a fire. Part of a long sloping ladder had been consumed
for that purpose, so that an open trap-door in the boarded floor of an
upper storey was inaccessible. The barn itself was unusually lofty,
running to a height of twenty feet or more. There were no windows. Some
rats, tempted out already by the oats spilled from the horses'
nose-bags, scuttled away from the light. Through the trap-door the noise
of the rain pounding on a shingle roof came with a curious hollowness.

Von Halwig did not extinguish the lamp, but tucked it under his left
arm. He lighted a cigarette. With each movement of his body the beam of
light shifted. Now it played on the wall, against which Dalroy leaned,
because the cramped state of his arms was already becoming irksome; now
it shone through the doorway, forming a sort of luminous blur in the
rain, now it dwelt on the Englishman, standing there in his worn blouse,
baggy breeches, and sabots, an old flannel shirt open at the neck, and a
month's growth of beard on cheeks and chin. The hat which Irene made fun
of had been tilted at a rakish angle when the corporal removed the
cloak. Certainly he was changed in essentials since he and the Guardsman
last met face to face on the platform at Aix-la-Chapelle.

But the eyes were unalterable. They were still resolute, and strangely
calm, because he had nerved himself not to flinch before this strutting
popinjay.

"You wonder why I have brought you in here, eh?" began Von Halwig, in
English.

"Perhaps to gloat over me," was the quiet reply.

"No. Is it necessary? At Aix I was excited. The Day had come. The Day of
which we Germans have dreamed for many a year. I am young, but I have
already won promotion. I belong to an irresistible army. War steadies a
man. But when we reach Oombergen you will be paraded before a crusty old
General, and even I, Von Halwig of the staff, and a friend of the
Emperor, may not converse with a spy and a murderer. So we shall have a
little chat now. What say you?"

"It all depends what you wish to talk about."

"About you and her ladyship, of course."

"May I ask whom you mean by 'her ladyship'?"

"Isn't that correct English?"

"It can be, if applied to a lady of title. But when used with reference
presumably to a young lady who is a governess, it sounds like clumsy
sarcasm."

"Governess the devil! With whom, then, have you been roaming Belgium?"

"Miss Irene Beresford, of course."

"You're not a fool, Captain Dalroy. Do you honestly tell me you don't
_know_?"

"Know what?"

"That the girl you brought from Berlin is Lady Irene Beresford, daughter
of the Earl of Glastonbury."

There was a moment of intense silence. In some ways it was immaterial to
Dalroy what social position had been filled by the woman he loved. But,
in others, the discovery that Irene was actually the aristocrat she
looked was a very vital and serious thing. It made clear the meaning of
certain references to distinguished people, both in Germany and in
England, which had puzzled him at times. Transcending all else in
importance, it might even safeguard her from German malevolence, since
the Teuton pays an absurd homage to mere rank.

"I did not know," he said, and his voice was not so thoroughly under
control as he desired.

Von Halwig laughed loudly. "_Almächtig!_" he spluttered, "our smart
corporal of hussars seems to have spoiled a romance. What a pity! You'll
be shot before midnight, my gallant captain, but the lady will be sent
to Berlin with the utmost care. Even I, who have an educated taste in
the female line, daren't wink at her. Has she never told you why she
bolted in such a hurry?"

"No."

"Never hinted that a royal prince was wild about her?"

"No."

"Well, you have my word for it. _Himmel!_ women are queer."

"She has suffered much to escape from your royal prince."

"She'll be returned to him now, slightly soiled, but nearly as good as
new."

"I wish my hands were not tied."

"Oh, no heroics, please. We have no time for nonsense of that sort. Is
the light irritating you? I'll put it here."

Von Halwig stooped, and placed the torch on the broken ladder. Its
radiance illumined an oval of the rough, square stones with which the
barn was paved. Thenceforth, the vivid glare remained stationary. The
two men, facing each other at a distance of about six feet, were in
shadow. They could see each other quite well, however, in the dim
borrowed light, and the Guardsman flicked the ash from his cigarette.

"You're English, I'm German," he said. "We represent the positive and
negative poles of thought. If it hurts your feelings that I should speak
of Lady Irene, let's forget her. What I really want to ask you is
this--why has England been so mad as to fight Germany?"



CHAPTER XIII

THE WOODEN HORSE OF TROY


The question struck Dalroy as so bizarre--in the conditions so
ludicrous--that, despite the cold fury evoked by Von Halwig's innuendoes
with regard to Irene, he nearly laughed.

"I am in no mood to discuss international politics," he answered curtly.

The other, who seemed to have his temper well under control, merely
nodded. Indeed, he was obviously, if unconsciously, modelling his
behaviour on that of his prisoner.

"I only imagined that you might be interested in hearing what's going to
happen to your damned country," he said.

"I know already. She will emerge from this struggle greater, more
renowned, more invincible than ever."

"_Dummes zeug!_ All rubbish! That's your House of Commons and music-hall
patter, meant to tickle the ears of the British working-man. England is
going to be wiped off the map. We're obliterating her now. You've been
in Belgium a month, and must have seen things which your stupid John
Bulls at home can't even comprehend, which they never will comprehend
till too late."

He paused, awaiting a reply perhaps. None came.

"It's rough luck that you, a soldier like myself, may not share in the
game, even on the losing side," went on Von Halwig. "But you would be a
particularly dangerous sort of spy if you contrived to reach England,
especially with the information I'm now going to give you. You can't
possibly escape, of course. You will be executed, not as a spy, but as a
murderer. You left a rather heavy mark on us. Two soldiers in a hut near
Visé, three officers and a private in the mill, five soldiers in the
wood at Argenteau----"

"You flatter me," put in Dalroy. "I may have shot one fellow in the
wood, a real spy, named Schwartz. But that is all. Your men killed one
another there."

"The credit was given to you," was the dry retort. "But--_es ist mir
ganz einerlei_--what does it matter? You're an intelligent Englishman,
and that is why I am taking the trouble to tell you exactly why Great
Britain will soon be Little Britain. Understand, I'm supplying facts,
not war bulletins. On land you're beaten already. Our armies are near
Paris. German cavalry entered Chantilly to-day. Your men made a great
stand, and fought a four days' rearguard action which will figure in the
text-books for the next fifty years. But the French are broken, the
English Expeditionary Force nearly destroyed. The French Government has
deserted Paris for Bordeaux. And, excuse me if I laugh, Lord Kitchener
has asked for a hundred thousand more men!"

"He will get five millions if he needs them."

Von Halwig swept the retort aside with an impatient flourish.

"Too late! Too late! I'll prove it to you. Turkey is joining us.
Bulgaria will come in when wanted. Greece won't lift a finger in the
Balkans, and a great army of Turks led by Germans will march on Egypt.
South Africa will rise in rebellion. Ireland is quiet for the time, but
who knows what will happen when she sees England on her knees? Italy is
sitting on the fence. The United States are snivelling, but German
influence is too strong out there to permit of active interference. And,
in any event, what can America do except look on, shivering at the
prospect of her own turn coming next? Russia is making a stir in East
Prussia and along the Austrian frontier, so poor Old England is
chortling because the Slav is fighting her battles. It is to laugh.
We'll pen the Bear long before he becomes dangerous. I am not boasting,
my friend. Why should _I_, Captain von Halwig of the Imperial Guard, be
messing about in a wretched Flemish village when our men are about to
storm Paris in the west and tackle Russia in the east? I'll explain. I'm
here because I know England so well. My job is to help in organising the
invading force which will gather at Calais. Ah! that amuses you, does
it? The British fleet is the obstacle, eh? Not it. Seriously now, do you
regard us Germans as idiots? No; I'm sure you don't. You _know_. These
fellows in Parliament _don't_ know. I assure you, on my honour, our
general staff is confident that a German army will land on British
soil--in Britain itself I mean--before Christmas."

The speaker interrupted this flood of dire prophecy in order to light a
fresh cigarette. Then clasping his hands behind his back, and strutting
with feet well apart, he said quite affably, "Why don't you put a
question or two? If you believe I'm reciting a fairy tale, say so, and
point out the stupidities."

Now, Dalroy had not been "amused" by the statement that the Germans
might occupy Calais. He had already discounted even worse reverses as
lying well within the bounds of possibility. He was certain, too, that
the Prussian was saying that which he really believed. But his nerves of
steel were undoubtedly tried almost beyond endurance at the instant Von
Halwig noticed the involuntary movement which elicited that uninvited
comment on the British fleet.

As the word "Calais" quitted the Guardsman's lips, a rope, with a noose
at the end, dropped with swift stealth through the open trap-door. Its
descent was checked when the noose dangled slightly higher than his
head, and whoever was manipulating it began at once to swing it slowly
forward and backward. Von Halwig stood some six or seven feet nearer the
wall than the point which the rope would have touched if lowered to the
floor, so the objective aimed at by that pendulum action was not
difficult to grasp, being nothing else than his speedy and noiseless
extinction by hanging.

It is an oft-repeated though far-fetched assertion that a drowning man
reviews the whole of his life during the few seconds which separate the
last conscious struggle from complete anæsthesia. That may or may not be
true, but Dalroy now experienced a brain-storm not lacking many of the
essentials of some such mental kinema.

Think what that swinging rope, with its unseen human agency, meant to a
captive in his hapless position! It was simply incredible that one man
alone would attempt so daring an expedient. Not only, then, were a
number of plucky and resourceful allies concealed in the loft, but they
must have been hidden there before the detachment of Death's-Head
Hussars occupied the barn beneath. Therefore, they knew the enemy's
strength, yet were not afraid. That they were ready-witted was shown by
the method evolved for the suppression of that blatant Teuton, Von
Halwig. It was evident, too, that they had intended to lie _perdu_ till
the cavalry were gone, but had been moved to action by a desire to
rescue the bound Englishman who was being twitted so outrageously on
his own and his country's supposed misfortunes. Who could they be? Were
they armed, and sufficiently numerous to rout the Germans? In any event,
how could they deliver an effective attack? He, Dalroy, took it for
granted that the imminent strangulation of the Guardsman, if successful,
was but the prelude to a sharp fight, since Von Halwig's death, though
supremely dramatic as an isolated incident, would neither benefit the
prisoners nor conduce to the well-being of the people in the loft. How,
then, did they purpose dealing with a score of trained soldiers, who
must already be fidgeting in the rain, and whose leader, the corporal,
might look in at any moment to ascertain what was delaying the young
staff captain. Discipline was all very well, but these hussars belonged
to a crack regiment, and their colonel would resent strongly the
needless exposure of his men and horses to inclement weather. Moreover,
how easy it was for the corporal to convey a polite hint to Von Halwig
by asking if the chauffeur should not turn the car in readiness for his
departure!

All this, and more, cascaded through Dalroy's brain while his enemy was
lighting the second cigarette. He was in the plight of a shipwrecked
sailor clinging to a sinking craft, who saw a lifeboat approaching, yet
dared neither look at nor signal to it. He must bend all his energies
now to the task of keeping Von Halwig occupied. What would happen when
the noose coiled around the orator's neck? Would it tighten with
sufficient rapidity to choke a cry for help? Would it fall awkwardly,
and warn him? Were any of the troopers so placed that they could see
into that section of the barn, and thus witness their officer's
extraordinary predicament? Who could tell? How might a man form any sort
of opinion as to the yea or nay of a juggler's feat which savoured of
black magic?

Dalroy gave up the effort to guess what the next half-minute might bring
forth. Those mysterious beings up there needed the best help he could
offer, and his powers in that respect were strictly limited to two
channels--he must egg on the talker--he must not watch that rope.

"I am ready to admit Germany's strength on land," he said, resolutely
fixing his eyes on an iron cross attached to the Prussian's tunic above
the top button. "That is a reasonable claim. How futile otherwise would
have been your twenty years of preparation for this very war! But my
mind is far too dense to understand how you can disregard the English
Channel."

"The _English_ Channel!" scoffed Von Halwig. "The impudence of you
_verdammt_----No, it's foolish to lose one's temper. Well, I'll explain.
The really important part of the _English_ Channel is about to become
German. For a little time we leave you the surface, but Germany will
own the rest. Your navy is about to receive a horrible surprise. We've
caught you napping. While Britain was ruling the sea we Germans have
been experimenting with it. Our visible fleet is good, but not good
enough, so we allowed your naval superiority to keep you quiet until we
had perfected our invisible fleet. We are ready now. We possess three
submarines to your one; and can build more, and bigger, and better
under-sea boats than you. Do you realise what that means? Already we
have sunk four of your best cruisers, and they never saw the vessel that
destroyed them. We are playing havoc with your mercantile marine.
Britain is girdled with mines and torpedoes. No ship can enter or leave
any of your ports without incurring the almost unavoidable risk of----"

A rat scampered across one of the speaker's feet, and startled him.

He swore, dropped the cigarette, and lighted another, the third. Like
every junior officer of the German _corps d'élite_, he had sedulously
copied the manners and bearing of the commissioned ranks in the British
army. But your true German is neurotic; the rat had scratched the
veneer. Meanwhile the rope rose quickly half-way to the trap-door; it
fell again when Von Halwig donned the prophet's mantle once more.

"We can not only ruin and starve you," he said exultantly, "but we have
guns which will beat a way for our troops from Calais to Dover against
all the ships you dare mass in those waters. We have you bested in every
way. Each German company takes the field with more machine-guns than a
British regiment. We have high explosives you never heard of. While you
were playing polo and golf our chemists were busy in their
laboratories."

His voice rose as he reeled off this litany of war. His perfect command
of English was not proof against the guttural clank and crash of
German. He became a veritable German talking English, rather than an
accomplished linguist using a foreign tongue. Oddly enough, his next
tirade showed that he was half-aware of the change. "Old England is
done, Captain Dalroy," he chanted. "Young Germany is about to take her
place. The world must learn to speak German, not English. Six months
from now I'll begin to forget your makeshift language. Six months from
now the German Eagle will flaunt in the breeze as securely in London as
it flies to-day in Berlin and Brussels, and, it may be, in Paris. If I'm
lucky, and get through the war----_Gott in Himm_----"

With a sudden vicious swoop the noose settled on Von Halwig's shoulders,
and was jerked taut. A master-hand made that cast. No American cowboy
ever placed lasso more neatly on the horns of unruly steer. At one
instant the rope was swinging back and forth noiselessly; at the
next, rising under the impetus of a gentle flick, it whirled over the
Prussian's head and tightened around his neck. He tore madly at it with
both hands, but was already lifted off his feet, and in process of being
hauled upward with an almost incredible rapidity. There was a momentary
delay when his head reached the level of the trap-door; but Dalroy
distinctly saw two hands grasp the struggling arms and heave the
Guardsman's long body out of sight.

An astounding feature of this tragic episode was the absence of any
outcry on the victim's part. He uttered no sound other than a stifled
gurgle after that half-completed exclamation was stilled. Possibly, his
dazed wits concentrated on the one frantic endeavour--to get rid of that
horrible choking thing which had clutched at him from out of the
surrounding obscurity.

And now a thick knotted rope plumped down until its end lay on the
floor, and a rough-looking fellow, clothed like Maertz or Dalroy
himself, descended with the ease and agility of a monkey. He was just
the kind of shaggy goblin one might expect to emerge from any such
hiding-place; but he carried a slung rifle, and the bewildered prisoner,
taking a few steps forward to greet his rescuer, realised that the
weapon was a Lee-Enfield of the latest British army pattern.

"'Arf a mo', sir," gurgled the new-comer in a husky and cheerful
whisper. "I'll 'old the rope till the next of ahr little knot 'as
shinned dahn. Then I'll cut yer loose, an' we'll get the wind up
ahtside. Didjever 'ear such a gas-bag as that bloomin' Jarman? Lord luv'
a duck, 'e couldn't 'arf tork! But Shiney Black, one of ahrs, 'as just
shoved a bynit through 'is gizzard, so _that_ cock won't crow agine!"

Dalroy owned only a reader's knowledge of colloquial cockney. He
inferred, rather than actually understood, that several British soldiers
were secreted in the loft, and that one of them, named "Shiney Black,"
had closed Von Halwig's career in the twinkling of an eye.

By this time another man had reached the ground. He seized the rope and
steadied it, and a third appeared. The first gnome whipped out a knife,
freed Dalroy, unslung his rifle, and picked up the electric torch, which
he held so that its beam filled the doorway. Man after man came down.
Each was armed with a regulation rifle; Dalroy, for once thrown
completely off his balance, became dimly aware that in every instance
the equipment included bayonet, bandolier, and haversack.

The cohort formed up, too, as though they had rehearsed the procedure in
the gymnasium at Aldershot. There was no muttered order, no uncertainty.
Rifles were unslung, bayonets fixed, and safety catches turned over
soundlessly.

Conquering his blank amazement as best he could, Dalroy inquired of the
first sprite how many the party consisted of, all told.

"Twelve an' the corp'ral, sir," came the prompt answer. "The lucky
thirteen we calls ahrselves. An' we wanted a bit o' luck ter leg it all
the w'y from Monze to this 'ole. Not that we 'adn't ter kill any Gord's
quantity o' Yewlans when they troied ter be funny, an' stop us----Here's
the corp'ral, sir."

Dalroy was confronted by a clear-eyed man, whose square-shouldered
erectness was not concealed by the unkempt clothes of a Belgian peasant.
Carrying the rifle at "the slope," and bringing his right hand smartly
across to the small of the butt, the leader of this lost legion
announced himself.

"Corporal Bates, sir, A Company, 2nd Battalion of the Buffs. That German
officer made out, sir, that you were in our army."

"Yes, I am Captain Dalroy, of the 2nd Bengal Lancers."

Corporal Bates became, if possible, even more clear-eyed.

"Stationed where last year, sir?"

"At Lucknow, with your own battalion."

"Well, I'm--beg pardon, sir, but are you the Lieutenant Dalroy who rode
the winner of the Civil Service Cup?"

"Yes, the Maharajah of Chutneypore's Diwan."

"Good enough! You understand, sir, I _had_ to ask. Will you take
command, sir?"

"No indeed, corporal. I shall only humbly advise. But we must rescue the
lady."

"I heard and saw all that passed, sir. The Germans are mounted. The
lady's in the car. We were watching through a hole in the roof. The last
man remained there so as to warn us if any of 'em came this way. As you
know their lingo, sir, I recommend that when we creep out you tell 'em
to dismount. They'll do it like a shot. Then we'll rush 'em. Here's the
officer's pistol. _You_ might take care of the shuffer and the chap by
his side."

"Excellent, corporal. Just one suggestion. Let half of your men steal
round to the rear, whether or not the troopers dismount. They should be
headed off from Oombergen, the village near here, where they have two
squadrons."

"Right, sir.--Smithy, take the left half-section, and cut off the
retreat on the left.--Ready, sir?--Douse that glim!"

Out went the torch. Fourteen shadows flitted forth into the darkness and
rain. The car, with its staring head-lights, was drawn up about thirty
yards away, and somewhat to the left. On both sides and in rear were
grouped the hussars, men and horses looming up in spectral shapes. The
raindrops shone like tiny shafts of polished steel in the two cones of
radiance cast by the acetylene lamps.

Dalroy, miraculously become a soldier again, saw instantly that the
troopers were cloaked, and their carbines in the buckets. He waited a
few seconds while "Smithy" and his band crept swiftly along the wall of
the barn. Then, copying to the best of his ability the shrill yell of a
German officer giving a command, he shouted, "Squad--dismount!"

He was obeyed with a clatter of accoutrements. He ran forward. Not
knowing the "system" perfected by the "lucky thirteen," he looked for an
irregular volley at close range, throwing the hussars into inextricable
confusion. But not a rifle was fired until some seconds after he himself
had shot and killed or seriously wounded the chauffeur and the escort.
For all that, thirteen hussars were already out of action. The men who
had crossed Belgium from Mons had learnt to depend on the bayonet, which
never missed, and was silent and efficacious.

The affair seemed to end ere it had well begun. Only two troopers
succeeded in mounting their plunging horses, and they, finding the road
to Oombergen barred, tried to bolt westward, whereupon they were bowled
over like rabbits. Their terrified chargers, after scampering wildly a
few paces, trotted back to the others. Not one of the twenty got away.
Hampered by their heavy cloaks, and taken completely by surprise, the
hussars offered hardly any resistance, but fell cursing and howling. As
for the pair seated in front of the car, they never knew why or how
death came.

"Now, then, Smithy, show a light!" shouted Corporal Bates. "Ah! there
you are, sir! I meant to make sure of _this_ chap. I got him straight
off."

The torch revealed Corporal Franz stretched on his back, and frothing
blood, Bates's bayonet having pierced his lungs. It were better for the
shrewd Berliner if his wits had been duller and his mind cleaner. Not
soldierly zeal but a gross animalism led him in the first instance to
make a really important arrest. His ghoulish intent was requited now in
full measure, and the life wheezed out of him speedily as he lay there
quivering in the gloom and mire of that rain-swept woodland road.
Seldom, even when successfully ambushed, has any small detachment of
troops been destroyed so quickly and thoroughly. This killing was almost
an artistic triumph.

"Fall in!" growled Bates. "Any casualties?"

"If there is, the blighters oughter be court-mawshalled," chirped Smith.

A momentary shuffling of grotesque forms, and a deep voice boomed,
"Half-time score--England twenty, Germany _nil_."

"Left section--look 'em over, and carry any wounded men likely to
live into the barn," said the corporal. "Give 'em first aid an'
water-bottles. Step lively too! Right section--hold the horses."

This leader and his men were as skilled in the business of slaying an
enemy as Robin Hood and his band of poachers in the taking of the king's
venison. Dalroy knew they needed no guidance from him. He opened the
door of the car.

"Irene!" he said.

She was sitting there, a forlorn figure huddled up in a corner. The
windows were closed. Each sheet of glass was so blurred by the swirling
rain that she could not possibly make out the actual cause of the
external hubbub. After the hard schooling of the past month she
realised, of course, that a rescue was being attempted. Naturally, too,
she put it down to the escape of Maertz. Although her heart was
thrumming wildly, her soul on fire with a hope almost dangerous in its
frenzy, she resolved not to stir from her prison until the one man she
longed to see again in this world came to free her.

Yet when she heard his voice the tension snapped so suddenly that there
was peril in the other extreme. She sat so still that Dalroy said a
second time, with a curious sharpness of tone, "Irene!"

"Yes, dear," she contrived to murmur hoarsely.

"It's all over. A squad of British soldiers dropped from the skies.
Every German is laid out, Von Halwig with the rest."

"Von Halwig! Is he dead?"

"Yes."

"I am glad. Arthur, they have not wounded you?"

"Not a scratch."

"And Maertz?"

"We must see to him. Will you come out? Never mind the rain."

"The rain! Ah, dear God, that I should feel the blessed rain beating on
my face once more in liberty!"

She gave him her hand, and they stood for a moment, peering deep into
each other's eyes.

"Arthur," she said, so quietly now that the storm seemed to have passed
from her spirit, "you have work to do. I shall not keep you. Tell me
where to wait, and there you shall find me. But, before you go, promise
me one thing. If we fall again into the hands of the Germans, shoot me
before I become their prisoner."

"No need to talk of that," he soothed her. "We have a splendid escort.
In two hours----"

She caught him by both shoulders.

"You _must_ promise," she cried vehemently.

He was startled by the vibrant passion in her voice. He began then
to understand the real horrors of Irene's vigil, whether in the
rat-infested darkness of the barn or the cushioned luxury of the
limousine.

"Yes," he muttered savagely, "I promise."

Taking her by the arm, he led her to the front of the car, where,
clearly visible herself, she would see little if aught of the shambles
in rear.

Corporal Bates hurried up.

"Her ladyship all right, sir?" he inquired briskly.

"Yes," replied Dalroy, conscious of a slight tremulousness in the arm
he was holding.

Corporal Bates, though in all probability he had never even heard of
Bacon's somewhat trite aphorism, was essentially an "exact" man. He
never erred as to distinctions of rank or title. His salute was the
pride of the Buffs. Blithely regardless of the fact that not more than
five minutes earlier Captain Dalroy had confessed himself ignorant of
Lady Irene Beresford's actual social status, he alluded to her
"correctly."

"I think, sir," he rattled on, "that we ought to be moving. It's quite
dark now, an' we have our route marked out."

"How?"

"We've been directed by a priest, sir. The Belgian priests have done us
a treat. In every village they showed us the safest roads. Even when
they couldn't make us understand their lingo they could always pencil a
map."

"I see. Do you follow the road to Oosterzeele?"

"For about a mile, sir. Then we branch off into a lane leading west to
the river Schelde, which we cross by a ferry. Once past that ferry, an'
there's no more Germans."

"Very well. Have you searched the enemy for papers?"

"Yes, sir. We're stuffed with note-books an' other little souveeners."

"Do your men ride?"

"Some of 'em, sir, but they'll foot it, if you don't mind. They hate
killing horses, so we turn 'em loose generally. This lot should be tied
up."

"What of the car?"

"Smithy will attend to that with a bomb, sir."

Bates evidently knew his business, so evidently that Dalroy did not even
question him as to the true inwardness of Smithy's attentions.

The squad cleared up their tasks with an extraordinary celerity. Smithy
crawled under the automobile with the flashlight, remained there exactly
thirty seconds, and reappeared.

The corporal saluted.

"We're ready now, sir," he said. "Perhaps her ladyship will march with
you behind the centre file?"

"Do you head the column?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then, for a little way, we'll accompany you. There were three in our
party, corporal. One, a Belgian named Jan Maertz, risked death to get
away and bring help. I'm afraid he has been captured on the Oosterzeele
road by two hussars detailed for the job. So, you see, I must try and
save him."



CHAPTER XIV

THE MARNE--AND AFTER


"That's awkward, sir," said the corporal, as the detachment moved off
into the night, leaving the motor-car's acetylene lamps still blazing
merrily.

"Why 'awkward'?" demanded Dalroy.

"Because, when we fellows met in a wood near Monze, we agreed that we'd
stick together, and fight to a finish; but if any man strayed by
accident, or got hit so badly that he couldn't march, he took his
chances, and the rest went on."

"Quite right. How does that affect the present situation?"

"Well, sir," said Bates, after a pause, "there's you an' the lady. Our
chaps are interested, if I may say it. You ought to have heard their
langwidge, even in whispers, when that--well, I can't call him anything
much worse than what he was, a German officer--when he was telling you
off, sir."

"What did the German officer say, sergeant?" put in Irene innocently.

"Corporal, your ladyship. Corporal Bates, of the 2nd Buffs."

"I'm sorry to have to interrupt," said Dalroy. "You must give Lady Irene
a full account some other time. If you are planning to cross the
Schelde to-night there is a long march before you. We part company at
the lane you spoke of. I leave her ladyship in the care of you and your
men with the greatest confidence. I make for Oosterzeele. If Jan Maertz
is a prisoner, I must do what lies in my power to rescue him. If I fail,
I'll follow on and report at Gand in the morning."

For a little while none spoke. The other men marched in silence, a
safeguard which they had made a rigid rule while piercing their way by
night through an unknown country held by an enemy who would not have
given quarter to any English soldier.

Bates was really a very sharp fellow. He had sense enough to know that
he had said enough already. Dalroy's use of Irene's title conveyed a
hint of complications rather beyond the ken of one whose acquaintance
with the facts was limited to an overheard conversation between
strangers. Moreover, soldier that he was, the corporal realised that one
of his own officers was not only deliberately risking his life in order
to save that of a Belgian peasant, but felt in honour bound to do no
less.

So Irene was left to tread the narrow path unaided. To her lasting
credit, she neither flinched nor faltered.

"We may find it difficult to reach Gand, so I'll wait for you in Ostend,
Arthur," she said composedly.

Now, these two young people had just been snatched from death, or worse,
in a manner which, a few weeks earlier, the least critical reader of
romantic fiction would have denounced as so wildly improbable that
imagination boggled at it. Irene, too, had unmistakably told the man who
had never uttered a word of the love that was consuming him that neither
rank nor wealth could interpose any barrier between them. It was hard,
almost unbearable, that they should be parted in the very hour when
freedom might truly come with the dawn.

Dalroy trudged a good twenty paces before he dared trust his voice. Even
then, he blurted out, not the measured agreement which his brain
dictated, but a prayer from his very heart. "May God bless and guard
you, dear!" was what he said, and Irene's response was choked by a
pitiful little sob.

Suddenly Dalroy, whose hearing was quickened by the training of Indian
_shikar_, touched the corporal's arm, and stood fast. Bates gave a
peculiar click in his throat, and the squad halted, each man's feet
remaining in whatever position they happened to be at the moment.

"Horses coming this way," breathed Dalroy.

"Right, sir. This'll be your two, with Jan wot's-his-name, I hope. Leave
them to us, sir.--Smithy, Macdonald, and Shiner--forward!"

Three shapes materialised close to the trio in front. The rain was still
pelting down, and the trees nearly met overhead, so the road was
discernible only by a strip of skyline, itself merely a less dense
blackness.

"Them two Yewlans," explained the corporal, "probably bringing a
prisoner. Mind you don't hurt him."

No more explicit instructions were given or needed. Of such material
were the First Hundred Thousand.

"Take her ladyship back a few yards, sir," gurgled Bates. "The horses
may bolt. If they do we must stop 'em before they gallop over us."

Every other consideration was banished instantly by the thrill of
approaching combat. By this time, Dalroy was steeped in admiration for
his escort's methods, and he awaited developments now with keen
professional curiosity. And this is what he saw, after a breathless
interval. A flash in the gloom, and the vague silhouettes of two hussars
on horseback. One horse reared, the other swerved. One man never spoke.
The other rapped out an oath which merged into a frantic squeal. By an
odd trick of memory, Dalroy recalled old Joos's description of the death
of Busch: "He squealed like a pig."

Then came a cockney voice, "Cheer-o, mitey! We're friends, ammies! Damn
it all, you ain't tikin' us for Boshes, are yer?"

"_Hola!_ Jan Maertz!" shouted Dalroy.

"_Monsieur!_"

Irene laughed--yes, laughed, though two men had died before her
eyes!--at the amazement conveyed by the Walloon's gruff yelp.

"Don't be alarmed! These are friends, British soldiers," went on Dalroy.

"I thought they were devils from hell," was the candid answer.

Jan was unquestionably frightened. For one thing, his hands were tied
behind his back, and he was being led by a halter fashioned out of a
heel-rope, a plight in which the Chevalier Bayard himself might have
quaked. For another, he had been plodding along at the side of one of
the horses, thinking bitterly of the fair Léontine, whose buxom waist he
would never squeeze again, when a beam of dazzling light revealed a
crouching, nondescript being which flung itself upward in a panther-like
spring, and buried a bayonet to the socket in the body of the nearest
trooper. No wonder Jan was scared.

The soldiers had caught both horses. Dalroy, a cavalryman, had abandoned
the earlier remounts with a twinge of regret. He thought now there was
no reason why he and Irene should not ride, as the day's tramp, not to
speak of the strain of the past hour, might prove a drawback before
morning.

"Can you sit a horse astride?" he asked her.

"I prefer it," she said promptly.

Bates offered no objection, as long as they followed in rear. The
hussar's cloaks came in useful, and Dalroy buckled on a sword-belt. Jan
announced that he was good for another twenty miles provided he could
win clear of those _sales Alboches_. He was eager to relate his
adventures, but Dalroy quieted him by the downright statement that if
his tongue wagged he might soon be either a prisoner again or dead.

A night so rife with hazard could hardly close tamely. The rain cleared
off, and the stars came out ere they reached the ferry on the Schelde,
and a scout sent ahead came back with the disquieting news that a strong
cavalry picket, evidently on the alert, held the right bank. But the
thirteen had made a specialty of disposing of German pickets in the
dark. In those early days of the war, and particularly in Flanders,
Teuton nerves were notoriously jumpy, so the little band crept forward
resolutely, dodging from tree to tree, and into and out of ditches,
until they could see the stars reflected in the river. Dalroy and Irene
had dismounted at the first tidings of the enemy, turning a pair of
contented horses into a meadow. They and Maertz, of course, had to keep
well behind the main body.

The troopers, veritable Uhlans this time, had posted neither sentry nor
vedette in the lane. Behind them, they thought, lay Germany. In front,
across the river, the small army of Belgium held the last strip of
Belgian territory, which then ran in an irregular line from Antwerp
through Gand to Nieuport. So the picket watched the black smudge of the
opposite bank, and talked of the Kron-Prinz's stalwarts hacking their
way into Paris, and never dreamed of being assailed from the rear, until
a number of sturdy demons pounced on them, and did some pretty
bayonet-work.

Fight there was none. Those Uhlans able to run ran for their lives. One
fellow, who happened to be mounted, clapped spurs to his charger, and
would have got away had not Dalroy delivered a most satisfactory lunge
with the hussar sabre.

No sooner had Bates collected and counted sixteen people than the
tactics were changed. Five rounds rapid rattled up the road and along
the banks.

"I find that a bit of noise always helps after we get the windup with
the bayonet, sir," he explained to Dalroy. "If any of 'em think of
stopping they move on again when they hear a hefty row."

A Belgian picket, guarding the ferry, and, what was of vast importance
to the fugitives, the ferry-boat, wondered, no doubt, what was causing
such a commotion among the enemy. Luckily, the officer in charge
recognised a new ring in the rifles. He could not identify it, but was
certain it came from neither a Belgian nor a German weapon.

Thus, in a sense, he was prepared for Jan Maertz's hail, and was even
more reassured by Irene's clear voice urging him to send the boat.

Two volunteers manned the oars. In a couple of minutes the unwieldy
craft bumped into a pontoon, and was soon crowded with passengers. Never
was sweeter music in the ears of a little company of Britons than the
placid lap of the current, followed by the sharp challenge of a sentry:
"_Qui va là?_"

"A party of English soldiers, a Belgian, and an English lady," answered
Dalroy.

An officer hurried forward. He dared not use a light, and, in the
semi-obscurity of the river bank, found himself confronted by a
sinister-looking crew. He was cautious, and exceedingly sceptical when
told briefly the exact truth. His demand that all arms and ammunition
should be surrendered before he would agree to send them under escort to
the village of Aspen was met by a blank refusal from Bates and his
myrmidons. Dalroy toned down this cartel into a graceful plea that
thirteen soldiers, belonging to eight different regiments of the British
army, ought not to be disarmed by their gallant Belgian allies, after
having fought all the way from Mons to the Schelde.

Irene joined in, but Jan Maertz's rugged speech probably carried greater
conviction. After a prolonged argument, which the infuriated Germans
might easily have interrupted by close-range volleys, the difficulty was
adjusted by the unfixing of bayonets and the slinging of rifles. A
strong guard took them to Aspen, where they arrived about eleven
o'clock. They were marshalled in the kitchen of a comfortable inn, and
interviewed by a colonel and a major.

Oddly enough, Corporal Bates was the first to gain credence by producing
his map, and describing the villages he and his mates had passed
through, the woods in which they hid for days together, and the curés
who had helped them. Bates's story was an epic in itself. His men
crowded around, and grinned approvingly when he rounded off each curt
account of a "scrap" by saying, "Then the Yewlans did a bunk, an' we
pushed on."

Dalroy, acting as interpreter, happened to glance at the circle of
cheerful faces during a burst of merriment aroused by a reference to
Smithy's ingenuity in stealing a box of hand grenades from an ammunition
wagon, and destroying a General's motor-car by fixing an infernal
machine in the gear-box. The mere cranking-up of the engine, it
appeared, exploded the detonator.

"Is that what you were doing under the car outside the barn?" he
inquired, catching Smithy's eye.

"Yes, sir. I've on'y one left aht o' six," said Smithy, producing an
ominous-looking object from a pocket.

"Is the detonator in position?"

"Yus, sir."

"Will you kindly take it out, and lay it gently on the table?"

Smithy obeyed, with reassuring deftness.

Dalroy was about to comment on the phenomenal risk of carrying such a
destructive bomb so carelessly when he happened to notice the roll
collar of a khaki tunic beneath Smithy's blue linen blouse.

"Have you still retained part of your uniform?" he inquired.

"Oh, yus, sir. We all 'ave. We weren't goin' to strip fer fear of any
bally Germans--beg pawdon, miss--an' if it kime to a reel show-dahn we
meant ter see it through in reggelation kit."

Every man of twelve had retained his tunic, trousers, and puttees, which
were completely covered by the loose-fitting garments supplied by the
priest of a hamlet near Louvignies, who concealed them in a loft during
four days until the mass of German troops had surged over the French
frontier. The thirteenth, a Highlander, actually wore his kilt!

The Belgian officers grew enthused. They insisted on providing a _vin
d'honneur_, which Irene escaped by pleading utter fatigue, and retiring
to rest.

Dalroy opened his eyes next morning on a bright and sunlit world. It
might reasonably be expected that his thoughts would dwell on the
astounding incidents of the past month. They did nothing of the sort. He
tumbled out of a comfortable bed, interviewed the proprietor of the
"_Trois Couronnes_," and asked that worthy man if he understood the
significance of a Bank of England five-pound note. During his many and
varied 'scapes, Dalroy's store of money, carried in an inner pocket of
his waistcoat, had never been touched. _Monsieur le Patron_ knew all
that was necessary about five-pound notes. Very quickly a serviceable
cloth suit, a pair of boots, some clean linen, a tin bath, and a razor
were staged in the bedroom, while the proprietor's wife was instructed
to attend to mademoiselle's requirements.

Dalroy was shaving, for the first time in thirty-three days, when voices
reached him through the open window. He listened.

Smithy had cornered Shiney Black in the hotel yard, and, in his own
phrase, was puttin' 'im through the 'oop.

"You don't know it, Shiney, but you're reely a verdamd Henglishman," he
said, with an accurate reproduction of Von Halwig's manner if not his
accent. "The grite German nytion is abart ter roll yer in the mud, an'
wipe its big feet on yer tummy. You've awsked fer it long enough, an'
nah yer goin' ter git it in the neck. Blood an' sausage! The cheek o' a
silly little josser like you tellin' the Lord-'Igh-Cock-a-doodle-doo
that 'e can't boss everybody as 'e dam well likes! Shiney, you're done
in! The Keyser sez so, an' 'e ought ter know. W'y? That shows yer
miserable hignorance! The Keyser sez so, I tell yer, so none o' yer lip,
or I, Von Schmit, o' the Dirty 'Alf-Hundredth, will biff you on the
boko. But no! I must keep me 'air on. As you an' hevery hother verdamd
Henglishman will be snuffed aht before closin'-time, I shall grashiously
tell thee wot's wot an' 'oo's 'oo. Germany, the friend o' peace--no, you
blighter, not Chawlie Peace, the burglar, but the lydy in a nightie, wiv
a dove in one 'and an' a holive-branch in the other--Germany will wide
knee-deep in Belgian an' French ber-lud so as to 'and you the double
Nelson. By land an' sea an' pawcels post she'll rine fire an' brimstone
on your pore thick 'ead. What 'ave _you_ done, you'd like ter know? Wot
_'aven't_ you done? Aren't you alive? Wot crime can ekal that when the
Keyser said, 'Puff! aht--tallow-candle!' _Ach_, pig-dorg, I shpit on
yer!"

"You go an' wash yer fice once more, Smithy," said Shiney, forcing a
word in edgeways. "It'll improve your looks, per'aps. I dunno."

"That's done it," yelped Smithy, warming to his theme. "That's just yer
narsty, scoffin' British w'y o' speakin' to quiet, respectable Germans.
That's wot gets us mad. I'm surprised at yer, Shiney! Yer hattitude
brings tears to me heyes. Time an' agine you've 'eard ahr bee-utiful
langwidge----"

"I 'ave, indeed," interrupted Shiney. "But none o' it 'ere, me lad.
There's a reel born lydy in one o' them bedrooms."

"I'm not torkin' o' the kind of tosh _you_ hunderstand," retorted
Smithy. "I'm alludin' to the sweet-sahndin' langwidge o' our conquerors.
You've 'eard it hoffen enuf from the sorft mowves o' Yewlans. On'y larst
night you 'eard it spoke by that stawr hactor, Von 'Allwig, of the
Potsdam Busters. Yet you can git nothink orf yer chest but a low-dahn
cockney wheeze w'en a benefactor's givin' yer the strite tip. Pore
Shiney! Ye think yer goin' back to Hengland, 'ome, an' beauty--to the
barrick-square, bully-beef an' booze, an' plenty o' it. Dontcher believe
it! Wot you're in fer is a dose o' German _Kultur_. W'en yer ship's
been torpedoed fourteen times between Hostend an' Dover, w'en yer
sarth-eastern trine 'as bumped inter a biker's dozen o' different sorts
o' mines, w'en you're Zepped the minnit you crorse the Strend to the
nearest pub, you'll begin ter twig wot the Hemperor of All the 'Uns is
ackshally a-doin' of. It's hall hup wiv yer, Shiney! You've ether got
ter lie dahn an' doi, er learn German. Nah, w'ich is it ter be? Go west
wiv yer benighted country, or go nap on the Keyser?"

"Torkin' o' pubs reminds me," yawned Shiney. "I couldn't get any
forrarder on that ginger-pop the Belgian horficers gev us. In one o'
them Yewlans' pawket-books there was five French quid. Wot abart a
bottle o' beer?"

"What abart it?" agreed Smithy instantly.

The soap was drying on Dalroy's face, but he thrust his head out of the
window to look at two of Britain's first line swaggering through the
gateway of the inn, and whistling, "It's a long, long way to Tipperary."
Smith and Shiney were true types of the somewhat cynical but ever
ready-witted and laughter-loving Londoner, who makes such a first-rate
fighting man. They were just a couple of ordinary "Tommies." The deadly
fury of Mons, the daily and nightly peril of the march through a land
stricken by a brutal enemy, the score of little battles which they
had conducted with an amazing skill and hardihood--these phases of
immortality troubled them not at all. An eye-rolling and sabre-rattling
emperor might rock the social foundations of half the world, his
braggart henchmen destroy that which they could never rebuild,
his frantic gang of poets and professors indite Hymns of Hate and
blasphemous catch-words like "Gott strafe England"; but the Smithies
and Shinies of the British army would never fail to cock a humorous
eye at the vapourers, and say sarcastically, "Well, an' wot abart it?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Somehow, on 7th September 1914, there was a hitch in the naval programme
devised by the _Deutscher Marineamt_. The Belgian packet-boat, _Princess
Clementine_, steamed from Ostend to Dover through a smiling sea unvexed
by Krupp or any other form of _Kultur_. Warships, big and little, were
there in squadrons; but gaunt super-Dreadnought and perky destroyer
alike was aggressively British.

England, too, looked strangely unperturbed. There had been sad scenes on
the quay at the Belgian port, but a policeman on duty at the shore end
of the gangway at Dover seemed to indicate by a majestic calm that any
person causing an uproar would be given the alternative of paying ten
shillings and costs or "doing" seven days.

The boat was crowded with refugees; but Dalroy, knowing the wiliness
of stewards, had experienced slight difficulty in securing two chairs
already loaded with portmanteaus and wraps. He heard then, for the first
time, why Irene fled so precipitately from Berlin. She was a guest
in the house of a Minister of State, and one of the Hohenzollern
princelings came there to luncheon on that fateful Monday, 3rd August.

He had invited himself, though he must have been aware that his presence
was an insult and an annoyance to the English girl, whom he had pestered
with his attentions many times already. He was excited, drank heavily,
and talked much. Irene had arranged to travel home next day, but the
wholly unforeseen and swift developments in international affairs, no
less than the thinly-veiled threats of a royal admirer, alarmed her into
an immediate departure. At the twelfth hour she found that her host,
father of two girls of her own age--the school friends, in fact, to whom
she was returning a visit--was actually in league with her persecutor to
keep her in Berlin.

She ran in panic, her one thought being to join her sister in Brussels,
and reach home.

"So you see, dear," she said, with one of those delightfully shy glances
which Dalroy loved to provoke, "I was quite as much sought after as you,
and I would certainly have been stopped on the Dutch frontier had I
travelled by any other train."

The two were packed into a carriage filled to excess. They had no
luggage other than a small parcel apiece, containing certain articles of
clothing which might fetch sixpence in a rag-shop, but were of great and
lasting value to the present owners.

At Charing Cross, while they were walking side by side down the
platform, Irene shrieked, "There they are!" She darted forward and flung
herself into the arms of two elderly people, a brother in khaki, with
the badges of a Guard regiment, and a sister of the flapper order.

Dalroy had been told at Dover to report at once to the War Office, as he
carried much valuable information in his head and Von Halwig's
well-filled note-book in his pocket. He hung back while the embracing
was in progress. Then Irene introduced him to her family.

"You'll dine with us, Arthur," she said simply. "I'll not tell them a
word of our adventures till you are present."

"You could have heard a pin drop," was the excited comment of the
flapper sister when endeavouring subsequently to thrill another girl
with the sensation created by Irene's quiet words. Literally, this trope
was not accurate, because the station was noisier than usual.
Figuratively, it met the case exactly.

Lady Glastonbury, a gray-haired woman with wise eyes, promptly emulated
the action of the British army during the retreat from Mons, and "saved
the situation."

"Of course you'll stay with us, too, Captain Dalroy," she said with
pleasant insistence. "Like Irene, you must have lost everything, and
need time to refit."

Dalroy murmured some platitude, lifted his hat, and only regained his
composure after two narrow escapes from being run over by taxis while
crossing Northumberland Avenue.

A newsboy tore past, shouting in the vernacular, "Great Stand by Sir
John French."

Dalroy was reminded of Smithy, and Shiney, and Corporal Bates. He saw
again Jan Maertz waving a farewell from the quai at Ostend. He wondered
how old Joos was faring, and Léontine, and Monsieur Pochard, and the
curé of Verviers.

Another boy scampered by. He carried a contents bill. Heavy black type
announced that the British were "holding" Von Kluck on the Marne.
Dalroy's eyes kindled. _His_ work lay _there_. When the soldier's task
was ended he would come back to Irene.



CHAPTER XV

"CARRY ON!"


After a few delightful days in London, Dalroy walked down Whitehall one
fine morning to call at the War Office for orders. Irene went with him.
He expected to be packed off to France that very evening, so the two
meant making the utmost of the fast-speeding hours. The Intelligence
Department had assimilated all the information Dalroy could give, had
found it good, and had complimented him. As a Bengal Lancer, whose
regiment was presumably in India, he would probably be attached to some
cavalry unit of the Expeditionary Force; from being an hunted outlaw,
with a price on his head, he would be quietly absorbed by the military
machine. Very smart he looked in his khaki and brown leather; Irene, who
one short week earlier deemed _sabots en cuir_ the height of luxury, was
dressed _de rigueur_ for luncheon at the Savoy.

Many eyes followed them as they crossed Trafalgar Square and dodged the
traffic flowing around the base of King Charles's statue. An alert
recruiting-sergeant, clinching the argument, pointed out the tall,
well-groomed officer to a lanky youth whose soul was almost afire with
martial decision.

"There y'are," he said, with emphatic thumb-jerk, "that's wot the
British army will make of you in a couple of months. An' just twig the
sort o' girl you can sort out of the bunch. Cock yer eye at _that_, will
you?"

Thus, all unconsciously, Irene started the great adventure for one of
Kitchener's first half-million.

She was not kept waiting many minutes in an ante-room. Dalroy
reappeared, smiling mysteriously, yet, as Irene quickly saw, not quite
so content with life as when he entered those magic portals, wherein a
man wrestles with an algebraical formula before he finds the department
he wants.

"Well," she inquired, "having picked your brains, are they going to
court-martial you for being absent without leave?"

"I cross to-night," he said, leading her toward the Horse Guards'
Parade. "It's Belgium, not France. I'm on the staff. My appointment will
appear in the gazette to-morrow. That's fine, but I'd rather----"

Irene stopped, almost in the middle of the road.

"And you'll wear a cap with a red band and a golden lion, and those
ducky little red tabs on the collar! Come at once, and buy them! I
refuse to lunch with you otherwise."

"A man must not wear the staff insignia until he is gazetted," he
reminded her.

"Oh!" She was pathetically disappointed.

"But, in my case," he went on, "I am specifically ordered to travel in
staff uniform, so, as I leave London at seven o'clock----"

"You can certainly lunch in all your glory," she vowed. "There's an
empty taxi!"

Of course, it was pleasant to be on the staff, and thus become even more
admired by Irene, if there is a degree surpassing that which is already
superlative; but the fly in the ointment of Dalroy's new career lay in
the fact that the battle of the Aisne was just beginning, and every
British heart throbbed with the hope that the Teuton hordes might be
chased back to the frontier as speedily as they had rushed on Paris.
Dalroy himself, an experienced soldier, though he had watched those grim
columns pouring through the valley of the Meuse, yielded momentarily to
the vision splendid. He longed to be there, taking part in the drive.
Instead, he was being sent to Belgium, some shrewd head in the War
Office having decided that his linguistic powers, joined to a recent
first-hand knowledge of local conditions, would be far more profitably
employed in Flanders than as a squadron leader in France.

Thus, when that day of mellow autumn had sped all too swiftly, and he
had said his last good-bye to Irene, it was to Dover he went, being
ferried thence to Ostend in a destroyer.

In those early weeks of the war all England was agog with the belief
that Antwerp would prove a rankling thorn in the ribs of the Germans,
while men in high places cherished the delusion that a flank attack was
possible along the Ostend-Bruges-Brussels line.

But Dalroy was an eminently sane person. Two hours of clear thinking in
the train re-established his poise. When the Lieutenant-Commander in
charge of the destroyer took him below in mid-Channel for a smoke and a
drink, and the talk turned on strategy, the soldier dispelled an
alluring mirage with a breath of common sense.

"The scheme is nothing short of rank lunacy," he said. "We haven't the
men, France can spare none of hers, and Belgium must be crushed when the
big battalions meet. Germany has at least three millions in the field
already. Paris has been saved by a miracle. By some other miracle we may
check the on-rush in France, but, if we start dividing our forces, even
Heaven won't help us."

"Surely you'll admit that we should strengthen the defence of Antwerp?"
argued the sailor.

"I think it impracticable. Liège only held out until the new siege
howitzers arrived. Namur fell at once. Why should we expect Antwerp to
be impregnable?"

The navy deemed the army pessimistic, but, exactly a month later, the
Lieutenant-Commander remembered that conversation, and remarked to a
friend that about the middle of September he took to Ostend "a chap on
the Staff who seemed to know a bit."

It is now a matter of historical fact when Von Kluck and Sir John French
began their famous race to the north, the Belgian army only escaped from
Antwerp by the skin of its teeth. The city itself was occupied by the
Germans on October 9th, Bruges was entered on the 13th, Von Bessler's
army reached the coast on the 15th, and the British and Belgians were
attacked on the line of the Yser next day.

Thus, fate decreed that Dalroy should witness the beginning and the end
of Germany's shameless outrage on a peaceful and peace-loving country.
On August 2nd, 1914, King Albert ruled over the most prosperous and
contented small kingdom in Europe. Within eleven weeks he had become, as
Emile Cammaerts finely puts it, "lord of a hundred fields and a few
spires."

Though Dalroy should live far beyond the alloted span of man's life, he
will never forget the strain, the misery, the sheer hopelessness of the
second month he spent in Belgium. The climax came when he found himself
literally overwhelmed by the host of refugees, wounded men, and
scattered military units which sought succour in, and, as the iron ring
of _Kultur_ drew close, transport from Ostend.

With the retreat of the Belgian army towards Dunkirk, and the return to
England of such portion of the ill-fated Naval Division as was not
interned in Holland, his military duties ceased. In his own and the
country's interests he ought to have made certain of a berth on the last
passenger steamer to leave Ostend for England. He, at least, could have
done so, though there were sixty thousand frenzied people crowding the
quays, and hundreds, if not thousands, of comparatively wealthy men
offering fabulous sums for the use of any type of vessel which would
take them and their families to safety.

But, at the eleventh hour, Dalroy heard that a British Red Cross
Hospital party, which had extricated itself from the clutch of the
mailéd fist, was even then _en route_ from Bruges to Ostend by way of
Zeebrugge. Knowing they would be in dire need of help, he resolved to
stay, though his action was quixotic, since no mercy would be shown him
if he fell into the hands of the Germans. He took one precaution,
therefore. Some service rendered to a tradesman had enabled him to buy a
reliable and speedy motor bicycle, on which, as a last resource, he
might scurry to Dunkirk. His field service baggage was reposing in a
small hotel near the harbour. For all he can tell, it is reposing there
yet; he never saw it again after he leaped into the saddle of the Ariel,
and sped through the cobbled streets which led to the north road along
the coast. The hour was then about six o'clock on the evening of
October 13th.

A Belgian staff officer had assured him that the Germans could not
possibly occupy Ostend until late next day. The Belgian army, though
hopelessly outnumbered, had never been either disorganised nor
outmanoeuvred. The retreat to the Yser, if swift, was orderly, and the
rearguard could be trusted to follow its time-table.

Hence, before it was dark, Dalroy determined to cover the sixteen miles
to Zeebrugge. The Hospital, which was convoying British and Belgian
wounded, would travel thence by the quaint steam-tramway which links up
the towns on the littoral. It might experience almost insuperable
difficulties at Zeebrugge or Ostend, and he was one of the few aware of
the actual time-limit at disposal, while a field hospital bereft of
transport is a peculiarly impotent organisation.

Road and rail ran almost parallel among the sand dunes. At various
crossings he could ascertain whether or not any train had passed
recently in the direction of Ostend, thus making assurance doubly sure,
though the station-master at the town terminus was positive that the
next tram would not arrive until half-past seven. Dalroy meant
intercepting that tram at Blankenberge.

Naturally, the train was late in reaching the latter place, but the only
practicable course was to wait there, rather than risk missing it. A
crowd of terrified people gathered around the calm-eyed, quiet-mannered
Briton, and appealed for advice. Poor creatures! they imposed a cruel
dilemma. On the one hand, it was monstrous to send a whole community
flying for their lives along the Ostend road; on the other, he had
witnessed the fate of Visé and Huy. Yet, by remaining in their homes,
they had some prospect of life and ultimate liberty, while their lot
would be far worse the instant they were plunged into the panic and
miseries of Ostend. So he comforted the unhappy folk as best he might,
though his heart was wrung with pity at sight of the common faith
in the Red Cross brassard. Men, women, and children wore the badge
indiscriminately. They regarded it as a shield against the Uhlan's
lance! Most fortunately for that strip of Belgium, the policy of
"frightfulness" was moderated once the country was overrun. So far as
local occurrences have been permitted to become known, the coast towns
have been spared the fate of those in the interior.

To Dalroy's great relief, the incoming tram from Zeebrugge brought the
British hospital. There were four doctors, eight nurses, and fifty-three
wounded men, including a sergeant and ten privates of the Gordon
Highlanders, who, like Bates, Smithy, and the rest, had scrambled across
Belgium after Mons.

The train offered an extraordinary spectacle. Soldiers and civilians
were packed in it and on it. Men and women sat precariously on the roofs
of the ramshackle carriages, stood on the buffers and couplings, or
clung to door-handles. Not even foothold was to be had for love or
money on that train at Blankenberge.

Dalroy, who dared not let go his machine, contrived to get a word with
the Medical Officer in charge.

As ever, the Briton made light of past troubles.

"We've had the time of our lives!" was the cheery comment. "After Mons
we were left in a field hospital with a mixed crowd of British, French,
and Germans. Of course, we looked after all alike, and that saved our
bacon, because even a German general had to try and behave decently when
he found a thousand of his own men in our care. So he sent us to
Brussels with a safe conduct, and from Brussels we were allowed to make
for Ostend--had to leg it, though, the last twenty miles to the Belgian
outposts. Then we refitted, and started for Bruges, where we've been at
work in a convent for five weeks. The remnant of the Belgian army passed
through Bruges yesterday and the day before, so we cleared out all
possible cases, and started away with the crocks early this morning. At
the last minute we were hustled a bit by a Taube dropping bombs on the
station. One bomb took from us a van-load of kit. We haven't a thing
except the stretchers and what we're wearing."

"I'll ride on now, and meet you at Ostend," said Dalroy. He had not the
heart to damp the spirits of the party by telling of the chaos awaiting
them. Sufficient for the next hour would be the evil thereof.

"I say, it's awfully good of you to take all this trouble," said the
doctor.

"I've lost my job with the departure of our troops, so I had to find
something to do," smiled the other.

A fleet of Belgian armoured cars cleared a road through the stream of
fugitives, and Dalroy kept close in rear, so he made a fast return
journey. Dashing past the town station, near which the steam-tram would
disgorge its freight, he headed straight for the Gare Maritime. It was
now dusk, but he saw at once that the crowd besieging the entrance was
denser and more frantic than ever, though the last steamer whose
departure was announced officially had left early in the day.

He ascertained from a helpless policeman that the rumour had gone round
of a vessel coming in; the sullen, apathetic multitude, waiting there
for it knew not what chance of rescue, had suddenly become dangerous.

"The American Consul, who has worked hard all day, has had to give it
up," added the man. "He is closing his office."

Just then a harbour official, minus his cap, and with coat badly torn
during a violent passage through the mob, strode by, breathless but
hurried.

Dalroy recognised him, having had much business with the port
authorities during the preceding week.

"Is it true that a steamer is in sight?" he asked.

"Monsieur, what am I to say?" and the accompanying gesture was eloquent.
"It is only a little cargo boat, an English coaster. If she nears the
quay there will be a riot, and perhaps thousands of lives lost. The
harbour-master has sent me to ask the mayor if he should not signal her
to anchor outside until daylight."

Prompt decision and steadfast action were Dalroy's chief qualities. If
luck favoured him he might set his own project on foot before the
mayor's messenger burked it by a civic order. He thanked the man and
rode off.

Happily the tram came from Blankenberge without undue delay. He had only
dismounted when the engine clanked into the station square. Already his
soldier's eye had noted that the Gordons and some of the Belgian
soldiers had retained their rifles and bayonets.

"Get your crowd into motion at once," he said to the doctor, as soon as
the latter alighted. "Nothing you have gone through during the last two
months will equal the excitement of the next quarter of an hour. But, if
your cripples can fix bayonets and show a bold front, we have a fighting
chance--no more. And unless we leave Ostend before to-morrow morning
it'll be a German prison for you and a firing party for me."

Men who have smelt war and death, not once but many times, do not
hesitate and argue when a staff officer talks in that strain.

With an almost marvellous rapidity the members of the mission and the
wounded able to walk were formed up, stretchers were lifted, and the
march began. Dalroy and the doctor headed the procession with the
Gordons, and the mere appearance of a Highlander enforces awe in any
part of Europe.

Dalroy explained matters as they went, and impressed on the escort the
absolute necessity of showing a determined front. On nearing the packed
mass of people clamouring outside the Gare Maritime he vociferated some
sharp orders, the rifles came from the "slope" to the "ready," and those
on the outskirts of the throng saw a number of war-stained kilties
advancing on them with threatening mien.

By some magic a way was opened out. The vanguard knew exactly how to
act, and faced about when the main gates were reached. Here there was a
hitch, but a threat to fire a volley through the bars was effectual, and
the whole party got through, though even the hardened doctors looked
grave when they heard the wail of anguish that went up from the
multitude without as the gates clashed against further ingress.

Of course, as might be expected, there were hundreds of influential
people, both British subjects and Belgians, already inside. To them
Dalroy gave no immediate heed. Merely requesting the doctor to keep his
contingent together and distinct, he sought the harbour-master.

No orders had been received as yet from the mayor, and the incoming
steamer, quite a small craft, was already in the channel.

The harbour-master, a decent fellow, whose sole anxiety was to act for
the best, readily agreed to Dalroy's plan, so the vessel, whose skipper
had actually brought her to Ostend that evening "on spec," as he put it,
was moored at a distance of some ten feet from the quay.

"How many people can you carry?" was Dalroy's first question to the
captain.

"Well, sir," came the surprising answer, "we're licensed by the Board of
Trade to carry forty-five passengers in summer, but, in a pinch like
this, I'll try and stow away two hundred!"

After that there was no hitch. A gangway was fixed in position, the
armed guard were disposed around it, and the doctors and Dalroy, with a
representative of the burgomaster who arrived later, constituted
themselves a committee of selection. The hospital staff and their
patients were placed on board first. Wounded soldiers picked up in
Ostend itself were given the next claim. Then British subjects, and,
finally, Belgian refugees, were admitted.

It was a long and tedious yet almost heart-breaking business, but the
order of priority established a method whereby claims might be tested
with some show of equity. At last, at some hour, none knew or cared
exactly when, the steamer forged slowly out into the channel, backed,
and swung, amid the shrieks and lamentations of the thousands who were
left to the tender mercies of _Kultur_.

In addition to her crew, she carried 739 passengers, mostly wounded
soldiers, women, and children!

There was no room to lie down, save in the space rigidly preserved for
the stretcher cases. The decks, the cabins, the holds, were packed tight
with a living freight. Surely never before has vessel put to sea so
loaded with human beings.

The captain decided not to attempt the crossing by night and lay to till
morning. The ship's boats returned to the quay, and brought off some
food and water.

Meanwhile, leaders of sections were chosen, the people were instructed
as to the danger of lurching, and ropes were arranged so that any
unexpected movement of the hull might be counteracted.

At eight o'clock next morning the engines were started; at ten o'clock
that night the ship was berthed at Dover. By the mercy of Providence the
sea remained smooth all day, though the mid-channel tidal swell caused
dangerous and anxious moments. Of course, there were mine-fields to be
avoided, and strong tides to be cheated, but, allowing for these
hindrances, the trip occupied fourteen hours, whereas the Belgian
mail-packets employed on the same journey used to adhere steadily to a
schedule of three hours and three-quarters!

On the way, death took his dread toll among the wounded, but to nothing
like the extent that might well have been feared. The bringing of that
great company of people from the horrors of the German occupation of
Belgium to the safe harbourage of the United Kingdom was a magnificent
achievement, worthy of high place in the crowded and glorious annals of
British seamanship.

       *       *       *       *       *

So Irene and her true knight met once more, only to part again after
three blissful days. This time, Dalroy went to France, and took his
place in the fighting line. He endured the drudgery of that first winter
in the trenches, shared in the gain and loss of Neuve Chapelle, earned
his majority, and seemed to lead a charmed life until a high explosive
shell burst a little too close during the second day at Loos.

He was borne off the field as one nearly dead. But his wounds were
slight, and he had only been stunned by the concussion. By the time this
diagnosis was confirmed, however, he was at home and enjoying six weeks'
leave.

Nothing very remarkable would have happened if the Earl of Glastonbury,
an elderly but most observant peer, had not created a rare commotion
one day at luncheon.

Dalroy was up in town after a few days' rest at his uncle's vicarage in
the Midlands; he and the younger members of the household were planning
a round of theatres and suchlike dissipations, when the Earl said
quietly:

"You people seem to be singularly devoid of original ideas. George
Alexander, Charlie Hawtrey, and the latest revue star provide a sure and
certain refuge for every country cousin who comes to London for a
fortnight's mild dissipation."

"What do you suggest, dad?" demanded Irene.

"Why not have a war wedding?"

"Oh, let's!" cried the flapper sister ecstatically.

Dalroy swallowed whole some article of food, and Irene blushed scarlet.
But "father" had said the thing, and "mother" had smiled, so Dalroy,
whose wildest dreams hitherto had dwelt on marriage at the close of the
war as a remote possibility, bestirred himself like a good soldier-man,
rushing all fences at top speed.

The brother in the Guards secured five days' leave, a wounded but
exceedingly good-looking Bengal Lancer was empanelled as "best man" (to
the joy and torment of the flapper, who pined during a whole week after
his departure), and, almost before they well knew what was happening,
Dalroy and his bride found themselves speeding toward Devon in a fine
car on their honeymoon.

"And why not?" growled the Earl, striving to comfort his wife when she
wept a little at the thought that her beautiful daughter, her
eldest-born, would henceforth have a nest of her own. "Dash it all,
Mollie, they'll only be young once, and this rotten war looks like
lasting a decade! Had we searched the British Isles we couldn't have
found a better mate for our girl. He's just the sort of chap who will
worship Irene all his life, and he has in him the makings of a future
commander-in-chief, or I'm a Dutchman!"

As his lordship is certainly not a Dutchman, but unmistakably English,
aristocratic, and county, it is permissible to hope that his prophecy
may be fulfilled. Let us hope, too, if Dalroy ever leads the armed
manhood of Britain, it will be a cohort formed to render aggressive war
impossible. That, at least, is no idle dream. It should be the sure and
only outcome of the world's greatest agony.

                         THE END



TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE:

Minor changes have been made to correct typesetters' errors; otherwise,
every effort has been made to remain true to the author's words and
intent.





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