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´╗┐Title: At the Sign of the Sword - A Story of Love and War in Belgium
Author: Le Queux, William, 1864-1927
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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At the Sign of the Sword
A Story of Love and War in Belgium
By William Le Queux
Published by Sully and Kleintech, New York.
This edition dated 1915.

At the Sign of the Sword, by William Le Queux.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
AT THE SIGN OF THE SWORD, BY WILLIAM LE QUEUX.

CHAPTER ONE.

THE WATERS OF THE MEUSE.

Warm, brilliant, and cloudless was the July noon.

Beneath the summer sun the broad, shallow waters of the Meuse sparkled
as they rippled swiftly onward through the deep, winding valley of grey
rocks and cool woods on their way from the mountains of Lorraine,
through peaceful, prosperous Belgium, towards the sea.

That quiet, smiling land of the Ardennes was, in July in the year of
grace 1914, surely one of the most romantic in all Europe--a green,
peaceful land, undisturbed by modern progress; a land where the
peasantry were still both honest and simple, retaining many of their
primitive customs; a land where the herdsmen still called home the
cattle by the blast of the horn as they had done for past centuries,
where the feudal castles studding the country--mostly now in ruins--were
once the abodes of robber-knights.

In that long, deep green valley, which wound from Namur up past Dinant
to the French frontier at Givet, the people had advanced but little.
Legend and history, poetry and fiction, provoked an interesting
reminiscence at almost every turn, for it was, indeed, a land that
fascinated those used to the mad hurry of our modern money-making life.

Not far from quaint, old-world Dinant, with its church with the
slate-covered, bulgy spire nestling beneath its fortress-crowned rock,
its narrow cobbled streets, and its picturesque little Place, lay the
pretty riverside village of Anseremme, the favourite resort of artists,
being situated at the junction of the Lesse--one of the loveliest of
rivers--with the Meuse.

Seated at a shaded table eating their _dejeuner_, upon the
rose-embowered _terrasse_ of the unpretending little Hotel Beau Sejour,
which ran beside the rippling Meuse, sat a young man with a girl.

That the pair had met clandestinely was apparent to the white-aproned
_patron_--who also acted as _chef_--from the fact that the young man had
arrived on foot with rather dusty boots an hour before, had seated
himself, ordered an _aperitif_ and idled somewhat impatiently over the
_Independance Belge_, until, from the direction of Givet, a fine grey
car, sweeping along the road and raising a cloud of dust, suddenly
pulled up before the hotel.  From it a well-dressed young girl had
alighted, and as she passed on to the _terrasse_, the young man had
sprang up, uttered a loud cry of welcome, and bent over her hand.

Meanwhile, the chauffeur had discreetly moved on to the Hotel de la
Meuse, where he apparently intended to get his luncheon.

The young girl was distinctly handsome, as she sat leaning her elbows
upon the table, gazing into her companion's eyes, and bending forward to
listen to the low words he was uttering.  She was little more than
twenty, with dark hair, regular, well-chiselled features; a small,
pretty mouth, which puckered when she smiled; soft, delicate cheeks, and
a pair of those great, dark-brown liquid eyes, which are so
characteristically Belgian.  Her dark-blue serge gown was a model of
tailored neatness, while her little, close-fitting hat, in black straw,
suited admirably a delicate, refined face, about which there could be no
two opinions.

The poise of her head, the white, delicate throat, discreetly open, and
upon which hung a beautiful diamond and pearl pendant; the smallness of
her white, ungloved hands, and the daintiness of her grey suede shoes
and silk stockings to match, all combined to produce a _chic_ which was
that of one living in a smart circle of the _haut monde_.

Both speech and gesture betrayed an education in France, for her accent
was not of the Bruxellois but, like her graceful bearing, that of the
true Parisienne.

She was laughing merrily at some remark the young man had made, and in
her eyes, as they fixed themselves upon his, there showed the
love-light--that one expression that can never be feigned by any man or
woman in the world.

Her companion, a dark, oval-faced, well-set-up young fellow, was under
thirty, above the average height for a Belgian, perhaps, with a pair of
keen, shrewd eyes, in which was a kindly, sympathetic look, closely
trimmed hair, and a small dark moustache cut in English fashion.  He was
broad-shouldered, strong, and manly, and by his gesture and attitude the
keen observer would have marked that he had had more military training
than was usual in the circle in Brussels in which he moved.  He was
dressed in a suit of well-cut grey tweeds, with straw hat, while the
silver watch set in the well-worn leather wristlet gave him an
altogether English air.  Indeed, he had lived five years in London--in
lodgings in Shepherd's Bush--when a student, and, as a consequence,
spoke English fairly well.

That they were a handsome pair Monsieur le Patron of the hotel, quizzing
them through the low-set window of his kitchen which looked out upon the
_terrasse_, could not disguise from himself.  Often he had seen the big
car sweep past, but of its ownership he was in ignorance.  Yet more than
once the interesting pair had met at his hotel and had lunched quietly
together, while signs had not been wanting that those meetings were in
secret.

Jules, the little bald-headed waiter from Rochefort, had flicked out the
white cloth and spread it between them; he had placed two yard-long
loaves crosswise upon it, with serviettes flat upon the plates and
single knives and forks, when Aimee, with a light musical laugh,
exclaimed in French:

"I had the greatest difficulty to get away to-day, Edmond.  At the very
last moment I feared lest I should disappoint you.  My mother wanted
some lace from Teitz's, in Brussels, and I, of course, last night
volunteered to go shopping for her.  But this morning, while I was
taking my _petit dejeuner_, Melanie came to me to say that mother had
made up her mind to come with me, as she wanted to see the Countess
d'Echternach before she went to England.  She and her husband are taking
their yacht to Cowes, and we had been asked to join the party, as you
know, but father unfortunately is kept at home because of important
meetings of the Senate."

"Then your mother, the Baroness, may suspect--eh?" exclaimed Edmond
Valentin with some apprehension.

"No.  I think not," reflected the girl.  "But at first I didn't know
what to do.  I knew that by that time you had already left Brussels, and
I could not telephone and stop you.  Suddenly I recollected that mother
has a bad memory, so presently I reminded her of a purely fictitious
engagement she had made with the Committee of the Archaeological Society
of Antwerp on that day, and succeeded in inducing her to remain to
receive the Burgomaster and his antiquarian friends, to whom her father
had granted a permit to see over the Chateau."

"And so you succeeded in escaping!" he laughed; "and instead of shopping
in Brussels and lunching with old Madame Garnier, you are here.
Splendid!"  Then, glancing round to reassure himself that nobody was
present, his fingers tenderly closed over the tiny hand which lay upon
the tablecloth.

"But, dearest," he went on in French, with a grave expression in his
kind, dark eyes, "when you did not come at eleven o'clock I began to
fear--fear what I am, alas! always fearing--"

"What?" she asked quickly.

He hesitated for a few seconds.

"That somebody may have discovered the truth, and told the Baron--
Aimee," he replied very slowly.

"Really, Edmond, I don't see what there is to fear.  I know you have
enemies, and further, that my father does not view you in exactly a
friendly spirit, simply because you are not rich, like Arnaud--"

"Arnaud Rigaux!"  Interrupted Edmond angrily.  "I hate to hear the very
name of the fellow!  Your father, the Baron, wishes you to marry him, in
order to cement the two greatest financial houses in Belgium--that of
Neuville Freres and the Banque de Tervueren.  Besides, he must be at
least thirty years your senior, Aimee."

"This is really unkind of you, Edmond," exclaimed the girl in reproach,
withdrawing her hand.  "I came to meet you, so that we might spend a
pleasant day in the country.  Surely you believe that I love you, and
that being so, how could I possibly consent to marry Monsieur Rigaux?"

"But I am only a mere obscure Brussels lawyer, Aimee," he said.  "How
can I ever hope to marry you?"

The girl did not reply.  Her heart was too full for mere words.  They
were alone upon that shady _terrasse_, with the great river swirling and
rippling past them, while at the moment the quiet was broken by the
sweet carillon of old church bells somewhere, chiming the hour of noon.

"I know, my darling," he said in a low voice, in English, so that none
should overhear and understand, as he looked at her across the table,
"that your father and his friends hold the money-strings of our little
nation.  They reckon the world by its millions of francs, and the
finances of Belgium are in their hands.  He will make the most strenuous
effort to force you to marry Rigaux, and so strengthen the position of
both houses."

"I will never marry the man--_never_!"  Aimee de Neuville declared
emphatically in good English.  "I hate him!"

"You swear that?" he demanded quickly, a fierce light suddenly in his
eyes.

"I do, Edmond."

"Ah?" he sighed in deep relief.  "Then I am satisfied.  Let us discuss
the subject no further."

And at that moment old Jules reappeared with the plate of tempting _hors
d'oeuvres_ and the _carafe_ of _vin-blanc ordinaire_.

Edmond Valentin, the _avocat_, who struggled hard and fought for small
fees in that most palatial Palais de Justice in the world, sat for a few
moments gazing thoughtfully across the broad sunlit Meuse, where, on the
opposite bank, a train, looking like a small toy, was following the bend
of the river on its way to France, leaving a long trail of white smoke
behind.  He was thinking--thinking of something he knew--a secret--and
as it arose in his mind his strong hands clenched themselves tightly
beneath the table.

The girl, watching his countenance, wondered when she saw that strange
expression of fierce hatred flit across his broad brow.  But next second
it had vanished, and smiling upon her, he began to help her to the
anchovies and salad which the bald-headed waiter had placed before them.

They were truly a striking pair, she pretty and dainty, with a soft,
sweet expression that men always found so charming, while he was
particularly smart and handsome, without the slightest trace of foreign
effeminacy, a fine, well-set-up fellow, who, but for the depth and
largeness of his eyes, might easily have been mistaken for an
Englishman.  Yet their social positions were wide as the poles.  She was
the only child of Baron Henri de Neuville, the great financier, whose
money controlled railways and tramways in half a dozen countries in
Europe, and whose splendid old Chateau de Severac, higher up the river,
was one of the show-places of Belgium.  Ex-Minister of Finance and a
member of the Senate, his position gave his wife, the Baroness, and her
daughter, the _entree_ to the Court circle in Brussels, hence Aimee
moved in the most exclusive set.

Her companion, however, was the son of the late Burgomaster of Ghent, an
estimable man, who had amassed a considerable fortune and possessed much
land around Antwerp, but who had, with hundreds of others, been
completely ruined by dabbling in a wild-cat scheme on the Congo, and who
had died penniless, save for the little pittance which his son Edmond
could afford him.

Love, however, laughs at money-bags, and Aimee, while she was
passionately fond of the man before her, detested that thin-faced,
black-haired, narrow-eyed man, Monsieur Rigaux, whose praises the Baron
was so constantly singing when they sat at table together.  There was an
indescribable look in the financier's eyes which had, for the past four
years--ever since she returned from school at Roedean--always frightened
her.  It was an expression which, though with her woman's intuition she
distrusted, yet she could neither describe it, nor the feeling which it
always aroused within her.  What we too often term natural antipathy, is
a silent, mysterious warning which springs from our innermost
conscience, and surely should never be dismissed.

The little cloud which had descended between the pair had quickly
lifted, and as they sat eating their _dejeuner_, childishly happy in
each other's love, two officers of the 8th Chasseurs, in their braided
tunics and undress caps, came along the _terrasse_, and, seeing a lady,
saluted as they passed, and took seats at a little table at the farther
end.

"My old regiment!"  Edmond remarked.  "Sometimes, Aimee, I regret that I
resigned to take up law," he added, with a sigh and a wistful look as he
glanced at the two men in uniform.

"But you are making a name at the Courts," the girl declared.  "I read
in the paper yesterday a case in which you are defending--the Affaire of
the Rue du Trone, they call it--a murder-mystery."

"Yes," the man answered, with a touch of bitterness in his voice.  "I am
defending the man Sigart, though I myself am convinced of his guilt."

"And yet you defend him?"

Edmond Valentin shrugged his shoulder.

"An advocate is forced to serve whichever side engages him," he replied.
"That is why the profession of arms is so much more honest."

"Granted," his companion said.  "It gives you an _entree_ to the better
houses--you can become a member of the _Cercle Militaire_, and all that,
but is it not all useless?  The war, which has been predicted all these
years, has never come--nor, in my belief, will it ever come.  Germany
only raises a bogey from time to time, in order to terrify Europe, as my
father puts it," the girl added.

"Ah!  I fear the Baron is a little too optimistic," replied her lover.
"War, when it comes--as it most assuredly will--will come in the hour
when we least expect it.  Then, when the Teuton hordes burst their
bonds, woe-betide the nations they attack."

"Well, Edmond, we have one consolation, that they will never attack us.
We are neutral, and the Powers--even Germany herself--have agreed to
respect our neutrality."

"Ah, Aimee, that remains to be seen," was his slow, apprehensive reply.
"Germany, when she fights, will fight for world-wide power, irrespective
of treaties or of agreements.  The Kaiser is the great War Lord, and his
intention is to vindicate his self-assumed title, and to rule the
world."

"Father, who is behind the scenes of international politics, quite
disputes that view."

"The Baron will not admit it--nobody in Belgium will admit it--because
no cloud appears to-day upon the political horizon.  But the dark cloud
will arise ere long, depend upon it, and then we shall, every man of us,
be compelled to fight for our lives, and for all we hold most dear."

A silence fell between them.  The young man slowly stirred his coffee,
and then, taking a cigarette from his case, lit it, with a word of
apology at having expressed such words of warning, and daring to
disagree with the view held by the Baron de Neuville.

"But do you really fear war, Edmond?" asked the girl at last, having
reflected deeply upon her lover's words.

"Oh, I didn't mean to alarm you, dearest," he laughed quickly.  "War
will, I believe, break out in Europe; but not yet--probably not for
years to come.  Germany is not ready; and besides, she fears both France
and England.  Nevertheless, she is preparing to conquer the world.  Of
that, one has evidence everywhere in Germany."

"My father does not believe it."

"Because, like so many others all the world over who are piling up their
money and reaping rich dividends, he does not wish to believe it.  He,
like millions of others, is content in the blissful paradise which he
himself creates.  But there, dearest, enough of my controversial
subjects.  Let us enjoy this glorious day," and he blew a cloud of blue
cigarette smoke from his lips, and laughed at her merrily across the
little coffee-cup which he raised to his lips.

Then presently, Edmond having settled the account, the blissful pair
entered the great grey car, in which Antoine, the Baron's clean-shaven
chauffeur, loyal to his young mistress, drove them rapidly away, up the
white, winding road which led due east into the heart of the peaceful,
picturesque Ardennes.

CHAPTER TWO.

THE RISING CLOUD.

A fortnight later--the second day of August, to be exact.

The Taverne Joseph, that popular restaurant in the Boulevard d'Anspach,
in Brussels, where, beneath the shadow of the Bourse, the business-man
gets such delicious _plats du jour_, was crowded, as it always is each
day at noon.  The many little tables set out upon the pavement, along
which the life of the bright little Belgian capital ebbed and flowed,
were filled by men who daily, year in and year out, ate their midday
meal, gossiped, and drank long glasses of iced _bock_.

At one table, in a corner by the glass screen which divided the pavement
before Joseph's establishment from that belonging to a restaurant next
door, Edmond Valentin sat alone.

He had every reason to congratulate himself most heartily.  An hour ago,
after making a most brilliant and impassioned speech for the defence in
the Assize Court, the trial of the Affaire of the Rue du Trone had at
last ended.  The chemist's assistant, Sigart, a cruel-hearted assassin
who had killed his young wife by administering gelsiminium--as the
prosecution had alleged--had been acquitted, and upon Edmond's
remarkable success he had been everywhere congratulated by his
_confreres_ in the great atrium of the Courts.

As he sat alone, idly watching the passers-by, he was wondering what
Aimee would think.  She would read in the _Petit Bleu_ that night the
account of the trial, which she was so closely following, he knew.  What
would she say when she saw that he had been successful--that he had made
a name in the legal world at last!

He was in the act of lighting a cigarette, one of a special brand of
Egyptians which were sold only at the little _Mosque_ in the courtyard
of the Grand Hotel opposite, when a strident voice reached his ear, and
next second a perspiring young vendor of newspapers, in a peaked cap,
thrust under his nose a newspaper, crying in French, "German Ultimatum
to Belgium!--_V'la Le Journal_!"  He paid his sou, and eagerly opened
the thin damp sheet.

His quick eyes scanned the sinister news which the paper contained, to
the effect that the German Minister in Brussels had, at seven o'clock on
the previous evening, offered Belgium an _entente_ with Germany in
return for her facilitating German military operations.  A pistol was
held at Belgium's head.  She had been given till seven o'clock that
morning to reply.  A Council Meeting had been held which had lasted till
midnight, after which Messieurs Hymans and Van den Heuvel had drafted a
reply, which for three hours further had been discussed.  Belgium relied
upon the treaty to which Germany herself had been signatory,
guaranteeing her neutrality, and had therefore replied that she could
not accept the proposal.

Edmond Valentin held his breath as he read those significant lines of
print.

Half the men in the restaurant eagerly bought papers, were silent for a
moment, and then the greatest excitement was apparent everywhere.

"_War with Germany_!" yelled the newsvendors in strident tones as they
rushed along the Boulevard, and even the police--the most correct in
Europe--were so dumbfounded that they did not raise a voice in protest
at this unseemly breach of the regulation which prohibits the crying of
news.

Belgium had defied the great and terrible machine of Prussian
militarism.  She had told the Kaiser, openly and plainly, that she
would, like Holland, remain neutral, in accordance with the solemn
treaty to which the Powers had put their signatures.

"Well, my friend," remarked a fat stockbroker, to whom Valentin was
known as having his lunch daily at the Joseph.  "This is defiance--eh?
We have held up our hand to stop the great War Lord of Germany.  We have
no quarrel with our neighbours.  This is only newspaper gossip.  There
will be no war, I assure you.  A Bourse canard--perhaps."

"But if Germany attacks us?" queried the young lawyer, placing his
newspaper on the table.

"Bah! that she will never do.  We know the Kaiser and his mailed fist of
old.  If Russia has mobilised, surely it cannot concern us?"

"But France and Great Britain are Russia's allies, remember."

"Exactly.  Germany will never dare to face Europe with only Austria, an
effete nation, as an ally.  Your agreement supports mine, my dear
friend," laughed the fat over-dressed man, who wore a large diamond in
his cravat.

"But are there not already violations of the French frontier, and also
in Luxembourg?  The Germans have also occupied frontier towns in
Russia," Edmond argued.

"_Bien_!  But it is only a menace on the part of Germany--and menace is
not war.  Do not forget the Agadir incident.  No, no, m'sieur.  The
coming war is not yet--not yet, although I quite admit that we have felt
the unrest on the Bourse this morning."

"Unrest?" echoed Edmond.  "I tell you that to-day there is war in the
air, m'sieur!  The German Emperor has created, by his clever chicanery,
a diplomatic position in Europe which is impossible.  The preparations
of Prussia are complete.  That the Emperor means war is apparent to
those who have studied events, as I have, ever since the deplorable
assassinations in Sarajevo."

"Ah! _mon ami_, I see you are pessimistic," laughed the stockbroker,
draining his glass of Benedictine.  "It would be bad for Belgium if all
her sons were alarmists like yourself."

"No, m'sieur, pardon?" was Edmond Valentin's quick response.  "If all
were like yourself, we should be lulled to deep by the assurances of our
bitter enemy--the enemy who intends to march through this capital of
ours to Antwerp, and the sea."

"Bah!  The old story told to us for so many years!" laughed the man at
the next table as he rose slowly and took his straw hat.  "We shall meet
here again--say this day week, and then you will be forced to admit the
truth of my argument."

"Well--let us hope so, m'sieur.  We shall see," Valentin replied with a
gesture of apprehension, which showed him to be concerned.

The fat man wished him a merry "_bon jour_," and passed out upon the
sun-baked pavement, where the excited crowds were now hurrying, eagerly
discussing the alarming news.

"War!  _War_!  WAR!"

The word was upon everyone's lips throughout the length and breadth of
the animated little capital of _les braves Belges_--the people so long
sneered at by their superiors in Paris until the very expression had
become synonymous of a populace actuated by timid arrogance, and who
merely aped all the culture and most of the vices of the Parisians.

When the optimistical stockbroker had gone, Edmond again took up his
paper and read how Sir Edward Grey had made a statement in the House of
Commons, in London, regarding the obligations of honour, and of national
security involved in the maintenance by Great Britain of Belgian
neutrality.  France and Russia were already in a state of war with
Germany.  Would Great Britain stand by Belgium?

Upon the _terrasse_ of the crowded restaurant and within, the sole topic
of the excited conversation was the seriousness of the situation.  Old
men who had been scared times without number by the war-clouds which had
risen over Europe, laughed to scorn the idea of a great conflict.

"My dear Jules?" shouted a thin-faced, white-bearded man--the head of a
great commercial house--across the restaurant.  "Do not give it another
thought.  There will be no war.  The Germans are not yet ready, and the
diplomats will arrange it all, as they always do.  They are paid for it.
The Kaiser's bark is worse than his bite."

Whereat many laughed.

But not so Edmond Valentin.  He had been a close student of
international politics, and in order to supplement his income at the
criminal bar, he had often written articles upon international politics
for the _Independance Belge_, and the _Matin_ of Antwerp.  What he had
feared and predicted was, alas! coming rapidly true.

Germany, with her horde of spies everywhere in Belgium, France, and
England, and her closely guarded military and naval secrets had deceived
Europe.  She was fully prepared--and her Emperor intended to make war,
and to crush civilisation beneath the despotic heel of Prussian
militarism.  The cross of Christ was to be overthrown by the brutal
agnosticism of Nietzsche, the blasphemous "philosopher" who died in a
madhouse.

Edmond Valentin held his breath, and replacing the paper again upon the
table, while the buzz of dispute and argument was still in his ears,
stared straight before him into the busy, glaring thoroughfare.

War!  _War_!  WAR!

At length he rose, and making his way blindly to the Bourse, only a few
steps away, he boarded one of the open-air trains, and ascended the
steep, winding streets, the narrow Marche aux Herbes, and the Rue de la
Madeline, until he reached the broad Rue de la Regence, which led
straight up to the great facade of the domed Palais de Justice.
Half-way up the street he alighted and, entering a block of offices,
ascended to his bureau.

The city was agog with excitement.  In that hot, blazing noontide,
everyone seemed outside discussing the grave peril in which Belgium was
now placed by daring to stem the overwhelming tide of Teutons.

"If they come they will not hurt us," a man in the tram had laughed.
"They will simply march through Belgium--that is all.  What on earth
have we to fear?"

Edmond had overheard those words.  They represented the opinion of the
populace, who had been frightened by the bogey of threatened war so many
times, until now they had grown to regard the regularly rising cloud
over Europe as part of the German policy, the brag and swagger of the
great War Lord.

Edmond was alone.  His one clerk was still away at his _dejeuner_ as
usual, from noon till two o'clock.  From the open window of the small,
dingy room he watched the animated scene below--watched like a man in a
dream.

At the moment he was not thinking of the threatened war, but of the man
Arnaud Rigaux.

An imprecation escaped his set teeth, as his face assumed a dark,
threatening expression, his strong hands clenched, as they always did
when certain thoughts arose.

"One day ere long," he murmured, "we will settle the account between us,
m'sieur.  With us it is an eye for an eye, but you little dream what
form my revenge will take.  The hour is now fast approaching--depend
upon it!"

Turning suddenly from the window, he lit a cigarette, for, like most
Belgians, he was an inveterate smoker as well as something of a dandy in
his attire, and seating himself at his big writing-table he began to
scribble hastily memorandum after memorandum.  For fully two hours he
continued.

Old Andre, his clerk, returned, and placed a copy of a newspaper
containing the report of the Affaire of the Rue du Trone at his elbow,
saying:

"The Press are full of your praise, m'sieur.  Is it not splendid--
magnificent!"

But his master took no heed, so intent was he upon his writing,
referring to various bundles of legal papers before him, as he scribbled
on.

Then, at last, just before four o'clock, he put on his hat and went
forth again, walking to the Palais de Justice, where, after searching
through the courts, he found, in the dark panelled Court of Appeal, a
_confrere_ of his--a tall, thin man, with a bushy black beard.  His
friend congratulated him heartily upon his success in the _cause
celebre_ that morning, after which they both went out into the atrium
and sat upon a bench, while Edmond Valentin gave him a number of
instructions.

Afterwards, just before five, Edmond emerged again, crossed into the
wide, leafy Avenue Louise, and boarding a tram, rode straight up that
splendid boulevard of fine private residences, to the gates of the
pretty natural park of which Bruxellois are so proud, the Bois de la
Cambre.  Upon a seat in one of the secluded paths, not far from the
entrance, he found Aimee, dressed in white embroidered muslin, awaiting
him.

"Ah, Edmond!" she cried, springing up.  "Terrible, is it not?  There
will be war!  You were right--quite right--dearest.  Germany intends to
encroach upon our land?"

"Yes, darling," he replied, bending over her little gloved hand with
_deep_ apology at being late.  "I fear that it is so, and that we shall
be compelled to defend ourselves," he sighed.  "The terror of war is
upon us."

"But there will not be fighting in Belgium--surely?" the girl declared.
"Colonel Maclean, the British military attache, was at lunch with us
to-day, and he told my father that England did not anticipate war.  It
is only the German nature to be aggressive against Russia."

"Ah! no.  Do not believe the optimists, my darling," the man said,
seating himself at her side.  "Do not believe in the soft words and the
self-styled culture of the Germans.  They are the natural enemies of
Europe, and the camarilla of Potsdam intends now to fight for
world-power."

She was silent, tracing a semicircle on the gravel with the ferrule of
her white silk sunshade.

It was a pretty, leafy nook where they were sitting--a spot where it was
often their habit to meet in secret when she was in Brussels.  That big
white mansion of the Baron Henri de Neuville he had passed half-way up
the Avenue Louise was one of the largest and most handsome private
residences in Brussels, with its imposing gates of ornamental ironwork
surmounted by a gilt coronet, and huge glass-covered winter-garden--a
place pointed out to _messieurs_, the tourists of the Agence Cook, who
passed daily in the motor char-a-banc, as the "town-house of the Baron
de Neuville, the great Belgian millionaire," as the uniformed guide put
it each morning in his parrot-like English, when he conducted his
charges on their way to the field of Waterloo.

"Do you know, Aimee," exclaimed her companion seriously at last, "I have
decided to return to my old regiment, and to act my part--the part of a
true Belgian.  I can at once return as _sous-officier_."

"What?" gasped the girl in quick alarm.  "But, Edmond--you--you--you
might be wounded if war really broke out!  You might even be killed!
No!  For my sake, dear, don't go," she implored, placing her trembling
little hand upon his arm and looking up appealingly into his eyes.

"War will be upon us, if not to-day, then to-morrow.  My place is in the
ranks of the defenders," he said firmly.  "I have no money-bags to
protect, as your father the Baron has.  My profession will be at an end
with war, hence I have decided.  I have made all arrangements for my
friend Verbruggen to take my cases in the Courts."

"And you will really rejoin the Chasseurs-a-pied?" she asked anxiously.

"I shall.  It is only my duty, dearest.  Against the great Germany our
little Belgium will require every man who can hold a rifle," replied her
lover.  "The German Kaiser means war--and war means the shedding of
blood in our land."

"But think--if you were killed, Edmond!" she gasped, staring at him.

"I should at least die knowing that we loved each other, darling," he
answered, taking her hand tenderly in his own and raising it to his
lips.  "You are mine, and I am yours; only death can part us."

He glanced up and down.  They were alone in that narrow, leafy way, with
the birds twittering gaily above them, and the hot sunshine filtering
through the branches; for the charm of the Bois was its rural
picturesqueness, near as it was to the centre of the gay, vivacious
little capital.

His arm stole very slowly around her waist, and she fell back into his
embrace in the supreme ecstasy of that moment.

"Though the barrier between us--the barrier of money--is insurmountable,
Aimee, I love you better--ah! better than my own life, sweetheart.
To-day, though the sun still shines over our dear Belgium, it is, alas!
the darkest day of our history.  The terror of the Uhlan is already over
our land.  Your father, the Baron, will, I know, endeavour to snatch you
from me, and marry you to the man whom I have so just a cause to hate--
enemy as he is of my own race, my name, my country.  But, darling, I
refuse, in this hour of deadly peril, to remain inactive.  I love you,
and, my darling, I know that you love me.  Our dear country is
threatened by the invader, who intends to smash and to crush us, to
sweep our smiling, peaceful land with fire and sword; to stamp out our
national life, and to grind us beneath the millstones of a blasphemous
autocracy.  And, as an officer of the Belgian army, my place is with my
regiment--to defend our country; to defend our innocent women--to defend
you, my own beloved."

Tears welled in her great dark eyes as she listened to his words, and he
bent until his lips pressed hers.

His argument was complete.  How could she protest further?  Her secret
lover was a fine, manly man--far more manly than any she had ever met in
her own select circle of that vain bejewelled society, where mammon was
god, and where finance daily juggled with the destiny of nations.

To rejoin his regiment was, after all, her lover's duty.  She knew it in
her innermost consciousness.  Yes, he was right.  Though a lieutenant,
he could rejoin as _sous-officier_.  The war-cloud, so black and
lowering, must burst within a few hours.

As a true daughter of Belgium she was at heart a patriot, even though,
in her own home, the only patriotism ever taught her had been the love
of self-esteem.

He was silent, not daring to utter further word; and she, looking into
his dark, thoughtful, serious eyes, in silence, wept.

Yet in the ears of both of them rang that single word of such awful and
such fatal significance:

War!  _War_!  WAR!

CHAPTER THREE.

THE HEART'S DESIRE.

At ten o'clock on the same evening the Baron Henri de Neuville sat
smoking a cigar in a small, luxuriously furnished room in the great
white mansion in the Avenue Louise.

A broad-shouldered, grey-haired, slightly bald man, whose heavy jaws
were fringed by short grey side-whiskers, and whose deep-set eyes were
rendered darker by the natural pallor of his complexion.  His hair was
well brushed to hide his baldness, and in his well-cut evening clothes
he looked younger than he really was.  He had been commanded to the
Palace earlier in the evening, for the King had consulted him in
connection with some secret financial transaction affecting the nation,
and therefore at his throat he wore the ribbon and cross of the Order of
Leopold.

With him sat his friend, Arnaud Rigaux, a dandified thin-faced man, a
few years his junior, with black hair plastered down upon his head, a
pair of narrow-set beady eyes, a countenance of distinctly Hebrew cast,
and a small pointed black moustache, unmistakably dyed.  The shrivelled
thinness of his hands was certainly not in keeping with the artificial
youth of his face, and, on second glance, the most casual observer would
have realised that he was one of those men who, by reason of a fast
life, have aged prematurely, and who endeavour to remain young, and
believe themselves still attractive to the fair sex.

He had, in years past, been a rather handsome man.  But the life he had
led had left its mark indelibly upon him, for he looked what he was, a
_roue_ who had run the whole gamut of the gaieties of Europe, from the
Casino at Aix to the Villa Regala at Bucharest, and from the haunts of
the _demi-monde_ on the Riviera to the night-cafes of Berlin and the
_cabarets_ of the Montmarte.

As he lounged back in the big, soft, saddle-bag chair, the fine diamond
glistening in his shirt, he presented a picture of the affluent parvenu,
that type of wealthy financier of Hebrew strain, which is so familiar
the world over.

The Baron was certainly of a refined and gentlemanly type, though there
was in his face that shrewd, hard expression which seems inseparable
from the financial mind.  Yet his companion was of an entirely different
stamp--coarse, unsympathetic, with sensuality stamped upon his loose
lips.

He removed the cigar from his mouth, and lifting his narrow eyes to his
companion, remarked:

"I am relieved to hear your opinion, my dear Henri.  It agrees entirely
with mine.  Though the Bourses show signs of panic, I cannot but think
that war is impossible."

"The Minister Orts was at the Palace, and I had a few words with him,"
the Baron said.  "They had, at the Ministry, a telegram from our
Minister in London only an hour ago.  War is not anticipated there."

"Nor here--only by the ignorant," laughed Rigaux.  "Germany cannot--nay,
she dare not--attack Europe."

"It is whispered that the King has appealed to King George of England to
uphold our neutrality.  But in one or two quarters I hear it alleged
that the fixed purpose to provoke a general war has underlain Germany's
policy for many years, and now, with Austria as her ally, she has
wantonly flung down the gauntlet to all Europe."

"I don't believe it at all," declared the other.  "The Kaiser cannot
commit such an outrage on all justice and all public right.  Our
neutrality was guaranteed by Germany herself.  How can she dishonour her
own signature?"

"But Germany aspires to supremacy, we must not forget, my dear friend,
and to supremacy as complete as that claimed by Napoleon.  She intends
that all the other Powers shall be her subordinate allies.  She would
drag them all in her wake."

"Bah!  England will not bargain away to Germany her obligations to us,
depend upon it," was the other's reply.  "The Kaiser fears the British
fleet.  He is not yet ready, my dear Baron.  So let us dismiss the
so-called peril, for it does not exist, I assure you."  The Baron rose
from his chair, and stepped out upon the long balcony into the close,
breathless night.

A regiment of Lancers were clattering along the broad avenue, just
distinguishable among the trees, and the people were cheering wildly as
they passed.

War was in the air.  Notwithstanding the assurances of his friend
Rigaux, the Baron could not disguise from himself the serious
apprehension that had so suddenly arisen in his mind.  Hitherto, he had
been loudest in his expressions that war would not be yet, but since he
had been at the Palace, an hour ago, and seen the serious expression
upon the faces of his sovereign, and of certain officials, he had become
suspicious of the worst.

What if England defied this sabre-rattling of Germany, and declared war
to protect Belgium?  He pondered as he stood there, glancing down into
the leafy avenue where the people were shouting, "_A bas les
Allemands_!"

He had his back turned to his friend, who still sat smoking.  Had he
turned, he might, however, have seen something which would have aroused
wonder within him, for while he stood there, looking down upon the
straight, leafy way, bright under its lines of lamps, his friend, behind
his back, had clenched his fists fiercely.  Arnaud Rigaux's teeth were
set, and upon his countenance was a fierce look of hatred of the man
whom he was trying to lull into a false sense of security.

A distinctly evil expression played about the corners of his sensuous
mouth, as his narrow-set eyes glinted with the fire of a detestation
which, until that moment, he had so cleverly concealed.

Though posing as an intensely patriotic Belgian, he was, if the truth be
told, one of the few men in Brussels who knew the German intentions, and
who, for a fortnight past, had been fully prepared.

War must come, he was well aware.  It had all been arranged two years
ago, yet the Belgian Government, and even the Baron de Neuville, its
chief financial adviser, had remained in utter ignorance.  They had
never suspected the Kaiser's treachery.

Rigaux smiled as he reflected how cleverly the secret of it all had been
kept.  Great Britain must now certainly fall into the trap so cunningly
prepared for her, and then Europe would, as the Kaiser intended, be
drenched in blood.

In those moments, while the Baron stood outside, he reflected upon the
private audience he had had with the Emperor at Potsdam nine months
before, of the secret reports he had furnished regarding the financial
situation of Belgium, and other matters, and the preparations for war in
Luxembourg and along the frontier, which were revealed to him by a high
official in the Wilhelmstrasse.  He had returned from his
"business-visit" to Berlin, and not a soul in Brussels had ever dreamed
that he had been received by the Most Highest.  The secret policy of the
Kaiser was to court the good-will of certain financiers who, most of
them, willingly became his agents and cats'-paws, and kept the War
Office in Berlin well informed of the trend of events.  It was so in the
case of the clever, wealthy, and unscrupulous Arnaud Rigaux.

The Baron turned, but in an instant the face of his friend reassumed its
expression of easy-going carelessness.

"This silly war-scare seems to please the people--eh?" he laughed aloud.
"Hark at them shouting!  It is to be hoped they will not attack the
German Legation, burn the German flag, or commit some ridiculous outrage
of that sort."

"Let's hope not, or it might be misconstrued into an act of war," the
Baron agreed, as he stepped again into the small, cosy, but exquisitely
furnished room.  "Probably the Garde Civile have taken every precaution
to avoid demonstrations.  Nevertheless," he added, "I do not like the
outlook at all, my dear Arnaud.  I confess I do not like it at all."

"_Mon cher ami_, surely you, of all men, are not being led away by this
sensation in the newspapers!" exclaimed his friend, pursing his thick
lips.  "We both know the value to be placed upon _messieurs les
journalistes_.  We buy them all whenever we desire their favour--do we
not?"

But the Baron cast himself into his chair and shook his head gravely,
saying:

"I fear, notwithstanding, that the outlook is very black for Belgium.
War would mean ruin to us both.  We have, both of us, large interests in
France and Germany," he added, ignorant of the vile treachery of which
his friend had been guilty.  "If war came in Europe, I should be
ruined."

"Exactly," responded the other.  "That is why, in such circumstances as
these, a union of our houses would be so intensely desirable.  Have you
spoken to Mademoiselle Aimee again?" he asked, regarding the Baron with
those narrow, crafty eyes of his.

"Yes," was the reply.

"And what has Mademoiselle said?"

"Up to the present," sighed the Baron, "she is still obdurate."

"Because of that good-looking _avocat_--eh?" he retorted.  "Why do you
allow her still to meet the fellow?"

"She does not meet him to my knowledge."

"She does--almost daily.  I have set watch upon them.  They met to-day--
in the Bois, at five o'clock."

The Baron was again silent for a few moments.  Then he said:

"Valentin has, it seems, made quite a sensational success in the Affaire
of the Rue du Trone.  There is a long account in to-night's papers.
Berton, the Minister of Justice, was speaking of it."

"But surely you will not allow your daughter to marry a penniless
lawyer?" protested the financier.  "Think what you and I could do, if
only we amalgamated upon fair and equivalent business lines.  As you
well know, I am extremely fond of Aimee."

"You have spoken to her, she tells me."

"I have.  But, unfortunately, she treats me with a calm and utter
indifference."

"Perhaps she will, eventually, grow tired of Edmond Valentin's
attentions," her father suggested.

"Never," growled Rigaux.  "I believe she loves the fellow.  But if you
were only firm, my dear friend, she would, in the end, consent to marry
me."

"I am firm."

"Yet you allow them to meet daily!"

"How can I prevent it?"

"By sending her away--say to England.  I will go to England also."

"My own opinion is that you would fare no better in England than here.
Aimee is a girl of spirit.  She may be led, but driven never," her
father declared emphatically.

"But cannot you compel her to give up this man?" urged Rigaux eagerly.

"Have I not tried, for weeks and weeks?  Personally, my friend, I don't
think you dance attendance sufficiently upon her, if you really mean to
win her.  She has been spoiled ever since a child, and likes lots of
attention."

Arnaud Rigaux's brows narrowed slightly, for he at once realised that
what the Baron said was the truth.  He had certainly been deficient in
his amorous advances, for, truth to tell, he had become so utterly
_blase_ that few women nowadays attracted him.

"Yes," he sighed grossly.  "Perhaps you are right, Baron.  Is she at
home this evening?"

"She's alone in the _petit salon_, reading, I believe.  My wife is out
at dinner with the wife of the Roumanian Minister."

"Then, if there is nothing else for us to discuss, I will go down and
spend an hour with her--eh?"

"_Tres bien_," acceded the Baron, while Rigaux, casting away his cigar,
settled his cravat before a big mirror at the end of the room, smoothed
his hair with both his hands, and left.

Passing down the softly carpeted corridor he paused before a door, and
opening it entered, to find himself in a good-sized salon carpeted in
Saxe blue, with white enamelled walls and gilt furniture of the style of
Louis Quatorze.  Over the elegant apartment was suffused a soft light,
the source of which was cunningly concealed behind the wide cornice
running round the walls, the electric glow being thrown down by the
white ceiling itself.

Upon a side-table stood a great silver bowl of La France roses, which
filled the room with their fragrance, and near it, in a comfortable
_chaise-longue_, reclined Aimee, looking sweet and dainty in a soft,
filmy evening-gown of palest carnation pink.

She looked up from her book, startled, as the door opened, and then,
recognising her visitor, rose, rather stiffly, to greet him.

"What, all alone, my dear Mademoiselle?" exclaimed Rigaux, as though in
surprise, as he bowed over her hand.  "I have been chatting with the
Baron, but I expected to find Madame here.  Well, and what do you think
of all this very alarming news--eh?"

"Awful--is it not?" the girl replied, inviting him to a chair.

"The Baron and I have just been discussing it, and we are of opinion
that there will be no war.  I notice, however, in the papers to-night, a
report of Monsieur Valentin's great success in the Affaire of the Rue du
Trone.  I must congratulate him--and yourself."

The girl blushed slightly.  It was the first time this man, whom she so
heartily hated, had ever mentioned her lover.  Indeed, she was not,
until that moment, quite certain whether he was aware of her secret--
whether the Baron had told him.

"Yes," she managed to reply at last.  "It should secure him a foothold
in his profession.  The papers say that his speech for the defence was
apparently one of the most clever and brilliant ever heard in the
Courts."

"And you, of course, must be justly proud, eh, Mademoiselle?" he
remarked, looking straight into her beautiful eyes.

"Well, I suppose so," she laughed, her fingers toying nervously with the
leaves of Bazin's latest romance.

He sighed deeply.  Then, after a pause, said:

"Ah!  I only wish that you entertained one little thought for me,
Aimee--one kindly reflection regarding myself--I who love you so."

And, bending, he stretched forth his hand to seize hers.  But she
swiftly withdrew it.

"Oh, why return to that subject again, m'sieur!" she protested
impatiently.  "Its discussion only pains us both.  I am fully aware that
my father is anxious, for business reasons, that we should marry, but I
assure you, once and for all, that I will never accept any man whom I do
not love."

"You put it--well, a trifle bluntly, Mademoiselle."

"I only speak the truth, quite openly and frankly," she responded, her
big serious eyes turned upon his.  "Would you have me accept, and
afterwards fool you!"

Her question--a somewhat disconcerting one--held him silent for some
moments.

"Remember, Aimee," he said at last, in a deep voice, "I have known you
ever since you were a tiny child.  I have watched you grow to become a
woman, and gradually I have realised that there is no woman in the whole
world whom I love--except your own dear self.  Can you doubt me?"

And with an earnest expression that was well feigned, he looked straight
into her pale, set countenance.

"No, m'sieur, I do not doubt you," was the girl's quiet response, and he
fancied he saw her trembling slightly.  "But when, the other day, you
asked if I could ever love you, I told you the bare truth--brutal as it
may have appeared.  Yet I am not mistress of my own heart, and I tell
you that I do not love you--I can never love you--_never_!"

"I am too old," he murmured bitterly.

"Not that," she responded, shaking her well-poised head.  "Age matters
nothing when a woman really loves."

"You love that man Edmond Valentin," he snapped, almost savagely.

She nodded in the affirmative, but no word escaped her lips.

Arnaud Rigaux set his teeth, and his fingers clenched themselves into
his palms.  But only for a second, and she, with her eyes cast down upon
the carpet, did not detect the fire of hatred which shone, for a second,
in his crafty, narrow-set eyes.

Next second his manner entirely changed.  He was one of those men whose
cunning enables them to conceal their feelings so cleverly that, while
they smile and hold out the hand of friendship, murder lurks within
their heart.  This attribute is, alas! one of the elements of success in
business in our modern days, and is a habit cultivated by the man whom
the world admires as "keen and smart."

"But, my darling?" he exclaimed, in a voice broken by an emotion which
was so cleverly feigned that it deceived even her woman's sharp
observance, "you do not know how very deeply I love you," he declared,
bending to her, and again trying to take her hand, which, however, she
again snatched away and placed behind her.  "All these years I have
watched you grow up, and I have longed and longed for the day when I
might beg of you to become my wife.  Think of what our marriage would
mean to you--to your father, the Baron, and to myself.  He and I,
united, could rule the whole finances of the nation; we could dictate
terms to the Chamber, and we should be the greatest power in Belgium--
next to his Majesty himself.  Surely your position as my wife would be
preferable to that of the wife of a poor struggling lawyer, however
estimable he may be."

She sat listening without interrupting him.  She had heard this man's
praises sung daily by her father for so long that at last they now fell
upon deaf ears.  She listened quite coldly to his outpourings, yet, at
the moment, she despised him in her innermost heart.

What Edmond had declared was the bare, naked truth.  Arnaud Rigaux was
only seeking to gain further personal riches and aggrandisement by doing
her the honour of offering her his hand in marriage.

Her anger arose within her as his words fell upon her ears.  She had not
been blind to his stealthy unscrupulousness, for she remembered how, on
one occasion, she had overheard her father upbraid him for participating
in some shady financial transaction with some electric tramways in
Italy, the details of which she, as a woman, had been unable to follow.
But her father's bitter words of reproach had been, to her,
all-sufficient.  The Baron had told him, openly and plainly, that he had
swindled the Italian company, and she had always remembered his
outspoken words.

The man seated before her suddenly rose, and unable to take her hand
because she was holding it behind her, placed his sensuous grasp upon
her shoulder, and bent in an attempt to kiss her.

She turned her head swiftly from his foetid breath.  It was nauseous.
It caused her a fierce revulsion of feeling.

She sprang up, her eyes aflame in an instant.

"M'sieur Rigaux!  This is intolerable!" she protested, drawing herself
up in proud defiance.  "I wish you to remember who I am, and further, I
wish you to go to my father and tell him, that no matter what may
happen, no matter what pressure he may place upon me, no matter if I die
unmarried, I will never become the wife of Arnaud Rigaux.  _You hear_!"

He drew back at this obstinate rebuff--he whose money bought women's
smiles from end to aid of Europe.

In a second he became apologetic.

"But, Mademoiselle, I--"

"Please leave this room," she ordered, very firmly.  "If not, I shall
ring for the servants.  Go!" and she pointed determinedly to the door.
"Go!  Describe this scene to my father, and tell him from me, once and
for all, that I love Edmond Valentin, and that I intend to marry him."

The man's loose lips hardened.  He murmured something which the girl
could not catch, but she saw in his eyes, for the first time, the light
of a fierce and terrible hatred, as he bowed stiffly, and, turning on
his heel, took his _conge_, and with a fierce imprecation upon his lips
strode out of the pretty, artistic room, wherein she stood, an imperious
and defiant figure, in the centre of the carpet.

CHAPTER FOUR.

THE MAN FROM COLOGNE.

Two hours later Arnaud Rigaux entered his small, well-furnished den in
the big house on the broad Boulevard de Waterloo, close to the medieval
Porte de Hal, that medieval castle-like structure, now the fine Musee
d'Armes, known to every traveller in Brussds.

Scarcely had he crossed the threshold when his man, a white-haired,
ultra respectable-looking valet, ushered in a rather stout, middle-aged
man of military bearing, with fair hair and blue-grey eyes.  He was
wearing a cap and a motor dust-coat.

"Ah! my dear Guillaume!  I must apologise," Rigaux said.  "I had no idea
you had been waiting for me."

"Your servant was unaware where you were.  We telephoned to a dozen
places.  I arrived from Cologne just after nine o'clock."

Rigaux glanced at the closed door rather apprehensively, and then in a
low voice asked:

"What does it all mean?"

"War," replied the other in a whisper.  "The Emperor is in Cologne in
secret.  I had audience with him at three o'clock, and he sent me to
you.  I have to return at once.  I was to tell you that his Majesty
wishes for your final report."

For a moment the financier's narrow eyes grew serious, and his lips
quivered.

"The reply from England has not yet been received," his visitor went on,
speaking in excellent French, though he was undoubtedly German.  "But
whatever it may be, the result will be the same.  Eight Army Corps are
moving upon the Luxembourg frontier.  They will soon be in Belgium.
What a surprise our big howitzers will be for the forts of Namur and
Liege--eh?"

And he laughed lightly, chuckling to himself.  Captain Wilhelm von
Silberfeld, of the famous Death's Head Hussars, was a trusted messenger
of the Kaiser, a man who had performed many a secret mission for his
Imperial Master.  He was attached to the General Staff in Berlin, and
for hours he had sat in the fast two-seated motor-car, travelling
swiftly over the hundred and sixty miles or so of long, straight white
roads which led from Cologne to the Belgian capital.

"In four days we shall be in Belgium," the German officer whispered.
"The Emperor, as you know, decided upon war three months ago, and ever
since we have been steadily and carefully making the final preparations.
What is the opinion here?"

"The Cabinet meets to-night.  The Government do not, even now, believe
that Germany really intends to defy Europe, and I, of course, have
endeavoured still to lull them to sleep," responded the financier.  "But
I have not been idle these past three days.  My reports are all
prepared.  The last was written at seven o'clock this evening."

And crossing to a big, heavy book-case, which occupied the whole of one
side of the room, he opened one of the glass doors.  Then, pulling
forward a section of the books which swung round upon a pivot, there was
disclosed the green-painted door of a safe, securely built into the
wall.  This he opened with a key upon his chain, and from a drawer took
out a large envelope filled with papers, which he handed to his visitor.

"All are here?" asked the other.

"Yes.  According to instructions I received by courier yesterday, I have
prepared the list of names of influential persons in Liege and Louvain--
the banks, and what cash I believe them to hold.  How are you proceeding
in Antwerp?"

"Antwerp is practically a German city.  We have, outside the city, six
concrete platforms ready for our big howitzers.  They were put down two
years ago by German residents in their gardens--for the English game of
tennis," and he laughed.  "Besides, we have three secret wireless
installations of wide range communicating with Nauen, as we also have
here in Brussels.  Is your wireless here in working order?"

"S-s-sh, my friend?"  Rigaux said warningly.  "I will send Michel out on
a pretext, and you shall see.  He is loyal, but I trust no man.  I never
let him know too much."

Then he rang, and his man, white-haired and humble, appeared.

"Michel, go down to the Grand Hotel at once and ask for Monsieur
Legrand.  Tell him I wish to see him.  If he will kindly come up here in
a taxi."

"_Bien, m'sieur_!" and the grave-faced servant bowed and withdrew.

A few moments later Arnaud Rigaux took from a drawer in his library
table an electric torch and led the way up the great wide staircase,
through his own bedroom, past a door into a smaller dressing-room, in
which was a huge mahogany wardrobe.  The door of this he opened, and
pushing the back outwards through a line of coats hanging there, a dark
opening was revealed.  Into this both men passed, finding themselves
upon a wooden flight of dusty stairs, up which they ascended for two
floors, until they arrived in a long, low attic, beneath the sloping
roof of which were suspended, upon porcelain insulators, many thin,
black-enamelled wires.

"Come!  You shall hear for yourself," Rigaux exclaimed; and passing
along to the gable-end of the main wall of the house, he paused before
two tables, upon which were set out a most complete set of wireless
instruments.

To the uninitiated eye those two tables were filled with a most
complicated assortment of weird electrical apparatus connected by
india-rubber covered wires.  To the expert, however, all was quite
clear.  On the one table stood a receiving-set of the latest pattern,
while upon the other was what is technically known as "a five kilowatt
set," which would transmit wireless messages as far as Nauen, the great
wireless station near Potsdam, and, indeed, over a radius of nearly a
thousand miles.  It was a Marconi set, not Telefunken.

Arnaud Rigaux seated himself upon a stool before the receiving-table,
while overhead, insulated from the rafters of the roof, were a hundred
bare copper wires strung across and across.  His example was followed by
Captain von Silberfeld, both clamping the double head-telephones over
their ears, listening.

Next instant both heard the buzzing ticks of wireless, so weird and
uncanny to those uninitiated.

"Da-de, Da-de-da.  Da-de, Da-de-da."

It was a call.  Then followed the code-letters, "B.B.N." with "B.Y.B."

"Hush!"  Rigaux exclaimed, glancing at the book at his elbow.  "The
British Admiralty station at Cleethorpes are calling the battleship
_London_."

The big wireless code-book--a book which could be bought in Berne for
five francs--lay open before him.  There was a quick response in the
'phones.

"The _London_ is off the west coast of Ireland," he remarked, bending
with interest.  "There's the reply.  Here is `London.'"

He touched the "tuner," one of the round ebonite handles upon a long
mahogany box, and next moment a little "click" of quite a different note
was heard in the head 'phones.

"Listen?"  Rigaux exclaimed, and then for a moment he was again all
attention.  "Marseilles is speaking to one of your North German Lloyd
liners on her way from Alexandria."  Then he paused.  "Are you satisfied
that I am leaving to your army a complete set, quite in working order--
eh?"

"Entirely.  Why, it is splendid," declared the captain, who, though he
had no expert knowledge of wireless, had seen quite enough to convince
him that the secret installation was practically perfect.  "This," he
added, "will surely be of great use to us before many weeks are over.
It is splendid!"

"Let us descend," Rigaux said.  "Michel may now be back.  This part of
the house is, of course, unknown to my servants."

When they were again back in the financier's snug little business-room,
wherein he received visitors privately, he asked earnestly:

"Tell me, Count, is all complete?"

"Everything.  We shall advance to-morrow, or next day.  We have
mobilised secretly, though Europe is in entire ignorance.  First Belgium
is to be occupied--then we shall cross to England.  Paris is only a
secondary affair.  London is our chief goal.  We shall crush for ever
the arrogant English with our Zeppelins and our submarines.  Oh! what an
unpleasant surprise they will have?" and he laughed.

"But you will not conquer Belgium--eh?"

"Not if she offers no defence.  If she does, then I tell you--in
confidence--the Kaiser means to sweep this country with fire and sword;
we shall wipe villages and towns completely out of existence, so as to
strike terror and horror into the heart of Europe.  War is war, you
know."

"Do you advise me to leave Brussels?"

"Well, not yet--wait and see.  Your safety is assured.  You already have
your safe-conduct, have you not?"

"That has already been arranged."

"His Majesty told me to give you his Imperial assurance.  The final
draft in your favour on the Dresdner Bank has been passed, and you will
receive it in due course, paid into your bank in London," replied the
German officer.

"But what do you advise me to do, my friend?  Remember, I may yet be
discovered as having assisted you.  And it will be awkward--very
awkward?"

"Remain here for a time, and then go back to the coast.  You can, as a
patriotic Belgian, always cross from Ostend to England as a wealthy
refugee--when the time arrives.  And that will not be very long, I
assure you," he added, with a grim smile.  "The brave Belgians have
to-day ended their career.  Our big howitzers will come along.  Pouf!
and Belgium is no more.  In a few days we shall be at the mouth of the
Scheldt, and at Ostend--in front of Dover.  Besides, our grand fleet of
Zeppelins are ready in their secret sheds.  Later, when Belgium is
devastated, they will glide forth for the conquest of our dear, sleepy
friends, the British--whom God preserve.  Meanwhile, we have a very
satisfactory army of secret agents over yonder making ready to undermine
any poor, puny defence that they--with all their vaunted might of
Empire--can possibly put up."

Both men laughed heartily as they stood there together, conversing in
low tones.

"The intention, then, is first to destroy Belgium?" asked Rigaux,
suddenly growing serious.

"Yes.  To seize this country, notwithstanding any defence which may be
offered.  The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg we shall only march through.
But the General Staff know that, in Belgium, there may be a desperate
resistance, if Britain--the broken reed--is to be relied upon.  Hence we
shall smash her--and Britain afterwards."

"But is Great Britain, with her splendid navy, really a broken reed?"
queried the financier very seriously.

"Personally, I do not at all agree.  I only tell you the declaration of
our General Staff."

"Britain has a very mysterious way of asserting her own superiority,"
said the banker, shaking his head dubiously.  "France is still, as she
has ever been, a nation of great emotions.  But Great Britain, with her
enormous Colonial possessions, her deep-seated loyalty, and her huge
wealth, is a tremendous power--a power which I believe the Kaiser has
never yet estimated at its true value."

"Bah! my dear Arnaud.  We, in Berlin, know all that is in progress.
Surely you must know, you must feel, the irresistible power of our
militarism--of our great and formidable war-machine.  Germany is the
greatest nation at war that the world has ever seen, and--"

"And England still rules the seas," interrupted the financier in a hard
voice.

"The seas!  Bah!" declared his dusty, travel-worn visitor.  "We shall
first win on land; then our grand fleet will face those overbearing
British.  We shall, like the Dutch, place a broom upon the mast-head of
the flag-ship of Grand Admiral von Tirpitz, and sweep the British clean
off the seas."

"You are optimistical--to say the least."

"I am, my dear Arnaud," he admitted, "because I, as one of the General
Staff, know what has been arranged, and what is intended.  I know the
great surprises we have in store for Europe--those great guns, which
will smash and pulverise to dust the strongest fortresses which man can
devise, and aircraft which will hurl down five tons of high explosive at
a time," he added, with an exultant laugh.  "But, I had almost
forgotten.  Have you had any report from our friend Van Meenen, in
Ostend?"

"It came yesterday, and is included in the papers you have there.  Our
friends in Liege have been warned, I suppose?"

"They have been warned to-day.  Doctor Wilberz, brave Belgian, of
course, has a secret wireless in his house, while sixty of our trusty
agents are living there, quite unsuspected."

"Wilberz was here in Brussels a month ago, and told me what he was
doing.  Truly the ring of forts will stand a very poor chance when you
make the attack."

"Belgium will never dare to resist, we feel sure," declared Captain von
Silberfeld.  "In a month the Crown Prince will enter Paris.  But I must
get away at once.  I have to be back in Cologne with the dawn.  The
Staff are awaiting your reports with eagerness, especially those upon
the financial position."

"I have supplied every detail," responded the banker.  "The position is
not good, and even my friend the Baron de Neuville cannot, I happen to
know, come to the rescue at the present moment."

"Good," exclaimed the Captain, dropping into German.  "Adieu!" he said,
placing the bulky envelope beneath his cotton dust-coat.  "What
excitement there is in the streets--eh?"

The banker laughed grimly.

"It will increase very soon, I suppose," he said.

"Yes," whispered the other, as they descended to the front entrance
together, where the long, powerful, low-built car stood with its glaring
headlights, in charge of a smart chauffeur, who saluted in military
fashion.  "Adieu, my dear Arnaud.  I must hasten," he whispered, "for
to-morrow's dawn will bring to us `The Day'!"

And with a triumphant wave of his hand he mounted beside the driver, and
a moment later the car moved swiftly and silently down the hill on its
long journey to the German frontier, carrying with it the final secret
report of the many made through the last ten years by the traitor Arnaud
Rigaux to the Prussian General Staff.

The man who had sold his country for German gold stood for a few seconds
watching the car disappear into the night, and then, as the roar of the
crowd making a demonstration before the French Consulate farther up the
Boulevard fell upon his ears, he turned, and with a bitter laugh of
triumph, went within and closed the great oaken door.

A silence fell.  No one was near.  Suddenly, a few moments later, the
dark figure of a man, who had evidently been watching the departure of
the car, as he stood back in the deep shadow of the trees in the centre
of the boulevard, emerged, crossed the road, and hurried down the hill
in the direction the car had taken.

CHAPTER FIVE.

BURSTING OF THE STORM.

A great, long, old-fashioned room with a rather low ceiling, across
which ran black oaken-beams, around were lancet windows, high and
narrow, with ancient leaded panes and green glass, the walls panelled
with rare but faded tapestries, the carpet dull and also faded, and the
heavy furniture genuinely Flemish of the sixteenth century.

On a long, padded seat in the recess of the central window, the depth of
which showed the great strength of the walls, Aimee de Neuville sat, her
white pointed chin resting upon her hand, gazing away over a marvellous
panorama of winding river and wooded slopes, the deep beautiful valley
of the Meuse, which lay far below that high-up chateau, once the
fortress of the robber-knights of Hauteroche.

The splendid old Chateau de Severac, standing as it did half-way between
quaint old-world Dinant, the resent of British tourists, and the French
frontier at Givet, commanded a wide sweep of the beautiful valley with
the blue, misty high-lands towards Luxembourg.  The great place with its
ponderous three-foot-thick walls, its round towers with slated roofs,
and its deep, cavernous dungeons with inscribed stones, dated from the
twelfth century, a fine feudal castle, which had played a leading part
in the history of the Meuse valley--indeed, in the history of Europe.
Built high upon its steep limestone cliff, around which the river swept
suddenly in a semicircle, it had, in the days of its builders, been a
fortress impregnable.  Its private chapel bore the arms of the
Knights-Templars, and in that very room, where the pale-faced young girl
sat, the Emperor Charles V had sat, after the capture of Metz in 1552.
A place full of historic memories, for the very walls spoke mutely of
those turbulent times, when that valley was the chief theatre of all the
fierce wars in Western Europe.

But the Knights of Hauteroche had defended it always from the attack of
their bitterest foes, until, in 1772, it had passed from their hands,
and having fallen to ruin, had, in the last days of the nineteenth
century, been acquired by the rich Baron de Neuville, who was reputed to
have spent half a million sterling upon its restoration, and a similar
sum in furnishing it just as it had been in the sixteenth century.

Few such splendid strongholds existed in Europe.  For years the Baron's
agents had travelled up and down the Continent with open commissions to
purchase antique furniture, tapestry, and armour of the period, with the
result that the castle was now unique.  Inside its courtyard one was at
once back in the days of the Emperor Charles V, the illusion being
complete, even to the great kitchen of the robber-knights, where, upon
the huge spit, an ox could be turned and roasted whole, so that the
retainers--the bowmen of the forest--could be regaled and rewarded after
their doughty exploits.

From every corner of the world, tourists--many of them loud-speaking
Americans with their red-bound Baedekers--craved of the Baron's
major-domo, a vinegar-faced Frenchman, permission to pass through the
splendid apartments, and when "the family" were not in residence,
permission was generally accorded, for--as with all financiers, from
Twickenham to Timbuctoo--the Baron, in secret, liked to be talked about.
Indeed, the late King Leopold, who had on several occasions stretched
his long legs in that room wherein Aimee now sat, had declared that the
view from the window up the river to be one of the finest in all Europe.

Looking up the peaceful valley, where the Meuse wound far below in the
August sunshine, there lay on the right bank grey rugged rocks
descending sheer into the water green and deep, making a sudden bend;
while on the left lay green pastures and spreading woodlands, with range
upon range of hills away to the blue haze of the frontier of France.
Beside the river, the road followed like a white ribbon along its bank,
and upon it the dusty old post-diligence, with its four weedy horses and
its jingling bells, was travelling, just as it had travelled for two
centuries past.  Truly that reach of the Meuse was the most rural,
peaceful, and picturesque spot in all the Ardennes, and little wonder
was it, indeed, that the Baron de Neuville, when the great ruined castle
had been offered for sale, had immediately purchased it, and renovated
it to its present perfect state.

"I can't think why father should have made us come here just in these
troublous times," the girl exclaimed petulantly to her mother, a grave,
white-haired, well-preserved lady in black, who, seated at the farther
end of the room, was busy with her fancy needlework.  And then the girl
beat an impatient tattoo upon one of the small leaded window-panes with
the tips of her slim white fingers.

"Your father thinks it is more pleasant for us here than in Brussels
just now, with all the silly excitement in progress, my dear," the
Baroness replied.  "I have just had a telegram.  He will be here
to-night."

"Does he give any further news of the situation?"

"None."

"But when we left in the car yesterday, it was believed that we might be
at war at any moment," the girl said.

Her mother, a calm-faced, rather stout woman, and typically Belgian,
sighed deeply.

"What will happen we cannot tell, my girl."

"But if the Germans come, what shall we do?" queried Aimee, for she was
thinking of Edmond, from whom she had had a hastily scribbled letter
that morning.  He had rejoined his regiment as _sous-officier_, and he
said they expected to leave that day for the frontier.

"Do?" echoed the Baroness.  "Why, nothing.  They will simply march along
the valley down yonder, and we shall be quite safe up here.  The Germans
are, after all, men of culture.  They are gentlemen."

As she spoke, Melanie, Aimee's French maid, entered the room, saying:

"A gentleman wishes to speak to M'sieur le Baron on the telephone.  Will
you speak, Mademoiselle?" she asked.

"Who is he?"

"The name he gave was Huart, Mademoiselle."

"Huart," exclaimed the Baroness.  "That is surely the name of the
manager of the Sirault Ironworks at Liege.  Go and speak to him, Aimee."

The girl descended to her father's small business-room situated in the
base of one of the round-slated turrets of the castle, and took up the
telephone-receiver from the table.

"Hello?" she asked.

"Is the Baron there?" demanded a man's rough voice.

"No, m'sieur.  But I am Mademoiselle de Neuville.  Can I give him any
message?  He is in Brussels, and will, I think, be here this evening."

"I am Huart, speaking from the works at Liege.  War has broken out."

"War?" gasped the girl, holding her breath.

"Yes.  Eighty thousand Germans are advancing towards the river, and we
are already defending Liege against them.  Terrible fighting is taking
place.  Hark!  Listen to our forts!  Can you hear?"

The girl listened, and for the first time heard the thunder of war--a
dull, low roar in the receiver.

"That was one of the big guns in Fort Loncin, General Leman is defending
the city, but the Germans are burning all the villages around.  From my
window here I can see the smoke across the river."

"Oh! this is awful!" the girl cried.  "I will telephone to my father and
tell him--if I can find him."

"Yes, Mademoiselle--tell him that I fear the worst.  The first reports
of the enemy reached here at dawn, and Liege seems to swarm with German
spies.  A dozen or so were caught signalling to the enemy with flags
from the tops of high houses.  They have all been shot--outside here,
against the wall."

"They were not Belgians."

"They posed as such.  One of them was one of my foremen.  I always
believed him to be a Belgian.  It is a revelation, Mademoiselle."

"But can the Germans enter the city?"

"No, Mademoiselle.  Last night all the bridges over the river were
destroyed."

And then, even as she listened, a dull roar fell upon her ear.  It was
Fort Loncin speaking again with its steel throat.

"Please tell the Baron that I shall remain here pending further
instructions from the company.  We shall hold out here.  Soldiers are
pouring into the town.  The first regiment of the Guides, and the
second, fourth, and eighth Chasseurs-a-pied passed here early this
morning, having come poste-haste from Brussels.  They have gone along
the river-bank.  Liege will not suffer much, but the country around is
already in flames.  It is terrible, Mademoiselle--_terrible_!"

The eighth regiment of Chasseurs-a-pied!  Then Edmond Valentin was
already at the front!  He was with them, along the river-bank!

"But are they killing people?" asked the girl, in frantic excitement.

"I fear they are, Mademoiselle," replied the voice, dying away slowly,
and being succeeded by a loud electrical buzzing.  "Reports have just
come in that at Vise and Argenteau some townspeople fired at the
soldiers, and in consequence the Germans are killing them, and burning
down the houses.  It is awful."

"But that can't really be true," she cried, "The Germans are surely not
savages like that!"

"I fear that the reports are only too true, Mademoiselle.  One came over
the telephone from the Burgomaster of Cheratte, close to Argenteau.  As
an eye-witness of fearful atrocities, he reported them to the Prefect,
with a request that they be immediately transmitted to the Minister of
Justice, in Brussels."

"But it seems utterly incredible," the girl declared.  "As incredible as
the swarms of spies here in the town.  To-day, one does not know enemy
from friend!  But please tell your father that I will speak to him this
evening--if the wires are not cut.  They are already cut to Maastricht,
Verviers, and Aix."

"Yes, do ring us up, m'sieur, and tell us what is happening," implored
the girl.  "Tell me what the Eighth Chasseurs are doing, and where they
are.  Will you, please?  I have a friend in them--an officer."

"Certainly, Mademoiselle, I will do what I can, and--_Mon Dieu_!"

The voice broke off short.

"M'sieur!  M'sieur Huart!  Hello!--hello?" cried the girl in wonder and
apprehension.

There was no response, only a slight buzz.  She replaced the receiver
upon the Instrument, and turned the handle quickly.  Then she listened
again.  All was silence.

"Hello! hello?" she called.  "Hello, Liege!  Hello, Liege!"

The wire was dead--cut, perhaps by a German shell!

Again and yet again she tried to obtain response to her call.

Their nearest exchange was that at Dinant.

"Hello, Dinant!  _Dinant_!" she kept repeating.  "_Hello, Dinant_!"

But from Dinant there was no reply.

Upon her the blow had fallen.  Edmond, so manly and brave, was already
at the front--one of the first to go forth against the giant invader of
their gallant little nation.  Those words from her father's employe in
Liege had conveyed volumes to her.

War was no longer an eventuality.  It was a fact.  Already the Kaiser
was hurling his legions of Pikelhauben westwards towards the sea.  The
Teutons had burst their bonds, and Edmond's prophesy had, alas! proved
only to be true.  The ambitious Kaiser meant war--war at all hazards and
at all costs, in order to retain his imperial crown, and in order to
justify, with his clamorous people, his title of the great War Lord of
the twentieth century and ruler of the world.

But there had been many War Lords in the world ages before him--Rameses,
Herod, Caesar, Attila, and Napoleon.  After all, the Kaiser, surrounded
by his disgracefully degenerate camarilla, was but a pinchbeck edition
of Bonaparte; a monarch who, while holding the outstretched hand of
friendship to Great Britain, had been hourly plotting to conquer her.
The quintessence of treachery, the zenith of personal egotism existed,
with the wildest dreams of avarice, in the heart of that deformed
monarch, who was as warped in his brain as in his body.  In his gaudy
tinsel, and in all his panoply of uniform, and his tin crosses which he
believed to be iron, he was but the pliable puppet of the degenerates of
Potsdam.  He believed himself to be the Sword of God--as he had insanely
declared to his troops--and stood as the idol of the people of "kultur"
yet tottering upon his pedestal.

His fierce antagonism towards civilisation, as opposed to the Prussian
militarism, had been betrayed by his undying words, which would live in
history through the ages.  The fierce War Lord, in his pitiable
arrogance, had actually incited his troops to murder and debauchery by
the words he had spoken--words that would be for ever registered against
him upon his downfall:

"When you meet the foe you will defeat him," he had said.  "No quarter
will be given, no prisoners will be taken.  Let all who fall into your
hands be at your mercy.  Gain a reputation like the Huns under Attila."
That reputation was, apparently, what his hordes were achieving in the
burning of Vise and Argenteau.  Attila, in his expedition across Greece,
reduced seventy of the finest cities to smoking ruins and shambles.  He
was the black demon of ruin and destruction, and this modern
murder-Monarch of the Huns, if that report over the telephone be true,
was emulating the blood-guilty ruffian.

Pale and breathless, Aimee de Neuville rushed up the great staircase to
relate to her mother the appalling news that Germany had, at last, swept
down upon peaceful little Belgium with fire and sword.

The war-cloud had burst!  The Kaiser, in his eagerness to plunge Europe
into blood, had not waited for Great Britain's reply.  His lustful,
grey-coated hordes of braided Uhlans, infantry and artillery, with all
their endless streams of lumbering guns, heavy waggons, motor-cars, and
loaded motor-lorries, had crossed the frontier, and with the fierceness
of hell-hounds let loose, were already sweeping the valley of that
peaceful-flowing river which wound below the great Chateau de Severac.

War!  _War_!  WAR!

The girl, pale and excited, held her breath as she placed her thin,
trembling fingers upon the handle of the door of that room wherein her
mother sat in calm ignorance of the awful truth.

War!  _War_!  WAR!

And Edmond, the man whom she loved, the man whose last final kiss she
still felt upon her brow, had marched into Liege with his regiment, to
face the treacherous Germans, to fight for home and freedom, and to stem
the great oncoming Teuton tide.

Should she tell the Baroness the truth?

For a second the girl, pale with agitation, hesitated.  The awfulness of
such sudden news might unnerve her.  She had a weak heart.

No.  She would conceal her knowledge of the awful fact.

She drew a deep breath and, opening the door, entered smiling, as she
exclaimed with a wonderfully careless and nonchalant air:

"Oh! the man only wants to talk to father on business, I told him he
would be here to-night to dinner."

CHAPTER SIX.

IN THE TRENCHES BEFORE LIEGE.

At that same moment when Aimee had listened to the dread news over the
telephone, Edmond Valentin, in the uniform of a _sous-officier_ of
Chasseurs-a-pied, in his heavy dark-green overcoat and peaked shako,
with his bulging haversack upon his back, was kneeling in a hastily dug
trench firing steadily across the broad sunlit river, which lay deep in
its valley.

On the opposite bank ran the railway from Liege, across the Dutch
frontier to Maastricht, and from beyond the line there appeared all
along, for miles, light puffs of smoke which betrayed the position of
the enemy, who had crossed those picturesque green hills of the
frontier, and who were endeavouring to force a passage across the Meuse.

On the right, over the hills where the river wound, could be heard the
loud roar of the German guns which had been brought up against Liege,
while from the left came the eternal rattle of the machine-guns.  In
that trench, before which the river and the canal ran parallel, the men
on either ride of Edmond uttered no word.  They were silent, firing with
regularity, fascinated by the novel scene.  Most of them had played the
war-game at the annual manoeuvres, when one stood up in trenches and
laughed in the face of blank cartridge.  Yet here was real war.  Already
more than one of their comrades had fallen on their faces struck by
German bullets, and not far away a shell had just burst behind one of
their machine-guns.

The din and rattle of it all struck a strange, uncanny note upon that
quiet countryside.

For nearly half an hour Edmond had been plugging away with his men, when
of a sudden a machine-gun section ran up close to them.  Room was made
in the trench, and the gun, carried in parts by half a dozen sturdy
soldiers, was quickly assembled.

Then, the belt of cartridges having been adjusted, at the word of
command the terrible engine of destruction suddenly spat its hail of
death across the river.

The _onder-officier_ with the gun laughed gaily to Edmond, saying in
Flemish:

"Our friends yonder will not like this--eh?"

"_Oy hebt gelyk_," (you are right), laughed Edmond.  "But see over
there!  What is that smoke; there--away to the left?"

"That is Vise," was the reply, shouted above the rattle of the
machine-gun.  "The enemy must have set the place on fire--the brutes!
Look?"

And as both watched they saw a great column of black smoke rising slowly
into the clear, cloudless sky.

"If they cross at the bridge there they will have the road open to them
to Tongres and St Trond--the main road to Brussels.  I suppose we are
defending it," said the _onder-officier_, a man with a red moustache.

"_Ja_!  Let's hope so," said Edmond, raising his Mauser rifle
mechanically again, and discharging the five cartridges from its
magazine.

At that instant the trench was suddenly swept by a perfect hail of lead
from across the river, while from over the heights beyond came a Taube
aeroplane, which noisily buzzed as it rose higher and higher, and then,
out of range, made a complete circle, in order to reconnoitre the
defenders' position.  Dozens of men in the trenches raised their rifles
and fired at it.  But it had already risen high out of harm's way, and
gaily it circled round and round over the line of the Meuse, noting all
the Belgian positions on the north bank of the river, and signalling to
the enemy from time to time.

The spot where Edmond was stationed with his regiment was situated about
eight miles from Liege, and one from Vise.  Just to his right was a
bridge, which the Belgians had not destroyed, and which the enemy were
now protecting from destruction by means peculiar to the "blonde beasts"
of the Kaiser.

Placed upon it were two big furniture-vans, which had been hastily
daubed in the Belgian colours--red, black, and yellow.  And these were
filled with Belgian soldiers, prisoners in German hands.  By adopting
these dastardly methods, they knew that the defenders would not shell
the bridge and destroy it.

Edmond's regiment did not present any picture of uniformity.  Some men
about him were dressed in the military fashion of thirty years ago--caps
with enormous peaks, and wide-flowing capes covering green and yellow
uniforms--while others, including himself, were in the dark-green modern
uniform which has lately been adopted, and had been served out to those
who had hurriedly rejoined the colours.  While the enemy were all in the
new service kit of greenish-grey cloth, which at a distance was
exceedingly difficult to distinguish--with heavy leather boots reaching
half-way up their calves--the Belgians marched in garments of all
colours, from the sombre black of the carabineers to the bright
amaranthe and green of the Guides.

In war some curious sights are seen in the trenches.  Close to where
Valentin was crouching there knelt a smart lancer, with a basket
containing carrier-pigeons strapped to his back like a knapsack.  Amid
the roar and din the poor birds fluttered about restlessly inside their
_cage_, eager to escape to their homes.  But if the brave little Belgian
nation lacked uniforms and accoutrements, it never lacked courage.  All
was a hubbub of hope, and a talk of victory.

"_A bas les Alboches_!"

"_Vive la guerre_!" had been shouted from Ostend to Givet, and the
spirits of the nation--soldiers and civilians alike--were of the
highest, for now that England had declared war, Belgium was fighting the
battles of two great nations, France and Britain.

Both French and British soldiers would soon come to their aid, if they
could only hold out.

"They will never silence our forts at Liege," declared the lancer with
the pigeons.  But just as he uttered the words, Edmond Valentin heard a
sound like the shrill yell of a small dog in the distance, and the next
second there occurred near them a terrific explosion.

The deadly German artillery were getting the range!

Again and again came the familiar yell, followed by the inevitable
crash.  A dozen or so men were lying about him, shattered, dead, or
dying.

But the pom-pom continued to deal death, slackening only now and then
when a fresh belt was adjusted.

Adding to the roar of heavy guns, and quite close to them, lay the
hidden fort of Pontisse, while forts Barchon, Evegnee, and Fleron, on
the heists across the river, were thundering and dealing death in the
enemy's ranks.  Behind them, to the left, lay three other forts--Liers,
Lanlin, and Loncin--defending the city of Liege, and forming a further
portion of the ring.

Time after time their huge guns roared, and the very earth quaked.  Time
after time the enemy across the river were decimated by the terrible
fire.

Then, every now and then, the ear was deafened by the loud crackling of
musketry, which sounded like the loading of granite blocks into a cart.
They were of two pitches, the deeper from the rifles of the infantry,
and the sharper from the cavalry carbines.  And above it all--above the
constant explosions of shrapnel--sounded the regular pom-pom-pom-pom,
steady as the tick of a rapid clockwork motor--adding to the deadly fire
now sweeping the valley for nearly twenty miles.

Edmond, quite cool and determined, lay there firing away in the
direction of the little puffs of grey smoke, which were hardly
distinguishable behind the distant railway line.  It was his first
experience of being under fire, and after the first few minutes he grew
quite unconcerned, even though he saw that many of his comrades had,
alas! been bowled over.  The primeval fury of the male beast bent on
fighting, which seizes every man who is called upon to defend his life,
had also seized him.

"They say that the French will be at Liege to-night," remarked the
_onder-officier_ with the red moustache, in charge of the machine-gun.
"If they are, we will teach those German brutes a lesson.  We will--"

Next instant he reeled and fell forward upon his face.  A bullet
entering his jaw had passed through his head, carrying with it a large
piece of his skull.  Death had been instantaneous.  With hope of victory
upon his lips the brave fellow had passed, in a single second, into that
land which lies beyond the human ken.

The four Chasseurs serving the gun stopped and turned him over, but saw
at once that he no longer lived.

A few seconds later Edmond heard sharp words of command from his
lieutenant, who had crawled along to him, and in obedience he ceased
firing his Mauser, took the dead man's place and assumed charge of the
machine-gun, which, within another half-minute, was continuing its work,
while the body of the _onder-officier_ was dragged aside.

"Curse the grey devils!  They shall pay for that!" cried one of the men
fiercely.

Just then, however, there came a lull in the firing.  The shells had
ceased, and the enemy was slackening in his attack all along the line.

Was the fight subsiding?

A dull, distant roar was heard from Boncelles, where the steel cupolas
were rising, and the big guns hurling death at the grey hordes of the
Kaiser, and then disappearing.  Then silence.

Suddenly another loud crackling of rifles, and again Edmond's pom-pom
recommenced its rapid rhythmic rattle.

More Mausers crackling, the shrill yell of a shell passing over them,
and then a blood-red explosion some distance behind them.

Another shouted word of command, and the whole line of rifles were again
discharged.  It seemed almost as a signal for the fight to recommence,
for next moment the attack was renewed with redoubled vigour.

The short, sharp reports of the enemy's artillery reverberated along the
valley, and shells were now exploding unpleasantly near the trenches.

"I thought they had had enough," growled one of the men to Edmond, in
French, "but it seems they haven't.  _Bien_, we will show the Kaiser and
his brigands that we mean defiance.  See, over there, m'sieur!  They are
burning Vise, and Argenteau too!  I lived in Vise when a boy.  My sister
is there now--unless she has escaped into Holland.  I pray to God the
poor girl has done so."

"I sincerely hope she has," Edmond declared.  "It surely is no place for
a woman down yonder."

"_Ah, mon vieux_, they've been killing women and children, the savages,"
growled another man with set teeth, as he took out a fresh belt of
cartridges.  "I heard so as we came along from Liege.  But I can't
believe it to be true.  The Germans are surely not savages, but a
cultured race."

"Culture?" snapped the first man, a somewhat rough, uncouth fellow,
plainly of the peasant class.  "If they were cultured, as it is said,
they would not burn those undefended villages yonder, and massacre the
inhabitants as they are doing.  It is horrible--awful!"

"Ah, but the massacres are only hearsay," Edmond remarked.

"No.  One man, an eye-witness, has escaped from Vise.  He swam the
river, told the terrible truth, and the report was telephoned this
morning to Brussels.  I overheard our captain tell the major as we were
on the march here.  The Germans have shot down dozens of men and women,
and even little children.  Some of them have been deliberately burned
alive in their homes.  That, m'sieur, is the way Germany makes war!  But
surely that is not war--it is savage butchery, m'sieur.  Culture, bah!"

And the man bent again to his gun.

Could those brave Belgians have seen what was, at that moment, happening
in those unoffending villages about them, they would surely have left
their trenches and, even regardless of the pitiless fire of the enemy,
dashed to the rescue of the poor unoffending inhabitants.  On that warm,
bright sunlit August day, whole villages were being put to the sword by
the ruthless soldiery of the Kaiser, upon the flimsy pretext that the
villagers, being non-combatants, had fired upon the troops.  Yet the
truth came out that such massacres of the inhabitants were actually part
of the general plan of campaign.  The Kaiser had ordered those
cold-blooded atrocities for purely strategical considerations.  They
were not merely the riotous and isolated outbursts of marauding and
buccaneering soldiers, but were ordered by Imperial command.

Over there, among those green hillsides sloping to the river, the
Teutonic wave had burst its bounds.  Fiendish tortures were being
inflicted on helpless old men, women, and children.  Peaceful villagers
were hanged to trees, sometimes stark naked, and their bodies riddled by
bullets.  Innocent children were savagely sabred by German officers who,
only a week before, were strutting in civilised drawing-rooms, the
scented and elegant darlings of the ladies of Berlin.

At that hour, while Edmond Valentin crouched beside his newly acquired
pom-pom, pouring a deadly fire away across the river, there were being
enacted scenes of outrage, plunder, and massacre too terrible even to
bear description--scenes in which blood-guilty ruffians of the great War
Lord of Germany performed their grim and terrible work, a work so
dastardly and inhuman as to have no parallel; atrocious acts actually
ordered by the officers themselves, and which would for ever be handed
down in history as an indelible blot upon the escutcheon of those
blasphemous and barbarous brigands who loved to call their country the
Fatherland.

That strip of green, smiling, undulating country between the German
frontier and the Meuse, dotted by small prosperous villages, many of
them filled by factory-hands and work-people, was that day swept by the
fierce fiery hurricane of war, and so suddenly had it all come upon them
that most of the people had not had time to realise what war meant ere
they found the swaggering Uhlans clattering up the streets, shouting at
and insulting the inhabitants, shooting down men, women, and children,
and laughing heartily at the panic which their appearance caused.

From where Edmond Valentin was posted he could only see the columns of
black smoke as it rose steadily from the farms and villages now burning
in all directions.  He, like nearly everyone else, disbelieved the
stories of murder and mutilation, for they were really in credible.
Surely the Kaiser would never treat little Belgium in such a manner
after his Empire solemnly guaranteeing its neutrality!

If so, of what use were treaties?  Why should anybody's signature be
honoured further, either in business or in social life?

Bang!  There was a blood-red flash, the air was filled with blue-grey
smoke and a poisonous odour which made one's eyes smart.  For a second,
Edmond was staggered by the terrible force of the concussion, for he had
been dealt a blow from behind which sent him reeling forward heavily.
The air was filled with flying fragments, and he held his breath.  It
was as though an earthquake had occurred.

Then, when the smoke cleared, he saw a dozen of his comrades lying
shattered about him, including two of the men at his gun.  Not far away
the scorched grass had been torn up, and a great hole showed in the
brown earth.

He set his teeth, and bent over the two fallen men.  One had been
wounded in the stomach by a fragment of the shell, and was writhing on
the ground in his death agony, uttering fearful curses upon the enemy
and the Kaiser in particular; while the other, after a final convulsive
shudder which shook his whole frame and told its own tale to anybody who
had been under fire in battle, turned slowly over and then lay quite
still.

The shell alas! had only been too truly placed, for not only were a
dozen brave fellows lying shattered, but a splinter had also struck the
breech of Edmond's gun, and it had jammed in consequence.

When serving before with the Chasseurs he had been in charge of a
machine-gun, and hence was thoroughly familiar with its mechanism.
Therefore, quite calmly, as though no fight were in progress, he quickly
unscrewed the parts, discovered that a pin was bent and knocked it
straight, and within five minutes the pom-pom was again pouring forth,
its rain of lead sweeping to and fro across the railway line opposite.

Suddenly, with a roar and flash, another earthquake occurred.  The air
instantly became filled with black acrid smoke and flying fragments of
shell from one of the enemy's howitzers beyond the hills, and at that
moment the trench became a perfect inferno, for deadly shells were
falling upon it, and dozens of Edmond's comrades were being maimed or
killed on every hand.

As the smoke cleared slightly he bent again to sight the gun, when his
eye caught the bridge below, whereon the dastardly enemy had placed that
vanload of brave Belgians as a parti-coloured screen.

Just as he looked, he saw a shell, fired deliberately by a German
gunner, strike the van, explode, and next second there remained only a
heap of wreckage, among which the twenty poor fellows who had been
imprisoned in it were lying heaped, dead and dying, some of them
shattered out of all recognition.

"The murderers!" cried Edmond, while his men, who also noticed what had
happened, loudly cursed the ruthless barbarians with whom they now found
themselves confronted.

Bang!  The explosion was deafening.  Edmond again felt the concussion
where he was crouching.  It knocked his shako aside, and for a second he
believed he had been hit.  Yet, by a miracle, he was unharmed.

Next second an order was shouted--the order to retire!

The Germans, now using their artillery and shelling the Belgian
trenches, were advancing.  They were crossing the bridge below, and a
pontoon section had already begun its work under fire.

Bang!  Bang!  Bang!

Shells were falling thickly now.  Their defence had, alas! been all in
vain.  Edmond heard the order shouted in Flemish.

"_Vlucht!  Vlucht_!" shouted the lieutenant.  Edmond stood for a second
like a man in a dream.  The earth everywhere was being whipped by
bullets.

Then he directed his men to dismantle the gun and, two others helping,
each quickly shouldering a piece, the little party made off with the
Chasseurs over the crest of the hill and down the other side, leaving
behind them, alas! many hundreds of their poor comrades.

Bang!  Yet another shell fell, rending a great hole in the trench at the
very spot where, only a few moments before, Edmond Valentin's gun had
been standing.

CHAPTER SEVEN.

IN THE EAGLE'S CLAWS.

Two days later the Sixth Brigade, to which the Eighth Chasseurs
belonged, had been christened by the men "The Flying Column," for it had
been designed to support the other brigades in action.  Since their
retreat from the Meuse, Edmond Valentin had marched with his regiment
hither and thither; marched until he was footsore, with few intervals of
rest, sometimes engaging the enemy, and then moving forward again to
some new position, blindly, but with the knowledge that it was upon some
general, previously conceived plan.

War is truly a strange experience.  The mere man in the fighting-line
shoots in a trench, lies low, smokes a cigarette and chaffs his
comrades, shoots again, then advances--or retreats, as the case may be.
Rumours pass from mouth to mouth of success or of defeat; he knows not
which is the truth.  Retire or advance, what does it matter?  If one
retires it is for strategic purposes; if one advances it does not mean
victory.  Edmond Valentin, _sous-officier_ of infantry, was but a mere
little pawn in that colossal game of world-power.

They had made a great detour around Liege, behind the forts of Lanlin,
Loncin, and Flemalle, and as the fighting had now become intense near
Fort Boncelles, they had been called up to assist the attacked brigade.

It was night when they reached the little village of Esneux, prettily
situated on the river.  On the previous day the place had been occupied
by the Germans under Von Emmich, but the big guns from Boncelles had
been turned upon them, and the Bavarians had been compelled to evacuate
the place, not, however, before they had driven out the poor frightened
inhabitants and sacked it.  But the heavy shell-fire from the Boncelles
fort had wrecked the town and set fire to it, so that when the Chasseurs
arrived they found it only a heap of still smoking ruins.

About nine o'clock that evening Edmond's company took up a position in a
dark wood close to an old ruined chateau above the burnt-out village,
but presently, with about thirty others, he was ordered out to the edge
of the wood where the highroad ran to Liege.  Once there, every one of
them was left to his own thoughts, and Edmond, having fixed his gun in
position in a ditch well covered behind a wall, sat back with his men,
lit a cigarette and reflected.

He was thinking of Aimee, as he thought of her always every hour,
wondering whether she had fled from Belgium, now that invasion was an
accomplished fact.  That day the wildest rumours had reached them--
rumours of German successes everywhere, save at Liege.  It was declared,
from mouth to mouth, that the French had been driven back all along the
line, and that the enemy were already marching through Holland on to
Antwerp--German-made lies which were, later on, proved to have been
circulated to create panic.

As they waited there, gazing anxiously across the river where blood-red
glares showed away in the distance--farms and homesteads fired
deliberately by the Uhlans--the moon rose brightly in the clear sky.
Now and then could be heard the distant rumble of heavy artillery, while
at infrequent intervals the forts of Embourg across the river and
Boncelles on their left roared forth, showing sharp, angry flashes in
the night.

Close by where Edmond had taken up his position was a small stone-built
hut, roofless and in ruins; but upon its walls he noticed that a big
white paper had been pasted.

He strode up to it, and in the moonlight examined it.  The poster was
one of the enemy's proclamations which had been printed in Berlin in
readiness months before, and he read as follows:

  AU PEUPLE BELGE!

  C'est a mon plus grand regret que les troupes Allemandes se voient
  forcees de franchir la frontiere de la Belgique.  Elles agissant sous
  la contrainte d'une necessite inevitable la neutralite de la Belgique
  ayant ete deja violee par des officiers francais qui, sous un
  deguisement, aient traverse le territoire belge en automobile pour
  penetrer en Allemagne.

  Belges!  C'est notre plus grand desir qu'il y ait encore moyen
  d'eviter un combat entre deux peuples qui etaient amis jusqu'a
  present, jadis meme allies.  Souvenez vous au glorieux jour de
  Waterloo ou c'etaient les armes allemandes qui ont contribue a fonder
  et etablir l'independance et la prosperite de votre patrie.

  Mais il nous faut le chemin libre.  Des destructions de ponts, de
  tunnels, de voies ferrees devront etre regardees comme des actions
  hostiles.  Belges, vous avez a choisir.

  J'espere donc que l'Armee allemande de la Meuse ne sera pas contrainte
  de vous combattre.  Un chemin libre pour attaquer celui qui voulait
  nous attaquer, c'est tout ce que nous desirons.

  Je donne des garanties formelles a la population belge qu'elle n'aura
  rien a souffrir des horreurs de la guerre; que nous payerons en
  monnaye les vivres qu'il faudra prendre du pays; que nos soldats se
  montreront les meilleurs amis d'un peuple pour lequel nous eprouvons
  la plus haute estime, la plus grand sympathie.

  C'est de votre sagesse et d'un patriotisme bien compris qu'il depend
  d'eviter a votre pays les horreurs de la guerre.

  Le General Commandant en Chef l'Armee de la Meuse!

  Von Emmich.

It was a proclamation which was now posted everywhere, not only in the
districts occupied by the Germans, but it had also been secretly affixed
to walls by spies in Liege, Louvain, Charleroi, and even in Brussels
itself.  By it, the Germans were hoping to secure the allegiance of the
Belgian people.

While this proclamation expressed regret that the German troops found
themselves obliged to cross the Belgian frontier, it pointed out that
only necessity compelled them to do so because French officers had
violated Belgian territory by crossing from France into Germany by
motor-cars.  A poor excuse surely for the burning and sacking of all
those little undefended frontier towns--Vise, Argenteau, Soumagne,
Poulseur, and the rest.

"Belgians?" it went on.  "It is our great desire that there may still be
means to avoid a combat between two peoples who were friends until now,
and were formerly even allies.  Remember the glorious day of Waterloo,
where fought the German armies who contributed to found and establish
the independence and prosperity of your country.

"But we must have an open road.  Any destruction of bridges, tunnels, or
railways must be regarded as hostile actions.  Belgians, it is for you
to choose!

"I hope, then, that the German army of the Meuse will not be compelled
to wage war with you.  An open way to attack those who wish to attack
us: that is all we desire.

"I give these formal guarantees to the Belgian population: that it will
suffer nothing from the horrors of war; that we will pay in gold for the
provisions that we find necessary to take from your country; that our
soldiers will show themselves to be the best friends of a people for
whom we cherish the highest esteem and the greatest sympathy.

"By your wisdom and patriotism, which we fully recognise, your country
will be spared the horrors of war.

"General Commander-In-Chief of the Army of the Meuse,--

"Von Emmich."

And yet the poor inhabitants of Vise had been outraged and shot by the
Kaiser's unrestrained savages!  In all those villages lying across the
rippling Ourthe and the broad Meuse, the treatment of the inoffensive
civilians had been ruthless and merciless.  Removal from the face of the
earth--a favourite phrase of the Germans themselves--was, from the
first, the invader's idea of how best to deal with the unarmed,
unoffending villagers, the only crime of whose hard-working people was
that they had fallen in the path of the blasphemous Prussian militarism.

A private who was reading the proclamation remarked to Edmond:

"What trickery--eh?  I hear that the Uhlans yesterday shot the
Burgomaster of Esneux, over yonder, and propped his body against a wall
all day as a warning--because he had carried a revolver.  Thirty men
were afterwards shot in the Place without any trial whatever, and women
and children were outraged and bayoneted and their bodies flung into the
river.  Our women, they say, are being treated infamously, and all the
possessions of the villagers are being destroyed.  May God curse those
Germans!"

"Yes," replied the _sous-officier_, and as he turned away with a sigh a
red light behind the hill gradually appeared, and then quickly grew
brighter.  "There is another village on fire, over there.  I suppose the
Uhlans will drive our people to reprisals so that excuse for further
cruelty may be found."

"And yet they post up this proclamation!" cried the man in Flemish, and
with the point of his bayonet he succeeded in tearing holes in the
notice, and eventually mutilated and obliterated it, saying:

"Death to the Alboches!  Death to the Kaiser's murderers and brigands!
After all, the Emperor who makes war upon women and children is only a
brigand, just like those in Sicily.  Surely a prize should be offered
for his head!"

Just as the man spoke they both saw, in the distance, sudden little red
flashes, which told that the troops were vomiting death upon the enemy
again, so they dashed back to their ditch, while in the trees above them
could already be heard the "phit" of the enemy's bullets as they struck
the branches.

Ere a few moments the order was given to fire, and quickly Edmond's
pom-pom again began its regular spitting of death, whilst on the flank
their invisible batteries also opened fire with destructive shrapnel.

The night grew darker, and the moon became, for a time, obscured behind
a bank of swiftly-drifting cloud.  In the distance the fires lit up the
battle scene with a red, sinister glare, while, far away upon the hills
on the right, could be seen moving masses of Belgian soldiers, a Dantean
vision of hell, and whilst the men lay in their shallow ditch firing
away with monotonous regularity, bullets were whistling past, striking
the trees, or flattening themselves with muffled noise in the earth.

The fight was a hot one.  In front were the millions of the Kaiser,
oncoming like a great irresistible tide, yet the gallant little Belgian
army, which for years had been jeered at by every Frenchman, soldier or
civilian, as a comic-opera force, were defending their country in a
manner so patriotic and desperate that it held the whole world in
surprise.

Confronted by a big and arrogant Empire, which for years had laid its
cunningly-devised plots for their destruction, the Belgian army stood
undaunted, and meant to strive on and defend their soil until France and
Great Britain could come to their aid.

That the Germans should never take Belgium had been resolved in the
hearts of all King Albert's subjects, while His Majesty himself, in the
uniform of a private of infantry, was daily in the trenches, and often
spoke quiet, homely words of encouragement to private and general alike.
The whole army knew how, two days before, he had been in the trenches
at Herstal, and had given private soldiers cigarettes with his own
hands.  In some cases he had not, at first, been recognised, dressed in
a shabby, dusty uniform, just like themselves.

But he was a king--a king eventually without a country--and his name
will for ever go down in history as a wonderful example of self-denial,
personal bravery, and of human sympathy with his crushed and desolated
nation.

Suddenly, while Edmond was commanding his gun, a shrapnel burst just
behind him.  A bullet struck his water-bottle, and a splinter passing
through it the water ran out down his leg.  But at the same moment
another bullet struck in the head a man to whom he was giving an order
and he fell heavily forward on his face--dead.

In a moment the place seemed swept by lead.  Two or three shells fell in
quick succession, the enemy having apparently advanced to a long copse
just across the river-bank.

"The brutes have occupied Esneux again, I believe," remarked a man close
by.

Away on the crest of one of the hills a small but very bright light
showed.  It was flashing in Morse code.  A signaller quite near read it
aloud.

"The enemy!" he shouted.  "The message is in German!"

Yet they still plugged away with their rifles, undaunted at the enemy's
advance.  The forts were speaking more frequently now, and continually
the very earth trembled beneath the great crashes of modern artillery of
the Brailmont system of defence.

Along that dark line of low hills was seen constant flashing in the
blackness; storm clouds had arisen to obscure the moon, and rain was now
threatening.  The whole sky was now a deep, angry red, with patches of
crimson heightening and dying down--the reflections of the inferno of
war.  The noise was deafening, and on every hand the gallant defenders
were sustaining heavy losses.

Of a sudden, before indeed they were aware of it, the whole edge of the
wood became lit up by an intense white brilliance, so dazzling that one
could not discern anything in front.  A thousand headlights of
motor-cars seemed to be there focussed into one.  The Germans had turned
one of their great field searchlights upon them, and a second later
shells fell and burst in all directions in the vicinity.

Handicapped by want of such modern appliances, the Belgians were unable
to retaliate.  They could only remain there, in the actual zone of the
enemy's pitiless fire.  Dozens of brave men fell shattered or dead amid
that awful whirlwind of bullets and fragments of steel, as slowly the
long ray of intense light moved along the line, searching for its prey,
followed by the enemy's artillery which never failed to keep up a
pitiless, relentless fire, with wonderful accuracy for a night
engagement.

From end to end swept that white line of brilliancy; then slowly--very
slowly--it came back again, causing the men to lie flat upon their
stomachs and wait in breathless anxiety until it had passed.  Time after
time that long, shallow trench which was, after all, only a ditch, for
no opportunity had been afforded for military engineering--was swept by
both light and fire from end to end, and each time Edmond's comrades
were being placed _hors de combat_.  That the situation was critical, he
knew.  Yet not a single man stood dismayed.  Their Mausers crackled with
just the same regularity, and, thanks to the fine spirit of his men, his
pom-pom continued to rain lead upon the trenches of Von Emmich's walls
of men across the river.

At last the "retire" was sounded.  The position had by this time become
quite untenable.  Edmond Valentin bit his nether lip.  The same order
always.  They retired, but never advanced.  For them, the Teuton tide
seemed utterly overwhelming.  Yet their spirit was never broken.  The
Belgian is ever an optimist.

Surely Belgium would never fall beneath the Kaiser's rule, to be ground
under his iron heel and smashed by that "mailed fist" which had so long
been the favourite joke of the great caricaturists of Europe.

Impossible!

With alacrity the Maxim was dismounted, and with calm orderliness the
retirement was commenced at a moment when that annoying searchlight had
turned its attention to the right flank, and the great white beam lay
full upon it.

They were to withdraw towards Liege, first retiring into the wood.

"_Wat sullen wy doen_?"  (what is to be done?) asked one of Edmond's men
in Flemish--the thickset man who had read the proclamation.

"Our general knows best, my comrade," Edmond reassured him in his own
language.  "This may be only a strategic move.  We shall sweep them off
our soil before long--depend upon it."

"_Gy hebt gelyk_," (You are right), muttered the man, panting beneath
his load--the barrel of the Maxim strapped across his shoulder.

"_Ik stem geheel met U_!"  (I quite agree with you), murmured another of
the men in his soft, musical Flemish.  "We will never surrender to those
brigands!  Never, while there is breath left in us.  They are assassins,
not soldiers!"

They marched forward along the wide, dark, dusty road, safe from the
enemy's fire at that point because of the rising ground between them and
the winding, peaceful valley of the Ourthe.

In their faces stood Liege, five miles distant.  They were moving
forward, still in high spirits.  Many of the men were whistling to
themselves as they marched, sturdy and undaunted.  The Eighth Chasseurs
was one of the first regiments of King Albert, all men of splendid
bravery, and of finer physique than the average Belgian.

From Liege came still the continuous boom of artillery, for the forts
untaken were keeping up a regular fire, and the enemy, it was known,
were sustaining terrible losses both night and day.

The forts, built in a ring in the environs of the city, were safe
enough.  But not so the town.  The Germans, aided by their swarms of
spies in the place, had made a dozen attempts to take it during the past
forty-eight hours, but had always been repulsed.

They had resorted to every ruse.  One party of Germans had dressed
themselves in British uniforms--whence they obtained them nobody has
ever known--and on entering the town were at once welcomed
enthusiastically as allies.  But, fortunately, the ruse was discovered
when one was overheard to speak in German, and all were promptly shot.
Then another party appeared as Belgian Red Cross men, and they, on being
discovered to be enemies, shared a similar fate: they were shot in the
Place Cockerill.  The Germans had requested an armistice for twenty-four
hours to bury their dead.  This, however, was refused, because it was
well known that the big Krupp howitzers--"the German surprise to
Europe"--were being brought up, each drawn by forty horses, and that the
cessation of hostilities asked for was really craved in order to gain
time to get these ponderous engines of destruction into position.

As they were marching, the moon again shone out over the doomed city of
Liege, when of a sudden Edmond saw over it, in the sky, three black
points which immediately changed into a light cloud, and soon flames
were rising from the town.  The Germans were now firing petrol-shells
upon the place!

They gained a small village called Angleur, a quaint little whitewashed
place, over which shot and shell had swept for the past three days,
until the villagers now took no notice.  Here generous hearts offered
comfort to the tired soldiers, jugs of fresh milk and bread were brought
out though it was the middle of the night.

But they had no time to accept those gifts.

Presently they met some terrified people--men, women, and children--
fleeing from outside Liege, carrying bundles, all they could save from
their wrecked homes.

"The Germans are in the wood!" they cried.

Before them lay a blazing village.

Edmond's captain gave an order to halt, and they drew up.  Then they saw
the disappearance into the red furnace of entire companies, and soon
afterwards the stretchers and ambulance corps following each other in
quick succession told them of the splendid heroism of their glorious
defenders.

Again they went forward, every man's mouth hard-set and determined, yet
in some cases with a grim joke upon their lips, for they resolved to
defend the lives of their dearly-loved ones, and to account for as many
of the enemy as they could.

"For God and Belgium?" shouted one man, a stout private from Malines,
who had lost his shako and his kit.

Then they all ran to death with but little hope left in them.  Such an
illustration of bravery had been rare in this present century.

The remembrance of the Almighty, shouted by that fat private, had an
effect upon the religious men in the ranks, officers and privates alike,
and in that red glare of war, with blood showing in the very sky, they
dashed on with renewed hope and a spirit of splendid patriotism
unbroken.

They took cover in an orchard and, pulling down the hedges frantically,
soon saw, descending from the hill on their right, the batteries and
remains of their own much-tested regiments.

Stretchers were taken up to the woods on the left, and soon came down
again with the wounded.  Edmond's "Flying Column" was protecting the
transport of these "braves," but an order was shouted that they had to
withdraw away up on to the plateaux.  Then they rushed to the fort of
Flemalle, where they took up fighting positions.  But the Germans did
not want to make another attempt.  The mission of the Eighth Chasseurs
was over.  Three hours later they moved forward again.  The forts would
now defend their position in the campaigning army.

Such was a typical night of the defence of Liege.

CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE DOUBLE FACE.

At the Chateau de Severac the hot, fevered days were passing but slowly.

Aimee and the Baroness were still there, and now they had been joined by
the Baron, who had in Brussels been assured that the enemy would respect
the houses of the rich, and that at his splendid home, perched high on
that rock above the Meuse, they would have nothing to fear.  Rigaux,
indeed, had declared to his friend that at the chateau they would be far
safer than in any of the towns, which might be invested or bombarded--
safer even than in Brussels itself.

Hence they had remained there, full of hourly anxiety as to what really
would be the outcome of it all.

The Baron de Neuville had suggested that his wife and Aimee should flee
to England.  But while Aimee felt that so long as she remained in
Belgium she might at least have a chance of seeing Edmond very soon, the
Baroness, on her part, refused to leave her husband's side, while he, in
his responsible position as financial adviser to the Government, could
not leave Belgium.

From time to time they received scraps of terrifying news over the
telephone from Brussels.  Aimee, indeed, each hour rang up her father's
secretary in Brussels, and listened to the latest news from the scene of
the fighting.

But, alas! it was a tale of repeated disaster, until she became sick at
heart.  Of the whereabouts of the Eighth Chasseurs she could glean
nothing.  She had heard nothing whatsoever of them since they passed
through Liege on their way to the front.  For aught she knew, they might
have shared the same fate as that of other regiments, or been swept out
of existence by the terrible fire of the enemy's machine-guns.

Often she would step out upon the balcony which led from her own room
and gave such a wonderful panorama of river and woods, and there she
would listen attentively.

Sometimes she fancied she could hear the far-distant booming of the
guns.  And yet the world about her, warm and sunlit, without a cloud in
the brilliant summer sky, seemed so very peaceful.  The birds sang
merrily, and the peasants, undisturbed after the first days of war, were
now garnering in the yellow corn.

The first panic of war had passed, and the dull-eyed Walloons, who
composed the major part of the population in that district, clattered
along in their wooden sabots and declared that the enemy were going
straight on towards Brussels.  They would never come near them.

They were unaware as yet of the frightful deeds being done beyond Liege
in those warm summer days, acts of merciless savagery and every
refinement of cruelty which degenerate minds, filled with the blood-lust
of war, could conceive.  They knew not of the dastardly practice, made
by the Kaiser's "cultured" troops, of placing before them innocent women
and children to act as a living screen, in the hope that the Allies
would not, from motives of humanity, fire upon them.

The whole world was being thrilled and shocked by the unspeakable acts
of these blonde beasts who, at the behest of their arrogant Kaiser, had
simply become hordes of savages, and whose atrocious acts could only be
compared with those of the troops of African wilds.  But in Belgium
little was known of it all, save in the devastated villages themselves,
and by Monsieur Carton de Wiart, the Minister of Justice in Brussels,
who was preparing an official report to present to the Powers.

The hideous atrocities perpetrated during that bloody fortnight, from
August 6th to the 20th, during which the country north of Liege was
being swept by fire and sword, were being hidden from the gallant little
nation.

In the great high-up Chateau de Severac they only knew of them by
rumour, and whenever Aimee told what she had heard over the telephone to
her father sitting there so grave and morose, he always shook his head
and declared that they were only wild rumours.

"The German soldiers are civilised.  They do not shoot women, my dear
girl," he would always declare.  The true stories of the Kaiser's
"frightful examples"--which his bloody Majesty himself admitted--had not
yet been told.  The Baron and his family did not know how, at Aerschot,
the male inhabitants who crossed their thresholds were seized and shot
under the eyes of their wives and children; how poor Monsieur
Thielemans, the Burgomaster, and his fifteen-year-old son, with a dozen
prominent citizens, were set up against a wall and shot, and their
bodies cast unceremoniously into a hole.  They knew not how young girls,
and even little children, had been raped at Orsmael; how wounded Belgian
soldiers were tied to telegraph poles and shot; how, constantly, Red
Cross waggons bearing doctors and wounded were deliberately fired upon;
or how these Teuton apostles of "kultur" had actually mounted
machine-guns in their own Red Cross vans and fired at the unsuspecting!
Of the awful scenes in St Trond, Velm, and Haelen, rumour only gave the
faintest outline, which was dismissed as imaginary and without
foundation.

Alas! however, it was the bitter and terrible truth.  Abominable deeds
were committed not only in those places, but at Sempst men had their
arms and hands cut off; at Corbeek Loo women and girls were bayoneted;
at Seraing the blood-guilty ruffians massacred several hundred people,
and in more than one village terrified women were made to pass in front
of machine-guns amid the laughter of the drunken German soldiers and
their threats to blow them out of existence at any moment.

Was it any wonder that many poor wretches went stark mad with terror?

Over this stricken country, between Liege and Louvain, towards Brussels,
the "Flying Column" were fighting--struggling along bravely from day to
day against the most fearful odds.

While Aimee sat, hour after hour in silence, watching and wondering,
Edmond with his Maxim was doing terrible execution.  Yet of what use was
it all?  They were being gradually driven back towards Brussels,
compelled to leave the villagers to their fate.

The roads were crowded by homeless men, women, and children, poor
wretched people who had watched their homes sacked and burnt.  For years
they had been thrifty, and saved until they could live in quiet comfort,
still working hard.  Yet in one short fortnight all had gone from them;
all they now possessed was piled into a wheelbarrow, perambulator, or
cart, or else carried in a sack upon their backs.

The scenes on that wide, open main road leading through Louvain and
Tirlemont to Brussels, a well-kept highway, lined in places by tall
poplars, were enough to cause one's heart to bleed.

Edmond looked upon them with a sigh.  Beneath the pitiless sun the
never-ceasing crowd moved westward, driven on by the advancing German
army.  All sorts of ramshackle vehicles were mixed up in the slowly
moving mass of humanity who were tramping their way, day and night, on
and on to some place of safety--where, they knew not--Brussels, Antwerp,
or to Ghent, Ostend, or perhaps the sea.  The iron of despair was in
their souls.

Such a human tide as this, naturally, hampered the Belgian army
severely.  Weary, footsore, and sad-eyed, many old persons fainted by
the wayside, and those who were friendless were left there to die.
Everybody was thinking of his or her own family.  They had no time for
sympathy with others.  Most of them were dressed in their best clothes--
in order to save them--and all had fearful tales to tell of the
behaviour of the Uhlans.  Many of those poor, red-eyed, hatless women in
black had seen their husbands, brothers, sons, or lovers shot down
before their eyes.  Some had been falsely accused of firing at the
troops; some had simply been seized by drunken, laughing soldiers; some
had been questioned by swaggering German officers, others had not.  With
all, trial or no trial, the end was the same--death.

And their corpses had been left to rot where they fell, and the village
fired by those little black cubes of a highly inflammable chemical
substance, which the brutes carried with them for that one purpose.

The fog of war was over everything.

"It is not warfare, father," declared Aimee one evening, as she sat with
her parents in a big, handsome salon, wherein the last blood-red light
of the fiery afterglow was fast fading.  "It is massacre.  They have
just told me, over the telephone, of fearful things that have happened
in Aerschot.  The Germans have wrecked the beautiful church, smashed the
holy statues, desecrated the crucifix, and stabled their horses there.
And these are the troops upon whom the Kaiser is beseeching God's
blessing.  It is all too awful for words!"

"Yes, child," replied the grey-haired Baroness, looking up from her
embroidery--for in these days of excitement she tried to occupy her mind
with her needlework.  "The Kaiser respects neither the laws of nations,
nor the laws of Almighty God, Whose aid he asks.  His evil deeds cry
aloud to Heaven, and to us who, horror-struck, are watching."

"The Emperor is carrying out the policy, which I read yesterday in the
_Independance_, advocated by Bismarck," said the Baron.  "The Iron
Chancellor laid it down, as a maxim, that true strategy consisted in
hitting the enemy hard, and in inflicting on the inhabitants of invaded
towns the maximum of suffering, so that they might bring pressure upon
their Government to discontinue it.  He is declared to have said: `You
must leave the people through whom you march only their eyes to weep
with.'"

"The inhuman brute!" ejaculated the Baroness.  "But our dear Belgium
will never sue for peace."

"Never," declared the Baron fiercely, rising and passing to the window,
an erect, refined figure.  "We have the British on our side.  They will
quickly wipe the Germans from the seas, and then come here to our
assistance.  The speech of Asquith in the House of Commons shows their
intentions.  Besides, have we not Russia--a colossal power in Europe
when she commences to move?  So we may rest assured that for every evil
and unwarrantable act committed upon our soil, ample vengeance will be
exacted when the Cossacks are let loose upon our friends of Berlin."

"They say that at Liege and in other places, German spies have been
discovered," Aimee remarked.  "I hear that at the entrance to Liege, the
German soldiers were actually met by spies--hitherto respectable
inhabitants of the place--who acted as their guides through the city,
and pointed out the principal buildings and the residences of the rich."

"Exaggerated stories," declared the Baron.  "I do not believe in the
existence of German spies in Belgium."

"But they have arrested many both in Brussels and Antwerp."

"Spy-mania seems to arise in every war," was his reply.

"But Germany has been long preparing.  Her spies are said to be
everywhere," declared the girl with emphasis.  "No game is too low or
despicable for the enemy to play, it seems."

At that moment the liveried footman entered and, bowing, announced to
the Baron:

"Monsieur Rigaux has arrived."

"Ah! show him in.  He may have news," cried his master, eagerly.

Next moment the thin-faced, dark-haired man, wearing a smart grey suit
and yellow gloves, came forward all smiles and graces, as he bowed low
over the Baroness's hand and then over Aimee's.

"Well, my dear Arnaud?" the Baron commenced anxiously.  "What is the
latest from the front?  Have you motored from Brussels?"

"Yes.  And the news is disquieting--distinctly disquieting.  Max, the
Burgomaster, is already taking precautions in anticipation of the
occupation of the capital by the enemy.  Our troops are evacuating the
city."

Mother and daughter exchanged glances, both pale-faced and startled at
such a turn of events.

"Then we have again been defeated," exclaimed the Baron in a hard voice.

"It seems so.  The news is out that Liege has fallen at last.  The forts
are silent--reduced to rubbish-heaps."

"Liege fallen!" gasped both mother and daughter.  "Yes.  It seems that
several days ago the Germans brought up some big Krupp howitzers, the
secret of which has been so admirably kept, and--"

"Why do you say so admirably, M'sieur Rigaux?" interrupted Aimee
quickly.  "Such words would make it appear that you admire the Germans."

The man started.  His eyes narrowed, and his face assumed a sinister
look.  But only for a second.  He saw the slip he had made, and hastily
corrected it.

"My dear Mademoiselle," he laughed.  "Surely you cannot suspect me of
pro-German sympathies?  I hate the Kaiser, and all his abominable works.
I used the words `admirably kept' because in Germany they really know
how to keep a secret.  They are not like the English, for example, who
will show any foreigner of distinction over their latest Dreadnoughts,
or their strongest defences."

"Well, the tone in which you spoke was certainly as though you
entertained pro-German tendencies," said the girl frankly, adding "but
what about these wonderful guns?"

"Ah!  Mademoiselle.  They are wonderful, alas!  As soon as they got
these fearful engines of destruction into position they simply
pulverised the forts.  Poor General Leman was taken out of the ruins,
unconscious, and is now a prisoner in Germany."

"Leman a prisoner?" gasped the Baron.  "Why, it was only a month ago
that he dined here with us."

"Poor fellow!" exclaimed the Baroness.  "But why was he unconscious?"

"Owing to the deadly fumes from the explosion.  One of the big shells
from the German howitzer penetrated to the magazine, and it blew up."

"Ah!  But Leman did not surrender."

"Certainly not," said Rigaux, who was, in secret, very well informed of
all that was in progress along the front.  His wireless--worked by a
German naval wireless operator who lived in seclusion in his house at
Brussels--had, for days been picking up all the official messages, the
operator having in his pocket the key to the war-cipher.

Not a move on land or on sea on the part of the Germans but was known at
once to Arnaud Rigaux, who daily handed to the fair-haired young
operator a brief report of what was in progress in Brussels.  This the
young man reduced to code and transmitted it, after having called up the
German station at Nauen.  Other stations heard it, but the message being
in a code specially supplied for the purpose, it conveyed to them no
meaning.

Arnaud Rigaux, the most clever and most dangerous spy which Germany
possessed on Belgian soil, was, because of his high position as a
financier, still unsuspected.

From his manner the Baron could see that his friend had come out from
Brussels hastily, in order to tell him something which he hesitated to
do in the presence of the ladies.

"So an advance is really being made towards Brussels and the Government
has moved to Antwerp?"  Aimee asked anxiously.  "The papers are so vague
about it all."

"I fear that is so," was Rigaux's reply.  "It seems, too, that the
British are moving uncommonly slowly.  They have not yet, it is said,
embarked their expeditionary force, as we fully expected they would have
done days ago."

"The British, if they move slowly, always move very surely," was the
girl's reply.  "I was at school in England, you know, and I am quite
aware of their slowness."

"It is fatal in war, Mademoiselle.  Why are they not here to help us--
eh?  We have relied upon them."

"They will be here soon, and when they come they will give a good
account of themselves, never fear.  They are tried soldiers.  The
Germans have never seen a modern war.  They are only swaggerers."

"True.  But they are at least scientific in their campaign.  The English
are not."

"Well, Arnaud, if you continue to talk like that I shall begin to agree
with Aimee, and accuse you of taking the German side," laughed her
father.

"_Diable_!  I hate them too much.  Look what I have lost--what I stand
to further lose--eh?" protested the thin-faced man, with a quick gesture
of the hands.  "All I hope is that the English army will be in Belgium
before the enemy enters Brussels."

"But the French," suggested the Baron.  "What are they doing?  One hears
so very little of General Joffre and his army!"

"Ah! he, too, is moving slowly.  At Verdun, and along the line of
Alsace-Lorraine, there has been some fierce fighting, I hear."

"How do you know?" asked the girl.

"By the papers."

"But the papers have published no reports," she said in surprise.  "What
journal has given the news?  We have them all, and I read them very
carefully."

Again Rigaux was, for a second, nonplussed.

"Oh!  I think it was in the Antwerp _Matin_--the day before yesterday--
if I recollect aright."

The truth was that he had heard it over his secret wireless only that
morning.

"Who won?"

"Unfortunately, the Germans."

"Ah!" sighed the girl.  "It is always so.  When shall we ever have a
victory?"

"Who knows, Mademoiselle?  Let us hope it will be very soon.  Belgium
will never be crushed."

"Not so long as a single man remains alive who can carry a gun,"
declared the Baron fiercely.  "I wish I were younger.  I'd go to the
front at once and do my share."

"As Edmond Valentin has gone," Aimee remarked, more in order to spite
Arnaud Rigaux than anything else.

In a second the spy's face was wreathed in smiles.

"Ah, how is M'sieur Valentin? where is he, Mademoiselle?" he inquired.

"He is with the Eighth Chasseurs-a-pied, somewhere near Liege."

"He is not near Liege now," their visitor said.  "The whole country, up
to Louvain, is now held by the enemy.  His brigade has, I expect, been
thrown back to somewhere near Brussels--unless, of course, it has come
south, towards Namur."

In an instant the girl was eager and anxious.  Namur, with its great
forts, believed to be impregnable, was only a few miles away.

"Would they come across in this direction, do you think?" she asked
eagerly.

"Certainly.  If they were in the Meuse Valley they might follow it up
towards Huy, and onward."

"But there has been no sign of the enemy along there."

"There will be soon, I fear, Mademoiselle.  We are not sufficiently
strong to keep them back."

As a matter of fact, he knew that Uhlan patrols were in the woods within
fifteen miles of them, and that very soon the whole Meuse Valley would
probably run with blood.  The Potsdam plan of campaign was to sweep
every part of Belgium, from the frontier to the sea, with the fire of
war.

"What shall we do if they come?" asked the pale-faced girl, dismayed.
"Is it best to stay here?"

"I believe so.  You are far safer here in your chateau than in
Brussels."

"But what will happen to us?"

"Oh, you may have a visit, perhaps, from a polite German officer who may
billet some of his men here for the night.  He will simply apologise for
the inconvenience he causes.  That is all."

"But they have been massacring people north of Liege," Aimee remarked.

"Bah! those are simply exaggerated tales of the country-people.  Do not
credit them, Mademoiselle.  Nobody in Brussels believes them.  In war,
such tales are always told," he said assuringly.

"Who is commanding the Eighth Chasseurs?  Do you know?" asked the girl
anxiously.

"Well, yes, I happen to know because Jacques, my second chauffeur, is in
the regiment of Monsieur Valentin.  They belong to the Sixth Brigade
under General Paul Thalmann."

"Thalmann!" echoed the Baroness.  "Ah, we know him quite well.  He was
commandant at Bruges a year ago.  Then he was moved to Ghent.  Aimee and
I stayed with him for three days during the Exhibition.  A fine old
soldier.  One of the best men in all Belgium."

Arnaud Rigaux smiled curiously.  The Hebrew came out in him at that
moment.

"Yes," he said, with slight hesitation.  "But a gambler, my dear
Baroness.  He is in my debt to a considerable extent.  Besides, I--well,
I suspect him."

"Of what?" asked the great financier.

"Of dealings with the enemy."

Aimee started.

"What do you mean, m'sieur?" she asked quickly.

"I simply mean what I say, Mademoiselle.  General Thalmann has, to my
knowledge, been on the verge of bankruptcy for the past three years.  He
is a bosom friend of a certain Karl Schnerb, whom I have long suspected
of being a secret agent of Germany.  After his acquaintance with
Schnerb, the General began to repay me some of what I had lent him.
_Voila tout_!"

"You say, then, that General Thalmann is in the pay of our enemies?"
asked Aimee quickly.

"You surely don't mean that, Arnaud?" asked her father at the same
moment.

"I only tell you facts that I know, my dear Baron," was their visitor's
reply.  "And for that reason, and that alone, I say: `May God help our
poor little Belgium.'"

Aimee was silent.

Was it possible that a traitor was in command of Edmond's brigade?

The girl held her breath.  If what Arnaud Rigaux had alleged was the
actual truth--and he always knew the truth--if such things were, then
poor little Belgium was, alas! doomed.

CHAPTER NINE.

THE KAISER'S SECRET AGENT.

"The position is a very grave one, Henri," Rigaux explained when, a few
minutes later, they were alone together in a small, circular, book-lined
room, that room below one of the high round towers of the chateau, which
the Baron used as a bureau.  "I hesitated to speak very openly before
your wife, because it would cause her undue alarm.  There is no doubt--
indeed, there has been abundant proof in these last four days--that
Belgium swarms with German spies.  They are everywhere.  Our enemies
have been most crafty and cunning in their preparations for our undoing.
They have arrested and shot sixteen German agents in Antwerp alone.
They had carrier-pigeons, secret wireless, code-books, German
ammunition, secret stores of petrol, and other things, which showed,
only too plainly, their intentions.  Now your telephone was cut at noon
to-day, was it not, and you are wondering?  Well, the truth is that the
Germans occupied Brussels at eleven o'clock this morning?"

"_They are in Brussels_!" gasped the Baron, starting up.  "You must be
joking!"

"I am not, I regret to say.  To-day, at eleven, Burgomaster Max met the
German commander in the Chausee de Louvain.  There was no resistance,
and the enemy marched into the city, doing the goose-step as they passed
the Gare du Nord."

"Impossible?" gasped de Neuville, pale as death.

"But it is the unfortunate truth.  The Germans are asking for an
indemnity of eight millions sterling.  The Minister of finance has asked
me to negotiate the loan.  Will you and your friends take part in it?"

For a moment the Baron de Neuville was silent.  He knew the financial
straits of the Government at that moment, and he was reflecting.

At last he said, in a low, earnest voice:

"Arnaud, if I touch it at all, my friends in London and myself will make
the whole loan."

"What, you will bear the eight millions?" asked Rigaux, with some
surprise.

"Yes.  I feel it my duty to assist in the present crisis."

"But I only asked for a portion.  I can do some myself, and obtain the
remainder in Holland."

"I tell you I will arrange to bear the whole responsibility.  I will
send word to Monsieur Max to-night.  I can arrange with good substantial
friends in London to assist me."

Rigaux was silent for a few seconds.

"Well," he said enthusiastically at last, "yours is indeed a fine
example of patriotism, Henri, I will let Max know your generous offer.
There is no telegraphic or telephonic communication with Brussels now."

He did not add that in his pocket was a special pass, signed by the
German commander, which allowed him to go through the enemy's lines,
backwards and forwards, at will.  If the Baron and his friends paid over
eight millions to the enemy, then his friends in Berlin would be highly
pleased at his clever diplomacy.

"You return to Brussels to-night--eh?"

"Yes, at once.  It is a risky business to be on the roads at night
nowadays."

"I shall go to Brussels to-morrow, and make the offer personally," the
Baron said.

"But, if you do so, you will not leave your wife and daughter here.  If
I were you I would send them to Ostend, where, if further trouble
occurs, they can easily cross to England.  They should not be left here
alone.  One never knows what may happen."  The Baron did not reply.  He
was still reassured by the words of certain highly-placed officials in
Brussels that the Baroness and Aimee would be quite safe at Severac, and
Rigaux, on his part, did not think it worth while to tell him of the
close proximity of the Uhlans.

"I shall see you in Brussels to-morrow," the Baron said briefly.

"Yes.  May I tell Max that you will be at the Hotel de Ville at noon--
eh?" asked the secret agent of the Kaiser, "and that you and your
English friends will, if necessary, guarantee the loan to the
municipality of the eight millions demanded?"

"Yes," was his friend's reply.

"Ah, Henri," cried Arnaud Rigaux, "you are a true patriot.  You, the
wealthiest man in Belgium, to come forward at such a time," And,
Judas-like, he took the Baron's hand--he who was now secretly acting as
financial agent of the German Government.  "Monsieur Max has been made
responsible for the good behaviour of the capital, and they have handed
him back his scarf of office.  The surrender was a sad and impressive
scene, I can assure you," he added.

"Ah, yes," replied the Baron very gravely.  "I had no idea that the
enemy were already in Brussels."

"Yes.  They have taken Liege, Tirlemont, and Louvain, and are now coming
up to bombard Namur."

"So near!" cried the broad-shouldered Baron, amazed.

"Yes.  That is why I suggest to you, privately, that the ladies should
be sent at once to the coast."

"Thanks for your hint, my dear Arnaud.  I will certainly consider it,"
was the other's reply.

He handed Rigaux the big silver box of cigarettes, and when both had lit
up, the footman brought, in response to his master's summons, two tiny
Bohemian liqueur glasses and filled them with fine old cognac.

They tossed them off, in Belgian fashion, and soon afterwards Rigaux
gripped his friend's hand, saying:

"_Au revoir_, till to-morrow.  And all Belgians will thank you, Henri,
for saving their capital from the Kaiser's brigands."

The Baron de Neuville smiled, and shrugged his thickset shoulders.

"It is but my duty as a loyal Belgian.  I cannot fight side by side with
our brave men, as I certainly would if I were younger.  So I will help
as far as my means permit."

And then Arnaud Rigaux, with those winds in his ears, waved his hand and
descended the winding stairway to the great hall, outside which in the
courtyard his fast, open car was in waiting.

Having put on his holland dust-coat, he flung himself into the
bucket-seat next the driver, and then they moved away cautiously down
the steep hill into the peaceful valley, where the summer twilight was
fast darkening into night.

Many groups of homeless, despairing people, hauling along great packages
and tramping towards an unknown bourne, were upon the road, and now and
then suspicious cars passed without salute or challenge.

Once they met a patrol of Uhlans riding merrily along, big-booted
fellows with lances, who chatted gaily, and who seemed to take no notice
of them, knowing that in that particular area there was no opposition.

Suddenly Rigaux, who had now become very alert, remarked to the driver:

"Be careful.  We are getting near Loverai, outside Charleroi."

Before them had suddenly showed points of light from lanterns in the
road, and then, a few hundred yards further on, they heard a gruff
challenge in German, and a stern command to halt.

The driver drew up at once, and the car was instantly surrounded by half
a dozen stalwart German outposts, their fixed bayonets shining in the
headlights, demanding to know the destination of the travellers.

"To Brussels," replied Rigaux, in German.  "Here is my official permit
from headquarters, signed by the Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the
Meuse."

The sentry, in his spiked helmet, examined it beneath the flickering
light of a lantern held by one of his comrades, and while doing so a
lieutenant strolled up and also carefully scrutinised it.  Yet for the
moment the motorists were under arrest.

"Herr Rigaux--eh?--and chauffeur?" the officer read.  "A general secret
service pass from headquarters.  You are going to Brussels, I suppose?"

Arnaud Rigaux replied in the affirmative, whereupon the lieutenant gave
an order and the half-dozen men drew up in the dark, clicking their
heels together, and presented arms in salute.

"You are free to pass, Herr Rigaux," said the officer.  "Take the
left-hand road, and you will avoid the outposts of Charleroi and get to
Nivelles.  Our lines are two miles farther on, but with your pass you
will have no difficulty.  I see that you are one of us."

Rigaux remounted into his car, and with a merry good night they swept
along the dark, wide road, which at that point ran between two rows of
high poplars, which were swaying and rustling slightly in the cool night
wind, so refreshing after the broiling day.

Half a dozen times the car had been challenged in as many miles, but on
each occasion the permit to travel was scrutinised closely, and as they
went forward they saw in the sky, on the far-off horizon, the dull, red
glare of the fires of war.  They had left Charleroi on their right--the
town of hardware, which the Germans had now surrounded, and intended on
the morrow to reduce--and had now set their faces straight for the
capital.

The pass which that morning Rigaux had received, on application to the
headquarters at the Hotel Cosmopolite, in Brussels, proved an
open-sesame everywhere, for it was one of those cryptic passports which
the German Empire had issued to all its spies, from the lowly to the
wealthy.

That small piece of grey paper, stamped, signed, and countersigned,
rendered its bearer immune from arrest, and provided safe conduct
everywhere.  What would his friends the Belgians say, or do, if they had
known he had possessed such a document?

Time after time, on that dark, straight road between Charleroi and
Brussels, the car was held up by men in spiked helmets, who covered both
master and chauffeur threateningly with their rifles.  But sight of that
paper was magical.  Arnaud Rigaux was bowed to with politeness, and
urged onward with cautionary words to the next post.

Brussels lay thirty miles from Charleroi.  They were now within the
enemy's lines, and were passing many burnt-out cottages and villages,
some of the debris of which, strewn in the roadway, still glowed red in
the night.  Before them, in the dark, heavy sky, showed the glare of the
lights of Brussels, the gay little city which now lay crushed and
invested by the Teuton invaders.

The reflection of the light was not red, as in the case of a burning
town.  The Germans were committing no atrocities there, for the simple
reason that, in the capital, they were beneath the eyes of the
representatives of neutral powers.  In the country it mattered not, and
could easily be denied, but in Brussels the Commander-in-Chief had
decreed that all should preserve a correct attitude and present the
quintessence of German "culture."

It was nearly one o'clock in the morning when at last, Rigaux having
pulled his cap over his eyes, they passed the sentries outside the
station of Uccle, and were allowed to proceed down the long, straight
Avenue Brugmann and the Chausee to the end of the Avenue Louise.

Half the street lamps of Brussels were out, and no one was in the
streets save German sentries at the corners, acting as policemen, their
fixed bayonets glinting in the brilliance of the car's headlights.
Brussels, with her Civil Guard disbanded, was in the grip of the
invader, who modestly demanded eight millions as its ransom.

The car turned into the small Place Louise, past the cafe in the corner,
and De Boek's Hotel so long a famous "English house," turned to the
left, and then ran along the tree-lined boulevard to where Rigaux lived.

There was now no secrecy of presence of the fair-haired German naval
wireless operator, for the enemy had occupied the capital.  Indeed, as
soon as Arnaud Rigaux arrived home he met him in the hall, and
accompanied him to the room in the roof, in which was that powerful
wireless plant run off the electric-light main.

The young fellow seated himself at once at his table, and, touching a
Morse-key, a long blue spark was emitted and crackled across the big
coil.

"Call up Nauen," Rigaux said, his holland dust-coat not yet removed.
"Give them this message: That the Baron de Neuville has consented, upon
representations I have made, to negotiate the whole of the indemnity of
eight millions levied upon the city of Brussels.  Let me know of the
acknowledgment of the receipt of the message by R.X."

"Certainly, m'sieur," was the operator's reply in good French, and he
began to tap out the preliminary "Da-de-Da-de-Da," the call-signal,
followed by the code-letters indicating that he wished to speak with
Nauen.

Then he switched over, and adjusting his headphones to his ears,
listened attentively.

Again he repeated the call, with dexterous rapidity, when, a few seconds
later, he heard the answering ticks of the Telefunken near Potsdam,
after which he reduced to code the significant message which Rigaux had
given him for transmission, and tapped it out.

CHAPTER TEN.

THE HOTEL DE L'EPEE.

The quaint, old-world little town of Dinant, with its crooked cobbled
streets--the resort of painters and dreamers--lay in a narrow ravine on
both sides of the winding Meuse, connected by a long iron bridge.  High
limestone cliffs towered above the town, crowned by a good-sized but
out-of-date citadel--a fort which dominated the whole country.  Across
the river lay the railway station, and some modern hotels, while the
modern town was built upon the pleasant wooded slopes behind.

It was here that Edmond Valentin found himself with the Sixth Brigade.
Five days ago they had arrived, after a forced march under the hot sun,
from Gembloux, beyond Namur, and, having joined the French force which
had crossed the frontier between Sedan and Givet, they were occupying
the heights above the town.  Indeed, from where Edmond stood on that
bright, sunny morning, he could look down upon the tiny little white
village of Anseremme, just beyond Dinant, the place where he had, on
that memorable day before the war, lunched with Aimee so happily on the
long rose-embowered _terrasse_ beside the river, now sparkling in the
sun.

Had the red tide of war yet reached high-up Severac, he wondered?  It
was not far off--perhaps fifteen miles or so beyond those blue hills.
Daily--nay, hourly--he thought of her, wondering how she fared in those
hot, breathless days when Belgium was fighting so desperately for her
very existence as a nation.

The Sixth Brigade, under General Thalmann--the fine, grey-moustached,
well-set-up man, who had been so grossly calumnified by Rigaux for his
own crafty purposes--had been in the very thick of the fighting ever
since that day when they had so suddenly arrived in Liege and found
themselves in the firing-line.  They had helped to repulse the German
cavalry at Haelen, and had then fought their way desperately up to
Tirlemont, to Gembloux, and back to the Meuse again.  With scarce any
sleep they had been in touch with the enemy practically the whole time,
and were, indeed, "The Flying Column" of the Belgian army.  Their losses
around Charleroi had been considerable, and though so weary, dusty, and
worn, not a man among them was dismayed.  The spirit of the men was
admirable.

General Joffre had already held council with the Belgian
Commander-in-Chief, a council at which General Thalmann had been
present, and from information they had gathered it was well known that
the Germans intended to make an assault upon the town of Dinant, and
take the citadel as one of the important and strategic points on the
Meuse.

The peaceful inhabitants of the place--which, besides being a tourist
centre, possessed a thriving trade in beaten brass-ware, and the making
of those grotesquely-shaped cakes of honey and flour called _conques_,
two industries which had survived in the place ever since the Middle
Ages--were, of course, in ignorance, and the authorities did not deem it
expedient to express their fears, in order, if possible, to avoid panic.

Edmond knew that the French army, on its way up the Meuse Valley, must
have passed beneath the great old chateau of Severac.  If so, Aimee must
have watched those long, interminable lines of red-trousered infantry,
trudging on with their piled-up haversacks, the squadrons of
heavily-booted cavalry, and the snake-like processions of lumbering
field-guns, motor transport wagons, and drab vans marked with the red
cross.

Away across those blue hills, in the direction of France, Aimee was
probably watching and waiting in patience.  He longed to write to her,
to send her words of hope and courage.  But it was all utterly
impossible.  No letter could ever reach her now, unless he could find
means to deliver it himself.

There was fighting in progress behind them--fierce fighting at
Charleroi--for they had learnt, only an hour ago over the
field-telephone, that the Germans were attacking the place, and that a
big battle had already opened.

The first few hours of that hot, breathless day were hours of
inactivity, welcome indeed to the hard-pressed Sixth Brigade.

Edmond's company had piled their arms, and were lying about on the
sun-scorched grass behind the citadel, smoking cigarettes and laughing
as gaily as though they were at manoeuvres, when of a sudden a German
Taube aeroplane, distinguishable by its shape, was seen crossing them at
a great altitude, whereupon many rifles were raised at it.  But it was
far beyond range, and circled round and round over their camp, taking
observations.

"The enemy must be near," remarked a thin, little, dust-covered
lieutenant to a brother-officer.  "They intend to attack, without a
doubt."

Hardly had he spoken when the aeroplane dropped two smoke-balls,
indicating the position of the defenders, and then sailed away across
the hills and was lost to view.

The old fortress in front of Edmond was occupied by Belgian artillery
ready for a desperate defence; but the force, though a gallant one, was,
unfortunately, not large.

Another hour went by.  The men were still at ease, for perhaps, after
all, the enemy, with the strongly fortified town of Namur before them
lower down the river, might not think Dinant worth attack.

Suddenly, however, the truth became revealed.

Somewhere over in the direction of Severac the enemy had taken up
positions, and without warning a shell fell unexpectedly upon the
railway station, narrowly missing the dock, crashing through the roof,
and exploding with a crash which reverberated along the whole valley.

In a moment bugles sounded and the defenders were instantly on the
alert.  A second shell tore out part of the front of the Hotel des
Postes, opposite the station, and then, from the citadel the guns
thundered in reply, sending shells in the direction where the grey
masses of the enemy were seen to be.

To watch the battle from that height was fascinating to Edmond.  Below,
a French captain and a squad of couriers on motor-cycles crossed the
bridge rapidly and disappeared on the road to Namur, while, in the town,
a few French troops of the line regiments were marching.  The
inhabitants were all indoors with closed doors and shutters, most of
them crowding into the cellars in fear.

Soon the cliffs resounded with rifle and gun fire, while away in the
east could be heard the continual rumble of the field howitzers of the
enemy.  The Germans had, it seemed, also brought up several
mountain-batteries along the hills.

The enemy were advancing rapidly.

The bridge was being defended strongly by the French troops, while, very
soon, members of the Volunteer Hospital Corps began hurrying along the
streets in search of the wounded.

In half an hour the quiet, prosperous little town where, from the bulgy
slate-covered steeple of the church the bells had, for centuries, sent
their sweet carillon over the river, became swept by lead.  Beneath the
pitiless shell-fire the houses in the narrow Rue Grande were suffering
severely and, at certain spots the street were covered with falling
debris, a rubble of stones and mortar mixed with articles of furniture.

Half-way down that long, narrow street, so well known to summer visitors
to the Ardennes, there stood, on the left, a quaint old-fashioned little
inn called the Hotel de l'Epee--the Hotel of the Sword--one of the most
ancient houses in Dinant, for it dated from the fifteenth century, and
had then been part of a Franciscan Monastery.  The rooms were small,
with their original old oaten panelling; the floors were of great stone
slabs hollowed by the feet of many generations, and though the little
place was typical of the Ardennes, there was a curious medieval air
about it which was genuine.

The Hotel of the Sword was kept by a stout, prosperous, red-faced old
Belgian named Francois Mazy, who usually wore the blue linen blouse of
the Ardennois.  "Uncle Francois" was known to all Dinant, on account of
his cheery good-nature and charitable disposition.  And to his homely
inn, each summer, went many well-known people of Brussels, because there
they fared exceedingly well--Uncle Francois doing the cooking himself,
and charging his visitors, in each of whom he took a real personal
interest, only very modestly as compared with the more modern houses.

To Uncle Francois' hundreds of the townspeople, men, women, and
terrified children, now fled, because beneath the house, and running far
under the cobbled street, were huge vaulted cellars hewn in the
limestone rock--the cellars of the ancient monastery, the entrance to
which had, only a few years before, been discovered behind a walled-up
archway.

There, lit by flickering candles and one or two evil-smelling lamps, the
great cavernous vaults of the monks of old, were filled by those poor
excited and terrified people, who had taken refuge from the sudden
horrors of war.

Many of them were women, anxious for their husbands' safety, and little
children with big wide-open wondering eyes, while Uncle Francois
himself, with Marie, his stout, middle-aged daughter, moved among the
crowd in that hot, stifling atmosphere, uttering cheering words in his
native Walloon, and trying to comfort them.

"All will be well soon, my friends," he declared.  "It is only a
skirmish."

Meanwhile, the fight was growing hotter every moment.  Edmond, with his
ever-ready Maxim, had found cover behind a piece of thick, broken wall,
one of the ancient earthworks of the citadel, and from there he and his
men kept up a terrible rain of lead upon the oncoming Germans, who were
now fighting in the Place below.

Of a sudden, a shell struck the spire of the church, blowing off part of
the pumpkin-shaped top which fell into the Place with a heavy crash and
clouds of dust, the beautiful bells, which had rung out there so
musically for ages, coming down also.

On the long bridge, terrible fighting was now in progress.  The
defenders were in cover under the abutment wings of the bridge, which
were about three feet high.  Edmond could witness it all from where he
was, three hundred feet or so above.  Suddenly there was a red flash
over the river, a great roar, and the air was filled with smoke and
debris.

The defenders had retired suddenly and blown up the bridge across the
Meuse, to prevent the enemy's advance.

It was magnificent--yet it was terrible.  On every side the town seemed
to be now attacked by the enemy, who had sprung from nowhere.  In the
position they had taken up, the Belgian Chausseurs were barely two
companies strong, and though they fought so bravely, they could see that
the enemy were surely, if slowly, advancing upon the citadel.

For another hour the fearful fight went on.  From behind the debris of
the bridge the red-breeched French were replying gallantly to the enemy.
One could hear nothing save the irregular explosions of rifles, the
machine-like splutterings of the mitrailleuse punctuated by the shock of
shell-fire, and now and then, on explosion which caused the earth to
tremble.

Owing to the heavy firing, clouds now obscured the sun.  The heavens
darkened, and it began to rain, but the firing in no way abated.  From
where Edmond crouched behind his gun he could see what was happening
below in the Place, and across beyond the blown-up bridge, which lay a
mass of wreckage and twisted girders across the stream.

A sudden increase in the firing told that reinforcements had arrived,
and he saw a half-company of a line regiment hurriedly enter the hotel
opposite the station, expecting to find there a good field of fire.
They brought with them a dozen terrified, shrieking women, whom they had
found hiding in the waiting-room at the railway station.

An hour after noon the fire slackened, and the rain ceased.  A few
limping figures, the French in blue coats and red trousers--that
unfortunately flamboyant uniform which always drew fire--staggered into
the hotel, while, during the lull, a hatless woman in black calmly
crossed the little Place and, quite unconcerned, dropped a card into the
letter-box!

At that moment Edmond's company heard the order to retire.  Retire!
Every man held his breath.  Their spirits fell.  Dinant had fallen,
after all, notwithstanding the defence of the combined French and
Belgian forces.  It was hopeless.  The Germans meant to crush them and
to swarm over Belgium.

In perfect order the Sixth Brigade retired back, down the steep, grassy
slopes behind the citadel, and within half an hour the hated German flag
was, even as Edmond stood watching through his glasses a couple of miles
away, hoisted over the captured citadel.

He uttered a malediction beneath his breath, and turned to hand his
glasses to one of his men.

Sight of that flag was a signal for renewed fighting.  Two French
batteries had, happily, arrived, and having taken up a position close to
them, opened fire upon the citadel from the rear.  The enemy's flag had
roused the defenders to fury, and one of the first shots from the French
field-guns cut the German flag right across, at which the Belgians
cheered wildly to the echo.  The French batteries threw their sheik upon
the ancient citadel with marvellous accuracy, and the fire was heavy and
incessant.

Another French line regiment arrived to reinforce the Belgians, marching
gaily in those fatal red trousers of theirs, and then so smothering was
their fire that, through his glasses, Edmond could see the heads of the
Germans, dotting the ramparts of the fort, begin to gradually disappear.

For four long hot hours the desperate struggle continued without a
moment's cessation.  The Belgians were determined to drive the enemy
from their position, while the enemy were equally determined to hold it,
and the slaughter on all sides became terrible.  One of Edmond's men
fell forward, dead, with a bullet in his brow.

Suddenly heavier firing was heard from across the river.  The French
were shelling the citadel from the other side of the Meuse, and this
they continued to do until, at six o'clock, a long pontoon bridge, just
completed by the Germans a little higher up the river, was suddenly
swept by a hail of shell and destroyed.  A regiment of German infantry,
who were at that moment upon it, in the act of crossing, were shattered
and swept into the river, the clear waters of which became tinged with
their blood.  The French had waited until that moment, allowing the
Germans to construct the pontoon, and had then wiped it out.

So heavy had now become the attack of the Allies upon the citadel, that
not a living thing was to be seen upon the ramparts.  Shell after shell
fell upon them, exploding, shattering the thick masonry everywhere, and
sending up columns of dense black smoke which hovered in the still
evening air.

Then, of a sudden, there was a roar, and a terrific explosion of greater
force than all the others before, which completely tore out one angle of
the fortress, some of the heavy masonry falling with a huge crash down
the hill-side into the Place below, which was already thick with dead
and dying.

A great cheer sounded somewhere in French, for another fresh regiment
had suddenly arrived.

Orders were swiftly given to the Sixth Brigade to re-advance, and in
half an hour Edmond found that victory was theirs after all--they had
retaken the fort!  The German flag was hauled down and, in wrath,
destroyed, and amid vociferous cheering, the Belgian red, black, and
yellow tricolour was hoisted again in its place, Edmond at last
regaining the position he had held in the early morning.

Looking down upon the stricken town once again, he saw at what frightful
cost the fort had been retaken.  That morning peace had reigned--but
alas, now?

The streets and the river-banks were dotted with the dead, French,
Belgian and German, lying in all sorts of contorted attitudes, the blue
coats of the French infantry splashed with red, and their red trousers,
alas! stained a deeper hue.

The Germans had retired away towards Namur, it was said.  The fire had
ceased, and some Belgian infantry--in their round caps and blue
greatcoats--moving down the narrow street from the Place, were cheered
lustily.  But the yells of triumph died from their lips as they saw the
ambulances eagerly and silently at work, and they paused at that grim,
awful testimony of what war really meant.

A big grey armoured car of the French, with the muzzle of a machine-gun
pointing out, tried to pass out of the town, but was unable to do so
because of the bodies heaped in the streets, for the fronts of several
houses were lying across the roadway.  Then, at that moment, there was
heard in the air, the whirr of a scouting aeroplane which, at a second's
glance, was seen to be French, observing what positions the enemy were
taking up for the night.

The sun had set, and the red afterglow--that crimson light of war--was
showing in the west over where lay Great Britain, the chief objective of
the Kaiser and his barbaric hordes of brigands, hangmen, executioners,
and fire-bugs--the men doing the bidding of that blasphemous antichrist
who was daily lifting his hands to Heaven and invoking God's blessing
upon his hell-hound impieties.

In the twilight, sparks of fire were beginning to show in the shadows
across the river, where the French were encamped, while below, in the
town, after that thirteen hours of fierce bombardment, the Dinantais,
much relieved, came forth from every cellar and every shelter to
assemble in animated groups and discuss the terrible events of that
never-to-be-forgotten day--a day unequalled since Charles the Bold
reduced the old tower of Creve-Coeur--the Tower of the Broken Heart--
opposite at Bouvignes, and the streets of the town had run with blood.

Slowly--very slowly--the twilight faded and night crept on.  The quiet
of death spread over the historic little town.  The streets were not
lit, because the electric plant had been wrecked.  The great vaulted
cellars of the Hotel of the Sword had disgorged its crowd of terrified
refugees, and all, thankful that they had survived that fierce attack,
returned to their fire-swept homes again, while the Allies holding the
town prepared their evening meal and tended their wounded, of whom,
alas! there were so very many.

And as night fell, Edmond Valentin, who had flung aside his shako, flung
himself upon the ground near his gun, and fell to wondering--wondering
as he always did--how Aimee, his dearly beloved, was faring now that the
enemy had advanced up the valley, from the misty hills of the German
frontier.

The men about him were smoking, laughing, and joking, but he heard them
not.  One thought alone filled his mind--that of Aimee, always Aimee.

CHAPTER ELEVEN.

THIS WORD OF THE UHLAN.

The German tidal-wave was steadily advancing.  Prussia had set her heel
upon Belgium.

A perfect horde of jack-booted Uhlans had swarmed over the country, and
had already made themselves hated by their mad, murderous acts of
cruelty and pillage.  They were--as the blasphemous Kaiser had intended
they should be when making his plans at Potsdam--agents of the Terror.
Of the nineteen regiments of them in the German army, no fewer than
fourteen were being employed to terrorise the inoffensive villagers of
poor little Belgium; yet so bravely did the Belgian army fight that
within twelve days the larger part of this force, in their gaily-braided
uniforms and carrying their ready lances--upon which they sometimes
impaled children--were either killed, wounded, or held prisoners.  These
brutes, who had boasted of their "kultur," and commanded by noblemen,
had been sent out to live upon the country; but they had been entrapped
everywhere, and revenged themselves by acts of the most fiendish and
horrible cruelty unequalled in modern history.

The Uhlans!  As in the war of 1870, so now in Belgium, their very name
struck terror into the hearts of the hard-working, thrifty people of
Eastern Belgium.

Therefore it was hardly surprising when, one evening a week after Dinant
had been stormed, Aimee, who had just ascended to her room to tidy her
hair prior to sitting down to dinner with her mother, should stand
white-faced and aghast when Melanie, her dark, good-looking
_femme-de-chambre_, burst in, crying:

"Ah, Mademoiselle, it is terrible--_terrible_!  The Uhlans are here!
They are already in the chateau, asking for M'sieur le Baron!"

"The Uhlans _here_!" she gasped, in an instant pale to the lips.  "What
can they want?"

"_Mon Dieu_!  Who knows?  I hope they will not kill us all?" cried the
trembling maid, her face pale and scared.  "I have just seen Gustave
talking excitedly with two soldiers down in the great hall, while
outside, in the outer courtyard, there are a lot of horses."

Aimee dashed from her pretty chintz-hung room, across to a spare room at
the rear of the chateau, and looking down, saw, in the falling twilight,
a number of horses champing their bits in the big, paved courtyard,
while heavily-booted and spurred Uhlans, in their grey service uniforms,
were standing astride in groups, talking and laughing.

She held her breath.  She and her mother were alone and defenceless, the
Baron being in Brussels.  What could they do?  How should they act?

War was suddenly at their doors!

Without a moment's hesitation she ran quickly down to the great
_salle-a-manger_, the walls of which were hung with rare tapestries, and
where, on the table already laid with fine old silver and flowers,
candles were burning in their handsome silver candelabra.

The Baroness, grey-haired and stately, sitting in an ancient high-backed
chair, looked up in surprise from her book when Aimee rushed in, and
exclaimed in reproof:

"My dear child, whatever has happened?  Are you mad?"

"Ah! mother," cried the girl in frantic apprehension, "the Uhlans are
here!  They are asking below for father.  The Germans are upon us at
last!"

"_The Germans_!" echoed the Baroness, quite unperturbed, looking eagerly
over her gold-rimmed glasses.  "What can they want with us?  We are
doing them no harm."

"They are demanding to see father."

At that moment the liveried footman entered, trembling and pale-faced,
saying:

"A German officer is demanding to see the Baron, Madame.  He refuses to
believe that the master is absent in Brussels.  He therefore demands to
see you, Madame."

The Baroness knit her brows and drew herself up with hauteur, preserving
a wonderful calm in their defenceless circumstances.

"Very well," she sighed, "I suppose I had really better see him."

A moment later a big, broad-shouldered Uhlan officer, a fair-haired
Saxon, not bad-looking save for the ugly sabre-scar of his student days
upon his left cheek, strode into the handsome apartment, and halting
before the two ladies, clicked his spurred heels together and saluted.

In his long military boots and his Uhlan helmet this officer of the War
Lord of Germany looked taller and more forbidding than he really was,
yet his politeness to the Baroness and her daughter was at once
reassuring.

"I sincerely regret this intrusion, Madame," he said, in almost perfect
French.  "I am extremely sorry I am unable to respect the privacy of
your home, but, alas! it is war--the quarrel of nations."

And taking from within his grey tunic a card, he handed it to her.  The
Baroness glanced at it, and saw that the name was "Baron Wernher von
Meyeren."

"I am in command of my platoon of the Tenth Uhlans, and we are compelled
to billet upon you," he explained.  "I did not wish to disturb you,
ladies, but I find that the Baron himself is absent, hence I have to
intrude myself upon you."

"My husband is in Brussels, at a council meeting at the Ministry of
Finance," replied the Baroness de Neuville.  "He gave me to understand,
however, that here we should be quite safe from molestation."

The German officer, his strong hand upon the hilt of his sword, smiled
grimly.  He looked worn and dusty, and had the appearance of a man who
had ridden far at the bidding of his superiors.

"I fear, Baronne, that nobody is now safe from molestation, here, in
Belgium.  I am no politician, only a soldier, but it seems that your
gallant little country has decided to defend itself--a mouse against a
lion--with unfortunate and very regrettable results.  I have with me
forty-five men, upon whom I have imposed the strictest orders to behave
with proper decorum in your beautiful chateau.  If you will please order
your servants to give them food--of which they are sorely in need--they
will make themselves comfortable for the night in any corner they may
find."  Then, turning to Aimee, he added politely: "Mademoiselle need
have no fear.  It is but the fortunes of war."

The Baroness, still quite cool, looked at him steadily for a few
seconds.  Then she asked: "Cannot you billet your men upon the villagers
below, in the valley?"

"Ah, I regret, Baronne, that that is impossible.  Some of the villagers,
though non-combatants, have fired at my men and killed them; therefore,
in accordance with international law, their houses have been set on
fire.  The peaceful villages are all occupied by troops to-night, so we
have been compelled to come up here."

"We have M'sieur Rigaux to thank for this?" cried Aimee to her mother.
"He told us we should be quite safe here?"

The big Uhlan officer shrugged his shoulders, and glancing at the table
already set, said:

"The unfortunate situation need not, I think, be discussed,
Mademoiselle.  I merely ask if I, with my two subordinate officers, may
be permitted to join you at table this evening?"

The Baroness hesitated, still holding the Uhlan's card in her hand.  His
rank equalled that of her husband, and though they were strangers, she
foresaw that any resistance might have unpleasant results for them.  The
German tide was undoubtedly advancing.

"Baron von Meyeren," she said at last, with considerable dignity, "this
indignity you place upon us, two defenceless women, compelled as we are
to entertain our enemies, is, I suppose, but the fortune of war.  You
and your officers are quite welcome here at my table, but I would ask
you to order your men to behave with decency, for I heard--only
yesterday--some terrible stories of the conduct of Uhlans further up the
valley."

The officer bowed.

"Madame," he said, "I assure you that you need not have the slightest
apprehension.  In the German Army we punish disobedience by death.  My
men know that--by examples already set them."

"My daughter and I have your word, m'sieur--eh?" asked the Baroness.

"Madame," he replied, "you certainly have my solemn word.  To-morrow
morning we shall, I hope, relieve you of this incubus, and I trust that
you will, by that time, have discovered that we are not the bloodthirsty
savages which the world reports us to be."

The Baroness then called the footman and gave certain orders that the
troopers below should be entertained, while half an hour later Baron von
Meyeren, who had suddenly betrayed a sabre-rattling overbearing towards
the ladies, sat down at the dinner table with his two younger officers,
apparently young fops from Berlin.

The Baroness and her daughter refused to sit at table with their
enemies.

The swaggering German Baron did not ask for what he wanted.  He simply
ordered it from his orderly who stood behind him.

The wine served did not exactly suit his palate, whereupon he told the
orderly to go down into the cellars and ascertain what they contained.

"Bring us up some good wine," he added in German.  "The best these
people have.  They are sure to have something worth drinking.  And give
the men some also.  It will keep up their spirits."

The two women were sitting at the further end of the long room, watching
the weird scene, the three men laughing and eating beneath the zone of
light shed by the dozen or so lighted candles.

Soon the orderly returned with six bottles of Baron de Neuville's
choicest champagne.  These they opened themselves, and in loud, harsh
voices, brutally drank the health of their hostess and her daughter.

Beneath a veneer of polish and culture which that trio of the enemy
wore, was a coarseness and brutality which were at once revealed, for
they laughed uproariously, gossiping together in German, with coarse
remarks, which only Aimee, sitting in silence, understood.

They swallowed the wine in tumblers--the choice wine of Belgium's great
millionaire--and very soon they demanded that the Baroness and her
daughter should sit with them at table.

Again they refused, but both women discerned the drunken leers in the
eyes of the men, yet believing the assurance of the Uhlan commander, the
word of a German nobleman, they were not frightened.  Nevertheless the
swords those men wore at their sides bore the blood of the innocent
people massacred to provide the "frightful examples" which the Kaiser
had laughingly given to their brave little nation, which had no quarrel
with the bombastic and treacherous monarch who had self-styled himself
the War Lord of Europe.

"Come, Mademoiselle!" cried von Meyeren.  "Do not sit over there.  We
are enemies, but we will not hurt you.  And you, Baroness!" he cried,
rising and going across to them, "I insist upon your having dinner.  It
is not fair, is it, Heinrich?" he asked, addressing the elder of the
pair.

"No.  The Baroness must join us.  She must," he said.

The two women refused, but with their heads elevated by wine the three
men insisted, and at last, in order to pacify them, the mother and
daughter consented to sit at the further end of the table, though they
would eat nothing.

"Here's health to the Fatherland?" cried the younger of the three,
getting up unsteadily and spilling his wine as he raised it to his lips
amid the "Hochs" of his two companions.

The scene was surely as disgraceful as it was unexpected.  Baron de
Neuville's wife and daughter left there, alone and unprotected, in that
great mediaeval chateau, had accepted the word of honour of a Saxon
nobleman.  They had never expected to witness such a scene of
drunkenness as that!

Suddenly, from somewhere below, sounded men's shouts and women's
screams.  Were the men below drunk, like their officers?  Again and
again was the uproar repeated.

The Baroness rang the bell, but there was no response.

"Whatever can be happening below?" asked Aimee, full of fear.  Now that
the officers were drunk, what hope was there for the Kaiser's barbaric
savages in the servants' hall?

Again the bell was rung, when Melanie, in her cap and apron, dashed into
the room, crying:

"Ah!  Madame!  It is terrible--_terrible_!  The soldiers are wrecking
the _salon_.  They are ripping the furniture with their swords.  They
are all drunk, Madame--the beasts are all drunk?"

The girl was flushed and dishevelled.  Her hair was down, and she was
panting, having, truth to tell, just escaped the embraces of a too
amorous German in his cups.

The cultured Baron Wernher von Meyeren heard the maid's complaint to her
mistress, and laughed heartily.

"Our men are evidently enjoying themselves," he remarked in German to
his two brother-officers.  "This Baron de Neuville is the richest man in
Belgium.  It is fun to be in his house--is it not?  And his daughter is
pretty too.  What do you think--eh?"

Aimee overheard the words of the "blonde beast."

She stood boldly before him, and turned upon him like a tiger.

"You Uhlan?" cried her mother.  "Your very regiment is synonymous of all
that is treacherous and ill-begotten.  If you do not respect women, then
I believe all that is told of you.  Let your God-cursed Emperor let
loose his hordes upon us, but the day will come, and is not far distant,
when the finger of God will be placed upon you, and you, a nobleman of
Saxony, will be withered and die as a stickleback will die beneath the
sun."

"Oh, mother!  Do be careful what you say.  Pray be careful!" urged
Aimee, clinging to her beseechingly.

The gallant Baron, with crimson face, rose unsteadily, gripping the edge
of the table to prevent himself from falling, and in fierce anger cried:

"For those words to us, woman, your house shall suffer," and drawing his
sword, he swept from the table the beautiful epergnes of flowers and
china baskets of fruit, and, staggering to the wall, he slashed
viciously the fine old tapestries, in his frantic drunken rage.

"Ernst," he hiccoughed to one of the officers, "tell the men below that
this Belgian woman has insulted us while we are her guests, and let them
make an example of this fine Baron's castle."

"No, no?" shrieked Aimee.  "No, I beg of you, Baron--I beg of you to
spare our home.  Remember your word to us!" cried the girl frantically
in German.

But he only laughed triumphantly in her face, and the man he addressed
as Ernst, having left to do his bidding, he with the other officer and
two grey-coated orderlies, gleefully commenced to wreck the splendid
room, while the two terrified women, clinging to each other, stood in a
corner watching how they vented their mad ire upon all on which they
could lay their hands.

In a few moments they were slashing the upholstery with their swords,
tearing down and destroying the ancient Flemish tapestries, while the
Baron himself paid particular attention to the pictures--all valuable
old masters--defacing and destroying them one by one.

"See, woman! what we will now do with this snug home of yours?" he said
in his drunken frenzy as, taking up an iron poker from the big open
grate, he attacked the beautiful old chandelier of Venetian glass
suspended in the centre of the room, smashing it to fragments.

The yells of the men in the adjoining apartments mingled with the
smashing of furniture and loud, drunken laughter, reached them where
they stood.  They told their own tale.  Everywhere in that splendid old
chateau destruction was being carried on at the express orders of the
cultured Baron von Meyeren, one of Germany's noblemen.

"Wreck the place?" he yelled to half a dozen burly Uhlans who burst in,
two of them holding bottles in their hands.  "And we will make a bonfire
afterwards.  This woman has cursed us, and we, as German soldiers, will
teach her a lesson she will not easily forget!"

Poor Melanie had disappeared, but above the terrible disorder and wild
shouting were the shrieks of the female servants below, while a smell of
fire suddenly greeted their nostrils.

"Look, mother! there's smoke!" gasped Aimee in terror.  "They have set
the chateau on fire?"

As she spoke, two of the Uhlans had torn down a huge picture--part of an
altar-piece from a church at Antwerp--which occupied the whole of the
end wall of the room, and were kicking their big boots through the
priceless canvas.  It was a picture attributed to Rubens.

"Come, child, let us go," whispered the Baroness, her eyes dimmed with
tears, and her face pale and set.

They turned to leave, but as they did so, the Baron caught Aimee roughly
by the shoulder, and leering at her, patted her beneath the chin.

In an instant the girl, resenting such familiarity, turned upon him like
a tigress and slapped his flabby face so heavily that he drew back in
surprise, while the others witnessing the rebuff, laughed at his
discomfiture.  He raised his sword with an oath, and would have cut her
down had not the man called Ernst rushed forth and stayed his hand.

"Go, ladies," urged the man in French.  "Escape, while there is yet
time."

"Hold that girl!" shouted von Meyeren, fiercely struggling to get free
from his brother-officer.  But the latter held him, and barred his
passage while the two terrified women dashed down the stairs, up which
the black smoke was already slowly curling.

Darkness had fallen, and only here and there had the lamps been lit.
Therefore the Baroness and her daughter were enabled to obtain hats and
wraps and to creep down a steep, winding back staircase which was seldom
used, and which the Uhlans had, fortunately, not yet discovered.

The scene was a terrible one of wholesale, wanton destruction.  Some of
the men were busy getting together the plate and valuables, while, just
as they left, they caught sight of one man who emerged into the
courtyard with the Baroness' jewel-case beneath his arm.

The thieves and murderers of the Kaiser were repeating in the beautiful
Chateau of Severac, the same disgraceful methods which they had pursued
in the villages of the Meuse.  They respected neither God nor man,
neither old age nor youth.  They made war upon women, and shot down the
unarmed and defenceless.  Indeed, this great army of "kultur" was, in
reality, but a disciplined horde of barbarians.

The Baroness and her daughter, with wraps hastily thrown about them,
succeeded in escaping from the house by the postern gate, which gave
entrance to a wood, but ere they left, a red glare from one of the lower
rooms, shining away across the river, told only too plainly that the
dastardly Uhlans had used some of their famous inflammable "confetti,"
and were burning the place.

The fierce, exultant yells of the drunken soldiery fell upon their ears
as they plunged into the dark wood, part of the Baron's wide domain, the
intricate by-paths of which were well known to Aimee.

Breathlessly they hastened on, until in the darkness beneath the trees
they were compelled to slowly grope their way.  Their fear was lest the
woods be searched, and they might be captured, for the brutes--inflamed
as they were with wine--were now in the mood for torture and for murder.
Woe-betide them if they fell into their hands.

Mother and daughter pushed eagerly, breathlessly on, terrified at the
fearful orgie of destruction they had just witnessed.  For a full
half-hour they walked, Aimee leading the way through the narrow, winding
shooting-paths, until at last they came forth into the open fields.

Then they paused, scarce daring to look behind them.  Alas! at the bend
of the valley, high upon its rock, Severac stood out vividly with flames
belching fiercely from the windows of its high, round towers, and
casting a blood-red glare upon the waters and across to the woods on the
opposite bank.

"_Dieu_!" gasped the Baroness--"the fiends!--those hell-fiends of the
Emperor?"

"Mother," exclaimed Aimee, quite calm again now that they had escaped
from the hands of that brigandish band, "remember there is a God of
Justice, with whom vengeance lies for wrong, and most assuredly will He,
if we place our trust in Him, mete out the dread fate of death and
obscurity to the arrogant Kaiser, and to all his dastardly barbarians.
Let us get back to Brussels somehow.  There, at least, we shall be
safe."

And as they stood watching the fierce flames leap up around those
ancient towers which had withstood the wars of Charles the Bold, they
knew not the awful scene taking place in the courtyard, where Gustave,
Melanie, and seven other of the servants, male and female, were shot one
after the other in cold blood, as they emerged in terror from the
burning place.  Appearance of each was being hailed by the drunken
laughter of the assembled soldiers, and in escaping the fire they fell
victims of the blood-lust of the brutes.

"The Red Cock is crowing all over Belgium!" shouted the Baron von
Meyeren thickly, alluding to the incendiary acts of Germans being
committed everywhere.  "We shall make a bonfire of Namur, to-morrow, my
men!  Hurrah! for God and the Fatherland."

And as he passed across the courtyard, for the atmosphere had now become
hot and stifling, he savagely kicked aside the body of one of the young
female servants who, poor thing, had been sabred in her attempt to
escape.

CHAPTER TWELVE.

THE FUGITIVES.

That flight proved indeed a hideous nightmare.

Throughout those hot, stifling hours of oppressive darkness, the
Baroness de Neuville--as homeless as those hundreds of poor people on
the roads, even though wife of a millionaire--wandered on, Aimee taking
her arm tenderly.  On, and still on they went, along the straight, open
road which, leaving the Meuse, led over the hills to the straggling
little whitewashed village of Winenne, which they at last reached.

There they joined a hustling crowd of terror-stricken fugitives of all
classes, sad-eyed men, frightened women, and wondering children, some
stern, some crying bitterly, but all carrying bundles, or pushing
wheelbarrows or perambulators containing all they had saved from their
lowly homes.  From Winenne, the Baroness and her daughter, after
trudging on with the crowd for some distance, left the high road and
took a by-way, which Aimee knew by motoring frequently over it, led due
south across the hill, for ten miles or so, to Bourseigne, where lived
the Baronne's brother, a large landed proprietor.  In his house they had
decided to seek protection.  The red flush of dawn had given place to
the light of day ere they came in sight of the little place, lying deep
in its hollow, but as they looked eagerly upon "The Chateau"--as the
long, white, old-fashioned house was termed--their spirits fell, for it
was roofless, and its grim, blackened walls, alas! told their own tale.

A peasant on the road told them the story.

Three days ago the Germans had arrived and occupied the place, which was
only three miles from the French frontier.  Monsieur Hannaerts, the
seigneur of the place, had been arrested as hostage for the good
behaviour of the village, but, because a half-witted youth had
discharged a toy-pistol at a German soldier, the unhappy gentleman had
been bound to a telegraph pole at the roadside, and shot in the presence
of the villagers.

An hour later the British, under General Sir John French, who had
arrived at Charleroi and had extended their line towards Mezieres, began
to shell the village, with the result that it had been partially
destroyed, the Chateau, which had been the enemy's headquarters,
suffering most severely.

The tide of war, however, had now passed by, and when the two weary,
footsore women entered the village, they found life proceeding almost as
usual.  Those who had not been killed had returned to their wrecked and
shattered homes, and were full of stories of the fierce brutality of the
invader, which the gallant "Anglais" in khaki had so swiftly driven out.

Naturally, much distressed at the news of her brother's murder, the
Baronne entered the place with fixed, terror-stricken eyes, that same
set expression of woe and hopelessness which was seen everywhere in
Belgium, now that the gallant little kingdom had fallen beneath the fire
and sword of a relentless barbarian.

On every hand great holes showed in the walls, torn open by the British
shells, many houses were completely demolished, and in some places only
rubble heaps remained to show the site where houses had stood.  In
others, walls stood gaunt and blackened where the fire had gutted them,
causing roofs and windows to fall in.

Wandering pigs were grunting in the long street, and big-eyed little
children, now that the roar of war had ceased, were playing merrily
among the ruins and finding all sorts of oddments half burned in the
debris.  One, evidently a humourist, had put on the spiked helmet of a
dead German, and was striking comic attitudes, to the delight of his
playfellows.  His head being completely buried in the canvas-covered
helmet, he presented a most ludicrous appearance.

"Let us find M'sieur Labarre, mother," suggested Aimee, for she knew the
place well, as they had often been her uncle's guests at the now ruined
chateau.

"Yes," murmured the Baronne.  "I feel so very faint, dear, that I really
can go no farther?"  And, indeed, the poor woman, refined and cultured,
having tramped all through that terrible night in her thin shoes, and
having been challenged so constantly by soldiers in the darkness--each
challenge being a fright lest it be that of the enemy--she was entirely
exhausted and unnerved.

Labarre was a farmer, who held some land belonging to Aimee's unde, and
it was not long before they entered his modest house--a long, ugly,
grey-slated place surrounded by haystacks and outhouses.

Labarre, a stout, ruddy-faced man, of middle age, in a blue linen
blouse, typical of the Walloon farmer, welcomed the poor ladies warmly
and in great surprise, and soon they were in the hands of his stout
wife, Elise, and were drinking cups of hot _bouillon_, for, in the farms
of the Ardennes, the stock-pot is usually simmering upon the fire.

The long, old-fashioned room, with its heavy beams, its stone-paving,
its row of copper cooking-utensils shining in the sun, and its wide
chimney and wooden chairs was, indeed, a haven of rest after the terrors
of that night.

And while they drank the _bouillon_, the fat farmer lifted his hands as
he told them the story of the German occupation.

"Ah!  Baronne!  It was terrible--very terrible," he cried in his Walloon
dialect.  "Those pigs of Germans came here, took all the corn I had,
smashed my piano and thieved two of my horses.  But the brave English
drove them out.  We fled when the English shells began to fall, but,
fortunately, not one did any damage to our house, though the big barn
was set on fire with two haystacks, and destroyed."

Having remained under the farmer's hospitable roof for a day, Aimee, who
had now completely recovered, resolved to leave her mother in Madame
Labarre's charge, and endeavour to reach Dinant where, it was said, the
telephone with Brussels had been repaired.  By that means she could, she
hoped, communicate with her father, and ascertain what they should do.

The British soldiers in khaki were now in possession of Bourseigne, and
that communication was open from Dinant to Brussels, Aimee had learnt
from a lieutenant of the Gloucesters, a good-looking young fellow named
Dick Fortescue, whom she had met in the little Place having some trouble
with the Walloon language in a purchase of fodder he was making, and had
offered to interpret.

What Fortescue had told her caused her to decide, therefore, two hours
later, there being no trains nor any conveyance available, she set out
alone, a slim, pathetic little figure in dusty black, wearing a black
shawl borrowed from the farmer's wife, and turned her face westward
along that white road so familiar to her, a highway which ran over green
hills and along deep valleys, and which was the main road over which the
lumbering, old-fashioned post _diligences_, with their jingling bells,
still passed, in peace time, between Sedan and Dinant.

With her face to the deep glow of the sunset she trudged forward, her
thoughts reverting, as they always did, to Edmond--her Edmond!

"Where is he?" she murmured, as her white, hard-set lips moved.  "What
can have happened to him?"

Was he lying still and dead--buried perhaps in a nameless grave--or was
he still fighting valiantly in defence of his country and his King?

If he were, he would, wherever he might be, still be thinking of her.
Of that she was confident, for they loved each other with a firm,
all-absorbing and eternal love, a love that could never be shaken, and
that could never die.

The light of the fading day darkened into the blood-red afterglow, and
before her there rose the lowering clouds of night, as alone and
unprotected she still bent forward, with sixteen miles to cover ere she
reached the narrow, cobbled streets of Dinant.  Ten miles away on her
left stood Severac, now, alas! but a smouldering ruin, and over in that
direction she could hear the distant booming of heavy guns, for that
evening the British, acquitting themselves so bravely, were fighting Von
Kluck all along the line from Mons, through Charleroi, to near Mezieres.
They were stemming the German invasion, and while the flower of the
German Army was being hurled against them, they swept them off even
though the Kaiser, in his insane arrogance, had issued as his "Imperial
command" that General French's "contemptible little army" should be
crushed out of existence.

In her torn and dusty black gown, and patent leather shoes, worn badly
down by the long tramp from Severac, Aimee, though weary and footsore,
did not lose heart.  She was gratified that her mother was in a place of
safety, and now, if she could only communicate with her father, they
would, no doubt, be able to get to Ostend, and perhaps over to England.
So she went forward with the distant rumble of artillery ever in her
ears, while as darkness fell, she turned aside to notice a fierce red
glare in the sky far away across the Meuse, in the direction of
Phillipeville.  Over there another town had no doubt been given to the
flames.

At the village of Malvoisin she met several thousands of refugees coming
towards France, raising clouds of suffocating dust.  They were peasants
driven by the enemy out of the peaceful valley of the winding Ourthe,
and were hoping to find shelter across the frontier in France.  Now and
then there passed clattering squadrons of Belgian cavalry, the little
yellow tassels hanging gaily from the front of their caps, while ever
and anon there lumbered past, in the dim light, great grey-painted
siege-guns, long trains of ammunition-wagons, Red Cross
motor-ambulances, and endless lines of transports of all sorts.

Squads of infantry marched gaily to martial airs, or the men sang the
latest popular songs of the _cafe-chantant_, while there also passed
several machine-guns drawn by their dog-teams.

Presently Aimee joined three tearful, homeless women, one of whom
trundled an old rickety perambulator filled with her household goods.
They had come from Rossignol, forty miles distant, which had been sacked
and burned by a Uhlan patrol, and they described to her the terrible
scene.  Therefore, in company, the trio pushed forward until at length
they entered a long dark street of shattered houses, which Aimee
recognised, to her amazement, as that of Anseremme.  Yes!  There was the
little Hotel Beau Sejour where she and Edmond had spent so many sunny
hours in secret together, but alas! its walls were now gaunt and
roofless.  It had been gutted by fire, while the pleasant little
_terrasse_ beside the river was heaped with the debris of fallen walls.

She sighed as she passed the place which held for her so many fond
memories, and again pressed forward with blistered feet, on past that
great high split rock, through which the road runs beside the river,
known as the Roche Bayard, until at length she found herself in the long
dark street of half-ruined houses that led straight into the little
Place at Dinant.

Arrived there, she halted aghast.  The long bridge had fallen, a wreck,
into the river, and there were signs everywhere of the ruthless
bombardment a week before, when happily the Germans had been driven out
and had retired.  But at that hour, about half-past ten o'clock, the
place was as silent as the grave.  Everywhere was ruin and desolation,
while in the air was still the pungent odour of burnt wood, the woodwork
of houses set on fire by the German shells.

There being neither gas nor electricity, an oil lamp had been hung upon
a nail on a wall, and it was near this that the girl was standing.  She
was well known in Dinant as daughter of the Baron who held the
purse-strings of Belgium, and, with her mother, frequently came to the
little town in their car.

She stood hesitating as to whom she should ask a favour and allow her to
telephone to Brussels, when she was suddenly startled by a familiar
voice behind her, and holding her breath, she faced the man who had
addressed her.

It was a Belgian soldier.

It was Edmond Valentin!

CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

BEFORE THE STORM.

"Aimee?" he gasped.  "_You_!"

"_Dieu_!  Edmond.  You!--fancy _you here_, just at the moment when--"

"When--what?" he echoed.  "Tell me, why are you here--in this place?
Why are you not in Brussels?  It is not safe for you here, my darling!"

And he placed his hand tenderly upon her shoulder and, in the dim light
of the lantern, looked straight into her dear face.

She gazed at him.  He was in his heavy military overcoat, with a rifle
slung upon his shoulder, for he had come down into the town from the
fortress above, where his machine-gun was posted, in order to take a
message from his captain to the captain of infantry holding the head of
the wrecked bridge close by.

A few brief, hasty words sufficed to explain the terrible scene at
Severac; how she and her mother had fled, and the reason of her long
tramp to Dinant.  There, in that dark, silent little square before the
ruined church, with the high ruined old fortress on the cliff above, he
drew her weary head down upon his breast, imprinting upon her white brow
a long, passionate kiss, and murmuring:

"Ah! my darling, I have prayed to God that I might be spared to see you
once again--if only just once--for the last time!"

"No, no," she cried, lifting her lips to his, and kissing him long and
fervently.  "No.  We shall win, Edmond, and you will live.  Right and
justice are, surely, upon our side, and we shall vanquish this German
enemy of civilisation.  Brute force can never win in the face of
Providence and God's good-will."

"True, darling.  But you must save yourself," he urged.  And, hastily,
he told her of the attack upon Liege, the retreat to the Meuse, the
bombardment of Dinant, and the valiant manner in which the defenders had
fought and retaken the citadel.

In those five minutes in which the devoted pair stood together in the
dim, flickering light, he held her in his strong embrace.  Their
affection was a fierce and passionate devotion, the fire of a love
unquenchable.  He repeated in her ear his fervent love for her, and then
he added in a hard voice:

"Aimee, if in this terrible fight for life I fall, and we do not meet
again, I want you to promise me one thing.  Will you, darling?"

"Of course, Edmond.  What is it?"

"That you will never consent to marry that man, Arnaud Rigaux--our
enemy?"

"I will never marry him, Edmond.  I would rather die first?"

"You promise me that?" he asked eagerly.

"I promise you.  Before I consent I would rather take my own life.  I
swear to you that I will never be the wife of Arnaud Rigaux."

"_Bien_!  Remember always that he is our mutual enemy--yours and mine,"
he said in a hard, determined tone.  Then he again kissed her, reassured
by her fervent promise.

As they stood beneath the lamplight, a sentry passed them, his bayonet
gleaming beneath the fitful light.  But they were both in ignorance
that, away in the shadow of a doorway, a man who had just entered the
square had withdrawn to watch the affectionate pair--out of curiosity
perhaps.

Lovers are always interesting to the curious, yet this man who had
hitherto walked very briskly, had suddenly stopped and withdrawn to the
shadow, so suddenly indeed, that the heavy-footed sentry had not
detected his light steps.

Had Edmond Valentin known that he was being spied upon, then woe-betide
the watcher!  The Belgians were again in occupation of the town, and any
suspicious character was at once arrested as a German spy, of whom there
were so many hundreds swarming all over the country.

As it was, the pair stood in utter ignorance of the sharp watchful eyes
upon them, and in the silence of the night, continued in low undertones
their assurances of affection.

Away across the river--beyond the ruins of the old Chateau of
Creve-Coeur--a fierce red light rose until it glared in the night sky,
the toll of war paid by the poor defenceless peasantry, to those
barbaric hordes of "kultur" who were sweeping across Belgium with
rapine, fire, and sword.  At no crime or outrage, torture or
desecration, were those hirelings of the Master Criminal of Earth now
hesitating.  The modern Judas, who had stretched out the hand of
friendship to Great Britain, to Russia, to France and to Belgium,
falsely proclaiming himself the Apostle of Peace, and endeavouring to
blind the world to his true intentions, had now revealed himself as the
world's bitterest, most dastardly, and most low-down enemy, who was
making what he was pleased to term "frightful examples" in an endeavour
to terrify and to stagger humanity.

"I fear that you will not be able to telephone to your father, darling,"
Edmond was saying.  "Only an hour ago communication was again
interrupted.  Some Uhlans have cut the wires, I suppose.  They do so
every day.  Your only chance will be to try and get through to Brussels
yourself--only it is so far away, now that there is no rail or motors--
sixty miles, or more."

"But what shall I do?" she asked.  "What do you advise, Edmond?"

What could he advise?  He stood before her, unable to reply.

So engrossed were they in their conversation that they did not notice
that, after the sentry had passed across the square to the corner of the
narrow Rue Grande, up which Aimee had trudged, the dark civilian figure
in the doorway had slipped across the Grand Place, and was again
engulfed in the shadows.

"You can go no further to-night, dearest," he said.  "You know this
place--Dinant.  Why not go to the Hotel de l'Epee yonder, up the street,
and remain there till morning?  Then I will get permission to come and
see you, and we can decide upon some plan."

"Ah! yes!" she cried.  "Uncle Francois!  I know the dear old fellow.
His son was in our service as chauffeur two years ago.  What an
excellent idea!  Yes.  I will go at once.  But without money will he
take me in?" she queried with hesitancy.

"Never fear, darling?" he laughed.  "The daughter of the Baron de
Neuville has unlimited credit in any town in Belgium.  But alas?" he
added, "I must go, sweetheart, for I have to deliver an immediate
message, and obtain a reply.  I may be too late if I do not hurry."

"Yes--go, Edmond," she said, just a little reluctantly.  "Carry out your
duty.  I know my way to Uncle Francois' quite well.  _Au revoir_!"

"Till to-morrow, my own darling," he said, and holding her again in his
strong embrace for a few seconds, he imprinted upon her white, open
brow, fond passionate caresses in all the ecstasy of their mutual love.

As he held her in his arms, in the dark silent Grand Place, the sharp
sound of a bugle broke upon their ears.  It was blown from the citadel
above.

"The alarm!" gasped her lover breathlessly.  "_Dieu_!  What can have
happened?"  In a moment the call was repeated, and echoed across the
river, while next second there was the rattle of rifle-shots in the
darkness, and from the rock, above where they stood, opened out long
white beams of intense light which slowly swept the valley up and down.

Suddenly the quick pom-pom-pom of a Maxim--Edmond's Maxim--broke the
quiet, followed by a red flash and a terrific explosion above them.

The Belgians had discovered that the enemy, under cover of darkness,
were making another attack upon the town!

"You cannot stay here, darling," Edmond cried, in frantic haste.  "Run
along to Uncle Francois'.  He has big cellars there.  Remain below in
them until the storm has passed.  I must get back to my gun."  And he
kissed her again breathlessly, saying, "Good-bye, darling--till
to-morrow."

Once more the heavy guns upon the citadel flashed and roared.  No time
was now to be lost.

"We are attacked again?" cried Valentin.  "Run along to the Epee!  You
will be safe there.  Run quickly!"--and he kissed her in hasty farewell.
Then they parted.

She had only a couple of hundred yards to go to gain the old-fashioned
inn.  He watched her disappear around the corner, then, as fast as his
legs could carry him, he ascended the hill-side to where his men, posted
with their machine-gun, were already firing.

By this time, however, the whole town was agog.  The alarm signals had
aroused everyone.  It was, indeed, an awful nightmare.  The barbaric
enemy were again upon them for a second time!

A German armoured motor-car had suddenly swept down the Rue St
Jacques--which ran behind the Rue Grande--and was firing with its
machine-gun into the windows of houses without warning or provocation.

Behind it, rode a large body of Uhlans, who at once ran through, with
their lances, those of the peaceful inhabitants who opened their doors
to ascertain the cause of the firing.

Aimee succeeded in gaining the door of the ancient inn only just in
time, knocking frantically, and obtaining admittance, while Uncle
Francois, recognising her, was at once eager for information as to what
had happened to the Baron.  At the moment the girl entered the shelter
of the house, bullets were already sweeping up the streets.

Dinant had been attacked suddenly by a force under Lieutenant-Colond
Beeger, one of the most arrogant Huns of the Kaiser--a monster, who
dealt death upon defenceless women and children, and who had been sent
by his superiors to repeat the "frightful examples" of Aerschot and of
Vise.  The sharp, relentless talons of the Prussian eagle had, alas!
been set into the little place, peaceful, quiet, and unoffending as it
had always been throughout the ages.

Within five minutes the town arose from its silence to a pandemonium of
noise.  Edmond, who had climbed up the four hundred steps leading to the
citadel to his machine-gun, saw but little of the Dantean scene below.
His pom-pom was now spitting death down into the Grand Place, but
suddenly he slackened the fire in fear lest he might be sending to the
grave any of those brave Dinantais, whom he could not distinguish from
the enemy in the darkness.

Meanwhile, Aimee stood in the great cellars of the Hotel of the Sword,
huddled with a hundred others of all ages and all classes, and fearing
for her lover in that violent storm which had so suddenly burst upon
them.

How would it end?  What could the end be?

CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

HELD BY THE ENEMY.

The long, narrow street was being swept by a hail of lead.  Once again
was Dinant stricken.

The Germans--ordered by the assassin who led them--were firing
indiscriminately into the houses as they rode along.

A woman sleeping in the top room of the hotel was killed, while, in the
next house, a poor little child was mortally wounded, and died in its
mother's arms.  Those who opened their doors, startled at the commotion,
were all ruthlessly shot down.  The marauders, more savage than the
warriors of the Khalifa, spared nobody.

Aimee, seated upon a mouldy wine-barrel in the stuffy cellar amid that
crowd of terrified women, listened to the firing, keenly apprehensive of
Edmond's fate.  That sudden and unexpected meeting now seemed to her
like some strange dream.

Hiding there, she knew not the savage, awful acts that were being
committed by the Kaiser's assassins, acts which were but the prelude of
a reign of terror.

"Do not be distressed, Mademoiselle," urged old Uncle Francois, placing
his big, heavy hand kindly upon the girl's shoulder.  "You are safe
here, and besides, our soldiers will soon drive out the enemy, as they
did before."

As he spoke, the earth shook beneath the roar of a big field-gun.

"Hark!  They are firing upon them from the citadel?" he added.

That night proved one of breathless suspense.  The sound of intermittent
firing could be heard, even down in that vaulted cellar, together with
the heavier explosions which, ever and anon, shook the ancient place to
its very foundations.

Uncle Francois and his daughter busied themselves in making coffee for
the refugees, poor, frantic women, who dreaded what fate might befall
their husbands and brothers.  Many of them knelt piously and aloud
besought the protection of the Almighty against the barbarians.

Dawn came at last, and with it large masses of German troops swept into
the town.  Some sharp fighting had occurred along the heights above the
Meuse, but during the night the gallant defenders had been driven out of
the town, being compelled to fall back along the wide valley towards
Namur.

Edmond Valentin worked his gun valiantly, with a fierce, dogged
determination not to leave Aimee in the hands of the brutal soldiery.

But it was all to no purpose.  The order was given to retire, and he was
compelled to withdraw with his comrades under cover of darkness.

"The pigs shall die?" he muttered fiercely to himself.  He clenched his
teeth, and, even after the order to "cease fire," he still worked his
Maxim, mowing down a squad of twenty or so German infantrymen who had
just entered the Place below, at the spot where he and Aimee had stood
together only a short time before.

Aimee was down there, in that stricken town!  Could he thus abandon her
to her fate!

He blamed himself for advising her to go to the house of Uncle Francois.
She should have kept on the road towards Namur, for had she done so,
she would have now been beyond the danger zone.

A shrapnel bullet had grazed his left wrist, and around it he had
hastily wrapped a piece of dirty rag, which was now already saturated
with blood.  But in his chagrin at their compulsory retreat, he heeded
not his injury.  The welfare of the sweet girl, whom he loved more
dearly than his own life, was his only thought.

His brigade, thus driven from their position, withdrew in the darkness
over the hills to behind the village of Houx, where the long
railway-bridge crossing the Meuse, destroyed a few days ago by the
defenders, was now lying a wreck of twisted ironwork in the stream.
There they took up a second defensive position.

But meanwhile in Dinant the Germans, filled with the blood-lust of
triumph, and urged on by their cultured "darlings" of Berlin
drawing-rooms--those degenerate elegants who were receiving tin crosses
from their Kaiser because of the "frightful examples" they were making--
were now committing atrocities more abominable even than those once
committed in Bulgaria, and denounced by the whole civilised world.

Into the big, ill-lit cellar descended a terrified woman who told an
awful story.  German soldiers were smashing in the doors of every house,
and murdering everybody found within.

"My poor husband has just been killed before my very eyes!" shrieked the
poor, half-demented creature.  "My two children also!  The Imites!  They
stabbed them with their bayonets!  I flew, and they did not catch me.
They are arresting all women, and taking them up to the Monastery.  They
will be here soon."

"Here!" gasped Aimee, her face suddenly white as death.  "Surely they
will not come here?" she cried.

"They will?" shouted the frantic, half-crazed woman, who had seen her
beloved husband fall beneath the bullets of the soldiers ere they,
laughingly, set fire to her house.  "They will?"

Scarcely had she spoken before a young man, Pierre Fievet, a nephew of
Uncle Francois, limped down the broken steps into the cellar, wounded in
the foot, and, calling the old man aside, said in a low voice in his
native Walloon dialect:

"Don't alarm the women.  But the situation outside is fearful."  He was
a young doctor, and well known in Dinant.  "About sixty workmen at the
cotton-mill, together with our friend Himmer, the manager, have just
been found in hiding under a culvert," he added.  "They have all been
shot--everyone of them.  The soldiers are using bombs to set fire to the
houses everywhere.  It is a raging furnace outside?"

"_Dieu_!" gasped the old man.  "What shall we do?"

"Heaven help us!  I do not know," replied the young doctor.  "I only
just managed to escape with my life.  I saw, only a minute or two ago,
in the Place d'Armes, quite two hundred men and boys--old men of
seventy-five and boys of twelve, many of whom I knew--drawn up, and then
shot down by a machine-gun.  Pere Jules, our old friend, was among
them--and surely he was fully eighty!"

"Holy Jesu!  May God place His curse upon these Germans?" cried the old
fellow fervently.  "As surely as there is a God in heaven, so assuredly
shall we be avenged by a Hand which is stronger and more relentless than
the Kaiser's in wreaking vengeance.  What else do you know?" he inquired
eagerly.

"Xavier Wasseige, manager of the Banque de la Meuse, has been shot,
together with his two sons, and Camille Finette and his little boy of
twelve have also been murdered.  They are wiping out the whole, district
of Saint Medart, between the station and the bridge.  All is in flames.
The soldiers are worse than African savages.  The new post-office has
been burnt and blown up.  It is only a heap of ruins."

Uncle Francois knit his grey brows, and gazed steadily into his nephew's
eyes.

"Look here!  Are you lying, Pierre?" he asked.  "Have you really seen
all this?"

"Yes.  I have seen it with my own eyes."

"I don't believe you," declared the old man bluntly.  "I will go out and
see for myself what these German fiends are doing."

"Oh!  In the name of God, don't!" cried his nephew in quick
apprehension.  "You will certainly be killed.  The whole of the Rue Sax,
along by the river-bank, is burning.  Not a single house has escaped.
They intend, it seems, to destroy all our town, on both sides of the
river, now that they have repaired their pontoon.  Think that we have
lived in Dinant to witness this!"

"But what shall we do?" gasped the poor old fellow.  "How can we save
these poor women?"  His words were overheard by Aimee, who rose quickly
and came forward, asking:

"What has happened?" and, indicating the young man, she asked, "What has
this gentleman been telling you?"

"Oh--well--nothing very important, Mademoiselle," Francois answered with
hesitation.  "This is Doctor Pierre Fievet, my nephew, and he has just
brought me a message.  There is no real danger, Mademoiselle," he
assured her.  "Our splendid troops are still close by, and will drive
the invaders out, as before.  The brigand, Von Emmich, will meet his
deserts before long, depend upon it, my dear Mademoiselle."

The girl, thus assured, withdrew to allow the two men to continue their
conversation, which she believed to be of a private character.

"Don't alarm these women, Pierre," whispered old Francois.  "Poor
creatures, they are suffering enough already," "But what will you do?
What can you do?  At any moment they may burn down this place--and you
will all be suffocated like rats in a hole."

"And, surely, that will be a far better fate for the women, than if the
soldiers seize them," was the old man's hard response.  "I, and your
cousin Marie, will die with them here--if it is necessary.  I, for one,
am not afraid to die.  I have made my peace with God.  I am too old and
feeble to handle a rifle, but when I was young I was a soldier of
Belgium.  Our little country has shown the world that she can fight.  If
the great wave of Germany sweeps further upon us we must necessarily be
crushed out of existence.  But the Powers, France, England, and Russia,
will see that our memory--our grave--is avenged.  I still believe,
Pierre, in our country, and in our good King Albert!"

"Forty men over at the brewery of Nicaise Freres, who were found in the
cellars an hour ago, were brought out and shot," the young man said.
"But ah! _mon oncle_, you should have witnessed the scene in the Place
d'Armes--how they placed our poor, innocent townspeople against the
wall--ranging them in rows, under pretence that the German Colonel was
to address them.  A miserable spy, who spoke Walloon as fluently as I do
myself, shouted that Colonel Beeger wished to speak to them, and to urge
them to bow to the inevitable, and become German subjects.  They were
all attention, ready to listen, and little dreaming the awful fate in
store for them.  They never foresaw the German treachery until a little
grey machine-gun at the corner, with the four men behind it, suddenly
rattled out, and in a few moments the whole of them were wallowing in
their own life-blood.  Ah! it was fearful, cruel, inhuman--_ghastly_!
And this is in our civilised age!"

"Pierre," exclaimed the good-natured old fellow softly, so that the
women in that dank Dantesque vault should not overhear.  "Our God is the
God of justice and of righteousness.  These murderers may wreck and
desecrate our churches; they may kill our dear devoted priests; they may
ridicule our religion, yet the great God who watches over us will, most
assuredly, grind in His mill the arrogant nation that has sought to
crush the world beneath Prussian despotism.  We may die to-day in our
good cause, but the Kaiser to-morrow will be hurled down and die
accursed by humanity, and damned to hell by his Creator!"

"True, our poor people are falling beneath German bullets--though they
have committed no offence against the German nation--yet what can you do
here?  You seem to be caught in a trap.  What shall you do with these
women?"

"Heaven knows?" gasped the honest old fellow.  "What can I do?  What do
you suggest?" and he wrung his hands.

At that moment a white-haired old man, nearly eighty years of age,
staggered down the broken steps, shrieking:

"Ah!  Let me die!  Let me die!  The brutes are shooting men and boys in
the Place, and now the soldiers are here--_to kill us all_!"

A terrible panic ensued at those significant words.  The women huddled
together, shrieked and screamed, for there, sure enough, came down the
stone steps a grey-coated German soldier in spiked canvas-covered
helmet, shouting roughly some command in German, and carrying his
gleaming bayonet fixed before him.

"You women must all come up out of here!" cried a stern voice in bad
French, as several other soldiers followed the first who had descended,
until a dozen stood in the cellar.

The poor frightened creatures shrieked, wailed, and prayed for
protection.

But the brutal soldiers, led by a swaggering young lieutenant of the
Brandenburg infantry, were obdurate and commenced to roughly ill-treat
the women, and cuff them towards the steps.

Uncle Francois raised his voice in loud protest, but next second a shot
rang sharply out, and he fell dead upon the stones, a bullet through his
heart, while the brute who had shot him roughly kicked his body aside
with a German oath.

Such an action cowed them all.

A silence fell--the grim, terrible silence of those caught in a
death-trap, for the women were now held by the enemy, and they knew,
alas! too well, what their fate would now be--either dishonour or death.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

BETRAYS THE TRAITOR.

The few moments that followed were indeed full of grim horror.

An old peasant woman, standing by Aimee, in her frenzy, spat at one of
the German soldiers, whereupon he struck her in the breast with his
bayonet, and, with a piercing shriek, the poor thing fell, her thin,
bony hands clutching at the stones in her death agony.

"Come! no loitering!" shouted the young officer brutally, in French.
"We must have you cellar-rats out above ground."  Then, catching sight
of Aimee, he approached her, and spoke some words in German.  She knew
the language well, but did not reply, pretending that she did not
understand.

At that moment there was a struggle on the stone stairway, which was
narrow and winding, and his attention became diverted from her,
whereupon the big, grey-coated infantryman, who had shot poor Uncle
Francois, strode up to her and leered in her face.

She turned her head.

He placed his heavy hand upon her shoulder, saying, in his bad French:

"My girl, you are young and very pretty--to be sure?"

And then she saw, by his flushed face and bright eyes, that he had been
drinking.  The Germans drank up whatever they could loot--spirits, wine,
beer, liqueurs, aperitifs--all the contents of the cafes.

The girl, though defenceless, drew herself up quickly, and replied in
German, with the words:

"I see no reason why you should insult me?"

"Insult!" he laughed roughly.  "Ah, you will see.  We shall teach you
rats, who live down here in holes, a lesson.  Get along--and quickly."

And he prodded her with his bayonet towards where the others, driven
like sheep, were stumbling up the dark, slippery steps of the ancient
vault.

She went forward without a murmur.  The fate of the others was to be
hers also.

Where was Edmond?  If he were there he would certainly teach those
brutes a severe lesson.  But alas! he was not there.  The Belgians had
been driven out, and they, weak and defenceless, were held by a fierce
relentless set of savages.  The whole world was now learning the vanity
of attempting to distinguish between the Germany of "culture" and the
panoplied brutality of Prussian arrogance.

With the others, Aimee had ascended the steps and had gained the big
ancient kitchen of the inn.

A number of the elder women had been pushed forward out into the street,
where some screamed in sudden madness at seeing the bodies of men lying
in the roadway.  But Aimee, with half a dozen or so of the younger
women, were detained by the officer, who had just given a sharp order to
his men.

Suddenly the young elegant in command went outside, leaving the women to
suffer the indignities of a dozen or so soldiers left to guard them.
The big infantryman again approached Aimee, but the would speak no
further word.

Suddenly, in the doorway, there appeared the figure of a major, at whose
word the men quickly drew up to attention.

Aimee looked at him, scarce believing her own eyes.

Was she dreaming?

She stood staring at him.  Though his uniform was strange, his face was
only too familiar.

It was Arnaud Rigaux.

"M'sieur Rigaux!  You!" she gasped.  "_You--a German_!"

"Yes, Mademoiselle," he laughed.  "I have been searching everywhere for
you.  It is indeed fortunate that I am here in time.  This, surely, is
no place for you."

"Searching for me?" she echoed.  "How did you know I was here--in
Dinant?  And, tell me--why are you, a Belgian--wearing the Prussian
uniform?"

Truly the meeting was a dramatic one.

He laughed lightly, replying hastily:

"My dear Aimee, I will explain all that later.  Come.  Get away with me,
while there is yet time."  Then, whispering in her ear, he added: "These
men are mostly drunk.  Quick!  Come with me, and I will place you in
safety."

"But I cannot understand," the girl cried, still in hesitation.  "Why
are you here--with the enemy, and in the enemy's uniform?"

"This is surely no time for questions or explanations," he urged.  And,
turning to the soldiers, he gave an order to march the remaining women
out of the house.  "Let me save you, Aimee," he added in French, turning
to her.

"How?  How can you save me?" she inquired, instinctively mistrusting
him.  The very fact that he was dressed as a German officer had aroused
grave suspicion in her mind.

"I have my car in waiting, away beyond the German lines.  Come with me.
Don't hesitate.  Trust yourself in my care, I beg of you, Mademoiselle."

"I want to get to my father," she said, still hesitating.

"He is in Brussels.  I will take you to him--on one condition," and he
placed his hand upon her arm and looked earnestly into her pale,
agitated countenance.

"What condition?" she inquired, starting quickly at his touch.  He made
conditions, even in that hour of direst peril!  Dinant was aflame, and
hundreds of innocent people were now being murdered by the Kaiser's
Huns.

"The condition, Aimee," he said, looking straight into her eyes very
seriously, "is that you will become my wife."

"Your wife, M'sieur Rigaux--_never_!"

"You refuse?" he cried, a brutal note in his hard voice.  "You refuse,
Mademoiselle," he added threateningly--"and so you prefer to remain
here, in the hands of the soldiery.  They will have but little respect
for the daughter of the Baron de Neuville, I assure you."

She turned upon him fiercely, like a tigress, retorting:

"Those men, assassins as they have proved themselves to be, will have
just as much respect for me as you yourself have--you, a traitor who,
though a Belgian, are now wearing a Prussian uniform?"

The man laughed in her face, and she saw in his countenance a fierce,
fiendish, even terrible expression such as she had never seen there
before.  Gradually it was beginning to dawn upon her that this man who
could move backwards and forwards through the opposing lines, dressed as
a German officer, must be a spy.

"Very well," he said.  "If you so desire, I will leave you to your
fate--the wretched fate of those women who have just been driven out
from here.  The enemy has set his hand heavily upon you at last," he
laughed.  "And you Belgians may expect neither pity nor respect."

"Ah, then I know you?" she cried.  "You are not Belgian--but German--
you, who have posed so long as my father's intimate friend--you, who
thought to mislead us--who schemed to bring the enemy into our midst.
Though you have uttered words of love to me, I see you now, exposed as a
spy--as an enemy--as one who should be tried and shot as a traitor?"

She did not spare her words in the mad frenzy of the moment.

"You speak harshly," he growled.  "If you do not have a care, you shall
pay for this?"

"I will.  I would rather die here now, than become the wife of a low,
cunning spy, who has posed as one of ourselves while he has been in
secret relation with the enemy all the time.  I hate you, Arnaud
Rigaux--_I hate you_!" shrieked the girl.  "Do your worst to me!  The
worst cannot be worse than death--and even that I prefer, to further
association with one who wears the Prussian uniform, and who is leading
the enemy into our country.  Your cultured friends have burned and
sacked Severac.  Let them sack the whole of Belgium if they will, but
our men have still the spirit to defend themselves, just as I have
to-day.  I defy you, clever, cunning spy that you are.  Hear me?" she
cried, her white teeth set, her head low upon her shoulders, and her
hands clenched as she stood before him, half crouched as a hunted animal
ready to spring.  "You men who make war upon women may try and crush us,
but you will never crush me.  Go, and escape in your car if you will.
Pass through the Belgian lines back to Brussels.  But, though only a
defenceless girl, I am safer even in the hands of this barbarian enemy
than in the hands of a traitor like you?"

"Very well, girl--choose your own fate," laughed the man roughly.  "You
refuse to go with me--eh?"

"Yes," she said.  "I refuse.  I hate the sight of your treacherous face.
Already I have told my father so."

"Your father is no longer a person to be regarded," the man declared.
"He is already ruined financially.  I have seen to that, never fear.
You are no longer the daughter of Baron de Neuville, but the daughter of
a man whom this war has brought to ruin and to bankruptcy.  It should be
an honour to you, daughter of a ruined man, that I should offer you
marriage."

"I am engaged to marry Edmond Valentin," she replied.

"Bah! a mere soldier.  If he is not already dead he soon will be.
Germany flicks away the Belgian army like so many grains of sawdust
before the wind."

"No.  Edmond is honest and just.  He will live," she cried.  "And you,
the spy and traitor, will die an ignoble death!"

"Well," he laughed defiantly.  "We shall see all about that,
Mademoiselle.  We have been long preparing for this _coup_--for the
destruction of your snug little kingdom, and now we are here we shall
follow Bismarck's plan, and not leave your country even their eyes to
weep with.  It will be swept from end to end--and swept still again and
again, until it is Belgian no longer, but German--part of the
world-empire of our great Kaiser."

The fellow did not further disguise that he was a German agent--he who
had posed as a patriotic Belgian, was there in Dinant, dressed in
Prussian uniform.

The trembling girl stood amazed.  The ghastly truth was, to her, one
horrible, awful nightmare.

"Your great Kaiser, as you call him, does not intimidate me," she
replied boldly.  "Go, Arnaud Rigaux, and leave me to my fate, whatever
you decide it to be.  I will never accept the friendly offices of a man
who is a traitor and a spy."

Rigaux bit his lip.  Those were the hardest words that had ever been
spoken to him.  He had been on a mission into the German lines, and only
by pure chance had he recognised her with Valentin, standing in the
Place on the previous night.

His cunning brain was already working out a swift yet subtle revenge.
Aimee had attracted him, and he had marked her down as his victim by
fair means or by foul.  But her defiance had now upset all his
calculations.  To his surprise she preferred death itself, to the
renunciation of her vow to Edmond Valentin.

He hesitated.  He held her in his relentless hands.  That she knew.
Death was to be her fate, and she stood, with pale face, bold and
defiant--prepared to meet it.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

THE FIRE OF FATE.

Outside in the streets could be heard the sound of rifle-fire, while the
air was filled with the pungent odour of powder, and of burning wood.

The whole town had, by that time, become a veritable hell.  Not far
along the street, indeed in sight of the Hotel of the Sword, forty or so
innocent men--honest workers at a neighbouring factory--had been drawn
up against a wall.  The front row was ordered to kneel, with their hands
up, the others remaining standing behind them.  A platoon of soldiers
suddenly drew up in face of these unhappy men, with their rifles ready.
In vain did the frantic women beg for mercy for their sons, husbands,
and brothers.  But the officer, grinning, ordered his men to fire.  Some
fell forward, dead, others were only slightly wounded.  But the
soldiers, to make sure, fired three volleys into that heap of men in
their death throes.  Such fell, hellish work had been ordered "as
examples" by the glittering War Lord--the man who declared that God was
his guide in his arrogant desire to rule the world.  Those poor fellows
were, even while their bodies were still warm, thrown into a pit dug in
a neighbouring garden.

Further up the same street, a poor old paralytic was shot in his
invalid-chair, together with a bright little boy of twelve, and their
bodies were kicked aside into a doorway, while, at the same time, a man
of sixty-five, his wife, his son and his daughter, were set up against
the wall of their burning house and shot.  And none of them had
committed any crime!

Here and there were loud explosions.  The soldiers, who had pillaged the
cafes and drunk indiscriminately all they could find, were blowing open
the safes of merchants and shopkeepers with dynamite, and stealing all
they could discover.  They were mere brigands.

The Faubourg de Leffe, near the broken viaduct of the railway, was
already in flames.  Soldiers were using their inflammable confetti
provided them by the Fatherland, which they were sprinkling everywhere,
for the monster in command had given the order that Dinant, after being
sacked, and its people massacred, should be burnt.

As the slim, pale-faced girl stood facing her father's false friend, she
could hear the wild shrieks of the defenceless women outside--those poor
creatures dragged forth to witness the heartless murder of those dearest
to them.

"Well," Rigaux asked again, with an evil grin upon his face.  "So you
are quite decided--eh?"

"I am quite decided, m'sieur, that you are my bitterest enemy," was her
hard, defiant answer.  "I have been caught here, helpless.  But I have
no hope, therefore I have no fear.  To whatever fate you, as spy of the
accursed Kaiser of Germany, may condemn me, I am quite prepared."

For a few seconds he remained silent.  Her coolness and bold defiance,
in face of that awful scene, absolutely staggered him.  He never
credited her with such nerve.

"But will you not accept my offer, and escape with me?"

"No.  I will not accept the assistance of one who has openly confessed
himself to be a traitor," she responded.

"But you cannot remain here--you will be killed--perhaps even meet with
a worse fate.  You do not know what awful scenes are in progress in
Dinant at this moment," he said.  "The soldiers are collecting up the
people, men, women, and children, and mowing them down with their
machine-guns.  You cannot remain here while this awful work of
destruction, theft, and incendiarism is in progress!"

"And whose work, pray, is this?  It is men such as you who are
responsible--men who have sold Belgium into her enemy's hands," she
cried bitterly, her big eyes glaring at him in her woman's undisguised
hatred.

"Merely the fortunes of war, Mademoiselle," he replied with a smile, as
he shrugged his shoulders, quite unperturbed by her violent
denunciation.

"Then go, and leave me to face this terrible fate to which I have been
consigned.  Shoot me with that revolver I see you have in your belt,"
she cried wildly.  "Shoot me, if you will.  I am quite ready."

But he grinned horribly in her face--the grin of a man who intended a
demoniacal revenge.

She knew herself to be defenceless--utterly helpless in his hands.  Men
and women of Dinant, known to her from childhood, lay stiffening in
death in that narrow street wherein hell had been let loose by the
orders of the arrogant War Lord--that pinchbeck Napoleon who dangled his
tin crosses before his troops to incite them to deeds of barbarism,
which were afterwards magnified and distorted into those of valour.

"No," the man laughed.  "If you, as daughter of the Baron de Neuville,
still disregard my well-meant efforts to rescue you from this awful
abyss of dishonour and death, then I have no more to say.  I can only
leave you to the same fate as that of the women of the town."

"No!" shrieked the girl.  "Shoot me."  And she stood before him ready to
fall beneath the bullet of his revolver.  "Shoot me--have mercy upon me
and _shoot me_!"

She felt his hot, foetid breath once again upon her cheek; she heard the
report of the rifles outside, the loud, piercing shrieks of defenceless
women, the exultant shouts and laughter of the Germans, and the rapid
crackling of a machine-gun in the immediate vicinity.

She struggled violently to free herself, but he was the stronger.  His
sensuous lips were upon hers, his big eyes looked fiercely into hers,
while her slim figure was held within his strong, desperate grasp.  She
saw the evil, wicked look in his eyes.

"Let me go, you brute--you spy of Germany!" she shrieked in French.
"_Let me go, I say_!"

"No, no," he laughed in triumph.  "You are mine--_mine_!  I have brought
ruin upon your miserable little country, upon your father, upon your
fine chateau, and now, because you still defy me--I bring it upon you!"

"_Bien_!  And what do you intend?" she asked.

"I intend to take you out yonder, into the street, and to hand you over
to the tender mercies of those most unpolite troops of Germany--the
Bavarians.  There are three thousand in the town, and they are having a
really reckless time--I can assure you."

"You hell-scoundrel!" cried the poor girl in her frantic, almost insane
terror.  "You--you who have sat at our table and eaten with us--you,
whom my father has trusted, and to whom my mother has sent presents at
Noel.  Ah!  I now see you unmasked, yet you--"

"Enough!" cried the fellow, springing upon her and putting his thick,
loose lips to hers.  "A last kiss, and then you go to the late which
every Belgian woman goes to-day where our Kaiser and his troops are
victorious," and he kissed her though she still struggled fiercely to
evade his grasp.

Suddenly both started, for in the room sounded a loud deafening report.

Aimee started and drew back, breathless and shocked, for from that hated
face thrust into hers, before her, one eye disappeared.  The hateful
face receded, the body reeled and suddenly falling backward, rolled over
the stone flags of the kitchen.

A bullet had entered the eye of Arnaud Rigaux, and, passing through his
brain, had taken away a portion of his skull, causing instant death.
That left eye, as he reeled and fell backwards, was blotted out, for it
was only a clot of blood.

"Aimee!" shouted a voice.

The girl, startled, turned to encounter a man in a grey uniform--a
German infantryman!  He wore a small round grey cap, and in its front
the little circular cockade of blue and white--the mark of the Bavarian.

"_Aimee_!"

The girl stared into the face of her rescuer.

It was Edmond--Edmond--_her own dear Edmond_--and dressed as a Bavarian!

"The infernal spy!" he cried in a hard, rough voice.  "I caught the
fellow just in time, my darling.  For two years past I have known the
truth--that in addition to being our worst enemy--he has also been a
traitor to our King and country, and your father's false friend."

"But Edmond?" gasped the girl, staring at him like one in a dream.  "Why
are you here--dressed as a German?"

"Hush!" he whispered.  "If I am caught I shall be shot as a spy!  I must
not talk, or I may betray myself.  Come with me.  We must get back at
once to the Belgian line."

"But--but how?" she gasped, for now the truth had dawned upon her--the
truth of the great risk her lover ran in penetrating to the invested
town.

"Come with me.  Have no fear, my darling.  If God wills that we die, we
will at least die together.  Come," he whispered, "appear as though you
go with me unwillingly, or somebody may suspect us.  Come along now," he
shouted, and taking her wrist roughly pretended to drag her forth into
the street, where dead men and women were lying about in the roadway,
and the houses only a few yards away were already ablaze.

He dragged her along that narrow street, so full of haunting horrors,
urging her beneath his breath to pretend a deadly hatred of him.  They
passed crowds of drunken Germans.  Some were smashing in windows with
the butt ends of their rifles, and pouring petrol into the rooms from
cans which others carried.  Others were dragging along women and girls,
or forcing them to march before them at the points of bayonets, and
laughing immoderately at the terror such proceeding caused.

A swaggering young officer of the Seventieth Regiment of the Rhine
staggered past them with a champagne bottle in his hand.  He addressed
some command to Edmond Valentin.

For a second Aimee's heart stood still.  But Edmond, seeing that the
lieutenant was intoxicated, merely saluted and passed on, hurrying round
the corner into the square where, against the wall near the church, they
saw a line of bodies--the bodies of those innocent townspeople whom the
bloodthirsty horde had swept out of existence with their machine-guns.

On every side ugly stains of blood showed upon the stones.  A dark red
stream trickled slowly into the gutters, so awful had been the massacre
an hour before.

As they crossed the square they witnessed a frightful scene.  Some men
and women, who had hidden in a cellar, were driven out upon the pavement
ruthlessly, and shot down.  The officer who gave the order, smoking a
cigarette and laughing the while.

Aimee stood for a second with closed eyes, not bearing to witness such a
fearful sight.  Those shrill cries of despair from the terrified women
and children rang in her ears for a moment.  Then the rifles crackled,
and there were no more cries--only a huddled heap of dead humanity.

Edmond dragged her forward.  German soldiers whom they passed laughed
merrily at the conquest apparently made by one of their comrades.

And as they went by the ruined church, and out upon the road towards
Leffe, the scene of pillage and drunkenness that met their eyes, was
indeed revolting.

Though the Belgian Government has since issued an official report to the
Powers concerning the wild orgies of that awful day in Dinant, the
story, in all its true hideousness, will, perhaps, never be known.
Those seven hundred or so poor creatures who could testify to the
fiendish torture practised upon them: how some were mutilated, outraged,
bound, covered with straw and burned alive, and even buried alive, are
all in their graves, their lips, alas! sealed for ever.

Another officer, a major of the Seventeenth Uhlans, rode past, and
Edmond saluted.  They were, indeed, treading dangerous ground.

If Edmond were discovered, both he and she would be shot as spies
against the nearest wall.

How she refrained from fainting she knew not.  But she bore that
terrible ordeal bravely, her spirit sustained by her great, boundless
love for the man at her side.

The road they had taken led by the river-bank, and just as a body of
Uhlans had clattered past, raising a cloud of dust, they saw across the
hills at Bouvigne, a heliograph at work, signalling towards Namur.

Above them a Taube aeroplane was slowly circling.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

IN DEADLY PERIL.

Not only was Dinant itself being decimated, but in the Faubourg of
Leffe, through which they were now passing, the German soldiers, the
majority of them infantrymen wearing on their caps the green and white
cockade denoting that they were from Saxony, including also many from
Baden, were busy pillaging the houses, and in one spot an officer had
drawn up a number of terrified women and children, and was compelling
them to cry "_Vive l'Allemagne_!"  Each house, after being sacked, was
systematically burned down.

In safety they passed through all the terrors which filled the little
place, yet in fear each moment of detection.  But the soldiers and
officers seemed so intent upon their fell work of wanton destruction
that, happily, no notice was taken of the fugitives.  At last they
gained the high road which, following the bold of the Meuse, ran in the
direction of Namur.  Ten miles or so beyond lay the German front, and
that would have to be passed, if they were to escape with their lives.

On the road were many German soldiers, and passing them constantly were
rumbling guns, ammunition-wagons, and motor-cars containing
staff-officers.

Aimee knew the roads in the vicinity well, and in a whisper suggested
that they should turn off into a narrow lane on the right.  She knew of
a path which led through the wood to a village called Assesse, she said.

"Assesse!" echoed her lover.  "You know the way, darling!  _Bien_, it is
near that place we must get.  Close by there I hid my Belgian uniform,
and dressed in these clothes--clothes I took from a Bavarian shot by us
while on outpost duty."

They turned into the lane, where they found themselves alone.

"I think," the girl said, "that it would be best if we did not walk
together.  We might be suspected.  I will go ahead, and you follow me.
It is nearly five miles, but when we enter the wood the path is quite
straight, through two other woods and over a brook--until we reach the
village."

"Very well, dearest," he said, reluctantly obliged to admit that her
advice was sound.  He would certainly stand a better chance of escape
alone, now they were in the open country over which the Germans were
swarming, than if they were together.  Yet neither could disguise from
themselves the fact that their lives now hung by a single thread.

Should any soldier they met accost Edmond, then he would certainly be
betrayed, and death would, most assuredly, be their lot.

Having parted, however, the girl, dusty, dishevelled, and hatless, went
forward, he following her at a short distance, in fear lest she might
fall into the hands of one of the Prussian brutes.

At last, however, they came to the wood, but both noticed that, near by,
were half a dozen Uhlans drawn up on outpost duty.  They quickly caught
sight of the girl, but regarded her as harmless, and then, when Edmond
came swinging along, they allowed him also to pass, believing him to be
one of their comrades-in-arms.

Within the wood they were practically safe, and had hurried forward a
couple of miles, when Aimee suddenly heard voices and loud laughter
ahead.  A number of Uhlans were riding in single file up the path in
their direction, therefore, in an instant she dashed away into the
undergrowth until they had passed, an example followed by Edmond.

Then, when the enemy had gone, they once more went forward again, but
full of caution lest they should be taken by surprise.

Those five miles were the longest either of them had ever covered, for
every yard was full of breathless terror.  They knew not where, an
outpost might be lurking, for they were gradually approaching the
Belgian front.

It was nearly two o'clock in the afternoon when, on emerging from the
wood into the hot sunshine again, they found themselves above a tiny
whitewashed village, with slated roofs and thin church spire--the
village of Assesse.

This place they carefully avoided lest it should be occupied by the
enemy, but approaching a field not far away, Edmond said:

"See yonder! darling, that old black shed.  In there, my uniform is
hidden beneath some straw.  Until night comes on I dare not change."

"Then let us hide in the shed till night," she suggested.  "You can
change after dark, and we can then go forward."

He sighed.  The situation was, he knew, critical.  "You know the risk we
shall run, darling.  Are you really prepared for it?"

"I will face any danger at your side, Edmond.  You have saved my life
to-day, remember, and at imminent risk of your own."

"Because I love you, my own darling," was his quick response.  "I have
thought only of you, and of you alone.  I must save you, and God will
surely assist me in so doing."

"Yes.  We are in His hands," she declared fervently.  "Let us go over
yonder, and hide till it grows dark."

"But you must be hungry," he suggested.

"No, Edmond," she laughed.  "Don't think of me--think of yourself, of
your own safety."

So they crept forward, unobserved, until they reached the shed--a mere
shelter for cows.  In one corner of the dirty place lay a great heap of
mouldering straw, and Edmond, having worked away until he had made a
hole large enough to admit them both, they both crept in and lightly
covered themselves.

And then, as she found herself in his strong arms, she felt his fond
kisses raining upon her brow, fierce, passionate caresses, that told her
plainly how deep and how sacred was his great love for her--how strong
was his affection and devotion.

For seven long hours they remained there, conversing in whispers, he
recounting to her the various engagements in which he had been since the
outbreak of the war.

He explained to her, too, how by reason of a law-case brought to him by
a client, his suspicions had, two years before, been aroused that Arnaud
Rigaux, the great Brussels financier, was a secret agent of the German
Government.  For months he had watched closely until, only a fortnight
before the war, Rigaux's suspicions had been aroused that he was being
watched.  The spy feared him--feared lest he should go to the Minister
of War and disclose his suspicions.  This course, however, Edmond had
hesitated to take.

"Why?" asked Aimee.  "Was it not your duty to tell the truth?"

"It was my duty, I admit.  But had I done so, you, dearest, not knowing
the true facts, would have believed me guilty of trying to remove my
rival by an underhand method.  I should have lost your esteem.
Therefore I preferred to wait until I could strike an effective blow,
and still, at the same time, reveal to you that I had just cause for so
doing."

"Your just cause was revealed to-day, Edmond," she said.  "You have
avenged our country, which that mean, despicable spy sought to undermine
and destroy, and at the same time, dear, you saved me."

"I had no idea that the scoundrel was in Dinant, watching the wanton
work of his Prussian friends.  He hated Belgium, and all Belgians, and
so he went, I suppose, to witness a scene of destruction unparalleled in
modern history.

"Last night, after we had been driven back over the hills, I resolved at
all hazards to return to you; therefore, as I have explained, I took the
clothes from a dead Bavarian and succeeded in passing the German
outposts just before the dawn.  It was an exciting journey back to
Dinant, I can assure you," and he smiled grimly.

"Ah!  It must have been.  And you risked your life--you are risking it
now--in order to save me," she said.

Slowly the light faded and a ray of red sunset, shining in at the
doorway of the shed, lit up the place with crimson light.

Suddenly they heard sounds of voices.  They both held their breath.

Aimee, who knew German, heard one of the men exclaim, as they
approached:

"This would, I think, be a snug place in which to spend the night,
Karl."

Her heart beat quickly.  She could hear it thumping.

The man's companion muttered some response gruffly, and they both
entered with heavy tramp.  She could see that they were tall,
broad-shouldered Uhlans, in grey braided tunics, jack boots, and
helmets.

They looked around for a few seconds, whereupon the gruff-voiced man
exclaimed in disgust:

"No.  It's too dirty.  Let us get further along.  We shall surely find a
better place than that."

And then they strode out, remounted their horses and rode away.

The pair in hiding drew long breaths of relief.  That had, surely, been
a narrow escape.

When it had grown quite dark and the rats began to scamper, Edmond,
foraging about, discovered his torn worn-out Belgian uniform, and
quickly exchanged his Bavarian dress for his own clothes.  Then he
having carefully stolen out and reconnoitred, they both crept away
across the fields to where the trees of a plantation showed like a
black, jagged line against the night sky.

In his Belgian uniform Edmond Valentin was now in even greater danger
than before, for at any moment they might be challenged, when he would,
assuredly, be shot.

But, keeping closely in the shadows, they went on until they gained the
plantation.  The night was close and oppressive.  In the distance, every
now and then could be heard the thunder of guns, while in the sky before
them, the long straight beams of the searchlights, sweeping backwards
and forwards, showed the direction of the Belgian front, now that they
had retired from the Meuse.

"I left the regiment about three miles from the edge of this wood,"
Edmond whispered.  "They were yonder, where that second searchlight is
showing.  But probably they have retired farther, towards Namur, or our
outposts would certainly have been here.  We must have a care, and avoid
the German sentries."

Then they crept forward and entered the dark, silent plantation.  There
was not a breath of wind; not a leaf stirred, hence their footsteps
sounded loudly as they stole forward, holding their breath, and halting
every now and then to listen.

Once they heard voices--men speaking in German and laughing.  Even the
scent of tobacco reached their nostrils.  They halted, drew back and
waited, so escaping detection.

That was truly a weird and exciting night adventure, for they were now
very near the German outposts.  They could see the twinkling lights of
camp-fires upon a hill-side on their right, and once the far-off sound
of a bugle fell upon their ears.

Presently they emerged from the plantation, and Edmond, having paused
for a few moments to take his bearings, struck off down a narrow lane,
where the trees overhung until their branches met above.  For nearly a
mile further they went along, leaving the roadway whenever they heard
the tramp of soldiers approaching, and once very narrowly running right
into the arms of a German sentry, who was standing hidden in the shadow
of a haystack.  It was only by drawing up suddenly, bending behind a
bush, and waiting through some ten minutes of breathless agony, that
they were able to extricate themselves from a very tight corner.

And at last, when they were aide to creep forward unseen, they again
found themselves almost beneath the hoofs of a cavalry patrol, riding
along across some open pasture-land.

When that further danger had passed, Edmond whispered to his beloved:

"We have, I believe, passed the German outposts now, dearest.  Yet we
must be very careful.  We may not have got quite through yet.  Come, we
will cross that low hill yonder.  No, the valley, perhaps, will be
best," he added.  "I see there's a farmhouse on the hill.  The Uhlans
may be there--in quarters for the night.  We must avoid that."

So they descended over the grass land, where the country dipped towards
the low ridge of hills, beyond which lay the Belgians on the defensive.

A few moments later they found themselves in a field of standing corn
which had, alas! been sadly trampled by the enemy, and still crept along
in the shadow of a high bank.  On their right ran a shallow brook,
rippling musically over the stones, one of those many trout streams, the
undisturbed haunt of the heron, with which the picturesque Ardennes
abound.

All was quiet, and nobody appeared to be in the vicinity.  Yet Edmond
knew that the whole of the enemy's lines must be so well patrolled that
it would be most difficult for them to escape across to the Belgians
with their lives.

The German sentry system is as near perfect as the military brain can
render it.  Not a cat could slip by the German lines, now that they were
advancing to the conquest.

Still he had come through on the previous night, and he was bent, for
the sake of Aimee, upon getting her back safely.  Of a sudden, a voice
sounded a short distance away--a loud gruff expression in German.

The pair drew up and waited, holding their breath.

Straight before them the long, bright beam of a searchlight was slowly
sweeping the sky, searching for German aeroplanes.

The men were against a line of bushes.

"Be careful, Edmond!" whispered the girl.  "They are coming this way."

But they were not, for they could see that the dark figures silhouetted
against the night sky were receding.

Straight before them was another dark copse, which led up the side of
the low hill.

When the Germans had gone, Aimee and her lover crept forward
noiselessly, making their way to the cover afforded by the copse which,
Edmond had concluded, lay between the opposing lines.

They had, however, not gone more than a hundred yards when a German
sentry sprang suddenly forth from the shadow, with fixed bayonet, and
uttered a loud, gruff challenge in German:

"Halt!  Who goes there?"

Aimee, startled, drew back in terror, clinging to her lover's arm.  But
only for a second.  Then she drew herself up again, and stood motionless
at his side.

"Who goes there?" again demanded the sentry, in a tone of quick
suspicion.  "Come forward," he commanded in an imperious voice.  "Who
are you?"  Neither spoke.  In their ignorance they were walking right
into the enemy's camp!  They were entrapped!

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

THE GULF OF SHADOWS.

"We must fly for our lives, Aimee!" her lover whispered.  "Follow me!"

"_Bien_!  I am ready!" she answered, quite cool in that moment of their
supreme peril.  The terrors of that day had not unnerved her, because of
Edmond's presence.

She thought only of him.

Between where they stood there, half concealed by the low bushes and the
dark shadow of the copse before them, was a distance of some ten yards,
or so.  To escape, they must make a dash across that small open space.

The German sentry repeated his challenge loudly.

Not an instant was now to be lost.  It was a matter of life or death.

"Now, darling!" cried Edmond, and together they held their breath and
together sped towards the copse.

Next instant a rifle flashed, and there was a loud report, followed, a
second later, by another sharp shot, and then another, and yet another.

The alarm had been given, and, in a moment, the whole line of the
enemy's sentries were on the alert.

Aimee heard the bullets scream past her as she ran.

She heard, too, Edmond gasp and ejaculate an expression of surprise.
But until they were safe in the copse, speeding along together as fast
as their feet could carry them, she was unaware that her lover's right
arm was hanging limp and useless--that he had received an ugly wound
through the shoulder.

"Why?" she gasped in dismay, pulling up suddenly.  "You are hurt--
dearest!  You are wounded!" la the darkness she felt some warm sticky
fluid upon her hand.

"It's nothing, really, Aimee.  Just a graze--that's all," he declared.
"Come, for Heaven's sake.  Let us get on, or we may yet be caught!  Our
own outposts must be somewhere close by.  Let us hope they are beyond
this copse.  Come--let us hurry--_hurry_!"

Those final words of his were uttered because he felt his strength
giving way, and before he fell exhausted, as he must do, he meant still
to strive with his last effort to place his beloved in safety.

She, noticing that his voice had somehow changed, and knowing that the
blood was streaming from his shoulder, took his left arm and assisted
him stealthily along.

Suddenly, by a mere chance, they struck a narrow path in the darkness,
and this led them to the further end of the copse.

Scarcely, however, had they come out into the open, when another voice
challenged them loudly--_in French_!

Those words, startling them for a second, caused them next moment to
gasp with relief.

Edmond answered the challenge cheerily, and they walked forward to where
stood the friendly Belgian outpost.  In a few quick words Valentin
explained to the cavalryman how they had passed through the German
lines, but being suspicious of spies, the man, quite rightly, called up
four of his comrades, and then both fugitives were conducted along a
high road for a considerable distance to the Belgian camp.

Before General Thalmann, commanding the Sixth Brigade, seated in his
tent, Edmond Valentin quickly established the fact that he was no spy,
and, indeed, he was able to give some very valuable information
regarding the disposition of the enemy, and related for the first time,
the terrible story of the sack and destruction of Dinant.

The grey-moustached General, having complimented him upon his gallant
conduct and his wonderful escape, ordered him to at once have his wound
dressed.  Then, rising from his camp-chair, he bowed politely to Aimee,
saying:

"I also wish to offer my heartiest congratulations to you, Mademoiselle,
upon your providential escape from Dinant.  I allow you to accompany
_Sous-officier_ Valentin to the Base Hospital.  Captain Dulac, he added,
turning to one of his officers present, please sign the necessary order.
And note that I bestow the highest praise upon _Sous-officier_
Valentin, of the Eighth Chasseurs, for penetrating into the enemy's
lines and obtaining much valuable intelligence."

"I may add, General, that I discovered, in Dinant, the Brussels
financier, Arnaud Rigaux, dressed as a German Major, and, having myself
proved that he was a spy, shot him?"

"You shot Arnaud Rigaux!" exclaimed the General, staring at him.  "Is
that true?"

"Yes, m'sieur."

"You are quite certain of this?"

"Quite certain.  Mademoiselle was present."

"Then please make a note of that also, Captain Dulac," the commander
said.  "Only yesterday I received word from headquarters that he was to
be captured, and wherever found, sent for trial by court-martial at
Antwerp.  So you, Valentin, it seems, have put a sudden end to this
man's dastardly career--eh?" and the well-set-up, grey-moustached man--
one of Belgium's bravest generals--grinned with satisfaction.  "Well, I
congratulate you, and you may rest assured that your distinguished
services will not go unrewarded.  _Bon soir, Mademoiselle--Bon soir,
Valentin_."

And the pair were then led forth from the tent, away to that of the
medical service, where a doctor quickly investigated Edmond's wound.

Aimee, fortunately perhaps, remained outside, for scarcely had her lover
entered the tent, than he fell fainting.  Restoratives were quickly
administered, and the bullet was extracted under an anaesthetic, while
she waited in patience outside.  Edmond's wound was, alas! of a far more
serious character than the gallant soldier of Belgium had at first
believed.  In consequence of medical advice he was sent, next day, by
train to the military hospital in Antwerp, Aimee, by order of the
general, being allowed to accompany him in the military train.

From Antwerp Aimee was able to communicate with both her mother and
father, and a fortnight after her arrival there she received, with
intense satisfaction, the joyful news that they had both met at Ostend,
and had gone to London, Brussels being, of course, in the hands of the
enemy.

The Baroness wrote several times, urging her daughter to come to
London--to the Langham Hotel, where they had taken up their temporary
quarters--but the girl replied that she would not leave Edmond's side,
she having volunteered as a Red Cross nurse at the St Elizabeth
Hospital.

For over a month Edmond Valentin, eager to return to the front and to
still bear his part in the fighting, lay in his narrow bed in the long
ward now filled to overflowing with wounded.  His shoulder had been
shattered, and more than one medical consultation had been held
regarding it.

Aimee, in her neat uniform as nurse, with the big scarlet cross upon the
breast of her white apron, had learned the sad truth--that, in all
probability, Edmond might never be able to use his right arm again,
though no one had told him the painful fact.

As he lay there he was ever dreaming of going back to again work that
innocent-looking little machine-gun of his, which had sent to their
deaths so many of the Huns of the Kaiser.

The bitter truth was, however, told to him one day.  The enemy, under
General von Baseler, were advancing upon Antwerp.  They had destroyed
Malines, and were almost at the gates of Belgium's principal port.  It
was the third day in October, and British troops had now arrived to
assist in the defence of Antwerp.  All the wounded who could walk were
ordered to leave.

And so it happened that Edmond Valentin, accompanied by Aimee, resolved
at last to escape to London, where the girl could rejoin her parents.

With a huge crowd of refugees of all classes, the pair, ever faithful to
each other--yet, be it said, greatly to Edmond's regret--crossed one
grey wintry afternoon to Dover, where, on the pier, the pair woe met by
the Baron and Baroness, and carried with delight to that haven of the
stricken--that sanctuary of the war--London.

The gallant conduct of the _Sous-officier_ of Belgian Chasseurs, in a
shabby blue military great-coat, worn and torn, and with the right arm
bandaged across his chest, had reached England through the Press long
before.  In the papers there had been brief accounts of his fearless
penetration into the enemy's lines, and the gallant rescue of the woman
he so dearly loved.  King Albert had bestowed upon him the Cross of the
Order of Leopold, and his photograph--together with that of Aimee--had
been published in many of the newspapers.

Little wonder was it, therefore, that a little over a month later--on
that well-remembered day in November when the British monitors from the
sea assisted the Belgians and our own troops in the splendid defence of
the Straits of Dover--newspaper reporters and photographers stood so
eagerly upon that long flight of stone steps which lead up to the
entrance of St Martin's Church, in Trafalgar Square, where a wedding of
Belgian refugees was to take place.

The happy couple emerged from the church at last man and wife, and
Edmond Valentin, still in his shabby dark-blue great-coat, and with his
arm bandaged, did not escape the ubiquitous photographers any more than
did Aimee de Neuville--now little Madame Valentin.

But both were modest in the happy denouement of the great human drama,
preferring to remain blissful in each other's love, rather than to court
any further publicity.

True, most of the newspapers next day,--and especially the illustrated
ones,--reported that the wedding had taken place, but there was only the
vaguest hint of the real and actual romance which I have--perhaps
somewhat indiscreetly--attempted to describe in the foregoing pages--the
romance of those terribly dramatic happenings at the Sign of the Sword.

The End.





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