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Produced by Al Haines









[Illustration: Dust cover art]




[Illustration: Cover art]




[Frontispiece: "OF WHAT OFFENCE AM I ACCUSED, SIR?" _Page_ 202.
_Frontispiece_]




The

Dispatch-Riders


The Adventures of Two British
Motor-cyclists in the Great War



BY

PERCY F. WESTERMAN

Author of "Rivals of the Reef" "The Sea-girt Fortress" &c. &c.



_Illustrated by F. Gillett_



BLACKIE & SON LIMITED

LONDON AND GLASGOW

1915




By Percy F. Westerman

The Red Pirate.
The Call of the Sea.
Standish of the Air Police.
Sleuths of the Air.
The Black Hawk.
Andy All-Alone.
The Westow Talisman.
The White Arab.
The Buccaneers of Boya.
Rounding up the Raider.
Captain Fosdyke's Gold.
In Defiance of the Ban.
The Senior Cadet.
The Amir's Ruby.
The Secret of the Plateau.
Leslie Dexter, Cadet.
All Hands to the Boats.
A Mystery of the Broads.
Rivals of the Reef.
A Shanghai Adventure.
The Junior Cadet.
Captain Starlight.
The Sea-Girt Fortress.
On the Wings of the Wind.
Captain Blundell's Treasure.
The Third Officer.
Unconquered Wings.
The Riddle of the Air.
Chums of the "Golden Vanity".
Clipped Wings.
Rocks Ahead!
King for a Month.
The Disappearing Dhow.
The Luck of the "Golden Dawn".
The Salving of the "Fusi Yama".
Winning his Wings.
A Lively Bit of the Front.
The Good Ship "Golden Effort".
East in the "Golden Gain".
The Quest of the "Golden Hope".
Sea Scouts Abroad.
Sea Scouts Up-Channel.
The Wireless Officer.
A Lad of Grit.
The Submarine Hunters.
Sea Scouts All.
The Thick of the Fray at Zeebrugge.
A Sub and a Submarine.
Under the White Ensign.
With Beatty off Jutland.
The Dispatch Riders.




_Printed in Great Britain by Blackie & Son, Ltd., Glasgow_




Contents

CHAP.

I. THE COMING STORM
II. A BREAK-DOWN
III. MAJOR RÉSIMONT
IV. ENLISTED
V. A BAPTISM OF FIRE
VI. A VAIN ASSAULT
VII. DISABLING A TAUBE
VIII. IN BRITISH UNIFORMS
IX. A MIDNIGHT RETIREMENT
X. THE UHLAN PATROL
XI. THE RAID ON TONGRES
XII. THE MAIL ESCORT
XIII. SEPARATED
XIV. A FRIEND IN NEED
XV. CAPTURED
XVI. ENTOMBED
XVII. THE WAY OUT
XVIII. THROUGH THE ENEMY'S LINES
XIX. ARRESTED AS SPIES
XX. STRANDED IN BRUSSELS
XXI. DENOUNCED
XXII. THE SACK OF LOUVAIN
XXIII. A BOLT FROM THE BLUE
XXIV. ACROSS THE FRONTIER
XXV. THELMA EVEREST
XXVI. SELF-ACCUSED
XXVII. WITH THE NAVAL BRIGADE AT ANTWERP
XXVIII. WHEN THE CITY FELL
XXIX. ON THE NORTH SEA
XXX. THE VICTORIOUS WHITE ENSIGN




Illustrations


"OF WHAT OFFENCE AM I ACCUSED, SIR?" . . . . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

KENNETH HAD A MOMENTARY GLIMPSE OF THE UHLAN'S PANIC-STRICKEN FACE ...
THEN CRASH!

KENNETH SUCCEEDED IN THROWING THE SPY TO THE FLOOR




THE DISPATCH-RIDERS



CHAPTER I

The Coming Storm

"Let's make for Liége," exclaimed Kenneth Everest.

"What's that?" asked his chum, Rollo Harrington. "Liége? What on
earth possesses you to suggest Liége? A crowded manufacturing town,
with narrow streets and horrible _pavé_. I thought we decided to fight
shy of heavy traffic?"

The two speakers were seated at an open window of the Hôtel Doré, in
the picturesque town of Dinant. In front of them flowed the Meuse; its
placid water rippled with craft of varying sizes. Huge barges, towed
by snorting tugs, were laboriously passing along the busy international
waterway that serves an empire, a kingdom, and a republic. On the
remote bank, and to the right of a bridge, were the quaint red-tiled
houses of the town, above which rose the fantastic, pinnacled tower of
the thirteenth-century church of Notre Dame, in turn overshadowed by
the frowning limestone crag on which stands the citadel.

Kenneth was a well-set-up English youth of seventeen. He was tall for
his age, and withal broad-shouldered and well-knit. His features were
dark, his skin burnt a deep tan by reason of more than a nodding
acquaintance with an open-air life. In character and action he was
impulsive. He had the happy knack of making up his mind on the spur of
the moment, and yet at the same time forming a fairly sound judgment.
He was quick, too, with his fingers, having been gifted with a keen,
mechanical turn of mind.

Rollo Barrington, who was his companion's junior by the space of three
days, was rather the reverse of his versatile friend. He was shorter
in height by a good four inches; he was slightly built, although he
possessed an unlooked-for reserve of physical strength and endurance.
He was fresh-complexioned, with blue eyes and wavy chestnut hair.

If Kenneth acted upon impulse, Rollo went by rule of thumb. He was
cool and calculating when occasion served; but when in the company of
his chum he was generally content to allow his will to be dominated by
the impetuous Everest.

Both lads were at St. Cyprian's - a public school of note in the Home
Counties. The vacation started about the middle of July, and it was
the custom for the senior members to put in a fortnight's camp with the
Officers' Training Corps during the latter part of that month.

At the time this story opens - the first day of August, 1914 - the two
chums were on a motor-cycling tour through Northern France and Belgium.
The parents of neither had offered any objection when their respective
sons announced their intention of wandering through the high-roads and
by-roads of that part of the Continent.

Kenneth had sprung the suggestion upon his father like the proverbial
bombshell; and Mr. Everest, who was largely responsible for his son's
impetuosity, merely acquiesced by observing: "You lucky young dog! I
didn't have the chance when I was your age. Well, I hope you'll have a
good time."

On his part Rollo had broached the subject with his customary
deliberation, and Colonel Barrington had not only given his consent,
but had gone to the extreme toil of producing maps and a Baedeker, and
had mapped out a route - to which neither of the lads had adhered. The
Colonel also realized that there was a considerable amount of
self-education to be derived from the tour. There was nothing like
travel, he declared, to expand the mind; following up this statement by
the practical action of "forking out", thereby relieving his son of any
fear of pecuniary embarrassment.

Both lads rode identically similar motor-cycles - tourist models, of 3-½
horse-power, fitted with three-speed hubs. But again the difference in
character manifested itself in the care of their respective steeds.

Rollo had been a motor-cyclist ever since he was fourteen - as soon as
he was qualified in point of age to obtain a driver's licence. The
close attention he bestowed upon his motor-bike never varied; he kept
it as clean as he did in the first few days after taking over his new
purchase. He had thoroughly mastered its peculiarities, and studied
both the theory and practice of its mechanism.

Kenneth Everest had first bestrode the saddle of a motor-cycle a week
before their Continental tour began. No doubt his experience as a
"push-cyclist" helped him considerably; he quickly mastered the use of
the various controls, without troubling to find out "how it worked".
With his companion's knowledge at his back he felt quite at ease,
since, in the event of any mechanical break-down, Rollo would point out
the fault, and Kenneth's ready fingers would either do or undo the rest.

But so far, with the exception of a few tyre troubles, both
motor-cyclists had done remarkably well. Landing at Havre, they had
pushed on, following the route taken by the English army that had won
Agincourt. This, by the by, was Rollo's suggestion. From the site of
the historic battle-field they had sped eastward, through Arras, St.
Quentin, and Mézières. Here, finding themselves in the valley of the
Meuse, they had turned northward, and passing through the French
frontier fortress of Givet, entered Belgium, spending the first night
on Belgian soil in picturesque Dinant.

Hitherto they had overcome the initial difficulty that confronts
British road users in France - the fact that all traffic keeps, or is
supposed to keep, to the right. They had endured the horrible and
seemingly never-ending cobbles or _pavé_. The language presented
little difficulty, for Kenneth, prior to having joined St. Cyprian's,
had been educated in Paris; and although his Parisian accent differed
somewhat from the patois of the Ardennes, he had very little trouble in
making himself understood. Rollo, too, was a fairly proficient French
linguist, since, in view of his future military career, he had applied
himself with his usual diligence to the study of the language.

"I say, what's this wheeze about Liége?" persisted Harrington.
"There's something in the wind, old chap."

"It's not exactly Liége I want to see," replied Kenneth, "although it's
a fine, interesting old place, with a history. Fact is, my sister
Thelma is at a boarding-school at Visé - that's only a few miles farther
on - and we might just as well look her up."

"By Jove! I ought to have remembered. I knew she was somewhere in
Belgium. Let me see, she's your youngest sister?"

"Twelve months my junior," replied Kenneth, "and a jolly good pal she
is, too. It's rather rough luck on her. The pater's just off on that
Mediterranean trip, so she hasn't been able to go home for the
holidays. We'll just cheer her up a bit."

Rollo gave a final glance at the map before folding it and placing it
in his pocket. In response to a summons, the garçon produced the bill
and gratefully accepted the modest tip that Everest bestowed upon him
with becoming public schoolboy dignity.

This done, the two lads took their travelling cases and made their way
to the hotel garage, where their motor-cycles had been placed under
lock and key, out of the reach of sundry inquisitive and mischievous
Belgian gamins.

"Hello! What's the excitement?" asked Kenneth, pointing to a crowd of
gesticulating townsfolk gathered round a notice that had just been
pasted to a wall.

"Ask me another," rejoined his companion. "A circus or something of
the sort about to turn up, I suppose. If you're curious I'll hang on
here while you go and find out."

Kenneth was off like a shot. Half-way across the bridge that here
spans the Meuse he nearly collided with the proprietor of the Hôtel
Doré. The man's face was red with excitement.

"Quel dommage!" he exclaimed, in reply to the lad's unspoken question.
"The Government has ordered the army to mobilize. What
inconsideration! Jules, Michel, Georges, and Étienne - all will have to
go. I shall be left without a single garçon. And the busy season
approaches also."

"Why is the army to be mobilized, then?"

"Ciel! I know not. We Belgians do not require soldiers. We are men
of peace. Has not our neutrality been guaranteed by our neighbours?
And, notwithstanding, the Government must have men to vie with the
French _piou-piou_, give them rifles, and put them in uniforms at the
expense of the community. It is inconceivable!"

The proprietor, unable to contain his feelings, rushed back to the
hotel, while Kenneth, still wishing to satisfy his curiosity by ocular
demonstration, made his way to the edge of the semicircular crowd of
excited townsfolk.

The proclamation, dated the 31st day of July, was an order for partial
mobilization, calling up the First Division of the Reserves. No reason
was given, and the lack of it, rather than the fact that the order had
to be obeyed, was the subject of general comment. From the nature of
the conversation the lad gathered that military service was not
regarded by the Belgians in anything approaching a tolerant spirit.

"Nothing much; only a mobilization," announced Everest in reply to his
companion's enquiry. "Let's make a move. We may see something of the
Belgian troops. It would be rather interesting to see how they take to
playing at soldiering."

"Why playing?" asked Rollo as he proceeded to secure his valise to the
carrier.

"What else would you expect from Belgians?" rejoined Kenneth. "Even
old Gallipot - or whatever the hotel proprietor's name is - was grumbling
about the uselessness of the business, and most of those johnnies over
there are of the same opinion. No, Rollo, take my word for it, the
Belgians are not a fighting race. Let me see - didn't they skedaddle at
Waterloo and almost let our fellows down?"

"They may have done," remarked Rollo. "But that's nearly a century
old. Ready?"

With half-closed throttles, and tyres sufficiently soft to absorb most
of the shocks, the young tourists bumped over the _pavé_, swung round,
and soon settled down to a modest fifteen miles an hour along the Namur
road.

For the best part of the journey the Meuse, with its limestone crags
and dense foliage, was within a few yards on their right, while trees
on either side of the road afforded a pleasant shade from the fierce
rays of the sun. The dust, too, rose in dense clouds whenever, as
frequently happened, a motor-car tore past, or a flock of frightened
sheep scampered madly all across the road. At Namur their wishes
regarding the Belgian troops were gratified. The narrow street swarmed
with soldiers and civil guards. There were men with head-dresses
resembling the busbies of the British guardsmen, leading teams of dogs
harnessed to light quick-firing "Berthier" guns; infantry who, in spite
of the broiling heat, wore heavy greatcoats; cavalry whose mounts were
powerful enough to evoke the admiration of the critical Kenneth.

"I wonder what all this fuss is about," he exclaimed.

Before Rollo could furnish any remark a little Belgian officer accosted
them.

"You gentlemen are English, without doubt?"

"We are."

"It then is well," continued the officer, speaking in English with
considerable fluency. "You have not heard, eh? The news - the grave
news?"

"No, monsieur."

"Germany has declared war upon the Russians."




CHAPTER II

A Break-down

"Is that so?" asked Kenneth. "Then I hope to goodness the Russians
will give the Germans a thundering good licking. But why are your
troops mobilizing?"

The Belgian officer replied by producing a newspaper and pointing to a
heavy-leaded column.

"You understand our language?" he asked.

The report, though a piece of journalistic conjecture, afterwards
proved to be very near to the mark. It was to the effect that Germany
had declared war against Russia and also France, and that her troops
were already pouring over the respective frontiers. To take all
necessary precautions the King of the Belgians had ordered a
mobilization, and had appealed to King George to assist him in
preserving the integrity of his small kingdom.

"You'll notice it says that it is reported," observed the cautious
Rollo. "By Jove, if it is true, the Kaiser will have a handful. But,
monsieur, surely Belgium will be out of it? Her integrity is protected
by treaties."

The Belgian officer shrugged his shoulders.

"Let us hope so," he remarked. "We Belgians have little faith in the
honour of a German. Therefore, we arm. Where do you propose to go?"

"To Liége, monsieur."

"Then do not go. It is not advisable. If you take my advice you
return to England as soon as possible. Perhaps, soon, you come back
again with a brave English army."

"Whatever is the fellow aiming at?" asked Kenneth, after the officer
was out of ear-shot. "It's all so very mysterious about nothing."

"Do you call war between Germany and France and Russia nothing, old
fellow?"

"I wasn't referring to that," replied Kenneth. "Of course it is. The
Russians will simply walk over Prussia while the Germans are trying to
batter the French frontier forts. No; what I meant is, why should we
be balked in going to Liége? We'll go, and risk it - though I don't
believe there is any risk. If there is, so much the better for us."

"Perhaps that Belgian officer knows more than he told us."

"Or else less. I'll tell you what, Rollo. We'll see what's doing at
Liége; then, if there's time, we'll run back almost to the French
frontier and see what the excitement is like there. Let's make another
start."

The suggestion was quickly put into practice, but progress was tedious
and slow. The highway between Namur and Liége was crowded with
traffic. Military wagons, both motor-driven and drawn by horses and
mules, seemed an unending stream. The rattling of the huge
motor-lorries prevented the chauffeurs from hearing any sounds beyond
the pulsations of their engines. In vain the two English lads sounded
their horns. It was invariably a case of throwing out the clutch and
waiting for a favourable moment to dash past, often with a bare yard
between the off-side wheel of the powerful lorries and the deep ditch
by the side of the road.

There were thousands of troops, too, with their supply-carts; swarms of
peasants driving cattle into the fortresses; motor-cars, motor-cycles,
and ordinary cycles galore, till Rollo remarked, during one of the
enforced halts, that it was ten times worse than Barnet Hill on fair
night.

At length, after taking two hours to traverse fifteen miles, the lads
came in sight of the town of Huy. Here the traffic lessened slightly,
and Kenneth called for an increased speed.

Suddenly Rollo saw his companion's cycle slip from under him. It was
all he could do to avoid coming into collision with the prostrate
mount. When he pulled up and dismounted, Kenneth was regaining his
feet.

"Hurt?" asked Barrington laconically, yet with considerable anxiety.

"Not a bit," replied Kenneth cheerfully. "Only barked my knuckles.
Get up, you brute!"

The last remark was addressed to the motor-cycle, which was lying on
its side across a rounded stone embedded in the ground on the edge of
the footpath. Kenneth found, for the first time, that it required a
fair amount of physical energy to restore a fallen motorcycle to its
normal position.

Thrice he tried a running start, but without success. The motor
refused to fire.

"Jack it up on its stand," suggested Rollo. "Inject a little petrol
into the compression tap and have another shot."

Kenneth promptly acted upon this advice, but still without satisfactory
result. By this time Rollo had placed his cycle on its stand and was
ready to give assistance.

"There's no spark," he announced after testing the plug. "I hope it
isn't the magneto."

With the usual perversity of things in general and motor-cycles in
particular, it was the magneto that was out of action. The round stone
on which the cycle had fallen had given the delicate mechanism a nasty
blow.

"This job's beyond me," declared Rollo. "We must see what can be done
in the next town. Thank goodness it isn't far. Off with the belt and
push her; I won't risk towing you with this traffic about."

Already the disabled motor-cycle was surrounded by a crowd of peasants
and soldiers, all of whom offered advice; but, as the majority of the
onlookers were Walloons, their Flemish tongue was not understood by the
two English lads.

At length Kenneth managed to get into conversation with a
French-speaking corporal, and from him learnt that there was an
efficient motor-repairer in Huy, whose place of business faced the
market square.

It was exhausting work pushing the two motor-bicycles along the
undulating, rough cobbled road in the fierce glare of the August sun.
The crowd followed.

About a quarter of a mile farther along the road a chasseur passed.
Reining in his horse he addressed the corporal.

"What, then, has happened, Pierre?"

The Belgian non-com. shrugged his shoulders.

"Only two German tourists, Gaston," he replied. "They have had an
accident."

"German!" exclaimed Kenneth indignantly. "You are wrong. We are
English."

"Can Monsieur produce proof?" asked the corporal.

Fortunately both lads possessed _permits de circulation_ - documents
issued to foreign tourists on entering French territory, and which they
had not given up at the _douane_ at Givet. On each document was pasted
a photograph of the bearer and particulars of his name, nationality,
occupation, and place of abode.

In less than a minute the indifferent demeanour of the crowd underwent
a complete change. Amid shouts of "Vivent les Anglais!" several of the
Belgians took possession of the two motor-cycles, and, in spite of
frequent wobblings, pushed them right into the town.

Here another set-back greeted the tourists. The repairer gravely
informed them that a new magneto was absolutely necessary, and since he
had not one in stock he would be obliged to send to Brussels for it.

Under the circumstances an enforced stay would have to be made at Huy,
so the lads booked a room at a modest but cheerful-looking hotel. The
town and environs seemed delightfully picturesque, and, although
Kenneth chafed under the delay, both lads eventually admitted they
might have been hung up in many a worse place than Huy.

The next day, Sunday, they were awakened early by a clamour in the
street, and found that newsvendors were doing a roaring trade. The
papers were full of sensational reports, and although definite news was
not forthcoming, it was quite evident that the war clouds were rapidly
gathering.

Rollo, the cautious, suggested the abandonment of the Liége trip and a
hasty return home, but Kenneth set his face against any such proposal.

"Look here," he said, "if there's any truth in this report, and England
does chip in, we will do no good by returning home. The powers that be
have decided that we are not yet of an age to take up a commission,
although I flatter myself that we are both better men than Tompkins,
late of the Upper Sixth, who was gazetted to a line regiment a week
before the holidays, you'll remember. If there is a dust-up we'll try
our luck with the French. They don't object to fellows of sixteen, so
long as they are keen. Take the case of Lord Kitchener, for instance.
He served as a cadet in the war of '70 and '71."

"Don't be in such a violent hurry, old man. Stick to our original
programme and go to Liége, if you will. It may be necessary for us to
look after your sister, you know."

"I don't think so; I firmly believe that Belgium will be left out of
the business. This scare will be over in a few days. The pen is
mightier than the sword, you know, so Germany will respect her plighted
word to preserve the neutrality of both Holland and Belgium."

It was nearly noon on Monday morning when the lads wended their way to
the motor-repairer's. Outside the burgomaster's house a huge crowd had
gathered. The chief magistrate was making ready to read a document.
It was a copy of the momentous ultimatum from the bully of Europe to
one of the smallest of her neighbours: a peremptory demand that the
Belgian Government should allow the legions of the Kaiser to pass
through Belgium in order to attack the least-defended frontier of
France, and threatening to make war upon the little buffer State should
she refuse.

A dead silence greeted the burgomaster's announcement. The news,
though not unexpected, was astounding.

Again he spoke:

"Fellow-townsmen! I can assure you that the spirit of independence
lives amongst us. We will resist to the death this outrageous demand.
Nor are we without powerful friends. Listen to the words of an appeal
of our heroic Sovereign to the King of England: 'Remembering the
numerous proofs of your Majesty's friendship and that of your
predecessors, and the friendly attitude of England in 1870, and the
proof of friendship you have just given us again, I make a supreme
appeal to the diplomatic intervention of your Majesty's Government to
safeguard the integrity of Belgium."

"And what is the reply of the King of England?" shouted a voice.

"If it has been received it has not up to the present been communicated
to me," replied the chief magistrate pompously. "Rest assured that I,
your burgomaster, will not be tardy in keeping the worthy burgesses
fully posted with the latest news from the capital. If any of you
still have faith in German promises, let me inform you it is definitely
established that the German troops have already invaded the independent
Grand Duchy of Luxemburg."

The burgomaster withdrew, leaving the townsfolk to shout "Down with
Germany!" "Long live England!" and cheer madly for their young king,


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