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Title: The Fall of a Dictator
Author: Arthur Gask
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Language: English
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THE FALL OF A DICTATOR

By

Arthur Gask

Published in serial form in The Advertiser, Adelaide, S.A.,
commencing Thursday 22 December, 1938.



CHAPTER I.—THE SPY
CHAPTER II.—IN THE ENEMY'S COUNTRY
CHAPTER III.—THE DANGEROUS ROAD
CHAPTER IV.—THE SCOURGE OF EUROPE
CHAPTER V.—"THE LION AND THE LAMB"
CHAPTER VI.—THE SECRET TORPEDO
CHAPTER VII.—IN THE TOILS
CHAPTER VIII.—THE LODGER IN THE ATTIC
CHAPTER IX.—THE LIVING AND THE DEAD
CHAPTER X. THE PRISONER IN THE CASTLE
CHAPTER XI.—THE COMING OF THE STORM
CHAPTER XII.—"THE BOMBER FROM THE SKIES"
CHAPTER XIII. "A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE!"



CHAPTER I.—THE SPY

War is war, but peace is not always peace, for in peace there may be war also, and then the fighting can be just as hazardous for the individual as when he is advancing in battle order to the rattle of the murderous machine-guns, under a sky belching bombs.

But in times of peace the fighter fights in secret and he fights alone. He has no comrades by him then to give him courage and there are none to guard him while he sleeps. Also, he knows that in certain countries if prisoners are taken they live only to pray for death and bewail the fact that they were ever born. So he expects no quarter there, and he gives none.

This manner of soldier, whose life is never worth an hour's purchase, is, indeed, never a conscript and always a brave man.


It was tea time in the big lounge hall of Girdle Manor, a charming old-world mansion deep among the lovely Sussex Downs, and Ashleigh Brendon, the genial lord of the domain, was regarding with an amused smile the score and more of well-dressed visitors for whom his beautiful young wife was now pouring out tea. His two small sons, the elder of whom was only four, had been brought in specially for the occasion and were receiving the homage usually accorded to those who are so like unto the Kingdom of Heaven.

Brendon was a tall and good-looking man in the early thirties, and it was generally conceded that he and his wife were among the most popular of the best and most exclusive county people.

Everyone was always interested in Brendon as it was well known that until he had inherited the large fortune left him by his uncle, the late Admiral Brendon, he had been high in confidential Government circles. Indeed, it was whispered he had been one of the most trusted keepers of the Secret Archives, and was in the possession of secrets, the untimely disclosure of which would have had repercussions in half the Chancelleries of Europe.

But Brendon, now looking at the happy faces of the little throng before him and taking in their bright and animated chatter, was asking himself with some amusement what would happen if, suddenly, they learnt what his one-time occupation had really been.

Would these aristocratic men and women and these gay butterflies of fashion still continue to gather round his hearth? Would the kindly old vicar keep on pressing him so hard to become his church warden, would the haughty Lord Thursby be still so insistent that he should stand for the Division in the Conservative interest at the next election, and would the Honorable Mrs. Temperley continue to regard his wife as her bosom friend—if they knew his only association with the British Government had been when he was a spy?


One sunny afternoon in the month of May, in a large upper chamber in a many-roomed building in Whitehall, were an aristocratic and soldierly-looking man in the middle fifties and a well-dressed, bright-faced young fellow about half the former's age.

There was a long table-desk between them, and the elder man was alternatively scanning down a paper and looking up to make some comment to the young man before him.

"And you are unmarried and twenty-six, Mr. Brendon," he said slowly, "and your late lather was Sir Herbert Brendon, of Wimpole street, Physician Extraordinary to His Majesty the King. Then, apart from your uncle, Admiral Brendon, you have no relations living?"

"No, sir, none," replied Brendon. "The admiral is the only one left."

"And I understand you have not discussed the matter with anyone but him?" said Sir Miles Vaughan rather sharply.

Brendon shook his head. "No, sir, with no one. I happened to be with my uncle last Sunday, and the matter cropped up accidentally. Then we discussed it fully, and he wrote to you."

Sir Miles seemed satisfied and turned his eyes again upon the paper. "I see you were educated at Charterhouse, and later entered Balliol College, Oxford." He looked up frowningly. "But the report says you were expelled from Charterhouse and sent down from Oxford without sitting for your degree." He eyed the young man intently. "Explain exactly what happened, please."

Brendon seemed in no wise disconcerted, and smiled easily. "At Charterhouse, sir, I refused to take what I considered to be an unjust caning, and at Oxford I had to serve a sentence of two months' imprisonment for poaching. I was caught with some of Lord Rayleigh's pheasants, and the local magistrates were very severe, and would not give me the option of a fine."

Sir Miles shook his head disapprovingly. "Foolishness, foolishness!" he commented. "Still, no doubt your poaching was only an adventure, and"—his face softened—"heaven knows we never discourage adventure here." He looked down at the paper again. "So at Oxford you obtained your Blue for football, you were runner-up in the Varsity middleweight boxing championship, and were in the team that represented Oxford at Bisley the year you were sent down." He nodded. "All that is excellent, and what we want."

He read on. "Then you studied electrical engineering, and last year obtained your Bachelor of Science degree at London University. You are now third officer in charge of the Kenton power station, and in receipt of 12 a week. You have been there nine months, and they are prepared, you say to give you a good character."

He put down the paper and regarded Brendon rather anxiously. "And now for the last qualification upon which everything depends. Your uncle says you speak Cyranian perfectly." He shook his head. "No, no, not just well enough to deceive me or anyone who has learnt the language in adult life, but so perfectly as to lead any Cyranian to believe it is your mother tongue." He bent forward over the desk. "Now that is so, is it not?"

"It should be so, sir," replied Brendon, "considering that I lived in Cyrania from when I was three until I was nearly fifteen. Then my mother died and I was brought to England." He nodded. "Yes, I speak it as well as I speak English and no one can tell I am not a Cyranian."

Sir Miles frowned. "But have you kept it up?" he asked.

"Certainly, sir, for after leaving Oxford I spent every summer in Cyrania, except that of last year, when I was motoring through France."

"Then you must have a good circle of friends in the country," queried Sir Miles uneasily, "people who will recognise you at once?"

Brendon shook his head. "No, sir, only chance acquaintances who would not be likely to recognise me, as all the holidays I took were motoring ones and I never stayed more than a couple of days in any one place. I never went near Dolon either, as my recollections of the people there we're not happy ones." His face clouded. "When my mother died of cholera I thought everyone was very unkind about her."

A short silence followed, and then Sir Miles asked very solemnly. "And if we take you into the service and you go to Cyrania for us, are you fully alive to the risks you will be running?" He nodded. "I understand from Admiral Brendon that he has given you a pretty good idea."

"Yes, sir, he has," replied Brendon cheerfully. He made a grimace. "I shall be going as a spy, and if I am found out the usual honors of the profession will be accorded me—a bullet or a dangle from a rope. And my uncle told me, too, that you would not be able to do anything for me if I were found out."

"No, nothing whatever!" exclaimed Sir Miles emphatically. "All ties with us will be severed the moment you set foot on Cyrania." He raised his voice ever so slightly. "If you are found out, we don't know you, we have never heard of you, and to us you don't exist." He inclined his head. "Those are the rules of the game and for political reasons"—he sighed—"we are obliged to deny our most faithful servants."

"All right, sir," said Brendon. "I quite understand." He seemed to thrill with excitement. "Then what is it you want me to do?"

"One moment, please," said Sir Miles. "First, I should like to know why you are so willing to give up the comfortable occupation you have now to take service with us? All we offer you is certain hardship, and a possible dreadful danger that may easily end in your being brought before a firing squad or else"—he spoke very quietly—"something even worse than that happening to you."

"Adventure, sir," replied Brendon promptly. "I am sick of my humdrum life and I want a change." His voice hardened. "Besides. I'd like to help you against the dictator they've got there. He hates us like poison and fights with dirty hands. There's nothing too tricky or dishonorable for him to do, and he's a real menace to the world."

Sir Miles smiled. "General Bratz may be all that," he said slowly, "but all the same he has to be reckoned with as a very clever and most capable man. He is undoubtedly a great thorn in our side and because of him, more than anyone else, our shipyards and arsenals are never idle, and we can never sleep."

"And it is for some special purpose, sir," asked Brendon, "that you want to send me to Cyrania?"

"Most certainly it is," replied Sir Miles instantly, "and with the particular knowledge you possess you could not have come at a more opportune moment. A skilled electrician who speaks perfect Cyranian is a real God-send to us just now." He shook his head. "But we cannot tell you what we want you for until the last moment, and that will be in about three weeks' time, after you have undergone a short intensive training as a Secret Service agent and are ready to leave for Cyrania."

"Then when do you want me to start, sir, to do this training?"

Sir Miles became brisk and business-like. "At once, today! You will go and say good-bye to your uncle and then you will disappear as if you were dead and buried. At nine tonight you will report at an address that will be given you in a few minutes. You will bring no luggage and no money. Everything will be provided." He stretched out and laid his hand upon the telephone on his desk. "Now have you any other questions to ask before I place you in charge of the gentleman who will be looking after you?"

"One thing, sir, I'd like to know," said Brendon, "will it be team work for me in Cyrania or do I work alone?"

Sir Miles regarded him gravely. "There is no teamwork now in Cyrania for such as you, Mr. Brendon; it has become much too dangerous. No, you go alone and you work alone and you will hold no communication with anyone else who may be working for us there." He spoke significantly. "By that means we safeguard ourselves so that if you are unfortunate enough to be uncovered by the Cyranian counter-espionage, you will have no colleagues to give away."

"But I should never——" began Brendon indignantly.

The other held up his hand. "They have ways in Cyrania, my friend, that are not pleasant, and to all of flesh and blood there comes a breaking point when——" but he broke off sharply and rapped out. "I told you the work was dangerous, and you cannot realise too clearly what you are taking on. Only last month in Cyrania we lost three of the best men we have in the whole of our Secret Service. One of them must have made some slip somewhere and the counter-espionage got him and then the others and a lot of valuable information as well." He nodded significantly. "So henceforth the agents sent out from this side are to be sent out alone."

"But what became of these particular three?" asked Brendon, frowning a little uncomfortably.

Sir Miles shrugged his shoulders again. "Who knows? Let us hope the friendly bullet as they stood before a firing squad." He shook his head doubtfully. "But they had their secrets, I say, and the other side got hold of them somehow."

"Good God!" exclaimed Brendon hoarsely, "but do you mean to say you think they were tortured before they were killed?"

Sir Miles nodded. "They were not of the type to speak unless they were, and we know from what happened afterwards, that they did speak."

"But torture in a civilised country!" ejaculated the horrified Brendon. "It is incredible!"

"Ah, but that would not be the word used!" exclaimed Sir Miles with a dry smile. "It would only be called applying the third degree." There was a distinct note of challenge in his quiet and even tones, as he asked drily. "And are you still willing to join us, Mr. Brendon?"

Brendon's face was hot and flushed, but he replied equally as quietly. "Certainly, sir. It will be a pleasure as well as an honor," and then he smiled as if the prospect before him were quite an agreeable one.

And he was bright and smiling, too, at the farewell dinner his uncle gave him that evening, and his relative remarked upon it.

"You know, Ashleigh," he said when afterwards they were together in a quiet corner of the club lounge, "I was rather inclined to regret that I had let you in for this, but now I see the way you are taking it, I am sure I did quite right. Our relations with Cyrania are becoming daily more critical, and it is the duty of a young fellow like you to step into the firing line."

"Step into the firing line!" exclaimed Brendon grimly. "But if what I've heard today is true I shall be stepping into something much more unpleasant than that if I am found out." He grinned. "I shall be getting a dose of their third degree."

"But you won't get caught," said the admiral quietly. "I feel sure of that, so don't you worry there. Still, if you ever do find yourself in danger of being found out, and a timely blow will save you, strike hard and strike quickly. Everyone's hand will be against you, so don't be squeamish."

"Then this third degree is nothing out of the way with them over there?" asked Brendon.

The admiral snorted. "Nothing! Those now in power in Cyrania have returned to a state of savagery and there is no abomination of suffering they will not inflict, not only upon alien races but upon their own people. Starvation, torture, cold-blooded murder of individuals or a mass massacre of hundreds, it is all the same to them, and we"—he made a gesture of disgust—"have to exchange ambassadors with them and carry on diplomatic relations as if they were ordinary, decent human beings." He snapped his fingers together. "It sickens all of us."

"But do you think," asked Brendon, "that we have many agents such as I shall be, at present in Cyrania?"

The admiral shook his head. "Very few Britishers, I should say. It would be too dangerous." He nodded. "But we must have plenty working for us among the Cyranians themselves, and I should not be astonished to learn how high up some of these chaps are in the Dictator's service. You see, we are spending more than a million every year upon our secret service, and there must be some high salaries being paid somewhere."

"Then, of course, among us," said Brendon rather despondently, "there will be traitors equally as highly placed. We, too——"

"No, no," interrupted the admiral sharply, "that doesn't follow at all. We pride ourselves that the higher our men are up in the services the more impossible it is to corrupt them. All through the great war among the very few English-born spies who were laid by the heels there was not one who was employed by the Government in any highly responsible position."

"Good," commented Brendon, "then I suppose we English don't make good traitors."

"Exactly," nodded the admiral, "as a race we are not emotional enough to hate our country, whatsoever grievances, real or imaginary, we may have against her."

The ensuing days were very arduous ones for Brendon, and, kept hard at work from early morning, until late at night, he was astounded at the highly intimate information concerning Cyrania that was in possession of the British Secret Service.

He studied specially prepared maps of particular districts and of certain cities, and was made to familiarise himself with all the main streets. He learnt where all the big munition factories were situated, and in which particular ones the various munitions of war were being made.

He was shown a large number of photographs of men and women and made to study them over and over again, so that he would be able to recognise any of them if ever he should find himself in contact with them. Many of the photographs were only carefully enlarged snapshots that evidently had been obtained surreptitiously. It was pointed out to him who among them were members of the Secret Police, who were informers posted in the munitions factories to report upon the workers there, and others who frequented hotels and public places on the look-out for anything they might see or hear.

Then for hours be studied photographs of certain parts of Cyrania's frontiers, and was shown where, when he wanted to leave the country, he would most likely be able to escape through the high wire fence that enclosed all her borders. These photographs, he realised, could only have been obtained with considerable difficulty and in great secrecy, as they showed the huts of the patrolling rifle men, never more than five hundred yards apart.

Next he was put in the hands off an expert in disguise, and shown how in many simple little ways he could so alter his appearance that it would not so closely apply to any description of him that might be broadcast. He was taught how he could change the whole contour of his face by lifting up the muscles of his neck, how he could so hold himself that, without his intention being discerned, he would appear to be quite two inches shorter than he really was and how he could make his style of walking quite different by stiffening his knees.

Then the last three days he spent in the torpedo sheds upon the Mersey, watching the torpedoes being assembled and poring over their specifications in the drawing-room under the guidance of an expert draughtsman.

And all the time he was always referred to as Mr. Smith and always spoken to by the officer, a Major Hay, who had been instructed to look after him, in Cyranian.

Then one evening, without any intimation that his short period of training was over and with no knowledge as to where he was being taken, he was driven out into the country and for the second time found himself in the presence of Sir Miles Vaughan.

The interview took place in the library of Sir Miles's country house, and Brendon was received cordially and given a glass of wine. "To your good health, Mr. Brendon!" said Sir Miles, raising his own glass. He nodded in a friendly manner. "I drink to a very brave man."

"Thank you, sir," smiled Brendon. "At any rate I'll try to prove myself one."

Sir Miles put down his glass. "Well your period of training is over," he said briskly, "and you leave England tonight. In a few minutes you will start for Sheerness, and before midnight a destroyer will take you on board. On Tuesday night you will be transferred to a submarine in mid-ocean and, before morning the next day, you will have been landed in Cyrania."

"Very good, sir," said Brendon, with a little choke in his voice. "I am quite ready."

Sir Miles flung open a folded map upon his desk and beckoned to Brendon to stand by him. "Now there," he pointed, "is where you will be landed upon the beach near Thole, and here,"—he took a small rolled packet out of a drawer—"is an unmounted photograph of the exact spot. You must be miles inland before dawn, as there are always soldiers patrolling about this shore. The water shelves quickly round this particular stretch of coast, and it has become suspected recently, and quite rightly, too, that many unauthorised landings are taking place here, as vessels of deep draught can run in quite close. You will be landed on that old breakwater. Then——"

"But will the submarine get in as close as that?" asked Brendon, whose knowledge of sea matters was very small.

"No, no," replied Sir Miles, "you will be landed from a small boat." He went on. "Then Thole is the town you are to make for, and, as the crow flies, it is about eleven miles over that hill. You see there is no road there and only a path by the side of that plantation of high trees. You are not to take the path because it lies too near to that house where the owner keeps dogs and, remember, he has a telescope. You are to make your way through the plantation itself. Now do you quite understand?"

"Yes, sir," replied Brendon, "I am to get away as quickly as possible from where I am landed and make straight for Thole."

"Yes, that's it," said Sir Miles, "and now put the photograph in your pocket and study it carefully when you're on the destroyer. Be sure, however, to destroy it before you land." He went on—"You're to get to Thole in time to catch the midday train to Sarron, where you should arrive about ten the same night." He spoke very solemnly. "And at Sarron your work will begin."

"At Sarron!" whistled Brendon. "Then it is to do with the munition factory there that you are sending me!"

"Exactly," replied Sir Miles. "That is where we are going to try you out!" He spoke frowningly. "Word has come to us from several quarters that, in the great works at Sarron, Cyrania is upon the point of perfecting an electrically-driven torpedo, and of course you do not need to be a naval expert to realise what that means." He nodded. "There will be no line of escaping bubbles rising to the surface, as from a compressed air-driven torpedo, to give warning to a vessel of its impending danger, and so any Power possessing such a torpedo will have an incalculable advantage in wartime." He leant over and tapped the desk with his fingers. "Now, Mr. Brendon, we want you to get taken on at those works as an employee and see if you can find out about that torpedo for us. How it works can, or course, be understood only by a trained electrician such as yourself."

"But, good heavens!" exclaimed Brendon, "do I stand the very slightest chance of getting taken on at the factory? A man they know nothing about among some of their most carefully guarded secrets!"

"But you will not be a man they know nothing about," said Sir Miles, smilingly. He handed over a well-worn and shabby-looking wallet. "Here are papers provided for you as Nicolas Regnal. Be sure to study them most carefully during the next few days. In them it says you come from Prex, where you were born, and that you are an electrician by trade."

"But is there any such man as this Nicolas Regnal?" asked Brendon, rapidly scanning through the contents of the wallet.

"There was, but he died about two years ago, and, as far as we can make out, left no relations." Sir Miles pointed to the wallet. "All the papers there are in perfect order, and no suspicions should be aroused. This Regnal was a skilled electrician, too, and worked with the firm of Bass & Rhin for five years. They now give you an excellent reference which you will present at Sarron."

"But if this reference is taken up," said Brendon dubiously, "and it is found it is a forgery, what then?"

Sir Miles frowned. "There is some risk there, I admit, but we have prepared for it as best we can. Prex is nearly five hundred miles from Sarron, and if they do make a telephone enquiry as to your character it will be bad luck if it is not dealt with satisfactorily to you at one end or the other of the wire."

"Oh, oh," exclaimed Brendon, "then there will be a good fairy watching over me somewhere."

Sir Miles nodded. "You must understand, Mr. Brendon that although, as I told you the other day, you will not become acquainted with anyone who is working for us in Cyrania, yet for all that you yourself will become known to certain of our people there. In fact, they are aware that you are coming and, without uncovering themselves to you, will help you in every way they can." He smiled. "So that it is possible your getting into the Sarron works may not be as difficult as you think."

"Then have they got a description of me?" asked Brendon.

"Yes," replied Sir Miles, "but to help it out—upon the morning you present yourself at the Sarron Works, go there holding your hand to your left ear as if you are rather deaf." He nodded. "You will probably pass through several hands before you are engaged, but someone will be on the lookout for you and will notice the action."

"And if I do get taken on," frowned Brendon. "I may be set to work a quarter of a mile or so from where they are making that torpedo. I've learnt they've got forty thousand workmen there and that means many hundreds of workshops."

"But you're sure to hear about this torpedo," said Sir Miles, "for we know Ren Jahn, their electrical genius, is working upon it. Sooner or later he is sure to be pointed out to you and then"—he shrugged his shoulders and smiled—"you must do the best you can for us."

He looked at his watch. "Now one thing more. I told you the other day you would not at any time be able to appeal to anyone for help, no matter in what danger you were in." He nodded. "Well, I qualify that statement now, for there is one way in which you may ask for help and perhaps get it." He shook his head. "But mind you, this appeal is only to be made in a last extremity. You understand?"

Brendon nodded, and Sir Miles went on very solemnly. "Well, if at any time the very worst is threatening you, if you can get there, go and seat yourself at the end of the lowest step before the church of St. Joan, in the Square of the Three Towers in Marleck. Sit down there any day exactly as the clock is chiming noon. Sit with your hat low down upon your forehead and with your head in your hands and your elbows upon your knees. Wait there for three minutes, and then get up and walk away." He nodded again. "That's all and—see if anything happens."

They talked on for a few minutes longer and then Brendon was driven away into the night open the first stage of his great adventure.


CHAPTER II.—IN THE ENEMY'S COUNTRY

Arriving in Sheerness, Brendon was taken to a building upon the dock-side, and there, in a small room, everything he was wearing was taken from him, and, in exchange, he received a complete outfit of Cyranian origin. His intimate personal belongings, too, his watch, his pocket-knife, his pencil, and his cigarettes and a box of matches were exchanged for like articles from the same country.

The change completed, he found himself attired as a working man in decidedly foreign-looking clothes and with a cap of most un-English design. The suit was worn and shiny, but still serviceable.

"Now, about money," said his mentor, Major Hay, who was still in attendance, "and, as I have told you, it will not be wise to carry much in case you should be held up and searched, when any large amount would excite suspicion. So, here's the equivalent, in Cyranian notes, of nearly seven pounds. As I have explained to you, when you are out of the country again you can be put in funds at any of our consulates over the frontier."

He looked Brendon critically up and down. "Yes, you'll do. Then come along and I'll take you straight on board the destroyer. It's ready for immediate departure, outside."

Five minutes later, Brendon was seated in a small motor launch making swiftly out of the mouth of the Medway for the open sea.

It was a beautifully fine night and, to Brendon's great satisfaction, the sea was perfectly smooth.

Not a word was spoken until the side of a long, lean destroyer loomed out of the darkness and the launch began to slow down. Then the Major whispered. "You're being highly favored. She's the 'Cuckoo,' one of the newest type, and she'll keep up at about 40 knots the whole time you're on her."

"Do they know all about me?" whispered back Brendon, with a catch in his breath.

"No, no, nothing at all," replied the Major quickly. "They just know they're taking a passenger somewhere, and that's all. They're under sealed orders, and until the commander opens the dispatch I'm bringing him, which he won't do until they're well out to sea, they will have no idea where they're to go."

They mounted the deck of the destroyer, and the Major shook hands with a grave-faced officer, in the early thirties, who was waiting to receive them.

"Your passenger, Commander," he said, indicating Brendon, "and here are the orders." He turned to Brendon and speaking in Cyranian wished him good luck and a quick return. Then, with a wave of his band, he made his way down the side of the destroyer, and the launch was speedily swallowed up in the darkness.

Brendon was shown to a cabin, and immediately the screws began to revolve. Pitch dark as the night was he would have liked to go up on deck, but having heard what dreadful boats destroyers could be in bad weather, he thought it best to get off to sleep when he could. So he undressed quickly and, to his surprise, soothed rather than disturbed by the motion of the boat, he soon found himself dropping off to sleep.

He slept heavily all night and did not wake until a steward appeared in the morning to tell him where he could have a bath, and that his breakfast would be served in an adjoining cabin. He thought the man eyed him curiously.

After the meal he went up on deck and, clinging to the rail, was thrilled at the fearful speed with which the destroyer seemed to be going. The sea was perfectly smooth and the boat surged ruthlessly into its placid calmness, leaving behind a great angry wake of foam. There was no land in sight and not another ship was viable.

Hour after hour, fascinated by his surroundings and quite content to be left to himself, Brendon kept his position by the rails. But he was rather surprised that no one spoke to him. During the morning quite a number of the crew passed by, as well as several of the officers, but none of them so much as glanced in his direction, and, for all the notice they took of him he might not have been there.

Gradually he began to feel rather amused, for this ignoring of him by everyone could only have been done by order. Naturally, he thought the officers were very mystified about him, but, of course, he told himself, they would not be disposed to be particularly friendly with anyone, dressed as he was, as a working man. In his time he had met plenty of officers of the Royal Navy, and, although they were jolly and free-and-easy companions when on shore, he had always heard they took themselves very seriously when on duty.

At mid-day he was called down to another meal and the afternoon passed in much the same manner as the morning, except that now he took to walking up and down the deck and inspecting the guns and fittings of the vessel as he passed.

Then he became aware that he was evidently exciting a little more interest, for every time he approached the vicinity of the bridge, in the course of his promenade, out of the tail of his eye he saw that whoever was up there was watching him. But they did it in a stealthy sort of manner and directly he looked up they turned their eyes away.

He smiled as the humour of the situation appealed to him, for, however high an estimation of themselves the officers might have, he knew that beyond all question, he himself was the most important person on board. For him alone this long voyage was being undertaken and the expense being incurred for this travelling at high speed over these many hundreds of miles of sea.

So, out of bravado, he drew himself proudly up to his full height and put just the faintest swagger in his walk as he continued to march up and down. And surely he was justified, he thought, for whatever these fine fellows might be thinking of themselves, in the service of his country, he was about to incur every bit as much risk and danger as they would ever be called upon to bear, and in not nearly as heartening circumstances either. They would always be fighting shoulder to shoulder, and cheered on by one another's company, whereas he—he made a little grimace here—was to be thrown into a hostile country to do all his fighting on his own.

So now, whenever he approached the bridge, he looked up and scrutinised everyone upon it with his jaw set and the bold stare of one who thought himself as good as anybody. Also, when an officer passed him he took to looking him squarely in the face, as if inviting some return of interest. But, as before, the officers invariably kept their eyes straight in front of them and never gave him so much as a glance.

"Getting a bit monotonous," he told himself at length. "I'd like to have a bit of a yarn with someone and learn what some of these gadgets on this boat are for." He grinned. "Now, what if I walked boldly up on to the bridge? They'd have to say something to me then." He nodded. "Really, I'm half inclined to do it, just to see what they'll do."

But at that moment he heard voices behind him, and, turning quickly, saw two officers approaching him along the deck. One of them he recognised at once as the Commander who had received them the previous night and, with something of a start, he realised that the face of the other, too, was familiar. For the moment he could not place this second officer and then, in a flash he remembered him as the brother of one of his old college chums. His name was Monteith and he had met him some years ago when staying in Devonshire.

He smiled delightedly and, pulling his weird-looking cap lower then ever upon his forehead, chuckled that someone was now going to get a great surprise.

The officers came on, but, approaching near to where he was standing, broke off their conversation and, with eyes fixed straight before them were obviously intending to take no more notice of him than had anyone else done during the day.

But Brendon, with a sodden movement, stepped away from the rail and planted himself sparely in front of them.

"Hullo, Doc!" he called out familiarly. "Just fancy meeting you here! Now, don't say you can't remember me! We met in Torquay, at old Colonel Denbigh's!"

Both officers had scowled when Brendon had moved forward to intercept them, but, at his greeting, the expression upon the face of the one whom he had addressed changed instantly to one of incredulous amazement.

"Come now," went on Brendon laughingly. "I'm Ashleigh Brendon and you are Charlie Monteith. I was a friend of your brother Jim, at Balliol, and I met you about three years ago just after you had qualified at Bart's. Don't you remember going shooting with me one day on Dartmoor and the hiding I gave you the same night with the gloves."

Just for a few seconds Surgeon Monteith hesitated and then his face broke into a delighted smile and he stretched out and shook hands warmly with Brendon.

"Gad!" he exclaimed fervently, "of course I remember you, but who the blazes could be expected to recognise you in those dreadful clothes!" He turned to the Commander. "It's as he says, sir. He's an old 'Varsity man and as good as gold." He laughed merrily. "But he always was a young dare-devil and he got gaoled once for poaching." His face sobered down. "Gad!" he exclaimed again, "he's the very man for the job he's going to."

Then, much to the astonishment of all who saw them, the three talked animatedly together for some minutes until his friend took Brendon by the arm and led him away.

"Now, you come down with me young fellow," he said, "and I'll stand you a drink." Then, when a few minutes later they were duly drinking to each other's health, the surgeon remarked half apologetically——

"You see, Brendon, from Major Hay's last words to you, the old man made sure you were a Cyranian yourself, and that's why no one spoke to you." He frowned. "We know that secret service agents have to be employed, but we can never quite stomach a man spying in his own country."

After that Brendon had a most enjoyable time, and everyone on board tried to show their friendliness towards him. He messed with the officers and they made quite a fuss of him.

The weather continued fine and the sea smooth, and, all things propitious, he revelled in the happy camaraderie of those about him. But no one spoke of his mission, and not a single question was asked him about it until late on the last night.

Then, when it was not far off midnight, and they were now only just creeping along with all lights out and he was standing upon the bridge beside the commander, the latter asked curiously, "And is this your first tryout, Brendon?"

"Yes," laughed Brendon lightly, although there was a sinking feeling at the pit of his stomach. "I haven't been blooded yet."

"Then you keep your eyes well skinned, my son," said the commander gravely, "for they don't allow two mistakes in this country you're going to. One slip and you'll never be heard of again. In dear, stupid old England, if one of their agents is caught he gets a fair and open trial, with probably one of the best K.C.'s we've got to defend him." He pointed into the darkness. "But over there it's just savagery. There's no trial that we ever heard of and"—he hesitated—"well, God knows what happened. We never do, for a person who's been caught never comes back to tell."

"Are their lot pretty active in England, do you know?" asked Brendon.

"Oh, Lord, yes!" was the reply. "It's an open secret in official quarters that they were responsible for those eleven deaths that occurred from that explosion in the dockyard at Devonport last month. We know for certain it was no accident, but unhappily their man managed to get away."

A long silence followed, then Brendon, straining his eyes into the darkness before him, asked, "But are you quite sure well find the submarine?"

The commander laughed softly. "She's close to us now. We can tell that by our detector down below. In a few minutes you'll see a blue light showing somewhere."

And within five minutes, a blue light appeared straight ahead. A boat was lowered from the destroyer and after many handshakes and whispered good-byes, Brendon was rowed over to the submarine.

"Quick, please," came a sharp voice, and almost before he could realise what had happened, Brendon found himself bundled below with the submarine submerging with all speed.

"So you're English and a friend of theirs," smiled the happy-faced and very youthful officer who commanded the submarine, looking up from the letter Brendon had brought from the commander of the destroyer. "And I'm to land you upon that old jetty in Thole Bay!" He elevated his eyebrows. "The devil! They've had a patrol boat about there every night lately, and the searchlight's been working like blazes."

"Then how long will it be before you land me?" asked Brendon with a little catch in his voice.

"In less than two hours," replied the officer. He smiled cheerfully. "Unless, of course, they get us with a depth charge!"

"Then we're not very far from the coast," frowned Brendon.

"No, well under twenty miles, but as we get nearer I'll have to go dead slow because of that patrol boat. Tonight she's been flashing her search-light, on and off, ever since before ten o'clock."

As upon the destroyer, Brendon was treated in the most friendly manner, and once, when the search-light of the patrol boat was sweeping round over the sea in every direction, he was invited to look through the periscope.

"And if they only knew we were here," commented the officer with a grin, "you'd have some excitement, young man. They'd probably not get us, but it's no joke when those depth charges are exploding, even half a mile away."

"But won't there be some risk when you have to come to the surface to land me?" asked Brendon.

The young fellow laughed happily. "Sure, a darned big risk, but we'll have to take it!" His eyes twinkled. "But we are running risks every hour of our blooming lives in this old sardine box, and they are part of our daily bread. Now this bigger risk tonight is like a dollop of jam on the bread, and there's not a man aboard who isn't getting a good thrill out of it." He nodded. "But it's nearly high water, and I shall have to go up to within twenty yards of that jetty before I come to the surface, and then, with any luck, we'll have got the boat out and have landed you and have the boat back again and be submerging, all within three minutes."

And when the supreme moment came Brendon's breath was almost taken away with the speed with which everything was done. He was out of the submarine and being rowed away in the collapsible boat in almost seconds of time. He was given a push up on to the side of the ruined jetty and then, as he gained the top and turned to see where the little boat was, all he saw was a faint blur in the darkness.

For a long minute he remained crouching where he was and then he sighed in great relief as he knew the submarine would now have time to submerge in safety.

His thoughts turned to his own position, which for the moment he had quite forgotten, and his heart beat violently. He was alone in the enemy's country, he was a spy and every man's hand would be against him!

Even now, he might be in the gravest danger with the whole coastline, as he had heard, so closely patrolled, and at any moment, too, that great search-light might blaze out and come sweeping round.

The night was very dark, with the air so still that he knew sound would carry easily. They had warned him of that in the submarine and had given him a pair of thick socks to pull over his boots, so that when he was landed upon the jetty his footsteps would be quite noiseless.

The darkness was very confusing and, to get his bearings, he closed his eyes tightly for a few seconds and tried to recall every feature of the photograph of the bay he had studied in England.

He remembered the jetty he was now upon to be about thirty yards long, and then came the road which ran along the shore and was only just above the beach! There were no cliffs anywhere! He had to climb a big hill which lay straight before him but, for half a mile, because of the broken ground and the big rocks upon the hillside, he must keep to the road until he had passed the last of the seventeen scattered fishermen's huts!

Opening his eyes and straining them into the darkness he began quickly to put thought into action, but it was upon hands and knees only that he was able to make his way up the jetty. There were great gaps in the stonework, and as he crawled along he could hear the sea gurgling underneath.

He reached the road, and, starting away at a quick run, was congratulating himself how silent his footsteps were, when, before he had even gone a dozen paces he saw a small bright light bobbing up and down in the distance, and in a few seconds had realised it meant someone upon a bicycle who was coming towards him.

His breathing choked in his dismay and he was half minded to dart back to the jetty and hide among the buttresses. But, seeing a low ditch upon the land side of the road, he threw himself down close to where he was and, with his heart beating like a sledge hammer, waited for the bicycle to pass.

It came nearer and nearer to him and then, just as it was almost level, he heard sounds upon the road, in the other direction, as of someone running hard.

"Sergeant, Sergeant," came in loud panting tones, and it was evident the newcomer was calling out to the man upon the bicycle, "I'm sure there's a submarine about, and I believe they've just landed someone on the jetty."

"What," yelled the man on the bicycle, as he jumped on to the road, "you've seen a submarine!"

"No, but I've heard one," panted the second man, and by the lamp upon the bicycle, to his horror, Brendon now saw that both men were soldiers.

The sergeant was evidently both a quick thinker and a man of action, for in the fraction of a second he had turned his bicycle round, and was running it back until its light was throwing its rays along the jetty. Then he tugged an electric torch from his belt and flashed it round. But he got nothing for his pains.

"Now then," he snarled to his subordinate, "tell me what's happened, quick."

"Well, it was dreadfully hot Sergeant," began the man uncomfortably, "and up there by the headland I thought there would be no harm in my having a bit of a dip to get cooler. So I stripped and went in. Then, the moment my head was under the water, I heard the vibrations of a screw going very slowly. I was sure of it, but with my eyes at the level of the water I could see no vessel about. With my head again under the water I could still hear the vibrations. Then they stopped suddenly. I dressed like lightning, and as I was standing up I'd swear I saw against the sky a figure standing at the end of this jetty here. I——"

"How long ago was this?" snarled the sergeant.

"Not five minutes. I've raced back all the way."

The sergeant pushed his bicycle sharply towards the man. "Go back on this," he roared. "Tell them to radio the Brabrant instantly. She can't be far away. And bring every man of them here at the run. Go like lightning and I'll keep watch on this jetty." And with one hand he held an automatic pistol at the ready and with the other continued to flash his torch.

Then followed dreadful moments for Brendon. He was not ten traces from the sergeant and had the latter but turned his attention for five seconds behind him the game would have been all up. But the sergeant had only eyes for the jetty.

Then suddenly Brendon realised it was no good to continue lying where he was, for, with the coming of the help that had been sent for it was certain he would be discovered in the end.

So, resolutely turning his back upon the sergeant and expecting every moment to hear the crack of the pistol and feel a bullet ploughing into him, with infinite precautions, he began to crawl away along the shallow ditch.

By inches only did he make progress at first, and long before he had gone a dozen yards he was covered in a dreadful sweat. But a great hope filled him as he drew farther and farther away and then, at last venturing to look round, he saw he must be at least a hundred yards from the still flashing torch.

He was hesitating as to whether it was now safe to rise and make a bolt, when sounds of shouting in the distance decided him. The help that had been sent for was arriving.

So, throwing off his fears, he sprang boldly to his feet and began racing along the road at his utmost speed, heartening himself once again that his muffled footsteps made no sound.

He judged he had run a quarter of a mile when to his terror the great search-light flashed out from over seawards, and in a majestic arc swept round upon every yard of sea. Then for about five seconds it picked up the curving road above the shore and every object upon it stood out as clear as day.

Only for those few seconds was it focused upon the road, but they were dire enough in their consequence for the fugitive, and he heard yells of delight behind him before the light was turned away.

He realised at once that he had been seen, and knew from their bobbing lamps that five or six soldiers on bicycles were coming after him!

Now in after years Brendon always prided himself that at that seemingly hopeless moment he did absolutely the right thing, for he darted down over the few yards of shingle between the road and the narrow strip of sand by the sea and started to run in the direction of the men who were pursuing him. It was in his mind to double back to the jetty, for there, least of all places, would they be expecting to find him now.

He soon drew level with the oncoming cyclists, but they, remembering where they had seen him running when the search-light had picked him out to them, did not attempt to flash their torches upon the sands until they had gone well past him.

He was within a hundred and fifty yards of the jetty when his wind began to give out, and he had to slow down almost to a walk to regain his breath.

Then he almost ran into a fisherman's boat which was drawn up upon the shingle just above high-water. A moment's hesitation and he threw himself down beside it. He had a dreadful stitch in his side and for the time was too exhausted to run a yard farther.

Then he found he was lying upon a small and not very deep patch of seaweed, and at once, he began covering himself with it.

He was only just in time, for the search-light out to sea began playing upon the shore again, and notwithstanding the danger he was in, it flashed through him with great relief that the submarine must have got away in safety as he had heard no sounds of any explosions.

Then, no doubt following upon instructions, for fully half an hour the search-light was played upon the beach, the road and the side of the big hill, enabling Brendon not only to cover himself more effectively with the seaweed—and there was not too much of it—but also to make out exactly where he was.

Very much to his mortification, he found he was lying right in front of the first of the fishermen's huts upon the other side of the road, and was, indeed, so near to it that he could distinctly hear the crying of a young baby.

Half an hour passed and streaks of light appearing in the sky, the search-light was shut off abruptly and the dawn began to break quickly. Through his screen of seaweed, Brendon saw there were men stationed all along the road, while others were going in and out of the fishermen's huts and, upon the hillside, a long line of soldiers were methodically beating up to the top. Every now and then, too, he saw other soldiers flitting about among the trees of the wood through which he had been told to pass upon his way to the town of Thole.

The sun rose to a perfect morning, and, with a pang Brendon soon began to realise he was in for a very uncomfortable time. There was only enough seaweed near him to cover his body very lightly and he knew it would be but a poor protection when the sun was at its full strength.

And he was quite right, for the heat very soon became almost unbearable. He was tormented, too, by myriads of small beetles which crawled all over him, and, worst of all, a dreadful thirst was soon assailing him. He began to feel sick and giddy.

About 10 o'clock he saw the soldiers coming down the hill and then those about the road began to walk away. It was evident, he realised, that the intensive search was being given up, although he could see there were still watchers posted at various points of vantage overlooking the bay. In the distance he saw a number of corrugated iron buildings which he took to be the barracks and, above them, was a high wireless aerial.

By noon he felt utterly exhausted and as if he were being baked alive. His mouth was now so parched that his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth and his misery was so intense that it was with difficulty he prevented himself from plunging, clothed as he was, into the sea that was now lapping only a few yards from him.

Then suddenly, as if in a dream he heard footsteps crunching upon the stones near him and the sound of someone humming a bright little air and, in a fever of apprehension, he twisted his head round so that he could see what was happening.

A woman was walking down the beach and she had evidently come from the fisherman's hut across the road, as the door there was now wide open.

The woman was young and comely and clothed in a coarse frock. Her feet were bare and she carried a big basket.

To Brendon's terror she came straight to the boat and, plumping down the basket inside, stood for quite a long minute shading her eyes with her hand and looking out to sea. She was then not three paces from him. Subconsciously he took in every detail of her appearance. She had big, long-lashed dark eyes, a complexion of flawless ivory, a wealth of dark-brown hair, and her figure was supple and well-proportioned. Her feet, too, he saw were small and shapely. The sleeves of her frock were rolled up and her arms bared to above the elbows.

She turned at length and, waking quickly into action, began bailing out some water that was in the boat.

Then as in a dream again, Brendon heard her speak in a soft and melodious voice. "Pull your feet in, my friend," she said very quietly. "They are both sticking out below the seaweed, and if anyone looks down they can see them plainly from the road."

Brendon made no comment. The working of his mind was too paralysed to speak. Then he felt a bump beside him and the girl went on. "There, I've dropped a bottle of water for you, and the cork will come out quite easily. Yes, you can reach out and take it. There's no one about for the moment and it will be quite safe. Here's a piece of cheese, too."

Neglectful of caution, with the moan of a stricken animal, Brendon threw the seaweed off his head and, making a lightning grab at the bottle, snatched out the cork and gulped down the water in big, fierce gulps.

"Thank you, oh, thank you, I'm so grateful," he murmured when the bottle was empty. "I was almost dead with thirst."

"I thought you would be," said the girl and then she asked. "But who are you?"

Brendon did not answer. His brain was still in a whirl, but now his caution was returning.

"Who are you?" repeated the girl, and then she added sharply. "Have some sense, please. You must realise I'm your friend. I know you are the man who was landed from the submarine last night, and I've been watching you all the morning through some glasses. I could have given you away any time had I wanted to."

Brendon knew it was quite useless to deny anything. "I can't tell you who I am," he said painfully through his cracked lips. "You ought to understand that."

A short silence followed and the girl bailed on vigorously. Then she said. "Yes, I suppose I should."

The bailer clanged on to the bottom of the boat. "Well, you're in great danger now," she said, "like so many in this unhappy country, but I'll try to help you." She spoke very distinctly. "My brother is Rex, the fisherman, in that little house there and when, tonight, it has been dark for about an hour and you hear the clatter of a pail falling upon the floor, creep up and go round to the back door. I'll let you in and see what we can do. At any rate you shall have something to eat. Good-bye, things won't be so bad for you soon. You'll be in the shade in a few minutes," and off she strolled up the beach.

Brendon felt a great hope surging through him. He knew he was in most deadly peril but the draught of water and the cheese had revived him and he could now think and reason again. He never for a moment doubted that the girl was friendly disposed for, if she had been going to betray him as she had said, she would have done so already.

The day dragged wearily on but the terrible heat had gone, for not only was he now on the shady side of the boat, but the sky had clouded and a breeze sprang up from the sea. He noticed there were still soldiers stationed on the hill and every now and then one cycled by along the road.

At last night fell, and he began to move about and rub his legs vigorously. If he had not given them this attention he knew he would be so stiff that he would be unable to walk when the summons came.

One hour passed and, according to his watch, nearly two when he heard the faint clang of iron upon some hard substance and took it, rightly, for the signal. So, with his heart beating violently, and his limbs so cramped that he walked with great difficulty, he crawled up the beach.

Proceeding round to the back of the hut, he tapped gently upon the door and the girl opened it at once. She beckoned him inside, and putting her finger upon her lips, led him through a bedroom where, by the light of a small lamp, he saw a woman and a baby were sleeping.

Then, when in the further room, the room facing the sea, she closed the door softly behind them, and pointing to a man who was mending a net, introduced him as her brother. The man scowled and regarded Brendon by no means too pleasantly.

"She's risking all our lives by bringing you here," he growled. "It means I'll be shot within twenty-four hours if they learnt we've helped you."

"Be quiet, Rex," reproved the girl sharply. "We had to help him and he'll be gone in two minutes." She handed Brendon a small parcel. "Here's some food for you, but how you'll get away I don't know. My brother says the soldiers are certain you are still here and they're guarding all the roads." She looked very troubled. "They're brought extra men from Thole and they are sure they'll catch you when you come out of your hiding place and think you are safe when you've got to the other side of the hill."

Brendon's heart sank but he asked quite coolly. "Have you any idea what I'd best do."

"My brother thinks if you go back and hide under the jetty they'll never dream of searching there again. Then tomorrow——"

But her sentence was never finished for, suddenly, they heard a loud thud and a lot of banging just outside the hut door, and then a man swore angrily.

The girl and her brother looked terrified, but Brendon had all his wits about him, and, after a lightning glance round the room, sprang to some long nets that were hanging upon the wall and flattened himself behind them. Then he put his head out and nodded reassuringly to the girl.

He had been only just in time, for the door was opened sharply and, with no ceremony, a man strode into the room. "Damn you!" he swore to the fisherman. "What do you leave your oars outside for? I nearly broke my neck over them and my bicycle as well."

Between the meshes of the net, Brendon could see everything quite plainly. The man was in uniform and had a coarse and bullying face. By his voice Brendon instantly knew him to be the sergeant who had waited by the jetty the previous night.

"I'm sorry, Sergeant," said the fisherman meekly, "but I usually keep my oars there. Of coarse, I didn't know anyone was coming."

"No, of course, you didn't," jeered the sergeant significantly. He turned and pointed his finger at the girl. "I want to know who this wench is," his voice hardened, "and no lies, now."

"She's my sister and——" began Rex.

"No lies, I said," roared the sergeant. "I know that's the tale you've been telling everyone, but"—he jeered again—"she's no sister of yours. I've noticed her several times, and she's of quite a different breed to you." He strode up to the girl. "Show me your hands."

The girl's dark eyes flashed angrily and her lips quivered ever so little, but she held out her hands as ordered and the sergeant's face at once broke into a smile.

"Exactly," he said, now speaking quite amiably, as he fixed his eyes intently upon her, "the hands of a little lady and you keep them as a lady does."

"I'm a nurse," said the girl quietly, "and I have to take care of my hands. I'm here to look after my sister-in-law. She's just had a little child."

"And where do you come from?" was the next question.

"Marleck, that is my home."

"And your name?"

"Vonda Rex."

The sergeant nodded scoffingly. "You're a charming little liar, Vonda, and that you're here for no good purpose I'll stake my oath." He made his face hard and stern. "Well, you'll come along straightaway with me to the guard-house and the captain shall just ask you a few questions himself." His eyes were greedy and mocking. "If you're a good girl you may perhaps be back in half an hour."

"Don't you go, Vonda," burst out the fisherman instantly. "You stay where you are. If the captain wants to question you I'll go up with you in the morning."

The sergeant turned on him in a flash. "You miserable herring! You——" but then without the slightest warning his fist shot out and striking the unready Rex full in the face, the latter went down with a groan. The infuriated sergeant stood over him. "Want any more?" and he raised his heavy boot as if about to follow the blow with a kick.

But the girl had lugged him back by his jacket. "You brute!" she panted. "Leave him alone!"

"Leave him alone?" queried the sergeant. He laughed slily. "Well, that depends on you, my dear, for if you don't come outside with me without any bother or fuss I'll break every rib in his body," and then, with a sudden movement, he reached out and pulling her to him, kissed her ardently upon the lips.

"And that's only to begin with, my pretty one," he went on. "Outside we'll see if——"

But he never finished what he was intending to say, for Brendon had got him by the collar and was shaking him like a terrier with a rat. Then he turned him round and with a savage undercut knocked him senseless on to the floor. "And that'll keep you quiet for some time," he snarled. "You beast!"

The girl was spitting fiercely. "Kill him," she panted. "He's bruised my lips!" Her voice broke. "But that's nothing. They'll shoot Rex, now," and she burst into tears.

"Yes, kill him!" urged the fisherman who was now trying to sit up. "Kill him while he's unconscious. There's a dagger over there on the shelf."

Brendon was the coolest of the three. "But wait a moment," he said, shaking his head. "This wants considering. What can we do with him. Is there anywhere where he can be hidden?"

Rex struggled to his feet and leant shakily against the wall. "We can't throw him in the sea," he said shakily. "They might hear us going down over the beach. The tide's beating in, too." His eyes opened very wide and he nodded with all the strength he had. "But there's a gravel pit not far behind the guard-house. If we could throw him in there, he mightn't be found for months. They searched it today and they're not likely to go there again."

"But is it likely we could get to this pit without being seen?" asked Brendon sharply.

"More likely to get there than any other place," replied Rex. "As my sister told you, they are waiting to catch you much farther away, now."

Brendon considered for a few moments and then suddenly moved across the room and stood over the prostrate man. He seemed to be measuring him up with his eye. Then be turned to Vonda and pointed to the other room.

"Go out through there," he said quickly, "and wheel his bicycle round to the other side of the house," and then as the girl at once moved off to do as he had bidden, he added sharply, "And don't come back until we call you. We'll be busy for a minute or two."

The moment the girl had gone he turned to the fisherman. "Quick, help me take off his uniform. I'll get away in that. We'll cover him in those sacks to carry him to this pit you talk about."

Five minutes later there was perfect silence in the fisherman's hut and the place was in darkness again. In the living-room, however, the girl was leaning by the open window, peering into the night and straining her ears for sounds she was expecting every moment to hear. The dagger that had been upon the shelf was no longer there.

Nearly an hour passed, and then the front door of the hut opened softly, and Brendon and the fisherman tiptoed into the room. The former was wearing the sergeant's uniform, and the fit did not appear to be a bad one.

Rex lit the lamp again and produced a bottle of wine and two cups from a cupboard. He seemed now quite cheerful.

"We are very grateful to you, my friend," he said earnestly, "for that brute would have got my sister in the end. Only a month back he fancied a man's wife here and got her after he had shot the husband as a spy. He said he had caught the man flashing signals from his hut, which was a lie." He shrugged his shoulders. "But we are quite helpless against the soldiers. Their word is always taken against ours."

Brendon was tying up his old clothes in a piece of sacking the fisherman had given him. "Well, he'll worry no one any more," he said grimly, and then he added curtly, "Fetch your," he hesitated—"the young lady. I'd like to speak to her before I go."

The girl came in, trying hard to appear perfectly at ease, but her quickened breathing and the dark shadows under her eyes belied her composure. She had evidently been warned by Rex what to expect, for she expressed no surprise at seeing Brendon dressed as he was.

Just for a few seconds Brendon regarded her critically. She was undeniably very beautiful, and he had not the slightest doubt that, as the sergeant had said, she was no relation of the rough fisherman whom she was claiming as a brother.

But if Brendon had been taking her in, she had also been considering him. From the first moment of his appearance in the hut she had been profoundly impressed by his quick decisions and the masterly manner in which he had taken command of the whole situation. Now she regarded the man himself. He was decidedly good-looking, she thought, and, in uniform, his whole bearing suggested something very different to what it had been when he was in the coarse clothes of a working man.

She saw the admiration is his eyes, and for some reason it pleased her.

She held out her hand prettily and could feel that she was blushing.

"Thank you, so much, for coming to my help," she began. "It was——"

"But who wouldn't have come?" smiled Brendon, taking her hand and pressing it ever so lightly. His smile broadened, and he pointed to his uniform. "Besides, look what it has brought me. A pass to the open road, and a good bicycle that will take me fifty miles or more away before the sun rises. I shall escape quite safely now, and it is all due to you." He bowed. "It is I who am the grateful party."

"Then that dreadful man," she exclaimed, her voice beginning to tremble again, "he is——"

"——dreadful no more," smiled Brendon. "Not only did we carry him to the right place, but we also heaped gravel over him, so that he may never be found." He picked up his bundle and spoke hastily. "But I must be going, now. We must not tempt fortune one second longer." Then, suddenly, he reached out and, lifting up her hand, brushed it lightly with his lips. "Good-bye, you beautiful creature," he said fervently. "I shall remember you all my life."

The girl's face crimsoned hotly. "Good-bye," she whispered, "perhaps, one day, we may meet again!"

"And pray heaven we do," commented Brendon smilingly, and the fisherman, dimming the light, opened the door for him to pass into the night.


CHAPTER III.—THE DANGEROUS ROAD

Brendon mounted the bicycle, switched on the light, and, apparently with perfect confidence, started to pedal along the coastal road in the direction opposite to that in which the guard-house lay.

But, certainly, he could not have been really quite so confident as he seemed, for he was well aware that there might be some very awkward moments before him, until he had finally passed through the cordon flung round the far side of the bay.

But he was greatly heartened by certain items of information which, by close questioning, he had extracted from the fisherman.

It was the sergeant's usual custom to make a patrol along the coast about the time it then was, close upon midnight; he always rode with the peak of his cap well down upon his forehead and with his shoulders hunched up. Also, he was taciturn and short of speech with his subordinates, and, when he spoke, generally roared at them as if he were angry.

Another thing, too, was in Brendon's favour. He had learnt that the watch beyond the bay was being entirely carried out by soldiers brought from the garrison at Thole, and, as their camp had been pitched a couple of miles away, it was quite possible they might not know the sergeant, even by sight.

So if he, Brendon, were stopped, a bold front and good bluff would probably be quite successful.

The night was much lighter than the previous one, and objects not far away could be distinguished quite plainly. He pedalled leisurely along.

For a mile or so the road was deserted, and he saw no signs of life, but when almost at the extreme end of the little bay, the rays of his lamp picked up three soldiers standing together by the roadside about a hundred yards before him. Their faces were turned towards him, and, from their attitudes, they were evidently waiting for him to approach.

Instantly then, he realised they must be local men and that, therefore, he could not possibly manage to pass them by without their at once perceiving he was not their sergeant. They were probably expecting him, and, although in the distance their suspicions would not be excited, he was sure any close inspection would be fatal at once.

So, when about twenty paces away, he sprang suddenly from his machine, and wrenching the headlight round, focused it upon a cluster of tall rocks just by the margin of the waves.

For a long minute he stood motionless in the shadows behind his lamp, and then he uttered an excited exclamation and his arm shot out in front of the light.

"Down there among those rocks," he shouted hoarsely. "Quick! I'll swear I saw something moving!"

The three soldiers darted off like lightning and half a minute later their torches could be seen flashing everywhere among the rocks. Brendon chuckled at the alacrity they were displaying.

Presently, however, one of them called out. "There's nobody here, Sergeant. There's not room for a dog to hide."

"All right, then!" shouted back Brendon. "Come up again and keep your eyes open. I'm sure the fellow's somewhere about," and remounting his bicycle he continued pedalling along the road.

He drew a deep breath. "Whew! That was easily done, and they are almost certain to be the last of the lot here!"

He rounded the point of the headland and continued upon his journey as leisurely as before. The road was now turning away from the coast and, from his recollection of the map he had studied in London, he knew he must be heading direct for Thole.

Nothing happened for quite two miles, and he had just taken out and lighted a cigarette, as he was turning a bend in the road, when he caught sight of a stationary motor car about two hundred yards to front. The car was facing him and its lights were dimmed, but he imagined he could see the figures of several men standing round.

His heart beat like a piston. "Now, for it!" he whispered. "It's the men from Thole, of course." He heaved a big sigh. "All or nothing, my boy, but if you get through this you should be able to go anywhere."

He quickened his pace ever so little and, as he approached nearer, crossed diagonally over the wide road so that he should come close up to the car.

Then suddenly the car's lights went up and, dazed by their glare, he at once dismounted from his bicycle and proceeded to walk forward. He threw away his cigarette.

Once out of the glare of the big headlights, he saw there were four men standing by the car, all in uniform and one of them an officer. He saluted promptly.

"Your message, Sergeant?" asked the young lieutenant sharply.

Brendon shook his head. "I have none, sir," he replied. "I am off duty. I am going into Thole."

"At this time of night?" queried the officer, looking very surprised.

"Yes, sir," said Brendon, "my wife has just had a little one and I am going in to see her. It is the only chance I get."

The lieutenant's face at once broke into a smile. "Oh, I see. And how old is it?"

"It was born yesterday, sir," replied Brendon, "and I haven't seen it yet." He drew himself up proudly. "It's a son."

"Splendid!" laughed the officer. "That's what out country wants." His face sobered. "But what about this man we're looking for? Do you really think one landed here?"

Brendon appeared to hesitate. "We-ll, sir," he said slowly, "I was certainly among those who saw most distinctly some man on the run when the search-light flashed upon the road, but if one of my men hadn't been so sure he'd heard a submarine in the bay, and then seen a man upon that jetty, I shouldn't have taken much notice of it. The chap we saw might just have been someone out love-making where he shouldn't have been, and then, of course, he wouldn't have wanted to be seen." He nodded. "Those fishermen never strike me as being a very particular lot with their sweethearts and wives."

They talked on for a few minutes and then Brendon rode off with the lieutenant all smiles and wishing him good luck.

Brendon was in great glee. "But he won't be wishing me that for long," he grinned, "and soon he'll be as sick a young man as you could find anywhere." He puckered up his brows. "Now let me see exactly how I stand. That sergeant may not be missed at all until the morning, and then they'll be fearfully puzzled to guess what's happened to him. Of course, they'll come searching for him along this road, because those three men at the headland will say they last saw him coming this way. Then, sooner or later, this officer and these men I've just passed will come to hear about it, and tell their tale and describe the appearance of the sergeant who came up to their car. Then one part of the mystery will be solved, and at once the whole countryside will be roused to look out for a man in a sergeant's uniform, riding a bicycle."

He nodded. "Yes, and that will happen, at latest, about noon tomorrow, and people will begin asking themselves about every man they last saw upon a bicycle. But they won't necessarily then look for anyone in uniform, for it will be guessed I shall have got rid of my sergeant's clothes."

He thought on. "So what it amounts to is that I have the whole night of perfect safety before me, but directly daylight comes I must, as far as possible, keep away from everyone so that, later, when the broadcast is made, they will have nothing to tell about me." He accelerated quickly. "And I'll go through Thole, because, having told that lieutenant I was going there, that will be the last place where they will be expecting me to go."

So through Thole he went, and when once out in the open country again kept up at a steady ten miles an hour. He neither passed nor met anyone on foot, but a few cars and lorries were about, and whenever he heard them or saw their approaching lights, he lifted his bicycle off the road and lay hidden in the grass until they had passed.

With dawn breaking, he reckoned he had covered between 50 and 60 miles, and finding himself near a big and fairly thick wood of large trees, he wheeled his bicycle in and prepared to pass the day. He was beginning to feel exhausted after his long journey following upon two nights without having once closed his eyes. However, he ate some of the food the girl had given him and then lay down to sleep.

But sleep was a long time coming, and, strangely enough, it was not the thought of the danger he was in that kept him awake, but that of the dark eyes of the fisherman's sister. He smiled here at her being any relation of the fisherman, feeling quite sure she was, every inch of her, an aristocrat.

As the sergeant had said, there must be some mystery about her, for why, in a country like this, where punishment came so quickly and life was held so cheap, should she have run all the danger she had in helping a perfect stranger who was nothing to her?

That she was a Cyranian herself he was quite certain, and then why again had she helped anyone whom she must have been quite aware was an enemy of her country?

He gave it up at last and dropped off into a heavy slumber.

The afternoon was waning when he awoke and for a few seconds he could not remember where he was. Then he sat up with a jerk. He was stiff and sore from his long ride, but otherwise he felt much refreshed, and, best of all, he found himself in quite good spirits.

But he was very thirsty and scouting round the far side of the wood, was delighted to come upon a small stream of running water. Then, having eaten all the food that remained, he proceeded to take stock of his position.

By now, he considered, the chase after him would have begun on all sides and, aware that he was in possession of a bicycle, he was no doubt being looked for many miles away from Thole Bay. He heard a number of cars going by the wood, but was not perturbed about that, as he knew the road was one of the main arterial ones leading to the capital city, Marleck.

But he must get right away from the road upon which he had hitherto been travelling he told himself, and make for country where cars could not come looking for him. He had a good idea of the lie of the land, and knew that about fifty miles of sparsely inhabited moor now lay between him and another arterial road upon which he had several times motored when on his holidays. This road was the main one to Sarron, too, and once he reached it Sarron would be only about two hundred miles away.

His mind made up, he wheeled his bicycle into the deepest part of the plantation and there changed back into his own clothes. The uniform of the sergeant and the bicycle he covered with large sods of earth.

Waiting until the road was quite clear, he crossed over, and at a quick pace started upon his long tramp. All he now carried was the small knapsack which had been provided for him in England, and which contained some spare socks, a shirt, and his shaving materials. In his belt was the small dagger which the fisherman had insisted he should keep.

Two hours' hard walking and night began to fall. The country he was crossing was so hilly and rough that he feared he would make but slow progress during the night, but a couple of hours after sunset a new moon rose and he was able to get along quite well. From time to time he saw the lights of a farm in the distance, but he always kept well away, lest there should be dogs about.

By daylight he was confident he must have come at least twenty miles, and, making himself a comfortable bed of the sweet-smelling heather between two rocks, lay down, intending to rest until late afternoon.

He fell asleep at once and thoroughly tired out by his night of walking, his sleep, as before, was deep and heavy. Hour after hour passed and then suddenly he awoke with a start. An aeroplane was droning overhead and instantly he went cold in terror and amazed surprise. Aeroplanes had never entered into his calculations.

The plane was flying low, but fortunately it was not right above him, and with a stealthy movement he squirmed himself against one of the rocks and pulled some of his heather bedding over him. He could distinctly see someone leaning out and sweeping everything with binoculars.

Two dreadful minutes passed and then the plane gradually drew away and disappeared into the distance.

He jumped quickly to his feet. They might have seen him and the plane had not circled round because they did not want him to know they had! Possibly they had located him but did not want to frighten him away! They were now off to give his exact position so that he could be easily caught!

After a quick glance at his watch, which told him the time was just after noon, he started off at an ambling run. He must put as many miles as he could from where he had been sleeping before any pursuers could have time to reach it.

But commonsense soon made him slow down to a quick walk. There were no roads anywhere near and he had only passed two narrow tracks during the night. So, even if he had been seen, pursuit by car was out of the question, and among these hills and this rock-strewn country it would be only by mounted men that the hunt for him could be carried on. So he need be afraid of no lightning swoop by a powerful car and he would certainly see any mounted men long before they caught sight of him.

Presently, he climbed to the brow of a short range of hills and, when at the crest, he uttered a sharp exclamation of surprise at what he saw just below him, and instantly flung himself upon the ground.

Not a hundred and fifty yards away nestled a small farmhouse, tucked in a hollow half-way down the hill. On one side was a paddock in which some cows were grazing and at the back in a small yard were two horses.

But what so interested him was the sight of a man who was hanging up some clothes upon a line. The man was so close that he could see his face quite plainly and it was rough-looking and bearded. He was evidently not too particular about his job, for once when one of the garments fell on to the dusty ground he just gave it a quick shake and put it back to dry as it was.

"He is living by himself," was Brendon's comment, "or at any rate there is no woman in the house, for there are no women's things upon the line."

The hanging up of the clothes finished, the man harnessed up one of the horses to a small dray and brought it out of the yard. Then he went into the house and returning with a cat in his arms, banged the door to behind him and dropped the animal on to the ground. Then he picked out a big axe and mounting into the dray drove slowly away.

Brendon was feeling very hungry. "There is no one else now in that house," he nodded, "for he put the cat out so that she shouldn't steal anything while he was away. There'll be food there and I might be able to take some without it being noticed." He nodded again. "At any rate I'll go and see. He's sure to be away some time, for taking that axe meant he was going to get some wood, and there are no trees anywhere near."

In a few minutes, turning round a small hill, the man was out of sight, and Brendon lost no time in getting to the house. As a matter of precaution, however, he first knocked loudly on the door, but then, getting no answer he turned the handle and went in.

As he had expected, there was no one inside.

This house consisted of four rooms, and was very untidy. Things were thrown about everywhere, and the one bed in use looked as if it had not been made for months.

There was not much to eat to be found, and all he dared appropriate were a few of the stale crusts at the bottom of the bread-pan and a slice of the big sausage upon the table. He took a good drink, however, from a large basin of milk.

Then he let himself out of the house again and was starting to get away as quickly as he could when, passing the yard, his eyes happened to fall upon the horse standing there. It was a brood-mare and appeared in excellent condition.

He stopped dead in his tracks as an idea seized him suddenly. "Whew!" he whistled, "she'd take me twenty miles and then if I turned her loose she'd come back home." He looked at the gate, which was fastened only with a piece of well-frayed string. "Yes, by Jove, and if I ride her bare-back the man will think she's broken away!"

He approached the mare and found she was quite friendly. She let him mount her and then he rode a few times round the yard. He had had plenty of experience with horses, and was instantly of opinion he would have no trouble with her. But he was not taking too many chances, and had soon improvised a halter out of a piece of rope he found in a shed. He was not minded she should bolt the way the other horse had gone, directly she was out of the yard.

Everything ready, he pushed at the gate and broke the frayed piece of string, and then, until he felt sure of the mare, proceeded to lead her in the direction he intended to go. She was quite quiet and five minutes later he had mounted and was jogging along comfortably.

He rode her steadily for five hours, and his certainty of eventual escape was now only marred by one happening during that time.

Late in the afternoon another aeroplane had appeared, and this time it glided low down and circled twice over him. Fortunately, he heard it long before it appeared over a small hill and was all ready to act as he imagined a moorman would do under the same circumstances. He had jumped off the mare and tightened the halter so that he would have a better grip if the noise of the plane should upset her. Then he had thrust his cap in one of his pockets and his little knapsack up under his coat. Lastly he had turned the mare at right angles so that it would appear he had been going in quite a different direction.

The plane appeared quite half a mile from where he was standing, but, then picking him up, immediately came straight towards him. He waved his arm as if in excited greeting, but when the plane suddenly dropped lower and the mare began to jump and struggle to get away, he contorted his face in anger and shook his head as if furious at the manoeuvres of the pilot.

The plane circled twice round him, and then, when it was at length drawing away, the moment he could spare one hand from the halter he shook his fist menacingly at the observer in the plane, whom he could see was still watching him.

"And that's that," he told himself scowlingly, as he remounted the mare. "It may mean nothing, and yet"—his scowl deepened—"it may mean they had some very good idea as to which way I have come."

The following day about mid-afternoon he stepped off the moorland on to the main Sarron road. He had washed in a little stream, shaved, put on his shirt and collar and, generally, spruced himself up.

He knew he was again staking everything upon a single throw of the dice, but he had convinced himself it was the only thing to do. He was worn out and famished, and to go on any longer as he had been doing would have been only giving up the game.

He must have food, he argued, for what good was his freedom if he had not enough strength to make use of it?

So, well acquainted with the locality where he now was, he was proceeding to make his way to a little village he knew of, about half a mile distant. He carried himself jauntily, and to all appearances there could not have been a happier or more carefree man.

At length reaching the village, he was sure his good fortune was in the ascendant when he saw one of the first houses he came to was a little wine shop with a restaurant adjoining. He went in and ordered a meal and a bottle of wine.

He was kept waiting a few minutes, and then the smiling young woman who attended him apologised for the delay, explaining that her father was away and her mother ill in bed, and all the work was in consequence devolving on her.

Brendon smiled back, and said he was in no hurry, and then, in the intervals between attending to customers in the wine-shop, the girl returned to him and chatted brightly. She was obviously interested in him, and in a roundabout way tried to learn who he was and what he was doing to the village. But he put her off with evasive answers, and then asked for another serving of meat.

"I was very hungry," he remarked, "and this meat is good."

A few moments after she had left the room, his attention was attracted outside. A beautiful car, labouring heavily and missing fire badly, had drawn level with the window of the restaurant, and when about twenty yards further on had stopped altogether. The two occupants had thereupon alighted at once. They were officers and, from his uniform, Brendon saw that one of them was of high rank.

"A general," he exclaimed interestedly, "and from the look of him, a most important person." He stared hard. "By Jove, but surely I've seen a photograph of him somewhere?"

The two officers jerked up the bonnet of the car and their heads bent low over the engine. In a minute or two a woman came by and the General with a frowning face looked up and spoke to her. But, replying to him, the woman shook her head and the General frowned more than ever. Then the two turned to the engine again.

Presently the girl returned with what Brendon had ordered and seeing where his attention was directed, asked him in an awed tone of voice if he recognised who one of the officers was.

"The elderly stout one, of course, you mean?" queried Brendon. He shook his head. "No, his face seems quite familiar, but I can't remember who he is."

"General Lazzarine!" nodded the girl, and then a wave of memory surged through Brendon. General Lazzarine, one of the heads of the Cyranian army and Governor of the Province of Waldon! A soldier of renown and one of the closest intimates of the Dictator General Bratz. No wonder his face had seemed familiar, for it peered out of the pages of every European newspaper whenever there was any mention of the coming of the next great war.

"And his car's broken down badly," went on the girl, "and there's no one about here who knows anything about cars. The nearest place he can get help is Errol, and that's a long way, so I expect he'll soon be coming in to use the telephone. Ours is the only one near."

Brendon knew the town of Erroll quite well, having stayed there once. It was thirty kilometres farther along towards Sarron, nearly twenty miles away.

The girl seemed quite excited. "And a customer has just told me that what they call the distributor has gone wrong and as they don't seem to know much about cars——" but the phone bell buzzed somewhere and with a word of apology she ran off.

The edge of his hunger blunted. Brendon proceeded with his meal very thoughtfully, with his eyes, however, all the time upon the car outside. The officers were apparently making no progress and the red-faced General was now looking as if he would like to shoot somebody.

Subconsciously, Brendon heard the girl still speaking on the phone, but she was too far away for him to hear what she was saying. The talking went on for quite a long time and then suddenly he heard the ring off and a few moments afterwards the girl re-entered the room.

Glancing round idly it struck Brendon instantly that she was looking rather frightened. Her face had paled and her eyes were opened very widely. She came straight up to where he sat and bent down close to him.

"Look here," she whispered, only just above her breath, "are the soldiers after you?"

For the life of him Brendon could not suppress a start and his jaw dropped and his eyes were now as wide as hers. But he just stared at her and said nothing.

She went on—"I've just been speaking to my sister, who has a wine shop like ours in Mond. It's a little village twenty kilometres away, and she says there are some soldiers having refreshment there and they are enquiring for a man who's been hiding on the moorland."

Brendon pulled himself together. "And you think, then, I've come off the moor?" he asked with a sickly smile.

The girl spoke very quietly. "I smelt heather directly you came in," she said, "and your boots are shiny as if you had walked a long way among the heather." She nodded. "I've lived here all my life, and know what heather is."

Brendon made no comment, but turned his eyes outside, where the head of the younger officer was still buried under the bonnet of the car.

"Get away quick," whispered the girl. "My sister said the soldiers are coming up this way, and so they may be here in less than half an hour. You needn't pay for what you've had if you are short of money, and I won't tell anyone you've been in for a meal."

But Brendon was still silent. A startling idea had surged into his mind and his lips were parted and he breathed heavily. In a lightning flash he turned back to the girl. "Yes, it is me they are after," he said hoarsely, "and if they catch me I shall be shot." He rose sharply to his feet. "Now lend me your apron, please, and I'll go and speak to those officers as if I belonged here. Perhaps I can make their car go and then they may give me a lift and I'll get away." His white and anxious face broke into a smile. "Lend me an apron, there's the dear girl I can see you are."

"I'll get father's," she panted. "It'll look better than mine," and so in less than half a minute Brendon was out in the road without any jacket and wearing the big apron of the proprietor of the wine shop.

He walked briskly over to the car and saluted the stout general humbly. "Can I help you, your Excellency?" he asked most deferentially. "I know something about cars."

"And who the devil are you?" glared the general, regarding him as scowlingly as if he were the cause of all the trouble.

Brendon jerked his hand back in the direction of the restaurant. "The proprietor of that wine shop, Your Excellency, but I used to be an electrician and know a lot about cars."

The general's face lost a little of its scowl. "Then see what you can do here," he said sternly. "There can't be much wrong, for the car was going perfectly well up to a minute or two before it stopped. The damnation is we are neither of us car-tinkers ourselves."

Brendon bent under the bonnet and saw instantly what was wrong. The distributor was loose in its housing and a couple of nuts needed tightening. That would account for the trouble without looking for anything else. But he was not minded to put things right straight away, and as his nimble fingers took out this and adjusted that, he was all the time concentrating his mind upon how much margin of time there was before him before the soldiers would be likely to appear.

He reckoned he had at least half an hour, for even if they had started directly after the sister of the girl had telephoned, they had twelve or thirteen miles to cover and would most certainly stop several times upon the way to make enquiries at any house near the roadside.

"Can you see what's the matter?" snapped the General, who had been impatiently watching every movement Brendon had made.

Brendon straightened himself up and saluted respectfully. "Oh, yes, your Excellency," he replied. "The distributor has worked loose and several little things want adjusting as well, but I'll soon have them all right."

Then for a good quarter of an hour he worked energetically and at utmost speed. He screwed down the distributor and took several parts of it out and cleaned them and put them back. Then he examined all the wiring and finally he stood up and saluted most respectfully again.

"It should be all right now your Excellency," he said. "Will you please try it."

The younger officer climbed into the driver's seat and started the engine. It purred as smoothly and silently as if it had just come out of the maker.

The General's grim face broke into a smile at last, but before he got in a word of thanks, if indeed he were going to give any, Brendon played his trump card.

Looking very troubled, he said quickly. "But I must warn your Excellency that some of those wires are fraying badly and you ought to get them replaced as soon as possible. Certainly, you may have no trouble for a long time and yet"—he shrugged his shoulders—"you are not absolutely safe for even the next few minutes. You may get a short circuit any moment."

"The devil," snorted the General, looking very worried, "and I must be in Sarron this evening!"

Brendon's heart gave a big jump. Fate was indeed dealing him her best cards!

"In Sarron, Your Excellency!" he exclaimed as if in extraordinary surprise. "Why, I am going there myself tomorrow! I have had a lot of pain in one of my ears and have to see the specialist in the big hospital." He hesitated and looked rather shamefaced. "Now if your Excellency would like to have me with you in case anything should by chance go wrong, I should be——"

"Get in," snapped the General pointing to the car. "I'll take you all the way."

"But just exactly one minute, may it please Your Excellency, for me to put on my coat," and he darted back to the restaurant as if his very life depended upon his quickness.

The girl was standing just inside the door. "What's happened?" she asked breathlessly.

"He's going to give me a lift in the car, and I get right out of danger," panted Brendon. He laid his hand upon her arm. "Oh, I'm so grateful to you. You're saved me from a firing-squad tomorrow."

"But who are you?" asked the girl, looking very scared. "What have you done?"

"I struck one of my officers. That's all," replied Brendon, "and they've been hunting me for four days." He made a grimace. "They never forgive that in the army, you know."

He threw off the apron and jerked on his coat. Then he hurriedly took two notes out of his pocket-book and made to hand them to the girl. "Just to get yourself something to remember me by," he smiled. "I know you'll never tell."

But the girl thrust his hand away vehemently. "I won't take them," she said, pushing him towards the door. "I didn't want to help you for any reward. It way only that I liked your face"—she blushed hotly—"because it reminded me of my sweetheart, who's a soldier, too."

"Well, tell me your name," said Brendon quickly. "I must know that."

"Rita Vone," she smiled, "and a lot of good that'll do you."

"Well, one day, Rita," said Brendon earnestly, "you shall have the nicest present anyone has ever given you," and with a wave of his hand to her, he passed into the road.

"And so twice in these few days," he murmured as he hastened back to the car, "have I been saved by a woman! Really, the Government here doesn't seem to be too popular with the gentle sex! Bless their hearts!"

Now in after years, Brendon always looked back on that ride as one of the most enjoyable of his whole life. He reclined luxuriously in a deeply cushioned seat; all his senses were soothed by the great speed at which they travelled, and he was filled with a beautiful peace and thankfulness, knowing that every yard they covered he was being taken farther and farther away from the misery and perils of the preceding days. His sense of humor, too, was tickled at the thought of whom his saviours now were.

He had the back of the car to himself, and with no difficulty could hear the conversation of the two in front.

It appeared the general was off for a month's holiday on the morrow, and he was going somewhere; where no one knew, and where he could not be bothered by letters, telegrams or calls over the phone. He was going to fish and shoot, and enjoy himself to his heart's content.

For some time Brendon listened without much interest and, closing his eyes, was just dropping into a pleasant doze when he heard the word Thole mentioned. Instantly he was upon the alert, and without opening his eyes, strained his ears for anything he might hear.

The young officer was relating to the general all that had happened, or was supposed to have happened, that night in Thole Bay. There had not been absolute conviction in the minds of everyone on the spot that someone had been landed from a submarine until thirty-six hours later, when it had been known that a stranger, in possession of a sergeant's bicycle, and clothed in his uniform, had been passing himself off as the sergeant himself.

Then the blood ran cold in Brendon's veins when the officer went on to relate how the previous day an observer in an aeroplane had picked up a man lying between two rocks upon the lonely moorland stretching between the great arterial roads, and had taken some photographs of him.

"And they think he must have been the wanted man," went on the young officer, "because between the first and last snaps they got of him through a telescopic lens he had wriggled down closer to the rocks and pulled some heather over his body."

"Then went to look for him, of course?" asked the general.

"Certainly, but they couldn't get there until it was nearly dark, and then they had to wait until the morning before they could beat over the moorland. I understand they've got fifty horsemen there today. Oh, and a piece of great misfortune. Another plane, late yesterday afternoon, sighted a man with a horse, about fifteen miles nearer this road than where the man had been seen lying down. The plane dropped very low to get a photograph of him and made eight exposures, but the devil of it was they didn't find out until they came to develop the plates that the camera had jammed and not a single photo had been taken."

"Most damnable carelessness," commented the general angrily, "and of course the fool will be court-martialled!" An idea seemed to strike him suddenly. "And everything points, you say, to the man making for this road."

"Yes, they're certain of it," nodded the officer, "and now they're enquiring everywhere for any stranger who's been seen about."

The General turned sharply to Brendon. "Hi there, you fellow!" he called out. "What's your name?"

Brendon appeared to awake with a start. "Oh—er—er Nicolas Regnal, Your Excellency!" he replied.

"Well, have you had any strangers in your wine shop today?"

"Yes, Your Excellency," said Brendon promptly. "Two old gentlemen, with a young girl driving them, drew up in a blue car. They bought some pies and two bottles of wine."

"No, no, you fool!" exclaimed the General angrily. "I mean a strange man, probably young, who looked as if he'd been sleeping out in the open for some days, unshaven and unkempt."

Brendon appeared to consider, "No—o, Your Excellency," he stammered, "no one like that."

The General jerked himself round so that his back was again towards Brendon and the latter suppressed a delighted grin. Oh, what escapes he had had and how the stars were fighting for him in their courses!

The car speeded on and on and the miles slipped quickly away. There was no more conversation and it seemed as if all, save the driver, were asleep. Darkness came presently and then when the lights of a good-sized town, about fifty miles from Sarron, came flashing through the windows the General stirred himself and announced that they would stop for some refreshment.

They pulled up before a big hotel, and without a word to Brendon the two alighted and went in. Brendon would have liked to have got out, too, to stretch his legs, but as nearly everyone who passed stopped to look at the car with its big silver arrow on the radiator, he thought it best to avoid scrutiny as much as possible. So he huddled down in his seat and gave himself up to his thoughts, which were not unpleasant ones.

It was quite an hour before the two officers returned, and the General was speaking enthusiastically of some champagne they had had as they stepped back into the car.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed, catching sight of Brendon. "I had forgotten you! You might have had something, too. No matter, you'll have your whack when we get to Sarron."

The wine he had imbibed had evidently had some effect upon the General, for he was now much more amiable and made a few jokes, at which he laughed loudly himself. Then presently he turned to Brendon.

"Here, you," he said, "what's it you say you've got the matter with you? You look a strong, healthy fellow to me!"

"And so I am, Your Excellency," replied Brendon respectfully, "except for my left ear, which gives me a lot of pain when I lie down at night. The doctor in Erroll says he doesn't understand it, and that's why I'm going to the big hospital in Sarron."

"Ah!" frowned the General, "and do you know any of the doctors there?"

"No, Your Excellency, not yet," replied Brendon, "I'm quite a stranger to Sarron."

"Ah!" exclaimed the General again, "what do you say your name is?" and then, taking a card out of his pocket-book, he scribbled some words upon it and handed it to Brendon. "Here, show them this," he said majestically, "and then you'll get the best treatment they can give you. They'll know I'm interested to you."

Brendon took the card, and with heightened color expressed himself as most grateful. The card was one of the General's private ones, and upon it he had written. "Nicolas Regnal, to receive the best attention possible," and below were added the General's initials and the date.

Brendon was dropped in Sarron with another pound added to his little store of money. He put up at the first cheap hotel he saw, and, having no luggage, paid in advance for his night's lodging.

The following day he bought a secondhand suitcase and a few personal things, including some overalls. Then he removed to a boarding house which had been recommended to him by the Intelligence Department in London. The widow who kept it had no knowledge of anyone in the British Secret Service, but as her soldier husband had been shot about a year back for some trifling offence, it was presumed she would not possibly be spying in the interests of the authorities.

On the morrow, with a great beating of his heart, Brendon presented himself at the munition works and applied for work. He was kept waiting half the morning, and then was shown into a room where three officials were seated.

He presented his credentials which were carefully scrutinised and then answered a lot of questions which were put to him, all the time holding his hand to his left ear as if he were a little hard of hearing.

"I have really come to Sarron to have one of my ears attended to," he explained. "I suffer a lot of pain in it sometimes."

A short silence followed and then the one who appeared to be in authority remarked curtly, "Well, we want electricians, but we'll have some enquiries made about you first. Then, if they are satisfactory, we'll let you know at the address you have given us," and he moved his head in the direction of the door to intimate that the interview was over.

Brendon felt a dreadful sinking at his heart, for any enquiries, he knew, would be fatal. Then, not only would he not get taken on in the factory but also, the secret police would be upon his track and he would be a fugitive once again. The situation was critical and everything must be decided at that moment.

He inclined his head respectfully as if the decision were only what he had expected but then, when turning to leave the room, as an after thought, so it seemed, said very quietly, "His Excellency, General Lazzarine will speak for me. He is my patron."

The effect of his words was electrical. "His Excellency!" hastily called out the official who had dismissed him. "You mean he knows you?"

"Oh, yes," replied Brendon choking down the elation that he felt, "my sister was in service in his household until she married." He took the General's card out of his wallet. "He gave me this, the day before yesterday, to show them at the hospital when I go there about my ear," and he passed over the card for inspection.

Instantly then, there was quite a different atmosphere in the room and the card was examined with expressions almost akin to awe upon the faces of the three men.

A few moments of whispering followed and then Brendon was informed in pleasant tones that he would be taken on straight away and could start work on the morrow.

"My word," he ejaculated breathlessly as he was passing out of the closely-guarded yard, "but that was a risky card to play!" He grinned. "Still it seems neck or nothing in this game and the meek ones only inherit the earth when in their coffins."


CHAPTER IV.—THE SCOURGE OF EUROPE

General Bratz, the Dictator of Cyrania, was just over forty years of age. He had the high forehead of the thinker, the eyes of the dreamer and the fanatic, and the square jaw of the man of action. His lips were rather sensual. 'The Scourge' he was called, and in his dealings with the world he neither gave pity nor asked any. He had fought his way to power and lived always in the ways of danger, as did all who crossed his path or even worked with him.

One bright summer morning, he was seated at his desk in the large chamber of a palace in Marleck which, before he took possession of it, had been for many generations the proud possession of a long line of dukes. He was holding a paper in his hand and frowning heavily. An officer, a few years younger than he, was standing before him with a rather uneasy expression upon his face. The latter was high in the Cyranian Intelligence Department.

"Of course, they have uncovered all those agents of ours you refer to here," said Bratz sharply. "These British are never the fools they make themselves out to be. They shriek about their weakness, but their strength they hide as if they were ashamed of it." His eyes were still upon the paper and he nodded gloomily. "Well, their counter-espionage must be good."

"Yes, it can be no coincidence, your Excellency," commented the other, "that upon three consecutive occasions when members of the French Ministry have been paying secret visits to Hailsworth Castle his lordship's butler has been packed off to the town house. It must be that they suspect him and have deliberately got him out of the way. We have not the slightest doubt that every letter he sends us now is opened, and it can only be that he is kept on to catch someone else through him."

"Then drop him," said Bratz curtly, "and drop that fellow Racker, too. Racker may be a member of Parliament and all that, but now we know he is suspect he becomes as dangerous as a bomb. He may lead them to the trail of better men than he."

"Very good, your Excellency," said the Intelligence Officer. "Now about another matter. That Emile le Noir is continually sending information to his paper that he can only have obtained from traitors among us here. The news he is supplying must——"

"I know, I know," broke in Bratz impatiently. He smiled a cold, inscrutable smile. "And all your efforts to find out from whom he is obtaining this information have failed!"

"Yes, we have shadowed him night and day and marked down everyone with whom he has been in contact, but, so far, without any success."

"Well, continue watching him," commented Bratz. "You are certain to catch someone in time." He nodded. "That is all now. Report to me as usual tomorrow."

The officer saluted and retired, and Bratz picked up a copy of an English newspaper and for a long while studied its contents carefully.

"The fools, the fools!" he muttered presently, "it is their free press which is heading them, like the Gadarene swine, to their destruction. Traitors whom I would shoot on sight are allowed there to broadcast their poisonous views with all the publicity that is given to Government decrees. Yes, they are breeding a race of cowards who cant of brotherhood and peace under the very shadow of the bomber in the skies." He scoffed contemptuously. "They will learn too late that the world has changed and that there is no place in it now for weaklings."

The telephone on his desk buzzed and he picked up the receiver. "Yes, he can come up," he said, and a minute later Captain Ruben, the chief of the Secret Police, entered the room.

The captain was tall and carried himself very erectly. He was dark and of a slightly sallow complexion. His usually frowning eyes were hooded under bushy brows, and he had a large and well-developed nose. His expression was sombre, but for all that very intelligent. His worst enemy would not have denied that he was a man of courage. He eyed the Dictator fearlessly, as one equal in the presence of another.

"You have brought him here?" asked Bratz sharply.

"Yes. We held up his car on the Barl road," was the reply. "No one saw us, and when we had taken him and the chauffeur the car was driven into the marshes."

"Where's the chauffeur?"

Ruben smiled a grim smile. "Awaiting your orders."

"You have said nothing to the Frenchman?"

"Only that you wanted to speak to him. We searched him, but he was carrying no arms."

"Well, bring him in," said Bratz, "and there will be no necessity for anyone else to be present!"

Ruben shook his head. "No. He is not likely to be violent."

A couple of minutes passed and a smartly dressed man, somewhere in the late thirties was standing before the Dictator. His face was pale and his eyes were unnaturally wide open, but he had himself under perfect control and spoke at once, very quietly, if perhaps a little thickly.

"What does it mean, please, your Excellency," he asked, "that I am brought here forcibly? A message from you over the phone and you know I would have come at once."

"It means, Monsieur le Noir," replied Bratz coldly, "that I am displeased with you. You are a visitor to our country, and under cover of our hospitality you have sent information to Paris which is detrimental to us because of its falsity."

"Give chapter and verse, please," said the Frenchman calmly. "I have verified every item of news before I sent it."

Bratz looked scornful. "They have been going on for months, and I cannot enumerate them all. But to take only these past few days. Last week you informed your journal firstly that within one period of forty-eight hours five of our newest aeroplanes were reported as missing from the Rarlen aerodrome, and that later it was learnt they had crashed, with their pilots in every instance being killed." He paused ominously. "You sent that information, did you not?"

"Certainly," nodded le Noir, "and it was quite true. I gave the names of the dead pilots."

Bratz made no comment. He went on. "Then on Monday your paper informed its readers that Professor Nortus, of the University here, had not gone upon an extended holiday, as was reported in the press, but had disappeared under most sinister circumstances. Indeed, your journal suggested he had been assassinated."

"And so he had," said le Noir, mincing no words. "He was shot in the Klaffer Prison and lies buried there."

"Thirdly," went on the Dictator in even tones, "as recently as the day before yesterday you dispatched a long article detailing an account of extensive sabotage in one of our munition factories." His lips curved in a sneer. "That article, I may tell you, we intercepted."

"But everything in it was quite true," said the Frenchman fiercely. "As you are well aware, more than one thousand fuses had been tampered with here in Marleck, and the sabotage was only discovered by chance when one of them was being tried upon an experimental bomb." Notwithstanding the pallor of his face, he smiled grimly. "And that is not the only sabotage which has been going on, as you are finding out every day."

Bratz spoke slowly and with no expression upon his face. "I give you your choice, Monsieur. If you tell me who were your informants in these matters I shall say nothing more to you except to ask you to be a little more discreet in future." His eyes glittered. "But if you decline to tell me in what ways your information was acquired, then"—he smiled coldly—"we shall have to find means to make you speak, and I am afraid your journal will be looking for another correspondent."

Le Noir's face was now of a deathly pallor, but he nodded coolly enough. "I expected that the instant I saw Captain Ruben in the car which stopped us. The presence of the Chief of the Secret Police is never a good omen." His voice shook. "No, Your Excellency, I would not disclose my informants, even if I believed you would keep your promise about my safety which, frankly, I do not."

"Then you know the alternative?" asked Bratz, his eyes now pools of smouldering fire.

"Yes, but it is not what you imagine," snapped le Noir defiantly and with his forehead now bursting out in little beads of sweat. "I knew I had seen my last sunrise the moment I was compelled to enter Captain Ruben's car." His voice steadied and rose in scorn. "You fool! I have been long enough in this mad country of yours to know that in any case you intend that I shall die! Torture first and then death afterwards! Then it will be given out that I have gone away secretly, of my own accord, and perhaps taken some woman with me." He laughed hysterically. "But you have not foreseen everything. You have made one great miscalculation." His voice rose to a shriek. "You will get nothing from me, nothing, you inhuman monster!"

Bratz looked at Ruben and made the slightest movement with his head whereupon the latter gripped le Noir firmly by the arm.

"Come on, Monsieur," he said gruffly. "Your interview with His Excellency is over!"

But the Frenchman had suddenly clamped his jaws together with great violence. Flecks of blood instantly appeared upon his lips and he almost pulled Captain Ruben with him as he crashed on to the ground. He rolled convulsively, his eyes seemed starting from their sockets, he tore at his throat, he heaved hard for breath and then, after one deep drawn-out sigh, his head fell on to one side and he was dead. It was over in a matter of seconds. "Prussic acid!" remarked the Chief of the Secret Police impassively. "I can smell it from here. He must have had a glass capsule under his tongue. See, the glass has cut his lips." He nodded. "He was a brave man!"

"But you were careless," said Bratz sternly. "You made a great error of judgment. You ought to have made sure he had no poison upon him."

"Oh, I was careless, was I?" scoffed Ruben with the assurance of a trusted servant. "But he must have been prepared for this arrest, and then slipped the capsule into his mouth the instant he saw I was there to take him." He held the Dictator's eyes with his own. "Any error of judgment was yours in insisting I should myself make the arrest. It warned him."

Bratz waved the matter to one side, and proceeded to issue his orders like bullets from a gun. "Take him out," he said sharply. "Wrap him well in blankets, and have him put back in his own car before the body has time to cool. Then plant the car just off some main road and let it run into a tree or some wall. Have his chauffeur in the driving seat, and let him have been shot in the head from the back. Make it appear that le Noir killed the man in sudden fury and then did away with himself. Then have the French Embassy informed."

Captain Ruben smiled. "Rather crude, isn't it?"

Bratz frowned. "Not if you do exactly as I tell you and then let the ordinary police find him. At any rate, it will raise an element of doubt which will not exist if his disappearance is notified in our customary way." He nodded. "Let his finger-marks be found upon the pistol, of course."

The Chief of the Secret Police made his way from the room with the body of the unfortunate journalist thrown across his shoulder, and General Bratz turned his attention again to the papers upon his desk. But another caller was soon announced, and this time it was a tall and soldierly-looking man in a Colonel's uniform. He was the superintendent of one of the munition factories, and carried a sheaf of papers in his hand.

"We have traced where those nine faulty fuse-caps came from, Your Excellency," he said. "They were made and assembled in room 204, and they were dispatched from there between May 16 and 18 last."

"You are certain," asked Bratz, "absolutely certain?"

"We have not the very slightest doubt. Each cap bears the distinguishing mark of the particular room of origin upon it."

"And the spoiling of the caps must have been deliberate?" went on Bratz.

"Absolutely so! The damage in every case has been malicious," replied the officer emphatically. He looked very glum. "The seriousness of the matter is that although we have only lighted upon nine of these bad fuses there may be hundreds of others, distributed so widely apart, that it would be an almost superhuman task to trace them, especially if the sabotage has been going on for some time."

"And how many workers are involved?" asked Bratz.

"Twenty-seven, Your Excellency. Here is the list."

"Is it known among them yet what has been discovered?" asked Bratz.

"Most certainly. All of them have been suspended from work and their histories thoroughly gone into. We have had most exhaustive enquiries made in every direction, as to their home habits, their friends and associates, and any political views they have been heard to express to others they have been brought in contact with."

"They are all Cyranian?" asked Bratz, his eyes running down the names in the list.

"Yes, every single one."

Bratz's eyes narrowed. "And what have you found out?"

The superintendent made a gesture of despondency. "Nothing! Absolutely nothing! There is not the shadow of suspicion against any of them! All are, apparently, patriotic sons of our great country."

"Have any of them been recently taken on in the factory?"

"No, they are all picked men, and if they have not been in room 204 all the time they have been on the pay sheet of the factory for upwards of a year."

"Waiting their opportunity," nodded Bratz grimly, "if, indeed, as you are not certain, this business has not been going on for a long time."

"That is the dreadful thought, Your Excellency!"

"And is it the general opinion of those who should know that more than one among these 27 men are involved in the sabotage?"

The superintendent nodded. "It is, for every cap passes through three hands." He shook his head. "Of course, we can't be certain, but that is what we suspect."

"And these traitors undoubtedly think that hidden among their honest comrades they will escape punishment!" commented the Dictator scornfully. He scanned down the paper again and his tones were sharp and quick. "And is the foreman's name on this list, too?"

"No, Your Excellency."

"Then put it there under the others," ordered Bratz pushing the paper over. He watched the name written and then himself took the paper and in large bold handwriting wrote some words at the bottom and added his signature. He handed the paper back to the officer.

The latter read what he had written. His face paled, but he asked in perfect calmness. "Then it is your Excellency's order that everyone of these twenty-seven men should be arrested at once?"

"At once," nodded Bratz, "and shot before sunrise tomorrow."

The superintendent drew a deep breath. "Very good, sir." He hesitated a moment. "And, of course, their execution is to be kept secret!"

"Certainly not!" said Bratz instantly. "That they have been arrested is to be immediately broadcast everywhere, and then tomorrow the greatest publicity, too, will be given to their having been shot." He smiled coldly. "Don't you realise, Colonel Morrin, that by this means I am making every worker in every factory in the land a spy upon his fellows? Their very lives will depend upon it. Each one will now spy to save his own skin."

The superintendent inclined his head and then, without comment, stood waiting for any further orders Bratz might give. But the latter made a movement with his hand and the other, gathering his papers together, saluted and left the chamber.

"He didn't like it," frowned Bratz. "He is weak. I must have him watched." For two hours the Dictator transacted business with many callers and then the Chief of the Secret Police appeared again.

"It has been carried out, sir," he announced, "and within twenty minutes of the phone message to the French Embassy they were on the spot. They had brought their own doctor with them, too." He smiled a grim smile. "I understand from the sergeant of police who was in charge that they were very puzzled. They could see the broken pieces of glass between his lips and the almond smell was still quite strong. But, although it appeared suicide, they looked everywhere for bruises upon him. The doctor asked to be allowed to be present at the autopsy."

"Good!" commented the Dictator. "When it is unnecessary, it is foolish to offend anyone, and I am not quite ready for our French friends yet." He frowned. "Now another matter that I asked you to attend to. General Lazzarin——"

"Left the day before yesterday for the Gressen Mountains," said Captain Ruben, "and is staying in a little chalet above Rone with that Spanish woman, Inez Bonita."

"Well, report to me everyone that visits him," nodded Bratz significantly, "and, particularly if any army men do." He frowned. "He has been giving me his own opinion much too much lately, as if he were getting restless."

"It shall be done," said the Captain. He seemed to suddenly remember something. "Oh, the Countess of Arden was in her garden yesterday, so she must have recovered from her indisposition of the last few days."

The General regarded his subordinate with some amusement. "She has not been indisposed at all, Captain Ruben. She has been upon a journey, and I should like very much to know where she went."

"Oh, oh," exclaimed Ruben, looking rather taken aback. "But I have had the house closely watched and she was not seen to leave it!"

"Anyhow, she was seen and recognised in the train at Barle Junction last night. She was disguised as a sister of mercy, but my informant, who was in the same carriage with her, chanced to hear her speak and recognised her voice. When she got out here at Marleck, he followed her, but missed her in a crowd in a street just by the Church of the Holy Martyrs, not a hundred yards from her house."

"The devil!" ejaculated the Captain. "I don't know how she managed to elude my men. They saw no sister of mercy go in and come out or they would have reported it."

"But continue to watch her," said Bratz, "and in the end I expect we shall have to deal with her in some way." He looked thoughtful. "As you know quite well, I would have stopped her game long ago but for offending people it is unwise at the present moment to fall out with. She is no friend of ours."

"Of yours," corrected Ruben dryly. "She guesses you had some part in her husband's death."

Bratz ignored the Captain's remark. "I am badly served," he said sharply. "You let her slip through your fingers and those fools in Thole missed that spy last week."

"But was there any spy?" asked Ruben rudely, nettled by Bratz's censure. "To my thinking there is nothing certain about any man having landed!"

"Nothing certain!" exclaimed Bratz scoffingly. He tapped a paper upon his desk. "The stripped body of that missing sergeant was discovered the day before yesterday in a quarry not two hundred yards behind the guard-house in Thole Bay. A boy was interested in the number of crows he saw flying about the quarry and found what they were pecking at, just loosely covered over with stones."

The Captain was frowning hard. "Then whoever was landed must have been of some importance to have been brought there in a submarine."

"Exactly!" commented Bratz sharply. "So, probably there is now another agent of some Secret Service let loose among us." He smiled a cruel smile. "And if I am not very much mistaken he has come from Whitehall to replace those three gentlemen who met with trouble here a little while ago."

"Not unlikely," agreed Ruben with a nod, "and to have got away, as he did, he must be a pretty smart man." He nodded again. "But, of course, he got help from somewhere directly he landed!"

"No, I don't think he did," said Bratz quickly, "in fact, I'm almost sure he didn't. At first, it certainly looked as if his arrival had been expected, but everything which happened afterwards suggested he was entirely by himself. Once he had been seen, there was absolutely no method in the way he eluded everyone. He took risk after risk and it was only by blind chance that he escaped every time." He shook his head. "No, no preparations had been made to help him, and he was just landed and left to his own resources."

Then, for a long minute, Bratz sat wrapped in thought, with Captain Ruben standing watchfully before him. The Dictator looked up at last. "You can go," he said, and the Chief of the Secret Police saluted and left the room.

That same night General Bratz was having a late meal in an upper chamber of the beautiful old castle of Hoon, about thirty miles distant from Marleck.

The castle was perched upon a rocky plateau, high above the swiftly-flowing Viber. It was old, as old as the dynasty of the kings of Cyrania, and its grim walls held many a dark secret of the turbulent times through which that dynasty had passed.

As with all his other residences, the Dictator had acquired it, when, through relentless violence and by sparing no one, he had assumed the sovereignty of the realm. At all times it was closely guarded, and it was ringed with concealed anti-aircraft guns, the exact number of which was known only to those who had charge of them. He resided in it as much as he could, for there, alone, he experienced feelings of perfect peace and rest.

Shut between its massive walls, he felt secure from the bullet and the dagger of the assassin, and, in its grim solitude, something of his violent and harassing patriotism seemed to slip from his mind. For the moment, then, he threw off his feverish activities and became a normal man.

He was now partaking of a meal of cold fowl and ham, with a bottle of good wine, and, peasant-born, it gratified him to carry on some of the customs of those who had been the lords of the castle before him. So he drank out of crystal ware, so priceless that it seemed a crime to risk its daily use, and the silver he was using would have done honor to the banquet table of a king.

The room was illuminated only by candle-light and he was waited upon by an elderly and very deaf serving-woman who, it was rumored, was related to him by ties of blood. This woman, Hygar by name, was to all appearance as unemotional and passionless as it seemed possible for any woman to be. Tall and gaunt and with a big boney frame, her face was as cold and inscrutable as that of the Sphinx. She was untiring and, seeming to live only for her work, was the only attendant allowed in that part of the castle which Bratz had shut off and allotted to himself. She did everything for him but hardly ever spoke, even when he gave her his orders. She was an automaton and that was all.

The Dictator finished his meal and, proceeding into another room, took off his coat and put on a long white linen overall which he obtained from a cupboard. Then, taking a bundle of keys from his pocket, his face at once became transfigured.

The hard lines about his mouth seemed to soften, his forehead smoothed out, his eyes lost their fierce, suspicious look, and he had all the appearance of a man who was about to usher himself into the presence of the woman he loved.

With eager steps he made has way up a short passage and, unlocking a big door which had evidently been recently fitted with a new lock, felt along the wall for the electric switch and immediately a long gallery was flooded with a dozen lights.

The gallery was narrow and stretched for about a hundred feet. Its many windows were closely curtained, and it was evidently intended that no light should filter outside.

Upon the walls of the gallery hung a few pictures, but a number of others had evidently been removed to make room for row upon row of broad shelves. Down the middle of the room, along its entire length, was a row of big glass cases and, as with the shelves, every one was filled with sea shells, shells of all shapes, sizes and colors, gathered from all parts of the world.

The Dictator was an ardent conchologist.

Yes, this man of violence and of unnumbered bloody deeds, who would line a score or more of men or women before the firing squad without the slightest twinge of conscience, was as a little child in his love of shells. He would defy unflinchingly the enmity of countries much larger than his own, and yet would stand in awe before a little pink and white shell no bigger than the top of his thumb.

He took a big feather duster out of a drawer and for an hour or more dusted the big shells upon the shelves, pausing many times to admire them.

Then he opened some of the glass cases and experienced moments of exquisite rapture as he gazed upon his treasures.

But every now and then he frowned. There was not the order and method he would have liked about his collection. He had many shells he could not classify. He did not know their names and was unaware from what seas and soils of the world they had been taken.

Presently he left the glass cases and, seating himself at a desk, took out a letter he had received a few days previously and proceeded, as he had done many times before, to read it carefully.

It was sent from 29 Boler street, Mile End road, London East, and was signed Thomas Parkin Widgeon. It ran:—

"Honored Sir,

"I respectfully trust it may interest Your Excellency to learn that I have just received a valuable consignment of shells from certain of my agents. Some of them are very rare. Two, in particular, I believe would please Your Excellency, a peculiarly shaped twisted turban from the Sea of Japan, and a pure black nautilus trawled up a hundred miles off the Philippine Islands. Concerning the latter, only one has even been known to exist before, and it was in the collection of His Majesty, Leopold, King of the Belgians, and was destroyed by fire in 1904. Both these specimens are in perfect condition. I enclose twenty-one photographs, with the prices marked on the backs, and I would most respectfully beg your Excellency to reply soon. According to my promise of last year to approach you first, when anything of special rarity came into my possession, I have, as yet, said nothing to anyone else. But I would mention that if you are not interested, my next client will be his Grace the Duke of Roeburg."

"My most humble duty to your Excellency,

"Thomas Parkin Widgeon."

"A Twisted Turban and a Black Nautilus!" muttered Bratz. His eyes glistened. "I must get them! I cannot let them pass!" He rubbed his hands together. "Then my collection will indeed be unique!"

His eyes roved round the gallery. "But I wonder if I could induce this fellow to come over and classify everything for me." His eyes glistened. "Ah! But what a surprise he would get when he saw what I have here! My Tritons are more translucent than any I have ever seen or read about, and my Camp Olives must be among the most beautiful in the world! Then my Scorpions! What museum in Europe has anything like them? They would be a revelation to him!"

He thrilled at his thoughts. "Yes, yes, I must send for him! I'll make it worth his while to come!" and picking up his pen he began to write rapidly.

So that night in the closely curtained gallery of that old castle, Fate began dealing yet another pack of cards; to some would fall hearts, to others clubs or diamonds, and to one—the ace of spades.

The tiny spark kindles the great fire, the single flake of gently falling snow is the forerunner of the avalanche, and it is the first drops of rain which herald the devastating flood to come.

And above us all stands Destiny, mocking that we in our vanity imagine our future lies in our own hands!


CHAPTER V.—"THE LION AND THE LAMB"

In a dingy little street in the East End of London, just off the Great Mile End road, was a little shop with one long window, and above the top of the window was painted in lettering so cracked and faded that it seemed as old as the house itself, the words—

"Thomas Widgeon, Conchologist."

Through the window, as much as the accumulated dust of years would permit, could be seen row upon row of shells of all shapes, colors, and sizes. They had been collected from seashores all over the world, from the desert beds of dried-up seas, and even from the depths of the earth itself.

The shop was not easy for a stranger to find unless he knew the East End well, and when found, was certainly not an attractive one. But, nevertheless, it was known far and wide, and many a man of science whose name was carved deep in history had crossed its uninviting threshold.

Thomas Widgeon was one of the best known dealers in shells in the Western Hemisphere, and his stock was certainly the largest. It pleased Widgeon to make out to his distinguished customers that he had many regular agents collecting for him in many countries, and that the moneys he paid them were their only source of income. As a matter of fact, however, he bought almost wholly from seamen who came off sailing vessels and tramp steamers, and who were glad to make a few extra shillings from what they had picked up upon their voyages.

Widgeon was elderly, small, and slight, with a long, oval face, and a very high forehead. He was rapidly going bald, but what little hair he still possessed was of a sandy color. He was clean shaven, except for a little bit of whisker which he kept closely trimmed. He wore big spectacles, and peered from behind them with watery, light blue eyes. His expression, except when he was driving a hard bargain with his 'agents,' was a very meek one, and altogether upon first acquaintance he appeared to be a very harmless little man.

Certainly he had no outstanding vices, for he did not smoke, he did not drink, and he never swore. For the other sex, also, he had no regard, but for all that he was not a bachelor, having for thirty years been married to a wife who was now red of face and very stout of figure, and who, from her manner of addressing her husband, seemed to have a very poor opinion of him.

Save in one particular matter, Widgeon's whole life was ordered for him by this certainly more strong-minded, if not better, half, and from his getting up in the morning until his going to bed at night, he did exactly as he was told. It was the wonder of all who knew the couple that Widgeon had so consistently dared to keep one opinion of his own.

But he had, and although every Sunday morning and each Wednesday night he was nagged at and bullied as if a matter of pure routine, he stuck to this opinion with all the courage of a man facing tremendous odds and prepared to die in the last ditch.

He was a pacifist of the deepest dye.

During the Great War he had been a conscientious objector, and the unpleasant tasks allotted to him when working as a sanitation unit in a military camp had so embittered his soul that a hatred of all things martial had become the obsession of his life.

So, every Sunday morning, unless it was absolutely pouring with rain, he mounted the four minutes to 10 bus that stopped at the Boler street corner in the Mile End road, and for 5d. was carried to Hyde Park.

There, joining up with some half-dozen of 'peace-at-any-price' comrades, in his turn he took his stand upon an inverted soap box and thundered his message to the world.

His voice was thin and cracked, but he made up for his failing there by his gestures and the violent contortions of his face. In his invective, as much as could be heard, his choice of words was equal to that of anyone.

He was a veritable lion roaring the doctrines of a lamb, and no one could rouse more than he the ribald laughter of the crowd. But he was adamant in his opinion that all world-strife must cease, and he lashed with a thousand whips all those nations, who, in disagreement with one another, resorted to the sword, the bullet, and the bomb.

Arbitration, ran his invariable peroration, should be the only weapon used, and when its employment was universal then, and then only, would mankind shake off its animalism and cease to be as the beasts of the jungle, devoid of all feelings other than those associated with stark lust and the shedding of blood.

The crowd, most of whom, generally, seemed to know him well, always cheered vociferously, and when he had finished, demanded an encore. But Widgeon was in deadly earnest, and, intoxicated by his emotions, never was there a more fiery and bellicose-looking pacifist than the little conchologist of Boler street, Mile End.

On Wednesday evenings at eight o'clock it was his custom to attend the meetings of his society, the 'Brotherhood of Peace.' The society foregathered in a cosy little hall off Bloomsbury square and among its members were long-haired and verbose gentlemen of many nationalities, pale-faced youths in the dream-years of adolescence, and quite a sprinkling of the fairer sex; these latter were in the main mature virgins, bespectacled and of a most stern and uncompromising demeanor. The hall was always well-warmed by a big fire in the winter.

The yearly subscription to the society was only half-a-crown, but, strangely enough, it was always well in funds. Anonymous donations were often received by the treasurer, and, in consequence, not only could it pay for its housing, light and warmth, but, during the course of the year, was able to have printed and distributed many tens of thousands of pamphlets advocating the principles of the Great Cause.

Widgeon himself was never without a dozen or so of these pamphlets whenever he had been attending a meeting, and it was his habit to flutter them down from the top of the Mile End bus as he was being driven homewards. He carried them in a side-pocket of his coat and dropped them one by one. But he was always most scrupulously careful never to have any upon his person when he crossed the threshold of his home in Boler street. Mrs. Widgeon might be always nagging at him, but, she never neglected to mind his clothes.

On Saturday morning Widgeon was in his shop, dusting his wares. He seemed in a very happy mood and smiled often to himself. Not once or twice in the course of his dusting, but several times, after a covert glance in the direction of the half-open door at the the end of the shop which led into the domestic regions of the house, he lifted the top of a big desk very softly and for a few seconds allowed his eyes to fall upon the open pages of a letter inside. Then, from the expression upon his face, he appeared to be experiencing a great thrill as one who gloats over some delicious secret. But he was always very quick to shut the lid of the desk the instant he heard any sounds of movement in the further room.

And no doubt his wife would have been very angry to catch him idling, for she was always complaining about the dust in the shop. The shop was long and narrow, and so crowded that it looked much smaller than it really was. All round the walls it was lined from floor to ceiling with either drawers or glass cases and, on the floor, customers had to edge themselves sideways between long tables upon which were more glass cases. And everything contained shells, nothing but shells, with the fishy aroma of their long-since deceased tenants permeating the shop.

Presently, the door bell tingled and a tall well-dressed man entered.

"Good morning, Widgeon," he said with a smile, "and what is it you want to sell me now?"

But Widgeon instantly raised his hand in pained and reproachful protest. "Oh, not to sell you, Professor Welsh, only to show you. They are bespoken already and are going abroad very shortly, but they are such beautiful specimens that I felt I could not send them away without writing to suggest you should come to see them." He took a bunch of keys out of his pocket and moved over to a big safe in the corner.

"Good gracious!" exclaimed Professor Welsh, "are they then so valuable that you have to keep them in your safe?"

"They are, sir," replied Widgeon very solemnly. "They are priceless! I have never had anything like them before!"

Then quickly opening the safe, he took out a small box and, laying it upon the counter before the professor, lifted the lid very carefully to expose a dozen or more shells nestling in a bed of cotton-wool.

"Look, sir!" he said, speaking almost in a whisper in his excitement. "Did you ever see a Nautilus like that?"

The professor very gently lifted out of the box a black shell, about the size of the palm of his hand, and, taking the big magnifying glass Widgeon held out to him, proceeded to examine the univalve. And all the while, with the reverence of a collector of beautiful things, he held the shell only a few inches above the cotton-wool in the box.

Presently he said quietly. "No, I have certainly never seen anything like this before. It is really glorious, a most beautiful shell." He screwed his face up. "But if I remember rightly. King Leopold——"

"Yes, yes, Professor," broke in Widgeon quickly, "but it was burnt in that fire at his palace in 1904. His whole collection was destroyed."

"Ah, so it was!" said the professor. "I recall it all now." He nodded smilingly, as if in congratulation. "Then this is the only black Nautilus in existence! It is unique!"

Widgeon was in the seventh heaven of happiness and, one by one, proceeded to point out the unusual qualities and perfections of the other shells in the box. The professor was quite as enthusiastic as he was and made no secret of his admiration.

"But you say you are going to send these away?" he asked frowningly. "You are so unpatriotic as to let them go out of this country? You will not offer them to me at any price?"

Widgeon shook his head. "I cannot, Professor Welsh. I told you they were sold already." He drew himself up proudly. "They are now the property of His Excellency, General Bratz."

The professor stepped back with a start and the expression upon his face was more severe than ever. "You don't mean to tell me," he said sharply, "that you are communicating with that fellow! You are disloyal enough to have dealings with him, with his well-known enmity towards this country."

"Certainly, I am having dealings with him, Professor," admitted Widgeon firmly, "but only as one conchologist in communication with another. We are buyer and seller. That is all." He shook his head vehemently. "In other ways he is abhorrent to me! He is a cancer in the world."

But at that moment the half-open door at the back of the shop was jerked wide, and Mrs. Widgeon entered the shop. She was majestic in her mien, and in her stoutness, glided in like the Queen Mary going into dock.

"Good morning, Professor Welsh," she said in a deep voice, and then, giving him no time to acknowledge her greeting, she pointed the finger of scorn at her now most uneasy looking husband. "The little hypocrite!" she shouted. "Sunday after Sunday he goes spitting and shouting from the top of a beer-box in Hyde Park that it is wicked to fight anyone, even in the best cause, and now"—her voice shook in her anger—"he is selling shells to the bloodiest man in Europe!"

Widgeon was opening and shutting his mouth like a fish about to give up the ghost when it has been for some minutes out of water. "But I have just explained to Professor Welsh, my dear——" he began.

"And worse than that," interrupted Mrs. Widgeon fiercely, "he is going to take them himself to this slaughterer and catalogue his collection for him. He had a letter from Bratz yesterday and he's been clucking about it like a moulting hen ever since. Now, he's——"

"But, my dear," cried Widgeon almost in tears, "that is private and you ought never to have mentioned it." He waved his hands in his distress. "I should not have told you as yet if you had not opened the letter, first. I was intending——"

"You be quiet, Widgeon, and don't interrupt when I'm talking to the professor," shouted his wife fiercely. "I'm always telling you you've not got the manhood of a mouse." She turned to the professor. "You don't know the life, sir, I lead with this little coward," her voice quavered. "A lonely woman I am, with no children in the house and my two sisters have fifteen between them to bring up." She glared at her husband. "An old woman in trousers, I call him, and he'd be afraid to fight a slug."

Then, suddenly, as if overcome by her emotion, she turned and, waddling, with no importance now, made her way quickly into the back room. She banged the door loudly behind her.

A few moments' silence followed and the Professor said drily, "So you're one of those pacifists, are you, Widgeon, one of those chaps who would never fight?"

"Yes, sir," replied Widgeon quietly. "I don't believe in fighting evil with evil, for you then become evil yourself. I believe in appealing to a man's reason."

The professor's eyes twinkled. "Then if you came into the house one day and found someone"—he hesitated—"er—er assaulting your wife, you say you wouldn't lift a hand to defend her?"

"But such a thing would never happen, sir," replied Widgeon quickly. "You are imagining an unlikely case."

"Yes, yes, of course," agreed the professor quickly. He changed the subject. "But are you really thinking of going to Cyrania?"

"I am, sir," said Widgeon firmly. "Holding the opinions I do, I consider it a duty and an opportunity that has been specially given to me." His eyes gleamed with fervor. "Perhaps this Dictator has never had the brotherhood of man put properly to him. He has been brought up in an atmosphere of blood and war, and all his higher feelings have been stifled from his birth. We know he is a man of great violence, but we are equally as sure he is a man of great brain and if I, with sincere conviction, approach——"

But the professor was getting sick of the smell of the shop, and raised his hand protestingly at the flood of eloquence he had evoked. "All right, my friend, all right, go over and see what you can do with him." He turned back smilingly as he was going out of the door. "And if you don't convert him, then perhaps he will convert you." He made a grimace. "We may perhaps hear you have been enrolled as a member of his Secret Police, one of the most blood-shedding organisations, I understand, in his blood-hungry country. Good fortune to you, Mr. Widgeon."

Then followed the most thrilling days of Widgeon's hitherto uneventful life. He wrote, agreeing to General Bratz's request and, with his heart beating like a piston every time the postman passed his door, he awaited developments.

But he had to wait a long time, as it happened, for many things were now unexpectedly occupying the Dictator's mind. A conspiracy against him among some of the army chiefs was discovered just in time; strained relations eventuated between him and a neighboring country whose cities he was not quite ready to bomb, and there was also much discontent to cope with at home.

So it was not until nearly six weeks had passed that he was able to turn his thoughts to his collection of shells. Then, just as Widgeon was beginning to be sure he would never hear of the proposed visit again, he received a registered letter by air-mail, finalising matters and enclosing not only the money for his fare to Cyrania, but also a draft for 50 on account for his services.

The instructions he received were most minute in every particular. He was to have a photograph taken at once and dispatch it by air mail to General Bratz. Then he was to obtain his passport and, describing himself as of independent means, was to start upon his journey the following Monday week. He was to travel first class, and would be met at the Cyranian frontier by a special courier who would conduct him the rest of the way. This courier would be an army officer who spoke English, but he, Widgeon, was to talk to him as little as possible, and was to disclose to no one what his name or mission was.

Also, from the moment the train arrived at the Cyranian frontier, he was not to show anyone his passport, but was to produce the card of General Bratz, which would be quite sufficient.

Widgeon was very puzzled at these mysterious instructions, but one day he was to learn he was supposed to be an eminent bacteriologist, who, for an enormous fee had come to Cyrania to make known to her men of science a secret and most certain method of spreading noxious diseases by means of glass phials dropped from aeroplanes. General Bratz did not wish his passion for conchology to become known to the world generally, for he regarded it as a weakness, and was sure that if his countrymen heard of it they would regard it as one, too.

Widgeon, on his part, was also secretive, making out to his brother pacifists that he was going away for some weeks on matters purely relating to his business.

Strangely enough, once he had definitely decided to go, his wife ceased nagging and dutifully got ready his clothes. In a way she was staggered to the point of respect that anyone should think that her husband's services for a short time would be worth 250, for that was the sum General Bratz had promised, and no doubt she was somewhat mollified when Widgeon presented her, for her own use, with the 50 he had received on account.

On the Wednesday evening, when Widgeon presented himself at the usual weekly meeting of the Brotherhood, he found he was not the only one who would be shortly absenting himself for a while, as a Frenchman, a Monsieur Chataigne, announced that he was also going away almost immediately.

This particular Frenchman had for a long time been an ardent worker in the Great Cause, and his purse and undoubted intellectual gifts had been placed most generously at the disposal of the society. Indeed, it was he who was responsible for most of their literary propaganda, and who wrote most of the tracts that were broadcast. He was a journalist by profession, but never mentioned for which paper he worked.

He spoke almost perfect English and was a good orator. "You are doing magnificent work, Comrades," he had only recently said with deep feeling, "and your work is sure if, on the surface, slow. One day the world will awake suddenly to your services to humanity, and then you will receive the appreciation you deserve. Get at the workers. That must be your object, and if you can only convince them, then it will be they who will in the time to come frustrate all attempts to force this nation into war and carnage." And the Brotherhood had cheered him heartily.

At last the great day came, and in a new ready-made slop suit of decidedly East-End cut and pattern, and with a big gawky-looking cap, many sizes too large for him, but purposely chosen so that its peak would come down over his eyes if the lights in the railway carriage at night should prove too strong, the little conchologist set forth upon his travels. He took with him a secondhand suitcase containing his personal belongings and a stout leather trunk, in which were packed the precious shells.

Although he was blissfully unaware of it, he looked an extraordinary individual to be travelling first class.

Crossing the sea gave him a great thrill, and he would have loved to trail his hands in the water, as he had once done, when out upon a ninepenny cruise in a little sailing boat at Southend.

Then, once in the train again, every mile of the long journey over the Continent was a sheer delight to him. He partook of meals in the dining saloon, which made Mrs. Widgeon's messy cooking seem like prison fare, and, as he reclined in his luxuriously cushioned seat and the landscape rolled swiftly before his eyes, he thought the world was a good place to live in, and that he was, indeed, a lucky man.

He did not feel a bit homesick or lonely, although none of his fellow passengers made any attempt to open conversation with him. That they were interested in him, however, he was quite sure, for many times he caught them regarding him with covert glances.

But upon reaching the Cyranian frontier he experienced the greatest thrill of all, for then something of a realisation came to him of the power and majesty of his patron, the notorious Dictator of Cyrania.

The train was beginning to slow down as they approached the frontier station, and an official in resplendant uniform came down the corridor shouting something very loudly. Widgeon did not understand what he said, but some of the other passengers did, and they looked uneasily at one another.

"And so we are all to remain seated, are we!" remarked one, who spoke in English, but who was undoubtedly an American citizen. "Then I suppose they are nosing out some spy!"

"Probably," drawled back his companion, "and I shouldn't be surprised if we didn't hear a pistol go off soon." He grinned. "I understand it's a habit they have in this country."

Widgeon's eyes bulged, and he felt an uncomfortable tight feeling in his chest. Still, he retained his presence of mind, and, remembering the instructions he had received, while others in the carriages were hurriedly taking out passports and papers for inspection, he made no movement to produce anything except the little card General Bratz had sent him, and which he held nervously in his hand.

A smile went round the carriage. It was certainly going to be interesting to witness the encounter of this meek, little man in the awful clothes with the truculent soldiery of Cyrania, when they came to cross-examine him.

But the official who had shouted so loudly, accompanied now by a smart young officer, reappeared in the corridor and the two thrust their heads into the carriage where Widgeon was seated.

The officer, notwithstanding his youth, looked very stern and uncompromising, obviously being badly bitten by the contempt which soldiers in some countries have for the un-uniformed man. His eyes swept haughtily round the carriage, but, suddenly falling upon Widgeon who had taken off his cap and was wiping his forehead with the sleeve of his jacket, their whole expression altered and instantly he became a different man.

Ignoring everyone else in the carriage, he pushed his way unceremoniously up to Widgeon and inclined his head most respectfully. "Pardon——?" he began, but Widgeon thrust out the card he had been holding in his hand.

"Ah, certainly!" exclaimed the officer, taking in what was written upon it in one swift glance. He inclined his head again. "Follow me, will you please, Professor," and he gave a curt order to the official behind him, who at once proceeded to take Widgeon's suitcase off the rack.

Widgeon was bowed out of the carriage and a way was cleared, certainly with no undue politeness, through those standing upon the platform. He was ushered into the refreshment room. There, no one else being allowed to enter, he partook of a cup of coffee in solitary grandeur, while, as he learnt afterwards, a small saloon carriage was being attached to the train for his especial benefit.

Everyone stared hard as he was being escorted back to the train, and none more so than his former fellow passengers.

"Gosh!" exclaimed the American, "who the devil is he? He looked a regular little costermonger to me, but he must be some great man!" He made a grimace. "And that just teaches us never to judge by appearances."

The young officer disappeared when he had seen Widgeon safely into the saloon, but the conchologist was greatly impressed, although rendered a little nervous, when he became aware that a soldier with a fixed bayonet was stationed just outside the door.

"What a country of dreadful deeds this must be," he murmured, "that they have to put soldiers to guard me!" A cold shiver ran down his spine. "But what would the Brotherhood say if they knew I was depending for my security upon soldiers who have, perhaps taken life upon some battlefield or worse still, shot down their fellow countrymen who were protesting in a just cause."

Widgeon was served with an excellent lunch and partook, unknowingly, of two long glasses of good hock. The attendant who waited upon him had presented a wine-list, but he had waved it away, telling the man that he was a teetotaller and had never drunk anything stronger than cider in his whole life. The attendant did not understand what he said but, catching the word cider, disappeared from the saloon to return with a bottle of wine whose nomenclature was nearest to the sound of that word. The label on the bottle meant nothing to Widgeon and he was doubtful as to the nature of its contents. But he repeated, "Cider, cider," and as the attendant nodded vehemently every time, he thought it must be all right. So he drank it and, finding it quite to his taste, was induced to take the second glass.

Then, overcome by the good meal and the wine, and soothed by all his comfortable surroundings, he sank into a long refreshing slumber, to be awakened with a start as the train was drawing into Marleck.

Then, as before, he was the first to be allowed to alight from the train and, his luggage collected, he was whisked away by the young officer in a big car.

Dusk was just failing, and as they passed through the wide streets his eyes were delighted with the fine buildings of the beautiful old city of Marleck. But he was grieved to notice there were so many soldiers about. Soldiers seemed to be everywhere; they stood talking to one another in the streets, they went marching by in their hundreds and there were few big buildings that had not their sentry or sentries standing outside.

He was rather astonished that the car stopped nowhere in Marleck, and soon began to draw out of the city, but he asked no questions and his companion volunteered no information. So he sat back in his seat in silence, prepared for any more surprises that might come.

In some three-quarters of an hour or so the grim outlines of Hoon Castle were silhouetted against the moonlit sky and, as the car shot up the road leading towards it, his heart beat faster as he realised he had reached the end of his journey at last.

They passed more soldiers in a big courtyard and the massive doors of the castle were opened. After a short delay he was taken up a flight of stairs and ushered into the presence of a man in an officer's uniform, whom he knew at once must be the great Dictator.

The latter was seated at a desk at the end of a very long room, and he frowned as if in rather surprised curiosity as his eyes fell upon the odd, awkward-looking little man, in ill-fitting clothes, who was approaching him. Then he elevated his eyebrows and a gleam of amusement came into his troubled, gloomy face.

"Ah! so you are Professor Widgeon, are you?" he asked, repressing a smile.

"I am not a professor, Your Excellency," replied Widgeon rather nervously. "That is all a mistake. I am just plain Mr. Widgeon."

"Not at all," exclaimed Bratz sharply, "for I make you a professor now! I appreciate your having come this long journey at my request and so you shall straight away be appointed Professor of Conchology to the Marleck University, for the service you are going to render me." He nodded. "I will have the document drawn up at once and you shall take it back to England with you."

Widgeon blushed scarlet at the very thought of such an honor being conferred upon him, and then Bratz asked him his age.

"Fifty-one, Your Excellency," replied Widgeon.

The stern eyes regarded him intently. "Have you any religion?" was the next question.

"Oh, y-e-s, Your Excellency," stammered Widgeon. "I am a Protestant." His voice steadied and he added defiantly. "I am a pacifist as well."

The Dictators eyebrows went up with a jerk this time. "Oh, a pacifist, are you!" he commented thoughtfully "Well, we shoot pacifists over here!" He suppressed another smile. "Still, that doesn't matter so long as you don't try to corrupt my army." His eyes almost twinkled. "Yes, we make professors of conchologists, but of pacifists only dead men."

He waved his hand as if to dismiss the whole matter, and his face took on an eager look. "You've got that black Nautilus quite safe? And the other ones, too? Ah! that's good."

He became the grim Dictator of Cyrania again and rapped out quickly. "I have arranged for you to have a room near your work. You will be free to go out for fresh air whenever you want to. But there is no one here who speaks English except me, and when I am away you will make known your wants by pointing to the words in a dictionary that I have had placed in your room." He touched a bell upon the desk. "Now, you shall be taken there and in half an hour I will send for you. Then——" all the fierceness drooped from his stern face and he smiled like a child—"we shall see if what you have brought is as good as you have made out," and, Hygar having made her appearance, Professor Widgeon was led away.


CHAPTER VI.—THE SECRET TORPEDO

Brendon's good fortune continued after he had been taken on at the munition factory. The Superintendent, after questioning him, and finding he possessed sound knowledge of the care and installing of the big Rahl arc lights, whose peculiar rays were made use of in many parts of the factory, placed him under one of the special foremen in charge of them.

In this way, Brendon's duties took him into many different workshops, and by keeping his eyes and ears open, in three weeks he had learnt more about what was going on about him than in other circumstances he might have found out in six months.

The factory covered a huge area, and he quickly realised that, however long he might work there, he would never enter all the hundreds of buildings scattered about. He had, however, been in some of the foundries where the shells of the bombs were cast and he had also seen where they were finished. More interesting still, he had been in several of the buildings where the shells were filled with the high explosive and in others where the detonators were made.

As a whole, he found his fellow-workers were not inclined to be friendly. There was always a considerable amount of reserve among them and when at work, they always seemed to regard one another with suspicion.

But he did not wonder at that, for severe punishments were inflicted when it was discovered that faulty work was being done in any of the shops, and, if the actual culprit were not immediately picked out, the whole shop was in a state of panic as to what was going to happen next.

Soon after he had arrived he read in the newspaper that in another factory in Marleck the twenty-eight workmen in one particular room had been taken out and shot because sabotage had been going on and it could not be found who were the particular culprits.

It was dangerous, too, to comment, however slightly, upon any of the actions of the authorities, for it was known that there were spies everywhere and a chance word of criticism might lead to the disappearance of the critic the next day, and no one might ever learn what had become of him.

Outside the factory, in the evenings when meeting fellow-workers in the cafes Brendon realised the state of terror that seemed to exist everywhere in Cyrania. The whole nation was seething with discontent, and it was only the swift and merciless measures taken when any of this discontent showed its head, that kept the people subdued. Life was held very cheaply, and even the slightest suspicion against anyone might be as disastrous in its consequences as absolute and proven guilt.

Brendon heard a lot about the Secret Police too. Their particular identities were kept hidden much as possible, but their chief, Captain Ruben, was well known by sight to most Cyranians as he had formerly been the second in command of the ordinary police in Marleck. Of the dreaded band he was the most feared of all, for his appearance anywhere was said to be always the forerunner of violent death for someone.

And it was well understood that it was the Dictator himself who was responsible for this tyranny under which everyone lived. He was ruthless in his methods, and no one, high or low, could rest easy of he became aware that he had fallen under his displeasure.

Brendon's blood boiled when he heard the tales of cruelty that were told him, and, mindful of what his mission was, found himself every day more and more prepared to wage war with the same callous disregard for the sanctity of life as was shown by those he was set against. He nerved himself so that if need arose he would be as ruthless as anyone.

And it was not long before he was compelled to strike his first blow.

One morning when proceeding through one of the foundries, on his way to attend to a light that was giving trouble, he passed the time of day to a bright, merry young fellow with whom he had struck up a slight friendship.

"Hullo!" exclaimed the latter, "you still alive! I thought you'd have been shot by now!"

"Why?" laughed Brendon. "What have I done?"

"What has anybody done?" queried the boy. "You get a bullet in you for nothing now in this cursed country. My wife's brother's not been heard of for three days and we're afraid——" but he stopped suddenly as another man went by and then asked with an uneasy look—"but I say, do you think he heard us, that chap who just passed?"

Brendon shook his head. "No, I shouldn't think so," he replied. "He wasn't near enough."

"Well, take a good eyeful of him when he comes back," said the boy. "His name is Jaker, and we have suspected for some time that he's an informer," and he made a grimace as Brendon moved off.

Brendon's work lay in the direction the supposed spy had gone, and when the latter turned round after about fifty yards, the two came face to face. Then, a horrible shiver ran down Brendon's spine as in a flash of recognition he remembered having seen his face among those photographs in the album which he had been made to memorise when with the Intelligence Department in England. The man had been described there as Daltus, a notorious Government spy.

The man looked straight past Brendon as if he had not seen him, but that only made Brendon the more uneasy. "Damnation, what vile luck!" he murmured with his mouth very dry. "Now, if only he heard what that boy said, we'll both be on his suspected list!"

The next morning the young fellow did not turn up to work, and he was not seen in the factory again. Concentration camp or grave, Brendon never learned what happened, and he did not dare to enquire after him, lest he should bring suspicion upon himself.

But he soon had reason to believe that, with even that precaution taken, this Daltus had now become suspicious about him, as twice within the next three days he came across the man in the evening, in widely separated parts of the city, too. Daltus never gave so much as a glance in his direction when they met, but Brendon, with a dreadful misgiving, regarded the two meetings as far more than a coincidence.

He gritted his teeth together. The situation was developing dangerously, and it must be dealt with before it got worse. Daltus had only to go into the office and get the false references looked into and then he, Brendon, would be arrested at once.

So the ensuing nights, upon leaving his lodgings, Brendon took lonely walks along one of the dark streets upon the outskirts of the city, by the bank of the River Viber.

For the first two nights nothing happened, but upon the third he saw he was being followed. He had brought a little pocket mirror with him, and, without turning round, caught sight of someone tracking behind. Getting towards the end of the street, he quickened his pace and then, almost at a run, turned into a little narrow lane that led to some open fields. The night was dark, but every now and then a fitful moon came out between the clouds. He flattened himself against a wall just round the corner and——waited.

So that night Daltus did not return to his home, and it was nearly a month before the body of a man was dragged from the river a score and more of miles away, below Marleck. The body was quite unrecognisable, but certain officials, who had come from the city to investigate the matter, pointed to the dagger wound above the heart and frowned and nodded when they came to examine the clothes.

Then the next day a woman in Marleck was weeping, for she had been told she was a widow, and she had not been married long.

It was no doubt all very sad, but her husband, in his time, had widowed many women and, after all, he had been dealt with quite fairly according to the rules recognised in the bloody game of war and preparation for war.

Brendon had found a long list of names in the dead man's pocket-book and some of them had been scored through, with, apparently, one of the last to be so scored, that of his bright-faced young friend who had talked so incautiously. So he had felt no qualms for his part in that night's work as he scratched a second mark upon the hilt of his dagger.

A week went by after Jaker, so it was given out, had been transferred to another factory, and Brendon was still no nearer finding out anything about the wonderful torpedo, which it was whispered was being constructed in the Sarron factory.

He had seen Ren Jahn, for the latter came every day into the huge compound which contained all the factory buildings, and he had been pointed out, as he was always pointed out to any newcomer. In the course of Brendon's duties, too, he had many times passed the building in which it was known the torpedo experiments were being carried out. He always sighed then, for no building could have been better situated, he saw, to keep the prying and inquisitive away. It was not a big building and was of the bungalow type, consisting of only one storey, but it stood by itself in the middle of almost an acre of land.

The land was surrounded by a high iron fence, all the rails of which were sharply spiked. Added to that, outside the fence was a circle of barbed wire entanglement, thirty feet in depth. One single narrow gate admitted to the enclosure and there was a sentry, with a rifle, stationed there day and night. It was rumoured, too, that the iron fence was electrified. Ren Jahn had two co-workers with him, a professor of physics from the Marleck University, and a young electrical engineer, and it was said the three of them often worked through the whole twenty-four hours.

"And how is anyone to break in there?" sighed Brendon. "It is absolutely hopeless!"

Then one day Brendon was summoned into the office of the factory's head electrician, and to his absolute amazement, told he was to proceed at once into the Jahn building and install a stronger special Rahl arc light there.

It appeared that one of the foremen had recommended Brendon as knowing as much about Rahl lights as anyone in the factory, which was really a true statement, as the Rahl was a recent invention and as yet few had been installed anywhere in Cyrania.

So straight away Brendon was taken into the closely-guarded building and put through a searching questioning by the great Jahn himself. At first, Jahn's manner was very sharp and abrupt, but, soon realising that Brendon knew as much about the light as he did, he became much more amiable and proceeded to discuss matters quite pleasantly, as one expert conversing with another.

"And I won't have anyone coming here but you," he said emphatically. "The job will have to be done while we are working here, and I'm not going to have a lot of noisy workmen tramping in and out all the time. So you'll have to carry it all out by yourself. Take the wires down through the floor into the cellar and join them up there. Then you needn't bother us here so much."

So, day after day, exulting that by an almost miraculous happening he had now been brought in contact with the object of his mission, Brendon passed by the sentry as one whose privilege it was to work in the closely-guarded holy of holies of the great Sarron factory.

He himself brought in all the tools and the materials needed, and soon became on familiar terms with all the soldiers, who, in their turns of duty, were posted at the gate of the narrow opening between the barbed-wire entanglements. Every morning, however, he had to get his permit from the head office, and return it as he was leaving in the evening.

He worked under Jahn's eyes, quite close to the large table upon which were stretched many blue plans, while at the far end of the room was a long bench strewn with many articles, which he supposed were the working parts of the model of the new torpedo.

But although Brendon's presence in the room where Jahn and his two assistants were working was soon regarded as a matter of course, and no notice was taken of his entrances or exits, no undue risks were run of his learning anything about the torpedo, by overhearing what was being said.

The first day the three men talked in lowered voices and several times he caught them looking at him sharply and heard one or other of them say, "Hush! hush!" as if in his concentration upon his work someone had spoken more loudly than he should have.

But on the second day all these precautions were considered unnecessary, for they had tried Brendon out and made certain he could not speak English. At least, that was their opinion, and they had arrived at it in this way. They set a trap to catch him, and afterwards Brendon came to the conclusion that he had had a narrow escape for he might very easily have been caught.

He was upon the top of an eight-foot ladder, propped up against the wall, determining where he should insert some stays for the pulleys of the arc-light. He was absorbed in his work, but a few seconds before had subconsciously heard someone say, "Hush! hush!" Then, in twisting round upon the step of the ladder in order to get a pencil out of his pocket, out of the tail of his eye he had noticed the three men with their heads close together, looking hard at him.

"Hullo!" he thought, "what's up? for some reason I am all at once the centre of interest! Now what the devil is it? I must be darned careful, anyhow!"

So he put the most wooden expression possible upon his face and strained his ears to catch the slightest word that might give him some clue to the mystery. And it was well he was prepared, for not half a minute later came hissing in low tones in English, "Look out, you boob, that ladder's slipping! Look out, I say!"

But pencil in hand, Brendon stood steady as a rock. His face was upturned, and his eyes were fixed upon the ceiling. The lightning thought had flashed through him that it was a trap, but he stiffened himself ever so little, so that if the ladder were really slipping he would not hasten its fall. If the warning were not a trap to find out if he understood English, then he knew it would be repeated instantly and in good Cyranian this time.

But, as he was expecting, no such warning came and he stretched his arm up and began tracing a pencil mark upon the wall.

Then a loud voice rang out—it was Jahn's and he spoke in perfect English. "No, the chap does not speak the language of that condemned nation. And why should he? According to his papers he has worked always in this country."

Brendon heaved a great sigh. Yes, certainly, he had been very nearly caught!

After that, in the days that followed, the three of them always spoke unreservedly in English. They spoke it fluently and had evidently learnt it in England.

To his great delight, Brendon then began to pick up quite a lot about the torpedo that was to be electrically driven. Jahn had got it almost perfect, but there were still a few things that were holding him up. He wanted to have the model complete and in working order in ten days' time, when General Bratz and the chiefs of the Cyranian Navy would visit the factory. No one save he and his colleagues knew what progress had been made and Jahn wanted to spring it upon the Dictator as a most wonderful surprise. So they must work night and day, he insisted, to get it ready in time, and until the model was finished, they would have all their meals brought in and sleep where they were.

Brendon heard a lot more besides this, and to his thinking, some very unpleasant things, too.

Jahn was pretty certain that he had at last discovered the secret of a death ray that would kill at a distance of a mile, and if he were right, then all Cyranian aeroplanes would be equipped with it within six months.

Also, Jahn often chuckled at the death-roll that had recently occurred in an accident at Woolwich Arsenal. He was responsible for it, having supplied the Cyranian Secret Service agent working there with a little electrical apparatus no bigger than the palm of a man's hand, and this apparatus, placed among a stack of completed bombs, had caused the whole lot to explode.

"And don't tell me," he sneered once, "that there were only seventy-seven casualties. Our men report that there are whole streets with houses containing nothing but widows and orphans."

The days flew by and Brendon was getting almost desperate. He saw no possible chance of getting hold of any of the plans lying about, and besides, if he did, he argued, they would be of no value as they were incomplete and useless in their present state.

Of course, he might suddenly spring upon Jahn and, taking him by surprise, stab him to the heart, but he could hardly expect to overcome the other two, as well. They were both tall and well-built men and, besides, a cry through the open window—it was always kept open—would bring immediate help from the soldiers stationed by the gate.

No, Brendon told himself, even if he sacrificed his own life it would be to no purpose and he was a fool to consider it.

Then, suddenly, an idea came into his mind. An idea so startling that, when he first thought of it he could hardly breathe in his excitement.

He would steal a bomb from one of the stores and, placing it in the cellar, blow the whole Jahn building and its occupants sky-high!

The cellar was just under the room where they all worked! There was a lot of well-dried woodwork about the house and the chances were that it would burn like fury after the explosion, so that all that had escaped the bomb would be destroyed by the fire that would follow! Yes, if he could get hold of a bomb the rest would be easy, as he could bring it into the building under the very eyes of the sentry, in the pail in which he was accustomed to carry his tools and, occasionally, plaster and cement.

Then a most unpleasant thought struck him. If the building were going to be blown up, not only must he bolt away when he had planted the bomb, but within a few hours he must expect to have all the police and soldiery of Cyrania after him.

It was, of course, madness to imagine that he would not be suspected at once, as he was the only workman in the whole factory who, of late, had been allowed inside the fence and barbed-wire entanglements.

And the instant suspicion fell upon him, the game would be up, as it was certain they would look up the references he had given and then two minutes over the phone would be quite long enough for them to find out he was an imposter. Then—he nodded grimly—but there were going to be no more thens! He would not be present when the band began to play! He would be safe across the frontier!

He summed up the whole matter. Yes, he had not only to get hold of a bomb and the necessary detonator and length of fuse, and convey them all, undetected, into the cellar, but he must have everything prepared for instant flight afterwards.

Of course, his bolting away would be a stark confession of his guilt, but there was no help for that. Anyhow, if he returned to the factory the following morning his guilt would be surmised almost equally as soon.

Well, if he were going to do it he must do it quickly, for he could only hang on to his job for a few more days. He would have no compunction at all in blowing them up, for had not Jahn continually been glorifying in the number of widows and orphans he had already made, and were not he and his assistants now devoting all their energies to perfect an engine of destruction, in the main destined for British seamen?

His mind made up, he lost not an hour in starting upon arrangements for carrying out his plans.

Passed over to Jahn, as he had been, for the time being he was under his supervision alone. And Jahn, realising he was perfectly capable, left him entirely to his own devices. So, he could come into the building or leave it whenever he wanted.

Now, as with every other worker on the pay-roll of the factory, Brendon wore a badge, in the form of a metal disc, pinned conspicuously upon the front of his overalls, or upon the lapel of his coat if he happened to be wearing one. All the discs were numbered, the great majority of them in figures of black enamel. But the figures on Brendon's disc were in red, thus indicating that he was upon the factory staff, and that his duties might carry him into many different buildings.

So when he appeared in any particular workshop, those in charge just glanced at him and, noting the color of his number, took no further notice. The authorities were not afraid that any tools or articles would be stolen, as every workman leaving the compound in the evening was searched as thoroughly as he had been when coming to work in the morning. In the evening he was searched for stolen articles and in the morning to make certain he was carrying no matches.

That evening Brendon passed through the factory gates in a whirl of excitement. Under the pretence of examining some switches—he had managed to get hold of a length of fuse and one of the small detonators that were fixed in the bombs when they were about to be used on active service. Both of these articles he had carried away and secreted under some old boxes in a corner of the cellar.

Arriving at his lodgings, he at once gave his landlady a week's money in lieu of notice, telling her that he had to leave her straightaway as he had been appointed one of the factory watchmen and, in consequence, would now be living inside the compound.

Then, collecting his belongings, he left the house and found other lodgings in a street close to the Sarron railway station.

His object was two-fold, first, to prevent the police, when they came after him from forming any idea as to where he had gone by the exact time he had been last seen at his lodgings and, second, he wanted to be as close to the railway station as possible, it being in his mind to escape by train when the supreme moment had arrived.

He got little sleep that night, considering plan after plan for getting hold of a small bomb. A large bomb he could not possibly hope to smuggle into the cellar, but one of the smaller ones weighing twenty kilograms, or about forty-four pounds, he might carry in his pail under some cotton waste. A bomb of that size would be quite big enough to raze to the ground every brick of the Jahn building.

At first, it seemed quite impossible that he could take a bomb from under the very eyes of those who were handling them, but there were several things in his favor.

To minimise the catastrophe that would follow if one of them exploded, the bombs were filled in scores of small buildings, widely separated from one another. The procedure was to fill the bombs and then carry them in low rubber-wheeled wooden trolleys, to an annex of the same building, where they were packed most carefully to be carted away. In the packing room three men were generally quite sufficient to cope with the work.

So there would not be many eyes upon him and, with their backs turned and his big wooden pail with its leather handle close handy—only wooden pails were allowed in the danger zones—a lightning movement and he might be able to lift a bomb and hide it under the big ball of cotton waste he always carried.

It would be very risky, he knew, and he might have to go into many packing rooms before he got his opportunity. He could not, either, absent himself very long at any time from the Jahn building, although when he was not in the room where they were working, he was supposed by them to be busy with the wiring in the cellar.

Then, all at once, what he considered a master idea came into his mind, and the next morning he said to Jahn—"There are rats in the cellar, sir, so hadn't I better put a trap in there. They may come up and get at your papers!"

"Gad! So they may!" exclaimed Jahn frowning uneasily. "Yes, by all means get a trap! We don't want the brutes up here."

"And I'll bring one that catches them alive," said Brendon. "Then we may get several of them at once. Those break-back traps frighten them when they go off and then you only catch one at a time."

"Good!" said Jahn, and at Brendon's request he wrote him out an order for the kind of trap he wanted.

So the next day Brendon baited a small wire cage-trap in the hope that he would speedily be in possession of some live rats.

In the meantime he had tested a small piece of the length of fuse, and, to his dismay, found it burned much more quickly than he had expected. Once lit, he calculated it would burn its entire length and explode the detonator in less than forty minutes.

"And that means," he told himself ruefully. "I must light it just before I leave work and be clear of Sarron almost within the half-hour. It'll take them some time to collect their wits, but then—goodness only knows what they'll do. At any rate, I'm sure to get fifteen or sixteen hours start, for they won't begin to suspect me until I don't turn up the next day!" He nodded. "Yes, I can get a long way by train in fifteen hours if things fit in all right."

Making enquiries at the railway station, he found to his great delight that there was an express train leaving Sarron for the capital city, Marleck, at five and twenty minutes past five, and, not only that, but at five minutes past nine every night the transcontinental train left Marleck upon its long journey across Europe.

"Whew!" he whistled, "and the frontier's only ninety-six miles from Marleck! Why, with any luck I shall have smuggled myself out of Cyrania before morning breaks! Things couldn't be better, and the timetables might have been arranged for me."

The following morning, upon going down into the cellar, he found four rats in the trap and he felt his heart beat quickly as he realised that the fatal day had arrived, and that, once again, he must risk all upon one single throw of the dice. But, steadying himself resolutely, he drew a deep breath and prepared for action.

He had noticed in a box in the cellar a number of small empty cardboard cartons which had formerly contained electric light bulbs, and in the lids of two of them he punched a few air holes. Then, opening the door of his trap ever so little, he let out two rats one at a time, and each of them he managed to imprison in one of the cartons as they came out. Then, securely tying the lids with string, he put a carton in each of his side pockets and set out upon the hazardous adventure of getting hold of a bomb.

He chose a packing room the occupants of which he knew fairly well. They were, all three, jovial looking men whom he judged would enjoy a rat hunt as much as anyone and not be afraid, either, to go after the animals.

With a smiling good-day he entered the room and, proceeding to the far end, put down his wooden pail conveniently close to a trolley of bombs, from which, by the look of things, a number had already been lifted and packed. Then he started to examine one of the electric light switches.

Then, directly he saw the three men were fully absorbed again in their work, he cautiously extracted the cartons from his pocket, and with a flip of his finger pushed off the lids and let the rats out on to the floor.

"Hullo!" he cried excitedly, "what's this? You've got rats in here!" and, as he had anticipated, in the twinkling of an eye, all the three men had left their packing and were going like mad after the intruders. There were plenty of odd pieces of wood lying about and each man, arming himself, bent under the benches and struck with great energy.

It was all over in a few seconds, the rats were cornered and killed, and Brendon had got his precious bomb in the pail and covered it well with his big lump of cotton waste.

More fortunate still for Brendon, one of the men in his excitement had given another a nasty blow upon the chin, laying the flesh open to the bone. The wound bled profusely, and the injured one had to be escorted to the accident room to have it attended to. So Brendon was well away from the danger zone before the man returned, and, as his fellow packers had gone on packing from his trolley in his absence, it was not noticed that there was one bomb less than there should have been.

But Brendon was to have a very unpleasant moment before at last he got the bomb safely into the cellar.

In the room, common to the members of his section of the staff workers, he had managed to change, unnoticed, his wooden bucket for the iron one he always used when working in the Jahn building and was carrying his dangerous burden through the opening in the barbed wire entanglements, when the sentry at the gate stopped him.

"Hullo, mate," exclaimed the sentry, half jokingly and half in curiosity, "but you're carrying that pail as if it was deuced heavy! What the devil have you got in it?"

Brendon's blood almost froze in his veins. What if he were to be caught at the last moment? This calf-faced idiot before him was blundering into a discovery that might wreck everything!

But he looked him straight in the face and scowled angrily. "A bomb, you fool!" he exclaimed, "and if you don't get out of the way I'll drop it here and blow you up." He made to elbow the man to one side. "Quick, now, or I'll report you to Jahn. The brute's complaining I'm going much too slow." He nodded at his pail and grinned. "I wish it were a bomb, for old Jahn does nothing but grumble, and I'd like to tell him to go to hell. I'm sick of this job here. I'm an electrician and not a blooming plaster and cement man as well. Just feel the weight of this!"

But the sentry stepped to one side to let Brendon pass and grinned, too. "All right, sonny," he nodded. "You can blow him up for all I care. He's never been decent enough to even say good morning when he's passed. Blast him!" and Brendon walked up to the house, with his forehead bursting into little beads of sweat.

The rest of that day was a nightmare for Brendon. A thousand thoughts tormented him. He was so near his goal and yet so many things might happen to prevent him reaching it. It might be discovered that a bomb was missing, and it would be remembered he had been in the packing room. Or again, the sentry might repeat as a joke that he, Brendon, was carrying in a bomb to blow up Jahn and it might come to ears that would think the matter rather suspicious. Yet another possibility, Jahn or one of the others might go into the cellar to look for something! Also—but with a great effort he threw off his baleful thoughts, realising that if he brooded on them any longer he would become altogether incapable of correct thinking and might make some blunder in fixing the fuse, so that it would not explode the detonator.

Now it was remembered afterwards that on that eventful day for the great Sarron factory there was yet another mystery which never became clear to anybody.

A fire occurred in one of the workmen's cloakrooms attached to one of the shops where the boxes in which the bombs were packed were made.

No one could conceive how it had happened, and it was soon put out, but the coats and caps of a dozen or more men, hanging upon their neatly numbered pegs, were almost entirely destroyed, and their owners lost all that was in the pockets. The main grievance of some of them was that they had lost their identification papers and it would be some trouble to replace them.

But to return to Brendon. The day dragged on and he thought the afternoon would never pass, but ten minutes to five came at last and, gathering his tools together, he tiptoed into the cellar, and affixing the fuse with most minute care set it alight. Then, upon the stroke of five, he was one of the first to hand in his disc and pass through the factory gates.

He breathed a sigh of infinite relief as he walked quickly through the streets towards his lodgings. He was almost out of danger now! He would be in Marleck by seven, at five minutes past nine he would be to the transcontinental train, and, alighting at a station, barely seven miles from the frontier, long before daylight would have evaded the frontier guards and be safe across the border!

Gaining his lodgings with the utmost speed, he told his landlady he had got ten days leave to visit a sick relation who lived in Rodma, a small town some thirty miles from Sarron. As an assurance of his return, however, he was not taking any of his luggage with him and, moreover, would give her the money up to the end of the week.

Changing like lightning out of his working clothes, he reached the railway station with five minutes to spare, and taking his seat in the express for Marleck, gave himself up to his thoughts, which were triumphant ones.

He had only one misgiving, but that was not a very great one. What if he had not set the fuse correctly and the bomb did not explode? Then he would have completely failed in his mission, for he would get no second chance. As far as the great Sarron factory was concerned, he was wiped off the map.

And all the while his ears should have been burning, for, for some minutes, Jahn and his co-workers had been discussing him.

The big arc-lamp was fixed in its position now, and Jahn was regarding it thoughtfully.

"And he says two days will finish everything," he remarked. "Well, I hope he's right. He's been cursed slow in his work today and——" but he turned suddenly to his companions and began sniffing hard. "Can you smell anything?" he asked frowningly.

The two sniffed, and the professor nodded. "Just slightly," he said, "but its something outside."

Jahn turned back to a consideration of the lamp. "But, you know, it struck me that chap was rather funny in his manner today," he remarked meditatively. "This afternoon he was looking drawn and nervy, like someone who's been taking drugs."

"He's been smoking too much," commented the professor. "I noticed his hands were shaking when he was adjusting that shade, and his fingers were very tobacco-stained." He looked thoughtful. "But he's quite a superior type of young fellow, and, if I had met him when I was in England, I should have said he was one of their better classes, and, by no means an ordinary working man. He's always struck me as looking English, like one of their public school boys, or a chap who's been at one of their universities." He frowned. "When you come to think of it, too, he's once or twice used a technical word which is more English than Cyranian. Really——"

But the third man, the young engineer had suddenly snapped his fingers together. "Ah! I knew I had something to tell you," he interrupted. "It's been at the back of my mind all day. Now, last night——"

"One moment!" said Jahn frowningly. "This smell's getting worse!" He looked under the benches. "Is anything burning there?"

They all looked round the room, but there was no sign of smoke anywhere.

"But I'm sure its outside," reiterated the professor. "It's stronger by the window than anywhere else," and so, at a sign from Jahn, the young man went on with what he had been going to say. He lowered his voice mysteriously.

"Last night I was waiting outside a glove-shop for a lady friend of mine, and the shop next door was a bookseller's, you know, Franz's, in the square. Well, this electrician of ours was looking in the bookseller's window, and he hadn't seen me. Then suddenly I saw him throw back his head and laugh, and a moment after he moved away, chuckling as if he'd seen something funny. Naturally I was curious, and I moved along to the shop window to see what he'd been laughing at"—he paused a moment—"and what do you think it was?"

"How the devil can we tell?" grunted Jahn, picking up a pencil and preparing to make some calculations upon a slip of paper. "Get on with it. We're wasting time."

"There was a copy of that English 'Punch'," continued the other, "and it was spread open, so that two of its middle pages were exposed. Upon one of them was a joke with an illustration to it. A very stern-looking schoolmaster was asking a frightened boy. 'What happened after the sack of Constantinople?' and the little boy replied, 'Please, sir, he went on the dole!'"

A long silence followed, with the other two regarding the speaker very puzzledly. "Well, what about it?" asked Jahn at length, with some irritation. "What do you mean?"

"But don't you see," urged the engineer excitedly, "that to laugh at the joke he must have understood it, and to have understood it he must know English?"

Jahn's jaw dropped. "Damnation!" he exclaimed in consternation. "But that looks serious, man! Yes, very serious, for if he knows English, then he's here for no good, and has overheard all our conversation." He caught his breath. "In fact, I should say he must be a spy."

"But you may be quite mistaken, my friend," said the professor to the engineer, pursing his lips sceptically. "The faces of the schoolmaster and the boy may have amused him."

But the other shook his head. "No, I took my lady friend up to the window to see if she noticed anything funny, and she couldn't understand it. She doesn't know any English."

Jahn's face had taken on an ugly look. "Well, we'll put this fine fellow through his paces directly he comes tomorrow. We'll have no nonsense, and if——" But he stopped suddenly to sniff hard. "Gad! This smell's getting worse! Whatever is it?"

The professor looked puzzled. "Yes, by Jove," he exclaimed. "It's much stronger now!" He sniffed hard, and then laughed. "Funny, but this smell takes me back to the times when I was a boy! We lived not very far from a stone quarry, where a lot of blasting went on. I used to go as close as they would let me to see the explosions, and if the wind was in the right direction I could smell——" But suddenly, in a lightning movement, he sprang up from the chair where he was sitting and shouted hoarsely, "Good God, it's a burning time fuse we smell! Out of this place for your lives. We may——"

But his sentence was never finished.

The floor rose to the ceiling, the ceiling to the roof, and the roof to the great open sky! A roar louder than a thousand thunders, and a mighty cloud of dust soared up into the air, to hide in a few seconds the wreck of the building falling back to earth! The soldier at the gate was killed instantly by the concussion, and men two hundred yards away were flung unconscious to the ground.

So Jahn would plan no more torpedoes to take their toll of human lives, the professor would not see his wife or children again, and the young engineer would wait for no more girls to come out of glove shops.

But the deaths of these three men had been most merciful, for intending to bring upon others a dreadful form of destruction, to be preceded by the agony and bloody sweat of the half dead, they had themselves been killed outright.

And their friends had really no reason to grieve over them, for, as with the spy stabbed upon the banks of the Viber, they had been playing at the game of war, and were quite conversant with its rules.

Brendon heard the roar of the explosion just as the Marleck express was steaming out of Sarron, and a dreadful feeling of nausea seized him at the thought of what he had done.


CHAPTER VII.—IN THE TOILS

Now Brendon had been congratulating himself upon the ease with which he had obtained his object and got safely away to Marleck, but had he only known it, this safety had all along been hanging upon a razor's edge and it was by a matter of minutes, only, that he escaped arrest immediately upon his arrival at the capital city.

The express from Sarron had just disgorged its passengers and was backing out to allow another train to come into that same platform, when a frantic message came over the wires with the imperative command that the station was to be closed instantly, and no one allowed to leave until further notice, under any pretext whatsoever.

So exactly nine minutes after the train from Sarron had arrived, the station gates had been banged to, a bewildered and frightened crowd of passengers were being huddled into the main hall and all out-going train service was suspended.

Brendon had reckoned upon a clear fifteen to sixteen hours' start before he would be suspected and they would be hot upon his track but, actually, he had not obtained two.

It had happened in this way.

When the explosion had occurred, the heads of the factory and the chief officials had almost all left for their homes, but within a few minutes they had rushed back in consternation to find out what had happened.

The force of the explosion had been tremendous, and what had formerly been known as the Jahn building was now only a collection of burning debris, scattered about in all directions. Parts of the bodies of the three experimenters were almost at once perceived among the ruins.

The first thought of everyone had been to make sure that no pieces of burning wood should start another fire anywhere else but, with all the sparks extinguished, they began to look at one another significantly and ask how the explosion could have occurred.

So a little band of men was speedily assembled in the head office and, with no hesitation whatsoever, they admitted to one another that the explosion must have been malicious and deliberate. They knew quite well that no explosive of any nature had ever been housed in the building and that therefore someone must have planted a bomb there, to be exploded by a time fuse.

But it was impossible, they told themselves at once, that anyone other than a properly authorised person could have had access to the building. The barbed-wire entanglements would have prevented any approach to the iron railings and besides, instant electrocution would have followed had the latter been touched. Added to that, never at any time had the gate been without its armed sentry, with help always close at hand in the guard-house, not a hundred yards away.

These conclusions arrived at, the sentries who had been on duty that day, save the one killed by the explosion, were immediately called in and interrogated, one by one. They had, each of them, been keeping guard for a period of three hours and they all stated that no persons, other than the orderly who had taken in the meals to Jahn and his assistants and the specially authorised electrician had passed through the gate. They answered the questions put to them with no hesitation and gave their interrogators no reason to believe they were not speaking the truth.

None of them seemed too intelligent, but one of them, with a great quaking of his heart, was nevertheless shrewd enough to make no mention of the heavy pail he had seen Brendon carrying in that morning and of the joke that had passed between them about blowing up Jahn. In his own mind this particular man was now quite certain what had happened, but as he told himself, he was not going to look for trouble. If he related exactly what had passed, he knew it would have meant a bullet for him for his carelessness.

The orderly who lived upon the factory premises was dismissed quickly. He was an elderly man and had been in the factory for several years, besides, it was realised it would have been quite impossible for him to have secreted a bomb between the plates and dishes he carried in.

"But it may have been quite different with that electrician," the Superintendent of the factory scowled, as they sat waiting for Brendon, for whom a car had been sent immediately. "Those pails of cement could have hidden a bomb easily enough and"—his scowl deepened—"I don't like the idea of his being here for only a few weeks, although it is certainly recorded that His Excellency General Lazzarine is his patron."

"But how the devil could he have got hold of a filled bomb?" queried one of the others irritably. "They are not left lying about for people to pick up whenever they want to."

And as it happened, that matter was never made clear either, for the next morning the three men in the packing room, learning all that had taken place, at once put their heads together and arranged to say nothing about Brendon's visit the previous day to examine their lights. Like the sentry, they guessed what had taken place, but they were not seeking trouble.

The men who had been sent after Nicolas Regnal were a long time in returning, and then, instead of appearing with the much-wanted electrician, they brought with them a shaking and badly frightened woman, the landlady from whom Brendon had parted not two hours before.

They told their tale quickly. Brendon's first landlady had informed them he had left her place three days previously, having, so he had said, been appointed to be one of the caretakers at the factory. But she thought it was an untruth, because, quite by chance the previous day when she had been coming from the railway station, she had seen him entering a house close near there, about the same time as it had been his custom to arrive home after work, about twenty minutes past five.

She had not taken notice of the number of the house, but she could point it out to them and so very quickly they had proceeded there and learnt from this second landlady the tale Brendon had told her about the leave he had obtained to visit a sick relation.

"And he was in a great hurry, sir, to catch some train," corroborated the trembling woman. "It's all true and——"

"Of course it's true, you fool," thundered the Superintendent. He turned to the others. "He caught the express for Marleck and'll be over the frontier before midnight if we don't stop him! He's the man right enough!"

In the meantime Brendon with, as he thought, nearly two hours to spare, and all unconscious of the avalanche which was sweeping down upon him, had taken himself off into the city to enjoy a well-deserved meal.

He knew Marleck well and chose the Fugel Restaurant, not one of very high class, but where the food was good and he would not look out of place in the clothes he was wearing.

The restaurant was fairly full, but he found a small vacant table not far from the entrance, and was soon drinking to his own good health in a bottle of good wine. There was animated conversation everywhere, but the radio was on and those who had not companions with them could listen peacefully to the music.

As far as his mission was concerned, Brendon was very pleased with himself, for, if he had not actually obtained the plans of the secret torpedo, he had prevented anyone else from getting them and had, moreover, put paid, for ever, to the activities of the celebrated Jahn in the interests of Cyrania.

Now, in a very little while, he, Brendon, would be back in London again and he fell to speculating as to what his future was going to be. Then he sighed heavily, wondering how long it would be before more peaceful times came again, and he would be able to return openly to Cyrania.

Certainly he would come back, for he wanted to see that girl of the fisherman's hut again. So often since that night had he found his thoughts wandering back to her, and it was very puzzling to him, as, all told, he knew he could not have been in her presence for longer than ten minutes or a quarter of an hour.

Still, she had come into his life when his pulses were racing in the fever of a great danger, and time was not measured then by minutes. It was measured then by happenings and memory could be indelibly stamped for all life in a few seconds.

What a lovely face she had and yet—every feature of her spoke of courage as well as beauty. He could remember the queenly poise of the beautiful little head, the dark long-lashed eyes which had flashed so fearlessly, the sweetly curved lips which had spoken in such scorn, the—but his train of thought was broken sharply by the music stopping abruptly and an announcement coming over the air in clear and loud tones.

"Listen, please," said the speaker, and his voice was so authoritative that everyone in the restaurant stopped talking at once. "We are asked by the police to make known that a murder or a dreadful nature was committed in Sarron this afternoon, and it is believed the murderer has escaped to Marleck by the express. The man wanted is an electrician and is carrying the papers of Nicolas Regnal. He is from 25 to 30 years of age, of good physique and about five feet eleven in height. His eyes are blue, his hair is brown, and he has good teeth which he shows when he smiles. All hotel and lodging-house keepers are to take particular note of any new arrival, and, any suspicion arising, to report at once to the police. It is believed that the man is carrying no luggage and he may be disguised. It is probable he is plentifully supplied with money," and the announcement finished, the music was resumed and conversation became general again.

Brendon turned back to his meal with apparent interest and was proud that his legs were not trembling and that his hands did not shake. But there was a blurred mist before his eyes and each beating of his heart was as a sharp stab of pain.

He was appalled beyond measure and all his world was now tumbling about his ears! Never could he have conceived that his plans could have gone so quickly astray! All in the passing of a few seconds he had been hurled from a condition of almost assured safety into one of the most deadly peril he had ever been in!

But he fought down his terror and drank a glass of wine as if he were enjoying it. He felt calm enough, too, to listen to the three men at an adjoining table.

"Not much of a description that," remarked one of them. "You could pass the fellow a hundred times and not give him a thought unless, of course, he smiled at you and showed that mouthful of good teeth."

And then, instantly, Brendon took heart. He had been all those weeks at the factory and his eyes were now being described as blue, whereas in reality, they were grey. Also he was not five feet eleven, but five feet nine, and he thanked his stars that, carrying himself upright as he always did, his height had been so miscalculated.

A man bustled into the restaurant and, after a quick look round, walked up and joined the three men at the near-by table The latter had evidently been expecting him.

"Now," exclaimed one of them delightedly, "we shall know all about it!"

"About what?" asked the newcomer, a bright-eyed alert-looking man about thirty and a journalist upon the staff of one of the leading Marleck newspapers.

"About this murderer who's escaped from Sarron, of course," replied the other. "They've just given us his description over the air and warned everyone to be on the look-out."

"Oh! oh!" exclaimed the journalist as if very surprised. "I've just come from the office and missed that." He shook his head emphatically. "Ah, but they're after no ordinary murderer tonight! He is a much greater criminal than that!" He regarded his friends very solemnly and lowered his voice almost to a whisper. "Something very terrible has happened in Sarron this evening, and they're trying to prevent everyone from learning what it is. The exchanges will only take messages from officials and all the trunk lines have been shut down."

"Good God!" exclaimed another of his friends, "but whatever can it be?"

The journalist shrugged his shoulders. "Well, it's something, as I say, very out of the ordinary, for all travelling has been brought to a standstill. Everyone who was in the railway station just after the express arrived from Sarron is being detained and no more trains are being allowed to leave. They've called up all the police, too, and every road leading out of the city is being watched. Not a mouse, even, could get to the frontier tonight."

He seemed to quite enjoy the sensation he was creating and went on impressively. "I tell you no one knows anything for certain, but they evidently think this chap they want must have reached Marleck, and they don't intend he shall get any chance of escaping before they've had time to rush down a whole crowd of people from Sarron who know him by sight." He nodded. "One thing, however, we do know. There's been a dreadful explosion in Sarron and passengers who came on the express from there and got out of the station before the gates were banged to, think part of the factory has been blown up."

Brendon had heard almost every word and, to some extent, exultation was now taking the place of fear. At any rate, whatever fate was now holding in store for him, he had prevented the making of that torpedo and, with its inventor dead, the world was spared one more horror.

He thought quickly. Of course, it was hopeless now to dream of making for the frontier, and it was hopeless, too, to imagine he could even escape from the city. No, he must run to earth somewhere in Marleck and wait patiently for days, and perhaps weeks, until the hue and cry had in part died down.

He looked at his watch. It was nearly a quarter past eight. Good! Then he had at least half an hour before anyone who knew him by sight could arrive from Sarron, and he would make the most of it.

He paid his bill and, walking leisurely out of the shop, no one would have imagined that the pleasant-looking young man, puffing so contentedly at his cigarette was expecting every moment a hand to be laid upon his shoulder and to be destined, later, for some dreadful form of death.

It was just beginning to get dark as he pushed open the doors of the restaurant and, with no undue haste, passed along the crowded street. It was the shopping night in Marleck and, making his way to the market, he expeditiously made a few purchases.

First of all he bought a large bunch of flowers, arguing that no one would for one moment imagine that anyone burdening himself with flowers could be a fugitive from the law. Then he bought a good-sized string bag and it soon contained two loaves of bread, some cheese and some cooked meat. Next he bought a small electric torch, and, finally, some soap and a safety razor. This last item, he told himself, was most important, for if he had to move about from hiding-place to hiding-place, no one would attract more attention than an unshaven and unkempt-looking man.

His purchases completed, and carrying his flowers conspicuously, he set off at a brisk pace towards one of the suburbs of the city which he remembered particularly well. It bordered upon the riverside and there were a number of boat-houses there, and boat-houses meant lofts and plenty of odd corners where he might be able to hide away.

But he had not passed far beyond the thronged city streets, and was turning down a comparatively speaking quiet road that would lead him to the river bank, when approaching the high walled grounds of a big house, he heard the clang of iron gates and saw an elderly man and woman upon the footpath before him. They had just come out of the grounds and the man was locking the gates behind them. The woman, like Brendon, was carrying a large string bag, but hers was empty.

"And we mustn't be too long," said the man in grumbling tones and he spoke loudly as if he were speaking to someone who was very deaf.

Brendon just glanced at them as they drew level and then, in passing the big iron gates, his gaze wandered into the grounds beyond. His eyes took in mechanically a short avenue of trees leading up to a large two-storeyed house of many windows, with a sort of tower rising up at one corner. There was a good moon showing, and everything stood out plainly. His view of the house, however, was very momentary, for he was now walking quickly.

Then suddenly, when he had gone quite a dozen paces along the road memory recalled to him that there had been no lights showing in the house, and that the blinds of all the windows had been drawn. For the moment he did not take in the significance of anything, and then he pulled himself up with a jerk and ejaculated breathlessly. "Great scott, that house is unoccupied! The people belonging to it are away!"

Instantly, then, he looked up the road. There was no one in front of him, and, turning his head round, he saw that behind him were only the couple who had just come out of the gates. He could still hear the man talking loudly.

He darted back to the iron gates. They were high, and spiked at the top but, losing not a second and with his string bag over his arm, he started to climb over them. It was rather more difficult than he had anticipated and needed great care so that he should not tear his clothes, but he was over at last and starting at a quick run up the drive.

"The house is sure to be empty," he panted, "for the man said, 'And we mustn't be away long,' as if his conscience were pricking him for them both going out together."

Then, as he had expected, there was no sign of life anywhere as he quickly reconnoitred all round the house. The large garage was locked, but flashing his torch through the window at the side, he saw that it was empty. The grounds and garden were quite extensive and at the back, in one corner, stood a small cottage with a wheelbarrow and some gardening implements in a lean-to shed just alongside.

Risking everything, Brendon ran over to the cottage and, as he had done with the garage, flashed his torch through the windows. There was no one there, but all the rooms showed signs of having been recently occupied. The cottage consisted of only three rooms and, finding the door unlocked, he entered quickly. But his examination there was very short, for he flashed his light only into the kitchen sink.

"Quite dry!" he murmured, "and the piece of soap is dry, too! Yes, this is the gardener's cottage, and that was the gardener and his wife whom I saw come out of the gates. They are now living in the house while the family are away!"

He considered quickly. The cottage would be quite safe for that night, and perhaps even for much longer, but there was no place in it where he could hide, and if either the gardener or his wife chanced to come in to fetch anything he would be caught at once. But the big house? That was quite a different matter. There would be cupboards where he could hide, and, perhaps, unoccupied rooms! The family, too, might remain away for some weeks yet, as there was nearly a month of summer weather to come!

He returned quickly to the house, and, looking through the back windows very soon came upon the kitchen. It was as he had thought. The couple were living there, for the fire in the stove was burning and the table was laid for a meal for two.

He tried to lift the kitchen window but it was bolted, and there was a catch at the side as well. Then he proceeded to examine the back door, wondering if the lock could be manipulated with a piece of stiff wire, and immediately he received a staggering shock. The door was not locked or even closed and, as he touched the handle, it fell wide open.

He sprang back in his surprise, and for a few seconds thought with dismay that there must be a third person in the house. But the passage inside was dark and everything was quite quiet. For a lone minute he stood listening, and then, taking his courage in his hands, he called up the passage "Hullo! Hullo! Anybody there? I've got a message for you."

But no reply came, and, hesitating only a few moments this time, he switched on his torch and strode boldly into the house. The kitchen door was open, and, as he flashed his light round, a big black cat sprang up from the hearth and ran behind the dresser.

There was another room leading off the passage behind the kitchen, and, glancing quickly in, he saw a made-up double bed, with night attire, folded neatly, upon each pillow.

Then, room by room, at lightning speed, he explored the house and the richness and luxury everywhere made him wonder to whom it belonged. Big lounge hall, dining room, music room, library and morning rooms, all were beautifully furnished, and his footfalls made no sound upon the thick carpets. When he went up the broad staircase and came to the upper rooms it was just the same. Everything that money could buy was there, and all the rooms were furnished in excellent taste, even to the maids', which were gained by a second staircase.

There were apparently many more rooms than were needed for the regular occupants of the house, and, from their contents, he judged the family must consist of father, mother, and three children, with four maids. From the two little beds and a cot, in what was evidently the night nursery, he knew the children must be very young.

In its owner's absence the house was evidently being well looked after, and there was no suggestion anywhere of unventilated rooms until he came to a small attic just under the roof, where he saw a narrow flight of stairs which he knew must lead up to the tower he had seen rising from one corner of the house. Then he could tell no one had been there, at all events for some days, as the air was close and musty. There was no furniture in the attic, and it was evidently used only as a lumber room.

"And here I'll camp," he told himself breathlessly. "I shall always be able to hear if anyone is coming and shall have plenty of time to hide behind one of those big boxes."

He returned quickly to the garden, and pulling his bunch of flowers to pieces, threw everything behind some bushes in a far corner. Then he carried his bag of provisions up into the attic and watched by the window for the return of the gardener and his wife. He had not dared to close the back door lest they should remember they had not done so. He had an uneasy feeling, too, that finding the door open they might think it wisest to search the house.

The couple returned very soon, and while the man stopped at the gates and unlocked the letter box there to take out the letters, the woman came up the drive by herself. Brendon thought she walked with undue haste, as if anxious to reach the house first.

He darted out of the attic and crouched down at the top of the back stairs, where he would be just above her in the darkness, when she came to the back door. He wanted to see if she showed any signs of dismay at finding the door open. But, no, she just came in as if she were not in the least surprised, and that it was only what she had expected. She was rather out of breath, however, with her hurry.

Brendon smiled. "She remembered she had not locked it," he told himself, "and she hurried on so that her husband should not know."

The man followed soon after, and then, until they went to bed, Brendon sat where he was and listened to their conversation. There was no difficulty at all in overhearing it, as the woman was obviously very deaf, and her husband shouted at her the whole time.

To his great relief they said nothing about the man, wanted for murder, but they talked about the explosion at Sarron. They must have heard a lot about it during their shopping expedition, and rumor had evidently greatly magnified what could have happened. The whole factory had been blown up, and thousands of the workers had been killed! The explosion had hurled burning fragments all over the city, and many fires had been started. For the time being the damage could not be estimated, but it ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds!


CHAPTER VIII.—THE LODGER IN THE ATTIC

Brendon slept quite soundly that night and did not wake until he heard the pinging of an electric bell in the lower part of the house. Then, from the attic window, he saw the woman go up the drive and return with what he imagined must be a jug of milk. A few minutes later the man appeared in the garden and, fetching a hoe from the shed, proceeded to work among a bed of carnations. Then, presently, he heard the woman come up the stairs, and the sounds of doors being opened and windows thrown up followed. But she was quite quick about it, and soon he heard her movements again in the kitchen.

Then followed a very peaceful week for Brendon and it was not even a monotonous one for, getting to know the exact routine of the daily life of the couple in charge, he soon took to going about the house quite fearlessly and even to borrowing books from the shelves of the well-stocked library.

Everything went on just the same every day. At six o'clock, or very close thereabouts, the milkman called. By a quarter to seven the gardener was at work in the garden and soon after his wife came upstairs to open all the windows. Except for coming in for his meals the man was all day in the garden and that he was a good gardener was evidenced by the profusion of flowers and the spic and span condition everywhere.

Her work downstairs finished, the woman was always to be seen in the garden, too, either helping her husband or knitting upon a seat under some trees. At four o'clock they came inside for a few minutes for tea and then the woman came upstairs to close the windows. Then she was out again in the garden until it was time to prepare the evening meal. Every other day she went out shopping and was then gone for about three-quarters of an hour. When she returned she always put the key of the gates upon the kitchen dresser.

So taking advantage of the women's deafness and of their both being out of the house so much, Brendon went about very much where he wanted to, even taking a daily bath in one of the two beautifully appointed bathrooms. He was not uneasy about being caught by the unexpected return of the family for, listening as he always did to the conversation of the couple at night, he heard them more than once refer to the home-coming of the family at the end of the month.

He was not kept without knowledge, either, as to what was going on in the outside world, for the daily newspaper was brought in every day with the letters and not locked up in the desk as they were. Instead, it was left in the kitchen and, among other items of news, he read most interestedly of the 'accidental' deaths of the well-known electrical expert, Rex Jahn, and his two assistants when engaged upon some scientific investigations.

Then, upon the third night of his stay, the gardener's brother had come to supper and he had heard him telling them about the murderer who had got away from Sarron and how the police were still looking for him in Marleck, searching all the unoccupied houses and places where they thought he would be likely to be hiding.

"And they've stopped no end of young fellows in the street," he went on, "and made them show their papers. And if they've not had them on them, they've taken them to the police stations and not allowed them to go until their friends have come and identified them. But if he's here, they'll catch this chap right enough one day, for they know he's a Nicolas Regnal and his name will be on the papers he's carrying."

And here Brendon chuckled to himself, for the papers of Nicolas Regnal, along with some others, which he had taken before the fire had occurred in the cloak-room of the factory at Sarron, had been burnt only the previous morning in the very stove near to which the narrator was then sitting.

Brendon was to be henceforth Bern Hopple and, for security's sake, his identification papers had been slipped in the lining of his waistcoat. Their description tallied very much with his own, but he was now put down as a carpenter and joiner.

The man then went on to relate what puzzled Brendon not a little and made him think he had had yet another narrow escape.

The tale was that upon the very night after he had had his meal at the Fugel Restaurant, the police had made a lightning raid there in great force, and held all the diners. No one knew why the raid had been made, and all those who had been arrested had, later, been set free, but someone had suddenly extinguished all the lights and in the darkness two policemen had been injured, one being badly stabbed in the side. The whole business had caused a great sensation in the city.

Brendon listened most uneasily to the tale, and that night his sleep was very broken. He realised that he could not go on for ever having these narrow escapes, and that sooner or later he would be caught. However, had he only known it, one of his greatest escapes was yet to come, and in that very house, too.

He had been there just over a week and, in the middle of the morning, seeing that both the gardener and his wife were at work in the garden, he came downstairs to find out if there were any chance of picking up anything to eat. From day to day, he had been eking out his own food, almost to starvation point, and now all he had left was a small portion of the cheese which he wanted to keep for an emergency.

So for the past few days he had been taking what he dared from the kitchen: a slice off the loaf, a very small piece of meat, or a finger of cheese. Never big enough pieces to be noticed and yet sufficient to keep the weakness of absolute starvation from him. He was always ravenously hungry and, upon one occasion, starting upon a piece of liver that had been left over from dinner and was still in the frying-pan, his hunger had been so great that before he had realised what he had done he had eaten the whole piece. Then later, he had felt quite conscience-stricken when he had heard the gardener's wife basting the cat with a cloth and calling her a wicked thief.

He came down the main stars now, quite confident that if the gardener's wife came in from the garden he would hear her upon the cobble-stones long before she had had time to reach the back door. Then, passing the library which was, obviously, also the study of the master of the house, he paused as he often did, to look at an oil painting that was hanging over the desk there, and facing the door.

This painting always intrigued him for it was that of a very beautiful young girl, evidently in her bridal robes, and the loveliness of her face, with its trusting innocence, in a strange way appealed to him. He never looked at it, however, without wondering what manner of man the husband was to whom she had confided this trust and innocence.

He was still looking at the painting, and was so preoccupied with his thoughts that it was only subconsciously the sounds of footsteps upon the gravelled drive outside, came to his ears. Then his heart almost stopped beating, and he caught his breath in horror, as he heard strange voices and a key being turned sharply in the lock of the front door.

The voices were so close to him that in his consternation he almost lost his presence of mind and remained standing stock still exactly where he was. But then, the peril of his position flashing like lightning into his mind, and realising that by no possibility could he run the length of the hall without being seen, he darted into the library, and, selecting the only place there was in which to hide himself, jumped behind one of the half-drawn curtains by the window.

Then through the join in the curtains he saw two men in officers' uniform walk across the hall, and, to his terror, come straight into the room where he was.

The first was evidently the master of the house, for, striding up to the desk, he unlocked it and, throwing back the roll top, began searching among the pigeon holes.

Brendon was now frowning hard. He had forgotten all his fears in his surprise. Where had he seen that face before, that cold, inscrutable face, with its stern and deep-set eyes, a face that one would never call good, and yet a face that one would always look at twice because of the power and courage it portrayed?

Then suddenly he repressed a start. He knew, he knew! It was another of those that had been shown him among the photographs in the possession of the British Secret Service! It was—oh, heavens—it was that of Captain Ruben, the Chief of the Secret Police of Cyrania!

In the meantime the second officer, by his uniform of the rank of colonel, very smart looking and with reddish hair, had planted himself before the oil painting, and was regarding it critically.

"Very beautiful," he remarked after a few moments, "but, of course, not beautiful enough! It's just like her, and she doesn't look a day older, even with those three children." He turned frowningly to his companion. "You know, Ruben, I can never understand how a lovely girl like that came to marry an ugly fellow like you."

"Nor I, either," said the captain calmly. "Of course, it was very foolish of her."

"But she won't let anyone see she's come to think so yet," went on the other with a half-mocking smile. It might almost have been that he was repressing a sneer. "Really, in these degenerate days, you two pass as a most devoted couple."

Ruben made no comment, but having now apparently found the papers he was looking for, put them in his pocket. Then he picked up the receiver of the telephone upon his desk and gave a number. A moment later, he said sharply. "Captain Ruben speaking. Put me through to Dr. Pretor, please."

Quite a minute passed and he began to get impatient, as was evidenced by his frown and the tapping of his finger upon the desk. Then his face relaxed suddenly and he began to speak into the receiver.

"Good day, Doctor. Ruben speaking. Well, thank you for suggesting I should join the party, but unfortunately I can't come. I'm returning to duty much sooner than I expected and we'll all be back home here on Tuesday. . . Yes, I'm very disappointed, for I've just got a new gun out from England and it should beat everything here. . . Certainly, it's most annoying, but it can't be helped. . . Oh, yes, that was a dreadful affair in Sarron, and they've made an awful muddle of it. But they're still certain he's in the city here and they're relaxing none of their efforts to find him. Well, I hope you'll all have good sport," and he hung up the receiver.

He rose from the desk and walked over to the door. "Excuse me a minute or two, will you," he said to the other man, "but I want to speak to my gardener. I'm going to take back some flowers to the wife. I won't be long and then I'll give you a glass of that wine I told you about."

"All right," nodded his friend, and he stretched himself down in an armchair, but, the moment he heard the Captain's footsteps outside, he sprang up and tiptoed over to the window. His face had lost its easy smile and its expression was now of excited cunning. His eyes had narrowed and his lips were curled into a sneer.

He was not three feet away from where Brendon was hiding and the latter held his breath in apprehension. The slightest touch of the curtain and he would be discovered.

But the man did not touch the curtain, standing well to one side so that he should be seen by no one in the garden. He seemed to be holding himself in with suppressed excitement. Then in a few seconds he darted over to the desk and with his eyes still fixed intently upon Captain Ruben, whom he could now see talking to the gardener about a hundred yards away, lifted the receiver of the telephone and gave the same number as the Captain had done. Then, upon receiving it, he gave a second number and added an imperious whisper, "Quick, quick, don't keep me waiting!"

A short silence followed and then his words came like bullets from a gun, although he spoke very distinctly.

"You know who it is, Doctor? Yes. I know all about it and I'm speaking from the same place. I thought I'd ring at once and be certain of catching you before you went away. Besides this line of his can't be listened into. . . No, of course, he's not. He's out in the garden speaking to his gardener and I'm at his desk in his study. I can keep watch on him from here. So it's quite safe. There's no one else in the house. . . Yes, I heard him say he couldn't come, but I'm certain he never meant to. Somehow he's got ideas that your place wouldn't be too healthy for him. . . No, no, I don't know how. Still, I'm sure he's suspicious. . . Yes, yes, but what I'm ringing up to tell you is this. On Saturday week he's going up to that shooting box in the Dorian Forest and the only person with him will be one of the gamekeepers, quite an old man. . . . No, he didn't tell me. He didn't tell anyone, but I overheard him talking to the man when they didn't know I was anywhere near. They were whispering together on the stairs last night. . . . Yes, I'm quite sure. There'll be no one else with him and—look out! I can't stop. He's coming back!" and he hung up the receiver and darted back to the arm-chair.

It was nearly an hour later before the two had at last left the house and Brendon was able to come out of his hiding place. Then he felt so dispirited that, hungry as he was, he had no inclination to go foraging for some scraps of a meal.

He was in the depths of despondency, and the amazement which should have filled him that by blind chance he had taken refuge in the house of one of the most dreaded men in Cyrania was quite forgotten in the realisation of his own peril and the black future that lay before him.

He had only two more days of safety and then he would become a fugitive again. And the hunt had not died down as he had been so vainly hoping. The police were as certain as ever that he was somewhere in the net and that it was only a matter of patience before they got hold of him! He could not be in a more hopeless position, for he could make no plans and it did not seem that he could help himself in any way!

And then he became more hopeful. At any rate, he would start upon his adventures again, dressed very differently from the man the police were after! He would take one of Captain Ruben's spare uniforms from that big wardrobe upstairs and it would not fit him too badly if he could get hold of a needle and some cotton and take up the sleeves and the trouser legs. Then, if he could only find some personal paper belonging to the Chief of the Secret Police—he would break open that desk tomorrow—he might, if any one questioned him, put up a big bluff and get through the cordon drawn round the city, by making out he was upon the Captain's private business!

Yes, he would risk it and break open that desk, sure enough, tomorrow!

But it was destined there was going to be no tomorrow for him as far as being an uninvited guest in the luxurious residence of Captain Ruben was concerned, and his departure would be even more hurried and unexpected than had been his arrival.

That night the gardener and his wife, as was their custom, retired early and Brendon, following their example, had lain down to sleep by nine o'clock. But with him, at all events, sleep was a long time coming, and midnight had sounded before his tortured brain would allow him any forgetfulness.

Then, he thought afterwards, he heard strange noises in a dream. People were moving about in the distance and there was a hoarse cry for help, which was immediately stifled. Then, suddenly, his dream was broken by a piercing scream and, instantly, he was sitting up, wide awake.

A moment later he was darting to the attic door. The scream had been repeated, but this time was cut short by a gurgling sound, and he heard a man's voice call out angrily, "Throttle the old fool, if she won't keep quiet," and then came a bump as if someone had been thrown upon the floor.

With his heart in his mouth, Brendon crept along the passage until he came to the banisters upon the landing and then, looking down into the hall, there was no doubt at all as to what was taking place.

The house was being robbed, and both the gardener and his wife were receiving a rough handling.

Two candles had been lit in the hall and by their light he could see the gardener being tied up. The old man's face was very pale, and he was bleeding from a cut on his forehead. His wife had, apparently, fainted, but a cloth had been stuffed in her mouth and one of the curtain cords was being tied round her.

"The brutes!" ejaculated Brendon fiercely. "Wouldn't I just like to get my fists on them!"

But there were five burglars, and, while two were busy with the gardener and his wife, the other three were lifting down some of the pictures, evidently, from the tools beside them, preparatory to knocking off the back of the frames and appropriating only the canvasses.

"Whew!" whistled Brendon, as the man who had been tying up the gardener flashed his torch upon some things by the door of the hail, "they've got an oxy-acetylene torch. Then they're going after the safe, as well!"

The man he was watching picked up a tin of about two-gallon size. "Where'll I sprinkle this paraffin?" he asked of one of the men who was busy on the picture frames.

"Don't sprinkle it anywhere yet, you big booby!" snapped the other. "Just you wait till we've got the safe open, first. Still, you can have all those cushions piled up ready by the staircase. The wood there'll flare up quickly." He saw the look of horror upon the face of the old gardener and laughed grimly. "Yes, old friend of the family, we're going to burn up this wolf's den after we've got all we want, and you'll be lucky if you get a crack on the head before we start."

Brendon clenched his teeth in fury and then, with a dreadful pang, realised for the first time what the coming of these men would mean to him.

He would have to fly instantly, just as he was! There would be no disguising himself as he hoped, no getting hold of any of the Captain's papers, and he would, perhaps, be lucky if he escaped at all! There might be several more of the men watching outside!

Ah, but if they had spoilt his plans, if he possibly could, he would spoil theirs! if he got out of the grounds unseen he would ring up the police, whatever the risk to himself.

His mind made up, he calmed down as he always did, when once in the actual presence of danger.

He ran back into his room, and, picking up his cap and shoes, was creeping along the landing again, almost in a matter of seconds. Then with his heart in his mouth he tiptoed down the back stairs.

He met no one on his way, and then, passing the kitchen, he remembered the keys of the big gates. Flashing his torch, he saw them in their place upon the dresser and he snatched them up, then stealthily creeping through the back door, which had been left ajar, he slipped on his shoes, and, turning into the drive, started to run for his very life.

But he need not have worried, for there was no one to interfere with him. Reaching the big gates, he found, as he had expected, that they were closed. But he unlocked them and propped them wide open. Then he started to run to a telephone call box which he remembered having seen about three hundred yards away in the main road.

When, however, he was within a few yards of it and just passing a small archway a man suddenly sprang out and seized hold of him. The man was a policeman, and, gripping him tightly by the arm, he asked sternly:

"Now then, what are you running for?"

"Quick! Quick!" panted Brendon, hardly able to get out his words, "there are five men burgling Captain Ruben's house and when they've finished they're going to set it on fire! They brought paraffin with them!"

The policeman's eyes opened very wide, but he was a shrewd fellow and was taking nothing for granted. "Who are you then?" he asked gruffly. "If it's true, you may be one of them yourself!"

"Oh, no, I'm not," exclaimed Brendon warmly. "My uncle and aunt are the caretakers there and they've been seized and tied up. I was sleeping upstairs and the thieves didn't know I was in the house. I've run here to ring up the police station."

The policeman seemed still dubious. "But see here, young fellow," he began, "I——"

"Quick, quick," urged Brendon, "or the Captain will get you shot!" He became angry. "Don't you be a fool, constable. Would anyone robbing a house come rushing out like this? Look, I didn't even stop to lace up my shoes, I was in such a hurry! And here's the key of the gates I've just propped wide open! These thieves must have got in over the wall!"

The policeman seemed convinced. "All right, sonny," he said, "but you must keep with me. We'll soon settle them!" and within a couple of minutes help had been sent for and the policeman, at a run, was accompanying Brendon back to the big gates, listening in detail to all that Brendon told him.

"It'll mean promotion for you," concluded Brendon, "to have saved the Captain's house. I know everyone doesn't like him, but he's a good friend to anyone who's served him."

"That's so," agreed the policeman, rather short of breath, "but I wouldn't say it'll mean promotion for any of us." He shook his head dubiously. "Our lot and his are not too friendly, you know."

"What a beautiful young wife he's got," said Brendon to strengthen the confidence now in the policeman's mind. "She's awfully kind to my uncle and aunt."

"Yes, she's beautiful, right enough," panted the policeman, who was finding it as much as he could do to keep up with the pace Brendon had set, "and she must have brought him a tidy fortune, too, for him to keep up the style of living he does."

They reached the gates and Brendon, giving the policeman no time to think, said quickly—"Now you keep watch here, and, when they come, tell them to rush the house all round. I'll go to the corner and wait there. There is sure to be a car somewhere up the lane, so send someone to help me," and off he ran in great haste.

Two minutes later he was hiding breathlessly behind a big tree a long way beyond the end of the lane. He wanted to learn if the police had come in time.

And he had not long to wait, for he had barely taken up his position when there came a rumble in the distance and then two big cars appeared. They were braked softly upon reaching the gates where the policeman was waiting, and then, after dropping three men, who proceeded to run at once towards the lane, they were turned, and disappeared very quietly into the drive leading up to the house.

A silence of about three minutes passed, and then came the sounds of some loud shouting, and two pistols were fired. After that all was quiet.

Brendon waited a little longer, but, nothing more happening that he could see or hear, he set off at a sharp pace towards the river, which he knew was less than a mile away.

Now, looking back in after life, Brendon always regarded the three days that followed as the most wretched he had ever passed. Indeed, towards their last hours he was lost to all hope and would have welcomed a friendly bullet to put him out of his misery.

The remainder of that first night he passed in a boat-house, but he got no sleep at all, as a little fox terrier from a near-by house had followed him and barked outside almost all the time until daylight.

Then, in the morning came the dreadful discovery that he had lost his wallet, and all the money he now possessed was one single silver coin about the value of an English shilling and two copper pieces. He had no idea how the wallet had gone, but he thought it must have dropped out of the pocket when he was leaving the attic to run and ring up the police. His little dagger, given him by the fisherman, was gone, too.

His heart sank when he realised his misfortune, for, possessed of money, there was always a chance, but with only a shilling and the police hot upon his track—what could he do?

He left the boat-house soon after dawn had broken, having abstracted a pair of bathing trunks which he had found in a locker. Then, with the trunks over his shoulder, he walked some hundreds of yards away where a number of young fellows were bathing in the river from the landing steps before a big shed which, from the notice painted upon it in big lettering, he saw belonged to a city swimming club.

The place soon became crowded, and thinking it quite safe among so many, he stripped and had a good swim. No one took any notice of him, and he boldly shaved himself with his safety razor in the toilet room and gave his clothes the good brush-down they needed.

He felt quite pleased with himself until, when leaving the dressing shed, he saw in the distance two men and a policeman going into the boathouse where he had passed the night. The little fox terrier was still there, barking and jumping round.

Not daring to try to escape across country, he thought he would be less conspicuous in the city than in the suburbs. So he boarded a city-bound train and got off at one of the parks, where, sitting upon a seat under some trees, and with his cap pulled well down over his eyes, he prepared to pass the day.

He was feeling very hungry, but considered it far too risky to approach any shop until after dark.

The hours passed very slowly, and all his thoughts were now concentrated upon devising some plan for obtaining money and getting out of the city. But, every time he was brought up against a blank wall, and a feeling of terrible depression soon began to settle upon him.

Late in the afternoon a boy ran up, selling evening newspapers, and he expended one of his copper coins to buy one. Then he was greatly interested in an account of the attempted burglary at Captain Ruben's house the previous night.

The paper stated that the five burglars had been taken, but only after two of them had been shot down. The gardener and his wife were not much the worse, although they had had a terrifying time. It added that there were some very mysterious features about the whole business, and, among others, no one knew who the man was who had summoned the police or how he had come to be aware that the burgling was going on.

Brendon made a wry face, and his heart beat a little faster. "But the police guess who it was, right enough," he told himself, "and, of course, the look-out for me today will be hotter than ever."

Directly dusk had fallen he sought out a small shop in one of the side streets and asked for half a pound of cheese. He thought the woman who served him stared very hard, and after he had tendered his silver coin in payment, she remained so long in the back room, when supposed to be getting his change, that he became suspicious. So he snatched up the parcel off the counter and made a bolt for it, putting half a dozen streets behind him before he resumed his normal gait.

Then, to his horror, when he came to break off a piece of the cheese he found he had picked up the wrong parcel, and had brought away with him part of a bar of soap!

He slept that night behind a hoarding on a piece of waste ground, and the next morning felt so miserable that, throwing all pride to the winds, he acknowledged himself beaten, and made up his mind to avail himself of that last chance Sir Miles Vaughan had so reluctantly held out to him. He would go to the Square of the Three Towers and seat himself upon the steps of the Church of St. Joan!

But evil fortune was again attending him, for, at midday, upon making his way to the Square of the Three Towers with a blithe and jaunty air that accorded ill with his empty stomach and depressed spirits, he found all the steps of the church railed off and given over to many hundreds of school children, each carrying a bunch of flowers. A spectator told him it was the yearly floral festival associated with the church.

Turning away in dreadful mortification, his memory never completely registered all that passed in the ensuing twenty-four hours. In after years, however, he used to think that he stole some apricots from a garden and got bitten upon one of his legs, as he was re-climbing the wall, by a big brute of a dog. Then he was sure he was saved from absolute prostration by four eggs which he took out of a fowl-house, almost under the very nose of an old gentleman who was hoeing weeds, not fifty yards away, and who must have been very deaf not to have heard him.

He hid that night among some bushes behind the bathing shed in which he had had his shave two mornings before, but was afraid to carry out the same manoeuvre the next morning, having noticed a man who seemed particularly interested in him when he appeared upon the landing stage. The man's eyes were upon him all the time, and so he, Brendon, cleared off quickly, with a great regret that he would have to keep his midday appointment upon the steps of the church—he smiled a wan and tortured smile here—with a twenty four hours' growth of beard upon his chin.

Exactly upon the stroke of noon when, rather to his astonishment, he had reached the church of St. Joan, in the very heart of the city, without being arrested, he took his seat upon the extreme end of the lowest step. He pulled his cap down well over his eyes and, bending forward with his head in his hands, awaited developments.

He felt too miserable and dispirited to be at all excited, not really caring much what happened.

And nothing did happen.

The reverberating strokes in the massive age-worn tower above him ran through their allotted number and died away. One minute passed, then two, and then, after an interval of time that seemed endless, three.

But no one approached him, and no one showed any sign of interest in him. Among the busy throng around he was just as much alone as if he were in a desert.

He waited another two minutes, and then, rising heavily to his feet, lurched off to get away from the crowd. He was not disappointed; his mind was too numb for that. All he was thinking of was his hunger, and he was wondering if he would be able to get more eggs from the fowl-house he had raided the previous day.

He walked on mechanically with lagging steps, and then, when he had turned in a by-street, where the traffic was much lighter, subconsciously he came aware that a motor car was coming up behind him.

Then, suddenly, he heard a grinding of brakes, and, a few seconds later not having troubled to turn round, a thrill of terror quickened in him as he felt himself seized by hands on either side and a rough voice said sharply, "Now, don't struggle. Come quietly, or we'll break your arms."

From weakness and surprise he almost collapsed and had to be half dragged and half lifted by his two captors into the car. The door was slammed quickly to, the blinds were drawn, and the car started off instantly. Then he found himself sitting between two men in ordinary clothes, each of whom was gripping him tightly by one of his arms.

For quite a minute not a word was spoken by anyone. Then Brendon asked hoarsely, "What have I done? Where are you taking me to?"

"Shut up," said one of the men with a scowl. "You'll learn everything soon enough." He nodded to his companion, "Yes, this is the fellow. There's no mistake here."

The drive was a very short one, and included many turnings. Then suddenly the car came to a standstill and Brendon found they were before a large building in one of the quiet by-streets of the city. He was marched with no ceremony into a sparsely furnished room, where there were two more men who eyed him curiously, but who did not speak a word.

Then for the first time his hands were let go, and he was searched thoroughly. Everything he had upon him, including his identification papers as Bern Hopple, which were easily found, was laid out upon a table. Then his wrists were handcuffed behind him and he was bumped down into a chair with the curt intimation to keep still or much worse would happen to him.

Then quite half an hour passed and he was feeling so tired and exhausted that he almost fell asleep. But at last a bell rang somewhere and immediately he was jerked roughly to his feet and, with his former captors on either side again, marched out into the corridor.

A few seconds later and the three of them were ushered into a big and well-furnished room, where a tall man in an officer's uniform was sitting at a desk.

The man looked up carelessly as Brendon was thrust forward, and then, after a gasp of amazement, Brendon threw back his head and burst into a loud peal of hysterical laughter.

He was standing before the Chief of the Secret Police.

For a long moment Captain Ruben made no remark, but sat regarding Brendon with a puzzled frown, while the two attendants gripped Brendon tightly on either side, evidently now being of the opinion that they were dealing with a lunatic.

Then the Captain said scornfully. "He has reason to laugh. This is not the man I sent you for. I have never set eyes upon him before. Who is he?"

"But, sir," began one of the men protestingly, "we followed immediately and——"

The Captain waved him aside and addressed himself directly to Brendon. "Who are you?" he asked sternly.

Brendon's laugh died as quickly as it had been born. He pulled himself together and, moistening his dry lips with his tongue, inclined his head towards the paper one of the attendants was holding in his hand. "Bern Hopple, sir," he said firmly, "and I don't know why I have been brought here. I have done nothing wrong."

The Captain took the identification paper that was held out to him and glanced quickly down it. Then he turned to the attendants again and asked sharply. "What else did you find upon him?"

"Very little, sir," replied the attendant who had spoken before. "Only a pencil, a handkerchief and a safety razor. There was no money at all."

The Captain turned back to Brendon and tapped the paper he was still holding in his hand. "This says you are a carpenter. Then where do you work?"

"I am out of work," replied Brendon. "I can get no employment at present."

"Nonsense, there is plenty of work in the city!" The Captain's looks were suspicious now. "Where do you live?"

Brendon just shrugged his shoulders. "Anywhere," he replied gloomily. "As you have just heard, I have no money." Then a thought leapt like lightning into his mind and he gasped as a man who had been sentenced to death might gasp upon hearing suddenly he had been reprieved. His face broke into an easy and confident smile.

"But can I speak to you in private for a few moments, please?" he said. "I have information which is for your ears alone."

But the Chief of the Secret Police ignored him as if he had not spoken. "Was he begging when you picked him up?" he asked the attendant. "Because if so, he can be handed over to the city police."

"No, sir," was the reply. "He was just walking along and we——"

But Brendon broke in fiercely. "I have information for you, I say, sir. I was coming to give it to you when these men here seized me," and then he lowered his voice and spoke very carefully, as if he were trying to recall to memory some exact words he had once heard. "Yes, I have got a new gun out from England and it should beat everything here. . . . I am disappointed I can't come, but I am returning to duty earlier than I expected."

For the moment it seemed as if Captain Ruben had been about to issue a curt order. He had lifted up his hand and had opened his lips to speak, when he dropped his hand suddenly, his lips remained parted, and he bent his head forward as if he had not heard Brendon's words aright.

Brendon continued, as before, very slowly, and with his eyes fixed intently upon the Captain's. "I am taking back some flowers to my wife. . . I want to speak to my gardener . . . I'll be back soon and then I'll give you the glass of wine I promised you."

The Captain was now making a great effort to assume an air of cold indifference, but it was evident to Brendon that the right chord of memory had been stirred and the Chief of the Secret Police was now, with great difficulty, repressing his amazement.

Brendon abruptly assumed quite a different tone of voice and, as if in mimicry of someone, whispered very quickly. "Yes, yes, I heard him say he isn't coming, but I'm sure he never intended to . . . No, but he thinks your hospitality would not be too healthy for him. . . But he's going up to that shooting box of his on Saturday week and then his only companion there will be an old gamekeeper . . . I cant stop any longer as——"

But Captain Ruben made a sudden motion with his hand to the attendants. "Take off his handcuffs," he said, "and give him a chair. Then you can leave us," and half a minute later Brendon and the Chief of the Secret Police were alone.

A short silence followed and then the Captain said very quietly. "And now then, please tell me what you mean by all this rigmarole."

"It is no rigmarole, sir," replied Brendon earnestly, "and it means that I am warning you that harm is intended you when you go up to your shooting-box in the Dorian Forest."

"Go on," said Ruben curtly, because Brendon had stopped speaking, overcome in his weak state by his excitement.

"It is a strange story, sir," began Brendon. He hesitated for a moment and then, drawing in a deep breath burst out quickly, "I was mixed up in a fight at the Fugel Restaurant, the week before last, and ever since have been hunted by the police. For a whole week, unknown to your gardener and his wife, I was hiding in the attic room of your house. I got in when they were away. After a few days, when I had eaten all the food I had brought with me, I used to come downstairs, when I thought it safe, to get whatever scraps I could. Then, last Saturday morning, when I was in the hall, you almost caught me, for you came in with your friend and I had to run into the study to escape. I hid behind one of the curtains there and——"

"What was the person like who was with me?" asked the captain very sharply.

"An officer in a colonel's uniform," replied Brendon promptly. "He was of medium height and had reddish hair. His face was very fair."

Ruben nodded and Brendon went on. "Then I heard you speak over the telephone to someone and when you had finished talking and had left the room to go into the garden to speak to your gardener, your friend rushed to the phone and rang up the same number you had. Then when he had got that number, he instantly gave another one, evidently a secret one, for he was immediately put on to the same person you had spoken to. He told him what I had just repeated, that you had never intended to accept some invitation you had received, because you were suspicious about something, but that you would be going up to the Dorian Forest next Saturday and then your only companion would be an old game-keeper."

"And how do you know he was speaking to the same person I had spoken to?" asked Captain Ruben frowning hard.

"Because he told him he had just heard you speaking to him," replied Brendon, "but he said it was quite safe to use the same telephone as he had got his eyes upon you out in the garden, all the time."

"What else did he say?"

"Nothing more than what I have told you. He had to cut short his conversation because he saw you coming back into the house. Then you took him into another room."

"Then, what next?" asked the Captain, because Brendon waited expecting some further cross-examination. "Go on with your tale to the end."

Brendon smiled in relief. At last he could tell a plain unvarnished story and he went on to relate all that had happened afterwards, how he had been awakened in the night and from over the banisters had seen the thieves at work, how he had rushed out to summon the police and then, the misery and privation of the succeeding three days when he had had to run from place to place and had been practically without food.

And all the time he had been speaking Captain Ruben had never once taken his eyes off his face. Then the Captain asked sharply. "And how much money do you say, was in the wallet you lost?"

Brendon told him and the Captain nodded. "Yes, it was found in the attic." Then he asked. "Did you lose anything else?"

Brendon hesitated. "Y-es, a small dagger," he said.

"Exactly!" commented the Captain. "And that policeman you stabbed in the restaurant has since died!"

"But I didn't know what I was doing," exclaimed Brendon hotly, disgusted that to render his story plausible, he had to make out it was he who had stabbed the policeman. "I had taken too much wine and the police were very rough and started knocking us about without any reason."

"But you found blood on the dagger the next morning," commented the Captain grimly, "and so you must have had a pretty good idea as to what you had done! Still——" but he broke off suddenly and asked sharply, "But do you know who I am?"

Brendon nodded. "Yes, sir, you are Captain Ruben, the Chief of the Secret Police."

"And how do you know it?" The question was put very curtly.

"Because that officer who came with you that morning called you Ruben and then I remembered you had once been pointed out to me in the street. You are well-known by sight."

"Better known than liked, probably," was Rubens muttered comment. Then he added, "But I was going to say that your civil crimes are no concern of mine and are of interest only to the police of the city. So, apart from the services I see that you have rendered me, I should not be disposed to hand you over to them." He regarded Brendon with a puzzled frown. "Now, what is it you expect me to do for you?"

"Sir," pleaded Brendon earnestly. "I am without money or any resources whatsoever. I am being hunted from place to place and if I am caught it means I shall be hanged. I am almost starved, too." He steadied his voice with difficulty. "Now, could you put me away in some prison where political prisoners are hidden, until things have blown over, and then I could escape into the country and, in time, be forgotten?"

"Do the police know your name?" asked the Captain thoughtfully.

"No, but they will remember my face for a time," replied Brendon, "because I was struggling with two of them before the lights in the restaurant went out."

A long silence followed, and then Ruben asked. "Are you married?"

Brendon shook his head. "No, sir, and I have no relations living. I have no particular friends, either. I have always kept myself very much to myself."

"You don't talk?" queried Ruben. "You have forgotten all about those telephone communications, and you don't remember about being brought here by these men?"

"No, sir, I don't talk," replied Brendon in great relief at the turn things were taking, "and I have forgotten everything already."

"Well, then," asked the Captain, "do you think you could clean a car properly? My chauffeur is away ill and you could do his work in the garage for the time being. Then, later, I will try to make other arrangements for you."

Brendon beamed. He had once owned a racing car and come third in the race for the Isle of Man Trophy. "Oh, yes, sir," he replied. "I know a lot about cars and can drive any make. Before my father died I worked for him in his garage. I was on repairing work for three years and am a good mechanic."

"Oh, you can drive, can you?" frowned Ruben, and then for a long minute his brows were puckered in thought. Then he said sharply. "Well, I will take you on trial as my chauffeur. You will wear my livery, and so it is unlikely anyone will recognise you, besides——" and he half smiled—"no police will ever attempt to hold up my car."

Brendon's heart beat with joy and then—his face fell. He inclined his head towards the door. "But will they say anything here, sir? Won't they be very curious?"

Captain Ruben's face was black as night. "No one says anything here, young fellow," he said sharply, "and you just understand that." He nodded his head significantly. "And the man who is curious—well, he's not curious long."

He took a sheet of note-paper out of a pigeonhole in his desk and pushed it across to Brendon, at the same time handing him a fountain pen. "Here, put your name on this, with the date, and add: 'Today I am entering the service of Captain Ruben to avoid arrest by the Marleck police!'"

Very puzzled, Brendon did as he was requested and then the Captain said. "Now you shall have a meal—you look as if you want one—and then someone here shall make sure if you can really drive a car as well as you make out." He smiled a cold, inscrutable smile. "You certainly have been of service to me, but that does not necessarily mean I believe all you say," and Brendon was taken from the room with the very uneasy feeling in his mind that the Captain had not been as easily taken in as he had thought he had.

Having passed the driving test successfully, that evening, shaved, and smart-looking in the dark livery of the Chief of the Secret Police, Brendon drove Captain Ruben home and proceeded to take up his duties as chauffeur to the second most hated man in Cyrania.

He realised at once that his work about the garage and the house would not be unpleasant, for whatever his reputation with the outside world, the Captain was always considerate to his employes. His demeanor, however, was always cold and stern, and he exchanged few words with any of them. It was to his wife and children only that he was a different man, and then his grim face relaxed and he smiled in a way that might have seemed impossible to outsiders. He was a devoted husband and father and, sometimes, watching him with his children in the garden, Brendon found it hard to understand how in his work for the State he was reputed to be such a cruel and pitiless man.

Clodil Ruben Brendon found all that he had expected from the painting of her. Indeed, he at once admitted to himself that the Captain's treacherous friend had been quite right when he had said she was more beautiful even than as painted.

Although her first-born, a boy, was seven years old, she herself could not have been more than twenty-five. She was fair, with the sweet and gentle expression of a Madonna, and Brendon often wondered how much she knew of her husband's official activities.

But however happy and peaceful was the home life of the Chief of the Secret Police, things were very different with him outside for, as with the Dictator of Cyrania, every day he was living under the shadow of assassination. Brendon guessed something of this within a minute of climbing on to the driving seat of the Captain's car.

The car was powerfully engined, and it had need to be, for it was heavily armor-plated and there were thick steel shutters, too, that could be instantly adjusted to all the windows by the pressing of a button. Also, Brendon had not been very long in the Captain's house—he took all his meals with the other servants—when one of the maids informed him whisperingly that the chauffeur, who was away and supposed to be convalescing from an attack of pneumonia, was in reality recovering from a wound from a rifle bullet which had been intended for the Captain himself.

Brendon's duties were by no means light ones, and some days he was many hours at the wheel. Early, each morning, he drove his master up to the big sombre-looking building in the quiet by-street, and, while the latter was busy in the office, waited in the enclosed outer-court until his services should be wanted again.

These hours were never without their interest, for people were always coming and going. The callers appeared to be of all conditions of life; grim, hard-faced men who looked as if they would hesitate at nothing, and who, from their confident bearing and speedy movements as they entered the building were evidently themselves members of the secret police; men who were undoubtedly in civil life and who came in furtively as if they wanted to attract as little attention as possible, and women of all classes. Often the latter looked like maids in private service, but occasionally they were of a much better class, and, at times, they could only have been described as flash women of the city.

From morning till night the place was a veritable hive of industry, and Brendon marvelled at the amount of espionage which must be going on.

"And I should say all who come here who don't belong to the secret police are spies," he told himself. "This place must be the clearing-house for all the secrets and suspicions informers can get hold of."

Almost every afternoon Brendon drove the Captain to the notorious Klaffer Prison, where all political prisoners were confined and whence, it was well known, so many of them never emerged.

The prison was a big forbidding-looking high-walled building, situated upon the outskirts of the city, and while he was waiting, Brendon often had some interesting chats with the custodian, whose duty it was to unlock the ponderous gates when any cars came into the yard.

At first, the man had been very short of speech and was inclined to be distrustful, but knowing Brendon was driving the Chief of the Secret Police, and, moreover, Brendon making himself as friendly as possible, he soon thawed, and, indeed, after a couple of visits became quite confidential.

One afternoon, while they were in conversation together, the porter had to open the gates to admit a big closed car, and then from the back of the car was quickly dragged by two men a third, whose head was hidden in a hood. The hooded man was hustled quickly into the prison and the door closed.

"Who's that they've got now?" whispered Brendon, with a horrible feeling at his heart that he had been an eyewitness of the first act of some dreadful drama.

"Don't know," replied the porter, "and never may. It's only by chance that we learn who are brought here and by chance, only, that we learn who's gone out." He nodded, and lowered his voice significantly. "There's been a firing-squad at work every one of the last three mornings, and one yesterday afternoon as well."

But three days later he told Brendon who the hooded man was. "He's called Newland and is some damned American newspaper man, but they'll get nothing out of him for a while now, as he's down with pneumonia and they won't be able to question him." He nodded significantly. "A sick man might snuff out before they'd put half their questions to him, in the way they do here."

Brendon turned away his eyes to hide his horror. Augustus Mayland Newland was one of the most famous foreign correspondents in the world, with the record of many wars behind him, and only two days previously he had read in a Marleck newspaper of his accidental death. His car was supposed to have crashed over a bridge into the river just outside the city, and he had been drowned. His body had not, however, been recovered.

One afternoon, when he had been driving the Captain for just ten days, and was waiting as usual in the courtyard, the latter sent for him to come into his office.

"You are to go home at once," he said, "and take your mistress out in her car. She is going to a garden party. You are to wait for her and then when you have driven her back you are to come and fetch me."

So for two hours that afternoon Brendon stood among other chauffeurs who had driven their mistresses into the beautiful grounds of a wealthy woman of title who was entertaining her friends. The chauffeurs chatted together in a friendly way and passed criticism, not by any means all complimentary, upon the guests assembled upon the well-trimmed, flower-bordered lawns.

"Old General Beiner's wife's getting old," remarked one. "They say she was a great beauty once, but I can't see it. She's got a face like an old vulture to me."

"But she's got features, my boy," commented another, "and my mother says there was no one to come up to her, thirty odd years ago. She had scores of lovers then and everyone raved about her."

"Ah, those were times!" sighed a third chauffeur, who was old and grizzled. "I mind when the most beautiful women in Europe used to attend the first nights at the Opera here: princesses, foreign duchesses and aristocrats, so dainty and highly-bred that to even look at them took your breath away. Now"—he sighed again—"we don't get such people here."

There was general interest in the old man's reminiscence and then a fourth chauffeur broke in. "But damn it, Crank, there are plenty of lovely women here this afternoon, at any rate good enough for me. What about Clodil Ruben and the Countess of Arden?"

"Ay," nodded the old chauffeur, "but those two are exceptions. You won't find many like them, especially the little Countess." He sighed for the third time. "What a waste that pretty mouth of hers is, now she's a widow!"

"Yes," nodded the one who had spoken before, "but I'll wager anything that it won't go wasted long. Why, she could have as many lovers as she liked!" he broke off suddenly and ejaculated. "By the sky above, here the two peaches come!"

Brendon looked round carelessly and then he started violently and his heart came into his mouth, for walking slowly towards the waiting cars were the Captain's wife and—the girl of the fisherman's hut, the woman of his dreams!

He stared harder and harder, for the moment unable to believe the evidence of his eyes. But there could be no doubt about it! It was the same girl who had saved his life that night upon the torture-haunted shores of Thole Bay!

Then instantly he was plunged into despondency for, in her surroundings now and gowned as she was like a princess, misfortune seemed to be striking him a dreadful blow.

A whole train of disconcerting thoughts avalanched into his mind.

Clad as she had been that night in her rough peasant clothes she had been equally as lovely as she was now, but she had been approachable then, as a woman to whom, by some wonderful turn of fortune, he might one day whisper words of love, and whose life he might reasonably hope to mingle with his own.

But this vision here, this creature of ethereal beauty—it belonged to quite a different world! It was unapproachable, and only in the deepest depths of folly could he imagine——

But his thoughts were rudely interrupted by a rough shove from one of the other chauffeurs. "Get a move on, quick, booby," said the man, "or your mistress will be at the car before you are!"

So Brendon instantly awoke to reality and arrived at the car just as Clodil and the Countess were approaching. He opened the door in readiness for his mistress to enter and then stood, like a well-trained servant, fully attentive to her wants, but with his eyes turned respectfully away from her and her companion.

"And you must come and see me soon, Marie," he heard Clodil say sweetly. "It is such a long time since you've been, and the children have grown ever so much since you last saw them."

"I'll come one day this week, dear," replied the other in a voice that sounded to Brendon like the tinkling of some musical bell. "I'll——" and then she suddenly stopped speaking and he knew that she had recognised him. He heard a faint gasp and then his mistress said quickly. "Oh, Marie, how white you've turned! Do you feel ill?"

"No-o, no," replied the Countess instantly. "It w-as on-ly my ankle! I often get a twinge there since I had that sprain. It has all gone now."

Brendon looked up and faced her squarely. Her big dark eyes fixed intently upon him and, for a fleeting glance, he held them with his own. Then he smiled ever so little to let her be quite sure the recognition had been mutual before he turned his eyes away again.

The Countess was evidently a girl of quick decision. "Oh, well, while I'm here, Clodil," she announced briskly, "I may as well come with you at once to see the children. I won't stop long and then, perhaps, you'll very nicely have me driven home. I won't wait now for the others. They'll guess you've given me a lift."

So Brendon was not at all surprised when, half an hour later he was alone with the Countess in the car, he heard her voice coming very sharply to him over his shoulder.

"Listen," she said, and she spoke as one accustomed to be obeyed. "I must have a talk with you as soon as possible. Now, your master and mistress are going to the opera tomorrow night. You will drive them there at eight o'clock and then you will not be wanted again until after eleven, and will be ordered to return home and wait. Change into private clothes and go to the Church of the Holy Martyrs in the road of the Viber Side. Be there by nine o'clock, when the Last Prayers are being sung. Sit at the extreme end of the last pew on the left and wait until some one comes to bring you to me. It will be a woman and you are to do exactly as she tells you. Now, do you understand? All right! Now please pull up. I don't wish to go any further in this car."

All that night Brendon was in a whirl of excitement and he never slept for longer than a few minutes at a time. One moment he was in the seventh heaven of happiness that he was going to meet the girl again, and the next he was plunged into gloom at the thought of how far away she would always be from him now. He realised it was no lover's tryst he was going to keep with her, it was rather a meeting when he was going to be questioned sharply and given orders, as by a mistress to her servant.

All the next day he was on tenterhooks, because no mention of any intended visit to the opera was made. The Captain was as quiet and reserved as ever, and said nothing either when driving to or returning from the city. But, when they had finally reached home that evening, he gave a curt order for the car to be ready again at ten minutes to eight and, when later Brendon had taken them to the Opera House, he was bidden to go home and return to fetch them again at a quarter past eleven.

A few minutes before nine, therefore, he was sitting in the Church of the Holy Martyrs in the back pew, as he had been bidden by the Countess. The church was large and, with not a dozen worshippers, was illuminated only in that part adjacent to the chancel rails. All the rest was in semi-darkness.

The service began and the soft music of the organ slowed down the quickened beating of his heart. Nothing happened for a few minutes and then, in spite of his preparedness, he was startled when he felt a faint touch upon his shoulder. He turned round sharply and saw a sister of mercy just behind. "Come," she whispered, and he rose and followed her.

She led him to a small door in the far corner of the church, and, flashing an electric torch, took him down a little narrow staircase that opened into a long chamber where he saw the pails and brooms of the cleaners were kept. At the end of the chamber was a door which he guessed led into the vaults.

The woman produced a thick scarf and, asking no permission, proceeded deftly to bandage his eyes. "Hold my hand and take short steps," she whispered. "We are going down more stairs."

And then followed a journey which Brendon computed must have been at least two hundred yards. A door grated and he was led down eighteen steps. Then it became very cold and the surface under his feet was rough and uneven. Once he half stumbled and, instinctively putting out his hand to save himself, it touched a hard stone wall. After quite a long interval, so it seemed, he heard the grating of another door and then he climbed up more steps. Then yet a third door was opened and his footsteps echoed upon a pavement as if he were in some lofty chamber. Then suddenly he found himself in quite a different atmosphere, with the unmistakable smell of a house that was inhabited, indeed he could have sworn that the aroma of coffee was now coming up to his nostrils. Very soon his feet, too, passed from bare boards to linoleum and then from linoleum to a thick carpet.

He could feel another change of air as a door was pushed open and some curtains drawn aside. He now smelt the perfume of carnations. He was ordered whisperingly to stand still and then, the scarf being untied from his head, he found himself in a small and daintily furnished room.

"Wait here," said the sister of mercy, and she passed quickly behind the curtain.

A few moments of breathless silence followed, with Brendon's heart beating like a sledge-hammer. Then he heard a movement by the door, a white hand and part of a bare arm parted the curtains and a moment later the Countess came into the room.

She bowed smilingly. "Sit down, will you," she said in perfect English, but with a pretty accent. "Of course, I don't know who you are, but I am certain you are an Englishman," and Brendon, too astounded to be upon his guard, subsided into the chair she had pointed out to him.

"Yes, I am quite sure you are English," she went on and then, as Brendon shook his head and began a stammering denial, she added sharply. "No, no prevarications, please. I know perfectly well what you are in Cyrania for and we are both of us going to be quite frank and put all our cards upon the table."

She picked up a cedar-lined box and held it open to him. "Perhaps you would like a cigarette," and Brendon glad of a moment's respite from her questioning, took one and lighted it.

"Now, first, I shall introduce myself," she said, "and perhaps add something to what, no doubt, you already know about me. I am Marie, Countess of Arden. I am French, or rather I was until I married." She blushed ever so slightly. "I am a widow and my husband died just over a year ago, after we had been married only two months. He was supposed to have been killed by thieves who had held up his car, but"—her voice trembled—"in reality, he was assassinated by the orders of General Bratz, for political reasons."

She paused a few moments and then continued. "Now about yourself. You are in the British Secret Service! Oh, but I know you are! You were landed that night upon the jetty from a British submarine which had picked you up out-to-sea from a British destroyer. It was reported the next day that the destroyer had been seen, about twenty miles off the coast." She inclined her head prettily. "Do you know, sir, you did me a great disservice that night by making a regular hornet's nest of Thole Bay? I had been waiting nearly a week in Rex's hut for some friends who were coming to take me back to France, and the disturbance your landing made upset everything. Ever since, the bay has been watched so closely that no boat has any chance of getting near."

"I am sorry," murmured Brendon, his brain in a whirl. "It was most unfortunate I should have been seen." He looked very puzzled. "But can't you go back to France, if you want to?"

She shook her head. "No, I should be refused a passport if I applied for one, and I don't want to bring things to a climax and perhaps have some definite charge brought against me."

"But what charge?" asked Brendon, very perplexed. "What has anyone against you?"

The Countess smiled. "General Bratz thinks that, perhaps, I am, as you are, passing on information to my country. In other words—that I am a spy. Besides, I am supposed to have learnt too many State secrets during my married life, for it to be wise for them to let me go." She spoke carelessly. "Among other things, they believe that I alone can tell them where certain papers, and a large sum of money are hidden, money which was raised to help over-throw this detestable Dictator of ours and which my poor husband was holding in trust. Of course, I have denied all knowledge of everything, but one day"—she shuddered—"I am sure they will deal with me, as they have done with so many others in this dreadful country and try to force me to speak. As it is, this house is always being watched, and that is why I have had to have you brought in in the way you have been tonight."

"But force you!" exclaimed the horrified Brendon. "You don't mean that they will"—he hesitated—"dare to use violence? They would never dare do that!"

She nodded. "General Bratz would do anything to obtain his ends"—she scoffed contemptuously—"even to marrying me if he could manage it. He has no scruples about anything. He has not dared to interfere with me openly up to now, because he feels he is not strong enough as yet to break with some of my husband's relations, but"—her voice shook a little—"I know the sword is hanging over me and will fall one day."

"Damnation!" swore Brendon. "But won't these relations of yours protect you?"

"All save one would if they knew," said the Countess; "but General Bratz may strike secretly and no one know from whom the blow has come. That is what I am so fearing." She laughed softly. "Then, when I recognised you yesterday and Clodil Ruben told me that she had borrowed you, but you were really her husband's chauffeur, I thought instantly that Fate was playing into my hands and of what great service you might be to me."

"Great God!" exclaimed Brendon fervently. "Of course, I'll help you in every way I can. I owe you my life for your help that night in Thole Bay, and none could honor me more than do you by trusting me!"

"Oh, I am certain I can trust you," said the Countess instantly, her smile belied any menace in her words, "because I have you completely in my power. I know you are the man wanted for that bombing of the Sarron works"—she pointed to the telephone upon her desk—"one word from me and you would be in the Klaffer Prison within an hour."

Brendon drew in a deep gasp of consternation and then tried to hide his embarrassment in a bewildered frown.

"What bombing?" he asked, as if very puzzled.

"I thought at once that it must be you," went on the Countess calmly, completely ignoring his implied denial, "directly I heard the broadcast over the air, although the description of you was not exactly correct. That mention of your showing your teeth when you smiled made me almost certain and then, when I heard it rumored that the wanted man had only been working in the factory a few weeks and had arrived there just about the time you would have reached Sarron, I knew I must be right." A look of horror suddenly came into her eyes, and she burst out breathlessly. "But were you sent out here expressly to assassinate Ren Jahn, because he was supposed to be inventing a new torpedo?" and she pushed her chair back against the wall.

"No, no," protested Brendon, realising instantly that any further attempt at denial was useless, and stung to perfect frankness by the way in which she had instinctively recoiled from him, "my mission was only to get a copy of the plans. But, by a blind chance, I was set to work in the very room where the torpedo was being made, and I often heard Jahn boasting of the innocent men and women in our arsenal at Woolwich whom he had recently destroyed with one of his special inventions. So I——" he shrugged his shoulders—"well, I just gave him the same death he had given to so many others." He dropped his voice and spoke bitterly. "War is war, young lady, and we who fight are every hour risking our lives."

The Countess's face had lost something of its look of horror as he had been speaking, and she said very quietly, "Then, of course, you are a soldier!"

"In that sense, yes," nodded Brendon. "Every hour since the night I landed in Thole Bay I have been taking my life in my hands and jesting with death"—he smiled ever so faintly—"and I have just fought as they fight here, that is all."

A short silence followed, and then the Countess sighed heavily. "And I should really be the very last to condemn you," she said, "for having done anything to prevent these maniacs here from plunging the world into war. My poor husband strove his hardest for peace, and his reward was a dreadful death, when life was giving its best to him. He was stabbed in eleven places, and——" but she pulled herself in sharply and, looking at her wrist watch, went on quickly, "but come, we are wasting time, for you must be gone by half-past ten, when the church is closed." She regarded him curiously. "But tell me how you came to get in the service of Captain Ruben, next to General Bratz himself, the most dangerous man for you in all Cyrania?"

And so Brendon told her briefly of his sudden flight from the police that night he had arrived in Marleck, how he had taken refuge in the Captain's house, and all that had followed.

The Countess listened to him without interruption and then her face assumed a very disappointed expression. "Then it is all chance again," she said, "that you are now working for Captain Ruben. I was hoping that you had powerful friends here and that through you and them I should surely be able to learn when anything was threatening me. With you in the Secret Police, I thought I should always get warning."

"But unfortunately I have nothing whatever to do with the Secret Police," said Brendon. "I am just acting as the Captain's chauffeur, temporarily, while his usual chauffeur is recovering from the bullet wound he received in mistake for his master. I know nothing of what is going on, and never get a chance of learning anything, either."

"Then Captain Ruben is only protecting you out of kindness?" said the Countess, "because it happened you had saved his house and warned him of that conversation you heard over the phone." She looked thoughtful. "But, I wonder he wasn't suspicious about you, directly he saw you, because of the broadcast which was sent out for the man who was wanted so badly. He is very shrewd and, as a rule, nothing escapes him."

"But perhaps it happened he never actually heard the broadcast," said Brendon. "He was away holidaying at the time, and when he is with his family he avoids all outside affairs as much as possible. Besides, as I have just said, I told him the police were after me because I was mixed up in that raid at the Fugel Restaurant when the policeman was stabbed and died afterwards, and the dagger I happened to leave behind me in the attic went to confirm my story." A thought struck him. "But aren't you friendly with Captain Ruben?"

"With his wife, but that does not make a scrap of difference with him," scoffed the Countess. "He is General Bratz's jackal, and would obey his orders faithfully." She nodded. "It is really only Clodil Ruben with whom I am on good terms. She is a very sweet woman, and can know very little of her husband's life. She worships him." She looked sharply at Brendon. "But what plans are you making now for getting away?"

"None at all for the moment," said Brendon. "The search for me must die down eventually, and I am waiting for their watching to relax."

She looked doubtful. "But that may not be for a very long time. The frontiers were never more strongly guarded than they are now, for they are determined to catch the man who planted that bomb at Sarron, and get out of him how he managed to be put to work in the Jahn building. They are sure it was not, as you say, just chance which enabled you to get there. They are convinced some wide conspiracy is going on."

"And are you really working for the French authorities?" asked Brendon, after a short pause.

"I am not a traitress to my husband's country," she said sharply, "but I have certainly been working in every way I could to overthrow General Bratz"—she smiled sadly—"and now I see you cannot help me to escape the consequences!"

"Oh, don't say that," remonstrated Brendon eagerly. "I'll think of some way now." He held her eyes with his own. "We'll escape together."

For a moment they looked smilingly at each other, and then she rose quickly to her feet. "But you must be going now," she said, "and be sure not to be late at the Opera House." She lifted one slim white hand in warning. "And don't take Captain Ruben too carelessly. They call him 'the wolf' now, but once he was known as 'the fox,' and, with all his wooden and inscrutable expression he is a very clever man."

Brendon rose reluctantly. "But when can I see you again?" he asked, the intimate nature of their conversation and their common danger having completely revived all his hopes.

"What for?" she asked sharply. "We can only risk the danger of your coming here for something very important."

"But it may be for something very important," he replied smilingly, "and at any rate I should like to come and talk to you." His face grew solemn. "Remember, the bonds between us are not ordinary ones. You saved my life once!"

"And you saved mine," she returned quickly, "for I should have stabbed myself with Rex's dagger rather than fall into that sergeant's hands. So, we are quits." Her color heightened suddenly and she regarded him with a curious expression. "Do you mean, sir, that you want to see me again because you think we might, perhaps, become lovers?"

Her directness took his breath away and he felt himself getting furiously red, but he replied boldly. "Why not? We are man and woman, you and I, and I was heart-whole until that night when I met you." He spoke with deep feeling. "I have been thinking of you ever since."

For a moment she made no comment, and then she nodded. "Yes, you are a man, right enough, and I knew that directly I saw you." She smiled a tantalising and half-mocking smile. "But I don't know that I want a lover"—a far-away look came into her eyes—"at any rate, just yet."

"But there would be no harm in my seeing you," urged Brendon, "and we shall certainly think of some way of getting over the frontier together."

She hesitated a long moment and then said slowly, "Well, if you can get away some night about the same time,"—she pointed to a heading upon some note-paper on the desk—"telephone that number. Then if I answer, but only if I answer, just ask how I am and when I shall next be on the river. You can say it is Carl speaking. Then come to the church, and if it can be managed, you shall be brought here as you were tonight. It will be I myself, probably, who will fetch you. This house has belonged to my husband's family for hundreds of years and part of it is built over the ruins of an old monastry, but, besides myself, no one knows of the passage except Sister Monica and one of the fathers of the church."

She raised her hand warningly. "But remember my telephone is always being listened in to and if you are indiscreet dreadful trouble may follow for us both. Now I'll take you back myself and I'll blindfold you again." She smiled in a friendly way, and spoke very quickly. "Not that I do not trust you implicitly, but I want to put it beyond all chance of the secret being wrung from you in any way. You understand?"

And so Brendon was blindfolded by fingers that were many times quicker than he would have liked. Then he was led by a hand that made the stairs and passages seem many times shorter than when he had traversed them with the sister of mercy and, finally, in the chamber under the church, he was dismissed with a whisper to be sure to take notice if he were being followed upon his way home.

And all he, who had braved many perils with such courage, had dared to do in parting, had been to brush with his lips the back of the girl's hand.

So twice then, he told himself, he had kissed that self-same hand, but he breathed a fervent prayer that he would one day make his kisses in a different place, and where he would be able to determine at once if they were received with any appreciation.


CHAPTER IX.—THE LIVING AND THE DEAD

In the meanwhile Thomas Widgeon, or rather as he now always thought of himself, Professor Widgeon, had been busy classifying and putting in order General Bratz's collection of shells. The collection was certainly a very large one, for in addition to those exposed to view upon the shelves and in glass cases, there were a number of big packing cases, full of specimens which the Dictator had never had time to go through properly.

So Widgeon had realised at once that he had quite a long task before him, but he set about his work delightedly, with all the zeal and fervor of an ardent conchologist.

"But we must have more glass cases, sir," he said enthusiastically to the General. "You have some very rare and beautiful shells and everything ought to be under glass."

"Then go ahead," smiled Bratz. "I leave everything to you," and so a carpenter was called in and the making of innumerable cases began.

The carpenter did not speak a word of English, but Widgeon was very good with his pencil and so they were able to understand each other quite well. All day long they worked together and then in the evening, when the carpenter had gone, the General would come into the gallery and long and intimate conversations would ensue. But the talks were not all about shells, for soon Bratz began to take a delight in teasing Widgeon about his pacifist views.

"But you are quite wrong, Professor," he said; he always addressed Widgeon as Professor, much to the latter's gratification. "Man is a competitive animal and, as such, there can never be any real sincere brotherhood among men. It is in the very nature of things that we should be always warring one against the other, with the success of one individual meaning the failure of the other and consequent disappointment, too. Now you tell me, you have been a great chess player in your time and are proud of the games you have won. Exactly, and so each time you have won you have sent your opponent away unhappy!"

"Oh, no, sir!" exclaimed Widgeon warmly, "the games have always been friendly ones, and there has been no unhappiness afterwards in the minds of those who have lost!"

"Nonsense!" retorted Bratz contemptuously, "I've seen the glum faces of people who have been beaten at games and know how they have been suffering. A minor suffering, I admit, but still very unpleasant for them all the same! Why, look at the players in that unprofitable game of cricket upon which your countrymen waste so much of their energy! See the face of the man whose sticks behind him have been knocked down by the leather ball! He is shamed before everyone present and walks off the grass with his head held low and his eyes downcast! Without doubt it is a bitter moment for him! And then look at the man who has rolled the conquering ball! His face is all grins and delight and his comrades are grinning, too. They crowd round him to pat him upon the back, and are rejoicing in the discomforture he has caused."

"Ye-es, sir," stammered Widgeon, "but there must always be winners and losers and——"

"That's what I want to drive home to you," exclaimed Bratz emphatically. He gave Widgeon no chance to speak, and went on quickly—"Now take another instance. You tell me you are married. Well"—he looked down his nose and repressed a smile—"probably your wife is a fine-looking and charming woman! Then think of the envy and unhappiness your possession of her may be causing to others! They fret, they cannot sleep at night, and goodness only knows what form their sorrow takes!" He shot out his arm. "Your sole possession of a treasure is a source of grief to others."

"But sir," expostulated Widgeon, "everyone can't have the same wife."

"That's not the point," said Bratz. "My contention is that your happiness means the inevitable unhappiness of others." He looked very amused. "And you had to fight for that happiness! You had to out-bid your rivals in personal attractions to induce the woman you wanted to marry you!" He patted Widgeon upon the shoulder. "Yes, professor, you are as much a fighting man as any of us, although you do not know it."

"But I believe in peace," persisted Widgeon, in his own mind very doubtful if in the possession of Mrs. Widgeon he were indeed causing anyone any unhappiness.

"Yes, peace and plenty," sneered Bratz, "like that hypocritical country of yours. She has plenty and now she wants peace to enjoy it, while"—his face hardened—"the poorer nations of the world starve."

"But I believe in brotherly love among all mankind," urged Widgeon doggedly, "and then we should all be happy together."

"Impossible, my dear professor," smiled Bratz. "As I should have already made you understand, the only happy man is the man with the big fist, because he then gets what he wants. No, no, you can't dispute it. Man is just an animal and, as with all animals, he has to fight for what he wants. He was born to fight and overcome his fellow-men, not live at peace with them, for that would be contrary to all the instincts of the fighting animal."

"But it is our glory," exclaimed Widgeon heatedly, "to strive to overcome the animal in us. If we should kill the beast in us, we should achieve——"

"——the impossible!" broke in the general testily. "And to tamper with our natures, as you non-fighting imbeciles are trying to do, would be to produce a deformed and spineless monstrosity, the prey of all the virile people in the world. Overcome the animal in us!" he mocked contemptuously. "Why, man, it is the animal in us that gives all the incentive in life, the urge to make love, to protect and feed our young, to"—he snapped his fingers together—"but there, you think for a moment and you'll see it all for yourself."

"But there are some things all human beings must do," urged Widgeon, "and one thing——"

"——is to fight for what they want," laughed Bratz. His face sobered down. "And as with individuals, so it is with nations. We here in Cyrania want the coal mines of one neighbor and the wheat land of another. They are necessary to our well-being, and we shall fight to get them." He nodded solemnly. "Yes, for many months we have been making our preparations, and now I am only waiting for the moment when it will be judicious to strike."

And after that discussion it seemed Bratz never lost an opportunity to harrow and scarify poor Widgeon's feelings.

He told him of the horrible and appalling poisons they were preparing to drop upon their neighbor's cities; how no warnings would be given and how calamity, in most dreadful forms, would sweep one day like a mighty tidal-wave over the countries it was their destiny to conquer.

And when Widgeon had been at the castle for a few weeks he was not content only to horrify him with the tales of horrors to come to other countries, but, out of sheer malice, so it seemed afterwards to the nervous little conchologist, he gave him also an insight into the ruthless manner in which Cyrania was then being governed.

One evening Widgeon had mentioned he had got a headache and had asked if he could have the day off on the morrow, to go for a walk and get some fresh air.

"But I'll do better than that for you," said the General heartily. "You shall come into Marleck with me tomorrow morning and see something of our beautiful parks." A grim smile came suddenly into his face and he added as an after-thought, "And then in the afternoon you shall drive out with me again and I'll show you over one of our beautiful public buildings"—his smile broadened—"a building which I am sure will interest you very much."

So it came about that the next afternoon the unsuspecting Widgeon was driven up to the Klaffer Prison, and when they had passed into the courtyard the big gates were locked behind them.

"But what's this place?" he asked of the General, as they were getting out of the car. He looked up at the high, forbidding-looking walls of the building, where all the windows visible had thick bars before them, and added, very puzzled. "You don't call this a beautiful building, do you?"

"But a very useful one, Professor," smiled Bratz, "and where we keep all our naughty boys, and some naughty boys of other countries, too!" He chuckled merrily. "Indeed, perhaps I shall be able to point out to you some of your own countrymen."

"It's a prison, then!" gasped Widgeon.

"Yes, a prison," said Bratz. "The great Klaffer Prison, and it serves my country well. If its thick walls could speak they would tell of many a conspirator who has said good-bye to this world and had his last glimpse of the sky here."

Widgeon shuddered and made as if to draw back from the big iron-studded door that had by this time been opened for them.

"No, come in," laughed Bratz. "You're quite safe here with me, and I promise you you shall go out again when I do. Just follow me and don't talk. What you'll hear you won't understand, unless, of course, some rifles happen to go off and then you'll know that justice has been done upon some of the enemies of my country."

So, with a very dry mouth and with legs that shook under him, Widgeon was taken to a large, sparsely-furnished room, where Bratz at once seated himself at a long table and prepared to go through a number of papers which had been handed to him. Widgeon was given a chair and sat behind the Dictator.

Then for an hour discussions took place between Bratz and various officers of the prison who came before him. Sometimes the conversations were very short, with only a few words being spoken; at other times they were much longer, but they nearly all ended, as Widgeon saw, in Bratz scrawling his signature in big letters upon a paper which some particular officer had handed to him.

At last the conferences were over, and then Widgeon was introduced to a tall, dark man who had been in the room all the time, and whom he thought must be a person of some importance because he had been the only person, besides himself and the general, who had been seated. Also, the general appeared to ask this man's opinion many times.

"This is Captain Ruben, the Chief of my Secret Police, Professor," smiled Bratz in making the introduction, "and nearly as many people have tried to assassinate him as they have me. He does not speak English, but he understands a little, so if you would like to ask him any questions about Cyrania, I will translate his answers for you." He looked amused. "Incidentally, it is he who is mainly responsible for keeping this prison so nice and full for me."

Widgeon had several times noticed the man he now knew to be the Chief or the Secret Police staring very hard at him, and had felt chilled by the expression upon his stern, impassive face. So he shook his head. "No, thank you, I don't want to ask him any questions, and I shall be glad to get out of this prison as quickly as I can. I remember now, I've heard some dreadful tales about it in England." He heaved a big sigh. "Shall you be long now?"

"No, I'm almost ready," replied Bratz with a half-smile at the Captain. "I only came up to sign those papers, but they were very important and could only be signed by me." He spoke with studied carelessness. "They were death warrants, you see."

Widgeon felt his blood run cold. "Death warrants!" he gasped. "But you don't really mean it, do you?"

"Mean it!" exclaimed Bratz with a heavy frown. "Of course I mean it! There's not a man among those I've sentenced who doesn't richly deserve to die. They are all either traitors, assassins or spies, and a lot of them are all three." Then, seeing the horrified expression upon Widgeon's face, he rose quickly from his chair. "Here, you just come along with me, and I'll show them to you. They'll be having their last bit of fresh air by now," and Widgeon, hypnotised by his imperious manner, followed shakily after him into the passage, with Captain Ruben bringing up the rear.

The General led them to a big window, in another room, which overlooked a small courtyard about five and twenty feet below. In the yard a number of men were standing about and talking together behind a high steel grille. In front of the grille were a few others.

"There they are," announced Bratz, "as suitable a mob of candidates for kingdom come as you could find anywhere." He smiled a cold, grim smile. "They will all be among the elect in a few minutes. We don't waste time here."

"But—are—all—those men going to be shot?" stammered Widgeon, hardly able to articulate, his mouth had gone so dry.

"All those behind the grille," replied Bratz in matter-of-fact tones, "eleven of them." He looked at Widgeon with a mocking eye. "They'll all be lying together in a big grave, long before sunset this evening."

"Do they know it?" asked Widgeon from between white lips.

Bratz laughed coarsely. "Well, they'll be guessing it, for if it weren't so they know they wouldn't be all out there together." He shook his head. "We make sure that no one who leaves this prison can tell people outside whom else we have got here. So, all prisoners are kept apart until it is decided what shall be done with them."

"But it is terrible, it is terrible," murmured Widgeon, "to take all those lives!"

Bratz smiled the cold, contemptuous smile that Widgeon was now learning to hate so bitterly. "And, no doubt, in your opinion," he mocked, "it is I who ought to be shot instead! In fact you think I am a murderer! You do, don't you? I thought you would." Then suddenly he gripped Widgeon by the arm so tightly that the latter winced with the pain. "Look, look," he went on sternly, "see that little man there, the one with the long white moustache! He looks an inoffensive little gentleman, doesn't he? But he isn't, for only a little while ago he tried to assassinate friend Ruben here and shot his chauffeur instead. And the man he is talking to is just as bad. He's an aristocrat and a scholar, if you like, but for all that he wasn't above knifing in cold blood, one of our men who had been sent to follow him. And he's one of the most dangerous plotters, too, that we have in all Cyrania!"

Widgeon stared, fascinated, with his heart beating like a piston. Then, all in the flash of a second, his eyes seemed to be bulging from their sockets and he drew in a deep gasp. Then he asked tremblingly, "And is that man leaning against the wall going to be shot, too, that one who is smiling and smoking a cigarette?"

Bratz looked in the direction he was pointing "No, you great ninny!" he scoffed. "Can't you see he's this side of the grille?" His voice dropped to mocking tones again. "That gentleman, Professor, is one of the best Secret Service agents we've got and he must have brought a score and more of men before the firing squad in his time. He's just succeeded in getting for us that man who's standing alone there with one arm in a sling. For six months they were bosom friends in England, but he decoyed him over here and then knocked him senseless—that's how he got the broken arm—within two minutes of their crossing the frontier. Oh, but he had to do it, for the man had suddenly become suspicious and had started to show fight." He nodded. "Yes, we've been wanting that fellow badly for a long time. He was doing us a lot of harm abroad."

A black mist had risen before Widgeon's eyes and he remembered nothing more until he found himself being driven back in the General's car. His heart was filled with a dreadful bitterness, for, in the treacherous decoyer of the man with the broken arm, he had recognised no less a personage than the eloquent Monsieur Chataigne of the 'Brotherhood of Peace.'

The poor little conchologist felt he could have wept tears of blood.


The days passed, and exactly a week after he had been to the Countess's house Brendon managed to see her again. Captain Ruben and his wife were again visiting the opera and Brendon was free, as before.

But this time Marie herself met him in the church and he found her in great distress, so much so that she forgot to bandage his eyes until it was too late, and he saw her turn one of the stones in the wall of the vaults to disclose the secret stairway. But for quite a long time she continued to hold his hand to guide him before she realised it was not necessary. Then he did not want to let her hand go, but she pulled it away sharply.

"No, no, don't worry me," she said wearily. "I'm very troubled, and I'll tell you about it in a minute."

When they were in her room and the door closed and the curtains pulled across it, she burst out, "Oh, Mr. Brendon, something terrible has happened. Sister Monica was knocked down in the street last night, it is made out by an unknown motor car, and killed instantly!"

She had to stop speaking to choke back her sobs, and, with all the sympathy he could put in his voice, Brendon exclaimed: "Oh, I'm so sorry, but what a dreadful accident!"

"It wasn't an accident!" she snapped. "It was sheer, wilful murder! Her body was found in a road where she was not likely to have gone. She was drugged, too, at the time she was killed, and Father Rone here, who was a doctor before he became a priest"—she was so overcome that she could hardly speak—"says something had been done to one of her wrists when she was alive. It was bruised and dislocated and he believes"—she held herself in with a great effort—"she was tortured and drugged before she was deliberately murdered."

And then, haltingly, she told him the whole story. It appeared the sister had gone out the previous afternoon upon one of her usual errands of mercy but had not returned home, as she should have done, soon after dusk had fallen. The hours going by, there had been some anxiety at the convent and they had sent out to enquire at the house where they knew she was going. But she had left there, they were told, before seven o'clock.

Then in the middle of the night the convent had been roused by a police ambulance bringing in the body, with the information that it had been picked up in a street on the other side of the city. No one had been an eyewitness of the fatality, they said, but they knew where the sister belonged because of her order.

"And the body was quite warm when it was brought home," choked Marie, "so she could only have been dead a few minutes. Her skull was fractured and she must have been killed instantly."

"But what do you think had happened?" asked Brendon. "Why should anyone have injured her?"

"They would want to find out if she knew any of my poor husband's secrets," replied Marie tearfully. "Of course they had heard that before she became a Sister of Mercy she had been for more than twenty years in the family. She was my husband's nurse when he was a boy."

"But they wouldn't have been able to get anything out of her!" queried Brendon.

Marie shook her head. "No, she knew nothing"—she steadied her voice painfully—"but they must have gone to dreadful lengths to find out." She shuddered. "Oh, I must get out of this country somehow. It will be my turn next!"

But she dried her tears and then they began feverishly to discuss ways and means for the escape of them both. Brendon was for taking the captain's car one night and, trusting to the immunity its badge would give its passengers, to journey boldly to near the frontier and then risk everything in getting across.

"But the frontiers are so closely guarded," Marie said despondently, "and, besides that, we mightn't get many miles from Marleck without the car being held up at one of the towns we should have to pass through. All night travelling near any of the frontiers is regarded as suspicious now, and we should want more than a pass from Captain Ruben to be allowed to go on." She shook her head. "Remember, the captain has many enemies in the army and among the high Government officials, and for anything he does his authority has always to be backed by General Bratz. He is hated in some circles, because he is supposed to have so much influence over that dreadful man."

They chatted on confidingly, the realisation of their common danger having, seemingly, provoked an intimacy that would otherwise have taken many meetings to achieve. Brendon was thrilled, again and again, with the thought that they were alone in the big silent house, in the semi-darkness of that little room, and that when she bent forward, as she often did to speak almost in a whisper, they were so close to each other that he could, every time, smell the perfume of her hair. He could not take his eyes off her, and the risks he had run in coming there he counted nothing against the ecstasy of being in her presence.

When, finally, she rose and intimated that it was time that he should go, he took her hand and tried to draw her to him, as much in sympathy for her in her troubles, he wished to make out by the compassion in his face, as from any other feelings.

But she resisted him gently. "No, no, Mr. Brendon," she said, "not yet, please. I don't know you well enough for one thing, and for another I feel much too distressed to think of things like that now. So please don't try to take advantage of the grief I am in."

"But let me kiss you once," pleaded Brendon, "only once!"

"No, not once," she replied firmly. She shook her head with a friendly little smile. "If you took one I know you would take more, and although I am sure it is Fate which has brought us together like this, I am not ready yet. Good-night and don't be long before you come to see me again." She shivered. "But I am very worried tonight. I feel as if someone were walking over my grave."

And, had she only known it, she had good cause for being worried, for she had been very much in the Dictators thoughts lately and, as she had guessed, it had been he who had been responsible for Sister Monica's injuries and death.

Now it was Bratz's rule of life never to trust anyone completely, and not even the Chief of the Secret Police was always entirely in his master's confidence. So, knowing that the Countess and the captain's wife were friends, and having been notified by one of his private spies that Marie had been visiting the captain's house only a few days previously, he had said nothing to Ruben of what he had been doing and what he was intending to do.

Quite certain that for a long time the Countess had been constantly in touch with the French Intelligence Department and that, also, she was in the possession of valuable secrets which she had learnt from her late husband, he had at last determined to put a stop to her activities and, in one way or another, attempt to wrest from her all she knew.

But he was well aware that it would be very bad policy if he openly laid hands upon her. There were many old friends of her late husband in the army and it would be in the highest degree unwise to offend them. Apart from that, the Countess was most popular in the best social circles of Cyrania, and, yet again, her beauty and the tragic circumstances of her husband's violent death when she had been only a two months' bride, had greatly interested the general public in her and, in a way, had quite endeared her to them.

It is true the dictator was afraid of no one, as was proved by the relentless way in which he had hacked himself to power, but he had become a diplomatist as well as a fighter and had long since learnt that it was often far easier to avoid difficult situations, than to let them first eventuate and then overcome them.

So he was planning now that the beautiful Countess should disappear and yet in such a manner that there should be no evidence she had not gone entirely of her own accord. He, General Bratz, would cover his tracks after each step he made.

In pursuit of this resolve then, at the very moment when Marie was bidding Brendon good-bye that night, when she had been so distressed about the death of Sister Monica, General Bratz was interviewing a rough-looking man in one of the underground chambers of Hoon Castle. The man had come by appointment at a specified hour and the dictator had himself let him in through the little postern gate overlooking the Viber River, about a hundred feet below. This gate was used only by Bratz himself and, indeed, it was supposed not to have been opened for many years.

"And you had no difficulty in finding the entrance to the passage?" asked Bratz.

"None whatever, Your Excellency," replied the man. "The instructions you gave me were quite sufficient, and it opened into the house, as you said it would, behind the Altar of the private chapel." He shook his head. "But no one would have found it if he had not been told, for it was cunningly hidden."

Bratz nodded to himself in satisfaction. So Sister Monica had not deceived them there and, under torture, in disclosing the existence of the passage, had without doubt told them all she could. She had not lied when she said she knew no other secrets of the Countess's life and could not tell them who the man was she had led through the passage that night!

"And did you go into any other part of the house?" he asked.

The man shook his head. "Not beyond the chapel door. I heard voices and your instructions were that I was to run no risks."

"Quite so," nodded Bratz, "and now this is what you are to do tomorrow night. Listen most carefully. The Countess will go as usual to the Service of the Last Prayers, but you are to be in the church well before nine o'clock to make certain that she comes. She will enter the church by way of the public door. Then, when you have seen her and the service has begun, you are to get into her house, as before, through that passage. In the chapel, you will find one of her maids waiting for you and——"

"What's her name?" asked the man. "I'd better know."

"Elsa—she's middle-aged and the cook," replied Bratz. "No, you needn't worry about her at all. She is being well paid, as you are, and is quite reliable."

"Then why can't she let me into the house so that I don't have to go through that passage?" asked the man. "There is the chance that someone connected with the church may see me go down below and know I have no business there. I had to do a lot of dodging this morning."

"But it should be much easier at night," said Bratz, "as there will be no cleaners about and the verger will be acting as acolyte." He shook his head. "No, the woman can't admit you in the ordinary way, as there are two other maids in the house and she says she can never be certain where they'll be. It is our finding out about this passage that makes everything so easy."

He went on. "Then you will be hidden somewhere out of sight, and will hear the Countess come home and the house locked up. Then this woman is going to try to drug them all. She is certain she can do it with the other servants, but not quite so certain with the Countess. However, the Countess generally orders coffee in her boudoir when she comes in and, if she does tonight it will be doctored with a strong and quick-acting sleeping tablet. If she doesn't take it, then you and the maid will have to burst suddenly into the room, before she goes upstairs, and gag her before she can cry out. But mind"—and his scowl was a menacing one—"you are not to injure her in any way. She is not to be bruised or hurt. You understand that?"

"Yes, your Excellency," replied the man. He hesitated. "But if she struggles? She looks a girl of spirit to me and——"

"This Elsa woman will throw a blanket over her," frowned Bratz, "and she should not bruise through the blanket. At any rate, when you have got her, in one way or the other, you are to carry her at once to her car—you will find it in the garage, and the garage door will not be locked—and wait in there until after eleven, when the road lights in front of the house will be dimmed. Then you are to drive off as quickly as possible, but you are to start upon your journey in any direction other than as if you are coming here." He regarded him intently. "And the woman will remain with you all the time."

The man raised his eyebrows. "And am I to bring the woman here, too?"

"Yes, certainly," replied Bratz, "but when you have brought the Countess to me you will drive the woman to a place I will tell you of later and leave her and the car there. There will be a bicycle ready for you to get back to the city." He frowned as if disliking to furnish any explanation to an underling. "We want to give everyone the impression that the Countess has left the house of her own accord and has brought the servant away with her. So there will be luggage for both of them to bring, as well."

"Very good, your Excellency," nodded the man, "everything shall be done as you wish."

"Oh, one thing more!" said Bratz and there was an unpleasant glitter in his eyes. "You are to take nothing from the house for yourself. You are not to touch a single thing and any jewels the Countess is wearing you are to leave upon her. Remember, the woman has orders to watch you like a hawk."

"But it will be quite unnecessary, your Excellency," said the man stoutly. "You are paying me generously enough to make me not want anything more. You can trust me," and without another word between them, the man was shown out of the castle in the way he had come.

But that was not the only interview the Dictator had that night, for, less than an hour later, he let in another man through the postern gate. This second visitor was of quite a different type and, rather on the small side but very wiry-looking and with well-tanned face and hands, he showed all signs of living an outdoor life. He was Bratz's game-keeper upon a little shooting estate about six or seven miles from the castle and, with his small cunning eyes set close together, he was not unlike in expression to the stoats and weasels upon whom it was his mission to wage unceasing war.

The interview was not a long one but, although it took place in the under-ground chamber far from any listening ears, it was carried on in whispers. Bratz spoke slowly and emphatically so that there could be no mistake about what he said and the small man nodded many times to make quite certain that he understood.

When he was finally let out through the postern gate he carried away with him not only his instructions, but also a small bottle of the best wine in the castle. Bratz had not been plotting and scheming for so long that he had failed to learn how best to sum up a man's character, and how, apart from bigger considerations, to bind him to himself by little trivial gifts which, however, were wont to loom big in the eyes of the one who received them.

This uncouth and uneducated little gamekeeper, whose wages would never allow him to indulge in expensive tastes, in the matter of wines was cursed with the palate of a connoisseur, and a bottle of rare vintage was a gift finer than anything else that could be given him.

With the departure of his second and last visitor, Bratz made his way, with the unlocking of several doors, to a distant part of the castle high among its mighty walls. It was reached by a narrow winding staircase and contained three rooms which had participated in the modernisation of the castle which Bratz had designed when it had first fallen into his hands. The electric lighting had been extended to the rooms, water had been laid on and a comfortable bathroom installed.

At one time he had intended the suite for his own use, but a fear of fire had suddenly taken possession of him and he had changed his mind. The walls were all oak-panelled and the wood of centuries was so dry that he thought a spark might kindle it. Added to that the deeply embrasured windows in the thick walls were so narrow and let in such a little light that the effect upon him had been depressing.

He inspected the rooms now and came to the conclusion that if the Countess were held a prisoner there, she could not complain on the score of hardship, and yet their loneliness would weaken her courage and, in the end, surely make her inclined to be more amenable to his wishes. He was not particularly in love with her, any more than he had been with the many other women with whom he had, from time to time, amused himself in his years of power; but he could not be wholly unaffected by her beauty, and it was in his mind that she would be an agreeable plaything if, finally, he had to discard one of his principles and marry her.

So, the next morning, he told the cold-faced serving-woman that she must get the rooms ready for a visitor and that she was to be in sole charge of the newcomer while she was held a prisoner.

Hygar made no comment. She was not interested. Her sex was dead within her and her service to her master was just a thing of habit. She would always be faithful to him because she would never know any temptation that would incline her to be otherwise.

The day seemed to pass without much unusual happening for all the puppets upon whose strings the Dictator was pulling.

The Countess did not go farther than the garden of her house, thinking a little about herself and a lot about Brendon, and her cook, who was to betray her, prepared the meals as efficiently as she always did, carrying about her, however, three good-sized dark tablets, all of which, if taken by one single person, would have given sleep from which there would have been no awakening.

As for the men, the gamekeeper went about his usual work of setting traps for vermin, and the rough-looking man, who later was to carry the warm and unconscious body of Marie to her car, partook of many draughts of cheap wine and lazed about all day, smoking innumerable strong cigarettes.

But when night fell the strings of the puppets were pulled hard and the puppets began to jerk and oscillate violently. The gamekeeper started to move first, and began walking towards the castle; the second man tiptoed furtively into the church of the Holy Martyrs, crossing himself conventionally with the holy water as he entered; Marie, Countess of Arden knelt to her prayers and the Countess's maid began making coffee with the dark tablets close to her hand.

At a quarter past eleven General Bratz gave orders that all his servants were to retire at once to their rooms, an order that did not cause very much discussion among them, as it had been given many times before, and they all knew it implied that their master was receiving visitors, whose identity he did not want to become known.

Midnight had not long sounded when a motor car drove up to the castle gates and Bratz, with the gamekeeper and Hygar standing just behind him, admitted it himself.

"All right?" he whispered to the driver.

"Quite all right. Your Excellency," replied the man. "Everything went off like clockwork and the young lady gave us no trouble. Her woman drugged her and she went off at once and is still fast asleep."

The body of the unconscious Countess was lifted from the car and the gaunt serving-maid picked her up like a little child and carried her into the castle. Then Bratz indicated the gamekeeper to the kidnapper of the Countess.

"This man will direct you where you are to go," he said sharply, "and you will drop the woman at his cottage. Then he will show you where the car is to be driven over the cliff into the river, and after that he'll give you the bicycle to get back home. You can come to see me tomorrow in the city, and I'll give you the money."

He put his head in the window of the car and spoke to the woman. "You shall be fetched tomorrow and taken to another place where no one will ever recognise you. You shall be paid then." He nodded. "Thank you. You have managed very nicely."

The car was driven away with the gamekeeper occupying the back seat by himself. He seemed nervous and uneasy and kept on licking his lips, as if his mouth were very dry. His hand went many times to a small hard object in one of his pockets. But really, he should have been in good spirits for, tucked tightly under his jacket, which was buttoned up to his chin, he was carrying away yet another small bottle of that wine which he appreciated so much.

Not a word was spoken until they had gone about six miles. Then the gamekeeper said sharply, "Turn to the right now and go slowly. The going'll be very rough," and at once as the car was turned it plunged into a track running through a dense wood of tall trees.

The night was pitch dark and the track was winding and very narrow, so that the lights of the car never shone much more than fifty yards ahead. The foliage of the trees above them was so thick that it formed a sort of arch overhead. The ground began to rise gently.

The woman shivered. "Have we much farther to go?" she asked, speaking now for the first time since she had left the city. "This wood frightens me and I feel cold."

"There's nothing to be frightened of," laughed the gamekeeper, "and we've a very little while to go now. In five minutes you'll be at my cottage and the wife will be dishing up a nice hot meal. There'll be a fire, too. It's always chilly in these woods at night."

Then, a few minutes later, with the track now straightening out and beginning to run down hill, he suddenly called out to the driver to stop and, when the car was stationary, he at once jumped out.

"Get going again, but put out your lights," he ordered. "There are two houses not a couple of hundred yards on the left and they mustn't see us go by. Shut off your engine, too, and free-wheel. Let her go. The road's straight now, right down to my cottage, and you can't go wrong. I'll run on in front and flash my torch," and off he ran at a smart pace trailing the light of a small torch behind him so that it shone only upon the ground.

All that the occupants of the car were now able to see was about ten yards of the track, beginning a sharp descent.

The driver did as he had been ordered and shut off both the lights and the engine. The car gathered pace and it was as much as the running gamekeeper could do to keep ahead. Then, suddenly, his torch went out.

A moment's profound darkness followed, and then the car lights were switched on in panic. Then, in the fraction of the second came a hoarse cry from the driver and a piercing shriek from the woman. They were almost on the brink or a tall cliff and could see the dark and swirling waters of a river fifty feet below!

The driver crashed on his brakes with a fierce oath but it was too late and the bullet in his head from the gamekeeper's pistol was not needed.

Over went the car and in two seconds the waters had closed over it.

The gamekeeper was trembling in every limb but he threw himself prone by the cliff edge and flashed his torch down. There was no sign of the car anywhere. The river bed had taken it to its deep bosom and there it would remain to rot and rust, with its ghastly human freight to become, in due course of time, the food of the Viber fishes.

The gamekeeper rose to his feet with his teeth chattering. He was not cold and it was his mission in life to have daily dealings with death. But stoats and weasels had not souls, he told himself, and now this place was haunted.

He wiped over his clammy forehead with the sleeve of his jacket and at an ambling run started for his cottage which, he rejoiced now, was a mile and more from the river.

He had no wife—he had lied to the woman—and lived all alone, so when at length he reached his cottage it was in complete darkness. But he proceeded with great haste to light the one lamp that he possessed, because the darkness was disconcerting to him. Besides, he was thinking now of the bottle of wine his master had given him and he told himself he was in bad need of some stimulant.

So when he had drawn the cork and the delightful aroma had come up into his nostrils, instead of sipping the wine almost drop by drop, as he always did he now put the neck of the bottle to his lips and tipping the bottle up drained its contents in one long, deep, savage draught.

"Now that was a fool thing to do," he muttered scowlingly, as he jerked the empty bottle out through the open window. "I've lost all the pleasure of drinking it!" He nodded. "Still, I wanted something quick after this business tonight."

He proceeded next to get his supper ready and taking the half of a cold pheasant and some bread out of a cupboard, placed them upon the table. Then, in reaching up for a plate of the shelf, he found the exertion had made him giddy and he sat down in the only chair the room possessed and passed his hand across his forehead.

Then a dreadful feeling of illness began to creep over him and he found he wanted to keep on taking deep breaths. He began to feel very sleepy, too, and his eyes had become extraordinarily heavy.

He tottered over to his bed and threw himself down. A minute, two minutes, five minutes passed, and his breathing became each moment more difficult, although he did not notice it so much, as he was now rapidly approaching a state of unconsciousness.

But it was destined he should not pass into oblivion quite so peacefully, for suddenly into his dulled brain flashed a dreadful thought and, forcing himself up on one elbow, he moaned brokenly, "God! but I've been poisoned! Poison had been put into that wine!"

For a few seconds he was galvanized into activity by his terror and, thrusting a finger into his throat, tried to make himself sick. But the effort was too much for him and he sank back exhausted upon the bed. Then the end came quickly. He could get his breath no more, he ceased to struggle and soon there was no longer any movement upon the bed.

The gamekeeper was now asleep, as peaceful and beyond all cares, as were his two victims upon that other bed, the bed of the swirling river.

So thus in his cunning had the Dictator covered all his tracks. Lives were as nothing to him in his obsession to make his country feared and powerful. What matter if three souls more were now crying to heaven for vengeance upon him? Their cries did not disturb him and through all that night he slept the fabled deep, untroubled sleep of the good and virtuous.

He did not even dream of Marie although his last thought had been of her and how pleasing she had been to look upon, as he had seen her lying upon that bed in those lonely locked-up rooms just below the battlements or the castle. He had come away when Hygar had started to undress her.


CHAPTER X. THE PRISONER IN THE CASTLE

The next morning Bratz awoke feeling very irritable. He felt twinges in one of his knee joints, and was afraid it portended another attack of his dreaded enemy—gout. When he went into breakfast Hygar handed him a small key tied to a short length of white silk ribbon with torn ends.

"Found it on the lady when I undressed her," she remarked, with no interest. "It was under her stocking above her knee. I had to tear it to get it off. It was tight."

"O-oh!" exclaimed Bratz, with a startled expression, as he took the key from her and examined it closely. Then he asked frowningly, "Did it look as if she carried it there always?"

The woman nodded. "Yes, the ribbon had pressed into her thigh all round."

"And is the lady awake?" asked Bratz.

"Yes, and up and dressed and had her breakfast long ago."

"Did she ask you any questions?"

"No, she said nothing but thank you, and it looked as if it was going to be a fine day."

Bratz dismissed her and when she had left the room a highly gratified smile spread over his face. "Exactly," he nodded. "And this is probably the key of the hiding place where she's got the papers I want." He nodded again. "Yes, it was as well I acted as I did. It was the only way."

He regarded the key with interest, for it was of an unusual pattern. Not more than three-quarters of an inch in length, it was daintily silver-plated and possessed two wards, with a small gap between them.

"Hum!" he remarked meditatively, "this is an unusual key. I have never seen one like it before!"

After a hasty breakfast, he made his way to where the Countess was being kept a prisoner. He unlocked one door and proceeding along a short passage, unlocked another. Here, however, he knocked before entering.

"Come in," called out a musical voice.

The Countess was sitting before one at the windows with a book in her hand. She made no attempt to rise. She regarded him as if she were rather amused.

Bratz bowed politely. "Ah, making yourself quite at home, I see!" he exclaimed. He smiled in a seemingly friendly way. "Then you weren't frightened! Splendid, and I hope you slept well?"

"Quite well, thank you," replied Marie calmly, "and when I leave here I would like to know what the drug was that was put in my coffee. I often sleep very badly and will get some for myself."

Bratz seated himself in a chair opposite to her and came to the point at once—"Look here, your ladyship," he commenced briskly, "or Marie, if you don't mind me calling you that, I had to do this to you for it was the only way. I know quite well what you've been up to, and besides, I want that information which you alone can give me." He threw out his hands. "Of course, I didn't think it wise to arrest you openly and throw you, as I would have done anybody else, into the Klaffer Prison, for I didn't want to make more enemies than I have already." He inclined his head. "You understand that, don't you?"

"Of course," replied Marie airily. "You were afraid of my friends?"

Bratz shook his head. "Not exactly afraid, young lady, but it would have been unwise to anger them."

"And do you imagine," she said scornfully, "that they won't guess who's done it?"

Bratz smiled. "They may guess, but they'll have no certain knowledge and they won't fall out with me until they've got it. Which they never will," he added, "for everything was done secretly, and no traces were left behind." He nodded. "They'll just think you've gone away on your own, as you have done before." He shook his finger at her. "Don't forget that little trip you made a few weeks ago. You didn't deceive me. You went away disguised as a sister of mercy. You were recognised on the train at Berle."

"And what do you intend to do with me now?" asked Marie coolly, repressing the fear she felt.

Bratz was smiling more than ever. "Oh, just to keep you as my guest," he replied, "until you have told me certain things and then,"—he shrugged his shoulders—"as you will have probably made yourself most unpopular with your friends, I am hoping you will see the wisdom of making me your protector by accepting my hand in marriage." He spoke warmly and with evident sincerity. "You are a very beautiful woman, Countess, and, as your husband, I shall be a most fortunate man."

Marie ignored his suggestion. "I have no secrets to tell you," she said coldly. "I have told you that several times."

"But I have never believed you," laughed Bratz. He held her eyes with his own. "What about the hiding place that the key you carried in your stocking unlocks? No, no," he went on grinningly, in mock protestation, "the woman found the key. It was not I who put you to bed last night."

Seemingly Marie had not noticed the grin, for she remarked carelessly and as if the matter were of no concern. "I didn't suppose you had. My clothes were folded much too tidily for it to be the work of a man!"

Bratz felt another twinge in his knee and rose. "Well think it over, my dear," he said. "You're here for good if you don't tell, so you'd better give in gracefully."

He went out, and, snapping the door to behind him, walked noisily up the passage. Then he turned quickly and, tip-toeing very quietly to the door, bent down and listened intently. Marie was sobbing.

"Yes, she'll come round all right," he told himself, going off in earnest this time, "and there'll be no need for the irons to be put against those pretty feet." He nodded. "It'd be a shame to hurt anything about her."

Arriving in Marleck, he gave a curt order to one of his secretaries that the best locksmith in the city was to be fetched at once. Then he proceeded to interview the Chief of the Secret Police, who was waiting to see him.

Captain Ruben came in with his face as inscrutable as ever. "I carried out your orders, sir," he said, "and arrested Lieutenant Censen at his house last night"—he paused just a moment—"but he destroyed himself immediately afterwards, when sitting next to me in the car. As with that Frenchman, he had been holding a glass capsule of cyanide of potassium in his mouth."

The Dictator's face became distorted with rage. "Damnation!" he roared, "why the devil didn't you search him the instant you laid hands upon him?"

"He was handcuffed, sir, before he could move a finger," said the Captain calmly. "He had no chance to get to any of his pockets. I tell you he had got it in his month before he set eyes upon us. He must have put it there on chance when he heard our ring. He answered the door to us himself."

Bratz was biting his lips in his chagrin. "And just think then what we've missed!" he snarled. "He must have known we had good evidence of his guilt or he wouldn't have killed himself! He knew what we should get out of him!"

"Probably," agreed the Captain. He nodded. "But they all seem to have the idea now that a firing squad follows after every arrest and so they take a short cut to avoid anything more unpleasant before they are shot."

The Dictator calmed down. "But those capsules will make them more reckless and induce them to take greater risks. What are a few seconds' agony to them if they can shelve all other consequences?" He frowned heavily. "This is the fourth who has escaped us this way. There must be a concerted plan among them."

"I think so, too," agreed Ruben. "That Frenchman started it and they have copied it from him. Of course, it was known at once at the French Embassy that le Noir had taken prussic acid." He regarded the Dictator calmly. "And another thing, I have to tell you, sir. The Countess of Arden left her house last night and we do not know where she has gone."

Bratz made a well-acted gesture of intense annoyance. "And yet you had a watch set upon her!" he scoffed. "What good are your men?"

"As good as gold, sir," replied Ruben calmly, "but they cannot foresee everything. Her car shot out into the road at three minutes past eleven and my man who was watching the house had mounted his motorcycle within thirty seconds. But he had not gone fifty yards before be got a double puncture. Nails had been pushed into his tyres and they penetrated at once."

Bratz would have liked to have smiled, but he snapped unpleasantly. "Did she go away alone?"

"No, a man drove her, and she took one of her maids with her. The man was not her chauffeur. I have had enquiries made and he was at home all night. Another thing, the other two maids of the Countess believe they were drugged last night by the cook who went away with her ladyship. They were so sleepy that they had to go to bed immediately after supper and they slept well into the morning."

"Did the Countess take any luggage?" asked Bratz.

"Yes, her biggest suit case, and the cook took her suit case, too."

"Have these two maids communicated with the police?"

"No, they are afraid of offending their mistress. They say that when she went away once before she did not tell them beforehand, and they know she never likes her affairs talked about."

A short silence followed, and then Bratz said, "Well, leave the house and those maids alone now. We shall probably get news of the Countess in some other way." He nodded. "One thing, she can't get out of the country. The frontiers are being as closely watched as ever."

The Dictator's next visitor was the locksmith he had sent for, and he showed him he key. "Ever seen one like this before?" he asked.

"Yes, Your Excellency," replied the man at once. "I've made a few of them, but not many."

"And what kind of key is it?"

"It's a double key that opens an ordinary lock and, at the same time, releases a spring which is holding back a panel masking some secret hiding place."

"Explain. I don't understand," said Bratz with a frown.

"It is two keys in one, Your Excellency. When you turn it in some, probably, very ordinary-looking keyhole the upper wards open the door that you see before you, but the lower wards enable it to push upon some rod, one end of which is hidden in the woodwork of the door. Then the other end of the rod releases the spring that I have just told you about."

"And what sort of thing will the lock that this key fits be on?"

"Upon a cupboard or a cabinet, and I should say, from the size of the key, something not very big."

"And when I have turned the key and opened the door," asked Bratz, "will that secret panel fly open at the same time?"

"Oh, no, sir," smiled the locksmith. "You won't see anything unusual when you are looking into the cupboard or whatever it may be. The panel will still be in its proper place, but you'll know it's somewhere about and can be pushed, or pulled out."

"And could anyone who's not an expert find that panel?"

"Certainly," replied the man, "it can be found easy enough when you know it is there. It only means pressing your fingers about upon the woodwork until you feel something move." He pointed to the key. "Once find anything that key fits and the rest will be perfectly simple." Then, with his eyes still upon the key, he smiled knowing and added, "It belongs to a lady, of course. That's how the ladies always carry any particular key they must take great care of—upon a ribbon tied round their thigh under the top of their stocking."

"Well, you hold your tongue," snapped Bratz, in obvious annoyance at the man's last remark, "and don't mention to a single person about your having come here," and the locksmith left his presence, feeling he wanted to kick himself for having tried to be so clever.

Brendon heard about Marie's disappearance that same evening when he was having his meal. One of the maids told him, and her story was full of details that almost made the food he was eating choke him. She had picked up her information she explained by happening to have been in the vicinity of the telephone when her mistress had been speaking early that morning.

It appeared that Clodil and the Countess had arranged to go together to a flower-show that afternoon and the wife of the Chief of the Secret Police, driving her own car as she very often did, was to call for her friend at three o'clock.

But in the newspaper that morning Clodil had read that the judging of the roses was to take place at half past two, and so, soon after breakfast she had rang to find out if the Countess could manage to be ready an hour earlier.

Imagine then her surprise to learn that the Countess had suddenly gone away some time during the night, under most mysterious circumstances, and taken her cook with her.

Then the girl had heard a second conversation when Clodil had immediately rung up her husband and said that she was sure something terrible must have happened to her friend and that she had been drugged and taken away by force. She had said also that the two maids believed that they had been drugged, too, and that was why they had heard nothing in the night.

All this information Brendon absorbed with a dreadful feeling in his heart, and later, in his little room above the garage he gnashed his teeth savagely in his impotence. He knew he could do nothing, and yet—he could not remain idle. He must try somehow to learn more.

So directly darkness had fallen, chancing that the Captain would not want him again that night, he slipped out in his private clothes and made his way to the same telephone call-box he had been going to that night of the burglary in the Captain's house. He gave Marie's number, hoping against hope that it would be her voice that he would hear.

But no, for when he was told he had been put through and had duly dropped his coin in the box, he heard no voice at all. Of deliberate purpose he did not speak himself, not intending to ask any questions until he knew to whom he was talking.

Quite half a minute's silence followed, and then he became aware that someone was breathing heavily at the other end of the wire. So he shuffled his feet about to let whoever it was know that he was there and waited for someone to speak.

The ruse succeeded, for a gruff voice exclaimed, "Hullo! Hullo! Who's speaking?" But Brendon made no answer, and nothing more ensuing except more heavy breathing, he hung up the receiver and left the box.

One thing, at any rate, he had learnt. There was a strange man in Marie's house, and he could not be a friend of hers, as his way of dealing with a telephone call had been most suspicious.

And then Brendon made a resolution to get into the house at once, by the way of the passage under the church, and find out what was going on. He knew it was a foolish thing to do, and could not help Marie in any way, but he felt, somehow, that he must do it. The house drew him like a magnet.

So he made his way towards the Church of the Holy Martyrs, and preoccupied with his thoughts, for the first time since he had been engaged by the Chief of the Secret Police as his chauffeur, neglected the precautions he always took to prevent himself being recognised by anyone who had known him in Sarron.

The night was hot and sultry, and instead of keeping his cap down over his forehead, he tipped it back on the top of his head to get as much air as possible upon his face.

So it happened that, passing under a street light, he attracted the attention of a man who was standing just inside a doorway. At first the man regarded him idly, then he started violently and with difficulty restrained himself from whistling.

He had worked in one of the casting shops in the Sarron factory and had recognised Brendon. He followed stealthily after him.

All unconscious of what had happened, Brendon walked quickly on, and in a few minutes had disappeared through the door of the Church of the Holy Martyrs. The service of the Last Prayers had commenced a few minutes before.

The man waited just long enough to make sure Brendon was not coming out at once, and then turned off hastily to get a policeman. But, as it happened, he had not gone fifty yards before he met one, and he breathlessly imparted his startling news.

"Are you sure?" asked the policeman.

"Certain!" replied the man. "I used to see him every day when I worked in Sarron."

"Then you keep watch outside," ordered the policeman, "and I'll have help round in three minutes. If he comes out, follow, but for mercy's sake don't let him get out of your sight."

Now only a very few minutes before Brendon had gone into the telephone call-box, two men had presented themselves at the back door of the Countess's house and stated to the frightened maids and to the mother of one of them who was there to keep them company, that they were officers from police headquarters.

One of the two kept himself very much in the background, with his head buried deep in a big cap, while the other, who appeared to be the leader, flourished a warrant and announced that they had come with orders to search the house.

The frightened women were then shepherded into the kitchen and the door locked upon them. They were told to remain there until the search was concluded, when they would be released again.

Then the man who had hitherto not spoken immediately took command. It was the Dictator himself, for he considered the papers he expected to find to be of such importance that he had come to look for them himself. The man with him, called Panner, was one of his most trusted agents, but he, as with all persons Bratz employed, had been taken only partly into his master's confidence, and knew nothing about the secret passage leading from the church. He knew, however, that they had come to search for some papers the Countess had hidden and that they would most likely be found either in her boudoir or her bedroom.

Both had got electric torches and were armed, as a matter of routine, with automatic pistols.

"We won't switch on any more lights than can be helped," said Bratz, "for I don't want it to be noticed outside. First, I'm going to look at the chapel and you can wait outside."

So, flashing his torch to find the way, the chapel was soon located, and Bratz proceeded to make a quick examination of the wall behind the altar. But although he knew from the information extracted from Sister Monica that there was a door there, he could see no sign of it, and as the matter was of no importance at the moment, he very quickly gave up looking for it.

Referring to a roughly drawn plan of the house, which Bratz examined by the light of his torch, they quickly made their way to the boudoir of the Countess. It was one of about half a dozen rooms which opened into the long lounge hall and where the only telephone in the house was installed.

"We'll have to switch on the light here," said Bratz, "but it'll not be seen in the street as this window looks out into the garden; besides, that curtain's thick enough for anything."

They had just switched on the light and were beginning to look round when the telephone bell upon the desk rang. It was Brendon ringing from the call office, and the result we already know.

"Exactly!" nodded Bratz with a grim smile, when he had at length put back the receiver. "It was someone who wanted to find out if her ladyship had returned and was not wanting his identity to become known to anyone else." He nodded again. "Very suspicious."

But a moment later his face lighted up and he pointed to a beautiful old Louis Quatorze Buhl cabinet, about four feet high and very solid, standing against the wall.

"That may be the very thing!" he exclaimed as he felt in his pocket for the key. "Look how thick the sides are!"

"But there are two of them, Your Excellency," said Panner, pointing to a second cabinet by the opposite wall.

"Well, it'll be one of them," said Bratz confidently, and he knelt down and inserted the mysterious key in the first cabinet.

To his great delight the key fitted perfectly, but, rather to his disappointment, he found the cabinet was not locked. It contained a quantity of beautiful Sevres china and was filled to capacity.

"We must empty it, first," he said, and the pieces of china were quickly taken out. Then he turned the key many times, hoping for a click somewhere, and, as he had been directed by the locksmith, pressed upon the woodwork in all directions.

But nothing happened; nothing moved, and their tappings gave forth no hollow sounds. So their attention was immediately turned to the other cabinet. This one contained a number of antique vases and jars, and, as with the first cabinet, the door was not locked. But the key again fitted exactly. Everything was quickly bundled out and the woodwork of the cabinet dealt with after the same fashion as that of the other. But still nothing rewarded them and Bratz began to look troubled.

"But the hiding place must be here," he frowned, "for if not what sense was there in her carrying this key about with her, so secretly, all the time, when she has left the door unlocked?"

His companion made no comment, but, suddenly, a puzzled look came into his face. He knelt down and, thrusting his head and shoulders bodily in the cabinet, began to sniff hard. Then he stood up again and asked quickly, "Does her ladyship by any chance use perfume?"

"Yes," grunted Bratz remembering with a pleasurable thrill the moment when he had helped to lift the warm and supple body of the Countess from the car the previous night. "Of course she does! What woman of her class does not?"

"Then she's been here recently," exclaimed the man triumphantly, "very recently, and she's left something with perfume upon it behind her." He pointed to a corner of the inside of the cabinet above the one dividing shelf. "Just bend down in there, sir, and you'll smell it quite plainly."

In the meantime Brendon had tip-toed into the last pew of the church of the Holy Martyrs and kneeling down at the far end had covered his face with his hands. He saw that the verger of the church, who was kneeling a few pews ahead on the other side of the aisle, had noted his entrance and had moreover, kept his head turned in his direction.

He had, therefore, judged it wise to remain kneeling much longer than agreed with his impatience, watching the verger all the time, through his fingers. But the moment the verger seemed to have lost interest in him and turned his eyes again towards the altar, he slipped like a shadow out of the pew and, with his body bent double, crept to the little door which led to the chamber below.

Then for the first time, he realised that he had not brought a torch with him and he scowled in vexation, but happily he had some matches and he told himself confidently he could make them do.

Striking match after match, he made his way down the little staircase and across to the pillar which concealed the secret door. He had expected to have trouble there, but by good fortune he turned the right stone at once, and in a few seconds was traversing the passage leading to the Countess's house.

At length, reaching the door in the wall behind the altar, he opened it noiselessly and passed into the chapel. Everything there was pitch dark, too, and he had to strike more matches to cross to the door leading to the house. He left the secret door open in case he should have to make a quick retreat.

Creeping into the passage, he could hear no sound anywhere, and by the light of his matches made speedy progress into the house. Once in the hall, however, he heard voices and, at the far end, could see light coming from the doorway of the room in which he had sat those two nights with Marie. The rest of the hall was in darkness.

With his jaw set, and determined at all costs to find out what was going on he tip-toed boldly forward. The door of the boudoir was ajar, and craning his neck forward he got an uninterrupted view of part of the room.

And, as it happened, that part was quite sufficient, for he saw two men there, both kneeling down before the Buhl cabinet and with the head and shoulders of one of them inside.

He had arrived upon the scene just at the moment when the dictator was verifying his companion's statement that he could smell perfume.

Then, as Brendon watched, Bratz withdrew his head and remarked sharply, "Yes, you're quite right. I can smell it plainly, and it is the same kind of scent that she uses." He nodded. "And that means, as you say that she's been here lately."

"And what is more natural, sir?" asked the other deferentially. "If she has hidden any papers here, of course, she will want to look from time to time to make sure that nobody has taken them. Then——"

But Bratz had suddenly snapped his fingers exultingly. "I see where we've been going wrong!" he exclaimed. "We ought to have taken out the shelf first," and he laid his hands upon the shelf and gave it a vigorous tug.

The shelf, however, was not to be removed by any violence, and it was not until they had made many efforts that they found the way of getting it out. Then it came away quite easily.

"Now," exclaimed Bratz, "flash your torch with mine and well see if there's the slightest movement anywhere." Then after he had once again turned the key in the lock, almost at the first manipulation of the woodwork near where they had smelt the perfume, the whole side of the cabinet swung open and disclosed a high but shallow cavity. With the swinging forward of the side, out fell a big duster and a sheaf of papers tied together with a length of string. The smell of the perfume was now quite strong.

"There we are!" exclaimed Bratz's companion delightedly. "And that duster was pushed in to keep the papers from moving about if the cabinet were shaken." He whisked up the duster and a tiny square of cambric fell out of its folds. "Oh, and here's where the scent came from!" he cried. "This handkerchief must have got caught in the duster by accident."

But Bratz had no thoughts for the duster or the handkerchief. He was all eyes for the sheaf of papers, and with flushed face he snatched it up.

"Letters," he murmured gloatingly, "letters and sealed papers! Perhaps lists of names and the whole hornet's nest of traitors may be——" but he felt a rush of air, the sheaf of papers was snatched out of his hands and he just glimpsed part of a fierce face under a low-pulled cap and a jacket buttoned up to the chin, when—a violent blow struck him between his eyes and he crashed back on to the settee behind him.

But the settee had broken his fall and he was not much hurt, and his senses did not leave him. "Shoot him," he roared to his companion, "shoot him in the legs," and Panner, behind him, tugged viciously at his hip pocket to get at his pistol.

But Brendon had darted like an arrow to the doorway, making, upon his way, a lightning snatch at the switch. Immediately the room was plunged into darkness.

Brendon gained the hall in the fraction of a second and banged the door behind him. Then—his blood almost froze in consternation.

In the excitement of so dramatically balking the thieves at the supreme moment when they were in the very act of getting possession of some compromising papers which Marie had been secretly guarding—he had forgotten one thing.

The hall was in profound darkness, and with a dreadful pang, he realised that all the passages he would have to traverse to regain the secret door behind the Altar would be in the same condition, and he did not know his way well enough to run without a light.

So the peril of the situation was apparent. He would have to strike match after match to see the way, as a naked flame would blow out instantly he started to run! And then what hope of escaping was there for him with the two men after him, both flashing electric torches, and at least one of them armed?

But his predicament did not for one second unnerve him, and striking the first match to get his bearings, he shot like a stone from a catapult up the hall. He covered more than half of its length without mishap and then he struck a small occasional table with his thigh and it went over with a resounding crash. Fortunately the blow was a glancing one, and he was not much hurt but it sent him flying to the carpet.

In his fall, his hand came in contact with a heavy brass inkstand, and he clutched it to him instinctively as he rose to his feet. It was a weapon of some kind, anyhow!

Breathing heavily and with his heart going like a piston, he struck another match and then sprang forward again. There were about ten yards before him and then he would turn a corner and be out of the hall. He heard the boudoir door dragged open noisily and then, just as he was slackening up so that he should not collide with any wall, the flash of a torch behind him picked him up and there was the crack of a pistol and a crash of broken glass.

The bullet had missed him and broken a vase upon a shelf overhead.

He was round the corner before the pistol could be fired again, and then for the moment his task was easier. He was running along a passage and his hand upon the wall would guide him until he came to the jamb of the next doorway.

But he could hear his pursuers pounding away behind him with one of them urging the other on.

"See, see, that's another match he's struck," he heard the panting voice shout, "and he'll be making for the chapel! There's a door behind the Altar there and he can escape into the chamber by the vaults of the Holy Martyrs Church. Shoot him in the legs if you can. I want him badly."

Turning the second corner, at all risks Brendon had to strike a third match. He had banged heavily into the wall and the violence of the impact made him feel faint. His nose was bleeding and the blood was dripping down his coat. He knew he could not run much further but, by the light of the last match, he was able to reach, unseen, the door of the chapel, the turnings in the passage having just kept him beyond the light of the torches flashing behind.

Once inside the chapel, however, he realised it was quite hopeless to expect to cover its entire length to the Altar without being picked up by the lights, and then he knew he would be an easy target for the pistol.

So he prepared to flatten himself against the wall behind the chapel door, hoping against hope that in their mad rush his pursuers would pass him by. Then, just as their flashing lights warned him they were about to enter the chapel, he hurled his heavy inkstand, which he had retained in his hand, with all his might towards where he thought the Altar must be.

It hit something and, making a resounding bang, slithered noisily along the tiled chancel before it came to rest.

"There he is!" yelled Bratz, as the two came rushing in. "He's got to that door I told you of," and then seeing the big drops of blood from Brendon's nose upon the paving of the chapel floor, he yelled louder still. "See, you've wounded him! He's dripping blood! Quick! We'll get him now."

They raced round the Altar and found the closing stone swung back as Brendon had left it. "He hadn't time nor strength to shut it," cried Bratz, and then the dictator made an instantaneous decision. "You go that way," he yelled, "and I'll go and catch him at the other end if he's got into the church. I shall know him at once by that cap he wore."

The man hesitated. "But where do you say the passage leads?" he asked.

"Into the underground room the cleaners use, in the church of the Holy Martyrs," panted Bratz. "A door opens out of one of the pillars there and you can't miss it. There's a handle on this side. I've not been down, but I know all about it," and back he rushed to leave the house by the front door, passing Brendon, who was now standing behind one of the curtains in the hall.

He left the hall door unlatched so that one of them could return later and let out the locked-in servants.

The church was barely a hundred yards away from the entrance of the short drive leading to the countess's house, and he soon arrived before its big doors. Then, to his amazement, he found it picketed by a number of police.

He swore deeply under his breath, but he saw there was no help for it, and that he would have to make himself known to get inside.

"What's happening?" he asked sharply of the sergeant who was in charge.

The sergeant's eyes boggled. He recognised the dictator at once and was amazed to see him there, hatless and breathless, before him.

"We've cornered that man from Sarron at last, Your Excellency," he replied excitedly. "He was recognised by a fellow-worker in the street and followed here. Our men are inside, arresting him now."

"What man?" queried Bratz, his brain in a whirl.

"The one who caused that explosion in the munition factory, Nicolas Regnal."

Bratz pushed him aside roughly. "I'll go in," he announced and just as he had entered the church and the door was closed behind him, the sharp cracks of two pistol shots were heard, in quick succession.

All the lights of the church were now full on, and there were a score and more of policemen about. Bratz was again recognised immediately.

"What does that firing mean?" he asked peremptorily, and in two seconds he was following another sergeant of police down the narrow staircase to the underground room.

The electric lights were on there, too, and the rank reek of cordite was in the air. Half a dozen police were gathered round two men lying upon the paved floor. The face of one of the prone men was bloodied over with a bullet in his forehead, and the other man was groaning in the agony of a shattered kneecap. With a gasp of dismay, Bratz saw that the dead man was his confederate in the rifling of the Countess's cabinet, and the wounded one was not the man who had snatched the papers from him. His plans had gone all awry.

"What's all this about?" he snapped to the police, who were astounded at finding the great Dictator among them.

An inspector replied most deferentially, "We were searching for that Nicolas Regnal, from Sarron, who is known to be somewhere here, Your Excellency, and then this other man, who is not Regnal"—he pointed to the dead body—"suddenly appeared from nowhere and fired instantly at this officer. So another of our men shot him down at once." He shook his head disappointedly. "We cannot find this Regnal anywhere."

"The man from Sarron!" exclaimed Bratz, very startled and recalling now what the sergeant outside the church had told him. "Then who was it who recognised him and followed him here?"

A rough-looking workman in overalls was pushed forward. "I did, Your Excellency," he said. "I know him well. I was working in the factory when he was there."

"Then what is he like to look at?" scowled Bratz.

"He is tallish, sir, and has blue eyes and——"

"No, no," broke in Bratz irritably. "I mean how was he dressed when you followed him to the church just now?"

"Coat buttoned up tightly to his chin, sir, and soon after I had happened to recognise him, I saw him pull his cap very low over his forehead. He——"

But the dreadful truth had now broken upon Bratz, that the man they were after was the one who had snatched the papers out of his hands, not five minutes ago, and he roared to the assembled police.

"If he was seen to enter the church and the doors have been guarded ever since, then he cannot have got away! Why are you looking for him here? Did anyone see him come down?"

"No, no one actually saw him," answered the very uncomfortable inspector, "but the verger of the church saw him enter the building and seat himself at the end of a pew just by the door that leads to this staircase. It was in the middle of the service. Then a minute or two later the verger saw that he had disappeared. We thought then he must have gone out again, but we know he couldn't have done so, because the church door was watched from the first moment he entered."

"Then search on," commanded Bratz furiously, "and don't let a man leave the church until you've found him. Close the building to the public, if necessary, and starve him out." He gritted his teeth. "We must get him. He is a most dangerous enemy to the State. Tap all the walls for a secret hiding place."

"We are certain he came down here Your Excellency, for another reason," ventured the inspector. "He struck several matches and we found their burnt ends upon the floor."

Bratz almost choked in his mortification. Burnt matches upon the floor! Exactly as they had seen them when the man in the cap was racing for the chapel. Oh, if he slipped through their fingers now! A wretch three times wanted. First, as the bomber of the Sarron factory; then as the accomplice of the Countess in her treacherous plotting against the State—for he must have been the man whom Sister Monica had led through the secret passage—and, finally, for the blow he had given him, Bratz, that night, and his regaining of the compromising papers.

But the Dictator calmed himself, and under the pretext of helping the police, covertly examined the massive pillar in which he knew, from the description given him, must be hidden the secret door. To his relief, however, for he was still anxious it should not be publicly known he was involved in any or the Countess's affairs, there was no sign of a door anywhere, and he guessed the opening stone must have swung to again, directly his confederate had stepped out.

Then the thought struck him that perhaps the dead man had somehow missed Brendon when coming through the passage, and that the latter was still hiding there.

So making an excuse that he could stay no longer, he slipped back into the Countess's house, and with up-raised pistol before him, explored the whole passage from end to end. But no, there was no one secreted there and, indeed, no place where anyone could hide. So he closed the door behind the Altar and, keeping well out of sight, released the trembling women in the kitchen. He called out to them that everything was quite all right and the pistol they had heard had gone off by accident.

Then, proceeding to let himself out again by the front door, he got a dreadful shock, and after a few moments' hard thinking, cursed himself and everybody else furiously.

In grasping the handle of the door to pull it open, he had felt something sticky, and glancing down by the light of his torch to see what it was, he saw there was blood upon his fingers.

His mouth opened and his eyes glared. There had not been blood on the handle when he had rushed out before and yet—there was blood on it now!

What did it mean?

Then in a flash his mind went back to where he had last seen blood. It had been dripping from the wounded man who had been rushing to the secret door! Damnation! But had he been rushing there? Had he found his strength weakening and then stopped somewhere and given them the slip while they had blundered on? Oh, what fools, what blind fools they had been!

Trailing his torch upon the carpet he started to run back through the hall, almost at once beginning to pick up spots of blood.

There was no hiding from himself the significance of what they meant and his fury almost maddened him.

They had dropped from the fugitive as he had been coming from the chapel and was making his way to the front door, after he, Bratz, had rushed out through it to get round to the church to catch him.

Then he cast the rays of his torch higher and saw the damage Panner's pistol bullet had done to the big vase. Then his eyes followed on and he marked the hole where it had buried itself in the wall.

"And so he was not even wounded!" he groaned. "The bullet never struck him at all! All that happened was that he probably banged himself up against something as he was running in the dark and perhaps made his nose bleed."

It was nearly midnight before he was home at Hoon Castle but, late as the hour was, he made his way to the suite where Marie was held a prisoner.

He let himself into the sitting-room, switched on the lights and rapped loudly upon the bedroom door.

"Who is it?" called out Marie, although by the heavy footsteps, she knew perfectly well who it was, and her heart, accordingly, was beating fearfully.

"It is your guardian, my dear," replied Bratz jeeringly, "and he wants to have a word with you."

"But I'm in bed," protested Marie, "and——"

"I don't care if you're in your bath," interrupted Bratz loudly, "but if you don't come out, then I'll come in. I intend to speak to you."

"Then wait a minute," cried Marie quickly, "until I've put on my dressing gown," and in a few seconds the door opened and she appeared.

"Now then," said Bratz savagely, "sit down, your ladyship, or, as we are soon to be on intimate terms, I may as well start calling you Marie at once."

"Intimate terms?" scoffed the girl with sudden spirit. "Why, I'd rather kill myself!"

"No heroics, please!" commented Bratz, at once dropping into ordinary tones. "I didn't mean now, but later on." His eyes were furious, if his voice was not. "I'm much too angry with you to be amorous tonight, but everything amounts to this—if I don't bind you to silence and obedience by the marriage bonds, then your future will be unpleasant, or rather"—he nodded darkly—"there will be no future for you at all."

"And you woke me up to tell me this!" exclaimed Marie with a courage which she did not feel. "Wouldn't it have waited until the morning?"

"No, it wouldn't," snapped Bratz. His thoughts were so bitter that he could not contain his temper and he shook his fist menacingly at her. "I've found out all about you, my lady. I've got those damning papers from their hiding place in the Buhl cabinet," his words came in a rush now, "and I've caught that vile traitor Nicolas Regnal, and he's confessed everything. We took him in that secret passage leading from the church, and he verified every single detail we got from that cursed sister of mercy—" he dropped his eyes in mock embarrassment—"before she died." He smiled a cold, cruel smile. "We had some trouble with Regnal at first, but we knew how to make him speak and he kept back nothing in the end."

Every drop of color had drained from Marie's face, now almost as a thing of death except that the eyes were alive with a dreadful, glassy horror. There was no longer any poise or courage about her, and she leant back in her chair, with her bosom rising and falling tumultuously.

"Come, come, you're only a woman after all, and I may find some excuses for you," went on Bratz in not nearly such angry tones as before, for it was not in human nature that he should not be moved to some extent by the distress of a woman as beautiful as the Countess.

She lay back breathing heavily, but suddenly becoming aware of Bratz's half-opened mouth and very widely opened eyes, she sat up with a jerk, and with an angry flush upon her face, pulled her dressing gown tightly round her.

Bratz looked amused. "The mischief is done, my lady." He laughed coarsely. "You are too late. You should have been more careful." He rose and his face grew grave and stern again. "Well, I'm going to leave you now, but you must realise you are completely in my power." He spoke impressively. "So tomorrow you are to make a list of all who are mentioned in those papers as plotting against me. You understand, I want the list in your handwriting, as a proof if necessary, that the disclosure has been made of your own free will. Then you shall give me a full confession of all you and that man, Regnal, have been doing, to corroborate his story."

His lips curled in scorn. "But fancy a lady such as you associating with a common workman!" His voice rose in anger. "How could you plot and plan with the assassin of Sarron, the vile traitor who sent a score of his countrymen to a dreadful death when he planted that bomb? I am ashamed of you!"

"Please leave me now," said Marie, weakly, "I can't bear any more tonight."

But Bratz went on, smiling meaningly. "I admit that Regnal is a good-looking young man and that therefore it is quite possible he may have been something more than a mere accomplice in treason to you." He nodded. "So how you comply with my wishes may depend upon how I deal with him. You understand that, don't you?"

"Oh, go away, please," implored Marie. "I want to think."

"I should say you did," retorted Bratz instantly, "and you take this in, my lady. I am far too involved in your affairs now to be able to let you go. I admit frankly that it would do me considerable harm among certain people I cannot yet afford to offend if it became known I had abducted you and brought you here. So in the interests of the State you will have to marry me!"

"Do go away, please," reiterated Marie.

"And don't think," said Bratz, "that there is hope of anyone rescuing you." He emphasised his points with his hand. "Absolutely no one but myself knows that the Countess of Arden is here. The woman who is waiting upon you does not know you from Eve, and she would not breathe a word if she did. The man who brought you here is dead"—he paused a moment to let his words sink in—"your maid who drugged you is dead, too, and your very car is at the bottom of the Viber."

He turned to the door to go out, and then, as a passing shot, added savagely. "And if you don't give in it means the heated irons to those pretty feet, and, afterwards"—he shrugged his shoulders—"well, you can guess what will happen to you afterwards. You'll never leave this castle alive!"

Then as the door closed behind him, Marie tottered into her bedroom, and throwing herself down upon the bed, covered her face with her hands and sobbed convulsively.


CHAPTER XI.—THE COMING OF THE STORM

In the deepest depths of misery, for long after the Dictator had left her, Marie lay staring wide-eyed into the darkness.

She was terrified at the awful thought of all that would follow the seizure of those papers in the Buhl cabinet, and she blamed herself in agonising bitterness that she had not burnt the most incriminating among them when her husband had been assassinated.

No one but herself was aware of the existence of these particular papers, and it had only been the thought of what great service they might one day be to those who were working for the deliverance of Cyrania from the dreadful bondage of General Bratz that had made her keep them.

And she had been so certain that no one could ever find where they had been hidden. The cabinet was more than two hundred years old, and it had only been by accident that her husband had discovered the secret hiding place. Then he had sent the lock to Paris and had the key made there, believing that even if it fell into unfriendly hands, no one would ever come to understand its double use.

Now, through her foolishness, hundreds of people, and among them some of the truest patriots in Cyrania, would be uncovered to the furious vengeance of General Bratz. It was notorious that the Dictator was pitiless in all his cruelties, and she caught her breath in horror at the thought of the many homes which would now be made desolate.

Then her thoughts turned to Brendon and she burst into tears. Brendon had been so smiling and so confident of himself. He had showed such resource, too, in all the dangers which had faced him and he had seemed to her the very embodiment of manly strength and courage.

And now, perhaps, he was lying upon a bed of pain, a pitiful wreck of manhood from the sufferings he had undergone. He must have been tortured horribly for him to have confessed anything, as his nature, she knew, was not one to give in easily.

Then suddenly she screwed up her face in perplexity. Bratz had said that Brendon had confessed everything and yet, obviously, he did not know that Brendon was an Englishman, for he had referred to him as Regnal and had stated that he was a traitor to the State and had caused the death of many of his fellow-countrymen. Then that could only mean that Bratz had no idea he was not a Cyranian.

Yet surely the first thing they would have wanted to find out would have been who was employing him and then, to give reason to his confession, under torture, he would have disclosed his real nationality!

Her thoughts ran on and then gradually she began to doubt if Bratz had really found out all the things he said he had, and the more she thought the bigger the doubt became.

That he had found the hiding place in the Buhl cabinet was quite clear and that he had somehow learnt it was the man who was wanted for the bombing in the Sarron factory who had visited her through the secret passage was quite clear also, but then, strangely enough, when she came to reason, all certainty seemed to end.

If Bratz had found out all he said he had, then his whole expression would have been one of triumph, but, instead, he had come to her in a furious temper as if he were in great disappointment and had been baulked in everything.

A-ah!—and a throb of excitement coursed through her—if he had indeed seen the list of names, would he for a moment have asked her to write them down? Why, more than a hundred persons had subscribed to a sum of money mentioned in one of the papers, and he would know it would be impossible for her to remember the names of but a very few!

She sat up and dried her tears. She did not feel nearly so miserable now and was buoyed up with a great hope that General Bratz had been bluffing most of the time. Brendon had not been caught—she choked down a sob—he was much too resourceful to have let himself fall into the enemy's hands, and she was sure—she was quite sure, somehow—that Bratz had not got the papers!

She fell asleep presently and dreamed that she was lying in Brendon's arms. The dream was a very happy one, and its sweetness lingered even after she awakened to all her doubts and worries again.

But if the hours of the night had brought some peace to Marie, they had brought none to General Bratz. To his intense torment of mind was now added an intense torment of body, for his activities of the night had precipitated the acute attack of gout he had been so fearing, and by morning his knee was so painful that the slightest movement was agonising.

His medical man from Marleck was summoned with all haste and at once gave it as his emphatic opinion that the Dictator would not be able to leave his bed for three or four days, and that it would be at least a week before he would be in a fit state to go to the city.

In the meantime, Brendon had reached home unobserved, all the way smiling to himself at the manner in which he had bested the men who had been robbing the cabinet. He wished to goodness he knew who they were, for then he would have known who had abducted Marie. He was almost certain, however, that the face of the one he had snatched the papers from was in some way familiar to mm.

He was now considering himself as Marie's natural protector, and he got a great thrill out of the knowledge that he had thus prevented her enemies from reaping one of the most important benefits they had, without doubt, been expecting to follow upon getting her out of the way.

But it was not until he came to examine the papers he had obtained, which he thought he had better do at once, that he realised how really great his success had been!

First, there was a receipt from a bank in Paris, made out in the names of four persons, one of whom was Marie's late husband, for an amount of money which he reckoned, in English currency, must amount to nearly three hundred thousand pounds. Then there was a document, signed by these four, stating that the money could only be withdrawn upon the joint signatures of them all, or as many of them as were alive at the time of the withdrawal. Finally, there were three long lists of the names of those who had subscribed to this sum of money; persons apparently in all walks of life, in the army, the navy, in political and commercial circles, and in the civil service.

Brendon's eyes opened very wide as he read down the names, several of which, from his perusal of the newspapers, were known to him.

"Whew!" he whistled, "but what a massacre there'd be if the precious Dictator got hold of this! Why the whole country must be seething with hatred of Bratz's rule, and if ever a war comes, there'll be as many enemies behind the firing lines as in front of them! Yes, the magnificent army they've got here will break like a rotten reed!"

He did not stop to think long and then burnt everything except the papers relating to the money in the bank. "They're far too dangerous for anyone in my position to hold," he told himself as he watched them go up in flames. "They've nearly been the ruin of all these poor wretches and the risk is not to be run again."

Then he slipped the two papers he was intending to keep into the lining of his waistcoat. "They're as good as carrying a bomb"—he grimaced—"and will seal my death warrant, right enough, if ever I am searched. Still, I must risk it! It's all in the game"—he grimaced again—"this merry dance with death."

And certainly more than ever, he realised what a dangerous game it was when the next morning he heard what the gardener had to say. He happened to pass close by where the old man was working and stopped for a moment to speak to him.

It appeared the gardener had been out late the previous night visiting some friends, and, returning home by way of the street in which was situated the Church of the Holy Martyrs, the tale he now told made Brendon's blood run cold.

They had almost caught the man from Sarron, the gardener said, but at the last moment he had miraculously escaped from them.

The man had been recognised by an old fellow-worker, and followed to the church; a hundred police had surrounded the building and there had been pistol firing in the vaults! A strange man had been found there shot in the forehead, but it was not the man the police wanted! One of the police had been wounded! He had been shot in the stomach and was likely to die. The police had bungled badly and General Bratz was furious.

Oh, yes, the matter had been considered of such importance that the Dictator had been fetched at once and a lot of people had seen him in the church. This chap who had escaped must be a devil of an important fellow for General Bratz to have come after him! People were whispering he was the head of a great conspiracy in the State and old Bratz would give his right hand to have him caught! The church would now have to be consecrated again because there had been violent death within its walls! At any rate it was going to be shut for some time!

Brendon had listened with his heart in his mouth. Yes, his escape had indeed been a miracle, for he saw at once that if he had only returned by the secret passage he would have jumped straight into the arms of the police. And he had been thinking himself so clever, too, and yet it had only been the accidental banging of his nose into the wall that had saved him!

Still, he was in great danger again, for the search for him, which he had been hoping had died down, would be keener and more furious now than ever.

He kept his cap very low upon his forehead as he drove his master into the city that morning.

The day passed uneventfully, but when Captain Ruben arrived home in the evening and had alighted from the car, he stayed for a moment to speak to Brendon.

"I am pleased with your driving, Hopple," he said, "but my old chauffeur is returning in a day or two and so you will have to leave me." He eyed Brendon inscrutably. "Do you think I have now exhausted my obligation to you?"

Brendon felt a sickening feeling in his stomach. "Well, sir," he stammered, "I should be very grateful to you if you would still help me." He appeared hardly able to get his words out in his distress. "I shall be shot or hanged, sir, if I am caught."

"I suppose so," agreed the Captain dryly. "You deserve it." He was silent for a moment and added. "Well, I suppose you would like to get right out of the country?"

"Oh, yes, sir," replied Brendon instantly, with great relief, and then in a flash he remembered Marie and corrected himself quickly. "But I mean no, sir, I don't want to. I would rather remain here if I could." He smiled a weak smile. "I don't like foreign countries."

"Hum!" remarked Ruben and then for a long moment there was silence while he continued to regard Brendon most intently. At last he turned round to enter the house, remarking, however over his shoulder as he did, "Well, in that case I'll have to see what I can do for you here," and he left Brendon with the very uneasy thought that his master was somehow suspicious about him.

Three days went by and General Bratz was fretting and fuming that he still had to remain in bed. The police could find no traces of the man who had so bested him that night in the Countess's boudoir, and every time he thought of what had happened, he gnashed his teeth in fury. But he had other annoyances, too, greater ones even than that, and his illness could not have come at a more inopportune time.

Internal troubles had arisen in one of the much coveted adjoining countries and he had been encouraging the unrest as much as possible. In a roundabout way he had been secretly supplying funds to both parties in the quarrel and breeding hatred and spreading suspicion, as was his invariable habit upon such occasions. So be wanted to be up and about, for he could not be at his best with his leg propped up and afraid to move the fraction of an inch, lest he should induce another paroxysm of pain.

Still, he was making as much mischief as he could, and his secretaries and ministers were coming and going all day long.

Strangely enough, he was still interested in his shells, his iron will forcing him to give his mind some relaxation from the affairs of State. Besides, he liked to call Widgeon to his bedside and see him wince at his horrible tales of the slaughter that was so soon to fall upon the neighbors of Cyrania. He was always telling him about them and invented new horrors every time he saw the little conchologist.

Widgeon was not looking very well in those days. His face had grown white and thin, and he wore a very worried look. He was taking to heart the agony that was about to fall upon the unsuspecting and innocent victims of his employer's insane ambitions, just as if it were going to happen to himself.

He had lost interest in the shells, too, and could not sleep at nights. He wanted to get home again, and there seemed no prospect of an early return, as the carpenter who had been provided for him had fallen ill, with Bratz, apparently, making no effort to replace him.

On the fourth day the Dictator's gout was very much better, and his medical man allowed him to get out of bed. So his desk was pulled up to the good fire in the room, and, sitting in a big armchair, he was able to transact his business better. The weather had turned cold, and bitter winds were now roaring round the grim old castle of Hoon.

He had not forgotten Marie, and properly shaved and dressed, he determined to question her again. So he sent a note to her by Hygar, in his big scrawling handwriting, telling her he wished her to come to him, and, if she came quietly, she could come with only the woman as her escort. But if she was going to fight and struggle, then he would have to send two men servants to bring her by force. She would have to come in any case. He added in explanation that he could not come to her as he was just getting over an attack of gout.

So in a few minutes Marie appeared, and he was surprised that she was now showing no signs of any great anxiety. He had expected to see her, at least, looking very depressed and woe-begone, but, instead, she was as smiling as if she were happy and in her own home.

"So, so," he remarked, now smiling in his turn, and, notwithstanding all his worries, very thrilled with the idea of this pretty, dainty creature before him so soon to become his wife, "then you've come to your senses very quickly, and are going to do all I want you to. You are going to tell me all you can about the people mentioned in those papers I've got."

She shook her head quite pleasantly. "Oh, no," she said brightly, "I can't tell you anything. If you've read them you know more than I do. They were just left to my care, and I wasn't curious enough to open them. Their contents are nothing to me."

His face clouded. "Now, don't be a fool, Marie. You wouldn't have carried that key about if you did not know those papers were of vital importance." His voice dropped to a cruel and threatening tone. "Do you realise that every person mentioned in them has been arrested, and I am only waiting until I can go up to the Klaffer Prison to have them questioned in my own way," he spoke very slowly, "and you know what that way is."

Marie drew in a deep breath. Then he had really got the papers! He spoke so confidently! The beats of her heart pained her, and she saw a dreadful mist before her eyes.

Bratz went on. "Yes, in three days, at the latest, the irons will be heated and everything that you could tell me now will be told me then." He spoke angrily. "You little fool, why don't you save them their torture? If you tell me how they came to be mixed up in this plot against me, and they see I know, they may admit everything and then——" He shrugged his shoulders contemptuously—"I may be content to give them terms of imprisonment, instead of standing them before the firing squads, as I shall certainly do if I have to extract the confessions by painful means." He spoke persuasively. "Don't you see, girl, I can never let anyone who's once had the burning irons against the feet go free to tell what's been done to him? There are those, even among my staunchest supporters, who would not approve of my methods, and I dare not let them know of them."

"I have nothing to tell you," choked Marie, "and if you torture me it will be just the same."

"That we shall see," scoffed Bratz, "for I swear if you go on lying to me I shall treat you no differently from anybody else. You are beautiful and tempting, and I could be a devoted lover if you would let me, but my passion for any woman will never make me swerve one hair's breadth from my duty to my country." His eyes gloated. "Why, lovely as you are, if necessary, I would myself heat the irons, and——" But the telephone bell upon his desk rang sharply, and with a gesture of irritation he reached out and picked up the receiver.

"Yes, yes, of course!" he exclaimed irritably. "I know he's suspicious. . . . No, you won't get him across the frontier. . . He must be dealt with where he is, and we can surely find someone to do it. . . . No, we can't use those two again; the police in every capital city are on the watch for them. . . . Yes, yes——" And then followed a long conversation, in which Marie, in the misery of her thoughts, soon lost interest.

She had seated herself in a chair by a big table, upon which were spread a number of newspapers, and she picked up the nearest one and let her glance wander down its first page.

But tears were so close to her eyes that she saw everything through a blurred mist, and the letters danced before her. She took in nothing that she read, and was just about to throw the paper down when letters in much larger type arrested her attention.

"General Bayon presents the trophies at the Military Tournament in the absence of His Excellency."

"General Bayon," she gasped, and then she bit her lip hard to mask all expression upon her face. General Bayon, her late husband's bosom friend and one of the four whose names were upon that receipt from the bank in Paris now actually deputising for the Dictator himself! Why, General Bayon would undoubtedly have been the very first man Bratz would have arrested! Then what did it mean that he was free and performing public duties?

She looked hurriedly at the date of the newspaper. It was of that very morning!

An unutterable thankfulness surged through her. Then General Bratz had not got hold of the papers and he had been lying to her all along!

She felt like a woman reprieved from the gallows.

And then she suddenly began to take an interest in the conversation over the telephone which was still going on.

"Now, another thing," she heard General Bratz say. "Can you get me a carpenter for about a week? I want him to go on with those glass cases for my shells. The one who was here is ill and that little idiot is worrying because he wants to get back home. . . What! Is he a carpenter as well as a chauffeur? . . . Well, why are you getting rid of him? . . . Oh, I see. . . But is he a talker? Can he be depended upon to hold his tongue when he's left here? . . . Then bring him up with you when you come this afternoon. . . No, he needn't bring any tools. They are all here. . . All right then," and the Dictator hung up the receiver with a grunt.

Marie walked over to the window and turned her back upon Bratz. Her bosom was rising and falling tumultuously in her emotion. Of course it was of Brendon they had been speaking, and it had been the Chief of the Secret Police at the other end of the phone! Had not Brendon told her he was supposed to be a carpenter. Then a chauffeur who was carpenter—who else could it be? Had not Clodil mentioned, too, that the old chauffeur would soon be coming back? Oh, merciful Heaven! Then it meant that Brendon had never been caught and that Bratz had been lying again!

Her relief was overpowering, and she suddenly put her hands over her face and burst into tears.

If she had only realised it, she could not have done a better thing. Bratz was quite sure he had broken her spirit at last and judged it best to deal harshly with her no longer.

"There, there," he said kindly. "I'll make everything as easy as possible and you'll soon see you have done the right thing. I'll——" but the telephone rang insistently again and he learnt that an important official had arrived at the castle upon a matter of great urgency.

He turned to Marie again. "Well, you can go back to your rooms now and write out that statement I want. Then I promise you I shall deal very lightly with everyone who has been plotting against me." He rubbed his hands together and smiled beamingly. "Indeed, it may be that in that way I shall make my enemies my friends. Yes, you will be doing good service, both to me and the poor misguided people who have been led into treachery against the State." And, Hygar having been summoned. Marie was escorted away.

Brendon was in a very unhappy frame of mind when, no longer in the uniform of chauffeur to Captain Ruben, but clad now in his private clothes, he was driven up to the castle that afternoon.

All his thoughts had been of Marie and how he could find out where she had been taken, and now he was going to be shut up in the castle, a virtual prisoner, he did not know for how long.

Captain Ruben had been quite nice to him, and had smiled grimly as he told him that there could be no safer place than in the castle and working for the Dictator himself. He had also been a little curious, Brendon thought, as to his, Brendon's, ability as a carpenter. But Brendon had no fears there. He had always been good at any mechanical work, and reckoned he could make cases neatly enough to satisfy anyone. He had assured the captain so.

He arrived at the castle, and a few minutes later was summoned into the presence of the great General Bratz. When the door was opened and he walked into the room, quite by chance the Dictator's head was turned sideways, and he was engaged in earnest conversation with Captain Ruben. So Brendon saw him before he saw Brendon.

And it was indeed well for Brendon that things happened that way! One glance at the stern, forbidding face of General Bratz, and, in the flash of a second, he realised it was none other than that of the man from whom he had snatched the papers in Marie's boudoir! He had not the slightest doubt about it! He could even see the black bruise upon the forehead from the blow he had given him!

His knees trembled and his heart seemed to stand still. He felt his face blanch and whiten, and, with difficulty he drew his breath.

But, his first dire dismay over, he quickly pulled himself together, and, second after second passing without them looking in his direction, he had ample time, when the Dictator did turn, to present to his eyes a very different person from the calm and self-reliant young man who had just entered the room. His whole bearing had altered.

He had jerked open his tightly-buttoned jacket, he had sunk his neck into his shoulders, and his jaw had taken on a sagging look. His expression, too, was a mild and very simple one.

The Dictator looked at him carelessly, and then frowned sharply, in a puzzled sort of way, as if some unpleasant chord of memory had been stirred in him. So, for a long five seconds—it seemed minutes to Brendon—he stared at him. Then his frown relaxed and he asked brusquely. "What sort of carpenter are you then?"

"Oh, a good one, Your Excellency," replied Brendon nervously, as if awed at finding himself in the presence of the great man.

"What's your name?"

"Bern Hopple, Your Excellency."

"And you understand you've got to hold your tongue and not say what work you've been doing here?"

"Oh, yes, Your Excellency, I shall never mention it."

Bratz stared hard again, and then, after more tense moments for Brendon, turned his eyes away and stretched out to touch his bell. Hygar appeared with no delay.

"Bring the professor here," ordered Bratz, and then, when the nervous-looking Widgeon had entered the room, he said brusquely, and, to Brendon's great surprise, speaking now in English. "Here's another carpenter for you. Get him to work at once. You'll have to make him understand as you did the other one," and the two of them were motioned to the door with no further ceremony.

Brendon was in a very ecstasy of relief. Bratz had stared so intently that he knew he had almost recognised him and that for those dreadful seconds his fate had been quivering in the balance. But it was all over now and, for the moment at all events, the danger had passed!

His thoughts ran on and he could hardly breathe in his excitement. So it had been the Dictator himself from whom he had snatched the papers that night and to whom he had given that fierce blow upon the face! Ah, and if it had been the Dictator who had come hot-foot to Marie's house to search for those papers upon the very night following her disappearance—then it was a hundred chances to one that it was he who had been her abductor! Then, and the thought thrilled Brendon through and through, it might be that in coming to Hoon Castle he was nearer Marie than if he had stayed in Marleck!

Widgeon led Brendon to the long gallery and the latter was most amused as the little conchologist, with many signs and a great turning of the pages of his dictionary, started to make known what he wanted doing. And Widgeon found at once that this new assistant was much quicker in his understanding than the other one had been, and it was not to be wondered at, considering Widgeon nearly always muttered every word in English as he was looking for its Cyranian equivalent.

So they got on well together, although from the first Brendon realised that there was something very queer about his companion. Widgeon was, so obviously, in a state of great mental strain and, quite unconsciously, was continually talking to himself.

He kept on muttering about someone who was a man with his hands dyed deep in blood. This someone was insane, too, and ought to be put away in a mad-house. He had no principles and no honor and was contemptible in his vanities. He was degrading his country, too, and driving men back to be as beasts of the jungle. He was making men disbelieve in the protection of God.

Brendon was very interested and thought how apt the description of this unknown monster was if it referred to General Bratz. Two days later, not to his great amazement, he found that it did.

In the evening Bratz, who was now able to move about with the aid of a crutch, hobbled in to see how the work was progressing and, after a few remarks about the shells, started baiting Widgeon with blood-curdling stories as to what was now going on in Cyrania. After one hard look, he ignored Brendon as if he were not there and spoke freely, in his fluent English, in the confident assurance that only Widgeon would understand.

He said mockingly that war was very close at hand now and they were stacking their most poisonous bombs in readiness. These particular bombs were to be dropped on the crowded cities and their contents would instantaneously peel off the skin from people's faces and hands, within a radius of several hundreds of yards from where the bombs fell.

Then he went on to say that the Klaffer Prison was as full as ever and that there were many trembling prisoners to be interviewed by the little coke brazier with its red-hot irons, directly he, General Bratz, was able to be upon the scene in person. Indeed, if he were not soon well enough to get to Marleck, then he would have some of the prisoners brought to the castle to be talked to on the spot.

"In particular," he added frowningly, "there is a pestilential man from America who has been finding out a great deal more than we like and we want to know how he's managed it."

"But if you do deal with him in that inhuman way," gasped Widgeon with his face as white as a sheet, "think of what the world will say of you." His voice shook. "You know you can't go on for ever flying in the face of public opinion!"

"Public opinion!" sneered Bratz. "Why, the public will never hear of it!" He looked very amused. "Do you think we ever let anyone out again, once we've put our questions to them in that way? No, not we!" He shrugged his shoulders. "Who'll know what's happened? This man is supposed to be dead already! It was in the papers that he was drowned days and days ago!" He laughed merrily. "It was broadcast that his car had fallen into the river and his body could not be found."

"But you'll get your punishment some day," said Widgeon shakily, "if you hurt this poor man as you say you are going to."

"Pooh, pooh!" laughed Bratz. "I'll risk it anyhow!" He nodded. "Why, I may even have to order the same punishment for a very pretty young woman if she doesn't answer when she's questioned," and then after another lingering stare at Brendon, he hobbled out of the gallery.

Brendon drew in a long, deep breath. What if the woman the Dictator had referred to were Marie? He had abducted her, he had failed to get the papers she had been hiding, and what was more probable than that he should now be contemplating extreme measures to make her speak? The thought was agony to him and yet what could he do?

Then he tried to put himself in Bratz's place and reason where he would be most likely to hold Marie a prisoner, and the first and only place he could think of was the castle itself. It was a huge castle and there must be a number of rooms where one could be hidden away. And if she were in the castle, then she would most certainly be in that part which the Dictator was reserving for his own use.

It was common gossip throughout Cyrania that when General Bratz had first come to Hoon he had made a fortress within a fortress and blocked off a good portion, with solid masonry, so that it was entirely separated from the other parts of the castle.

And Brendon knew that he and Widgeon must now be housed and working in that part, for they never saw anyone but Hygar and the Dictator, and, except for them, might have been living in an uninhabited house. They were never allowed to go beyond the long gallery, and their sleeping and living rooms which led out of it. All the meals from the kitchens below came up in a small service-lift which was worked by hand in an adjoining corridor.

And it was these meals which soon made Brendon feel sure that Hygar must be waiting upon someone other than Widgeon, the Dictator and himself, for another meal besides theirs was most certainly being served three times every day.

The woman's bedroom was in the same corridor as theirs and he could hear her moving about every morning before six. Then when she was dressed she let herself out of a door at the end of the corridor which she unlocked and then locked behind her. Then, for an hour, he heard nothing more of her until she came back and he heard the service life moving. That was always at seven o'clock to the minute, and he then smelt coffee and toast. Then she disappeared but half an hour later, returned and the lift was set going again. It was their breakfast this time, and, obviously, hers as well for she often set their dishes upon the table with her mouth full and her jaws champing. Then at eight o'clock up came yet another breakfast, for again he had smelt coffee and, sometimes fried ham.

And it was the same at every meal time; three different meals served with always an interval of exactly half an hour between each one. Everything was done by clockwork and the woman seemed to be working all day long.

Brendon tried to get on friendly terms with her, all to no purpose, however, for not only had he to shout at her to make himself heard, but, when she did hear him, the conversation was all on his side, with her just answering yes or no. She was a good servant but with apparently no interest in anything but her work.

Brendon was very worried that the days were passing and he could devise no means of finding out if Marie were really in the castle when Fortune played into his hands.

On the fourth day, in the morning, Hygar came to General Bratz and announced that one of the taps in Marie's bathroom was leaking badly. She said that the washer must be worn out and the water was coming away so fast that the bath could not be used.

Bratz frowned and was at first inclined to have nothing done, but then, wishing to stand well with Marie, and believing that, although she had certainly not made the desired confession yet, she seemed much less unhappy now and not nearly so defiant, he thought better of it. So, not wanting anyone below to learn that there was another set of rooms occupied upstairs, he thought of Brendon, as being a handy-man, and ordered Hygar to go and fetch him.

"But first," he bawled to Hygar, "lock the lady up in her bedroom and tell her to keep quiet or I won't have the tap mended."

Brendon came into the presence of the Dictator feeling most uneasy that for some unknown reason he was going to be sent away.

"Do you know how to put a leaking tap right?" asked Bratz, with a scowl.

"Yes, Your Excellency," answered Brendon, in great relief, "if I can have a soldering iron and some solder."

"You don't want solder, you fool," said Bratz rudely. "It wants a new washer, that's all. Come on," and then preceded by Hygar, who unlocked the doors for them, the three went up to Marie's rooms.

They passed the open sitting-room door on their way to the bathroom, and Brendon's heart gave a big bump when, covertly glancing in as they went by, he saw a dainty little pair of pink shoes under one of the chairs there. They were of just the same kind as he had seen Marie wearing when he had visited her at her house!

"Now, what tools do you want?" said Bratz when the leaking tap had been examined.

"I think I've got them all in the gallery, Your Excellency," replied Brendon. "It looks as if the nut wants screwing up. The washer may be quite all right."

"Then go and get them," said Bratz, and once again Brendon was shepherded away by Hygar with the same unlocking and locking of doors. He was swearing to himself that he had not pretended that the job would take much longer, but when he was returned to the bathroom he made up for it by messing about with the tap and making it leak worse than ever.

"But it does require a new washer, Your Excellency," he announced at last, "and I shall want a piece of leather to make one, and the water will have to be turned off."

Bratz scowlingly shouted the orders to Hygar, and then when she had gone out, complete silence reigned. Brendon stood looking humbly out of the window, and the Dictator fidgeted impatiently. An inveterate smoker, Bratz was intensely annoyed he had got no cigarette with him. Apart from that, too, he knew an important telephone call was due any minute, and he wanted to get back to his room.

The woman was gone a long time, and then, upon her return, Bratz decided he would wait no longer. So, with some significant nodding to Hygar to make her understand that she was to keep Brendon in sight all the time, he hobbled from the room.

In a fever of suppressed excitement, Brendon started cutting out the washer, noting that the woman's eyes were fixed intently upon him.

"I shan't be long," he shouted loudly, with the intention that if Marie were in the third room she would be certain to hear him and recognise his voice.

Then, with the washer ready, he turned his back, and bending over the tap whistled very softly the first few bars of 'God Save the King.' A moment's silence followed, and then, the sweetest sounds he had ever heard, there came equally as softly, from the room behind him, the opening bars of the 'Marseillaise.'

He almost choked in his exultation. It was Marie, and she had heard him! She knew that he was in the castle, and she would take hope, even as he was now doing!

He dared not risk anything more but, to explain the state of affairs to Marie as best he could, he shouted laughingly to Hygar, "There, I've made a good job of it! See, I'm as good a plumber as I am a carpenter, and when I've finished all those shelves in the gallery, His Excellency may perhaps want to keep me on as handy-man about the castle."

Hygar regarded him surlily but made no comment, and a few minutes later he was back at his work with Widgeon.

All that afternoon he was in alternating moods of triumph and despondency. He had found Marie, and knew she was unharmed! But of what good was that if he was powerless to help her? Even if, by some miraculous means he succeeded in rescuing her and they got safely out of the castle, where then could they go?

He would be in danger again the very moment he set foot outside, and he could not hope to go on escaping, as by continued chance he had done up to then.

Ah, but Marie had powerful friends, and if she were once taken to them it was certain she would be saved from the Dictator! And no risk was too great to take to enable her to escape the fate which awaited her if she remained a prisoner in the castle! Yes, Marie must be freed at any costs, no matter what happened to him!

And then his thoughts began to crystalise into a plan for getting speech with her, a plan so simple and yet so bold that for the moment it quite took his breath away.

He had noticed both when going to and coming from Marie's room that Hygar had taken the keys for the doors from her apron pocket. Good, then it was probably there she always kept them, so he would make an attempt to borrow them that very night!

But with all his plan's simplicity there were many chances against its success. If Hygar locked her door at night, then the whole thing was hopeless. Still, Hygar looked a woman of no imagination, and as if she would never give a moment's thought to any possible danger when she had not been told to guard against it. She just took orders from her master and obeyed him to the letter, and that was all!

And it turned out that Brendon's surmise was perfectly correct. The door was unlocked when he came to open it. Hygar was sleeping soundly, the apron was hanging behind the door, and her keys were in the pocket.

So in less than three minutes after Brendon had crept from his room, he was inserting the key in the first door of Marie's suite.

He opened the door very gently, and then as gently closed it again, the catch of the lock falling into its place with an almost inaudible click. Then, with his heart thumping tumultuously, for a long minute he stood perfectly still, considering how he could approach Marie without frightening her. Looking at his watch he saw the time was a quarter past 11.

There was a faint moon showing and just enough light in the room for him to distinguish objects clearly. He could see that the bedroom door was shut. He approached it on tip-toe, and began to whistle 'The Marseillaise' very softly, at the same time tapping ever so slightly upon the door with his fingernails.

Nothing happened for a few moments, and then he heard a sharp whisper, "Who's there?" followed by a sort of gasp.

"It is I, Ashleigh," he whispered. "It's quite all right. Come out, but don't switch on the light." He heard the sounds of Marie jumping out of bed, then the door flew open, and in a moment she was sobbing in his arms.

"Hush, hush, darling," he whispered, and he drew her closely to him until the fierce heaving of her bosom had in part quietened down. Then he lifted her head and kissed her, a much shorter kiss than he would have liked, but a sense of his responsibility was sobering his passion, and he was not minded to profit in any way by her emotion.

"You must put something on, sweetheart," he said. "You'll get a cold like this!"

She shivered, but it was not with cold, and then her lips found his again. But it was only for a few seconds, and then she moved gently out of his arms. "Come into the bedroom, dear," she whispered. "It isn't safe here. Sometimes he comes in to speak to me when it is later than this," and, holding his hand tightly, she led him into the bedroom and shut the door.

"Now I'll make myself respectable," she laughed softly as she put on her dressing gown. "Sit down and you shall hold me tightly again. I'll not pretend I don't know what I am to you"—her voice choked—"and I realise now you are the same to me. Oh, my dear, I'm so happy that you've come to me. I've been so afraid."

And then followed long minutes when all they knew was that they were together and alone. It was their little hour of paradise and they profited by it.

But they awoke to realities at last, and then quickly related to each other all that had happened since their last meeting.

"And the puzzle now is how to get you out of here," said Brendon. "Do you think you can put off Bratz much longer?"

"I'm not sure," replied Marie dubiously. She spoke quickly. "Do you know, dear, although he was furious at first because I wouldn't tell him anything, lately he's been much nicer and not nearly so harsh. I really think he likes me for not having given in, and, honestly"—she hid her face against Brendon's and was glad the darkness hid her blushes—"I believe he wants to marry me."

"No doubt," scowled Brendon. He pulled her closer to him. "And he's not the only one."

"And my danger is," went on Marie plaintively, "he does not dare to let anyone know I am here until I am married to him. Then he will make out I came of my own free will, and he says the romance of it will win over a lot of his enemies." She clenched her hands. "Still, I would rather die than——" she broke off suddenly. "Hark! What's that? Oh, mercy, he's coming here now!"

She slipped off his knees in a flash, and Brendon darted to the door leading out of the bedroom into the bathroom. "I'll hide in there," he whispered, "and get into the passage through the other door. Then——"

"No, no," she broke in quickly, "the other door is locked and he may make an excuse to go in to see how you've mended the tap. You never know what he'll do, he's so inquisitive about me." Her breath came fast and furious. "And there's no place to hide here if the light's turned up. He'll see right under the bed from the door. It's so narrow!"

"I'll kill him then," said Brendon savagely. "I'll——" but she had dragged him by the arm to her bed.

"Quick, get inside," she panted, "and squeeze yourself against the wall. I'll throw the eiderdown back over you and he'll think it's only doubled up."

And so by the light of the faint moonlight Brendon was almost thrust under the bedclothes, and the eiderdown heaped over him as if Marie had discarded it because of its weight. It should have been torment to Brendon to be made so helpless, and yet in that moment of his danger his expression was not altogether an unhappy one. The bed was still warm from where Marie had been lying, and he could—but he heard the door of the sitting-room open and shut, and the click of the switch as the lights went up.

Then came the Dictator's deep voice. "Hullo, hullo, Marie! Gone to bed! Come out. I want to talk to you," and then followed the impact of knuckles upon the bedroom door.

Marie pushed one hand under the bed clothes for Brendon to kiss and then made all the sounds of getting out of bed. She allowed a few seconds to elapse to make out she was putting on her dressing-gown, and then opened the door and stepped into the sitting room. She left the bedroom door ajar.

"A-ah!" exclaimed Bratz smilingly, "as pretty as ever with dreamland still on those beautiful eyes." He plumped himself down heavily into an armchair and regarded her half in earnest and half mockingly. "It's a good thing that I'm never over-passionate and that my gout is still troubling me, or I might"—he nodded grimly—"or I might—well, I just might. That's all."

Marie blinked sleepily. "But it's very unkind of you to disturb me so late. You've had all the day when you might have come, and yet you must wait until I was forgetting my troubles in sleep and then bring them back again to me."

"Very sorry, I am sure," commented Bratz, making a stiff bow; his face hardened, "but a thought came to me just as I was preparing for bed, and I decided I must ask you a question at once."

"Then ask it," said Marie, wearily, "and let me try to get to sleep again."

Bratz regarded her intently. "You are a friend of Ruben's wife, aren't you?"

"Certainly," replied Marie, "and she is a very sweet woman!"

"No doubt!" grunted Bratz. "Much too sweet to have married the ugly-looking brute she did. Ruben's not by any means a good-looker." He shook his head. "But that's nothing to do with what I've come to you about tonight." He shot out his next question. "Do you know her husband's chauffeur, the one who's been driving her lately?"

Marie's heart jumped, but she showed no outward sign of embarrassment and puckered up her face into a pretty frown. "What do you mean?" she asked, looking very puzzled. "I've seen him, of course."

"Yes you've seen him!" nodded Bratz with a prim smile. "And you've spoken to him, too!"

"He drove me home from a garden party once," said Marie calmly, "and I spoke to him then." She bridled up suddenly. "But what are you looking at me like that for?"

"I have heard," said Bratz slowly, and there was a menace in his tones, "that you have known the man for a long time, long before he ever came to Captain Ruben as his chauffeur. You and he are old"—he paused significantly for a moment—"old friends."

Marie's mouth opened wide in astonishment and then she gave a scornful laugh. "Your tale-carriers serve you badly, General Bratz," she said. She fibbed bravely. "I have spoken to him only once."

Bratz ignored her denial and went on, still speaking very slowly, but with his eyes now boring at her like gimlets. "It is rumored he was a frequent visitor to your house by the same way that the assassin, Nicolas Regnal, was led in by Sister Monica and that, night after night, he was seen in the church of the Holy Martyrs when the Service of the Last Prayers was being said and that then——"

"It is a lie," broke in Marie fiercely, "and whoever told you so was inventing everything to earn the spy money you have been paying to have me watched." She went on quickly. "See here, General Bratz, up to a certain point I'm going to be quite frank with you, even to the damning of my reputation. I've held my tongue so far but now you shall know the truth." She forced herself to speak tremulously and as if very embarrassed. "That was not any Nicolas Regnal or dreadful criminal whom Sister Monica brought to me from the church. I know nothing of this Regnal except, like everybody else, I heard the broadcast about him over the air. It was quite a different person who came that night, in fact it was just"—she paused exactly as the Dictator had done—"a friend." Her face was hot and flushed, and she looked him defiantly in the face. "There—you have it all, and I tell it to you to save myself from further pestering."

"On, oh," sneered Bratz, "and you expect me to believe you!"

"I don't in the least care whether you do or not," was the sharp retort. "You have found out a little about me, but the rest you have made up."

"Even to the finding of those papers!" scoffed Bratz.

"No, you speak the truth there but, even then, all I know is that among them were some bank receipts."

"Ah, then you're confessing something at last!" exclaimed Bratz carelessly. "Then from what banks do you admit these receipts came?"

Marie shook her head. "I don't know. I was just told by my husband that if anything ever happened to him"—she nodded significantly—"he was always expecting something would, then one day someone would come and ask me for all the papers and I was to give them to him."

"Who was coming?" asked Bratz sternly.

"I haven't the remotest idea. It was to be sufficient that whoever came would know where everything was hidden."

Bratz frowned and considered. She was admitting more than, of course, he himself knew, and he was inclined to believe she was speaking the truth. "And you refuse to tell me who that visitor was?" he asked.

Marie inclined her head coldly. "Certainly! Why should I? That's my secret," and then, anxious to propitiate him and at all costs allay the suspicions he now undoubtedly had about Captain Ruben's one-time chauffeur, she added with a tantalising smile, "Remember, General Bratz, I am not your wife—yet."

Instantly the Dictator's frowning expression relaxed and he grinned as if highly amused. "You little devil!" he exclaimed. He laughed coarsely. "But then all women are just like men if we only realised it, and few of them would be saints if they could be sinners—on the sly, of course, I mean."

Marie would have liked to have slapped his face, but, instead, she looked down her nose and continued smiling.

"And how many times, pray," asked Bratz, rather jealously, "have you favored the fortunate gentleman whom Sister Monica brought in to see you"—he paused mockingly—"with an interview?"

"Only once," snapped Marie. She regarded him with angry eyes. "Your commonsense should tell you he was not a frequent visitor, for Sister Monica is certain to have said she blindfolded him, so that he should not know the secret of the passage and come when I didn't want him."

Bratz nodded slowly. "Yes, she did," he commented. "She did mention that she blindfolded him."

And all the time Marie had been quaking in her shoes that he should have come to suspect Brendon at all, and wondering how this suspicion could have arisen. So, in an endeavor to find out, she now asked, with some assumption of annoyance, "And who, may I ask, coupled my name with that of Captain Ruben's chauffeur?"

"A little bird whispered it to me," replied Bratz evasively. Then the thought flashed through her that his suspicion had arisen because there was some likeness between the Captain's temporary chauffeur and the man who had snatched the papers from him, Bratz, that night. Bratz's next question confirmed this idea.

"By and by," he asked casually, "did you hear that man who was mending your tap this morning speaking to Hygar?"

Now, Bratz thought he was being very cunning there. He was setting a trap for Marie, as a last attempt to catch her tripping. He had asked Hygar if the man had said anything at all as he had been mending the tap, and she had told him, yes, he had said he was as good a plumber as he was a carpenter. So, knowing how deaf the woman was, for her to have heard his words Ruben's old chauffeur must have shouted and then Marie must certainly have heard him.

But Marie did not fall into the trap. The question seemed so irrelevant and stupid to her that she was on her guard at once.

"Of course, I did," she replied. "Who wouldn't hear anyone who was talking to Hygar? She's very worrying to hold a conversation with."

"Then didn't you recognise the man's voice?" asked Bratz in an equally careless tone.

"No," replied Marie, with great surprise that she should be asked such a question, and then a startled expression came into her face, and she stared very hard at Bratz. "Unless," she added slowly, "unless he had something to do with bringing me here." Her eyes opened very wide. "I thought"—her words came quickly—"yes, I thought I had heard a voice like that before. It was so deep and penetrating."

"But you were quite unconscious when you were brought here," frowned Bratz. "You could not have heard any voices then."

"But I did," retorted Marie sharply, "and so I couldn't have been as unconscious as you thought. Things are beginning to come back to me, and, for one thing, I seem to remember"—she made a guess here, but a very good one—"that when I arrived here you helped lift me out of the car."

Bratz regarded her with great gallantry. "Naturally, as I would not have wished a charming little person like yourself to be hurt in any way." He rose to his feet and, with an unusual expression, moved towards the bedroom door. "But come, I must see what sort of job that fellow made of the tap."

He switched on the bedroom light and paused to look round. "Everything that you could want, of course," he remarked. "A most comfortable little bed, as it should be. Really, I feel——"

But Marie was not intending that his train of thought should run on in that direction and broke in wearily. "Oh, do please let me get back to bed. I'm so tired."

"Certainly!" replied Bratz with alacrity. "Now, you just jump in and I'll tuck you up nicely," and he took hold of her hand to draw her to the bed.

She did not withdraw her hand, but, looking up at him, said very solemnly. "General Bratz, you know I hate you for many of your ways"—she paused significantly—"but don't make me hate you altogether, so that rather than marry you I shall kill myself somehow."

The Dictator seemed overjoyed that she had given way at last, and, lifting up her hand, imprinted a hard kiss upon the very spot on which Brendon had imprinted his kiss but a few minutes before. Then, with no further pretence that he wanted to see if the tap were all right, he bade her good-night and stumped out of both rooms, with the sounds of his heavy footfalls receding down the corridor.

Marie switched off the sitting-room light, and returning to the bedroom, knelt by the bedside. Brendon stretched out and drew her to him.

"Oh, I'm so cold," she shivered, and in an instant he had jumped out of the bed and, dressing gown and all, proceeded to lay her inside the bed-clothes. Then he sat upon the bed.

"You were splendid," he exclaimed, "and must have scotched all his suspicions about me!" He whistled softly. "Ah, but I thought he was staring very hard at me this evening! When he came into the gallery I saw he was watching me all the time!"

"But what are we to do, dear?" sighed Marie plaintively. "I've only put off the evil day, and it can't be for long. He's an impatient man, at the best of times."

"We'll think of something," said Brendon, with a confidence which, however, he did not feel. "At any rate, I can always get you out of these rooms."

They talked for a long time, and then, with a passionate good-bye, they parted, and Brendon, after replacing the keys, crept back to his own room.

All three of them, Marie, Brendon, and Bratz, slept very fitfully that night, and in the morning the Dictator awoke in a very ill temper. His knee was hurting again, and, apart from that, his thoughts were troubling him.

In one of those flashes of inspiration which had so often served him in his adventurous climb to power, the idea had come to him that, in their conversation that night, Marie had been playing a part. She had been tricking him all along! She had admitted with an embarrassment which, he could see now, had been put on, that she had a lover whom she could so little trust that she had not allowed him to become aware in what way he was brought into the house. In effect, she was making out she was a woman of no moral character, entertaining a casual acquaintance.

And that was not like the proud Marie, Countess of Arden. In the social life of Cyrania, with its not too strict moral code, she had been always most particular with whom she associated, and, in a scandal-loving community, the breath of scandal had never touched her. He knew, too, that she was of strong character, and when he came to consider everything, he was sure she would have gone to her grave rather than admit she was not all she pretended to be.

In conclusion, if she had really done wrong, she would not have told him, and certainly would not have smiled as she had, after the manner of a cocotte, in making her admission.

He swore angrily. She had deceived him for some purpose, and her reasons must have been very strong ones for her to have pretended that she was a woman of bad character. The more he thought about it the more suspicious he became.


CHAPTER XII.—"THE BOMBER FROM THE SKIES"

During that day a psychologist would have found much to interest him in the varying moods of all who were in that part of Hoon Castle occupied by the Dictator of Cyrania.

Bratz himself was extremely irritable. His gouty knee hurt him, he had received a telephone message that two particularly obnoxious persons who should have been arrested by his secret police had escaped at the last moment and, in general, State affairs were not going too well. Added to these annoyances, his mind kept harking back to his conversation with the pretty Countess the previous night, and he was quite sure that she had made a fool of him.

Then there was Marie, with her eyes heavy with unshed tears and fearful of what might happen to her at any moment. Certainly, she had scored a victory the previous night, but at what cost, she was now asking herself? She was well aware that once Bratz had made up his mind about anything, he acted quickly and the dreadful thought was torturing her that he might now want to marry her without another day's delay.

Brendon was in a savage mood because he knew he must act at once, and yet, for the life of him, he could not see in which direction to take the first step. He was the more worried because he could see that he would not be wanted much longer at the castle. Widgeon was speeding up the work and had announced, with much use of the dictionary, that to finish quickly they would henceforth have to work late every night.

Then there was Hygar, in her dull and stupid way, very puzzled how her keys could have got in the pocket of the apron she was not wearing the previous day. Of course, she knew, as did everyone else, that ghosts walked the castle at night, but hitherto any thoughts of them had never troubled her. Now, however, she was wondering what exactly ghosts did. She had been half inclined to speak to her master about them at once, but he had cursed her that morning because his toast was hard, and so she had decided to wait until he was in a better humor.

Lastly, there was Widgeon, the little undersized Cockney from the East End of London, and, strangely enough, he appeared to be the only untroubled one of them all. His face was calm and placid and he muttered to himself no more. He was very quiet and inclined to speak very little. Indeed, from his subdued manner, he seemed like someone who had passed recently through a great sorrow, but whose mind was now at peace.

In spite of Brendon's preoccupation, he could not help noticing this change in Widgeon, but he put it down to the fact that their work would soon be finished and the conchologist was looking forward to returning home.

During the course of the morning the Dictator had frequent conversations with various public officials over the telephone, and he spoke to them so irritably and unpleasantly that all were heartily glad when they were not in his august presence.

Presently, apparently wanting to vent his ill-temper in person upon someone, he got in touch with the Governor of the Klaffer Prison, and learned that the American journalist there was now convalescent, ordered that he should be made ready for a journey that night, and that the Chief of the Secret Police should call for him.

Then he phoned Captain Ruben to bring the journalist to the castle, directly night had fallen.

"And be certain," he ordered sharply, "that there is no more of that cyanide business. We should be able to get a lot of information out of him, and I am determined to find out from whom he learnt about those guns. . . Wh-at? He mayn't be strong enough yet! . . . Well, well see about that? . . . Now be sure he's hooded all the time from the moment you take charge of him until he's up here in my room. . . Yes, I'll give orders to Hygar to bring you straight up, directly you arrive."

Then he commented sarcastically upon the failure of the secret police to obtain any news or the missing Countess and learnt that her late husband's relations were whispering that it was the secret police who had arrested her.

"The fools!" he spluttered in assumed rage. "If you can find out who's saying it just let me know and he'll have a sharp reminder to hold his tongue. I've enough enemies already, and do not want to make any more," and he rang off with the first smile upon his face since he had got out of bed.

The day wore on and just as darkness fell, a sudden storm sprang up and it began to thunder fiercely. The rain fell in torrents and the wind roared round the castle like a hundred thousand demons trying to force their way in.

Two hours passed, and with no appearance of Captain Ruben with the prisoner, the Dictator began fidgetting at the delay. The pain in his knee was greatly aggravating his bad humor.

At last, having for the third time repeated to Hygar the order that she was to admit the Chief of the Secret Police the moment his arrival was announced from below, he stumped into the gallery to enliven his spirits with a few more jeers at the little conchologist.

He started to give Brendon his usual hard stare, but this time extended it for much longer than was his wont. Then he frowned heavily.

Why was it that every time he saw this fellow his thoughts were snatched back to that night in the Countess of Arden's boudoir? Gad! he had only seen the man for about three seconds then, and naturally, could not recall distinctly how he had looked! Still—this carpenter, this chauffeur of Rubens—bah! it was nonsense! Ruben knew all about this man and would not have employed him if he had not been sure of him! Ruben was as shrewd as the devil, and—still, he would ask Ruben a few questions directly he arrived. Yes, he would put Ruben through his paces pretty sharply.

He turned his eyes away at last and, after the briefest interest in his shells, began to bait Widgeon more savagely than he had ever done before. He told him once again of the hell's cauldron they had built in a secret place among the mountains and that the new gases with which they were now filling the bombs were of so deadly a nature that rarely a day passed without one or more of the workmen employed being poisoned and dying in dreadful agony.

"And they would get away if they could," he jeered with his cruel smile, "but when they try to escape we either shoot them down like dogs, or else experiment upon them in the gas chambers." He rubbed his hands together gleefully. "Death is certain after one breath of the gas, but they take a devilish time to die and are not too pleasant to watch."

Widgeon made no comment. He was now helping Brendon with one of the glass cases and was fitting the parts of the woodwork together. His eyes were bent upon his work and the expression upon his face was calm and inscrutable.

Bratz went on. "Yes, war is war, and with the object of making our enemies give in we are only pushing everything to a logical conclusion." He laughed happily. "They won't want to do much more fighting when they see their wives and children, their mothers and fathers, and everyone they are fond of, dying these lingering deaths of agony."

A thought seemed to strike him suddenly, and he spoke in mocking tones. "A—ah! but if you would like to see one of our methods in actual practice, you can be a witness of it tonight." He looked at his watch. "Any moment now I am expecting the Chief of the Secret Police to arrive with a prisoner whom we are going to ask a few questions with the irons. He has refused to say a word up to now, but directly we start business you'll see how quickly he'll give in."

The door opened softly and Hygar appeared in the gallery. She walked quickly to where the Dictator was standing, but apparently not liking to interrupt, stood waiting patiently behind him, without speaking. Widgeon had looked up from his work when the door had opened and now regarded both Hygar and her master with a peculiar intent expression.

He seemed at last to be taking in what the Dictator was saying.

"Yes," continued Bratz in vicious tones and evidently determined so to harrow Widgeon's feelings that he would burst into his usual heated remonstrances, "when he feels the searing iron, when he contorts his face in agony—" and then dramatically to portray the awful anguish of his intended victim, he contorted his own face into an expression of great pain and, with pursed-up lips drew himself up and threw back his head. But, in his endeavor so realistically to act the part of the tortured man, he had forgotten his gouty knee, and a sharp twinge of real pain came as he stepped back to preserve his balance.

Then his knee struck violently against the bony leg of Hygar and his agony was excruciating.

"You damned woman!" he shouted hoarsely and, in his rage, he struck his fist full into her face.

The woman gave a long drawn "O—-oh," and crashed backwards on to the floor. But her neck struck heavily upon the top rail of a high fender as she fell, and there was a loud and horrible crack, before her head lopped sideways at a dreadful angle. Her legs twitched convulsively a few times, and then she lay quite still. She had broken her neck.

Bratz's face turned an ugly, ashen grey. "But it served you right, you vixen!" he panted. "It was all your own fault, and——" but then turning scowlingly round, his eyes were drawn instantly as if by a magnet, towards Brendon.

For a few seconds he stared stupidly as if not taking in what he saw. Then he opened his mouth wide and, the dead Hygar now forgotten, he gasped as if he were suddenly faced by an apparition.

Who was it who was now standing before him?

Gone was the respectful carpenter of the averted face, gone was the man with the hunched-up shoulders and weak, sagging jaw, and gone also was the figure which was never erect and whose limbs looked as if they had never been straightened out. Instead, stood a Nemesis with blazing eyes, a man with his jaw set and his mouth tight-lipped, a figure erect and virile and in the poise of one who was about to hurl himself forward and strike.

For just a little while they stood facing one another, and then Bratz sprang into action. In a lightning movement he snatched at his hip pocket and almost in the fraction of a second Brendon was looking into the barrel of an automatic pistol.

"Hands up," roared Bratz. "Quick, or I'll put a bullet through you!" His voice trembled in fury. "Hell, don't I recognise you for certain now, and shan't that cursed girl suffer with you, too! You devil, how I'll punish you!"

In a perfect agony of mortification Brendon realised what a ghastly muddle he had made of everything. He had betrayed himself for no purpose, and then had done nothing to avert the consequences. He had seen recognition dawning in Bratz's eyes and yet he had stood stock still, instead of springing upon Bratz before the latter was ready. And now, not only had he ruined everything for himself, but also, he had involved Marie in his peril.

He held up his hands with his face as white as death and his forehead picked out in little beads of sweat. Subconsciously he noted that Widgeon seemed to be searching for something among the tools upon one of the benches.

Bratz kept him covered with the pistol. "Exactly," he sneered exultingly, "the man who bombed the Sarron works; the lover of Marie, Countess of Arden, and the intruder in my lady's boudoir!" His voice rose in fury. "Yes, you struck me, you dog, and if only for that I'll have your feet burnt to the bone!" There was a fiendish triumph in his tones. "A-ah, but first you shall watch the pretty lady take her punishment! By gad! I'll make her suffer if anybody ever has done! She is in the castle here and——" but they were the last words he ever uttered, for Widgeon, creeping up behind him, with one fierce, furious blow had plunged a chisel into his back and transfixed his heart.

A dreadful silence filled the gallery. For one brief second the big frame of the Dictator seemed to totter uncertainly. Then it lurched forward, and, gathering impetus, crashed down upon the floor in a welter of pouring blood.

The mighty Dictator of Cyrania was dead, slain with a cheap carpentry tool by a little peace-loving man who was as humble and unwarlike as the weapon he had used!

Widgeon seemed in no way excited, and, with all his wits about him, without a moment's hesitation, picked up the pistol General Bratz had dropped.

"And you shall go next," he said sternly, as he pointed it to the direction of Brendon. "If you've been using bombs, as he said, you are not fit to live, either."

"Don't shoot, don't shoot, you little fool," shrieked Brendon. "I am English like you, and I am a Secret Service agent. I was sent over to thwart that man," and his heart came into his mouth as he saw that Widgeon, gaping in his surprise, was flourishing his pistol about dangerously.

"Put that pistol down. Don't shoot," shrieked Brendon again. "Can't you realise I'm speaking English. I tell you I belong to the British Secret Service. I'm not a Cyranian at all," and at that moment the door of the gallery opened and Captain Ruben stepped in quickly.

"Well, here's one who is," commented Widgeon as unconcernedly as if they were discussing every-day affairs, and, without the slightest hesitation now, he commenced emptying his pistol in the direction of the Chief of the Secret Police.

His aim was shocking. The first bullet went about six feet wide to the left, the next one struck the ceiling, but the third, by some miraculous chance, caught Ruben in the head. The Captain uttered a low cry and made an obvious attempt to remain erect, but it was to no purpose and, in the awed hush which followed upon the firing of the last shot, he sank slowly down until he was lying partly upon the floor and partly propped up against the wall. He put one hand weakly to the side of his head and the blood poured out from between his fingers. He gave one long groan and then was silent.

Brendon darted over and snatched the pistol from Widgeon's hand. "I'm sorry you shot him," he panted. "He might have been of use to us in escaping."

"I don't care," said Widgeon with no trace of emotion. "He was the chief of the Secret Police, and one of their murder gang." He spoke quite calmly. "I'm out to kill as many of them as I can now. I see that it is to be my mission over here."

"Come on with me, quick," ordered Brendon peremptorily. "We must see if we can bolt the doors to prevent his servants coming in case they heard the firing. If they have heard it we are in the most dangerous position possible," and with Widgeon at his heels he ran quickly out of the gallery.

Gaining the dead Dictator's room, he was startled to see a man seated in a chair there. The man's face was very pale, his eyes were staring and his mouth was opened wide.

"You move, or lift a hand," snarled Brendon, covering him with his pistol, "and I fire instantly." Then, to his amazement—perceiving that the man was handcuffed and his feet were tied—a light broke suddenly upon him and, notwithstanding the imminence of his own danger, he paused to exclaim delightedly. "Ah, the prisoner who was brought here to be tortured! The American, A. M. Newland, aren't you? Then good news, for you are saved for the moment! Bratz is dead!"

He darted into the corridor leading to the lower regions of the castle and quick as lightning, but very softly, as he could hear no sound of people rushing up the stairs, shot the heavy bolts at the top and bottom of the big door. Then for a long minute he bent his head and stood listening. But he heard nothing but the roaring of the wind outside.

Returning quickly to the Dictators room, he was just in time to hear Widgeon say to the American journalist, "Yes, I killed him. I stabbed him and then I shot the Chief of the Secret Police. They were both bad men and I considered it my duty to, as I believe you call it in your country, 'bump them off.'"

Brendon explained quickly to the journalist all that had happened and exactly how they were situated. "Of course, things look pretty hopeless for us," he said, "but all the same it is just possible Bratz may have had a private way of getting out of the castle from these rooms. At any rate we have all the night before us to look for it as no one is likely to disturb us now until the morning. If the phone rings we just won't answer it and they'll think Bratz doesn't intend to be disturbed. Now about your handcuffs; do you know who's got the key?"

"Captain Ruben," replied Newland. "I saw it given to him after they had handcuffed me at the prison. No, I'll come with you, please, if you've no objection," for Brendon had turned to go back into the gallery. "That General Bratz was such a nightmare to the world that if I have to die in a few hours it will be a solace to me in my last moments that I have seen him dead, first."

They entered the gallery together and Brendon could not repress a shudder as he saw the huge pool of blood which was now surrounding the body of the Dictator. He was lying face-downwards and the chisel was still in his back, buried up to its handle.

"A fierce blow, my friend," nodded the American to Widgeon, who was gazing imperturbably at his handiwork. "You must have cut right into the aorta for all that blood to have come out."

"Oh, I struck hard, right enough," nodded Widgeon, "and I could feel the chisel glide in between his ribs." He spoke proudly. "There was no need for a second blow."

They turned to the body of the Chief of the Secret Police. "We must search him well," said the American. "He may have some sort of pass on him that will enable us to get away from here. You never know." He screwed up his eyes. "This chap, for all his evil reputation, was quite pleasant to me in a way. He gave me a cigarette coming here in the car and told me I might get a quick death after all. I didn't know what he meant, but I think, somehow, that he was pitying me."

Brendon sighed deeply as he knelt down to go through the Captain's pockets. Ruben had been a cog in the wheel of that dreadful machine which was to terrorise all the world, and he had served a master who personified the cruelty and blood lust of the jungle, but still he had befriended Brendon, and saved him from certain death as a spy. Then Brendon thought of Clodil, who had so loved the man, and of the children who would now be fatherless, and he cursed Widgeon for what he had done.

He found the key to the handcuffs, but in getting it out of one of the waistcoat pockets, something else came out as well, and fell on to the floor.

For the moment he did not trouble to see what it was and stood up to unlock the handcuffs. Then he heard a crack and found he had put his foot upon a small cardboard box. Immediately there was a strong smell of almonds.

"Hullo! hullo!" called out the American most interestedly, "what's that?" and he snatched up the little box and opened it. Inside was a piece of wet cotton wool and some broken fragments of very thin glass. The smell of almonds was now almost overpowering.

Brendon whistled. "Whew, it's prussic acid!" he exclaimed, and he and Newland looked hard into each other's eyes.

"Exactly," remarked Newland grimly, "in a convenient little glass capsule! You see, these fellows can never trust one another and so he carried about with him a short cut to eternity in case he himself ever came to be threatened with torture." He turned over the cotton wool in the box with his finger. "But there was more than one of them here. There must have been two or three." Then a startled look came into his face. "By Jove, now I wonder if one of them was intended for me and that was what he meant when he said I might get a quick death! Lord, but it might have been! Several men whom Ruben has arrested have died in that way lately: Le Noir, Prescott and——"

But Widgeon had pushed them both roughly to one side and, with his eyes almost bulging from his head, was pointing to the supposed corpse of the Chief of the Secret Police. "Look, look," he gasped. "He's got his eyes open!"

And sure enough not only had Captain Ruben got his eyes open, but he was staring from one to the other as if trying to remember who they were. Then, at last apparently recognising Widgeon, first, his ghastly bloodied face broke into a wan smile. "Get me some water, please," he said, speaking in excellent English. "I'm terribly thirsty."

Widgeon rushed off for the water and Brendon bent down to examine the Captain's head. "Great Scott," he exclaimed, "you were only stunned! The bullet just grazed the side of your head!"

Ruben drank the water greedily and then pulled himself up more comfortably against the wall. His movements now seemed quite strong. "I can't be hurt much," he said. "I only feel rather giddy." His eyes fell upon Bratz's body in its big pool of blood. "A—ah, then I didn't dream it!" he exclaimed. "So, he's really dead at last!" He frowned heavily. "But who killed him like that?"

"I did," said Widgeon proudly, "and I meant to kill you as well."

"So it seemed," commented the Captain, with a grim smile. He looked at Brendon. "But did anyone hear the firing? Did no one come up to find what it meant?"

Brendon shook his head. "No, and the big door's bolted as well as locked, so they can't get in without breaking it down."

"Well, they won't begin to get suspicious until tomorrow morning," commented the Captain. "They'll suppose I am spending the night here." He spoke sharply, as if he were giving an order to one of his own men. "Find a piece of clean rag, please, and bind up my head. Then I'll see what can be done about your getting away from here"—he spoke almost menacingly—"if you all take a most solemn oath that you will never mention that it was I who helped you."

But this time none of them made any movement to comply with his request, and after a moment's silence Brendon said very sternly, "No, Captain Ruben, I'm not going to trust you. In fact, I dare not. You speak and understand English perfectly well and you heard me say I belonged to the British Secret Service, so——"

"Oh, yes, I heard that," interrupted Ruben testily, "but still, I am going to help you now because of the help you gave me once."

Brendon shook his head. "I am exceedingly sorry"—he spoke hoarsely and with evident emotion—"but now you have learnt what I am I cannot let you remain alive. You must realise that perfectly well. No, no, don't attempt to get up or I shall have to shoot you instantly." He could hardly get his words out. "If you remain perfectly still, I will get you a pen and some paper and you can write a few words to your wife."

But to their amazement, Captain Ruben only laughed. "You can't get away without my help," he said. "There are a score of soldiers below and they'll not let you pass without a signed order from General Bratz himself, and they'll want it confirmed, too, by telephone."

"Don't trust him for one second," broke in the American, with a scowl. "He's been called the fox and he's as crafty as the devil. He'll be sure to play us some trick."

"No, don't trust him," supplemented Widgeon vehemently. "He was General Bratz's right-hand man. He was always with him and, of course, shares his views." He stretched out his hand to Brendon. "Here, give me the pistol. I'll shoot him if you don't like to. I'll go close up this time and make quite sure of it."

Captain Ruben nodded curtly to Brendon, and made a movement with his arm. "Send those two fools out of ear-shot," he said. "I'll speak to you alone."

"No, I dare not trust you," said Brendon. "There is too much at stake now, and I can take no risks."

The Chief of the Secret Police smiled contemptuously. "Are you becoming a weakling, my friend? Have you lost your nerve at last?" He spoke warningly. "Remember, there'll be no second chance for you to seat yourself upon the steps of the Church of St. Joan!"

Brendon started. "What do you mean?" he asked sharply, hardly able to get his breath in his surprise.

"That the Square of the Three Towers," replied Ruben significantly, "will be just as unhealthy for you now as any other place in Marleck and the chimes of noon will——"

But Brendon made a sign to him to stop. "That'll do," he said quickly. "I understand." He turned to the other two. "Move off, please. He has something to tell me. Oh, yes, I know what I am doing, and it'll be quite all right."

"But I'm not so sure of that," protested the American.

"Move off, I tell you," broke in Brendon angrily. "We have no time for any arguments and I am managing things here," and so, after a moment's hesitation, Newland moved off to the end of the gallery and Widgeon followed him.

Brendon bent over Captain Ruben who was now sitting upright against the wall. "Now, tell me what you mean?" he whispered quickly.

Ruben regarded him with grim amusement. "I suppose I'll have to tell you now"—he looked in the direction of Newland and Widgeon—"but those other two are not to know." He fixed Brendon intently with his eyes and lowered his voice to the merest whisper. "I'm working for the British Intelligence myself and have been doing so ever since I've been in the Secret Police." He nodded slowly. "I know all about you except your real name."

"God!" exclaimed Brendon and he gasped in his amazement. He could hardly get his words out. "It's impossible! I can't believe it!"

"Sir Miles Vaughan notified me you were coming," went on Ruben calmly, "but, of course, I wasn't told how or for what purpose. Then I got no contact with you until that morning when you sat on the church steps. I was waiting close at hand there and recognised you at once as the man who was wanted for that bombing in the Sarron munition works. So, I had you arrested and the rest you know." He smiled his cold, grim smile. "It was strange that you could give me such a good excuse to befriend you, for you certainly saved me from assassination. What you heard that man say on the phone undoubtedly meant they were intending to murder me when I went up to my shooting box at the week-end."

Brendon was still almost breathless in his astonishment. "But you are working for us," he exclaimed, "when your police are notorious for the torturing of their prisoners!"

Ruben nodded. "But I help as many as I can to escape suffering," he frowned, "even at some considerable risk to myself. I have given not a few a capsule of prussic acid and their deaths have been only a matter of seconds." He looked in the direction of the American journalist. "That fellow there would have had one tonight if Bratz had started to burn his feet."

"My God, my God!" murmured Brendon brokenly. "What a vile country this Cyrania is!"

"But it will be better now Bratz is dead," commented Ruben. His eyes turned to the bloodied corpse a few feet away. "He was a great man in a way, but he was eaten with vanity and his vanity had made him mad. He has been insane for years."

"But you aided and abetted him," said Brendon still unable to repress the horror which he felt that Ruben was working for Great Britain. "You have a horrible reputation."

"The more horrible the better," scoffed Ruben, "for then the better I can serve your country." He evidently wanted to justify himself and went on quickly. "Don't you realise, my friend, that everything is horrible and beast-like about war and the preparation for war? Well, here have I been a tool and, apparently, a willing tool in the committing of all these horrors and you—think of the hundreds and hundreds of thousands I, and such as I, have been saving from the horrors of any war to come." His whisper was almost unaudible. "Not a movement is made here without it is reported to Whitehall; not a new poison-gas discovered but London knows all about it in a few hours, and not a new form of bomb invented but its specification goes overseas at once. Bratz may have posed as the bully of all Europe, he may have shouted and boasted of his preparedness and willingness for war, but my work here, our silent secret work, was fast making him, to those who knew everything, nothing but a pricked bladder and an empty windbag."

"But you are selling your fatherland to your enemies!" exclaimed Brendon in horrified tones.

"My fatherland!" scoffed Ruben bitterly. "Ay! my fatherland, and night and day I curse——" he shook his head frowningly. "But enough of that, it is my own private affair and does not concern you."

His voice calmed down to even tones. "Now, one question before I tell you how you can get away. Was it actually you who were in the Church of the Holy Martyrs that night? Then what were you doing there?"

Brendon hesitated, but he saw no reason for keeping anything back. "I went there to get into the Countess of Arden's house. I intended——" he broke off suddenly and asked. "But, do you know who took her away?"

"I'm not certain," replied Ruben, "but I think it must have been some of Bratz's work. I can get no news of her."

Brendon told him everything that had happened, and even Ruben's usually expressionless face could not altogether mask its surprise.

"Ah, but my wife will be relieved!" he exclaimed. "She has been very troubled about the Countess and a lot of people have been trying to make her think I had a hand in the disappearance." He went on. "Well, of course, it is impossible to forecast what will happen now the General is dead, but that bombing of yours at Sarron will not be forgotten and the hunt for you will be as keen as ever." He considered frowningly. "And now after this business tonight there are three of you to be got out of the country."

"Four," corrected Brendon instantly. "The Countess will go with us, too!"

"Hum!" exclaimed Ruben. He regarded Brendon intently. "So that was what was keeping you in Cyrania, was it?" He considered for a moment. "Yes, perhaps she had better go! Some clothes with her cook's name upon them have been washed up in the Viber and if her ladyship returned home she would be asked a lot of questions which——" he looked round the room—"after what has happened tonight might prove very dangerous for me if she was compelled to answer them." He nodded. "Besides, although Bratz is dead, the spirit of him may still live in his successor, and we mustn't forget that the Countess is on the suspected list—and most deservedly, too. She has been sending intelligence abroad, just as I have done."

"But what is going to happen to you now if we get away, as you say, with your help?" asked Brendon.

"Oh, I'll take care of myself," replied Ruben. He pointed to his head. "At any rate, here is good evidence I had no hand in Bratz's death." He smiled a cold, grim smile. "You left me for dead and I came to after you had got away."

"And how are we going to get away?" asked Brendon. "Things look hopeless to me!"

"Not at all," snapped Ruben. "If you can get to a certain place I'll tell you of, in the Dorian Forest about seventy miles from here, you can be flown out of the country and be in England in five hours."

"But who'll take us?" gasped Brendon.

"A man bound to me, body and soul," replied Ruben, "and you will benefit by arrangements made for my own escape and that of my family, in the event of any sudden emergency. Now listen very carefully to what I am telling you." He spoke very slowly. "Go to the telephone upon Bratz's desk and dial MV seven—four—two—two—0." Then when a man's voice answers, which it is almost certain to do at this time of night, say, 'I'll come on Thursday. . . . Oh, isn't that you, Joseph?' Then the man will answer crossly, 'No, there's no Joseph here,' and you will say, 'Sorry, wrong number,' and you will ring off. You are not to say a word more. Now, have you taken that in?"

"Yes," nodded Brendon, "but what does it mean?"

"It is an agreed signal to a pilot at one of our aerodromes," replied Ruben. "On the day you mention to him, Thursday, he will fly off with one of the fastest aeroplanes he can get. He'll pick you up at the place I'm going to direct you to, and if he can't get there that day, he will the next or the next. At any rate he'll be certain to come and if you get there before him you must wait."

Brendon left the gallery with his feet walking on air. He was longing for the moment when he would be free to go to Marie and tell her what had happened.

In the meantime Ruben had beckoned to the American and Widgeon to come near him. He smiled coldly at the bewildered looks upon their faces.

"Don't worry," he said quietly. "With any luck you will be out of this country altogether in a few days." He regarded them very sternly. "Now see here, gentlemen, I am giving you your lives because I am under a great obligation to your friend. Certainly, I have just learnt he is a British Secret Service agent, but against that I place that he saved me from assassination a few weeks ago, and I am not ungrateful." He spoke slowly and as if with some effort. "Also, I have a wife and children."

Newland smiled. "I have met your wife, sir, and she is a very charming woman."

"Exactly," smiled back Ruben, "and naturally I want to see her again." His voice hardened. "But remember, I put you on your honor that you are never to tell what has happened tonight. Be content that your lives have been spared"—he paused a moment—"by a miracle."

The journalist looked thoughtful. "But it would make a great story," he mused—"the greatest of my whole life. It might perhaps——"

"You fool!" burst out Ruben angrily. "What is any paltry story you could tell compared to the grief you would bring upon my home?" His eyes glared. "I dare you, as a gentleman of your great country, to open your mouth."

The American bowed. "You win, sir." He looked at Widgeon, who nodded. "We will never speak."

"And now help me into General Bratz's room, please," said Ruben rising slowly to his feet. "I want to bathe my wound, and you must bind it up before you go. It smarts."

The hour that followed passed like a dream to Brendon. He remembered waking Marie and closing her mouth with kisses; then how the Chief of the Secret Police, with the blood washed from his face and his head bound with a piece of torn sheet, shook hands with her cordially and said how pleased his wife would be. Then he remembered them searching for the dead Dictator's keys and how Ruben took them to a big cupboard at the end of a long corridor, and turning the back of it, showed them a staircase leading down to the bottom of the castle. Then, emerging by the postern gate how, with the storm passed away and the moon shining, they walked down a narrow pathway and came to a boathouse at the foot of a high cliff upon the bank of the river. Then how they got into a big rowing boat and the Captain pushed them off and the swirling waters caught them.

Yes, the memory of that hour was blurred to him, and it cleared only when a curve of the river had hidden Hoon Castle from them, and he heard Marie say prosaically. "Let me have one of those biscuits, dear, will you? I feel so hungry."

And at that moment the Chief of the Secret Police, although the electric lights were full on, was searching in Hygar's store cupboard for a candle. He wanted one that would burn for about three hours.


CHAPTER XIII. "A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE!"

It was unfortunate for Brendon and his little party that upon the afternoon of the night from which they had all escaped from Hoon Castle, a dreadful double murder had been committed in Marleck, and the murderer was believed to have escaped in the direction of the river towns. A small shop-keeper and his wife had been killed under most brutal circumstances and the public indignation had been roused to fever-pitch.

The murderer was known, and it was surmised by the police that he would go into hiding somewhere not very far from the river where his people lived.

So it happened that Brendon and the others, expecting to make their journey through a stretch of country where they would meet no one, had they only known it, were running into a district which was upon the point of being thoroughly searched by the authorities.

Brendon had followed Captain Ruben's directions implicitly, and allowed the boat to drift with the current for about four hours until nearly a mile distant from a town whose lights showed upon the right bank of the river.

They had landed, as they had been told to, at the foot of a tall cliff and climbed into the security of a thick wood above.

By the light of an electric torch, they bent over the rough map the captain had drawn for them. They had a matter of some fifty miles to cover before they would reach the shooting-box in the Dorian Forest, and they were quite aware that it was going to be no light undertaking.

Brendon was undoubtedly the only one of them fit to walk the distance. The American was weak from his recent illness. Widgeon had never been accustomed to walking, and so long a journey for a gently-nurtured girl like Marie was going to be a dreadful trial.

They would have to sleep two nights in the open, too, and in the closing days of autumn the weather was not likely to be very propitious. They had encumbered themselves with as little luggage as possible, and only Brendon carried a suitcase. There were, however, two blankets for each of them.

Their route had been mapped out to cross as few roads as possible, and among the woods and keeping to the high ground, they hoped to escape all observation.

Their great difficulty was going to be food, for all they had been able to bring away from the castle were a few biscuits, half a loaf of bread, and two bottles of wine.

They would pass only one village during the whole course of their journey, and there would be their only chance of obtaining provisions. This village was about twenty miles away, and they expected to reach it early the following day.

Directly dawn had broken and they could see their way, they started off in good spirits, with Widgeon and the American walking in front and Brendon and Marie following. The latter two had exchanged few words since they had left the castle but there was a perfect understanding between them and a great happiness was filling their hearts.

For two hours everything went well and, walking leisurely to husband their strength, they reckoned they must have covered about six miles. Then, the thick wood they had been traversing began to thin out, according to Captain Ruben's map, and they knew they must be approaching the first road they would have to cross. So they proceeded warily and it was well they did so, for when the road came into view they saw a soldier, with a rifle across his knees, sitting upon a boulder and, from his alternatively looking up and down the road, it was evident he had been stationed there to keep watch.

"So, so," exclaimed the American scowlingly, "then that Ruben fellow has double-crossed us! He has set the soldiers on us now!"

"Nonsense!" retorted Brendon sharply, "if he had intended to to that he'd have had us stopped when we were in the boat!" He frowned uneasily. "Still, I don't understand it. Soldiers mean something too big for the regular police." He turned and began to move off with Marie in a direction at right angles to the course they had been following. "But come on, well try further up the road."

But further up the road was no better for, with the first soldier out of sight they came upon a second one and it was evident that the road was being watched along its entire length.

"Well, we'll have to wait, that's all," said Brendon dissembling his anxiety. "They're not likely to remain here all day," and the little party squatted down among the trees and prepared themselves to wait with what patience they could.

When they first caught sight of him, this second soldier had been marching up and down, retracing his footsteps every twenty yards or so. But eventually he got tired of that and, seating himself against a tree at the side of the road, leant back and contented himself with turning his head round every now and then to see if the road were clear. But gradually, he took to turning his head less often, and at last, for a good five minutes, they saw that he had not moved.

"Gad," exclaimed Brendon delightedly, "but I believe the beggar's fallen asleep! Come on now, quickly. We'll risk it. I'll have to shoot him if he wakes."

But he did not wake and in less than a minute the little party had crossed the road and plunged into the opposite wood.

"You see," went on Brendon gleefully, "our luck's holding and now to get within striking distance of that village before night."

But it was soon found that very poor progress was going to be made that day, and by noon Brendon had given up all hope of covering anything like twenty miles before darkness overtook them. The American was struggling bravely, but the excitements of the night and the walking of the first six miles had undoubtedly exhausted him, and his heavy breathing and the pallor of his face showed in what distress he was. Widgeon, too, began to look very tired and drawn and, worst of all in Brendon's eyes, Marie had developed a painful blister on one of her heels.

By sunset, according to the Captain's map, they were a bare twelve miles distant from where they had started. They divided what remained of the food and wine among them, and round the base of a big tree, prepared to pass the night as comfortably as they could.

"Never mind," said Brendon brightly, "we can go as slowly as we like, for, remember, Captain Reuben said the plane would wait there for us until we came. Tomorrow, we will get proper food and then we shall feel ever so much better."

The night was a very wakeful one, with none of them getting much sleep. However, they were dozing when dawn broke and to Brendon's great mortification they awoke in a cold drizzling rain.

That day's journey was a terrible one, and it was only Brendon's forced good spirits that kept them with any semblance of hope. The rain continued to fall steadily and, weak from want of food and stiff and cold and soon damp to the skin, it was as much as the three of them could do to drag themselves along. Very soon Brendon had to support the American the whole time, for the latter could not have gone a hundred yards further by himself.

However, the miles were covered, if covered very slowly and with frequent halts, and just as dusk was falling they saw the lights of the village. They had come out of the woods at the top of a low cliff, and the village lay about a quarter of a mile below them.

They held a short consultation and then, much against his inclination, Brendon had to agree that it should be Marie who would go for the food. His own appearance would have been dangerous, Newland could not walk without assistance, and Widgeon was quite out of the question as he did not speak a word of Cyranian.

So it was Marie, with her shoe cut and her blistered heel made as comfortable as possible, who left them to go down to the village, and they watched her going with anxious hearts.

The village was a small one and Marie entered the one little general shop, for the moment forgetting all her tiredness in the thought of the delight she would give the others by taking back the food.

There was no customer in the shop when she entered, and the old man behind the counter eyed her curiously as she proceeded to give her order. She gave the explanation that she had come from a car which had been giving trouble but which was now being put right about a quarter of a mile away from the village.

"And I'll put everything in a sugar bag," said the man, "so that they'll be easier for you to carry," and at that moment the shop door opened and another customer entered the shop.

Marie did not turn round, but she saw the shopkeeper make a deep bow and touch his forehead most respectfully as he greeted the newcomer. "A bad night, my lord," he said. "It doesn't look as if the rain's going to stop."

Then came a deep, rich voice, "No, I think it's the beginning of winter," and Marie started, and with difficulty suppressed a gasp of consternation.

She knew that voice. There was no mistaking it. It was that of Cardinal Arden, her late husbands cousin, and there was not a more dangerous man she could have encountered. He had never been friendly with her husband, and alone of all the Ardens, had been a firm supporter of General Bratz. She had often met the Cardinal in Marleck society, but annoyed that his cousin had married a woman of France, he had always been cold and distant with her. Indeed, he had once told her openly that it was not pleasing to him that a member of the Arden family had chosen a wife from among the enemies of his country.

She had laughed defiantly at him then, but now her knees were trembling under her, and her breath came with difficulty.

What an awful calamity, she thought. He was hard and pitiless, and if he recognised her and learnt what was happening, he might betray them, with no mercy, to the authorities.

A silence followed while Marie's things were being placed in the sugar bag. Then the man placed the bag upon the counter, and Marie started to lift it up. But the bag was bulky and her nervousness made her clumsy. She let the mouth of the sack tip downwards, and out rolled a cheese. She made an effort to grab it, but the Cardinal was before her, and picked it up.

"Allow me," he said smilingly, and he moved forward to replace the cheese in the sack. Then his eyes met Marie's and the smile upon his handsome face changed into an incredulous frown.

"I'm sorry, my lady, that I cannot carry it to your car," broke in the shopkeeper apologetically, "but there is no one here except myself tonight, and I cannot leave the shop."

"I'll carry it," said the Cardinal grimly, and with a feeling of dreadful apprehension Marie preceded him out of the shop.

"And now what does this mean?" he asked sharply, the moment they were out in the road. "What are you doing here, alone in this village, at this time of the evening?" He looked up and down the empty road. "And where is this car the man spoke of? Who are you with?"

Marie was on the verge of tears, but she pulled herself together bravely. "Since when have I been responsible to you, my lord?" she asked proudly. "Give me my bag, please, and let me go."

"But what does it mean?" asked the Cardinal, ignoring her request. "You are muddied and your clothes look soaked through."

"Let me go, please, my lord," pleaded Marie. "You and I have never been friends, and I am no concern of yours."

"But you are a concern of mine," retorted the Cardinal instantly. "You are an Arden, if only by marriage, and any discredit falling upon you reflects upon our whole house. So, do you think I like to find you now tramping the roads like a common peasant woman?" He looked round to see if any one was near, and lowered his voice. "Do you know it is rumored there is a warrant out for you as a spy, and you are supposed to have fled the country to avoid arrest?"

"Avoid arrest?" scoffed Marie brokenly. "Why, I was arrested! Your General Bratz had me drugged and then dragged from my house in the middle of the night. He has been keeping me a prisoner and threatening me with torture, if I did not become his wife—or worse." She could hardly choke back her tears. "I am escaping from him now."

The Cardinal made no attempt to suppress a sharp exclamation of anger. Politically only had he been a supporter of General Bratz. Himself an aristocrat, he had looked down upon the Dictator for being peasant-born, and it made him furious to learn that Bratz had dared to think of adding a member of the house of Arden to the long string of beauties who, from time to time, had been honored by his attentions.

It never entered into his mind that Marie was not speaking the truth, for although he regarded her with the most bitter feelings because of her association with the enemies of the Government, as a woman he respected her. He was quite aware that, morally, her reputation was untainted.

He gripped her by the arm. "Then you shall tell me all about it," he said sharply. "But we can't talk here. Come with me into the presbytery. It's over there, just across the road. The village priest is away and I'm doing his work for him. I am here for a rest. No, no nonsense, Marie, I insist that you come, although I tell you frankly I may consider it my duty—an Arden though you are—to hand you over to the authorities."

Marie's knees were trembling more than ever, but she realised there was no help for it, and so in a few minutes she was sitting before a warm fire and, revived by a glass of wine, was telling her story. Part of what she told was true and part pure fabrication.

She did not disclose that she knew General Bratz was dead, and made no mention of Hoon Castle. She said the Dictator had been holding her prisoner in a house in a suburb of Marleck, and day after day had been pestering her with his attentions. But she had escaped with the help of a man there, a carpenter, and had got away with two other prisoners, an American and an English professor. She said they were journeying towards the frontier and would be able to get across if once they reached it, as she had friends waiting to help her. She added that they now wanted to get to a certain place in the Dorian Forest, where someone else she knew would provide them with horses.

Then she told of the two awful days they had passed through and how, with one of them only recently recovered from pneumonia, they had tramped through the blinding rain, soaked to the skin and weak from want of food.

And all the time she was speaking the Cardinal never took his eyes off her. His expression was inscrutable, and he showed no signs of any sympathy, but it was not in human nature that he should not be in some way affected by her story. Her face was drawn and pale, there were dark lines under her tired eyes, and she was shaky and tremulous, but the magnetism of a beautiful woman was still there, and neither fatigue, nor weakness, nor a dreadful anxiety could mar her loveliness.

He sighed when she had finished speaking. "The way of the transgressor is hard, my daughter," he said gently, "and it is meet and right that you should have escaped punishment." He frowned. "The trouble with you is that you have no husband now, and no child to anchor you. I am always fearing that you will bring public disgrace upon the name of Arden." He nodded frowningly. "But you need no longer have any fear of General Bratz." He spoke very solemnly. "He is dead!"

Marie made a well simulated gasp of astonishment. "Dead!" she exclaimed. "What did he die of?"

"We fear he was burnt to death," replied the Cardinal gravely. "Early yesterday morning a fire broke out in Hoon Castle and the whole place was gutted. He must have been rendered unconscious by the fumes and the doors could not be broken down in time to save him. Everyone in his part of the castle perished."

"Great God!" exclaimed Marie shakily, "what an awful death!"

The Cardinal rose up from his chair. "But come, we'll go and bring in those men. I have my car here and I'll drive it myself."

"But what are you going to do with them?" asked Marie piteously. "You are not going to give them up?"

"Not necessarily," replied the Cardinal. "I shall use my own judgment and see what manner of men they are." He nodded. "At any rate, they shall have a meal and sleep in peace tonight. There is no one in the Presbytery but myself and two serving maids, and perfect secrecy will be kept."

Then to the amazement of the three in hiding above the cliff, a car drove slowly up and they saw Marie step quickly out. Her weariness forgotten, she ran into the wood, and in a few hurried sentences told them what had happened, and the story she had told. "And you are not to let him know you are English," she said sharply to Brendon. "You are a Cyranian carpenter, that is all."

The Cardinal just gave them a curt good evening as the three men came down to the car and motioned them to the back seat. Then, arriving at the Presbytery, they were ushered into a big bare room and he scrutinised them curiously.

"And which of you is the American," he asked, speaking in English. "Well, what is your name? Augustus Newland! The journalist?" he exclaimed in great surprise. "But I thought you had been drowned in the Viber, weeks ago!"

"The report was false, my lord," said Newland dryly. "I was arrested by the Secret Police, and I understood information was to have been extracted from me in an unpleasant manner, but I fell sick with pneumonia and the investigation was put off until I was able to bear it."

"Hum!" remarked the Cardinal. He turned to Brendon and Widgeon and asked, "And which is the professor?"

"I am," said Widgeon boldly. "I am Professor of Conchology at Marleck University."

It seemed that the Cardinal was now repressing a smile. He elevated his eyebrows ever so little. "And who conferred the title upon you?" he asked.

"General Bratz himself," replied Widgeon. "He sent for me from London to classify his collection of shells."

"And you are the carpenter!" said the Cardinal turning to Brendon. "Then what is your name?"

"Bern Hopple, my lord," said Brendon, and he lowered his eyes respectfully.

"Well, I am quite aware that for reasons best known to yourselves, you are all fugitives from the law," said the Cardinal. He raised his hand protestingly as the American seemed about to speak. "No, no! I will not discuss it with you, please." He went on. "But I'll give you hospitality until such time as I am in a position to acquaint you with what I Intend to do with you."

"Can I lie down somewhere, my lord?" said Newland faintly. "I'm still weak from my illness, and I'm not feeling well."

"Certainly," said the Cardinal, "but you shall have some brandy first, and then a very hot bath. Your meal shall be brought to you in bed." He nodded. "Yes, it shall be a truce of God tonight." He spoke warningly. "But I advise none of you to go beyond the presbytery garden as there are soldiers quartered to the village."

"Soldiers!" gasped Newland. "Are they after us?"

"Not that I know of," said the Cardinal. "They are hunting for a murderer who has escaped from Marleck. He killed his employer and they have been searching the woods all day." He smiled his cold, dry smile. "You are fortunate they did not come across you, for without papers as no doubt you all are, you would certainly have been arrested."

That night Marie, alone, saw the Cardinal again. Attired in clothing lent her by one of the maid-servants, she took her meal with him. Very few words were spoken, and no allusion was made to her companions. Later, at his request, she accompanied him to the adjoining chapel for the service of the last prayers. There, she saw him in quite a new light. He was passionately devotional, and the proud prelate had now become a lowly and very humble supplicant before the altar.

Later, he bade her a curt good-night, and she was shown by one of the maids into a small whitewashed room almost bare of furniture. Upon one of the walls just facing the bed, however, hung a huge oil painting depicting Adam and Eve being driven from the Garden of Eden. The figures were almost life size, and the remorse of the unhappy couple was most strikingly portrayed. Long after she had turned out the lamp and was trying to compose herself to sleep, Marie could see the terrified face of Eve looking down upon her. It haunted her, too, in her dreams.

The next morning the Cardinal informed her that the American was not fit to travel, and so they would have to remain at the Presbytery for another night. All that day she saw nothing of her companions, and her husband's cousin, as upon the previous evening, said very little to her.

That night, however, after the evening meal, he opened his mind at last and told her what he intended to do with them.

"That American gentleman will be fit to travel tomorrow," he said, "and I shall let you all resume your journey," he regarded her very sternly, "upon one condition. I have spoken to that young carpenter. He seems bright and intelligent, and tells me that if I take you in the car to a place about 25 miles from here you will only have about seven miles to walk to where you will get those horses."

"Oh, how kind of you!" exclaimed Marie warmly. "I was sure——"

"Wait," broke in the Cardinal grimly. "Wait until you hear the condition I impose." He spoke very sternly. "I have told you how, by your working for the enemies of Cyrania, you have been threatening to bring disgrace upon the house of Arden. Well, I am determined the risk of that disgrace shall not continue, and that if you are arrested at the frontier, which I am almost certain you will be, you shall not be arrested while still bearing the Arden name. So——"

"So what?" asked Marie, because he had stopped speaking. "Don't keep me in suspense! What are you going to do?"

The Cardinal spoke very slowly. "I—am—going—to—have—you—married again—straight away," his voice hardened, "and the husband I have chosen for you is that young carpenter, Hopple."

Marie put her hand over her heart and stared at him as if she had suddenly lost her senses and was bereft of any power of speech.

"Yes," went on the Cardinal coldly, "he shall give you his name and then any further disgrace that falls shall fall upon Marie Hopple and not upon the Marie of our honored name."

Marie gasped a big "O-oh," and then bowed her head and covered her face with her hands. She trembled violently.

"Of course it will only be a marriage of convenience," said the Cardinal, "and a man in his position will never dare to expect you to live with him." He stirred uneasily in his chair. "And it binds you to perpetual widowhood, too, for with all your shortcomings I take you to be of that class of woman who does not form discreditable unions."

A long silence followed and then the girl lifted up her head and uncovered her face at last.

"And if I refuse?" she asked hoarsely.

"Then tomorrow morning your friends leave the Presbytery to take their chance and I drive you back to your house in Marleck to allow the authorities to arrest you if they are so inclined. In effect, I wash my hands of you all. I am neither for you nor against you."

Another long silence followed with Marie, her face now quite composed, staring thoughtfully into the fire.

"Have you spoken to this man about his being forced to marry me?" she asked at last.

"Yes, not an hour ago. Naturally, he was thunderstruck at first, as I expected he would be, but then he agreed to everything quite quietly. He seems a very superior young fellow, and, as I say most intelligent."

"And please, what reason did you give him for his being compelled to marry me?" asked Marie contemptuously.

"I explained you were under a cloud with the authorities but, once married to a commoner, they would in all probability leave you alone." The Cardinal spoke quickly. "Of course, he quite understands the marriage will be only a matter of form, still"—he frowned as he regarded the lovely face before him—"it will be your place to keep him at a distance." His frown deepened as he added thoughtfully. "He has a very determined chin."

Marie spoke sharply. "And do you think it right, my lord, to force this marriage on me just for the personal and selfish reason that dishonor shall not fall upon your house?"

The Cardinal puckered up his brows vexatiously. "That is not my only reason. As the Countess of Arden, as the widow of my dead cousin, if you ever return to Cyrania, you will have, as you always have had, a not inconsiderable influence in certain high circles and will continue to be a danger to the State." He shrugged his shoulders disdainfully. "But as the wife of this Hopple man, your influence will have gone, and you will be shunned by those people among whom you could do most mischief." He regarded her very sternly. "My decision is irrevocable. This marriage is my price for your freedom and that of your companions."

"And if I do as you wish," said Marie slowly, "do you vow most solemnly you will help us to escape."

"I make vows only to God," replied the Cardinal coldly, "but I give you my promise"—he drew himself up proudly—"I as a prince of the Church and an Arden."

"And when do you want this marriage to take place?" asked Marie, with a choke in her voice.

"Now, immediately. I have ordered them all to be in the chapel at eight and it is nearly that now." He smiled a grim smile. "I thought you would listen to reason."

So, side by side, Marie and Brendon stood by the chancel steps in the old chapel where many a village man and maiden had taken their marriage vows. The chapel was almost in shadow as, but for the candles upon the Altar and the faint ruby glow of the seven holy lamps, there was only one light, and that half-way down the aisle.

Widgeon and the American journalist were the only spectators, and they were there to witness the signing of the register.

The cardinal's voice was very low and hardly broke the deep silence. The responses of the bridal couple were almost inaudible, and it seemed they only mumbled when it came to the repeating of their Christian names. Then as they knelt before the Altar the Cardinal pronounced the benediction over them and then, with the softest footfalls, they went into the vestry.

"And we are married now, my lord?" asked Brendon breathlessly, as the Cardinal took the church register out of the cupboard and was preparing to fill in the names. "I mean is the marriage as valid as if the banns had been published and the ceremony witnessed by our relatives and friends."

"Quite as valid," replied the Cardinal. "I have married you with the special powers I possess under the high office that I hold." He spoke very solemnly. "You are man and wife in the sight of God and man, and only death can unloose the bonds."

Then to his amazement Brendon instantly drew Marie to him, and lifting up her face, kissed her full upon the lips with a kiss that was not a short one, either, and, to the cardinal's scandalised anger, he saw that Marie was shamelessly returning the kiss.

Then, with a face transfigured in its happiness, Brendon turned back to him. "My lord," he said, very solemnly, "you have done me the greatest service that any man could, and I shall thank you for it all my life. We were intending to be married directly we reached England but you have given us our happiness sooner." He pointed to the open register. "Now, will you please fill in the name there as Ashleigh Brendon. That is my real name."

"But who are you?" gasped the astounded Cardinal with his eyes almost starting from his head. "Ashleigh Brendon!" he repeated sharply. "Then you are an Englishman!" He calmed down instantly to a cold and menacing sternness. "And what are you doing in Cyrania"—he glared now at Marie—"upon apparently intimate terms with a woman who, as a suspected spy was being watched by the authorities? I consider——"

"Oh, my lord," broke in Marie pleadingly, "don't let us talk of any of those things now. You have just made us man and wife, and it is one of the most sacred moments in our lives." She laid her hand upon his arm. "Forget everything except that you have married us and just given us your blessing."

"But he is almost certainly another spy," choked the Cardinal, "and in that case it is my duty to disclose him to——"

"But your promise to me, my lord," said Marie gently, "your promise that if I married him we should all go free!" She raised her voice ever so little and spoke very slowly. "Does a prince of the church go back upon his word? Does an Arden lie?"

The Cardinal spoke angrily. "But you have both deceived me. You have both——"

"We did not deceive you," interrupted Marie warmly. "You forced this marriage upon us and an hour ago nothing was further from my thoughts than that tonight——" But she suddenly stopped speaking and, as if realising for the first time the full significance of the vows she had just taken, crimsoned furiously.

The Cardinal regarded her with a deep frown and then in spite of his anger of a few moments before, his expression softened. Had he sensed what her thoughts were and was a strange chord stirring in him? Was he remembering the dreamings of his own young days and was the man now triumphing over the prince of the church?

He looked at her critically. He noted the queenly poise of the little head, the proud face with its clear-cut profile and its beautifully long-lashed eyes. He noted the exquisitely pretty mouth, shaped as a perfect Cupid's bow. He noted the softly curved figure—but he turned his eyes away and he sighed and smiled.

He picked up a pen and motioned to Brendon to approach the table upon which now lay the open register. "Your full name is Ashleigh Brendon," he said, and he wrote down the words in firm, bold characters. Then he looked up sharply. "Ever hear of Sir Herbert Brendon of London?" he asked.

"My father, my lord," said Brendon, "but he died four years ago."

"Ah, well, I met him once," nodded the Cardinal. "I was an assistant priest at the Oratory in London then and very ill with typhoid fever. He was called in in consultation. A very able man!" He smiled pleasantly. "Then if you are anything like him Marie will have a good husband." He shook his head. "But keep her out of politics, Mr. Brendon. The good God intended woman for the home and children, not to barter what attractions she may have for the sake of State secrets. You understand?"

The register duly signed and witnessed, the Cardinal, now all smiles and urbanity, invited them into his room to have a glass of wine. However, he was evidently not minded that they should stay long for, after a few minutes, he rose to his feet and said, "Well, gentlemen, I think you had best go off to bed now and get a good night's rest. I shall be ready for you at half-past five tomorrow morning and will myself drive you to the place Mr. Brendon has selected."

The journey to the shooting-box in the Dorian Forest was uneventful, and a man came out as they approached. He picked Brendon out at once. "Everything is all right," he said, "and I know you are the party I was to wait for. I saw Captain Ruben yesterday, and he has given me all instructions. I have the plane in a clearing near by and it is well camouflaged with branches torn from the trees. We start directly after dusk."

He drew him to one side and to Brendon's great astonishment now spoke in English. "I work for the British Intelligence myself," he said, "and I am going to land you in England. The moon rises about 6.30 this evening and as it looks as if we are going to have good weather, the journey should be over in little more than four hours."

"But where are you going to take us," asked Brendon, his breath coming quickly at the thought of being in England so soon.

"I am going to land you in a place in the Sussex Downs. It is lonely and in a deep hollow. I shall shut off my engines long before I get there and no one will hear us come. We shall all wait in the plane until morning, and then I shall set it on fire. If I wait until daylight it is quite possible the blaze will not be seen and then it may be a long time before the remains are found. Even then no one will ever be certain of the place of origin of the plane, as it is a well-known type and the engine numbers have been filed out."

"But what on earth are you going to burn the plane for?" asked Brendon, aghast in his surprise.

"For the very good reason of my own security," said the man. "You know the British Government will give me no protection and I don't want to run the risk of being extradited to Cyrania for having stolen an aeroplane. We must get into England as secretly as possible and no one must learn who came over in the burnt plane."

"But how are you going to get back to Cyrania and account for your disappearance?" asked Brendon.

The man laughed. "I am not coming back. My usefulness is finished in Cyrania and I suppose I shall be given work somewhere else. I am a graduate of a university, and speak five languages."

"What is your name?" asked Brendon.

The man shook his head. "I have no name. Call me Pilot. We never have names in our work. I don't even know yours. The Captain just described you to me."

"But do you expect to fly across Europe without being noticed?" asked Brendon.

"Certainly not, but I shall be flying very high, and even if we are seen there are no markings on the plane. Besides, it will be no one's particular business to find out who we are, and once over the English Channel all reports will be quickly hushed up."

Just before two in the morning the long flight was over, and they sank down to a perfect landing in the hollow of the Sussex Downs behind Firle Beacon. Everything went without a hitch, and at eight o'clock they caught a London-bound train from Lewes.

At Victoria Station the little party broke up, and Brendon, accompanied by Marie, made straight for his uncle's house in Belgrave Square. There, to his great mortification, he learnt that the Admiral had been dead nearly a month.

"And I have been given to understand, Mr. Ashleigh," added the butler most deferentially, "that everything has been left to you. You are your uncle's sole heir."

Brendon went to his interview with Sir Miles Vaughan that afternoon with very uneasy feelings. He was quite in the dark as to whether Captain Ruben had made any report to Whitehall about him, and whether Sir Miles regarded the bombing at the Sarron works as his, Brendon's, doing. At any rate, he had made up his mind not to refer to the matter himself, feeling certain he would be severely censured for having fallen into line with the so-execrated Cyranian methods.

So he was greatly relieved when Sir Miles made no mention of it, and he proceeded to unfold his story, touching very briefly, upon his work in the munition factory. He just said he realised he had fallen under the suspicion of the authorities there, and so had made his getaway from Sarron before things had come to a head.

Everything else he told fully, and Sir Miles was immensely interested in hearing at first-hand of the real manner in which General Bratz met his death.

"Of course we do not know what will happen now," commented Sir Miles when the story was finished, "but already there is a great easing of the European situation. Bratz's methods were not approved of by the great majority of the Cyranian people, but his reign was such a reign of terror that no one dared to express an opinion contrary to his." He shrugged his shoulders. "But now it looks as if his method of Government will break in pieces. Already riots are reported in several of the big cities, and a number of Bratz's one-time supporters are fleeing for their lives."

Then the conversation turned once more to Captain Ruben, and Brendon stressed again the great service the Chief of the Secret Police had been.

"Yes, he is really a man of fine character," commented Sir Miles, "and it is only that he has had to work in such dreadful surroundings that has given him the reputation of being as bad as the late Dictator."

"But a fine character!" ejaculated Brendon incredulously. "Selling his country to a foreign Power, for of course, I suppose you pay him!"

"Certainly we pay him," said Sir Miles, "and very substantially, too, as he is running a terrible risk." He nodded. "Still, he'd work for us without a penny if we were willing, as his mother left him a bitter legacy of hate against all Cyranians. It is a very sad story. She was a young girl of one of the noblest families in Rumania, and only sixteen when the Cyranian army swept like a pestilence over the country. She was the victim of a highly placed officer whose name was never learnt. She died within a few hours of her child being born but, of deliberate purpose, her father, the child's grandfather, had Ruben brought up as a Cyranian, in Cyrania. When he arrived at manhood, Ruben was told what his mission in life was to be, and he embraced it with all the ardor of his race. Oh, yes, apart from living for vengeance, Ruben is by no means the man of the repellent character people think."

A short silence followed and then Sir Miles, so it seemed to Brendon, with his uneasy conscience, turned the conversation reluctantly to the matter of the electrically-driven torpedo.

"And although Ren Jahn is dead," he said hesitatingly, "is it possible, do you think, that they are persevering with his invention?"

"Well if they are," replied Brendon dryly, "they'll have to start all over again as everything was burnt. All his drawings, his plans and his models were destroyed in the explosion."

"But there may have been people in his confidence who can take up the work at the point he left it," suggested Sir Miles.

Brendon shook his head. "No, sir. It was common knowledge he kept everything to himself and loved to spring dramatic surprises. At the time of the accident, along with his two trusted assistants, he was living and working in an isolated building from which none of them ever came out. They were all killed and there is not the slightest doubt that the secret died with them!"

Sir Miles seemed relieved and said smilingly. "Well, now what can we do for you, Mr. Brendon?" He spoke quickly. "Although you did not actually succeed in your mission, from the reports I have received from Captain Ruben you showed great courage and resource and we should like to retain you in our service."

Brendon declined gratefully, and, telling him of his recent marriage, said he had had enough of adventure for the time being.

"Ah!" grimaced Sir Miles in parting, "that's what we always find! The moment a man marries he is of no use to us!"

The next morning Brendon paid a visit to the dingy little shop off the Mile End road, and was pleased to catch Widgeon alone. Mrs. Widgeon was out marketing. The conchologist was in rather a depressed mood as, financially, things had been going very badly in his absence.

However, he brightened up considerably when, after a lot of persuasion, Brendon forced upon him 300 in new, crisp, five-pound notes to make up, as Brendon put it, for the money that had not of course, been paid for his services to the late Dictator.

"And I don't forget," said Brendon, "that I owe you a great deal more than that. You saved all our lives and got us out of a dreadful hole. So, if ever you are in any trouble be sure to let me know."

Then, reminding Widgeon again of the solemn vow he had taken to keep silent about what had happened upon that eventful night in Hoon Castle and never let the name of Ruben pass his lips, Brendon bade him a cordial goodbye with the hope that business would soon pick up again.

A few weeks afterwards Brendon brought a property among the Sussex Downs, not very far from the spot behind Firle Beacon, where the aeroplane had landed them that night, and settled down to the life of a country gentleman. His charming and attractive wife made a good impression upon everyone, and they were at once received into the best county society.

Marie's first baby was born a little longer than a year from when she had first set eyes upon her husband-to-be, that night in the fisherman's hut. People wondered at the unusual second name of Thole which was given to the child, but curiosity was quite satisfied when they were told it was a family name.

Some three years after they had settled down in Sussex, one day when motoring back to London from Norwich along the great Mile End road, Brendon was seized suddenly with the idea of calling in to see the little conchologist who had shared with him some of those exciting adventures in Cyrania.

But he found Widgeon no longer lived where he used to, and was told he had removed to the Minories. So to the Minories Brendon went, and was somewhat astounded to see there the name of Widgeon over quite a big and stylish-looking shop. Upon entering, he was more astounded still, for the shop had all up-to-date furnishings, with highly polished counters, mirrors and row upon row of white-enamelled glass cases. Anything more different from the old place in Boler street it was not possible to imagine.

A smart-looking young fellow in a grey overall came forward to attend him.

"But I want to see Mr. Widgeon himself," said Brendon. "I am an old friend, not a customer."

At once a woman who had been writing at a table at the far end of the shop, rose to her feet and came up to Brendon.

Red faced and of massive figure, she carried herself importantly. Her dress was of black silk, and round her neck was a thick gold chain which came well down over her ample bosom. She regarded Brendon curiously and announced somewhat curtly that she was Mrs. Widgeon.

"I'm an old friend of Mr. Widgeon's," began Brendon, "I——"

"Professor Widgeon," she corrected at once with a marked emphasis upon professor.

"Ah, yes, of course, Professor Widgeon, I mean!" apologised Brendon smilingly. "Well, I would like to see him."

"I regret he is not at home just now," said Mrs. Widgeon, "and I really cannot say for certain when he will be back. This week he is superintending some most important excavations in Sussex, and next week he is lecturing in Cambridge. Then the week after he will be in Edinburgh attending a scientific conference."

"Oh, well, I am sorry to have missed him," said Brendon, preparing to take his leave. "Kindly tell him, will you, that Mr. Brendon called. He'll remember me. We used to be great friends."

The woman's eyes glinted ominously. "You're not one of that Brotherhood crowd, are you?" she asked, and her manner suggested anything but friendliness.

"Good gracious, no," laughed Brendon. "Surely he doesn't still go to their meetings?"

"He's been to only one since he returned from a foreign tour three years ago," said Mrs. Widgeon contemptuously, "and the following day the magistrate fined three of the brethren 2 each for assaulting him. His worship said he would have made the fines much heavier, but, from their appearance, my husband had already punished them severely. They had attacked him because he did not agree with them that force was never necessary."

"And whereabouts in Sussex is the Professor this week?" asked Brendon, when he had finished laughing at the idea of three Pacifist gentlemen having been fined for assault and battery.

"At Bolyn Hall in Brattleton, not far from Hove. The estate belongs to a very rich French gentleman, a Monsieur Lafone. My husband and he have been great friends for some time. Now, fossil remains of human beings have been discovered in a chalk pit and no one can understand how shells which it is believed belong only to the Sea of Japan have came to be mixed with them. My husband has gone down to clear everything up."

The village of Brattleton was less than 30 miles from Firle Beacon and, being intensely curious as to whether he would find as great a change in Widgeon as there had been in his place of business, the following day Brendon motored over the Downs to discover exactly where the wealthy Monsieur Lafone lived.

Arriving at the village he pulled up at the little inn for a glass of ale, and to find out in which direction Bolyn Hall was.

The innkeeper, after the nature of his kind, was chatty and communicative. The gates of Bolyn Hall were just outside the village, he said, and the squire was a perfect gentleman. Certainly he was the squire right enough, and all the villagers were his tenants. Of course no one had liked the idea at first when, a little more than a year previously, a foreigner had bought the estate, but it had turned out quite all right in the end. Monsieur Lafone looked after everybody and had had a new cottage hospital built at his expense. He was a very kind-hearted man.

Oh, yes, he knew Professor Widgeon was now staying at the Hall. The professor was a frequent visitor there. He and the squire were great friends.

Then, looking through the bar window, he suddenly broke off his conversation and exclaimed, "Well I never, but here they both are! They must have been in the post office all the time!"

Brendon moved to the window and saw two men walking slowly just over the other side of the road. He recognised Widgeon at once. The same small, spare figure, the same prim sandy whiskers, the same high bulging forehead and the same big glasses perched upon the apology for a nose.

But there the resemblance ended, for Widgeon was now dressed smartly in well-cut clothes of obviously good quality. He wore a long professional frock coat, his trousers were pressed exactly in the middle, his shoes were of fashionable shape and he sported a large, impressive, wide-brimmed Trilby hat. He carried himself importantly, too, as became a man of science whose mission in life it was to make clear the workings of Nature to those of lesser mind.

Rather amused, but not unimpressed, Brendon turned his eyes upon the professor's companion. The latter was dressed in the usual style of the English country gentleman, and there was nothing particularly foreign about him, except that his complexion was dark and he wore a closely-cut Vandyke beard. He was certainly of distinguished appearance and the lighthearted and merry expression upon his face in no wise detracted from his dignity.

Suddenly Brendon started. Where had he seen that man before? Who on earth was he? And then he answered his own query with a long-drawn exclamation of amazement.

It was Captain Ruben!


THE END

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