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Title: Billy Barcroft, R.N.A.S. - A story of the Great War
Author: Westerman, Percy F. (Percy Francis), 1876-1959
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Billy Barcroft, R.N.A.S. - A story of the Great War" ***

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GLORIES OF SEA
AND AIR SERIES
==============

_By_
_PERCY F._
_WESTERMAN_

  THE MYSTERY SHIP
  THE RIVAL SUBMARINES
  BILLY BARCROFT OF THE R.N.A.S.
  A WATCH-DOG OF THE NORTH SEA
  A SUB. OF THE R.N.R.
  THE DREADNOUGHT OF THE AIR



_Publishers_
PARTRIDGE
LONDON



BILLY BARCROFT, R.N.A.S.



[Frontispiece: "THE FLAMING WRECKAGE WAS PLUNGING EARTHWARDS,
LEAVING A FIERY TRAIL IN ITS WAKE."]



BILLY BARCROFT

R.N.A.S.

A STORY OF THE GREAT WAR



BY

PERCY F. WESTERMAN



  AUTHOR OF
  "A WATCH-DOG OF THE NORTH SEA"
  "A SUB. OF THE R.N.R."
  ETC. ETC.



S. W. PARTRIDGE & CO.
4, 5 & 6 SOHO SQUARE, LONDON, W.1



MADE IN GREAT BRITAIN
_First Published December_, 1917
_Reprinted_ 1928, 1929, 1930



         CONTENTS


  CHAPTER
        I. "YOUR BIRD!"
       II. A PRICE ON HIS HEAD
      III. CONCERNING PETER BARCROFT
       IV. WHEN THE ZEPPELIN WAS OUT
        V. AT LADYBIRD FOLD
       VI. KIDNAPPED
      VII. THE RAID
     VIII. 'MIDST THE SCENE OF RED RUIN
       IX. BETTY
        X. THE SEAPLANE'S QUEST
       XI. THE TERRORS OF THE AIR
      XII. THE RAIDER'S RETURN
     XIII. EXIT SEAPLANE NO. 445B
      XIV. BUTTERFLY
       XV. RECALLED BY WIRE
      XVI. CAPTIVES IN A SUBMARINE
     XVII. THE MIDDLE WATCH
    XVIII. AN OCEAN DUEL
      XIX. HELD UP IN THE NORTH SEA
       XX. INVESTIGATIONS
      XXI. ON THE TRAIL
     XXII. THE STRUGGLE ON THE CLIFFS
    XXIII. ON THE ROCKS
     XXIV. ENTWISTLE'S DECISION
      XXV. THE BOMBING EXPEDITION
     XXVI. A FUTILE RESCUE
    XXVII. FUGITIVES
   XXVIII. TRACKED
     XXIX. GASSED
      XXX. THE BARN BY THE RIVER
     XXXI. THE FRONTIER
    XXXII. AN AVERTED CATASTROPHE
   XXXIII. VON EITELWURMER'S OPPORTUNITY
    XXXIV. KIRKWOOD'S WINDFALL
     XXXV. ONE CARTRIDGE LEFT
    XXXVI. THE ELUSIVE OBJECTIVE
   XXXVII. "THE GREAT STRAFE"
  XXXVIII. SNATCHED FROM HER PURSUERS
    XXXIX. AND LAST



PREFACE

THE GREAT WAR OF 1914 opened the floodgates of hatred between the
nations which took part and this stirring story, written when
feelings were at their highest, conveys a true impression of the
attitude adopted towards our enemies. No epithet was considered too
strong for a German and whilst the narrative thus conveys the real
atmosphere and conditions under which the tragic event was fought
out it should be borne in mind that the animosities engendered by
war are now happily a thing of the past, Therefore, the reader,
whilst enjoying to the full this thrilling tale, will do well to
remember that old enmities have passed away and that we are now
reconciled to the Central Powers who were opposed to us.



BILLY BARCROFT R.N.A.S.



CHAPTER I

"YOUR BIRD!"


Two Bells of the First Dog Watch somewhere in the North Sea.

To be a little more definite it was bordering that part of the North
Sea that merges into the narrow Straits of Dover and almost within
range of the German shore batteries of Zeebrugge.

It was mid-October. The equinoctial gales had not yet arrived to
convert the placid surface of the sea into a regular turmoil of
short, broken waves. Hardly a ripple ruffled the long gentle
undulations. Not a cloud obscured the sky. The slanting rays of the
sun played uninterruptedly upon the sloping deck of H.M. Seaplane
Carrier "Hippodrome" as she forged slowly ahead, surrounded by an
escort of long, lean destroyers.

Her day's work was apparently over. The operations against the
Zeebrugge defences--operations of almost a daily occurrence--had
been carried out according to orders. The observation "kite" balloon
had been hauled down and stowed in the "Hippodrome's" after-well;
her brood of seaplanes had, save one, returned from their task of
"spotting" for the guns of the monitors, and everything had been
made snug for the run back to her base. She awaited only the
reappearance of the stray "duckling" to increase speed for home
waters.

"Billy's getting properly strafed, I fancy," remarked
Flight-Lieutenant John Fuller as the distant growl of innumerable
"antis" reverberated in the still air. "Wonder what the deuce he's
doing? When we swung about over Position 445 he was heading almost
due east."

"Billy won't suffer from cold feet," rejoined his companion--"a
regular glutton for work. Give him a chance for a stunt (bombing
raid) and he's all there. For a mere youngster, I say, he's----"

Further remarks concerning the rashness of Billy--otherwise
Flight-sub-lieutenant Barcroft--were postponed by the appearance of
yet another member of the "Hippodrome's" flying-officers.

"Young Barcroft's just tick-tocked through," he announced. "He's on
his way back. Cool cheek, by Jove! Keeping the crowd of us waiting
while he's joy-riding somewhere in the direction of Berlin. Wonder
how far he went?"

From where they stood, just abaft the starboard funnel-casing, the
officers scanned the horizon. The "Hippodrome," like most of her
sisters, had at one time been a liner, but the building up of a
launching-platform for seaplanes had resulted in considerable
alterations to her external and internal appearance. Amongst other
things she now had two funnels abreast and far apart in place of her
original foremost one, in order to give full scope to the inclined
plane that extended from her bows to within a few feet of the
navigation bridge--a piece of new construction perched at least 150
feet further aft than the old bridge and chart-room of pre-war days.

The clank of a steam winch and the swinging overhead of a long steel
derrick announced the fact that preparations were being made to
welcome home the "stray bird." Although a seaplane could be launched
with ease from the sloping platform, on her return she would have to
alight in the water and "taxi" alongside her parent ship. Hence the
necessity for a long and powerful derrick to swing the seaplane,
with its broad expanse of wings, clear of the ship's side and
deposit it carefully upon deck.

"Here he comes!" exclaimed Fuller, indicating a faint object in the
eastern sky.

Rapidly it resolved itself into a large biplane with triple floats
in place of the three landing wheels that form a necessary adjunct
to army aeroplanes. Then the polished wood propeller, glinting in
the oblique rays of the sun, could be discerned as it slowed down
preparatory to the seaplane commencing a thousand feet glide.

With a succession of splashes the biplane took the water, "bringing
up" with admirable judgment at a distance of less than fifty yards
from the starboard quarter of the parent ship.

The seaplane carried a crew of two. The pilot pushing up a pair of
goggles revealed a fresh-looking, clean-cut face that gave one the
impression of a public school boy. Billy Barcroft was still in his
teens. He had just another month to enter into his twentieth year.
In height he was a fraction under five feet ten inches; weight--an
important consideration from an airman's point of view--was "ten
seven." Supple and active, he carried not an ounce of superfluous
flesh. Standing up and lightly grasping a stay, he swayed naturally
to the slight lift of the seaplane--the personification of that
product of the Twentieth Century, the airman.

His companion, who had just completed the "winding in" of the
trailing aerial, raised his head above the coaming surrounding the
observer's seat. In appearance he resembled Barcroft so
strongly-that the pair might have been taken for twin-brothers. But
no relationship, save the ties of friendship and duty, existed
betwixt Billy Barcroft and his observer, Bobby Kirkwood. The latter
was an Assistant Paymaster, who, deserting the ship's office for the
freedom of the air, had already mastered the intricacies of
"wireless" and other qualifications necessary for the responsible
duties of observer.

"You've been a jolly long time, you belated bird!" shouted Fuller in
mock reproof. "What's the stunt?"

"Couldn't help it," replied Barcroft with a broad grin. "If you were
in my place and saw a crowd of Hun Staff officers pushing along in
motor-cars wouldn't your idea of courtesy lead you to pay them a
little attention? Kirkwood gave 'em a couple of plums and a whole
drum. Result--a slight increase in the Hun death-rate."

Barcroft had, in fact, gone well inland over the German batteries,
on a sort of informal joy-ride. From a height of 5,000 feet the
observer had spotted what appeared to be a motor convoy bowling
along the road between Zeebrugge and Bruges. With a daring bordering
on recklessness the pilot had vol-planed down to within two hundred
feet, greatly to the consternation of the grey-cloaked German Staff
officers, who, leaving the shelter of their steelroofed cars,
scurried with loss of dignity for the safety that was denied most of
them. For with admirable precision Kirkwood had dropped two bombs
fairly into the line of cars, following up the attack by firing a
whole drum of ammunition from the Lewis gun into the fleeing Huns.

Deftly the flexible steel wire from the outswung derrick engaged the
lifting hooks of the seaplane. The machine was just clear of the
water when the order came "Avast heaving." Simultaneously a bugle
blared. It was the call for Flying Officers.

Leaping into the stern sheets of a boat in attendance, Barcroft and
Kirkwood were taken to the side of the "Hippodrome," where they
gained the deck of the ship. Already Fuller and the rest of the
airmen had gone aft. Something was literally in the air.

The signal commander held up a leaf torn from a signal pad.

"A wireless has just come through," he announced in clear deliberate
tones. "A hostile plane has made a raid over parts of Kent. She is
now on her way back, apparently heading for Ostend. Machines from
Eastchurch have started in pursuit, but the Hun has a useful lead.
Now, gentlemen, a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse: we are
between the raider and his base."

The assembly dispersed like magic, the airmen hurriedly donning
leather jackets and flying helmets and giving peremptory orders to
the mechanics in attendance. In less than five minutes the first of
the stowed seaplanes was ready to glide down the inclined platform
to take to flight.

Yet, from a starting point of view Barcroft had a decided advantage.
His seaplane was practically ready. There was enough petrol for a
lengthy flight, and a good reserve of ammunition for the Lewis gun.
Bombs there were none, nor were any likely to be required for the
task in hand. The chances of a hit on a small and rapidly-moving
target were very remote. It was by machine-gun fire that the attack
upon the returning raider was to be made.

With the motor throbbing noisily and with clouds of oil-smelling
smoke pouring from her exhaust, Barcroft's seaplane taxied away from
the towering side of her ungainly parent. Then, so gracefully that
it was impossible to determine the exact moment when the aircraft
ceased to be waterborne, the seaplane rose swiftly and steadily in
the air.

Climbing in steep spirals the machine quickly rose to a height of
5,000 feet. It was enough for all practical purposes, allowing a
margin of superior altitude to that of the expected Boche.

"Good enough!" shouted the flight-sub through the speaking tube.
"Aerials paid out? All ready?"

"All serene," replied Kirkwood, affixing a whole drum of ammunition
to the upper side of the breech mechanism of the deadly machine gun.
"By Jove, we've all been pretty slick this time. The fifth bird has
just got away."

Barcroft leant over the side of the fuselage. Seven hundred feet
below and speeding away to the nor'-west were a couple of the
"Hippodrome's" seaplanes. Two more, at a lower altitude but still
climbing, were heading in a south-easterly direction. Thus, when the
formation was complete, Barcroft's machine would be in the centre of
a far-flung line thrown out to form a barrier betwixt the solitary
raider and his base.

The British airmen were at an atmospheric disadvantage. Straight in
their face came the rays of the setting sun, while the calm sea
beneath them was one blaze of reflected light. Against that blinding
glare it was almost impossible to distinguish the mere black dot in
the vast aerial expanse that represented the returning hostile
aviator; while on the other hand the Hun, with the sun at his back,
would be able to discern with comparative ease the glint of the
seaplane's wings.

The characteristic tick of the wireless brought. Kirkwood to
attention. With the receiver clamped to his ear he took down the
message and passed it on to his companion.

"Our pigeon!" soliloquised Barcroft grimly. The information was to
the effect that the "Hippodrome" had first sighted the approaching
Hun machine by means of telescopes. The hostile craft had previously
spotted two of the intercepting seaplanes, and her pilot, taking
advantage of the light, decided to make a vol-plane to within a few
hundred feet above the level of the sea. By so doing he was
sacrificing his advantage of altitude, but there was a chance of
slipping unobserved under the British aircraft. Once through the
far-flung cordon he hoped to rely upon superior speed and climbing
powers to elude pursuit.

By this time Barcroft had "picked up" his opponent. At first sight
it seemed as if the Hun were executing a nose dive. Keenly on the
alert the flight-sub depressed the ailerons with a quick yet decided
movement. There was no trace of jerkiness in the pilot's actions.
All were performed with that smooth dexterity and rapidity that
comprised the essential qualifications of a successful airman.

At an aggregate speed of nearly two hundred miles an hour the rival
aeroplanes converged. It seemed as if each pilot were bent upon
ramming his opponent and sending the colliding craft to a common
destruction.

Barcroft, his hands resting lightly on the "joy-stick," was keenly
alert to every forthcoming move of his adversary. Already the Hun
observer was letting off rounds from his machine-gun in the vain
hope that some of the hail of bullets would disable the British
seaplane. On his part Kirkwood "stood by," ready at the first
favourable opportunity to let the Hun have a taste of the Lewis
gun--and the opportunity was not yet.

Suddenly the German monoplane straightened out, then, lifting,
attempted to pass above the seaplane. Quick as a flash Barcroft
grasped the situation. Round swung the British machine, though not
before a dozen holes had been ripped in her wings, as, banking
steeply, she presented a vast spread of canvas to the hostile
machine-gun.

Through the turning movement of his opponent the Hun had gained
nearly three hundred yards. The observer, swinging his gun aft, was
busily engaged in fitting a new belt of ammunition.

It was now Kirkwood's chance. The hostile monoplane was still within
easy range, although momentarily her superior speed was taking her
further and further away from her pursuer. She had broken through
the cordon. Ahead was a straight, unimpeded run for home.

The Lewis gun began to splutter. Half--three-quarters of the drum of
ammunition was expended without tangible result. The Hun observer,
too, had got his machine-gun in working order and was pumping out
nickel at the rate of five hundred rounds a minute.

It was a duel to the death. At that dizzy height no human being
could fall and reach the surface of the sea alive. No cover, no
sheltering trenches protected the four combatants. In the blue vault
of heaven they were compelled to kill or be killed, or even deal out
complete and horrifying destruction to each other.

"Got him, by Jove!" shouted Kirkwood, as the Hun at the machine-gun
threw up his arms and toppled inertly across the barrel of the
weapon. For perhaps ten seconds he hung thus, till the monoplane,
rocking through an air-pocket, tilted violently. For a brief instant
the body trembled in the balance, then slipping sideways the dead
Boche toppled over the edge of the fuselage and fell like a stone
through space.

"Keep it up, you're on it!" yelled Barcroft, never for a moment
taking his eyes off the fugitive monoplane.

His observer heard the shout but the words were unintelligible in
the deafening rush of air Nevertheless he maintained a steady fire
at the enemy machine.

To give the Hun pilot his due he made no attempt to throw up the
sponge. He might have made a nose-dive, trusting to flatten out' and
gain the surface of the water. The machine would have sunk like a
stone, but there was a faint chance of the pilot being able to
unbuckle the strap that held him to the seat and make an attempt to
save himself by swimming.

The Hun did unfasten the leather strap, but for a different purpose.
The monoplane, being of a self-steering type, could be relied upon
to continue her flight more or less in a straight line, without a
controlling touch on the rudderbar.

With a stealthy, cat-like movement the German made his way to the
observer's seat, and gripping the firing mechanism of the machine
gun prepared to return the dangerous greetings from his pursuer.

Less than fifteen miles off--twelve minutes flight--lay the flat
outlines of the Belgian coast. Unless Fritz could be brought down
rapidly the raider would win through.

Suddenly the monoplane tilted and settled down to a dizzy nose-dive.
Whether a vital part had been hit or whether the uncontrollable drop
was due to faulty construction neither Barcroft nor his companion
knew. For the moment the flight-sub imagined that it was a daring
ruse on the part of the Hun pilot, until he realised that the latter
was in the observer's seat when the catastrophe occurred.

Down plunged the vanquished monoplane, spirally, erratically. The
pilot was clinging desperately to the machine-gun. Even as the
'plane dashed through space the weapon, under the pressure of the
Hun's hand, was aimlessly spitting out bullets.

Again the wireless ticked off a message. It was from another
seaplane that, although far away in the original cordon, had swung
round and joined in the pursuit. Kirkwood's eyes twinkled as he
deciphered the dots and dashes: "Congrats: your bird!"



CHAPTER II

A PRICE ON HIS HEAD


FLIGHT SUB-LIEUTENANT BARCROFT scanned the expanse of water beneath
him. The "Hippodrome" was now a mere speck far away to the west'ard.
Four distinct trails of smoke betokened the fact that British
destroyers were pelting to the scene of the seaplane's victory.

On all other points of the compass the surface of the sea was
deserted.

"Wind up!" exclaimed Barcroft, using the speaking-tube for the first
time since the opening of the duel. "I'm going to have a look at our
bag."

The A.P. began to reel in the trailing length of wireless aerial,
while the pilot, shutting off the motor, began a spiral volplane
towards the surface of the water. His "opposite number"--the
seaplane that had tendered her congratulations--was also gliding
down towards the spot where the Hun aeroplane had struck the
surface. Barcroft recognised her pilot as Lieutenant John Fuller.

The white patch of foam that had been created by the terrific impact
of the wrecked machine had already vanished, but a series of
everdiverging concentric circles of iridescent oil marked the spot.
The monoplane had sunk like a stone.

"No use going any lower," announced the Flight-sub, as he prepared
to restart the engine.

"Hold hard!" exclaimed the observer. "There's something floating. I
believe, by smoke! it's the Boche pilot."

"That alters the case, then," decided Barcroft. "We'll investigate
still further."

The Hun showed no signs of life. Kept up by his inflated jacket he
floated on his back, his legs and arms trailing listlessly and his
wide open eyes staring vacantly into the element through which a few
minutes previously he had been flying for his life.

The British seaplane alighted within a stone's throw of the corpse.
Gravely both pilot and observer saluted the vanquished. Whether he
deserved the honour or not the victors did not pause to consider. He
might have been the cause of the deaths of a score or more
inoffensive civilians--women and children perhaps; but death wipes
out old scores. Barcroft and his companion merely recognised the
dead airman as an opponent worthy of their steel, and as such he was
entitled to the homage that one brave man pays to another. Of his
past record they knew nothing. Their tribute was the spontaneous
acknowledgment of a well-contested fight.

Slowly the seaplane taxied until one of the floats was within a foot
or so of the Hun airman's corpse. Agilely Kirkwood swung himself
over the side of the fuselage and swarmed down one of the supporting
struts to the broad float.

"Ugh!" he soliloquised. "The fellow's grinning at me."

Securing the body the A.P. deftly opened the leather jacket. From
the inner breast pocket he withdrew a bulky pocket-book, a map and
an envelope, sealed and addressed and enclosed in oiled silk.
Further search produced a gunmetal watch. On the lid was inscribed
in High German characters: "War substitute in lieu of gold watch
patriotically surrendered by Unter-leutnant E. von Bülow und
Helferich." A purse completed the list of articles found on the
body.

"Buck up!" exclaimed Barcroft. "It will be dark in another twenty
minutes."

Thus abjured Kirkwood opened the valve of the dead airman's inflated
jacket. Slowly the corpse sank beneath the surface to find a
temporary resting-place on the bed of the North Sea. Night had
fallen by the time the seaplanes had returned to their parent ship
and had been safely housed. The "Hippodrome," steaming with screened
lights and escorted by the vigilant destroyers, resumed her belated
run for home waters.

Barcroft and Kirkwood, in the large and well-lighted wardroom, were
examining the "effects" of their victim, while a crowd of
flying-officers stood round to watch the proceedings.

The A.P. had separated the Hun's personal belongings and was making
them up into a parcel, to be sealed and delivered to the dead
aviator's relatives when opportunity occurred. It was a point of
etiquette faithfully carried out by the airmen of both sides
whenever circumstances made it possible.

Barcroft was studiously scanning the documents that were not of a
personal nature. The map was a German production, and comprised a
large scale area of Kent. Probably it was based upon the British
Ordnance Survey, supplemented by details gathered by the swarm of
Hun spies who more or less openly infested the length and breadth of
the British Isles, prior to the memorable month of August 1914. Yet
there was clear evidence of the map being brought up to date,
recently-erected munition factories and other places of military
importance being faithfully recorded. The margin was embellished
with photographic reproductions of views of conspicuous landmarks
taken from a considerable altitude.

"Jolly rummy how these Boche birds get hold of these views,"
commented Fuller. "I swear they didn't take them unless they've been
running daylight trips in noiseless and practically invisible
'planes. It's their strafed organisation that is so wonderful. Knock
holes in that and it's all up with Hunland. Hullo, Billy, what's the
excitement?"

Barcroft, holding up a paper he had taken from the pocket-book, was
studying it with the deepest interest, while his face was dimpled
with lines of suppressed laughter.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "Won't the governor be bucked? Listen to
this, you fellows. I'll have to go slow, as some of the
tongue-splitting words take a bit of translating:

"'It is my Royal and Imperial command that steps be taken to secure
the person of the Englishman Peter Barcroft, residing at Rivers dale
House, near Alderdene, in the county of Kent, the said Peter
Barcroft having published or caused to be published books
that--that--(can't quite make out what's Schriftsteller? Ah! I have
it) of which he is the author, the same books treating Us with
libellous contempt. To the good German who succeeds in producing the
said Peter Barcroft alive on German soil will be paid the reward of
twenty thousand marks. In the event of the said Peter Barcroft being
slain by the act of one of my subjects the reward will be ten
thousand marks.--Wilhelm, I.R.'"

"So that's what Unter-leutnant E. von Bülow und Helferich was on the
stunt for," remarked Fuller. "Yes, by smoke! there's a red circle
drawn round the village of Alderdene. Billy, my festive, your pater
will have to look out for himself."

"Perhaps the Hun has already wiped Riversdale House out of
existence," said Barcroft with a hearty laugh.

His brother officers looked at him in astonishment. His levity, at
the possibility of his parent's annihilation by a few hundred pounds
of high explosive, seemed altogether out of place.

"Steady, old man," exclaimed Tarleton, the senior "flight-luff."

"Can't help it," continued Barcroft, vainly endeavouring to suppress
his mirth. "Fancy a Boche going all that way on a fruitless errand,
even supposing he did drop a plum within half a mile of the house.
The governor vacated the show last quarter-day, and it's still
empty. There isn't another house within a couple of miles of it, and
it belongs to a regular pig of a lawyer-josser who's at loggerheads
with everybody. Let's hope, if the house is pulverised, that it
isn't insured against hostile aircraft. I'm not vindictive, but it
would serve the bounder right."

"Where's your governor now?" enquired Fuller.

"Eh? Entering for the Kaiser's Stakes, old man? Well, here's a clue.
He's moved to Tarleigh, a little show somewhere in Lancashire. About
six or seven miles from Barborough, I believe, and the same distance
from anywhere else. At any rate, I'm off there directly I get my
leave. By Jove, won't the old man feel honoured!--a price set on his
head by Irresponsible Bill. He'll feel as proud as Punch. By the
bye--don't all speak at once--who's pinched my matches?"



CHAPTER III

CONCERNING PETER BARCROFT


"AND Billy arrives by the ten-fifty. No, I don't think I'll wait
here for three hours and then stand a chance of missing him. I'll
get back home and give him a fitting welcome to the new house."

Thus meditated Peter Barcroft as he paced up and down the crowded
up-platform of Barborough Station. He had studied with varying
emotions a poster depicting a flabby, pigeon-toed child with one
hand over that part of the human form known to infants as a "tummy"
and supposed to be ejaculating, "I feel so jolly here." Even that
mild excitement paled, and Mr. Barcroft pined for the congenial
warmth of his study. The platform was cold and draughty, offering no
inducements to linger for the arrival of the sure-to-be belated
"ten-fifty."

Peter Barcroft was a thick-set man of fortyfive. In height he was a
good two inches shorter than his airman son. He was clean shaven.
Had he removed his Norfolk cap it might have been noticed that his
iron-grey hair showed thin on his temples and was conspicuously
absent on the top of his head. His forehead was high, and in
conjunction with two vertical wrinkles extending upwards from the
inner ends of his eyebrows, gave the appearance of a deep thinker.
Otherwise there was little about him to give one the idea that he
was engaged in literary pursuits. According to popular notions he
ought to be wearing shabby clothes of eccentric, out-of-date cut; he
should affect a weird type of soft collar and a flowing tie; his
hair ought to be long and wavy. But Peter Barcroft had none of these
qualifications. To judge him by appearances he was just an ordinary
middle-aged man of powerful physique and retaining many of the
qualities of a bygone athletic age.

He had been living only a fortnight in Lancashire. Why he migrated
from Kent was a mystery to the friends he had left behind. Perhaps
he did not know himself, unless it was surrender to a sudden, almost
eccentric desire for pastures new.

Up to a certain point he possessed the artistic temperament. He
worked only when it suited him, and generally seized every plausible
excuse to "knock off." Yet, when he did settle to his task he wrote
at a tremendous rate, and so vilely that often he was quite unable
to decipher his own caligraphy. In financial matters he was as
careless as a man could possibly be. Rarely he knew the state of his
current account. Trivial matters in everyday life would send him
into a towering rage, while the loss of a couple of hundred pounds
hardly troubled him in the least degree. He would ransack the house
to find a favourite pipe which he had mislaid, or waste half a day
searching in vain for a certain pen which he felt sure he had left
in such-and-such a place. On the other hand, when a valuable and
almost new overcoat was stolen from the hall he just shrugged his
shoulders and soon forgot all about it.

During the fortnight he had been the tenant of Ladybird Fold, Peter
Barcroft had either "sacked" or had been "sacked" by three
housemaids and two cooks, to the consternation and despair of his
wife. The servant problem, probably more acute in the manufacturing
district of Lancashire than anywhere else in the kingdom, was in
this case rendered even more difficult by Peter's display of
irritation at the manifold but trivial delinquencies of his staff of
menials.

Mrs. Barcroft had gone on a visit to a relative in Cheshire on the
strength of a vague report that there was a girl who might be
willing to take the vacant place of housemaid at Ladybird Fold-His
wife's absence for two days had given Peter the excuse to "knock
off." It was one of his avowed peculiarities that he could not write
a stroke unless his wife were with him in the study. So Mr. Barcroft
had gone for a jaunt in his light car.

After the splendidly-surfaced gravelled or tarmac roads of Kent the
greasy granite setts and bumpy slag roads of the north came as an
unpleasant surprise to the easy-going Peter. A couple of punctures
in addition to a slight collision with a "lurry"--a type of vehicle
hitherto known to him as a lorry--did not improve his peace of mind,
while what ought to have been the climax to a day of mishaps was the
sudden failure of the magneto at a desolate spot on the western
slope of the Pennine Hills.

But unruffled Peter pushed the car on to the side of the road and
tramped stolidly into the nearest village--a good three miles. Here,
in an interview with the decrepit motor-engineer (Barcroft guessed
rightly that he was too _passé_ even for munition making), he learnt
that at least a month must elapse before the magneto could be
re-wired. He received the intelligence with equanimity, for in his
pocket was a telegram to the effect that Billy was coming home that
night. Nothing else mattered.

"Which is the Tarleigh train?" enquired Mr. Barcroft of a porter.

"Next one in on this side," replied the man gruffly.

Half a minute later the train rumbled into the station. Mr.
Barcroft, realising that up to the present he had not mastered the
intricate system of train-service of the Lancashire and Yorkshire
Railway, and having had many previous experiences of being
misinformed by surly servants of the various railway companies,
addressed himself to a passenger who was about to enter a carriage.

"Tarleigh? Yes, you're quite right. At any rate, I'm for Blackberry
Cross."

"Thank you," replied Peter.

"Motorist?" enquired the other laconically. "Yes; had a breakdown."

The ice was broken. The studied, almost taciturn reserve of the
typical level-headed Lancashire man was not proof against the claims
of motoring. Before the train glided out of the station the two
passengers were deep in the subject of cars and their peculiarities.

"Dash it all! we seem a long time getting to Two Elms," remarked the
stranger.

He drew aside the blind and peered into the darkness. At that moment
the train rumbled under a broad bridge.

"Sorry!" he exclaimed. "We're already half way between Blackberry
Cross and Tarleigh. We must have taken the wrong train: it's a
non-stop to Windyhill."

"Don't mention it," rejoined Peter affably. "I'm quite enjoying your
society. An hour or so won't make very much difference provided I
can get home before eleven. I hope you won't be inconvenienced?"

The stranger laughed.

"I'm secretary of the Tarleigh and Blackberry Cross Golf Club," he
explained. "Entwistle--Philip Entwistle--is my name. By profession I
am what is commonly known as a vet. It's our Annual General Meeting,
and I'm due there at eight."

"'Fraid it will have to stop at the due," said Mr. Barcroft grimly.
"It's 7.30 already."

"You'll be all right," continued Entwistle. "There's a train back
from Windyhill at 10.5, You're a stranger to the district?"

"Fairly so," admitted Peter. "I've take Ladybird Fold for three
years."

"Your name doesn't happen to be Norton--Andrew Norton?"

"No," was the reply. "Barcroft's my name. I know Norton. He's a
newcomer. Only been here a week, I believe; and in that time he's
frozen on to me. Kind of companionship in a strange land, so to
speak. He seems a very decent sort; in fact, I rather like him. He's
my nearest neighbour and he lives at least half a mile from Ladybird
Fold."

"What is he?" asked Entwistle. "Independent?"

"So I should imagine. He has plenty of time on his hands, and spends
a good part of it with me, except when I have to choke him off.
He'll be sitting in my study when I get home, for a dead cert.
Already he's made it a practice of looking me up at ten o'clock of
an evening, after I've knocked off. You see," he added
apologetically. "I have to work."

"At what?" enquired his companion, the Lancashire thirst for
knowledge ever in the foreground.

"I am a professional liar," announced Peter with mock gravity.

"A what? Oh, I suppose you mean that you're a lawyer?"

"Heaven forbid!" protested Mr. Barcroft piously. "You misunderstand
me. I am a novelist. Modesty forbids me to give you my _nom de
Plume_. At present, however, I am engaged upon a book of a technical
character dealing with the conduct of the war. Perhaps some of my
theories will be a bit startling when pushed on to the British
Public, but they'll be vindicated."

"Hang it all!" exclaimed Entwistle. "I have heard of you already."

"Have you really?" enquired Peter. Professional vanity--although he
was not afflicted with "swollen head"--made him perhaps justifiably
keen on hearing outside opinions of his literary efforts.

"Yes," continued his companion. "It was the Vicar of Tarleigh. He
was in Wheatcroft's place--down the bottom of Blackberry Hill and
while he was talking to the old man a car came along driven by you.
In it were two sheep dogs barking like fury. I think I am right in
the description?"

Peter nodded appreciatingly.

"Says the vicar, 'And what might that terrific disturbance mean?'
'Eh, parson,' replied Old Wheatcroft, 'tis but that there
novel-writing chap as lives in Ladybird Fold.' So you see they've
got you posted up all right. But here we are," he continued, as the
train came to a standstill. "It's a jolly draughty station to hang
about."

"It is," admitted Barcroft. "But fortunately there's very little
wind. A proper Zeppelin night."

"Suppose so," admitted Entwistle. "You see, we don't worry very much
about those gentry. Now, in Yorkshire, for instance, it would be
otherwise, but we are on the right side of the Pennines. I don't for
one moment think that a Zep. will ever get so far as this."

Peter shrugged his shoulders. On that matter, he preferred to
maintain silence.

Up and down the bleak platform the two men paced until Entwistle,
glancing at his watch in the feeble glimmer of a shaded lamp,
exclaimed--"Twenty-five to eleven. Bless my soul, the time has gone
quickly. That confounded train is late."

Before Barcroft could offer any remark the platform lights were
turned off. Simultaneously, the electric signal lamps ceased to give
forth their red and green warning.

"What's up?" demanded Entwistle. "Failure of the gas works and the
Company's electric light station?"

"Hanged if I know," declared Peter. "It strikes me very forcibly
that we'll have to walk those seven miles. I suppose it means twelve
for you? A taxi, or even a humble four-wheeler is an impossibility
in this forsaken hole."

A man, stumbling across the rails in the darkness, clambered upon
the platform within a yard of the two would-be passengers.

"Sorry, sir," he muttered apologetically.

"What's all this about?" enquired Entwistle. "Why have the lights
gone out? Are there no more trains to-night?"

"No, sir, no more trains yet awhile," replied the porter, for such
he was. "They've just got a warning through. Them swine of Zeps. is
somewheres about."



CHAPTER IV

WHEN THE ZEPPELIN WAS OUT


"WE'LL have to foot it, man," declared Entwistle decidedly. "Unless
we can get a car to pick us up on the road. Zeppelins, by smoke!
Whoever would have thought it? I didn't; not this side of the
Pennines."

"So I believe you said," replied Peter Barcroft, as the two men
swung down the inclined approach to the station and gained the setts
of the dingy street. "Still, they may be miles away. These official
warnings are the pattern of eccentricity. You know the road?"

"Yes fortunately Dash it all! I don't mind the excitement. It's my
wife I'm thinking about, if they should come to Barborough. Ever
seen a Zep., Barcroft?"

"Several," replied Peter. "They are fairly common objects down in
Kent. Get quite accustomed to them. Latterly I have slept soundly,
in spite of the noise of the engines. Of course they didn't drop any
bombs in that particular district. In point of fact they eventually
dumped their dangerous cargo into some fields a few miles from
anywhere. Our lighting restrictions are far more stringent than they
are up here. Barborough is a blaze of light compared, say, with
Tangtable or Cobley, the nearest large towns to Alderdene, where I
used to live."

"You used to sleep through it," repeated Mr. Entwistle. "That
reminds me. I noticed that when we were walking up and down the
platform just now you invariably got round to my left as we turned.
Are you deaf in one ear?"

"Yes," replied Peter. "Stone deaf in my left. A really valuable
asset when one has to be in the presence of bores, or enduring
curtain lectures and the like."

"Then we may congratulate ourselves," was his companion's response.
"I, too, am deaf, only in my right ear. When I was at school at
Scarborough a brute of a master hiked me up by my ears. Result,
deafness in one of them. Yes, I agree, it's very convenient at
times."

By now they had breasted the steep rise out of Windyhill and had
gained the bleak summit of the lofty ridge. In ordinary
circumstances would be seen the twinkling lights from scores of
factories--"works" as these are termed locally--in the five distinct
valleys that radiate from this particular spur. All was now in utter
darkness, save for a feeble glimmer from an isolated signal-box at
the entrance to a deep cutting.

"That chap's looking for trouble," declared Barcroft, indicating the
dim patch of luminosity. "They would spot that for a distance of ten
miles. I say, isn't the atmosphere clear for this part of the
country, and in autumn, too. It's the first absolutely fine night I
have seen since I've lived here--ideal for Zeps., too. No wind to
speak of and pitch dark. Listen."

The two men stopped abruptly. Above the faint rumble of the evening
breeze could be distinguished a subdued and distinct hum.

"That's the brute," declared Peter. "It's a Zep, sure enough."

"Certain?" asked Entwistle anxiously.

"Rather--and it's coming this way."

In silence the two pedestrians waited. Nearer and nearer came the
now increasing buzzing of the engines of the immense gas-bag. Vainly
they attempted to detect the elongated airship. With heads thrown
back they strove to pierce the black vault above. The "thing" was
there, but it was invisible from where they stood. Only by the
sinister sounds did they know of its presence. Then with the same
rapidity as the unseen had approached the whirr grew fainter and
fainter until it was heard no longer.

"Phew!" ejaculated Entwistle, mopping his forehead. "I'm not of a
funky nature, but, by Jove! I'm glad that beastly thing's gone. It
gives a fellow a peculiar sensation somewhere in the region of the
stomach. What's the time?"

"About eleven, I should imagine," replied Barcroft. "I won't strike
a match. Well, I suppose the Zep. has missed Barborough by this
time--unless she's slowed down and circling over the town," he added
in an undertone.

They were descending into one of the numerous valleys that lay
betwixt them and Tarleigh. The effluvium of a neighbouring bleaching
works was wafted to their nostrils.

"Rufford's Works," explained Entwistle. "Lucky that Zep didn't drop
a bomb. There are hundreds of gallons of benzine stored there....
Yes, I fancy it's all right as far as Barborough is concerned. Wish
a car would overtake us. Notwithstanding the fine night I don't feel
particularly keen for a long tramp."

"Let me give you a shakedown at Ladybird Fold," suggested Peter.
"You can telephone through to Barborough and let your wife know
where you are."

"No, no, my dear fellow," protested Entwistle. "It's imposing on
your good nature. Besides, you mentioned that your son was coming
home on leave."

"Yes," said Mr. Barcroft. "Wonder if he's arrived yet, or is held up
at some out-of-the-way railway station or in a tunnel. That won't
make any difference. If it did I shouldn't have mentioned the
matter. I can be as confoundedly blunt as you Lancashire people when
I want."

"So I believe," rejoined Entwistle tersely. "Well, I'll accept your
offer with pleasure. Now for the next hill. It's a regular brute,
even for this part of the world. When a fellow is past forty he's
not so good at this sort of work as he was. One has to admit the
fact however much one tries to stifle the discovery. I used to pride
myself on being a runner, and it came as a nasty shock when my
fifteen-year-old son beat me in a 440 sprint--not by so very much,
though," he added in defence of his bygone prowess.

"The third milestone," announced Peter pointing to a weatherbeaten
slab just visible in the gloom.

"Yes, and the highest part of the road," added Entwistle. "It is
about----".

He stopped abruptly. Away to the southward a vivid flash illuminated
the sky, followed by three more in quick succession. Summer
lightning would pale into insignificance compared with the intensity
of those momentary sheets of lurid light.

"Good heavens--Barborough!" ejaculated the vet.

Barcroft made no remark. Failing his inability to read the face of
his watch he placed the fingers of his right hand on his left wrist
and carefully counted the pulse beats.

"Forty-five!" he announced calmly as the first of four loud
detonations rent the air.

Crash--crash--crash--crash. It was as if he had been inside a tin
bath and some one was belabouring it with a wooden mallet. Even
allowing for the distance of the source of the sound the din was
terrible.

A minute later came two more flashes, almost simultaneously, with
forty-eight beats before the reports. Then one solitary flash
followed by an even greater interval ere the detonation was heard.

"The brutes!" muttered Entwistle.

Again Peter made no audible comment. He was making a rapid mental
calculation. Seventy pulsations to a minute: sound travels at
roughly 365 yards to a second. Yes, that placed the scene of the
raid at a distance of nine miles, and judging by the direction it
was that populous town that had been the target for the missiles of
the Zeppelin.

"She's gone, at any rate," he said.

"Yes, but goodness only knows what damage she's done in that minute
and a half," added Entwistle. "What's more we're between her and
that cursed Germany. Come on, man, let's hasten."

It was half-past twelve as the two pedestrians made their way
through the village of Scatterbeck. Almost the whole of the
population was astir, discussing in the shrill rapid Lancashire
dialect the totally unexpected visit of the aerial raider. Thrice
enquiries on the part of Barcroft and his companion brought the
disconcerting information that no vehicle of any description was
available. There was nothing for it but to continue their long
tramp.

At length the summit of Tarleigh Hill was surmounted. Here they
encountered a belated wayfarer--a watchman from the neighbouring
works.

"Eh, maäster," he replied to an anxious question. "I'm thinkin' 'tes
Barborough right enow. Seed 'em drop mysen, an' agen ower Percombe
way. Eh, but there'll be a rush to t' recruitin' office after this.
Lancashire's done main well in sojerin', but this'll cap everythin'.
This night's work'll cost that there Kayser summat when the
Barborough lads in t' trenches get to know o' it."

"That fellow's right," commented Mr. Barcroft after the watchman had
taken a by-road. "These Zeps, do very little military damage. They
don't intimidate or terrify the people, except, perhaps, those in
the actual district raided. The German bombs are like the dragon's
teeth of mythology; sown, they spring up as British soldiers, eager
to avenge themselves upon the Kaiser's troops. If I had my way I'd
run cheap excursions to the raided areas from Bristol, Exeter and
other towns as yet not troubled with the Zeps. to let the people see
the damage done to British homes. That would stir their imaginations
and let 'em think strongly. Instead, all details of raids are kept,
or are endeavoured to be kept, a profound secret by our wiseacres in
authority. The report of the damage done is minimised--not that I
would suggest making the news public as far as buildings of military
importance are concerned--and the result is that the phlegmatic
Briton who is not directly affected by the raid merely reads the
bald newspaper account, mentally consigns the Government to
perdition and forgets all about it."

"According to that American lecturer, Curtin, they do things better
in France," added Entwistle. "The French allow full descriptions of
the Zeppelin raids in their country to be published, and the result
is discouraging to the Huns. At the time we were referring to these
raids taking place in the 'eastern counties,' when the Germans knew
exactly where they had been. I shouldn't wonder if this night's
affair is described as taking place on the East Coast or the South
Midlands instead of within sight of the Irish Sea."

"And yet nothing did more to depress the Germans than the humorous
and true accounts of the Zep, raids that were eventually allowed to
appear in the British newspapers."

"Except when we do bag half a dozen of them at one swoop," added the
vet. "Mark my words, we'll get our own back with interest."

"What's the matter?" asked Peter, noticing that his companion had
reduced his pace and was limping slightly.

"Galled heel, worse luck," replied the vet. Even in the darkness
Barcroft could discern his face twitching. "But it's nothing. I'll
stick it."

"Look here," declared Barcroft authoritatively. There were times
when the easy-going Peter could make himself obeyed. "It's all jolly
rot your carrying on. You'll be lame in another mile. You must stick
to the original programme, and stop at my place. What's happened at
Barborough has happened, and your presence there to-night won't mend
matters. Besides, there's the telephone."

Entwistle capitulated. In fact he was in great pain. The injury to
his foot was more than he cared to admit. Not only was his heel
badly chafed, but he had twisted his ankle on a loose stone.

"All right," he replied. "But suppose I can't get through on the
'phone?"

"You will," said Barcroft confidently. "Now: hang on to my arm. It's
only a couple of hundred yards up the hill."

The last two hundred yards was a pilgrimage of pain. The approach
was along a narrow lane paved with irregular slabs and enshrouded:
with trees that threw the path into even greater gloom than the high
road. The blackness was so intense that it appeared to have
weight--to press upon their eyeballs like a tightly adjusted
bandage. Away to the left came the gurgle of a mountain stream as it
flowed swiftly through a deep cutting in the rocks.

"Here we are," said Peter at last.

"Yes," agreed Entwistle. "I know the place."

They were now clear of the trees. Looming mistily against the dark
sky was a long, rambling, two-storeyed building surrounded by a
roughly built stone wall. The latticed windows were heavily
curtained. Not a light nor a sound came from the isolated dwelling.

"So Billy hasn't turned up yet," remarked Barcroft senior as he
fumbled for his key. "Why, by Jove, the door's wide open!"



CHAPTER V

AT LADYBIRD FOLD


"COME in," he continued, assisting his companion over the threshold.
"I won't switch a light on in the hall until I close the door. Jolly
queer about it being open. There'll be a court of enquiry in the
morning."

A violent scratching upon the study door attracted his attention.

"That's Ponto and Nan--my sheep-dogs," he explained. "Wonder why
they are locked in? They ought to be in the kennels. They're quiet
enough: they won't bite."

Entwistle smiled grimly. Peter's idea of quiet seemed rather
peculiar, for the animals were barking furiously and redoubling
their attacks upon the door.

"The paintwork?" echoed Barcroft in answer to his companion's
enquiry, as he proceeded to hang up his cap and coat. "Oh, that
won't matter. You see, there's a curtain on the inside and that
hides the marks."

He opened the door of the study, to be greeted with a blaze of
dazzling light and a couple of shaggy-haired dogs, who hurled
themselves upon him in an ecstasy of delight.

"Down, down, both of you! Kennel up," ordered their master.

The dogs obeyed, Ponto retiring to the limited space between the
pedestals of the roll-top desk while Nan bounded into the large
arm-chair by the fire.

"That's better," said Barcroft composedly, glancing at the desk to
see if any letter had arrived. "Now take it easy for a bit. There's
the telephone. I'll scout round and see what's going. Whisky? Good!
Excuse me a minute while I look for some stuff for your foot."

Philip Entwistle settled himself in the only vacant arm-chair and
took stock of his immediate surroundings. The study was a fairly
large room, measuring, roughly, thirty feet by twenty. On the side
facing south were three broad casement windows, now heavily
curtained with a light-proof fabric. The door was on the eastern
side, opening into a spacious hall. The remaining walls were blank
except for the old-fashioned fireplace. Oak panelling and massive
beams of the same material--wood that had been in position for close
on three hundred years--gave an old-time appearance to the room. The
furniture was hardly in keeping with the place. Presumably it was
for utility. The large pedestal, roll-top desk occupied a
proportionate position against the west wall. Almost every available
bit of wall-space was taken up with book-cases groaning under the
weight of volumes of all sizes and ages, from the leatherbound tomes
of the late Stuart period to the modern "sevenpenny." Not a picture
was in evidence. Instead, above the book-shelves the walls were
adorned with pieces of medieval armour and weapons ranging from the
Elizabethan musketoon and pike to the latest type of magazine rifle.
Above the fireplace was a seven-feet-scale model of a super-Dreadnought
that, in its sombre garb of battleship grey, contrasted
strongly with the black and yellow striped hull and dun-coloured
canvas of an eighteenth century frigate that adorned another part
of the room.

The study, like the rest of the house, was lighted by electricity--a
discovery that Peter Barcroft had made with huge satisfaction. It
was, indeed, a rare chance to hit upon an isolated dwelling, in a
commanding, lofty situation, well-built and supplied with water, gas
and electricity. The secret lay in the fact that at one time it had
been the residence of the manager of the nearest bleaching works.
Had it been daylight one would have noticed a line of hefty posts
supporting a cable-system that ran up hill and down dale almost as
far as the eye could reach. At certain intervals the supports bore a
large board on which was painted in bold letters: "Dangerous--10,000
volts"--a warning to the youth of the district who might feel
tempted to fly kites over the wires or even to climb the poles out
of sheer exuberance of juvenile spirits.

It was from this cable by means of a "transformer" that Ladybird
Fold derived its supply of electric current, and, as it happened,
the works had not received any warning that night of the raid--a
circumstance that contributed greatly to the comfort of Peter
Barcroft's den.

From his chair Entwistle glanced at his host's desk and shuddered.
The cover had been left rolled back, disclosing a veritable chaos of
papers, reference books, writing materials, pipes and two large
tobacco-jars. The pigeon-holes were crammed to bursting-point with a
medley of papers, particularly the one labelled "Letters to be
answered." From another gaped the crumpled ends of what were
evidently a number of cheques that awaited a favourable opportunity
on the part of the busy author (he put in an occasional two hours a
day, be it remembered) to be paid into the Barborough Bank. A thick
layer of dust covered the desk, although everything else in the room
was fairly clear if the patches of tobacco ash on the carpet square
were not taken into account. It was part of Peter's creed to knock
out his pipes on the heel of his boot and deposit their remains on
the floor, convenient ash-trays notwithstanding. For one thing it
kept the moth away.

The dust, too, upon the desk was the result of studied design. The
"help" from the village--a temporary importation pending Mrs.
Barcroft's return and provided she was successful in her distracting
quest--had been strictly enjoined, browbeaten and threatened with
divers pains and penalties, not to disturb Peter's papers. With luck
he could find what he wanted in five minutes; without, in an hour.
That is, if the desk had been left severely alone. Otherwise, should
the timorous female dare to "side-up"--a Lancashire expression that
puzzled Barcroft tremendously at first--the quest would be almost
hopeless.

Had Philip Entwistle been more inquisitive and observant he might
have noticed that on the top of the pile of literary debris were two
objects that showed no signs of a coating of dust. One was a bound
volume entitled _The Theories of Modern Naval Warfare_--a work of
Peter's that had been responsible for a price being set upon the
head of that as yet unconscious-of-the-fact worthy. The other was a
batch of manuscript comprising his nearly completed book _The Great
Reckoning--and After._

The reappearance of his host with a tray bearing a tantalus, syphon
and a couple of glasses, cut short Entwistle's casual survey.

"How goes it now?" asked Barcroft. "Telephoned?"

"You certainly said, 'There's the telephone,'" replied his guest,
"but failed to explain to my satisfaction where 'there' is.
Consequently that solemn and protracted rite has not yet been
performed."

"Sorry," said Peter with a laugh. "My mistake entirely. I ought to
have mentioned that that convenient but much maligned instrument is
in the hall. There's a great-coat hanging over it: my device to
deaden the nerve-racking sound of the bell."

Entwistle shuffled across the room. In spite of the fact that he was
now wearing a pair of his host's capacious slippers the injured foot
occasioned him more pain than while he was on his way to the house.

He left the door ajar. Barcroft could hear him thumping the as yet
unresponsive machine. Quite five minutes passed before his guest
could "get on."

"Number four four five, Barborough ... what--engaged ... no reply?
Well, try again."

More violent manipulation of the telephone accompanied by a flow of
forcible language resulted in the desired object being attained.

"That you, Vi?... Yes,.. yes,.. no, I wasn't injured ... what's
that? Church Street knocked out of existence.... Not nervous? That's
good. I'm speaking from Ladybird Fold, Tarleigh. Tell Jarvis to run
the car over for me in the morning. Yes, about ten. Good-night."

Returning to his study he found Peter at his desk.

"Needn't have worried so much about my wife," he announced. "She's
quite plucky over it. She even chipped me at having missed the
excitement."

Barcroft did not reply. He was regarding his desk with a distinctly
preoccupied air.

"Dash the L.L.P." he exclaimed, addressing the room in general
rather than his guest. "I'll swear she's been meddling with my
papers. And she left that door open. I'll let her know who rules
this show."

"Who's L.L.P.?" enquired Entwistle.

His host laughed.

"Merely the help," he replied. "Carter's her name. I call her Little
Liver Pill--she reminds me of one. L.L.P, for short, you know."

"Might be your friend Andrew Norton," suggested the other.

"By Jove, yes! I hadn't thought of that," was the reply. "All the
same, I don't think he would touch my desk. It's just likely that in
a preoccupied moment (although as a rule he isn't given that way) he
may have gone home and left the lights switched on and the door
open. Hulloa, this looks queer! I wonder if Norton got into a funk
over the Zep.?"

Barcroft pointed to a pipe lying on the mantelpiece. It was freshly
filled and the tobacco was slightly charred, indicating that the
owner had been interrupted in the act of lighting up.

"His pipe," he continued. "And he seems a fairly methodical fellow,
not likely to leave anything behind. Hope he's all right. If it
wasn't for the fact that I've had a long tramp and it's close on one
thirty I'd run across to his place."

"What sort of a man is he?" enquired Entwistle.

"Decent--quite. Nothing of the bore about him, or I would have
choked him off very quickly," replied Barcroft grimly. "Quite
informal, and different from the ordinary type of caller when a
fellow comes into a fresh district. You know the sort--stiff-necked
blighters of both sexes who pay formal calls for the sole purpose of
finding out who you are, what you are and what you've got. In my
case, I suppose, they expect to find a sort of untamed curiosity:
that's how they regard literary men, I believe. But my time is too
precious to waste in that way, so I let them know it pretty quickly.
Ah, there are the trains running again," he added as a dull rumble
was borne to their ears. "Zep. show's over for to-night. Keen on
bed?"

"Not very," replied Entwistle. "Are you?"

"I'm going to wait up for Billy," said the fond parent. "Wonder what
the young bounder is doing now?"

As he spoke came the sounds of quick, firm footsteps up the cobbled
path. Before Peter could get across the room the door was thrown
open and Flight-Sub-lieutenant Barcroft, his face blackened with
smoke and dust and his great-coat bearing signs of rough usage,
burst into the room.

"Cheer-o, pater!" he exclaimed. "Sorry I'm late. Some night, eh,
what?"



CHAPTER VI

KIDNAPPED


IT will now be necessary to set back the hands of the clock to the
hour of ten on the evening of the Zeppelin's visit to Barborough.

At that hour Mr. Andrew Norton was knocking on the door of Ladybird
Fold, and vainly endeavouring to restrain the boisterous attentions
of Ponto and Nan.

"Good evening, Mrs. Carter," he said as the door was opened
revealing the domestic stopgap with her head covered by a shawl--the
recognised head-dress of the working-class women of industrial
Lancashire. "Any one at home?"

"Only mysen, master," was the reply. "An' in another minute you
would be findin' me gone. Mr. Barcroft he's out, but he'll not be
long, I'm thinkin'. An' young Mr. Barcroft--'im as is in the
Navy--is expected home to-night. But come in, you're kindly
welcome."

"And at what time is young Mr. Barcroft expected?" he asked in a
tone that implied mild curiosity, as he stepped over the threshold.

"I'm not for sayin' for certain. Master had a telegram. You'll not
be wantin' anythin', sir?"

Norton shook his head. Accompanied by the two dogs he entered the
study and switched on the lights. As he did so he heard the door
slam and Mrs. Carter's retreating footsteps on the hard path.

He knew how to make himself at home during his friend's absence. He
was one of those men who have the happy knack of forming quick
friendships, and the somewhat easy-going Peter was a good subject in
that respect.

Andrew Norton was a man of forty-five, although he looked
considerably younger. He was of medium height, full-featured and
inclined to stoutness. A keen motorist, he had attracted Barcroft's
attention on the very first day of his taking possession of "The
Croft," when he was endeavouring to take a large car up the
difficult lane beyond Ladybird Fold. Since there was plenty of
accommodation in the outbuilding utilised as a garage at Barcroft's
house Peter's suggestion that it would be easier for the newcomer to
The Croft to keep his car there and thus save a steep and loose
ascent was accepted with profuse gratitude.

From that moment the friendship ripened. Almost every evening after
the literary man's strenuous labours were completed for the day
Andrew Norton would drop in for a smoke and a yarn.

"Rotten nuisance!" mused the hostless guest as he settled himself in
an easy chair. "If only I knew what time he was returning. The
uncertainty will probably make a regular mess of present
arrangements."

It might have been idle curiosity that prompted him to cross over to
the desk and examine Peter's uncompleted work; sheer anxiety that
led him to the open window to listen intently for the sound of his
absent friend's footsteps.

Through the uncurtained window three shafts of brilliant light were
flung upon the closely-cropped lawn, the limit of the rays being
defined by a thick hedge dividing the lawn from the rose-garden.

"No signs yet," he muttered, as he glanced at the clock for the
twentieth time. "Friend Barcroft's regrettable absence is spoiling
my evening. I'll get back to The Croft."

He drew the curtains with deliberate care, so that no stray ray of
light should escape. Lighting restrictions were lax in that part of
Lancashire, as the twinkling glimmers from the houses in the valley
testified; for in the district where he had previously lived for two
years there were drastic observances on that score, and now the
habit of conforming to the requirements of the authorities was not
lightly to be dropped.

"I'll give him five minutes more," he soliloquised as he drew a pipe
from his pocket and charged it with great deliberation. This he
proceeded to light, making use of a paper spill. Here he showed a
marked contrast to the easygoing methods of the occupier of Ladybird
Fold. In spite of their high price, Peter invariably used
matches--and plenty of them. Usually the hearth was littered with
the burnt-out stumps, for Barcroft always had a pipe in his mouth
when he was writing. It might go out twenty times before the tobacco
was expended, but every time a fresh match was struck and flung away
to augment the already numerous accumulation in the fireplace.

Just then the two dogs sat up and barked. Norton started nervously.
He was only just beginning to get used to the sturdy, shaggy
animals.

"Quiet!" he shouted.

A peremptory knock sounded on the door. The still burning spill fell
from the man's fingers. He made his way into the hall, shutting the
study door upon the dogs. Vainly he groped for the switch operating
the front door light.

"Who's there?" he demanded.

"Telegram for Mr. Barcroft," replied a deep voice.

Had Norton paused to consider the likelihood of a telegram being
delivered at a very late hour in a remote country district he might
have saved himself from a great deal of personal inconvenience. But
he did not.

He threw open the door. His eyes, still dazzled by the quick
transition from the brilliant light within to the intense darkness
without, stared vacantly into the night, while his right hand groped
furtively for the expected orange coloured envelope.

As he did so a pair of powerful hands grasped his ankles. His
involuntary exclamation of mingled astonishment and indignation was
stifled by a thick cloth twisted over his mouth and round his head,
while simultaneously his arms were pinioned to his sides.

Unable to move a limb, much less to struggle, he found himself
lifted from the ground and borne away as helpless as an infant.

"Fools!" he spluttered. "Fools! You'll be sorry for this."

Whether his captors heard his muffled protests or not they paid no
heed save to give the cloth that encircled his head an extra twist.
The pressure upon his nose was painful. He had difficulty in
breathing, so, realising that his stifled exclamations were futile,
he wisely held his peace from a vocal point of view, although
inwardly he was raging furiously.

He could hear the boots of his captors clattering on the cobbles
until the crisp-sounding footfalls told him that the men had gained
the cinder path on the east side of the house. Then, with
considerable effort on the part of his bearers, he was lifted up a
flight of four stone steps, beyond which, he knew, was an extensive
grassfield that rose gradually for the next half mile.

Grunting and obviously short of breath the men trudged stolidly
onwards for perhaps nearly two hundred yards. Once Norton thought
fit to make a sudden effort and wriggle from his captors' grasp, but
the attempt ended disastrously to himself. Brutally they bumped him
upon the ground. The shock to the spinal system was excruciating,
but it had the desired effect. The prisoner's spirit of resistance
was broken; even the stern mandate, "Quiet, or you are a dead man,"
was unnecessary.

The scarf or cloth that enveloped his head had slipped during the
struggle. He could now see. Either his kidnappers had not noticed
the fact or else they regarded it as of no consequence.

He could discern the faces and upper portions of the bodies of the
two men. They were tall burly fellows dressed in black oilskins. In
spite of their powerful physique they were breathing stertorously;
they reeked of petrol.

Another fifty yards and they came to a halt. Norton turned his head
and saw what appeared at first sight to be the dark grey body of a
motorcar. It was quivering under the application of some unseen
influence, yet there was no purr of internal mechanism to justify
the belief that it possessed self-contained machinery.

"Lash that schweinhund's ankles, Pfeil," ordered one of the fellows
in German. "That is right; now do you enter first and I'll heave the
English fool up so that you can get him inside."

"Now is the dangerous time," commented his companion as he scrambled
through a narrow aperture.

"It is ever a dangerous time with us," rejoined the other gloomily.

"Ah, yes; but now? Supposing the wire is insufficient to take the
strain?"

"It will bear thrice our total weight," replied the first speaker,
"frail though it looks. No fear of that breaking. It is that
highly-charged electric cable that worries me. We must have landed
nearer to it than we should have done, yet it looks further away on
the map."

The fellow completed his difficult task of lifting Norton into the
interior of the covered-in car--the observation room of a Zeppelin
floating motionless five hundred feet or so overhead.

The commander of the giant aircraft had successfully carried out a
daring manoeuvre with the ultimate object of taking prisoner the man
on whom his imperial master the "All-Highest" had set a price for
his capture. Taking advantage of an almost imperceptible breeze and
knowing his position to an almost dead certainty by means of exact
cross-bearings afforded by three reservoirs, conspicuous even in the
darkness, he had caused to be lowered the aluminium observation car.

In flight this contrivance is slung close under the after part of
the Zeppelin, but when necessary it can be lowered by means of a
fine but enormously strong flexible steel wire to a maximum distance
of two thousand feet beneath the giant envelope. Thus it is possible
for a Zeppelin to remain hidden in a bank of clouds and lower the
observation car to within a few hundred feet of the ground. Its
comparatively small size and inconspicuous colour would render it
invisible even at that short distance, and give the observer an
uninterrupted view of the country. By means of a telephone he could
then communicate with the commander of the airship and indicate the
objects singled out for attack.

On this occasion the aluminium box was lowered till it touched the
ground. The two men purposely told off for the work in hand had
anchored the car, thereby keeping the Zeppelin stationary also. In
the event of a surprise the airship's crew would unhesitatingly
sever the wire and leave the car and their two comrades to their
fate.

And now most of this particular enterprise had been carried out. The
supposed object of their attentions lay gagged and bound within the
aluminium cage. All that remained to be done was to break out the
grapnel and signal to the men in the Zeppelin to wind in the steel
cable.

"All ready?" enquired Pfeil through the telephone. "Good! When I
give the signal will you forge ahead to the north-east? Why? Because
we are much too close to the high tension cable which Herr Leutnant
knows of."

He leant through an aperture in the side of the cradle and listened
intently. At the first sound of the airship's propellers he jerked a
tripping-line smartly. The fluke of the grapnel folded as he did so,
and the car, no longer held captive, slid jerkily over the grass.

"Up!" telephoned the German.

The next instant Norton felt himself being lifted through the air as
the car ascended swiftly at a rate of five feet a second. In less
than two minutes the cradle's supplementary movement ceased. It was
hauled hard up against the immense bulk of the Zeppelin and secured
with additional lashings.

The wind was now shrieking through the lattice work of the airship,
as gathering speed she flew through the still air at a rate of
nearly fifty miles an hour, or a little more than half her maximum
speed.

It was cold--horribly cold. Lightly clad and coming from a warm room
the prisoner felt the change acutely. He shivered in spite of his
efforts to the contrary.

Gripped by the ankles he found himself being dragged like a sack of
flour from the detachable car to the V-shaped gangway connecting two
of the fixed gondolas. The lashings securing his lower limbs were
cast off, and, thrust forward by the powerful Pfeil, he was made to
walk along the narrow corridor.

"Here is the Englishman, Herr Leutnant," announced the German
addressing a short, corpulent officer who stood by the bomb-dropping
apparatus in the centre of the gondola.

"Good!" was the appreciative reply. Ober-leutnant Julius von
Loringhoven squirmed in anticipation of winning more than a half of
the promised guerdon. A share--a considerable share
unfortunately--was owing to a certain individual who, acting as an
agent of the German Government, had given valuable aid in snaring
the proscribed Englishman. His assistance was necessary, of course,
but that meant a sensible reduction of the sum of paper money with
which von Loringhoven hoped to restore the fortunes of his
impoverished house.

"Good!" he repeated. "Remove that covering and let me look at the
pig."

Pfeil obeyed smartly. With a savage jerk he exposed the face of his
captive.

"Utter idiot!" shouted Andrew Norton in German. "Imbecile! You've
blundered and spoilt everything."



CHAPTER VII

THE RAID


OBER-LEUTNANT JULIUS VON LORINGHOVEN recoiled a couple of paces in
sheer amazement. The compartment in which he stood was strictly
limited in point of size, or he might have stepped back even more,
so great was his consternation. For some seconds he stood with his
shoulders against the aluminium bulkhead, his small eyes protruding
to their utmost capacity.

"Von Eitelwurmer!" he gurgled at last. "What does this mean?"

"It means," retorted Andrew Norton furiously, "that your men have
wrecked everything. It is their duty to wreck everything English, I
admit, but they have overreached themselves."

"I am sorry," said the ober-leutnant humbly, though the apology
needed an effort. "The culprits will be duly punished."

"And serve them right," interrupted the kidnapped man. "But that
will not mend matters. Our plans are completely upset; Barcroft will
take warning; there will be no plausible excuse for my sudden
departure--Ach, it is intolerable. Is it possible to set me down?"

Von Loringhoven shook his head.

"Impossible," he replied. "You must return with us to the
Fatherland. Meanwhile I must take steps to justify the presence of
this war-machine over the hated country."

Siegfried von Eitelwurmer was one of the German super-spies--a class
far and above the host of ordinary spies that, in spite of the
utmost vigilance on the part of the British government, still
continue their activities although in a restricted form. To all
outward appearance he was English born and bred. His mannerisms were
entirely so. Even in his most excitable moods, for Teutonic
stolidity was almost a stranger to him, he would never betray by
word or gesture the fact that he was of Hunnish birth and
sympathies. When he spoke in English his inflexion was as pure as a
typical Midlander; his knowledge of British habits and customs was
profound. In short, he was one of the most dangerous type of German
agents that ever set foot on British soil.

It will be unnecessary to detail his past activities, which almost
invariably he carried out successfully and without giving rise to
suspicion, even at times when the espionage mania was at its height,
and Britons were being arrested and detained on suspicion for
various slight acts of indiscretion that they had committed in pure
ignorance. A man might in all good faith take photographs of a place
of national interest; an artist might make a sketch in the grounds
of his own house--and be promptly haled before the magistrates and
fined. The "powers-that-be" seem to be blind to the fact that a
trained spy would not attempt to use a conspicuous camera. An
instrument of the vest-pocket type would serve his purpose equally
well and with little chance of detection.

It was the Kaiser's manifesto relating to the capture of the
"dangerous" Peter Barcroft that turned the course of von
Eitelwurmer's activities in the direction of Ladybird Fold--not
wholly for the sake of the pecuniary reward, but with the idea of
gaining additional kudos at the hands of his Imperial master.

The spy had little difficulty in tracing Barcroft's movements from
the time he vacated Riversdale House in the village of Alderdene.
The information that his quarry had removed to Tarleigh in
Lancashire he had communicated to Berlin, but owing to a delay the
news was not in time to prevent the Hun airman, von Bülow und
Helferich, making his ill-fated flight to the south-eastern part of
England.

Von Eitelwurmer's method of communicating with Berlin was simplicity
itself, and as such ran less chance of detection than if he had
resorted to elaborate and intricate means.

He would obtain catalogues from manufacturers living in the same
town in which he had taken up his temporary abode. On the pages he
would write with invisible ink--or even milk or lemon, both of which
when dried naturally show no trace of their presence--his reports,
taking the additional precaution of using a cipher which he could
retain mentally and thus do away with the risk of incriminating
documents.

The next step was to get possession of a printed wrapper bearing the
name and address of the firm in question. The catalogue, enclosed in
the wrapper, was then sent to a pseudo Englishman living in Holland,
who, almost needless to say, was a German agent.

These reports were then sent in duplicate, one preceding the other
in the space of three days. Fortunately or otherwise--according to
the standpoint taken by interested parties--the first secret
dispatch related to the movements of Peter Barcroft was lost in a
Dutch mail-boat that a German submarine had sent to the bottom. The
second resulted in Ober-leutnant von Loringhoven being dispatched on
a Zeppelin raid with the primary intention of kidnapping the
proscribed Englishman.

Julius von Loringhoven was an officer of the Imperial German Navy.
In his youth he had served before the mast on board several British
coasters with the idea of gaining intimate local knowledge of the
harbours of the land that in due course would be an integral part of
the vast and unassailable German Empire; for, like thousands of
Germans he held the firm belief that the Emperor Wilhelm II was the
rightful heir to the British throne by virtue of his descent through
the eldest child of the late Queen Victoria.

It was on one of these coasting trips that von Loringhoven then a
stripling of seventeen--was within an ace of losing his life.
Ordered aloft on a winter's night to furl the topsail of the
schooner "Pride o' Salcombe," he was benumbed with the piercing cold
as he lay along the lee yard-arm. A burly British seaman saved him
just as he was on the point of relaxing his hold. Gathering him in
his arms the man brought him down on deck, little knowing what
manner of young reptile he was nursing in his bosom. If von
Loringhoven had had any spark of gratitude it had been smothered by
the passion of "frightfulness" as expressed by dropping powerful
explosives upon the defenceless civil population of the country to
one of whose sons he owed his life.

A brief training at Friedrichshaven was followed by an exacting
period at Borkum which qualified von Loringhoven for a series of
flights across the North Sea to the East Coast of England. As yet he
was merely a tyro, gaining practical experience under a veteran
Zeppelin commander. But at last the day came when he was given sole
charge of one of the Kaiser's giant gas-bags.

"Go and raid the counties of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire," were his
superior officer's instructions. "That's a fairly safe game. You'll
find little more than dummy guns against you. Acquit yourself well
and you will be given an opportunity to take part in the forthcoming
gigantic raid upon London."

This was before the time when, as the Huns knew to their cost, the
"swarm of hornets" promised by a former First Lord of the Admiralty
proved their existence.

And now, after twelve months of active Zeppelin service von
Loringhoven was over Lancashire. One part of his mission foiled he
had yet to exhibit Teutonic frightfulness to the dwellers of the
large manufacturing town of Barborough.

The second in command of the Zeppelin was an unter-leutnant of the
name of Klick. It was one of his triumphs to announce that he had
been arrested in England as a spy. That was in those distant pre-war
times. He had been "spotted" by a sentry while in the act of
sketching a fortification in the neighbourhood of an important naval
station, arrested and charged at a police-court. Committed to the
County Assizes he was politely told by the judge that espionage was
dishonourable. Klick smiled inwardly. To him spying was part of an
important German military training--an organised procedure.
Nevertheless he was agreeably surprised when he was allowed to go
with the admonition, "Don't do it again."

Fortunately for Great Britain such misplaced leniency is a thing of
the past. On Unter-leutnant Klick it was entirely thrown away. His
typically German mind read the clemency as a sign of weakness. He
came from a country where the only strength is "force majeur."

"Well, Herr von Eitelwurmer," exclaimed the ober-leutnant after he
had recovered from his surprise. "If you wish to see how our in
comparable Zeppelins set to work you had better station yourself at
this observation scuttle. I will lend you a fur coat."

"Pity you hadn't lent me one long before," growled the spy, as one
of the crew helped him into the warm garment. "Yours is a cold
business, von Loringhoven."

"Not when we get to work," corrected the other with a grim laugh.
"Excitement stirs our blood to boiling point."

A telephone bell tinkled softly. The commander took up the receiver.

"Ach!" he replied. "That is good."

The message was from Unter-leutnant Klick, announcing that the
airship was immediately over the large town of Barborough. Von
Loringhoven glanced at the altitude indicator. It registered 2,000
metres--too great for practical purposes where no danger was to be
anticipated from anti-aircraft guns. The speed of the Zeppelin was
now less than ten miles an hour, just sufficient to keep her
stationary over her objective.

The commander gave an order. A man on duty in the gondola thrust
down a lever, Instantly the gas in several of the ballonets was
withdrawn and forced under great pressure into a strong metal tank.
This answered to the old-fashioned method of releasing gas from a
balloon by means of an escape valve, but with a vast difference. The
hydrogen was not wasted; it was merely stored for further service.

Down dropped the airship to less than a thousand feet. Von
Eitelwurmer, leaning over the sill of the large scuttle, peered
downwards. By means of a pair of powerful night-glasses he could
locate his position with great accuracy. He recognised most of the
conspicuous land marks of Barborough, in spite of their unfamiliar
appearance when viewed from a height. There was the town-hall--a
pile of smoke blackened stonework. The railway station with its web
of steel lines radiating in four different directions; the huge
factories, working day and night at high pressure; the main
thoroughfares, rendered even more pronounced by the blue flashes of
the electric tram-cars. The Zeppelin had the town at its mercy.

Ober-leutnant von Loringhoven was also examining the scene beneath
him. He had no occasion to consult the spy. He knew quite as much as
von Eitelwurmer of the topography of the district; thanks to the
accurate air-maps supplied by the German government.

"Now, watch!" he exclaimed, at the same time holding up four fingers
as a sign to the airman at the firing apparatus to release the
missiles of destruction.

Von Eitelwurmer held his breath. He clearly heard the four metallic
clicks as the man released the bombs at quick intervals. Seven
seconds after the first had left the dropping apparatus a lurid
flash threw the underside of the enormous envelope into an expanse
of reflected light. A roar like the concentration of half a dozen
thunder peals tore the air, followed by the rumbling of falling
masonry. The other explosions took place in rapid succession,
causing the Zeppelin to sway and rock in the violently disturbed
atmosphere.

The place where the bombs had burst was hidden in a thick pall of
smoke and dust. Tongues of red and yellow flames flickered through
the vapour.

"Two more," ordered von Loringhoven.

By this time the Zeppelin, forging ahead, was nearly a quarter of a
mile from the scene of her first attempt. The objective was a purely
conjectural one, for the missiles burst in a street in one of the
poorer quarters of the town.

"Two more!"

The two bombs were released, but only one exploded. The other failed
to detonate, but the raid was over. In a little over a minute and a
half death had been poured upon the unprepared town.

"I can claim the big munitions factory," remarked the ober-leutnant
as he telephoned to the navigating gondola for full speed. "Those
first four had it to a nicety. The others--well, they did some
damage."

The spy smiled.

"Yes; it all helps," he said. "Frightfulness always scores,"

"Realising, as we do, that every English baby is a potential enemy
to Germany," added von Loringhoven. "Not necessarily in a military
sense, but in the forthcoming commercial war."

Von Eitelwurmer glanced at his companion,

"The forthcoming commercial war," he repeated. "Our Emperor will see
to it that there will be no British Empire to threaten our
mercantile supremacy."

The commander of the Zeppelin shrugged his shoulders.

"I trust you are right," he rejoined, "but you do not realise the
big task in front of us. These Englishmen are only just beginning to
bestir themselves. We hoped to have beaten them long ago. Time is no
longer on our side, and----"

Then, realising that his digression was bordering upon dangerous
lines, he broke off.

"And now, von Eitelwurmer, we are homeward bound. In four hours I
hope to shake hands with you on German soil."

The spy merely grunted. He was thinking regretfully of his lost
chance in the share of the twenty thousand marks.



CHAPTER VIII

'MIDST THE SCENE OF RED RUIN


FIVE minutes before the fall of the first bomb,
Flight-Sub-lieutenant Barcroft alighted from a tram-car in the
market square of Barborough.

The stopping of the railway service had upset his calculations, for
instead of the train running into Barborough Station it had come to
a stand still at Wolderton, a little town five miles from his
destination.

"Can't go no further yet awhile, sir," replied a porter in answer to
the flight-sub's enquiry. "They say as 'ow Zeps is about, though I
fancy they won't come to Lancashire, sir. Don't hold wi' these silly
scares mysen."

"Where are we?" asked Barcroft, striving vainly to read the name of
the unlighted station. "Wolderton, sir; if you're for Barborough you
can get a car just outside. They are runnin', Zep, or no Zep."

The young officer alighted, made his way out of the station and
boarded the first northbound car, which in due course deposited him
at Barborough--a stranger in a strange land.

"For Tarleigh, sir?" rejoined a policeman to his question. "Matter
o' four or six miles. No, sir, you'll not be findin' a taxi
to-night, I fancy. Just you go along yon road, take first on your
right then straight on till you come to Chumley Old Road. There
you'll find a car that'll take you as far as Black Pit Brow, and
it'll be forty minutes sharp walking to Tarleigh."

Somewhat bewildered Barcroft set out to follow the constable's
directions. He found himself slipping on the rough and greasy setts,
jostling people in the darkened streets, and barking his shins
against obtrusive door steps. The road was a mean and narrow one--a
short cut to a main thoroughfare. A dank unwholesome smell permeated
the misty air. It struck the young officer as being worse than the
atmosphere of the lower deck of a battleship battened down during a
three-days' gale.

Suddenly the darkness was rent by a terrific flash. The light was so
dazzling that Barcroft was under the impression that it came from
the centre of the street. Stunned by the deafening crash he felt
himself lurching against a wall, amidst a shower of broken glass.

Another explosion followed and then two more. The flight-sub felt
the wall of the house rock with the concussions. He was quite
prepared to see the building collapse under the impact of the
displaced air. Fragments of slates and tiles, mingled with shattered
woodwork, hurtled overhead. Glass tinkled upon the setts. The rumble
of falling masonry was added to the uproar, while flames shot up
from a mound of debris that a brief instant earlier had been the
homes of three English families, and threw a fitful glare upon the
scene of destruction.

"Factory explosion, I suppose," thought Barcroft. "Can't be a Zep.,
or I should have heard her engines."

He put his hand to his cheek. It was warm and moist. Blood was
welling from a deep gash. He hardly noticed it. His attention was
attracted by the shouts and screams of the terrified inhabitants of
the neighbourhood--those whose houses having escaped annihilation
but were within the danger zone, had fled pell-mell into the
streets.

Other crashes followed, but at a greater distance.

"Then it is a Zep., by Jove!" declared the young officer. For the
first time he realised his helplessness. He was virtually one of the
thousands of civilians unable to raise a hand in self-defence
against the cowardly night-raider. A Tommy in a trench with only a
rifle--an almost useless weapon against an aircraft of any
description--has the satisfaction that he is armed. He is willing to
take his chance. But here the townsfolk were utterly at a loss to
defend themselves, and it was sorry consolation to be told by the
authorities that the inhabitants of raided districts are only
sharing the dangers to which the troops in the trenches are exposed.

"If only I were up aloft with young Kirkwood," thought Barcroft.
"We'd make the beggars skip out of that gas-bag. Perhaps some day--"

A woman, with her shawl wrapped tightly round her head, came
hurrying in the opposite direction to which the stream of terrified
people forced its way.

"Eh!" she exclaimed. "An' I left t'owld mon's supper on t' stove.
I'll be fair angry if 'tis spoilt."

It was genuine anxiety. Even in the midst of the scene of
destruction her thoughts dwelt upon the little cares of everyday
domesticity.

With the sailor's typical eagerness to render aid Barcroft hurried
down the street. Already the ebb-tide of fugitives was thinning and
giving place to the flood-tide of willing helpers. Here and there
men staggered and groaned, bleeding from serious wounds caused by
the flying fragments of the deadly missiles. Here and there came
others supporting or carrying victims unable to help themselves--
stalwart men, frail women and puny children reduced in the fraction
of a second to mangled wrecks.

Pungent, asphyxiating fumes drifted slowly down the narrow
thoroughfare, while the glare of the burning buildings threw an
eerie light upon the surroundings.

In the street not one panel of glass remained intact. Cast-iron
stack-pipes were riddled with holes cut as cleanly as with a drill.
Brick walls were perforated like paper; stone-steps--the "scouring"
of which is a solemn rite with Lancashire folk--were chipped and
splintered like glass. Doors were burst open as if with a
sledge-hammer. And this was fifty yards or more from the scene of
the actual explosion.

Where the first bomb had fallen nothing remained of the house except
a mound of smoking rubbish. The two adjoining buildings were cut
away from top to bottom almost as evenly as if severed by a saw. In
one the roof was exposed on the underside. The slates were still in
position but riddled like a sieve. So violent was the force with
which the flying fragments were projected upwards that the fragile
slates were perforated before they had time to crack or be dislodged
from the rafters.

In the house on the other adjoining side the parting wall had
vanished, leaving the remaining walls and flooring practically
intact. A fire was still burning in the kitchen grate, and on it an
iron pot was simmering. In front of the fire were three pairs of
"clogs" of varying sizes--the footgear of a family that was no
longer in existence.

It was the same story. The raid from a military point of view was of
no consequence. The munitions factory, in spite of von Loringhoven's
assurances, had been missed--missed handsomely.

The flight-sub did not linger at this particular spot. Human aid was
unavailing as far as those ruined houses were concerned, but on the
other side of the street groans and cries of pain told him that here
at least there was work to be done.

Through an open doorway Barcroft dashed. The woodwork of the door
was in splinters. Part of the floor had vanished. The place was full
of smoke, while gas from a severed pipe was burning furiously.

Grasping a large fragment of paving-stone the flight-sub battered
the pipe.

"Iron, worse luck," he exclaimed. "Wonder where the meter is?"

He discovered it just above the door. In the absence of a key to
turn off the inflammable gas he knocked the lead pipe flat. The
flame began to die down until it gave a fairly safe illumination.

Up the rickety stairs the young officer made his way. With smarting
eyes and irritating throat he groped through the stifling smoke,
guided by the cries of the injured victims. The room was feebly
lighted by a nightlight set in a basin of water. The light flickered
in the breeze that swept in through the glazeless window, while its
intensity was even more diminished by the eddying smoke. Yet it was
sufficient to enable Barcroft to take in his surroundings.

The ceiling had fallen. Plaster and broken glass littered the floor,
and every object presented a flat, face-upward surface. On the walls
were crude prints hanging at grotesque angles and ripped by flying
fragments. Pieces of broken furniture were everywhere in evidence.

In one corner of the room was a bed. One leg had been torn off,
causing it to touch the floor. On the bed was a grey-haired woman,
groaning feebly and with her forehead dabbled in blood.

She opened her eyes as Barcroft approached, then raising one hand
pointed to the side of the bed. There was a cradle that had hitherto
escaped his notice, and in it was a baby of but a few months old.
Although the old woman could not speak she made it known that the
rescuer should first save her grandchild.

Even in that scene of desolation Barcroft could not bring himself to
lift the baby from its cot. Dimly he fancied that he might harm it.
He hadn't the faintest notion how to hold an infant of tender years.

Lifting the cot bodily he bore it with its contents down the stairs
and out into the night. By this time other rescuers were hard at
work. Two of them seeing the flight-sub issuing from the house came
up to him.

"D'ye want a hand, sir?" they asked.

The uniform imparted an air of authority, and instinctively the men
realised the fact. True the naval rig was foreign to them. For all
they knew Barcroft might be a sanitary inspector or a
school-attendance officer, but his peaked cap and naval blue coat
denoted an official of some sort, and, in cases of this description,
the distinction carries weight.

"Yes, there's a woman injured in that house," replied the
flight-sub, setting down his burden. One of the men bent over the
cradle and drew back the covering. Then he hastily replaced it.

"Might have saved yourself the trouble, sir," he gulped. "Those
baby-killing swine! If that cursed Zep, should happen to fall
anywhere round about and any of the devils are left alive, I bet my
last shilling the women-folk o' Barborough 'ud tear 'em limb from
limb. An' serve 'em right. Lead on, sir."

Not until the last of the living victims of the outrage had been
removed from this section of the bombed district did Barcroft and
his willing helpers desist from their arduous labours. Nothing more
could be done until daybreak. Police guarded the approaches to the
devastated street, while firemen stood by, ready at the first sign
to tackle a fresh outburst from the still smouldering ruins.

"Suppose I ought to try for an hotel," soliloquised the flight-sub.
"I don't know. I'm in a horrible mess. Feel like a dustman or a
scavenger. Perhaps I'd better carry on. The governor might be a bit
anxious if I don't."

Receiving fresh directions Barcroft stepped out briskly. Taxis and
even tramcars were now out of the question.

"Most confusing place I've struck for many a day," he muttered. "I
feel completely out of my bearings. I'm supposed to be going north;
it's my belief I'm making in a southerly direction."

Vainly he looked aloft to "verify his position by stellar
observation." Not a star was visible. He was now clear of the town.
The road ran steeply up a bleak hillside and was bounded by rough
stone walls. Doubtless there were plenty of houses scattered about
in the surrounding valleys, but these were not in evidence. Every
light still burning had been carefully screened. It was a case of
shutting the stable door after the horse had been stolen.

Presently he reached the junction of two fork roads, either of which
might lead to Tarleigh. A tantalising sign-post afforded no
information, for upon swarming up the post the flight-sub was unable
to read the weather-beaten directions.

"What on earth possessed the pater to hang out in this benighted
spot I cannot imagine!" exclaimed Barcroft disgustedly. "Suppose I
must wait here in the hope that some one will be passing this way.
It seems the safest chance."



CHAPTER IX

BETTY


"THAT'S more hopeful," ejaculated Flight sub-lieutenant Barcroft. "I
hear footsteps."

For perhaps half a minute he listened intently. He was not mistaken
in his surmise, but there was still the haunting doubt that the
benighted wayfarer might be proceeding in a different direction. But
no; the footsteps came nearer and nearer. It was not the firm tread
of a man, nor the clatter of a pair of Lancashire clogs.

"A woman, by Jove!" muttered Billy. "I'll have to be jolly careful
not to give her a fright. Rummy idea having to hail a craft of that
sort at this time of the morning. Wonder what brings her out in this
isolated spot?"

In his anxiety not to unduly alarm the approaching woman, the
flight-sub began to walk in her direction. It was, he decided, a
better course than to stand back until she passed.

"Excuse me," he said touching his cap, "but can you direct me to
Tarleigh?"

"Yes, I am going part of the way," was the reply in a decidedly
clear and pleasant voice, which spoke with perfect composure. "If
you like I'll go with you as far as Two Elms. It is then a straight
road."

"Thank you," said Barcroft, falling into step with his unknown
benefactor. "You see, I'm quite a stranger here."

"Hang it all!" he mused. "That voice seems familiar. A trim little
craft, too, I should imagine, although I can't see her face. Wonder
who she is?"

"You are a naval officer, I see," remarked the girl.

"Yes," admitted Billy. "On leave and going to a home I've never
seen. This raid affair made me late."

"And so it did me," added his companion. "By the bye, where was your
home before?"

"At Alderdene in Kent," replied Barcroft, somewhat
taken aback at the question. "Why do you ask?"

"I thought so," was the composed reply. "And your name is
Barcroft--Billy Barcroft."

"By Jove!" exclaimed the young officer. "How on earth do you know
that? I'm afraid I don't recognise you."

"You always had a bad memory for certain things, Mr. Barcroft," the
girl laughingly reminded him. "I felt almost positive it was you
directly you spoke. You see, the uniform and you have a most
characteristic helped me, manner of speaking."

"Have I?" asked Billy, still mystified. "And you have a good memory,
I presume?"

"Fairly reliable," admitted the girl.

"Then let us hope that your recollections of me are of a favourable
character," continued the flight-sub. "Now, tell me; what is your
name?"

"There is no immediate hurry for that," she protested. "Before I
reveal my identity suppose I remind you of some of your girl friends
at Alderdene--Ada Forrester, for instance."

Yes, Billy remembered Ada Forrester very well--a short, podgy kid,
he reflected, who by no possible chance could have developed into
the tall, graceful girl by his side.

"And Betty Deringhame," continued his inquisitor. "One of the noble
army of flappers. Rather a shallow-headed kid and a bit of a tomboy,
wasn't she?"

"A tomboy--yes," agreed the flight-sub, "but I cannot admit the
other. We used to be good pals, but that was three years ago. I was
in my Third Term at Dartmouth when her people left Alderdene."

"You taught her to signal in Morse, I think," pursued the girl. "You
used to exchange messages until that little pig, Pat o'Hara, the
vicar's son, learnt it too and told tales to her mother."

They walked in silence for some moments. Barcroft had almost
forgotten his surroundings. His thoughts had taken him back to those
far off, pre-war days in sunny Kent.

"Yes," he said at length in his deep manly voice. "It is absolutely
great to be with Betty Deringhame again."

"So you've guessed at last," said Betty. "It's a strange world,
isn't it?"

"And a mighty pleasant one, barring the Huns and others of that
crowd," added Billy. "Now, tell me, what are you doing here?"

"Walking with an old acquaintance upon a long road that leads to Two
Elms and Tarleigh."

"Obvious--we will not dispute the fact," rejoined the young officer.
"To put the question in more exact terms: where are you living, and
what brought you to this part of England?"

"I think I said I was living at Two Elms. To be more precise, at
Mill View. That doesn't sound particularly cheerful, does it? We
came here to live after we left Alderdene, shortly after war broke
out. I am now employed in a munitions works."

"Munitions works! Whatever are you doing that for?" asked Billy
surprised beyond measure. It seemed incredible that the slim,
light-hearted girl of his boyhood days should be toiling in this
manner.

"Because I had to do something," replied Betty simply. "We lost
almost everything. Besides, it was an opportunity to do something
practical for the war. People of all social grades do, you know."

"I'm sorry about your financial misfortune," said Barcroft
sympathetically.

"And so am I--very," added the girl frankly. "But it is unnecessary
to enter into details. This is my home."

They came to a standstill in front of a row of two-storeyed houses.
Owing to the darkness it was impossible for the flight-sub to form
an accurate idea of the pretensions of the place; but at any rate it
was a pitiful contrast to "The Old Rectory," the Deringhames' house
at Alderdene.

"The works were nearly hit by the bombs," continued Betty. "We had
just started the night-shifts, but the girls were sent off after the
raid was over. One of them was so frightened that I had to take her
home. That's why I was late."

"Fortunately for me," declared Billy earnestly.

"Yes, a stranger would have some difficulty to find his way on a
night like this," said Betty inconsequently. "You are on a straight
road now, until you come to a railway arch. Just beyond you'll
notice a line of overhead wires if you keep your eyes open. Just
beyond is a path on the left. That will take you past Ladybird
Fold."

"I'll call in the morning," said Barcroft.

"We--that is, mother and I, will be pleased to see you," replied the
girl. "Goodnight--Billy."

For the rest of the distance the flight-sub trod literally on air
until he reached the path that Betty had mentioned. Tripping over a
slab of stone he came to earth in a double sense.

"Dash it all!" he exclaimed as he picked himself up. "Has the
governor defended Lady bird Fold with entanglements and pitfalls? By
Jove, this is a night!"

Groping his way Billy ascended the steeply sloping cinder path
across the meadow. Another stile and a broad stretch of rugged
ground had to be negotiated before he saw a dark mass looming up in
front. By this time he was feeling particularly stiff, hungry and
cold. The keen air of the hillside made him regret the absence of
his airman's leather coat.

"Wonder if this is the show?" he mused as he surveyed the isolated
and apparently deserted building.

He stopped and listened intently. Voices were heard within, behind
the thickly-curtained window. He recognised one of the speakers.

"That's the governor, right enough," he exclaimed, all traces of
annoyance vanishing at the pleasurable discovery.

The outer door was unlocked. Billy threw it open and burst into the
well-lighted study.

"Cheer-o, pater!" he exclaimed. "Sorry I'm late. Some night, eh,
what?"



CHAPTER X

THE SEAPLANE'S QUEST


"S' LONG, you festive blighters! Good luck!"

With this typically airman's farewell ringing in his ears
Flight-lieutenant John Fuller, D.S.O., clambered lightly into the
pilot's seat of Seaplane 445B.

Owing to Billy Barcroft's absence on leave a change round had been
effected in the composition of the crews of the seaplane carrier
"Hippodrome's" little nest of hornets, and as a result Fuller found
himself in company with Bobby Kirkwood as his observer.

It was the night of the Barborough raid. The "Hippodrome," bound for
the Firth of Forth, had picked up a wireless when some where off the
Yorkshire coast, reporting the presence of four Zeppelins.
Aeroplanes and seaplanes attached to the north-eastern bases had
already ascended in the hope of cutting off the returning
air-pirates, and in conjunction with these operations the
"Hippodrome" was about to send out her airmen to grapple with the
enemy in the darkness.

It was indeed a formidable and hazardous undertaking. The returning
Zeppelins would certainly take advantage of the stiff westerly
breeze. By keeping to a great altitude and shutting off their
engines they drift, silent and unseen, over the East Coast, until it
is deemed advisable to restart the motors. Even the disadvantage
caused by the immense bulk of the vulnerable envelope would be
discounted by its invisibility in the darkness of the night.

The Zeppelins could keep "afloat" by the buoyancy of their
hydrogen-charged ballonets; the aeroplanes, being heavier than air,
could not, except for a comparatively brief vol-plane, without the
aid of their propellers, The roar of the latter would betray their
presence to the watchers on the silent airship.

Altogether the seaplane's task savoured of a wild goose chase, only
by a pure fluke might one of the aeroplanes "spot" one of the
returning raiders, but on the remote chance of being able to do so
the "Hippodrome's" aerial flotilla set out on its hazardous flight.

For three-quarters of an hour No 445B flew to and fro parallel to
the coast. It was bitterly cold. At a minimum height of five
thousand feet was a vast bank of clouds that drifted steadily
eastwards.

Occasionally Kirkwood took down a wireless report from the parent
ship and handed it to the pilot. Hardly a word was spoken. The voice
tube was resorted to only once in that forty-five minutes.

"I'm going further out," announced Fuller. "We'll clear that patch
of clouds."

With her motors purring rhythmically and the pistons throbbing in
perfect tune the seaplane swung round and settled in an easterly
direction, the while climbing steadily. Behind her was the tail end
of a nimbus; above, through a vast rift the stars twinkled in the
cold sky; beneath, thousands of feet down, was the sea, its vicious,
steep waves invisible in the kindly darkness.

Suddenly, from the enshrouding masses of cloud, a dark,
symmetrically elongated shape shot rapidly into the starlight. It
was a Zeppelin in full flight. Columns of smoke were issuing from
her exhausts, but the throb of the seaplane's motors drowned the
drone of her powerful engines.

"Good!" ejaculated Fuller, actuating the rudder bar with his feet
and elevating the ailerons. "That's our bird. If they don't spot us
before they gain that bank of clouds, she's ours."

Eagerly yet methodically Kirkwood brought the Lewis gun ready for
action. It was to be the last resource in attack, to be used only if
the seaplane failed to gain the aerial "weathergage"--a superior
altitude to that of her bulky antagonist.

For the present the odds were level as regards speed. The seaplane's
greater rate of flight was counterbalanced by the fact that she had
to climb in order to get above her intended prey and drop a bomb
upon the immense and fragile bulk of the Zeppelin's envelope.

And Fuller was achieving his object. Already Seaplane 445B was
passing diagonally upwards through the raider's smoking trail, the
oil tinged vapour from her exhaust pipes. Every moment tended to
bring the protruding stern portion of the Zep, betwixt her crew and
the steadily climbing aeroplane, thus diminishing the risk of
detection.

Fuller was about to check the upward climb and overhaul his
antagonist when the Zeppelin appeared almost to stand on end. The
whole of her upper surface was exposed to the British airmen's view.
Then, almost simultaneously the seaplane seemed to be following.

It was a form of optical delusion. She was still climbing steadily.
The Zeppelin had spotted her small and dangerous foe. Dropping a
quantity of ballast _en bloc_ the airship shot vertically upward to
a terrific height. It was this motion that had given Fuller the
impression that the seaplane was dropping.

"She's twigged us!" he shouted through the voice tube. "Let her have
it."

The A.P. promptly began to let loose a whole drum of ammunition. The
Zeppelin was instantly enveloped in a cloud of smoke. Into the pall
of vapour the Lewis gun pumped its nickel missiles, yet no crippled
flaming fabric crashed helplessly to the surface of the sea.

The smoke was a "blind." Fuller realised that. Screening herself by
the dense vapour the Zeppelin had ascended almost vertically until
safe from observation in the dense clouds overhead.

"Missed her, by Jove!" ejaculated the flight-lieutenant.

"More than she did us," replied Kirkwood coolly, in spite of his
keen disappointment, for a small-calibre bullet had ripped the
ear-pad of his airman's helmet. Whether his ear was hit he knew not.
The intense cold had numbed all sense of feeling. The shot was
evidently from a Maxim and one of many, but in the darkness it was
impossible to see whether the seaplane had sustained any damage.
Judging by her behaviour Kirkwood thought not.

Yet Fuller was loath to discontinue the chase. On and on he flew,
further and further away from the "Hippodrome" and the shores of
Britain, vainly hoping to pick up his quarry when the Zeppelin again
emerged from the cloud banks.

"I'll swear she's shut off power and is floating somewhere in that
cloud," he soliloquised. "Well, I'll have a shot at it, even if we
charge smack into the brute."

With this desperate yet praiseworthy resolution the
flight-lieutenant swung his frail command about and began to climb
steadily towards the mass of dark clouds. Ten minutes later the
seaplane entered the lower edge of the nimbus. It was like tearing
through a dense fog. All sense of direction was lost. Whether the
machine was climbing, banking or descending was a matter of
conjecture, since the darkness and the moisture made it impossible
to consult the aeronautical instrument. Ahead was nothing but an
opaque curtain of mist. On either side the tips of the planes merged
into invisibility. Only astern were there any light-sparks from the
hot exhaust throwing a faint, ruddy glare upon the wisps of trailing
vapour that followed, circling and writhing, in the wake of the
swiftly-moving machine.

"If the Huns are anywhere in this stuff they'll get in a rare funk
even if we don't run across them," thought Fuller, Unmindful of the
danger of his own seeking he mentally pictured the panic-stricken
condition of the raider, as hearing the roar of the seaplane's
motors and unable to locate its position, they were in momentary
peril of being rammed by an object tearing at ninety miles an hour
through an optically impenetrable darkness.

Kirkwood, too, realised the risk. With nerves a-tingle he awaited
developments. Faith in Fuller's prowess gave him confidence. With
one hand resting lightly on the lever operating the bomb-dropping
gear he waited, ready at the first signal to release the missiles of
annihilation.

Suddenly the muffled roar of the exhaust gave place to a series of
rapid explosions. Instinctively Kirkwood likened it to a boy rasping
a stick along a row of iron palings. At the same time a succession
of spurts of flame streaked overhead. The seaplane had only just
scraped the underside of her antagonist. The upper planes had missed
the Zeppelin's 'midship gondola by inches, and the flashes he had
seen were from the airship's machine-gun as the Huns blazed
furiously and erratically at their unseen but unpleasantly audible
foe.

Up spun 445B, until she seemed to stand almost on her tail. Then
tilting until she was in imminent danger of side-slipping, she
sought to make good her discovery. Vainly Fuller circled and
circled, striving to pierce the vault of inky blackness. The
Zeppelin was no longer there. Whether she had thrown out some more
ballast or had trusted to her motors to bear her away from the
unseen terror he knew not.

He was not a man to admit defeat readily.

"I'll make 'em have cold feet in any case," he decided, as he
removed his mist-dimmed goggles and peered into the luminous compass
bowl. "Due east till we get out of this cloud, and then I'll wait
for the brute."

Unfortunately, as far as he was concerned, Fuller's decision could
not be carried out, for from no apparent cause the motors raced at
unprecedented speed for a brief instant and then stopped.

The contrast from the noise of the engine to the stillness of the
upper regions was the feature that impressed him most. The seaplane,
at a height of ten thousand feet, and in the midst of a dense cloud,
was beginning to fall. Vainly the pilot strove to avoid the
nerve-racking "tail-spin." His sense of direction gone he could only
jiggle the joy-stick in the hope that the terrific headlong, erratic
downward rush might be checked.

Kirkwood, secured by the broad leather safety strap, also realised
the danger. He was conscious of being whirled round and round with
his body in a horizontal position. He could feel the rush of air as
the seaplane dropped, otherwise silently, towards the sea. Unless
the machine could be got under control their fate was sealed. The
frail floats would be pulverised and splintered with the terrific
impact, and the wreckage, weighted down by the heavy motor, would
sink like a stone.

For sixty seconds--it seemed like sixty hours--the uncontrollable
plunge continued, then like a flash the tail-spinning machine
emerged from the under side of the cloud into the comparatively
clear atmosphere. With an almost superhuman effort Fuller readjusted
the sorely tried ailerons. The resistance on the planes was
tremendous, but the fabric and the tension wires were British made,
with a sickening jerk the seaplane described a complete loop. In the
nick of time the resourceful pilot caught her on the "swing" and
flattened out.

Once the motion was sufficiently retarded he commenced a vol-plane.
It was, perhaps, prolonging the agony, since there could be little
hope of rescue on a dark night, even if the waves did not overwhelm
the frail craft.

"Stand by!" shouted Fuller. "Look down--on your right."

The A.P., well nigh breathless through the pressure of the belt upon
his ribs, leant over the side of the chassis. Two thousand feet
below, with her drawn-out shape glittering dully in the starlight,
was another Zeppelin. The first, silhouetted against the faint
light, had presented a black shape; this one showed up clearly in
her aluminium garb against the darkness. She was proceeding rapidly
at a height of about three thousand feet, and now less than a
thousand beneath the vol-planing British craft.

"Our luck's in!" exclaimed the flight-lieutenant, his thoughts only
for the immediate present. It would be sufficient to consider the
end of that terrific vol-plane when the moment arrived. For the
present it was not even a secondary matter--it did not enter into
the intrepid airman's calculation.

"Stand by!" roared Fuller again. "For Heaven's sake don't miss."

Down swept the noiseless biplane upon its unsuspecting prey.
According to Fuller's plans he would approach the Zeppelin in the
same vertical plane but at an acute angle--both aircraft proceeding
in the same direction. This would give the bombs a better target
than if the seaplane was cutting across the path of the airship.

So swift was the descent that the Zeppelin appeared to be rising in
the air to meet her opponent. Her huge, long-drawn-out mass grew
bigger and bigger until it seemed as if a miss would be an
impossibility.

"Now!" shouted the flight-lieutenant.

With a swift, decided movement Kirkwood thrust over the
releasing-gear lever. There was no resistance. Unaccountably the
flexible wire operating the release catch had been detached. Without
a moment's hesitation the A.P. unbuckled his belt and, bending,
groped on the floor of the fuselage for the business-end of the
wire. Just then the Zep, opened fire with her machine-gun.

Fuller, leaning over the side waited in eager expectation of the
anticipated explosion, quite prepared to find the seaplane capsized
under the blast of the terrific detonation. But there was none, and
already the vol-planing machine was beyond and on a level with the
Zeppelin. Without the aid of the motor it was impossible to return
to the attack.

Savagely Fuller swung round with the intention of demanding the
reason of his observer's blunder. To his surprise the A.P., was not
to be seen.

"Plugged!" ejaculated the pilot. "Well, here goes; another two
minutes will decide."

The Zeppelin was now out of his mind. His whole attention was
devoted to the impending impact with the surface of the water. Every
thing depended upon his skill and judgment, with a fair element of
luck thrown in. In the darkness it was impossible to gauge with any
degree of certainty the height of the descending machine above the
sea. If the pilot "flattened out" too soon the seaplane would fall
like a stone; if, on the other hand the vol-plane were maintained
the fraction of a minute too long the impact would either result in
the shattering of the floats or in the machine describing a
somersault--possibly both.

With a double plash the flat-bottomed floats smacked the waves. The
"landing" was successfully accomplished, but the unpleasant fact
remained that Fuller and Kirkwood were afloat in a frail cockleshell
in a fairly "jumpy" sea and on a pitch-dark night. Without water and
provisions and with no aid in sight and already sixty miles or more
from land they were rapidly drifting out to sea nearer and nearer
the hostile shores of Germany.



CHAPTER XI

THE TERRORS OF THE AIR


SIEGFRIED VON EITELWURMER, the German Secret Service Agent, sat and
shivered in the after-gondola of the returning Zeppelin. He was not
feeling at all happy. Apart from the physical discomfort--for in
addition to the effect of the cold he was under the influence of
air-sickness--his mind was harassed by wellfounded thoughts that
something might happen to the gigantic but obviously frail gas-bag.

Like most Germans his faith in Count Zeppelin's cowardly and
diabolical invention was unshaken--so long as he could remain on
terra-firma. But whereas the stay-at-home Hun satisfied himself by
reading of the colossal achievements of the German aerial fleet, von
Eitelwurmer knew by actual observation that the raids failed to
justify one-tenth, nay, one-thousandth part of the claims put
forward by the authorities at Berlin.

In pre-war days he had seen experimental Zeppelins dashed to pieces
in a vain attempt to regain the shed. He had seen others destroyed
by fire. He remembered seeing a "leader" in a British newspaper in
which it was solemnly declared that the sympathies of the civilised
world will go out to the aged Count in the hour of his grief at the
failure of his life's work.

And now, in addition to the ordinary risks of aviation the returning
airship was liable at any moment to the attack of the "hornets" that
were known to be on the look-out for the raiders. Here he was,
carried off against his will, suspended like Mahomet's tomb 'twixt
heaven and earth, and faced with the prospect of a swift journey to
a place not included in the above category.

Ober-leutnant von Loringhoven left his passenger severely alone. For
one thing the commander's attention was almost entirely taken up
with the work of navigating his cumbersome craft back to the
Fatherland; for another he mistrusted spies, even when they were
Germans and notwithstanding the fact that he himself had indulged in
that dangerous pastime. But there was this difference. Von
Loringhoven was a naval officer while von Eitelwurmer was a
civilian. He had heard of German spies renouncing their allegiance
and acting for the country in which they were to be working on
behalf of the authorities at Berlin.

The spy had been accommodated with a camp-stool. On either side of
the narrow compartment was a window fitted with double plate-glass
windows. The for'ard bulkhead was pierced by a door leading to the
cat-walk or suspended bridge communicating with both the 'midships
and for'ard gondolas. Aft was another bulkhead separating a portion
of the compartment from that containing the motors actuating the two
rearmost propellers. The floor was in a state of continual tremor
under the pulsations of the engines and the rattle of the two
endless chains that transmitted the power to the two outboard
propellers.

The limited space was still further taken up by two machine-guns
mounted on aluminium alloy pedestals and capable of being trained
through a fairly broad arc. By these stood four of the crew, ready
at the first alarm to lower the glass panes and bring the weapons
into action. The men were taciturn and obviously nervous. When
flying over the unprotected towns and dropping their murderous
cargoes they could be boisterous enough, but now, knowing that they
had to run the gauntlet, they were feeling particularly cowed. The
fear of being paid back in their own coin--a possibility that alone
makes the Hun howl--gripped them, and held them in a state of
prolonged mental torture.

Presently at an order communicated by telephone from the foremost
gondola, the machine-gunners lowered the sashes of the windows. The
temperature, already -2 degrees C. fell rapidly to -10 degrees C.
Warm air-currents from the motor-room drifted through gaps in the
partition and condensing fell upon the floor in the form of globules
of ice.

Up and up climbed the Zeppelin. She was approaching the East Coast.

Von Eitelwurmer, overcoming his torpor, went to the window. One of
the men was about to motion him to his seat, when another touched
him on the shoulder and pointed.

Far below the whole country was in darkness. The spy could not tell
whether it was land or water. Away to the southward a group of
searchlights swept the sky, the beams impinging upon a bank of
clouds that floated at a height of nearly a mile. Still further away
more electric rays swayed slowly to and fro. At intervals the
searchlights of the nearmost station crossed those of the one more
remote, while in turn these effected a luminous exchange with rays
still further away. As far as the eye could see there appeared to be
a continuous barrage of light through which the returning raider
must pass before gaining her base.

At an order the motors were switched off. Almost absolute silence
succeeded the noisy roar of the seven 240-horse-power engines. The
airship, at the mercy of the winds, began to turn broadside on to
the aerial drift, yet the while, by means of ballast thrown
overboard and the release of more compressed hydrogen from the
cylinders into the ballonets, was steadily climbing.

It was von Loringhoven's aim to ascend until the Zeppelin was above
the clouds. Screened from those dangerous searchlights the airship
would then drift over the coast-line until such times as it would be
deemed safe to restart the motors.

With the altitude gauge hovering at 4,000 metres the raider found
herself just above the natural screen. The belt of clouds was not
more than three hundred feet in height--sufficient to hide her from
the earth, yet transparent enough to allow the rays of the
searchlight to penetrate the vapour.

To the spy the outlook resembled the view from a railway carriage
when dense clouds of steam waft past the windows. So powerful were
the rays of the searchlights that the stratum of the vapour was
flooded with silvery luminosity, while--ominous sign--the beams no
longer swayed to and fro as previously, but hung with sinister
persistence upon the bank of clouds with which the airship hoped to
screen herself from observation.

Even as von Eitelwurmer looked a huge dark shadow eclipsed the
concentrated beams. It was moving slowly at a rate hardly exceeding
that of the airship. For that reason the object could not be an
aeroplane. Perhaps it was some deadly invention that the English had
brought into action against the Zeppelins--a sort of aerial torpedo
steered by wireless electric waves?

The machine-gunners saw it too. The last atom of courage literally
oozed out of their boots, yet almost automatically they gripped the
handle that would liberate shots at the rate of 500 a minute if to
the voidless night.

It was fortunate for them that they did not open fire. The shadow
was that of another Zeppelin that at less than a hundred feet below
was slowly forging ahead in a southerly direction under the action
of her throttled-down motors, and with her exhausts carefully
muffled.

In five minutes the novel Zeppelin eclipse was over, although at no
time was the actual airship to be seen. She had previously been
fired upon by the anti-aircraft guns on the coast and was now
cautiously smelling her way through the clouds in order to find an
undefended gap in the defences.

Another half-hour passed in acute suspense, Three times the anxious
crew heard the terrifying sound of an aerial propeller. Somewhere in
the darkness the British hornets were up and searching for their
lurking foe--so far without success unless the moral effect be taken
into consideration.

Presently the Zeppelin drifted beyond the glare of the fixed
searchlights, but not until another twenty minutes had passed did
von Loringhoven give orders for the engines to be restarted. At that
terrific altitude the noise was considerably diminished in volume.
Instead of the explosions of the motors resembling a succession of
rifle-shots the sounds were like those of a whip being cracked, yet
as the airship descended steadily to a height of five thousand feet
the noise resumed its normal and distracting violence.

The spy sat down again. His torpor was returning. The sudden change
of altitude had resulted in a steady flow of blood from his nose,
while his ear-drums throbbed until they seemed on the point of
bursting. At that moment he felt that he would not have minded had
the airship been blown to atoms.

But the next instant his lassitude vanished, as the loud pop-pop-pop
of two of her machine-guns roused him from his stupor. The weapon on
the starboard side was trained as far as possible abaft the beam and
was pumping out nickel into the darkness.

Craning his neck over the shoulders of the men serving the
belt-ammunition von Eitelwurmer saw a sight that caused his agonies
of mind to return with redoubled violence.

Just visible against the loom of the starlit sky was a huge biplane
that, climbing steeply, seemed to be steadily overhauling the
airship. Serenely unmindful of the hail of bullets aimed at her the
seaplane held on with the obvious intention of getting astride her
prey.

Mingled with the detonations of the machine-guns were the clanging
of telephone bells, the clank of machinery and the excited voices of
the crew. Then with a jerk that threw the spy violently against the
after bulkhead the Zeppelin leapt skywards. Simultaneously dense
volumes of black smoke eddied in through the open windows.

Sprawling in the intense darkness upon the ice-encrusted floor of
the gondola the spy vainly strove to shriek, but only a gurgled
sound came from his lips. He had not the slightest doubt but that
the airship was on fire and on the point of crashing to her doom.

Hearing the stifled cry, for again the motors were stopped, one of
the crew gripped him roughly by the arm, and set him on his feet.

"Silence!" he hissed. "A noise like that may betray us."

A seemingly interminable interval followed. The Zeppelin, floating
motionless in a dense and opaque bank of clouds, was endeavouring to
evade her comparatively small but highly dangerous antagonist, the
loud buzzing of whose engine could be distinguished with all too
forcible certainty.

With every light switched off the crew of the unwieldy gas-bag
waited in breathless suspense, knowing that at any moment a bomb
might explode with annihilating result in the midst of the vast
store of highly inflammable hydrogen above their heads.

For how long this state of almost unbearable suspense and
nerve-racking tension lasted von Eitelwurmer had not the slightest
idea. In Cimmerian darkness he sat, shivering with cold and fear,
his eyes fixed upon the motionless form of one of the
machine-gunners who, leaning out of one of the open apertures, was
striving to locate the presence of the unseen but audible British
seaplane.

Every time that the drone of the biplane's engine rose to a
crescendo the spy's finger-nails cut into the palms of his benumbed
hands. Vaguely he wondered what the end would be: whether the
intense cold would give place to violent heat as the Zeppelin, a
mass of flames, crashed headlong, or whether in the absence of an
explosion the agony would be prolonged until the gondola, pinned
down by the weight of the shattered framework of the gas-bag, would
plunge beneath the waves and cause him to drown like a rat in a
trap. He gave no thought to his companions. It was he that mattered.
He was in peril. The rest--well, that was their affair. They had
undertaken the raid and its attendant risk to themselves. It seemed
hard that he--an involuntary passenger--should be faced with the
immediate prospect of being burnt to a cinder in mid-air or stifled
in the icy waters of the North Sea.

The whirr of the seaplane's propeller increased in volume, more than
at any previous time during the Zeppelin's sojourn in the clouds.

Suddenly the machine-gunner uttered an exclamation and nudged his
companion. A succession of blinding flashes and the rapid rattle of
the automatic weapon dazzled the eyes and dulled the hearing of the
demoralised spy. Yet, impelled by an unseen force, von Eitelwurmer
raised himself and peered out of the scuttle.

The sight that met his eye was enough to appal a man of high moral
and physical fibre, let alone the nerve-stricken spy; for,
apparently heading straight for the Zeppelin and with her planes
distinctly visible in the flashes of the machine-gun, was the
avenging British seaplane. With a wild, unearthly shriek von
Eitelwurmer threw up his arms and fell unconscious upon the floor of
the gondola.



CHAPTER XII

THE RAIDER'S RETURN


SIEGFRIED VON EITELWURMER opened his eyes. His first thoughts were
those of curious wonderment. It seemed remarkable, almost
disappointing, that he found himself still alive.

More, he was still on board the airship, but his surroundings were
different. The intense darkness had given place to light--not
artificial luminosity of electric agency but the welcome light of
day. His quarters had been changed. During his period of
unconsciousness he had been taken along the narrow cat-walk (perhaps
it was well for him that he had no recollection of that perilous
passage along the V-shaped gangway) and had been placed in the
centre gondola.

This move had been made at Ober-leutnant von Loringhoven's orders.
During the nerve-racking journey over the sea-frontier of England
the Hun commander had given scant thought to the comfort of his
guest, but with immediate prospects of a safe return, he had
recalled the advisability of giving the Kaiser's emissary those
honours that his position albeit a despised civil one demanded.

"Are you feeling better now?" enquired von Loringhoven.

The spy sat up and passed a hand over his forehead.

"Where are we now?" he asked, ignoring the ober-leutnant's question.

"In sight of German soil," was the reply. "Yonder can be discerned
our incomparable island fortress of Heligoland. No, we do not
descend there, nor at Tondern or Borkum. Unfortunately that
dare-devil of an Englishman has done us some damage, so we go on to
the repairing sheds at Kyritz--they, fortunately, are beyond reach
of hostile aircraft. At least, so I hope, but there is no telling
what these English seaplanes will do next."

With von Loringhoven's reassurances bringing comfort to his tortured
mind the spy's mercurial spirits rose. Yet not without a shudder he
recalled his last conscious moment in the horrors of the pitch-black
cramped interior of the after gondola.

"Himmel!" he exclaimed. "That was a nightmare. I little thought to
be alive, and now I am tempted to shout 'Hoch! Hoch!' at the top of
my voice."

"The bracing upper air," commented the ober-leutnant. "It is superb
for raising one's spirits. Yes, it was an anxious time. I admit it.
For the moment I thought that the cursed seaplane was going to hurl
herself straight through the envelope. It is a thing that these mad
Englishmen would do. I know them."

Von Eitelwurmer nodded in silent accord.

"But," continued the commander, "it was otherwise. Possibly our fire
distracted the pilot, or he may have changed his mind at the last
moment. Yet it was so close that I doubt whether there was anything
to spare between the tip of one of his planes and the underside of
the rear gondola. To me, looking aft, it seemed the narrowest shave
possible. However, she missed us, and I immediately gave orders for
the motors to be restarted. Heaven be praised, we never saw that
seaplane again."

"And the damage?" enquired von Eitelwurmer.

"Not enough to prevent us continuing the voyage," replied von
Loringhoven. "Two of the after ballonets are perforated too badly to
be patched. A couple of my men succeeded in plugging the holes with
the special preparation we use in such contingencies. You will
observe that this floor inclines considerably in spite of the
redistribution of ballast. We are down by the stern. Well, what is
it?" he asked curtly as Unter-leutnant Klick entered the
compartment.

"A wireless has just been received, sir," replied Klick, saluting
his superior. "It appears that two of our airships have failed to
return."

"_Donner wetter!_ Two out of twelve!" exclaimed von Loringhoven
furiously. "This is serious. But it might have been worse," he
muttered in an undertone, as he glanced at the drooping end of the
large envelope.

The spy went to one of the windows. The air was still sharp but mild
in comparison to the piercing cold of the night. Already the sun was
well above the horizon. Two thousand feet or less beneath the
airship--for on approaching land the Zeppelin had descended
considerably--could be discerned with remarkable clearness the green
grass and red sandstone of the island of Heligoland with a strand of
white sand adjoining one face of the cliffs. A short distance beyond
was the flat, semi-artificial island of Sandinsel, with its
batteries, concealed when viewed from the sea, standing
conspicuously against the dunes.

Still further away were the flat, receding shores bordering the
estuary of the Elbe, but vainly the spy looked for any signs of the
vaunted High Seas Fleet. Even the well protected triangular expanse
of water was desolate of shipping, save for a few small craft
engaged either in laying additional mines or conveying stores to the
island fortress.

At that height the varying depths of the sea could be noted owing to
the changing colour of the water--not that that fact interested von
Eitelwurmer in the slightest. He was a landsman out and out. He was
content to leave the difficult task of wresting the trident from
Britannia's grasp to others. The matter did not concern him. He
specialised in the arts and intrigues of espionage.

Von Loringhoven was cast in a different mould. Although his present
energies were centred upon the air service he was at heart a seaman.
He, too, was examining the expanse of sea, but with the skill of a
practised navigator.

"Look!" he exclaimed, pointing to a small, indistinct object from
which emanated two ever-diverging lines of ruffled water. "Do you
know what that is? Here, take these binoculars and look. Now,
perhaps, you see what I mean?"

The spy brought the glasses to bear.

"A fish, I suppose," he remarked.

"A fish of sorts," added the ober-leutnant. "One's sense of
proportion is deceived at this height. It is an unterseeboot. I do
not fancy it is ours, otherwise why should she keep submerged when
close to our territorial water?"

He lifted the receiver of the telephone.

"Wireless cabin. Report to the commandant of Heligoland that there
is a submarine in the south channel. Ask if it is one of our
unterseebooten."

In a few minutes came the reply.

"No German submarine operating sub merged off the fortress. Can you
attack?"

"No, I cannot," declared von Loringhoven bluntly, directing his
remarks to his companion. "She's a British submarine. Those fellows
nose their way everywhere. She, evidently, is inside the outer
minefield. And they want me, crippled as this airship is, to attack.
It is unreasonable; besides, the wind is increasing in strength and
we have yet to make a landing."

So, giving by wireless the bearings of the daring submarine, von
Loringhoven "carried on" in the knowledge that the dangers of this
flight were by no means over. Already the wind was blowing with a
velocity of thirty miles an hour--a rate that would make landing a
difficult matter--and, what is more, its strength was hourly
increasing.

At ten in the morning the Zeppelin came in sight of the sheds at
Kyritz, a town in the province of Brandenburg and roughly sixty
miles north-west of Berlin. This was the base for airships that had
sustained damage likely to take a considerable time to repair. The
German authorities, profiting by the lessons of the British air
raids on Friedrichshaven and other Zeppelin stations within range of
aeroplanes operating either from the sea or from the hostile
frontiers, had taken the precaution to remove the repair depots well
inland. In such places as Borkum there were Zeppelins in commission
ready for making flights to the British Isles, but at the first
intimation of a raid upon the airship sheds the mammoth gas-bags
would fly inland until the danger was past. In the case of a
Zeppelin undergoing extensive repairs such a course would be
impossible; hence the establishment of the base at Kyritz.

Turning head to wind the crippled Zeppelin descended slowly and
cautiously towards a field surrounding the three large sheds. The
sheds themselves were marvels of scientific ingenuity. For one thing
they were easily collapsible. By means of mechanical appliances the
roof could be parted lengthways and each section allowed to fold
against the walls. The walls could then be lowered until the whole
structure lay flat on the ground. The fabric, composed of steel
sheeting on girders of the same material, was covered with stucco
that strongly resembled the surrounding ground. Viewed from a height
there would be great difficulty in distinguishing between the
collapsible sheds and the adjoining land. The buildings, of course,
could only be lowered when not tenanted by airships, but such was
the deliberate thoroughness of the Huns that they had to provide for
this contingency in the possible yet improbable event of a British
aircraft raid.

Another feature of the sheds was the fact that each was built upon a
gigantic turn-table, so as to enable the openings to turn away from
the prevailing wind and thus facilitate landing operations; while by
a system of disc signals the commander of the returning Zeppelin was
informed of the direction and strength of the breeze.

Yet, in spite of these precautions, the landing operations were
fraught with danger, especially in the present case.

As the crippled airship approached the shed, ropes were lowered from
bow and stern. These were seized by swarms of trained air-mechanics,
and as gently as possible the huge envelope was brought upon an even
keel. All the while the propellers kept revolving in order to enable
her to counteract the force of the head wind.

Then other ropes were lowered from the 'midship portion of the
Zeppelin while simultaneously gas was exhausted from some of the
ballonets to neutralise her buoyancy.

All that seemingly remained was to shut off the motors and drag the
mammoth into its lair.

Suddenly a strong gust of wind, eddying past the shed, struck the
bow of the Zeppelin. The men holding the bow ropes were thrown in a
struggling heap of humanity upon the grass. In an instant the whole
of the for'ard portion of the Zeppelin reared itself in the air. The
aluminium longitudinal girders were not proof against the unequal
strain, and with incredible rapidity the frail fabric buckled.

"Jump!" shouted von Loringhoven, his voice barely audible above the
excited yells of the men and the rending of metal.

Setting the example the commander dropped from the cat-walk,
followed by Unter-leutnant Klick and most of the crew. A few,
imprisoned in the foremost gondola, were crushed under the ruins of
the girders.

For a moment the spy hesitated to follow the example of his
companions in peril. Taking his courage in his hands, he lowered
himself over the latticed sides of the gangway. There he hung until
half stupefied by the fumes of the escaping hydrogen; then, relaxing
his hold he dropped, landing in a most undignified manner upon the
equally ruffled von Loringhoven as he crawled from under the
wreckage.

In five minutes nothing remained of the raider but a mass of gaunt
and twisted girders from which fluttered the remains of the envelope
in the grip of the now howling wind.

Two hours later, Siegfried von Eitelwurmer found himself in the
presence of the Director of Aeronautical Intelligence in the
official quarters of the Air Department--a pretentious building in
the Wilhelmstrasse at Berlin.

With him were Ober-leutnant von Loringhoven and half a dozen
commanders of the Zeppelin Squadron that had just carried out the
raid over the British Isles. The task of reporting upon the raid was
about to commence. Already the British communiqué had been received,
and it was now considered advisable to issue a statement for the
benefit of the German people.

The only person not present was Otto von Lohr, the commander of the
air squadron, and until he put in an appearance the business could
not be started.

A telephone bell rang. A uniformed secretary took up the receiver.

"Yes, Herr Schneider, he is here," he replied. "I will inform him of
your request."

Replacing the instrument the secretary crossed the room and
addressed the spy.

"Herr Kapitan-leutnant Schneider wishes to see you, Herr von
Eitelwurmer," he announced obsequiously.

"Very good," replied the spy. "Inform me when the conference
begins."

Kapitan-leutnant Schneider, the German Naval Censor-in-Chief, was a
bald-headed, loose-lipped man of past middle age. He looked, and
was, a typical Prussian, subserviently polite to his superiors and
pointedly arrogant to those who were not. Von Eitelwurmer belonged
to the former category, for although not of the military caste, he
enjoyed the confidence of the Emperor. That in itself was sufficient
to cause Kapitan-leutnant Schneider to squirm like an eel. It was
his way of showing his pleasure at his visitor's presence.

"I wish to ask you, von Eitelwurmer," he remarked after the
preliminary courtesies were exchanged, "concerning the effect of our
reports--my work, you understand--upon the English people. You,
living as an Englishman, ought to be in a position to inform me."

"My private opinion, or my official one?" enquired the spy bluntly.

The Censor shut one eye solemnly.

"Your private opinion," he said.

"The German communiqués seem to be a source of amusement to the
English," began von Eitelwurmer in the same bold tone, for not being
under the kapitan-leutnant's jurisdiction and having an old
grievance against him he could afford to "rub it in." "In fact, the
censorship in both countries is one of the chief weapons of their
antagonists. In England bad news that we already know of is
suppressed, and consequently all sorts of disquieting rumours get
around. The same holds good in the Fatherland. It is like sitting
upon the safety valve of a boiler: sooner or later----"

"Yes, yes," interrupted Schneider. "But as far as we Germans are
concerned it matters little. If the people grow restive, if their
hunger--and hunger amongst the lower classes is acute--goads them to
attempted violence the danger ends there. Unlike the English we have
organised the nation. Every man, woman and child realises his or her
duty is to obey, otherwise we might see the business of Louvain
enacted upon German soil."

"The English are of a different temperament," remarked the spy.
"Reverses do not seem to damp their spirits. They have a firm faith
that in spite of blunders everything will come out right for them at
the finish. It is the fatalism based upon centuries of history. Why
their government does not take them into its confidence puzzles me."

The Censor shrugged his shoulders.

"I do not believe in governments of that description," he said.
"Give me our all powerful machinery--the War Council. No government
yet won a war, but many a government has lost one. Now tell me----"

A discreet tap upon the door interrupted the official's words.

"Enter!" he bellowed.

A messenger crept stealthily into the room. By his manner it seemed
evident that he expected to have a book hurled at his head. It was
one of the kapitan-leutnant's usual _plaisanteries_, but on this
occasion von Eitelwurmer acted as a moral shield.

The Censor took the proffered paper, read it and burst into a roar
of laughter.

"Wait a moment, Herr von Eitelwurmer," he said when his mirth had
subsided. "The conference won't start for some time. There's a
fellow wanting an audience--an author, curse him! I'll let the press
and their parasites depending upon it know that there is a
censorship. This fellow wrote a book: _With von Scheer off Jutland_
he called it. Since we must do something to justify our existence I
smashed it. The fellow had no influence, so what matters? And now, I
suppose, he's kicking. Send him in, you thick-headed numbskull; send
him in."

The author of the banned book entered the room. He was of short
stature, being barely five feet two in height, inclined to
corpulence, and very white-faced. His heavy, bristling, up-turned
moustache contrasted incongruously with his small beady eyes that
peered through a large pair of spectacles of enormous magnifying
powers.

For quite two minutes Kapitan-leutnant Schneider hurled a torrent of
abuse at the head of his caller, punctuating every sentence with
furious oaths. Yet, somewhat to the Censor's surprise, the little
man showed no signs of quailing under the onslaught.

"Might I ask what there is in the book to which you take exception?"
he asked.

"The whole of it," thundered the despot.

"Could not certain portions be revised?"

"No; I object to it in its entirety."

"Then, since the story is based upon Admiral von Scheer's report you
object to the official dispatch?"

For a moment the Press Censor was taken aback. It never entered into
his head that this meek and mild man could or would put a poser like
this.

"No; I won't say that," replied Schneider. "But either you are a
perverter of the truth or you know too much. The work has had the
highest Admiralty consideration, and, as you ought to know,
censorship has only one object in view, namely, the public interest.
If you are ordered to say that black is white you must say it. You
haven't, and you must abide by the consequences."

"One moment," interposed the still unruffled man. "Can you give me
one solitary instance of what you object to in the book?"

The kapitan-leutnant puckered his shaggy eyebrows.

"No, I cannot," he replied, with considerable mildness. "I have
forgotten all about it."

"And that is what you term the highest Admiralty consideration,"
added the author cuttingly. "Very good; I will not trouble you
further at present, except to show you this: a commendation from no
less a personage than Admiral von Tirpitz."

"Himmel!" gasped the astonished official. "Why did you not tell me
this before?"

"Because I had not the chance," replied the caller gathering up his
papers. "Good afternoon."

"You are perhaps sorry I waited?" remarked von Eitelwurmer, when the
two were again alone.

Schneider frowned.

"If the fool had only made out that we had won a great victory all
would have been well," he replied. "The Press and its
satellites----"

"The Conference has started, Herr von Eitelwurmer," announced the
secretary. "I could not inform you before as the Kapitan-leutnant
was engaged."

The spy returned to the council-room. Seated at a long table were
the Zeppelin commanders. As each made his report the statement was
taken down by an official shorthand writer, while the aviators were
subjected to a stiff examination by the Director of Intelligence.

Some were most emphatic in their statements. They knew exactly where
they had been; others were not so sure, but believed that they had
been to such and such a town; others, somewhat indiscreetly but
honestly, confessed that they had lost their bearings. All were
agreed, however, that the Yorkshire towns of Brigborough and
Broadbeck had been missed by the raiding aircraft.

"It seems pretty certain that the geography of the English
authorities is at fault," commented the Director. "They report that
our Zeppelins visited a North Midland county--that referred to your
part of the business, von Loringhoven; I always thought that
Lancashire was one of the six northern counties of England: let us
hope that some day it will be one of a German dependency. However,
we'll issue a report that our airships bombed Brigborough and
Broadbeck. Then these English will think that you do not know where
you have been, and that is exactly what we want them to think. Now,
von Papen, draw up a suitable report for home consumption. In these
strenuous times we must satisfy the public demands. It will keep the
common people quiet for a time, and, if they _do_ find out, there
may then be something good to detract their attention."

The spy smiled grimly. He recalled a saying quoted by a German
officer to his captor: "We Germans can never be gentlemen--you
English will always be fools." The first part held good, but as for
the second, his residence in Great Britain had taught him that
behind the apathy of the British nation there was Something--a
Something that, when aroused, would form more than a match for the
cunning and brutality of his fellow countrymen. Reluctantly he had
to admit that.

"Why do you smile?" asked the Director, fixing von Eitelwurmer with
his eye.

"I was thinking," replied the spy. "Thinking of how I can get back
to England. My good work there is not yet completed."

"Those twenty thousand marks, hein?" enquired the president, and the
rest of the assembly laughed uproariously at the director's jest.



CHAPTER XIII

EXIT SEAPLANE No. 445B


"WHY did I leave my comfortable bunk and try my hand at fishing at
night upon the wild North Sea?" enquired Lieutenant Fuller as he
withdrew his benumbed hands from his airman's gauntlets and fumbled
ineffectually for his electric torch. "Dash it all, man! What are
you fiddling about with?"

"Only that releasing lever," replied Kirkwood from the depths of the
fuselage. "That confounded Zep! If only the blessed thing hadn't
jibbed I'd have strafed her, sure as fate."

"Chuck it!" ordered Fuller. "Let the beastly thing alone, or you may
drop a plum. This child doesn't want to be hoist with his own
petard. Well, thank goodness we're afloat. That's some consolation.
Where the hooligan Harry is that confounded torch?"

"Take mine," said the A.P. passing for'ard the desired article.
"Say, old man, we appear to be rolling more to starboard than to
t'other side. Hope the float isn't leaking."

Fuller leant over the side. It was too dark to discern anything.
Prudence forbade him to flash the torch upon the invisible
support--a support so light and frail that the wonder of it all was
that it hadn't given way under the force of the impact with the
waves.

The crippled seaplane was tossing and rolling under the combined
action of the short crested waves and the stiff breeze. It wanted
about two hours to daylight. Meanwhile every minute saw the
amphibious craft drifting further and further from shore.

There were no signs of the "Hippodrome." Possibly the seaplane
carrier had resumed her voyage, in the supposition that the missing
hornet had made one of the fishing harbours on the Yorkshire coast.
The absence of any wireless call rather knocked that theory on the
head. On the other hand the "Hippodrome" could not, without great
risk of being submarined, since she was unaccompanied by destroyers
or patrol-boats, steam seaward on an apparent wild-goose chase for
her errant child.

"She's holding, I fancy," said Fuller referring to the suspected
float. "Anyhow we've kept afloat so far and there's no reason why we
shouldn't do so until I tackle this most refractory motor."

Making cautious use of the flash lamp the pilot minutely examined
the complicated mechanism. It was not long before the mischief was
discovered. Not only was the petrol-tank completely perforated by
three shrapnel bullets, but the pipe leading from it to the
carburetter had been cut clean through. That accounted for the
engine running for some seconds before coming to a stop. Until the
last of the petrol in the carburetter had been drawn into the
cylinders firing was still taking place.

Further examination revealed the fact that, the motor was otherwise
undamaged, although, judging by the holes in the fuselage and
through the planes, it seemed wonderful that pilot and observer had
escaped being hit.

"Can I bear a hand?" enquired Kirkwood.

"No, thanks," was the reply. "Close enough quarters as it is. We
should only be tumbling over one another."

By the aid of a piece of flexible tubing lined with indiarubber the
broken portions of the petrol pipe were temporarily reunited. The
next step was to plug the holes in the tank. This task was performed
by means of a metal instrument consisting of a metal rod of about a
third of an inch in diameter and four inches in length. Two thirds
of the length was threaded and fitted with a "butterfly" nut in
front of which was a cylindrical plug of guttapercha faced with
indiarubber. At the other extremity was a swivelled cross-bar of
about an inch in length and so arranged that it could lie in a
straight line with the rod.

This end Fuller inserted in one of the perforations in the side of
the tank. Then, giving the rod half a turn, he allowed the swivel
bar to fall into a position at right angles to the rod. It was then
impossible to withdraw the latter owing to the cross-piece engaging
on the inner side of the tank.

The flight-lieutenant's next move was to screw the pliable plug hard
against the perforated metal by means of the "butterfly" nut, and by
so doing hole No.1 was repaired--the first of six. While Fuller was
engaged upon the work of making good defects Kirkwood, his mind
still uneasy on the subject of the float, lowered himself over the
side.

Gaining the upper side of the float he felt along it with his hand.
As he did so a wave swept the frail buoyant structure.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "This is a treat. The water is quite warm."

Compared with the intense coldness of the upper air the sea, at this
time of the year, was indeed tepid. The contrasted temperature acted
like balm to his numbed hands. He revelled in the comfort.

While thus engaged the A.P. discerned a large object looming through
the darkness--a cylinder nearly a yard in diameter. It was floating
with very little of its bulk showing above the surface, and, owing
to the comparatively rapid drift of the seaplane, it appeared to be
moving steadily through the water and bearing straight down upon the
float.

For a brief instant Kirkwood remained stock still in his recumbent
position, unable to raise a finger or utter a cry. The object was a
floating mine.

He could discern the horns with remarkable clearness, for the thing
seemed surrounded by an aura of phosphorescent light. One blow from
the underside of the float upon those delicately adjusted
projections with which the mine simply bristled would result in
utter annihilation.

Kirkwood's mind was steeled to the dangers of a ten or fifteen
thousand feet fall through space; but this, to him, unusual danger
literally took the wind out of his sails.

Then, like a flash, the reaction set in. The will to cope with
sudden perils asserted itself. A plan, unpretentious in all its
details, formulated in his active brain.

Throwing himself flat upon the float and grasping one of the
supports with his left hand, the A.P. hung as far in front as he
possibly could without losing his balance. His outstretched hand
came in deliberate contact with the drifting horror. The smooth,
slimy surface--for the mine had evidently been in the water for some
time--offered no resistance, and he thrust until his fingers
"brought up" against one of the horns.

How far short of the minimum pressure required to snap the brittle
projection and allow the chemicals contained therein to ignite
Kirkwood was never to know. He was just aware that either the
seaplane or the mine was swinging clear--perhaps it was a mutual
"get out of my way" affair.

Scraping the for'ard outer corner of the float by a bare six inches
the infernal contrivance, fended off by the A.P.'s outstretched
hand, glided past, until with a sigh of relief the observer watched
it disappear in the darkness.

For quite a minute he hung on, his heart beating like a piston, his
eyes peering through the blackness ahead. Floating mines, he knew,
were generally in considerable numbers. The fact that one peril had
been averted was no guarantee that all danger from these jettisoned
cylinders of potential death was over.

"Where the Christopher Columbus are you, old bird?" exclaimed
Fuller, who, pausing in his work, had missed the rest of the "crew."
"What, down on that float? What's wrong now?"

"We nearly bumped into a mine," reported the A.P. "The beastly thing
was within six inches of my nose."

"A miss is as good as a mile," remarked the pilot nonchalantly. "If
the thing had gone up six inches or six feet wouldn't have made any
difference. They wouldn't have found either of us, and there
wouldn't be enough of the pair of us to make a satisfying meal for a
solitary North Sea herring. Look here. Up with you and give me a
hand at filling the tank. I want to test my handiwork."

By the time the repairs were completed to the satisfaction of all
hands, grey dawn was breaking over the wild North Sea. As far as the
eye could penetrate the haze that hung about in detached patches the
expanse of water was unbroken. Not a sail of any description was in
sight and the beetling cliffs of the Yorkshire coast had long since
dipped beneath the horizon.

"Fill her right up now," continued the pilot, indicating the
repaired tank. "It's lucky we had so many spare tins of stuff on
board. We'll mop up most of the petrol during the plug home against
the wind, I reckon."

Fuller, deep in final adjustments, and Kirkwood hard at work
emptying the contents of the petrol-cans into the tank, were unaware
of the new menace that threatened them, until a huge grey shape
loomed up within fifty yards to windward of the seaplane.

The shape was a German submarine mine-layer, She was running awash,
while on the short, narrow platform in the wake of her conning-tower
stood a couple of officers and a half a dozen seamen.

"You vos surrender make!" shouted one of the Germans.

"I'll see you to blazes first!" retorted Fuller as he frantically
manipulated the starting mechanism.

For once the accurately-timed engine failed to respond to the
master-hand. A mutinous back-fire was the only result. Fuller tried
again but ineffectually.

The Hun submarine then thought it time to butt in. This she did most
neatly but none the less completely by running her nose into the
resistless structure of the jibbing seaplane. Her rate of speed was
but three or four knots, but that was enough. Amidst the rending of
struts, the crashing of the shattered floats and the harp-like twang
of severed tension-wires the luckless 445B turned absolutely over
and disappeared beneath the waves, leaving pilot and observer
struggling in the water.

"Dash it all!" soliloquised Fuller as he struck out for the
submarine. "This is the second time the Huns have nabbed me. I'll
bet there'll be a third. Just my rotten luck. Come on, old bird,
half a dozen more strokes. They are going to heave us out of the
ditch."



CHAPTER XIV

BUTTERFLY


"I SAY, pater."

"Eh?" ejaculated Peter Barcroft without looking up from his work,
which happened to be revising a proof.

"I saw Betty Deringhame last night. I forgot to tell you," began
Billy as a "preliminary canter" to the recital of his raid-night
adventure.

"More fool you," grumbled his parent.

"I beg your pardon----" began the flight-sub, rather taken aback not
by his sire's brusqueness, for Barcroft Senior when engaged in the
non-creative work of proof-reading was like a bear with a sore head,
but by the off-hand manner in which he had received the announcement
of the girl's name.

"Look here!" exclaimed Peter, throwing down his pen and incidentally
bespattering with ink the long, narrow sheet of printed matter. "Why
on earth you want me to preach you a homily on the evils of
betting----"

"Betting?" interrupted Billy. "I said nothing about betting. What I
said was: 'I--saw--Betty--Deringhame--last--night.'"

Peter swung round in his revolving chair, and raised his eyebrows in
mild surprise.

"Did you?" he asked. "My mistake, but why did you murmur that most
interesting news into my deaf ear? What's she doing in this part?"

Billy duly reported the state of affairs.

"Jolly hard lines on the girl and her mother, too," was his parent's
verdict. "Of course women of all classes are making munitions now,
and all praise to them for doing it. I am not referring to that, but
to the fact that Mrs. Deringhame has had a come-down in life. Did
you ever hear how it occurred?"

"No," replied the young officer. "You see, I really didn't like to
ask Betty, and she's too jolly brave to whine over her troubles."

"Sit down and fill your pipe," continued Barcroft Senior. "No
matches? Hang it, there were three or four boxes on my desk this
morning. Here, never mind, use a spill."

Billy laid a restraining hand upon his father's arm.

"Don't use your precious proofs, pater," he observed.

"Bless my soul! You were only just in time, my boy. Another second
and that printed stuff would have been mingling in the form of smoke
with the Lancashire atmosphere. Ah, yes; we were discussing the
Deringhames. The same old tale, Billy: an inexperienced woman and a
rascally lawyer. Not that all lawyers are rascals, you understand,
but the profession contains a high percentage of rogues who, but for
their knowledge of the law and of how far to go without overstepping
the lawyer made laws of the land, would be doing time. This chap was
a cute one. He persuaded Mrs. Deringhame to invest most of her
capital in certain concerns of which he was a sort of sleeping
partner. In five years he had literally done her out of a cool 6,000
pounds; and then, pretending to set matters right, he prevailed upon
her to mortgage her house at Alderdene. Nominally he was her agent;
in reality he was agent for the mortgagee, who was himself. You see
the move?"

"Then, when war broke out, he drew in the mortgage, bringing an
excuse that tightness of money necessitated the step. Mrs.
Deringhame was unable at short notice to meet the demand. In vain
she pleaded for time. Her last remnant of capital vanished into the
rogue's clutches."

"The rotter!" ejaculated Billy indignantly. "And what is the
bounder's name. Do you happen to know?"

"Yes," replied Mr. Barcroft. "Let me see--yes I have it: Antonius
Grabb, of the firm of Grabb and Gott, of Ely Place."

"By Jupiter!" muttered Billy.

Mr. Barcroft raised his eyebrows enquiringly, but his son made no
further audible comment. He had made the unpleasing discovery that
the man who had wronged Betty and her mother was Bobby Kirkwood's
uncle, and when, in the natural course of events the aforementioned
uncle died, the A.P., should he be still surviving, would benefit
considerably under the will of Antonius Grabb.

"By the bye," said Peter abruptly changing the subject. "Seen
anything of Entwistle?"

"Met him coming from the bath-room half an hour ago; he was limping
a good deal," replied Billy. "I don't suppose it will be long before
he's down."

"I've a job for you, my boy," continued Peter. "They've just
telephoned through to say that Entwistle's car won't be able to
fetch him. My perambulating box of tricks and petrol is out of
action somewhere in the hills. So I want you to drive our guest in
the trap to Barborough. I'd go myself if it weren't for these
confounded proofs. That idiot of a comp, will persist in printing
'stem' for 'stern.' The drive will do you good--blow some of last
night's cobwebs away."

"Steady, pater," protested Billy with a hearty laugh. "I am no hand
at driving horseflesh. Give me something in the motor line and I'm
all there."

"You'll be all right with Butterfly," declared Barcroft Senior.
"She's the steadiest-footed quadruped that ever stepped it out in
shafts. A perfect gem, and the envy of the countryside."

He spoke with conviction, but the good character bestowed upon the
animal was based simply upon hearsay. "Butterfly" was a new
importation, having joined the establishment of Ladybird Fold only a
week previously, and during that period she had either rusticated in
the adjoining meadow or in her stable.

The flight-sub walked across the study to the open window. Without,
hill and dale were bathed in the autumnal sunlight, and, having
reviled the neighbourhood of Tarleigh in the darkness of the
previous night, Billy felt compelled to render ample reparation to
its charms as revealed by the light of day.

For miles there was a succession of hills and valleys, until the
vista was terminated by the frowning Pennines. The country was well
wooded, except for the grassy moorlands and bare yet picturesque
outlines of the pikes and fells. Here and there were signs of human
habitation in the form of well-built stone cottages, while in some
of the steeper valleys could be discerned the chimneys and roofs of
various mills and bleaching works. Nor did these lofty "stacks"
disfigure the landscape. They seemed to harmonise with nature. The
only blot in the vista was perhaps the line of electric cables with
which the Zeppelin's observation car had so nearly collided with
disastrous result on the previous night.

In the middle distance a haze of smoke through which a regular
forest of factory chimneys could be dimly discerned marked the
position of Barborough. Distance had lent not exactly enchantment
but a discreet contrast to the rural outlook, and while taking in
the panoramic effect with its attendant peacefulness Billy Barcroft
could hardly realise that eight hours previously a cowardly
night-raider had been hurling down her death-dealing missiles upon
this portion of Britannia's sea-girt domain.

"Right-o, pater!" he exclaimed. "I'll risk it."

He spoke feelingly. The perils of his profession he regarded with
equanimity. It was his choice, and he had no cause to regret it. But
the idea of driving a quadruped of sorts along those steep roads and
through the crowded streets of Barborough filled him with genuine
apprehension.

"Hang it!" he soliloquised. "There's no cut-out on a gee-gee. I know
how to stop an engine right enough, but a horse has a brain of its
own and can be jolly erratic when it wants to. What on earth
possessed the governor to go in for a quadruped when he has a
rattling good car?"

Just at that moment the harmony of the morning was interrupted by
the high-pitched voice of Mrs. Carter engaged in animated
conversation with Mrs. Sarah Crumpet, the D.T.--otherwise Domestic
Treasure--who "did" for Andrew Norton, Esquire.

Although the two ladies were at a side door that opened directly
into the scullery their voices could be heard with astounding
clearness.

"Eh! An' tha' found tha bed not slept upon?" she exclaimed. "Mr.
Norton may ha' been called away a-purpose."

"Nay, that 'e wur not, Jane," declared Mrs. Crumpet. "I'm a-tellin'
on ye, sitha'. Mr. Norton 'e meant to come back, for the whisky was
on th' table."

"Methinks he looks to my employer for his nightcap," remarked Mrs.
Carter with asperity.

"An' I was so overcome like," continued Sarah ignoring the
insinuation, "that I simply 'ad to 'ave a drop-the first time I ever
'ad a chance up yonder."

"'As 'e paid thee thy brass?" enquired the sympathetic Mrs. Carter.

"Ay, that 'e did, thanks be. But it seems most strange-like, this
business."

"I'll tell th' master," asserted Mrs. Carter as the other woman
walked away. "An' sitha', if you're feelin' out o' sorts again, Mrs.
Crumpet, now's your chance afore the bottle's locked up."

With this parting injunction the "help" of Ladybird Fold shut the
door and made her way to the study.

"Yes, I know," said Mr. Barcroft when the Little Liver Pill had duly
reported the absence of Mr. Norton. "He was here last night and left
in a hurry before I returned; I'll stroll across in the course of
the forenoon. Ah, good morning, Entwistle; how's that foot?"

"Better, thanks," replied his guest. "Gives me a bit of a twinge
when I set it to ground. Well, what's the morning's news?"

"Papers not in yet, not that I expect any enlightenment on the
subject of the raid in the Press report. There are all sorts of
rumours flying about, as is to be expected. But it will be all right
some day--when we tackle the business properly. These Zeps. will
come once too often. It's a mystery to me that they haven't summed
up the results and come to the conclusion that these haphazard raids
aren't worth the candle."

"Unless it is to divert the attention of the German people from the
Western Front," remarked Entwistle.

"Quite possible," agreed Peter. "Now to breakfast. I'm sorry your
car couldn't come to fetch you--not that I want to lose you exactly,
although I have a batch of proofs in hand," he added bluntly. "You
understand? Billy will drive you into Barborough."

"And what do you think of the measures taken to combat the Zeppelin
menace?" enquired Entwistle addressing himself to Billy. The
flight-sub shook his head.

"I'm afraid I cannot venture an opinion," he replied. "Both branches
of the Air Service are doing their level best--they cannot do more."

"You won't be able to draw Billy, Entwistle," added his parent with
a laugh. "Even I cannot get him to talk shop."

"Pity some military men I know aren't like him," said the vet.
"Nowadays it's either too much shop or too much official reticence.
The middle path seems to have been lost sight of. But any more of
the mystery of your friend Andrew Norton? I couldn't help hearing
your housekeeper holding forth just now."

"Can't understand it," replied Barcroft Senior. "Why Norton should
bolt out of my house and desert his own all night is a complete
puzzle. I can only put forward the theory that the Zep. raid made
him lose his mental balance--and he's a fellow with a steady head, I
fancy. If he doesn't put in an appearance before lunch time I feel
it is my duty to report the circumstances to that pillar of
intelligence the Tarleigh police sergeant."

"And possibly get yourself arrested on suspicion," chuckled
Entwistle. "Norton was last seen in this house, remember."

"It would be an experience that would afford practical knowledge as
far as my work is concerned," decided Peter. "Nothing like real life
to work into a plot, you know."

Breakfast over, Entwistle and the flight-sub went out into the
garden for the time-honoured matutinal pipe until it was time for
Peter's guest to take his departure.

"Come along, Billy," shouted his father. "Bear a hand at getting
Butterfly harnessed." The flight-sub was in mufti. His uniform had
been damaged beyond repair during his toil amidst the ruins of that
devastated street in Barborough. A scar across his cheek and several
livid weals on the back of his hands testified to his labours
amongst the burning debris.

Somewhat proudly Peter threw open the doors of the combined
coach-house and stable. Within was a small governess cart and a
sleek and obviously overfed donkey.

"Allow me to introduce you to Butterfly," he announced. "Warranted
to be quiet in harness and a thoroughly good trotter."

Billy said not a word. He had contemplated with considerable
misgivings the imposed task of driving a spirited mare through a
populous district; but those doubts were as naught compared with the
prospect of piloting a humble "moke" through traffic in a strange
town.

"Thank goodness I'm in mufti!" he soliloquised with a deep-drawn
sigh. "'The condemned man walked firmly to the scaffold' sort of
feeling. Well, here goes; no one is likely to know me in this show."

Putting the animal into the shafts was an evolution that required
the utmost tact on the part of Barcroft Senior and much nautical
skill on the part of his son. It was their first attempt in this
direction.

"Get her this way while I hold the shafts," exclaimed Peter. "Gee
up, old lady."

Butterfly obeyed and took up a position athwart the hawse of the
craft, as Billy expressed it.

"Round with her," continued Barcroft Senior. "I can't hold these
infernal shafts up all day."

Putting his shoulders to the donkey's hind quarters Billy succeeded
in "slewing the boat's stern round."

"Easy astern!" he shouted in ringing nautical tones.

Surprised beyond measure, Butterfly turned her head to take stock of
this unusual type of groom, with the result that the flight-sub's
face received a good buffet from the animal's nose. Simultaneously
the brass trappings of the harness rasped Peter's hand.

"Confound it!" he roared, relaxing his grasp and allowing one shaft
to fall with a clatter upon the cobbles. "The brute's barked my
knuckles."

Then, reasoning that the damage afforded a sufficient excuse to
"knock off" his professional labours he held his peace on the nature
of his injuries.

"Warranted quiet in harness," quoted Billy as his parent cautiously
retrieved the shaft. "My word, pater, there's not much room between
the dock-gates. Think she'll take it?"

"Ought to," replied Barcroft Senior dubiously. "Now, have another
shot. I wish the brute had a reverse gear."

By dint of mingled coaxing and physical force Butterfly was backed
between the shafts. Then both men regarded the result of their
triumph with chastened looks.

"Strikes me we've missed this sling arrangement on the starboard
side," remarked Billy. "That leather thing ought to be round the
shaft. She'll have to forge ahead a bit."

"Right-o!" assented his parent. "Gee-up. Oh, dash it all! That's my
toe this time."

For Butterfly, in "forging ahead" had brought her hind hoof heavily
upon Peter's foot, which happened to be encased in a carpet slipper.

At length the evolutions arrived at a state that found the donkey in
the shafts. Father and son stood back to admire their handiwork and
to puzzle out the way to adjust the seemingly chaotic tangle of
harness.

"Why not ask Entwistle?" suggested the flight-sub. "He's a vet. He
ought to know how this gear is rove."

Mr. Barcroft shook his head. He did not like to admit defeat.

"Can't ask him to hobble out here with that sprained ankle of his,"
he said. "Unfortunately I'm not used to the job."

"So I should imagine, pater," added Billy pointedly. "Well, we've
got to get on with the business. I'll make sure that everything's
lashed up securely. That's the main point. If it isn't right it
can't be helped."

The task of harnessing completed Butterfly was led out of the
stable, an operation that nearly resulted in Peter being pinned
against the door-post by one of the wheels.

"She's perfectly docile now she's in the trap," he decided as the
donkey walked demurely round to the front of the house. "That's
right, Entwistle. Another hour will see you safely home. Good-bye,
don't forget to look me up at any time. Up you get, Billy."

"Thanks, I'm not having any at present," decided the flight-sub.
"I'll lead her down the narrow lane until we get to the high-road.
Now, then, my hearty; easy ahead once more."

Downhill the donkey walked sedately; Billy's confidence showed signs
of returning as he led the sure-footed animal along the
rough-surfaced track. Just as it joined the main road there was a
short, steep rise.

"Jump in," exclaimed Entwistle; "she'll take it all right."

"I'll give her a chance," demurred the flight-sub. "My weight will
make a difference. Now, then, old lady; show us what you can do."

Butterfly rose nobly to the occasion. So did the shafts, for the
animal walked away leaving the governess-cart in a state of most
unstable equilibrium. By dint of hanging on to one of the shafts
Billy saved his companion from being deposited upon the ground,
while Butterfly, having parted company with the trap, stopped and
surveyed the antics of the still oscillating conveyance.

"Never knew a reef-knot to slip like that before," exclaimed Billy,
regarding the trailing traces.

"It would be better if the traces were made fast in the orthodox
manner, I fancy," suggested Entwistle, alighting from the cart and
limping to the shafts. "There, that's the way--although it's not
done navy fashion."

Along the main road Butterfly showed no signs of "speed-form."
Downhill she walked slowly; uphill she plodded with even less haste,
and since it was all either up or down progress was far from swift.

"I'll have to have another shave when we get to Barborough,"
remarked Billy with an emphasis on the "when." "I scraped at eight
this morning, but at this rate I'll have cultivated a beard before
Butterfly lands us at your place."

"The first mile," commented Entwistle, pointing to a milestone.
"Twenty minutes fifteen seconds. Some record that."

A short distance beyond Blackberry Cross the donkey's manoeuvres
began to cause Billy additional alarm. Without any apparent reason
Butterfly would describe a semi-circle, keeping her eyes fixed upon
something in the road.

"Starboard, you blighter!" roared the amateur driver, tugging at one
of the reins. "You'll have us in the ditch in half a shake."

"Peculiar--very," remarked the vet.

"A very peculiar craft in all respects," added Billy. "She's not
used to this style of yoke-line. Steady, you swab! You're swinging
to port again."

"I've twigged it," announced, Entwistle. "She's jibbing at those
manholes. They seem to irritate her. We'll have to be jolly careful
when we get to the tram-lines or she'll try conclusions with a car.
I tell you what: while you are in Barborough----"

"If we ever get there," muttered Billy.

"You ought to get that brute shod. She may do better on the metallic
roads."

Two hours later Butterfly and party were in the thickest part of the
traffic. To the flight-sub it was a sort of nightmare. Tram after
tram had to be stopped to enable the erratic animal to pass, while a
crowd of urchins (practically all the unwashed of Barborough, Billy
thought) tailed on to the "Dead March in Saul" procession and
contributed rounds of applause as Barcroft steered the donkey
through the traffic mostly by means of his shoulders directed
against the animal's ribs.

"Come in," said Entwistle as the party finally drew up outside the
vet's house. "Put your steed in the stable and stop and have lunch."

"Thanks all the same," said Billy. "I must be getting back, or it
will be dark before I see Ladybird Fold again."

The two men said good-bye, and Barcroft, leading the animal, set off
on the return journey.

"I'll leave the moke at a blacksmith's, and while the thing's being
shod I may as well call and see Betty," he decided, and proceeded to
put his plan into execution by enquiring of one of the attendant
throng--he suffered their presence with equanimity by this
time--where a shoesmith was to be found.

"Fine animal, sir," remarked the smith. "Best I've seen for a long
time. Won't hurry, eh? Well, p'raps 'tes not being shod. How long
will it take? Say half an hour."

Billy deliberated. It was not much use going to "Mill View" if he
had to be back in thirty minutes. On the other hand he could easily
put up the animal at Two Elms and save time on the return journey.
Besides, curiosity prompted him to watch the forthcoming operation.

The smith was a powerfully-built fellow from his waist upwards. His
chest was of enormous depth, his breast and arm muscles stood out
like the gnarled trunk of a tree. But his lower limbs were so thin
that they seemed incapable of supporting the bulky "upperworks."

Butterfly submitted graciously to the initial stages of the
operation, but when it came to shoeing the off-side fore-foot she
exhibited signs of obstinacy.

"I'll have to throw her, sir," declared the smith. "Stand aside a
bit."

Bending he gripped the donkey's legs and applied his huge bulk to
her ribs. Like a felled ox Butterfly fell.

"Keep 'er 'ead down, sir," cautioned the smith. "I won't be long."

At length the last shoe was nailed on and filed smooth. Billy had
had about enough of it, for the pungent smell of the forge was far
from pleasant. But not so Butterfly. Apparently smarting under the
indignity she refused to rise.

The smith applied a leather strap, but unavailingly. He gripped her
head and tried to lever it up. The donkey lashed out, narrowly
missing Billy's shins.

"Dunno as 'ow I seed such a brute afore," said the smith, scratching
his head. "Look 'ere, sir; do you 'old her tail and pull, and I'll
tackle her 'ead. Now, up you come."

Butterfly did. With a series of frantic kicks she regained her feet,
sent the astonished smith flying in one direction and Billy in
another.

For some seconds the flight-sub was too dazed to take any active
interest in the sequence of events, but when at length he picked him
self up and ran to the smithy door, Butterfly's heels were just
visible as at a good fifteen miles an hour she disappeared round the
corner of the street.



CHAPTER XV

RECALLED BY WIRE


"SHE'S off home, sir," said the smith. "Don't you fash yousen about
'er. The cart? Run it in 'ere. 'Twill be all right."

Billy paid for the shoeing and walked slowly down the street.

"No good going to see Betty at lunchtime," he soliloquised. "Might
just as well see about something to eat."

He made his way towards the cornmarket. Here the traffic was at its
height. Nobody would have thought that twelve hours ago a Zeppelin
had sought to terrorise these Lancashire folk with a display of
"frightfulness," and that within two hundred yards a devastated
street bore testimony to the Huns' feeble efforts.

"By Jove, if this had been Karlsruhe or Berlin, wouldn't the Kaiser
be shedding floods of tears!" thought Billy. "Good old British
public. 'Carry on, carry on--we'll come out top-dog all in good
time'--that's the spirit."

A crowd outside the window of a news office attracted his attention.
He crossed the road in order to read a broadsheet giving the latest
war news. It was cheerful enough, in all conscience:

"Two Zeppelins Down. Official."

"Brief and to the point," exclaimed Billy. "Gives a fellow quite an
appetite for lunch. Wonder if any of our crowd scored the winning
hits?"

Ten minutes later, while awaiting lunch, Billy bought a paper still
damp from the press.

"Honours even!" he exclaimed. "The R.F.C. bring down one gas-bag in
Lincolnshire; our fellows bag another twenty miles off the Yorkshire
coast. Hullo! Here's the fly on the ointment: one of our seaplanes
missing."

He glanced casually at the rest of the news, which consisted mostly
of ambiguous and contradictory Allied and enemy reports from the
various fronts, a couple of columns of local news and a similar
space devoted to racing and football. The whole of the front page
was taken up with an advertisement of somebody's Autumn sale.

"Rot!" commented Billy forcibly, "They talk about paper shortage,
cut down the paper by a third, and yet accept a whole page
advertisement of this trash. The back page, I presume, is taken up
with photographs of engaged nonentities that are not of the faintest
possible interest to decimal ought-ought-one of the readers."

But the young officer was only partly right. In one column was an
item of "Stop Press News" printed in blurred type:--

  "The Missing Airmen: Admiralty report that missing seaplane was
  piloted by Flight-lieutenant John Fuller, with Assist.-Paymaster
  Robert Kirkwood as observer."

For some moments Billy stared vacantly at the paper. He could hardly
realise the truth of the bald statement. It seemed incredible. Never
before, during the "Hippodrome's" commission, had a seaplane set out
on a particular duty and failed to return. Fuller was a thoroughly
capable man; Kirkwood--yes--there was nothing to complain about the
way in which he carried out his duties. Had he, Billy, not been on
leave the possibilities were that Kirkwood would have flown with
him.

Barcroft was essentially of a sanguine nature. He had pictured
several of his brother-officers coming a "crash," but never himself.
It is the same sort of spirit that pervades the men in the trenches.
Others might "go west" but not themselves. It is only on rare
occasions that a fighting man has a presentiment that he will go
under.

"I'm frightfully sick that I wasn't on board instead of being on
leave," thought the flight-sub. "Just my rotten luck. Wonder what
has happened to Fuller and Kirkwood? Missing. Perhaps; but I'll
stake my all on Fuller. He'll turn up trumps right enough."

Nevertheless Barcroft spent a miserable afternoon. He felt too
unsettled to carry out his original programme of calling at Mill
View. The desertion of Butterfly he had practically forgotten. All
he wanted to do was to go home and await news of his missing chums.

* * * *

Meanwhile Peter Barcroft, having completed his precious proofs to
the accompaniment of a choice selection of literary profanity, set
out to post the result of his labours.

It was a good mile to the nearest pillar-box, which was on the
summit of the hill overlooking Blackberry Cross, and was cleared at
the early hour of four p.m.

"Nice walk on a fine day," commented Peter, "but there'll be trouble
when it blows, rains or snows. A bit of a change from having a
pillar-box outside one's door, and where one can post at ten in the
evening with the absolute certainty of the letter being delivered in
Town the next morning. Wonder if I'll meet Billy on his way back?"

He whistled for the two dogs and, checking their impetuosity, walked
briskly down the lane.

"Pity the car's crocked," he soliloquised. "Might have taken Billy
round and shown him the country. By Jove, this air is fine! Makes a
fellow glad to be alive. Hope Billy will have fine weather while
he's here."

His plans for the entertainment of his sailor son were interrupted
by his being nearly run down by a cyclist postman, who, turning
sharply from the high road into the lane leading to Ladybird Fold,
managed to miss the occupier of that delectable spot by a few
inches.

"Sorry, sir."

"Don't mention it," replied Peter affably. "A miss is as good as a
mile. Anything for me? You're early this afternoon."

"A telegram for you, sir; postmaster he sent me with it, seeing it's
on my way home and there'll not be a lad at t'office."

Peter took the orange-coloured envelope and opened it. Within was a
form bearing the words:

"Report for duty at Rosyth immediately."

"No answer," said Peter shortly; then "You might put this in the
post for me," handing the man the stamped envelope.

Barcroft Senior retraced his steps. Dashed to the ground were the
castles in the air he was building concerning Billy's programme.
"Jolly rough luck," he decided, that a youngster's leave should be
curtailed in that off-hand manner.

Then he realised that there was a higher claim. His son was
wanted--urgently. Personal considerations were nothing compared with
the exigencies of the Senior Service in wartime.

"It shows Billy is of some importance," he decided proudly. "They
wouldn't trouble to recall him if he were otherwise. Hang it all! if
he doesn't turn up within the next half-hour he'll miss the 4.45
from Tarleigh, and that will put him in the cart as far as the
Scotch express is concerned. I'll go and meet him and hurry him
along."

Peter Barcroft was not usually given to changing his mind in this
erratic fashion, but perhaps present circumstances were sufficient
excuse. He had not seen his son for some twelve months previous to
Billy's belated arrival at Ladybird Fold fourteen hours ago. Of that
fourteen hours six had been employed by making up arrears of sleep,
and another five by Peter's own act of sending his son into
Barborough. Of the remaining time father and son had spent hardly an
hour alone--and there were such a lot of things that Peter wanted to
tell his boy. Then, as a coping-stone to the series of
disappointments, Billy had not seen his mother, as Mrs. Barcroft was
not expected home until the evening.

While Peter was walking along the high road, Billy on his homeward
journey took the path across the fields, and on the former's return
was sitting comfortably in front of the fire.

"Hullo! how did I miss you?" was Peter's greeting. He was
considerably puzzled as to how Billy had contrived to reach home
with the donkey without passing him on the road. "I've a telegram
for you."

"About Fuller?" asked the flight-sub eagerly.

"No," replied Mr. Barcroft. "Why should he want to wire? It's your
recall, my boy; and it's too late for the train that catches the
Scotch express. She's leaving Tarleigh station now."

"Something in the wind, I'll swear," declared Billy, searching in
vain for a time-table. "Fuller's missing. You've heard me mention
him several times. Went after one of the returning Zeppelins and
hasn't been seen since. Only the other day----"

"What are you disarranging my desk for?" interrupted his father. "A
time-table? Here you are. Next train from Tarleigh is at 7.5. That
will catch a connection at Barborough and land you at Edinburgh
about 4 A.M. How much further to Rosyth?"

"About an hour," replied Billy. "Might do it in time."

"No use worrying about it: that won't help matters," said his father
philosophically. "You'll be able to see your mother. She arrives by
the same train you leave by. It will only be for a couple of
minutes. Better luck next time." Tea over, Billy began his
preparations for the journey north. With the assistance of Mrs.
Carter his greatcoat was made sufficiently presentable until he
could borrow a uniform from an obliging shipmate.

At the station the flight-sub's meeting with his mother was, as
Peter had predicted, only of a brief duration, delayed until the
guard's in patient exhortation of "Take your seat, sir, if you're
going," brought it to a close.

"Good-bye, my boy!" said Barcroft Senior as his son lowered the
window of the now closed door.

"I say, pater!" exclaimed Billy, suddenly remembering something in
his pocket. "Here, take this. It will interest you. Forgot all about
it before this."

Peter took the proffered paper--a copy of the document found on the
body of the dead German airman, setting a price upon Barcroft
Senior's head.

The train was on the move. Billy, with his head and shoulders still
protruding through the window, waved farewells to his parents,
then----

"Dash it all!" he shouted. "Butterfly--the donkey--ran away. Clean
forgot to mention it."

But Peter merely shook his head. The rumble of the train made the
words quite inaudible.

It was nearly seven in the morning when Flight-sub-lieutenant
Barcroft arrived at Rosyth, after a long and tedious journey. Mists
were hanging over the waters of the Firth of Forth. Even the lofty
structure of the Forth Bridge was hidden by the grey bank of vapour.
Service craft of all sizes and descriptions were feeling their way
up and down the broad estuary, making the welkin ring with the
discordant braying on their syrens and foghorns.

"Have you seen anything of the 'Hippodrome's' boat?" inquired Billy
of a petty officer on duty on the jetty."

"'Hippodrome's' boat, sir?" repeated the man. "Why, the 'Hippodrome'
got under way a couple of hours ago, along with the Seventh
Destroyer Division, The Ninth's just off, sir."

Barcroft rapidly reviewed the situation. Experience had taught him
that there are often two ways of doing things in the Service--the
official and the non-official. To be strictly in accord with the
precedent he should have reported himself to the Admiral, giving his
reasons why he missed his ship and getting a smart "rap over the
knuckles." On the other hand he might be able to enlist the
sympathies of one of the officers of the Ninth Destroyer Division
and get a passage--provided the boats were proceeding to the same
rendezvous. He resolved to put the latter proposition into effect;
failing that, he would have to fall back upon the official routine.

His luck was in. As he hurried across the caisson on his way to the
jetty where the destroyers were berthed he overtook a lieutenant
commander, whom he recognised as Terence Aubyn, a particular friend
of Flight-lieutenant Fuller.

"By all means," replied Aubyn when Barcroft had explained the
circumstances and requested a passage. "We're pretty certain to fall
in with the 'Hippodrome,' although I have as yet no idea of the
position of the rendezvous. In fact, I have a couple of her men on
board now. They got adrift in a copper punt last night, and were
only picked up after the ship had left."

"No further news of Fuller, I'm afraid?" remarked Barcroft.

"Not a whisper," replied the lieutenant-commander as he ran briskly
up the steeply sloping "brow" to the quarter-deck of the destroyer
"Audax."

And thus Flight-sub-lieutenant Barcroft found himself on board one
of the newest type of destroyers bound for an unknown rendezvous
somewhere in the North Sea.



CHAPTER XVI

CAPTIVES IN A SUBMARINE


ON being hauled on board the German submarine Fuller and Kirkwood
were sternly ordered to go below, their captors indicating a small
hatchway fifteen feet for'ard of the conning-tower.

The prisoners had no option. They descended the almost vertical
steel ladder and found themselves in practically the bow compartment
of the vessel. It was the crew space of the submarine mine-layer,
for the craft, on which was painted the number UC49, was not fitted
with torpedo tubes, nor did she carry guns of the "disappearing
mountings" type. Her part was to sneak out of the Elbe, cruise on
the surface whenever practicable, diving only when any strange
vessel hove in sight. Her cargo had consisted of forty metal
cylinders stowed aft--mines of the most recent type--but having sown
her harvest of death and destruction, regardless whether an enemy or
a neutral vessel fell a victim to the deadly peril, she was on her
way back to the Fatherland.

The compartment in which Fuller and his companion found themselves
was about thirty feet in length and fifteen at its maximum diameter,
which was at the after end. For'ard it tapered, at first gradually,
then sharply, until it terminated at a bulkhead close to the bows.
In the lower part of the recess were the anchors and cables, capable
of being lowered or hauled by means of elaborate mechanism which was
controlled from within. The upper portion of the bow compartment
consisted of a large fresh-water tank. Round the crew space were
lockers that served a double purpose: besides containing the effects
of the men they were used as seats. Hooks were bolted to the
cambered deck-beams in order to sling hammocks--in fact, half a
dozen hammocks were at that time occupied--and mess-tables.

Against the after bulkhead was a small partitioned-off place that
served as the cook's galley, the stove being heated by electricity.
While running awash the fumes were carried off by means of a funnel
that projected a few inches above the deck, which was fitted with a
watertight cover that could be operated from the conning-tower when
the submarine was trimmed for diving. Yet in spite of the
ventilation the place reeked vilely of a variety of odours. Fuller
wondered what the atmosphere must be like when UC49 was submerged.

In addition to the sleeping occupants of the hammocks, who by their
restlessness even in slumber showed signs of the mental strain, the
crew space was occupied by three fairhaired, fresh-featured
Frisians, who regarded the captives with scant curiosity and, after
the first five minutes, seemed to ignore the Englishmen entirely.

"May as well make the best of things," remarked Fuller. "I know the
ropes a bit--been through it before. Take your wet clothes off, old
man. Keep a tight hold of your personal gear. We'll see if we can't
persuade that fat chap in the galley to put our things to dry."

"They would dry on us in this hot show," observed Kirkwood. "Suppose
we are sent for?"

"Then we are," added the flight-lieutenant grimly. "We'll have to
grin and bear it. All the same, I'm not going to act as a human
clothes horse while my gear is drying, so here goes."

The German cook seemed anxious to oblige, in spite of a muttered
protest from one of the crew.

"My broder on der 'Blucher' vos," he explained. "Englische him pick
up and well treat. Him write an' tell me so. Thus your clothes make
dry."

Although the hatchway was closed and secured the submarine was still
running awash, lifting sluggishly as she forged ahead at a modest
fifteen knots. A couple of hours passed, and no attempt was made on
the part of the vessel's officers to interrogate their prisoners.

"For one thing we are clothed and, let us hope, in our right minds,"
observed Fuller as the pair redressed in their now dry clothing,
dispensing, however, with their leather jackets, which were as stiff
as a board and white with sea-salt.

"Much more of this would drive me out of my mind," protested
Kirkwood. "Give me the freedom of the air any day. Suppose this old
hooker bumps into a mine?"

"Pull yourself together, man," said the flight-lieutenant sharply.
"It's all one big risk, I admit, but for heaven's sake don't give
these fellows a chance to think we've cold feet!"

The A.P. stiffened his upper lip.

"By Jove, I won't!" he exclaimed.

"The youngster has good cause for concern," soliloquised Fuller.
"This old tub wouldn't stand a cat's chance if anything went wrong.
She's one of those craft that's made by the fathom and cut off where
required, I should imagine. Never saw such rough work in all my
life. And no sign of air-locks or any lifesaving devices. I suppose
such details don't worry the German Admiralty. Those leaking joints
remind me of the old Tower Hill subway. A coat of whitewash and gas
jets instead of the electric light would make the illusion
complete."

His reveries were interrupted by a sliding door in the after
bulkhead being opened. The German seamen sprang to their feet and
stood rigidly at attention as a young, heavily-built unter-leutnant
appeared and beckoned the prisoners to follow him.

Stepping over the sill of the watertight door Fuller and his
companion found themselves in the officers' quarters--a compartment
extending the whole width of the vessel, and separated from the
engine-room by another bulkhead. The cabin was plainly furnished but
with a certain degree of comfort. On either side were two curtained
bunks. A swinging table occupied the centre of the floor, with four
revolving arm-chairs, the feet of which were clamped to prevent them
being capsized in heavy weather. Against the after bulkhead were two
bookshelves and a folding wash-basin, while between them was a
ladder communicating with the conning-tower. On the for'ard bulkhead
were voice-tubes and telephones for conveying orders to various
parts of the vessel, also gauges of various descriptions similar to
those in the conning-tower, so that the commander, when not on duty,
could know what was going on without having to hail the navigating
officer. In the arched ceiling was an illuminated tell-tale compass.

"North 88 east," said Fuller to himself, as he read the magnetic
bearing. "She's making for the Elbe or the Weser, I'll swear."

"There is no need for you to trouble about the course," said a
broad-shouldered officer dressed in the uniform of a kapitan-leutnant
of the Imperial German Navy. "That is our affair. Now, tell me--no
lies, mind--what is your name?"

Fuller met the penetrating eye of his examiner without flinching,
yet he realised he was "up against" a sharp Teuton, who, by his
command of the English language, had evidently an intimate and
first-hand knowledge of his enemy's country.

It was, Fuller knew, futile to dissemble. The fact that Kirkwood and
he were missing would be revealed by the British Admiralty casualty
list. Neither would any good purpose be attained by refusing to
reply to any questions that could be answered without giving useful
information to the Huns.

"John Fuller, flight-lieutenant, H.M.S. 'Hippodrome,'" he replied
promptly.

"So? Then let me offer my congratulations at you again becoming the
guest of the Imperial German Government," rejoined the
kapitan-leutnant sarcastically. "I do not think you will escape
again, Mr. Fuller. Since Sylt was too easy a place of captivity you
will most a certainly be sent inland when we arrive in harbour--
somewhere a very long way from the convenient neutral port of
Esbjerg. Now, I suppose it is of no use asking you under what
circumstances you were brought down?"

"Engine failure owing to the petrol tank being perforated."

"Ach! How far from the coast? And what part of the coast? Did you
ascend from a ship or from a harbour?"

Fuller shook his head.

"I cannot say," he replied.

The German took the refusal quite in good part.

"I do not blame you for refusing," he remarked. "Any brave man, be
he German or English, would do the same. Now, sir, am I to have any
better luck with you? Your name?"

The A.P. told him his name and rank, but resolutely declined to
commit himself on other points. His captor merely grunted with the
air of a man who has been given information of little or no
interest. Kirkwood had not broken out of a German prison. Compared
with the redoubtable Fuller he was a nonentity in the eyes of the
kapitan-leutnant.

A gong clanged noisily in the conning-tower, its verberations
outvoicing the pulsations of the oil-fed motors. Without a word the
submarine's commander sprang to the ladder and, ascending, left
Fuller and his companion in misfortune standing at the foot of the
table.

A hoarse order, followed by the heavy pattering of sea,--boots upon
the deck and the metallic clash of water-tight hatches being closed,
denoted that UC49 was being trimmed for diving.

Fuller felt a hand tap him on the shoulder.

"Get you outside!" ordered the young unter-leutnant, indicating the
for'ard compartment.

Barely had the prisoners regained their place of confinement than
the bulkhead door was shut, a slight yet distinctly perceptible list
announcing that the submarine was diving. The fore-peak was now
uncomfortably crowded, for the "watch on deck," unable to remain any
longer on deck, had come below at the order to trim ship for diving.
One and all looked drawn and anxious. Unlike their brethren in the
non-mine-laying submarines they had practically nothing to do. The
excitement of being able to launch a torpedo at a British ship, be
she naval vessel or merchantman, was denied them. They were, in
fact, nothing more than passive individuals cooped up in the shell
of a submerged craft, unable to see what was going on without, and
helpless to save themselves in the event of the submarine being
rammed.

For quite a minute the obliquely downward plunge was maintained, the
vessel the while turning sharply to starboard. Then, pitching
slightly to the violent displacement of a volume of water, she
resumed her normal trim at a depth of ten fathoms beneath the
surface.

The action of porting helm had undoubtedly saved the mine-laying
submarine. An alert British patrol boat had sighted her from afar,
and at a rate resembling that of a train had charged down upon the
spot where UC49 had disappeared, while trailing astern at the end of
an insulated cable was an explosive grapnel of sufficient power to
shatter the submarine's hull like an egg-shell.

The skipper of the patrol boat had made due calculations to ensure,
as he thought, the destruction of his prey, but he had not reckoned
upon the UC49 changing course as she dived. As it was, the explosive
grapnel passed within a couple of yards of the submerged vessel's
beam.

Of this Fuller and his companion knew nothing. Perhaps, for their
state of mind, it was as well. A man will bravely face death at the
hands of his foe, but he will jib at the idea of being "snuffed out"
by his own side.

Slowly the minutes passed. UC49 was still running submerged,
increasing the depth to twenty fathoms and maintaining a zig-zag
course in order to baffle her pursuer. The German seamen were
beginning to breathe more freely. The worst part of the
business--the great risk of being rammed as she dived--was over, and
although under the enormous pressure jets of water were hissing
through the faulty joints the men realised that they stood more than
a fighting chance of evading destruction.

For perhaps five hours UC49 blindly made her way under the waves.
The captives had lost all count of time. Their watches had stopped
owing to their immersion when the seaplane was sunk; there was no
clock in the fore compartment nor were the bells struck in the
customary style on board. But at length, after a seemingly
interminable interval, the order was given to empty the auxiliary
water ballast tanks. Simultaneously the floor assumed a list--this
time in a contrary direction.

Then, without warning, the fairly regular throb of the electric
motors gave place to a discordant jar that shook the hull from end
to end.

"Main shaft gone, for a dead cert," exclaimed Kirkwood. "I remember
the same thing occurring on the 'Tremendous's' picket-boat Yes,
they're switching off."

The mine-layer was helpless. Without means of propulsion there were
only two courses open to her--to float or sink to the bottom. It was
impossible to keep submerged to a certain depth simply by means of
admitting a certain quantity of water ballast. Once the reserve of
buoyancy was overcome she would sink to the bed of the North Sea, in
all probability collapsing under the terrific pressure on her hull
long before she arrived there. It is only by means of the diving
rudders acting in conjunction with her diving trim that a submarine
can remain submerged to a required depth; and since the
kapitan-leutnant of UC49 had no desire to make the acquaintance of
the floor of the ocean other than by means of an "armed" lead-line,
he chose the other alternative and rose to the surface.

The moment the fore hatch was removed the watch rushed on deck.
There was a lot of scuffling and shouting of orders, accompanied by
the clanking of the auxiliary motors actuating the bilge pumps. When
the main shaft fractured--the submarine had only one "screw"--the
propeller had flown off, taking with it the broken tail shaft and
straining the stuffing-box to such an extent that water poured
through the glands. The pumps were just able to cope with the
inrush. Should they choke or otherwise get out of order the vessel
would promptly founder.

Another order was given. Those of the crew who still remained below
hurriedly collected their personal belongings and went on deck,
while their place was taken by their companions who, following their
example, set to work to "pack up" their scanty bundles. In five
minutes the crew space was untenanted save by Fuller and Kirkwood.

"It strikes me very forcibly that we had better be clearing out of
this rat-hole," suggested the former, "If we don't we'll be
overlooked, and I don't suppose the Huns will mind that."

The two chums ascended the ladder and gained the platform in front
of the conning-tower. Here were about a dozen of the crew, a similar
number being stationed aft. The officers were grouped amidships,
their attention fixed upon some distant object which they were
examining through their glasses. The chug-chug of the pumps
continued, showing that some of the engine-room staff were still
standing by the auxiliary machinery.

"Hurrah!" exclaimed Kirkwood. "A couple of our destroyers. No German
prison for us this trip."

Several of the German seamen hearing the exclamation regarded the
A.P. angrily; otherwise they offered no objection to the prisoners
being on deck. The kapitan-leutnant, also overhearing Bobby's
expression of satisfaction, lowered his binoculars and glared at the
irrepressible Briton. Then he raised the glasses again and scanned
the horizon, finishing up his scrutiny by keeping the on-coming
craft under observation.

For half a minute he looked steadfastly at the approaching
destroyers, then he gave an order to a man standing by the
diminutive mast.

Promptly the sailor hoisted the Black Cross Ensign, but whether as a
token of defiance or otherwise the British officers were unable to
decide. But they were not long left in ignorance.

"You are a little too hasty in your surmise, Mr. Englishman,"
sneered the kapitan-leutnant. "You will yet sample the joys of a
German prison. These are two of our torpedo-boats."



CHAPTER XVII

THE MIDDLE WATCH


A DULL, reverberating crash roused Flight-sub-lieutenant Barcroft
from his temporary bunk on board H.M. torpedo-boat destroyer
"Audax."

"Eight bells," midnight, had just gone--silently, for the destroyer
was ploughing through the waves at break-neck speed, without
navigation lights and as steadily as possible. So well were her
oil-fed furnaces tended that no tell-tale sparks escaped from her
four squat funnels. In spite of the heavy seas she was cleared for
action; life-lines took the place of the stanchion rails and
afforded the only means of preventing the bluejackets being swept
overboard by the green seas that poured completely over the raised
fo'c'sle. Around the four-inch guns men hung on, ready at the first
alarm to open fire, while the deadly torpedoes had been launched
into their tubes to be let loose at the word of command upon the
first unit of the German Navy--be she large or small--that had the
temerity to try conclusions with the alert British destroyer.

There had been signs of activity in Hun naval circles--activity
forced upon them by prompt and vigorous measures of the sea-dogs
under the White Ensign. Zeebrugge was getting too hot to hold the
German torpedo-boat flotillas that for months had existed under
nerve-racking conditions in that Belgian port. Constant bombardments
from the sea and from the air had made the Huns' new base so
insecure that the German ocean-going torpedo-boats (craft that
compare in point of size with destroyers, although the term
destroyer does not figure in Hun naval reports) had been compelled
to make a dash for the neutral defences of the Elbe, Weser and Jade.
Existing conditions made it undesirable to sneak through Dutch
territorial waters, and the only other way was by a circuitous
course rendered necessary by the presence of a vast British
minefield.

The British Admiralty, out of consideration for neutral shipping,
had advertised the limits of the danger zone, which was an
aggressive minefield rather than a defensive one--in other words its
base was situated close to the German coast, while its apex
stretched westward far across the North Sea. Round this apex the
German torpedo craft had to make their way.

Knowledge of the attempted dash had reached the ears of the British
Commander-in-Chief, and strong flotillas of destroyers were
patrolling the length and breadth of the North Sea, their search
assisted in broad daylight by seaplanes sent up from attendant
parent ships. At night the difficulty of maintaining the cordon was
enormously increased. A German boat might slip through in the
darkness, while, even if discovered, her attackers would be under
the disadvantage of making sure that she was not one of their
consorts before opening fire.

The "Audax" was operating in the high latitudes of the North Sea. In
fact, if she held on the course for another five hours she would run
ashore somewhere in the close proximity of The Naze of Norway.

Two miles ahead and astern of her were other vessels of the same
class, the line being continued until the chain of destroyers
stretched across the North Sea from Scotland almost to Scandinavia.
The Straits of Dover were similarly patrolled, while auxiliary
destroyers swept the seas between the northern and southern limits,
ready to head off the fugitives or bring them to action.

Rolling fully dressed out of his bunk--for under these conditions it
would be folly to turn in otherwise--Billy dashed on deck, followed
by the Engineer-lieutenant, who happened to be the only officer in
the ward-room not on watch.

Wriggling through the partly-closed hatchway, dubbed by courtesy the
"companion," and receiving a greeting in the form of a cold
douche--the tail end of a particularly vicious comber--Barcroft
stood still until his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness. Then,
grasping the life-line, he made his way for'ard, often knee-deep in
water, until he gained the doubtful shelter afforded by the rise of
the fo'c'sle. Here, clustered round the two guns abreast the for'ard
funnel, were a dozen men in "lammy" suits, oilskins and
sou'-westers, all peering through the darkness in the direction in
which the "Audax" was now proceeding.

"What was the explosion, Mr. Black?" inquired Barcroft of the
gunner.

"We don't know, sir," replied the warrant officer. "A mighty big
flash and a brute of a report. We've wirelessed the commodore to ask
permission to investigate, and now we're off to see, judging by the
alteration of course."

The young officer thanked him for the information, vague though it
might be, and ascending the bridge ladder took up his stand in front
of the after guard-rail of the bridge.

Lieutenant-commander Aubyn and three of his officers were standing
with their backs turned to him, oblivious of his presence. Actually
Barcroft had no right there, save on sufferance and by the courtesy
of the skipper. The executive officers were crouching behind the
storm-dodgers--the force of the wind and the sting of the icy spray
made it impossible to withstand the full force of the elements
unless protected by these canvas screens--and were directing their
attention mainly on some as yet invisible object dead ahead. At
intervals one or other of the officers would scan the seas abeam, as
if expecting to see a dark and swiftly-moving vessel--to wit, an
enemy craft pelt through the blackness of the night on her dash for
safety.

The skipper remained as rigid as a statue, the personification of
silent alertness; but the lieutenant and sub of the "Audax" were
conversing, raising their voices in order to make themselves
understood above the roar of the wind and the crashing of the waves
as they flew over the fore-deck of the destroyer and hurtled against
the bridge. Scraps of the discussion wafted to Barcroft's ears.

"A neutral, I think," remarked the sub. "Swede or Norwegian....
Bumped on a mine."

"Torpedo," declared the lieutenant. "I distinctly saw one flash ...
before the big blaze... second explosion; yet, it points to it."

Billy caught enough of the conversation to read the lieutenant's
theory. Evidently he believed that the victim was one of the British
armed liners patrolling this section of the North Sea. Torpedoed, in
the darkness and in spite of the heavy seas, she had been blown up
by the detonation of her magazine.

Suddenly Aubyn straightened himself and sprang to the telegraph
indicator communicating with the engine-room.

Following the double clang of the bell the destroyer's engines were
promptly stopped and quickly reversed. The skipper's keen eye had
discerned a raft crowded with men as the "Audax" swept past at a
distance of less than twenty yards.

Aubyn gave a brief glance at the raging seas and held up his hand.
The gesture was understood by the men already standing in expectancy
at the falls. It meant "Stand fast." No boat could live in such a
turmoil of angry waves, yet there were heroes ready and willing to
risk their lives in a vain attempt at rescue.

The "Audax" was about to make an effort by other means, but first
the raft had to be found again, for before way had been taken off
the destroyer the handful of survivors of the ill-fated ship were
lost in the darkness and in the wash of water astern.

Nor could the searchlights be switched on without grave risk to the
all-important task of rounding-up the German torpedo-boats. The
"Audax" had to grope round like a blind man in the hope of falling
in with the drifting raft.

"Shoutin' dead to wind'ard, sir, right on the starboard beam,"
shouted half a dozen voices. "There they are, sir, a cable's length
off."

In a patch of phosphorescent foam, as it lifted dizzily on the crest
of a broken wave, could be discerned the object of the search. The
next instant it had vanished in the trough of the seas.

"Hard a-port!" roared the skipper.

"Hard a-port, sir," repeated the quartermaster,

Turning, the "Audax" slowed down, coming to a standstill, save for
the motion created by the scend of the seas and the leeward drift
caused by the strong wind, at a few yards to windward of the raft,
which on nearer acquaintance proved to be a number of deck planks
still adhering to the fractured beams.

Under the lee of the destroyer the raft floated in comparatively
smooth water, and the work of transferring the handful of well-nigh
exhausted men commenced. Five or six were hauled on board by means
of bowlines; three were incapable of stirring a hand to help
themselves, and since their comrades made no effort to assist in
their rescue several of the destroyer's hands went overboard and,
grasping the unconscious men, were heaved back with no greater
damage than bruised knuckles and grazed shins.

"Wot are we to do with these 'ere blokes, Sir?" inquired a seaman of
the destroyer's lieutenant, who had temporarily quitted the bridge
to superintend the work of rescue. "Our mess deck's flooded out."

"They want warmth. Pass the word to the engineer commander to ask if
he has room for nine men in the stokehold."

"Me from Danmark sheep," volubly asserted one man as he was being
led below.

"All right, my man," replied the lieutenant, "We'll hear your story
later. Hullo, Barcroft, you on deck? Make yourself useful, old boy,
and find out what happened to these fellows. I must be hopping back
to my perch. Thank your lucky stars it isn't your watch."

Refraining from remarking that he had already had a voluntary trick
on the sprayswept bridge Billy followed the survivors of the lost
vessel into the hot, steam-laden atmosphere of the stokehold. The
foreigners who were in possession of their faculties had "stripped
to the buff" and were being rubbed down by sympathising British
stokers, while heir clothes were being dried in front of the
furnaces.

The rescued men seemed extraordinarily anxious to assert that they
belonged to a Danish vessel, almost overwhelming Barcroft in their
eagerness to emphasise the point. None of them spoke English, and as
the flight-sub knew hardly a word of Danish his attempt to gain
information seemed hopeless. He tried speaking in German, with no
better results, except for a reiterated chorus of "Me from Danmark."

"It's strange that they don't jabber to each other in their own
lingo, sir," remarked a leading stoker, who was kneeling over one of
the unconscious seamen and methodically pressing his ribs according
to the precepts laid down in the _Manual of Seamanship_ for the
treatment of persons apparently drowned.

The patient was a powerfully built, hugelimbed young giant, by
appearance of far better physique than the others, yet he seemed to
be the worst off from the effects of exposure. External examination
revealed no signs of an injury, although two of the other men had
been badly battered by flying debris from the explosion.

Just then the man stirred, gasped, and endeavoured to free himself
from the attentions of the humane leading stoker.

"Then I am still alive?" he asked feebly. "A prisoner on an English
ship. 'Well, I am not sorry. I am tired of the war."

"Wot's 'e a-sayin', sir?" inquired the leading stoker.

"Quite enough to give the show away," replied Barcroft, fixing with
his eyes the other foreigners, who were now showing every symptom of
consternation, for the man had spoken in German and his comrades had
understood every word.

"So you are from a German ship?" demanded the young officer,
addressing the group of survivors.

The men freely admitted that the game was up, and finding that their
good treatment was not modified they became quite communicative.

They were, they announced, some of the crew of the armed
commerce-raider "Volksdorf," a converted liner that had left the
port of Swinemunde two days previously. Hugging the Norwegian coast
she had sighted two British patrol ships, and turning southward had
shaken off pursuit in hazy weather. Apparently the "Volksdorf's"
attempt was-timed to take place simultaneously with the German
activity in the North Sea, and by keeping slightly to the northward
of the screen of British destroyers she stood a fair chance of
gaining the Atlantic. Unfortunately for her she came within easy
torpedo range of a U-boat, and the pirate, not knowing that she was
of the same nationality and utterly indifferent as to whether she
destroyed enemy or neutral ships without warning, promptly
discharged a torpedo. The missile struck home, causing a second
explosion, as the after magazine of the raider blew up, causing the
ship to sink in less than thirty seconds.

Billy went on deck to find the "Audax" still cruising about in the
hope of finding more survivors, but without success. Making his way
to the bridge he informed Aubyn of his discovery.

"That's great," declared the youthful skipper. "Fritz committing
frightfulness upon his own pals requires some beating. It must have
been a strafed U-boat, since I know for a dead cert that none of our
submarines are taking part in the present operations. Keeping Middle
Watch, Mr. Barcroft? I'd turn in while I had the chance, if I were
you. We're in touch with the 'Hippodrome.' Picked up a wireless call
not five minutes ago. We'll put you on board before many hours, I
dare say, but we don't want to hand you over looking like a sleepy
owl; so down below you go."

"Thanks, sir, I will," replied the flight-sub, who after the heated
atmosphere of the stoke-hold was feeling the cold acutely.

And carrying out the genial lieutenant-commander's advice Billy went
below, pulled off his sea-boots, divested himself of his oil skins,
or, rather, those of the engineer-sub who had insisted on lending
them, and flopped into his bunk. He was dimly conscious of thrusting
his back hard against the partition, gripping the edge of the bunk
with both hands and drawing up his knees to wedge himself
in--matters of precaution owing to the erratic motion of the
destroyer--and in ten seconds he was in a sound, dreamless slumber.



CHAPTER XVIII

AN OCEAN DUEL


"ACTION Stations!"

Billy Barcroft leapt from his bunk, labouring under the delusion
that he had turned in only a few minutes before.

The deadlights screwed to the brass rims of the scuttles and the
electric lights in the wardroom gave him the impression that it was
still night, and it was not until he scrambled on deck that he was
aware that grey dawn was breaking.

The wind had piped down considerably. The seas, still running high,
no longer showed their teeth in the form of vicious, foam-crested
breakers. Yet the decks of the "Audax" were at regular intervals
ankle-deep in water, as the destroyer cut through the billows.

A cloud of steam, caused by showers of spray striking the hot,
salt-encrusted funnel casings, drifted aft, temporarily obscuring
the flight-sub's range of vision. As it cleared he could discern the
greatcoated figures of Aubyn and his brother-officers on the bridge,
and the indistinct forms of the men as they passed ammunition from
the shell-hoists to the guns.

"Got her this time, sir," remarked a burly petty officer, the
rotundity of whose figure was still further accentuated by the
prodigious quantity of clothing he wore.

He pointed to a dark grey, indistinct object almost dead ahead, her
outlines rendered almost invisible by the trailing clouds of smoke
that poured from her funnels. Barcroft estimated her distance at two
thousand yards. It was impossible to see whether she flew her
ensign.

The vessel was a German ocean-going torpedo-boat, one of the nine
which had stolen out of Zeebrugge. By sheer good luck she had gone
northward over practically the extreme length of the North Sea
without being sighted by the British patrols. An hour, or even half
an hour earlier she might have slipped unobserved past the "Audax"
without being seen by the latter. As it was, one of the British
destroyer's look-out men "spotted" the strange craft in the
deceptive half-light of the late autumnal dawn.

The "Audax" threw out her private signal by means of a flash lamp
from the bridge. The stranger replied by an unintelligible jumble of
long and short flashes.

"Either that is a Hun or her signalman is three sheets in the wind,"
declared Lieutenant-commander Aubyn. "Tell her to make her number,
or we'll open fire. And wireless the 'Antipas'; give her our
position, and say we are in touch with a suspicious craft."

Aubyn, though brave as a lion, was of a discreet and cautious
nature. Dearly would he have liked to engage in an ocean duel with
the hostile craft, for such, he now felt convinced she would prove
to be. Both vessels were equally matched in the matter of armament,
tonnage and number of complement: it was necessary only to again
prove the moral and physical superiority of Jack Tar over Hans and
Fritz, unless something in the nature of sheer ill-luck allowed the
coveted prize to slip through his fingers. It was against the
possibility that Aubyn had to guard. The fight had to end in only
one way--annihilation to the foe. Hence the call to the destroyer
"Antipas" to eliminate that element of chance.

"Let her have it!" shouted the skipper of the "Audax," just as
Barcroft gained the bridge.

The four-inch gun on the fo'c'sle barked. It was still dark enough
for the flash to cast a lurid glow upon the set faces of the British
officers, who stood by with their glasses ready to bear upon the
flying torpedo-boat the moment the acrid fumes from the burnt
cordite drifted clear of the bridge.

The first shell struck the water close to the German vessel's port
side, throwing up a column of water fifty feet in the air as it
ricochetted and finally disappeared beneath the waves a mile or so
ahead of the target.

Fritz replied promptly. He must have fired; directly the flash of
the "Audax's" bow gun was observed. The projectile screeched above
the heads of the men on the bridge, seemingly so close that Barcroft
involuntarily ducked. It was quite a different sensation from being
potted at by "Archibalds." Up aloft the roar of the seaplane's
engines and the rush of the wind practically overwhelmed the crash
of the bursting shrapnel. This weird moaning, as the four-inch shell
flew by, was somewhat disconcerting as far as Billy was concerned,
while to heighten the effect a rending crash accompanied the passing
of the projectile.

"Our wireless top-hamper, dash it all!" exclaimed Aubyn, turning his
head for a brief instant. "Starboard a little, quartermaster."

The slight alteration of helm enabled the midship quick-firer on the
starboard side to bear upon the enemy. The latter, evidently with
the idea of dazzling the British destroyer, had switched on a
searchlight mounted on a raised platform aft. Probably the Huns
might have derived advantage from the rays, that still held their
own against the increasing dawn, had not a well-directed shell from
the "Audax" fo'c'sle gun blown searchlight, platform, and half a
dozen men to smithereens.

For the next ten minutes the adversaries were at it hammer and
tongs. More than one shell got home on board the British craft,
playing havoc with the after-funnel and deckfittings, while three
badly wounded but still irrepressibly cheerful seamen were taken
down below.

The German craft was being severely punished. The speed had fallen
off considerably, while she was on fire fore and aft, although the
for'ard conflagration was quickly got under by her crew. By this
time she bore broad on the British destroyer's bow, the range having
decreased to 1,500 yards.

Suddenly the Hun put her helm hard down. Either she saw that flight
was no longer possible, or else her stern quick-firers had been
knocked out, and she wished to bring her as yet unused guns to bear
upon her foe.

As she turned Aubyn saw through his binoculars a gleaming object
shoot over the German craft's side, quickly followed by another.
Both disappeared in a smother of foam beneath the waves. "Hard
a-port!" he shouted, knowing full well that at that moment a couple
of powerful Schwarzkopft torpedoes, propelled by superheated
compressed air, were heading towards the "Audax" at a rate of forty
to fifty miles an hour.

Round swung the destroyer, listing under excessive helm until the
deck on the starboard side dipped beneath the water. As she did so
the two torpedoes could be distinctly seen, as, adjusted to their
minimum depth to prevent them passing under the lightly draughted
objective, they appeared betwixt the crests of the waves.

One passed fifty yards away; the other almost scraped the
destroyer's quarter. Had the "Audax" not promptly answered to her
helm both torpedoes would have "got home." Yet, not in the least
perturbed, the British seamen continued their grim task of battering
the Hun out of recognition. They worked almost in silence. Each man
knew his particular job and did it. Time for shouting when the
business was finished to their satisfaction.

Yet there was a regular pandemonium of noise. The hiss of escaping
steam; the vicious thuds of the waves as the "Audax," at twenty
eight point something knots, tore through the water under the action
of engines of 14,000 horse-power; the rapid barking of the
quick-firers; the sharp clang of the breech-blocks and the clatter
of the ejected shell-cases upon the slippery decks--all combined to
bear testimony to the stress and strain of a destroyer action. The
"Audax" was the latest embodiment of naval science in that class of
boat, yet without the intrepid energies of the men behind the guns,
aided by the strenuous efforts of their mess-mates in the
engine-room stokehold, that science would be of little avail in
gaining the victory. Man-power still counts as much as it ever did,
provided an efficient fighting machine is at their disposal. British
Hearts of Oak are much the same as in Nelson's day--and yet the
average pay of the Lower Deck ratings is about three shillings a day
with no eight-hour shifts, risking life and limb for a wage at which
a navvy would sneer.

And why? It is the call of the sea--a call that appeals to Britons
more than to any other nation under the sun. In the piping times of
peace the Navy offers unrivalled facilities for poor men to travel
and see the world, it responds to their love of adventure. In
wartime it calls for hard and often unappreciated work with the
chance of a glorious scrap thrown in; and right loyally the Navy
answers to the call to maintain the freedom of the seas and to guard
our shores against the King's enemies.

By the time that the opposing vessels had steadied on their
respective helms the "Audax" was steaming obliquely on her foe's
broadside, sufficiently to enable three of her four guns to bear.

The Hun's fire was now slackening, and in spite of the shortness of
the range, decidedly erratic. Her hull was perforated in several
places, her funnels were riddled to such an extent that it seemed
remarkable that they had not already collapsed. Her masts had
vanished, also a portion of her bridge, while her deck was littered
with smoking debris.

"Cease fire!" ordered Lieutenant-commander Aubyn as the German no
longer replied to her severe punishment. What was more, her Black
Cross ensign, which she had hoisted after the commencement of the
engagement, was no longer visible.

Aubyn's chivalrous instincts were ill-repaid, for a couple of shells
screeched through the air from the vessel which he thought had
surrendered. One went wide; the other penetrated the ward-room of
the "Audax," fortunately without exploding. Simultaneously a German
bluejacket held aloft the tattered Black Cross emblem of unholy
kultur.

In an instant the British tars reopened fire; while to make matters
worse for the Huns, the "Antipas," racing up under forced draught,
let fly a salvo from the three guns that could be brought to bear
ahead. That settled the business. The hostile craft, literally
battered out of recognition, began to founder.

"Cease fire!" Aubyn ordered for the second time within two minutes.
Then, "Out boats."

It was an easy matter to order the boats away, but a most difficult
task to carry the instructions into effect. The gig had been
completely pulverised, while the other boats were in a more or less
unseaworthy condition.

"Look alive, lads!" exclaimed a petty officer of the carpenters'
crew. "T'other blokes'll be there first if we don't look out."

Hastily the holes in the bottom strakes of that particular boat were
plugged, and, quickly manned, the leaky craft pushed off, the men
urged by her coxswain to "pull like blazes an' get them chaps out o'
the bloomin' ditch."

By this time the German torpedo-boat had vanished beneath the waves,
leaving a rapidly-dispersing cloud of smoke and steam to mark the
spot where she had disappeared and the heads of about twenty
swimmers--the survivors of her complement.

In twos and threes the war-scarred and nerve-shattered Huns were
hauled into safety, for other help from both destroyers was now upon
the scene, and deeply laden the boats returned to their respective
parents.

Suddenly Barcroft, who was watching the arrival of the sorry-looking
crowd of German prisoners, gave vent to an uncontrolled shout of
joyous surprise, for huddled in the stern sheets of the whaler were
Flight-lieutenant-John Fuller and his comrade in peril, Bobby
Kirkwood.

"There's precious little of report," said Fuller in reply to the
skipper of the "Audax", when the two rescued officers were snugly
berthed in the ward-room--warm in spite of the additional
ventilation in the shape of a couple of neatly-drilled holes marking
the place of entry and the point of departure of the ill-advised
German "dud" shell. "We had to make a forced descent, got collared
by a strafed U-boat just as we had effected repairs. The U-boat
rattled herself to bits, so to speak, and had to be abandoned. I've
had quite enough submarining, thank you. Give me a seaplane any day
of the week, Sunday included. Then that torpedo-boat--V198's her
designation--picked us up. They stowed us in the forehold and forgot
to let us out when she went under. Suppose they had quite enough on
their hands and clean forgot about us," he added generously, giving
the kapitan-leutnant of the V198 the benefit of the doubt.

"Anyhow, there we were," continued the flight-lieutenant. "We knew
the rotten packet was going, and although we yelled the racket on
board prevented them hearing us, I suppose. Still, our luck was in,
for a shell burst in her fo'c'sle, ripping up the deck and bursting
the cable-tier bulkhead. It was pretty thick with the smoke, but we
groped for'ard----"

"You hauled me for'ard, you mean," interrupted the A.P.

"Shut up!" said Fuller reprovingly. "Well, by standing on the edge
of the manger we managed to haul ourselves on to the mess-deck.
There we stuck till the firing ceased, and the boat's stern was well
under water. Then--it was quite time for us to go, and we dived
overboard. The rest you know."

"And what might you be doing on board, old bird?" asked Kirkwood
addressing the overjoyed Billy.

"Passenger for the 'Hippodrome,'" replied the flight-sub.

"And it strikes me very forcibly," added Aubyn, "that at this rate
I'll find all the 'Hippodrome's' birds on board this hooker. The
trouble now is: how can I deliver the goods? We'll have to ask
permission to quit station and return for repairs and overhaul.
Another three weeks in dockyard hands, I suppose, and the fun only
just beginning. Just my luck."

The skipper went on deck. There was much to be done. Although the
"butcher's bill" was light, and the destroyer had sustained no
serious damage to her hull--thanks to the defective German
shells--the loss of the tophamper was considerable. In her present
state she was unable to carry out her duties as an efficient patrol
boat. With her wireless out of action she was impotent to perform
the vital function of communicating with her invisible consorts. For
centuries the British Navy had done very well without the aid of
wireless telegraphy, but, like many other things, Marconi's
discovery had come to stay. Its use enabled fewer vessels to
effectually do the work that hitherto required more to perform,
owing to the necessity of keeping within visible signalling
distance; and a destroyer without wireless was a "dead end," in
modern naval warfare.

But Lieutenant-commander Aubyn was not a man who would willingly
miss the opportunity of doing his friends a good turn, provided the
exigencies of the Service permitted.

Before parting company he signalled the "Antipas," which was still
standing by the injured destroyer, with the result that a boat put
off from the latter and came alongside.

"Look alive, you fellows!" shouted Aubyn down the ward-room
companion. "If you want to get on board the 'Hippodrome' within the
next few hours now's your chance. Tressidar, of the 'Antipas,' will
give you a passage. That's all right: stick to that gear till you
find the old 'Hippo.' I've had to borrow a kit myself before
to-day."



CHAPTER XIX

HELD UP IN THE NORTH SEA


"BEHOLD US, Tress old boy!" exclaimed Fuller, when in the privacy of
Lieutenant-commander Ronald Tressidar's cabin the old chums could
forget the slight differences in their respective ranks. "Three
stormy petrels; nobody loves us. Kind of social pariahs, don't you
know. Even the Huns wouldn't have us on two of their packets, after
little Seaplane 445B slung us out. And, worse, that blighter Aubyn
washed his hands of us. Suppose you'll be slinging us out next,
Tress?"

"I shall be delighted," replied Tressidar. "The moment----"

"Surly old cave-dweller!" continued the flight-lieutenant. "That's
what comes of being shipmates with a mouldy bird in a captive
balloon. You will be delighted to--what were you saying?"

"Delighted to feed, partly clothe and certainly educate you, my
festive, until we fall in with the 'Hippodrome.' This last condition
doesn't apply to your companions," proceeded Tressidar. "But when or
where we fall in with the 'Hippo' is a matter for sheer conjecture.
I believe now this duck hunt is over (the rest of the Hun
torpedo-craft bar two have been accounted for: I suppose you heard
that?) the three seaplane carriers are off south to tackle this
Zeebrugge business again. However, trust to luck and don't whine if
it kicks you. Them's my sentiments, my dear old pal."

It was the "bar two" that kept the "Antipas" and the rest of her
consorts patrolling the wild North Sea, until news had been
definitely received to the effect that the forlorn pair of Hun boats
had done one of three things--had been sunk, captured or had
contrived to slip through the cordon into a home or neutral port.

For the next twenty-four hours nothing of incident occurred. The
destroyer, maintaining her course within set limits as stolidly as a
policeman on his beat, encountered little to attract the attention
of her look-out. Every two hours she was in touch with her "next on
station," and receiving the information that all was well and
nothing doing she would starboard helm and retrace her course.

"Yes, pretty tame," commented Tressidar in reply to a remark of
Barcroft's, "but we are getting quite used to it. Yesterday's scrap
came as a little tonic, although we didn't have so very much to do.
Aubyn had the bounder well in hand already when we came up."

"This youth," remarked Fuller, indicating the flight-sub, "is an
optimist of the deepest dye. What d'ye think is his idea of
penultimate bliss? Having dinner at a swagger hotel somewhere on the
East Coast, with the blinds up and every available electric light
switched on."

"That shows, Mr. Barcroft," said the lieutenant-commander, "that you
have a pretty firm belief in the fact that the war will be over some
day--unless you are prepared to shell out to the tune of fifty
pounds for an offence against the Defence of the Realm Act."

"Heaven forbid, sir!" replied Barcroft. "But, personally speaking,
I'm fed up with having to hang about ashore in utter darkness. It's
necessary, of course."

"Of course," echoed Tressidar. "It's part of the mess of pottage we
received when we sold our birthright on that memorable morning when
Blériot flew across the Channel. From that hour our insular
superiority was threatened not by La Belle France, though. Only the
other day----"

A knock upon the door of the cabin, followed by the appearance of a
messenger, interrupted the lieutenant-commander's narrative.

"Orficer of the watch's compliments, sir," reported the man, "an'
there's a Danish vessel; making to the nor'-west, distant three
miles."

"Very good--carry on," replied the skipper, and snatching up his cap
he hurried on deck, followed by the trio of naval airmen.

The Dane proved to be a two-funnelled, twomasted craft of about
3,000 tons. On the foremost funnel and along her sides were painted
her national colours, while to leave no doubt as to her identity the
words "Trone--Danmark" appeared amidships in letters six feet in
height.

"I've signalled to her to stop, sir," reported the officer of the
watch. "Ah, there she goes--well, signalman?"

The "bunting-tosser," with his telescope glued to his eye, called
out the letters of a string of bunting that rose to the "Trone's"
mast head. His mate, having written various cabalistic signs on a
signal-pad (the numbed state of his hands prevented his making any
legible letters), hurried off to consult the International Code
Book..

"Is it necessary for me to heave-to?" was the significance of the
Jane's signal. "I have been examined twice already."

"Then three for luck, you bounder!" chuckled Tressidar. "Signalman,
hoist the International 'I D'."

I D--signifying the peremptory order, "Heave-to or I will fire into
you," was a message not to be ignored. Patches of foam under the
vessel's counter and streaming for'ard past her water-line announced
that her engines were going astern in order to check her way.

"Like a trip in the boat, Mr. Barcroft?" asked Tressidar, as he
noticed the flight-sub regarding the boarding party with studied
interest. "Very good; you may learn a few tricks of the trade."

With her guns trained upon the suspect--for experience had taught
British officers that Hun raiders do not scruple to sail under
neutral colours--the "Antipas" circled round the now stationary
"Trone," the while maintaining a sharp look-out for hostile
submarines that have a habit of keeping in touch with ships liable
to examination much in the same manner as a pilot fish attends upon
a shark.

"She looks quite a mild cuss," observed the sub of the duty boat to
Billy, "but one never knows. A few weeks back I was boarding some
old hooker. Pitch dark night and raining like blue blazes. We'd just
run alongside when the blighters heaved something overboard--looked
like an elephant by the size of it. Anyway, it missed us by a yard
and gave us all a sousing, which we didn't mind as we were pretty
wet already. Then she pushed off for all she was worth, thinking
that our skipper would have to moon about and pick us up. He did,"
added the young officer grimly, "--after he had squared accounts
with the brute--another would-be 'Moewe.' A torpedo at five hundred
yards settled her. In bow!"

The bowman boated his oars, and balancing himself in the plunging
bows of the little craft, dexterously secured the end of a coil of
rope that was thrown from the "Trone's" deck.

Up the swaying "monkey-ladder" swarmed the British officers and men,
and gaining the Dane's deck were received by the dapper,
clean-shaven skipper.

"Of course, of course, I understand," replied the Dane in excellent
English when the sub apologised for having had to compel him to
heave-to. "Our papers are here. We are from Esbjerg to Newcastle
with passengers and general cargo."

"Very good," replied the sub in charge of the boarding-party. "I'll
have a squint at your papers. Say, Barcroft, would you mind
examining the passengers? Try a few words of German on 'em unawares.
That generally fetches the black-listers."

The civilians, to the number of nineteen, were formed upon the poop.
A few bore the appearance of being respectable, the others looked
utterly out-and-out scarecrows..

The "Trone's" second mate appeared with the passenger list. To
Billy's surprise ten of the men were English.

"Yes; men sent back from Germany," declared the mate, who, like his
skipper, spoke English fluently. "They were exchanged, and were to
have travelled through Holland, but the Dutch steamers are
temporarily stopped, so they came through Denmark instead."

The scarecrows greeted Barcroft with cheerful smiles as he
approached. In spite of their rags, the torments of hunger and
degradation that they had undergone, they were British to the
core--men over sixty years of age who, deemed to be useless by the
Germans, had been repatriated: living examples of the gentle and
humane treatment afforded to the unfortunate captives who had the
ill-luck to fall into the hands of the apostles of kultur.

Billy interrogated the men one by one. No need to doubt their words.
One and all were unanimous in their story of the horrors of the
famine-prisons of Germany.

"I won't ever turn up my nose at a dogbiscuit after this, sir," said
one old veteran of seventy-two.

"William McDonald--where's William McDonald?" inquired Barcroft
reading the names from the list.

"Here, sir."

The speaker was of different appearance from the nine. Although
dressed in rough clothes his garments bore the appearance of being
practically new, nor did his features betray the traces of months of
semi-starvation.

"Not much to complain about," he replied in answer to the
flight-sub's question. "I was at Eylau. Fair amount of food and of
good quality."

"You are not sixty, by any means," said Barcroft.

"No, not fifty yet. Heart trouble--fit for nothing, so they sent me
back to England."

"H'm," muttered the flight-sub.

"He's one of a few that drew a lucky number, I'm thinking, sir,"
remarked the man who stood next to him. "Fair slave-driven, that's
what we were. But that's all over now, thank God."

The rest of the passengers passed muster. They were Danish
subjects--merchants and farmers, brought over at the instance of the
British Government to assist in certain transactions between Great
Britain and Denmark.

"A clean bill of health," reported Billy as the destroyer's sub
rejoined him.

"And all serene down below," rejoined the latter. "We'll shove off.
Thanks, captain, for your assistance; sorry we had to hold you up,
but we're at war, you know."

"Yes," added the Dane, "and you have our moral support. I wish that
we were a bigger nation. We, too, have old scores to wipe off--my
family lived at Flensburg for years until '66. Flensburg is in
Germany now, but some day--who knows?"

"A good sort," announced the sub, as the boat made her way back to
the "Antipas." "These Danes remember Schleswig-Holstein almost if
not quite as much as the French do Alsace Lorraine. I shouldn't be
surprised if they chip in just before the end, if only to get their
lost provinces back. How about Denmark extending frontiers to the
Kiel Canal, and making that artificial waterway an international
concern, eh?"

The sight of the destroyer dipping her ensign caused both officers
to turn their heads and look at the "Trone." The latter was again
under way and had just rehoisted her ensign after saluting the
British warship.

"I feel downright sorry for those ten Britishers," thought Billy.
"Their experiences have put years on to their lives."

But, had he known, he might have made an exception; for, holding
aloof from his companions, Mr. William McDonald was thanking his
lucky stars that he had again bluffed the inspecting officer. Within
the next twelve hours William hoped to reassume the name of Andrew
Norton, trusting to his natural cunning to explain satisfactorily
the reason why he left the neighbourhood of Barborough so suddenly
on the night of the raid.

Evidently Siegfried von Eitelwurmer, _alias_ Andrew Norton,
otherwise McDonald, had strong reasons for leaving his Fatherland in
order to risk his life in the British Isles.



CHAPTER XX

INVESTIGATIONS


"To come straight to the point, my dear Entwistle," said Peter
Barcroft. "I may say that I have two reasons for looking you up. The
first is purely a matter of form--to inquire after your injured
ankle. Judging by the way in which you crossed the room I think I am
right in concluding that your recovery has been rapid and, I hope,
permanent. No, don't limp, old man. That won't do. The second is to
make inquiries respecting a donkey--to wit, one Butterfly."

"Oh!" remarked Entwistle. "Anything wrong? What are the symptoms?"

"A bad form of absentitis," replied Peter grimly. "Don't you know?"

The vet shook his head.

"Continue," he said, as he handed his tobacco-pouch to his caller.

"The brute never came back. In his hurry my son forgot to mention
it--he was recalled by wire, and the young bounder never even
dropped me a postcard. Now I'm on Butterfly's track. Can you assist
me in my quest?"

"Sorry," replied Entwistle, taking the pouch and deliberately
filling his briar. "Stay. I did mention to Billy that the animal
ought to be shod. Why not inquire of the various blacksmiths on the
way to Tarleigh? Let me see: there's Schofield's in Cook Street,
Barnes's in Forge Lane, and Thomas's in Dyke Street--they are all
just off Chumley Old Road. How did you come into Barborough--by
train?"

"No, I walked as far as the tram terminus," replied Barcroft Senior.

"If you like I'll run you back in my car," suggested the vet. "We'll
look the blacksmiths up on our way. Any news of your friend Norton?"

"Not a sign or a word."

"H'm!"

Entwistle shrugged his shoulders. Peter looked at him keenly.

"Why that 'h'm'?" he asked.

"Only--by the bye, have the police been informed?"

Barcroft shook his head.

"Not by me," he replied. "I'm inclined to think that he'll turn up
again in a day or two. It may be a form of eccentricity encouraged
by the excitement of the raid."

"Yes," agreed the vet. "Three days ago. Yes, it is quite about time
he put in an appearance. Well, excuse me a moment. I'll tell Jarvis
to bring the car round."

"Sure I'm not putting you out?" asked Peter.

"On the contrary--delighted. As a matter of fact, I have to see a
horse belonging to a farmer over Windyhill way, so it will be
killing two birds with one stone. Now for this bad case of
absentitis."

Inquiries at two blacksmiths were without satisfactory result. The
third, who happened to be the man who had shod the refractory
Butterfly, could only state that the last he saw of the animal was
that it was scampering along Jumbles Lane, and that the trap still
remained in a shed in his yard.

"Th' oughtn't ta' be much trouble to trace yon animal," concluded
the smith. "A champion she were-a right down champion, mark you.
They may clip her coat or dock her tail or change her colour, but
'tis her size as they can't alter. Meantimes I'll keep a look-out,
master, and if I hears aught----"

"Going to report the matter to the police?" asked Entwistle, as the
pair re-entered the car.

"I think not," replied Peter. "It might end in the representative of
the law running in every itinerant donkey owner on sight. I think
I'll enlist the services of the Press to the tune of an
eighteenpenny advertisement."

Outside the newspaper offices a crowd had collected to read the
latest bulletin:

"Destroyer Action in the North Sea. German torpedo-boats destroyed.
British Naval Airmen rescued from sinking enemy craft."

Making his way through the throng Peter entered the office, gave in
his advertisement and bought a paper.

"That's great!" he ejaculated as he read the brief report. "Billy's
pals, Fuller and Kirkwood, saved by one of our destroyers. By Jove,
Entwistle, who says that the British Navy is sitting tight in
harbour? Whenever there's an opportunity our lads in navy blue are
on it."

"Then why the deuce confine the facts to a few bald lines?" asked
the vet. "The job's done properly, and a stirring story it would
make! Something to buck up people at home. Instead, you have to rely
upon your imagination, which is apt to let you down."

"Give it up," said Peter the optimist. "All I know is that we are
top dog, and everything will pan out all right in the end."

"Granted," agreed Entwistle. "The Navy's all right; the New Army is
splendid--we'll muddle through somehow, in spite of the miserable
legacy of the Wait and See crowd. There's a hymn beginning 'A people
who in darkness sat.' That sums up the whole state of the civil
population of Great Britain. To my mind the nation resembles a mass
of iron filings spread out on a sheet of paper--all sixes and
sevens. A magnet will instantly cause those particular pieces of
metal to fly into orderly formation following the lines of magnetic
force: a Man will be able to do the same with the nation, only,
unfortunately, we haven't yet found the Man. We as Britons trust too
much to chance--to a sort of voluntary organisation of labour.
Result, every man is asking why some one else doesn't do his bit and
tries to persuade himself that he is a sort of indispensable
himself, I shouldn't be surprised if the war ends in a patched-up
peace."

"No fear," asserted Barcroft firmly--so emphatically that Entwistle
almost relaxed his grip upon the steering wheel and narrowly avoided
collision with a brewer's dray. "There'll be nothing of the sort.
The men who are now fighting mean to see the business through and
not leave the horrors of war to be repeated with triple violence as
a legacy to their children and their children's children. It's got
to be done--and done it will be, even if it takes another two
years."

When in due course the car arrived at the narrow lane leading to
Ladybird Fold, Entwistle, somewhat to his companion's astonishment,
insisted upon driving right up to the house.

"No hurry," commented the vet. "I like taking a car along a tricky
path. Hullo! there are your dogs, Barcroft. They seem to know that
I'm something in the animal line, and wish to be run over in order
to give me a job."

The car came to a standstill at the house. Peter descended, to be
overwhelmed with the noisy and frantic attentions of Ponto and Nan.

"Come in," he said, "May as well have tea with us."

"Thanks, I will," replied Entwistle; then pointing in the direction
of "The Croft," the tiled roof of which was just visible above the
ridge of a hill, "Is that where Norton hangs out? I've heard of the
place. What sort of a show is it?"

"Come and see for yourself," said Barcroft. "There'll be time for a
stroll before tea. I have the key, thanks to the magnificent
condescension of Mrs. What's-her-name, Norton's generalissimo and
domestic help. Why are you anxious to see the place? Thinking of
renting it and being my nearest neighbour if Norton fails to
return?"

"Perhaps," laughed Philip Entwistle. "When I retire, and I cannot
see myself doing that yet."

"I wouldn't," said Peter gravely. "Retirement is a rotten state for
a professional man to enter into. Sudden dislocation of his routine,
nothing to occupy his mind--result, he generally pegs out in a
couple of years. I've noticed it scores of times."

"It's all very well for you literary fellows to talk," protested
Entwistle. "You can never complain of overwork."

"There you are mistaken," said Barcroft. "I admit I slack off a
little now, but at one time I dare not. It may seem easy for a
fellow to knock off a couple of thousand words a day, but try it for
a year and see how it feels. Remember, it isn't the actual work of
putting pen to paper. One has to think, and think jolly hard. Do you
remember some years ago a man tried to cover a thousand miles in a
thousand consecutive hours? One mile an hour day and night. Doesn't
seem much, but imagine what it means."

"You seem to have done pretty well out of it," remarked Entwistle.

"It took some doing," confessed Peter. "I can recall a certain
Christmas Eve when, with two other congenial spirits, I sat in a
fireless attic in Town. We were literally on our beam ends--too
jolly proud to sample the fatted calf that awaited us in our
respective parents' homes. I think we had sevenpence halfpenny
between us."

"Sounds cheerful."

"Precisely. However, being fresh-air fiends even in those days, we
had left the window open----"

"And some philanthrophic soul threw in a big parcel of provender?"

"Into the attic window of a six-storeyed house? Hardly. No; a pigeon
flew in. It never flew out again, for in less than twenty minutes it
was roasting in front of the landlady's kitchen fire. That same
evening one of my companions in distress received an unexpected
guinea for a pot-boiler, and there was no longer famine in the
land."

The two men had now climbed the hill and were outside the front door
of The Croft. The house was considerably smaller than Ladybird Fold,
although built on the same principle. At one time it had been a farm
house, but most of the outbuildings had been removed. Standing on
higher ground it commanded even a more extensive outlook than that
enjoyed by the Barcrofts; in fact, almost the whole of Barborough
could be discerned.

Within, the place was plainly furnished. The ground floor consisted
of stone flags on which were spread large mats. The fireplace was
large and at one time boasted of a chimney corner and settle. In the
grate a fire had been laid in anticipation of Mr. Norton's return.

"I'm just going upstairs to shut those windows," said Peter. "I
suppose Norton's D.T. forgot to close them. Do you want to have a
look round the upper rooms?"

"Not with this ankle. It feels a bit painful," replied Entwistle.
"If you don't mind I'll wait here."

Directly he heard the sound of Barcroft's footsteps through the
raftered ceiling Entwistle stole softly to the desk that stood in
the corner of the room. Slipping on a pair of thin gloves and
producing a bundle of keys from his trouser's pocket he set
deliberately to work to open the locked drawers, for in contrast to
Peter Barcroft's easy-going methods Andrew Norton had locked
everything up, notwithstanding his supposedly temporary visit to
Ladybird Fold on the night of the raid.

In less than thirty seconds Entwistle had the desk open. Deftly he
went through a pile of papers, as brazenly as Andrew Norton had
examined the manuscript on Peter's bureau. In quantity there was
very little: a small batch of tradesmen's receipts, a notebook half
filled with calculations evidently referring to electrical problems,
a few letters that seemed of no interest except to the writers and
their recipient, and an unfinished manuscript written on two sheets
of foolscap, the opening sentences of which were as follows:

  "Whenever you have an opportunity of visiting Dartmoor I should
  strongly advise you to take it. It is fairly easy to reach from
  Plymouth. Even in the depth of winter the rugged uplands have
  their charm. When last in that neighbourhood I took coach to
  Totnes: Every few hours a boat runs to Dartmouth. If tide permits,
  I ought to add. The Dart is a charmingly picturesque river. In
  the town itself there is much to be seen. Several of the old
  houses, especially in the Butter-walk, are worthy of close
  inspection. The castle is open to visitors. Every facility for
  tourists and visitors in the town. Some fishing to be had in the
  river. Better hauls are to be obtained in Start Bay. It is
  advisable to take a professional boatman, as the tide is tricky
  and at times dangerous. Sailing boats can be hired by the day or
  hour. Zealous devotees of the piscatorial art will have no cause
  to regret their choice of this fishing centre. Up the river,
  above Totnes, trout abound. Rules and regulations relating to
  the close seasons are by no means drastic."

Philip Entwistle chuckled as he perused this document.

"Sort of thing that would easily pass the Press Censor," he said to
himself, "At first sight a kind of extract from a guide book to
Devonshire. Quite harmless--I think not. _Now let me jot down the
first letter of each sentence_: WIE (that's promising) WEIT
(better) IST (better still) ES (now we begin to see light. German
for a dead cert) BIS ZUR KLIPPEN HOHE, which, translated, means,
'What is the distance to the summit of the cliffs?' That's good
enough. I'll take the liberty of borrowing this document. I must
risk friend Norton returning before to-morrow."

Carefully refolding the papers the vet, placed them in his inside
coat-pocket, then having slipped the catch of the window, he awaited
Peter's return.

"Hope I haven't kept you?" inquired Barcroft.

"Not at all," was the prompt reply.

"By the bye," remarked Peter as the pair retraced their steps to
Ladybird Fold, "this might interest you. I meant to have shown it
you before, but somehow I forgot."

He handed Entwistle a copy of the document that had been found on
the body of the German airman.

Philip Entwistle read it carefully.

"Ha! A price on your head, eh?" he remarked.

"I don't take it seriously," said Peter. "It may be genuine. Billy
handed it to me just as the train was leaving the station. He had no
time to explain. Usual family failing, I suppose--leaving things to
the last minute."

Entwistle made no reply to his companion's remarks. He was thinking
deeply, trying to piece together certain items that had already been
brought to his notice.

"I won't tell him just yet," he soliloquised. "Must make sure of my
ground first."

After tea Entwistle drove away, ostensibly to visit a farmer at
Windyhill. As a matter of fact he stopped at the Waterloo Hotel,
retired to a private room and made a careful copy of the document he
had annexed from The Croft.

"So that's how they communicate with him," he mused. "Simple
solution when you've been given the tip. The next point is: how does
he convey his information to them?" Late that night Entwistle
returned from Windyhill by a loop route that passed within half a
mile of The Croft. Driving his car off the road and on to a patch of
waste land he extinguished the lights. This done he walked over the
moor to The Croft, opened the unlatched window, entered the house
and replaced the borrowed document.

Then, conscious of a good day's work accomplished, he went home, to
gather up the tangled skeins of the complicated task in hand.



CHAPTER XXI

ON THE TRAIL


AT ten o'clock the following morning Peter Barcroft had a visitor.
The announcement, delivered by Mrs. Carter, was greeted with a flow
of forcible language.

"Tell the blithering idiot I can't see him now," shouted Mr.
Barcroft. "I'm busy. He must call again in an hour's time."

The Little Liver Pill departed with the message, to return with the
information that the caller came with news of "that there moke."

"In that case, show him in," decided Peter.

The informant was a short, thick-set, bowlegged man, with features
that had cunning stamped indelibly on every line. His watery blue
eyes and stubbly grey moustache contrasted vividly with his reddish
complexion, the colour of which reached its maximum intensity at the
tip of his turned-up nose. "The straight tip, guv'ner, an' no
questions axed," began the man, winking solemnly.

"What d'ye mean?" demanded Peter.

"Wot I says," replied the slightly inebriated one. "You offers in
this 'ere paper a bloomin' quid to any bloke as gives information
about your moke. 'Ere's the bloke--me. Na, 'ow abaht it?"

"Can you produce the animal?" asked Barcroft.

"Wot! Tike me fer a bloomin' conjurer? D'ye fink as 'ow I can make a
bloomin' moke come outer me 'at like a rabbit?"

"In that case I don't think I'll trouble you any further," said
Peter, placing his hand on the bell.

"'Old 'ard, guv'ner!" interrupted the man. "You mistakes my meanin.'
Wot I says is this, if you'll pardon my manner o' speech. I knows
where your donkey is. A chap wot I owes a grudge to 'as pinched it.
You pay me the quid, I'll give you the straight tip, s'long as you
don't bring my name inter it, an' there you are. You gets yer moke
back agen an' it's a jimmy o' goblin well spent."

Peter considered the points raised. He felt disinclined to treat
with the rascal. He might have telephoned for the police, but it was
hardly a case of blackmail. Quite possibly at the threat of the law
the fellow might be cowed; on the other hand he might shut up like
an oyster. Again, the whole story might be a cock-and-bull yarn with
the idea of getting money.

"Very well," said Barcroft at length. "I agree. Now tell me where
the animal is."

"Steady on, guv'ner," protested the man. "'Ow abaht it?--the quid, I
means."

"I've promised," said Peter. "My word is your bond."

"Sooner 'ave the brass."

"When I regain possession of the animal," decided the lawful owner
firmly. "You give me your name and address and directly I recover my
property I will send you the money. You cannot reasonably expect me
to trust you, an utter stranger, with a sovereign on the off-chance
that I may get the animal back on the strength of your information.
In fact, rather than do so, I would let the donkey go. Now, make up
your mind quickly. My time is precious."

The informer scratched the back of his head. "Look 'ere, guv'ner,"
he began. "I don't want to be 'ard on yer----"

"You won't, my man," interrupted Peter grimly. "Now, yes or no:
which is it to be?"

"Orl right," exclaimed the man in a tone of virtuous resignation.
"I'll tell, only you might 'ave parted with that there quid on the
nail. I won't give yer me name, but p'raps you won't object ter me
a-comin' round an' collectin' the brass when you've got the moke
back?"

To this Peter assented.

"You'll find the donkey at Bigthorpe," continued the fellow. "Third
archway of the viaduct across Thorpe Beck--Stigler's the name o' the
bloke wot pinched 'er, although she trotted into 'is father's place
down in Barborough. Stigler's a bad 'un, so yer wants to be pretty
fly or 'e'll be sellin' 'er to some one. That's the straight tip,
guv'ner, an' don't you ferget it--third archway o' Thorpe Beck
Viaduct. Supposin' I looks in fer that quid this day week?"

"Very good," agreed Peter, as he showed his visitor to the door. "By
the bye, what sort of man is this Mr. Stigler?"

"I reckon as 'ow 'e's a bit of a bruiser," was the not unexpected
reply.

When his caller had taken his departure Barcroft reviewed the
situation. Bruiser or no bruiser Mr. Stigler had to be tackled, and
Peter was not a man to be intimidated. He would go at once to
Bigthorpe. But perhaps it would be as well to have some one with
him. He thought of Philip Entwistle; he remembered his new-found
friend remarking that he was not particularly busy.

Although he detested having to use the telephone--he would much
rather have taken the trouble to go into Barborough to broach the
matter, only time was of importance--Peter rang up the vet. The
reply was to the effect that Mr. Entwistle was away from home and
was not expected back until to-morrow.

"That's done it," muttered Barcroft, "I'll go alone."

It was normally a two hours' railway journey to Bigthorpe, a fairly
large town in the East Riding of Yorkshire, but owing to various
unforeseen delays the clocks were striking four when Peter reached
his destination.

Having obtained direction from a porter as to the nearest way to
Thorpe Beck Viaduct Peter walked out of the station, and to his
surprise ran into the missing Andrew Norton.

"Hullo!" exclaimed the spy, somewhat guardedly, for he had to feel
his ground. "I hardly expected to see you here."

"Nor did I," replied Peter extending his hand, which the other
grasped with well-assumed cordiality.

"You've heard?"

"I've heard nothing."

"I wired to my housekeeper yesterday," explained the _soi-disant_
Norton. "Had a sort of nervous breakdown--complete loss of memory."

"The Zep. raid, I suppose?" asked Peter sympathetically.

"Yes, yes, precisely--the Zep. raid, confound it!" said the German
hurriedly. "I remember the bombs dropping, and I ran, goodness knows
where. Must have wandered about all night. Have some recollection of
finding myself at a strange railway station. Eventually I arrived at
Bigthorpe, not even remembering my name and address until I found my
registration card in my pocket. Deuced useful things those cards.
However, since I was at Bigthorpe, I thought I would stay there a
couple of days or so to restore my shattered nerves. Just back by
the 4.38."

"Can you postpone your return for another day?" asked Peter. "I'm
returning to-morrow. But perhaps I oughtn't to detain you, although
everything's all right at The Croft."

"Is it?" asked the spy. "Thanks awfully. No. I'm afraid I can't stop
here any longer."

"In that case I'll see you anon," said Peter. "Oh, while I think of
it: where were you staying here? I know nothing about the place and
must get a room at a comfortable hotel."

Von Eitelwurmer considered for a moment. He was not altogether sure
that Barcroft was not "pulling his leg." Early that morning the
"Trone" had arrived at a British port, and on landing the spy had
successfully maintained the role of McDonald the repatriated
prisoner from Eylau. He was now returning to Barborough, with a view
to making careful inquiries as to whether it would be quite safe to
return to his house at Tarleigh.

"Where was I staying?" repeated the spy. "At the 'Antelope.'
Wouldn't advise you, though. Not at all comfortable--catering
rotten, rooms wretchedly cold and draughty. Well, _au revoir_,
Barcroft. May look you up to-morrow night."

"Do," replied Peter cordially. "You know the time."

The question as to how he was to get the donkey home in the event of
Butterfly being found had hardly occurred to her owner until Peter
was in the train. In any case he could not hope to return that
night. To-morrow he might make arrangements with the railway
company. Meanwhile he must secure quarters at an hotel.

"I'll try the 'Antelope,'" he decided. "What's good enough for
Norton ought to suit me. Fortunately I am not altogether
unaccustomed to discomforts."

The exterior of the hotel rather belied his friend's disparaging
remarks; the interior even more so. The place seemed replete with
modern conveniences.

"I've been recommended by Mr. Andrew Norton, who has been staying
here for the last three or four days," announced Peter. "I require a
room."

"No gentleman of that name has been staying here, sir," replied the
hotel clerk. "At least, not recently. Yes, sir, this is the only
'Antelope.' Perhaps you would like to see the registration papers?"

Peter examined the documents. None were made out in the name of
Andrew Norton, nor were any filled in in his handwriting.

"Perhaps I have made a mistake," he said. "But that is of little
consequence. If you will let me have a room----"

Ten minutes later Barcroft was on his way to Thorpe Beck Viaduct.
Altogether he could not form a satisfying solution to Norton's
statement, until he came to the conclusion that in his excitable
state of mind his friend had muddled up the names of two or more
hotels.

"By Jove! I will take the rise out of him when I see him again," he
chuckled. "Fancy putting up at the 'Pig and Whistle,' most likely,
and imagining he was at the 'Antelope.' That's a great jape."

Presently he came in sight of the viaduct, the spaces between the
lofty granite arches of which were utilised as cow-sheds and
stables.

No, Mr. Stigler was not there, so a halfwitted, deformed lad
informed him. A donkey? Yes, there had been a donkey there. Mr.
Stigler had sold it that afternoon to a pedlar living at Scarby.
Where was Scarby? A matter of about ten miles and right on the
coast. Anybody at Scarby would tell him where old Joe Pattercough
lived.

Peter Barcroft rose to the occasion. Added difficulties only
increased his determination to see the thing through. He decided to
cancel his room at the "Antelope" and proceed by the first train to
Tongby, the nearest station to the seaside hamlet of Scarby.



CHAPTER XXII

THE STRUGGLE ON THE CLIFFS


"A MATTER O' fower moiles, sir," replied an old fisherman in answer
to Peter's inquiry as to the way to Scarby. "That is, if you'll be
taking t' cliff path, which I wouldn't advise you, seeing as 'ow
you'm a stranger. 'Tain't pertickler safe is yon path. Follow the
righthand road. 'Tis a bit roughish in parts, but main passable."

Mr. Barcroft thanked the man for his information and set out briskly
upon his way. Twilight had already set in, to add to the
difficulties of the last stage of the journey of the intrepid Peter.
Ahead rose the steep hill terminating in a frowning cliff--the first
of three such ridges that lay betwixt him and Scarby. Away on his
left he could discern a momentary glimpse of the North Sea, now grey
and sullen and mottled by patches of fog that drifted slowly with
the faint westerly breeze.

At a mile from Tongby railway station he struck the fork roads. The
one to the left was the cliff-path, an almost grass-grown track,
marked at regular intervals by whitewashed stones--necessary guides
for the coastguards on a pitch-black night when a false step might
hurl the incautious pedestrian to his death over the brink of a
three-hundred-foot cliff. The right-hand way was a little _better_,
although, judging by its condition, rarely used except by country
carts. On either side the ground was rugged and thickly covered with
gorse.

Wilder grew the countryside as Peter breasted the first of the three
hills. Stunted trees, standing out against the crimson afterglow of
the sky, assumed weird and fantastic shapes. To the faint moaning of
the wind and the murmur of the sea came an accompaniment in the form
of the cries of countless seabirds that find a nesting-place in the
frowning face of those almost perpendicular cliffs.

Inland all was darkness. The narrow valleys contained human
habitations, no doubt, but there was not a sign of their presence.

Peter's thoughts turned to his son as he looked seaward. Somewhere
out there--it might be a matter of a few miles or of hundreds--Billy
was serving King and country, perhaps snugly sheltered in the
"Hippodrome's" wardroom, or, on the other hand, cutting through the
darkness at an altitude of several hundred feet. It was not a
pleasant task on a late autumnal night. With his trained imagination
Peter could picture his boy out there--simply because of the German
Emperor's insane ambition.

"Not content to let well alone," soliloquised Peter, "even when the
German Empire was on the high road to commercial success and
internal prosperity, the All Highest must butt in and try to upset
everything. Incidentally Wilhelm has done the British Empire a
lasting service. He has cemented it far more effectively than
centuries of legislation. He has welded it into a homogeneous whole;
he has awakened every Briton worthy of the name to a sense of his
individual responsibility to the colossal task that confronts him.
And, by Jove, we mean to see this business through. No half
measures. A lasting peace built upon the ruins of German
militarism."

Peter's reveries were suddenly interrupted by the sound of creaking
cart-wheels and the steady patter of a beast of burden.

"Wonder if that is Butterfly?" he thought. "Now, if Mr. Pattercough
is of the same type as friend Stigler and a bit of a tough customer
I'd best lie low. Somehow I hardly like to argue the point about the
lawful ownership of a donkey in this desolate spot."

There were plenty of places of concealment. Barcroft selected the
shelter afforded by a gorse-bush close to the left hand side of the
road. Immediately opposite was a beaten track that evidently
effected a junction with the cliff path. At any rate, it wound in
that direction, following the steeply sloping sides of a narrow,
rugged valley.

The cart approached slowly. The driver seemed in no hurry, for he
made no attempt either by word of mouth or by the application of his
whip to hasten the animal. Only when the vehicle was opposite
Peter's place of concealment did the man utter a subdued "Woa."

The donkey--for such it was--made no attempt to stop. "That's
Butterfly for a dead cert," commented Peter.

The man uttered an imprecation, jumped from the cart and tugged
viciously at the animal's bridle. Then, by main force, he backed the
donkey a short distance along the side track.

"Plenty o' time," Barcroft heard him remark. "Better an hour too
early than five minutes too late."

"Awkward habit, expressing one's thoughts aloud," mused Peter. "I do
it myself occasionally, and I know. Now, what are you doing with a
loaded cart on this unfrequented road at this time of night? I scent
a mystery. I'll wait an hour and see what happens. If nothing, then
I will kick myself for being an inquisitive ass."

The pedlar was not going to be inactive. Unharnessing the
donkey--Peter was now absolutely convinced that it was Butterfly--he
led the animal to a patch of grass-land hidden from the road by the
bushes, a task requiring considerable physical strength. This done
he backed the cart from the path until the gorse hid it from the
watcher's sight.

Ten long minutes passed. The pedlar, swinging his arms vigorously,
for the night air was chilly, made no attempt to look up or down the
road. The person or persons he expected were evidently not
approaching from that direction. Presently he walked to the cart,
removed something from under the tarpaulin--it was too dark to see
what the article was--and set off along the side track.

At fifty yards he surmounted a steep rise and disappeared the other
side. The sound of his footsteps, deadened by the nature of the
soil, quickly died away.

"Now I'll investigate," decided Barcroft. "If he returns in a hurry
there'll be trouble. Friend Pattercough looks like a quarrelsome
card. However, I'll risk it."

He stole cautiously to the place where the donkey and cart stood.
Butterfly, indifferent to the attentions of her lawful master,
browsed steadily at the scanty herbage. The cart, although
inanimate, was far more interesting. It was piled high with faggots
and bundles of brushwood, a tarpaulin being tightly lashed over the
top of the load. Mingled with the scent of the newly-cut wood was
the faint odour of petrol.

Without the slightest hesitation Barcroft probed the load with his
stick. The ferrule grated against metal--the side of a tin. Again
and again he tried; the bottom of the cart was packed with
petrol-cans.

"Now, if I set fire to this little lot who would stand the racket?"
inquired Peter. "This is obviously intended to be used
illicitly--for supplying German submarines, although I can't be sure
on that point. On the other hand, how would I stand under the
Defence of the Realm regulations if I started a gorgeous bonfire? An
hour too soon, he said; well, there's a quarter of an hour or twenty
minutes gone, I should imagine. Remains enough time for me to get to
Scarby, rout out the coastguards and put a stopper on this little
game."

With this praiseworthy resolution Barcroft hurried off, keeping to
the grassy ground in order to deaden the sound of his footsteps. His
prowess as a long-distance runner had not entirely departed,
although lack of training tried his wind sorely.

At the outskirts of the darkened village he came to a row of grey
lime-washed cottages in front of which a tall flagstaff loomed up
against the misty starlight.

"Halt!" exclaimed a hoarse voice peremptorily.

Peter halted. Confronting him was a greatcoated, gaitered, bearded
man in seaman's uniform.

"'Gainst orders to use this path after dark," quoth the
coastguardsman. "What's your name? And what are you doing running
like this at this time o' night?"

"How many men have you at the station?" asked Barcroft breathlessly.

"Eh? What do you want this information for?" demanded the man
suspiciously. "You'd best come along with me an' give no trouble.
Strikes me there's something that ain't proper jonnick."

Barcroft preceded the seaman up the shingled path leading to the
watch house.

"Look here, my man," he said authoritatively. "You had better inform
your chief officer and turn out the detachment. I've hurried here
expressly to tell you that a man from the village, Pattercough by
name, is running a cargo of petrol. Barcroft's my name. I have
documents to prove it. Also I have a son a commissioned officer in
the Service, as you will find if you refer to a Navy List."

"In that case I ask your pardon," replied the coastguard, whose
badges proclaimed him to be a chief petty officer. "I'm in charge,
sir. This station is partly closed down since the war. I've only a
few Boy Scouts to give you a hand--an' smart, plucky youngsters they
are, too."

"Any special constables in the village?"

"Not one, sir; in fact, there ain't what one might call an
able-bodied man in the place, barring this Pattercough. Tribunal
exempted him 'evings only knows what for."

"Then turn out the Scouts," said Peter. "They'll come in jolly
useful. There's no time to be lost."

Quickly half a dozen of the lads were on the spot, falling in at the
word of command from the patrol leader. In a few words Barcroft
explained the situation, enjoining silence until the petty officer
gave the word for action.

"I'll just telephone through to Tongby and let our chaps know," said
the coastguard.

In orderly formation the party set off to the place where the pedlar
had left his cart. At "Scouts' Pace"--alternately walking and
running--the distance was quickly covered. Butterfly and the load
were still in sombre isolation. "He made off in that direction,"
whispered Peter.

"To Black Ghyll Bay then," replied the petty officer. "Artful
bounder! He knew when our patrols pass, and chose his time."

With redoubled caution the party set off in single file, the sailor
leading the way and Peter following up at the rear of the Scouts.
Not a sound betrayed their presence--it was mainly owing to the fact
that they all wore well-used foot gear.

Presently Peter found himself on the point of cannoning into the
back of the Scout just ahead of him. The party had halted. With out
the slightest confusion they concealed themselves behind a row of
bushes that grew almost on the edge of the cliff. The petty officer
raised one hand and pointed.

Through the darkness Barcroft could just distinguish the outlines of
a human form crouching in the gorge barely ten yards on his right
front, where the cliff began to fall away and form a ravine known as
Black Ghyll.

At intervals the man in hiding raised his head and peered cautiously
over the thick bush. Not once did he look behind. His attention was
centred solely upon the foreshore or else seaward; he was totally
oblivious of the fact that he was being watched intently by eight
pairs of eyes.

Out to sea everything seemed swallowed up in pitch-black darkness.
Only the measured beating of the groundswell upon the shingly shore
gave the watchers any indication, apart from their local knowledge,
that the wide North Sea was almost at their feet. The stars, too,
had disappeared from view, for the mist had increased and was now
threatening to develop into a regular sea-fog.

Suddenly the darkness was pierced by a faint ray of light emanating
from a mere pinprick of luminosity. Short flash--obscuration--long
flash--obscuration--short flash: that was all, but sufficient to
indicate that out in that void of Cimmerian gloom some one was
signalling.

The suspect rose and leaned forward. It looked as if he were
spread-eagled over the gorse-bush. For quite a minute he remained
there, then leaving his place of concealment he made his way towards
the beach, crouching as stealthily as a panther behind every
obstacle until he made sure of his ground.

Perhaps it was the strain of watching in the darkness; perhaps the
thought that the suspect might escape; but whatever the motive the
fact remained that one of the Scouts, uttering a loud yell, broke
from cover and dashed towards the man, brandishing his staff like a
Berserk.

"That's done it!" mentally ejaculated Peter. The premature and
unauthorised action left no alternative.

"At him, lads!" shouted the petty officer. The fellow stood his
ground, expostulating angrily. But his words fell unheeded. Like a
pack of hounds the eager and alert youngsters literally threw
themselves upon the suspect, and bore him to the ground.

Over and over they rolled, the gorse crackling under their weight.
Only a few gaunt stumps prevented the struggling mob from tumbling
over the brink of the fearful abyss. Unable to bear a hand Peter and
the petty officer stood well-nigh breathless with suspense,
expecting every minute to see the suspect and his assailants topple
into space.

The struggle was short-lived. The fellow's efforts at resistance
ceased. Bound hand and foot and with the ten-stone patrol leader
sitting on his chest he realised that the game was up.

"Get your staves, lads," ordered the patrol-leader. "Form a
stretcher. We'll carry him as far as the cart."

"Strikes me I hear engines," declared the coastguardsman. "There,
what's that?"

A dull, rasping sound and the splash of disturbed water broke the
silence. A moment later the night breeze carried the unmistakable
noise of a vessel's engines running at full speed ahead.

The petty officer was quick to act. Raising his hands to his mouth
he shouted in stentorian tones:

"Ship ahoy! Go full speed astern instantly. You're heading straight
for Black Ghyll."

The clang of the engine-room telegraph bell followed quickly, to the
accompaniment of short, crisp orders and the trample of boots upon a
metal deck.

It was already too late. With a rending crash the vessel, whatever
she might be, ran bows on to the jagged rocks.

"That's done it! Her number's up," exclaimed the petty officer.
"Now, lads, four of you come with me. There's work to be done there,
I reckon. The others stay with this gentleman and guard the prisoner
till we return."

"Look here," said the captive in well-nigh breathless expostulation.
"You've made a rotten mistake. Spoilt everything."

Peter felt his heart give a furious beat. Regardless of regulations
he bent over the prostrate prisoner and struck a match.

The flickering flame revealed the indignant features of Philip
Entwistle.



CHAPTER XXIII

ON THE ROCKS


"So I haven't been able to chuck you fellows yet," remarked
Lieutenant-commander Tressidar. "And what is more I see no
likelihood at present of so doing. We've just had a wireless to
proceed east to a position somewhere off the mouth of the Humber."

"We are not at all fed up with your hospitality, Tress," replied
Fuller, "only we ought to have been on board the old 'Hippo' long
ago. I think, if there's a chance, we ought to get ashore, report to
the Commander-in-Chief and await orders."

The "Antipas" was steaming at a good twenty knots. It was late in
the afternoon; the sea calm, the sky slightly overcast. With a
steadily-rising glass the weather showed indication of continuing
fine, notwithstanding the presence of patches of sea-fog.

Towards sunset the fog increased until it was no longer safe for the
destroyer to maintain her speed. Fishing boats, dauntlessly risking
the submarine menace, were frequently in these waters. To tear
blindfold through the dense mist would be courting disaster.

The slowing down of the engines brought the three airmen on deck.

"Fog!" exclaimed Kirkwood. "Rough luck. I thought that we were
entering port when the skipper rang down for easy ahead."

"Pretty thick, too," added Barcroft. "It's as much as I can do to
see the bridge. Beastly calm, too; what do you say to returning to
our little rubber of dummy?"

"Now I'm here I'll stop," decided Fuller, drawing his coat across
his chest. "Hullo! they're taking soundings. That looks as if we
were nearing shore."

For nearly an hour the "Antipas" literally "smelt her way." Darkness
had fallen, and with it the fog bank increased in density and
dimensions. No longer was it possible to discern anything beyond a
couple of yards. No discordant hoot blared from the syren, no
navigation lights were shown. Beyond slowing down nothing more could
be done, owing to war conditions, to safeguard the destroyer from
risks of collision.

"Hullo, you fellows!" exclaimed the lieutenant of the destroyer as,
clad in oilskins, sou'wester and sea boots, he groped his way
for'ard. "Have we made it too comfortable for you down below?"

"Didn't know that it was your 'trick,'" remarked Barcroft.

"Neither is it. That's one of the penalties of serving on a
destroyer. You never know when you're off duty. The skipper's just
spoken through: we're on the track of a strafed U-boat. Picked her
up by microphone."

"Here's to the bridge, then," decided Fuller. "Come on, you would-be
card-players. Let's see the fun."

"One of the advantages of going dead slow, I suppose," commented
Tressidar as his guests rejoined him. "We've cut across the trail of
a submarine, that's certain. Come in, and see how things are
progressing."

The lieutenant-commander opened the door of the chart-room. Against
one bulkhead stood the receiver of the submarine-signalling
apparatus. Standing in front of it was a bluejacket with both
ear-pieces clipped to his ears. With his left hand he was
alternately actuating the switch that connects both receivers.

"Right dead on, sir," he reported. "Less than a couple of cables'
lengths ahead, I'll allow."

Behind him stood the helmsman at the steam-steering gear, his eyes
fixed upon the cryptic movements of the operator's hands, as the
latter transmitted the course to the quartermaster.

The principle of the microphone signalling apparatus is simple
enough. In the vessel's hold and as far beneath the waterline as
possible, are two metal tanks each filled with water and containing
two sensitive instruments that readily pick up sounds transmitted
through the medium afforded by the sea. One tank is placed on the
starboard the other on the port side, and both are connected by
wires with the receiver in the chart-room.

Supposing the operator hears the thud of a distant propeller, and
the sound is more distinct from the port side he knows that the
submerged vessel is somewhere in that direction. Conversely, the
sound being greater in the right-hand receiver he is able to locate
the object emitting the sound as being on the starboard side of the
ship. When the volume of sound passing through both receivers is
equal the operator knows that the vessel's bows are pointing
practically "dead on" to the unseen but audible peril.

"That's all very fine," remarked Kirkwood. "But supposing that man
has a cold in one ear. How is he to guard against being misled by
the inequalities of hearing? I've heard of a fellow being deaf in
one ear and not knowing it for months."

"The inventors have taken that into consideration," replied
Tressidar. "That's why both ears are connected with the receiver on
one side only of the vessel at a time. As he turns that switch from
side to side both ears are listening to the sounds from the port and
starboard tanks alternately. What's that?" he added, addressing the
operator. "Three cables ahead? This won't do; she's gaining on us."

The skipper quitted the chart-room, followed by the three airmen.
Coming from the lighted compartment; they were momentarily dazzled
by the transition from artificial illumination to murky, pitch-black
night.

"Increase speed to fifteen knots," ordered Tressidar. "Where there's
water for that strafed U-boat there's enough for us.... Overhauling
her? All right; twelve knots, then."

"Those fellows have plenty of nerve," remarked Barcroft, "or else
they've no nerves at all. Suppose fog doesn't make the slightest
difference to them when they are submerged, but to us it appears
otherwise. What is that U-boat doing, I should like to know,
plugging along at twelve knots and in the direction of the British
coast?"

"Keeping a pressing appointment, perhaps," said the A.P. with a
laugh.

"Many a true word spoken in jest, old bird," rejoined the
flight-sub. "It is----"

"A little less talking there, if you please," interrupted Tressidar
curtly.

The three airmen took the hint. It was only on very rare occasions
that the genial lieutenant-commander "choked any one off." It was an
indication of the mental strain upon the skipper of the "Antipas."

"By Jove! if she does come up," thought Barcroft. "It will be Third
Single to Perdition for a set of skulking pirates. The fog is
lifting, too. I can distinguish the wave-crests nearly a cable's
length ahead. We'll be into another patch in another minute, though,
worse luck."

Suddenly the watchers on the destroyer's bridge caught sight of a
short series of flashes slightly on the port bow, and perhaps at a
distance of a mile.

In a trice Tressidar brought his binoculars to bear upon the glimmer
of light, thanking Heaven as he did so that a rift in the fog
enabled him to spot the presence of the hunted Hun. The powerful
night-glasses revealed the outlines of a conning-tower and twin
periscopes just emerging from the waves. Then as quickly as it
appeared the light vanished. It was enough. The lieutenant-commander
could still discern the patch of phosphorescence that encircled the
partly submerged U-boat.

"Starboard ten!" ordered Tressidar, at the same time telegraphing
for full speed ahead both engines.

Before the destroyer could work up to her maximum speed her
knife-like bows rasped and bit deeply into the hull of the doomed
unterseeboot. An almost imperceptible jar as the quivering vessel
glided over her prey, a smother of agitated water on either hand,
and the deed was done. Another of the modern pirate craft had been
dispatched to its last home.

"Voices ahead, sir," shouted the look-out man. "Land ahead! By
smoke! We've done it."

The engine-room telegraph bell clanged shrilly. As the propeller
blades bit the water with reversed action the "Antipas" began to
lose way. It was too late.

With a shock that threw almost every officer and man to the deck the
destroyer charged bows on to a ledge of rocks. Her forefoot lifted
almost clear of the water, while to the accompaniment of the hiss of
escaping vapour from a fractured main steam-pipe, the "Antipas"
buckled amidships.

"Clear lower deck! All hands fall in facing outboard!" ordered the
skipper.

From the mess-deck the "watch below," already roused by the impact
of the destroyer with the ill-starred U-boat, came tumbling out,
forming up in orderly silence to await further commands. Out of the
steam-laden stokehold and engine-room staggered black-faced,
partly-clad men, many suffering from the effects of terrible scalds,
while others, too badly injured to help themselves, were assisted by
their heroic comrades. Risking a hideous death in the partly-flooded
engine-room the devoted "ratings" performed acts of valour that,
although unseen and unheard of, represent the acme of courage. Fresh
from the overheated stokehold and engine-room the survivors of the
"Black Squad" found themselves faced with the immediate prospect of
involuntary immersion in the chill waters of the North Sea.

"Ahoy!" shouted a seaman at the skipper's instigation. "Where are
we?"

"'Ard aground," replied a voice through the darkness.

In spite of their hazardous position several of the crew laughed,
and tried to switch on a husky cough to hide their levity from their
officers. The unknown's reply was certainly brief and to the point,
but hardly the sort of answer that Tressidar required.

"Silence there!" he ordered.

Then a boyish voice penetrated the night air.

"You're on Black Ghyll reef," it announced. "Do you require any
assistance?"

"Not at present," replied the lieutenant-commander. "You might stand
by, though, in case we do."

The after part of the "Antipas" was now a couple of feet beneath the
water, and had settled on the sandy bottom of the bay. With the
falling tide--it was just after high-water springs when the
destroyer grounded--there was no immediate necessity to abandon
ship. Nevertheless it was imperative that the injured men should be
taken ashore, and assistance obtained as quickly as possible if
there should be any possible chance of salving the wreck.

"Clear away the whaler!" was the next order.

The boat was manned and rowed cautiously towards the shore. Although
the sea was calm the men were in total ignorance of the nature of
the coast. Lacking local knowledge they were not even at all certain
whether a landing might be effected. On either side rose the jagged
points of vicious-looking rocks, while looming against the misty
starlight could be discerned a range of frowning cliffs with no
apparent break in the line of continuity.

"Thank God that there ain't a stiffish onshore breeze," muttered the
coxswain of the whaler. "'Tain't 'arf a rotten crib."

"Boat ahoy!" came the same boyish hail from the invisible strand.
"Starboard a bit.... You're close on the Double Fang. I'll tell you
when to turn.... Now, straight in. It's all sand here."

The whaler's forefoot grounded on the soft shore. The coxswain,
producing a small handlantern from the stern sheets flashed it upon
the group of figures gathered at the water's edge four Boy Scouts.

"Crikey!" ejaculated the coxswain admiringly. "You're game'uns. Wot
are you doing here at this time o' night?"

"We're coast-watching," replied the patrol leader. "We had just
collared a spy when your vessel ran ashore. There's a chief petty
officer of coastguard up the top of the cliff."

The lad did not think it necessary to explain that the petty officer
had rather wisely declined to risk his neck by clambering down the
precipitous face of the rugged wall of rock. At his age he lacked
the steady head and sureness of foot that were essential for such
feats of agility.

"Landing's easy enough when you knows 'ow," remarked the coxswain.
"I've been sent ashore to find out. Look 'ere, we've a dozen or more
badly injured hands aboard, an' we wants to get 'em off. Any chance
of carrying 'em up those cliffs?"

The lad shook his head.

"Not up the cliffs," he explained. "There's a path up the valley. It
leads to Scarby."

"Any doctors there?"

"None nearer than Tongby. We'll send a couple of Scouts there, if
you like."

"P'raps you'd better," agreed the man. "It's a tidy 'andful for our
Pills--our doctor, that is. All right, chummy, you might stand by
and give us a hail when we come ashore again. 'Tis a rum crib, swelp
me, if it ain't--but it might be worse."

The whaler backed from the shore, to return presently with a heavy
load of wounded men and other members of the destroyer's crew told
off to carry the injured to the nearest house.

Guided by the patrol leader the grim procession set out on its
journey of pain. The fearfully scalded men, temporarily bandaged by
the R.N.R. Surgeon Probationer borne on the destroyer's books as
doctor, groaned and uttered involuntary cries of agony as, in spite
of the care of the bearers, they were jolted along the narrow,
uneven path.

Presently the scout came to a sudden halt. "There's a man lying at
the foot of the Cliffs," he exclaimed. "Why, it's Pattercough, the
man we were looking for when we captured the second spy."

A seaman bent over the body.

"Dead as a bloomin' doornail," he announced. "He's broke 'is
bloomin' neck an' saved the 'angman a job, I'll allow that is, if
he's the spy you says he was. Lead on, matey. The dead must look
after themselves while this affair's under way."

At the meeting of the path with the by-road the patrol-leader
stopped.

"It's straight on to Scarby," he explained. "Bennet," he added,
addressing his companion. "You go with these sailors and show them
the coastguard station. Then come back; bring the other fellows
along with you if they've returned. I'll go to the beach again in
case there are more to be shown the path up the valley."

Meanwhile Lieutenant-commander Ronald Tressidar was "standing by"
his wrecked vessel. He had done everything he could in the interests
of the crew. Until day broke it was impossible to form an accurate
idea of the extent of the disaster. It was galling to lose his
command; there would be a court of inquiry. Of the issue of that
Tressidar had no misgivings. The "Antipas" had run ashore in the
course of an action with an enemy submarine. The mishap was to be
deplored, but it was unavoidable. The destruction of the hostile
submarine had been accomplished. That was the object of the
destroyer's _raison d'etre_.

"Can we be of any use?" asked Fuller.

"Not in the slightest, thanks," replied the youthful skipper. "The
best you fellows can do is to go ashore. Goodness only knows if
there's a railway anywhere in the neighbourhood. At any rate, you
can make your way back to Rosyth, and better luck next time. If by
any possible chance I can keep you clear of the court of inquiry I
will do so. I know perfectly well that you want to be hard at it
again, and the 'Hippodrome' seems likely to be particularly busy
very shortly, according to all accounts."

"Good luck, old man!" said Fuller earnestly, The three airmen shook
hands with the skipper, and dropping into the whaler were rowed
shorewards.

"Hard lines on old Tress," declared Fuller. "He'll come out with
flying colours, of course; but just fancy the poor fellow cooling
his heels ashore waiting for another command when out there----"

And with a comprehensive sweep of his hand he indicated the
seemingly limitless expanse of the North Sea--the arena where the
question of naval supremacy will be settled, let us hope once and
for all time in favour of the glorious White Ensign.



CHAPTER XXIV

ENTWISTLE'S DECISION


"So this is the coastguard station?" asked Billy Barcroft of his
youthful guide. "Any chance of getting a conveyance to the nearest
station Tongby, I believe?"

"I am afraid not, sir."

"Even this donkey might be pressed into service," continued the
flight-sub, indicating Butterfly, who, having been placed "under
arrest," was browsing on the green surrounding the flagstaff.
"Although I've had enough of donkeys to last me for some
considerable time."

Little knowing that the animal under discussion was the self-same
one that had given him the slip at Barborough, Billy, accompanied by
his two comrades, entered the detached building known as the
look-out house. The ground floor was utilised as a kind of store,
where arms and nautical gear were kept. Above was a large room
furnished like an office, in which was a telephone as well as a
large telescope mounted on a tripod so as to command a clear view of
the sea. Being night the windows were closely shuttered, while
double doors prevented any stray beams from escaping into the night.

"Up aloft, sir," said the scout. "I'll telephone through and see if
a trap or a car can be sent from Tongby. This is our mess room," he
explained. "There's a good fire going. Hullo! There's some one here
already. I think it's the gentleman who told us about the spy."

Seated on either side of the roaring fire were Peter Barcroft and
Philip Entwistle. The former's face was turned away from the door,
and at first Billy failed to recognise his parent. Nor did he the
vet., for Entwistle's face was elaborately and liberally embellished
with sticking-plaster, as the result of First Aid on the part of the
Scouts following their determined onslaught on the brink of the
cliff.

Entwistle had taken his gruelling in rightdown good part. He was
still under nominal arrest, for having been made a prisoner he could
only be released at the order of a superior officer. Already a
report had been telephoned through and a reply was momentarily
expected.

"I am not going to explain the whole business to you, Barcroft,"
said the vet, when Peter expressed his regret at the attack upon his
neighbour, and still more so his astonishment at finding him under
most peculiar circumstances on the cliff at Scarby. "Some day,
perhaps. I had information--no matter how--that some one was in
traitorous communication with enemy submarines. To bring home proofs
of the principal's guilt it was necessary to tackle his subordinate.
Unfortunately my plans were upset by the somewhat injudicious
intervention of these youngsters--commendable as regards pluck and
all that, but nevertheless it spoilt my investigations."

"I didn't know that you were in the detective line," remarked Peter.

Entwistle shrugged his shoulders.

"Perhaps I had better not commit myself by answering your question,"
he replied with a laugh that ended in a wince. It was no easy matter
to smile with one's face smothered with sticking-plaster. "I hope
you understand my reluctance to say anything more on the matter."

Peter nodded.

"All the same I shall look forward to the time when you are able to
emerge from your shell," he said.

"By the bye," remarked the vet, "you haven't told me what brought
you to this part of the world. It's taking a one-sided advantage
when I ask if _you_ are doing a bit of detective work."

"I was," admitted Mr. Barcroft.

Entwistle raised his eyebrows in mild surprise.

"Tracing the persons who stole my donkey--Butterfly," continued
Peter. "I had the tip that the animal had been taken to Bigthorpe.
Went there to follow up the clue, and strangely enough almost the
first man I met was Norton."

"What was he doing at Bigthorpe?"

"I hardly know. Said something about a nervous breakdown. He seemed
a bit upset, I thought."

"H'm!" Entwistle, gazed into the fire, deep in thought. "Is he
returning to Tarleigh?"

"He's there already, I presume," replied Peter. "However, that has
nothing to do with the case I am relating (Entwistle thought
otherwise, but refrained from audible comment). At Bigthorpe I found
that Butterfly had been sold to a man at Scarby, so on I came. Quite
by accident I met the fellow on the road, kept out of sight and
watched him go towards the cliffs. Went and had a look at his cart,
discovered it laden with petrol-cans, so I made off immediately to
inform the coastguard. The rest you know."

"As to that----" began the vet.

The door being opened interrupted his remarks. Turning his head to
see who the newcomers might be, he startled his companion by
saying--"Bless my soul, it's young Barcroft."

"Hullo, pater!" said Billy in astonishment. "You here? This is a
regular surprise." Peter got up from his chair.

"Pleased to see you, boy," he exclaimed. "As for the surprise, it's
nothing. To-day has been a day of surprises. What brings you
ashore?"

"We were in the destroyer that ran aground," explained the
flight-sub. "But let me introduce you to Fuller--you've often heard
me speak of him--and Bobby Kirkwood, who, as you know, was, and I
hope will continue to be, my observer."

"I thought you were in the 'Hippodrome,'" remarked Barcroft Senior,
after mutual introductions and when the three airmen had drawn their
chairs close to the comforting fire.

"Officially we are now--at the present moment," said Fuller.
"Unofficially we are toasting our toes on dry land. Before long we
hope to be up in the air; I think I am correctly interpreting the
wishes of my two energetic chums?"

Conversation was proceeding briskly when one of the Scouts, called
to the telephone, reported that a car was on its way to Scarby to
convey the airmen to Tongby, and that there was a train leaving the
little place at eight in the morning for Bigthorpe, whence by the
main line to the north they could reach Edinburgh by about noon.

"And this breaks up the party," quoth Billy as the motor drew up
outside the station. "Well, good-bye, pater. Sorry time has been so
short."

"Not so fast with your good-byes, my son," protested Peter.
"We--Entwistle and I--are going into Tongby by this car. It may be a
tight squeeze, but we'll risk that."

"But how about Butterfly?" asked Billy.

His father waved his hand deprecatingly.

"I've done with the brute," he replied. "She absolutely refused to
greet me. I'm going to make a present of her to these youngsters as
a kind of reminder of this night's work. If they don't want her, I
suppose there are plenty of people in this village glad to keep her.
Now, Entwistle, best leg forward. It's a long, long way to Tarleigh.
By Jove! you'll have to explain those scratches when you return to
your virtuous home."

Philip Entwistle merely responded with "Yes" with a preoccupied air.
His work in connection with the affair had only just begun. Although
a veterinary surgeon he was also an accredited member of the Secret
Service, and upon the _soi-disant_ Andrew Norton's arrival at
Tarleigh as a new resident he had been informed of the suspicious
nature of the newcomer. It was by design that he had misdirected
Barcroft in the matter of the wrong train on the eve of the
Barborough Zeppelin raid; but that was owing to the fact that he had
mistaken the occupier of Ladybird Fold for the suspect, von
Eitelwurmer.

Now arose the difficulty. Could he warn Barcroft of the dangerous
character of the spy, without prejudice to his plans? At present it
was undesirable, even on the damning evidence he had found at the
spy's house, to cause von Eitelwurmer to be arrested. Better to let
the fellow prosecute his activities a little longer, complete the
chain of evidence and rope in his accomplices, if any, than to make
the spy a prisoner without being able to make a clean sweep of all
his works. Premature action would mar the elaborate mass of evidence
that Entwistle was on the road to collect--evidence that would be
far-reaching as far as the network of German espionage in England
was concerned.

So for the present he decided to keep his own counsel regarding
Andrew Norton. Not even a hint would he throw out concerning the
tenant of The Croft. If he did so, Barcroft could not help showing
antipathy to his friend Norton, and the latter, scenting danger,
would be doubly wary.

Yet, knowing that there was a price on Peter Barcroft's head,
although he did not as yet connect Norton's presence at Tarleigh
with the Kaiser's blood-moneyed decree, Entwistle realised that he
would have to keep a watchful eye upon his newly-found friend in
order to guard him from the possibility of impending peril.



CHAPTER XXV

THE BOMBING EXPEDITION


OFF Zeebrugge once more. In the pale grey dawn of a November morning
yet another strafing operation was about to take place. The Huns,
who had converted the peaceful little Belgian fishing port into a
hornets' nest, were to be allowed no rest.

Approaching the coast, the undulating dunes of which were just
visible against the pale light of the eastern sky, were eight
monitors, their powerful guns cocked up at a grotesque angle in
readiness to open fire at a six-mile range. At a considerable
distance astern were the seaplane-carriers "Hippodrome," "Arena" and
"Cursus," while in a far-flung line ahead, astern and abeam, were
the swarm of destroyers and patrol boats whose mission it was to
promptly "scotch" any U-boat that, more daring than the rest of the
cowardly crew, might attempt to let loose a torpedo at the converted
liners. Already the Hun had learnt the lesson that it was almost a
matter of impossibility to sink a monitor by torpedo, even though
the weapons were "set" to run only a few feet beneath the surface.
Coupled with the knowledge of the fact that it was "unhealthy" to be
anywhere in the vicinity of craft flying the White Ensign, when
there were others proudly displaying the Red Ensign and which were
practically incapable of defence, the U-boats took good care to give
the bombarding flotilla a wide berth.

Already the "Arena" and "Cursus" had dispatched their complement of
seaplanes for the purpose of registering the result of the monitors'
fire, but up to the present the airmen on board the "Hippodrome" had
received no orders to board their respective "buses" and hie them to
the scene of action.

"They've opened the ball," exclaimed Kirkwood, as the monitor on the
left of the line let fly with her 14-inch gun.

"An obvious performance," remarked Fuller. "Unless one were both
blind and deaf. More to the point: why are we being held in reserve,
I wonder?"

"Dunno," added another flying-officer. "In the case of you three
fellows there might be a plausible explanation. You've been so jolly
keen on getting away from the ship that the skipper won't give you
another chance. By Jove! That was a good one!"

Somewhere in the vicinity of Zeebrugge a dense cloud of black smoke
had been hurled hundreds of feet into the air. One of the British
shells had found a particularly satisfying target, for either a
petrol depôt or an ammunition "dump" had been sent sky-high, with,
possibly, a few hundred Huns to boot.

Yet no sound of the explosion could be heard, for the monitors' guns
outvoiced that. The coast-defence craft were letting fly as quickly
as the hydraulic loaders performed their task, and the gigantic yet
docile weapons could be trained upon the practically invisible
objective.

It was by no means a one-sided action. From cunningly concealed
shore batteries, that seemed to multiply with hydra-headed
persistence, German shells hurtled through the air, for the most
part ricochetting harmlessly. A few, however, "got home." One
monitor, listing badly to starboard, was already crawling slowly out
of range. Another had been set on fire, but, the conflagration being
quickly subdued, she "carried on" with calm and awful deliberation.

It had been one of the tenets of war that armoured ships were more
than a match for shore batteries. The mobility of the former and the
knowledge of the fixed position of the latter accounted for the
theory--a theory that had been justified by the bombardment of
Alexandria. But in the greatest war that the world has yet seen this
idea received a rude shock. The skill with which huge guns can be
loaded, ranged and trained upon a moving target rather more than
equalised matters. Thus the old forts on the Dardanelles were
quickly reduced to a heap of ruins by the guns of the "Queen
Elizabeth," but this did not prevent the Turks bringing heavier
ordnance to bear upon the Allied squadrons as they attempted in vain
to force the historic Straits.

But there has been yet another swing of the pendulum. In an
engagement betwixt ships and forts there was a deciding factor--the
command of the air. Provided airmen from the attacking squadron
could assist by observing the hits of the naval guns and by dropping
quantities of powerful explosives on the hostile batteries the
advantage would rest with those who held command of the sea. Nor was
mere observing and bomb-dropping on defended positions sufficient.
It was necessary to harass the enemy's lines of communication and
prevent reserves of men and ammunition being rushed up to the coast.

"Ten to one we're down for a 'stunt,'" hazarded Barcroft. "That's
why we are cooling our heels here. Ah! I thought so," he added, as
the airmen were summoned to receive instructions preparatory to a
flight.

A quarter of an hour later Billy Barcroft felt like dancing a
hornpipe on the quarter-deck. He had been given a task after his own
heart--to bomb the German hangars at Lierre, a town about six or
seven miles south-east of the fortress of Antwerp and a distance of
eighty miles, as the crow flies, from the position taken up by the
seaplane carriers. To Fuller was deputed the business of wrecking
the important railway station of Aerschot, while the other pilots
were likewise given definite instructions to drop their cargoes of
explosives on specified places of military importance. The airmen
were enjoined to avoid as far as possible encounters with hostile
machines on the outward journey, the importance of reaching their
respective objectives being paramount to the excitement of aerial
duels with Hun flying men.

"We'll be within sight of one another most of the time, Barcroft,
old man," said Fuller, as he signed to his observer to take his
place in the machine. "Now, Gregory, all ready?"

Fuller's companion, a sparely-built sub-lieutenant, whose long,
hooked nose and obliquely placed eyes gave him the appearance of a
bird, nodded assent.

"Well, good luck!" shouted Barcroft.

The words were drowned by the roar of the engine, but the lieutenant
instinctively realised their meaning. With a cheery wave of his
gauntletted hand he started on his long flight.

Thirty-seconds later Barcroft got away, with Kirkwood as his
observer. There had been a slight rivalry between Billy and Fuller
as to who should take the A.P., for the lieutenant had regarded the
latter as his own right-hand man since the night of the encounter
with the Zeppelins, while Barcroft claimed priority. The matter had
been decided by the spin of a coin, with the result that the A.P.
was now on his way to Lierre with Barcroft.

High above the bombarding monitors flew the powerfully engined
seaplane, now nearly half a mile in the wake of Fuller's "bus." At
regular intervals astern came the rest of the aerial raiders, all
rocking slightly in the disturbed air caused by the concussion of
the heavy guns.

Ten minutes were sufficient to bring Barcroft's machine over the
Belgian coast. Acting upon previous instructions he maintained an
altitude of eleven thousand feet, at which height it was practically
invisible from the shore, across which clouds of smoke and dust were
slowly drifting as the British shells burst with devastating effect
upon the Huns' positions.

No Archibalds greeted the raiders; neither Fokkers nor Aviatiks
appeared to bar their way. For the present the flight was nothing
more than an exhilarating joy-ride.

Once Kirkwood turned his head to watch the following seaplanes. Only
one was in sight. The rest had already turned off for their
respective objectives, and even that one was beginning to plane down
towards a broad canal on which were dozens of loaded barges, their
cargoes consisting of heavy gun ammunition destined for the
batteries of Zeebrugge and Ostend.

For the present the A.P.'s task was practically a sinecure. There
was no necessity to use the wireless instrument: two hundred feet of
trail ing aerial wire is apt to be in the way during bomb-dropping
operations; besides, the raiding seaplane, not having to register
for the guns of the fleet, could refrain from reporting progress
until her return to her parent ship. So having made sure as far as
possible that the bomb dropping gear was in working order this time,
and having fitted a tray of ammunition to the Lewis gun in order to
be ready for use in case of emergencies, Kirkwood leant over the
side of the fuselage and contemplated the country beneath; the
features of which as seen from the air he knew better by this time
than any of his native land.

From Ghent Barcroft followed the course of the River Scheldt until
the town of Antwerp appeared in sight. At this point Fuller was
observed to be turning away to the right. Both seaplanes were
approaching their respective objectives.

"Bestir yourself, you lazy bounder!" shouted Billy through the voice
tube. "There's something ahead. Looks like a balloon. Get your
glasses and see what it is."

"It is a balloon," declared Kirkwood after a brief inspection. "A
captive one."

"And right over the Lierre hangars," thought the pilot. "What for?
There's nothing to observe from a belligerent point of view, unless
the bounders are expecting us. It may be that the balloon is in use
for instructional purposes. If so, I'll give the young pups cold
feet, by Jove!"

"They've spotted us," announced the A.P. "They've begun to haul the
thing down."

"Then they are too late," added Barcroft grimly. "Gun all right?
Stand by to give 'em a tray."

Tilting the ailerons the pilot swooped down towards the unwieldy,
tethered gas-bag. As he did so mushrooms of white smoke burst into
view all around the descending seaplane. The German anti-aircraft
guns were firing upon the British raiders.

Barcroft held steadily on his course. He was quite used to shrapnel
by this time. He knew, too, that soon the Hun gunners would have to
cease fire for fear of hitting their own captive balloon.

Already the German officers in the car of the balloon realised that
it was impossible for the gas-bag to be hauled down in time. Three
of them leapt into space. The fourth remained, grasping the edge of
the basket-work and staring terror-stricken at the approaching
seaplane.

In spite of the tax upon his mental energies Barcroft watched the
descent of the three. For nearly two hundred feet they dropped like
stone, then they were hidden from his view by three umbrella-like
objects. Before taking their desperate leap the Germans had provided
themselves with parachutes.

Apparently there was not one left for the remaining Hun. Suspended
betwixt earth and sky he realised the horror of his position, until,
seized by a forlorn resolve, he clambered over the side of the car
and began to swarm down the wire rope that held it in captivity.

It was hopeless from the first. In spite of the protection afforded
by the leather gloves. The metal wire cut into his palms like hot
iron. Before the luckless German had lowered himself fifty feet his
grip relaxed. Like an arrow he crashed to the ground, a thousand
feet below.

"Don't fire!" ordered the flight-sub, realising that if merely
perforated by small-calibre bullets the gas-bag would fall
harmlessly to earth. "Stand by to drop a plum--now."

The A.P. jerked the releasing lever. As he did so Barcroft set the
seaplane to climb steeply. Ten seconds later the bomb hit the
balloon fairly in the centre of its convex upper surface. The next
instant there was a vivid flash, followed by a crash that was
audible above the roar of the seaplane's engine. Sideslipping the
machine dropped almost vertically. Not until she had passed through
the outlying portion of the dense cloud of smoke from the destroyed
balloon did the pilot regain control.

A hurried glance showed that the flaming wreckage of his victim was
plunging earthwards, leaving a fiery trail in its wake. It was
falling upon the triple line of sheds in which German aeroplanes
were stored.

Like a swarm of ants the air mechanics scattered right and left to
avoid--in many cases ineffectually--the gigantic falling firebrand.
If Barcroft had any qualms concerning the fearful havoc he was about
to create upon the throng of human beings he showed none. He
remembered those bombs dropped upon the defenceless civil population
of Barborough.

"Let 'em have it hot!" he shouted.

At that comparatively low altitude there was little chance of
missing the expansive target. The ground was literally starred with
diverging jets of flame. The burning sheds collapsed like packs of
cards, the debris bursting into a series of fires. In half a minute
the hangars ceased to exist save as a funeral pyre to the mechanical
birds that would never again soar through the air.

A severed tension wire, one end of which cut Billy smartly on the
head despite the protection afforded by his airman's padded helmet,
reminded the flight-sub that again the Archibalds were having a chip
in. The planes, too, were ripped in several places, while jagged
holes through the sides of the fuselage marked the accuracy of the
shrapnel. It was, indeed, a marvel that either pilot or observer
escaped injury.

Barcroft heaved a sigh of relief as the seaplane drew away from the
shell-infested zone. In the heat of the bombing business his blood
was tingling through his veins; he was excited almost to the point
of recklessness; the risk of being "winged" by a bursting projectile
hardly troubled him. But once clear of the scene of action he
realised what a tight corner he had been in, and, although all
immediate danger was at an end, he let the motors "all out" in
desperate haste to gain a safe altitude.

He found himself comparing the recent situation to a cat and dog
encounter. So long as the feline faced the dog the latter generally
contents itself by barking and making "demonstration in force"; but
directly the cat turns tail it tears away at full speed, its sole
anxiety being to get away from its assailant for which, up to a
certain point, it had shown contemptuous bravery.

The flight-sub's thoughts were suddenly interrupted by Kirkwood
shouting through the voice-tube.

"There's Fuller a couple of miles on our left," announced the A.P.
"What's more, he's tackling three Hun machines."



CHAPTER XXVI

A FUTILE RESCUE


WITHOUT a second's hesitation Barcroft turned the rudder-bar. Almost
on the verge of sideslipping the seaplane swung round and headed
straight for the enemy aircraft.

"Something wrong with friend John," muttered the flight-sub, "or he
wouldn't turn tail to half a dozen strafed Fritzes."

Everything pointed to Barcroft's surmise being correct. Fuller's
seaplane was in flight in a double sense. He had lost the
superiority of altitude. His observer was replying to the
machine-gun fire converging upon the fugitive craft from three
different points. A hundred feet higher and about three hundred
yards astern of the British seaplane was a large, double-fuselaged
biplane. To the right and left but practically on the same
horizontal plane were two Fokkers--a tough set to be up against, but
in ordinary circumstances the dauntless flight-lieutenant would not
have hesitated to engage.

Presently the British seaplane's Lewis gun barked. It was evident
that the machine was running uncontrolled, as she was wobbling
considerably. Barcroft was now near enough to see what had happened.
There was just time for a brief glance, for his plane was
approaching the on-coming Huns at an aggregate speed of nearly 180
miles an hour.

There was no sign of Gregory, but Fuller, abandoning the joy-stick,
had climbed into the observer's seat in order to work the automatic
gun. This he did so successfully that within five seconds of the
weapon opening fire one of the Fokkers crashed earthwards,
completely out of action. Then the British gun was silent.

This was all that Barcroft could see as far as Fuller was concerned.
He had devoted all his attention to the double-fuselaged craft.

While Kirkwood was letting loose a drum of ammunition from the Lewis
gun Barcroft employed his usual tactics. He steered straight for his
antagonist. If the gun failed to do its work in time, and if the Hun
pilot's nerves did not desert him, the result would be a rending
crash in mid-air as the two swift-moving craft collided. The
interlocked wreckage, a mass of flame, would drop like a firebrand
to earth--a swift yet terrible death for friend and foe alike. But
Billy knew how the odds were against such a mutual catastrophe. The
Hun, if he managed to avoid the stream of bullets, was not likely to
"stand up" to the resistless onrush of the British seaplane.

Suddenly the double-fuselaged biplane nosedived. Only just in time
did Barcroft tilt the ailerons, for the seaplane literally scraped
the tail of his vertically-descending foe. For nearly a thousand
feet the machine "plumbed," then like a silvery dart it flattened
out.

"Old trick, Fritz," muttered Barcroft. "Well, you've lost your
altitude advantage. I'll renew your acquaintance later."

The flight-sub knew that some minutes must elapse before the
double-fuselaged machine could climb to renew the encounter. During
that interval he had time to devote his attention to the remaining
Fokker that, following Fuller with deadly persistence, was firing
the while but receiving no reply from the British craft.

Already Fuller was a couple of miles away. His antagonist was
gaining slightly. It seemed remarkable that with such a prodigious
outlay of ammunition the Huns had not succeeded in strafing their
quarry.

Suddenly Fuller's seaplane dipped. Barcroft gave vent to an
involuntary groan, but the next instant he wanted to cheer, for his
chum had looped the loop two or three times and was now heading in
the opposite direction.

"I see the move," thought Barcroft. "He's luring Fritz towards us."

The two seaplanes passed one another at less than a hundred yards.
Fuller raised his arm by way of greeting as they swept by. As he did
so shreds of canvas flew from the lower plane, and dipping abruptly
the crippled machine dropped, lurching hideously as it did so.

Almost simultaneously the Hun pilot of the Fokker collapsed across
the decking of the fuselage. The machine, no longer under control,
swayed through a distance of nearly a quarter of a mile, and then,
tilting obliquely, began a terrific tail spin that ended in a jumble
of wreckage on the unsympathetic soil of Belgium.

"Now for the double bus," muttered Billy. "The Huns will pay dearly
for strafing poor old John."

But the remaining aeroplane of the two had had enough, for, seeing
the British seaplane swooping down to engage upon round two, she
promptly sought safety in flight.

Pursuit, Barcroft knew, was futile. Not only was the fugitive going
in an easterly direction, which meant that had Billy held on in
chase he would be lured further and further away from his floating
base, but the Hun machine was more powerfully engined and possessed
an undoubted superiority of speed.

"By Jove!" shouted the A.P. "Fuller's planing down. He's got the old
bus under control of sorts."

The flight-sub looked downwards. A small rectangular patch of grey
eighteen hundred feet down confirmed the truth of Kirkwood's
statement. The injured seaplane was volplaning in wide circles. Her
pilot was about to make an involuntary landing. This, in itself, was
a highly dangerous performance, as the floats were very
unsatisfactory landingskids. It was a hundred chances to one that
the seaplane would bump hard and collapse, pinning the pilot under
the wreckage. Even if Fuller escaped with his life or without broken
limbs, he was confronted with the additional danger of being made a
prisoner.

Without a moment's delay Barcroft switched off the ignition and
commenced a volplane. At least he would be able to discover whether
his chum was able to make a safe landing. Beyond that--

"Good old Fuller!" almost yelled the A.P. "He's spotted a canal. I
see his move--artful bounder!"

Running in a direction approximately east and west was a long
stretch of artificial water. The straightness of its course showed
that it was not a river. It was bordered on either side by a broad
tow-path, which in turn was fringed by a line of poplars. With the
exception of a string of barges being towed down by a small tug (and
they were nearly two miles away) the canal looked deserted.

It was for this expanse of water that Fuller was making. Provided
there was sufficient width for the extreme breadth of his wing
spread and a margin to boot, there was little doubt of the
experienced flight-lieutenant's ability to make a safe descent.

"He's done it!" announced Kirkwood.

"If he has managed it there is no reason why we shouldn't," thought
Barcroft grimly. "Stand by, old man; we'll shove down and pick him
up."

The canal appeared to expand in size in order to meet the descending
seaplane. It required all the skill and nerve at the youthful
pilot's command to carry out his desperate plan. An error of a few
feet to right or left meant irreparable damage to the frail craft
and failure of his devoted efforts on behalf of his stranded friend.

With admirable judgment Billy brought his "bus" down, making a fine
"landing" on the surface of the canal at a distance of less than a
hundred yards from the crippled aircraft, Then, drifting gently, the
seaplane brought up alongside the bank, with one of her floats
rubbing against the edge of the tow-path.

"Nip out and hold her on, old man!" exclaimed Billy.

The A.P. obeyed promptly. Fortunately this required little or no
effort, for the thick-set though leafless trees broke the force of
what wind there was.

Barcroft quickly followed Kirkwood to the bank. Already Fuller had
got ashore, and was preparing to destroy his machine when, to his
utter astonishment, he had seen another seaplane skim over his head
and alight at a short distance off.

Running by the path Billy approached the lieutenant.

"Come along, old man!" he said hurriedly. "There's no time to be
lost. We'll give you a lift in our bus back to the old 'Hippo.'"

"Thanks," replied Fuller coolly. "What's the hurry? No Huns in
sight. I'll do this job properly."

The odour of petrol vapour wafted to Barcroft's nostrils. Fuller had
allowed the spirit to escape from the tank, and was engaged in
wrapping a piece of oil-soaked paper round a stone.

"No explosives left, I hope?" asked Billy. "None except the petrol,"
replied Fuller. "That's explosive enough, I reckon, for this job.
No, I dropped all my plums over Aerschot. Gregory's gone (s'pose you
can see that for yourself?); shot through the head; he gave a sort
of leap--he wasn't strapped in, you'll understand--and flopped right
over the fuselage."

"You've been strafed!" exclaimed Barcroft, for Fuller's quick
sentences, coupled with the fact that he winced frequently, pointed
to that.

"The child is correct," agreed the flight-lieutenant. "Machine-gun
bullet clean through the left arm. It stings a bit, but nothing
much. No, don't trouble about it now. It'll keep. Now for a blaze."

Striking a match he set light to the oiled paper and tossed the
flaming missile into the fuselage of the doomed seaplane. With a
rush of air and a lurid flare the petrol vapour caught. In an
instant the machine was enveloped in fire.

"Good enough," declared Fuller, with an air of satisfaction. "Hard
lines on the old bus, though. She was a beauty. I was just getting
used to her, too."

"Come along, old man," urged Barcroft again.

Giving a farewell glance at the burning wreckage, Fuller turned
reluctantly away and accompanied his chum to the waiting seaplane.

"We're going to pitch you out of your perch, my festive," announced
the flight-sub addressing the observer. "Fuller's tried to stop a
bullet. He didn't succeed, and as a result the nickel's left a hole
through his arm. Now, all aboard. We're lucky not to have a swarm of
Huns about our ears."

Having assisted the wounded flight-lieutenant on to the float and
thence into Kirkwood's seat in the fuselage Barcroft swarmed up and
took his place at the joy-stick.

Standing on the float and steadying himself by holding on to a
strut, the A.P. gave a vigorous push with his foot against the canal
bank. As the seaplane drifted towards the centre of the artificial
waterway he clambered nimbly to the deck of the fuselage and, lying
at full length, steadied himself by grasping the coaming surrounding
his surrendered place.

"All right?" asked Barcroft.

The motor fired smoothly. With the engine throttled down the pilot
taxied cautiously for a short distance, then increasing speed and
tilting the ailerons he started to climb.

At barely twenty feet from the ground a sudden and furious gust of
wind caught the seaplane fairly abeam. Quickly Billy actuated the
rudder-bar in order to turn the machine sufficiently to counteract
the side-drop.

It was too late. Swept bodily sideways the seaplane failed to clear
the line of poplars. The left-hand planes struck a tree-trunk and
crumpled like brown paper. The next instant the whole fabric crashed
to the ground across the tow-path.



CHAPTER XXVII

FUGITIVES


BOBBY KIRKWOOD was the first of the trio to recover his scattered
senses. The impact had hurled him violently forward, and cannoning
off Barcroft's back he had slid more or less gently to the ground.
The shock had forced Billy against the for'ard side of the coaming,
well-nigh winding him, while at the same time his head came into
contact with the framework, thus causing him to see a most gorgeous
galaxy of stars.

Well it was that the observer's body glanced off that of the pilot;
otherwise the A.P. would have been instantly killed by the
swiftly-revolving propeller. As it was he escaped by a hairbreadth.

Fuller was not so fortunate. The sudden change of momentum had the
result of crushing his already wounded arm, besides giving him a
nasty blow on the forehead. He, too, began to wonder dimly whether
he was witnessing a superb display of Brock's fireworks.

As Kirkwood regained his feet the wreckage subsided still more. The
propeller blades striking the ground were shattered to fragments,
while the motor, released of its "load," began to race with terrific
speed.

It was this nerve-racking sound that recalled Barcroft to a sense of
action. Switching off the ignition he slid from the chassis and
surveyed the scene of desolation.

"Come along, Fuller. Let's give you a hand!" he exclaimed.

Awkwardly the flight-lieutenant descended from his precarious perch.
The two stood in silent contemplation for some seconds. Verily they
realised that they were very much "in the cart." Stranded in a
country overrun by hostile troops, far from the coast--always the
preliminary goal of a seaman who is making a bid for freedom--their
chance of seeing the inside of a German prison loomed large upon
their mental horizon.

"Let's get rid of the old bus while she's warm," suggested Barcroft.
"There's no possible chance of getting her repaired sufficiently for
even a short flight, and it won't do to let the Huns patch her up."

"Shoulders to the wheel, lads," exclaimed Fuller. "One of mine's a
bit groggy, but I feel like shifting a steam-roller with the other."

By their united efforts the wrecked seaplane was toppled over into
the canal. The sudden contact of the cold water with the hot
cylinders would, they knew, fracture the castings and make the motor
useless until complicated and costly repairs had been executed--even
if the Germans succeeded in fishing the debris out of the mud at the
bottom of the canal.

"Now we'll make tracks," decided Fuller. "Wonder there aren't
soldiers on the spot already."

"Yes, we'll make tracks," agreed Barcroft, "but not the ones you are
keen on leaving behind."

He pointed to the muddy tow-path and to the comparatively dry ground
on the other side of the row of poplars.

"We'll walk backwards as far as the field," he continued. "The
Boches are bound to examine the footprints. If they see that they
lead in the direction of the canal it may baffle 'em a bit. We must
look sharp. I see the water falling an inch or so."

"But the canal isn't tidal," remarked Kirkwood.

"I agree," assented Billy. "The slight fall tells me that the
nearest lock has been opened. That means a barge is on its way, and,
much as I regret missing the sight of a Hun cargo boat bumping on
the wreckage of the old bus, prudence demands that we sheer off."

Having walked backwards until they reached hard ground the trio set
off cautiously. The country consisted of tilled fields--the work of
impressed Belgians, forced by their taskmasters to cultivate the
ground to provide foodstuffs for the Huns. The absence of hedges
gave the land an unfamiliar appearance as far as the three British
officers were concerned. What was of more pressing significance
there was a lack of efficient cover, the only means of securing
shelter being by keeping close to the trees that bounded the fields.

"There's a spinny of sorts in there," said Kirkwood, pointing to a
circular cluster of bushes. "I vote we make for that and repair
damages."

"And find ourselves surrounded by dozens of Boches," added Fuller.
"Naturally, once they found the wreckage of our machine they would
search the nearest cover. We must make for those woods What say you,
old bird?"

"Yes, and remain till nightfall," added Barcroft.

The wood was nearly a mile away, and presented an expanse of
leafless trees extending nearly twice that distance. The depth of
the wood the fugitives had no means of discovering.

For the last four hundred yards the three officers crawled and
crouched, for the ground was as flat and unbroken as a table-top.
Away on the right could be discerned a red-tiled farmhouse, close to
it a roofless barn, with the two charred gables standing up clearly
against the sky. Further away was a village of considerable size,
but in all directions there were no signs of human beings or of
cattle.

"Thank goodness we are here at last," exclaimed Fuller, throwing
himself upon the ground. "I don't want you fellows to think that I'm
piling it on, but my rotten ankle's played old Harry with me.
Fractured it on a ringbolt on the 'Cursus' at Harwich," he
explained. "Had six weeks in hospital, and thought it got fixed up
all right, but it isn't."

"And your wound?" asked the A.P.

"Pooh! Nothing," replied Fuller unconcernedly. "That's a simple
matter. If this ankle crocks properly, I'll make you fellows carry
on without me. I can hang out a couple of days until you're clear
and then give myself up."

"I'm jolly well sure you don't," said Barcroft firmly. "We three
sink or swim together. Think you'll be able to swarm up that tree if
we give you a hand?"

The flight-lieutenant eyed the gnarled trunk somewhat dubiously.

"Might," he replied. "I'll try, anyway. What's the idea?"

"To lie close until it gets dark."

"But why that tree? It's on the edge of the wood. Why not go further
in, where it's ever so much thicker?"

"Because if the Huns track us this far they'll naturally conclude
that we've bolted for cover. They'll doubtless beat the interior of
the wood and not pay much attention to the part nearest the canal.
Besides, from this particular tree we can command a wide outlook
without running much risk of detection."

By the aid of their belts Barcroft and Kirkwood succeeded in
assisting the wounded officer to gain the lowermost branch. Thence
it was a comparatively simple matter to climb another thirty feet.
Here two huge limbs gave a tolerably secure perch, wide enough to
hide the fugitives from the sight of any persons passing underneath,
and yet able to afford an outlook over a wide expanse of open
country.

"Now let's look at that injured arm," said Barcroft, producing his
"first aid" outfit. "Slip his coat off, Bobby; we don't want to cut
that away. H'm! clean hole, by Jove! Iodine and gauze, old man.
That's capital. I've morphia tablets here; if you feel in much pain
I'll give you half a one and no more. Can't afford to have your
brain dulled by morphia at this stage of the proceedings, John.',

"That's easier," said Fuller with a sigh of relief. "Now if you'll
be so good as to unlace my boot I'll massage this low-down ankle."

"You'll keep still," ordered Barcroft firmly, "We'll do the rubbing
business--if only to keep our blood circulating."

"Did you save your map?" inquired Fuller.

"I burnt mine."

"Yes, I have mine," replied the flight-sub. "I make it about sixty
miles from the Dutch frontier--not much use making a shot for the
coast, I take it?"

"Phew! Sixty miles--I did that distance once on a walking tour. For
pleasure, mark you," said Fuller. "Plenty to eat, a decent show to
put up at every night, and quite fine weather and I had galled heels
by the end of the second day."

"If we could sneak a captive balloon like you did at Sylt," remarked
the A.P. "That would be top-hole."

"A bit of sheer good luck," said Fuller reminiscently. "That sort of
dose isn't often repeated. Tressidar and I broke into a house and
collared suits of mufti. That won't do here, though. We were on
Danish soil then; now we are in occupied Belgium. Caught and we are
shot as spies, while the unfortunate civilians to whom the clothes
belong would be strung up for assisting us to escape, whether they
did it knowingly or otherwise. Time for more amateur burglar work
when we're on Dutch soil. That's my opinion. You see, if we cross
the frontier in uniform we'll be interned. I remember----"

"Look!" ejaculated the A.P., pointing in the direction of the
farmhouse.

Making their way across the fields were about a hundred people, men
and women, herded together in rough military formation and escorted
by grey-coated German infantry. The civilians were on their way to
forced labour in the fields. Woe betide the luckless Belgian, male
or female, who showed the faintest resentment, or lagged behind.
Blows and kicks were administered with impartial severity by the
brutal guards, while some did not hesitate to prod the helpless
human cattle with the butt-ends of their rifles.

"And yet there are worms in England who cry out about the dilution
of labour and the encroachment of the rights of the working man,"
remarked Barcroft. "This is the sort of rights they'd get if the
Huns once occupied even a portion of the Homeland."

"Poor bounders!" exclaimed the A.P. as he fondled the holster of his
revolver. "I'd like to put a shot through that red-faced swine's
head."

"You'd only make it worse for us and for them," said Fuller.

"True," assented Kirkwood, "but a fellow cannot disguise his
feelings in such circumstances. One thing seems certain: the Boches
haven't got wind of our presence."

"Don't know so much about that," said Billy. "Unless I'm much
mistaken there's a patrol coming this way--and dogs, too, by Jove!"

In less than ten minutes (it had taken the trio an hour to cover the
same distance) the patrol gained the field in which the Belgians
were literally slaving. Apparently the crowd of workers disturbed
the trail, for the bloodhounds, three massive-limbed, heavy-jowled
creatures, no longer kept their noses close to the ground and
followed the fugitives' track without the slightest deviation.
Instead they wandered round in circles, growling rather than baying,
and showing every indication of having lost the scent.

Followed a heated controversy between the Huns with the dogs and the
Germans guarding the field labourers, until the latter, ordering
their charges to assemble, marched them into the field next
adjoining and nearer to the canal. Four Belgians, however, remained.
These, after what was evidently a homily as to their behaviour,
followed the patrol with the bloodhounds.

The scent once lost took some time to pick up again, but eventually
one of the animals stopped at the foot of the tree in which the
fugitives were hiding and set up a succession of low, deep cries.
The other dogs, apparently on a different trail, disappeared in the
wood, their keepers having all their work cut out to hold them in
leash.

"One at least of the English swine is up this tree, Max," said a
corporal, addressing one of the two privates with him. "That is
certain. The others have gone elsewhere. I wonder that they had the
sense to separate."

"We'll make sure of this one," said Max grimly.

"Ach! That is so," agreed the corporal. "Here, Karl, you speak this
outlandish language. Tell this fellow to climb and see if the
Englishman is there."

Turning to the Belgian who had been compelled to remain with them,
Karl spoke to him in Flemish. Being ignorant of the Walloon language
Barcroft was unable to understand his reply.

"The fool says he is hungry and has not enough strength to climb,"
said Karl, translating for the primary benefit of the corporal and
for the secondary information of Billy Barcroft.

"Tell him," replied the Hun, "that he must go--and be quick about
it. If he succeeds in finding the Englishman, then I will inform the
commandant and see that the fellow gets a double ration to-night.
That ought to satisfy his hunger."

Lying at full length upon the sturdy branches the three airmen could
distinctly hear the rasping of the Belgian's boots against the bark
and the short sharp gasps that betokened a man obviously out of
condition.

The A.P. glanced at Barcroft and pointed to his revolver. The look
indicated clearly enough what he meant. There were but three
Germans. There were also three determined Britons all armed with
revolvers. It would be an easy matter to settle the hash of the Huns
and trust to flight before the rest of the patrol, alarmed by the
shots, could arrive upon the scene.

But the flight-sub shook his head. The risk was too great. Reprisals
would automatically follow upon the luckless peasants, who were
bound to be regarded as accomplices in the attack upon the three
soldiers.

Presently a pair of hands gripped the rough bark of the bough on
which Barcroft was lying--long, lean, gnarled fingers almost
claw-like in appearance. The next instant the Belgian's head and
shoulders appeared above the rounded edge of the bough.

For a brief second Billy's eyes met those of the climber. The
fugitives were discovered.



CHAPTER XXVIII

TRACKED


AT the sight of the lean, cadaverous features of the Belgian
Barcroft had to exercise a tremendous lot of restraint to control
his desire to utter some sort of exclamation. He had no wish to harm
the fellow, who, as he knew, was acting under compulsion, with overt
bribery thrown in. In fact he felt sorry for the man, whose pathetic
eyes and drawn features portrayed both hunger and misery.

Yet in an instant the climber turned his face aside and resolutely
hauled himself upon the branch on which Billy was lying. He was now
in full view of the other officers. Fortunately neither of them
spoke nor moved, yet the mental tension was acute.

Standing upright upon the bough and carefully preserving his balance
the Belgian outstretched his arm to grasp the branch above.

"The bounder doesn't want to take unnecessary chances," thought
Barcroft. "He wouldn't shout while he was only holding on by his
fingers. Now he's able to get a firm grip in case he thinks we'll
heave him out of it."

But no. The flight-sub was totally wrong in his surmise. The man,
deliberately ignoring the presence of the three fugitives, climbed
still higher, until he gained the topmost branch capable of
supporting his weight.

Then, having leisurely scanned the surrounding tree-tops, he shouted
something to the Germans standing at the foot of the British
officers' hiding-place.

For a moment Barcroft and his companions were again plunged into the
throes of suspense. "The pig says that there are no signs of the
Englishmen," interpreted Karl.

"Donnerwetter!" grunted the corporal. "So much for the bloodhound,
and Herr Major is ever boasting of what the brute can do. He's wrong
for once at least, only I dare not tell him so. Tell the Belgian to
come down. I'll soon send him up another tree a little further on."

"That's right," agreed Max. "Make the fellow work till he drops. If
he breaks his neck there's one of the rabble the less."

At the order the climber descended, as before paying no heed to the
three officers. Upon regaining the ground he was marched off to make
another ascent on a useless search. An hour later, having, as they
thought, thoroughly searched the wood, the patrol withdrew, cursing
and grumbling at their ill-luck, since, it appeared, a reward of two
hundred and fifty marks for the arrest of the fugitives had been
offered.

"A proper sport, that Belgian," said Fuller in a whisper, realising
the wisdom of speaking in a low tone lest the Huns had left men to
guard the woods. "He could have given us away as easy as winking."

"Perhaps he'll inform the Boches now he's out of sight," hazarded
the cautious A.P.

"Great Scott! I hope not," ejaculated Fuller. "In fact I'm willing
to lay long odds that he won't. I'd like to meet that chap on the
quiet again. I'd make it worth his while."

"So would I," added Barcroft. "Well, this affair has done us a good
turn. The Huns have evidently satisfied themselves that we are not
anywhere in this wood. The coast will be clear for to-night. How's
that arm, old bird?"

"Feeling a bit stiff," replied Fuller. "The air's so confoundedly
cold."

"It is a bit fresh," agreed Kirkwood. "And probably it will freeze
hard to-night. And your ankle?"

"Can't feel any sensation in it," replied the flight-lieutenant.
"The damage, if any, will assert itself when I place foot to ground.
What an ass I was not to have brought my Thermos. Full of good old
hot tea, too. I left it on the bank, after the smash."

"You deserve a vote of censure for importing food stuffs into
German-occupied territory, old man," said Barcroft. "Can't you
imagine a thirsty Hun mopping that stuff?"

"You speak for yourself, my festive," retorted the
flight-lieutenant. "What did you do with _your_ flasks?"

"They went down with the wreckage," replied Billy.

"Yours, perhaps," said Kirkwood. "My Thermos got smashed when we
crashed. I heard the glass go, and I remember the hot liquid
escaping and running over my gloves."

"Then you are all right for a feast," retorted Fuller. "Goatskin
soaked in tea, eh? Sort of cannibalistic feast."

"Don't insinuate that I'm a giddy goat," protested the A.P. "It is
like a case of--oh, dash it all!"

Kirkwood's exclamation was occasioned by the binoculars slipping
from his benumbed fingers and falling to the ground. Rolling a few
feet they lay in clear view silent evidence to the hiding place of
their owner.

"Then you are a goat--that proves it," said Fuller. "Hullo! What's
the move?"

Kirkwood slipping out of his leather coat, was already about to
descend to retrieve his lost property. So far the coast seemed
clear, for the Belgian labourers and their guards had moved to a
field beyond range of vision. Since it was safe to conjecture that
they would return to the farm buildings for the night the danger lay
in the fact that they would almost assuredly spot the conspicuous
binoculars as they repassed.

The A.P. dropped after swarming down about twenty feet of trunk and
alighted softly. His first care was to obliterate his footprints in
the bare earth, for the ground surrounding the tree trunk was
absolutely devoid of grass, and although sufficiently hard to
withstand the impression of a person walking it was not proof
against the impact of a man wearing a pair of heavy boots and
dropping from a height of seven or eight feet.

Then, crouching, he made his way towards his cherished binoculars.
Just as he picked them up and placed them in his pocket, for he had
left the sling case with his comrades, there was a rustling in the
undergrowth. The next instant a huge dog, growling savagely, leapt
upon him.

The animal was of the lurcher breed--a type encouraged in the German
army for various duties, including field ambulance work, guarding
and tracking prisoners and drawing machine-guns. Although smaller
than the bloodhound it possessed greater swiftness, while its
strength and ferocity were only slightly inferior.

Luckily Kirkwood did not lose his presence of mind. Used to dogs,
the experience he had had with playful canines would be turned to
good account.

Clenching his leather-gloved hand the A.P. let out with his left.
His fist, taking the lurcher fairly on the point of the nose, sent
the animal reeling. The respite was but momentary. Like a dart the
dog flew straight for the young officer's throat.

Kirkwood met the animal as it leapt in midair. His right hand, with
its protection of the undressed leather gripped the lurcher round
the muzzle, his fingers and thumb meeting inside the brute's
wide-open jaws. Instantly the A.P.'s left hand grasped the dog's
lower jaw.

So far so good. The animal, unable to bite, attempted to shake
himself clear. Foiled in this direction he planted his hind legs
firmly in the ground and, giving his body a series of jerks, sought
to pull the A.P. off his balance.

"Shoot the brute!" exclaimed Barcroft from above. "Risk it! It can't
be helped. Clap the muzzle close to the brute's hide."

But Bobby thought otherwise. Even if he could afford the risk of
letting go the dog's jaws with one hand and draw his revolver the
muffled report would still be sufficiently audible to alarm the
Huns.

For perhaps half a minute he stood his ground, contenting himself by
prising the lurcher's jaws apart. Then, slowly at first, he began to
bend the animal's head backwards. It was a horrible yet necessary
task--one that taxed the A.P.'s strength and endurance to the
uttermost. Already he could feel the dog's teeth penetrating the
gloves, and those saliva-streaming fangs meant trouble once they
pierced the flesh.

Yet the man was winning through. Back and back he levered the
animal's head. The brute's breath was coming in short, irregular
pants; its blood-flecked eyes were almost bursting from their
sockets. Still it struggled furiously, striving in vain to break
away from the A.P.'s vice-like grip.

"By Jove! He'll never do it," thought Barcroft. "The brute's tiring
him out."

At the risk of barked shins and elbows the flight-sub descended from
his perch. Gaining the ground he drew his revolver, wrapped his
scarf several times round the weapon to muffle the sound of the
explosion, and cautiously approached the combatants.

Extreme care was necessary, for the lurcher, driven to desperation,
was turning his antagonist round and round. Kirkwood, his whole
energies devoted to twisting the animal's neck, was unable to
counteract the dog's movements, nor did the animal remain
sufficiently still to enable Barcroft to plant the muzzle of his
weapon firmly against its ribs.

The end came with unexpected suddenness.

With a distinctly audible crash the lurcher's vertebra snapped. Its
body seemed instantly to grow limp. The sudden cessation of
resistance caused Kirkwood to fall forward across the still
quivering body of his enemy.

Barcroft lifted his chum and set him on his feet. The A.P., now the
duel with death was done, was as pale as a sheet and trembling in
every limb.

"I'll be all right in a minute," he gasped. "Feel as ill as a
seasick cat."

"Sit down," ordered Billy, and grasping his comrade by the nape of
the neck he bent his head until it rested on his knees.

"Keep like that a while," he continued. "I'll get rid of
incriminating evidence. My word, what a lump!" he added, as he
lifted the dead brute by its hind legs. "Half a hundredweight, I
should imagine."

Keeping the carcass clear of the ground the flight-sub carried it
quite fifty yards through the wood before depositing it under a
bush.

This necessary task performed, he retraced his steps.

"Chirpy again?" he inquired.

"Quite," replied Kirkwood.

"You look jolly warm," continued Barcroft.

"I feel it."

"Then get a move on and swarm up here," interrupted Fuller's voice.
"I'm as cold as charity and could do with a human warmingpan.

"All clear?" inquired Barcroft.

"By Jove, no!" was Fuller's hurried rejoinder. "Look sharp, you
fellows. There are half a dozen of 'em coming this way."

Making sure that they had left behind them no evidence of their
presence the two airmen re-ascended to their lofty perch.

"You're steaming like an overworked horse, old man," said Billy
addressing the A.P. "I'll throw your coat over you. You can't sit up
or the Fritzes will spot us."

Trudging across the tilled land were eight or nine greatcoated Huns,
armed with rifles. Two of their number were drawing a light cart.

"What's that for, I wonder?" whispered Kirkwood, for the Germans
were still a considerable distance off, yet making almost in a
straight line for the tree in which the three chums were hidden.

"Can't say," replied Fuller. "I never saw Huns with a contraption
like that before. Rations, possibly: they may mean to camp out here
just to keep us company."

The fugitives were not left long in doubt, for on arriving at a spot
twenty yards from the edge of the wood the party halted and
proceeded to don flexible metallic masks with hideous-looking
snouts. This done, the corporal in charge inspected each man's
face-protection with deliberate thoroughness, while from a distance
two Hun officers in the uniform of the Engineers watched the
proceedings.

"By smoke!" muttered Barcroft under his breath. "They're going to
have a shot at gassing us."

At a brisk order the lid of the cart was thrown back revealing a
couple of cylinders to which were attached lengths of armoured
metallic hosepipe terminating in elongated nozzles. First the
cylinders were placed upon the ground and air pumped into them until
the required pressure was obtained. Then each apparatus was strapped
to a man's back, a soldier being in attendance to hold the nozzle.

It was fairly safe for the three British officers to watch the
proceedings since the height of the branch enabled them to look down
upon the heads of the gassing party, while the latter could not look
up owing to the straps that secured the lower portion of their masks
to their shoulders.

"Reminds me of goblins at a panto," thought Bobby. "Wonder when
they're going to start?"

As a matter of precaution he tied his handkerchief over his nose and
mouth, an example that his companions hastened to copy. They
realised that it was but a sorry protection--useless against the
full strength of the deadly chlorine, but sufficient, perhaps, to
ward off the effects of a "tail-end" of the poison-cloud.

Weirdly fascinated the fugitives watched the proceedings. It seemed
strange to witness the diabolical preparations for their intended
execution. Dimly Barcroft wondered whether he would be conscious
when he fell from the bough, or whether the gas would overcome him
instantly.

"The first whiff and I'll shoot," he thought grimly. "I'd like to
shatter the nozzles of those pretty masks and let the brutes have a
good sniff at their vile mixture."

A faint hiss betokened the fact that the taps controlling the
discharge tubes had been turned on. Clouds of black vapour, eddying
and seething, issued from the nozzles and rose sullenly in the cold,
damp air.



CHAPTER XXIX

GASSED


SOMETHING fluttered past the flight-sub's ear. It was a dead leaf.
Whisked by a sudden gust it disappeared. Simultaneously the wind
moaned dismally betwixt the gaunt branches.

Hitherto the air had been heavy and still. Now, almost miraculously,
a stiff breeze had sprung up, blowing in the direction of the
infernal gas cylinders, just as they liberated their poisonous
contents.

The rolling columns of vapour, forced back by the wind, literally
enveloped the hideously masked operators. More, the deadly cloud,
keeping close to the ground, travelled at prodigious speed towards
the two Hun officers, who hitherto had been thoroughly enjoying the
proceedings.

Quickly their brutal hilarity changed to an attitude of terror, as
the death-dealing gas, spreading from the right and left of them,
bore down at a rate exceeding that of a trotting horse. For a brief
moment Barcroft had a vision of two grey-coated forms, two pairs of
heels in the air and two pairs of outstretched arms. Then the cloud
hid them from sight.

Already the operators, finding that the gas had been misdirected,
had shut off the controlling valves. But the mischief was already
done. When the cloud had drifted away before the now steady breeze
the German officers could be discerned lying on the ground and
beating a frantic tattoo with their elbows and heels as the
poisonous vapour tore their lungs.

Aghast the corporal watched his superiors' death agonies. While his
men hastened to render aid--a useless task--the luckless non com.,
tearing away his mask and liberating the poisonous vapour, held his
face close to the hissing nozzle. Then he, too, dropped, writhing on
the ground in mortal pain.

Finding that the gas-masks impeded their action the men who gathered
round the dying officers discarded their protection, since the fumes
of the first discharge had passed far beyond the scene. But they had
not reckoned on a repetition of the dose. Suddenly overwhelmed by
the fumes that issued uncontrolled from one of the cylinders, five
of the men were stricken down. The remaining few, who had not
deprived themselves of their masks, made no attempt to check the
outpouring cloud. They promptly fled.

"By Jove, if the wind lulls we are done for!" thought Barcroft. "A
fellow wouldn't stand a ghost of a chance after a sniff of that
stuff. Wonder how long the gas lasts?"

A back eddy sent a faint tinge of chlorine over the prostrate trio.
It was as much as Billy could do to restrain himself from tearing
his handkerchief from his mouth and gasping for breath. Fuller
coughed heavily, while the A.P. rose to a kneeling position. Had not
Barcroft grasped him by the arm he would have toppled off the bough.
Then came another rush of pure air and the danger was past.

It was nearly twenty minutes before the apparatus exhausted itself.
For nearly half a mile the track of the gas could be followed. The
rich dark earth was turned a sickly yellow. Trees on the edge of the
adjoining field were literally bleached by the corrosive vapour,
while its effect upon the bodies of the victims of their own
infernal contrivance was to make it difficult to distinguish between
the colour of their uniform and that of their hideously drawn
features.

"I vote we shift," suggested Barcroft. "The Boches evidently have a
suspicion that we are somewhere in this wood. It's positively not
healthy to remain."

"I think otherwise, with due deference to you," objected Fuller.
"Granted the Huns imagine we are here. Those bloodhounds told them
that; but after this delightful fiasco of the gas-business they'll
take it for certain that if we are here we've been done in. So it
would be well to sit tight till dark--much as I want to be on the
move."

"What is the effect of chlorine gas upon food?" inquired the A.P.

"Rotten, I should imagine. Why?" asked Billy in surprise.

"Because there's food and drink down there," continued Kirkwood,
pointing to the body of the corporal. "These fellows, for some
reason, are in heavy marching order. There's almost certain to be
grub in his pack and I can see his water bottle. We can't afford to
be too squeamish, you know."

"Don't fancy German tack steeped in poison," remarked Fuller.
"Although I feel as if I could eat almost anything. As for
water--well, there's plenty of that about."

"And that's what makes me think that the fellow has something better
than water in his canteen. At any rate, here goes."

Giving a glance round to see that no one was in sight the A.P. again
descended to earth. Gingerly unbuckling the dead soldier's knapsack
he produced half a loaf of black bread, a tin of meat and a
hermetically-sealed box that afterwards proved to contain biscuits.
One sniff at the bread was enough. Kirkwood promptly replaced it and
carefully rebuckled the straps of the pack. The man's water-bottle
he risked taking. Unscrewing the cork he found that the bottle
contained neat Schnapps.

"One teaspoonful only for you, Fuller," he announced as he rejoined
his comrades with the spoils. "Raw spirit will play the deuce with
that wound of yours."

"You are quite right," agreed the flight-lieutenant as Barcroft
proceeded to prise open the meat tin. Its contents consisted of
tightly packed sausages. "For the same reason I suppose I must
abstain from rich food. Give me a biscuit, you despoiler of the
dead."

Late in the afternoon another party of Germans arrived upon the
scene, this time merely to collect the victims of the gas and to
remove the instruments of retribution.

"Double patrols at all cross-roads to-night, curse it!" said one of
the soldiers. "Always more work. These Englishmen must be stiff by
this time. Why send us out to arrest corpses?"

"We don't know that the gas has settled them," replied his
companion. "Although it did the trick very neatly for Johannes
Muller. I'm sorry for him. As for the ober-leutnant----"

He shrugged his shoulders expressively. Evidently the officer was a
typical Prussian.

"These English airmen played the deuce at Aerschot and Lierre,"
continued the first speaker. "It will go badly with them if they're
caught, but, as I said, it's my opinion that they are done for
already. Double patrols on a night like this. It's as bad as the
trenches at Ypres."

"Fortunately I am warned for the Golden Lion cross-roads," said his
companion. "As soon as the leutnant has made the rounds our party
will make tracks for the cabaret. I am an old campaigner, Fritz."

"Ach! Do not, then, get caught," cautioned the other as he slammed
the lid of the box on the cart. "It will be safe enough between
midnight and two o'clock. I've a mind to join you, only it's a
goodish step from Quatre Vents."

"Where's the map?" inquired Fuller, after the fatigue party had
disappeared. "The 'Golden Lion' he said? That's it--_le Lion
Doré_--it's marked here. Luck, boys! It's on the way to the
frontier. Roll on, eleven o'clock. Only six hours more. Why didn't
we bring a gramophone, or even a pack of cards?"

Slowly the leaden-footed hours sped. Darkness fell upon the scene.
To add to the cold and discomfort; a chilly rain followed the
"piping down" of the wind. The gnarled bough, rendered slippery with
the moisture, was hardly safe. Its condition presaged danger when
the time came for the three fugitives to attempt to descend the tree
trunk. What was more there was every indication of the wet turning
into ice.

Even the airmen's thick leather coats and fleece-lined gloves
afforded but scant protection against the rigours of the penetrating
air. Again and again Billy consulted the luminous hand of his watch.
Would the hour of eleven never come?

"Why wait any longer?" asked the A.P., his teeth chattering with the
cold. "We can make our way cautiously through the wood. We'll be a
mile nearer to the Golden Lion crossroads when we get to the other
side. We'll be too benumbed if we stop here."

"All right," agreed Barcroft. "Belts together, lads. We'll lower you
as far as we can, John. Mind that ankle of yours when you drop."

It was an eerie business lowering Fuller through the darkness, but
without mishap he alighted on the soft ground. Then having thrown
down the water bottle and the rest of the provisions his two
comrades rejoined him.

"All right?" whispered Barcroft.

"Right as ninepence," replied the flight-lieutenant. "Lead on,
Macduff."

Guided by a luminous spirit-compass Billy plunged into the wood, his
companions following in single file. Already the rain had been
sufficiently heavy to moisten the ground in spite of the protection
afforded by the leafless branches. Here and there a dry twig cracked
under their feet; again and again they had to make detours to avoid
thick-set undergrowth; once their progress was impeded by a
knee-deep but sluggish brook, but without mishap the fugitives
gained the remote side of the wood.

Beyond all was dark as pitch. The sky being overcast even the
starlight was denied them. Presently a lantern gleamed in the
distance, its yellow glimmer lighting up the high-pitched roof and
quaint chimneys of a tall building that had evidently escaped the
ruin of war.

Barcroft nudged the A.P.

"The 'Golden Lion'," he announced. "And another hour and a half to
wait."



CHAPTER XXX

THE BARN BY THE RIVER


THE distant light from the lantern glittered on the bayonets of the
sentries, who, sheltering as best they might from the rain, paced
stolidly to and fro at the bleak cross-roads. Presently the gleam
increased in intensity, throwing distorted shadows upon the gaunt
poplars of the road-side.

"The lieutenant going the rounds," whispered Fuller. "Fancy the fool
taking a lantern with him. Wonder if he's afraid of the dark?"

The quivering bayonets stiffened into immobility as the Hun officer
approached the now alert sentries. The fugitives could just
distinguish the guttural 'Wer da?' of the challenge, then an
unintelligible exchange of words.

The German officer and his escort moved on. The sentries, sloping
arms, resumed their monotonous beat until the round had disappeared
from sight and hearing.

Seemingly interminable minutes passed, until just as midnight was
approaching there came a low whistle through the darkness.

"_Hier!_" replied one of the men.

"All safe," rejoined the new-comer. "Yes, both of you. What a night!
It's not fit for a dog to be abroad."

"Now," whispered Barcroft at the expiration of another long ten
minutes. "Ankle all right, old man?"

"Quite," replied Fuller mendaciously. It was far from right, but the
flight-lieutenant, game to the core, had no intention of letting his
chums know that every time he set foot to the ground excruciating
pains racked him.

Across the clayey soil, now almost knee-deep in mud, the daring trio
literally floundered, their immediate objective being the endmost of
a line of tall trees at a distance of fifty yards from the
cross-roads.

"Steady!" cautioned Billy as the _pavé_, glistening even in the
gloom, became visible. "I'll push on and see that the coast is
clear. Back in a brace of shakes."

The trees cast sombre shadows as the flight sub drew near; rain,
closely approaching sleet, fell in a steady downpour; the wind had
resumed its doleful whine. Altogether the climatic conditions were
horrible.

"This is absolutely the limit," thought Billy, until his
characteristic optimism reasserted itself. "Perhaps it's as well,
though. The Huns don't like sticking it and have departed. A fine
night and our risks would be greatly increased."

He pulled up with startling suddenness. Less than ten paces ahead of
him was a German sentry. Sheltering under the lee of the outer most
tree the fellow was actually looking straight in the flight-sub's
direction.

For several seconds Barcroft stood stock still, debating whether to
throw himself upon the man or seek safety in flight. The sentry, his
coat-collar turned up and his hands resting upon the muzzle of his
rifle, appeared as immobile as if fashioned of stone. He was an
oldish man. The flight-sub was certain of that fact; more, he wore
glasses.

"A Landsturmer, and as blind as a bat," thought the young officer.
"There were three sentries, then; two have gone to the estaminet,
the old boy is told to remain at his post. Now what's to be done?
Something, or Fuller and Kirkwood will be forging ahead to find me
and then there'll be damage done."

Very cautiously Barcroft began to back away from the unsuspecting
Hun. The man coughed and hunched his shoulders still more. At the
sound Billy again stood rigid, half expecting the sentry to slope
arms and resume his beat. Nothing happening, the flight-sub withdrew
as silently and stealthily as the slippery state of the _pavé_
permitted.

"Well?" whispered the A.P.

"Hist!" was Barcroft's only reply, then grasping his companions by
their arms he led them back until they were well out of the sentry's
hearing--even supposing that he possessed the normal use of his
ears.

"A Boche over there," reported Barcroft. "Nearly rammed him
broadside on. Blind as a bat; a regular septuagenarian. We'll make a
slight detour and have another shot at crossing the road. It's open
country beyond."

This time the highway presented no difficulty, and with renewed
vigour the trio struggled through the tenacious slime beyond.

It was Barcroft's plan to keep to the fields as much as possible and
follow the road on a parallel course. It was infinitely harder
going, but there was less risk of blundering upon a German outpost,
while at intervals military motor-cars tore at break-neck speed over
the slippery _pavé_, their iron-shod wheels slithering dangerously
on the slimy stones.

In almost total silence the dreary trek was maintained throughout
the night, with the exception of two brief halts. Gamely Fuller
"stuck it," although his ankle was getting worse under the strain.
His left arm, too, was throbbing in spite of careful bandaging, yet
no word of complaint came from his lips.

At half past six in the morning Barcroft called a halt.

"By dead reckoning I estimate we have covered twenty-five miles," he
announced. "That's not so dusty. It will be dawn in another hour.
We'll have to find a place and lie doggo until to-night. How's the
victualling department, purser?"

"I can spare a couple of biscuits apiece," declared the A.P. "And a
small tot of Schnapps. You'll have to wait till lunch time for the
sausage tack. I'm counting on a three days' basis, you know."

"Very good," replied Barcroft approvingly. "There is a hovel or barn
ahead. We'll make for that."

The outbuilding consisted of stone walls and a tiled roof, the
latter in a state of dilapidation. The massive oaken door had been
partly wrenched from its hinges. Within, the floor was of trodden
earth mixed with lime. The place was absolutely bare.

"Not even a bundle of straw," declared the A.P. "The roof leaks like
a sieve. Still, it is better than nothing at all."

"The only place to hide in is under the rafters," said the
flight-sub. "Those two planks lying over the beams will serve that
purpose should necessity occur. I would suggest that we keep watch
by turns--two-hour tricks. That will give each man four consecutive
hours' rest. I'll take first trick; you, Bobby, will relieve me and
John will follow on. Now to bed, you roysterers."

Fuller and the A.P. needed no second bidding. Rolling themselves in
their leather coats that fortunately acted as waterproofs, and with
their heads pillowed on their padded flying helmets, they were soon
sound asleep.

Taking up his post by the open door--he made no attempt to close it
lest the fact would be remarked by people living in the
district--Barcroft commenced his dreary vigil. Although bodily and
mentally tired he knew that his comrades were more in need of rest
than he. It was merely a case of "sticking it"; happy in the
knowledge that the guerdon, in the shape of precious liberty, was
twenty-five miles nearer than it had been seven hours previously.

Gradually, as the sullen dawn overcame the blackness of the night,
the dreary landscape unfolded itself to the watcher's eyes--an
expanse of flat country broken here and there with isolated
buildings. Within fifty yards of the barn where the fugitives
sheltered was a fairly broad river, that described almost a complete
semicircle around the building.

"It's running north," soliloquised Billy. "Wonder if it's the Aa?
Hanged if I can fix our position with certainty! We've crossed five
or six railway lines, and half a dozen small streams. Hang it all!
We can't be more than five or six miles from the frontier. By Jove,
we are close to the road, though! Wonder if that bridge is guarded?"

After a short interval a convoy of motor waggons thundered past. The
A.P., roused out of his sleep, sat up.

"What's that--an air raid?" he asked drowsily.

"No, only traffic," replied Billy. "No cause for alarm. You've
another forty minutes yet."

A little later on a barge, quite eighty feet in length, manned by a
couple of Belgians and towed by a miserably gaunt horse, descended
the river. As it rounded the bend the cumbersome craft ran aground.
Its stern, being still afloat, was swung round by the force of the
wind and jammed against the opposite bank.

At the impact, slight though it was, the hatch of the after cabin
was thrown back and German soldiers scrambled on deck. One of them
was smoking a long pipe with a bent stem. He evidently regarded the
situation with philosophical stolidity, but not so his companion.
The latter, cursing and reviling the luckless Belgians, danced like
a madman on the sodden deck, till, losing his balance, he subsided
heavily against the massive tiller.

"Bring the horse back, you swine!" he shouted to the man on the
bank. "There'll be trouble in store for you if the barge doesn't
reach Wuestwezel by noon. Himmel! What will Herr Kapitan say?"

Peering through a crack in the door Barcroft watched the
proceedings. The German had mentioned Wuestwezel. Consulting the map
the flight-sub found that it was a small Belgian village on the
frontier, where in pre-war days a customs station was situated.

For the best part of an hour the men strove unavailingly to
extricate the barge from the tenacious mud. Even the two Huns
condescended to assist in the operation but without the desired
result. So interested was Barcroft in their frantic efforts that he
quite overlooked the fact that it was time for Kirkwood to relieve
him.

"You'll have to go to Hulstweelde and get additional help, you lazy
dogs!" bellowed the infuriated Fritz. Then he said something to his
companion, but speaking in a lower tone the words were
unintelligible to the young British officer. Apparently there was an
argument in progress as to which of the two Germans should accompany
the bargees, lest the latter took it into their heads to decamp.
Finally all four trudged off, leaving the horse to nibble at the
scanty pasture on the bank.

"You rotter!" exclaimed Kirkwood. "It's gone nine. Why didn't you
turn me out? And what are you so interested in? Come, now, you were
very keen on ordering me to turn in. Try this luxurious
_salle-à-coucher_."

"Before I do so," replied Barcroft pointing to the abandoned barge,
"I'm going to do a bit of burgling if there's anything in the food
line. Keep a sharp look-out, old man--towards that bridge
especially. I won't be long."

It was a comparatively simple matter to board the deeply-laden
craft. Almost the whole of the space amidships was covered by huge
tarpaulins, leaving a narrow gangway on either side. Making his way
aft Barcroft boldly descended the short ladder leading into the
cabin--a somewhat spacious compartment with the small "cuddies" on
barges working British canals.

"Black bread and cheese," said the flight-lieutenant to himself.
"Well, that's better than nothing. Bacon, too: useless when one
cannot light a fire."

He had no qualms about despoiling the Philistines. Before the food
would be missed the barge would doubtless have resumed its voyage.
When the theft was discovered the Germans would to a certainty blame
the men who came to their assistance.

"Wonder what the cargo is?" continued Billy as he regained the deck.

Unfastening one corner of the tarpaulin he made the discovery that
the contents of the hold consisted of bales of old clothes packed
tightly and labelled in large lettering with typical German
thoroughness. They were commandeered Belgian civilian articles of
clothing, those of cotton being kept apart from those of wool. Their
destination was Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) via Wuestwezel, Turnout and
Tongres, and at Wuestwezel they were to be transferred to the
railway.

"I think I see the move," thought Barcroft. "The stuff is to be
converted into cloth for the Huns. The cotton gear, perhaps, will be
utilised in the manufacture of explosives, since they cannot get the
raw material. By Jove! The very thing. I'll collar a bale of this
gear. We'll have to be in mufti of sorts when we cross the frontier,
otherwise it means internment."

A low whistle from the barn warned the flight-sub to a sense of
danger. It was too late. Riding at a steady trot along the river
bank was a German officer.



CHAPTER XXXI

THE FRONTIER


RESISTING his first impulse to rejoin his companions Barcroft
crouched upon the unsavoury bundles and drew the corner of the
painted canvas cover over his head. In breathless suspense he
waited.

The clatter of the horse's hoofs ceased. He heard the rider dismount
as his boots struck the ground.

"You there, Corporal Pfeil?" he shouted. "Donnerwetter! what do you
mean by getting your charge in this fix?"

Receiving no reply the German began cursing volubly, at the same
time expressing his belief that Pfeil and Co. were dead drunk in the
barge cabin and that those rascally Belgians had given them the
slip.

The fellow came on board. It required considerable effort on his
part, for by the time he gained the deck he was puffing and blowing.
As he walked aft his spurs jangled on the metal deck. So close did
he pass the hiding Barcroft that the latter could have grasped his
ankles.

"Schweinhund!" exclaimed the major, for such was his rank. "I'll
give Pfeil something to remember this business. Confound this rain!
I'll wait for him in the cabin."

He went below. Presently Barcroft could hear the rasping of a match,
and the tantalising odours of tobacco from the after-cabin.

"Now I'm done," soliloquised the flight-sub. "The penalty for
inquisitiveness, I suppose. Properly dished unless----"

Seized by a sudden inspiration Billy softly threw back the corner of
the tarpaulin, crept aft and closed the sliding hatch of the cabin.
Before the astonished major could completely realise what was
happening Barcroft had shut the massive metal hasp and had secured
it by wedging a belaying pin through the staple.

"Shout as hard as you like, my festive!" chuckled the flight-sub;
then he, too, realised that he had "put his foot into it." Not only
that--he had jeopardised the chances of his companions.

Throwing a sack of clothing to the bank Billy leapt ashore, picked
up the weighty bundle and made for the barn.

He found Fuller awake, for Kirkwood had informed him of the danger
that threatened the explorer.

"We were just coming to your rescue," announced the A.P., "only we
saw that you had boxed the Boche up. What's this bundle for, old
bird?"

"For to-night's fancy dress ball," replied Barcroft. "A suit of
mufti for each of us. We appear in the characters of the Continental
knockabouts."

"What do you mean?" asked Fuller.

"Simply that we must make tracks at once, before Corporal Pfeil and
Company return. Obviously we cannot hope to wander unmolested over
the country if we stick to our flying kit, so with my characteristic
regard for your welfare I have procured a stock of second-hand
clothes for your inspection and choice. We'll push on for a couple
of miles or so and then hide until it's dark. Then, with luck, over
the frontier we jog, without running the risk of being interned by
the Dutch authorities."

The contents of the bag were emptied upon the floor--a weird
collection of musty and for the most part dirty and ragged clothes.

"Must we, or musty?" inquired Kirkwood sniffing disdainfully

"Both," replied Barcroft decidedly. "Look alive. Pity to have to
sacrifice our coats, though. Mine cost me eighty-five shillings only
a month ago. Keep your revolvers. They'll stow in the coat-pockets."

The change of raiment was speedily effected. The discarded gear,
folded in as tight compass as possible, was stowed away on the beams
of the barn.

"Who knows," remarked the A.P., "but that we may have a chance of
recovering our kit, when the Boches have been driven out of Belgium?
My word, Billy, you look absolutely IT! Tired Tim or Weary Willy
must be your character."

"You speak for yourself, old sport," retorted Barcroft laughing.
"You're positively not respectable. We tolerate your presence only
on sufferance. Matter of fact, Tired Tim does suit me," he added,
stifling a yawn. "I'm as dog-tired as a fellow can possibly be. And
what might you be supposed to represent, John--a Belgian hare?"

"That's about it," replied Fuller languidly. "The main thing is to
keep warm, and trust to luck to get a hot bath later. Some fit, eh,
what?"

The flight-lieutenant had appropriated a long cloth coat liberally
trimmed with fur. In its prime the coat might have done credit to a
wealthy bourgeois of Brussels, but now it would ill-become a city
scavenger.

The rest of the clothes were returned to the sack, with the addition
of a couple of heavy stones. Barcroft and the A.P. carried the
"incriminating evidence" to the river and hurled it into the water.

"Don't suppose our boots will excite suspicion if we fall in with
any one," remarked Kirkwood. "It is impossible to say whether they
are black or brown."

"Or sabots," added Billy. "Without exaggeration we are carrying half
an inch of mud about on them. Now, easy ahead."

Keeping clear of the highway, and following the river at a
respectful distance the fugitives covered a distance of about three
miles in less than a couple of hours. The rain was falling heavily
again, blotting out everything beyond a distance of fifty yards, but
by this time the dauntless trio regarded the discomfort with
equanimity and as a blessing in disguise.

"By Jove!" exclaimed Puller, suddenly coming to a halt. "There's the
frontier."

Before they were aware of the fact they had arrived within a few
feet of the seemingly interminable barbed wire fence that separated
occupied Belgium from coveted Holland. As far as could be seen the
barrier was unguarded.

"How about it?" inquired Barcroft. "Shall we make a dash and risk
it?"

"Steady," cautioned the flight-lieutenant. "Suppose, as is more than
likely, there's a high tension wire running along that contraption?
We don't want to be pipped on the post, you know."

"I'll test it," declared Billy promptly.

"How?" asked his companions in one breath

"By this," replied the sub indicating the wristlet compass. "You
hang on here. I won't be long."

"Be careful, then," said the A.P.

"Trust me for that," answered Barcroft cheerfully. "Lie low and keep
a sharp look out."

On either side of the fence was a belt of reeds and coarse grass. In
ordinary circumstances its height would be five or six feet, but the
wind and rain had beaten down the reeds considerably. In places the
tangle of grass was almost flat, and, combined with the slippery
soil, formed a trap for the unwary.

"H'm! a fair amount of traffic on either side of the fence,"
commented Barcroft as he arrived upon the scene of his
investigations. "They've had sentries patrolling up and down, but
evidently they don't like the weather."

Kneeling in the slime the flight-sub unbuckled the strap that
secured the little spirit compass to his wrist, then cautiously he
held the delicate instrument towards the lowermost wire.

The needle was unaffected, even though he brought the compass close
enough to risk a short circuit should the wire be highly charged
with electricity. Three parallel wires he tested with similar
results. At the fourth, which was about three feet from the ground,
the needle oscillated. Whether it was owing to the deviating effect
of an electric current or that he had unintentionally jogged the
compass Barcroft could not decide. Withdrawing the instrument he
waited for the sensitive index to come to rest.

"Dash it all!" he ejaculated as he resumed his investigations. "That
wire is charged. It will mean a fine old job getting through this
fence. Might squeeze through under the lowermost one if it could be
prised up. But supposing the electrified wire isn't always the
fourth from the ground: what then? I'll apply another test further
along."

So intent was the flight-sub in his work that he failed to hear the
faint sound of footsteps stealthily approaching through the
squelching mud. Entirely at a disadvantage since he was crouching on
his knees, Barcroft was most disgustedly surprised to hear a
guttural exclamation, the form of which left no doubt as to the
nationality of the speaker.

Turning his head Billy found himself at the mercy of a German
sentry, whose levelled bayonet was within a foot of his
shoulderblades.



CHAPTER XXXII

AN AVERTED CATASTROPHE


"MORNING, Norton; you are an early visitor," exclaimed Peter
Barcroft. "Five minutes later and you would have found me out--to
use a contradictory phrase. I'm just off for a morning with the
rabbits. Care to come along?"

"Delighted," replied the spy. "I suppose you won't mind my calling
at The Croft to get a gun?"

A couple of weeks had passed since Siegfried von Eitelwurmer's
return to Tarleigh. During that time Peter had seen or heard nothing
of Philip Entwistle. The _soi-disant_ Andrew Norton had resumed his
former habit of dropping in at Ladybird Fold at all hours, somewhat
to the detriment of "The Great Reckoning--and After," which was now
approaching completion.

Von Eitelwurmer was trying to muster up courage to earn
single-handed the reward offered by his Imperial Master for the
obliterance of the man whose writings had so greatly offended the
Potsdam Potentate who was seeking in vain for a place in the Sun.
The spy had a wholesome dread of British justice should he bungle in
the attempt and find himself under arrest. He had been told by the
authorities at Berlin that he must not expect further co-operation
by means of a Zeppelin. Evidently the rough handling the German
aerial squadron had met with on the return journey had upset the
hitherto implicit faith of the Huns in this branch of frightfulness.
Since, then, von Eitelwurmer had no opportunity of getting Peter
Barcroft conveyed to Germany, he set about a means to "remove" him.
After all, he decided, half the reward was better than nothing.

In his many conversations with Peter the spy never mentioned the
subject of their meeting at Bigthorpe; and Barcroft, putting down
his reticence to a fear of being rallied on his mental lapse,
studiously avoided any reference to the event. Nor did von
Eitelwurmer say a word on the subject of the raid. In fact, he had
never discussed the war with the tenant of Ladybird Fold, and had
shown such a casual disinterestedness whenever Peter had touched
upon the matter that the omission to say a word about the Zeppelin's
visit to Barborough occasioned no surprise.

"Haven't you a double-barrel?" inquired Peter as the spy brought out
a twelve-bore single-barrelled sporting gun with a breech action
resembling that of a Martini rifle. "If I had known I could have
lent you one--a hard-hitting choke bore."

"Thanks all the same," replied von Eitelwurmer. "I'm used to this.
I've got in two shots at a running rabbit before to-day. Where are
you making for?"

"Over the moors towards Windyhill," replied Barcroft, signing to the
two dogs to come to heel. "We'll cut through the Dingle Dell. It's a
bit rough going, but we'll save a mile or so."

The Dingle Dell was a narrow valley between two rugged cliffs of
Millstone Grit. Through the defile rushed a foaming mountain stream
fed by the recent rains and now possessing a tremendous volume of
water. Centuries of erosion had worn the rocks that confine the
torrent to its course to a remarkable smoothness, while the water as
it leapt from one level to another had undermined the banks almost
throughout the entire length of the Dingle Dell.

Tarleigh Moors had been experiencing a variety of weather during the
last fortnight. Following the heavy rain came a hard frost that in
turn gave place to the first of the winter snow. Although most of
the white mantle had disappeared, patches of snow still remained in
the sheltered sides of the valleys, while in the Dingle Dell the
trees still retained their seared and yellow leaves.

Crossing a dilapidated wooden bridge the two men ascended a steep
bank, on the top of which ran a narrow path, slippery with the
exposed roots of the abundant trees. On the left the ground dropped
steeply to the foaming stream; on the right was a "cut" or
artificial waterway that supplied power to the neighbouring
bleach-works, the smell of which, hanging about in the dank
atmosphere, was the acknowledged drawback to the sylvan beauties of
the Dingle Dell.

"I haven't been this way before," remarked von Eitelwurmer
untruthfully. He knew the district far better than his companion,
and perhaps his knowledge was equal to that of the majority of the
inhabitants of Tarleigh. It was his business to acquaint himself
with the locality of every place in which his secret service work
had led him. "Shouldn't care to walk along this path on a dark
night, especially after one of your 'night-caps,' Barcroft."

"Yes, it is a sort of 'twixt the devil and the deep sea business,"
rejoined Peter. "Steady!" he added as the spy stumbled over a
protruding root. "Gun's not loaded, I hope?"

"Rather not," replied von Eitelwurmer, pulling down the breech-block
lever and holding up the weapon for his companion's inspection. "I'm
used to a gun, remember."

"You may be," retorted Barcroft grimly, "but these roots are not....
dash it all!"

He sat down heavily, a patch of slippery ground having been
responsible for the mild catastrophe. His cap, falling from his
head, rolled down the bank and finally stopped on the top of a
rounded boulder on either side of which the water swirled furiously.

"The result of moralising," declared Peter. "And I've lost my cap.
Bang goes five and sixpence if I don't recover it."

Resting his gun against a tree, Barcroft descended with considerable
agility till he gained the brink of the torrent. The two dogs,
unused to the sight of their master on his hands and knees, capered
behind him. To his disgust he found that the lost head-gear was just
beyond the reach of his outstretched hand.

He was not going to be done, he reflected stubbornly. By grasping
the stem of a hazel that grew close to the stream he could lean out
further without losing his balance.

The stem seemed stout and supple enough, but unfortunately its looks
belied its actual strength. It parted, and the next instant Peter
was struggling in the foaming torrent.

Flung against the hollowed water-course with a thud that almost
deprived him of the little stock of breath left after his sudden
immersion in the icy water, Barcroft was unable to make an effort to
save himself from being swept over a miniature waterfall. Full six
feet he fell; then, almost blinded by the spray that enveloped his
head, he found himself struggling in a small but powerful eddy,
while the rocks that almost surrounded the pool were too high and
too slippery to afford a hand-grip.

Upon seeing their master topple into the stream Ponto and Nan leapt
in after him, although Peter was then ignorant of the fact. Swimming
ineffectually against the strength of the current both dogs were
swept away, without being able to be of the slightest assistance,
through a portion of the water course which, though only a couple of
feet across at the top, had been worn away to four times that
distance underneath.

Meanwhile Siegfried von Eitelwurmer was stolidly contemplating the
catastrophe. He saw the two animals being swept away, and marked the
semi-subterranean channel. A man carried under those overhanging
rocks stood little chance of escape. Even if Barcroft were able to
resist the remorseless pressure of water that threatened to sweep
him through the contracted gully the numbing effect of the water
would quickly tell. Yet the luckless man maintained silence; not a
cry for assistance came from his lips.

From the path only the tip of Peter's head was visible. The spy
still stood immovable. He had no wish for his unfortunate companion
to witness his apathy. He chuckled with fiendish glee. Fate was
playing into his hands.

Suddenly a maddening thought flashed across his mind. Barcroft
drowned--inquest--verdict: "Accidental Death." Would the German
Government pay the blood-money in these circumstances? He doubted
it. Being a Hun he had no faith in a Hun's interpretation of the
accident.

It was not a sense of duty, the call for heroic action, that spurred
von Eitelwurmer to the rescue. With admirably acted zeal he
descended the declivity, and followed the bank until he reached the
pool in which Peter was still maintaining a precarious foothold.

Grasping the benumbed man's wrists he exerted his full strength in
an attempt to extricate him. The effort was in vain: Barcroft,
encumbered with his saturated clothing and now too exhausted to help
himself, was too heavy to be hauled into safety.

"Run to the works and get assistance," exclaimed Peter, fancying
that his supposed friend was in danger of slipping off the rocks
into the swirling cauldron. "I can hold on some time yet."

Thoroughness was one of the spy's characteristics. Having undertaken
to rescue his companion he was not going to be thwarted if it could
be helped. Glancing around he spotted a stout branch of a tree lying
on the ground. Its length was more than sufficient to bridge the
distance between the projecting sides of the stream.

"Hold on for ten seconds, Barcroft," he exclaimed, and releasing his
hold he made his way to the severed branch and secured it.

"Hang on!" he said, at the same time lifting Peter sufficiently to
enable him to grip the span of wood. Then, pulling off his woollen
scarf, he leant over the edge and passed it round Barcroft's waist,
slackening the "bight" until it sank low enough to go round his
companion's knees.

"Now," he continued, "together!"

With a steady heave von Eitelwurmer raised Peter's legs until his
feet were fairly over the edge of the bank, while his head and body
supported by the suspended branch were still hanging over the
stream. So far so good. The German's next step was to shift the
scarf until it formed a loop round Barcroft's shoulders. Another
strong pull and the rescued man was lying safe but exhausted on the
bank, while the two very wet dogs were frantically licking his face.
The animals, after being carried down stream, had succeeded in
finding a foothold, whence they had leapt clear of the dangerous
stream.

"You've saved my life, Norton," said Peter, stating a perfectly
obvious fact.

"It is nothing," protested von Eitelwurmer.

"Perhaps, but it is precious to me," rejoined Barcroft, unable, even
in his exhausted condition, to resist the temptation of "pulling up"
his companion for a badly-expressed declaration.

"What I did, I meant, of course," added the spy. "How about your
cap?"

"I'll have another shot for it," said Peter with sudden
determination. "If you'll hold my hand I'll reach it easily enough."

"No, you don't," decided the German firmly. "I don't want the
trouble of fishing you out again. Come along."

Having assisted Barcroft to the path, von Eitelwurmer again
descended, cut a short stick and deftly hooked the cause of the
accident.

"Here you are, Barcroft," he exclaimed, handing the cap to its
rightful owner. "Quite easy, you see. I suppose rabbit-shooting is
off at present?"

"Until to-morrow," replied the undaunted sportsman. "At ten, sharp.
You must have an opportunity of making up for what you missed
to-day, Norton; 'pon my word you must."



CHAPTER XXXIII

VON EITELWURMER'S OPPORTUNITY


AT eight the following morning Siegfried von Eitelwurmer was
considerably surprised when the tenant of Ladybird Fold appeared at
The Croft, booted and gaitered and carrying his gun.

"You are two hours too early, Barcroft," he exclaimed. "What is
wrong? Couldn't you sleep after your involuntary bath?"

He spoke jocularly, yet in his mind there was a haunting suspicion
of doubt. Not that there was any reason for it as far as Peter
Barcroft was concerned, although--did he but know it--Philip
Entwistle was "speeding things up" in his work of investigating the
case of Andrew Norton otherwise von Eitelwurmer.

"I slept soundly," replied the unruffled Peter. "Notwithstanding
hot-water bottles and mustard poultices, cough-mixtures and various
bronchial remedies. It's one of the penalties of being married; but,
'twixt you and me, I like being made a fuss of in that direction.
Now, I wonder how you would fare, Norton, if you were taken ill,
living practically by yourself?"

"Make the best of it, I suppose," replied the spy hurriedly. He was
an arrant coward where illness was concerned. "But why this early
call? Thought you didn't rise much before nine?"

"I had a note from the parson this morning," exclaimed Barcroft. "I
happened to mention that I was going shooting and told him that I
would hand over the bag to the village soup kitchen. Personally I
loathe rabbits as food. However, the vicar informed me that the
soupkitchen opened at eleven-thirty, and asked if it would be
convenient for me to send the rabbits down by ten o'clock. Don't
suppose we'll get back in time, but we'll try."

"First get your rabbits," said von Eitelwurmer banteringly.

"Trust me," declared Barcroft with conviction. "But are you busy?
I'm afraid I've interrupted you."

"Only catalogues of early spring seeds," replied the spy. "They can
wait till to-night. I'll be ready in a couple of minutes."

So saying the _soi-disant_ Norton threw the books on the floor with
feigned unconcern, recorked a small bottle of lemon juice and pushed
it out of sight behind a pile of sporting papers. Then, getting his
sporting gun from the rack and stuffing a handful of cartridges into
his pocket, he signified his readiness to start.

"I wonder," mused the spy as the two men walked briskly down the
lane--"I wonder what Barcroft meant yesterday: 'You must have an
opportunity of making up for what you missed to-day.' Very strange
that he should say that. Yet can he know anything? I have been
careful enough, in all conscience."

His fingers came in contact with the loose cartridges. Grimly he
reflected that they were of English manufacture. Previous
acquaintance with sporting cartridges coming from the Fatherland had
made him chary of using ammunition of German origin. There must be,
he reflected, no misfires. An initial failure would upset his nerve.
He could not muster up courage to make a second attempt on the same
day.

"You're rather quiet to-day, Norton," remarked his companion, as the
two passed the scene of yesterday's adventure. "Not feeling quite up
to the mark, eh? Or have I turned you out of house and home too soon
after breakfast?"

"I wasn't aware that I was," replied von Eitelwurmer. "In fact I
feel remarkably fit. Those dogs of yours trained to the gun?"

"Quite, by this time," said Barcroft. "And as for turning a rabbit
out of cover they're great. You wait till we set to work."

"Powerful-looking animals," continued the spy. "I suppose they would
pull a man down?"

"They might," answered Peter cautiously. "But since an occasion for
testing their capabilities in that direction has not yet
occurred--and I hope it will not--I haven't any definite data upon
which to base my assumption. They were a bit of a handful as
puppies," he continued warming to his subject, for the two
sheep-dogs were practically part and parcel of Barcroft's existence.
"The predatory instinct was very strongly developed. They would go
to my neighbours' houses early in the morning and systematically and
deliberately steal the milk. I've known them to take a jug as well
and bring it back unbroken and deposit it as a kind of trophy on my
lawn."

"You might have cut down your milk-bills," remarked his companion.
"For a Biblical precedent you have the case of the prophet who was
fed by ravens. I presume they stole from his neighbours. Were their
efforts confined purely to the milk-business?"

"Hardly," replied Peter. "In one instance they brought home a boot."

"Only one?"

"Only one," declared Barcroft solemnly.

"It was in an almost new condition. I made inquiries all over
Alderdene but without success. No one had lost a boot. Quite a month
later I discovered that a parson living at Barcroft, a village three
miles away, had missed one of his boots, and sure enough the one
Ponto and Nan brought in was the missing article. Apparently they
had walked into the parson's scullery, and finding nothing in the
edible line, had picked up the boot as a souvenir of the visit."

"They showed a total lack of common sense," said von Eitelwurmer.
"Now, if they had carried off the pair----"

"I should have had to return two boots instead of one," added his
companion. "But here we are. We'll work up against the wind and keep
the dogs to heel."

The sportsmen had gained the gently-sloping rise of Windyhill. It
was the only side on which the ascent could be described as easy.
The ground was grass-grown and interspersed with clusters of bushes,
although the cover was by no means extensive. At the foot of the
rise flowed a small brook, which was crossed by a single plank.
Beyond a hedge somewhat of a rarity in the North--through which was
a gap with a stile. From this point to the summit of the hill, a
distance of nearly a mile, the only obstructions consisted of two
rough stone walls running athwart the slope.

"We'll load after we're over the stile," said the cautious Peter.
"Be careful, there's quite a lot of snow under this hedge."

Von Eitelwurmer's answer was to slip and measure his length in the
soft snow.

"Donner--dash it all!" he exclaimed, hastily checking the natural
yet hitherto carefully avoided habit of forcibly expressing himself
in the language that came easiest to the tip of his tongue-that of
the Fatherland. "You're right, Barcroft. It is confoundedly
slippery."

Picking up his gun that had fallen from his grasp the spy followed
Barcroft over the stile. Here the two men loaded and Peter called
the dogs to heel.

"Plenty of evidence that the bunnies are about," he remarked. "We'll
keep twenty yards apart. I don't suppose we'll catch sight of a
rabbit until we get to the bushes."

Stealthily and in silence the sportsmen approached the nearmost
patch of cover. Suddenly, a startled rabbit broke away and ran down
wind. Up went Peter's gun, and the next instant bunny was kicking on
the ground.

"Why didn't you fire?" inquired Barcroft, as the two converged upon
the spoil. "The animal was across your path."

"Why didn't I?" repeated von Eitelwurmer. "I did. That was my shot.
You didn't fire."

"But I did," declared Peter.

Both men ejected a still-smoking cartridge from their respective
guns. They had fired simultaneously and the report had prevented
each sportsman from hearing the other's shot.

"Honours even," cried the spy. "It was certainly remarkable."

"Very," agreed Barcroft as he reloaded.

The first enclosure produced no further trophy. Scaling the low wall
the two men gained the second stretch of grazing land. Here the
cover was slightly greater in extent.

"That's a favourite warren," said Barcroft, pointing to an irregular
line of bushes. "You take the left side and I'll work round to the
right. Ten to one you'll get a rattling good shot there. I'll keep
the dogs with me."

The sportsmen separated. Von Eitelwurmer, treading softly and
crouching under the bushes, allowed three rabbits to bolt almost
under his nose. It was not through preoccupation of mind but by
deliberate intent.

Once he stumbled over an exposed rock, and dropped his gun.

"That's the second time. This snow is dangerous," he muttered with a
curse. "Is it an omen? And on the last occasion I nearly gave myself
away."

He stopped to wipe some melting snow from the stock of his gun,
wiping the walnut wood carefully in order to ensure a good grip;
then still crouching, he continued his way.

Two shots rang out in quick succession on his right, then, after an
instant, he saw Barcroft emerge from behind a bush and make for the
next patch of cover.

"Twenty yards--absolutely safe, shots will hardly have time to
spread," soliloquised the spy, giving a quick glance over his
shoulder to see that there was no possibility of being overlooked
from behind.

Then, setting his jaw firmly, he deliberately raised his gun to his
shoulder, took careful aim at the back of the unsuspecting Peter and
pressed the trigger.



CHAPTER XXXIV

KIRKWOOD'S WINDFALL


"So you've turned up again like three bad halfpennies," remarked the
Senior Officer of the base to which the "Hippodrome" was attached,
as the three airmen reported themselves. "Did you have much
difficulty in getting across the frontier?"

"Very little, sir," replied Fuller, who by virtue of his higher rank
acted as spokesman for the trio. "Nothing to brag about. Had a
little bother with a sentry guarding the electrically-charged wire
on the Dutch frontier; but, while he was preparing to tackle
Barcroft with the point of his bayonet, Kirkwood and I contrived to
deal with him very effectually. The Hun, you see, sir, had provided
himself with a combined hook and wire cutting arrangement with an
insulated handle, and it came in jolly useful. That's about all,
sir, and we are ready to rejoin our ship at the earliest
opportunity."

"I am afraid that's out of the question for a week or ten days,"
replied the Rear Admiral. "The 'Hippodrome' is away on special
service, and I won't run the risk of sending you away on a
destroyer, bearing in mind your previous trip for the same reason.
The best thing you can do is to go on leave. You look as if a rest
and a good feeding up will do you good. Should anything arise
requiring your recall you will be sent for by wire, so hold
yourselves in readiness for such a possibility."

The Senior Officer shook hands with the three subordinates and the
interview was at an end.

"S'long, you fellows," exclaimed Fuller, when they were once more
outside the Rear Admiral's office. "I'm catching the twelve-fifteen
to Town. See you later."

"What are your plans, old man?" asked Billy, addressing the A.P.

"My plans? I haven't any," replied Kirkwood, who, having lost his
parents early in life, had no home but that represented by His
Majesty's ships. "I could go to my uncle's place, but I'm not very
keen, and I fancy the sentiment is reciprocated by him, although I
am his heir. He's a lawyer, you know, and about as musty as
parchment."

"Then run up with me to Tarleigh," said Billy cordially.

The A. P, was not one of those fellows who affect a ridiculous
hesitation when given an invitation.

"Thanks, awfully, old man," he replied. "I'm on absolutely. Is there
time to look in at the Naval Club? I expect letters awaiting me."

"Right-o!" assented Billy. "By the powers, 'tis good to find oneself
in England after our little jaunt. Makes a fellow completely bucked,
especially after a jolly good bath, fresh clothes and all that. Ugh!
Those togs we took from that barge!"

"Coming in?" inquired Kirkwood, as the pair arrived at the entrance
of the Naval Club.

"No, not now," replied the flight-sub. "I'll go to the post office
and send a wire to let my people know we are on the way. I'll pick
you up at the station."

Barcroft had sent a telegram to his parents from the Hook of Holland
announcing his safety. He had also gone to the post office
immediately upon his arrival in England, but the place did not open
till nine. It was now nearly noon.

He had not gone more than a hundred yards when Kirkwood overtook
him, flushed with excitement.

"Here's a business!" he exclaimed. "Don't know whether to be sorry
or glad. I've just had a letter informing me that my uncle, Antonius
Grabb, has shuffled off this mortal coil. This is from his partner,
who, apparently, is executor to the will. He wants me to call at his
office as soon as possible. Billy, my festive, I'm afraid I'm a rich
man. The thought of it appals me. I've handled thousands of
Government cash in my time, but never had as much as a hundred to my
credit before."

"Congrats, you lucky bounder!" said Billy heartily.

"And so I have to run up to Town," continued the A.P., "there to
face an interview of momentous import. Frankly I funk it. How about
it? Will you come with me? We can put up at the Whatsname Hotel--you
know where I mean--and take the first train in the morning to
Tarleigh."

"All right," assented Barcroft, after a brief consideration of the
proposal. "We'll have to look sharp if we're to catch that
twelve-fifteen. Here's luck--a taxi."

"Well, that is playing a low-down game," remarked Fuller as they
rejoined him on the platform. "You two unsociables, declining my
invitation to run up to Town, have evidently hatched a plot to have
a stunt on your own account. But I've spotted your little game, you
sly dogs. Now own up--what's the move?"

"We did change our minds," confessed the A.P. "Force of
circumstances, you know. Fuller, I'm a millionaire of sorts--in
pence, I fancy. At any rate, my uncle Antonius has died, and we're
off to see his executor. Come to his office with us? The more the
merrier, you know, and I'll stand dinner at the Carlton, if it
hasn't been 'taken over.'"

Arriving at Ely Place the three officers were ushered into the
presence of Mr. Fasly Gott, junior partner of the firm of Grabb and
Gott.

The lawyer regarded his callers with wellconcealed interest.

"Mr. Robert Kirkwood, I presume," he exclaimed addressing Fuller.

"Almost wish I were," muttered the lieutenant to himself as he
indicated the rightful bearer of the name.

"Ah, yes, of course," murmured Mr. Gott, re-adjusting his pince-nez.
"I can see a strong resemblance to your late relative, my esteemed
partner."

"That's not a compliment," thought the A.P. "In fact, it is a
downright perversion." The lawyer cleared his throat. Obviously he
did not like the presence of three officers in naval uniform. His
reason was soon apparent.

"Your uncle's will," he continued, "is, to say the least, somewhat
out of the ordinary. First let me impress upon you that its contents
were absolutely unknown to me, his executor, until after his
decease. He leaves the whole of his real and personal estate,
representing a sum of at least seventy thousand pounds, to his
nephew, Robert Angus Kirkwood----"

"Lucky dog!" interposed the irrepressible Fuller.

Mr. Gott gave a deprecatory cough. Levity was a rare emotion in that
gloomy office, the motto of which in the vast majority of cases
ought to be--'Abandon Hope, all ye who Enter Here.'

"Subject to one condition," he continued. "My late partner, as you
might know, was a man of pacific temperament. Here I must hasten to
explain that the will is dated 1913, that is, a twelvemonth previous
to the outbreak of this deplorable war, and there is no codicil. The
condition is as follows:--That the said Robert Angus Kirkwood
resigns his commission in his Majesty's Navy, otherwise the bulk of
the estate goes to the Society for the Encouragement of the
Discovery of Antediluvian Remains."

"In that case," rejoined Kirkwood calmly, "I think you had better
communicate with the secretary of the Society for the Encouragement
of the Discovery of Antediluvian Remains and inform him that my
uncle's legacy is at his disposal. I am rather surprised that you
should have written asking me to call. The proposition is an insult
to His Majesty's Service."

"You show the proper spirit, Mr. Kirkwood," said the lawyer, with
genuine admiration for the young officer's _esprit de corps_. "It is
a peculiar will, and, if you desire to dispute its terms, you may be
successful at the Courts; I should be happy to undertake the case.
However, there is one clause. The bulk of the estate goes to this
eccentric Society. The residue, consisting of deeds of real estates
to the value of seven thousand pounds, goes to you unconditionally."

The interview lasted about twenty minutes, at the end of which the
three officers prepared to leave.

"By the bye," remarked the A.P., "I suppose you can let me have a
copy of the list of securities?"

"Yes, a copy," replied Mr. Gott. "The deeds will be handed over when
probate of the Will has been declared. You will understand that the
duties will be considerable?"

"Lucky to have to pay 'em," commented Kirkwood. "Thank you, Mr.
Gott. Good afternoon."

It was not until the following morning when Barcroft and the A.P.
were speeding north by the 5.15 express on their way to Tarleigh
that the flight-sub mentioned a matter that was on his mind--a
delicate request the reason for which Billy could not very well
explain.

"By the bye, old man," he began "what do you propose doing with
those deeds when they are handed over to you?"

"Hanged if I know," replied Kirkwood. "Haven't troubled much about
them. Simply carry on and make good use of the interest, I suppose.
Seems a fairly safe investment, but personally I'd rather sell out
and shove the money into the War Loan."

"Are you willing to hand one of the deeds over to me?" asked Billy.

The A.P. looked at his companion in surprise. "Certainly," he
replied. "Didn't know--hang it!--I'd no idea you were in need----"

"No, not that," interposed Barcroft. "A cash transaction, most
decidedly. There's one--originally belonging to a Mrs.
Deringhame--I'm rather keen on having. Can't very well explain why,
unless you insist upon an explanation, only I thought----"

"Don't worry, old bird," said Kirkwood. "It's yours on your terms. I
see by the list that old rascal Gott gave me that this particular
document is included. That's settled, then."

"Thanks awfully," said Billy gratefully. "Some day I'll be able to
tell you why I wanted it. When do you think the business in
connection with your late uncle's will will be settled?"

"About a week, I should say," replied the A.P. "At any rate, if it
isn't I think I can reasonably apply for an extension of leave."

It was after nine when the two officers arrived at Barborough. Here
they found that the next train on to Tarleigh would not leave for
another hour and a half.

"There's no particular hurry," remarked Billy. "But, all the same, I
don't see why we should cool our heels in this draughty show. I vote
we walk."

He could not help wondering why his father had not been waiting for
him on the platform. Perhaps he was even now on his way with the
car--that wretched magneto ought to be repaired by this time.

"I'm on," assented the A.P. "How about our gear? We can't lug it
those five or six miles."

"Hanged if I haven't overlooked that problem," said Barcroft. "Let's
take a taxi."

The taxi deposited the two chums at the door of Ladybird Fold at
precisely the same moment that a telegraph boy was delivering a
couple of telegrams.

"You did look awfully surprised to see us, mother," remarked Billy
after the preliminary exchange of greetings. "This is my great pal,
Kirkwood--Billy Kirkwood. You've heard me mention him many a time."

"Of course we are delighted to see you, Mr. Kirkwood," said Mrs.
Barcroft. "It is, as Billy says, a surprise."

"But didn't you get my wire?" asked the flight-sub.

"I suppose it is one of these," remarked his mother, opening one of
the envelopes.

She read the contents, a puzzled expression on her face. Then,
without a word she handed it to her son.

"Silly asses!" exclaimed Billy, for the wire was from the Admiralty
expressing regret that Flight-sub-lieutenant William Barcroft was
reported missing. "However, it doesn't much matter now. Would have
been awkward if we weren't here to show that it's a mistake. Look
here--handed in three days ago. Delayed in transmission. Didn't you
get my wire from Holland?"

Mrs. Barcroft shook her head.

"I gave that rascally hotel porter a couple of gulder to take the
telegraph form to the post-office," declared the flight-sub. "Ten to
one he stuck to the tip and the money for the wire as well. Where's
the governor?"

"He went out early this morning with Mr. Norton," replied Mrs.
Barcroft.

"The fellow who got adrift on the night of the Zep, raid? He turned
up all right after all, then. Where have they gone?"

"Towards Windyhill. They went rabbit-shooting."

"Windyhill? Where's that, mater?" asked Billy. "We may as well
stroll over that way, Bobby. No, thanks, mater, we don't require any
lunch at present. Had second breakfast on the train. You can hang
out till one o'clock, my festive?"

"Rather," declared the A.P. "Let's go and meet Mr. Barcroft and help
carry back the spoils."

Receiving directions from Mrs. Barcroft the two chums set off on
their quest. Half way down the lane leading to the Dingle Dell they
suddenly encountered Philip Entwistle.

"Mornin'," said Billy with a laugh. "How are you? Recovered from
that donkey-trip of ours yet?"

"Quite--absolutely," replied Entwistle. "So you are on leave again?
I'm glad--very glad. There's a little matter upon which I should
like to speak."

He paused and glanced inquiringly at Billy's, companion. The A.P.
discreetly began to walk on.

"I say, Kirkwood," called out the flight-sub. "Let me introduce
you."

"So you are the man who was flying with our friend here when the
German airman who bombed Alderdene was strafed," said Entwistle,
after the introduction was made.

"I believe I had a hand in it," admitted Kirkwood.

"That was when the document setting a price on your father's head
was discovered, Barcroft," continued the vet.

"I say--how did you know that?" asked Billy. "Funny how things like
that leak out."

"It's part of my business," replied Entwistle gravely. "That is the
matter on which I wish to speak to you, and since Mr. Kirkwood is
'in the know' up to a certain point I do not see any reason why he
should not be admitted into our conference. First of all, let me say
that for the present I must get you to promise not to say a word to
your father, or in fact to any one concerning what I am about to
divulge." The two officers gave the required promise.

"It concerns Andrew Norton," continued Entwistle. "He is a secret
agent of the German Government. On the night of the Barborough raid
he had planned to have your parent made prisoner by the crew of the
Zeppelin. Unfortunately for him his plans went adrift, and, as a
result, he himself was kidnapped and taken to Germany."

"How on earth do you know this?" asked Billy incredulously.

"From definite and unimpeachable in formation," replied Entwistle.
"I am--this is of course strictly confidential--also a Secret
Service man, belonging to an opposition show. In due course--we have
been giving him a good amount of rope--friend Norton will be
arrested."

"But why cannot the governor be informed?" was Billy's next
question.

Philip Entwistle smiled.

"Your father is--well, too imaginative, and, perhaps, a little too
impulsive. I don't think he would believe me at first, if I were to
broach the subject. He would, I feel inclined to think, even start
bantering friend Norton."

"Yes, perhaps he might," admitted young Barcroft.

"And so I am just off to the house to see your father," continued
Entwistle. "There are one or two questions I want to ask him,
indirectly put but directly bearing upon the Norton case."

"'Fraid you won't find him there," remarked Billy. "He's gone
rabbit-shooting with the man under discussion."

"With Andrew Norton?" asked Entwistle anxiously, then--gripping the
flight-sub's arm--"Where, man, where? We must find him at once."

The three set out at a rapid pace through the Dingle Dell. The
Secret Service man's hand went to his hip pocket, his fingers coming
in contact with the butt of a small but powerful automatic pistol.
For more than two years the weapon had been Entwistle's constant
companion, yet no one, not even his personal friends, were aware of
the fact.

"Thought Barcroft would speed things up a bit," he soliloquised.
"Going rabbitting with that beauty has done it. Wonder if we are too
late?"

Somewhat breathless in spite of their fine physical condition the
trio arrived at the foot of Windyhill. As they crossed the stile two
shots rang out in quick succession.

"They're up there," announced Billy, pointing to the second field.
"I saw some one moving to the right of that clump of bushes."

Over the stone wall the men scrambled. As they did so a single
report, more of a crash than the sharp, short detonation of a charge
of smokeless powder, came from behind the gorse, followed by a
scream of agony that trailed off into a long-drawn groan.

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Billy, spurting ahead of his companions.

Rounding the patch of cover he came upon the scene of the tragedy.
Lying at full length upon the grass was a man; over him, with his
back turned towards the new arrivals, was another--Peter Barcroft.



CHAPTER XXXV

ONE CARTRIDGE LEFT


"AN accident," declared Peter confusedly. The appalling event had
completely unnerved him. He hardly seemed to realise that his son
had turned up at a most opportune moment. "An accident. His gun
burst, goodness only knows why. By Jove, he'll bleed to death if we
don't look sharp!"

Von Eitelwurmer's injuries were ghastly at first sight. His left
hand and wrist were simply a mass of scorched and lacerated flesh,
his right hand was badly cut, while his face, ashy grey with a
dreadful pallor, was pitted with embers from the smokeless powder.
By his side were the remains of his gun, the barrel completely
fractured for a distance of more than six inches.

For a brief space the spy opened his eyes. He saw the two officers
in naval uniform.

"_Gott in himmel!_" he gasped, and straightway fainted.

Entwistle glanced knowingly at the two chums and nodded
significantly. Peter, in his agitation, had not grasped the
significance of the exclamation uttered in the injured man's native
tongue.

"There's a gate yonder," remarked Entwistle, while he and young
Barcroft were engaged in checking the flow of arterial blood. "You
two might fetch it. It will be just the thing to carry him to the
village."

Pulling himself together Peter hurried towards the gate, followed by
Kirkwood, but not before the latter had been again warned by
Entwistle to keep a discreet silence on the subject of the injured
man's identity.

"We'll take him to his house," declared Entwistle. "I don't think
the injuries are dangerous, although they are bad enough. The
correct course would be to run him into Barborough and put him in
the infirmary, but I have good reasons for the steps I propose
taking. Excellent, Barcroft," he exclaimed when the gate was
forthcoming. "Now, together, lift."

"What happened, pater?" asked Billy during the journey down the
hillside.

"Hanged if I know exactly," replied Barcroft Senior. "I was ahead of
him when it happened. Heard a fearful bang, turned round and found
Norton on the ground."

"Frozen snow in the barrel, most likely," remarked Entwistle. "I've
known guns to burst before to-day through that reason."

"He did slip when we crossed the stile," admitted Peter, "and plenty
of snow had drifted down there. But that theory won't hold. He fired
his gun after that."

"He may have fallen down again, or unknowingly poked the muzzle into
another lot of snow," suggested Entwistle. "There was a good depth
under the lee of those bushes, you'll remember, and I noticed by the
footprints that he had walked through the drift."

"It's awfully unfortunate," declared Peter.

"Awfully--for the spy," thought Entwistle, "otherwise you might be
taking his place on this improvised stretcher."

The wounded man was taken to The Croft and put to bed. Two doctors,
summoned by telephone, were quickly in attendance.

"He'll pull through," was the verdict, "unless complications ensue.
Shock to the system is more to be guarded against than the actual
injuries. Some one will have to be constantly with him, particularly
to see that an even temperature of the room is maintained."

"I'll stay," volunteered Entwistle.

"We'll take turns," suggested Peter. "I'll relieve you at two
o'clock. Lunch will be ready for you then. If we cannot get a
trained nurse (there is a dearth of them in Barborough, I
understand) I'll be with him to-night. Come on, boys; we'll get back
to Ladybird Fold."

During the meal Barcroft Senior spoke hardly a word. His appetite
was poor. He was not used to scenes of physical violence. Even the
unexpected arrival of Billy and the A.P. did little to help him to
regain his normal spirits.

Lunch over, Peter left the two chums to their own devices and wended
his way to The Croft.

He encountered Entwistle on the landing.

"Well?" he asked.

"He's just recovered consciousness," reported Philip. "A little
light-headed, perhaps, and temperature up a bit. I'll come again at
four. If you don't mind I'll arrange to stop here to-night."

"You're awfully good," said Peter, who had perhaps unconsciously
taken upon himself the duties of deputy master of The Croft. "Well,
lunch is awaiting you. Make yourself at home at my place. If there's
anything you require don't hesitate to ask for it."

Entwistle had undertaken his self-imposed duties as sick-bed
attendant with conscientious zeal; but he had also found time to
make a complete investigation of the spy's papers, securing several
that promised to become incriminating documents when subjected to
professional scrutiny. At any rate, if he could be undisturbed he
anticipated an interesting afternoon's search.

"I'll tell Barcroft all about it when I have completed the chain of
evidence," he reflected. "He'll have a nasty shock, poor fellow,
when he learns that his so-called pal tried to murder him. The whole
thing's as plain as daylight to me; von Eitelwurmer meant to shoot
him in the back, only the bursting of his gun saved Barcroft."

Left in charge of his treacherous friend, Barcroft found the patient
had fallen asleep. Since nothing more was to be done Barcroft Senior
took up a book, at the same time sighing for a pipe, a luxury that
out of praiseworthy consideration for the injured man he had
temporarily abandoned.

"By Jove!" said Peter to himself about an hour later. "That fire's
getting low."

As silently as possible he heaped more coal upon the smouldering
embers. Tending fires was not in his line. Often at home he would
allow the study fire to die out simply through neglect to make use
of the poker.

Somewhat anxiously he watched the gradually dimming glow. He was
half-minded to ring for Mrs. Crumpet, until reflecting that the
housekeeper at The Croft was evidently a person who made more noise
in proportion to the work done than was desirable in the
circumstances, he decided to tackle the recalcitrant fire himself.

Vainly he looked for a pair of bellows. Foiled in that direction he
suddenly remembered having seen a smouldering fire roused into
activity by means of a newspaper held over the grate.

"This might do," he soliloquised, picking up a couple of sheets of
printed paper, since no newspaper could be found. "A catalogue of
sorts: wonder if Norton wants it particularly?"

Slowly, very slowly, the dying fire began to revive, until under the
forced draught a respectable flame rewarded Peter's efforts.
Patiently holding the printed sheets across the grate until his arm
ached, he whiled away the time by reading the technical description
of Someone's patent combined washtub-and-dryer.

Suddenly his interest was aroused.

"Bless my soul!" he ejaculated. "That's funny. It wasn't there half
a minute ago."

Under the heat of the now glowing fire letters hitherto invisible
took semblance upon the warm paper. To his utter surprise the name
"Barcroft" appeared in view.

Hardly able to credit his senses Peter read the damning evidence of
the supposed Andrew Norton's treachery. It was written in German,
for, owing to Entwistle having on a previous visit taken possession
of the cypher (a circumstance that had caused the spy hours of
uneasiness until he had been lulled into a sense of false security),
he had been obliged to resort to ordinary writing pending the
arrival of another code-book.

"Your request for immediate action noted," read Peter. "Expect
Barcroft's removal to-day. Notifying impending accident to
substantiate claim. Also hope to secure his manuscript to-night.
Will destroy it if unable to retain without exciting suspicion."

There were also statistical particulars of the output of one of the
Barborough munition factories, including the number of new gigantic
shells, but Peter had not time to read that far.

A reverberating report filled the room. A bullet, whizzing close to
the head of the startled man, shattered into a thousand pieces a
mirror on the wall.

The spy, awaking from his sleep, had seen Barcroft poring over his
secret--the same paper that he had been compelled to take hurriedly
to his room that very morning when Peter disturbed him at his work.

Von Eitelwurmer realised that the game was up. Visions of a firing
party in the moat of The Tower gripped his mind. Anything but that:
he would make Barcroft pay for his discovery, and afterwards send a
shot through his own head.

Under his pillow the spy habitually kept a Service revolver. This he
fumbled for with his partly crippled right hand, and taking aim
fired at Peter's head.

In his weak state von Eitelwurmer had not taken into sufficient
consideration the "kick" of the powerful weapon. At the first shot
the revolver jerked itself from his feeble grasp and clattered upon
the floor.

"Thank you," said Peter firmly, as he stooped to pick up the weapon.
He was surprised at his own almost unnatural calmness. "Might I ask
the reason for this--er--outrage?"

"You have discovered everything," muttered the spy. "That was
sufficient reason."

"Accidentally," added Barcroft. "Even then why should you seek my
life and, what is almost as important to me, to destroy my
labour--my writings? Look here, Norton, the position is this. You
are a spy, caught redhanded, and the penalty is, as you know,
death."

"And I meant to settle you before that," hissed the recreant.

"But Providence decided otherwise," continued Peter. "I thought you
a totally different kind of person. You partook of my hospitality,
yet descend to attempted assassination. Yet I do not forget that
yesterday you saved my life. I wonder why? However, we are now
quits, but I feel inclined to do you a favour. In ordinary
circumstances you would be nursed back to health merely for the
purpose of undergoing trial and suffering execution. There is yet
another way."

"How?" asked the spy eagerly.

"By this," answered Peter holding up the revolver. "I will extract
all but one cartridge and return you the weapon. If you are still
intent upon my life the instrument is in your hands--only, remember,
you cannot fire a second shot. Here you are. I give you five minutes
to decide."

Slowly Barcroft crossed the room and descended the stairs. Only then
did his calmness give way--and it required plenty of courage to
deliberately turn away from a loaded weapon in the hands of a
vindictive spy.

Entering the dining-room Peter sank into a chair and rested his head
on his hands. Only the loud ticking of the grandfather clock
disturbed the silence until the door was pushed open and Philip
Entwistle entered.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed. "What's wrong now? Has Norton----?"

"I have made a very remarkable discovery," said Peter. "Andrew
Norton is a German spy."

"Indeed?" was Entwistle's rejoinder.

"Accidentally I found some incriminating writing. He saw what I had
done and let rip at me with a revolver. Needless to say he missed."

"That's the third lucky escape you've had from his murderous
intentions," remarked Entwistle quietly. "I can tell you now. He
tried either to murder or kidnap you by means of the Zeppelin that
came to Barborough. That the authorities gathered from one of the
crew when the airship was wrecked in the North Sea a few days ago
and the men rescued by a British patrol boat. Secondly, he did his
level best to shoot you in the back this morning----"

"Is that so?" asked Barcroft. "I can just understand a man doing
such a thing through violent personal motives, but for a mere
international reason----"

"My dear fellow, there was the sum of ten thousand marks waiting to
be earned."

"Yes," admitted Peter. "I know that. But only yesterday he fished me
out of the Dingle Dell stream when I was almost on the point of
being drowned. For why?"

"Ask me another," replied Entwistle. "At any rate, you will have
cause to realise the actual existence of the Unseen Hand. But what
happened just now, after he fired and missed?"

Peter Barcroft glanced at the clock. It wanted thirty seconds to
complete the stipulated five minutes.

"I talked to him pretty straight," he said. "Shamed him a bit, I
think. Anyway, I took four unused cartridges out of the revolver.
Being a six-chambered weapon one cartridge remained."

"Well?"

"I handed the pistol back to him; told him if he were still of the
same mind he had yet another chance to settle with me. He didn't--"

"Great Scott!" exclaimed Entwistle striding towards the stairs. "You
left him with a loaded revolver?"

Peter laid a detaining hand on the Secret Service man's shoulder.

"I gave him five minutes," he said. "And the time's up."

A pistol shot rang out from the upstairs room.

Siegfried von Eitelwurmer, otherwise Andrew Norton, had paid the
penalty.



CHAPTER XXXVI

THE ELUSIVE OBJECTIVE


"By Jove! old man," exclaimed Kirkwood, "we're up against a big
thing to-morrow."

Billy Barcroft merely nodded. It was "a big thing," this impending
movement. Something that was well worth the risk, but at the same
time the chances of the participators in the business returning were
very remote.

The two chums were pacing the port side of the quarter-deck of the
"Hippodrome"--a long and comparatively narrow space betwixt the rise
of the deck-houses and the stern, and separated from the
corresponding part on the starboard side by the inclined launching
platform.

The seaplane-carrier was lying in a certain East Coast harbour, with
steam raised ready to proceed at a moment's notice, and although her
destination was supposed to be a strict secret, the nature of the
forthcoming operations was known to all on board.

It was nothing less than a raid on Cuxhaven, where a considerable
portion of the German High Seas Fleet was known to be "resting"
after a speculative but cautious cruise off the west coast of
Jutland, the object being twofold--to exercise the crews and to
impress upon the incredulous Danes the fact that the fleet of the
Black Cross Ensign were willing and anxious to meet the British
navy.

With their U-boats well out to sea, their ocean-going torpedo-boats
forming a far-flung screen, and Zeppelins hovering overhead, the Hun
"capital ships" had steamed in and out, keeping within their
protective mine-fields: Having accomplished this imposing evolution
the battleships of the fleet returned, part going to Cuxhaven, the
rest to Wilhelmshaven, while the bulk of the torpedo flotillas
anchored off the east side of Heligoland.

Once more the German Press had burst forth into a panegyric on the
invincible and undaunted prowess of the fleet of the Fatherland,
taking good care to impress upon the people that, although every
opportunity had been offered to the British to engage in battle, the
challenge had been declined.

The projected raid upon Cuxhaven was a reply to the Huns' empty
boast. The seaplane carriers "Hippodrome," "Arena," "Cursus" and
"Stadium," escorted by light cruisers and destroyers, were to
proceed to a rendezvous twenty miles west of Heligoland. Sixty miles
away the British battle cruisers were to "standby," ready, at a
wireless call for assistance, to tear off at full speed to the
succour of the small craft should the latter, regarded as an easy
prey, be attacked by the big-gun ships of the German navy.

At the first blush of dawn twenty seaplanes were to start from their
parent ships on their perilous flight over the Heligoland Bight and
drop their powerful bombs upon the naval port of Cuxhaven--a feat
that, knowing the formidable anti-aircraft defences, promised to be
a forlorn hope; yet there was the keenest competition amongst the
airmen of the fleet to participate in the "grand stunt."

The A.P. had carried out his promise to Barcroft. He had sold Billy
the deeds of Mrs. Deringhame's house at Alderdene, and the
flight-sub had sent them anonymously to Betty's mother.

It was a tremendous financial sacrifice on Billy's part. It had
practically wiped up the bulk of his capital, but Barcroft cared not
one jot for that. What troubled him was the fact that he could not
ask Betty to marry him on his meagre pay. He had very little doubt
but that the girl would do so, for during his last leave he had been
much in her company.

"It wouldn't be fair to Betty," he soliloquised. "I must rake in
some more cash, but goodness only knows how long it will take. One
thing, we are both young, or I'm hanged if I would have the nerve to
ask her to wait! Well, if this raid comes off successfully it will
mean promotion. That's one blessing. If it doesn't--well, Billy
Barcroft won't be in a position to worry about anything, I guess."

The flight-sub had completed his preparations. Two letters, one to
his parents and one to Betty Deringhame, had been written, sealed
and handed to the fleet-paymaster to be forwarded in the event of
the writer's death. This unpleasant but necessary business
performed, Barcroft dismissed the matter from his mind and
concentrated his thoughts and energies on the work in hand.

"All correct, Jones?" he asked, addressing the air-mechanic who was
putting the finishing touches to the seaplane that was to carry
Barcroft and Kirkwood on their adventurous flight.

"All correct, sir," was the reply. "I've advanced the spark a
trifle, sir she ought to simply buzz; but perhaps you'll see that
everything's to your satisfaction."

Carefully Billy tested his controls, examined unions, contact
breaker, and automatic lubricators. Success depended upon motor
efficiency almost as much as upon the skill and courage of the
pilot. The slightest hitch might spell disaster.

"There's the permission to part company," announced Kirkwood as a
signal, made in response to a display of bunting from the yard-arms
of the respective seaplane-carriers, was hoisted from the naval
signal station. "Wonder if I'll see Old England again," he added in
an undertone.

Already the cruisers were steaming out of harbour; not in the pomp
of pre-war days with guards drawn up on the quarter-deck and bands
playing as each vessel passed the flagship. Silent and grim, huge
emblems of seapower, they glided past the harbour batteries and,
increasing speed to twenty-two knots, were soon out of sight.

With destroyers preceding and following, the tour seaplane-carriers
were next to leave. On gaining the open sea they formed line
abreast, surrounded by their vigilant escort; the light cruisers,
reducing speed to that of the convoy, taking up station two miles
astern.

In this formation the flotilla reeled off knot after knot without
incident, until late in the evening, when two of the destroyers on
the "Hippodrome's" starboard beam began a rapid fire that lasted
nearly five minutes, breaking station and circling in a fashion that
recalled the preliminary manoeuvres of a pair of cautious boxers.

"U-boat, somewhere over there," commented Fuller, who with Barcroft
and the A.P. was on deck in preference to the somewhat boisterous
ward-room. "I don't think they've got her. Wonder if she's dived and
avoided the cordon. If so we'll have to look out."

"Hope she won't bag us at this stage of the proceedings," said
Kirkwood. "At any rate, our quick-fires are manned, and it will be
dark in another half-hour."

The two destroyers had resumed station, having signalled to the
effect that no definite result was observed but it was believed that
the U-boat's periscopes had been smashed by gun-fire.

"The trouble will come later, I think," said Barcroft when the
message was communicated to the "Hippodrome's" officers. "If she
isn't winged she'll rise to the surface after we're out of sight and
wireless the news to the Heligoland signal station. The mere mention
of seaplane carriers will put the Huns on the _qui vive_. However,
that can't be helped; I'm turning in, you fellows, and I advise you
to do the same."

Well before dawn the airmen detailed for the raid were roused from
their sleep, or rather their efforts to slumber, since few were
sufficiently proof against the excitement of the forthcoming
expedition to enjoy a good night's rest.

Breakfast over, the members of the forlorn hope donned their leather
coats and flying helmets, and assembled aft for final instructions
from the wing commander.

"There is to be no easing down to keep pace with the slowest
machine," were his instructions. "Each man is to go for his
objective at top speed. You have noted the positions of the various
batteries, I trust? It would be well to leave the Glienicke Redoubt
well on your left. It's the only one, I believe, that mounts the
latest Krupp's antis. On no account must the bombing seaplane
attempt to encounter hostile aircraft on the outward flight: leave
that task to the escorting planes. If, however, you fall in with any
Zeppelins, attack immediately. One more point: should the situation
necessitate the withdrawal of the seaplane-carriers and their
escorts you know your instructions? Good. Well, gentlemen, that is
all I have to say, beyond wishing you the best of luck and a safe
return."

Barcroft's machine was the last to leave the "Hippodrome's"
launching platform, and the last but one of the raiding craft. It
was still dark. The misty outlines of the nearmost biplanes could be
just discerned as they rose swiftly and steadily above the invisible
destroyers. The crews of the latter gave the airmen three rousing
cheers as they swept overhead, but the tribute was wasted. The
farewell greetings were drowned by the roar of the engines.

As dawn began to break Billy made a rather disconcerting discovery.
His seaplane was now the last of the procession. It had been over
hauled by the one from the "Cursus," and what was more she was
slowly yet surely dropping astern.

It did not appear to be the fault of the engine. The timing and
firing seemed perfect. The motor was running like a clock, yet the
rest of the raiding aircraft, most of which he knew were usually
slightly inferior in speed, were distinctly gaining.

With the growing dawn the four escorting battle seaplanes could be
distinguished, two on either side of the long-drawn line of bomb
dropping air-craft. It was the duty of the former to engage any
hostile aeroplane that attempted to bar the progress of the latter.
Armoured and carrying two light quick-firers they were more than a
match for the German airmen, and the latter were fully aware of the
fact.

"Hang it all!" muttered the flight-sub as he actuated the rudder-bar
and tilted the ailerons in order to check a cross-drift and to
increase the altitude. "It's getting jolly misty. Hope it doesn't
mean fog."

The rearmost of the rest of the air-squadron was now almost
invisible, the others entirely so. As a matter of precaution
Barcroft took a hurried compass bearing, fervently hoping that the
mist would clear by the time he reached his desired objective.

"We're odd man out, old bird!" he shouted through the voice-tube.
"Keep your eyes skinned. I don't want to get out of touch with
McKenzie if it can be avoided."

"It can't," replied his observer. "He's just been swallowed up by
the mist."

"I'll climb higher still," decided Billy. "There must be a limit to
this rotten patch of vapour."

For another ten minutes Barcroft held on his course. He could not be
far from land, he decided. Already the leading raiders must have
achieved their object, if it were possible to see their target, and
were on their return journey. The chances of a collision in mid-air
with one of the British seaplanes suggested itself. The idea was not
an inviting one--the impact of two frail and swiftly moving objects
at an aggregate rate of nearly two hundred miles an hour, and the
sickening crash to earth. There would be some satisfaction in
knowing that an enemy aircraft was destroyed in this fashion, but
the possibility--remote, no doubt--of sending one's fellow airmen
and oneself to instant destruction was a proposition for which the
misty air was responsible.

"I'm going to shut off the juice," announced Billy to his observer.
"Keep your ears open, my festive."

With the switching off of the ignition the seaplane commenced a long
glide. The almost total silence, save for the swish of the air
against the planes and struts, was broken by a succession of loud
rumbles. Some of the British raiders were at work.

"In which direction?" shouted Barcroft.

"Ahead on your left, I think," replied Kirkwood.

"Seems to me that the smash came from the right," declared the
pilot. "Can you see any flashes?"

"Not a sign," replied the observer. "The sounds seem as if they are
coming from the right now abaft the beam, if anything."

"It's a proper mix up," thought Barcroft. "Fog plays the very deuce
with sound. If the other fellows are able to drop their bombs it
proves that the mist is confined to the upper air. Dash it all! Are
we never going to get clear of this muck?"

He jerked his goggles upwards until they rested on his cap. For all
practical purposes they were useless, although guaranteed to be
immune from the effect of moisture. The front of his coat was
glistening with particles of ice. Everything he touched was slippery
with rime. Jets of vapour, caused by the cold moisture coming in
contact with the warm cylinders, drifted into his face and buffeted
his bloodshot eyes.

"It's almost as bad as the night when Fuller and I strafed that
Zep.," thought Kirkwood, who, although in a more sheltered position
than his companion, came in for a generous share of the atmospheric
discomforts.

A sudden jerk, so severe that it was a wonder the huge wing-spread
did not collapse under the rapid change of pressure as Barcroft
tilted the ailerons, told the observer that something had been
sighted. Almost simultaneously the motor was restarted and the
seaplane rising and banking steeply almost grazed the topmasts of a
number of ships.

Kirkwood grasped the lever of the bomb-dropping gear and hung on
till the order to let rip. But Barcroft gave no indication for the
work of destruction.

"Sailing craft," he said to himself. "I could see their topsail
yards. They are not what we want. Evidently we are over the
commercial part of the harbour, if this is Cuxhaven. I'll buzz round
and see if we have any luck."

Round and round in erratic curves, ascending and descending, the
seaplane sped, yet without sighting any more shipping. Twice she
came within sight of the ground, descending to within fifty feet in
order to do so, but only an expanse of tilled fields rewarded the
pilot's efforts. Then, climbing to a safe altitude he again
volplaned in the hope of being guided by the sound of the
bombardment. Again his endeavours met with no success. All was
quiet, beyond the discordant clanging of a distant bell. The raiders
had come and gone. Whether the fog had cut short their operations,
or whether the air had been sufficiently clear to enable them to
locate their objective, he knew not. The fact remained that Billy
and the A.P. were lost in the fog and unable to carry out their
allotted part of the strafing affair. They might be ten, twenty, or
even thirty miles over German territory, so vague had been their
course. Unless they speedily made tracks for the rendezvous they
stood a good chance of running short of petrol should the fog extend
sufficiently seaward to prevent them sighting the waiting seaplane
carriers.

"What's the move, old man?" shouted the A. P,

"Off back," was the reply. "Nothin' doin' this trip."

"Hard lines," rejoined Kirkwood. "It's getting worse, if anything."

Which was a fact, for the frozen particles of moisture were
increasing in size, and, driven into the airmen's faces by the rush
of the seaplane through the air, were lacerating their skin until
their features were hidden by congealed blood. Goggles being worse
than useless, the two officers were compelled to close their eyelids
to within a fraction of an inch and suffer acute torments from the
biting air.

Very cautiously Barcroft planed down until the altitude gauge
indicated a hundred feet, Seeing and hearing nothing he descended
still further, restarting the engine as a matter of precaution.

Presently a rift in the wall of vapour enabled both pilot and
observer to discern a flat, greyish expanse of sand through which
several small channels wound sinuously.

"Good!" muttered Billy. "Now we know, more or less. We're over the
sandbanks off the mouth of the Elbe unless it's the Weser. Anyway,
nor' west is the course until we get away from this fog."

Ten minutes later the bank of vapour showed signs of diminishing in
density; then, with a suddenness that left the two airmen blinking
in the watery sunshine, the seaplane dashed into the clear daylight.

The sight that met their eyes was particularly cheerful. Ahead, at a
distance of about four miles, lay the island fortress of Heligoland.
But for one reason Barcroft would have made unhesitatingly for this
strongly fortified rock of sandstone, drop his cargo of explosives
and trust to luck to get clear. There was a more tempting
inducement, for almost directly underneath the British seaplane was
a large German warship.



CHAPTER XXXVII

"THE GREAT STRAFE"


THE sight was an unfamiliar one. Many a' time had Barcroft seen a
British battleship from above, but never before one of the
firstclass units of the Kaiser's navy. This one was a two-masted,
three-funnelled vessel, the peculiar shape of the "smoke stacks"
proclaiming her to be one of the "Deutschland" Class--built thirteen
years previously, and carrying as her principal armament four
11-inch guns. She was not under her own steam. Tugs were lashed
alongside, a third towing ahead. She had a decided list to starboard
and appeared to be slightly down by the head.

"She's been hammered a bit," thought Billy. "We'll do our level best
to shake her up a lot more. Pity she's not one of the 'Hindenburg'
type, but half a loaf is better than no bread, so here goes."

As a matter of fact the battleship had been knocked about a week
previously, owing to having bumped against one of the drifting
German mines. Brought with difficulty into the outer roadstead, she
was being repaired as secretly as possible in order to return to
Kiel for completion of refit. The disaster having been concealed, at
least officially, from the German populace, it had been considered
necessary to keep the injured vessel off Heligoland rather than take
her through the Imperial Canal in her nondescript state.

The British naval air raid upon Cuxhaven had completely upset this
arrangement. News of the impending attack had been wirelessed, as
Barcroft had surmised, from the U-boat that had been driven off by
the seaplanes' escort, and, not knowing what the raiders' objective
actually was, the Germans had hastily sent the crippled battleship
from the roadstead in the hope that she might lie safely in the Kiel
Canal before the aerial bombardment took place.

All three tugs were blowing off steam vigorously. The hiss of the
escaping vapour had prevented the Huns from hearing the noisy
British seaplane's approach, and now at an altitude of five thousand
feet Barcroft had the huge target at his mercy. It was, however,
necessary to descend considerably. There must be no risk of missing
the slowly-moving battleship.

Descending in short right-handed spirals the pilot brought his craft
within five hundred feet of his enemy. A bugle-blast, followed by
the appearance of swarms of sailors as they rushed to man the light
quick-firers, announced that the impending danger had been sighted.
At all events, it was not to be a one-sided engagement, for almost
simultaneously two anti-aircraft guns, mounted on the battleship's
for'ard turret, came into action.

Both shells passed so close to the seaplane that the pilot
distinctly felt the "windage" of the projectiles, The frail aircraft
reeled in the blast of the displaced air, but fortunately the
time-fuses of the shells were not set accurately. The missiles burst
over eight hundred feet above their target.

Deftly Kirkwood released a couple of bombs. Both found their
objective, one striking the fo'c'sle between the steam capstan and
the for'ard turret, the other slightly in the wake of the bridge and
chart-house, completely wrecking both. In a few seconds the whole of
the fore-part of the battleship was hidden by a dense cloud of
smoke.

"Not so dusty," thought Billy as he manoeuvred to enable the
observer to drop another couple of "plums." As he did so a shell
burst almost underneath the seaplane, ripping a dozen holes in the
wings and severing a strut like a match-stick.

Out of the enveloping mushroom-shaped cloud of white smoke the
seaplane staggered. For the moment Billy fancied that she was out of
control and on the point of making a fatal nose-spin.

"Let's hope, then, that she'll drop fairly on top of that strafed
hooker," was the thought that flashed across his mind.

But no; grandly the gallant little seaplane recovered herself. A
touch of the pilot's feet upon the rudder-bar showed that she was
capable of being steered, while apparently the controls were still
in order.

Billy gave a quick glance over his shoulder. To his relief he found
Kirkwood cool and imperturbable at his post, awaiting the opportune
moment to release another pair of powerful bombs.

One burst aft, utterly knocking out the crew of the anti-aircraft
gun that had so nearly strafed their attackers; the other, missing
the warship's deck, landed fairly and squarely upon the tug lashed
to the starboard side.

The little vessel, totally ripped up amidships, sank amid the roar
of escaping steam, but still secured by fore and aft "springs"--wire
hawsers stout enough to withstand the strain--she acted as a
tremendous drag upon the huge bulk of the battleship.

In vain the latter attempted to check her tendency to swing to
starboard by liberal use of the helm. The other tugs, still
straining at their task, only made matters worse, until finally the
towing craft, unable to check the side strain on her hawser, slewed
completely round, and in this position was rammed by the steel prow
of the battleship.

By this time Billy had manoeuvred for a third attack. So great was
the confusion on the German's decks--most of the men who had
survived the explosion bolting from their dubious cover that the
seaplane was no longer subjected to a peppering from the Archibalds.

For years naval architects had been increasing the strength of a
battleship's side-armour, while the thickness of the "protected"
deck, considered only liable to glancing hits, was kept at about
three inches of steel. The present war quickly found the defects of
insufficient deck armour. Enormous shells, fired at a range of
eighteen thousand yards, fell almost vertically upon the decks of
battleships during the Jutland fight, while the menace from bombs
dropped from hostile aircraft was only beginning to be realised.

Slowing down Barcroft again approached his quarry. This time
Kirkwood released three of the high-explosive missiles. Two, fairly
close together, by the after 11-inch gun turret, completed the
business.

With a rush and a roar, indescribably appalling in its titanic
power, the battleship's after magazine exploded. The seaplane,
whirled like a feather in a hurricane, was enveloped in a cloud of
black smoke tinged with flames and mingled with flying fragments
from the disintegrated ship. In utter darkness Billy found himself
on the underside of the overturned machine. Only the resisting
strength of his broad securing strap saved him from being hurled
downward like a stone.

Almost rendered senseless by the asphyxiating fumes, thrown about as
far as the "give" of the strap permitted, his head shaken like a pea
in a box, Barcroft was only dimly conscious that the job had been
done almost too well. In spite of the danger of his hazardous
position he was filled with a sense of elation. The seaplane had
scored heavily, and for the present nothing else mattered. Deafened
by the thunderous explosion, unable to see a hand's length in front
of his face, he was at a loss to ascertain whether the motor was
still running or whether the seaplane was engaging in a final
tail-spin.

Mechanically he grasped the joy-stick. The seaplane was then looping
the loop for the third consecutive time. Something--what it was he
was unable to ascertain--hit the fuselage with a resounding crash.
The lightly-built fabric trembled under the impact. It seemed as if
the body of the machine had been ripped asunder.

At nearly a hundred miles an hour the seaplane cleared the edge of
the drifting smoke. She was then "on an even keel," but about to
nose-dive towards the surface of the sea, barely a couple of hundred
feet below.

The sudden transition to the light of day recalled Billy to a sense
of his responsibilities. The engine was working, although he heard
only a very subdued buzz. Something had to be done to avoid the
impending violent impact with the waves.

Billy did it--how, he could never remember, but, as in a dream, he
regained control of the badly-shaken craft and began to climb
resolutely from the scene of his exploit.

A hasty glance at the planes revealed the unpleasant fact that huge
rents were visible in the fabric. It seemed marvellous how the
greatly-reduced wing-surface could impart sufficient lifting power
to the machine; yet, with a disconcerting wobble she held her own
against the attraction of gravity.

He turned his head, half expecting to find that Kirkwood was no
longer his companion, but to his unbounded satisfaction he saw the
A.P. still in his seat. Not only that, but Bobby was grinning with
intense glee at the successful issue of the encounter between the
giant and the pigmy. His face was as black as a sweep's and streaked
with blood, his flying helmet had vanished, leaving his scorched
hair rippling in the furious breeze.

Picking up the voice-tube the irrepressible observer shouted
something to his companion. Only a strange rumble reached Barcroft's
ear. He had been rendered absolutely deaf by the concussion.

Pulling his diary from his pocket Kirkwood scribbled a few words and
handed his paper to the pilot.

"How's that?" read Billy. "Fritz got it in the neck that time.
That's a great strafe." Billy held the voice-tube to his mouth in
order to reply, but no sound came from his lips. Like a blow from a
sledge-hammer the awful truth came home to him. He was deaf and
speechless.



CHAPTER XXXVIII

SNATCHED FROM HER PURSUERS


KIRKWOOD was quick to grasp the nature of the calamity that had
overtaken his chum. Although considerably shaken by the concussion
the observer was still in possession of his senses, except that his
hearing was slightly impaired.

Again a slip of paper passed between the two chums. On it Kirkwood
had written:--"Enemy torpedo craft leaving Heligoland. Are you fit
to carry on? Want any help?"

Barcroft, reading the slip, nodded. The mere suggestion of
relinquishing his command "bucked him up" considerably. A glance
showed that Kirkwood's announcement was correct. From the anchorage
on the northeast side of the island a regular swarm of hornets was
emerging some of the boats steaming towards the scene of the
disaster to the battleship, others heading in the direction taken by
the seaplane responsible for the great catastrophe.

The new danger could be treated lightly provided the seaplane was
able to carry on and fall in with her parent ship. The torpedo-boats
were not within range of their guns, while the speed of the seaplane
was more than double that of the swiftest of her pursuers, even in
her damaged condition. Should the chase be maintained for any length
of time there was a chance of the British destroyers cutting off
some, if not all, of the hostile craft.

"Wireless the 'Hippo,'" wrote Barcroft, receiving the laconic reply
"Can't." The delicate apparatus had been put out of action when the
seaplane staggered under the force of the explosion.

"Then that's done it," thought Billy, pulling off his gloves and
running his finger over a slight, almost imperceptible, dent in the
petrol tank. The engine was missing badly, and although able to note
the fact by observation the pilot guessed rightly that the precious
fluid was leaking. Holding his fingers to his nostrils he could
faintly smell the volatile fluid. The petrol was leaking, and
evaporating as fast as it came in contact with the air.

The application of a piece of soap to the minute fracture
temporarily remedied matters, but the mischief was already done. The
petrol was almost exhausted.

By this time the German torpedo-boats were almost out of sight, mere
dots upon the horizon, their position indicated by long trailing
clouds of black smoke. Some uncanny knowledge must have urged the
commanders of the various boats to hang on to what appeared to be a
fruitless chase. To them the seaplane would be almost invisible
unless they kept her under observation by means of their binoculars.
In that case they must have noticed the little aircraft gradually
dropping towards the surface of the sea.

Anxiously Barcroft scanned the expanse of water in front--a clear
field of sea bounded by an unbroken horizon. The seaplane carriers
and their strong escort had steamed homewards, taking it for granted
that one at least of the raiders on Cuxhaven had been brought down
by the heavy hostile fire.

The attempt had been only moderately successful. The fog that had
baffled Barcroft had enveloped the rest of the British seaplanes
before they had time to get properly to work. Altogether a dozen
bombs had been dropped upon the naval port, before the thick bank of
haze enveloped them and hid their desired object from their view.

Greeted by a tremendous fire from the German Archibalds, the raiders
returned in safety; for the Huns, baffled by the thick weather,
could only fire at random. With a few minor damages the airmen
regained their respective parent ships, and then it was discovered
that Barcroft and Kirkwood had not returned. None of the other
flying men had sighted their machine after the first few minutes of
the outward flight. It was therefore concluded that the two men were
lost, and notwithstanding Fuller's request to make a search, the
"Hippodrome" and her consorts steamed westward.

Although Barcroft felt acute disappointment at finding that the
vessels had left the rendezvous, he realised that no blame could be
attached to the officers responsible for the order to return. Had he
flown straight back he might have been in time, but it was the
bombing of the battleship that had delayed him.

"It's jolly well worth it," he soliloquised. "But we look like being
in the cart again. I begin to think that Kirkwood is a bit of a
Jonah, although hitherto he's managed to turn up safely. Hope his
luck--and mine--will still hold good."

A motionless blade of the propeller, coming across his field of
vision, betokened the unpleasant fact that the motor had refused
duty. Almost imperturbably Billy held on to the joy-stick, guiding
the seaplane on her long seaward glide.

The A.P., thinking that something had befallen his chum, leant over
the curved deck of the chassis and touched his shoulder.

Barcroft smiled in reply and pointed to the empty petrol-tank--a
smile that restored his companion's confidence. Nevertheless the vol
plane was a dangerous one. The reduction of the wing-spread, bad
enough when the machine was driving furiously through the air,
caused the seaplane to slip badly while solely under the attraction
of gravity. Should a "slip" occur just before the floats took the
water the chance of a fatal capsize were almost a dead certainty.

Realising such a possibility the A.P., who had already unbuckled his
waist-strap, kept on the alert, ready at the first sign of a
disaster to hack through his companion's belt with a keen knife.
Even then he wondered what was the use? With no help in sight their
fruitless struggle for life would only be unnecessarily prolonged.
Then came the opposing thought: while there's life there's hope, and
never say die till you're dead.

Again the volplaning craft side-slipped. Barcroft was only just in
time to regain control, and making a faultless "landing," brought
his command to an aerial rest upon the surface. It could not be
termed other than an aerial rest, for the simple reason that the
waterborne fabric was rolling and pitching in the short steep seas
that are to be met with off the flat Frisian shore.

"For one thing the day is long," thought Billy as he stood upright
upon the deck of the swaying chassis and, supporting himself by one
of the struts, looked fixedly in the direction of the pursuing
torpedo-boats. They were no longer visible, the difference in
altitude having put them below the horizon, but the ominous clouds
of smoke told the flight-sub that the Huns were still persisting in
their search. It was just possible, however, that they might pass
some miles to windward and not sight the inconspicuous disabled
seaplane in that waste of waters.

Even supposing such to be the case, what fate was in store for the
crew of this helpless machine? This part of the North Sea on which
they had alighted was a sort of nautical No Man's Land. Fishing
vessels gave it a wide berth, fearing the deadly and unseen menace
of the mines. Merchantmen no longer followed the once busy maritime
highway that led to the erstwhile prosperous port of Hamburg. Save
for rare excursions on the part of the German torpedo flotillas and
the occasional "sweeps" of Beatty's light cruisers and destroyers
nothing afloat was likely to pass that way. Should the seaplane
remain seaborne sufficiently long she might drift ashore, but from
the direction of the wind it was pretty obvious that she would do so
somewhere on the German Frisian group outside the southern portion
of the chain of islands belonging to neutral Holland.

The A.P. nudged his companion and tendered his cigarette case.
Kirkwood was already smoking a pipe on the principle that he never
knew when he might have a chance of another. Billy took the
proffered cigarette and lit it. The tobacco seemed tasteless. With
his lack of speech the flavour of the fragrant weed was denied him.

Nearer and nearer came the smudges of smoke. The Huns were hard on
the track of the crippled seaplane. Already Barcroft could
distinguish the grey funnels just visible above the sky-line.

"We must destroy our maps and documents," he wrote. "When I give the
word smash the floats. Don't forget your air-collar."

Fumbling in the locker the observer produced a pneumatic life-saving
arrangement, which, when inflated, was capable of supporting its
wearer for an indefinite time.

Suddenly in the midst of the task of inflating the collar Kirkwood
removed the tube from his lips. The air rushed out, and the rubber
fabric collapsed like a punctured pneumatic tyre, while the A.P.
stared with wide-open eyes at something not more than a hundred
yards distant above the surface of the water.

"A periscope, by Jove!" he exclaimed, making a grab at his maps and
papers. They, at all events, had to be destroyed.

Although his companion heard not a sound his attention was attracted
by Kirkwood's manner. He, too, saw the spar-like object forging
slowly ahead--so slowly that the cleavage of the water was
insufficient to throw up the usual tell-tale feather of spray.

Deliberately, almost human-like, the eye of the periscope turned
slowly in a complete circle. The submarine, satisfied that there was
no immediate danger to be anticipated, shook herself clear of the
water, disclosing her conning-tower and a portion of the hull of one
of the British G Class.

Hardly able to credit their good fortune the flight-sub and his
companion thrust their maps into their pockets and began to wave for
assistance a quite unnecessary act since the lieutenant-commander of
G 21 had already concluded rightly that the airmen were his
compatriots in distress.

Five or six of her crew appearing on the long, narrow deck, the
ungainly hull of the submarine, skilfully manoeuvred, approached
sufficiently close to enable Kirkwood to catch a coil of rope, and
the seaplane was hauled alongside.

"Jump, sir!" shouted a petty officer.

Although unable to hear the words Barcroft understood the gesture.
He waited until his observer had leapt, then seizing a small axe
from the body of the fuselage, he shattered each of the frail
floats, and as his command sank beneath his feet he scrambled up the
bulging side of the rescuing submarine.

"Barcroft's deaf and dumb," Kirkwood explained to a sympathetic
lieutenant. "You'd better look sharp. There are a dozen strafed
torpedo-boats after us."

"P'raps it's as well if we do," commented the officer. "I'll trouble
you for your yarn when we are snugly down below."

In less than a minute the crew and the rescued airmen were
hermetically sealed in the hull of G 21, and descending to a depth
of fifteen fathoms the submarine rested upon the bed of the North
Sea until the German torpedo-craft, foiled in their endeavour to
locate their quarry, steamed back to the security of the inner
roadstead of Heligoland.



CHAPTER XXXIX

AND LAST


A WEEK later found Flight-sub-lieutenant Barcroft a patient in a
large Naval Hospital somewhere on the East Coast. His case was an
interesting one as far as the medical officers were concerned, but
far from it from a strictly personal point of view. The medicos,
expressing their belief in their ability to restore the young
officer's powers of speech and hearing, were unremitting in their
attentions, so far without success.

Billy, after the first fit of despondency had passed, was still far
from sanguine as to the result of the numerous operations and
experiments performed by the hospital staff. Unable to communicate
with any one except by means of paper and pencil, he had already
come to the conclusion that his flying days were over. He might hope
for a partial restoration of his lost senses, but nothing more.
There was one thought to console him. He had not been rendered blind
by the terrific glare as his gigantic victim was blown sky high. The
blessing of sight was still his.

It irritated him beyond measure to see other patients conversing, to
watch their lips move, their expressive gestures of understanding,
and yet to live in an atmosphere of profound silence. It was
humiliating to have to approach a fellowcreature and laboriously
commit to paper a request for a most trivial thing; exasperating to
follow the comparatively tedious pencil as the person addressed in
this manner wrote his reply.

Still living in hopes Barcroft had studiously concealed the news of
his affliction from his parents and from Betty. His letters to them
were as light and cheerful as of yore, yet he felt that they were a
sham. Sooner or later, unless medical science was able to conquer
the baffling case, he would be compelled to have to admit that he
was--a useless encumbrance: those were his thoughts.

Almost every one of his brother airmen had visited him since his
arrival at the hospital, for the "Hippodrome," having returned to
her base, was lying in harbour almost within sight of the huge
building. Some tried, rather dismally, to be funny, hoping to cheer
their luckless comrade; others were so sympathetic that they
depressed Billy almost to a state of desperation. It was difficult
to appear at ease in the presence of a deaf and dumb man--and
Barcroft knew it.

One afternoon John Fuller came to see him. It was the second visit
that day. The lieutenant was practical even when in the presence of
his afflicted shipmate, for instead of sitting down and laboriously
writing out the preliminaries to a long-drawn-out conversation he
drew a paper from his pocket and handed it to his chum. And this is
what Barcroft read:--

"Congrats, old man. Just heard from 'topsides,' absolutely official:
the battleship you strafed was the 'Schlesien,' complement 660. Our
skipper has put in a claim on your behalf at 5 pounds a head. Unless
the judge decides that the prize money is to be divided between the
'Hippo's' ships-company, which is unlikely, Kirkwood and you split
3,300 pounds between you. You are also promoted to Flight-lieutenant
and have been awarded the V.C. and Kirkwood the D.S.O. You'll see
that in to-morrow's _Gazette_."

For a full half-minute Barcroft looked with strained inquiry at his
chum. His head seemed whirling round and round, then like a roar
from a cannon something seemed to beat upon his ear-drums.

"It's too good to be true," he said.

"Absolute fact," replied Fuller. "Bless my soul, Billy, you can
speak!"

"And hear, too," almost shouted the delighted newly-fledged
lieutenant. "Come along, John; I'm off to the telegraph office. Keep
on speaking, old bird. It's a delight. I hardly expected to hear you
again."

The hospital post-office was at the far end of the building.
Entering the somewhat crowded room, Billy, with a trembling hand,
filled in a form and gave it to a girl clerk.

The girl took the form, counted the words and scribbled something on
a piece of paper and offered it to the flight-lieutenant.

"Thank you," said Billy smiling. "But it isn't necessary now, thank
Heaven. I can both speak and hear."

"I am glad, Mr. Barcroft," replied the girl, who knew all about the
circumstances under which he had received his injuries. "Reply paid?
That will be eighteen-pence. You may get a reply in an hour."

The telegram that Billy had dispatched was to Miss Betty Deringhame.
It was:

"Am applying for leave. Will you fulfil your promise?"

After a seemingly interminable wait Billy's reply was received.

His message consisted of nine words; hers of one only: "Yes."

It was all that Flight-lieutenant Barcroft, V.C., desired. His cup
of happiness was filled to overflowing.



THE END



PRINTED BY PURNELL AND SONS,

PAULTON (SOMERSET) AND LONDON





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