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Title: The Day, or The Passing of a Throne Author: Fred M. White * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1100801h.html Language: English Date first posted: December 2011 Date most recently updated: April 2012 This eBook was produced by Maurie Mulcahy. HTML version by Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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|I - On Secret Service
II - Found!
III - The Spider's Web
IV - Veiled Eyes
V - On The Roof
VI - A Check All Round
VII - The Dead Of Night
VIII - On German Soil
IX - The Trustful Britain
X - The Terror Of The Air
XI - Inside St. Paul's
XII - The Tower Bridge
XIII - The Wells Of Truth
XIV - The First Awakening
XV - A City Of The Dead
XVI - In The Royal Palace
XVII - Dog Rob Dog
XVIII - Towards The North
XIX - The Chartered Vagabonds
XX - The Abner Lightship
XXI - The Battle Of The Sands
XXII - At Bay
XXIII - In The Ritter-Saal
XXIV - The Eye Of The Brotherhood
XXV - A Crowded Night
XXVI - The Road To Freedom
XXVII - The Refugees
|XXVIII - Cut Off
XXIX - "The City Of Dreadful Night"
XXX - In Palace Yard
XXXI - The Mystery Ship
XXXII - On The Track
XXXIII - The House On The Cliff
XXXIV - The Dead Bird
XXXV - The Lace Curtains
XXXVI - "Made In Germany"
XXXVII - Brothers-In-Arms
XXXVIII - A Safe Return
XXXIX - The Face Of The Envelope
XL - All Eyes To The North
XLI A Nation's Nerves
XLII - "Light, Light, More Light!"
XLIII - On The Brighton-Road
XLIV - Under Fire
XLV - The Night Of Terror
XLVI - The Other Spider
XLVII - The Hour That Mattered
XLVIII - Beyond The Power Of Evil
XLIX - What Of The Harvest?
L - The Harvest Ripens
LI - The Day Dawns
LII - The Real Day
LIII - The Evening Of "The Day"
LIV - What Of The Morrow?
The two men in the back room behind the little Italian pastrycook's shop in Stanton-street were making history. As yet they did not know it; they were to find it out later on. The elder of the two, the man with the grey moustache ferociously cooked and the cook's cap on the back of his head, was known locally as Manuel Serano, and his younger companion as Luigi Serrai; but as a matter of fact the leader was Stuart Hallett, of the Secret Service, and the other Paul Rosslyn, his chief assistant. It was what they called early closing day so that they were free to discuss the knotty problem which had been worrying them for the past month.
"Now what do you make of it?" Hallett asked. "Have you got any further with the cipher? I suppose you are quite convinced that somebody is working a pretty powerful wireless within the four-mile radius. The question is. Can you locate it?"
"I believe I have done so," Rosslyn said quietly. "But don't you think, sir, it would be a mistake to raid the place? Those people are quite convinced that we have overlooked them and that their code is absolutely beyond detection. Well it isn't. As you know, I haven't been making a study of wireless in connection with aeroplanes the last three years for nothing. Now I believe I've got one of last night's messages decoded."Rosslyn took from his pocket what appeared to be a mass of mathematical formula. As he explained the position and value of certain letters and figures, Hallett nodded approvingly. A few moments later and he was reading for himself the last message dispatched from the mysterious wireless station on the previous evening. He read the message aloud, slowly and carefully thus:—
"The Mailed Fist is torn and bruised. The steel gauntlet is filled with its wearer's blood. The time has come to cut it off."
There was no more than that but Hallett laughed aloud in the sheer joy of discovery. He patted Rosslyn on the back.
"Egad, the chap who sent that message is right there. For three months now the Mailed Fist has been hammering against Liege and Namur and the French advance until every nuckle is broken. By gad, who would have thought three months ago that little Belgium could have held the Mad Dog by his tongue all this time. And what would the German people say if they knew the truth?"
"Heaven only knows. It strikes me that the man who sent that message wants them to know. Any way we are aware of the fact that he is a German and evidently no friend of the tin Napoleon. No; my theory is this. Somewhere in the City these people have got an office, or perhaps an whole building. It would be a building preferably which carried on the roof a telephone standard sustaining a hundred or two wires. Now you can quite see how easy it would be to mix up the aerial with these. If you have a dynamo in the basement with sufficient power you could send messages any practical distance—certainly as far as Berlin, which is what our mysterious friend seems to be aiming at."
"Wouldn't the game be spotted?" Hallett asked.
"I don't think so. Let us suppose that the basement is occupied by a firm of engineers or motor agents, anything to give them a plausible excuse for running machinery night and day. I don't want to be unduly sanguine, but I believe I have found the place; anyhow I shall know for certain to-morrow. The question is are we going to raid the show, or wouldn't it pay us better to lie low for a bit now that the cipher is no longer a secret to us? I should like to hear your opinion."
"Festina lente," Hallett said, "I think you are right. Anyhow there is nothing more to be done for the moment, and now you can go off and dine with your friend Pierre Leroux and that charming daughter of his. My dear boy, there is no reason why you should grin so uncomfortably. She is a most beautiful and fascinating girl, and when you get the authorities to see the beauties of that now silent aeroplane engine of yours you will be able to pose as a millionaire. And now good-night, and a pleasant evening to you."
Rosslyn laughed as he removed his baker's cap and big white apron, and revealed his dress clothes below. A great deal of information had found its way to the War Office through the little pastry cook's shop, and as yet nobody had guessed the identity of the two men who posed as Italian pastrycooks. Many a spy had been tracked in this way, and many a danger removed. But for the moment Rosslyn put all this out of his mind. He was not concerning himself with the troubles of Germany and the hideous breakdown of the Kaiser's plan. He knew that the war could have but one end, he knew that Germany was being slowly strangled between the locked arms of France and Russia, and that the silent sentinels guarding the Seven Seas were bringing the Teuton to his knees in the throes of starvation. But that mysterious wireless worried him. What manner of man, he asked himself, was it who flung these messages out upon the air, and what was his feeling towards Germany? It sounded like one revolutionary calling to another. It might have been a warning to Berlin, sign for the beginning of strife, the trumpet blast summoning a nation to free itself from the grip of a tyrant. Like other men who knew the truth, Rosslyn had no enmity in his heart for Germany as a nation. He knew perfectly well that she would never have gone to war had she not been dragged into it by the visionary at Potsdam and the gang who flattered him and fooled him to the top of his bent. He had every sympathy for a country brow beaten and held in bondage by a madman. He knew that the destruction of Germany would be the ruin of hundreds of thousands of Englishmen who had their money invested there. He knew that Germany wiped out would mean a dislocation of trade so great that the whole world would reel before it. And in a way his heart went out to the man who was evidently trying to tell Berlin the truth which was being so sedulously suppressed.
Still he would know to-morrow for certain, perhaps to-night if one of his trusted subordinates was successful in obtaining certain information. He was feeling pleased with the world in general as he rang the door bell of the flat in Medhurst-gardens.
Pierre Leroux was a naturalised Englishman who had come over from Alsace three or four years before to London, where he had established a highly successful business as a wine importer in the City of London. He occupied a suite of offices at the top of a building in Cannon-street, where until the war broke out, he had employed a large staff of clerks. Now, with the exception of two elderly men, the staff had gone back to the colours, and the business was at a standstill. Leroux spent most of his day there and some of his evenings in Cannon-street, but this, as he observed, was more a matter of habit than anything else.
It was a charming flat that he had in Medhurst-gardens, presided over by his daughter Vera, and Rosslyn was always certain of a warm welcome there. He had it now as he entered the cosily-furnished drawing-room there; it thrilled him to feel the pressure of Vera's slim fingers and see the light in those lovely hazel eyes of hers. As yet nothing had been said on either side, but the understanding was there, and Leroux tacitly encouraged it.
He was a typical Frenchman, a little stout, a little bald, but withal active enough, and a magnificent hand with a rapier. He discoursed eloquently on the war as they sat round the perfectly-appointed diner-table, and, Frenchman though he was, spoke in the kindliest way of the German people. His deep and abiding hatred was for the Kaiser and the militant party who had bred all these misfortunes. His eyes gleamed and his hands shook as he spoke.
"I have scores of good friends in Germany," he cried. "I would do anything to help them. Ah, to think that all this bloodshed could be brought about by one man. A man! A moustache! I laugh and I weep in the same breath when I think of him. And all this while Germany knows not the truth. They are told lies, lies of imaginary victories, whilst Berlin is on the verge of starvation. And that fool of a ruler refused to learn anything from a war which cost you English two hundred millions of money and a river of your best blood. He laugh and say you English, you are cowards. He make fun of your Lord Methuen and the defence by the Boers of Modder River. But he don't laugh no longer when the brave Belgians show him that there are others not too wise to learn. He does not laugh when the Belgians smash up his plan of campaign and make Europe smile at him. Ah, if I could get the truth through to my friends in Berlin—"
He threw up his hands in an eloquent gesture. Rosslyn hesitated for a moment before he spoke. They were all friends together.
"I believe somebody's trying to do it," he said.
But Leroux was not listening. He seemed to be utterly carried away by the force of his passionate anger.
"The Mailed Fist is torn and bruised," he cried. "The Steel Gauntlet is filled with its wearer's blood. The time has come—"
Rosslyn started as if something had stung him. For here was this peaceful Frenchman using exactly the same phase as the message which had been sent over the mysterious wireless. It was a discovery that brought Rosslyn up all standing and threw him into absolute confusion.
It was only a moment before he recovered himself again, but Vera had noticed, and there were a dozen questions in her eyes as she watched him. He saw the blood leave her face all white and anxious. Then she interrupted her father in his wild tirade.
"Did you hear what Mr. Rosslyn said?" she asked. "He said that there was someone here in London using a secret wireless station to communicate with the Kaiser's enemies in his own country. I believe that Mr. Rosslyn knows all about it."
"Gott im Himmel, ist das so?"
The words burst from Leroux like a shell. It was not a Frenchman who was speaking now, but a German, and the significance of it went home to Rosslyn, pierced his brain, and set him instantly on his guard. He showed no further sign of surprise or agitation. And Leroux, too, was smiling and apologising in the next breath.
"That is how a German would have put it," he said. "I know so many of them that I can speak English as they do. Ah, they told me I had a fortune if I went on the stage."
He turned the conversation adroitly, he chattered with ease as a man of the world on many things. But the little air of constraint was there, the chill atmosphere of suspicion. And there had been, too, one significant glance between father and daughter which had not been lost on Rosslyn. He felt quite relieved when presently he was summoned to the telephone to speak to his assistant, who whispered the fact that he had important news for him.
"I am afraid I shall have to go at once," he explained. "That is the worst of being the slave of a Government."
"Ah, but you are doing a great work, my boy," Leroux cried. "So make no excuses. Vera, my child, as our friend is going, I think I will just walk as far as the club."
But once he had parted from Rosslyn, Leroux turned his steps eastward. A taxicab deposited him presently at Cannon-street Station, where he took a first-class ticket to Blackheath. But not for use. He slid unobserved into a lavatory compartment, and when he emerged a moment later he was beyond recognition. Then he made his way rapidly to a block of business buildings, the basements of which, were given over to some engineering industry, and, late as it was, some machinery was still at work. But this did not seem to interest Leroux in the least. Quite unobserved he opened the front door with a latchkey and then toiled silently to the top of the building. There was a small office in a kind of turret, and this Leroux entered by passing through a strong door sheathed with steel on the inside, which he opened with a Chubb key. He flashed on the light and disclosed what appeared to be an apartment given over entirely to telegraphy of some kind, for here was everything necessary, including telephone accessories. Down a ladder leading to the roof a second man crept, and stood evidently waiting Leroux's instructions. The latter smiled grimly.
"We are in danger, Ludwig," he said. "And, what's more, the danger comes from the very man we have the most need of."
"Ach, you don't mean to say that Rosslyn—"
"Indeed I do. He's solved our cipher to begin with. He slipped it out to-night at dinner. He didn't know that I was watching him, but he swallowed the bait. And he hopes to lay us by the heels before morning. I heard what his assistant said, thanks to my extension receiver. At present my daughter is following him. We may get a message from her at any moment. Anyway, he knows now that I am no more a Frenchman than you are. I was fool enough to be taken off my guard for a second, and although he may not have noticed it, I am taking no risk in that way. And I know what to do."
"Got the place at once, eh? Get away or be caught like rats in a trap. Rosslyn will be here presently with the police—"
"Ah, that is where you make a mistake. He will come by himself. Rosslyn is that sort of man. And when he comes we shall be ready for him. Now put out the light and leave the door open. When I give you the signal turn on the light again at once."
They sat there waiting in patience, the minutes dragging slowly on. Yet Rosslyn did not come. No sound penetrated there, for the City was deserted like a town of the dead. And yet Rosslyn was not far off. He was taking his measurements carefully, and he was not going to leave anything to chance. He was standing there in the street below when boy seemed to rise from the gutter and thrust an envelope in his hand. He tore it open and read:—
"I implore you to go no further. If you value your safety, if you would strike a blow for your country and at the heart of the foe at the same time, forget what you have heard to-night."
When Rosslyn looked up the boy had vanished. But it was enough for Rosslyn that the warning was in Vera's handwriting. He hesitated for a moment, then retraced his steps slowly westward.
What did it all mean? Rosslyn hesitated between love and duty. He was convinced in his mind now that Pierre Leroux was a particularly dangerous German spy who had cleverly passed himself off as a Frenchman for many years. Beyond all question this man had a powerful secret wireless installation on the roof of his office in Cannon-street. And beyond question Vera knew all about it. And yet it seemed almost impossible to identify the girl with her father's dark and dangerous business. It seemed hard to believe that these blue eyes which had smiled so sweetly into his could veil a soul steeped in intrigue and treachery. He could not bring himself to credit the fact that Vera had deliberately lured him on to betray his country.
It seemed to him that he loved her at that moment more than he had ever done before, and none the less because he saw quite plainly that she could be nothing to him in the future.
Perhaps she cared for him still, at any rate she was taking considerable risks to save him from a great personal danger. If that letter meant anything, it was a confession on Vera's part that she was mixed up in a conspiracy which boded no good to Great Britain. At any rate, she was a very woman after all, and if she had not cared for Rosslyn she would never have written that letter. Had she been merely playing with him she would have abandoned him to his fate, and Rosslyn was too old a hand at the game to have any delusions on the score of what that fate would be. None knew better than he that London swarmed with German spies who carried their lives in their hands, and who were prepared to commit murder to save their rascally skins. He had sat many a time at Leroux's table, where he was always a welcome guest, but that was before the outbreak of the war, and things were very different now. Still, Rosslyn was grateful enough to the girl who was risking so much to ensure his safety. He would go and see her, late as it was, and demand an explanation for that extraordinary letter. He might find Leroux at home, in which case he would have to alter his tactics a little, but he was determined to see Vera before he slept. A light was burning in the hall of the flat in Medhurst-gardens, and almost before the bell had ceased to ring, the door was flung open by Vera herself.
"Ah!" she cried, "I was afraid of something like this. Oh, why did you come here? Cannot you understand the risks I took in sending it to you. If you had only been ready to trust me!"
She threw up her slender hands with the gesture of despair. Her face was pale and sorrowful, there were dark rings under her anxious eyes. And yet it seemed to Rosslyn that she had never been so sweet and attractive before. He smiled bitterly.
"These are strange questions to come from you," he said. "If you will be good enough to give me a few minutes—"
"Come in, by all means. My father is out, and I don t expect him back for some time. But this is a mad thing you are doing, Paul."
The Christian name dropped unconsciously from the girl's lips. Paul smiled bitterly again as he heard it.
"I believe I am mad," he said. "Mad with disappointment and doubt and cut to the heart by what I have learnt tonight. I am going to be quite plain with you, Vera. You will not deny that you know how much I love you."
The girl bent her head and the blood flamed into her cheeks. There were tears in her eyes, but they did not fall.
"I—I had hoped so," the girl stammered.
"You knew it," Rosslyn said sternly. "For weeks I have made no disguise of my feelings. And I thought that you cared for me, too. In your strange way I believe that you do. And yet with all that you have not hesitated to draw from me secrets that belong to my country. You know that I occupy a responsible position, and that I should be everlastingly disgraced if I did anything in any way to help the enemy. I took you and your father for patriotic French people. I have heard you condemn the Prussians and speak of the Kaiser with loathing and contempt. Oh, it was well done—better acting I have never seen."
"It was not acting," Vera whispered shakily.
"But it must have been. Surely in the face of what happened in this very room an hour or two ago, you are not going to deny that your father is a German. You are not going to try and persuade me that he is no spy. I am quite convinced that he is one of the most dangerous ones in London. And you probably know as much about this intrigue as he does. And you know, too, that my duty is plain. When I got your note this evening I should have taken it round to Scotland Yard and told the police everything. By this time your father would have been arrested and possibly shot, at any rate a long term of imprisonment would have been inevitable. And you? Ah, my dear Vera, even your youth and beauty would have been no protection. England is in no mood now for sickly sentiment. You would have shared your father's sentence, those little white hands of yours would have grown hard with menial work. And because I know that, I am here to-night. I want to save you, because I love you, and because I shall go on loving you whatever happens. You are young and impressionable, and this adventure appeals to you. You think you are striking a blow for Germany, but how feeble and futile a blow it is! Surely you are not blind to the truth. Surely you know that the Kaiser is in the trap and that Germany is doomed. Now tell me everything, and I will do the best I can for you; more than that I will do my best for your father. I ought to be ashamed to say so, but when I look into those blue eyes of yours—"
"Oh I cannot, I cannot," Vera cried. "If you only knew how I am suffering at this minute your heart would bleed for me. I am all that you say and more, and I am a German patriot to an extent you little dream of. And it is because of this that my lips are sealed. Won't you try and believe in me, Paul? Won't you try and judge me kindly? Some day you will know the truth, but you will not know it if you go on in the way you are doing. And I do love you just as much as you love me. I have cared for you from the first, and I told my father so; I implored of him to set me free from my promise; I begged of him not to use you—"
"Ah, then I am the cat's-paw," Roslyn cried. "Your kindness to me has not been spontaneous. I have been lured here for a purpose which stills remains to be seen. Heavens, what a fool I have been! Why am I wasting my precious moments like this? I will give you one more chance, Vera. I am to trust implicitly in you, but you do not trust me a single yard. Tell me everything. Show me I am mistaken in my conclusions that you are a common spy."
Rosslyn bent down and laid his hands on the girl's shoulders. He could feel her shrink and tremble, but the melting blue eyes met his firmly enough.
"I cannot, I dare not," she said. "And I dare not because I know you will never consent to do as we wish. Oh, it sounds very elusive and mysterious, but I am not trying to blind you. You must go your way, and I must go mine, and perhaps, later on—"
"Now what are you two conspiring," a voice broke in gaily. "Really, my dear Vera, this is something extraordinary in such a proper little person as yourself. I come to bring a message to your father, and what do I find? The hall door open, the servants apparently gone to bed, Monsieur out, and our dear little Vera engaged in a deep flirtation with my friend Paul Rosslyn."
Rosslyn smiled uneasily. It was quite clear that the unexpected advent of lady Loxton had put an end to further confidences. The pretty fair-haired chatterbox dropped into a chair and proceeded to light a cigarette. Rosslyn turned towards the door.
"Appearances are often deceptive," he said. "I came with a message, too, but I stayed rather longer than I intended. Really, Lady Loxton. I am obliged for the interruption. Ladies, permit me to wish you both good-night."
He saw Vera wince and quiver, but he was himself again now. He turned away without another word, and left.
The giddy little butterfly known as Lady Loxton occupied a large and luxurious flat which took up practically the top floor of a block of buildings known as Medhurst Gardens. She was young and vivacious, always lively and agreeable, and enviously known as one of the best dressed women in London. She was deliciously pretty in a Dresden china way, and apparently lived entirely for pleasure. If she was the possessor of anything in the way of intelligence she disguised it most effectively, and her ingenuousness was a constant source of pleasure and amusement to her quicker-witted friends.
And yet in spite of her innocence of the world, she had done very well for herself. The gossips who knew were prepared to prove that she had been the only child of a shady Irish officer, whose service had been dispensed with, and that in her earlier days she had been on the Parisian stage, and that she had played in Vaudiville all over the Continent. Some considerable time before she had married Lord Loxton, regarded by competent critics as the greatest blackguard in the peerage, and at his death had found herself amply provided for. People were surprised to find that Lord Loxton had left so much money, for he had been looked on as permanently in the ranks of the impecunious, but then his pretty wife had done much for him, and had found him one or two powerful friends on the Continent. It was generally understood that Loxton had done well over his speculations in foreign shares, not that it mattered much any way, for Society was prepared to take Lady Loxton as she stood, and her invitations were eagerly sought for.
She made her way upstairs presently to her own flat, and let herself in with a latchkey. The servants had all retired for the night to their own quarters, which were at the end of a long corridor, and cut off from the rest of the flat by a pair of heavy baize doors. The wire of a burglar alarm ran along the wainscot, and this Lady Loxton carefully connected before entering the dining-room.
The luxurious apartment, with its old oak panelling and priceless pictures, was brilliantly flooded with light. Before the clear log fire a man sat on an arm chair smoking a cigarette. He was very tall and very thin, with a lean, long face, and head covered with coarse black hair. This was no less a person than Professor Garzia, one of the greatest authorities in Europe on music, and a Spaniard of old descent. He shrugged his shoulders as Lady Loxton entered.
"My child, you have been a long time," he said.
"But not time wasted, Pedro," Lady Loxton laughed. "I did not find Leroux at home, but behold there was little Vera in the midst of a passionate love scene with our friend Paul Rosslyn. Of course, I pretended to see nothing, but there is something in the wind all the same. But never mind those children. Have you heard from Von Kemp and our friend Aldeborough?"
"Ah, von Kemp and the others, they are in gaol," Garzia said, with a shrug of his shoulders. "The little game with the shaded lamps was spotted and the house raided just after dusk this evening. It is by great good luck that I got away without being seen. I had managed to hide the car, or at this moment I should not be enjoying the pleasure of your charming society."
Lady Loxton hissed something between her little white teeth. Her expression had entirely changed now, her big innocent eyes twinkled with malice and cunning. The alert vigour of her face and the outward thrust of her chin would have astonished her Society friends had they seen her at that moment. For here was no frivolous butterfly, but a hard, scheming woman of the world.
"What infernal luck!" she cried. "And I thought that we had planned the whole thing so carefully. There must have been some bad blundering somewhere, Pedro. And fancy this coming at a time when we need money from Berlin so badly. I was promised 200,000 marks if I brought off that little coup and got those gunboats mixed up with the mines that von Kemp made, and which have been lying perdu at Aldeborough for the last four years. And I am reduced to my last £5 note. We shan't get another penny through Rotterdam until we have pulled something off. Look here."
The speaker took up a copy of a leading newspaper, and indicated an advertisement appealing for subscriptions towards a children's convalescent home, of which Lady Loxton appeared to be the president. The appeal was for children in Germany and Belgium as well as England—an appeal for the little ones suffering from the war, and printed in three languages. Lady Loxton smiled as she looked at it.
"What fools these English authorities are," she said. "And yet I flatter myself that this is an excellent scheme for throwing dust in their eyes. This advertisement is published in London and Berlin every day. And each day it is slightly altered. By picking out certain letters I can read what our friends in Berlin say, and vice versa. To-day's message says that the Secret Service Department at Potsdam is getting very dissatisfied with us, and that unless we do something striking, the money will be cut off. Now can't you think of something? Something dazzling!"
Garzia frowned moodily. With his intimate knowledge of the coding of the advertisement he was reading it eagerly between the lines. He looked up presently, his eyes gleaming like coals.
"This is a great scheme of your's Marie," he exclaimed. "Ah, who would guess that the frivolous Lady Loxton was the cleverest spy ever trained in Prussia. You are great my child, the greatest of them all. And yet they are so full of ingratitude. But that was not what I was going to say. See, there is another message here. Will you take down the letters as I pick them out."
Lady Loxton took a sheet of paper, and for the next quarter of an hour jotted down a series of letters in what appeared to be a meaningless jumble on a sheet of paper. Her eyes sparkled, and her breath came a little faster as she divided up the words.
"Listen to this," she cried. "Berlin has got wind of a new aeroplane invented by our young friend Paul Rosslyn. It is a folding plane, with something entirely new in the way of a motor, and the whole thing can be packed in a big portmanteau. Moreover, it is absolutely noiseless. My word, what an instrument for bomb dropping! Talk about the terror by night! Now this is in your line, Pedro. You must get hold of the drawings of that plane and the designs of the engine. What do you think?"
Garzia smiled as he took a fresh cigarette.
"I dare say," he muttered. "But don't you think it would be quite as easy to get hold of the aeroplane itself?"
For a long time the two conspirators sat there smoking their cigarettes in silence. There was no patriotism in the mind of either though they were both German born. They were just spies, brilliant and audacious mercenaries, prepared to sell the seeds of their dirty work to the highest bidder. The mere fact that the German Government was prepared to pay a higher price than any other Government was the one thing that kept them straight. No other great Power in Europe besides Germany had any incentive to squander millions of money to purchase strategic secrets, and well those spies knew it. They were trusted agents of Prussia, and had known years ago that 'The Day' was inevitable. They knew too, that the thunderbolt would be launched at harvest time in 1914, and hitherto their task had been easy. They chuckled over the deluded Peace Party in Great Britain, and smiled at the country apparently dead to all sense of danger. Because of this Lady Loxton and her confederate, moving freely as they did in official circles, had no difficulty in supplying Berlin with priceless information, which was lavishly paid for.
For years they had lived on the fat of the land, but the sudden outbreak of hostilities froze the sources of supply, and the confederates were hard up for the opportunities of making a living.
Probably the authorities of Berlin had traded upon the fact. It had become a case of no cure no pay, and the failure of the ingenious Aldeborough scheme had found Lady Loxton and Garzia at the end of their resources. The mere thought of Rosslyn's aeroplane set their mouths watering. If they could get hold of the plans and specifications, to say nothing of the aeroplane itself, then they would be in clover for many a long day to come.
"We must think this out, Marie," Garzia muttered. "This prize is a rich one, and others will be put on the scent unless we move quickly. Meanwhile don't forget that I did not come here to-night merely to talk. There is work to do before we sleep, and it is getting late. Come, are you ready?"
The clocks in the sleeping city were striking the hour of two as Lady Loxton and her companion made their way through a trapdoor on to the roof of the flat. They were both shrouded from head to foot in black so that they could crouch behind a mass of chimneys without fear of being detected by the many searchlights playing across the chill, autumn sky. Here, too was an iron standard supporting scores of telephone wires, and from one of these a gleaming strand of copper dangled. To the end of this filament Garzia attached a telephone receiver. A strand of wire was in contact now with an official line connected with an intelligence department, and he was in position to hear everything that passed one way.
The little scheme had its drawback, but many a priceless bit of information had been tapped in that way in the dead of the night. It was Lady Loxton's business to act as amanuensis to Garzia and jot down in shorthand in a notebook such points as were worthy of record.
They crouched there for a long time, quite an hour or more, and the notebook was still a dreary blank.
Then Garzia started violently, and Lady Loxton stiffened.
"Here is something at last," Garzia murmured. "Have you got that notebook ready?"
Lady Loxton muttered that she had. In the excitement of the moment her German accent clearly betrayed her nationality. But there was no time now to be wasted in idle chatter, besides, such a thing was highly dangerous work before daylight.
Garzia did not say any more. He held the receiver to his left ear and with his right hand ticked off a sort of abbreviated Morse code on the leads of the flat. The woman by his side translated the sentences quickly in her notebook. At the end of half an hour Garzia dropped his receiver, and turned to his companion with an evil grin of triumph on his face.
"That is about all," he said. "Any way, we have netted a fine lot of fish to-night, and there is a real beauty amongst them. Now let us go back to the dining-room, and you shall read it all to refresh your memory. Then we will get busy."
The pair crept through the trap door and regained the dining-room without anybody apparently being any the wiser. The burglar-alarm had not been disturbed, as the state of the indicator proved, and none of the servants could have left their room without giving the signal.
So far everything had gone off well, and nothing remained for the present but to read the stolen message.
"I recognised the voice," Garzia exclaimed. "I need not tell you that it came from the Admiralty, and the speaker was calling up Stuart Hallett, who I need not tell you is our young friend Paul Rosslyn's chief. They were talking about that precious aeroplane. But I daresay you have gathered that."
Lady Loxton's eyes gleamed with joy.
"I did not," she said. "I was too busy taking down your information. Perhaps I had better read it."
She rattled it off glibly enough. Somebody in authority at the Admiralty had rung up Stuart Hallett at that late hour in the morning—for it was three o'clock—and the questioner was evidently anxious to get in contact with Rosslyn without delay. There was immediate and important work for him to do, but what it was had not been mentioned over the telephone. This was somewhat disappointing to the conspirators, and they would have given a great deal for further particulars, though Garzia had gathered that Rosslyn's task would have something to do with the new aeroplane.
This was something disturbing in a way, for it certainly meant more trouble for the spies. And there was something else that troubled them, because Garzia could make out from the one sided conversation that Hallett was uneasy in his mind inasmuch as Rosslyn had gone off on a dangerous mission, and had not yet returned, though in the ordinary course of things he should have been back in his rooms long ago. But against this they had the priceless information of the spot where the aeroplane was concealed and the combination letters with the lock on the door of the shed. The Admiralty official had repeated this twice by way of verifying his notes, and Garzia smiled grimly over this priceless bit of information.
"Now I wonder if anything has happened to Rosslyn?" he muttered. "I should not be surprised if he had gone off doing a bit of spy hunting on his own account. We are not the only people in London who know something about the work he is doing. What a glorious bit of luck this has been! Now we can safely rely upon the Admiralty man doing nothing before to-morrow. He will naturally wait for Rosslyn to turn up after the cool way officials do lag, and the moment to us will be distinctly precious."
Lady Loxton carefully tore her notes into fragments, and dropped them into the heart of the burning fire. She never left anything, however small, to chance, and in the matter of the letter lock combination she had a devoted faith in her own marvellous memory.
"I see you have something in your mind," she said eagerly. "I should like to know what you propose to do?"
"Walk off with the aeroplane," Garzia said, coolly. "Start out now and fetch it. There is nobody in London who knows the roads within a twenty-mile radius better than you do. Besides, you have not had an adventure for so long that your nerves must be getting flabby."
Lady Loxton laughed, and the gleam of battle shone in her eyes. For here was an adventure after her own heart. She was sick of inaction and the comparative failures of the past few weeks. She stood up live and graceful, a mass of pluck and courage to her finger tips. She would have hesitated at nothing, and if the worst came to the worst, she was quite ready and willing to use a revolver.
"It would be grand," she cried. "Let us start at once. But there are certain precautions, of course—"
Garzia made light of the suggestion.
"You shall see what you shall see," he said. "Now go and get ready, and I will fetch the car round."
Like a cat, and as noiselessly, Garzia crept from the flat and made his way down the flights of stairs. He did not ring for the lift, for he counted on the night watchman being asleep in his box, and considerately had no desire to disturb him. He smiled pleasantly to find the forecast correct, and he slid off in the darkness without a soul being any the wiser. Even though the streets were empty, Garzia took no risk, and he used every patch of shadow as if it had been cover on a battlefield. He came at length to the garage where he kept his car, a motor which he had excellent reasons for looking after himself. It was supposed to be a hobby of his but at any rate it avoided a curious chauffeur and enabled Garzia to get about in all hours of the day and night without having to make a lot of more or less plausible explanations.
He closed the tightly fitting door and switched on the light. Then he proceeded rapidly to don a full chauffeur's uniform and a cap that hid his dark hair. The addition of a pair of goggles changed him beyond all recognition.
He chuckled as he regarded himself in the looking-glass; then he took up a spray of brilliant red paint, and in a few moments had transformed his pale car into a crimson one. All this would wash off quite easily presently, and when the number-plate had been changed and fresh lamps added he felt ready to defy the keenest eye. Then he boldly started the car, and slid along noiselessly till Medhurst Gardens was reached. There was no occasion to give Marie Loxton the signal, for she was already waiting in the doorway for the arrival of the car. She had made no attempt to disguise herself, for there was no occasion. If anybody met them on the road she would merely be taken for a lady out on urgent business, who was being driven by her own chauffeur. They slid away almost noiselessly through the sleeping city, Lady Loxton from time to time indicating the direction by a wave of her arm. Their destination was not more than twenty miles, and this should be accomplished by four o'clock, when it would still be pitch dark. The rest was no great matter. It would not be a difficult thing to gain access to the hangar in which the aeroplane was lying, and, with any luck the prize would be safely housed in Garzia's garage before dawn.
So they hurried along the silent roads, encountering nobody besides an occasional country policeman. The night was dark and black as the throat of a wolf, but Garzia slung along easily for he was an accomplished driver. Lady Loxton laid her hand upon his arm presently, and the car stopped at the entrance to a narrow lane.
"You had better back her in here," the woman whispered. "We are very near to our destination. I know that Rosslyn's workshops are in a field at the bottom of the lane, and the hangar can't be very far off. Shut down the engine and follow me."
It was not easy work fumbling along the lane in the pitch darkness, but the journey was accomplished at length, and a white gate loomed like a ghost a little way ahead. Beyond was a range of buildings dark against the skyline, and towards these the two adventurers made their way. It all seemed to be plain sailing now till something snapped under Garzia's foot, then a gruff voice challenged, and the click of a trigger sounded ominously near. It was a moment of something more than danger, and indeed it spelt exposure and disgrace. If the man with the revolver held them up long enough for assistance to arrive, then their career would be at an end. Even the ready-witted Garzia was at a loss for the moment.
But not so the woman by his side. She grasped him tensely by the arm and hissed in his ear.
"Drop," she said, "on your hands and knees at once and get behind the fellow. He is about five yards straight in front of me, and I saw his outline for a second against a door. Get behind him, and kill him when the time comes. Leave him to me."
Garzia needed no second bidding. He dropped like a shot rabbit on the wet grass, and proceeded to stalk his prey. He heard Marie Loxton utter a cry of joy and relief, or, at any rate, so it seemed to the sentinel standing there. It was quite clear that the guardian was unaware of the fact that there were two trespassers, and under the fond illusion that he had only a woman to deal with.
"Oh I am so glad I have found somebody," said Marie Loxton in tones of relief. "I have never been so frightened in my life. I was on the way to see a friend of mine that was taken suddenly ill, and I was stupid enough to think that I could drive myself. I managed to steer my car into a ditch, and if you will be so kind—"
There was no occasion to say any more, for the man standing there gave a gasp as he dropped senseless from a murderous blow on the back of the head. Garzia bent over him coolly.
"He won't trouble anybody for an hour or two," he said. "That was very smart of you, Marie. Now come along, for there is not a moment to be lost. There is the hangar, and here is my pocket-lamp. Well, so much for the lock. Now shut the door while I find the switch and turn on the light. Here we are, and—"
The chuckling speech broke off suddenly, and a yell of rage came from Garzia's lips For all this toil and all these risks were wasted. The hanger was empty.
"Now what does all this mean?" Garzia hissed. "There isn't so much here as a box of matches. And from what I heard over the telephone to-night, the aeroplane must have been here an hour or two ago. I'd give five years of my life to know where Rosslyn is just now. He is a lucky beggar, anyhow."
Had Garzia only known! Hours before Rosslyn had retraced his steps in the direction Cannon-street with the full intention of knowing the worst. The cool air of the night chilled the fever in his blood, and he saw his duty clearly before him. He resolutely put Vera out of his mind, he would forget her altogether. He had only one object in view and that was to discover the hidden mystery in a busy city street. He went cautiously up the stairs presently. He was all ready, nor did he anticipate any kind of trouble. He would be able to find the switch and turn on the light.
But all that was done for him in the twinkling of an eye. He had a fleeting vision of Leroux and a big burley man whom the former addressed as Ludwig. Then he was carried to the floor, and a pair of handcuffs snapped upon his wrists.
It was futile to struggle, vain to regret. It was the old story over again, the story of Samson and Delilah in another form. Rosslyn cursed himself as he remembered the many little things he had told Vera Leroux from time to time, especially the information he had given her as to his wonderful new aeroplane. He was in the hands of unscrupulous Germans, who would not hesitate to destroy him if it suited their purpose. They would probably try and strike a bargain with him, and he waited with admirable patience to hear it.
"Now listen to me," Leroux said. "You have been trapped. There is no blame attached to you—a far wiser mind than yours would have failed to see the bait. And you have precipitated matters yourself. I had no idea that you were on the track till to-night, or I should have toasted my cheese in another fashion. Now it is necessary to approach you in a different way. Ah, things are not so bad as they seem. If you will give me your word of honour to say nothing of this discovery of yours you are free to depart. If you are willing to trust me and my friend here for seven days—"
Rosslyn laughed bitterly.
"Ah, precisely," Leroux smiled. "If I were in your place I should probably take the same view. It is too late to tell you the truth, besides you would not have believed me if I did. We want you, and more especially that wonderful biplane of yours—the marvellous machine that takes up no more room than a big sea chest, the aerial bird that rises from the ground like a swallow. Also the engine that makes no more noise than the drone of a bee. And we get our own way thus."
Leroux raised his hands, and the man called Ludwig came forward. He carried something that looked like a shining needle, the point of which he thrust in Rosslyn's arm. The latter drew a deep breath, there was a click in his throat, then he swayed gently forward and fell, to all appearance dead, at Leroux's feet. The latter laid him out on the floor tenderly enough, and proceeded to remove the handcuffs.
"There is no other way, Ludwig," he said, as he busied himself in stripping his unconscious prisoner. "We should never have convinced him, and time is precious. Here, hand me those bandages and sheets. This is where you come in."
It needed but a minute or two to transform Rosslyn into the presentiment of a man wounded to the point of death. His hands were bandaged across his chest. His head was enveloped in a cloth which seemed to be soaked with blood, a few deft touches of a paint brush, and his face assumed the whiteness of marble. Then the burly Ludwig took up the body as if it had been no more than a feather weight and carried it down to the street. The road was empty.
Immediately opposite the doorway stood a huge car flying the Red Cross flag. A little way further down the street was a light motor ambulance which appeared to be piled high with stretchers. Leroux gave a grunt of satisfaction when he saw it.
"Quick," he whispered hoarsely, "there's no time to be lost. You worked that business very cleverly, my friend. Apparently the forged instructions came off all right, and that is the biplane behind. Good. It's now half-past one, and it will not be light before seven. We must be in Yarmouth safely hidden in the house of our friend long before them. Now then."
The two cars slid away into the darkness, and through the streets of London without attracting attention or exciting suspicion. It would have been all the same if they had, for no preparation had been neglected. Leroux had his story pat to the last word, documentary evidence properly signed and vouched to confirm it. If he was stopped later on, then he was merely conveying a wounded soldier who had just had a dangerous operation performed upon him back to his own home in Norfolk. He knew perfectly well that it would be at least eight-and-forty hours before Rosslyn opened his eyes again, or even gave the faintest sign of life. At the same time he was piloting an ambulance as far as the hospital which had recently been established at King's Lynn. The whole delicately laid scheme planned out so carefully and nourished so skilfully for nearly three years was not going to break down now. With what patience Leroux had waited for his chance!
The two cars slid on hour after hour through that chill November night; there was no challenge, and no delay. Long before daybreak the cars passed under an archway into a stable yard, and there they lay till darkness fell again.
It was a few minutes past six when the cars touched the coast at a lonely spot some five miles north of Yarmouth. It was here that they approached the zone of actual danger. The sea lay some sixty feet below at the foot of a sheer cliff. There they pulled up listening intently till the silence was broken by what appeared to a poaching cat snarling over a squealing rabbit. Leroux drew a breath of relief.
"It's all right," he whispered. "Coast quite clear. Get the invalid out and start up the engine and tip the car into the sea. It's a pity, but we musn't take any risks.. . Good. Now the same with the other one.. . And that's all right."
With infinite care and some risk Rosslyn's unconscious body was lowered by ropes into a motor-boat at the foot of the cliff, and the packed aeroplane swiftly followed. The precious engine came last. Half the task was accomplished now, and Leroux resigned himself into the hands of the burly Ludwig, who was a past master in the art of driving any craft with motor engines. This was where he came in. He proceeded to rig up an ingenious combination of motor-boat and aeroplane, using Rosslyn's wonderful invention for this purpose, and working it therefore from the bows and stern at the same time. He made no mistake; it was evident that his calculation was working out to the fraction of an inch. He gave a grunt of satisfaction.
"Absolutely right," he muttered. "By this contrivance we can touch fifty an hour without the slightest danger. And the man has yet to be born who knows the course better than I. We, with any luck, should be in Wilhelmshaven by three o'clock, and Korner's launch will be on the look-out for us. Here's luck to us all."
Without the glimmer of a light or the shadow of hesitation, Ludwig took the wheel and steered for the open sea. He seemed to have the eyes of a cat and a perfect confidence; indeed, he made no idle boast when he spoke of his knowledge, and he knew, too, that it was a thousand to one against meeting anything more dangerous than a fishing-smack or a tramp steamer. Hour after hour the silent machine worked like a thing of life, a bow wave swirled on either side of the little boat, and yet on the smooth sea hardly a drop of water was shipped. The two men sat there motionless and silent, alert and watchful for any threatened danger. From time to time they could catch the glimmer of lights in the distance, but nothing came within hailing distance, and presently Ludwig's keen eyes could make out on the horizon what appeared to be a bank of clouds, but which knew to be the coast of Germany. Then the boat slowed down, the aeroplane engine was taken down, and the whole packed away once more in the semblance of a big pile of stretchers. For the first time Ludwig showed a light thrice in rapid succession, and cut off his engine.
It was about an hour before a sea bird cried overhead apparently, and then out of the velvety darkness a steam launch appeared. A guttural voice challenged the motor boat cautiously.
"It is all right," Ludwig said. "We have the body of his Imperial Highness on board. No, he is not dead yet. Here, give me a hand."
The thing was done. The motor-boat was at the bottom of the sea, and in a room in the citadel Ludwig and Leroux sat talking to Herr von Korner, commanding the garrison. And on a truckle bed lay the body of Rosslyn, still lost to consciousness.
"He will wake and make history yet," Leroux smiled.
Colonel von Korner's haggard, anxious face relaxed for a moment. He looked like a man crushed and broken down by the weight of some great burden. His moustache dropped, he had none of the self-assured swagger that is almost the birth right of a German cavalry officer. His uniform was grimy and soiled, he might have been sleeping in it for weeks, which indeed was the truth. For the history of the war was no sealed book to him. The great Over Lord might deem it policy to conceal from a deluded people the long chapter of failure and reverse which had dogged the German Army from the start. He might pose before the population in the heart of his capital as their champion, and pretend that the sword had not shattered in his grasp, but those in authority knew the truth, and how terrible a retribution was at hand.
And von Korner was one of the enlightened type of patriot, who had never cherished any delusions. He had known from the first what it meant to defy the might of the Triple Entente, what it meant to flaunt defiance in the face of the British Fleet. He knew how near famine and revolution were, he knew that the right man in Berlin could start a rebellion which would drag the Hohenzollern throne from its pedestal and break it in the dust. He knew that the German Army had gone sullenly to the front with Socialism eating into its very vitals. He knew this because he was a Socialist himself, a pure minded and brave patriot who was prepared to fight, not for the Potsdam clique or the War Gang in the Friedrichstrasse, but for the coming and inevitable German Republic.
All this he told Leroux and Ludwig as they sat there in that plainly furnished room. But Leroux knew it already, had known it for the last three years. It was to strike a blow for the real freedom of the German people that these men were gathered there to-night.
"So far all has been well," Leroux explained. "As I have just told you, I have had to use a certain amount of violence, indeed without it Rosslyn would never have consented to join us. But he will not be so bitter against me when he knows the truth. Now listen to me, Citizen Korner. As I always told you, there is no enmity between the British and German peoples. We are bound together too closely by ties of blood and money for that. The destruction of Germany would ruin hundreds of thousands of Englishmen—it would be a two-edged sword reaching half across Europe. I tell you the English are a great people, and they will help us to be free. Ah, it is the Kaiser and those he has gathered about him that the English hate and detest. They say that the Mad Dog of Europe has for twenty years been a menace to the civilisation and commerce of the world. It is he they would destroy, he and his ridiculous navy. Once they are out of the way, and you will see a friendship between Teuton and Anglo-Saxon such as has not been witnessed since the overthrow of Napoleon. But I waste time, Ludwig, my friend, the antidote if you please."
Half an hour later Rosslyn struggled to his feet, and looked about him in half-blind amazement. He was like a man tired to death yet awakened after a few moments from deep slumber. He threw off his stupor presently, he was conscious of no racking headache, nothing beyond a fierce desire to eat and drink. He was in the hands of the foe, but there was no reason why he should not make the best of life so long as it was left to him. With a certain cynical indifference he accepted von Korner's offer of a cigar.
"Would you mind telling me where I am?" he asked.
"You are in the Fortress of Wilhemshaven," Leroux explained. "It doesn't matter how you got here, though I've no doubt you could give a pretty good guess. But you are here, and so is that wonderful aeroplane and engine of yours. Now let me explain. You regard me as a German spy who has got the better of you. In a way I am a German spy. But I happen to be a trusted servant of the Democratic Federation. Now we have our followers everywhere. They are even in the Palace of Potsdam, in the office of Bethmann-Holwegg, acting with Von Gwinner without his knowing it, of course—and listening to the plans of von der Goltz; we are in workshops of Krupps by the hundred. And we knew three years ago that this war would take place just at harvest time in nineteen hundred and fourteen. It was then that I came to London after six years in Paris. And for three years my London business was no more than a blind. So, my dear Rosslyn, it was small wonder that you were deceived. To a certain extent you forced my hand, and when you raided my little establishment it was too late for explanations. So I had to resort to force. Do you believe me now?"
"It is a plausible story," Rosslyn said guardedly.
"Then so far, so good," Leroux went on. "The three of us here are the type of Socialist who would save their country from further useless bloodshed. And we are going to strike a blow. It is necessary to strike a blow through the heart of the nation, for it is from the heart that the arteries are fed. Berlin has been cruelly deceived. They know nothing of all these reverses, they have not yet realised that Germany is in a ring of steel, in a kind of chamber of horrors, the walls of which are gradually closing. They do not know. They do not know that we are no more than a gigantic beleagured fortress, which must fall in the end from sheer exhaustion. Now we are going to tell Berlin the truth. We have all our documents ready, vouched for by the heads of our Federation, and it should be for you and your aeroplane to fly from here to Berlin and drop those leaflets by the thousand from the sky over the capital. Most of the good seed will fall on fertile ground, most of the inhabitants of Berlin are Socialists. There will be a tremendous reaction, a great wave of public indignation, arms will spring from everywhere, and the few troops around the Imperial Palace will be overpowered. Within eight-and-forty hours the Kaiser and his Army Council will be prisoners, and the Provisional Government formed. The flame will spread like wildfire. Now, sir, will you join with us and permit me to be your passenger?"
Rosslyn saw it all in a flash. These men were in grim earnest, and he could see no wrong in helping them. It was a chance to strike a blow for the flag, a chance hitherto only to dream of.
"Then you can count me in," he cried. "I am ready at any moment. Long life and prosperity to the German Republic."
Billy Montague strolled into his club and dropped into an arm chair in the smoking room with a discontented sigh. He regarded himself as being one of Fortune's victims, but there were thousands of his own type all over the country suffering in the same way. Billy was a man of family, an old Etonian, who had seen a great deal of service with Paget's Horse during the Boer War.
"It's very rough upon me," he told his friends. "I know I am over fifty, but I am as hard as nails and I am the equal to any man half my age at anything outdoors. And yet I can't get a job because I got a bullet wound in my foot and I am not so spry as some of them. I tell you this idleness will drive me to drink."
Montague was still harping upon his favourite theme when the little knot in the smoking-room was added to by the appearance of Stuart Hallett. He did not look quite so calm and unconcerned as usual, for he was troubled in his mind over the strange disappearance of Rosslyn and his aeroplane. Two or three days had elapsed, and it was now Sunday evening, and yet no sign of Rosslyn had been seen. Nobody knew this as yet, but it would be necessary to disclose the fact before very long. So Stuart was uneasy in his mind.
"Well, how goes it, you lucky beggar?" Montague asked cheerfully. "Very fine to be fully occupied like you are. I say, old chap, can't you give us any sort of a job? Look at Pascoe yonder. He is positively starving for work."
The man called Pascoe smiled bitterly. He wondered what Montague would think if he knew how nearly he had hit the mark. For the terrible war was pressing hard upon many people who seemed to be beyond its grip. The nation had responded nobly enough to the call of the Empire in her hour of need. There were funds for those dependent on the Army and the Fleet, but no one seemed to have given heed to the vast classes of people suddenly plunged from prosperity into the abyss of semi-starvation. For these are the people who suffer in silence and feed on their pride. These are the people drawn from the ranks of the professions, solicitors, doctors, stockbrokers, and heads of mercantile houses who had woke up on that fateful Bank Holiday to find their occupations gone. Many a man who had deemed himself well off on the Saturday, was face to face with starvation on the Monday morning.
It seemed incredible, impossible, the dream of some gloomy pessimist. And yet there it was, there were thousands of hitherto luxurious households envying the peasant toiling in the fields. And Pascoe, good fellow and good sportsman as he was, smiled bitterly as he looked about the smoking room with its electric lights and liveried servants and thought how glad he would have been to exchange the choice cigar in his mouth and the liqueur by his side for a square meal of bread and cheese.
He could, of course, accept the cigar offered him by a friend, but he could not stoop to borrow a few shillings from the same generous colleague on many a sporting field. For this is one of the million little tragedies that cling to the skirts of war. The man was well dressed, apparently prosperous from tip to toe, but all the same no food had passed his lips since the previous day. Small wonder then that he looked up eager as a famished wolf when he scents the prey and waited for Hallett's reply. And Hallett knew pretty well what was passing in Pascoe's mind. He had his own sources of information.
"Oh, I have not forgotten you chaps," he said. "The papers are making a good deal of fuss about our system of dealing with German spies. Of course we don't say much, but there is a great deal more going on than we like—especially on the East Coast. Now both of you fellows speak German like natives, and I am sure you would not mind the hardships. I am enrolling a corps of spy scouts, who will have a free hand to do pretty well what they please. Of course it will be a paid job under Government control, and not without an element of danger. If you care to undertake it—"
"Oh, hang the pay," Montague cried.
"I wish I could say the same," Pascoe murmured. "I'll take on the job with pleasure, but—oh, hang it, Hallett, I have got to live somehow. Every penny of my money is invested in my brother-in-law's business in Bremen. Might just as well be at the bottom of the sea for the moment you know. And, well, I am dead broke. I'd do anything for an honest living."
"Oh, it is not a matter of money," Hallett said; he avoided Pascoe's eye for the moment. "You can draw on me for anything in reason, and don't spare expenses. Now listen—-"
Hallett dropped his voice to a whisper.
"There is something mysterious going on along the Coast between Aldeborough and Filey. I don't know what it is, and it will be your business to find it out. We have had one or two nasty Naval disasters up there, and it has got to be stopped. If I'd had my way when the War broke out I would have rounded up every German in the kingdom, registered or not registered, and packed them all off, from the millionaire in his castle down to the sweating little Jew tailor in Whitechapel. We are playing the game much too fairly."
Hallett's words found an echo in the breasts of his companions. More than once lately Britain had had cause to rue her generosity to the enemy within her gates. But that had always been her policy. Sure within the fortress of the seas and relying with a child-like faith on the Majestic Navy, it seemed to the millions at home a mean and cowardly thing to seek out the solitary unit for punishment. And deep down in the heart of the nation was, and is, a profound sympathy for the deluded German fed with lies and blasphemous philosophy and ground down under the iron heel of the greatest tyrant since the days of Caligula.
And perhaps it was because of this that the Angel of Mercy still held in check the iron hand of Necessity. London and the provinces were disposed to smile at the puny efforts of the spies that crept like flies about the face of the country. Their pinprick efforts mattered but little. London was safe, the great cities in the north were intact, people discussed the probability of an attack by air with smiles upon their faces. But there were those who knew better, and Stuart Hallett was one of them.
"That's all right then," he went on. "Now I want you to go up to Scarborough and get in touch with Inchcliffe. You know him?"
"Oh, Lord, yes," Montague exclaimed. "The latest member of the House of Lords captured by the musical hall stage. Married Daisy Otter, didn't he? Seems to have dropped out altogether."
"That's the man," Hallett said. "I am rather sorry for Inchcliffe. When he got married he went off in that big yacht of his somewhere off the map, and he managed to drift back to Southampton without hearing a word of all this trouble. Some of us thought he was shirking, anyway there was not a single job we could fit him into when he got back, and now he is brooding over his fate and cursing his unlucky star. Of course his marriage was a mistake, though Lady Inchcliffe is by no means a bad sort. Now, as you know, Inchcliffe has a master mariner's certificate and there is not a living soul who knows more of the East coast waters than he does. He has got one or two little gems in the way of electric launches, and it is one of his boasts that he can navigate the coast blindfold. Your game is to go and see him and root out these spies who are constantly signalling between Filey and Aldeborough. It will be a pretty hazardous job, but you won't mind that. I don't mind telling you that the attempt to scotch the German snake yonder has cost more than one good life already. I sent young Trevor a fortnight ago, and he has not been heard of since. He was followed by Nasmith last week, and his body was picked up in the sea not far from Harwich. We call them accidents, but you people can draw your own conclusions. I only warn you that this is going to be no child's play."
Montague nodded, and Pascoe's dark face grew serious.
"And those chaps call this war," the latter broke out angrily. "Upon my word, I don't see why we should not pay them out in their own coin. I'm a good bit of a Radical myself and I can't understand how it is that all the hoard of Socialists in the German Army submit so tamely to be driven into a war which they hate and loathe. Had we been half smart we should have had a paid spy in every German regiment preaching the doctrine of a German Republic. It'll all very well for us to live up to our ideals, but it is no end of a handicap in times like these. What's that?"
A booming sound that echoed through the smoking room and shook the windows cut off the rest of Pascoe's speech. One man looked at the other inquiringly, but nobody moved. Surely there was no danger anywhere near at hand. London was safe enough, the foe was a long way off, and the silver sheet of the Channel lay between.
A waiter with nothing to do for the moment strolled leisurely through the hall and stood on the steps gazing up into the hazy autumn sky. It was a warm night, though intensely dark, and the streets were thronged with people. Little or no news had come through from the western army for some days, and the war fever had for the moment subsided. London's teeming millions were spending their Sunday in before the outbreak of hostilities, secure in the belief of absolute safety. It is no easy matter to frighten a people whose capital has never echoed to the tramp of the conqueror's foot since her day of glory dawned. So London laughed and supped, listened to her Sunday concerts, and filled her churches. The sound of the explosion fell on deaf ears.
The waiter strolled back to the smoking room again.
"No sir, I didn't see anything, sir," he said in answer to Hallett's question. "Bit of an explosion, sir, I expect."
Then suddenly the noise came again, and every light in the smoking room shut off, leaving it in blank darkness.
Still the men seated there hardly moved. Doubtless there had been some accident, a trouble with the gas-main perhaps, a disturbance which had short-circuited the electric light. The waiters came out with candles presently, but though the time went on there was no reappearance of the welcome rays of light. Outside the cheery hum of voices had grown into an angry murmur, there were confused shouts from cab and taxi drivers, police whistles broke out shrill and clear. The three men conversing in whispers in the corner of the smoking room looked at one another and rose with common accord. Evidently the trouble was worse than they had anticipated, for as they stood on the steps of the club presently and looked out there was not a single light to be seen. London had been plunged suddenly into the thickest darkness, bewildered drivers had pulled up helplessly in the road, and on the pavement huddled heaps of pedestrians stood anxious and uneasy, and not knowing which way to turn. The voices dropped for a moment, there was a strange feeling in the air, the sickening expectation of some dire catastrophe.
"What about the spies now?" Hallett muttered. "You see what's happened, don't you? This is an organised attack, made simultaneously on all our big electric power stations. I don't suppose there is a single light in London, bar gas, between Hendon and Woolwich. Seems impossible, does it not? But not so impossible when you think that it was possibly planned years ago by fellows that you and me might have shot and dined with."
Hallett's words fell on deaf ears, for the other men were not listening. They were looking instinctively upwards as if seeking to read the riddle of the autumn night. Then a long way off, from all four quarters of the compass pink points of flame seemed to poise like fireflies cutting a vivid wire into the gloom. They rose higher and higher then burst into globes of pallid blue flame, hanging there and illuminating London from above. All this rendered the streets below still more black and inky, but picking out every object clean and clear cut as a cameo to any unseen terror that might be riding triumphantly in the sky.
"It's come all right," Mantague cried. "It's the Zeppelins, and you can bet your life that there are more than one of them. As we can't do anything, would not we be safer inside?"
Nobody heeded, no one moved; indeed the speaker himself made no effort to seek the safety of the club. They stepped down on the pavement instead and gazed eagerly down Pall Mall in the direction of Waterloo Place. Then there came a vivid sheet of light that showed every object in the minutest detail, there was a shattering smash that carried the affrighted crowd off their feet, and after that an explosion that seemed to shake London to its foundations.
In the twinkling of an eye a spurt of flame jutted out from a house on the left-hand side of the road, a flame that instantly grew into a roaring blaze, and then a few people who had kept their heads saw that the Crimean Memorial had been wiped out as clean as if it had been no more than a drawing on a slate swept away by a wet sponge. The three men on the club steps hurried forward, but so far as they could see in the light of the burning house nobody had been seriously injured. One or two people stunned by the shock lay in the roadway, a car had been overturned by the force of the explosion, and the driver, his face smothered with blood and dust swore vigorously as he crawled from under his motor. By this time all the streets in immediate vicinity of the trouble had cleared as if by magic. The doorways were full of people and a frightened mob surged down Piccadilly pouring into the clubs there heedless of consequences and madly anxious for the safety of roof over their heads.
They came, men, women, and children elegantly dressed, they came in shabby raiment and rags, for in that moment of terror class distinctions were swept away and social barriers trampled in the dust.
"It's no use staying here," Hallett said. "Let's go and try and do something. We might go as far as the Admiralty."
The other two agreed eagerly enough. Anything was better than inaction. They forced their way along the crowded side streets, the darkness lit up ever and again by those awful spurts of blinding flame followed by deafening explosions. They seemed to be dropping now in a dozen places, dropping out of nowhere, flung from the hand of a reckless and revengeful foe beyond the reach of retaliation. Here and there were long lanes of light where the streets were illuminated by gas, and here and there were buildings the windows of which gleamed invitingly, for the churches and chapels had not yet concluded their evening service, and they were all packed with huddled heaps of fugitives seeking material salvation. Anything was better than the terror of that cruel darkness.
Most of the places of worship had their gas supply in case of emergency, for the supply had not evidently been attacked, and where electric had failed this had been resorted to. There was not at that moment a consecrated building in London which was not packed to suffocation with the panic-stricken mob.
And yet so far as Hallett and his companions could see, the loss of life was mercifully small. Here and there houses burnt fiercely, but the fire brigades were doing their work manfully, undeterred by the grim terror overhead. The ambulance society were out, too, toiling swiftly and noiselessly, and gradually at the sight of these noble examples something like order was restored.
There was, however, nothing to be learnt at the Admiralty, except that the attack had been utterly unexpected. Not that the authorities were idle, already a fleet of aeroplanes were overhead locating the unseen foe. As Hallett and his companions emerged into the street they could hear the wild scream of the propellors overhead. This bold and audacious attack was evidently not without good result, for the rain of bombs had ceased now and the silence that followed was almost painful in its intensity.
Here and there in a murky sky flashes of flame stabbed through the darkness. They wheeled in turn like great white birds circling and lifting in a gale of wind. Then there appeared a brighter and more vivid flame of light moving majestically across the sky, and suddenly the great dome overhead seemed to bend and reel before a series of crackening explosions, a great pyrotechnic display as if a thousand gala nights had been rolled into one.
It was impossible to see anything of this amazing aerial fight the like of which man had not dreamt in his wildest moments, there was nothing to indicate what was going on besides the crackle of guns, the vivid flashes of blue lightning, and the load scream of propellors. Then there came a deafening roar, louder than all the rest, and a sheet of fire that showed up against the rugged edge of the clouds and then something that sounded faint and far away like cheers of triumphant vengeance.
Hallett and his companions stood for a moment or two under the shelter of the bridge at Ludgate Hill and watched a rain of fiery fragments that dropped steadily from the darkness. There were fragments, too, of iron and steel, and with them other fragments that caused the watchers to shrink and shudder, though it was palpable enough that these charred remains meant the destruction of one Zeppelin at least, perhaps that the cowardly attack upon an open town had recoiled on the head of the foe.
There were no women and children to be seen in the streets now, but they were thronged with men who, now that the shock and panic had passed, were thirsting to get the foe by the throat. But apparently the danger was over, and the whisper commenced to run along the streets to the effect that the foe had been definitely ascertained to consist of two Zeppelins and that they had been brought down by aeroplanes. One of the airmen had dropped in Regent's Park, with the cheerful news that the danger was over, at any rate for the present. The glad news carried along from lip to lip and the faint cheering broke into a roar.
"Its all them German spies," a voice rose above the din. "They couldn't have done it without. Got at the electric light mains, they did. We're a set of generous fools, that's what we are. Now even down my own street there is a German chap—"
The cheers broke out again and the speaker was carried away on the human tide drifting up and down the road in a manner which appeared to be quite aimless.
Almost unconsciously the people were gathered there looking for someone to blame or someone to wreak their vengeance upon after the aimless manner of crowds without a leader. And the scapegoat seemed to come out of nowhere followed by an angry roar in the background which was taken up by those in front without the vanguard knowing in the least why. It was much the same as the mob at Epsom roars wildly at the Derby dog, only the cruel humour was lacking here and the desire to wound strong.
Racing along with the pack at his heels towards the Churchyard and making for the Cathedral as if the lights inside were an invitation to the sanctuary was the figure of a man.
This human hare in front of the hounds came along with wet white face and long dank hair, his affrighted eyes telling plainly enough that he was fully alive to the peril behind him. He looked lean and half starved, he wore a pair of tweed trousers almost in rags and his toes showed through his broken boots.
"Spy, spy," the mob roared. "Cop 'im. Pull 'im down. String 'im up to a lamppost. Spy!"
Hallett started as he caught sight of the ragged blue-grey tunic that the fugitive was wearing.
"A German infantry officer," he exclaimed. "Partly in uniform, too. Now, where on earth—"
The hunted man panted up the steps and darted headlong into the shelter of St. Paul's Cathedral.
The same City and yet not the same!
It was as if one had passed from a hideous nightmare into a sweet, and pleasant dream. Outside, London was swaying either in terror or with a fierce desire to be up and doing, but inside the great Cathedral was peace, complete and absolute.
A vast congregation had gathered there on that Sunday evening to hear a sermon preached by one of the great divines of the Free Church. A month or two ago such a thing would not have been dreamt of. But in the knitting up of the strands of Empire many things had happened lately, and the abnormal of yesterday was the commonplace of to-day. A country that had lived to see the Protestant North of Ireland shoulder to shoulder with the Roman Catholics of the South saw nothing strange in a Nonconformist preacher standing in the pulpit at St. Paul's.
For all the old schisms and quarrels were gone, and the day of broader Christianity had arrived. The change had been going on slowly and gradually wherever the English tongue was spoken and where the peril of the German theology was recognised. The menace to civilisation of a creed inspired by the sword had to be taken by the throat and strangled. What could one think of a dogma based upon an arrogant assumption of world-wide power gained at the point of the bayonet and ruthlessly carried over the dead bodies of women and children.
It was such thoughts as those that had brought people there and filled St. Paul's to overflowing.
The impressive service was finished, the great organ had ceased to peal, and all eyes were bent upon the slender figure of the white-haired man in the pulpit. Strife and trouble seemed a long way off just then. There was no traffic in the City streets, so that the silence was intense. And then the man holding his vast congregation in his hand began to speak to them in his own simple and eloquent way of the new Attilla who had chosen to plunge a continent into war for his own fleeting ambitions.
"It has pleased the Kaiser," he said, "to stand before Europe for twenty years as the greater Apostle of Peace. It is his claim that he will go down to posterity as William the Peaceful. It has been his claim too that his armed millions have been trained and armed with one pure ideal only, and that is to protect and fester civilisation and culture and Christianity.
"And Europe believed him. I believed him. The heads of all the Christian churches in Europe and America believed him. He preached this humane doctrine to me five years ago at Potsdam, and I came away happy in the knowledge that in our time I should never see two great nations locked in the grip of war.
"It was the same wherever I travelled in Germany, I heard the same shibboleths from great lawyers, great divines, and famous philosophers. I did not smile at the delusion that the twentieth century belonged to Germany as von Bernhardi had proudly boasted, for in this I could see nothing more harmful than an inflated patriotism. It seemed to me that the race that bred Martin Luther could not but be a factor for good in religious progress of the world.
"And all that has been swept away now, the mask has been torn away, and we see Germany as she really is. No, not as she really is, but as she thinks she is. We see now how for the last twenty years the great masters of theology and philosophy have been suborned to build up a wall of specious words around the soul of Germany and thus deluded her into the belief that she was destined to overrun the world at the point of the sword. Wholesale murder had been elevated into something, pure and holy, and an enlightened nation was content to applaud the Crown Prince's doctrine that the warlike virtues are the highest form of piety that a State can know. It is a strange creed, a strange evolution after two thousand years of Christianity! But is there any vestige of Christianity in it at all?"
The preacher paused and the vast congregation seemed to sway towards him. In the dim light of the shaded lamps the figure in the pulpit seemed to stand out above everything else. His clear voice rang to the roof, and then when he opened his lips again, there came from somewhere not far off a roar followed by a shock that seemed to shake the great building to its foundation. The congregation thrilled uneasily, but there was not a soul amongst them that showed the slightest sign of panic. And there was not a soul there who did not realise exactly what had happened.
"The terror of the night," the preacher said calmly. "The hand of the foe has reached us from the skies. We are safer here than if we were in the streets, safer by far than our friends in many a city of France. And therefore, if I go on with my simple sermon—"
The audience swayed again, and something like a murmur of admiration followed. The spiritual forces were touched so that there was no room for fear. Again came one of those shattering explosions, and the lights grew more dim. But there was no danger of the terror of the night there, for the church relied upon its own power of illumination. And nobody moved or stirred.
"But we know now," the preacher went on, "that William of Prussia is a firm believer in the Divine Right of Kings, we know now that it is one of his delusions that he has been placed where he is by the Almighty to lead the Germans as Moses lead the chosen people into the land of promise. That is the destiny of Germany and the destiny of her leader. The land of promise in this case is the whole of the civilised world, to be achieved and conquered, as the warrior priests achieved and conquered some four thousand years ago. And by this we know that the Kaisers God is not our God, not the God of mercy and pity, the Heavenly father who looks down upon us all with a kindly eye, but a great avenging deity and Lord of Battles speaking to the people of the earth through the lips of the Potsdam Assassin. The Kaiser's God is the same God who ordered the destruction of the Warrior Priest who had spared Agag and the best of the spoil—a god of rigid discipline, a military Jehovah. This is the Divinity that guides Potsdam on its way.
"And how do we know this? In the first place we know it because this is the ruthless creed that has brought fire and sword amongst us. But we know it all the more particularly because it is impossible to trace an illusion to our Christ in a single one of the Kaiser's speeches. The Christ as we know Him, the Christ and His teachings which have been our guiding star all these centuries does not appeal to the Supreme War Lord. He knows nothing of the spirit that has moved us Christians during the slow dragging of two thousand years. The Lord's Prayer; the Sermon on the Mount, the exquisite pathos of Gethsemane, all fall dully on the ears of William. The god of anger and wrath, the God of battles is his. The passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea, and the destruction of the Egyptian host, and the spoiling of them is a spectacle far more pleasing to the War Lord than the story of Christ stilling the waves or feeding the multitude. And because—"
The preacher suddenly paused. He had been interrupted more than once by the crashing of shells, and he had gone on coolly as if it had been no more than a passing tempest. But here was another interruption so startling and dramatic that he stopped altogether. It was one of those incidents which in normal times would have been flashed to the far ends of the earth, but which in these specious days was regarded with no more than curiosity.
For into the church there came the hunted, ragged figure of a man staggering along between the rows of chairs in the direction of the altar as if he expected to find sanctuary there. Behind him surged a motley mob blindly oblivious to the knowledge that they stood on holy ground and eager only for their prey. Right under the shadow of the pulpit the breathless German swayed and looked up pitifully for protection.
It took the preacher but five seconds to grasp the situation.
"Back, all of you," he commanded. "Recollect where you stand. Are you mad that you should come here into the House of God—"
It needed no further words, for the realisation of what they were doing struck the intruders like a blow. They fell back abashed, red with shame, and muttering to themselves. Then the organist, realising the situation, touched the keys of his instrument and the whole nave and transepts were filled with soft and soothing melody. There would be no further service now, indeed in the strange conditions such a thing would have been impossible. The vast audience rose to its feet and moved towards the doors. Just for the moment it looked as if the wretched German spy had been forgotten. He dropped into a chair sobbing for breath, his face buried in his hands. Just behind him stood Hallett and his friends watching for their opportunity. When the two vergers had hastened forward, but dropped back again after Hallett had shown them his card, the latter stooped down and laid his hand on the spy's shoulder.
"You can't stay here, you know," he said. "You had better come with us and we will do our best to smuggle you into a place of safety. Here take my overcoat. You must not be seen in the street wearing that tell-tale tunic."
The German looked up gratefully. His face was terribly pinched and drawn and the lines of his mouth suggested hunger.
"Ah, this is very good of you," he said in excellent English. "I am most grateful to you, Mr. Hallett."
Hallett shrugged his shoulders. In the ordinary way he would have been surprised to find that this hunted spy knew his name, but then nothing came as a surprise now.
"You are quite right," he said. "You shall tell me who you are all in good time. Meanwhile I am going to take you round to my rooms, together with my friends here, and give you the food that you evidently need. We shall have to walk, I expect—no chance of getting a cab with all this excitement going on."
The German struggled on, secure now in the protection of Hallett and his friends and the disguise of the long overcoat. He had been told where his destination was and Hallett did not notice that his prisoner was perfectly familiar with the way and turned to the right or left without any guidance from the others.
"This is not your first visit to London," Hallett smiled. "By the way, you have not told us what your name is?"
"I am Lieutenant von Kemp," the German explained. "I am a Bavarian from Munich. For four years I was in the engineering department of your Local Government Board. I am a civil engineer, you see. There is probably no man in London who knows more about underground London than myself. Your telephone mains, your gas and electric light and sewerage conduits are to me an open book. I know them all, and when I say that with a little assistance I could cut off London's water supply for weeks, I do not boast."
Von Kemp spoke quite simply and with the air of a man who is calmly convinced of his power. But he said no more until Hallett's rooms were reached and a wash and a complete change of clothing had been found for him. Then he ate wolfishly, like a man who has been deprived of food for days.
"Take a cigarette," Hallett said hospitably. "Of course, this is all wrong. After what you have told me it is my plain duty to hand you over to the authorities to deal with. But, as you are doubtless very well aware—"
"It is not the English way," von Kemp said quietly. "My dear sir, there is no one who has a greater admiration for England than myself. But you are too trustful, you are too anxious always to play the game. Why, at the present moment there must be at least a thousand trained spies in London. They are in all ranks of life. I know it because I helped to organise the campaign. At one time I was proud to do so. Ah, there are many millions of fools like myself in Germany. And you would be fools too if you had been fed on lies and deceit from your cradle as I have. Ach, we are the greatest people on earth. The most brave and warlike, the most civilised and progressive. They preach it in the churches. It was told us from the pulpits that we were destined to rule the white people of the world. And I believed it. I believed that after 'The Day' was over and the war finished that millions upon millions of people would thank God on their knees for the blessing of German rule. That was one of my delusions. I was mad enough to think that all this spying and treachery was part of the scheme which God had whispered in the ear of the Kaiser. I weep to think of it."
"Go on," Hallett said as the speaker paused.
"It was going to be a humane war," von Kemp proceeded. "We were going to make friends all the way. No burning towns, no terrified women and children, and no slaughter except those who opposed us. But my eyes were soon opened. I saw my fellow-countrymen slaughtered by the thousand. I saw that our Prussian rulers cared no more for our blood than they would care for the blood of so many rabbits. They hurled us on to destruction, they forced us to try impossible things, knowing that we should never come back again. And I saw murder and pillage and the destruction of open towns, and this was not the result of blood fury on our part. We were commanded to do it. We were driven to do this so as to inspire the terror of the German name. I tell you that some of us revolted at it. We grew to hate the name of Prussia and cursed the Junkers who had ground us down under the iron heel. Now there's a fine confession for a German officer to make. And there came a time when our spent and weary troops lay in the trenches cursing the Kaiser and ripe for revolt had there been anyone to lead them. They fed us with lies, too, lies about German victories. But I knew better. I had my own way of getting hold of the English newspapers, and before the end of a month I knew that Germany was doomed. Unless—"
Von Kemp seemed to hesitate for a moment.
"Well, unless she can be saved through herself," he went on. "You can take it from me that more than half the German army are Socialists. They know now what slaves they are. In their heart of hearts they have no hatred for this country. All they want is to be left in peace to cultivate their trade, and be happy and prosperous. You don't want to destroy us. Your one desire is to wipe out Prussian Militarism once and for all. I know you would help us to form a German Republic and that your resources would be at our disposal. You are not blind to the future, you know that your allies of to-day may be your foes in ten years' time, and then you will be glad that your foresight and generosity saved mid-Europe from being submerged by France and Russia. Do you know what my ambition is?"
"No doubt a laudable one," Hallett smiled.
"I want to be a pioneer of the German Republic. If Berlin knew the truth at this present moment, if they knew the real sentiments of the British people, half a million resolute men would start the struggle for freedom to-morrow. When I was taken prisoner and brought to this country I made up my mind that I would escape at the first possible moment and tell your authorities all that I know. Had I got away before, I could have thwarted the Zeppelin attack to-night. Bah, how childlike and futile it all is! A building destroyed here, a life lost there, but it is so much waste of energy. Still, it pleases the childish mind of the Kaiser. To blow up one of your public buildings, say for instance the Tower Bridge. Ah!"
Von Kemp jumped to his feet excitedly.
"I had forgotten," he cried. "My troubles have made me morbid. To-night under cover of the Zeppelin attack a raid is to be made on the Tower Bridge. It only needs three or four resolute men and a stick or two of dynamite and the thing is done."
Hallett and the others were on their feet in an instant. The telephone was set going, a taxi was summoned to the door. Hallett turned to the German and bade him be seated.
"Stay there," he said sternly. "I believe all that you say, but I can take no risks. I am going to lock you in."
Von Kemp raised no objection. A minute or two later and the cab swayed along eastward in the direction of the Tower Bridge. The City was quiet enough now, for the danger was over for the moment, and the only thing that remained of it were the lights of an airship and the aeroplanes circling far above in the cold grey sky. The cab pulled up presently under the shadow of the Tower, and here four men armed and ready came quietly forward and joined the party. There was no reason to tell them what was happening, for they had already been advised of the threatened attack by telephone. They moved forward now taking advantage of every patch of shadow until they came at length in sight of the bridge. They stood there just for a moment watching for the first sign of trouble, straining their ears to catch the faintest sound. A moment or two later a shadow darted from the doorway of a warehouse and sped rapidly in the direction of the bridge. Almost immediately afterwards there came a murmur from the warehouse that sounded like a call for help.
There was risk in it, but Hallett and those under his command moved forward. Something that looked like two dark stacks lay in the doorway, and these turned out to be a sergeant of police and a constable firmly gagged and bound. They had been fallen upon by half a dozen men in the guise of dock labourers, and had been violently assaulted and overcome before they could cry for assistance.
Beyond doubt these desperadoes were now down amongst the mechanism which works the bridge laying their mines for its destruction. On the bridge itself was a night watchman and two mechanics also gagged and bound, and showing unmistakable signs of cruel usage. Down below the spies could be heard at work. They were apparently sure of their ground, for they were going about their task boldly enough, and Hallett smiled grimly as he pictured these men being taken in the act.
Then from somewhere near by a whistle sounded and the noise below broke off abruptly. At the sane instant a revolver began to speak, and a dash was made behind cover of a perfect fusillade of shots. As Hallett hurriedly advanced, his foot caught in some wire entanglement, and he pitched forward on his face. He was up again in a minute, hacking furiously at the wire, with a pair of champagne nippers which formed part of his pocket knife. He did not need anyone to tell him that he had stumbled over the wire connecting the battery to the mine, and he smiled grimly to himself when he realised that the danger had been averted. Whatever happened now the dynamite would not be fired, and the little party could give themselves up with an easy mind to the capture of the Germans.
It was no light task, for the foe fought with the courage of despair and the certain knowledge that their lives were forfeit in any case. Shots were exchanged freely enough but no material damage was done, and at the end of ten breathless minutes the foe was disarmed and handcuffed.
"That was petty smart work," Hallett gasped as he wiped his heated face. "I suppose you can manage without us now."
The inspector of police was sure of it. Montague turned and addressed a remark to Pascoe, but the latter was eagerly watching something that was taking place under the gas-lamps a little way off. He saw a woman's figure dart across the road: he heard the hum of a car as it flashed by them. With nothing more than a word of challenge Hallett fired three shots, and the car pulled up. The woman driving stepped out, and came smilingly forward.
"You quite frightened me," she said. "Oh, it's Mr. Hallett. I came out in the car by myself on a tour of inspection—mad thing to do, of course, but I love adventure—"
An exclamation of surprise came from Hallett's lips.
"Good gracious!" he cried. "It's Lady Loxton!"
Whilst natters were thus progressing in London, Paul Rosslyn had been by no means idle. He was sorry enough that he could not communicate with Hallett, but for the moment that was impossible. Hallett might believe that something disastrous had happened to his junior that could not be helped. And it seemed to Rosslyn that he was going to strike a shrewd blow for the old flag and that his place was exactly where it was.
There was no difficulty in the way now, either. Leroux's frank statement had dissipated the last lingering doubt at the back of Rosslyn's mind; it was good to know that Leroux's motives were patriot and honourable, and above all it was good to know that Vera had not intentionally deceived him. All the misery of anxious doubt had vanished in thin air, and Rosslyn was not slow to see the glorious chance that lay before him. Instead of being the victim of a vile conspiracy he had been favoured beyond his dreams.
Thus the last difficulty had disappeared, and in future it all looked like plain sailing. No suspicion would be aroused by the appearance of Rosslyn's marvellous aeroplane, indeed it could be despatched on its way under the eyes of the troops at Wilhelmshaven, and apparently with the sanction of the Commanders there. Afterwards there would probably be risks, but Rosslyn was cheerfully ready to sacrifice his life for his country and held it cheap at the price. He was ready to start now.
Leroux's plan was simple enough. The aeroplane would fly in the direction of Berlin soon after dark on the following day and once over the City, the Manifesto of the Democratic Federation would be scattered along the streets in thousands.
"So that is all settled," Leroux said. "We start at six o'clock to-morrow evening. We fly over Berlin, and whether we come back or not is in the lap of the gods. Perhaps we do not come back at all. It may not be necessary. I think you told me that your machine could land on a piece of ground no bigger than a tennis lawn. Well, I know a house on the outskirts of Potsdam belonging to one of our most ardent supporters. There is a certain white post and a flagstaff which he has had erected at my suggestion. All being well we might spend tomorrow night at my friend's."
"My machine will do all I claim for it," Rosslyn said. "I can fold the wings and drop anywhere as safely as a bird drops in the branch of a tree and quite as noiselessly too. We could hover over Berlin a couple of hundred feet from the ground, and not a soul would guess what was there in the darkness. I could remain in the air for a couple of days if necessary."
Leroux nodded approvingly. It seemed to him that there was no more to be done. Then at a sign from him, Von Korner removed a brick from inside the chimney and produced a large sheet of paper.
"This is our manifesto," he said. "They have all been printed and ready for some time, which is rather fortunate since the Government has seized every private printing press in the kingdom. They are so desperately afraid that the people should discover the truth. Never has a country been so shamefully treated. But it cannot last much longer. You can boast of your victories, but the hordes of fugitives pouring from the east into Berlin and the shortage of food tell another story. However, I had better read the manifesto."
GERMANIA, THOU ART BETRAYED.
TO THE FRIENDS OF THE
GERMAN REPUBLIC. GREETING.
Listen to the truth from the mouth of the Socialistic Brotherhood. You are being fed with lies. The British Fleet is Mistress of the Seas. Every civilised country outside the iron ring that binds you is grateful to Great Britain, who keeps open the Ocean Paths of Commerce and the food routes of the world. There is no distress anywhere except in Germany. Scandinavia, Holland, France, Spain, Italy, and the East are hardly cognisant that war has been declared. From India, from China, Australia and New Zealand, and the South American States commerce flows in the same uninterrupted way. There is no strife, no misery or suffering anywhere save in our own unhappy country. Your Government has lied to you, the War Council are feeding you with vain delusions. Even now the hosts of Russia are threatening your Capital, even now your columns are being hurled back with terrific slaughter from the frontiers of France. Everywhere is chaos. There is no life in your army, no zeal and nothing but sullen discontent. Your commerce overseas has been destroyed, most of your shipping is in the hands of the enemy. Your boasted Zeppelins are a failure, your battleships are skulking in harbour and some of them actually sold to neutral powers. You are not a country fighting for a great cause, but only to gratify the ambitions of a madman whose delusion is that he is a Napoleon or a Caesar, but who is in reality no more than a cold-blooded Nero. You are no longer fighting for honour or glory or for the love of the flag, you are no more than a beleaguered fortress beseiged on all sides, a fortress which must fall before long.
"Comrades, even your enemies are sorry for you. As Germany you have no enemies. To crush you out of existence is not the aim of the Allies—that would be sheer folly on their part, a check on civilization and a disgrace. What they fight for is the death and destruction of Caesarism. They fight to destroy your navy and your military aspirations, and above all they fight to destroy Wilhelm and the parasites at Potsdam who have threatened the peace of Europe for twenty years. They fight to establish here not a military occupation, but to save a great people from themselves. They fight for the German Republic. And it is for you to breathe life into the senseless clay.
"It is for you to do it. You say that it shall be done. Long life and prosperity to the German Republic."
There was a great deal more of it couched in the same strain with many figures and facts to impress the incredulous. Leroux smiled proudly as he held up the sheet.
"There," he cried. "What do you think of that? And they can do it in Berlin if they will. There are few troops there and those are discontented. Let us drink to the great adventure."
The chill darkness had fallen before the plane rose swift and clean as a bird with an upward swing that turned Leroux sick and dizzy for a moment. It seemed impossible that so small a thing could carry her passengers, but as she rose a longer wing seem to be unfolded much as a bird stretches her pinions to the uttermost. She swept along in the darkness with no more noise than that of the hum of an insect. They rose presently to the height of three thousand feet, then turned in the direction of Berlin. There were lights twinkling below with occasionally a brighter speck here and there, and as Leroux's keen eyes noted these he chuckled.
"All is working well," he said. "Those green lights are signals, sentinels to guide us on our way. So far as I can see, there is not a hitch anywhere. Presently when we get near Berlin we will see four green lights forming a square. It will be there that we shall drop if everything goes well with us."
Then on again in absolute silence for an hour or more over towns great and small, over rivers and dells till presently the long lines of flame and the clusters of lamps here and there bespoke the near presence of the great town. At a suggestion from Leroux, Rosslyn planed down till they hovered over the city not more than three hundred feet above the highest buildings. So far as they could see the streets were packed with people wandering about restlessly and anxiously. But all the cafes and public buildings were deserted, there was not a light from a theatre or place of amusement to be seen. It was a city with the spirit of disaster brooding over it.
"You see how it is," Leroux murmured. "Berlin is in a state of siege, and the people know it. Can you hear a laugh, can you hear one cheerful voice? The places of amusement are closed, the cafes are empty. There is nothing but light, nothing more to indicate that here is one of the greatest cities of the world. There is no life in the people, they are full of anxious dread. And where are the soldiers? There are a few round the palace, and practically none in the streets. And yet the streets are packed with people. Come, let us get on with our propaganda. A little higher, please. And then you circle over the city like some great eagle. Now."
The plane whirled round in gigantic circles, swift as the flight of a swallow. Leroux proceeded to throw his handfuls of manifestos far and wide. They fell amongst the massed people below like fitful snow, they dropped apparently out of nowhere on the heads of the sullen crowd. At first they elicited nothing more than a little idle curiosity not altogether free from panic. Then gradually as the packed masses regained their nerve, Leroux could see hundreds of people reading the sheets with living interest. The populace was scrambling for them now, and those fortunate enough to obtain one were crowded round eagerly and bade to read it aloud.
The silence had given way to a dense clamour of tongues, on every hand the contents of the manifesto were read aloud, and Leroux smiled grimly as he heard those winged words come back echoing to his ears.
"What did I tell you?" he said. "Ah, there are few indeed who understand my countrymen better than I do. You say to yourself, 'Well why don't they put an end to it?' You say that they are an enlightened and educated people who elect their own members of Parliament, where they are allowed to say what they like. Ah, my friend, that is all they are allowed to do. Practically every adult German is a soldier, and the habits of discipline and obedience are like rings of iron riveted about the soul. But there are limits to the credulity of the most abject slave who was ever tied to the chariots heels of a tyrant. We have sown the seeds to-night, and it will not be long to the harvest. Now, confess, is not this a better way than the horrors of war?"
"It was truly a most wonderful sight," Rosslyn admitted. "That was a great conception of yours, and I am more than glad now that I came with you. I would not have missed this for anything. It will be an adventure to remember all my life. But the victory will not be won without a terrible price. The streets of Berlin will run blood as the streets of Paris did in the days of the Commune. Your patriots will die by the thousand."
Leroux shrugged his shoulders.
"I know," he said. "The thing is inevitable. But is it not far better for the martyrs to perish in the saving of hundreds of thousands who are now dying of wounds and hunger on the frontiers of France? It is the few to save the many."
"Yes I suppose so," Rosslyn sighed. "But are you sure those people down there will believe? Won't they be more inclined to think that this is some cruel hoax?"
"My dear sir, there are scores of people down there who know the cypher of the Brotherhood," Leroux interrupted. "It will be plain for them to see, and they will know perfectly well that the manifesto is true to the last letter."
Rosslyn said no more. He had planed down as far as he dared, near enough to see the people in the streets and catch the murmur that rose from them like the hum of a hive of bees disturbed by some mischievous hand. There were shouts of surprise and some suggestion of anger, little knots of men gathered on the pavements, and arguing violently with one another. Those who were timid or frightened or not strong enough to snatch a copy of that amazing manifesto gathered round certain strong-voiced men who stood on points of vantage and eagerly cried that the message from the outer world should be read aloud. It was plain to the eyes of Leroux that some of these were prominent Socialists and in one instance at any rate he recognised the speaker's voice. The aeroplane now had dropped daringly low, and Leroux smiled as his quick ear caught the shibboleths of the Brotherhood on every hand.
Every now and again some Socialist more hardy and courageous than the rest would break away, form some new group, and start an audience of his own. The news was flying from street to street, now doors burst open, and more and more citizens burst into the roads.
"Ah," Leroux whispered. "I thought it would not be long. Already the tidings have reached the police, and they are hurrying to clear the streets and destroy all those dread manifestos. But you can see that for yourself. It is fortunate that there are but few troops in Berlin, and the police will have their hands full. Now you will see a nation turning in its sleep."
The police came along, advancing steadily on the mob. This was not the first time that the authorities had been in conflict with the desperate and half-starved poor clamouring for bread, but hitherto they had not dared to invade the Friederich Strasse as they were now doing. For here the mob had gathered in dense masses. For once in a way they did not cower and tremble in the face of authority. By comparison with them the police were a mere handful, but they came on all the same, trying to break the ranks of the incipient rioters.
But they might just as well have attempted to force their way through a stone wall, for the mob was angry now, and every man amongst it was convinced that he had been deceived. Blows were being struck freely, and ever and again came the sound of a pistol shot. One of the leading Socialists threw up his hands and dropped on the pavement with a bullet in his brain. It was as a torch to the flax, for the mob surged forward, and in the twinkling of an eye poured over the police as a spring tide flows over the rippling sand.
Leroux chuckled as he watched.
"So much for the first chapter," he said. "We have dealt the Prussian tyrant a shrewd blow to-night, but it will be at a price. Our friends below are full of courage, but it will be another matter presently when they find themselves face to face with a regiment of soldiers armed with machine guns. But the right spirit is down there and nothing can suppress it. My countrymen are fighting for liberty, which is a thing they have never done before. Listen to that low growling murmur like a bulldog snarling over a bone. I have handled some big crowds in my time, and I know what it means."
Rosslyn had noticed this, too. He was so deeply interested in what was going on down below that more than once he almost lost control of his machine. The lights below were dim, but occasionally faces were lifted upwards, white, grim faces lighted by the red eyes. For the moment at any rate the police had been swept almost out of existence, and the mob swirled up and down the streets with no rock of authority to stem their progress. It seemed as if they had the city to themselves, a fact that the lower element which leavened the rest was not slow to recognise. The watchers in the air could hear the smashing of glass, followed by a wild outburst of mocking laughter, and then an ugly rush towards the provision shops, and the sight of men seated on the window ledges tearing food and eating it as if they were hungry wolves.
"Not a pretty sight," Leroux whispered. "But what else could one expect? Day by day the situation gets worse, day by day what you call the strangle-hold becomes stronger. Ah, my friend the Kaiser has but little cause to love your fleet; had he stopped to consider, he would have died peacefully some day in the Royal Palace. But let us get along. I am tired and weary and hungry, and you must be the same. Steer your plane towards Potsdam. Perhaps I had better give you the direction. Presently I will show you where to drop."
Roslyn nodded approvingly. All the same he was loth to go, for the spirit of adventure was upon him, and he was inspired by the ardour of the massed patriots down below. He was itching to strike a blow on behalf of these people who had been so cruelly deceived. And what a story to tell, what a drama to relate when he alighted on British soil again! And he himself was taking a hand in bringing to a close the most cruel and unnecessary war the world had ever seen.
The plane swept along under Leroux's guidance until the dim lights of Potsdam trembled underneath, and then at length Rosslyn made out the chosen spot, on which the plane dropped light as a bird and true to an inch in what appeared to be an enclosed tennis court. The wings were folded, and the whole thing was packed away in the big summer-house before Leroux whistled softly, and immediately a big bronzed man with a black beard and moustache came cautiously from the house into the garden. His stern features were all broken up now; there were tears in his dark piercing eyes.
"Ah, and so you have done it," he cried. "Long life to the man who calls himself Pierre Leroux. I have told the Brotherhood here that we could rely upon you. Day by day I have sat here patiently waiting, and when I heard your whistle I knew that my faith had not been misplaced."
"It is good of you to say so," Leroux laughed. "Steinitz, let me make you acquainted with my brilliant and courageous ally, Mr. Rosslyn, without whose aid I could have done nothing."
"He flatters me, Herr Steinitz," Rosslyn smiled.
"Oh, I don't. I had to treat Rosslyn abominably, but when he knew the truth he did not hesitate a moment. By hook or by crook I had to get hold of that marvellous aeroplane of his; indeed, without it our great social revolution might have been delayed for months. And yet, because of it, we have to-night watched the new life of a nation from the chrysallis to the moth, and all, mark you, in so many minutes. For the present we shall be safe here. And now, my dear Steinitz, permit me to remind you that it is many hours since we last ate. We are both famishing."
Steinitz led the way into the house. It was a beautifully appointed suburban villa, tastefully furnished, and replete with every comfort. Rosslyn did not fail to note the luxuriant carpets and well-chosen pictures as he passed through the hall. And he did not fail to notice either that the electric lights were not burning, and that here and there were candles in candlesticks of cheap china. Nor did Steinitz conduct his guests into any of the fine reception rooms, but took them into the big kitchen.
"I make no apology," he said. "There is no electric light service throughout the whole of Germany except the Royal palaces and the Government Departments. There is no one to get the coal. Every man that Germany can spare is under arms. My wife and family are in Italy. For the moment I have no servant, and the house is going to rack and ruin. All the cooking that is necessary I do myself on the gas stove and even that supply is limited to three hours a day. But I will do my best to give you a meal of some kind."
They supped there in the kitchen, and Steinitz was positively grateful to receive the cigar that Leroux offered him. There was the same shortage all over Germany, he explained, the same absence of luxuries and in thousands of instances even the sheer necessities of life. And Rosslyn listened in respectful silence. He was contrasting all this with the condition of affairs in London—the busy streets, the unrestricted flow of trade, the crowds of people happy and well fed, going about their business and their pleasure as if the grim spectre of war had never loomed largely before the nation's eyes. He was still pondering on this vivid contrast when an hour or two later Steinitz piloted him upstairs, and showed him his bedroom. There were no sheets, the host explained, for these had been commandeered long before by the military hospitals.
Once alone, Rosslyn looked curiously round him. There were many photographs in silver frames around the mantelpiece, and one of the faces there stood out with strange familiarity. It was the smiling face of a fair woman, and Rosslyn puzzled over it for a moment.
"Now who on earth is she?" he muttered. "Taken a few years ago evidently. By jove, it's Lady Loxton. Now what on earth is she doing here?"
Rosslyn asked no questions. He had been too well trained for that. Even now, when he was absolutely convinced of the integrity and sincerity of his host, he was taking no risks. He would have to find out in some other way what the connection was between Steinitz and Lady Loxton. He had never associated the volatile lady in question with the great game of politics, though he knew her very well, and many a time had lunched and dined at her flat. She had always assumed an utter indifference to the serious side of life, and had declared that the mere thought of politics always gave her a headache. As a matter of fact it was Steinitz himself who volunteered the information when he came into Rosslyn's bedroom with hot water on the following morning.
"I am sorry that a hot bath is out of the question," he apologised. "I have done the best I can for you. If my wife and daughters had been at home things might have been different."
Steinitz glanced at the mantelpiece as he spoke, and sighed.
"Are those photographs of your family?" Rosslyn suggested.
"Oh, yes. My wife and three daughters, some of my grand-children, and my two sons who are with the army in the West. And a friend of ours, who married one of your English noblemen. Did you ever meet a certain Lady Loxton by any chance?"
"I thought the face was familiar to me," Rosslyn said, indifferently. "Oh, yes, I know Lady Loxton quite well. She is a prominent figure in London Society, very wealthy and hospitable, and quite typically Irish in all her ways."
"So!" Steinitz said, with elevated eyebrows. "But then it was always a weakness of Marie to pose. She was perhaps the most prominent and brilliant actress that Germany ever produced. She would have gone far indeed had she not married. Is she still as fond of excitement and adventure? Is she still as fascinated by politics? More than once here she got into serious trouble through her love of intrigue. But perhaps she has settled now."
Rosslyn presumed so; he appeared to be no more than politely interested in what his host was saying. But all the same he was giving the little incident every consideration, for he began to see that he had stumbled upon what might be valuable information. But there were more important matters now, as he found after the frugal breakfast that Steinitz had prepared for them. A thin, attenuated newspaper, printed on common paper with cloudy ink, represented for the moment the prosperous and enterprising 'Allemagne Zeitung.' This was as eloquent as anything else of the desperate state of affairs existing in Berlin. Steinitz smiled bitterly as he spread out the flimsy rag on the breakfast table.
"This is what they feed us with," he said. "Here is the morning list of victories in the West and East. And yet Berlin is full of fugitives from East Prussia, and Dusseldorf is sorely pressed by the Allies. As I expected, there is not one word here concerning the important event of last night. And this is the way in which the Government is cutting its own throat. But we will go into the City presently, Leroux and myself—"
"I should like to come with you," Rosslyn said eagerly. "I think my German is good enough to pass muster."
"That is true," Leroux smiled. "But you are essentially the Englishman of the upper-classes. Still I think I can manage to make you up. I flatter myself that I am quite a master at that game. A black wig with a ragged moustache and beard will make all the difference in the world. Come, Steinitz, you must have at least a dozen disguises here."
Rosalyn felt quite easy in his mind when he stepped off the tram an hour later in the heart of Berlin. He looked exactly a typical German tradesman, and for the rest he knew the town thoroughly. As they walked along he was contrasting it in his mind with London. Only a day or two before he had walked down Regent street in the sunny afternoon he had seen the shops teeming with customers, and the full tide of business filling the streets. And here in this magnificent thoroughfare everything was dull and listless and inert. The last time Rosslyn had passed the Brandenburg Gate he had been one of the many thousands passing to and fro, he had seen a life and prosperity that spoke of a nation on the top of the wave. But now the leading hotels, such as the Adlen and the Bristol, were closed altogether and the blinds carefully drawn. So were all the cafes, and most of the shops, too, and the great thoroughfare was more or less filled with a listless drifting group, gaunt and sullen and hollow-eyed, with a spectre of starvation hovering over them. These stopped from time to time outside the offices of the 'Berliner, Lokal-Anzeiger,' where the windows were filled with flaming accounts of more victories, but it was only for a moment, without the least suggestion of enthusiasm, and with doubt in every jaundiced eye. The countless flags, fluttering in the breeze, were in grim and tragic contrast with the brooding mob. The crowd began to grow thicker presently, and its aspect more threatening.
"They are all out of work," Steinitz explained. "In this city of three million inhabitants seventy per cent. of those who have not gone to the front have nothing to do. And there will be more before long. Germany has no trade. We are like rats feeding on one another. We are rats in a trap. It is a big trap, of course, reaching six hundred miles, but it is gradually drawing narrower. Could anybody but the madmen of the Army General Staff expect to defeat the combined forces of four great nations."
It seemed to Rosslyn that people were beginning to congregate in Unter den Linden, right away to Brandenburg Gate—right away to the monument of Freiderich the Great. Their attitude was changing, too, and the moody discontent giving way to a more threatening aspect. Then one of the loiterers there recognised Steinitz, and gave a cheer, which was taken up all around him, for the Socialist leader had been recognised, rather to his confusion.
"Let us push on," he whispered. "It shall not be said that I started to disturb them. Not that I am afraid—the authorities would not dare to arrest any prominent Socialists just now."
As they pressed on they could hear the voices of sedition calling loudly all round them. Evidently the events of the night before and the wide distribution of the Manifesto had sunk deep into the hearts of the people. But there was no further rioting for the moment, and no great outburst of public feeling.
Presently pushing its way through the mass of workers like some brilliant scarlet and gold snake came a regiment of the guard. They pushed the crowd aside almost brutally, a cripple unable to crawl to a place of safety received a brutal blow with the flat of an officer's sword. A growl of anger came from those close by, the offending officer turned with a curling lip and smiled scornfully, contempt in every line of his face.
"Ah," said Leroux, "evidently a demonstration of force. A gentle reminder to the starving Socialists that there are still troops in Berlin. But the Court is no longer here, I understand, and no one quite knows where the Royal Family and their suite is to be found. I'd like to live long enough to see the mob wiping their boots on the Persian carpets and eating off the Royal plate."
"You will see it yet," Steinitz said grimly. "What's that?"
A few younger men more daring than the rest had closed in upon the rear guard of the soldiers. They were being pressed hard now and had no room in which to turn. There were only a few hundred altogether surrounded by thousands, every one of whom knew the Manifesto almost by heart. And the thought of how they had been tricked and fooled rankled in every breast, the knowledge that they had been treated like children and had made these great sacrifices for nothing filled them with fury.
A score of lean and sinewy arms shot out and made a grab for the rifles of the troops. They were pushed back across the pavement, and then a furious hand-to-hand fight began. It was in vain that the troops struggled against overwhelming odds, for it was short-arm fighting, and the proportion was fifty to one.
"Very fine but utterly useless." Steinitz groaned. "It cannot be done this way. Still, it only shows you which way the wind blows."
The troops broke and fled amidst the ribald laughter of the mob. The insurgents were all the more dangerous now because some hundreds of them were armed. True, they had no ammunition, but there was much that could be done with the bayonet. Steinitz looked anxious.
"If they are wise they will disperse now," he said.
He stepped into the middle of the road and held up his hands. His protesting voice rang out loud and far, but he might just as well have spoken to the storm. The mob was out of hand now, wild and reckless and ready for anything. 'They swayed up and down the famous thoroughfare shouting their Socialist songs, they were quite prepared to defy the whole might of Prussia.
They were too wildly excited to see what was going on down there by the Brandenburg Gate. For little groups of cavalry had galloped into position masking a couple of machine guns. Clearly those in authority had lost no time nor had they hesitated for a moment what to do. From his superior height Steinitz had seen the light gleaming on the silver helmets. He had caught his companions by the arms and dragged them hurriedly into a doorway.
"Don't move if you value your lives," he whispered. "They have got guns in a position down the road. Ah, what did I tell you?"
Something in the distance seemed to spit and crack, then there was a steady stammering, and the mob began to drop like so many flies in the roadway. It was just as if they had been stricken down by some dreadful disease. Them suddenly the rioters grasped the truth and fled panic-stricken, anywhere for safety.
It was the old story—discipline triumphant over brute force. The big thoroughfare was empty now save for a handful of cavalry and two or three hundred prostrate figures writhing and groaning on the ground. Some of those figures would stir no more, but the dead were not many, for the guns had been aimed low, and most of the wounded were hit in the legs. Then the ambulance train came up, and carried off the victims of the fray. A little knot of officers, resplendent in their parade uniform, looked on with almost yawning indifference. It seemed to be nothing to them that they had been firing on their fellow countrymen; it was only an incident in the day's work.
The contrast between these aristocratic Prussians, trained in an iron school and regarding the civilians as so many mongrel curs, was in striking contrast with the wounded insurrectionists. The eyes of Steinitz gleamed with a deep and bitter hate as he came forward.
"Ah, that was well and nobly done," he said. "But you might have given them warning first, von Blume."
The officer thus addressed turned angrily.
"The Socialist Steinitz," he said. "Have a care."
"Von Steinitz, if you please. Do not forget that I, too, have held a cavalry commission. You dare not lay hand upon me. A month or two ago and it might have been different. But the day of reckoning is at hand, and it pleases the Chancellor to be lenient to the Social leaders to-day. By heavens, if this thing happens again I will raise every working man in Germany. Go back to your master and tell him what I have said. There is no War Minister and no Army Council in Berlin to-day. I know that everything has been left in the hands of von Bethmann-Hollweg. Go back to him and say that a deputation from the Federation will wait on him at three o'clock."
Without pausing for reply Steinitz turned his back on the Prussian, and strode along the road. He had thrown down the gauntlet now, and he was ready for anyone to take it up. He turned at length into a little cafe, near the Opera House, and ordered a simple lunch for himself and his friends.
"They will accept the challenge right enough," he said. "The Chancellor knows I am found here most afternoons, and no doubt he will send an escort to fetch us."
"Oh, then I am going too," Leroux asked smilingly.
"As head of the Foreign German Democratic Association, yes," Steinitz explained. "I think when the Chancellor hears your proper name he will be somewhat astonished. Mr. Rosslyn, will you wait here or can you find your way back to my house?"
Roslyn demurred strongly. He wanted to know if he could not accompany the deputation. He had no fear that his German would betray him, and he felt quite secure in his disguise. Could he not be given some assumed name and pass as Steinitz's secretary? He seemed to be so keen and anxious that Steinitz gave way.
It was nearly three o'clock before the jingling of spurs and the rattling of sabres outside heralded the advent of the escort. Other Socialist leaders had been collected on the way, apparently more or less prisoners, but there was no fear shown and no desire to evade the issue in the heart of any one of them. Rosslyn strolled resolutely on, filled with curiosity and the wild joy of adventure. They came to the Palace at length, where they were conducted in solemn state to the second floor, and through the east wing to the splendid Schweizer-Saal, originally the old guard-room, and now used as a reception room on social conscious Steinitz smiled grimly as he looked round the magnificent chamber.
"Evidently they intend to honour us," he said. "I half expected to find us locked up in the cellar."
But Rosslyn at any rate was not listening. He wanted to get a clear mental picture of his surroundings. He had a pleasant consciousness that he was making history, and indeed the surroundings were attractive enough. He had not failed to notice the great bronze group of St. George and the Dragon and the famous portrait of the Great Elector by du Sart. And here again were the portraits of the great leaders of the Prussian Military Movement by famous artists, and the old ceiling by Schluter, which has few equals in the world. It was, indeed, a fine setting to a historical movement which was going far to change the destinies of a nation.
And yet with it all, despite all this display of priceless art and other triumphs of civilisation, the Royal Palace looked forlorn and uncared for. There was no one left to represent the dignity that hedges round a throne, for the Kaiserine and her suite had gone somewhere south, and there was not so much as a scullery maid on the premises. Nearly every room in the palace had been given over to the civil administration, and here the Chancellor, with a thousand assistants, was engaged in the hopeless task of evolving order out of chaos. And all in vain.
The outbreak of rioting in Berlin had been almost the last straw on a back already bent to the breaking-point. And yet it was a thing that von Bethmann-Hollweg had dreaded and anticipated for a long time. He knew that sooner or later the hideous truth must be told. He knew that the Kaiser's weak and foolish policy of concealment was destined to bear bitter fruit in the end. But he had been powerless, he was merely a civilian, a necessary evil, necessary in his place no doubt, but as such a nobody in the eyes of his Imperial master. Had he not held for the moment something like absolute power in Berlin, the Socialist leaders would have been shot out of hand, and the whole thing dismissed as no more than an unpleasant incident. But the Chancellor had more foreseeing tact than that.
He came into the Schweizer-Saal presently and greeted his visitors politely. Rosslyn regarded him curiously. Two years had elapsed since he had been in Berlin, and had last met von Bethmann-Hollweg. Then he had been an alert and upright figure, full of life, and vigour, and now he seemed a bent and broken man. He was palpably nervous, too, though he assumed an air of blustering threat.
"Now what is the meaning of all this?" he demanded. "Surely it was a cruel hoax to play upon a patriotic people who have enough trouble as it is. If it had been true—"
Steinitz brought his hand crashing down upon a table.
"It is true," he cried. "There is not one lie in the whole of our manifesto. My friend here, who prefers to be known for the present as Leroux—"
The German Chancellor started violently.
"I could give him another name," he muttered.
"It is quite immaterial for the moment," Steinitz went on. "Leroux is fresh from England, where they get nothing but the truth. The correspondents of every country and every leading paper who are in a position to know are all unanimous. Our army in the West has worn itself out in a vain endeavour to hold the frontier; it is common knowledge abroad that the Russian occupation of Berlin is inevitable. The British Fleet has swept the seas, and not an ounce of food has reached Germany for weeks. And yet you go on lying, lying, lying. Our case is hopeless. Already in dead and wounded we have lost over a million of the flower of our manhood. Our Emperor has poured out life as the grains of sand run through an hour glass. What is the destruction of regiments to him? I say it should be impossible for one man, a madman, to plunge two-thirds of civilisation into a hell like this. And why? We had nothing to fear from our neighbours. For twenty years they endured the menace of the Mailed Fist and the Shining Armour in silence. For twenty years industrial Germany has been bled white to fill the veins of the Prussian Monster. Again, I ask you why? We were rich and prosperous and happy. Month by month the trade of the world come more and more our way. The ports of neutral powers and even those who were our foes to-day were opened to our commerce. And that commerce was actually protected and assisted by England's navy. What need, then, was there for us to build a great navy too? We have no colonies worth speaking of, and even those we hold by the sword. Ah, well, it is in vain to cry over the past; what we have to think of is the future. If we struggle on, then Germany will be wiped off the face of the map. But if you renounce the Prussian Creed, then the arms of Europe will be held out to help the German Republic."
"Do you know that this is treason?" the Chancellor asked.
"What is treason?" Steinitz demanded. "It is only the name we give to unsuccessful revolution. In our conceit we flatter ourselves that we are patriots. The patriotic movement in on foot now, and there is no man who knows it better than yourself. Then why try to stem it? Why keep the people in the dark, why not tell them the truth? And that is our demand for the moment. All this oppression will avail you nothing. The truth came down from the skies last night mysteriously and strangely, and it will continue to fall so long as you choose to treat our people like children. And all the military might of Prussia cannot stop it. If you shoot us all to-night it would go on just the same. Therefore, it will pay you to be open and candid, and allow an enlightened nation to know exactly where it stands. I say no more."
Long and deeply von Bethmann-Hollweg pondered before he replied. He seemed to be turning over some important problem in his mind.
"It is not always wise to say too much," he said at length. "I give you gentlemen credit for every patriotic intention, but I don't think you quite appreciate my position. If you, von Steinitz, and your friend who calls himself Leroux will favour me with five minutes' conversation in private I will endeavour to explain. I shall be glad if you will step this way."
Steinitz expressed his willingness, and together the trio disappeared into another room. Rosslyn was feeling just a little bit uncomfortable. It was no policy of his to enter into conversation with these strangers, so he wandered around the room, and thence into the corridor. A fashionably dressed woman stopped him, and enquired which was the way to the office of a certain von Rank. Rosslyn disclaimed knowledge politely, and the lady passed on.
"Lady Loxton, and here?" he muttered. "Well, it may cost me my life, but at all risks I am going to follow her."
Stuart Hallett's feelings were for the moment, at any rate, no more than surprise and astonishment to find Lady Loxton, above all people in the world, engaged in a night adventure. He had been for a long time a constant visitor at her flat, and fully appreciated her pleasant hospitality. But she had always given him the impression of being timid and unimaginative—the sort of woman who was afraid of the dark and who would have recoiled at the prospect of being left alone after sunset. But she was smiling and gay enough now though it seemed to Hallett that she was a little ashamed of herself.
"This is a mad thing to do," he said.
"Do you know, I think you are right," Lady Loxton admitted, sweetly. "I can't understand what possessed me to do it. I suppose I was too frightened to be afraid, if you know what I mean. Or, perhaps, it is the Irish strain in my blood. Almost before I knew what I was doing I found myself round at the garage getting the little car out. Please don't trouble about me, I shall have no difficulty in finding my way home. What a wicked shame this all is. It is not as if those brutes had anything to gain by it."
She was carrying it off gaily and easily now. All the same as she drove away, her teeth were tightly clenched, and there was an angry gleam in her eyes. She had been perilously near the verge of discovery, and only her ready wit had saved her.
The streets were quiet enough now, the excitement had passed away, and London had got a grip of itself again. The damage to the electric light had evidently been repaired, for the big lamps under their green shades were all aglow, and when Lady Loxton reached her flat she found her electroliers were brightly shining. In the dining room, before the fire, Garzia was awaiting her.
"Where have you been?" he asked. "I have been here the best part of an hour. I began to fancy that you were one of the victims of the firework show."
Lady Loxton smiled contemptuously, as she helped herself to a cigarette.
"Bah," she cried. "What a silly, childish business this is. Merely one of those theatrical displays which are so dear to the heart of the Kaiser. Ah, he has missed his vocation—he would have been far more successful had he been the manager of a circus. Picture to yourself the insane vanity of the man who, when every moment was worth a mine of diamonds, diverted three hundred thousand troops after their march to make a comic opera show in Brussels. Cannot the fool see that he is going out of his way to put these arrogant British on their guard? And just at the very moment when the spy fever was abating."
"Oh, what does it matter?" Garzia growled. "Nobody knows better than you and me that Germany is doomed. It is up to us to make hay while the sun shines. For the moment I am at my last gasp for money. And so are you, my dear."
Lady Loxton frowned. The situation was getting desperate. It was no time, even with her reputation to ask for extended credit. For some weeks now her tradesmen had been growing clamorous. She looked round the perfectly appointed room and sighed, as she wondered how long this was going to last.
"Oh, I have not been idle," she said. "Now, listen to me. I knew a week ago—and so did you for that matter—of the raid that took place to-night. That was organised by Paul Lamourg, of course. And very well he did his work. It is just the sort of spectacle that would appeal to the Berlin people, and I have no doubt that it will be worth a thousand pounds to our rival. But after all said and done it leads to nothing. We want to make these people feel, we want to strike a blow at the Londoners which will be as bad as a bombardment. To-nights business will be forgotten in a week. Now suppose we could deprive London of food for a month. Suppose the town was entirely without water."
The speaker dropped her voice to a whisper, she gazed eagerly and ardently into Garzia's face.
"It could not be done," the latter said.
"Oh, yes, it could. The greatest genius we ever had in our Espionage Department was Karl Werner. It was he who taught me all I know, to him I owe everything. Not long before he died he showed me some amazing plans. They were entrusted to me to deposit with the authorities in Berlin. I was a great fool not to keep them, but it is too late to regret that now. At any rate amongst those plans was one for the destruction of the Tower Bridge. I have no doubt that Werner said something about this business to Lamburg. I have been thinking a good deal about it the last hour or so. My idea was to get Lamburg out of the way. He has been supplanting us at Berlin and getting in our way generally. I thought if we could lay him by the heels we should have a clear course in future. So when the trouble broke out to-night I went down to the Tower with the full intention of giving the whole game away and betraying Lamburg into the hands of the police."
The confession was made coolly enough, for there was no false shame between these two and their dangerous work was purely a matter of business. They would have betrayed their employers to-morrow had they benefited to the extent of a solitary five-pound note.
"That was a good idea," Garzia said. "Go on."
"Well, I went down there in the car to see what I could do. I was going to lock Lamburg and his assistants in the machine-room under the bridge, and get the police at the nearest call office. But all that trouble was saved me. I had barely started before I saw some police officers, headed by one or two civilians, dashing across the road. I was lucky enough to conceal myself in the darkness, pleased to find that I had been forestalled, and I had the satisfaction of seeing our friend safely handcuffed."
"Grand! Fine!" Garzia said. "Any more?"
"No; the rest is not quite so satisfactory," Lady Loxton confessed. "I suppose I was in too much of a hurry to get away in the car; anyway, I was spotted, and they fired on me. I had to pull up, of course, and I was not pleased to find myself face to face with Mr. Stuart Hallett."
Garzia growled uneasily. He had no particular reason for being fond of Hallett. And it was rather alarming to find that the latter knew so much, and had gone unerringly to the right spot. Still, there was consolation in the knowledge that a powerful rival was out of the way, and that Berlin could not afford to be quite so independent in the future.
"It is good news on the whole," Garzia admitted. "But I should feel more satisfied if we could get Hallett out of the way, too. That fellow is the very devil. He must have put at least a dozen of our best men out of action in the last three months. And if he once begins to suspect you and me—"
Lady Loxton laughed aloud.
"My dear Pedro, you are getting nervous," she said. "Who would suspect the great Spanish musician, and who would dream that the patriotic Lady Loxton were in the pay of Germany? Why, Hallett and myself are the best of friends."
But Garzia was not altogether convinced. And he had not yet got over his disappointment in the matter of Rosslyn and the missing aeroplane. For the last day or two he had been making all sorts of cautious enquiries, but he had learnt nothing; indeed, he could not gather anything as to Rosslyn's whereabouts.
"I cannot see what you are driving at still," he said. "To get Lamburg out of the way was a fine stroke of business, but it does not leave us any nearer to a fat cheque. Now, if we could have got hold of that aeroplane it would have been quite another matter. I could have been in Berlin by this time, and all our worries would have been over for months to come."
"Why cry over spilt milk?" Lady Loxton asked. "I think I can show you a much bigger thing than that. Let me tell you that Rosslyn's disappearance is as much a mystery to Stuart Hallett as it is to you and me. I saw Hallett yesterday, and managed to get from him the information that he has not the least idea where Rosslyn is to be found. He and his aeroplane seem to have disappeared without leaving the slightest trace behind them."
"But somebody must know," Garzia said impatiently.
"Precisely," Lady Loxton smiled demurely. "Now, you are a man wise in the ways of the world, and will probably agree with me when I suggest that when a young and attractive man disappears leaving no trace behind him, to say nothing of injuring his career, there is invariably a woman at the bottom of the mystery. I happen to know that Paul Rosslyn is most infatuated with that dear little innocent French girl who lives in the flat below. I am speaking of Vera Leroux. It was only a few days ago that I interrupted the lovers in the midst of an impassioned scene, and, well, Rosslyn has not been seen since. Therefore, you can draw your own conclusions. For myself I have not the slightest doubt that Vera Leroux has a pretty fair idea as to where Paul Rosslyn is to be found. Vera's father is away from home just now, and I have invited the girl to lunch with me to-morrow. Before she leaves me I shall know everything there is to know. It is therefore possible that we shall commandeer the aeroplane after all. Patience, my trusted friend, patience. Meanwhile, I start for Berlin to-morrow night."
"Why do you go there?" Garzia asked.
"I go to Berlin to see those papers Werner deposited with me. I go to prepare the way for a grand stroke which means a fortune to us. You heard what I said just now. When I come back I shall have the full details of Werner's scheme for depriving London of her water supply. Ah, if we can manage that, then we can retire from business, and lead a respectable life in the future."
"Excellent," Garzia cried. "Let us have one glass of champagne, and drink success to the venture."
Garzia had been quite right when he cynically said that London would forget the Zeppelin outrage within a week. There had been a certain amount of indignation and wrath on the part of the Londoners at the cowardly attack upon an unfortified town, but then the civilised peoples of the world had grown quite accustomed to Germany's barbarous methods. They had been warned of the possibility of a Zeppelin raid, but this warning had been more or less disregarded, because lately the Hun had been less savage in their methods. They appeared to have learnt something from the knowledge that they had not a friend in the world, and that their hopes of gaining the ear of the United States had proved a dismal failure.
And now, after the first outbreak of anger and contempt, London was moving on its placid way, the streets were thronged and the theatres and places of amusement were filled nightly. London asked itself no questions; it was good to know that the authorities were alert and vigorous, and that the scoundrels who had laid themselves out to destroy the Tower Bridge were laid by the heels.
But Hallett, at any rate, was far from contented. He knew that there was some deep-seated conspiracy here in London that was apparently beyond his reach. Nor was he altogether satisfied with Lady Loxton and her ingenious excuse for being in the vicinity of the Tower Bridge on the night of the attempted outrage. He had no grounds for suspecting her at all; he had never doubted that she was the Irish widow of a well-known peer, and he had never found her capable of taking the slightest interest in politics. But this was a time to suspect everybody, and Hallett made up his mind to keep his eye on Lady Loxton for the future.
Again, he was worried by the amazing disappearance of Paul Rosslyn. He had the most implicit faith in the honour and integrity of his junior, and the idea that there had been any treachery on Rosslyn's part was absolutely unthinkable. It was just possible that Rosslyn had suddenly found himself in possession of news of some urgent danger and had gone off hot foot upon the track. It was possible, too, that he was the victim of foul play, a thought that worried Hallett exceedingly, for more than one of his trusted subordinates had met with disaster lately at the hands of an unseen foe that did not hesitate at murder itself. But there was one person in London who might possibly be in a position to throw light upon the mystery, and that person was Vera Leroux.
On this point Hallett had come to the same conclusion as Lady Loxton. He knew perfectly well what Rosslyn's feelings were so far as the girl was concerned, and he had been inclined to envy his junior in his good fortune. At any rate, it would be no harm to call at Medhurst Gardens and see what could be learnt.
It was something of a coincidence that Hallett walked round to Medhurst Gardens about midday on the Monday and an hour or so before Vera was to lunch with Lady Loxton. She explained that her father was away in France on business for a day or two, and that she was absolutely alone. She was looking not quite herself, Hallett thought, for she was pale and anxious and altogether lacked her usual charm and vivacity. She was gay and fitful from time to time, with occasional lapses into absentmindedness, indeed it seemed to Hallett that she did not hear half he said.
"I won't detain you many minutes," he said politely. "By the way, do you know what has become of Paul Rosslyn?"
He put the question abruptly, for he wanted to take the girl off her guard. He saw her face grow pale, then the vivid pink came back again into Vera's cheeks. She looked at Hallett with something like terror in her eyes.
"No," she said. "He has not been here for two or three days. I hope that nothing has happened to him, because, because—"
Hallett waited eagerly for Vera to go on. But she was recovering from his sudden attack now, and her courage had come back to her.
"Perhaps I had better be candid," she said. "The last time I saw Mr. Rosslyn we had a misunderstanding, a foolish one, perhaps, more my fault than his. Oh, I do hope that nothing has happened to him. We were such good friends—"
"Nothing more than friends?" Hallett asked audaciously.
Vera's brown eyes met those of Hallett frankly.
"That is a question that no one has a right to ask," she said coldly. "So far as the world is concerned we are merely friends. But I don't mind telling you that we were something more than that. Mr. Rosslyn asked me questions which I could not answer, and we parted without saying good-bye. I am dreadfully troubled and grieved about it, but this is a matter that concerns ourselves alone. Don't you think you are rather cruel to come and question me like this, Mr. Hallett?"
For once the astute Hallett was at a loss for a reply. He could not fail to recognise that this cross-examination was both vulgar and impertinent, and he hastened to apologise.
"Believe me," he said, "I had not the least intention of being unkind. To tell you the truth, Rosslyn has disappeared and I am greatly concerned about him. I came here hoping that you would be able to give me some clue—"
Vera rose to her feet and looked meaningly at the clock.
"And so I will," she interrupted. "I firmly believe that Paul is not in the least danger. I am sure you will hear from him before long. Now please don't ask me to say any more. Besides, I am going out. I am lunching with Lady Loxton at one o'clock, and it is now a few minutes to the hour. Good-bye."
Hallett accepted his dismissal with the best grace he could. He murmured his apologies, and went away with a curious feeling of mingled relief and annoyance. He would very much like to have been present at that little luncheon party, for he had a shrewd suspicion that he might have learnt something there. And meanwhile he had his work to do; he had to give his final instructions to Montague and Pascoe, who were starting that evening on their scouting excursion along the east coast. After a good deal of anxious thought it had been decided to take Lieut. von Kemp along. They had satisfied themselves that he was to be trusted that he was quite sincere in his desire to do anything to frustrate the designs of Prussia and to forward the interests of the German Republic.
Meanwhile, with feelings just as mixed, Vera was making her way up the stairs in the direction of Lady Loxton's flat. She had expected to find the usual cheery, noisy luncheon party gathered there, and was somewhat relieved when she realised that she was the only guest. Lady Loxton met her affectionately enough and kissed her on either cheek.
"I did not feel in the mood for company to-day," she explained. "So I made an excuse to put the others off, and we shall be quite alone. Let us go into the dining-room and wait upon ourselves. I never like to have a lot of servants in the room."
It was a dainty little lunch, and Lady Loxton was, if possible, more sparkling than usual. For the time being Vera forgot all her troubles, she found herself laughing at her hostess's witty sallies until suddenly Lady Loxton grew grave and her eyes became tender and sympathetic.
"Oh, dear," she sighed. "How thoughtless I am. It is not that I am really hard hearted. And yet I am running on like this just as if Paul Rosslyn were still alive."
"But he is," Vera cried startled out of herself. "At the present moment Mr. Rosslyn is in Ber—"
Lady Loxton gave a sudden exclamation of annoyance, her champagne glass had slipped through her fingers and broke upon a plate. It was quite characteristic of her that this little incident should for a moment occupy her attention to the exclusion of everything else. But she had heard the fatal words fall from Vera's lips and her heart was dancing gaily with triumph. She did not wish to hear any more, she was too subtle and clever to follow up her first success. And almost immediately Vera was on her guard again. Naturally she had no suspicion of what was passing in the mind of her hostess, who, as a matter of fact, she rather despised. But she had come near to betraying the secret and she was annoyed with herself accordingly.
"How stupid of me," Lady Loxton said testily. "If there is one thing I hate more than others it is clumsiness. I cannot stand a clumsy servant about me. What was I saying, dear? Oh, I know. Such a sad thing about Paul Rosslyn. You must feel it terribly. I have thought for some time that you were something more than friends. Not that I wish to be curious, it would be in such wretched taste just now. They say that poor Rosslyn started out some days ago with an aeroplane and that he has not been seen since."
"I would rather not discuss it, if you don't mind," Vera said simply. "It is too sad to think about."
Lady Loxton was all tenderness and sympathy. But there was a quiet smile of triumph in her eyes and a hard curve about her lips as she sat smoking a cigarette at the table long after her guest had gone. She was sitting there when Garzia arrived.
"Well," he asked. "Is there any news?"
"The most strange and startling," Lady Loxton said. "The child was like wax in my hands. It was all too easy. And where do you suppose Rosslyn and his motor are at the present moment? Why, in Berlin. Yes, I thought I should astonish you. And the best of it is that dear little Vera hasn't the least idea that she told me. If anyone accused her of doing so I am sure she would deny it most indignantly. Now what is Rosslyn doing in Berlin? It sounds like carrying the war into the enemy's country with a vengeance. I shall most certainly make it my business to find out."
"You mean to go to Berlin, then?" Garzia asked.
"I am going tonight," Lady Loxton said. "Now go off at once and get the line all clear for me."
It was all very well, as Hallett pointed out to his assistants, for the Home Office to announce that the German spy system in England had been broken up and thus allay public uneasiness, but this did not mean that the evil was stamped out altogether, and nobody knew better than Hallett that there were many dangerous organisations still flourishing, and any small success on their part was handsomely recognised in Berlin. For instance, there had been one or two exceedingly unpleasant incidents along the east coast both ashore and afloat and these 'accidents' had got to be stopped. For instance, a submarine had been lost, several mines had exploded, and a destroyer had gone ashore in consequence of a mistake in connection with a signal light. These incidents had been reported to Berlin, and had been magnified by the German Press into brilliant naval victories. This was the task that lay before Montague and the others.
"I have made it as easy for you as I can," Hallett explained. "You are attached to the Service Department of the Field Telegraph Corps. As a matter of fact this department has no existence, but your caps will look like authority, and I will see that the police up and down the coast give you every assistance. You will travel in a caravan and pretend to be very busy, so that no clever amateur detective will interfere with you. You will find your van at Filey, and the sooner you get in contact with Inchcliffe the better. I don't think I need detain you any longer."
A day or two later Montague and Pascoe, together with von Kemp, set out upon their errand. They were made up to look like workmen, they wore army caps with a conspicuous-looking badge. The weather was mild and clear as they pottered down the coast keeping a sharp eye open for anything suspicious, and, truth to tell, a little uncertain as to how to begin. But there was one thing that had struck Pascoe and Montague from the first, and that was von Kemp's amazing and intimate knowledge of every cliff and bay and village along the route. They rallied him over it as they sat outside the caravan eating the lunch which they had cooked over an oil store.
"It was part of my duty," von Kemp said quietly. "Ah, those were the days when I believed Germany to be ordained by God to lead the world on to the new Jerusalem. Honestly I believed it. I had steeped myself in the doctrines of Nietzsche and the rest of them. I was ready to swallow open-mouthed anything that the German professors wrote and said. I did not know then that they were no more than professional journalists."
"Oh, come," Pascoe smiled. "Your professors are far the most profound writers in Europe."
Von Kemp spat contemptuously on the grass.
"Bah," he cried. "Bosh! We are the nation of shopkeepers—we are what you were in that respect. We are too prosperous and too fond of pleasure to think. Can you give me the name of one great scientist, poet, painter, artist, or musician that Germany has produced in the last thirty years? I tell you philosophy does not pay, there is no money in its publications. But there is money in flattering the vanity of a war-mad nation and pandering to the Kaiser. Ah, our philosophers found that out. And now they sell their books by the thousands and spend their winters at Monte Carlo. It's only gutter journalism under another name. I shall live to see all those books publicly burnt by order of the German Republic."
They pushed on presently, coming in contact with coastguards now and again until the pretty town of Filey loomed in the distance some ten miles away. It was past four o'clock, and the light was beginning to fade, when von Kemp suggested a halt and the advisability of pitching camp for the night. There was a fire and suppressed excitement about him that his comrades did not fail to notice. He shook his head at the suggestion of tea, and asked Montague if there was such a thing as an electric torch amongst the equipment.
"Half a dozen," Montagu said. "But why?"
"I am going to show you," von Kemp said. "Now you see that house on the cliffs about half a mile away. It is a charming and delightful place, and belongs to a wealthy colonial gentleman, who is an enthusiastic yachtsman, and passes most of his time deep sea fishing. All of which I gathered from the coast patrol a little while ago. It is a very nice thing, my friends, to be a rich colonial who can afford to gratify his expensive tastes. In this England of yours it is no part of anybody's business to enquire where his neighbour's money comes from. Now out of all the rich men you know can you tell me the source of income of one of them? Oh, I thought not. A new neighbour comes along, he takes a nice house, he is open-hearted and hospitable, and a good sportsman. The rest can go to the devil. You are blind-folded, you English."
"Is there anything the matter with the house?" Pascoe asked.
By way of reply von Kemp demanded the electric torch and proceeded to lead the way down a little cliff path which was so cunningly hidden that it could not be seen from the top of the cliff. Von Kemp pushed on till he came at length to a small cave that looked like a mere gash in the rock, the walls of which were covered with mussels and seaweed. The guide groped with his hand in the slimy mass, then the back of the cave seemed to open, disclosing a narrow passage that seemed to lead into the bowels of the earth.
"Come along," von Kemp said. "We are perfectly safe for the time being. I could see from the position of the flag floating over our colonial friend's house that he is not prepared to receive visitors for the moment. If your police were half sharp that flagstaff would have been down long ago. This is an old smuggler's cave, the existence of which has been forgotten by the fishermen here. It used to lead at one time to an old farmhouse that stood where the colonial gentleman's residence is to-day."
Von Kemp volunteered no further information, but pushed steadily on along the throat of the tunnel. Presently they began to rise again toiling upwards until they saw overhead a wooden trap door, which von Kemp proceeded to lift cautiously. A moment later and the three adventurers were standing in a little summer-house fringed by shrubs, which it was possible to see through and thus get a clear view of the lawns surrounding the house and in the background the house itself. A tall man, brown and lean and athletic looking and dressed in a sort of fisherman's kit, was standing there with a handsome woman by his side. Her tailor-made costume was covered with a large linen apron, and she appeared to be feeding a flock of Indian pheasants from a basket of corn.
Next to the pheasants and fighting for their food was a flock of herring gulls, big, fierce-looking adult birds without the suggestion of timidity or fear about them. They dashed in and out amongst the pheasants, indeed they seemed so tame that the big man standing there handled them as if they had been so many pigeons. There was a queer smile on von Kemp's face as he watched.
"Quite an interesting sight," Montague murmured.
"And especially if you know what it means," von Kemp said drily. "In this queer old world of ours there is nothing that pays like audacity. If you want to deceive a man, play some trick, the simpler the better, under his very eyes, and he don't see it. I need hardly tell you that our colonial friend is a German spy, who passed years in Australia, and so escaped suspicion. It was he who found all about this underground passage, and persuaded the German intelligence department to build this house for him years ago. Ah, we will have some fun with our spy presently. But not yet, he must not be alarmed. If we hang about this neighbourhood for a day or two and watch him carefully I shall be greatly astonished if we don't get some valuable information. I have no doubt the man yonder could tell us exactly how and why certain naval disasters have happened."
It was all thrilling and interesting enough, and the situation had just that spice of danger necessary to give it a charm in the eyes of Montague and Pascoe. There was the chance of being discovered at any moment, in which case it might be necessary to use their revolvers with which Montague and his companions were armed. But anything like violence would ruin the situation, and therefore von Kemp was allowed to take command.
A darkness was beginning to fall now, though the glow of the sunset filled the northern sky with a warm red haze. Apparently there was nothing more to wait for, but von Kemp did not move.
"Not just yet," he said. "We are perfectly safe. And you mean to say that you can see nothing significant in what is taking place under your eyes. It is a new scheme to me, and it appeals to me because it is so simple and yet so amazingly clever. I saw it at a glance. But then these tricks and dodges have for so many years formed part of my training. Now watch."
But the other two could see nothing suspicious. They saw the basket of food emptied and the pheasants scatter over the lawn. They saw the big man clapping his hands and driving the gulls into the air. They circled round screaming and calling like the uneasy spirits of the deep which they were. Then the man and the woman entered the house and were seen no more.
"Quick," von Kemp said. "There is no need to go back the way we came. This belt of shrubs will shield us till we reach the cliffs. Don't ask any questions, but follow me."
They raced along through the shrubbery and presently gained the open road. They were on the cliffs now, with the gulls still wheeling and screaming overhead. As one of them swooped gracefully down close by von Kemp whipped out a revolver and fired twice rapidly. The bird dropped dead, almost at his feet.
"What did you do that for?" Pascoe asked.
"Pick it up," von Kemp said. "And if you don't find a cypher message tied to its leg, then call me a Cockney sports man."
"By Jove," Pascoe cried. "So there is."
Here was a revelation to Pascoe and Montagu, and they were both loud in their praises of the neatness and simplicity of the scheme. As von Kemp did not fail to point out, this cunning game had been going on right under the eyes of the coastguard for months. Probably it had been thought out and tested years before.
"You see how it is," von Kemp said, "The gulls come here for their evening meal, and probably get their breakfast somewhere on the German coast. The three or four hundred miles from coast to coast is nothing for a strong, swiftly flying bird like a gull. And it's such at pretty sight too, of course to watch those beautiful birds being fed. And I dare say our colonial friend's wife invites her neighbours' children to come and watch the dear gulls having their supper. Now isn't it a clever idea?"
"Almost sorry to spoil it," Montague laughed. "And to think that our authorities should have been worrying themselves over homing pigeons all over the country and when this is going on under their innocent noses. By Jove, Pascoe, we have got a fine chance of distinguishing ourselves here. Not that it will be any credit to us, but still—"
"No, it's all von Kemp's," Pascoe said. "But we must bag all that brood. We must have the lot of them. And what about that cypher? Can you make anything out of it, von Kemp?"
The German shook his head. He explained that the cypher was quite out of his department, that every spy used his own for obvious reasons, and that there was a special department in Berlin to look after these matters. No doubt if the message were sent to London there was some expert there capable of dealing with the problem. In any case there was no hurry. The German spy was blissfully ignorant of the fact that he had been marked down, and even if Montagu and the others were found prowling about the grounds the badges on their caps would tend to allay all suspicion.
"Without boasting," von Kemp said, "I know a great deal more about these things than you do. But what I don't know is what the man that lives yonder calls himself. He is not the same individual I visited here many years back. But obviously he is a man well in with the best people in these parts, and I suggest that we push on at once and see your friend Lord Inchcliffe. He will be able to help us I have no doubt. Then we can think out some scheme whereby we can get the best of the enemy."
It was some way to travel, but the caravan started without delay, and it was somewhere past ten o'clock before Inchcliffe Castle was reached. There were but few lights in the windows, and apparently the household had retired for the night, for it was some little time before the big oak door was opened.
It was Inchcliffe who appeared, yawning and sleepy and disposed to resent this intrusion. But his face relaxed into a smile as he saw who his visitors were, and he grasped the hands of Montague and Pascoe with a welcome that was painful in its sincerity. He was a fine figure of a man, not in the least intellectual looking, but clean cut and powerful, a typical specimen of a British sportsman without care and anxiety, and quite ready to admit that intellectually speaking he was not a success. But of his courage and integrity there was no doubt. A cloud seemed to lift from his brow as he showed his visitors before him into the great dining-room on hospitality bent. He was beaming with pleasure now.
"I knew you chaps were coming," he said. "I heard from Hallet a day or two ago. Lieutenant von Kemp, I am pleased to make your acquaintance. Now do help yourselves. You will find everything you want on the sideboard. Then we will have a long talk, for everybody has gone to bed including the wife. Lord if you fellows only knew how I have been eating my heart out with nothing to do! When I got to Southampton after my honeymoon on the yacht I heard for the first time that war had broken out. And that after three months mind you. My pals all thought I'd funked it. I could hardly get a chap to speak to me in the club. Same thing at the War Office and the Admiralty. There wasn't a job they could give me anywhere. And me with all my knowledge of the coast, me with the smartest fleet of electric launches in the North Sea! I could have stopped one big disaster anyhow. You can imagine my delight when I heard from Hallett that you chaps were coming up this way. And now tell me what it is that you want me to do."
Montague proceeded to explain. He told the story of the singular adventure of the afternoon, and then turned the rest of the narrative over to von Kemp.
"You know all about me, Lord Inchcliffe," the latter said. "And you know why I am here and what my ambition is. At any rate you will credit me with being with you heart and soul. I regard these spy episodes as beneath contempt. They are absolutely useless and futile. But they delight the childish mind of the Kaiser, I suppose. Still, these men must be got rid of, especially along your east coast. We want to clear that man and his household so that they will vanish and leave no trace behind them. Do you happen to know him? Does he visit here?"
"Oh, dear, yes," Inchcliffe said. "He is a real good sportsman and quite a good fellow. Many a day I have had with him both with the gun and the tiller. There is not the slightest doubt that the man lived for years in the colonies, for he has had Australians staying with him who are quite well known. Those people are received in society here with open arms. The man calls himself Blair Allison, and his wife was born in the Argentine. They don't look a bit like Germans, and neither of them have the faintest trace of an accent. Why, bless my soul, I've helped to feed those gulls many a time. Well it's a clever dodge, and Blair Allison deserves every credit for it. Do you know that on two or three occasions quite lately I have had some of our submarine officers up here. You can get a submarine into my private harbour quite easily. Then the chaps who know the cliff path creep up here for a drink and a smoke very late, and no one any the wiser for it. I never have told my wife even. But one night Blair Allison turned up very late, with the excuse that he had run out of petrol on his way back from Scarborough, where he had been to the theatre, and I had got a submarine lieutenant in the dining-room at the time. It was a bit awkward, but it could not be helped. And a few hours later that submarine was at the bottom of the sea, and one of the best fellows that Eton ever turned out went with her. You can guess who I mean."
Inchcliffe's voice was unsteady and he gulped hastily his whisky and soda. Then he went on again.
"I never dreamt of associating Blair Allison with that ghastly business," he said. "But I see quite plainly now that he was at the bottom of it. Of course he called upon me that night to make sure of his ground. I'll tell you what, the best thing we can do is to raid the place some evening when the whole gang is there and shoot the lot of them. And I'd like to have the shooting of Blair Allison myself, the murdering scoundrel."
Inchcliffe had grown hot and angry again now, for the knowledge he had gained stirred him to the depths. He jerked up a blind and opened a long French window leading to the terrace, beyond which lay the cliffs and the open sea. Far away in the distance the gleaming eye of the Abner lightship flashed and twinkled like a star in a hazy sky that grows brilliant for a moment and then dims again. It was the only sign of life and movement on the broad bosom of the North Sea. For a time Inchcliffe stood looking out, and when he turned he was himself once more.
"When shall it be," he asked.
"Oh, don't let's spoil it by being in too much of a hurry!" Pascoe suggested. "It's a big thing we have stumbled on, thanks to von Kemp, and I don't feel inclined to tackle it in this casual way. The best thing we can do is to telegraph to-morrow to Hallett and get him to come down here. If—"
Pascoe broke off abruptly at a sign from Inchcliffe. The latter seemed to be listening intently, and presently it seemed to the others, that they could hear cautious footsteps approaching the house from the direction of the terrace. A moment later a man with a keen, clean-shaven face and a pair of alert grey eyes looked eagerly into the dining-room. He was in naval dress, and was apparently concerned about something, but he stopped and stepped back with muttered annoyance as he saw that Inchcliffe was not alone.
"Oh, come in," the latter said. "These people are my friends, and they are here on the King's business. Gentlemen, this is Lieutenant Nemo, of his Majesty's ship Nowhere. You can quite understand why I don't mention names. Anything wrong?"
"Very much so, I'm afraid," the lieutenant said. "I only noticed it quite by accident as I came up the cliff with the intention of smoking a cigar with you. There is no man in these parts who knows more of the North Sea lights than you do. Now come outside for a moment and carefully watch the Abner lightship. I would have gone and made inquiries myself, but I have strict orders not to move from my moorings for the present, and the Abner light is at least ten miles away. Come on."
Inchcliffe darted eagerly on to the terrace. For a few moments he kept a steady watch on the lightship.
"You are quite right," he exclaimed. "Beyond all doubt someone is monkeying with the lantern. It should be three flashes followed by one. I should not be at all surprised if some signalling was going on. Well, we shall soon know. I'll get out a launch and go myself to see. Now, who's out for an adventure? It will be a pretty risky one, but if you people—"
Montague and Pascoe jumped to their feet eagerly. Here was a chance that appealed to them irresistibly.
The three men were eager for the fray now. It was an adventure after the heart of each, and von Kemp was only too anxious to show his allies how distinctly in earnest he was. It was by no means the first time that Montague and Pascoe had been on the face of the midnight waters in one of Inchcliffe's perfectly appointed boats, and they had every confidence in the skill and dexterity of their leader. He was perhaps the most eager of the lot, for it seemed to him that he had a good deal to wipe off the slate. He had been miserably anxious for some time to justify himself in the eyes of his friends and show them that he was no shirker.
But there was something to be done yet before starting. There was a deal of information to be sought before it was possible to set out on that highly dangerous errand. For instance there were the mines to be considered, and for some time the little party pored anxiously over the chart which the submarine commander produced from his pocket. But he was instructing a man who knew nearly as much about it as himself, and presently Inchcliffe pronounced himself to be satisfied.
"Not that it's all as it should be," he said. "It seems rather an odd thing to think that the enemy has managed to thread his way inside our minefield up to the lightship without being blown into fragments. Its any odds that the man who calls himself Blair Allison is at the bottom of this. How do you know that he has not sunk some of your mines? I don't say he has, but I did hear something a little time ago about a new mine sinker that could be worked without the slightest danger. However, there is no time to discuss that now."
They crept silently down the narrow cliff path leading to Inchcliffe's private harbour, and there said good-bye to the commander of the submarine. Here lay half-a-dozen motor craft of sorts, and from a shed hard by Inchcliffe produced four suits of oilskins. Then he set to work to prepare his little craft for her perilous journey, full of knowledge that fairly won the admiration of his companions. He worked like a skilled mechanic, which indeed he was, and presently he announced that everything was ready for the great adventure. With Inchcliffe at the helm they slid out into the open sea, driving along in the darkness as silent as a night bird in its flight. There was peril dire and deep every moment, but the voyagers did not stop to think of that. Here and there were shoals and currents to be avoided, but they were as plain to Inchcliffe as if they had lain upon the surface. He had the lights of the Abner to guide him so that he could make directly for the signal, and thus no precious time was lost. There was nothing to be seen and nothing to be heard, it seemed as if they had left the world behind them. Presently Inchcliffe cut off his batteries, and the little craft drifted along with the tide.
"This is jut a bit awkward," whispered Inchcliffe. "In half an hour it will be dead low water and the lightship will be on the sands. We shall have to be very careful. We must moor the boat here, and that is where the danger begins. If we are spotted crossing the sands we are done. As far as I can see, the best thing is to make a dash for it."
The other three men raised no objection. Inchcliffe was in command of the expedition and there was nothing for it except for his companions to obey him implicitly. Fortunately the little motor boat had but a shallow draught, and when she was anchored up the occupants stepped into water which hardly came above their knees. They could hear nothing but the ripple of the tide on the sands and the occasional scream of some sea bird. It was terribly dreary and lonely there, and the great monotony appealed eloquently to Pascoe and Montague.
"What a spot," the latter whispered. "Fancy living here for weeks at a time. I'd rather be in jail. I should be very hard put to it if I accepted a job like this."
"It is lonely," Inchcliffe said. "The two men here are on shore every alternate month. But often in the winter they never see a soul from one month's end to another."
Pascoe nodded thoughtfully. No letters, no papers, with little sleep and constant danger to face, these brave men guarding the shipping with unbroken vigilance. It was a phase in naval work, and Pascoe and the others began dimly to understand what the navy meant and how it stood between Britain and her foes.
"This is a bit of an object lesson to me," Montague murmured. "It's a small picture, but it drives the thing home. My word, when this war is over, nine-tenths of civilisation will begin to know what it owes to the British Navy."
The others nodded sympathetically. But it was no time for philosophy, and there was grim work to be done. For a minute or two they crawled cautiously across the sands, working round to get into the shadow of the light so as not to be seen, and then at a signal from Inchcliffe, they rose to their feet and made a dash for the hulk. The sound of their footsteps was deadened by the low moan of the tide on the sands and so far all was going well. Then they crept once more on hands and knees round the dripping bows of the lightship until they found a ladder. So far it was plain that those on board the boat had no idea that anything was wrong, for there was no sound from the deck, and silence reigned everywhere.
It was at this point, then, that the real danger began. Inchcliffe took his revolver from his pocket and made sure it was fully loaded. Then he crept very carefully up the ladder and peered cautiously over the side. The deck was brilliantly lighted by the lantern overhead though there were patches of shadow here and there behind which it was possible to hide. But the deck had to be gained first, and Inchcliffe was taking no risks.
On the hatchway a man was seated reading a newspaper. Obviously he had been stationed there to guard against a possible surprise.
Inchcliffe passed the news back and whispered to his companions. He meant, if possible to take that sentry by surprise. If he were successful then the fellow might be gagged and bound and thrown into the bottom of the motor boat.
The moments that followed were tense and full of excitement. Yard by yard Inchcliffe wriggled his way across the deck, watched eagerly by the others from the top of the ladder. He was in striking distance now perfectly cool and collected, and seeing his course as clear as crystal before him. He had no intention at the last moment to spoil everything by raw haste. Very slowly he dragged himself to his knees and thence to his feet. Then, swift as a flash, his left hand was locked in the spy's right and his right arm bent round the neck of the foe and dragged his head mercilessly backwards until he could hear the ominous click in the throat that told its red tale of victory. He could see the mans' eyes roll till the whites were visible, then he caught in his muscular arms the dead insensible weight of a man past all consciousness. As if the spy had been no more than a sack Inchcliffe carried him over to the the ladder and dropped his apparently lifeless burden on the sands.
"I learnt that little trick in Tokio," he whispered. "Bustle him back in the boat and tie him up safe. You'll find all you want in the locker. Then come back again and we will tackle those other chaps down below."
It was all done quietly and coolly and without the slightest sign of bustle or confusion. A little later and Inchcliffe and his companions were at the foot of the gangway looking into the cabin. Under the swinging oil lamp at a table there were four men bending over what appeared to be a chart. Three of them were strangers to the Englishman but they exchanged glances when the fourth of the intruders looked up suddenly. It was the man who was known to all of them as the colonial Blair Allison.
It was not altogether easy now to see what was the next step to be taken. It might have been a comparatively plain solution to fire a volley into the men sitting round the table and shoot them down before they had time to grasp the situation but this was not the English sporting way and in any case it was better to take these men alive. They could listen for the present at any rate.
"Yes, I think that's the way," Blair Allison said. "Our fishing boat puts into Scarborough to-morrow with all the information we require. What fools these English are. I wonder what they'd say if they knew that we have got four fishing smacks regularly working this coast, flying the British flag, and apparently manned by British seamen. That's the beauty of having had twenty years to prepare for this business. Otherwise we should not be here to-night. We have done a fine evening's work as those British cruisers off the Tyne will find to their cost before the week is out. We can't do any more now, so we had better get back."
"What about those fellows down the hold?" another man asked. "Shall we leave them there or take them with us and throw them into the sea? They will starve in any case."
"Oh, no; they won't," Blair Allison said. "People on shore will soon see that there is something wrong with the lights. Let's get along now before the trouble begins."
The spy looked up as he spoke and in the mirror at the far end of the cabin saw the four curious faces peeping in. They were only a blur and he could recognise no features, but like a flash he was alive to the danger, for he wheeled round swiftly and his revolver began to speak. Almost as swiftly one of his companions dashed out the light and the struggle began in absolute darkness. A sudden rush was made at the cabin door and for the next few minutes attackers and attacked were mixed up in a general scrimmage. It was impossible to fire any longer, for such a course would have been as dangerous to friend as to foe. It was a hand-to-hand struggle, then a rush across the deck and a scramble of feet upon the sands.
For the moment at any rate Inchcliffe and his companions had had the worst of the encounter, and they were inclined to regret the instinct which had prompted them to obey the rules of chivalrous warfare instead of shooting the murderous rascals in their tracks. But no harm had been done save a few bruises, and when the lamp was lighted again Inchcliffe was inclined to smile as he regarded the rueful faces of the others.
"No use worrying about it," he said. "We should have shot the brutes on sight. As it is they have got off with no end of a lot of valuable stuff, which might have been worth its weight in gold to the fleet. They have evidently got a motor boat on the edge of the sands somewhere. But cheer up, we haven't finished with them yet. It's any odds that they make their way back to Blair Allison's house, and, if that's so, the next trick in the game will be ours. Meanwhile, don't forget that somewhere in the hold the lightship keeper and his mate are prisoners. We had better go and look for them."
There were two dejected figures fished out of the hold presently, and released from the cords that bound them. Their tale did not take long to tell. They had been taken quite unawares at a moment when they had done their work and had recently finished supper. Down in the cabin they were passing half-an-hour over a game of cards, when, without the slightest warning, the big figure of a man strode in and covered them with his revolver. He had made them throw up their hands on the pain of death, and, caught like rats in a trap as they were, they had no alternative but to obey. Three other men had appeared and the unhappy lightship keeper and his mate had been gagged and bound and thrown into the hold as if they had been so many sacks of coal. All this was told with much grinding of teeth and strong language to all of which Inchcliffe listened anxiously.
"What were they like?" he asked. "I suppose you would be able to recognise these men if you saw them again."
"No, we shouldn't my lord," said the lightship keeper, who knew Inchcliffe well. "They were masked, every mother's son of them."
Inchcliffe smiled well satisfied with this reply. He knew now that Blair Allison and his friends would go off secure in the knowledge that their identity had not been discovered, and that there was no chance of them leaving the neighbourhood. He said a few comforting words to the angry lightship keeper, but he was silent enough on the run home until the electric craft was safe in its harbour again. Then he turned eagerly to his companions.
"I am not going to be done like this," he said. "No bed for me till I've got even with those chaps. It's only just a little past two now, and if I get out the car we can be at Blair Allison's place in half-an-hour. I am going to play the same trick upon him that he played on me. My idea is to drive up to the house in the car, and tell Blair Allison that I have run out of petrol. If he has gone to bed so much the better. But I've a pretty shrewd idea that he's done nothing of the sort. We'll start at once, and I can stop the car just outside Allison's gate. Then you can get out and hide yourselves by the porch. No, on second thoughts you had better come with me. We shall be probably asked into the house to have a drink, and no doubt introduced to the other rascals. Then will be the time to produce our revolvers, and politely intimate that the game is up."
"And after that?" Montague asked.
"Bring the blackguards along here, and shove them in one of the vaults under the Castle. I've got a regular jail down there. Then we can take possession of Blair Allison's house and search it from top to bottom. You fellows have got all sorts of powers under that queer commission that Hallett gave you, so there will be no chance of getting into trouble. Then we can tell Mrs. Blair Allison that she is under arrest. We have nothing to fear from the servants, because I happen to know that they are all English. Blair Allison is much too astute to have any German servants about him. What do you say?"
No dissentient voice was raised to this suggestion. They discarded their oilskins, and assumed motor coats instead, and sped along the road in the direction of Allison's house like men who were making their way homeward after some pleasant social evening. There were certain appliances in Inchcliffe's overcoat pocket which he had taken the precaution to put there for use later on. Half-an-hour later the car turned crawling slowly and apparently with difficulty along the drive in the direction of Blair Allison's house. Inchcliffe smiled grimly as he saw the lights blazing in the dining-room window.
"What did I tell you?" he muttered. "Allison is a very late man and, I have no doubt that there is a great deal of reason for it. On a clear night these lights can be seen miles away at sea. But we appear to have disturbed the busy bees in their nest. They are coming out to see what this late visit means."
When the blinds had been jerked aside, then the front door was flung open, and Blair Allison appeared in the porch. He looked just a little anxious for the moment until he caught sight of Inchcliffe, and his manner grew friendly.
"Better late than never," he said.
"I did not mean to intrude at this late hour," Inchcliffe explained, "but one of my idiots forgot to fill up the tank, and I am clean out of petrol. No, isn't it rather too late to come in? Well, I've no doubt that a small drink will be acceptable to my friends for we have come a long way, and it's none too warm."
They followed Blair Allison into the dining-room, where three other men were seated. Just for a moment or two these others in their turn appeared a little anxious till they had been reassured by their host. He introduced them to Inchcliffe, and the rest by English-sounding names, and, indeed, in ordinary circumstances, they would have passed quite easily for Englishmen of good class. They were down here, they explained, for a day or two's wild fowl shooting, to all of which Inchcliffe listened with apparent sympathy.
"We may have some sport together," he said, drily. "One moment, please. Did you ever see anything like this?"
As Inchcliffe spoke he whipped out his revolver, and instantly his three companions did the same. The whole aspect of the scene was changed in a moment, the smiles and compliments had vanished now, and four grim pairs of eyes behind those covering weapons looked sternly into four pairs of shrinking ones. Allison took a step forward menacingly, then thought better of it.
"Hands up," Inchcliffe cried. "If either of you move another step you are dead men. You, with the eyeglass, remove your hand from near your pocket. You can take it from me, Mr. Allison, that the game is finished. You have got the better of us once this evening, but you are not likely to do so again."
Allison was fighting for time. Evidently he was the leader of the gang, and the others were looking to him for some way out of the peril. If he could keep his opponent at bay for a minute or two, it was just possible that the tide might turn in his favour.
"Are you joking?" he asked. "Is this some foolish form of ragging that you Britishers are fond of?"
"You Britishers," Inchcliffe mocked, "How long is it since you ceased to be a Briton? Oh! there is no joke, I assure you. We saw you to-night aboard the Abner lightship, and, if we had not been a set of soft-hearted fools, we should have shot you down there and then. You raided the lightship, and you have been using the boat for the purpose of signalling to the enemy. Now, it's no use saying anything. We heard part of the conversation that took place in the cabin, and I may tell you that your plan for blowing up those cruisers off the Tyne is going to be a failure. It was not a bad idea of yours to mask yourselves, so that you would not be recognised, but you were so sure of your ground that you forgot the necessary precautions, and we recognised you."
"Oh! this is madness," Allison foamed. "You are suffering from spy on the brain."
"It will be in the brain if you come a yard further," Inchcliffe cried. "I tell you the game is up. It has been cleverly played, but you have come to the end of your tether. Here, you man with the eyeglass, take this. You need not stare at it as if you hadn't seen such a thing before. I hold in my hands a pair of handcuffs. Catch please. That was quite clever. As a wicket-keeper, you have a career before you. Now, will you kindly put those bracelets on the wrists of Mr. Allison, and he will return the compliment by doing the same for you. Now, you other two. Yes, that's right. A few yards of stout whipcord, and the thing is done. What we propose to do now is to take you with us and lock you up in the deepest dungeon beneath the castle moat. You make you way out there, and you are welcome to your freedom. Are you ready?"
There was nothing more to be said or done. Allison ground his teeth in impotent rage and fury to see how neatly he had been trapped. And all this at the hands of a man whom he had regarded as no more than an easy-going idiot, a blind fool of a man who had no brains for anything but sport. There was no help for it; they were handcuffed without arms and with four men with revolvers by their side. A little time later they were making their way down a flight of steps into four cells, where they were thrust behind iron bars, and more than one iron door clanged sullenly behind them.
"Well, that's what I call a really good night's work," Inchcliffe said as he passed the cigars around him. "We have struck a real blow for the flag to-night, and we have done a big thing for the country. We can go quietly back to-morrow to Allison's house, and search the place without any fuss. If we get Hallett down here. Hello, where did that telegram come from?"
He reached for the orange-coloured envelope, and tore it open hurriedly. He smiled pleasantly.
"From Hallett," he said. "He is on his way now."
All this time in his own way Paul Rosslyn was striking a blow for the flag in the heart of Berlin itself. He had been left there in the corridor overlooking the Lust Garden, whilst Leroux and Steinitz had retired for their conference with Bethmann-Hollweg. They might be two hours away, and on the other hand they might not be more than as many minutes. But be that as it might, Rosslyn was going to take the risk. He felt quite sure in his disguise and his knowledge of the German language, and he did not fear for the moment that he would not get safely back to Potsdam without the assistance of his host. He felt it in his bones that Lady Loxton was doing no good here and that she was bent on some mischief. He had never before associated her with the spy brigade, but on the other hand there was no reason why she should not have been. It was startling to notice her familiarity with the Royal Palace, and assuredly she had been there many times before. It would do no harm to follow her, and Rosslyn lagged behind, gaping out of the windows like some unintelligent countryman who was regarding the glories of Potsdam for the first time. But he was watching and taking everything in keenly enough, and all the time was keeping fairly close to the trim, elegant figure in front of him. Then he saw Lady Loxton stop and beam in a most fascinating way on a tall, good-looking officer who came out of the Ritter-Saal at the same moment.
"Now this is delightful," Lady Loxton said. "How is my friend von Rupert of the Prussian Guard? And what is he doing here instead of being at the Front?"
The big man bent down and lifted Lady Loxton's fingers to his lips. Manifestly he was more than pleased to see her.
"This delightful meeting makes amends," he said. "I got a nasty wound at Mons and I am just getting over it. We were infernally short-handed here, so I had to help the Chancellor. We are in no end of a mess in Berlin and the people are getting nasty. The beggars have discovered something of the truth and we don't like the look of things at all. I shall be back in a few minutes. Will you do me the honour to wait in my office? You know which it is, the small retiring room on the left side of the Ritter-Saal."
"Oh, yes," Lady Loxton laughed. "You will remember that upon one occasion I found the tapestry hangings in that room exceedingly useful. But one moment."
The speaker dropped her voice to a whisper and Rosslyn could hear no more. But what he had heard had given him the inspiration he needed, and there was no occasion to wait any longer. Taking advantage of the whispered conversation between Lady Loxton and her companion, Rosslyn lounged into the Ritter-Saal still obviously impressed by the magnificence of his surroundings, he gaped at the Trumpeters' Gallery and at the magnificent Eosander sideboard still laden with the finest specimens of plate in the Royal collection, and seemed to be quite overcome by what he saw about him. He was quite alone there, save for one or two liveried servants bored and listless and evidently gloomily disconsolate. The backs of these were turned for a moment, and taking advantage of this he slipped into the room indicated by the Prussian Guardsman.
Evidently he had made no mistake, for a great Empire table was littered with charts and papers, and the walls of the luxuriously appointed room were hung with priceless Bayeux Tapestry. It was no difficult matter to drag a chair behind this and so arrange the tapestry that it was possible to see everything that was going on in the room. And Rosslyn had not long to wait.
Lady Loxton came in chuckling and smiling, as if she had not a single trouble in the world. She seated herself in a big armchair and took a choice cigarette that her companion offered her. She regarded it with a glance of approbation.
"A real Russian," she said. "Now, how do you manage to get hold of them these hard times? They told me in London that Berlin was practically destitute."
"So it will be before long," von Rupert growled. "Day by day the ring gets narrower, day by day our food grows less. We are surrounded by men and water. Dear lady, the game is up and the greatest adventure in military history has failed. Make the most of your time, my little butterfly, gather your honey, which is to say your pay, as long as you can. For it is what you call a stalemate. We cannot move France, and they do not care a straw whether they move us or not. It is the same with Russia. Why should they lose and suffer when they can just sit quietly down and starve us out? Still, man must work and women must weep, as the poet says, and there is much honey yet to be gathered before the German hive is smoked out. But we shall do a lot of singing before we are powerless. And I take it you are here after some of the honey. Tell me what I can do to help you, and remember I am your devoted slave."
"You always were a darling," Lady Loxton smiled deliciously. "I suppose you haven't forgotten Karl Werner?"
"Ah! the greatest spy Germany ever had. Let me see, wasn't he the man who trained you? We have scores of his plans all pigeon-holed in the Friederich Strasse—"
"My dear boy," Lady Loxton said, eagerly. "That's just what I came to talk to you about. I want you to find for me amongst these plans a packet dated 1909, and marked on one envelope with the single word 'London.' No, I'm not going to tell you what's in that envelope. It was intended for our friends who made that sad attempt a few days ago to blow up the Tower Bridge. They failed, as you know, and for the next ten or twelve years they will strike no further blow for the beloved Fatherland. Therefore, it has devolved upon me and my faithful ally Pedro Alonzo to carry on the campaign. I am quite sure that you will do this for me."
But the big guardsman was by no means so sanguine. All this was very irregular and irregularity from the cast iron Prussian point of view was almost equivalent of a crime. There would be papers to be signed and at least a dozen interviews with various officials before the thing could be done. Just for a moment Lady Loxton's eyes flashed ominously. She had not come all this way to be thwarted at the last moment and entangled in the stifling mesh of military red-tape at the finish. Besides, she was in desperate need of money and the clamour of her creditors in London was growing louder.
"But you can do this for me if you like," she said.
"Oh! of course, I could. But do you know what the difficulties are. If you will wait a couple of days—"
"A couple of days," Lady Loxton cried. "What is the man talking about? I must be back in London by then. Ah, I see I must make a bargain with you. Now listen."
Lady Loxton's voice was somewhat unsteady as she spoke. For perhaps the first time in her life she doubted herself, for the first time the dreadful thought flashed upon her that her charms were beginning to fail. She was unconscious of feeling any older, her looking-glass still told a flattering tale even in the early hours of the morning, and yet there was something in this man's manner that she had never noticed in a man's manner towards her before. There was another lure which she had not intended to throw on the face of the waters, and she decided to cast it now.
"Ah! you are not yourself this afternoon," she said. "You are dissatisfied; things have not gone well with you. It is true, perhaps, what little birds whisper in my ear. They say that you have come under the ban of the Great Man's displeasure. It is muttered that you have been sent here for your sins. Suppose you could go back again. Suppose you could take an important document intended for the enemy, it might even be a dispatch for General French himself. In that case possibly the Kaiser might welcome you with open arms. With this new weapon—But, of course, I should expect not a little jar, but a whole hive of honey for it."
Von Rupert looked up with an eager gleam in his eyes.
"Is this true?" he demanded. "Or are you only fooling me? I have scores, bitter scores to wipe off, and I am a rich man, as you know. I have fought for my country, and been disgraced for my pains, and now my one ambition is to fight my enemies. If you possess anything of the sort, you speak out and hand it over to me. I will give you a cheque for a hundred thousand marks. As you know that is three times what the Intelligence Department will give you.
"Not quite so fast," Lady Loxton smiled. "We will come to the practical side presently. But I am not boasting. You go to the Wilhelm Strasse now, and bring me back those papers of Werner's and the money you speak of in cash, and I will hand over to you the precious document I speak of."
"You are certainly a wonderful woman," von Rupert said, admiringly. "And never yet have you made a mistake. But tell me how did you come to gain possession of English secrets?"
Lady Loxton blew half-a-dozen smoke rings daintily.
"It is so easy when you know all the dear boys," she said. "They come to sup, make love to me, and pour all their woes into my sympathetic ear. And when they are what they call bucked with themselves, they cannot help a tiny bit of swank. One of them has been chosen to go to the Front with despatches, and he drops vague hints. When I see he is ready for a journey and looks anxiously at the clock towards eleven or so, and I know he is departing the same night. A whiff of a drugged cigarette, and he wakes up presently, blushing and ashamed because he has gone to sleep in my presence. It's only a minute or two, but the dispatch is in my hands, and the dummy faithfully copied as to the wrapper is in his. Voilà!"
Lady Loxton flung a packet on the table, and Rosslyn strained his eye to make out the address.
The name on the envelope was that of General French!
Von Rupert's eyes gleamed like those of a wolf as he bent over the dispatch. Here was the chance he longed for, and which an hour or two before was beyond his dreams. But he showed no great sign of pleasure; he merely took the despatch, and tossed it carelessly into a drawer and placed a handful of papers upon it.
"I will see to my side of the bargain," he said. "Oh, the dispatch will be quite safe there. If you want to guard a valuable document from prying eyes leave it carelessly about, so that it can be seen. No doubt you have read that wonderful story of Edgar Poe's, the story which has been a lesson to many a spy? I will just run over to the Wilhelm Strasse and get what you want."
Lady Loxton smiled her thanks. She had gained what she needed and a good deal more. She sat there for a time restlessly smoking her cigarettes, then she began to wander about the room. It was an uneasy moment for Rosslyn, standing behind the tapestry. It was not for him to know that Lady Loxton was feeling unusually nervous, and he was relieved presently to see her stroll from the room into the big, resounding Ritter-Saal. This was the moment to take risks, and he did not hesitate. He crept out of the room presently with the despatch in his pocket, and smiled to himself as he saw that Lady Loxton's back was turned towards him. Before she could finish her restless walk to the end of the room Rosslyn was close behind her, gaping about in the same bucolic way. The woman's quick eye took him in, for there was little that escaped her gaze, and she smiled as she addressed a few patronising words to him.
"Well, so far so good," Rosslyn thought. He had done exceedingly well, and up to now fortune had smiled upon him. So far as he had ascertained there was no chance of Steinitz and the others returning from the conference for some time to come. Nor did Rosslyn care to remain idling about there with the rest of the Deputation. He knew a little restaurant not far from the New Museum, where he could get a cup of tea and smoke a cigar. Naturally he had not failed to take possession of the precious dispatch from the open drawer, and already he had sketched out a plan for depositing the missive in its proper hands. Leaving a message for Steinitz with one of the Deputation he strolled out into the gloomy street.
It was an hour or more later before an official-looking person entered the Cafe and began a whispered conversation with the head waiter. It was apparent to Rosslyn's alert eye that he was the subject of the discourse, a fact that did not tend to decrease his natural anxiety. No sooner had the official departed than he asked for his bill, which was an unreasonable time in coming. As Rosslyn rang the bell again half a dozen soldiers, great-coated and wearing bayonets, came on to the restaurant in charge of a sergeant. They marched across to Rosslyn, and it seemed to him that his hour had come. He was not armed, indeed any weapon would have been useless in the circumstances. He could only wait upon events and trust to his good fortune to pull him through.
"You must come this way," the sergeant said, roughly. "You are wanted at once at the Royal Palace."
"But what have I done?" Rosslyn asked stupidly.
"You're wanted at the Royal Palace, at once," the sergeant repeated mechanically. "It is not for me to say why. My orders were to come with a file of soldiers and escort you back."
The word 'back' sounded ominent to Rosslyn's ears. No doubt he had been noticed wandering about the Ritter-Sal. Von Rupert had missed the dispatch, and probably some spy had been able to put him on the right track. Rosslyn was conscious of a sudden queer feeling about the knees as he realised what this meant to him. Neither Steinitz nor the Social Brotherhood could save him now. There would be no fuss and no bother, he would be taken out into the Palace garden at daybreak and shot. And that damning dispatch at that moment was in the breast pocket of his overcoat hanging on a peg behind his table. He would have to make the best of it, and he was quite cool and and altogether collected now.
He had even a smile for the waiter who stood anxiously by his side, evidently more concerned with collecting his account than anything else. In spite of his deadly peril, Rosslyn could not resist a smile at this typically German attitude. But all the same he did not fail to notice that the waiter's apparent respectful touch of his shoulder covered a grip with a meaning in it.
"Your bill, mein Herr?" the waiter said significantly.
Rosslyn affected to glance at it carelessly, at the same time hoping to find some message written there. And there was.
It was a hasty scrawl to the effect that the writer was one of the Brotherhood and was well aware of the fact that his customer was a friend of Steinitz. It went on to tell Rosalyn that he was being arrested for stealing an important document, which it was known that he had in his overcoat pocket.
"Hand me a mark and tell me to keep the change," the message went on. "Then, when I am putting on your overcoat for you, I will remove the dispatch. It will be quite as safe in my hands as in those of Steinitz, to whom it will be handed as soon as possible. For the rest I can only wish you good fortune."
Rosslyn shrugged his shoulders with assumed indifference. He crumpled up the bill and threw it on the floor, at the same time handing a mark to the waiter. The latter took down the overcoat and politely helped his customer into it. A second later the dispatch had vanished, concealed in the waiter's napkin. There might have been risk in this, but there was no time to debate this vital question. With the same air of utter indifference, Rosslyn moved towards the door, and then into the gloomy street.
It was quite dark now, and the clocks were striking six before Rosslyn found himself once more crossing the Ritter-Saal with the escort closely following on his heels. Von Rupert's office was brilliantly lighted, and the big guardsman lumped to his feet with a growl of satisfaction as he turned to his captive.
"Oh, so this is the rascal, is it?" he said. "You can go, sergeant, I am quite capable of dealing with him. Now, you scoundrel, who are you, and what is your name?"
Rosslyn was taking it all quietly enough, though he would have given much to grip the bully by the throat and have it with him. But he was fairly safe now, as long as he kept his temper. There was nothing incriminating on him now and no chance of fastening any crime upon his shoulders. He gave the name which had been agreed upon between Steinitz and himself, and asked with an innocent air what he had done to incur the Captain's displeasure.
"You can drop that," von Rupert snarled savagely. "You came here this afternoon with a deputation of idle vagabonds demanding to see the Chancellor. If I had my way I would string the lot of you up to the nearest lamp posts. You insolent scum! But never mind that for the moment. You were seen hanging about the Ritter-Saal, and shortly after you had gone an important document was missing from this room. Now give it me at once."
"I have no document," Rosslyn said.
"But you must have. You were followed from the moment you left the Palace till you were arrested. One of our spies had his eye upon you the whole time. Not one of your Brotherhood, as you call them can wink an eye without it being reported to us. Give me that document, and if it is unopened, you shall go free."
"I repeat, I have no document." Rosslyn said.
Von Rupert pressed upon the bell on his table passionately. As two servants in uniform came in he turned towards them.
"Strip this man!" he hissed. "Strip the brute to his last rag. And by Heaven, if I find anything on him I'll have him thrashed like the dog that he is."
There was no help for it, it was useless to fight against this humiliation. Besides, there was more than the chance of Rosslyn's disguise coming away if he showed fight. Sorely against the grain, he proceeded to remove his clothing, and still he stood there without a shred of apparel upon him. He was quivering from head to foot with impotent fury, but there was the grim satisfaction of knowing that all this was in vain. The veins stood out on von Rupert's forehead, knotted veins of baffled fury, and his hands itched to get at Rosslyn's throat. The bluff had failed, and the time had come to try some more drastic method.
"You men can go," he said. "And as for you, I know how to deal with your sort. Dress yourself again and listen to me. I am going to leave you here to your own thoughts. You will remain where you are, locked in till midnight. Perhaps when you have spent a few hours and you are cold and hungry you will be less stubborn. By that time you may be disposed to tell me how you managed to get away with that despatch so cleverly. You have got no chance of escape, for the windows are barred, and between the woodwork of the door there is a steel lining."
Rosslyn inclined his head, silently. There was nothing more to be said or done; he had taken a big risk, and he did not complain. And there was the satisfaction of knowing that by this time the precious despatch was in the hands of his friends. Steinitz might not understand the true inwardness of it, but at any rate he would guard the document carefully in the meantime.
It grew very dark and very cold there, the hours dragged tortuously along until twelve o'clock struck, and immediately after it seemed to Rosslyn that he could hear steps approaching the door of his prison. He would have welcomed anybody at that moment, even von Rupert himself. But it wasn't that haughty Prussian, it was a footman resplendant in the Royal livery.
"Come this way," he whispered. "Quietly and silently as you value your life. You need not fear to trust me, because I, too, belong to the Order of the Brotherhood."
Rosslyn asked no questions. He knew that it was quite futile to do anything of the sort, and he was particularly anxious to do nothing and say nothing to get his good friends into trouble. Perhaps his guide might give him a hint, and he did.
"You are a brave man," he said. "You would be seeing that you are a friend of our leader Steinitz. And I tell you, sir, that you will want all your courage now. If I could smuggle you into a place of safety, I would, but any rashness on my part might be fatal to you. I say no more than that you have friends watching you, and that Steinitz will be informed of everything that is going on. I say no more for the walls of this place have ears."
Rosslyn murmured his thanks. He was quite sure that this man was in deadly earnest, and that he spoke in all sincerity. His accent and his well-chosen words did not exactly tally with the livery he was wearing, but this was all in his favour. He led the way along apparently interminable passages, down silent corridors, past magnificent suites of apartments until it seemed to Rosslyn that he had lost himself, and then the presence of sentries here and there denoted the fact that they were nearing the Royal apartments.
At this point Rosslyn's guide turned abruptly on his heel and handed him over to the Captain of the Guard. A contemptuous smile and the prod of a sword in his back brought the blood into Rosslyn's cheeks, but he wisely said nothing. He knew now that he was on the edge of the great adventure of his life, and all sense of dread and nervousness left him. He was passing through one luxuriously brilliantly lighted room after another until he found himself thrust into an apartment so bare and mean that the contrast almost bewildered him. It was a small room, the walls lined with numbered pigeon-holes, there was only a strip of oilcloth on the floor, and these things, together with a few chairs and a desk, made up all the furniture in the place.
At the table by the light of a shaded lamp the solitary occupant of the room was busily engaged in writing. Rosslyn could see that he wore the plainest of grey uniforms, but that was not the fact that attracted his attention. He knew the outline of that figure, he had seen it standing out conspicuously, smothered with gold lace and orders on more than one mimic battlefield, and it needed no obsequious voice to to tell Rosslyn that he was standing there in the presence of the Mad Dog of Europe, the Kaiser himself.
He had expected something big, but nothing so important as this. The first shock of surprise passed away almost before it could touch the fringe of his brain, and then a blind, unreasoning rage shook Rosslyn as if he had been a reed in the wind. Instinctively he felt for his revolver. He wanted to shoot his man, to put a bullet in that bloodthirsty heart of his and in one flash avenge ten thousand mourning homes and ten times as many lives. It was only for a moment, and then this murderous impulse was gone.
For here was not the Kaiser he had known, here was an old man no longer pulsating with the vigour of life, no great general flushed with victory. He seemed to have grown smaller, strangely lined with grey, his eyes were dull and brooding, and as he turned to Rosslyn it was as if he saw nothing except a blank wall.
"Well," he said abruptly, "what is your name?"
"Emden will do as well as any other, sir," Rosslyn said.
"Ah, yes, you are a brave man," Wilhelm said with a certain grudging admiration. "I admire a brave man, even though he be a traitor to his country. The true German spirit is there. But I have means to make you speak."
"I think not, sir," Rosslyn said. "You can shoot me if you like, and when you have shot me I shall be dead. Just a few seconds of mental torture, then I am beyond even the reach of the Emperor of Germany. Ah, it would be better for Germany if she had a few more traitors like me. But I waste your time."
The Kaiser turned in his chair and regarded Rosslyn curiously. Never since the days of his pampered boyhood had he been addressed like this. But there was something in Rosslyn's defiance which did not displease him.
"You are determined not to speak, then?" he asked.
"I am. It matters nothing where I came from and who my parents are. I am one of the Brotherhood pledged to stop this war, all of which you already know. If I can help Germany in any way apart from taking up arms my services are yours. But not in any other way, sir. And when I say that I have said all."
The Emperor smiled.
"Perhaps you can help," he said. "Now listen, I came back here to-night for a few hours at the earnest request of the Chancellor. I do not under-rate the Social outbreak, I regard this discontent as ominous. But you and your friends cannot possibly do any good by stealing dispatches for the enemy which fell into our hands quite legitimately. You will hand me that dispatch."
Rosslyn shook his head resolutely.
"It is beyond my power to do so, sir," he said. "Surely your officer von Rupert has told you that. One does not carry incriminating paper about. You can shoot me if you like—"
"Oh, you said that before," the Emperor said angrily. "Well, why do you interrupt me like this?"
Bethmann-Hollweg came into the room hurriedly. He was white and breathless, and his lips were trembling. He appeared about to speak when he caught sight of Rosslyn. He turned with stammering apologies, but the Emperor sternly called him back.
"What's the matter now?" he demanded. "You need not be afraid to speak in the presence of our friend here. He is a blind fanatical fool, but he is a German all the same."
"Your Majesty," the Chancellor faltered, "the Socialists here have gone mad. They are wild with rage at what they call the murder of their comrades. They have destroyed practically every telephone in Berlin, the trunk lines have been cut for miles. It is the same with the telegraph. A dozen or more bridges have been blown up, and Berlin is isolated from the rest of the world. The civil population will rise tomorrow and seize the capital. They will then proclaim the German Republic."
The Kaiser laughed aloud. All this to him was nothing more than a cheap theatrical display on some suburban stage. He would not have believed that there was any heart in it even had he stood looking on from the Schlosplatz watching the manhood of Berlin in arms. The idea of anything like open revolt in his capital would have moved him to sardonic laughter. But such a thing had been foreseen and provided for by those at the head of the greatest war machine the world had ever seen, and therefore Wilhelm could afford to smile in the face of his uneasy and anxious Chancellor.
"Pure exuberance of spirits," he said. "The brave fellows must be doing something to show their grit. They will be laughing at themselves to-morrow. Still, it was a fine chance for the scum of the population, and you will see—"
"But, your Majesty," the Chancellor protested, "you cannot make light of the catastrophe in that way. Have you forgotten that there is not a spoonful of petrol within twenty miles of where we are standing. Is that a joke?"
Wilhelm's mood changed with lightning swiftness. He burst into a roaring torrent of fury, he cursed the cowering Chancellor, and there for the first time the real wild man stood revealed. It was as if some human fragment of civilisation had been stripped to reveal the untutored savage beneath. For here was the war madman filled with the lust of slaughter and reeking with the blood of an outraged country. He had quite forgotten for the moment why he was there, and the peril that played like summer lightning outside. Then he dropped into his chair panting and exhausted like a tiger that had spent its fury against the bars of its cage.
"Scum," he cried. "I'll show the reptiles what it means to oppose me. They have dared to come in contact with my will, and they can suffer. But this is a serious matter, Bethmann-Hollweg. Are you actually serious when you tell me that there is no petrol left? And yet there must be millions of barrels at Wilhelmshaven. Without it we are lost. And that reminds me, I told you that the petrol yonder was in danger, that it was within striking distance of that amazing Indian Cavalry. God, to think of a whole great nation like this being in peril for want of a few barrels of petroleum! You have warned them at Wilhelmshaven, of course? You sent the telephone message I gave you?"
"I couldn't, your Majesty," the Chancellor groaned. "I tried the trunk, but there was no reply. I was equally unsuccessful with the post office. At this moment I could not send a telephone message from here across the street. This was the disturbing information I came to bring you. I implore your Majesty to tell me what can be done. I know that petrol is in danger. I know that the Northern French army is aware of its existence. Now the oil wells of Galicia are in the hands of the Russians, and the British Fleet has rendered it impossible for us to get fresh supplies through Scandinavia. Without it a branch of our service is paralysed. And by this time to-morrow—"
"Oh, stop your croaking," the Kaiser cried. "Something must be done at once. Here is danger that no man could have possibly foreseen. It means no Zeppelins, no aeroplanes—ah, I had forgotten that. From what you say it is impossible to send an aeroplane to Wilhelmshaven. Is that really so?"
The Chancellor shook his head sadly.
"I'm afraid, so, sir," he said. "We can only trust to our luck to pull us through."
Rosslyn stood there with his back to the others trying to conceal the satisfaction that would show on his face. But he need not have been anxious on that score, for the Kaiser and his Chancellor had forgotten his very existence for the moment. There were flashes every now and again when Rosslyn wondered whether or not he was asleep, and this some fantastic dream. For here he was, a servant of the English Secret Service, actually standing in the presence of the War Lord himself, and listening to secrets of vast importance. By sheer chance he had been wafted, a mere straw on the flowing tide of destiny, into this sanctuary, and he could not as yet realise his own amazing good fortune.
And here he was to all purposes the master of the situation. Out of the three million inhabitants of Berlin he was the one man who could get the tidings of the peril to Wilhelmshaven and save Germany from the greatest disaster which up to now had overtaken her. And he knew only too well what the loss of that petrol meant.
For the strangle hold of the British Navy was growing more suffocating every day. For a fortnight now not a drop of petrol had been smuggled through German ports, and the foe had been at the end of its resources when the great consignment reached her through the Baltic. Now, if the Allies seized this then it meant the absolute breakdown of Germany's transport service. There would be no motor waggons, no cars, or cycles. No further shells of a certain type and, worst of all, no aeroplanes or Zeppelins.
"This is dreadful," the Kaiser muttered. "An aeroplane would be worth its weight in diamonds now. Is there nobody—"
His voice trailed off into a whisper, he looked very old and worn and haggard as he sat there huddled up in the chair like some spent idealist who has outlived his dreams. And indeed he had.
For he had seen his ally Austria crushed and tossed at one side like a piece of tissue paper, he had seen the Russian host eating into the heart of his empire like some gigantic slug, he had seen the flower of his troops rolled back from France, he had seen the iron dissolve into water. And now he was beginning to see, too, the grim twin spectres of hunger and famine hovering over the land that had smiled so happily only a few months before. He had started out on the conquering march of all the ages only to find himself now praying for a few spoonfuls of petrol.
Standing in the shadow there, Rosslyn was making up his mind. Here was a chance thrown into his lap from the hands of the Gods. He began to see the road to freedom lying openly before him, and at the end of it the chance of striking a blow which would echo from one side of the world to the other. It was a blow, too, that would go far towards ending the war and enabling the German Republic to lift its head above the political horizon.
And Rosslyn was troubled with no scruples. He would trick and fool this man as he had tricked and fooled Europe in his day. It would be a source of abiding satisfaction to get the best of the man who had not only betrayed and ruined Belgium, but who had callously intended to do so long before the time was ripe to plunge a whole continent into a devastating war.
Rosslyn's mind was made up now. He advanced boldly to the table.
"Would your Majesty listen to me a moment?" he asked. "You loathe my politics and I loathe yours. Still, you have paid me the compliment of telling me that I am a good German, and indeed, I have the interests of the country at heart more than you know. If you will give me the despatch you want delivered then I will see that it gets through."
"Ah," the Kaiser cried. "Is it possible you can find an aeroplane and the petrol with which to run it?"
"More things are possible to the Brotherhood than your Majesty imagines. More than that I cannot, indeed, I will not tell you. It is for you, sir to decide."
The simplicity of the words and the utter absence of all boastfulness visibly impressed the Kaiser.
He drew Bethmann-Hollweg aside, and for a little time they conversed in whispers. Then the Kaiser scribbled something on a sheet of paper and placed it in an envelope, which he impressed with his own seal. He was in one of his most haughty and distant moods now, for it seemed to him that the situation was saved, and that he must impress his own magnificent personality upon this humble Socialist. Rosslyn bowed gravely as he took the letter.
"There is only one stipulation I make, your Majesty," he said. "I am not to be followed by your spies."
"You hear that, Bethmann-Hollweg," said the Kaiser. "It is a reasonable request. See that it is granted."
He jerked his thumb over his shoulder, and Rosslyn knew that he was dismissed. He was piloted into the silent street by the Chancellor himself, and a minute or two later half-a-dozen men who had been hanging listlessly about the entrance of the Palace seemed to dissolve into thin air. Rosslyn went on his way coolly and deliberately enough, but he found it hard to contain himself in that moment of triumph. It seemed almost incredible to believe that he had done all this, and that he was walking down the streets of Berlin safe and sound, with that tremendous secret in the back of his mind. It was a good hour later before he found himself in Steinitz's garden, and cautiously tapped the kitchen window, where a light was still burning. Just as cautiously Steinitz admitted him, and gave him a welcome both sincere and hearty.
"I was getting nervous about you," he said. "Yes, I got that dispatch that you took such risks to get, and you can have it whenever you like. Where did you get it from? And how did you know that it was in von Rupert's room."
"I hope you won't be offended if I decline to say," Rosslyn said. "I am with you and your people heart and soul, but this dispatch concerns the English Secret Service exclusively, and I should be guilty of a great breach of faith if I disclosed it to anybody."
"Oh, quite so, quite so," Leroux agreed heartily. "Mind, we have not been neglecting you. Nearly every servant in the Palace is one of us, and we have had several reports in the course of the evening. But is it really true that you have been honoured by the presence of the War Lord himself?"
"Absolutely," Rosslyn laughed. "I have been learning all sorts of State secrets. You people have certainly put the cat amongst the pigeons by cutting off the telegraphs and telephones. There isn't a gallon of petrol in Berlin, and every barrel that Germany possesses is bonded near Wilhelmshaven. I understand there is no more likely to come, and if we could destroy what there is, then it would go a long way to stop the war."
"Well, go and do it," Steinitz suggested coolly. "After all, there is one man in Berlin who has an aeroplane."
"Meaning myself, of course," Rosslyn went on. "Behold in me the trusted servant of the Emperor, who flies to Wilhelmshaven with a warning in the Royal hand to the effect that a large body of Indian cavalry is almost in touch with that vast petrol store. Our Indian troops may not know it, but it's a fact all the same. I should feel easy in my mind if you two were safe out of the way. Any shortcomings on my part may be visited upon you."
Steinitz threw back his head and laughed.
"You need not be in the least alarmed," he said. "We are perfectly safe in any case. Besides, they can't associate you with us. If you fail, then it should be because your Indian troops have got there first. And who are we that we should consider our two lives to the prejudice of a blow for freedom like this? My dear young friend, you go your own way, and leave us two old campaigners to look after ourselves. Let me tell you that the authorities have decided to take us seriously, and that the Emperor is seeing a deputation of us to-morrow. You must see how highly desirable it is that the outbreak here should be kept a secret. What would America say if she knew that the peaceful Berlin citizens were being mowed down by machine guns. Why, the war party would lose the last shred of sympathy that still remains in the United States. Go your way and cover yourself with glory."
Rosslyn hesitated no longer. He could now put the trouble entirely out of his mind. There was no time to be lost, either. He partook hastily of a hearty meal, and after saying good-bye to his comrades, tilted up the nose of his machine, and rose in ever winding circles over the sleeping town. He knew every inch of the country, for he had been making a careful study of it during the last two years. For whatever delusions England had entertained on the subject of German friendship, no such vain thing had been suffered amongst the trusted agents of the Secret Service.
Rosslyn swept on mile after mile until he knew by certain dim landmarks, together with the aid of his compass and the stars, that he was within a mile or two of his destination. He could see lights down below, and catch the occasional rumble of heavy guns, for down there somewhere a desultory night attack was going on. It was strategy, no doubt, but it enabled Rosslyn to make out which were the British lines probably defended by Indian troops.
He planed a little higher, and then suddenly showed a brilliant light. For a moment or two the eccentric stream of flame passed unnoticed, and then it seemed to Rosslyn that somewhere under his feet a flare was answering him. Once he was satisfied with this he got off his message, and the O.K. was flared back.
"Good," Rosslyn muttered. "And now to deliver the dispatch, so kindly provided by Lady Loxton."
It was no difficult matter for lady Loxton to get to and from the Continent without exciting the slightest suspicion. True, she was always careful even as regarded the minutest details, but her system was so elaborate and at the same time so simple that detection had been reduced to a minimum. And now circumstances had conspired to render her task easier than ever. Once she had crossed the German frontier, there was nothing to fear, and she could cross it with no questions asked at a given point, where she was perfectly well known to the authorities, so that she was almost as free as she would have been in times of profound peace.
There was another factor in her favour, and this lay in the constant stream of refugees trickling into England from Belgium and the north of France. These people for the most part were indigent, though they contained a fair sprinkling of the well-to-do. And here was the golden opportunity for which Lady Loxton was waiting.
She had no difficulty in obtaining from von Rupert the plans and documents she needed, and once they were in her possession she began to move slowly towards the coast. She was in ample funds again now, for her scheme had been warmly approved by the German War Office, where she had been informed that she could draw for as much money in reason as she needed.
She reached Ostend a few days later in company with two or three hundred unhappy Belgians, and with these she mingled freely. She was loud in her sympathy and lavish with her money. There was no one more indignant than herself, and no more bitter against the Kaiser. She was especially tender and considerate towards the most ragged and destitute of the refugees, and it was she who expressed a determination to find a home for them. She picked out about twenty altogether, and mentioned her plan to the captain of the boat. Could he manage at Folkestone to get a special carriage reserved for these poor creatures? The beautiful woman with the sympathetic eyes fairly won the heart of the captain. It was therefore somewhat later in the day that Lady Loxton stood on the platform at Victoria distributing little slips of paper amongst her ragged regiment. No doubt the police would see them to their destinations, where they would find board and lodging waiting for them for the next few days. It was an interesting picture, and touched the hearts of the spectators when they learnt what was going on. Lady Loxton was known to one or two people there, and she appeared almost embarrassed by the compliments showered upon her dainty head. But the smile on her lips changed curiously as she entered her car and was driven away towards the flat in Medhurst Garden.
The faithful Alonso was there waiting for her, but she declined to say anything till she had dined.
"I must have a decent meal first," she said. "Why is it that the Germans are such gross feeders? It seems ages since I had a daintily cooked dish."
She turned to her correspondence eagerly. There were several letters in envelopes bearing the imprint of her international society for the alleviation of distress amongst children, and every one of these contained vital information. On the face of them they were no more than reports from the various branch secretaries, but the cypher was plain enough to practised eyes, and Lady Loxton smiled proudly as she thought of her own clever invention. There were other letters, too, in envelopes which had been boldly forged and bore the magic letters O.H.M.S. across the top. It was part of Lady Loxton's creed that nothing succeeds like audacity, and she had found this to be a trump card all her life.
"So far so good," she said. "Every thing is going exceedingly well. If you will pass me those cigarettes I will talk to you."
"Was it alright in Berlin?" Alonso asked.
"My dear friend, nothing could have been better. I was in a position to do von Rupert a service, and in return he helped me all he could. I copied the plans on tracing paper, and they are at present wrapped up in a cardboard box apparently as nothing more dreadful than a few cigarettes. They are actually in that cigarette box on the table there. It will amuse you for the next few hours to take those plans and reproduce them on a larger scale."
"What are these plans?" Alonzo asked.
"Stupid! Why the plan's of London's water supply, of course. What else did I go to Berlin for?"
Alonso pulled thoughtfully at his cigarette.
"It will be a deuce of a business," he said.
"Yes, and will mean a fortune to us. My trusted colleague, if this thing is a success then we shall be independent for many a long day to come."
"Ah, in your case that means about a year," Alonso grinned. "I am not saying it isn't a great idea, because it is. But we shall want at least a score of resolute men ready to do what they are asked implicitly and no questions. Perhaps you will tell me where these fellows are coming from. I don't believe there are three spies in London to-day except ourselves. Somebody has been giving the game away, for there has been a regular clear out the last day or two. There is no fuss and no bother—the men have just vanished. I wanted four or five units this morning, and I called my numbers over the telephone. I did not get a reply from a single one of them. I tell you I don't like it, Marie. Anyway, we can do nothing without an efficient corps of assistants."
Lady Loxton smiled behind her cigarette.
"The difficulty you speak of does not exist,"' she said. "All the same I must confess that it looked like an insuperable obstacle at one time. Then I had a happy inspiration. I was waiting for my boat at Ostend watching the refugees struggling to get away. It came to me like a flash. There were hundreds of German spies all round, men in various disguises, and most of them with some English and a good knowledge of London. I went back to Brussels and saw Beingart. I told him I must have a score of his best men at once, and that they must leave on the next boat disguised as Belgian refugees. They were to take their tip from me and do implicitly what they were told. In return for that I engaged to find them board and lodging here, and Beingart gave me their official numbers. They are all comfortably housed by this time, with instructions to lie low and watch the personal column in the 'Times' every day. I need not tell you any more for the moment, for you know now that we have all the men we want ready to our hand ready to get the signal."
Alonzo was warm in his approval.
"This is good," he said. "Very good indeed. The way in which you grasp your opportunities is marvellous. And now, if you don't mind, I will take those innocent looking cigarettes away and get out the plans on a proper scale. It is now eight o'clock, and with any luck I shall be finished by midnight. Then I will come round again and we will go into details."
He put the little cardboard box in his overcoat pocket and sauntered lazily along in the direction of his rooms. He met more than one acquaintance he knew with whom he discussed music and the drama, anything but the war, which lacerated his tender heart to such an extent that he was moved to tears. He did not know when he was going to give another concert, no one seemed to be in a mood for music just now.
It was all cleverly done, but in reality there was no music in Alonzo's mind just then. He was thinking what fools these English were and how easily any tale of distress blunted their suspicions. In no other country in the world could these nameless refugees drift into a land in the casual way in which they were doing now. Alonzo smiled grimly to himself to think how easily Lady Loxton had thrown dust into the eyes of the authorities.
It was a great coup these two were planning, and one only possible to an unscrupulous and daring mind. It sounded stupendous enough, but in reality is was not so difficult as it seemed. Properly organised the attack could take place in four or five different centres at the same time, and the skilful handling of explosives would be responsible for the rest. And behind it all was an enormous reward, by far the greatest that had ever been paid since Moses sent his spies into Canaan to report on the Promised Land. For if this thing could be carried through then Berlin would have reached out an arm and dealt London a blew far heavier and more stunning that the efforts of a dozen Zeppelins. As Alonzo worked there in his room with the door locked carefully behind him he began to realise how comparatively easy the plan was. None knew better than he how the mains and reservoirs supplying London were guarded, and that one sentry at several vital points was doing the work of a dozen men. And moreover, Alonso knew perfectly well that these were no raw recruits that the head centre at Brussels had placed under Lady Loxton's instructions. They were bold and resolute men, who knew that their pay was in proportion to the services they rendered and who were in a general way ready to commit any crime for money. And they knew more than this, they knew that they could expect no help in case of detection, and that their fate would be a blank wall in front of a rifle in the early morning.
It was close on midnight before Alonzo finished his task. He was not fond of documents or plans of any kind, he had seen many a brilliant spy come to hopeless grief through a careless handling of documents. He had made five duplicate copies, or rather five sections, for these would have to be passed on when the campaign reached its final stage. For the moment these would be handed over to Lady Loxton, and if they were found in her possession so much the worse for her. Alonzo was no coward, but he breathed freely to find himself safely under Lady Loxton's roof.
The two conspirators bent eagerly over the plans that Alonzo proceeded to lay on the dining-room table. There was no chance of interruption, for the servants had retired long before, but all the same Lady Loxton had taken the precaution of darkening the dining-room windows and turning the light out in the hall. She was ready now to give her whole attention to the business in hand.
"I think I have mastered the whole of the details now," Alonzo said. "Now, look here. Here is a section showing the New River system from the head reservoirs down to the mains. As far as I can see here is the weak spot; where my pencil point is. Of course I shall have to ascertain how the place is guarded, and if I am right in my surmise half a dozen resolute men with the requisite amount of dynamite can do the trick. And our men won't even have to carry that stuff about with them. According to the instructions of this section of the plan, the mine is already there, in fact it has been there for years. I could find it in the day-time quite easily. Exactly the same remark applies to the Lea reservoirs, also all those along the Thames Valley, including the great watershed at Kingston. In every case the mines are already laid. And all this time the authorities here have been asleep. It looks to me as if we have a very simple thing on here. Only it will take a little time, it must not be rushed. I will try and get over the whole ground to-morrow, or at any rate a section or two of it, and come back here in the evening and report progress. Directly that is done we can begin to drill our various squads. I should say about four men each to a squad. And here I see the first difficulty. We must have those men to ourselves in some place where we can talk freely without the chance of being overheard. You can't do that in the various lodging houses you have got for those chaps, and you can't bring them here without attracting attention. But you know that."
Lady Loxton smiled confidently.
"The point has not escaped my attention," she said. "But as each section is working independently there is no reason why the night after to-morrow I should not have some of them here. Suppose they come along to call upon me, say, about tea-time merely to express their gratitude for what I have done for them. I could do no less than give them some tea, you know. I leave it to you to put an advertisement in the 'Times' the day after to-morrow merely asking numbers one, two, three, and four to call round on Wednesday at five o'clock. The units will be looking out for their instructions, so that the mysterious advertisements will be no puzzle to them."
For the moment at any rate there was no more to be said or done. It was a busy day that followed for Alonzo, and he was tired enough when he dropped into Lady Loxton's flat for one of her dainty little dinners and a glass of champagne, but he had the air of a man who had not been wasting his time. He stretched out his long legs presently and puffed luxuriously at his cigarette.
"I have done the whole lot," he explained. "It was not easy in one or two instances, for most of the main points were guarded. Still, so far as I can ascertain, this sentry-go has grown very slack and in no case are there more than two sentinels. Our fellows ought not to have the slightest trouble."
"Did you locate the mines?" Lady Loxton asked.
"Oh, yes; I did that too. As a matter of fact it was the easiest part of my task, for in no case did I find the wires within more than two hundred yards of the point to be attacked. With the aid of a few sketches our little army will be able to attack quite successfully. And I have not forgotten that little advertisement in the 'Times.' I cannot for the life of me understand why it is that those personnels are allowed to be continued in the daily papers. Conceive the authorities shutting an eye to such a thing in Berlin for instance."
Lady Loxton laughed merrily.
"There is no need for us to worry about it," she said. "Those said columns have helped us many a time, and never better than at the present moment. You will drop in tomorrow afternoon of course, I must introduce my good friend to our refugees."
Shortly before five the following afternoon four timid-looking and haggard men presented themselves to the hall-porter at Medhurst Gardens, and humbly besought him in broken English to convey their respects to Lady Loxton and beseech her to be good enough to see them. They explained that they were refugees who but for Lady Loxton's great kindness would at the present moment be destitute wanderers in the streets of London. The police had kindly shown them the way, which was indeed the fact, and the so called refugees grinned at the thought of it as they followed the porter into the lift.
It was all a great nuisance of course, and Lady Loxton shrugged her shoulders as the porter delivered the message. She had not expected anything like this, but she had not the heart to disappoint the poor men, and the porter was told to admit them. He was quite affected himself by the outburst of gratitude which he could not help overhearing.
Tea was served presently in the dining-room and, once the servants were dismissed and Alonzo had arrived, the conspirators got down to business. They were intelligent men and trained engineers to whom Alonso explained his plans, and half-an-hour sufficed his purpose. He was gratified to find that more than one of that ragged regiment had made a study of London's water supply. And neither did it strike the hall porter at Medhurst Gardens as singular that on the three following afternoons other tattered refugees turned up, all tearfully anxious to thank their beautiful benefactress. Meanwhile the previous visitors had been over their allotted ground and had made their reports through the medium of their advertisements to Alonzo. So far all was going well enough, and on the Saturday evening Alonzo was able to report to Lady Loxton that everything was ready and the exact moment fixed for the attack.
"A la bonne heure," Lady Loxton cried gaily. "What a pity that we should get no fame out of this glorious exploit. And yet how we should be feted and flattered in Berlin if they only knew the truth there. We must console ourselves with the reflection that so many of the world's greatest heroes have been nameless."
"But not always unrewarded," Alonzo grinned.
"True, my dear friend. It is a wonderfully soothing balm, that cheque book. After to-night there need be no worry for money for many a day to come. A great weight has been taken from my mind, I feel as if I were walking on air. We will put all business and cares on one side to-night and enjoy ourselves. You shall take me to the theatre, Pedro. We will go and see something light and frivolous, something in keeping with our careless butterfly natures. And after tonight I must look up my friends again. I feel as if I sorely needed a holiday."
They went off presently in a light and easy mood, there was nothing to indicate for a moment that they had just planned one of the most amazing and audacious schemes that the great war had evolved. The piece was a popular one, and a typical Saturday night audience filled the theatre to overflowing. Had some Rip van Winkle suddenly found himself in that light-hearted crowd he would never have known himself to be in the heart of a great nation that was in the midst of a desperate struggle for its very existence. He could never have guessed that here was one of a combination of four great powers banded together to smash and pulverise the greatest military tyranny the world had ever seen. The dashing acting on the stage, the spontaneous ripple of mirth, the shimmer of draperies and the glistening of diamonds, all pointed to a nation absolutely contented and entirely at ease.
Alonzo whispered something of this to his companion, and she showed her teeth in a flashing smile. Well, perhaps they would alter this shortly. London wanted rousing, and she was going to get something of a shock before many hours had passed. Lady Loxton had no doubts as to the ultimate issue of the titanic struggle, and in her humorous way she was telling herself that she and Alonzo were doing England service. Something of this kind was needed to give Kitchener the extra men he was asking for.
The streets were still crowded with people making their way homewards, there was no sign of anxiety or distress or misery anywhere, and no suggestion of the blow that was about to fall. Lady Loxton parted with her companion outside Medhurst Gardens and took her way upwards in the lift. She was happily tired and looking forward to a few weeks of the idle butterfly existence she loved so well. She smoked a final cigarette in bed and read a few pages of a French novel, and then dropped into a sleep as sound and sweet as that of a child. When she woke her maid was bending over her with an expression of bewilderment upon her face.
"You are early with my tea this morning Annette," Lady Loxton said. "Why this punctuality?"
"But no, Madam," the maid said with a shrug of her shoulders, "it is not that I have made the tea, because I cannot do it. Behold there is no water in the taps at all. I try everywhere. Then I go down to the hall porter, and there is no water again. They say there is none in the buildings at all. I ask ze hall porter to explain, and he say something go wrong with ze works."
Very languidly, yet thrilling with excitement, Lady Loxton sat up and called for her dressing gown. Gradually she would hear the great block of flats beginning to hum with excitement. Looking down Lady Loxton saw the streets were full of people. A newsboy was yelling something at the top of his voice.
"Dastardly outrage by German spies," he yelled. "London's water supply entirely destroyed. Press Bureau Official."
Picture it if you please!
An incredible thing, a gloomy picture almost beyond belief.
London without water! Six millions of souls without the element which to mortals is of more vital importance than food and fire. Ask the man, and there are many of them, who has passed days and nights after some terrible mining disaster cut off from the world down there below, which he suffered from most—hunger or thirst? There would only be one reply, and that to the effect that the pangs of hunger are as nothing compared with the torture of thirst.
It might be argued that such a thing could not happen except in the pages of a story. And yet it could happen easily enough. It is impossible to conceive that the elaborate German spy campaign could overlook the chances of launching a thunderbolt like this. It is inevitable as the sun will rise to-morrow that many an hour had been spent in Berlin studying the strength and weakness of England's water supply. A successful attack upon this meant a far greater catastrophe than the landing of a couple of German Army Corps on the South Coast. And the thing could be done with the help of a handful of desperate men properly trained for the work.
We know now that near many French towns the German Intelligence Department had prepared concrete beds for their siege guns, under the very eyes of their unsuspecting neighbours. And it needed no elaborate siege train here to cut the teaming millions of London from contact with the water supply. Reservoirs for the most part are placed on high and open ground, and the surroundings are eagerly sought for building sites. What suspicion would be excited then when Herr Hamburger, the respectable and mild-mannered stockbroker, announces to his friends that he was building himself a house on a large piece of land he had bought incidently in the neighbourhood of some great water-shed? What more natural than that he should spend his Saturday afternoons placidly fishing in the great reservoir? There would be nothing to prevent him from excavating here and draining there, and at the same time laying his secret mine to be lost underground perhaps for years.
At any rate the thing was done, and that slender little woman in the silk dressing gown, looking down upon the excited mob below, had brought the catastrophe about. Her's was the weak hand that had pressed the button and set the deadly machine in motion. There was no triumph on her face, merely an amused smile on her lips, for she was no self-sacrificing patriot, and this stupendous thing had been done entirely in the way of business. She was pleased because she had earned her pay, and the rest mattered nothing. It would be inconvenient, of course, to leave London just now when it was thronged with people, but it was no far cry to Brighton, and the journey by car would be a pleasant one.
She would wait a day or two until the nuisance became intolerable, and then she would repair to the Queen of watering-places for the winter. She turned to her bewildered maid, and demanded that her hair should be done.
"I suppose we must make the best of it," she smiled. "What a horrid nuisance those Germans are! They are always doing something silly. It's horrible not to be able to have a bath, but I must put up with it. And no tea either. I daresay the trouble is greatly exaggerated. These Sunday papers are always so full of scares."
Down below the crowd was getting thicker. There was no panic as yet, nothing but a feeling of stupor and amazement, and in one or two frivolous quarters a disposition to regard the trouble as a joke. But as the morning wore on, and the papers came out with special editions, the full extent of the cataclysm began to manifest itself. The fountain heads of all the big reservoirs had been blown away, and though the damage was local and capable of repair it would have been quite sufficient to cut of the supply and empty huge lakes over the surrounding country.
Later on in the day other catastrophes were mentioned. Some of the suburbs were flooded out, and a great many of the houses were up to the first floor in water. In other districts the force of the flood had washed scores of houses away, and it was reported that many lives had been lost. It seemed strange, and a tragedy in its way, that the cause of this mischief was the precious fluid which in other districts was worth its weight in gold. True, there was the Thames to fall back upon, but already the medical authorities had issued warnings urgently impressing upon London the necessity of not drinking from any open steam.
And indeed this recklessness on the part of people constituted in itself a fresh and terrible danger. In any case London was terribly short of doctors, hundreds had gone to the Front to aid the wounded, and whole battalions of them had been drafted to the big temporary hospitals all over the country.
By afternoon it became known that no water supply could be expected in London under a fortnight. The reservoirs were all empty now, and it was possible to ascertain the full extent of the damage. The waters had subsided, and in many districts, houses of all kinds had to be abandoned in consequence of the enormous amount of silt and mud that had been brought down with the flood. There had been no rain either to speak of for months. The Thames and its tributaries were very low, and the reservoirs correspondingly so, or the disaster would have been still greater.
The crowd in the streets got thicker and thicker as the true inwardness of the trouble came home to the minds of the people. The idle and the curious began to realise it when the time for mid-day meal came, the Sunday dinner which is a national institution with the average Briton, and the knowledge that there was nothing but bread and meat, as it was quite impossible to cook anything in the way of vegetables. This was a blow that struck right into the heart of things. Would there be any bread on the morrow, people began to wonder. For bread cannot be made without water, and bread was the staple food of thousands of them.
And again, the possession of a joint of meat in the future had no attractions, seeing that is could only be cooked in an oven or a frying pan. It was only by these slow degrees that London began to feel the cold grip round the heart of it.
There were perhaps only two people in the Metropolis at that moment who could afford a smile at all this misery. Lady Loxton was one of these, and Alonzo was the other. Alonzo strolled round about luncheon time to find his fellow-conspirator daintily lunching on a game pie and drinking a glass of champagne with it.
"No, thank you," Alonzo said. "I lunched at the Grand Imperial. They have their own water supply, and, therefore, I managed to get my share of vegetables. I shan't be able to stay here, Marie. I eat practically no meat, as you know, and without plenty of vegetables the most devoted of your slaves would pine and die. But we have given them something to think about."
"They are just beginning to think," Lady Loxton laughed. "It is a great achievement to make an Englishman think. They are so sure of themselves, so certain of their ground, that any big disaster does not enter into their calculations. I went out after breakfast, and I have been wandering about for hours. Never have I seen the streets of London so full. For the moment all class distinctions seem to have been forgotten. And in the common misery the lord and the chimney sweep are brothers. And the worst is yet to come."
"That's all right," Alonzo said carelessly. "But what are you going to do? London will be a howling wilderness, a city of the dead for weeks to come. Everybody who can get away will go."
"Oh, I am off to Brighton," Lady Loxton said, gaily. "All the same, I shall stay as long as I can. I am curious to see the result of our exploit. I am proud of it in a way, proud to think that a woman could plunge the greatest city in the world into woe. I shall be all right—don't worry about me."
Alonzo was not worrying in the least. Nor was he in the least curious to study London in its new aspect. Winter was drawing near now, and the wily cosmopolitan scoundrel was beginning to pine for the sun. He had done wonderfully well, and it seemed to him than this latest exploit was the crowning point of his career. He had 'made good,' and now he was in touch with something like a fortune. He was making up his mind as to which bright and sunny Spanish health resort he should repair to at any rate till the war was over. He knew what London would be like.
"I couldn't stand it," he said. "Who was the English poet who wrote about the city of dreadful night? Well, my dear Marie, that is what London is going to be. The police will not have to go about prosecuting people for exhibiting brilliant lights. There won't be any at all. You can't manufacture gas without engines, and you can't run engines without steam, and you can't make steam without water. Neither can you have electricity without the necessary machine to make it. Oh, I dare say that some of the big stations have their tanks full, but how long will that supply last? Picture to yourself London in total darkness for fourteen hours on end. By to-morrow all lamps and paraffin will be at famine prices. Oh, no. I have no use for London like that. And, therefore, I am getting away without delay and taking all my petrol in the car with me."
Lady Loxton refused to accept this gloomy picture.
"Your sketch has no terrors for me," she said. "This will be something to talk about till one's dying day. I shall go and see everything, shall mix with the people, and all the time I shall say to myself this thing was done by little me. You may laugh, but there is a certain satisfaction in it; oh, yes."
As the shades of night began to fall over a London so did the spirits of the people droop. The catastrophe had gone right home to them now, and as the minutes crept on so the outlook grew darker and darker. It was maddening to stand there on the Embankment watching the broad river flowing to the sea and to realise that not one drop of that precious fluid was available. No doubt to a certain extent the Thames would be used; but only for driving machinery and such kindred purposes. The people were beginning to walk about in dejected attitudes, but here and there were signs of excitement, struggling masses of men hustling and shouting as if they had found some precious treasure for which they were madly striving.
Lady Loxton, wandering from place to place, found herself suddenly tangled in with the human mob at the corner of Park Lane. She was tossed hither and thither like a cork on a stream. Not that she was in the least frightened, she was too full of curiosity and the queer sense of elation for that. She realised that this mob of some hundreds were gathered outside a big house there, the doors of which were open. On the steps a handful of footmen were striving in vain to keep a the mob back. Strangely enough the attitude of the intruders was not a threatening one. It did not suggest that they were looting, and Lady Loxton abandoned the theory that the people were pillaging the house of some wealthy German spy.
Presently a big man with a keen, alert face and a heavy moustache, burst from the house and fought his way down the steps. He was evidently not the master of the place, nor did he appear to have any quarrel with the mob. As far as Lady Loxton could see he was intent upon guarding some gleaming object which he held in his left hand.
As he burst into the roadway Lady Loxton saw to her surprise that the man was Lord Stranmouth, a well-known sporting peer of her acquaintance. She made her way towards him smilingly.
"What is the meaning of this?" she asked.
"Why, it's Lady Loxton," Stranmouth exclaimed. "This is no place for a timid little thing like you."
"Perhaps not," Lady Loxton said. "But I'm not afraid. But tell me, where did you steal that magnificent toilet jug from? It looks to me like real Sevres."
"I dare say it is," Stranmouth said coolly. "My dear lady, all London has gone mad. We are like a lot of dogs on the verge of hydrophobia. 'Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,' as the poet says. My womenkind were dying for a cup of tea, and they implored me to get them some water. Then I suddenly thought of my plutocratic friend Sandersgate, yonder. I knew that he had an artesian well in his palace, so I stepped over to borrow some. The handiest thing I could find was a big water jug. So I just carried it to my place round the corner, never dreaming that I should be spotted, but by gad, I was, like a shot by some people and now apparently half London is on the job. I am sorry for Sandersgate, but it can't be helped. Oh, no, you don't, my friend. Oh, no, you don't."
Stranmouth turned upon two men who attempted to snatch the precious jug from his grasp. They were not street loafers of the usual predatory class that appear like flies in the sunshine at the first breath of national calamity, but men exceedingly well dressed and bearing every evidence of prosperity. Stranmouth's hand shot out, and his opponents looked down the barrel of a revolver.
"I'm not riled," the former said. "I'm only looking after myself like all the rest of us. By Jove why you are the man who beat me in the final tie of the St. William Challenge Vase at Sandwich last year."
One of the two men laughed good-temperedly.
"That's all right," he said. "All's fair in love and war, you know. My family also are dying for a cup of tea, and my friend here, who is staying with me, suggested that we should commandeer your jug. Glad you bear no malice."
"Not a scrap," Stranmouth said, cheerfully. "But you don't get any of this water all the same. I managed to smuggle across a few jugs full to go on with, but I'm not likely to get any more. Why don't you take a taxi and go down to the City and make your way into one of the breweries down there? They have all got their own wells. Go and fill a cask or two and you will be all right for some days to come. Or—stop! What's the matter with the House of Commons—they have got an ample supply there."
The two men took up the suggestion with enthusiasm. They turned away without another word, intent upon being first in the field. But Stranmouth's clear, penetrating voice had carried further than he had intended, and his suggestion was soon passed from lip to lip.
"The House of Commons," the word ran round. "Plenty of water in the House of Commons. Come on."
It was a motley crowd that turned away and made their way along by the shortest route in the direction of the Embankment. There could not have been less than a thousand of them altogether, men and women, carrying all sorts of utensils and seeing nothing wild or strange in this amazing raid. They were all well clad, all people who lived in flats and houses round about the neighbourhood of Park Lane. It was a moneyed mob, an eager regiment of people accustomed to every luxury, to their motors, their country houses, and their Scotch moors. But all their wealth and all their influence at that moment could not procure a jug of water wherewith to make a cup of tea. It was a strange sight, without doubt the strangest sight that London had witnessed any time in the last five hundred years.
They streamed along, reaching their destination at length, and hammered on the doors of the House of Commons, both in Palace Yard and the entrance leading to the Lobby. The guard inside hastened to see what was the cause of this unseemly disturbance, but they were swept aside, and the mob in ever-increasing numbers flowed along the passages and thence into the Chamber itself.
Just for a moment it looked as if violence would be done, for the guard was alarmed, and, moreover, armed. Then a tall man, broad and commanding, pushed his way forward, and in a few words explained the situation.
"We have only come here after water," he said. "As you know, there is not a drop to be had in London. The calamity is bad enough to people in good health, but for invalids it is terrible."
It was useless for the guard to protest, useless to argue with the mob that filled the Chamber to overflowing. They dropped into the green covered seats, they a occupied the Treasury bench, they lounged upon the table, a curious sight in the most decorous national house of assembly in the world. And all this on a quiet and peaceful Sunday afternoon, nearly two thousand years after the advent of Christianity.
Presently they moved along towards the kitchens, and down below to where the taps and water mains had been established. It was useless to attempt to preserve any semblance of order, it was a case of the weakest going to the wall. And all the time the mob was getting more dense, as the rumour spread far and wide that there was water to spare within the sacred precincts of the House of Commons. For two hours they strove and sweated there, until Palace Yard was one black mass, and the police came in force and pulled them back. Breathless and a giddy, Lady Loxton found herself presently clinging to the railings and holding on to them as if she had been a rock in the midst of a torrent that was sweeping her headlong to destruction. Her dress was in rags, her blouse had been half torn away, and her hair was hanging in shining masses down her back. Still, she was not afraid, she was still humanly curious and fully alive to the scene that was going on round her. She saw strong men who would in the ordinary course of things have shrunk from such brutality, snatching jugs and bottles out of the the hands of women. She saw a woman, fat and stout and smothered with diamonds, almost on her knees before a ragged urchin offering him a sovereign for a whisky bottle filled with the precious water.
The small boy eyed the glittering coin stolidly.
"Not me," he said. "Go on, you greedy old beast. If you wants water go and get it yourself."
He turned his back resolutely did that small waif of humanity who had never handled a sovereign in his life, and who had perhaps never yet known what it was to eat a hearty meal. And all this in the early hours of the great catastrophe. What would it then be before a week had passed?
All these and many more curious phases of humanity Lady Loxton watched before the roaring crowd had moved on and she was free to follow them. In spite of her callousness, she was beginning to feel something of her great responsibility. She knew that there was far worse to come, she knew what a drab and dingy crowd this would be before the end of the week. In her mind's eye she could see the smart London business man going to work with his collar and his linen as grimy and dirty as that of a labourer on a Saturday night. For no laundry work would be possible, white garments of every kind would be things of the past. This was a small matter by comparison but one that would appeal essentially to the female mind. And then there came another incident that opened up a fresh field, a new disaster that loomed over London like a hideous spectre. For there came a blowing of whistles and a great clatter of hoofs, and a fire engine flashed by like a great red and gold comet. Fire! And London without a drop of water.
Even Lady Loxton, hard and greedy as she was, felt a passing pang of regret as she saw the fire engine plunging down the street. It was all a matter of business with her, she held no brief for the German nation, and if she could have commanded a higher price from England, she would have turned her back upon her old employers without the slightest hesitation. But she was a woman, after all, and had a heart somewhere. Any great outburst of fire might mean the loss of many thousands of innocent lives, and there was no getting rid of the feeling that she was responsible.
But, of course, something like this had been foreseen and provided for. It was comforting, therefore, late in the evening to hear from the lips of Stuart Hallett that no precautions had been neglected. Lady Loxton dropped into the adjoining flat of a friend to condole with her upon this terrible misfortune, and it so happened that Stuart Hallett was snatching a hasty supper there. He wondered what the fair visitor would have said had she known his precise opinion of her. For Stuart Hallett had been making some searching inquiries which had lead him a great deal further than he had expected. He had just come back from Inchcliffe Castle, where he had had an adventure or two which had not found their way into the papers. He had discovered an interesting document or two when the premises of the man called Blair Allison were raided, and he would know how to use these when the time came. Meanwhile, he shook hands with Lady Loxton and appeared genially glad to see her.
"You are always so sanguine and cheerful," he said. "Upon my word you are as good as a tonic."
"I don't always feel so," Lady Loxton said. "Of course, I try to appear happy, but this last dreadful business really has tried my nerves. I don't mind confessing to you that I am horribly afraid of fire. Fancy being caught at the top of a great big block of buildings like mine. You may call me a coward if you like, but I shall really have to get away for a few days. Now, what are the authorities doing to cope with the situation."
Hallett explained that they had not been been idle. A big corps of engineers had been called into concentration and already they had ascertained where they could put their hands upon every private water supply within the metropolitan area. It was quite gratifying to find how large the supply was. For instance, there were hundreds of great establishments dotted about all over London that possessed their own wells. It was hoped in a day or two to connect all these up with miles of hose-pipes and establish hundreds of sentinels in the streets, where the public could collect enough water for cooking and the like, but, of course, there could be no waste, and for the time being London would have to do without baths or anything in the way of laundry work. For other purposes there was the Thames to fall back upon, and London would soon get used to the sight of its leading citizens fetching their water as in the poorer districts folks fetched their supper beer.
"You see it's an object lesson," Hallett smiled. "These little misfortunes that bind rich and poor in one common bond and make for the welfare of the Empire. You remember at the beginning of the war how our Tommies and their women-kind sneered at what they called the toffs and wanted to know if England expected them to do all the work on a shilling a day, but later on, when Algy was lying alongside Tommy sharing the same blanket and the same food, ah, that was quite another thing. You have only got to read the letters from our rank and file at the Front. But I am getting away from the point."
Hallett proceeded to explain that already a vast organisation to deal with the fire peril had been organised. Volunteers had been asked for in every street to undertake sentry duty for four hours, so that constant watch could be kept in every London thoroughfare against a possible outbreak. This meant that both by day and night even the meanest buildings would not escape attention. And already the local authorities had had more offers than they needed. The Salvage Corps had been strengthened, and if necessary, would not hesitate to use dynamite.
"It all sounds very comforting," Lady Loxton sighed. "I shall sleep more comfortably after what you have said, Mr. Hallett. By the way, has anything been heard of Mr. Rosslyn? Such a sad thing, wasn't it? Such a promising young man. He was telling me something last time I saw him about a new invention of his—I think it had something to do with an aeroplane. But I am so stupid about those kind of things. I never could understand mechanics."
Hallett listened gravely enough. But all the same he was amused at the efforts this woman was making to draw him out. No one was better aware of the fact than he that Rosslyn was the last man in the world to discuss business secrets with anyone, much less a woman. In those apparently simple questions Lady Loxton had given away her case entirely, and Hallett was not slow to see it. The strange disappearance of Rosslyn still worried him, and it was rather startling to find that Lady Loxton knew so much with regard to the aeroplane. Perhaps she could tell him a good deal more, at any rate he decided to risk it.
"Yes," he said, "I don't mind confessing to you that our friend Rosslyn had invented something entirely new in the ways of a flying machine. I can't go into details, of course. I don't mind saying that I have reason to believe that my friend Rosslyn is still alive, and that he is putting his machine to a useful test."
"You have heard from him?" Lady Loxton asked eagerly.
"Indeed I have not," Hallett said. "But I infer it from a most interesting letter published in an evening paper to-night, from a special correspondent somewhere in Germany. It was so interesting that I cut it out, indeed I have it in my pocket now. Perhaps you would like to read it for yourself."
Indeed, Lady Loxton would. Anything to do with that dear clever boy was of the deepest interest to her. Hallett took the slip of paper from his pocket, and handed it across the table. He watched Lady Loxton keenly as she read as follows:—
BIG BLOW FOR GERMANY.
SEVEN MILLION BARRELS OF PETROL
I am just in possession of some remarkable information, which I can personally vouch for. I am somewhere in Germany, not a long way from Wilhelmshaven, and in close contact with the Indian troops. We are in the nature of an advanced guard, and the thrilling and daring things I have seen lately would fill a book. I am not in a position to say what strength we are in and precisely what we are doing, but within a league of where I am writing is a strong force of the finest cavalry the world has ever seen. We have also on this flying expedition a body of infantry, and we are under the command of an officer who was at one time the greatest cover point of his day.
A night or two ago I was lying under cover with some friends of mine who belonged to the signalling corps. There had been a certain amount of desultory fighting, but it died out somewhere about three o'clock in the morning, and we were about to snug down under the blankets when one of us declared that he could see a light in the sky. We all turned out to look, and sure enough in the east, a blaze twinkled far overhead like a great star on a frosty night. But the star was not stationary, it wheeled round in big circles, then it began to zigzag to and fro and up and down, as if signalling. My friend in command was slightly puzzled. It was obvious to him that here was no airship, for the craft, whatever it was, moved too swiftly and easily for that. On the other hand, there was not the slightest sound, though the scream of an aeroplane propeller at that distance should easily have been heard in the stillness.
Just for a moment we had no idea as to whether this noiseless craft was signalling to us or to the foe, who lay in front of us on the open ground a mile or two away. But at any rate, if the signal was intended for us, it was not a difficult matter to decide. We immediately turned on a small electric flare lamp from behind the shadow of a hedge and challenged the stranger. Almost directly the strange craft overhead responded, and the message began to come slowly. We could see by the look in the eyes of the signaller that he was getting something of importance, and when he shut off he turned to us almost breathlessly excited.
He did not know who had been calling him, he did not care. All he did know was that the man up there in the darkness was British and that he had a message both startling and unexpected. Not more than two miles ahead of us, and none too strongly guarded, was practically the whole of the enemy's supply of petrol. They were being hard pressed on their left flank, and they had almost denuded their right to meet the attack.
Here was a chance! Millions of gallons of petrol which was ours for the asking. If we could not capture it at any rate we could destroy it. We looked up again, but by this time the mysterious craft had disappeared. Ten minutes later and our cavalry were dashing forward in force. It seemed hours before they reached their destination, but in reality it was only a matter of minutes.
And then it came. I would describe it if I could. It was as if the whole world had burst into flame, as if the gates of light had been opened and the universe was flooded with it. But more of this in the next letter.
Lady Loxton sighed as she laid down the cutting.
"That was a great exploit," she said. "What a blow to Germany. But do you really think that the mysterious man in the strange airship was Paul Rosslyn?"
"Well, I can't be sure, of course," Hallett said. "I would not mind making a small bet that I am right. If I am wrong, then there are two men who have invented entirely noiseless aeroplanes at the same time, and two Englishmen at that. Now in my particular position such a thing so far as this country is concerned would be impossible to pass unnoticed. Besides, I like to try and feel that Rosslyn is alive."
Lady Loxton murmured something to the effect that she hoped that Hallett was right. In her heart of hearts she knew that he was. It was not, of course, for her to say so, and she did not know whether to be pleased or annoyed now that the proof was before her. She had got over her disappointment with regard to the aeroplane, and she could afford to forget her chagrin now. She was about to ask further questions, but Hallett glanced at his watch and declared that he had not a moment to spare.
As a matter of fact, he was going no distance. He merely dropped down to the floor below in the lift, and knocked at the door of Leroux's flat. It was Vera herself, who appeared and bade her visitor to enter. Hallett was struck at once by the change in the girl's appearance. She had lost all her listlessness, her colour had come back into her cheeks, and her eyes were sparkling.
"You have had good news from somewhere?" Hallett asked.
Vera laughed as she pushed a chair in front of the fire and bade Hallett be seated. She was sorry he had supped, but she placed a whisky and soda and cigarettes on the table, and bade him help himself. Her father was still away, and she did not expect him back for some days. She was not in the least frightened or alarmed by recent startling events in London; in fact, it seemed to Hallett as if Vera were another girl.
"I am sure you have had good news," he persisted. "When a girl looks as bright and happy as you do then I am sure that the heart has something to do with it. Now confess."
"You are a wonderful man," Vera said demurely. "After all there is no reason why I should not tell you, though you were abominably rude to me the last time you were here."
"I thought you had forgiven that long ago," Hallett laughed. "My dear young lady, I am almost as deeply interested in Paul Rosslyn as you are. That is why I am here to-night. I have go on the track of our friend—"
"Do you really mean that?" Vera gasped.
"Oh! I don't wish to pry into your secrets. I got on the track through one of today's papers. Directly I read it I knew that Rosslyn was alive. I knew that he and his aeroplane were doing good work. And you have heard from him. Even if you denied it that happy light in your eyes would betray you."
"Well, I have heard from him," Vera confessed. "I had a telegram this afternoon from Paris. He knows everything now, and has quite forgiven me—"
She broke off abruptly, conscious of Hallett's keen eyes upon her face. The blood flamed into her cheeks.
"Well, go on," Hallett said coolly. "You are as exasperating as a newspaper serial story. Why do you break off just in the most interesting part?"
"Because I very nearly said something foolish," Vera confessed. "I was on the verge of betraying a tremendous secret. I know you don't altogether trust me, and for a short time I think you were a bit suspicious of Paul. But you must know that he couldn't do anything wrong, and you must know that he could never care for a girl who tried to tempt him from the path of duty. Anyway, I am not going to discuss it any further. Paul is quite safe, and so is that wonderful machine of his. Now I have finished."
Hallett had no further questions to ask. He was quite easy in his mind now, though he knew that he had still a lot to learn. And he had to approach another subject.
"On that point I am dumb," he said. "I assure you that you enjoy all my confidence. I am going to ask you to help me. Is not Lady Loxton a friend of yours?"
"Oh yes," Vera said. "We are very friendly. Since my father has been away I have seen a great deal of her. She is always so bright and lively, you know. Some people say she is empty-headed and frivolous, but she can be quite serious if she likes."
"So I should have imagined," Hallett said. "Do you ever discuss serious matters? Politics and all that?"
"Very rarely. But why do you ask these questions? Is there any reason why you should suspect Lady Loxton?"
Hallett pondered over his cigarette for a moment.
"Yes, there is," he said. "I have reason to believe that Lady Loxton is a clever spy in the pay of Germany. There is no doubt that she is married to an English nobleman, but all the same I can find no trace of that Irish father of her's, indeed, I decline to believe that she is Irish at all. Now I want you to try and remember. Has she ever tried to draw you out on the subject of Rosslyn?"
It was on the tip of Vera's tongue to say no. Then she suddenly remembered that day when she lunched with Lady Loxton, and how suddenly the latter had brought in Paul's name, and spoken of him as one dead, and she remembered too, how near she had come to betraying Paul as to a knowledge of his whereabouts. The little incident of the broken wine glass came back to her mind now with vivid force. No doubt that had been done to change the conversation rapidly, and cause Vera to forget how perilously near her tongue had been to betraying, her. Hallett listened to this significant little incident attentively. There was no doubt in his mind.
"Unquestionably she was trying to pump you," he said. "I am afraid she got what she wanted, not that it matters much now. That woman is mixed up with a dangerous gang, a fact that I shall have no difficulty in proving in a court of law. But it would be bad policy to arrest her and that picturesque fiddler friend of hers just now. Oh, yes, they are both in it. I am going to give them all the rope I need, and at the same time keep a careful eye upon them. Now I want to know if you wouldn't mind helping me. You would be doing the country of your adoption a great service if you will. I am not asking you to undertake anything dangerous or to place yourself in an unpleasant position. But you have the run of Lady Loxton's flat, and if you keep your eyes open you are sure to find out something before long. Now what do you say?"
Vera was only too eager to be of service. She wanted to strike a blow for England, and at the same time retrieve the error which she had made. Her pride was touched now, she was angry at her own stupidity, and eager to do everything to get even with the plausible spy who had posed as her friend.
"Anything I can do I will do gladly," she said. "I feel quite proud to think that you have confided in me. Besides, I have a little score of my own to wipe off."
Hallett smiled grimly. He had counted on that when he had broached the subject to Vera.
"That's good," he said. "After all, it might have been a great deal worse. That clever little woman might have betrayed you into all sorts of indiscretions. And now I really must go. With all deference, I have stayed here too long already."
"But not wasted your time," Vera said sweetly. "Good-night."
The girl had not long to wait for her opportunity. In the middle of the morning two days later Lady Loxton burst with her accustomed vivacity into the flat. She was lively and detached, beautifully dressed as always, and evidently arrayed for travel. She looked her very best clad to the throat in luxurious furs. Down below in the street Vera could hear the purr of a motor.
"Are you going for a run?" she asked.
"Perhaps I am going to run so far that I shall never get back," Lady Loxton laughed.
"This London is a wonderful place to live in, and if I had any young grandchildren I would stay here as a sort of insurance against becoming a bore in my old age. I should always have so much to tell them that they would never regard me as a nuisance. But, my dear, the place is getting on my nerves. I am the most zealous of patriots, but at the same time even patriots must have baths if they are to preserve their self-respect. I am getting so tired of being told there is no water in the house. And my servants are getting rebellious. They have letters from friends pointing out to them what a paradise Brighton is just now. So to keep my treasured maids with me I have decided to retire to the south coast. I have secured my rooms at the Metropole, and I am going at once. Why not come along?"
"I wish I could," Vera sighed. "But my father may be back at any moment. Are you going to close your flat altogether? If there is anything that I can do for you—"
"'Oh, yes," Lady Loxton said. "I'm in trouble about the post—they are so lax about re-directing letters. Now if you wouldn't mind collecting my correspondence and sending it on I shall be so grateful. Behold, here is the key."
Vera's eyes gleamed as she took the Yale key in her hand. Here was a glorious opportunity to act.
Hallett had gone North feeling that he was on the verge of big things. He had got away at the last possible moment in his car, and hoped with ordinary luck to reach the Castle some time before daylight. This would be on the night of the raid on Blair Allison's house, though Hallett was to learn that later on.
It was somewhere about two o'clock when he ran his car silently up to the Castle and shut of the engine. Inchcliffe greeted him, cordially refusing to say anything until Hallett had eaten and drunk and was placed in a comfortable chair with a cigar. It was very late, but no one thought of going to bed, and besides there might be more work to do before daylight.
"Oh, yes, we have had a wonderfully successful time," Inchcliffe said in response to an eager question from Hallett. "I must tell you that we owe practically everything to von Kemp. Without him we should have been like children playing in the dark. The whole story sounds like a sensational novel. It seems almost impossible to think that such things could happen in this peaceful England of ours. But, let me tell you the story."
Hallett listened eagerly enough to the thrilling details from the first discovery in connection with the house on the cliff down to the moment of the capture of Allison and his confederates. He smiled grimly as he thought of those men lying down below powerless for further evil. The first thing at any rate was to see if anything could be made out of the cypher message which had been taken from the leg of the herring gull by von Kemp.
For a long time Hallett puzzled over it.
"This is decidedly clever," he said. "I never saw anything like it before. And I have been making a study of cryptograms ever since I was a boy at school. There is no system with which I am not familiar. But this fairly has me."
It was indeed a remarkable cypher. It was clearly and firmly drawn on a sheet of parchment some four inches square, and had been originally enclosed in a piece of oiled silk. The first line of the cypher consisted of a number of miniature Union Jacks flying from a flagpole. The poles appeared to be of exactly the same length, but in every case the flags did not occupy the same position on the mast. Below these flags was a row of seagulls, and beneath these again three other birds that looked like gigantic swallows. The first of these lay on its side as if dead or wounded, but the other two appeared to be uninjured.
"Now what do you make of that?" Hallett said. "It conveys nothing to me, I am afraid. I have got an intelligent grip upon the flags, and in the knowledge of recent events I can appreciate the significance of those gulls. But what are these little beggars at the bottom? They might be anything. You know pretty nearly every bird that flies in these parts Inchcliffe. Perhaps you can help."
Inchcliffe was equally puzzled.
"I'm hanged if I know," he said. "They are evidently considerably smaller than the gulls and they might be intended for sea swallows, curlews perhaps. But what's the meaning of the dead one?"
Nobody replied because nobody knew. All they could make out was that they were quick-flying birds, but the puzzle was to get to the inner meaning of the dead one. Hallett gave it up presently with a sigh of disappointment.
"I'm stuck for the moment," he said. "It's just possible of course that I shall run up against something before long that will give me a clue. I dare say when I have had a good look over Blair Allison's premises I shall find something. Meanwhile we must smuggle those prisoners of yours off the premises and get them safe in jail. For the present I don't want a soul to know that we have laid them by the heels. But of course that can easily be managed. Now, what I want to do first is to allay the suspicions of Allison's wife. We must have the run of the house, and she must be quite innocent of the reason why. I have not the slightest doubt that she is accustomed to being alone for days together, I mean that Allison is often called away suddenly at a moment's notice. So we will just despatch her a telegram from Scarborough in his name telling her that he won't be back for a week. Then we will make some excuse for calling at the house some time to-morrow evening about the time that those birds are fed. I don't mind telling you that I am exceedingly curious to see those gulls having their supper."
"So far you are quite satisfied?" Pascoe asked.
"My dear fellow, I am more than satisfied," Hallett said. "We are under a deep debt of gratitude to von Kemp. Now as you know, several very nasty things have happened lately within fifty or sixty miles of where we are seated. We have lost at least four cruisers in the most mysterious fashion. If you ask the Admiralty they will answer you that there are no mines within thirty miles of the east coast between Harwich and Rosyth. They will tell you that the cruisers Hindhead and Haslemere were sunk by submarines. That was the Official Press Bureau statement. At the time they honestly believed it. They could tell you a different story now. Both those cruisers were sunk by mines. Between ourselves, that tragedy took place not more than ten miles from here. We have got to find four fishing boats apparently British manned and certainly flying the British flag—I mean the fishing boats which you overheard Blair Allison allude to on the Abner lightship. Now in my opinion those fishing boats are mine-layers, and I should not at all wonder if the mines are not far of. Those chaps need not carry them at all so long as they can pick them up at certain spots."
"It seems almost incredible," Montagu murmured. "Do you suppose those fishermen really are Englishmen?"
"Why not?" Hallett asked cynically. "There are traitors in every country, callous criminals who value money before everything. And there is no doubt about the money. Germany will pay anything to destroy our Fleet unit by unit. It's no use talking about it. Every nation has its scum and its traitors, and it will always be the same. Let's get to bed and snatch a few hours of sleep. To-morrow looks to me like being a very busy day."
In a big, rambling place like Inchcliffe Castle it was no difficult matter to smuggle the captives out and get them conveyed to jail without the servants being any the wiser. The forged telegram was duly dispatched to the leading spy's wife, and there was nothing for it now but to wait till the evening, then it would be the proper time to interview the mistress of the house on the cliff. Hallett had decided that Inchcliffe and himself would be enough, and that the other three might employ their day in prospecting for fresh information. It was Inchcliffe's idea that he and Hallett should potter round the cliffs in the afternoon with their guns as if in search of rare wildfowl, and drop into the house on the cliff somewhere about four o'clock, ostensibly to see Blair Allison and beg the favour of a cup of tea. The plan seemed shrewd enough, and it had Hallett's approval. They would excite no suspicion as they wandered along the cliffs and at the same time kept a sharp look out for anything suspicious in connection with the house on the cliff.
Hallett seated himself from time to time, and made good use of his glasses. He smiled every now and again with the air of a man who is pleased with himself. Inchcliffe turned to him curiously.
"What are you trying to get at?" he asked.
"Well, I am watching the Union Jack an the flag-staff yonder," Hallett explained. "Incidentally why the local authorities allow the flag-staff or the flag I can't make out. But that's a detail. Now if you take these glasses and look carefully you will see that the flag-staff is a most elaborate affair, and is painted in alternate bands of red, white and blue. These stripes of colour are each about a foot wide. A little time ago and that flag was within two colours breath of the top of the pole. Now it is four breaths down. It has been changed at least three times since we came out."
"That is very interesting," Inchcliffe said.
"I should think it is. Goodness knows how long this sort of thing has been going on. I should like to know why it has not been spotted before. The woman yonder is signalling to someone, of course. We don't know who to or where to, but it might quite easily be an enemy's submarine. But, that is what we have got to find out. I'd give a trifle to know where those fishing boats are."
"We shall see them in all good time," Inchcliffe said. "It seems to me this is where I come in. With my electric motor boats and my knowledge of the coast, I ought to be of considerable assistance. Between you and me—ah, Hallett, I can smell a rat. Unless I am greatly mistaken I have found out something of importance. Put your gun down and come here quietly. Now look over the edge of yon cliff, and tell me what you see down there."
Hallett did as directed. All he could see was a flat rock some twenty or forty feet below where a flock of birds were squatting and evidently enjoying the last few moments of sunshine. They were beautiful birds, silver-grey, with a touch of dove colour in them, and as one or two of them wheeled and darted round a rock they looked the absolute picture of grace and speed.
"What do you make of them?" Inchcliffe asked.
Hallett admitted that he could see no significance in these beautiful creatures. He did not know what they were.
"Terns," Inchcliffe said curtly. "And so are the birds on that cypher. I ought to have spotted it before."
It was a small point but it was something gained at any rate, and Hallett was too profound a master of his own game to despise the smallest fragment of information. He had so often seen the apparently trivial grow into the all important that he carefully memorised everything that came under his eye. At any rate the difference between the gulls and the terns must convey something to the people for whom the cypher was intended.
"I'll not forget it," Hallett said. "It is quite evident that the cypher was outward bound because you got hold of it on that side of the water after the gulls had been fed. No doubt Blair Allison set it going never dreaming that the bird would be brought down by von Kemp. So keep your eye open this evening, and with any luck we may be able to intercept another message on its way to Germany. You never know."
"In that case we had better be moving," Inchcliffe suggested. "Now, shall we call formally at the front door or shall we drop in casually by way of the cliffs?"
The casual visit struck Hallett as being the most plausible. If they approached the house that way it would look much more friendly, besides if they chose the proper moment they could cross the lawn at the very time when the birds were being fed. All they had to do was to hang about concealed by the shrubbery until they saw Mrs. Blair Allison come out of the house with a basket of corn.
She came presently, a tall, graceful figure in blue, and whistled softly. Almost immediately the Indian pheasants started out of the shrubbery on to the lawn, and a moment or two later a flock of screaming wheeling gulls dropped out of the sky. Hallett tapped Inchcliffe on the shoulder, and the latter nodded. The time to move had come, and they advanced across the lawn towards Mrs. Blair Allison. As she saw them an unmistakable flush of annoyance rose to her cheeks. It was only for the fraction of a second, but it was not lost upon Hallett. Then it vanished and the spy's wife was her gracious smiling self once more.
"Pray don't let us interrupt you, Mrs Allison," Inchcliffe cried. "I know how fond you are of your birds, and that this duty is one of your daily pleasures. Blair Allison is in the gunroom, I suppose? I'll just run round and dig him out. I daresay you will be good enough to give us a cup of tea in a few minutes."
"My husband is in London," Mrs. Blair Allison said with just a sign of hesitation in her manner. "Some tiresome business in connection with our Australian property. He went off quite early this morning, but if you and your friend—"
"A thousand pardons," Inchcliffe cried. "I am forgetting. Mrs. Allison, will you allow me to introduce my friend, Mr. Stuart Hallett. He is spending a few days with me and I came over this afternoon to see if I could fix up a little shoot."
"At any rate I can fix you up a cup of tea," the lady smiled. "Now will you be good enough to walk straight into the drawing-room and ring the bell and order the tea. I will join you directly I have finished with these somewhat troublesome pets of mine."
Hallett, however, did not move.
"I am going to be impertinent, Mrs. Blair Allison," he said. "I am going to ask you if I might stay here instead. This is one of the most interesting sights I have seen for a long time. Therefore, if you don't mind, I would like to watch."
Mrs. Blair Allison smiled graciously. In the circumstances she could do nothing less. Yet it seemed to Hallett's keen eyes that she appeared a little restless and suspicious. He was quite sure that the ruse of the telegram had been successful, and that this woman knew nothing of the fate that had overtaken her husband and his confederates. But obviously she wanted to be by herself for some reason, and Hallett was determined to find out what it was. He saw that every now and again the mistress of the birds was glancing upwards as if expecting something, there was a little frown on her forehead and a pucker between those white brows of hers. Then her face cleared as another flock of birds appeared, about half a dozen of them altogether and settled on the lawn near by. They did not appear to mingle with the others, but eagerly picked up the handful of grain thrown to them by Mrs. Blair Allison. Hallett had not been slow to grasp the fact that these birds were terns, which in itself was highly significant.
"Those are beautiful creatures," he said. "I am quite ignorant on the subject of sea birds. I must get you to tell me what they are."
The woman seemed to be quite easy in her mind now, something had happened to relieve her anxiety, and she turned to Hallett with one of her most fascinating smiles.
"They are terns," she said. "To my mind the most beautiful birds that fly. See how wonderfully light and graceful they are. They are fast as swallows and never tire. I am trying to get them as tame as the gulls, but up to now I have been anything but successful. They are so terribly wild and shy. The gulls are such greedy pigs that you can do anything with them. In cold weather they will follow me into the house. But the terns are a different matter altogether. I hope to do a good deal with those two in front there who are a little bolder than the rest. I have managed to get them to take food from one of my chicken boxes, and once or twice I have kept them for the night. I was going to try again this afternoon, but since you and Lord Inchcliffe have turned up I will leave it for another day. So if you please—-"
"Oh, never mind the tea," Hallett cried. "This is far more interesting. Now can I help you? Is that the chicken-run you speak of by the bushes yonder?"
Mrs. Blair Allison indicated that it was. Her basket of food was nearly exhausted now, and she began to bustle the greedy birds across the lawn with the evident intention of heading them off from the terns. Hallet joined in this movement with the zest of a schoolboy with a new hobby. He had not exaggerated in the least when he declared that he was deeply interested. He thought that there was some mystery underlying this anxiety as to the smaller birds, and at the same time was keeping a sharp look out to see if he could discover anything like a message attached to one of the gulls. There was apparently nothing in the wind just now, nothing but the usual evening routine of feeding the birds and keeping them in hand. The pheasants were driven off presently, and then slowly and carefully Mrs. Blair Allison began to scatter food in a trail that led up to the chicken-run on the other side of the lawn. Two of the terns, a little bolder than the rest, followed slowly until they were actually within the wire netting. Then the trap was dropped behind them, and for the moment at any rate they were prisoners. Still they went on eating their scraps of food unconcernedly, and Hallett smiled. It needed no great intelligence on his part to see that those birds were not inside that wire mesh for the first time. He turned to his hostess.
"Are you going to keep them prisoners?" he asked.
"Just for to-night," Mrs. Blair Allison explained. "They will be quite comfortable. They will go through that trap door into the little roosting house, where they have a warm bed of hay. Then I shall give them some food in the morning and let them go. If you lift up the trap door at the back you will see for yourself what nice snug sleeping quarters they are."
Hallett raised the trap door as requested. He had his little reasons for looking inside, not that he expected to see anything. But when he was investigating he left absolutely nothing to chance. He appeared to look casually inside, then he dropped the flap again and smiled at his hostess.
"Very comfortable," he said. "I only just had a peep, as I was afraid the birds might get out. Thank you very much Mrs. Blair Allison," he said. "This has been a most interesting object lesson to me. Whilst you are kindly giving us a cup of tea, perhaps you will tell me how you first started your experiments."
Mrs. Blair Allison appeared to be only too willing. She had lost all trace of nervousness and anxiety, and was now playing the part of the hostess to perfection. Hallett could quite understand her popularity with her friends and neighbours.
"That's a wonderful woman," he told Inchcliffe as they strolled homewards. "No wonder the German spy system is so perfect when they bring so much intelligence to bear upon it. It's lucky for us that you were so successful in your raid here. It's quite evident that our charming friend knows nothing of what has happened to her husband. And she is not aware how much she has taught us this afternoon."
"She hasn't taught me anything," Inchcliffe laughed. "Mean to say that you have picked something up?"
"Certainly I have," Hallett exclaimed. "In the light of the cypher, I have been able to read a good deal between the lines. And I have to thank you for telling me that those birds were terns. Now in the cypher there are three terns, two living and one dead. In that trap we saw two living birds. Now what had become of the third one shown in the cypher? That puzzled me, at least it did till I pulled up the trap. What do you think I saw lying on the hay there? Why, another tern lying half hidden and stiff—the dead bird of the cypher beyond the shadow of a doubt."
The first faint streaks of dawn found Hallett on the cliffs in front of the Blair Allison establishment. He had been up half the night working at the mysterious cypher until he had satisfied himself that he had an intelligent grip on it. He knew what to do now, and he needed nobody at present to help him. Therefore, without saying a word to anyone he had stepped away from the castle at dawn, and gone off on his solitary exploration.
It was still quite dark when lights began to twinkle in the windows. The servants were getting up, but this did not particularly concern Hallett. He was taking no particular stock of those single windows on the second floor, but he was interested presently, when seven windows were suddenly catching the light so strong that from where he was hidden Hallett could almost make out the time by his watch. These windows were on the first floor in the middle of the house, and behind the art blinds were draped with fine lace curtains. The elaborate edgings were cut out sharp and clear as if they had been engraved on the blinds.
Hallett smiled grimly as he took out his glasses and carefully examined this elaborate and artistic hanging. His glasses were so good that he could almost count the stitches in the patterns. He knew that he was not wasting his time.
Surely but slowly, he was feeling his way up towards the solution of a great mystery. But just for the moment he was wondering why Mrs. Blair Allison was rising so early. There was nothing doing at this time of year, no cub hunting or anything of that kind, and it was not usual for the mistress of an important establishment to be getting up at the same time as her servants. In any case there was no necessity for all those lights, especially as the master of the house was away, and no guests were staying there. It was quite obvious, too, that one master switch controlled the whole lighting arrangement of the seven rooms. Hallett had been making inquiries and knew what these rooms were—the two best bedrooms and dressing-rooms opening into a bathroom, in fact, the suite, occupied by the master and mistress of the house. Hallett was beginning to see his way now, the mystery was growing clearer.
He waited there patiently hour after hour; he lay till the sun came up. From where he was hiding he could see Mrs. Blair Allison breakfasting in the sunny morning-room, the French windows of which opened on to the lawn. It all looked very pleasing and inviting, a typical English homestead of the better kind and not in the least suggestive of sinister tragedy.
Mrs. Blair Allison crossed the lawn presently and strolled in the direction of the chicken-run, where the terns were confined. She was carrying something in her hand that looked like a strip of folded ribbon. As she stooped over the cage, Hallet appeared.
"You are out early this morning," he said.
The woman started and changed colour. Hastily she thrust the little parcel she was carrying into her bag. Hallett's first impulse was to snatch it, but he thought better of that. He knew that it would come into his possession all in good time; he knew that it was nothing less than a message intended for one of the birds.
"You rather startled me," Mrs. Blair Allison said.
"Yes, I'm afraid I did. But then you see I am not altogether my own master. I had to come here on business. Now, Mrs. Blair Allison, you are a woman, and I will do my best not to forget it. But these are stern times, and I have my duty to fulfill. Might I suggest that you ask me into the house?"
The woman looked at him steadily. She had quite recovered herself; she showed no signs of fear save that the pupils of her eyes dilated and one of the pulses in her temple throbbed like a piston.
"This is very strange," she said. "Surely it is most unusual for a gentleman to intrude upon a lady at this time of the morning."
"Well, it is," Hallett admitted. "And it is also strange to find a house like this in the heart of England inhabited by a German spy and his wife. It is just as well for me to speak plainly, perhaps. Now don't you think it would be far better for us to discuss this matter indoors? I want to make things as easy for you as I can, but I have my duty to do all the same."
The woman turned and walked slowly in the direction of the house, and Hallett followed. Once they were in the morning room and the door closed, Mrs. Blair Allison's manner changed. Hallett could see by the expression in her face that she was going to make a fight for it. She breathed hard, there was an evil gleam in her eyes, a certain suggestion of the tiger in the way in which she moved across the room and reached for the bell. Hallett's hand dropped on her wrist gently, but none the less firmly for that.
"It is quite useless," he said. "If you persist in ringing that bell, then I shall have to expose you before your servants. They are all honest English folk and you will get very little sympathy from them. As a matter of fact, I can't allow you to communicate with anybody."
"Oh, then I am a prisoner in my own house?"
"For the moment, yes. Before long I am afraid I shall have to deprive you even of that consolation. I may tell you that your husband and his friends are prisoners. They were caught after their raid on the Abner lightship and are now in jail. We know all about your clever scheme in connection with the birds; in fact we know everything. Now, listen to me and give us your assistance your own sentence will no doubt—"
The woman burst into a torrent of angry words.
"Never!" she cried. "Never! So someone has betrayed us. Well, we shall have to take our punishments. We have not wasted our time here, as your Admiralty can testify. Oh, it was fine sport to have your ships here and send them to the bottom. Do with me as you please. I am only a woman, but I have struck more than one blow for the Fatherland. Put me in prison, but it will not be for long. A few weeks and the Kaiser's guns will be destroying your cities—it is only a matter of time. And now, if you will permit me to go and dress—"
"I can permit you to do nothing," Hallett said. "You can summon your maid if you like, but I must hear every word that passes between you. I understand that you and your husband are in the habit of going to London at a moment's notice and staying a day or two in your flat there. Tell your maid you are going at once and ask her to send on the things you need. I would suggest some warm clothing. You will get them through the police. Then you can order round one of your cars and I will drive you to York and hand you over to the authorities there. You can leave me to deal with your servants later on. I shall so contrive it that they learn nothing. Leave your bag on the table, please. Now, shall I ring the bell for you?"
The murderous look crept into the woman's eyes again, she clenched her fingers, in imagination she could feel her claws tearing the flesh from Hallett's cheeks. But it was all useless, all in vain. With an effort she controlled herself, she gave her directions to the maid without a tremble in her voice. She was going away for a day or two, she wanted certain things forwarded, the car must be round in five minutes to take her as far as York. She smiled quite pleasantly as she thanked Hallett before the maid for all the trouble he was taking; she hoped that he would use the car to bring him back to Inchcliffe Castle. It seemed to Hallett almost a pity that a woman with talents and courage like this should be wasting herself as a mere spy. He was not sorry when his mission to York was finished, and he was once more back at the house on the cliff.
He wanted to keep all this as quiet as possible, it was imperative not a word of it should find its way into the Press. He meant to strike a crushing blow at the heart of the elaborate East Coast spy system before the rest of the infamous brotherhood realised that one of the most important centres had been broken up. It was not a difficult matter to represent that he had a telegram from Blair Allison to say that he and his wife had been called abroad urgently, and that the house would be closed for a month or so and the servants sent away on holiday. They would be only too glad of the opportunity of taking a holiday at their employers' expense, then one of Hallett's subordinates would be installed as a caretaker and see to it that the house had every aspect of being fully occupied.
"You see what I shall gain by this," Hallett said when, later on, he was explaining the matter to his friends. "Blair Allison and his gang were expecting the visit of three or four fishing smacks any night. What the game is will be for us to find out, we must get hold of all these smacks some way and lay their crews by the heels. They have not the remotest notion of anything wrong so far, which is all in our favour. If they happen to come along tonight, say, and drop anchor outside then it is up to us to see that the house on the cliff is lighted just the same as usual. There are five of us, we are all well armed, and quite able to cope with the lot of them. The less people we have in this business the better. I don't want any local police, which is bound to lead to gossip. We will keep a close eye on those smacks, and find out exactly what they are doing, then we can lure the crews up here, and trap them like so many rats. By the bye, I have got another of those code signals in my pocket, but we will come to that presently. They are intended for long distance work, but I have dropped on a much bigger thing than that. Come up to the house with me and I will show you."
By five o'clock all the servants in the house on the cliff had disappeared, and the solo occupants of the place were a caretaker and his wife, both of them trusted servants of Hallett's, and imported for the occasion. There had been no gossip and no mystery, the domestic staff had been paid their wages for two months and departed fully under the impression that they were coming back again. The blinds were all drawn and most of the lights on when Hallett and his companions cautiously made their way in by way of the cliffs. The first thing to do was to make a rigid search of the whole house from top to bottom. An hour or two of this work served to bring nothing to light, as Hallett expected.
"Blair Allison is too old a bird to be caught like that," he said. "I was not in the least sanguine of finding anything. Now I have been studying the cypher message that Mrs. Blair Allison intended to send off this morning, and I think I have made it out. Something went wrong when that particular tern was killed. But the flying code has been re-established, and from what I can understand we shall have several German submarines knocking about here for the next day or two. Their game will be to wait till those cruisers off the Tyne come feeling their way down here. The attack will be made by submarines and mines. But the mines are not laid yet, and those fishing smacks are coming here to do the trick. They will get their information from this house, but it won't be the information they expect if I can find what I am looking for. The answer to the sum is somewhere on the premises; in fact it must be, or they could not signal to the smacks. And now I will show you something. Inchcliffe, just run upstairs and switch on the lights in the bedroom suites occupied by Blair Allison and his wife. When you have done that come down and you will find us on the far side of the lawn."
Inchcliffe obeyed eagerly enough. A minute or two later and the rest were standing in the darkness gazing at the row of brilliantly-lighted windows against which were delicate lace curtains with their elaborate edgings standing out clear and distinct.
"Now, I don't suppose you see anything peculiar about those curtains." Hallett said. "But if you look at them closely you will see that two-thirds of the fancy edging bears a strong resemblance to letters, big bold letters in Roman characters. When once you have noticed them they jump to the eye. You can plainly read them from here and with a good glass they could be made out miles at sea. Now what do you think of that for a signalling dodge?"
"But they would always be the same letters," Pascoe said. "And the same pattern for the matter of that."
"Not necessarily. It would be the easiest thing in the world to change the edgings, indeed perhaps there is no question to do that. We will suppose that the letters are loose, that they can be removed or changed. A couple of dozen of them arranged in code could convey quite a long message."
"No use to us without the code," Montagu said.
"I know that," Hallett admitted. "But the code must be in the house somewhere, and only a woman quick and neat at a needle could work it. Therefore I am justified in assuming that the arrangement of those codes was in Mrs. Blair Allison's department. Now come back in the house and we will have a thorough search for the code in Mrs. Blair Allison's bedroom."
It was a long and weary job, and an hour or more had elapsed before anything came to light. One or two of them had palpably given it up, and Montague had found nothing more appropriate to the occasion than an elaborate handsomely printed catalogue of household requisite issued by a firm in Berlin. The German characters held no suggestion, and he flung the volume on the dressing-table with disgust.
"That's all I can find," he said. "Oh, it's only a catalogue of linen and all that sort of thing."
"Eh, what's that?" Hallett asked sharply. "Just an advertisement of a German firm of house furnishers? My dear fellow, you have a good deal to learn about the game yet. Where the German spy's concerned the more innocent it looks the more dangerous it is. Let me have it. Um! A very artistic production. This must have cost them a good deal of money. Now, let me see."
He flickered over the pages rapidly, then he smiled.
"This is where the scent begins to get warm," he said. "What have we here? Several pages devoted to high class window curtains. And a bit further along pages of beautifully designed lace letters and monograms for all sorts of drapery, from hangings down to pocket handkerchiefs. On the same pages we have what appears to be the various prices opposite sample monograms. It all looks beautifully simple and very innocent, but as a matter of fact the cypher code is staring us in the face. Now mark the amazing thoroughness of the German methods. This catalogue must have cost hundreds of pounds, for all the blocks and drawings were made on purpose for it, and probably this is the only copy in existence. And yet a few months ago if a scheme like this had been worked into a story everybody would have laughed at it. But we don't laugh at anything since that big gun concrete platform was found in Edinburgh the other day. No matter; just give me an hour or so to get the hang of the thing, then we will go outside in the garden and read the message on the innocent window curtains which can at the present moment be seen by any floating enemy for at least ten miles."
Hallett was not boasting when he stated than an hour would be all the time he would require, for he came downstairs well within the time apparently on good terms with himself.
"Very clever," he said. "And like all clever things, very simple. Now come along and we shall see what we shall see. It's pretty sure to be interesting anyhow."
They stood there for a little time in the darkness whilst Hallett worked out the code.
"It's nothing very illuminating, after all," he said. "It is evidently intended for those fishing smacks, or perhaps for any submarine that happens to be on the look out. It says that the mines are ready, but before anything is done the people in this house would like to have a few words with the captain of the D3. I take it that this is a submarine."
"But you will not leave it at that?" von Kemp suggested. "We are not ready, Mr. Hallett. What we want is to gain time. It is evident that there are mines somewhere in the neighbourhood, and I should not be surprised to find that they are concealed somewhere on shore. Probably they have been hidden here for years. If we could keep the enemy hanging about for a day or two we might discover all sorts of things. Therefore I beg to suggest that you alter the signal before we sleep. And suppose we give the sign of danger and order the fishing smacks and the German submarine to lie off and wait. It is well to be cautious."
Hallett was disposed to fall in with the suggestion. He was master of the situation now, he had the enemy's citadel in his hands and the rest of the infamous gang on the East Coast had not the least idea of it. If he could once break the chain, then sooner or later all the links of it must fall into his hands. He must get one or two of the crew of the trawlers safely landed in jail and persuade them to speak. He had the poorest opinion of the mean traitor who was prepared to sell his country for gold, he knew what cowards such men were and how ready they were to betray their companions to save their own miserable skins.
"You are quite right," he said. "We will go and make the necessary alterations and leave the foe out there in the darkness to make the best he can of it. Then we will get my man to keep the light on till midnight, and go back to the castle and get some sleep. I don't mind admitting that I am quite done up. I have had no sleep to speak of for two nights, besides we are doing no good here now." The desired alteration was made in the signal then Hallett and the rest made their way along the cliffs in the direction of the castle. Hallett detained von Kemp a moment and took him by the arm.
"I have not had an opportunity of thanking you before," he said. "But it was a good day for us when we met you that night in that startling fashion in St. Paul's Cathedral."
"It was a good thing for me, too," von Kemp said.
"Well, let's call it mutual. At any rate you have done us a great service and without you I doubt very much if we should have come upon the track of this great conspiracy. You have done England a glorious service von Kemp, and at the same time you have struck a shrewd blow for your German Republic. I will see that you are properly rewarded when the time comes."
Von Kemp protested in all sincerity that he needed no reward. He was quite sure that there were thousands of his fellow-countrymen who felt as he did and who held that they were the true patriots and not those who were howling for Prussian military supremacy. They were still discussing this when the Castle was reached, and they walked through the great hall towards the dining-room, where a cold supper was laid out for them. Inchcliffe sniffed suspiciously.
"Who has been smoking cigarettes here?" he asked. "And my best cigarettes, too. Hello?"
A figure sat before the fire smoking calmly. Hallett broke into an exclamation of delight and hurried forward with outstretched hand and a welcome gleaming in his eyes.
"Rosslyn!" he cried. "Rosslyn, by all that's glorious!"
So far Rosslyn had successfully performed his mission. It was something to remember, something to speak of in the days to come, though it was beyond the power of mortal man to paint in cold words the awful spectacle that he could see beneath him. It was as if the whole world was in flames, as if a great crater had been opened belching widespread destruction from one side of Europe to another. It was too great to last long, and almost as speedily as they had arisen the flames subsided, and Rosslyn found himself enveloped in a whirl of black smoke so dense that he could only breathe with difficulty, and so overpowering that he utterly lost control of his machine. He was like a migrating bird carried on by blind instinct and wondering where he would emerge. He was unconscious of the fact that he was travelling in wide circles and gradually getting closer to the ground. He was sick and giddy, it was almost impossible to think coherently, and his eyes were smarting terribly.
And it seemed to him that the fog was lifting, though in reality he had dropped beneath that blinding blanket, and before he knew what had happened one of the wings of the plane came in contact with the branch of a tree and brought the machine to the ground.
Here was a new and unexpected peril. Rosslyn was badly shaken but not hurt, and after a few breathless moments he had sufficiently recovered himself to stagger to his feet and investigate the damage.
So far as he could see there was not much harm done, merely a rent in one of the wings, which he could repair in an hour or two. The engine was all right, and there was enough petrol in the tanks to carry him to London if necessary. He had no notion where he was, and he would have given a good deal to know whether he had fallen in the British or German lines. It would be prudent perhaps to hide himself till daybreak and get the machine under cover. This was not a difficult matter, for the spot where Rosslyn had fallen was littered with straw covered hurdles, which no doubt had been used by the troops as temporary shelters. He folded up his machine and piled some hurdles upon it. Then he moved forward cautiously, and a moment later fell headlong over a barbed wire entanglement and came down heavily in a trench, where about half-a-dozen men were keeping a fitful watch. Rosslyn would have turned and made a fight of it directly he caught a glimpse of the blue-grey uniforms by the fitful light of the lantern, but just in time he recollected his disguise. He had fallen in with the Germans, and for the time being at any rate he must play his part. Therefore he smiled as a bayonet touched his breast and intimated that he was a friend.
It was boldly and swiftly done, for the bayonet at any rate was dropped, and Roslyn was subjected instead to many searching questions. These were easily parried, for he knew a good deal about the German private and his ways. He spoke haughtily and with the manner of a man who carried authority behind him. He wanted to see an officer, he had important information which must be delivered without delay. For a moment or two the men whispered together then one of them climbed grumblingly out of the trench and asked Rosslyn to follow him. They came presently to a kind of hut formed of thatched hurdles and lighted by a solitary candle. Here was a tall officer in Bavarian uniform pouring over a map. He looked thin and worn as if his bones were struggling to get through his flesh. Over him there brooded a profound melancholy, his dark eyes were hopeless, and his mind seemed to be far away. It took him some little time to grasp what the soldier was saying.
"Oh, that's it, is it?" he said. "A spy undoubtedly. Take him out and shoot him."
"I am no spy," Rosslyn said boldly.
For the first time the melancholy officer looked at him. Rosslyn's German was good enough to pass anywhere, and his disguise was intact. By this time he had made up his mind what to do and how to act. He could see that his bold manner and excellent German were not without their effect upon the Bavarian, and this gave him courage.
"Don't you think you had better hear what I have to say, captain?" he suggested. "I came here to-night on important business connected with your petrol supply."
"We have no petrol supply," the officer growled.
"Well, it's not my fault that I am too late," Rosslyn went on. "Send your man away, what I have to say is not for his ears. If you refuse to listen to me you will find yourself in serious trouble. Have you ever seen this handwriting before or this seal?"
As he spoke Rosslyn took from his pocket the letter which he had had from the Kaiser and showed it to the Bavarian. The latter started, and then curtly dismissed Rosslyn's escort.
"I beg your pardon," he said. "I begin to see that I have made a mistake. But at times like these one cannot be too careful. Apparently you are here on behalf of the Emperor, and that letter should go to my General at once. But I fear that is impossible. We were pushed forward to guard the petrol supply without supports and we are entirely cut off by the enemy's cavalry. They will find it out in the course of a few hours, and out of the three thousand of us not one will be alive to-morrow night."
The Bavarian spoke with the air of a man who had lost all hope and confidence and who had seen his fate before him from the first. It was impossible, he said, to get the dispatch through, though he might be able to signal it. Had Rosslyn any idea what it contained? Did he feel justified in laying rude hands on that sacred envelope?
"I don't think so," Rosslyn said, for he had no intention of parting with his precious safeguard. "As a matter of fact it is too late. The whole dispatch refers to the petrol supply. That has now been destroyed and any errand here is in vain. But I don't feel in the least disposed to part with the Emperor's envelope. You see I came here from Berlin at a great personal risk, and I don't want to end up by being shot as a common spy."
The gloomy Bavarian nodded approvingly. Rosslyn wondered if every commissioned officer there along the Prussian frontier was in the same state of collapse and dejection.
"Are things going badly with you?" he ventured.
A bitter laugh broke from the lips of the Bavarian officer.
"Are they going well in Berlin?" he countered. "Sit down, my friend, and I will give you a cigar. Now as to Berlin. We hear rumours sometimes that all is not gay in the capital. They say that the Socialist Brotherhood is busy."
As the officer spoke he made the sign of the Brotherhood, and Rosslyn lost no time in responding.
"So you are one of us, too?" the Bavarian said. "Well, I have fought none the less sincerely because I hate this strife and because it should never have taken place. There are thousands of us who would turn our backs to-morrow upon it if we could."
"That does not sound like a Prussian officer," Rosslyn smiled.
"Ah, that is your little joke. You know perfectly well that I do not belong to the Prussian caste. But Hanover, Saxony, and Bavaria, ah, that is another matter. To Hell with Prussia, I say. It is the pride and arrogance of those brutes that has brought this about. In Germany proper we are more enlightened and peaceably disposed. And what has made Germany? Her trade and her commerce. We have sweated and slaved so that all our money may be taken by Prussia and spent in arms. Our life's blood is drained by those tyrants. And so it always has been. Who bore the brunt of the fighting in the Franco-Prussian war? The Bavarians, and why? So that Prussia might be saved up in case we revolted against Wilhelm I. of Prussia being crowned Emperor of Germany. At the end of that war we were exhausted and Prussia was fresh. And that was the birth of the German Empire brought about by Bismarck."
The Bavarian spat furiously on the floor.
"I was quite ready to fight," he went on, "A man might hate the war and his rulers who brought it about, but when he sees that his country is going to be destroyed there is only one thing to be done. I tell you that the bulk of Germany hates Prussia. If we could only break through the iron ring we should be at their throats to-morrow. Ah, Bavaria does not forget. Ludwig II. was the one man who fought to stay outside the Federation in 1870. They called him mad. He was no more mad than you are. The whole thing was a vile conspiracy got up by Bismarck with the connivance of Luitpold, who afterwards became Regent. They say that Ludwig committed suicide, but really he was drowned whilst escaping from his asylum. I am telling you no secret, for the true story is known to thousands of Bavarians. But our day will come. When this war is over, and Prussia is smashed under the heel of the Allies, you will see that Bavaria will be glad. If you live long enough you will see Bavaria a nation yet."
Rosslyn listened with respectful attention. Still, this was a strange confession to hear from the lips of a German officer within sight of the enemy's lines. And yet they were the words of a patriot and the thinker working and striving in the best interests of his own country.
"Are there many in the army who think and speak like you?" Rosslyn asked. "I am learning things to-night."
The Bavarian smiled grimly.
"To-morrow I may be able to show you," he said. "That is, of course, if the enemy gives us a chance. Now tell me something about Berlin. It is months since we heard a word from the capital."
It was the Bavarian's turn to listen now. Rosslyn told him all he knew with regard to the progress of the Brotherhood and their efforts in the direction of the German Republic, and the other man smiled approvingly as he listened. It was good to know that at last the Emperor was taking the new movement seriously, and that there was no great danger of further bloodshed in Berlin.
"It was bound to come," the Bavarian said thoughtfully. "It will be a blessing in disguise, it will prevent anarchy and eternal revolution. We have nearly shot our bolt, the great war machine is crumbling. All our boasts have been in vain. Our press romancers say Germany can put eleven million men in the field. Rubbish! there are not more than thirty million males in the country and half of these are children and old men. Take out the physically unfit and the delicate men, and add to these the millions necessary for the upkeep of the country, and you will find that the utmost limit we can place in the field is five million. You could not run a country like Germany with less than ten million men. Those of us who took the trouble to think saw clearly from the first that this was going to be a war of exhaustion. For every capable soldier we can turn out the Allies can produce five. It is a simple matter of arithmetic, and even the Kaiser cannot alter the laws that govern mathematics."
But Rosslyn was no longer listening. He was tired and worn out now, and slept the sleep of utter exhaustion on the litter of straw that lined the hut. It seemed to him that he had only spent a few minutesasleep before he came to himself and the knowledge that the Bavarian was leaning over him. He saw that it was already broad daylight, he could hear the commotion in the lines and the harsh words of command. But on the whole it seemed strangely peaceful there and far remote from war until Rosslyn ventured outside. On the hills a mile or two away clear cut against the sky Rosslyn could see a great body of cavalry moving. His heart gave a leap and a thrill of pride filled him as he recognised the Indian Horse. They swept along easily and swiftly, deploying over the shoulder of the hill till they were lost in the valley below. Then there came other troops, dusky sons of the East, all there eager to strike a blow for the Empire, and Rosslyn had to repress a wild desire to thrown up his cap and cheer those gallant troops to the echo.
"Ah, I know what you are thinking about," the Bavarian said in his ear. "I know what's in your mind."
Rosslyn thought not. He wanted to laugh at the suggestion but he contrived to maintain a grave face.
"The finest cavalry in the world," the Bavarian went on. "Those fellows are demons. They don't know the meaning of fear, and they cover the ground like lightning. They seem to have mastered the art of living without food. And yet we were told that India's millions would rise against England at the first sign of trouble. We shall wake presently."
"They are certainly very daring," Rosslyn said as quietly as possible. "Do they always ignore your guns like that?"
"We have no guns," the Bavarian said indifferently. "They know that. And that is why they have given us an hour to surrender. We are hopelessly cut off without the slightest chance of help. We refuse to surrender, as I expect we shall; then you will have the chance of seeing what war really is. Hell could not be worse. But come along the lines with me and see for yourself. I can give you no breakfast—we have had no food for two days."
The fact was evident enough as Rosslyn could see for himself. Here were horses a veritable mass of skin and bone, some of them lying down from pure exhaustion and others broken kneed cropping eagerly at the filthy straw. Here were men spent and weary with hollow eyes and drawn cheeks, what should have been splendid manhood, on the verse of collapse. There was no life anywhere, nothing but dull apathy and stolid indifference. It seemed impossible to believe that these were troops who only a few months before had gone into the fray full of zeal and enthusiasm. Most of them had been hurt, for there were scores of bloodstained bandages to be seen. The wounded were lying about utterly uncared for, here and there a body rotted as if it had been so much carrion. Medical service, there was none; no sign of an ambulance or the suggestion of a Red Cross. And on the crisp, falling air there hung like some deadly miasma, a foetid odour that turned Rosslyn sick and giddy and caused him to close his eyes with a shudder of disgust. Over the whole scene brooded a silence that was ominous with the shadow of coming disaster. Then a shell burst overhead and a little knot of men a few yards away vanished as if they had been the victims of some dire and diabolical magic.
"A gentle reminder that the hour is up," the Bavarian said grimly. "But I expect you have seen enough. You had better find cover somewhere. Fortunately we are not short of that."
It was no difficult matter to find a hole in the ground partly protected with a sheet of iron in the neighbourhood where Rosslyn had hidden his aeroplane, and there he lay minute after minute while the rain of death hurled itself down from the clear winter sky. For a few moments Rosslyn knew to the full the meaning of the word fear. His eyes were blinded with smoke and dust and flying fragments, he could see whole boughs of trees torn away, as if some great knife had sheared them. Then he began to worry over the fate of his aeroplane and the sense of terror left him as suddenly as it had come. Days appeared to have elapsed, though it was not more than half-an-hour altogether before the rain of lead ceased and the bugle call broke out somewhere in the distance. Peeping over the edge of his cover cautiously Rosslyn could see a white flag fluttering in the breeze. The fight was over.
As he emerged from his hiding-place, he could see to his great delight that the spot where his aeroplane was concealed had remained untouched by shot or shell. He began to have visions now of a successful flight homewards. He decided to make no further attempt to communicate with the commander of the British forces. To begin with he might never get there, he might be brought down by a chance shot, and, without egotism, it seemed to him that his life just now was a valuable one to his country. On the whole, it would be far better to carry the precious dispatch straight back to the War Office and explain there how it had come into his possession.
But all that would come in good time. He stood now deeply interested in watching the surrender of the unfortunate Germans. In listless fashion they were piling their arms methodically and carefully, for even in that moment of humiliation they were still mere units in the well-drilled machine, and everything was done lifelessly and mechanically. Rosslyn could see his Bavarian friend with his right arm in a sling and a blood-stained handkerchief bound round his forehead. He seemed as apathetic and as listless as the rest.
"Well, what do you think of it?" he asked. "It was madness to go on any longer. This is the end of it so far as I am concerned, and I honestly believe that is the feeling of the lot. At any rate we shall know what peace and quietness are. It's rather rough upon you to be taken this way, but it is the fortune of war, and you will have to make the best of it."
Rosslyn shook his head. He had something far more important than himself to think about, and the aeroplane was on his mind.
"I am going to risk it," he said. "I'll take my chance. And if we don't meet again—"
But the Bavarian had already turned away and Rosslyn dropped back into his hiding place again. It was weary work lying there hour after hour hungry and thirsty and without the smoke he was longing for. It was getting towards four o'clock before it seemed to him that the coast was clear enough to get to work on the damaged aeroplane. So far as he could see there was not a soul within miles of where he stood, so that he set about his task with a will, and in less than half an hour he was ready for a fresh flight.
A moment later a genuine British whoop cut into the startled air and a dozen figures in khaki, with fixed bayonets appeared out of nowhere, and Rosslyn was surrounded by a ring of grinning faces. It did his heart good to see those fresh-looking, healthy boys again, hearty and wholesome and well fed, crammed with the joy of life and eager for adventure. They seemed made of different flesh and blood to the listless captives he had found himself amongst a few hours ago.
He tore off his disguise and responded to the cry heartily. He looked about him for someone in command of the squad, someone to whom he might explain, then he heard himself called by name.
"Rosslyn, by all the gods," the cheery voice cried. "Now I should like to know what the dickens you are doing here?"
"It's Godwin," Rosslyn said. "We've met in a few queer places, but never in a queerer place than this. Send your chaps away and I'll explain. It's a long story."
Captain Godwin, one time Roslyn's fag, listened eagerly to the story. He was all sympathy at once, he would do anything he could, but meanwhile Rosslyn must come and have something to eat. It was an hour later before he rose in the aeroplane and turned his face in the direction of home. He was tired and worn out, but the thought of what was before him cheered him on. And then at length he saw far below him dim lights, and there rose to his ears the low murmur of the sea breaking on the shore. He knew now that he was passing over Dover, and that the great adventure was nearing its end. And to-morrow he would see Vera again!
All this time Vera Leroux had waited patiently in London for the news which she had expected from Berlin. But the days went by without any sign from her father or Rosslyn, and she had to bear her anxiety with what patience and fortitude she could. She had not many friends, she had made few since she left school, for at that time her father had taken her into his confidence, and she had devoted herself almost entirely to furthering the interests of the German Republic. Young as she was she was well versed in politics and history, and more than once she had been entrusted with dangerous and difficult tasks. The present inaction was trying to her, and she would have been far happier had her father left her something to do.
It was terribly trying to sit there day after day wondering what had become of Paul Rosslyn and whether he had forgiven her now that he knew the truth.
London was dreary enough, too. There was very little going on, the theatres were practically closed, and by nine o'clock the great city seemed to sleep under its pall of darkness. By this time the damage to the water supply had been sufficiently repaired to afford almost a normal flow, and indeed the damage had been considerably less than was at first reported. People were creeping back again to London from the provinces now that the danger was past and it began to dawn on the more thoughtful that the peril of the air was not so formidable a thing as they had imagined.
For the Germans were beginning to learn things. The studied brutality which had been intended to strike terror into the Belgian nation and bring it to its knees had been worse than a failure. It had indeed brought out the finest qualities of courage and endurance, and after all these months the German host had had to fall back baffled and broken on the rock of Belgium's courage. The former began to see the magnitude of the debt they would have to pay, and that the destruction of Louvain and other towns had turned the whole wide population of the world against them. The dropping of bombs on open towns had caused a flood of indignation from one end of America to the other, and it would have been hard indeed to find a dozen disciples of civilisation ready to hold out a helping hand. And it was from America that Germany had had hopes of borrowing the money that she was beginning to sorely need.
Hence her change of policy, hence the new diplomacy of the polite spider and the unsuspecting fly. But the unsuspecting fly had had a bitter lesson, and he preferred to stay outside. But all these unnecessary atrocities had gradually ceased, and London was beginning to feel that the danger of the air had been exaggerated. The West End was filling up again, and trade was growing normal. Still, Vera felt the metropolis dull enough. She was aching for something to do and eagerly looking for some channel through which she could help. And then she recollected all that Hallett had told her about Lady Loxton, and that she had the keys of the fascinating spy's flat in her possession, and was a wasted opportunity which must be repaired—
For two days now it had been raining, and Vera had not been outside the house. She could hear the dripping of the water from the eaves, the gardens looked depressed, and London lay under it's cloak of mist and moisture. No word from Lady Loxton had reached Vera, there was no sign of life in the flat overhead, and here therefore was the opportunity to do something. After what Hallett had told her Vera had no hesitation in acting the part of the detective. She took the key in her hand and climbed the stairs to Lady Loxton's flat. So far as she could see the mouth of the letter box was choked by advertising circulars, and once inside she found that several letters had been pushed out of the wire framework and were lying on the floor. Evidently Lady Loxton had not countermanded her order for the newspapers, for they had been pushed under the door and littered about the tiled floor. Evidently somewhere overhead a trap had been left open or a skylight had been broken, for the papers and letters lay in a pool of water, wet and sodden, so that Vera had to be careful as to how she picked them up.
There appeared to be nothing of importance here beyond a few communications, mostly with crests and monograms upon the face, no doubt invitations and the like from Lady Loxton's society friends. They were all so wet and sodden that Vera would not have had the least difficulty, in opening them. Before doing anything else she gathered up the mass of correspondence and carried it downstairs to dry. She laid the letters on a sheet of blotting paper, and with a handkerchief pressed them carefully.
She came presently to a square envelope with a Brighton postmark, which was impressed upon two halfpenny stamps.
Careful as Vera was, she could not prevent the gum on the edge of the wet stamps from adhering to the handkerchief, and when she lifted her hand the stamps were no longer on the envelope. And then her quick eyes took in the fact that in the space where the stamps had been something had been written with a fine pen and in a hand so small that the characters were unreadable without the aid of a magnifying glass. But it was writing all the same.
Vera smiled to herself as she made this discovery. Here at any rate was something to go upon at last. Her first feeling was one of admiration of a scheme of communication so clever, and yet as the same time so simple. Not the most expert of detectives could ever have guessed at a device like that. And by pure chance really through her own carelessness, Vera had solved the problem where so many people cleverer than herself would have failed.
She might be useful now at any rate. Perhaps she would find the same thing under other stamps, and she hastened to remove them before it was too late. But nothing else rewarded her search and the stamps were quickly replaced.
Then she proceeded to procure a magnifying glass and make an exact copy of the message on the envelope. It was mysterious enough, and conveyed but little to Vera when she had finished. The cryptic information ran as follows:—
"Between Tell Camp and Brighton. About ninety yards inland, and then to boundary stone marked L.L. Then in again for a mile or so towards golf-links and on windmill. Old stone quarry. Abandoned. Wooden doors covered with blackberry brambles. Some time next week, if you would only let me know at the old address."
There was nothing more except a long row of figures of which Vera could make nothing. It was possible, with care, to open the flap of the envelope and examine the letter inside. This proved disappointing, for it was merely an appeal type-written, though signed personally from a society personage, asking for a donation to one of the numerous war funds. Evidently the circular had been re-used so as to convey an innocent impression if by chance the envelope happened to fall into hostile hands.
But on the whole Vera was quite satisfied with her discovery. She dried the letters carefully and replaced the telltale stamps, after which she packed up the whole and forwarded it on to Lady Loxton at the Hotel Metropole, Brighton, together with a few words explaining why the letters had been so damaged. She was about to go to the upper flat again, when the door of the dining-room opened, and then in a moment Lady Loxton and her schemes were forgotten.
"Paul?" Vera cried. "Is it really you?"
Rosslyn stood there, brown and smiling, and with no trace of anger in his eyes. It was as if the past had been wiped out entirely, as if there had never been a cloud between them.
"You are surprised to see me," he said. "Surprised and glad, I hope. Are you glad."
"Oh, you know I am," Vera murmured. "I feel so ashamed of myself that I hardly know what to say."
Paul came forward and laid his hands upon the girl's shoulders.
"I understand many things now that puzzled me before I went away," he said. "I thought that I had been deceived. I might have known better. I might have known, however much appearances were against you, that you were good and true. Still, it was a bitter time for me, how bitter no one will ever know."
"But I couldn't tell you, Paul," Vera urged. "If we had told you the whole truth you never would have consented to undertake that journey to Berlin. You would have called it madness."
"Well, so it was," Paul smiled. "One of the maddest things ever attempted in the history of Europe."
"Oh, I dare say. Still, you would have refused. You would have declined to do anything until you had a chance of consulting Mr. Hallett. And he would have put his foot down upon the whole thing. He would have called it an act of insanity to trust any German. As you are under his orders more or less, there would have been an end of the whole thing. That is why I had to behave in a way against which my whole soul revolted. From the moment when you found yourself in the trap till now I have known nothing but misery. If ever you can fully forgive me—"
"My dear girl," Rosslyn cried, "I am not quite sure yet that I have forgiven myself. It certainly was a blow to my vanity to find how easily and blindly I had walked into the trap. And yet from your point of view there was no other way. At any rate I have the consolation of knowing that your motives were nothing but patriotic and good and pure."
Vera smiled for the first time, for she knew now that she was forgiven. She could feel Rosslyn's arms about her and his lips warm on hers. She lay there just for a little time, content with all the world and utterly forgetful of the strife and trouble that was going on all around her. It was a strange betrothal, for no words of love had passed between them, nothing but a perfect understanding that was perhaps too deep for speech.
It was Vera who spoke first.
"I want to forget the past few days," she said. "I don't want to allude to it. You have been more than good and kind to me, and this very goodness is my worst punishment. But, tell me, was my treachery to you worth while?"
"Oh, I am quite a convert," Rosslyn laughed. "I parted with your father the very best of friends. He is a wonderful man, and is doing a wonderful work. In the first place I took him for a most extraordinarily clever spy. Then I began to think that he was a kind of comic opera lunatic. It was like a chapter from some sensational novel. All the ingredients were there. There was the unscrupulous German and the Englishman with a wonderful new aeroplane. There was the binding and the drugging and the final landing in a German fortress. After that the thing became real enough. I knew then that your father was in deadly earnest and that he was taking his life in his hands for his country. If ever there was a genuine patriot he is one. So is his friend Steinitz and thousands of others in Berlin."
"But were you successful?" Vera asked eagerly.
"Far more successful than I ever anticipated," Rosslyn said. "Those manifestos that came so mysteriously out of the sky were wonderfully effective. I don't suppose a word of the truth has reached England, but we literally set Berlin on fire. There were riots, of course, and considerable bloodshed, but the authorities thought better of it, and your father and Steinitz and the rest demanded—yes, actually demanded—an audience with the Chancellor at the Royal Palace, and got it. I know all about that, because I went with them. And there I had a most extraordinary adventure. When I was waiting at the palace to hear the result of the conference I ran up against a lady whom we both know quite well, and who to my amazement turned out to be a spy. Fortunately I was disguised, so she did not recognise me. She is the last woman in the world anyone would identify with the spying business, and if I told you her name you would be equally astounded."
Vera looked up eagerly.
"Let me guess," she cried. "Not that it's guess work at all. You are speaking of Lady Loxton."
"Now, how on earth did you know that?" Rosslyn asked. "I am speaking of Lady Loxton. And what is more she had in her possession a dispatch intended for Sir John French. I had to get my hands on that at any risk, and I was successful. Not that I managed it without trouble, because I didn't. But perhaps I had better tell you the whole story from the moment when I saw Lady Loxton till I said good-bye to the Emperor of Germany."
"I shall wake up presently," Vera smiled. "Really, Paul, you ought to thank me for putting all these adventures in your way. But, do go on with your story, and when you are finished I shall have something to say which you will find interesting."
Paul told his tale simply enough, and Vera listened with rapt attention. It seemed strange to her to realise that London's last and greatest misfortune had been brought about by the woman with whom she had been so friendly. There could no longer be any doubt in the face of what Paul had heard in the Berlin Royal Palace that Lady Loxton had been responsible for the attack on the water supply.
"And now it is my turn to ask questions," Paul said. "I want to know where you gleaned all your information with regard to Lady Loxton. Did your father know that she was a spy. Have you and he been keeping a close watch upon her?"
"My father had not the least suspicion," Vera went on. "We both regarded her as a good-natured, silly little woman none too well endowed with brains. And now I will show you what I found and how I found it quite by the merest accident."
Rosslyn listened attentively to all that Vera had to say. With the aid of the magnifying glass he read the message of the stamps until he had got it almost by heart.
"One can't help admiring a scheme like that," he said. "The very simplicity of it appeals to me. I must show this to Hallett. I went round to see him just now, but from what I can gather, he is up in the north staying with Inchcliffe. I am going up there by an evening train, and, if you don't mind, I will take this message with me."
"Can you make anything of it?" Vera asked.
"Well speaking off hand, I should say that it points to some secret hiding-place. We know that a great many of such have been unearthed the last few weeks, and this looks like another of them. But anyway there is plenty of time. I'll let you know if anything happens, and I'll telegraph you my address. And now, I really must go for I have so many things to attend to."
"I wish I had," Vera said longingly. "You cannot think how utterly dull it is for me here. I have so few friends, and I miss my father terribly. You see I was entirely in his confidence, I knew everything that was going on, and life was so full of interest and excitement. I feel like a girl who has had a good time in the world, and who has been sent back to school again. Can't you find me some thing to do, Paul? You can rely upon me implicitly. I want something with a spice of danger in it, if possible."
She looked so slight and fragile that Paul could not repress a smile. The idea of associating her with some live peril seemed ridiculous. And yet her eyes were firm and steadfast, and Rosslyn knew that she did not lack the necessary courage.
"I will see what can be done," he said. "From what I gather there is some serious business going on along the East coast. One or two very good men are up there, and I fancy that Hallett has gone to take command. If there is some way of fitting you in there you can rely upon me to do my best."
With that for the moment Vera had to be content. At any rate she was happy enough now, the interview she had longed for and yet dreaded was over, and not one word of reproach had fallen from Rosslyn's lips. He had gone away as her warm admirer, and he had come back, despite the way in which he had been treated, as her avowed lover. And everything was going on wonderfully well in Berlin. The seeds of revolution had been started, and the light was spreading far and wide. It would take all the forces of Prussian militarism to stop the movement now. The citizens of Berlin for the first time since the war began knew the bitter truth, knew how they had been betrayed, knew the dreadful fate in store for them unless they could show the world that Germany was in earnest and that the new Republic stood for peace and progress and against ambition.
If this could be done and Europe convinced of its sincerity then a great people would be saved. The Prussians had forced to arms every man capable of bearing a rifle, also they boasted that there were at least ten millions remaining at home to look after the internal economy of the State, and it was to these that the Brotherhood looked to, to come forward in the great fight for freedom from the yoke and emancipation from the Prussian tyranny.
And so far as Vera could gather his great movement was now on foot. Once well started, no grinding force of arms could stop it. The whole thing was still a secret well guarded in Berlin, and at the moment the Kaiser could ill afford to spare any troops to put the revolt down. Soon the smouldering fire would break out and carry far beyond the confines of the capital, and a new chapter in the history of Europe would be written. For the moment at any rate Vera would have to content herself with this knowledge.
But meanwhile Rosslyn had other things to think of. He had to report such progress as he had made, he had to see that his aeroplane was repaired, for he had shrewd knowledge that it would be required again before long. Before all this had been done it was too late for him to go north that evening, and indeed it was far into the next day before everything was settled to his satisfaction. He would be glad enough to join forces with Hallett again, for there appeared to be nothing doing in London for the moment, and if there was one thing that Rosslyn hated more than another, it was inaction. He caught the express train to the north the next day, and dropped into his seat with the feeling that he would soon be at work again.
For the next day or two Vera waited patiently for news from the north. There had been some sort of satisfaction in making a thorough search of Lady Loxton's flat, an occupation not entirely devoid of danger, but disappointing inasmuch as nothing in the least suspicious came to light. Then towards the evening of the third day there came a telegram with the Filey post-mark. It was from Rosslyn, and ran as follows:—
"Meet me as soon as possible at Grand Hotel here. Come prepared to stay for a week at least."
Vera's heart leapt within her. This sounded like adventure, and she turned her face northwards eager for the fray.
It seemed to Vera as if her turn had come at last. All this time she had been longing to do something to show her gratitude towards the country of her adoption. It was not that she loved Germany less, she was patriotic to the core, but her way had not been along the path of blood and iron, but towards a different goal altogether. She had been trained to think of Germany free from the hand of the sword ever since she was capable of comprehending what was meant by the destines of Europe. She was not blind to the trivialities as she found them, but she knew that everyone could help a little, and here was her chance.
She pulled back the blind and looked out into the dark and gloomy street. There was just a flicker of contempt on her lips as she tried to penetrate the murky darkness. From the very first this policy of keeping London under a blanket of fog and smoke had filled her with the greatest contempt. What on earth was London afraid of? What could she gain by this frank admission that she had been scared by the German bogey? It needed only the upturned flash of a motor headlight here and there to show the foe overhead unerringly where the right spots lay. Given London its usual lightness and brightness and stabbing points of vivid flame it would be impossible for any foreign airman to select one particular object for attack. More than one expert had already told the Government this, but the lesson had passed unheeded. The present condition of things was an absolute premium on destruction. A child with a lantern, or a woman with a bicycle lamp could have indicated St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey, and none any the wiser for the information other than the brooding terror hovering overhead in the darkness.
The terror had apparently been manufactured, it was playing right into the hands of the Potsdam bully, who no doubt chuckled to himself as he read what had happened. And yet all this time, if all that was said about the boasted Zeppelins was true, then he might have had Paris at his mercy. Paris, Boulogne, Dieppe, all the fairest towns in Northern France, might have lain open to destruction, and yet there was not a Frenchman in every million who had even so much as seen a Zeppelin. Those clumsy monsters, at the mercy of every wind and helpless before the attack of a couple of biplanes, were almost as grotesque as a candle in a hollow turnip, and yet they had sufficed to plunge London into darkness and give her the semblance of a city of the dead. If the six millions of Londoners did not fear the darkness, then it was no fault of the authorities.
Vera was turning away with a bitter feeling in her heart when it seemed to her that one of the windows overhead had suddenly blazed out into light. That window she knew was in Lady Loxton's flat, and therefore somebody must be using it.
Perhaps Lady Loxton had come back. No doubt she had another latch-key; if not, then burglars were at work. The darkening of London was a rare opportunity for the prowling nightbirds, and here was a practical instance to prove the fact. Very quietly Vera crept up the stairs and tried the door of the flat. The latch was down, and there was no light in the hall, but she could see a glimmer through the keyhole, which seemed to come from the dining-room. She did not hesitate a moment, she took the Yale key from her pocket and noiselessly turned it in the lock. A moment later she was inside creeping along the darkened hall in the direction of the dining-room. The door was open and she peeped inside.Sitting in an armchair with an ugly frown upon her face, was lady Loxton. Opposite her was Alonzo, apparently angry and annoyed.
"I tell you I won't do anything of the kind," Lady Loxton was saying. "Why should I? I have got more money than I want and I mean to enjoy myself. Fancy bringing me up from Brighton to a dismal hole like this. The streets are so dismal that the mere sight of them moves me to tears."
"It amuses me," Alonzo said cynically.
"Oh, well, it is funny," Lady Loxton admitted. "These dear English they have no sense of humour. Now what do they suppose those Zeppelins were built for? Berlin boasts that each of them is capable of wiping out an army corps. They could destroy a city or fort in five minutes. But they don't do it, my friend, they don't even frighten small flies from a rotten apple. Oh no, the Zeppelin is dead, it was slain by the Brothers Wright when they invented the first real aeroplane. It is as a hornet to a bluebottle, a hawk compared to a pouter pigeon. And yet London shakes her head and forgets that she is taking the bread out of the mouths of the half-million of people who live by her amusements. Suppose some adventurous Zeppelin did chip a few corners from St. Paul's, what is that in comparison with half-a-million people without employment? I say that the boasters of Berlin have struck a shrewd blow at London with their mouths alone. No wonder—"
"Don't you think you might make a leading article of it?" Alonzo sneered. "My dear Marie, I know all this as well as you do. But that is not the point. My instructions are to seek your assistance in that business on the south coast and the sooner we are off the better. If you refuse to come—"
"What, are you going to threaten me?"
"Is there any occasion? You know perfectly well what will happen if you turn your back on this business. Headquarters at Berlin will say that you have got too big for your work. They will lay a little trap for you and before you know where you are you will be in the hands of Scotland Yard. The case will be overwhelming, and the dainty Lady Loxton will find herself scrubbing floors in Portland for the next five years. Ah, the German Intelligence Department knows how to deal with its servants who kick over the traces. It is all part of the game, and nobody knows it better than the people of Scotland Yard."
"But they made me a solemn promise," Lady Loxton protested. "I was told when I reported the success of our attack on London's water supply I could regard myself in future as my own mistress."
Alonzo shrugged his shoulders indifferently.
"Oh, very well," he said. "Please yourself. Only don't say I have not warned you. You know perfectly well that it is a favourite dodge on the part of our masters in Berlin to betray people like ourselves when they happen to know too much. So therefore I propose to go down to Brighton alone."
Lady Loxton sighed impatiently.
"Perhaps you are right," she said. "On the whole, I think I had better go with you. Tell me precisely what this latest absurdity is. If it is destined to be a fortune, so much the better for us. It will be one way out."
"Don't you know what the scheme is?" Alonzo asked.
"Oh, I've got some vague idea. I suppose it is the invasion bogey over again. I saw something to the effect that the egregious General von Ardenne had been at it again. According to the 'Saxon State Gazette,' the invasion of England is practically an accomplished fact. All sorts of calamities must first happen to the English Navy, but that is a detail. Assuming that the English Fleet is manned by idiots and imbeciles, von Ardenne's plan is a brilliant one. But then any rubbish is good enough to tell the people in Berlin just now apparently. Ah, I should not like to be in Berlin in an official capacity when the people there learn how they have been tricked and fooled and deceived."
Vera smiled as she listened. She might have enlightened the conspirators in that respect had she pleased.
"You are right there," Alonzo muttered. "As a matter of fact you are not far from the truth. It is a cheap affair and will probably end in failure, but it will create a sensation and cause something like a panic. No doubt it will please the little mind of the Imperial Barnum who has engineered the whole German circus and very likely cause more unemployment. Now, are you coming or not? It will be rough work, but I understand that those keys were sent to you and they were personally delivered to Brighton this afternoon."
"Quite right," Lady Loxton said. "I wanted to refuse them, but the messenger was so insistent that I kept them. That is why I telegraphed to you to meet me here this evening."
"You wasted two or three hours," Alonzo grumbled. "Well, its no use grumbling about that now. We have still got a margin to spare, time enough for you to dress for the part and for us to get some supper. I brought in a sort of picnic basket and I have relied upon you to provide the drinks. Only we must be off smart when the car comes. I don't know what's going on, but I have not seen so many people at night in the London streets for I don't know how long. There was a disturbance going on in Haymarket when I came through, but I don't know what it was about; that is why I wanted to be ready to start at twelve to the tick."
Vera waited to hear no more. She had just over an hour to spare and time was too precious to be wasted. Very quietly she crept away and closed the outer door of the flat behind her. Five minutes later she was hurrying down the street.
Vera had no settled plan in her mind. The little adventure had come upon her too suddenly to give her much time to think. What these conspirators were about she had not the least idea, except that it was some dark and black mischief under cover of the night. If she could prevent it she would but she naturally shrunk from taking her story direct to Scotland Yard. Many questions would be asked there, she might have to prove her nationality, a step which would probably lead to serious consequences for her father and the rest of the friends of the new German Republic. Pierre Leroux, the respectable French merchant and his innocent daughter were one thing, but a foreigner in touch with the big international spy system spelt danger. Therefore it would be impossible to go to Scotland Yard. Rosslyn was away from London, and therefore Vera wandered on more or less aimlessly trying to think of the name of a friend to whom she could turn in the hour of her need.
Perhaps she was making much of little after all. The German invasion business sounded to her like the story of a comic opera. For nearly forty years Germany had planned and schemed and spent countless millions on the army which was to fall upon hapless France and crush her while she slept. And now the great adventure had failed and Germany was the laughing-stock of the civilised world. In the face of a miserable disaster and fiasco like this it was characteristic that the foaming braggarts at Potsdam should roar and swagger and proclaim their intention of turning the impossible into the commonplace. The threat carried its repudiation on the face of it. The Kaiser had been beaten at his own game by the noisy von Ardenne, who had spoilt his whole sombre prophecy by communicating even the most minute details of the scheme to the German Press. And yet there was a certain method in his madness, for if the people of England's capital could be scared into darkness by the threat of a peril that had hitherto only brought disaster to its own creator, then even the smallest attempt at invasion might send the panic spreading wider still.
Vera went on and on conscious of the fact that the streets were crowded with people despite the gloom. They seemed to be restless and discontented, nodding to one another and disposed to resent the attempts of the police to move them on. The police were but a shade of their former selves, for many of them were doing a great work elsewhere, and the special constables could do no more than their best.
As Vera neared Oxford-street she saw a big ark light flash out vividly, then there came a rousing cheer followed by an ugly rush as the police were swept backwards by the crowd.
"Let it blaze," someone cried. "The police can't stop us. Let's have something to see what we are doing by."
The cheers rose again cheers mingled with ironic laughter which might easily have been changed to real wrath. Up and down the great thoroughfare more and more of the big lights appeared. The faces of the mob were plain enough to Vera now, it was a typical London crowd, from the better classes in their evening dress down to the skulkers and prowlers, the hungry social jackals ever on the look-out for prey. Up one of the lamp-posts swarmed a slight figure of a man with clean-shaven face and hawk-like features.
"Keep it going," he cried. "Turn the lights up all over London. Flood the theatres and the restaurants with it. I dare say there are a few of you down below who know me."
"It's Frankland," someone whispered close to Vera. "Roland Frankland, the actor. They say he is as good in a biplane as he is in a comedy. He is going to make a speech."
The speaker was quite right.
"Now, listen to me," the man on the lamp-post cried. "Six months ago I was happy and comfortable and envied no man. For three months now I have not earned a penny. If it had not been for my friends, my wife and family would be starving. It was bad enough to play on half salaries. But when this terror came it practically closed the theatres altogether. Oh, I dare say you have all got your troubles, but I want you to listen to ours for a few minutes. Think of the hundreds of theatres and music-halls and the like in London. Think of the hundreds employed there, from the star down to the poor devil who carries a sandwich-board in the street. I challenge anybody to contradict me when I say that this no light order is affecting the bread of half-a-million. And London is not the only place on the map of England. Look here, wouldn't the Kaiser be pleased to know that his troops have done something that means the starvation of a million or two of us here? Would not the Berlin press gloat over it? And yet, by Heaven, he has done it without striking a blow or losing a single man. It has been done for him, done by our authorities here who have shown us that they are in deadly fear of those Zeppelins. What else is the darkening of London but a confession of fear? Why should our public buildings be protected when no special precautions have been taken to guard the average citizen from harm? I tell you that Westminster Abbey is nothing in comparison with one innocent life. Besides, the whole thing is so futile. London is a huge mark, and if it were even as dark as pitch no Zeppelin could possibly miss some vital spot. Where, oh, where, are our umbrellas?"
The listening mob roared with laughter. Then the speaker held up his hand and went on again.
"I am speaking about what I know," he said. "I have been over London many a time and oft in an aeroplane. I have sailed over London in the evening thousands of feet in the air when the town lights have flared flauntingly, and I tell you it is more difficult to pick out any building from the hazy glare than it is to-night. You could not do it three months ago. But now, if you will give me a confederate below on a motor cycle with a strong head-light, I will lay any building you like to name in ruins in half-an-hour. The authorities have created this danger, not averted it. Zeppelins? A fig for your Zeppelins. Ten years ago they were a danger. Ten years ago the Germans honestly thought that they had found a weapon capable of paralyzing our navy. Yes, we thought so too. And then there came Wilbur Wright, the man who invented the first real aeroplane. That killed the Zeppelin, and no one knew the fact better than the German General Staff. It is not part of their policy of brag and bluster to tell the German nation so. They have spent millions on their Zeppelins, and they have kept the bogey alive till to-day. But the aeroplane is the master of the Zeppelin and well the Kaiser knows it. We could have built these airships, too. And why didn't we do so? Because every military man in this country worthy of the name believes them to be useless. When I see a Zeppelin doing real damage on the west of the German frontier, then I will eat my words, but not till then. Therefore—"
The speech was cut short by an angry roar as the reinforced police pushed back the crowd. Vera was caught up in the swaying mob, and before she was firmly on her feet again had been carried some way down Regent-street. She caught hold of a pillar projecting in front of a shop and swung herself into a doorway. There were half-a-dozen other women there watching the swirling tide of humanity tossing down the street and here and there holding the police whilst more and more lamps were being lighted.
One of the women there turned to Vera. Her face was white and her eyes were glitting strangely.
"A funny sight, isn't it?" she whispered hoarsely. "I don't wish the police any harm nor yet those special constables. For after all, they are only doing their duty. But I pray God that London gets its own way over this business. I sat on this very doorstep last night in the darkness and wished that I was dead."
"Does it make all that difference to you?" Vera asked.
"All the difference in the world my dear. I am in the profession. I am nothing big, you understand; not on the bills, but just in the chorus with two quid a week for me and the kiddy, and my Sam at the front doing his duty by his country. And then comes this order and down go those lights and it's three matinees a week that nobody comes to and the notices up last Friday night. It took all I had got to find a home for my boy. The only good the darkness did me was to find me a corner where I could sleep out without being moved by the police. And it isn't as if London was afraid. It's only those who ought to know better who are afraid. Well, perhaps things will take a turn now the people have taken them in their own hands. Good luck to them, I say."
Vera was hardly listening. She was watching all that was going on around her with rapt attention. Then suddenly above the din she heard a clock striking somewhere, and she saw that it wanted but a quarter of an hour till midnight. She struggled on into the comparative quietude of Waterloo-place and hurried homeward. There was no time to be lost for Alonzo's car was already at the door of the flats.
It was a desperate resolve that fastened itself upon Vera's mind. She had no one to help her, not a soul that she could fall back upon, but all the same she was not going to allow these people out of her sight until she had discovered what black business they were engaged upon. The spirit of adventure had fallen upon her now; she was longing to be up and doing something. But how?
She looked at the car, a long affair capable of seating seven people at least. The hood was thrown back, and it might be possible for her to hide herself under that, or at any rate secrete herself in its folds. She had a pretty shrewd idea that Lady Loxton and Alonzo would leave London alone, though possibly they might pick up other conspirators on the way. In that case she would be comparatively safe and if there was any ultimate risk, she must rely upon her own resources later on. It would be a fine thing if she could go north to-morrow, and be in a position to prove that she had done something for the good cause unaided.
She flew upstairs only to return a minute or two later clad from head to foot in a thick coat and skirt and a pair of serviceable boots. She wore a cap on her head, and a heavy overcoat lined with fur. So far as she could see the streets were entirely deserted, and she felt convinced that no one saw her as she hid herself amidst the folds of the hood. She lay there snug and warm, listening to all that passed between the two conspirators as the car sped along. It was a source of satisfaction to Vera that her judgment had been correct, and that it was evidently not intended to pick up any passengers on the way. The car was clear of the town presently, and speeding along through the open country in the direction of Brighton. It was getting on towards two o'clock when the car swung into the London-road, under the big railway arch, past the pavilion, and from thence along the Front by way of the Aquarium. Vera could just make out the dim outline of Kingscliff, with the fine houses in Sussex Square, but it was only a glimpse, for the lights were low and dim, and then the car climbed the hill in front of East Brighton Golf Club. On the right was the sea, and on the left the wide lonely expanse of the Downs broken only by the large range of buildings which formed Reedson School.
"That would make an excellent barracks," Alonzo chuckled, "or, perhaps, a hospital. A strategic point any way."
"It would be more likely to be occupied by the General Staff," Lady Loxton smiled. "What would they say and do to-morrow morning if this mad business turns out successful."
"Ah! those delightful English girls, they have no reason to be afraid," Alonzo said. "Of all Kaiser Wilhelm's mad schemes this is the wildest. He is like the little boy who wraps himself up in a sheet and says 'boo' to frighten his companions. I tell you, my dear Marie. I am ashamed to be connected with such an enterprise." Alonzo said no more till the narrow bypath leading up to Tell Camp was reached. Here the car was driven into a maze of blackberry bushes connected by a number of gorsed hurdles. Vera's eyes had got accustomed to the gloom now, and she could see fairly well what was going on. Alonzo had taken nothing from the car, not so much as a weapon. And he and Lady Loxton commenced to ascend the slope towards the crest of the Downs. As they gained the higher ground a shoulder of the hill hid Rottingdean from sight whilst in front the dim lights of Brighton showed the outline of the great town. It was quite a desolate spot where the conspirators paused at length, and but for the twinkling flame in the distance might have been miles from civilisation. It was as lonely as the Cumberland Fells and as deserted except in the spring, when the watchful shepherds were tending their lambs. It was so quite and lonely that Vera felt a certain nervousness lest she should be discovered.
If she were she knew perfectly well what her fate would be. Those two people whose footsteps she was dogging would not hesitate a moment to end her life. They would shoot her, perhaps, and throw her over the cliffs into the sea with her clothing so weighted that her body would never be found. And they would do this without the slightest hesitation, do it for their own protection and not from any devotion to the Fatherland.
"You've got the keys?" Alonzo asked.
"Of course I have," Lady Loxton said pettishly. "What else did I come for except to bring them? Lets get this stupid business over. I was never engaged for this class of work. My business is in fashionable hotels and country houses, and my best work is done after dinner; if I am not warm and luxurious I can't think properly. I have got as much pluck as most people, but if you left me here by myself to-night I should die of fright. So do push on and get it over and run me back to town as soon as possible. I should be just as satisfied if you dropped me at the Metropole."
Alonzo made no reply. He turned presently into a kind of natural amphitheatre, which might at one time have been a disused chalk pit or something of that kind. It had evidently been many years since it was last worked commercially, though someone had within recent memory been making excavations, probably unsuccessfully, for here was a certain amount of machinery now rusty and abandoned.
At the back of the natural basin was a rude attempt at boarding, much as if someone had tried to make a natural barn there. Most of the paint was off the boards now, and the whole front of it was overgrown with long trailing brambles. Alonzo flashed a light upon it just for a moment.
"There you are," he said. "About six or seven years ago a party of Germans leased this place under the pretence of starting a lead industry here. Perhaps it was not lead but it does not matter. Our friends began the enterprise and abandoned it after spending a few hundred pounds. People laughed at them, and the incident was soon forgotten. People did not know that the same enterprise was started all along the south coast. I think to-night that the good people of Kent and Sussex will have something to talk about."
Lady Loxton laughed in spite of her annoyance. Vera lay hidden in some bushes anxiously waiting the next development. She heard Alonzo give a low whistle, and immediately afterwards half a dozen men appeared and stood within the ring of light cast by Alonzo's electric torch. They began to talk in German, every word of which was of course intelligible to Vera's ears.
"Are you all ready?" Alonzo asked.
"We are all ready, sir, yes," the leader of the Germans said. "Down below at the foot of the cliff our boat is waiting. It is a motor boat ready to convey us back to the fishing smack. In half an hour we could be eight or ten miles away, and behold once more we are fishermen on board a Newhaven trawler. It is just the same all along the coast. We are ready for your orders."
Alonzo wasted no time in further questions. At his suggestion Lady Loxton produced a couple of keys from her pocket and handed them over to him. He seemed to be doing something with a lock in the doorway. And then the woodwork flew noiselessly back and disclosed the mouth of a cave behind. Almost immediately the little knot of Germans dashed into the cave and appeared to be doing something without the aid of lights. They were evidently a well-trained lot, for there was no noise or confusion, and they did not appear in the least to be in each other's way.
"That is good," Alonzo muttered. "The sooner we make a start the sooner the thing will be over."
Upon this something seemed to move from the mouth of the cave and take up its place on the level platform just outside. Vera was prepared for something startling, and therefore she was not in the least surprised to see the outline of a gun. Presently there were three of them altogether, a battery of field artillery properly equipped and manned and amply supplied with ammunition as Vera could see for herself. And then she understood.
Here was a bold attempt, and apparently a successful one to bombard Brighton. The mischief could not last long, but in the course of half an hour a terrible amount of damage might be done. So far as Vera had heard, the same bold raid was going on at that very moment along the whole of the south coast. For all practical purposes nothing would be gained by this spectacular effect, but many lives would be lost and a profound impression created. It was little more than a theatrical effect to tickle the vanity of the Kaiser, but there it was, and before it could be stopped Brighton might be more or less reduced to a heap of ruins. Vera regretted now that she had not left the car by the roadside and hurried along westward till she could find some coastguard or road patrol to whom he could have appealed for assistance.
But that was too late now, and the worst of it was that for a long time to come the people of Brighton would be utterly helpless and would not have the faintest idea of the direction from which the rain of death was being directed. The distance might be anything between three and six miles, and anywhere along the range of downs that command the town.
There the guns were all gleaming and ready, and not lacking so much as a drop of oil anywhere. Vera could see the ammunition handed out, then she rose from her hiding place and raced down the hill towards the nearest coastguard station.
Surely there must be some coastguard station handy here. Vera knew Brighton well enough, and she had made many a trip to Rottingdean in the old days. She was trying to locate in her mind now and presently it began to come back to her. She ran along the road for a quarter of a mile or so, then turned sharply to the right and climbed the hill. Here she found a dozen or more whitewashed cottages close together, and behind them she could make out the outline of a flagstaff. There were lights in one or two of the houses, some of them in the downstairs windows, and Vera knocked at the door. It seemed to her that she could hear someone moving inside, though no attempt was made to answer her summons. She tried the door handle, and it gave to her touch. Then she walked inside.
On the table was a cheap oil lamp, and on the floor two men lay gagged and bound. They were local coastguards who had evidently been taken by surprise, and it needed no great intelligence on Vera's part to know that these were not the only victims.
She asked no questions, she searched about till she found a knife and cut away the cords from the angry prisoners. She might be in time yet, though she much doubted it. Even as she knelt at work there came to her ears the quick roar of one of the guns, then a second and a third. The bombardment of Brighton had begun.
The town was asleep at that moment, thinking no evil and secure in the strip of sea that lay between her and the theatre of war. Brighton had laughed at the threat of the Kaiser to throw a force of men across the channel and lay London in ruins. The Madman of Potsdam had his hands full enough as it was, the thing was ridiculous to the verge of absurdity. But they had underrated the Kaiser's aptitude for dangerous mischief. They had forgotten that the great adventure had been planned for forty years. And, there and then, as Brighton lay asleep the terror was at her gates.
There was no occasion for that reckless band of gunners to need any range finder for the field pieces which had lain hidden there for years. All that had been planned and worked out to the minutest detail years before. The first shell fell in the open square just in front of the Aquarium, and the clock tower crumbled into a heap of ruins. The second shell fell crashing on the pavilion at the end of the Palace Pier, and a second later there uprose a roaring column of flame that lighted up the whole front with a glow of crimson.
Meanwhile Vera set the two prisoners free. The story they had to tell was a brief one. Someone had disturbed them an hour or two before and immediately they had shown their faces outside they had been fallen upon by half a dozen armed men, who had promptly gagged and bound them. No doubt the same thing had happened to the patrols all along the coast between Brighton and Rottingdean.
"Are there any other men here?" Vera asked.
"They are all out on duty, miss," the coastguard explained. "But I expect they have all been served the same way as we have. Perhaps you can tell us what's going on."
Vera told her story in as few words as possible. Even as she spoke she could hear the quick crack of the guns not more than half a mile away. She had been disappointed to find so little assistance here. She had looked forward to the help of a dozen men or more, but here she was with but two of the coastguards, and though they had their rifles and knew how to use them, the odds were tremendously heavy. The men were willing enough, and spoke with modesty as to their ability to use a rifle, but they could not hope to cope successfully with perhaps a dozen desperate men who had come ready to give up their lives and indeed never sanguine of getting away in safety. Meanwhile the bombardment was going steadily on, and panic had Brighton in its grasp. The streets were full of people now, running about here and there and asking questions that no one could possibly answer. So far no damage had been done to the gas or power stations, and the terror of darkness had not been added to the live peril of the moment. But no one could give any advice, for the simple reason that not a soul had the least idea of the direction whence the terror came. There were troops in the town, bodies of which would be pushed out presently in all directions to try and locate the death dealing batteries, but it would be quite impossible to strike anything like an effective blow before daylight.
As soon as the authorities had got an intelligent grip of the position and chaos began to dissolve itself into order, the first scouting outposts began to move towards the downs from the Devil's Dyke to Rottingdean. The inhabitants were driven in doors except for the hardy few who remained in the streets and defied the police. Presently the telephones began to ask questions from all along the coast, but they were exactly the same questions that Brighton was asking herself, and evidently all along the channel the same thing was happening. High over the back of the town like a great fiery cross of warning to a sleeping people the grandstand on the race course blazed as a beacon fire to half the county of Sussex. Here and there the shells were falling, dealing out the hail of death, and strong men swore impotently, for it was as if the rain of terror was dropping from the sombre skies.. .. .
"We must do something!" Vera said. "You must not both of you attempt to pick off those gunners. If you both get killed, who is going to summon assistance? I will take one of you up the footpath at Tell Camp and show you where the battery is located. The other one must go into Brighton at once on his bicycle and bring back assistance. It is a matter of life and death. A dozen resolute men who can shoot could put an end to the peril in half an hour. We are wasting time now."
They raced down the slope into the main road until they came to the pathway near to the spot where Alonzo's motor was hidden. Then one of the coastguards mounted his bicycle and pedalled madly off in the direction of Brighton. The other man, trailing his rifle behind him, followed Vera until the masked battery was in sight. There was just enough light to see what was going on. The coastguard raised his rifle and covered one of the gunners.
"Not yet," Vera whispered. "Not yet. You can kill the man I know, but that would only give the alarm. Now, we want to capture every one of those men, if possible. We shall have to be patient."
The man with the rifle grunted something and lowered his weapon. It was trying to lie there without striking a blow whilst those shells were being poured into Brighton. Meanwhile they would have to sit there until relief came, which could not possibly be in less than half an hour. No doubt half a dozen fleet cars would be available within a few minutes of the location of the battery reaching Brighton but they were long and weary minutes, in which the work of destruction was going on without the slightest interruption. It seemed a long long time before Vera sat up and listened. She could hear muffled footsteps on the grass, and the whispering of voices. Here and there in the gloom shadowy figures stood out, somebody was whispering a word of command. The man by Vera's side could stand it no longer.
He carefully sighted his rifle and turned it on a big gunner with a heavy black moustache. There was a crack and a spit of flame, and the German fell like a limp rag, over the breach of his gun. Then the rifle spoke twice more in rapid succession, and two other gunners rolled over and lay motionless on the grass.
Further concealment was useless. The handful of Territorials rose to their feet and yelled as they charged forward. Three minutes later not a single German remained alive.
The danger was over now, and it behoved Vera to think of herself. The last thing she wanted was that her name should be mentioned in connection with this affair. She shrank back into the long grass, and gradually edged into a patch of gorse, where she could hear everything without being seen. Her friend the coastguard was vigorously describing everything that had happened before relief came.
"It was a young lady who came and told us," he said. "I should say she was a mistress from the school yonder. Gone back again probably. But there was a woman with those Germans and a tall, foreign-looking chap with a black beard. I don't see either of them about."
For the moment Vera had forgotten about Alonzo and Lady Loxton. No doubt they had managed to hide themselves somewhere. Perhaps they were waiting till the coast was clear before making any attempt to regain the motor car and return to London, which would not be a difficult matter in the excitement of the moment.
Vera made her way slowly downwards, and hid herself somewhere near the car. An hour or two went slowly by before the conspirators reappeared. Vera had barely time to reach her hiding place in the hood before the car was started.
"Which way are you going?" Lady Loxton asked.
"Not through Brighton," Alonzo muttered. "Over the downs by way of Lewes and so to Town. I suppose you know you were recognised to-night. I heard your name mentioned and mine."
"Then what's to be done?" Lady Loxton asked.
"East Coast," Alonzo snapped. "Take refuge with Blair Allison and leave the rest to Providence."
Long before Vera had completed her perilous journey to London details of the amazing happenings on the South Coast had begun to reach the Metropolis. At first the people were inclined to regard the whole thing as a hoax, but when the telephones began to speak from all directions a different view prevailed. After all the thing was possible. There would be no amazing difficulty in landing a score of resolute men along the coast line extending from Dover beyond Portsmouth, especially if everything was ready for them. All along the sea-board fishing was going on night and day, and the signs of lanterns drifting up and down would not excite suspicion anywhere. The news began to trickle in just as the great daily papers were going to press, and most of them were being held back till the last possible moment.
When London was reached, and the car finally pulled up at Medhurst Gardens, the streets were unusually thronged for that hour of the morning. It was quite evident that something was wrong, as Vera could see directly she found an opportunity of slipping out from her hiding place and making her way up the stairs. She was only just in time, for apparently Alonzo had forgotten something, for she met him hurrying down the stairs into the hall.
He looked at her suspiciously.
"You are out very late, Miss Leroux," he said.
"I might say the same thing of you," Vera smiled. "I have been seeing some friends at Hamstead, and the car in which I was coming home was stopped and taken by the authorities, and I had to walk the rest of the way back. They hardly waited to apologise to me. I hope there is nothing seriously wrong."
"Some ridiculous talk of a German raid," Alonzo said. "The streets are full of people discussing it. I dare say it is some silly attempt on the Kaiser's part to frighten people. So far as our charming friend Lady Loxton is concerned it seems to have succeeded. She telephoned to me in a great hurry just now, and asked me to come round with my car and drive her somewhere inland where she would be quite safe with her friends. Of course, I am delighted to be of service, and if you are feeling nervous—"
Alonzo finished with a shrug of his shoulders. It was all so easily and cleverly done that Vera could not help admiring the man's self-possession. But she knew better. She knew perfectly well why that car was waiting there, and that Alonzo and his companion would be on their way to the north in a few minutes. And it was up to her to do all that she could to prevent their departure. She might have gone at once with her story to Scotland Yard or the War Office, but she did not want to do that. The spirit of adventure was strong upon her still. She was longing to take part in the raid which Roslyn and Hallett had planned on the East Coast, and she was anxious to see Lady Loxton and Alonzo caught in that particular net. If the worst came to the worst, and Alonzo got away on his journey North, then she would inform the authorities. But their was many a slip betwixt the cup and the lip, and Alonzo might be detained after all. With the possibility of this in her mind, Vera lingered in the hall waiting for Alonzo to return. Then she would go up in the lift with him, and it would be no fault of her's if she did not manage to find her way into Lady Loxton's flat. What she would do when she got there did not in the least matter for the moment. There was a chance of picking up a bit of valuable information. What Vera particularly wanted to do was to meet Paul Rosslyn, and warn him what was taking place before these arch-conspirators had arrived. She was still turning over the prospects of this in her mind when her attention was diverted to an angry altercation going on in the road outside. She could hear Alonzo protesting passionately, and she crept across the hall to listen.
"What's the good of arguing?" the voice protested. "You will gain absolutely nothing by abusing me. Besides, you are not an Englishman. You might be a German spy."
"Ah," Alonzo spluttered. "How suspicions you English are. I have given you my name, and you say that it is familiar to you. Let me tell you it is a name known all over the world. Every child knows that I am a Spaniard. Call the hall porter. He will tell you that I am speaking the truth."
Vera could see now what was going on. On the pavement stood a muscular-looking young Englishman in a serviceable blue serge suit, and wearing on his arm the badge of a special constable. He stood between Alonzo and the car quietly and good-temperedly, but at the same time quite determined.
"Now look here," he said. "My orders are quite strict, and I am going to obey them. There has been trouble on the South Coast, and we have all had instructions to see that no car enters or leaves London by any road without a permit. If you try that on you will be shot. I shall have to telephone your description to the suburbs, and if you like to run the risk so much the worse for you. Possibly late in the afternoon you may get a permit, but, seeing you are a foreigner, I should very much doubt it."
The speaker turned away, and strolled along the street. Vera was easier in her mind now. It was quite plain that Alonzo was not going to get away for many hours to come, and with any luck she would be up in the North in time to warn Rosslyn. She could go to bed with an easy mind, secure in the knowledge that she had struck a blow for freedom, and that the bold and adventurous career of Alonzo and Lady Loxton had reached its end.
Nevertheless she was down early the following morning, and eager to see the papers. They were practically filled with the story of the German raid, to the exclusion of everything else. In every case the plan of campaign was identical, in every case the attack had been made from some lonely spot near the various coast towns which had been selected by the German spies. It was the same at Brighton and Littlehampton, the same at Hastings and Eastbourne. The latter town had been quite a typical example. The lonely stretch of downs at the back of Willingdon Golf Club had afforded an ideal spot for the attack on the town. It had been no difficult matter to land the gunners at Pevensey, whence they had made their way over the marshes to the high ground. Here also was a disused quarry, which had been fitfully worked by foreigners a few years ago, and subsequently abandoned. The scheme was ridiculously simple and easy, so easy that no suspicion had ever been aroused. The guns hidden there were somewhat of an old pattern, no doubt, but they were powerful enough to destroy an open town in a few hours.
And they had done damage enough in all consciousness. They had had a free hand for the best part of two hours or more before the troops training at Cooden Beach and Hastings were got on the way, and the high ground behind the town from Beachy Head away past Willingdon had been thoroughly scoured and the deadly battery unmasked. For the most part the German gunners had got away safely enough, leaving their guns and ammunition behind them, which they had done with a light heart, seeing that they had been successful beyond their wildest dreams. They had done their work successfully enough, and for once in a way Berlin would be able to tell the truth.
The papers there would be able to say that the invasion of England was an accomplished fact, and that batteries had been landed and planted on a score of positions commanding as many English towns. They would be able to say that the terror had come in the night, and that many a prosperous watering-place had been unmercifully shelled. They would say, of course, that the South of England had been destroyed, and that millions of terrified fugitives were fleeing towards London. London would be next, and for the first time in many months Berlin would have something to rejoice over.
Fortunately the loss of life was not great. Streets were injured here and there, and one or two hotels on the sea front badly damaged. In most cases the audacious Germans had got away, but they had had to leave everything behind them, so that there was no chance of a further raid taking place. Vera was still engaged over these details when Lady Loxton came gliding into the room.
"Oh, this is a nice thing," she said. "One thing I am thankful for is that I was not in Brighton last night. I see that the hotel Metropole is in ruins. I suppose it will be London's turn next. You may call me a coward if you like, but I am not going to stay here. I am going to the North. I should have gone early this morning, only those stupid people actually refused me a permit for the car. They told Alonzo, who kindly offered to drive me, that no permits will be issued until after to-morrow. I suppose I shall have to stay till to-morrow afternoon. Are you staying too?"
Vera was not sure. It would have been unwise to speak of her movements to this woman. All the same she knew exactly what she was going to do. She was leaving London by a fast train soon after lunch, and she hoped to meet Rosslyn at Filey somewhere about tea time. She shook Lady Loxton off, and went on hurriedly with her preparations for departure. As she anticipated, the trains were running as usual and she soon reached her destination.
Rosslyn was there on the platform awaiting her.
"We are going straight to Inchcliffe Castle," he said. "Come on, I have got a car waiting."
Vera asked no questions. She knew that the broad road of adventure lay before her, and that there was yet much to be done, but it was good to know that she was amongst friends, and that no longer would she have to make her way alone. It was a warm welcome that awaited her from Lady Inchcliffe, who in a way reminded Vera of Lady Loxton. She was small, and fair and vivacious, always cheery and good-tempered and absolutely devoid of brains. In fact, she was typically a musical comedy lady, to whose charms so many of the younger aristocracy had fallen victims during the last few years.
"I hear all sorts of wonderful things of you," she said, as she settled Vera down in a great chair before the hall fire. "Now I want you to make yourself perfectly happy here, and do just as you like. You are one of the conspirators, I understand. I believe that all sorts of mysterious things are going on of which Inchcliffe tells me nothing. He says it is utterly impossible for me to keep a secret of any kind, and, really, he is quite right. People come and go in the middle of the night, and Mr. Hallett and his friends never seem to go to bed, and that is about all I know. So if I ask you any questions you don't want to answer don't do so. Now have some more tea."
Vera smiled at this unconventional reception. But all the same it made her easy in her mind, and later on, when Inchcliffe turned his wife unceremoniously out of the library with an intimation that she was not wanted, Vera did not feel in the least uncomfortable.
"You have just come straight from town, haven't you?" Inchcliffe asked. "No more trouble there, I hope?"
"As a matter of fact, Miss Leroux knows all about it," Rosslyn said. "She had adventures thrilling enough for yellow covers. She saw the raid on Brighton from start to finish. Don't be shy, Vera. Tell these people all about it."
Vera stammered out the history of her wonderful trip. It did not occur to her that she had done anything calling for marvellous courage and resolution, and her cheeks crimsoned as she listened to the chorus of praise from her listeners.
"It was just good luck," she said. "Mr. Hallett put me on the track; and after that fortune favoured me in the most extraordinary way. Absolutely nothing went wrong. Now do tell me what's going on here, and how I can help. It's so dreadfully lonely working by oneself. I think I can be useful."
"You can be of the greatest possible assistance," Hallett said. "Now listen to what I have to say."
In a few words Hallett explained the course of events during the last day or two. He had managed to decipher the code of the window curtains with the aid of the catalogue, and now had the whole thing at his fingers' ends. It was no part of his scheme to take the conspirators single-handed, for he preferred, if possible, to capture the whole of them at one fell swoop.
"We have contrived for the moment to put them entirely off their guard," he said. "They think the arrangements have broken down for the time being, and that there is reason for delay. We know that there are several hostile fishing smacks hanging about in the bay outside waiting for orders, and we know that these boats are connected with the laying of mines. We have every reason to believe that the mines are not on board the boats. That would be a rather dangerous proceeding in case of a search. But the mines are somewhere handy where they can be taken on board at a moment's notice, and it is this hiding place that we want to discover. If we can put our hands on those and the crews of the fishing boats at the same time, then I think we can break up this gang altogether."
"Where can I help?" Vera asked.
"I was just coming to that," Hallett went on. "I am going to ask you to be good enough to spend most of to-morrow mastering the cipher of the window curtains. I will give you the key and I have no doubt you will learn the whole thing in the course of the day. You see our great difficulty has been to change the letters on the curtains in the same neat way as they have been altered hitherto. I have used tiny spots of gum, but what we want is a woman who is quick and neat with a needle."
"I make all my own blouses," Vera smiled.
"Excellent," Hallett exclaimed. "I was quite sure you would be most useful. You will be able to make all the necessary changes without the slightest trace of clumsiness. Now I am laying a little trap for these people to-morrow night and I shan't be able to spare one of my friends here to work the signals from the house on the cliff. They will have to be changed from time to time at certain specified hours, and this it the task that I propose to put in your hands, Miss Vera. I know you won't shrink from it."
"I don't think I shall," Vera said quietly. "Now let me clearly understand. You are going to give me a series of messages to tack on the window curtains and these things are to be altered and changed according to a time-table. The lights will go up and down as I am doing my work. Shall I be alone in the house?"
"Not altogether," Hallett explained. "One of my trusted subordinates and his wife are in the house acting as caretakers. They don't know much, though they are both old hands at the game. It won't interfere with you unless something quite unexpected happens, some unforeseen danger and all that sort of thing. My man is a resolute fellow, quite capable of using a revolver. Of course, no one about has the least notion of what has happened. People are under the impression that Blair Allison and his wife have gone abroad on business and the servants are having a holiday."
There was no more to be said or done for the moment and Vera went away wearily to bed. She was utterly tired out with the toil and excitement of the last eight-and-forty hours, and only too ready to rest. But she was up betimes in the morning and hard at work with the cipher directly after breakfast. All this sort of thing was child's play to her, so that by lunch time she had the whole thing by heart and was quite capable of working the secret code without any reference to the ingenious catalogue.
"Splendid," Hallett said. "The way you picked that up is wonderful. I don't know what we should have done without you. Now do take a rest this afternoon and don't think any more about it until after dinner. About half-past ten you had better announce your intention of retiring for the night, then come down again and meet us in the hall. Put on something warm and serviceable; you need not be afraid of meeting the servants, because they will all be sent to bed by that time."
Vera was glad enough to have an hour or two to herself to wander about the grand old house and make herself agreeable to Lady Inchcliffe. It seemed strange to stroll up and down the magnificent terrace in front of the castle, to look out over the ancient park where the deer were lying peacefully under the trees, and realise the deadly intrigue which was going on only a mile or two away. It seemed to Vera that she was leading two separate lives. She sat in the drawing-room presently listening to Lady Inchcliffe's pleasant frivolous chatter and all the time longing for the moment of action to arrive. She could hear the men talking in the billiard-room, she could hear the click of the balls and someone calling the score. All this was such a long way from the trouble and strife that Vera could not altogether grasp the connection between the two. Then the time came for her to bid her hostess good-night, and a quarter of an hour later with Hallett and the rest she was making her way across the park in the direction of the house on the cliff. They did not touch the road at any point, and just as a clock somewhere was striking the hour of eleven the discreet caretaker opened the door and admitted them.
"Nobody been here, I suppose?" Hallett asked. "That's all right. No, we are not coming in. We have work to do elsewhere. But we are leaving this lady behind and you will do anything she asks. Please show her into the suite of bedrooms and bathrooms in the front of the house and point out where the controlling switch of the electric light is. I think that's all."
The discreet subordinate bowed respectfully and asked Vera if she would be good enough to follow him. She had nothing with her, not even the key to the cipher, for she already knew that by heart. She asked her guide a few simple questions, then when she had satisfied herself that the box of embroidered letters and needle and cotton were handy, she closed the door and proceeded to study the card on which Hallett had tabulated his messages and the various times they were to be signalled by means of the window curtains. It was a somewhat monotonous job, requiring a certain amount of patience and at intervals the putting out of the light whilst the necessary letters were being altered. But at length the messages drew to a close and the last one had just been signalled when there came a low tap at the door and the caretaker looked anxiously in.
"I don't quite know what to do miss," he said. "Some visitors have just turned up asking to see Mr. Blair Allison. I had to say I was only here taking another man's place and that I'd inquire. If only Mr. Hallett was here."
A sudden fear flashed into Vera's mind.
"Did these people give any names?" she asked.
"Oh, yes, miss. I asked for names, and the gentleman calls himself Alonzo, and the other as Lady Loxton."
Vera had quite forgotten both Lady Loxton and Alonzo. They had gone clean out of her mind from the moment that she had left London, and she never thought of saying anything to Hallett about them. Of course Hallett had been informed that the two spies had been present at the attack on Brighton and that in point of fact they had engineered the whole thing, but she had never got far enough in her story to reach the point when Alonzo had proclaimed the fact that he and his companion had been recognised and had suggested that they should fly to Blair Allison for protection.
And here they were at the door clamouring for admission. The reason for their coming was perfectly plain. They had been unfortunately recognised by someone and were fully alive to the fact that so far as they were concerned the game was up and England was no longer a place of safety. They had probably come with a view to getting away on one of the fishing smacks to the Dutch coast. Once there they were safe enough even though their story was known to every peasant in Holland.
That was one of the advantages of being a spy. Once beyond an enemy's frontier, and he could laugh at the country he had betrayed. And so it was with Alonzo and his companion. They had come up here knowing that Blair Allison would hide them until they could be smuggled across the sea. In a way without knowing it they had delivered themselves into the hands of the foe, and indeed in the circumstances they could have chosen no more unfortunate hiding-place. But even at this moment they were very near to discovering the truth, and this was what Vera had to prevent. She must allay the suspicions of these people, she must account for her own presence there, and keep the spies until help came.
She took in the caretaker at a glance. She liked the look of him, she liked his resolute face and determined jaw. And, moreover, Hallett had told her that she could confide in his subordinate if anything like danger presented itself.
"You have done quite well so far," she said. "Those people downstairs are unscrupulous. They have come here under a misapprehension. They come here to hide themselves until they can leave the country. They must not be allowed to leave, indeed Mr. Hallett would be terribly annoyed if they slipped through his fingers. Invite them into the house, tell them Mr. Blair Allison is away but that the lady of the house will be down presently. You had better suggest that she had gone to bed but that on hearing their names she had decided to come downstairs. That will give us a quarter of an hour's delay at least. If they get really suspicious then you will have to show your hand and detain them. Do not hesitate to show violence if necessary."
The man tapped his pocket significantly.
"You needn't be afraid, miss," he said. "Mr. Hallett and me, we have been in many a tight place together, and we have always come out on top. But what do you propose to do, miss?"
"I am going to see if I can find Mr. Hallett, or some of them," Vera said. "I don't suppose they are very far off. I'll come back as soon as I can. You had better go and give my message to the visitors and ask them into the house. Put them in a room if you can where there is only one window, a room you could lock them in if you wanted to. Make escape as difficult as possible. And if you can steal out presently and damage the car they came in it would be perhaps just as well. Now go along."
The caretaker favoured Vera with an admiring glance and departed on his errand. Vera had fortunately finished sending her messages now, so that she was able to act as she pleased. She stole very cautiously down the stairs and into the hall. It would never do for her to meet Lady Loxton or Alonzo at that moment, and she was pleased to see that all the doors leading out of the hall were closed and that the caretaker was standing there apparently listening. As Vera came forward he smiled significantly and jerked his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the morning-room. Vera could hear the murmur of voices as she smiled in reply and then made her way out on to the lawn. It was very dark there, and just for a moment she hardly knew which way to turn. She was trying to memorise the route by which she had come, and it seemed to her presently that she had got it clear. Then she moved cautiously across the lawn in the direction of the cliffs until it seemed to her that she could make out a figure advancing in her direction.
Her eyes were getting accustomed to the gloom now and she was sure that here was Hallett on his way back to the house.
"Oh, I am so thankful to have met you," she exclaimed. "A most extraordinary thing has happened. I know that I am greatly to blame, but I quite forgot to tell you that Lady Loxton and Alonzo were recognised during that Brighton affair; in fact, I overheard Alonzo telling Lady Loxton. They made up their minds to come up here for shelter, and they are here. The worst part of it is that I knew they were coming. I cannot understand how I can have been so foolish as to have forgotten to tell you. At any rate, here they are and I should like to know what I am to do with them?"
"Actually in the house?" Hallett asked.
"Yes, both of them. They are under the impression that Blair Allison is away somewhere and that Mrs. Blair Allison, who is supposed to be in bed, is hastily dressing to receive them. Couldn't you come back with me at once—"
"No, I couldn't," Hallett said curtly. "Don't think I am rude; but I am risking the success of the whole of our campaign by leaving my post for a moment. I will scribble on this bit of paper a fresh signal which I want you to display at once. It will be the last to-night, but it must be got through at all hazards. I was coming back to give it you, even though I spoilt everything by leaving my post. You must do the best you can with those people, try and fool them, say and do anything you like for the next hour or so, by which time I shall be free to act."
Hallett turned abruptly away and disappeared in the darkness. He seemed to be restless and uneasy about something which did not detract from Vera's own feeling of nervousness. But without a moment's delay she flew back to the house again and flashed past the caretaker who was still standing on guard in the hall. He made a significant motion as she passed, from which she inferred that the car had been put out of action. She ran lightly up the stairs and a few moments later the fresh signal stood out boldly from the window with the brilliant glare of the electric light behind it.
The feeling of nervousness had left her now, and she was quite herself as she made her way down the stairs. The people she was about to meet had lived well and luxuriously all these years by lying and trickery and they were going to be met by their own weapons now. In the ordinary way it would have been an unequal contest, but forewarned is forearmed, and it seemed to Vera that she had all the leading cards in her hand.
She walked smilingly into the morning-room and held out her hand to Lady Loxton. She seemed to take it all for granted, and there was a suggestion of mischief in her eyes.
"This is quite a pleasant surprise," she said. "Now who would have thought of meeting you here? And who would have thought that Lady Loxton was one of us?"
The other woman hesitated and stammered.
"I don't know what you mean," she said.
"My dear Lady Loxton, there is no reason for any caution under this roof. When the man brought me your name I was fairly staggered for the moment. I had no idea you were a spy like the rest of us. As a matter of fact, both the Blair Allisons are away on important business. I didn't know that till I got here yesterday and found the house in charge of a caretaker and his wife. No doubt the servants have been sent away for some good reason, but nobody in the neighbourhood suspects anything and you will be just as safe here as anywhere else. Now, fancy you and I being friends this long time and neither of us knowing that the other was a spy! If you knew my fathers real name you would be astonished. But you look troubled and worried, and not a bit like your usual self. If there is any way I can help you I shall be delighted."
Lady Loxton smiled for the first time. Evidently she had not the slightest suspicion of Vera's object, and even Alonzo no longer regarded Vera with a hostile glance.
"We are in trouble," Lady Loxton said. "It is the old story of the pitcher that goes once too often to the well. We were in than Brighton business, and somebody unfortunately recognised us. So we came here on the chance of finding one of those fishing boats in which we could get over to Holland. We thought we could hide here until the opportunity came."
"Ah, I am afraid I don't know anything at all about that," Vera said. "It is out of my line altogether. And now let me get you something to eat. I am sure you must need it. Oh, no trouble. I have only to ring the bell."
The bell was answered a moment or two later. But the man standing there was not the caretaker, but Hallett.
With an oath Alonzo flung aside the cigarette he had lighted and jumped to his feet. He had seen the trap like a flash, and he moved a pace forward as if he would have fallen on Vera and choked the life out of her. It was maddening to be fooled by a child like that, to be deluded by her smiles and innocence. It was all very well to sneer over many a wise man who had been snared by Lady Loxton's artlessness, but it was quite another matter now that the same weapons were turned upon himself. And moreover he was not armed. He had always despised the class of spy who travelled with a revolver in his pocket. And he knew, too, the determined character of the man who stood there smiling grimly in the doorway.
"You have done exceedingly well, Miss Leroux," Hallett said. "Let me congratulate you on the way you have managed this little affair. Will you kindly sit down, Senor Alonzo. You will gain in nothing by violence. Lady Loxton I regret to say that you are my prisoner. A few days ago I arrested Mrs. Blair Allison in this very room. I might as well tell you that she and her husband are both in custody as also are Allison's confederates. It was very unfortunate that you should come here."
Lady Loxton showed her teeth in a brilliant smile. She could not forget her blandishments even now.
"We came to see our friends," she said.
"No doubt," Hallett replied. "But the real reason why you came here was because you were recognised in connection with that Brighton affair, and you were astute enough to see that your career in England was finished. You will stay here till to-morrow, when you will both be handed over to the police. As doubtless you have both been here before you are aware of those armoured turrets in the roof. They will make two very efficient cells, where you will be perfectly safe till the morning. Now, Lady Loxton, will you please go first. Senor Alonzo after you."
Alonzo crept along unwillingly into the hall. He glared round him with some desperate idea of escape in his mind, but the sight of the caretaker standing there stolidly fingering a revolver caused him to change his mind. A moment or two later and the two spies were locked securely away in the steel-lined turret bedrooms, which no doubt had been erected at some time as a possible platform for machine guns. Vera breathed more freely when the keys were turned upon them and they were powerless for further harm.
"That was well done," Hallett said. "Uncommonly well done. We are making a bigger bag than I anticipated."
"It was a pure accident," Vera said. "I cannot see how I can take any praise from it. They were so easily deceived, and you came back just at the right time. I do hope everything is going well outside."
"Splendidly," Hallett explained. "Nothing could be better. That last message of yours has done the trick beautifully. In addition to the four fishing smacks we have lured in a ship which would be rather difficult to describe. She is a sort of combination between a hospital craft and a mission vessel flying the flags of all nations. She has been hanging about for weeks and nobody seems to have had the slightest suspicion of her. But the last hour Inchcliffe has been cruising about in one of his motor boats picking up a heap of information. It was he who suggested that I should fish for the stranger with one of the code signals, and your last message was responded to at once. Now the whole lot are there together in the bay, and almost at any moment the crews may come here for instructions. Our idea is to tackle them one by one as they come in and lay them out. There won't be more than thirty of them altogether and we have got plenty of room for them in the big turret bedroom, where they will be as safe as if they were in York jail. And that reminds me that this will be no place for you, Miss Vera. You had better let my man here escort you back to the castle—"
"Oh, I must stay," Vera said. "I should like to see the finish of this thing. You never know if my services might be useful."
Hallett demurred, but finally gave way, much against his better judgment. He was half disposed to argue the point further when the front door opened and the others came in.
They looked smiling and confident enough, they had the air of men who have done big things.
"So all goes well?" Hallett asked.
"Couldn't be better," Inchcliffe said. "That third signal of yours did the trick, I mean the one about the mines, I left Montague and the other two at the foot of the cliff just by the side of the caves, and as I set off on my little trip round the smacks I caught a glimpse of a boat coming in. There was only one man in it, and I felt quite sure that he was coming to get those mines ready. Montagu will tell you what happened afterwards."
"We spotted the beggar all right," Montague took up the story. "We followed him across the sands and saw him enter one of the caves. He produced a lantern, after which, with the aid of a lever, he lifted a spring trap and a lot of big rocks flung back on hinges and disclosed a cavern beyond. Really a most ingenious affair, but that's not the point. Inside the cave were quite a hundred mines all ready for use. Then we dropped on our man, who showed fight. We did not want any noise of revolvers, so we promptly shot him and put an end to that game. Oh, yes, we killed him right enough. Then Inchcliffe came back and expounded a little idea of his own. We filled up his motor boat and the spy's boat with mines, and for the last hour we have been doing a little laying of our own."
"Rather a dangerous game," Hallett observed.
"It might be in less expert hands than mine," Inchcliffe said coolly. "But I know what I am doing, as you will see presently. When my little programme comes off there won't be any of those mines left to damage anybody."
Hallett let it go at that. He knew that in Inchcliffe he had an ally who could read the sea and who understood the strategic side of it like an open book. Moreover, there was no time to argue, for at any moment the crews of the smacks and the sham hospital ship might be arriving for their instructions.
"We can discuss the point later," Hallett said. "Meanwhile it seems to me that I can hear steps on the gravel outside. Your are all armed, aren't you? Good! Open the door."
The caretaker flung the door back and four men slouched in. By the way they advanced it was evident that this was by no means their first visit, for they made straight for the dining-room quite unaware of the fact that they were flanked by six resolute armed men. They turned sharply as Hallett spoke.
"Stop!" he said. "Put up your hands everyone of you. The first man who moves pays the penalty."
There was no help for it, there was nothing for it but to obey. Bewildered and dismayed by this unexpected attack under the roof of a man whom they had regarded as their friend, they took it as docilely as if they had been so many children caught in some act of mischief. In a few minutes they had been thoroughly searched and stripped of their weapons. Before the next batch had arrived they were safe in the turret-room, powerless for future mischief.
They came one after the other, each of them straight into the trap, so that not a shot was fired; there was not even the semblance of a struggle. Hallett stood there with a grim smile of satisfaction on his face until the fifth batch of spies arrived from the so-called hospital ship, and then his eyes gleamed with satisfaction as they fell on a tall man with an upturned moustache.
"At last!" Hallett cried. "It's a good many years since we last met Mr. Charles Steinburg, but I always told you that I should have you in the end. I might have known that this little business was your planning. I hope you are proud of it; I hope you are proud when you think of your English birth."
The man thus addressed merely shrugged his shoulders and said nothing. The others looked at him interested and fascinated by the sight of the most infamous international spy the world had ever seen. But even that desperate character knew when he was beaten and submitted to be searched without a word of protest.
It was all over now, the spies had been rounded up, there had not been a single hitch in the whole programme. Hallett smiled as he took out his cigarette case and passed it round.
"We can go back to the castle now," he said. "These people are all safe and I know that my man will make an efficient warder."
"Hold on a minute," Inchcliffe said. "We haven't finished my experiment yet. Hallett, would you mind running upstairs and giving the signal. You know what it is."
Ten minutes later the successful raiders were walking along the cliffs in the direction of the castle. They were happy enough in the knowledge of the good work done, all except Inchcliffe, who appeared to be anxious about something. Then a sudden cry broke from his lips and he pointed out to sea.
Five or six great blinding flashes lifted themselves from the face of the waters and as many stunning explosions followed.
"Got the lot!" Inchcliffe cried. "Four smacks and the hospital ship. Been a great night, hasn't it?"
There was no popular excitement and no jubilation over the destruction of the so called hospital ship and the fishing smacks in the North Sea. One or two local correspondents picked up a few crumbs of information which duly found their way into the hands of the news agencies, but all this was looked upon as so much gossip, and in a day or two was forgotten. Nor were the spies as yet brought before any tribunal. The haul, made by Hallett and those under him was too far reaching and important to be made public as yet. But a day or two later a very great personage turned up unexpectedly and asked to see Inchcliffe at once.
He went into his own vast drawing-room in his own majestic home, a great man in his way and looked up to by his own people, feeling very much like a small boy unexpectedly summoned into the presence of a dreaded headmaster.
"I am greatly honoured my lord," he stammered. "I am sorry to bring you so far out of your way, and I would have come to you immediately if you had sent for me."
The great man disguised a smile.
"I am not coming out of my way at all," he said. "I should have come up here in any case. I have had a long report from Mr. Hallett, which has interested me greatly."
"I hope it pleased your lordship," Inchcliffe murmured.
The great man relaxed visibly.
"It pleased me very much indeed," he said. "Now, look here, Inchcliffe, I want you to forget for a moment who I am, or rather what I am, and only remember me as your father's dearest and most intimate friend. When the war broke out I sent for you and you did not come. I had a special mission for you, and I don't mind telling you I was annoyed, very much annoyed indeed."
"But my lord," Inchcliffe protested, "I never got your message. I was off on my honeymoon—"
"Oh, yes, yes," the big man said testily. "I know that now. I refused to see you, in which I was wrong. Hallett tells me that you knew nothing of the war till you got to Southampton. Since then, however.. .. .. Of course I can't make it public yet, but your splendid services are now known in the proper quarters, and I have come down here to put a really big thing into your hands. The way you tackled those smacks and that bogus hospital ship would have been a credit to any officer of the British Navy. In short, I am proud of you, my boy, and anything you like to ask for you can have."
The great man shook hands heartily with Inchcliffe, and departed as abruptly as he had come. It was later in the same day that Inchcliffe sought Vera out and gave her a couple of newspapers. They were brown and wrinkled, and evidently had been in the water for some little time. Vera could see at a glance that they were German newspapers in fact, very recent copies of the 'Berliner Zeitung.'
"Where did you get these from?" Vera asked.
"They were found just now on a body which was washed up this morning, evidently a victim of the explosion," Inchcliffe explained. "Between ourselves, I am anxious to get that body buried, because it is all that remains of a famous German who shall be nameless. I can make much out of the German myself, but it looks to me as if great happenings are taking place in Berlin, and one or two names are mentioned which will be familiar to you."
It seemed to Vera, when she came to read those newspapers in the quietness of her bedroom, that she was dreaming. It seemed almost impossible to believe that those amazing headlines could have come from the office of so Pan-German an organ as the 'Berliner Zeitung.' Had the editor suddenly gone mad, she wondered. Or had he suddenly become converted to the side of the Democratic Federation? For the sheet that she held in her hand was frankly and openly revolutionary. It was no longer the slave of the German War Office, no longer a mere servile rag humbly printing the mandate of the tyrants, but a fearless, self-respecting journal speaking it's mind on the subject of the day, and appealing to the German people. Some of the headlines stretched all across the paper, thus—
THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE
PROCLAIMED AT LAST.
REPUBLIC OR MONARCHY?
'There are no soldiers in Berlin!
'For the first time in its history Berlin is a free city. For the first time since the foundation of the German Empire it is permitted to the humblest of us to speak his mind freely without fear or the knowledge of punishment to follow. Berlin is awake.
'For years we have slumbered, for years we have deluded ourselves that we are the freest and most enlightened race on the face of the earth. That has been our nightmare. Under the spell of that hideous nightmare we have allowed the chains to be bound about us and our limbs fettered by the Prussian tyrant. And not only were we physically in chains but we were bound spiritually as well. We have been traitors to ourselves, but not such accursed traitors as those whose duty was to lead us along in the paths of Christianity and progress. There has been no soul in Germany for years, it was stifled long ago. For nearly half a century we have been drunk with conquest, and our spiritual physicians have drenched us with poppies when they should have purged us with herbs. And why? Because they have been bought body and soul by Prussian gold. They preferred the purple and fine linen and the stalled ox to the dinner of herbs.
'Now, where has all this brought us to? Are we marching victoriously towards Paris and London and Petrograd, with the foe at our knee begging for mercy? Oh, no. We have lost over a million precious lives, there is not a house in Germany where eyes are dry, we are penned in like starving rats in a cage. And we are on the verge of starvation, too. The immense volume of trade, which we have steadily built up in the last forty years has gone. We are at our last gasp, and still those bloody Prussian tyrants take the best that is left of us like so many human faggots and pile them on the funeral pyre, which is supposed to light the dark way to London.
'It was only a few days ago that we began to see the light, began to know how we were being deceived and how we were likely to lose the last handful of our manhood if the tyrant of Potsdam had his way.
'It is only a few days since Berlin, like another Rip van Winkle, awoke from her drugged sleep to the realisation of things as the are. We knew nothing, in lieu of the bread we needed we were fed day by day with stories of victories that were no more than defeats in disguise. We knew nothing of the slaughter that was going on. Then suddenly out of the skies there dropped the Manifesto of the Social Brotherhood. It burst like a bombshell over Berlin. And it bore the stamp of truth upon it, so that every man could read it for himself. The effect was instantaneous, the social revolution coursed in the veins of Berlin as if she had been one human body and one only. One moment and we were a military nation filled with pride and ambition, the next we were the heart of the German Republic only asking for the peace and goodwill of our neighbours.
'It was in vain that the police interfered, in vain the troops lined the streets and drenched them with blood. With that we cemented the foundations of the new Republic.
'And the Government saw the red light. There was no more violence after the first day or two. Bethmann-Hollweg saw to that. And for once in his life the king of Prussia listened to reason. We call him the king of Prussia, because he is Emperor of Germany no longer. Our leaders forced him to meet them, they forced him to promise that he would bring this mad conflict to an end.
'That was the promise he made, but what of the fulfilment? The weary conflict is still going on, though every man in Berlin is now solid for the Republic. We have here three hundred thousand resolute citizens ready to shed the last drop of their blood for their deluded country. Our manifestos are prepared for delivery to every capital in Europe, but there are powerful reasons why the movement fails. Unless we can get assistance from without those appeals can never reach their destination. Our new President, Steinitz, and his cabinet of patriots are doing the best they can, but we lack a means of communication with the outer world. It is whispered amongst those who know that a mysterious aeroplane from England came to Berlin in the dead of night and distributed the manifestos which were, so to speak, the seeds from which the Revolution sprung.
'May the good friend who served us so well on that occasion reappear in our midst. Already the good fruit is ripening in the army, already our troops are turning their back on the tyrant's flag, and so making shelter across the frontiers. We know that our troops are wearied and broken down and bitterly conscious that they are but pawns in the vile game prayed by the tyrant of Potsdam and his gang. So far have we got but no further. And if these words should ever find their way into the hands of the friend who helped us so gallantly that fateful night perhaps they may move him to further effort, for civilisation and freedom.'
All this and much more Vera read breathlessly. So far as she could see the struggle for freedom had commenced, and the real soul of Germany was awake. There were pages and pages devoted to the struggle, events that thrilled Vera to the core, but there was one thing that stood out like a flaming sword. Paul Rosslyn was needed now as he had never been needed by her friends before.
With this amazing newspaper in her hand Vera set out in search of Rosslyn. Hallett had gone back to London, together with Pascoe and Montague leaving von Kemp behind. The latter had no desire to return to London, where he might be recognised, and, though his work was practically finished, there were a few little outstanding matters in which he might be useful. Inchcliffe was happy enough, and was only waiting now for his promised appointment. Rosslyn had nothing before him for the moment and he and Vera had a most pressing invitation to remain at the castle as long as possible.
"Here is a most extraordinary thing," Vera said. "I wish you would look at this paper, Paul. It is quite a recent copy of the 'Berliner Zeitung,' which up to the other day was one of the most rabid war organs in Germany. It appears now to be the official organ of the new German Republic. Berlin is in the hands of the Social Brotherhood. Berlin is armed and determined to carry the socialist programme through. Steinitz has been proclaimed President, and there is serious disaffection in the army. The Republic has issued a manifesto which it is anxious to get into the hands of the European Cabinets. This is the point where they fail, but read the paper carefully for yourself. There is a message for you there, unless I am greatly mistaken."
Paul grasped the paper eagerly. He sat there for a long time reading, with Vera by his side. Her head was on his shoulder, and his arm about her waist. And yet Rosslyn was so deeply engrossed with his reading that he was only half conscious of Vera's presence. Then presently he looked into her earnest eyes and smiled.
"You are quite right," he said. "The message stands out in letters of flame. It is quite evident that the military authorities have taken the greatest pains to prevent the rest of the world from discovering the truth, so far as Berlin is concerned. But that message was intended for me all the same. It was probably inspired by your father or Steinitz in the hope that it would meet my eyes. Probably this particular paper was brought from Berlin by one of the master spies who met his death in the hospital ship. Anyway the arrow shot at a venture has found its mark."
Vera's face lit up with a glorious smile.
"Ah, I expected to hear you speak like that," she said. "I knew that you would not hesitate a moment."
"I am going this very night," Paul said. "What an extraordinary business this has been altogether. And what a story it will make when it comes to be told. My dearest girl, I am just as keen on it as you are. I am killing two birds with one stone. I am helping my country and Germany at the same time. This means the death of Prussian militarism. I shall be off after dark this evening, and long before you awake in the morning I shall have seen your father and Steinitz. I shall bring back with me the documents they want to send out to various European capitals, in fact I shall do everything I can to make myself useful."
"How splendid it sounds," Vera cried. "Fancy one man having so much in his power. It makes me feel almost afraid lest something should happen to you. Is it prudent to go alone?"
"I have hardly given it a thought," Rosslyn said. "But since you mention it, I have an idea. I am going to take von Kemp with me. He is a very keen Republican, and he has done some magnificent work for us here. Now that his task is finished he might prove exceedingly useful in Berlin. At any rate, he shall have the chance of going there. Of his courage there is no doubt."
Vera smiled approvingly. She was more glad at Rosslyn's decision than she cared to say. She hated the idea of Paul travelling all those miles through the dark and perilous night on his long flight to Berlin. What he was going to attempt now out of sheer love for her and regard for her father was a tremendously different hazard than the flight from Wilhelmshaven to Berlin in company with a German subject ready to guarantee his bona fides. On this occasion he was going to start from somewhere near London; he was going to run the gauntlet of a dozen air and sea planes, which would pursue him as relentlessly as if he had been an avowed enemy. Once he was across the North Sea then the fact that he was carrying a German passenger would be distinctly to his advantage.
But at any rate he was going. This mission was entirely his own, and he did not feel disposed to confide in anybody. He meant to sink or swim, and if there was to be any kudos in this midnight adventure then he was going to have it all to himself.
"It's all right," he said. "You need not be in the least afraid. I would fly that little plane of mine without hesitation to the North Pole. All the same, I am going to take von Kemp with me. I know he will be useful, and I am certain that he will jump at the idea. I will go and tell him now. I'll get Inchcliffe to motor us over to York, and with any luck we shall be in London by six. About nine o'clock this evening, if you stand on the terrace, you can imagine me sliding silently out over the North Sea at that moment. Oh, I shall be safe enough. Don't forget that my engine is absolutely noiseless, and that I shall be passing seaward ten thousand feet up without a soul being any the wiser."
Von Kemp rose eagerly enough to Rosslyn's suggestion. His thin, sallow face flushed with triumph as he eagerly read the paper handed to him. He smote his fist on it vigorously.
"At last," he cried. "At last. The scales have been washed from Germany's eyes, but it has taken a river of blood to do it. Ah, before long you will see the German walking arm in arm with the Englishman again, and their children playing side by side on the sands. Not Prussia, mind you, for that is another story. Yes, I will come with you to-night gladly. I am only too grateful to you for the opportunity."
It was shortly after six when they reached London, and nearly nine o'clock before the little plane was ready. The clock was just striking the hour as the machine rose and Rosslyn set out on his long and perilous journey. It was bitterly cold and strangely dark up there when they reached the zone of safety, and the aeroplane pointed like an arrow to the North Sea. Rosslyn knew exactly where he was going, many a time had he been as far as the coast of Germany and back again, so that every odd speck of light down below meant something to him, and spoke with no uncertain language.
"You are not afraid?" he asked von Kemp.
"I am not in the least afraid," von Kemp said. "Though I have never been in an aeroplane before I feel just as safe as if I were on the back of a horse. But this is a wonderful machine of yours. There is no vibration and no noise, nothing that suggests movement hardly. What time do you expect to reach Berlin?"
"We can travel, if I like, at over ninety miles an hour," Rosslyn explained. "At that rate we ought to reach Berlin somewhere about three. If you strain your eyes you will see there below you the lights on the Dutch coast. When we have passed those I shall have to rely entirely on my compass."
They streamed on against the wind hour after hour through the thickness of the night, passing over long lines of light, where the struggling battalions were face to face, and ever and again over some town throwing long ribbons from the searchlights far up into the murky sky. But the aeroplane, like some black nightbird, was beyond the reach of these, sailing swift and silently in the direction of Berlin. It was somewhere near the hour of two when Rosslyn slackened speed and commenced to descend in huge spirals near to the earth. One by one little stars began to show, then long parallel points of flame marked in squares here and there, and after these greater lights shimmering in purple splendour one by one.
"Can you make anything out of it?" Rosslyn asked.
"Berlin," von Kemp whispered. "But why all these lights? I thought they were short of power."
"Oh, I suppose the Brotherhood is responsible for that," Rosslyn smiled. "You may depend upon it that they are making every effort to get industrial Germany going again. We will go down closer if you like. This looks a different Berlin to the city I was over not so many days ago. It is alive now."
Rosslyn spoke no more than the truth. Late as it was, the streets were humming with light and movement. Lights were blazing everywhere, and though the cafes and theatres had long since been closed, the streets were full of people hurrying to and fro like countless ants as if everybody had something definite to do, and were going about their business with a clear object. There was no listless, sullen crowd, no sign of anger or discontent, and no sign of a uniform to be seen anywhere. For some time the interested spectators watched, trying to realise that they were looking down upon a city, the capital of a State that was in deadly grips with half a score enemies. It was a moving and fascinating sight, and Rosslyn turned the plane away from it with considerable reluctance.
"I hope to see it by daylight to-morrow," he said. "Meanwhile, we had better be getting on to the end of the journey."
They dropped presently in Steinitz's garden, and housed the plane. But it was not Steinitz who came to the door, but another man, who smiled as von Kemp gave the sign of the Brotherhood.
"Ah!" he said. "Surely you are Herr Rosslyn? We dared to hope that you would see our message and come to us. Von Steinitz and the rest of them are not here—they are established at the Royal Palace."
"Long live the Republic," Rosslyn cried.
The man standing in the doorway of Steinitz's house smiled. He was gaunt and haggard and drawn with lines about the corners of his mouth that gave him almost a wolfish look despite the kindly expression in his eyes. Rosslyn had seen that look before, and he knew exactly what it meant. He knew now that Berlin was on the verge of starvation, and that the man in front of him had eaten little or nothing for days. Still Steinitz's trusted servant bade him enter and placed a meal of sorts before him and von Kemp.
"I am quite alone in the house," he explained. "I should not be here now only Steinitz was quite sure that you would come sooner or later, and it was necessary that someone should welcome you. I am sorry there is no better fare for you."
The dinner on the table consisted of some exceedingly dry looking bread and the heel of a Dutch cheese. This, together with an onion or two, and a bottle of some thin Rhine wine, completed the entertainment. Poor and uninviting as it was, Rosslyn could see the wolfish gleam in the eyes of the other man as they swept over the table.
"I am not in the least hungry," he said. "Neither is my friend von Kemp."
Von Kemp protested that he could eat nothing. Steinitz's friend flushed uncomfortably.
"You fear there is nothing else?" he asked.
"Oh, it isn't that," Rosslyn said hastily. "Very well, then, we will have a mouthful supper on the strict understanding that you join us. Come along, my friend."
The man sat down at the table and ate wolfishly. Then he caught Rosslyn's eye upon him and he changed colour.
"I see you understand," he said. "I have eaten nothing to-day. And I dared not touch the little food I had in case you came. It is the same all over Berlin. A few days ago they boasted that there were stores enough here to feed the population for a year. They said it was the same in every city in Germany. We were encouraged by visions of vast granaries and frozen meat and tinned food stored away in Government buildings. And we believed it. We were still credulous even when the authorities suggested that they should be left to distribute the food because they controlled the organisation. But the food got less, and the Cabinet of the new Republic insisted upon looking into things themselves. They found all the stores empty. Everything that could be raked together had gone to support the troops. Berlin today is on rations, and a week at the outside will exhaust them. When I think how we have been fooled I could snatch up a gun and shoot the first man in authority I meet. We have been fed for months on lies and imaginary victories. And now the day of reckoning is come."
"I think I understand," Rosslyn said. "This war of yours is no more than a great adventure. It has been built up on supposition. The War Staff had quite made up their minds that your armies in the East and West were going to provision themselves. They were to squat down in the enemy's country like two bloated spiders, and the French and the Russian people were destined to be their diet of flies. Meanwhile you were to live on the fat of the land, and the stream of gold was to flow into Berlin from both sides of Europe. And now the bubble is pricked, the rosy dream has proved to be a stern reality. Every man in Europe besides the Germans could see how the adventure would end."
"We know it now," the listener said sadly.
"Ah well, it it not too late to put matters right yet," Rosslyn said cheerfully. "If you can throw off your yoke, then many a man who hates you now, millions of foes of yours will hold out the hand of fellowship and lift you from your knees. But so long as this strife goes on so long will you suffer."
"The strife is practically over," said the man eagerly. "But the Prussian tyrants are till keeping up their bluff, and what looks like the iron front is now no more than tin. Our armies are fair and handsome fruit outside but putrid and rotten at the core. Not one in every fifty of our reserves are on the way to the front. Our boasted volunteer force has crumbled like sand. When it became known that we had been betrayed over our food supply all the heart went out of us. Not one hand was held up to help our army. Men in uniform are straggling into Berlin by the hundred, men who have laid down their weapons and refused to fight any more. They were shot at first, but you can't go on shooting a whole army. To-morrow morning you shall go through the streets of Berlin and see for yourself. I will show you sights that the other capitals of Europe little dream of."
Rosslyn and his companion were up betimes next morning despite their fatiguing journey the night before. They were anxious to get into Berlin to see how the new Republic was getting on. Steinitz's servant had actually found them something in the way of a breakfast, which he explained was owing to the fact that a provision train had been smuggled over the frontier and that another one was on the way. He shook his head doubtfully.
"It was allowed to come through, of course," he said. "There are Russian spies in our midst who know all that is going on, and it is to Russia's interests to keep us going so that we can fight the Prussian caste. So this morning I can give you coffee and bacon and hot rolls that I have made."
A little later and Rosslyn and his companion were in the streets of Berlin. They had to walk the whole distance from Potsdam, for there was no sign of a tram anywhere to be seen. There were no omnibuses either, and during the whole of the long walk Rosslyn saw no sign of a horse. No dog crossed his path either. It seemed strange, and he mentioned the matter to Steinitz's servant.
"When starvation comes it comes rapidly," the latter said grimly. "It fell upon as so suddenly as an eastern night. We were like a millionaire who has lost all his money. One day it seemed that we were in the midst of plenty and the next day starvation. After I have told you this you will not want to know what has become of our horses and our dogs."
Rosslyn shuddered. His question indeed had been answered. He was wondering what had become of those who had been in authority when this dreadful fact came to light. Had the people risen up in their wrath and hanged the Kaiser's gang who had kept the dreadful truth from the ears of the people? Steinitz's servant seemed to see what was passing in Rosslyn's mind.
"No," he said. "There was no great outbreak. The people here were too stunned for that. But every member of the Government and the local administration here were arrested and imprisoned. They will be brought up for trial presently, they will be all in dock together, and I hope the Kaiser will stand there with them."
The man spoke with a concentrated bitterness that seemed to snap off the tip of his tongue. Rosslyn smiled grimly.
"Oh," he said. "Is it as bad as all that?"
"The Kaiser could have stopped it," the man cried. "He could have prevented war. He knew that Serbia had humiliated herself in the dust, he knew that she was prepared for further punishment. But he forced the war on and then, like the coward that he is, went whining to Christianity and taking God to witness that this trouble had been forced upon him, the blasphemous liar. I tell you that he brought about all this bloodshed and misery and designedly as a bird builds her nest. Did he not boast that he was prepared to lose a million men to bring Europe to his feet? You can multiply that million by two. There is not one house in Germany that does not mourn its slain to-day. There are thousands of houses in which not one man remains. So let that devil stand in the dock with the rest, I say. Strip him of his uniform and his gold lace and silver helmet take away all the bits of ribbon and tin breastplates he likes to hang upon his coat, and let him stand there in the dock with the rest in a dirty shirt with a crust of bread that he has picked up out of the gutter between his famished lips. To Hell with him."
All this in a loud voice in the Friederich Strasse as if it had been some sermon thundered in a clarion voice from a pulpit. Just for a moment Rosslyn's guide had forgotten himself, just for a moment he was speaking from the bitterness of his heart. All round him the gaunt, hollow-eyed crowd jostling and streaming down the streets turned to listen and applaud. Here and there along the pavement were the soldiers in soiled and ragged uniforms crawling along listlessly their eyes brooding and vengeful. For the most part they were almost without boots and their filthy feet bulging through the burst soles. And some of these, as Rosslyn could see by their facings, belonged to the famous Prussian guard.
The shops were closed, there was practically no place of business open. The women, too, were conspicuous by their absence, so that there was no great show of mourning save that nearly every man in the crowd wore a black band round his arm.
Here was Nemesis, here was the bleeding heart of a nation torn open so that the onlooker could see how vital was the wound. Hard and stern as he was, hating the system that had brought this about as he did, Rosslyn was moved to an infinite pity.
"I am tired of this," he said. "Take me to the Royal Palace at once. It will not be my first visit there. And how different the circumstances are!"
This was a very different Royal Palace to the one that Rosslyn had last visited. All the extravagant hangings, all the pictures and objects of art had been removed till the great rooms were as bare and gaunt as those of a barracks. But every room was occupied now by scores of earnest men writing at desks and tables. Every one of them seemed to have some appointed task and everything seemed to be moving quite smoothly. In one of the inner apartments usually devoted to the personal staff of the Kaiser, Steinitz and Leroux sat busily engaged on the large map in front of them. They jumped up with exclamations of pleasure as Rosslyn entered.
"Now this is a glorious surprise," Leroux exclaimed. "We had an idea that you would come to our assistance. We felt certain that a copy of one of our newspapers must reach you sooner or later. Oh, yes, all the Berlin press are on our side now. And the same remark applies to nearly every newspaper in Germany. But the military party is still comparatively strong, and we have had the greatest difficulty in getting the news past the frontiers. Now tell me, how did you get to know?"
Rosslyn proceeded to explain. He introduced von Kemp and gave him his due mead of praise. He told Leroux also that he had seen Vera, and how splendidly she had played her part in the great adventure.
"That is good," he exclaimed. "Very good indeed. I am sure you are glad now that we dragged you into this."
"You may be certain of that," Rosslyn smiled. "Now is there anything else I can do for you?"
"You can do a great deal," Steinitz cried. "In the first place you can take the story of the last few days and let Europe know it. For the time being at any rate the war is going on. We see that the Allies are taking no risks, but if they liked to assume a bold offensive now, then the defence on both frontiers must break like a bubble. I tell you our army will not fight. They have had enough of it. There may be a Prussian regiment here and there ready to persist till the last moment, but they are few and far between. Heavens, what fools we have been. We might have become the greatest nation in the world. We might have carried our products under every flag that crosses the seas, we might have had all the ports and marts of the Globe at no expense to ourselves. We might have won in time by sheer weight of money. But that did not please the Imperial Showman who was once so powerful here. I tell you, my dear young friend—"
"You are wasting time," Leroux interrupted. "Listen to me, Rosslyn. Russia is helping us. She is sending us food because she knows we must win, and therefore it is not necessary to sacrifice any further lives. There will be no more lives sacrificed if we can only prevent further munitions of war leaving Krupps' Works at Essen. We want to cut of the output of gun and ammunition there, and if we can do that the war is automatically ended. The people there are on the Kaiser's side because they are being paid enormous wages and because the food supply stored there keeps them in every luxury. There are forty-five thousand men in those factories, and their wives and children who live in the suburbs have nothing to worry about and no anxiety. Now look here. I don't suppose there is an aeroplane in Germany at the present moment capable of flying, and if there were we have no petrol. Now don't reply without thinking. But you must see for yourself that if you could drop a dozen bombs on the Essen arsenals not so much as a cartridge could leave there for months. You might be brought down, you might be killed, but if you succeeded then almost single-handed you would have put an end to the cruelest war that the world has ever seen."
Rosslyn's blood flamed at the mere suggestion. Here was an exploit after his own heart, here was a chance of covering himself with everlasting glory. He did not hesitate a moment, he was ready now to run the risk.
"I'll do it," he cried. "I am grateful for the opportunity. I believe I can carry at least four hundred pounds weight of explosives. Of course I could not carry a passenger. The question is, have you the explosives? If so, I could be off in an hour."
Steinitz rose excitedly his feet.
"The bombs are ready," he said. "They are in my house. We will go and find then now if you like."
Rosslyn would have asked nothing better. An hour later with the bombs attached to his aeroplane, he shot up into the air in great wheeling circles until he was eight or nine thousand feet above the capital. There were thousands of curious eyes that watched him start, but none of them standing down below guessed the meaning of that flight. He had with him his glasses, together with a large scale map, and he knew exactly which direction he had to steer. It was a clear bright winter's morning with not so much as a cloud in the sky, and the whole country lay picked out in dazzling sunshine down below him. Then he turned to the west and darted like a great bird of prey on his errand of destruction. It was no great distance that he had to go, not more then three hundred miles at the outside, and at the rate he was flying he calculated that his journey would be accomplished within three hours. He passed over one town after another an object of wonder and fear to those below him, but he held steadily on his track till presently the great belching chimneys and huge workshops of Essen lay below him. He poised over the huge arsenal like a hawk that's about to pounce upon his prey. He dropped lower and lower quite regardless of the storm of bullets flung upwards, for his plane was armoured at an angle so acute that the missiles glanced off quite harmlessly.
Then he took a sheet of paper from his pocket-book and scribbled a message to those below. He weighted this with a couple of pennies from his pocket and threw it down. With his powerful glasses he could see a man climbing a ladder to a roof whereon the message lodged, he saw a little knot of people scanning it, and he saw the a women and children streaming wildly towards the suburbs. They were followed presently by the men, veritable army corps of them, for it was useless to stay there and court destruction when one man up there like a speck in the sky held the town and all its mighty output in the hollow of his hand.
Rosslyn smiled to himself as he thought of it. He was measuring his distance now and working it out to an inch with the aid of his large scale map. Then he reached for one of the pear-shaped canisters attached to the side of the plane and dropped it. He saw the dread messenger of death fall like a plummet down, down until it struck a steel roof at the base of a cluster of tall chimneys. There was a flash no greater to Rosslyn's eyes than would have been made by a heliograph, and no report reached his ears, but he could see that the clump of chimneys had been wiped out and a huge area of shedding burst into flames. The aeroplane circled over the doomed city dropping those pear-shaped terrors at intervals, and wherever they fell swift and sudden destruction followed. Very soon the great works below were one roaring ring of flame and drifting columns of vapour, then there came an explosion that seemed to lift to the heavens and set the wings of the plane quivering as if they had been smitten by a sudden gale. A canopy of smoke as black as night uprose, and for a time the aeroplane was enveloped in it as if it had been some dusky blanket. It drifted Eastward on the light breeze, and as it did so Rosslyn could see that his work of destruction had been accomplished. Nothing lay below him but a heap of ruins. With a smile on his lips and a feeling of triumph in his heart he raced back to Berlin. It was still daylight when he folded the wings of his plane and hurried off to the Royal Palace to report what he had done. But the story had already preceded him. The streets of Berlin were crowded with an eager, excited throng discussing the message which somehow or other had found its way through from Essen. It mattered little to the frantic mob there whether the good work had been accomplished by a friend or a foe. The devil's factory had been destroyed, and the disastrous war was near its end.
Rosslyn pushed his way through the yelling mob until he reached the Royal Palace. He had no occasion to be dissatisfied with his welcome there, for he was grasped by the hands almost painfully, and indeed it was quite a long time before he was allowed to sit down and describe his exploit in detail.
"We got it through by means of our secret telephone service," Steinitz explained. "We have friends even in Essen. As far as we can understand you did not leave one stone of the factory standing on another. Some day in the future Germany will know what she owes to the splendid genius and undaunted bravery of Paul Rosslyn. Ah, my dear friend—What's that?"
There was a strange ominous roar from down below and four men suddenly burst into the room. They were dressed as civilians, though they wore military tunics and carried rifles with fixed bayonets. Between them was man in the uniform of a general officer, though all his gold lace had been cut away and buckled on his side was an empty scabbard. He glanced defiantly at his captors, but his lips were quivering strangely and his eyes were full of fear.
"What have we here?" Steinitz cried. "A prisoner?"
"Yes, Mr. President. We beg to say we have captured Wilhelm Hohenzollern, once called the Emperor of Germany."
Rosslyn started back. In the circumstances he was particularly anxious that the kaiser should not recognise him. He had all an Englishman's repugnance against gloating over a man when he is down. The last time that these two had met the Emperor had been in the full flower of his pride and arrogance, and now he was an utterly broken man. There was not a private in the once great German army who would have changed places with him at that moment. And then Rosslyn remembered that during the previous meeting under this very roof he had been disguised, and passed successfully for a German. There was no occasion, therefore, why he should be in the least reticent. He was going to hear something that might, indeed probably would, change the history of the world.
Already in imagination he could see himself speeding across the North Sea, carrying home the glad tidings that the war was over and everything was going to be fine.
But all that would come presently. Meanwhile the living drama was moving under his very eyes. He could see the Kaiser flush with rage, and his hand go to his empty scabbard. He bitterly resented the way in which he had been spoken to. But even his superb insolence and threatening demeanour had no effect upon the two men sitting there on the other side of the table.
"Ah, this is good," Steinitz said. "Where did you find this man? And who brought him here?"
"This is intolerable," the Kaiser cried. "Are you mad that you presume to treat me in this fashion. And have you forgotten that you are seated there in the presence of your sovereign?"
"If we are mad," Steinitz said, "then it is the madness of despair. It is the madness of a people driven to the verge of starvation by a bloodthirsty tyrant who was only too ready to sacrifice a great people on the altar of his ambition. A few months ago we were happy and prosperous, a few months ago we had the trade of the world in our hands. We did not want war, at least such of us as come from South Germany. And Saxony and Bavaria thought as we did. But we were blind, we were so engrossed in our trade that we left the leading strings in the hands of Prussia. We did not even stop to find out the truth when the bombshell of war burst in our midst. We were drunk with victory and mad with pride. We did not know then that you and your accursed wolves had been planning this campaign for years. We did not know that you had made up your minds to violate the neutrality of Belgium in any case. How could we guess that you meant to level those glorious old towns to the ground! We talked glibly enough of making the world quake with terror at the mention of the German name, and we quote Bismarck with a smile on our lips. You see, we never thought that the Iron Chancellor really meant it when he said that a conquered people should be left only with their eyes to weep with. But that was part of your damned gospel. You took it literally, and so did your army. We said nothing in the hour of our peril, but there are thousands of us in this country aghast at the atrocities that you were perpetrating in the name of Christianity. When this war commenced we were a civilised and respected nation; to-day the world turns from us with a shudder, and places us outside the pale of civilisation. But that for the moment is not the point. You have not only betrayed the trust that was placed in you, but you have betrayed your own people. You have treated us like children. You have bled us white with taxation. You have taken our money to spend on arms. You have treated us with utmost contempt. You told us we should be in Paris in a fortnight. The months have gone on and now the Allies in the West are far over our Frontier. You told us that the Russians were beaten, and that your army would winter in Warsaw. And now the Russians are within one day of Berlin, with nothing but a ragged hoard of refugees to oppose them. You told us how your boasted Zeppelins would lay London in ruins and destroy the British Fleet. And yet London smiles proudly to-day, and the British Fleet are so far from being destroyed that your crown could not purchase a bag of flour in Berlin to-day. But I had forgotten, you have no crown."
The words came from Steinitz' lips with a bitterness and contempt that caused the Kaiser to flush angrily.
"You have lost your senses," he cried. "My capital is out of its mind. As I was dragged through the streets the people hooted me, hooted ME the greatest sovereign Germany has ever had. Now listen—"
"We are in no mood to listen," Steinitz said. "You will understand in time. The German Empire is dead, buried under a heap of ruins, and you are the Samson who pulled down the Temple. Not that it matters much, because the house of swords was bound to fall some day. You cannot keep a whole nation in slavery. And Germany has been your slave for twenty-six years. Now listen to me, Wilhelm Hohenzollern. I am the President of the new German Republic. I was chosen for that post by the unanimous wish of every man in Berlin. There are hundreds and thousands of your soldiers here, and they, too, were allowed a voice in the selection."
"Deserters," Wilhelm said bitterly. "Traitors."
"What is a traitor?" Steinitz asked. "If he takes part in a rebellion, and the revolt is crushed, then he is a traitor and liable to be shot. But if the revolution is successful, then he is a patriot, and may some day sit upon the throne himself. We are all patriots here, if you please. We are not going to be starved any longer. We are not going to watch our women-kind droop and die so that your troops who still follow you may be fed. And when we heard that you and your suite were skirting round the edge of the capital that you dared not visit just now—"
"Dared!" the Emperor cried, "Dared!"
He advanced to the table, and smote upon it with his fist vigorously. Steinitz jumped to his feet, and glared at the man who had once been his sovereign. Just for a moment he looked like violence.
"Do you challenge me to repeat the word?" he asked. "Were you not implored come and see us! You have with you a retinue of five hundred men. You had your general staff, your gilded parasites, and your gold laced hangers-on. Where are they now? They fled before a handful of citizens armed with a rifle, and they left you to be brought here like some disgraced private. And mark you, it means disgrace. The Republic has been proclaimed, the movement has spread from East to West, and we can count millions whose arms are ready to back us. You laughed at the movement when you heard of it first, you boasted to your general staff of the lesson you would read to the citizens of Berlin. And they held back the truth from you for their own purposes. But where is the King of Bavaria now, where are the rulers of Saxony and Hanover? They have gone back to their own people to save their faces and keep their crowns whilst the eagles are gathered together over the spoil. They know only too well that it is Prussia that the Allies are going to destroy to the last stone. We have been prevented as yet from going to the great powers and suing for peace in the name of the German Republic. We have found the means now, and all Europe will know the truth to-morrow. If you are wise, you will sign this document that we have prepared for you, and abdicate the throne here and now. It is your one means of salvation."
The Kaiser laughed bitterly. He had made no attempt to realise his position, it did not even seem to occur to him even now that he was a prisoner in the hands of his own people. Not for a moment did the amazing egotism of the man desert him. The people of Berlin had gone mad, they were in the throes of temporary insanity, and they would wake up on the morrow in sack cloth and ashes.
"You are not really serious?" he asked.
Steinitz shrugged his shoulders impatiently
"Berlin has known what it is to be without food," he said. "We have had to thank our enemies for the bread which is in our mouths to-day. And the enemy is at our gates. It will be no fault of ours if a single shot is fired. And we can have good terms. We shall surrender that useless fleet that you bled us to build, the fleet which is only a menace to England. We shall have to part with our colonies and restore to France her stolen provinces. Our colonial empire, such as it is, has ceased to exist. To Belgium we have to give a hundred millions, and Russia and England will force us to pay the cost of the war."
"And is that all?" the Kaiser sneered.
"And cheap enough, too," Steinitz cried. "Your beloved Prussia will become part of Poland. Your military caste will be deprived of their status and compelled to take up honest work like the rest of us. Do you understand that, Wilhelm Hohenzollern?"
The Kaiser looked around him defiantly. He was trying to grasp the fact that this bitter humiliation was being thrust upon him under his own roof. He could see around him evidence enough of the glory and power of his race, could see it in the pictures and statuary and the hangings on the walls. He could hear it, too, coming up in volumes of sound from the streets, could catch roars of cheers, and presently the regular tramp of many feet.
"My soldiers," he cried. "My loyal troops! Ah! we shall see who is master in Berlin now."
"Troops indeed," Leroux cried. "But not yours. Look, and you will see the advance guard of the Russian army."
It was even as Leroux had said. The streets were filled with a hoard of cavalry, followed presently by regiment after regiment of infantry, each headed by its band. All Berlin had turned out to meet the conqueror, but there was no sign of humiliation or hate or a desire for vengeance on the part of the black masses of humanity below. For the people of Berlin were awake now and fully alive to the way in which they had been treated. They knew that the invader came not in the shape of a conquering oppressor, but as a deliverer after twenty odd years of grinding and military tyranny. They stood for food and safety and the continuation of a great people. They would exact their price, of course, they would make their nation pay for the sins of their rulers, but they would sleep comfortably in beds now knowing that there was hope for the morrow. But Germany was not yet dead, she would rise again like some new and resplendent Phoenix from her own ashes, once the hand of Caesar was removed.
"Look and see for yourself," Steinitz said sternly. "We are all glad to see those men there, though at the same time the sense of shame oppresses us. But we do not forget that they are deliverers from you and the like of you. And it is not you that they have to deal with. I tell you they will make terms with the German Republic. And when peace comes to be signed here in Berlin the streets will be lined, not only with the troops of the Allies, but with German soldiers who are on the side of the Republic. It is the only way to save us from destruction, it is the only way in which we can hold up our heads again. By to-night Berlin will be under the control of a Russian Governor. He will send for me and my Cabinet, and he will offer us certain terms. Our task will be much easier when I say that I am representing the German Republic, and that the Emperor has formally abdicated."
"That will never be," the Kaiser cried.
"Well, it makes little difference," Steinitz said coolly. "In that case we shall have to treat you the same way as the French treated Napoleon III. After all, a throne rests entirely on the goodwill of the people. You refuse to sign?"
The Kaiser took the sheet of paper lying on the table before him, and in a frenzy of rage tore it to fragments. He was beside himself with anger, but all this was wasted on Steinitz and his companion. The former rang a bell, and a file of soldiers entered. They did not quail before the man whom they had once looked upon as a connecting link between Earth and Heaven, they merely turned to Steinitz and obediently waited his orders.
"Take the prisoner below," he said. "See that he has what he needs, but do not forget that he is a prisoner, and a traitor to the Republic. Now go."
It seemed almost incredible, and Rosslyn rubbed his eyes to make quite sure that he was awake. It seemed years to him since he had seen Wilhelm in all his pride and power, and yet it was no more than a matter of days. He was sorry and yet glad that Nemesis had stepped down from her high place and grasped this bloodthirsty tyrant by the throat. He could hear the dragging footsteps of Germany's late master dying away in the distance, then his ears seemed to be filled with the tramp of armed men as they swept like some mighty machine through the streets. What would all Europe think when they learnt all this to-morrow, he wondered. He turned eagerly to Steinitz.
"You don't want me to stay any longer?" he asked.
"I don't," Steinitz said. "It might be better for you to stay and hear the official terms of peace. Within an hour the Czar's representatives will be here, and formally demand what they have already suggested unofficially. Of course, we shall accept them, indeed, there is nothing else to do. To think that I should live to be actually glad to see a foreign army in Berlin! Well, it is no disgrace to us. Our army has made a big fight, and the German is as good a man as ever. But we need not go into that now. What we have to do is to make as honourable peace as possible and start building up the Empire afresh. You had better stay here and see what happens. And if you want to go back to London to-night there ought to be nothing to stop you."
The hours dragged on, and more and more troops poured into Berlin—Russian soldiers and the German troops pushed before them, to say nothing of the thousands of men in uniform straggling in from the western frontier. These for the most part were in uniform, ragged and tired, and half starved, and ready to barter all they had for a mouthful of food. They came unarmed, they came with stories of disaster in the north and west, narratives of big guns abandoned in a wild flight for home, and the desire to throw in their lot with the new Republic. Russian and German stood side by side in the common bondage of humanity, field kitchens had been set up in the streets, and the starving troops were fed by their well-equipped foe. There was no sign of strife now, for passions had been worn threadbare, and the lust of slaughter had trickled away till the stream no longer ran.
All this Rosslyn watched from the windows of the palace, where he lounged smoking his cigarettes in rooms hitherto sacred to the greatest of autocratic monarchs and his supple sycophants. He felt perfectly at home there rejoicing in the knowledge that he had had so powerful a hand in bringing this about. He was anxious to get back to London now, and carry the good news. He waited hour after hour until Steinitz and Leroux returned.
"It is just as I told you," the former said. "The terms are precisely those I outlined to the late Kaiser, subject to the conformation of England and France, of course. And now, as I see you are anxious to be off, I will give you a minute of the terms in my own handwriting, and you can go."
"Am I to have the pleasure of taking you?" he asked.
"My dear boy it is quite impossible," Leroux explained. "My place is here, and I should be a traitor if I turned my back upon it. Germany will know some day the debt she owes to you. Meanwhile you can return to London, and, if you start now you will be in time for these marvellous happenings to appear on the breakfast tables of every Englishman to-morrow morning. Give my love to Vera, tell her I am well and happy, and that I will send for her in the course of a few days. Perhaps I will come and fetch her, for I shall have much to do in London. The Englishman is a generous foe, and much of the vast hoards of gold we shall need will come from his pocket."
It was barely dark before Rosslyn set his aeroplane going and circled widely over the city. Then he turned towards the west, and set out on his lonely journey. There was nothing to stop him now, and no peril to fear and it was barely 12 o'clock before the plane settled down outside its resting place. An hour later and Rosslyn was setting the telephones humming in all directions. It was no part of his programme to confine his information to any one newspaper, and therefore he found his rooms occupied by a score of excited journalists directly he set foot inside them. For the next hour he spoke amid a silence that was broken only by the scratching of pencils and the fluttering of notebooks. He told the whole story simply and without embellishment. It was a narrative so thrilling and graphic that it actually gained in strength from its very simplicity. Then, utterly tired and worn out, Rosslyn threw himself upon a couch and slept soundly.
He was out betimes in the morning, and made his way directly to Vera's flat. Already the streets were astir with a wildly excited mob that had already heard the news. It was evident enough that no work would be done in London that day. A few minutes later and every street and thoroughfare was fluttering flags and banners. People were beginning to congregate in vast numbers cheering and shouting and forming into long processions that streamed through the streets. For the moment, at any rate all social barriers were broken down. Here was the well-dressed city man arm in arm with the hawker of toys, here was the aristocratic club lounger hobnobbing with the man who brought the coals. There were thousands of women in the procession laughing and crying in the same breath, in fact here was human nature untrammelled and unrestrained, giving vent to their feelings as if the years had fallen from their shoulders and they were children once again. For a long time Vera and Rosslyn watched this amazing spectacle as it rolled by in a never ending stream until they grew dizzy and turned to one another for relief.
"I shall be able to grasp it presently," Vera whispered. "It seems too wonderful to be true. And to think that you with that wonderful aeroplane of yours should have done so much towards bringing about this wonderful result! If it had not been for you the misery and bloodshed might have dragged along for months more. Ah, Paul, if I could only tell you how proud I am of you!"
She smiled through her tears and held out her hands to Rosslyn. He took her in his arms and kissed her tenderly.
"I have been more than rewarded," he said. "Of course I am glad and proud, but after all you are you, and the rest it is nothing by comparison. The end is here—"
"But is it the end?" Vera asked.
The end perhaps, or only the beginning? But be that as it might, Rosslyn, looking forward, could see beyond the clouds the first faint streaks of a wide and glorious dawn.
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