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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 172 pages of information about Adventures of a Despatch Rider.

It was now about 10.30.  Until five the troops tramped on, in a scorching sun, on roads covered with clouds of dust.  And most pitiful of all, between the rear-guard and the main body shuffled the wounded; for we had been forced to evacuate our hospital at Bavai.  Our men were mad at retreating.  The Germans had advanced on them in the closest order.  Each fellow firmly believed he had killed fifty, and was perfectly certain we could have held our line to the crack of doom.  They trudged and trudged.  The women, who had cheerily given us everything a few days before, now with anxious faces timorously offered us water and fruit.

Great ox-waggons full of refugees, all in their best clothes, came in from side-roads.  None of them were allowed on the roads we were retreating along, so I suppose they were pushed across the German front until they fell into the Germans’ hands.

For us it was column-riding the whole day—­half a mile or so, and then a halt,—­heart-breaking work.

I was riding along more or less by myself in a gap that had been left in the column.  A cure stopped me.  He was a very tall and very thin young man with a hasty, frightened manner.  Behind him was a flock of panic-stricken, chattering old women.  He asked me if there was any danger.  Not that he was afraid, he said, but just to satisfy his people.  I answered that none of them need trouble to move.  I was too ashamed to say we were retreating, and I had an eye on the congestion of the roads.  I have sometimes wondered what that tall, thin cure, with the sallow face and the frightened eyes, said about me when, not twelve hours later, the German advance-guard triumphantly defiled before him.

Late in the afternoon we passed through Le Cateau, a bright little town, and came to the village of Reumont, where we were billeted in a large barn.

We were all very confident that evening.  We heard that we were holding a finely entrenched position, and the General made a speech—­I did not hear it—­in which he told us that there had been a great Russian success, and that in the battle of the morrow a victory for us would smash the Germans once and for all.  But our captain was more pessimistic.  He thought we should suffer a great disaster.  Doubting, we snuggled down in the straw, and went soundly to sleep.

FOOTNOTES: 

[6] I had no map with me.  All the maps were in use.  Looking afterwards at the map which I obtained later in the day, I am unable to trace my route with any accuracy.  It is certain that the Germans temporarily thrust in a wedge between the 13th and 15th Brigades.

[7] A small patrol of cavalry, I should imagine, if the tale I heard at Serches be true.

CHAPTER IV.

THE BATTLE OF LE CATEAU

The principal thing about Le Cateau is that the soldiers pronounce it to rhyme with Waterloo—­Leacatoo—­and all firmly believe that if the French cavalry had come up to help us, as the Prussians came up at Waterloo, there would have been no Germans to fight against us now.

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