Bethune was full of simple pleasures. First there were the public baths, cheap and good, and sundry coiffeurs who were much in demand, for they made you smell sweetly. Then there was a little blue and white cafe. The daughter of the house was well-favoured and played the piano with some skill. One of us spent all his spare time at this cafe in silent adoration—of the piano, for his French was exiguous in the extreme. There was a patisserie crammed full of the most delicious cream-cakes. The despatch rider who went to Hinges about 3.30 P.M. and did not return with cakes for tea, found life unpleasant. Near the station three damsels ruled a tavern. They were friendly and eager to teach us French. We might have left them with a sigh of regret if we had not once arrived as they were eating their midday meal.
At one time the Germans dropped a few shells into Bethune, but did little damage. Bombs fell too. One nearly ended the existence of “Sadders”—also known as “Boo.” It dropped on the other side of the street; doing our despatch rider no damage, it slightly wounded Sergeant Croucher of the Cyclists in a portion of his body that made him swear when he was classed as a “sitting-up case.”
Of all the towns behind the lines—Bethune, Estaires, Armentieres, Bailleul, Poperinghe—Bethune is the pleasantest. The people are charming. There is nothing you cannot buy there. It is clean and well-ordered, and cheerful in the rain. I pray that Bethune may survive the war—that after peace has been declared and Berlin has been entered, I may spend a week there and much money to the profit of the people and the satisfaction of myself.
Now I will give some account of our adventures out with the brigades round La Bassee.
[Illustration: ROUND LA BASSEE]
 The first—in October and November.
 This is not an unthinking advertisement. After despatch riding from August 16 to February 18 my judgment should be worth something. I am firmly convinced that if the Government could have provided all despatch riders with Blackburnes, the percentage—at all times small—of messages undelivered owing to mechanical breakdowns or the badness of the roads would have been reduced to zero. I have no interest in the Blackburne Company beyond a sincere admiration of the machine it produces.
ROUND LA BASSEE.
It had been a melancholy day, full of rain and doubting news. Those of us who were not “out” were strolling up and down the platform arranging the order of cakes from home and trying to gather from the sound of the gunning and intermittent visits to the Signal Office what was happening.
Someone had been told that the old 15th was being hard pressed. Each of us regretted loudly that we had not been attached to it, though our hearts spoke differently. Despatch riders have muddled thoughts. There is a longing for the excitement of danger and a very earnest desire to keep away from it.