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Title: The Air Pirate
Author: Thorne, Guy, 1876-1923
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.

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_The Air Pirate_



Some Ranger Gull Books

_HIS GRACE'S GRACE_
_BACK TO LILAC LAND_
_THE CIGARETTE SMOKER_
_PORTALONE_
_THE SERF_             } _Historical_
_THE HOUSE OF TORMENT_ } _Novels_
_WHEN SATAN RULED_     }
_THE HARVEST OF LOVE_
_A STORY OF THE STAGE_
_THE PRICE OF PITY_



_THE AIR PIRATE_

_By Ranger Gull, Author of "The Serf,"
"Back to Lilac Land," "The Snare of the Fowler," etc._

[Illustration: Decoration]

_LONDON: HURST AND BLACKETT, LTD.
PATERNOSTER HOUSE, E.C._



Dedication


TO PERCY BURTON, Esq.

     In memory of a certain celebrated walk from Great Holland to
     Frinton-on-Sea, and the salmon we met at the end of it. With all
     good wishes from the Author.



CONTENTS


 CHAP.                                             PAGE
    I.--THE COMMISSIONER OF AIR POLICE FOR GREAT
        BRITAIN RIDES TO PLYMOUTH IN GOOD COMPANY     9

   II.--FATE OF THE TRANSATLANTIC AIR-LINER
        "ALBATROS"                                   24

  III.--"COLD-BLOODED PIRACY IN THE HIGH AIR"        39

   IV.--THE NEWSPAPERS IN FULL CRY                   55

    V.--THE FAMILIAR SPIRIT OF MR. VAN ADAMS         67

   VI.--MR. DANJURO, THINKING MACHINE,
        EXPLAINS HIMSELF                             83

  VII.--THE CURIOUS FIGHT IN THE RESTAURANT          99

 VIII.--THE HUNTING INSTINCT IS STIMULATED
        BY A PROCESSION                             111

   IX.--THE MAN WITH THE WICKED FACE                128

    X.--SIR JOHN CUSTANCE COMES UPON THE
        HOUSE OF HELZEPHRON                         138

   XI.--"THE AIR WOLVES ARE HUNTING TO-NIGHT!"      150

  XII.--THE KILLING OF MICHAEL FEDDON               165

 XIII.--THE SECRET THAT PUZZLED TWO CONTINENTS      176

  XIV.--THE AIR PIRATE AT LAST                      187

   XV.--LED OUT TO DIE                              203

  XVI.--THE HOUNDS FROM THIBET AND MR. VARGUS;
        WITH A DISCOVERY ON BOARD THE PIRATE        216

 XVII.--THE MOMENT OF TRIUMPH                       236

XVIII.--THE GOLDEN DREAM                            253

  XIX.--LAST FLIGHT OF THE PIRATE AIRSHIP           266

        EPILOGUE                                    277



THE AIR PIRATE



CHAPTER I

THE COMMISSIONER OF AIR POLICE FOR GREAT BRITAIN RIDES TO PLYMOUTH IN
GOOD COMPANY


Nearly two years ago a leading London daily newspaper said: "The
Government have assured us that all danger from present and future air
piracies is now over, and that the recent events which so startled and
horrified both this country and the United States of America can never
recur. For our own part we accept that assurance, and we do not think
that the Commissioner of Air Police for the British Government will be
caught napping again.

"In saying this we do not in the least mean to imply that Sir John
Custance could either have foreseen or prevented the astounding
mid-Atlantic tragedies. Sir John, though barely thirty years of age, is
an official in every way worthy of his high position, an organizer of
exceptional ability and a pilot of practical experience. Press and
public are perfectly well aware that it is owing to his personal
exertions that our magnificent Transatlantic air-liners are no longer
stricken down by the Night Terror of the immediate past. And in saying
this much, we have both a suggestion and a request to make.

"The inner history of the piracies is only fully known to one man. It is
a story, we understand, that puts the imagination of the boldest writer
of fiction to shame. Such parts of it as have been made public hint at a
story of absorbing interest behind. The bad old days of censorship and
secrecy have vanished with the occasions that made them necessary. We
suggest that a full and detailed 'story' of the first--and we trust the
last--Air Pirate should be written, and given to the world. And we call
upon that most popular public man, Sir John Custance, to do this for us.
He alone knows everything."

At the time that it appeared I read the above to Charles Thumbwood, my
little valet, as I finished breakfast, in my Half Moon Street chambers.

"Not _quite_ correct, Charles. You know almost as much about it as I do.
To say nothing of a certain friend ..."

"I wouldn't say that, Sir John," said Charles, brushing my light
overcoat. "Though I rode part of the course alongside of you; to say
nothing of Mr. Danjuro." Thumbwood was a jockey before I took him into
my service. "Are you going to write it all down, Sir John?"

"That depends on several things, and on one person especially. I must
think it all over."

Think it over I did as I drove to my offices in Whitehall--the Scotland
Yard of the Air--and I discussed it afterwards with a certain lady....

Which is how the following narrative came to be written, though I did
not complete it until the best part of two years had elapsed.


II

I never did any flying during the Great War. I was too young, being only
fifteen and at Eton when Peace was signed. But from the very earliest
days that I can remember aviation fascinated me as nothing else could.
My father, the first baronet, left me a moderate fortune. He died when I
was eighteen, and instead of going to Oxford, I entered as a cadet in
the R.F.C. It is not necessary to detail how, when I had earned my
wings, I joined the civil side of flying and became a pilot-commander in
the Transatlantic Service. I had a good deal of influence behind me,
and, to cut a long story short, at twenty-eight I was Assistant, and at
thirty Chief Commissioner of the British Air Police. I was answerable
to Government alone, and, within its limits, my powers were absolute.

It was on a morning in late June, the 25th to be exact, when the wheels
began to move. I date the start of everything from that morning. About
one o'clock on the preceding night Thumbwood had waked me from
refreshing sleep. A wireless message, in code, had been received at
Whitehall. It was addressed to me personally, and was from the
Controller of the White Star Air Line at Plymouth. My people at
Whitehall, on night duty, thought it of sufficient importance to send on
even at this hour.

As soon as I was thoroughly awake, and had done cursing Thumbwood, I
read the message. It only said that a matter of the gravest importance
required my personal presence at Plymouth, and would I come down at
once.

Now considerable experience of the fussy great men who controlled the
air-liner companies, which linked up England with all parts of the
world, had made me somewhat sceptical of these urgent demands for my
presence. More than once I had to explain that I was not at the beck and
call of any commercial magnate, and if I had made myself disliked in
certain quarters I had, at least, made my office respected.

Accordingly I scribbled instructions to the chief inspector on duty that
he should send a wireless to Plymouth requesting further details. Then
I went to sleep again.

As a matter of fact, I _was_ going to Plymouth the next morning in any
case, though on private business. Sir Joshua Johnson, Controller of the
White Star Line, did not, of course, know that. His midnight message was
a coincidence.

I could have flown down from Whitehall in my fast police yacht in an
hour, but, as it happened, I was going to train from Paddington. Sir
Joshua could wait until I turned up some time after lunch.

How well I remember the morning of my departure from town. The long
departure platform at Paddington was crowded with well-dressed,
happy-looking people, as I stood by the door of my reserved carriage in
the Riviera Express--that superb train, with its curved roof, which runs
to Plymouth without a stop.

Thumbwood, invaluable little man, filled the carriage with flowers,
great bunches of white lilac and June roses, and the station-master, who
came up for a chat, looked curiously at the bower my valet had made. The
Chief Commissioner of Air Police was not wont to travel like that!

For my part, I was wildly exhilarated, and at the same time, as nervous
as a boy making his first flight. To-day might prove one of the happiest
or quite the most miserable of my life. I was going to put it to the
test. Confound it, why didn't Connie come?

On this morning Miss Constance Shepherd, the young light-comedy actress,
adored of London, and to me the rose of all the roses, was travelling
down to Plymouth to catch the air-liner starting from that port to New
York at eight-thirty this evening. And she had promised to travel with
me!

Would she have done so, I kept on asking myself, if she didn't know
quite well what I meant to say to her? Or was it just friendliness? I
knew she liked me.

... Why didn't she come? Here it was, only eight minutes before the
train started. As I searched the platform, with an eye that strove to
appear calm and unconcerned, I saw faces that I knew--faces of
theatrical celebrities, two or three of the prettiest girls in England,
a handsome, hook-nosed young man, who was, perhaps, the best known
theatrical manager in London, two eminent comedians carrying bouquets.
And the Press photographers were beginning to arrange their cameras....

I had completely forgotten what a tremendous celebrity dear little
Connie was. I might have known they'd have given her a send-off on her
way to the States. All the same, it annoyed me, as it seemed to be
annoying a tall, hatchet-faced man in Donegal tweeds, who scowled at
the little crowd. Was he a friend, too, I wondered?

She came at last, very late of course, and after a brief smile at me,
underwent the public ceremonies of the occasion, while I--I own
it--retired into the carriage for a minute or two. But I saw the cameras
click, and the girls embrace, and the crowd of sightseers trying to push
into the charmed circle, and then Connie was in the corridor, leaning
out of the window, waving and smiling as the train began to move to an
accompaniment of loud cheers.

"My dear Connie, royalty isn't in it!" I said, as she stepped laughingly
into the carriage, and I pushed the sliding door home.

"Oh, they're dears!" she said, "and they do really mean well, despite
the fact that we shall all be in the picture papers to-morrow morning,
and that's good for business."

"I thought you were never coming."

"It is an impression I convey," she answered; "but I'm very careful,
really. My maid was here with the luggage half an hour ago. What lovely
flowers you have got for me, John!"

She lay back in her seat as the train gathered speed and Ealing flashed
by with a roar, and I feasted my eyes on the fairest picture in the
world.

She wore a simple travelling coat and skirt of white piqué, and the
white lilac was all about her, framing her face as she held up a branch
to inhale its fragrance. All England knew that face in the days when
little Connie sang and danced herself into the heart of the public, but
none knew it as well as I.

How can I describe that marvellous hair of dark chestnut, those deep
amethyst eyes, and the perfect bow of lips which were truer to the exact
colour of coral than any I have ever seen? It only makes a catalogue
after all. It's the expression--the soul, if you like--that makes the
true face; and here was one so frank and kind and sweet that when one
looked it seemed as if hands were placed beneath the heart, lifting it
up!

On one other day only did I see her more lovely than she was now.

Well, it was too early to say what I wanted to say, and, besides, I was
nervous as yet. We hadn't settled down. As I expected, her breakfast had
consisted of tea and a macaroon, so I produced a basket--lunch was to
come later--in which a silver box of caviare sandwiches was surrounded
by crushed ice in a larger box of zinc. There was also iced hock and
seltzer water. We both felt more at home in a few minutes.

We had lit our cigarettes, and I was thinking hard, when someone passing
along the corridor looked in upon us for a moment. I had an impression
of a brown face and a scowl. It was the man in tweeds that I had noticed
at Paddington.

"That _beast_!" said Connie suddenly.

I turned and looked at her. She was frowning adorably, and I thought she
looked rather pale.

"D'you know him, then?"

"I did, and I simply hate him."

"Who is he?"

"I expect you've heard his name, John. Most people have in town. He is
Henry Helzephron, a big man in your way once."

I _did_ know the name as that of a pilot of extraordinary courage and
ability during the Great War. He had gained the Victoria Cross when a
lad of twenty, and his exploits during two wonderful years formed part
of the history of aviation. He had not flown for years now, and divided
his time between the more dissipated haunts of the West End and an
estate he had somewhere in Devon or Cornwall, a "has-been" with a
sinister reputation, a lounger of thirty-six.

"I know. 'Hawk Helzephron' he used to be called. Gone all to pieces, I
understand. But how do _you_ know him, dear?"

"He did me the honour to ask me to marry him about two months ago," she
answered, "and since then he is always putting himself in my way. He
does not speak, but he comes to the theatre and glares. I am always
meeting him, and I hate the sight of him. He makes me afraid...."

Here was my chance and I took it like a shot. She should never be
unprotected from Helzephrons and all the tribe who haunt the stage door
any more!

A successful aviator takes instantaneous decisions. He must. If he
hesitates he's lost.

What I said, as the Riviera Express hurled itself through the summer
noon, is not part of this narrative. I daresay I was no more original
than most men, but the results were eminently satisfactory for, as we
ran past the towers and winding river of Exeter, Connie and I were
engaged.

I remember that I lugged the ring out of my waistcoat pocket--sapphires
and diamonds, a top-shelf ring!--precisely as we glided through Exeter
Station.

"O-oh!" said Connie, as the thing winked and shone in the sunlight; and
then: "You _wretch_! I'll never forgive you--never!"

I wondered what was the matter. In fact, I asked her.

"You made so sure of me that you actually bought this beforehand!"

"It doesn't do to leave anything to chance," I said, and I made her put
it on, and gave her several other things of no particular importance
while she was doing it.

For the rest of the journey, past the red cliffs and blue seas of
Teignmouth and Paignton, we had a long and happy talk, finding out--of
course--all sorts of delightful things about each other which we had
only suspected before.

Perhaps there is nothing fresher and more delightful in life than those
first few hours of revelation, when a man and a girl who love each other
have, at last, become engaged. It is like coming into harbour after an
anxious voyage, and yet, all the time there is the splendid knowledge
that there are new and marvellous seas waiting to be explored, this
time--together!

Connie was to act in New York for a month and in Boston for a fortnight.
It was a 'star' engagement, and six weeks would soon pass. Besides, now
that Plymouth was barely thirty hours from New York, there was nothing
to prevent me from popping over once or twice to see her. I was
responsible to no one for my time, and half a dozen quite real matters
in connection with my job would provide a valid excuse. After the six
weeks were over, why, then, we would be married!

"There is absolutely no reason on earth why we should wait," I told her,
in sublime ignorance of what the Fates had in store for both of us.
"I'll have a special licence ready, and the day you land again on this
side you shall be Lady Custance, darling!"

So it was settled, lightly and happily enough, and when we left the
train at Plymouth Station there was not a cloud in the sky or in our
hearts.

I found that Mr. Thumbwood had been making excellent use of his time,
even as his master had, for the little man was assisting a demure and
well-looking maiden to collect luggage, who turned out to be Connie's
maid, Wilson.

We left them to it and drove to the Royal Hotel, not before I had seen
the train start again on its journey to Cornwall, with Mr.
Helzephron--whom I had quite forgotten--standing in the corridor and
regarding us with a malignant scowl upon his hawk-like, dissipated
countenance. But Mr. Helzephron, and all other men alive, were about six
a penny to me just then.

Connie was to leave the sea-drome at eight-thirty in that fine
flying-liner _Atlantis_. She was a Royal Mail ship, and about the
fastest and finest flyer in the Transatlantic service, with a carrying
capacity of three hundred and fifty passengers, and a thousand tons dead
weight of cargo. Her crew numbered forty, and she was commanded by
Captain Swainson, one of the most reliable pilot commanders in the air.
He was a man I both knew and liked.

Connie wanted a rest and a sleep. "At least, I want to be alone to think
it all over!" she said, so she went up to her room in the hotel at
once. I arranged to call for her at five, when we would go for a stroll
and afterwards have an early dinner. Then I washed my hands and strolled
into the famous long bar of the hotel for a sandwich and a whisky and
soda, before proceeding to the offices of the White Star Line on the
Hoe.

As I munched my sandwich, I wondered what the affair was that had made
Sir Joshua Johnson send me a wireless message in the middle of the
night--a time when obese old gentlemen should be fast asleep in bed. I
had told my people at Whitehall to ask for further particulars, but I
had not the least intention of being bothered with them--or any police
business whatever--until I had settled my own personal affairs with
Connie. Accordingly, when I left my chambers in the morning to go to
Paddington, I sent a message to Whitehall to say that I was proceeding
to Plymouth during the day, and would wait till my arrival to hear what
the business was. Muir Lockhart, my assistant, would perfectly
understand, and was quite capable of dealing with anything that might
come along.

The long bar was, as usual, full of naval officers, with a sprinkling of
Air Merchant Service men in their uniform of grey, silver and light
blue. I saw no one that I knew, until the swing-doors leading into the
hotel were flung open, and a wiry little man in the black and silver
uniform of my own corps came hurriedly in. His peaked cap, with the
silver wings and sword badge, was pushed back on his head, and he was in
a state of unenviable heat and perspiration. He was Pilot Superintendent
Lashmar, chief of the Ocean Patrol stationed at Plymouth, with equal
rank to a lieutenant-commander in the Navy, and one of my most trusted
officers in the West.

He went up to the bar and ordered a "long glass of iced ginger-beer,
with a dash of gin in it," and then I clapped him on the shoulder. He
wheeled round in a second, and when he saw who it was his face changed
from anxiety to relief.

"Thank Heaven you're come, sir," he said, as he saluted. "We've been
signalling to Whitehall all the morning, and all we could get was that
you were on your way. I've been backwards and forwards from the A.P.
Headquarters to the White Star Office a dozen times."

"I came down by train, Mr. Lashmar," I said, realizing in an instant
that there really _was_ something important afoot, and that by bad luck
I was behind time. Sir Joshua Johnson was all very well, but when my own
people began to send out signals--that was quite another matter.

"We thought you'd fly down in the yacht, sir, and we've been sending
wireless trying to pick you up."

"I couldn't. I have had some most important business to attend to.
Anyhow, I'm here now. What's it all about?"

"You haven't heard _anything_, sir?" he asked in amazement.

Again I cursed my luck, but I wasn't going to give it away. "We'll go
round to Sir Joshua Johnson at once," was all I said.

"That will be best, sir, and then every detail can be put before you in
sequence. I have my report with me, written up to date. I think I've
taken all possible measures up to the present, but, of course, we've
been waiting for you. Sir Joshua, as you may imagine, is half out of his
wits."

"He's not had very far to travel, then," I said to gain time. All this
was so much Greek to me, and I had to walk warily.

In a minute more Lashmar and I were on the Hoe and approaching the
stately offices of the Line, which stood in the very centre of that
famous promenade above the blue waters of the Sound.



CHAPTER II

FATE OF THE TRANS-ATLANTIC AIR-LINER "ALBATROS"


There were a good many people in both the ante-room and the secretaries'
room as I was led to Sir Joshua. I was immediately aware of an unusual
stir and excitement, and people nodded and whispered as I
passed--"That's Sir John Custance, the Police Commissioner." "I expect
there's some news," were two of the _sotto voce_ remarks I heard.

Sir Joshua sat in his own magnificent apartment, with the great window
looking out over Drake's Island and Mount Edgcombe to the horizon. A
tray and a decanter showed that he had lunched there, and there was a
good deal of cigar smoke in the air.

Sir Joshua was a tall and corpulent man of nearly seventy, with a red
face with little purple veins in the cheeks, a thatch of snow-white hair
and close whiskers. He had been an early pioneer of commercial flying,
and had reaped his reward in the control of the finest air fleet in the
world and the Lord knows how many millions of money. He was distinctly
an able and upright man, and his only faults were a slight pomposity and
a mistaken idea that the Commissioner of A.P. for Great Britain was a
sort of unpaid official of The White Star Line! A good many of the great
air-shipping magnates had tried to take that line in the past--and been
snubbed for their pains!

Sir Joshua was not pompous this afternoon, and his face was twitching as
he shook hands.

"Thank God you're come, Sir John," he said, "I am almost out of my mind
with worry and anxiety. You will agree with me that this affair is as
grave as it well can be?"

To that I was diplomatically silent. What I said was: "I have seen
Superintendent Pilot Lashmar. What I want now, Sir Joshua, as a
preliminary, is a brief and exact account from your own lips."

"Sit down," he said, pushing a padded chair towards me and handing a box
of cigars. "You shall have it in a nutshell." He sat down opposite to
me, pulled some papers towards him with a hand that shook a little, and
began to read.

... "Our liner _Albatros_, carrying the mails, left New York yesterday
morning about seven a.m., American time. She was consequently due here
at Plymouth about six-thirty this afternoon--Greenwich. The weather
conditions at the ten thousand feet mail-ship level were perfect. In
addition to the mails there were about two hundred passengers, and she
carried, though this was known only to a few officials, a parcel of
particularly fine Brazilian diamonds, consigned from Tiffany's of New
York to Aaron and Harris, the dealers in precious stones, of Hatton
Garden. The jewels were in the ship's safe, in charge of the purser.
Various ships--I have the full list--sighted the _Albatros_ during the
day and exchanged signals, while she duly reported herself by wireless
as she passed each lightship, as soon as dusk fell. The lightships, as
you know, are a hundred miles apart from the Fastnet to Long Island, and
are connected by cable with our telegraph room here. The indicating
dials register, degree by geographical degree, the exact position of any
of our ships when in the air. This record is printed on a tape beneath
each dial, and each record is examined every hour or two by a clerk."

Of course, I knew all this. The minutest detail of the system was
familiar. I wished that Sir Joshua would "cut the cackle and come to the
'osses." No doubt my face showed something of what I felt, for Sir
Joshua half apologized.

"You see, Sir John," he said, "I thought it best to prepare some sort of
short and coherent statement for the Press. As yet they have got hold
of nothing, but we can't possibly keep it much longer. Even you
couldn't, with all your powers. And what I am reading is this statement.
I particularly want you to hear it, as, of course, it rests with you if
it shall be published in this form or not."

I bowed, and Sir Joshua continued:

"At ten o'clock last night the clerk on duty examined the tapes. When he
came to the one recording the progress of the _Albatros_, he found that
for two hours there was no record of her at all. The last record was
that she had passed and signalled to Lightship A. 70 that all was well.
A two hours' gap is so unusual, owing to the--er--perfection of our
organization, that the clerk was alarmed, and reported the matter to a
superior upstairs.

"A general call to all our ships in the air at that moment was at once
sent out, and in a few minutes responses were received from several of
them to the effect that the _Albatros_ had not been sighted. Nor was
there any answer from the ship herself. A signal to Lightship A. 71, the
next guide-boat the _Albatros_ should have passed, elicited the
information that she had never done so. By eleven o'clock all these
facts were known in this office. The night staff here became seriously
alarmed. By a fortunate coincidence I was attending a performance at the
Theatre Royal close by, with Lady Johnson and my daughters. This was
known, and a messenger caught me at the close of the play, and I came
round at once. I had not been in the offices for five minutes, when news
of the most extraordinary and sensational character began to come in
from our receiving station by the Citadel.

"Captain Pring, one of our most reliable pilot commanders, was in charge
of the _Albatros_. The message was from him, and this is the gist of it.
At sundown the _Albatros_ was flying on the ten-thousand-foot level. The
Lightship A. 70 was some twenty miles astern. No other airships were in
sight, when the look-out man reported a boat coming up at great speed
from the east. The _Albatros_ was doing her steady ninety knots, but as
the two ships approached, it was seen that the stranger, a much smaller
boat, was flying at an almost incredible rate. Pring reports that she
was doing a sixteen to eighteen second mile, but there is doubtless a
mistake in the message.

"The boat showed no distinguishing lights, and failed to signal, as she
flashed past the liner at the distance of half a mile. There were
several curious features about her which attracted attention, though
what these were we do not yet know. This strange ship turned and came up
with the _Albatros_, actually flying round her in spirals with the
greatest ease. Then, without the slightest warning, she opened fire on
our vessel, and the first shell, obviously by design, blew away our
wireless."

My heart simply bounded within me. This was news with a vengeance! I had
to exercise all my self-control not to pour out a stream of frantic
questions. It was beyond thinking! Such a thing had not happened since
the League of Nations came into being. It might mean hideous war once
more--anything!

Sir Joshua had paused to drink a glass of water. He understood the
immense gravity of this news as well as I did, and his voice was
unsteady as he went on in answer to my nod!

"The _Albatros_ was helpless. Since the international agreement that
only naval, military and police ships may fly armed, she had no possible
means of defence. Flight, even, was impossible, and the loss of her
wireless forbade her to summon help. Then the anonymous ship turned a
machine gun on her rudder and shot it out of gear. There was nothing for
it but to descend to the water and rest on her floats. Pring was forced
to give the order, and she planed down. The other ship followed and took
the water not two hundred yards away.

"She then signalled in Morse code, with a Klaxon horn, that she was
sending men aboard the _Albatros_, and that if the captain or crew
offered the slightest resistance she'd blow her to pieces. They launched
a Berthon collapsible boat from a door in the stern fusilage. There were
four men in her, all armed with large-calibre automatic pistols, and
wearing pilot's hoods and masks with talc eye-pieces, so that it was
impossible to identify them. Pring could do nothing at all. He had the
passengers to consider. These ruffians cleared out the safe and the
women's jewel-cases--they left the mails alone--and in ten minutes they
were back again with the loot. The ship lifted and went off in the dark
at two hundred miles an hour, leaving the _Albatros_, helpless upon the
water.

"It was a business of several hours to rig up a makeshift rudder, but,
fortunately, her searchlights were all right, and she kept on signalling
with these until she was sighted by a big cargo steamer, a Baltimore to
Cadiz boat, coming up from the south, the _Sant Iago_. She took off the
passengers and is bringing them home; she's only a fifteen-knot boat,
but I have already dispatched one of our smaller liners to pick her up
and take the passengers aboard. They ought to be here some time
to-morrow.

"The _Sant Iago_ has wireless, and was able to communicate, not only
with us, but also with the air-yacht _May Flower_, which she sighted on
the four-thousand-foot level at dawn. The _May Flower_ belongs to Mr.
Van Adams, the Philadelphia millionaire, who is crossing to England with
a party of friends. She came down to the water and took up Commander
Pring and the second officer, and should be here by tea-time this
afternoon. Then we shall know more of this unprecedented, this
deplorable business."

"And the _Albatros_, Sir Joshua?"

"A small crew was left on her, and an emergency tender and workmen
started at dawn. She ought to be flying again to-night."

I had all the available facts at last, and long before Sir Joshua had
finished my mind was busy as a mill. There was going to be the very
biggest sort of commotion over this. England and America would be in a
blaze of fury within twenty-four hours, and every flying man, from the
skippers of the lordly London-Brindisi-Bombay boats, or the
Transatlantic Line, to the sporting commercial traveller in a secondhand
50 h.p. trussed-girder blow-fly, would be wagging the admonishing finger
at ME.

"Thank you, Sir Joshua. Most lucid, if I may say so. As a clear
statement of fact, combined with a sense of vivid narrative, your
account could hardly be improved on."

"You think, Sir John ..."

"When the time comes to make a statement for the newspapers I would not
alter a word."

Thus did the tongue of the flatterer evade a situation that might have
been a trifle awkward for me. I rose at that. "I must leave you now, Sir
Joshua," I said, "as I have a great deal to see to and must rejoin Mr.
Lashmar. Steps have already been taken, and later on in the day I shall
be able to tell you more. Meanwhile I shall see Captain Pring directly
the _May Flower_ arrives, and before anyone else. Our future action must
depend a great deal on his statement."

This was said in my curtest official manner, and then I got out of the
room as quickly as I possibly could. Lashmar was waiting, and I took him
by the arm and hurried him out of the office.

"I've only just heard full details, Lashmar, and pretty bad they are.
Now has anything been done--by us, I mean?"

"I had two of our patrol ships out at two-thirty this morning cruising
over a wide area, sir. They are out still, and reporting every hour. No
results, no strange airship seen anywhere. I've been out myself up and
down the Irish coast and round the Scillies this morning, more for
form's sake than anything else. And I've cabled the whole story, as far
as we know it, to the States."

"Good! Any reply from them?"

"Their police ships are out from Cape Breton to the Bermudas, but they
don't seem to have sighted anything out of the ordinary as yet."

"Of course, it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack along
that huge stretch, eight hundred miles if it's an inch. But, as far as I
can see, it's up to them; not us."

"You think so, sir?"

"Why, yes. It's a case of sheer rank and daring piracy. It's been
organized with great skill, and the pirates, whoever they are, have
command of something quite out-size in the way of a ship. There isn't a
works in England where such a boat could be built without our knowing
about it before it was launched. And it's dead certain that there's
nowhere in these little islands to hide her. Every single bit of spruce
and piano wire with a motor-bicycle engine that can fly ten yards has to
be registered and licensed by me. No, this is an American stunt."

We had been crossing the Hoe as we talked, in the direction of the
Citadel, and we now came to the long, low building of Dartmoor stone,
which is the Plymouth Headquarters of the A.P. It is perched on the edge
of the cliff, and within five yards of the spot where Sir Francis Drake
is said to have finished his game of bowls when the Armada was coming up
Channel.

We passed through the gates, where the police sentry presented arms, and
began to walk up and down the terrace.

"Signal to Southampton," I ordered, "and get a couple of their fastest
boats here at once. They may be useful in an emergency, and it will look
as if we are doing something. Ready for action, of course, and with full
service ammunition and bombs. Sir Joshua may have a fit if he likes, but
there is nothing to be done until we know more--unless you can suggest
anything?"

The little man shook his head. He was keen as a terrier, of course, and
he had already acted with great promptitude and wisdom.

Just then an orderly came out on to the terrace and handed me a signal.

I read it out to Lashmar: "Air-yacht _May Flower_ just passed St. Mary's
doing ninety knots." It was from our most westerly A.P. station on
Tresco in the Scillies. Lashmar made a rough calculation: "Twenty-five
miles west-sou'-west of Land's End, add another seventy--she'll be here
just under the hour, sir."

"Then I tell you what, Mr. Lashmar, go and meet her and escort her home.
Not a living soul must speak to Captain Pring before I do--not even Sir
Joshua or any of the White Star people. Give that as my orders when you
meet the yacht. But put it very politely to Mr. Van Adams--my
compliments and that sort of thing. He's the sort of person who could
buy the goodwill of the universe for ready money. Make your escort
appear a compliment from the Government!"

Lashmar never wasted words. He understood exactly, saluted, and hurried
to the electric railway, which ran down like a chute into the sea-drome
far below. I lit a cigarette and watched, and it was a sight worth
watching.

Beyond, stretched the largest sea-drome in Great Britain, a harbour
within a harbour, surrounded by massive concrete walls. In the roughest
weather, when even within the distant breakwater the Sound is turbulent,
the sea-drome is calm as a duck-pond. Now it was like a sheet of
polished silver, and resting on their great floats at their moorings
were three gigantic air-liners, with electric launches and motor-boats
plying between them and the landing-stages.

Right in the centre was the splendid _Atlantis_, graceful as a swan, by
which Connie was to leave for the States in a few hours. She was
surrounded by a swarm of boats no bigger than water-beetles from where I
stood.

A bell rang, there was a rumbling sound, and from a tunnel just beneath
me the car, with Lashmar in it, shot down to the water like a stone
running down a house roof. As the car dwindled to a punt, a match-box,
and finally a postage stamp, I heard the creak and swish of the
semaphore behind me on the roof of the station. On the far side of the
sea-drome was our Patrol Ship No. 1, stream-line fusilage, with the
familiar red, white and blue line, snow-white planes, guns fore and
aft, and twin propellers of phosphor bronze winking white-hot in the
afternoon sun.

The semaphore was sighted in five seconds. I got a pair of glasses, and
saw that the engines were already "ticking over" as Lashmar jumped into
a launch and went over the pool, with a cream-white wake behind him and
two ostrich plumes of spray six feet high at the bows. He was on board
in less time than it takes to write it. I heard the faint throbbing of
the four high-compression engines change to the drone of a hornet. No. 1
Patrol slid over the water until her floats lifted--lifted until they
barely touched the surface, and she was clear. One clean spiral over
Pinklecombe way, and then, as she mounted, she turned and was off over
Rams Head like an arrow from a bow. Though I say it that shouldn't, my
officers and men of the A.P. were just about as good as they're made!

There was a good three-quarters of an hour to spare, and the Royal Hotel
was not four minutes away. After the recent excitements a cup of tea
with Connie seemed just the thing. As I legged it over the Hoe, I
realized that I might be very busy for some time, and, in consequence,
late for dinner. I must tell my girl that something of great importance
had happened, though, in any case, I was determined to see her off, come
what might.

Then I remembered something. As Chief Commissioner I had absolute
control over the airports of England in a time of crisis. In any case,
it would be as well to, close the sea-drome in preparation for the _May
Flower's_ arrival. I should then be certain that no one could possibly
get at Captain Pring before I could. And if I chose to detain even the
Royal Mail for half an hour later on in the evening--under the
circumstances!--no one would say me nay.

There is a telephone box in the hall of the Royal Hotel. In thirty
seconds my orders were given, and not a living soul would enter or leave
Plymouth sea-drome without my permission. Then I strolled into the
winter gardens, where I found Connie sitting at a little table among
tubs of azaleas and listening to the strains of a ladies' orchestra.

"I've half an hour and ten minutes exactly, darling," I said, putting my
watch on the table and helping her to early strawberries. "Tell me when
the time's up, and then I must rush away for an hour before we dine."

Straightway I forgot all about the _Albatros_, Captain Pring, and the
mysterious armed ship in mid-Atlantic.

Knowing what I know now, I wonder how I could have taken it so lightly,
even then. But grave and serious as the affair was, amazing, too, in
its boldness, an elaborate and unexpected masterpiece of crime, it
seemed remote and very far away, like something one reads of in a
foreign newspaper, never conceiving that it can have anything to do with
one's own _personal_ life.

If only I could have peeped but a little way into the future!



CHAPTER III

"COLD-BLOODED PIRACY IN THE HIGH AIR"


Pilot-commander Pring was a tall, lean, lantern-jawed officer, who,
though of English nationality, had spent most of his life in America.
His face was still pale and grim with passion and mortification as I
closed the door of my private room at the A.P. Station on him, Mr. Van
Adams, the multi-millionaire, and Mr. Rickaby, second officer of the
_Albatros_.

"Now, gentlemen, sit down, please," I said. "And I will ask Captain
Pring a few questions. Sir Joshua Johnson has given me the main facts,
but I want details. I won't detain you long, but I felt I ought to see
you before anyone else."

"Oh, quite!" said Mr. Van Adams, a fleshy man, with a watchful eye and a
jaw like a pike.

"This is an extraordinary affair, Captain Pring," I went on. "But, thank
goodness, you haven't lost your ship, or any lives. I know what you feel
about the _Albatros_."

"She is father, mother, brother, sister, hired girl and dog under the
waggon to me!" said Pring, and then he blazed up into fury. I
disentangle the few words I can. The majority were too overdressed for
respectable society.

"... His Majesty's Mails! First time in history of flying, and it's
happened to ME! Cold-blooded piracy in the High Air! They'd have blown
us to pieces as soon as look at us! When I get hold of that
slime-lapping leper, the pirate skipper, I won't leave him hide or hair
to cover the wart he calls his heart! ..." and so on, for a good two
minutes by the office chronometer.

I let him rip. It was the quickest way. It's dangerous to throttle down
a man like Pring.

"The Captain is, naturally, furious," I said.

"Oh, quite!" answered Mr. Van Adams.

Then we got to business. "The strange airship, Captain Pring. Let's
begin with that. She approached you flying _West_, I understand?"

"She did, Sir John. Does that put you wise to anything?"

"It would appear that she was coming from Europe. But that was probably
a trick. She might have been waiting about for hours."

"Curious thing, then, that all the ships in the air during the last
thirty hours that were within fifteen hundred miles of the American and
Canadian coast never saw anything of her. The Air Police of the U.S.A.
have questioned every registered boat, Transatlantic and coastal trade,
and not one of them sighted her. And, as you know, Sir John, from Cape
Race to Charleston in summer weather the air's as thick with craft as
gnats over a pond. Ain't that so, Mr. Van Adams, sir?"

"Quite, Captain Pring."

"I see your inference. Well, we'll leave that for a moment. I understand
that there were some peculiar features about this ship. What were they?"

"She's the fastest thing in the air, bar none. That I can swear to. A
pilot of my experience can't well be deceived, and if that ship--she's
one of the very few I've seen with four propellers--can't do two hundred
and forty miles an hour, _without a following wind, mind_, then I'm a
paretic!"

I whistled. Such speeds had been dreamed of but never known. "Nearly
three times hurricane velocity!" I said.

"She'd race the dawn, Sir John! and that's my honest belief. There's
never been such a flying boat before. And she don't carry a crew of more
than twelve or fifteen men, in my opinion. The rest's all engines and
petrol. She ain't more than twice the size of one of your patrol ships,
all over."

This was talking! Each moment the affair grew more tense and
interesting.

"That narrows our field of search no end," I remarked. "A boat like that
can't be built anywhere in the world without leaving traces."

"It colours the cat different, sure," said Captain Pring. "Now, here's
another point. Gum! I'm going to startle you some more, Sir John, but,
as God sees me, I'm speaking truth. Here's Mr. Rickaby here as'll swear
to all I say...."

He looked at the second officer, a good-looking, brown-faced lad. "It's
all gospel, Sir John," he broke in.

"Of course," I said impatiently, "I know you couldn't be mistaken,
Pring, and I won't insult you by thinking you'd pull a Chief
Commissioner's leg over an affair of this importance. What's number two?
Let's have it!"

"The man who runs her, or the man who built her, has solved another
problem. He's produced silent engines at last! That ship's motors don't
make more noise than a June bug! On a dark night she could pass within
two hundred yards of you, and you'd never guess that she was near."

From that moment I saw the thing in its true proportions. From that
moment the air became unsafe. A man-eating tiger let loose upon a quiet
country-side was not a tithe as dangerous.

The three other men saw that I understood.

"The scoundrels who came aboard the _Albatros_ and looted the ship.
What of them?"

"They were masked so's their mothers wouldn't, have known 'em. Armed to
the teeth, too. We'd have downed them quick enough, even at the cost of
a life or two, but there was the pirate with a four-inch gun trained on
us. And she meant business. I did right, Sir John?"

The poor fellow's voice shook, and his face was corrugated with anxiety.

"I should have done exactly the same myself under the circumstances,
Pring. Your first duty was to the women and children under your care.
That view, I am certain, will be accepted by the company and the
Government, to say nothing of the public, when it gets out. About these
men, again, did you judge them to be American or foreigners?"

"They didn't speak much, except, to give a few orders. But what they
_did_ say I heard, every word. I was with them all the time, and so was
Mr. Rickaby here. I'll spring another surprise on you, Sir John, and
then I've done. _Those chaps were English, every one of them._ And,
what's more, they weren't any plug-ugly crowd neither! They were
educated men of some social position, club men at some time or other, or
I'm a short sport!"

The second officer spoke. "Captain Pring is perfectly right, sir," he
said modestly. "I'll swear that they had been public school or 'Varsity
men at some time or other."

"Where were you?" I asked quickly.

"Harrow, sir."

I nodded. Here was another astounding fact for consideration when I was
alone.

"And then, after a time," Pring continued, "the _Sant Iago_ tramp
steamer freighter came up from way down South and rescued us. After that
we sighted the lights of Mr. Van Adams' air yacht, the _May Flower_, and
in answer to our signal he came down and took me and Rickaby aboard."

"Quite," said the laconic millionaire.

"To-night, Captain Pring, I shall want a long talk with you. Now I must
surrender you to Sir Joshua. For the present, I want you all three to
give me your words of honour that you will tell no one at all anything
about the appearance or speed of the ship, that her engines were silent,
or you suspect the ruffians on her to be English. That is most
important. In fact, I must make it an order, under the powers with which
I am invested by the Secretary of State. As an order, it cannot apply,
to you, Mr. Van Adams, but you have been so kind and helpful hitherto
that I feel sure you'll give me your promise? You must see how necessary
it is."

Mr. Van Adams was going to use his word-of-all-work, I saw it coming,
when he changed his mind.

"I'm on," he said instead.

The two pilots gave me their assurances, and we walked out of the office
together. As we went along the terrace Pring pointed down to the
sea-drome, where the millionaire's air yacht, a beautiful boat, painted
cream colour and black, was now resting at her moorings.

"The _Atlantis_ starts to-night," he said significantly.

"She will be escorted by an armed patrol," I said, "until she meets one
of the American A.P. ships in mid-ocean. Surely, you don't think there's
any danger?"

To tell the truth, I had been so concentrated upon the matter in hand
that I had hardly given a thought to the outgoing liner. Can you blame
me? Anyway, duty came before any private considerations. Now, Pring's
remark started a new set of thoughts. I looked at him with great
anxiety. He did not know the whole of my reason, but he saw that I was
disturbed.

"No, Sir John," he answered, "I don't think the danger worth the waggle
of a mule's ear. It was only a passing remark. It stands to reason that
Captain Kidd'll know that the police boats of two hemispheres are out
looking for him in swarms by now. He'll figure that out, sure. If he
was to start any of his stunts within the next few days, he'd have about
as much chance as a fat man in Fiji."

"That's what I thought."

"You may make your mind easy about the _Atlantis_, sir. Besides, as you
say, to put the lid on, she'll be escorted."

"Quite," I said involuntarily, and then we both laughed.

"Royal Hotel at ten-thirty," I said. "I shall be staying there
to-night."

I shall never forget that dinner with Connie. One of her greatest charms
is her serene light-heartedness. It is not silliness or frivolity, don't
think that, but the bloom upon the fruit of a clear and happy nature
whose conscience is at rest. My girl wasn't a fool. She was not ignorant
of evil and the grey sides of life. But they left her untouched. Perhaps
her very simplicity, the gay and stainless courage that she wore like a
flag through life, had helped her to her great success. The British
public might admire and enjoy the work of other artists, but they had
taken little Connie Shepherd to their hearts.

She was gay at our dinner, bubbling over with joy and fun. I did my best
to respond, but it was rather difficult. There was a shadow on my mind,
and it would not go away.

"Dearest old John!" she said once, "what is it? You're sad, inside of
you, and you're pretending you're not!"

"Darling, in an hour or two you'll be gone. How can I be very happy?"

She shook her head. "It's not that. You can't deceive me. I don't want
to part, either, especially on this day of days. But we are both of us
sensible, and we both know it's only for six weeks. You aren't in the
least sentimental--horrid word!--nor am I. We go deeper than that."

"Well, then, to tell you the truth"--and it _was_ the truth--"I am a bit
under the weather, and I can't quite say why. Perhaps it's reaction. But
most probably, it's because I have been hearing some news, a matter in
connection with my work which has excited me. It's a problem of
organization I must solve at once. Forgive me, sweetheart!"

"My dear, if you were not what you are, I should never have said 'yes.'
No one has ever had such a position as you at your age, and I know how
you've fought for it. I _love_ you to be preoccupied about your work."

We finished dinner, however, in a happier mood, and then walked down to
the sea-drome together. Connie's heavy luggage had gone to New York by
steamer a week ago. The two small trunks she had brought with her from
London were already on board the _Atlantis_, and Wilson and Thumbwood
carried a couple of dressing-bags.

It was a perfect evening. The sun, in going to rest, had hung the sky
with banners, golden and glorious. The music of a band upon the pier
came softly up to the terrace of the A.P. Station. Young men and maidens
in summer clothes strolled up and down over the greens, and a
sickle-shaped new moon was rising over Devonport and the Hamoaze.

We went down in the electric car, and boarded the _Atlantis_ from one of
my launches. She was lit up in all her triple decks, as we climbed
aboard by the saloon accommodation ladder, and a steward took Connie and
her maid to her cabin, while I went to find my old friend, Captain
Swainson.

The big, bearded man was sitting alone in his little room. There was a
cup of black coffee by his side, and he was chewing an unlighted cigar.
I saw at once that he had heard something.

"The very man!" he cried, jumping up from his basket chair and gripping
me warmly by the hand. "I heard you were here, Sir John, and I made sure
of seeing you before I started. Now what's all this? Sir Joshua's half
out of his mind with worry, the offices are turned upside down, and Seth
Pring--confound him!--is as close as an oyster!"

I found out that he knew just what Sir Joshua knew, and no more. He was
indignant but quite cool, inclined to minimize the whole affair.

It seemed to me that to tell him the whole truth would serve no good
purpose.

Pilot Superintendent Lashmar, whom I was going to send in command of the
escort, would, of course, know everything.

"Well, I'm sending an escort with you half-way across," I said. "Lashmar
will go--you know him?--in No. 1 Patrol Boat. It's heavily armed, and he
can shoot straighter than any man in the service. Got his experience in
the Great War."

"Escort be blowed!" said hearty Captain Swainson. "I can't think what
old Pring was about to let himself be held up like that--though, of
course, it's just as you wish, Sir John."

"I don't suppose there's the least need of it, Swainson. But this
business'll make a bit of a noise, and it looks well. Now I'll tell you
a secret. I'm engaged to be married! Settled it coming down in the train
this morning."

"The deuce you are! A thousand congratulations!"

"Thanks. What's more, the lady is aboard your ship, and flies to New
York with you to-night. I want you to look after her for me."

"Can a duck swim? Well, this _is_ news! Now I understand about that
escort! But do introduce me, Sir John. It will be more than a pleasure
to make the young lady comfortable."

We went off to seek Connie, and found her sitting behind one of the
multiplex wind-screens on the saloon deck, listening to the music of a
piano and violin that came through the open hatch of the palm-court
below.

I remember that the musicians were playing a selection of old English
airs, sweet, plaintive music, and had just got to "The Last Rose of
Summer."

I'm not emotional, but when I hear that tune to-day--thank goodness, it
isn't often!--I go out of the room.


At a quarter to nine I stood on the Hoe and watched the _Atlantis_ start
for America. Her navigation lights were all turned on; the innumerable
port-holes of the huge fusilage made an amber necklace below the immense
grey planes.

Then, from the towers on the sea-drome wall the "flare-path" shot
out--an avenue of white and steady light to guide the liner outwards.
From the roof of the A.P. Station the compressed air-horn sent out three
long, brazen calls. I had arranged it so. It was my Godspeed to
Constance. Old Swainson answered on his Klaxon, and then the liner began
to move slowly over the glittering water. Every second she increased her
speed and lifted until she rose clear and slanted upwards. I had a
vision of the mysterious silvery thing like a moth in the centre of the
light-beam, and then the flare-path shifted out to sea, and rose till it
was almost at a right angle with the water. The _Atlantis_ was
spiralling up to her ten-thousand-foot level, and in a moment or two she
was nothing more than a speck.

Just as I lost sight of her, Patrol Ship No. 1 lifted and followed like
a hawk after a heron, and then both ships were lost in the night.

The band on Plymouth Pier was still playing. The young men and maidens
were still strolling round the lawns in the moonlight. The air was sweet
and pure, full of laughter and the voices of girls. But I went back to
the station with a heavy heart.

Two shorthand clerks and two telegraphists were waiting for me, and in
the next hour I got through an infinity of work. There was a mass of
telegrams to answer from America. They had been re-wired from Whitehall.
I had to send out fifty or sixty signals to organize a complete patrol
of the Atlantic air-lanes. There was a long and confidential "wireless"
to my assistant, Muir Lockhart, in London, and last, though by no means
least, a condensed report of everything for the Home Secretary. It was
after ten when I had finished, and I walked slowly back to the "Royal,"
dead tired in mind and body. When I came to think of it, I realized that
this had been one of the most eventful and exciting days of my life.

Thumbwood--you will hear a great deal about him before this narrative is
over--was waiting in the hall. He hurried me upstairs to where a tepid
bath dashed with ammonia was waiting. Five minutes in this, a brisk rub
down, a complete change into evening kit, a tea-cup of Bovril with a
tablespoon of brandy and a pinch of celery salt in it--what Thumbwood
called my "bran-mash"--and I was a new man again.

For a perfect valet commend me a man who has had charge of racehorses in
his time!

Then I went down to meet Captain Pring. I saw at once, as I came into
the public rooms of the hotel, that the news was out. Groups of people
were standing together and talking earnestly. There was a buzz of
suppressed excitement, natural anywhere, but particularly so in the
principal air-port of England.

And there were special editions of the evening papers....

These--I got one and looked--had made the most of very scanty material.
Nothing like the whole truth had leaked out, but there was,
nevertheless, a sensation of the first magnitude. I was recognized and
pointed to; a naval captain even spoke, and tried to pump me!--though
he soon found that there was nothing doing--and when Captain Pring came
into the lounge some idiot started to cheer, and there was what the
papers describe as a "scene."

Pring and I supped alone in a private room and had a long confidential
talk, in the course of which I learnt many things. I am not going to
give any details of that talk at present. It was momentous--it is enough
to say that now--and has its proper place further on in the story.

The worthy Captain went at twelve, and I retired to bed. Thumbwood slept
in a dressing-room opening out of my bedroom. By his couch was a
telephone, which I arranged was to be connected with the A.P. Station
all night long. If any signal came Thumbwood was to take it, and, if
important, wake me at once.

... I am going to conclude this first portion of the narrative in as few
lines as possible. Even to-day I shirk the writing of them.

I was awakened suddenly to find my room blazing with light; I afterwards
found that the exact time was 2.30 a.m.

Thumbwood was standing by the bed. "Sir John," he said hoarsely,
"there's a signal!"

One glance at the lad's face was enough, and I set my teeth--hard.

"Bad news?"

"Terrible news, Sir John!"

"Go on."

"_Atlantis_ attacked two hundred miles west of Cork. Captain Swainson
and four other men shot dead. Patrol Boat No. 1 disabled. Commander
Lashmar and most of the crew killed. Signal got through by two survivors
of crew, who managed to repair wireless."

Twice I swallowed with a dry mouth. Thumbwood knew what I wanted to ask.

"The young lady, Sir John, and her maid ..."

"Dead, too?"

"No, Sir John. They were taken from among all the other passengers and
put aboard the pirate ship, which then flew away with them."



CHAPTER IV

THE NEWSPAPERS IN FULL CRY


You are to imagine, if you please, the private room of the Chief
Commissioner of Air Police at Whitehall.

A soft Turkey carpet of dull brick-reds and blues covers the parquet
floor. The walls are hung with pictures of famous airmen of the past,
inventors, fighters, pioneers of the great commercial service of
air-liners which now fills the skies and has shrunk the planet--for all
practical purposes--to a fifth of its former size. There are two or
three huge writing-tables covered with crimson morocco; the chairs are
thickly padded and luxurious. A range of tall windows looks down upon
the endless stir and movement of the wide street, where the nerves of
Empire meet in one central ganglion.

Standing by one of these windows is a light-haired young man of thirty
in a lounge suit of dark blue. He wears a rather heavy,
carefully-trimmed moustache, and his face is seamed and furrowed with
anxiety and grey from want of rest.

Thus you see me in London, two days after Thumbwood brought the
terrible news to my bedroom in the hotel at Plymouth.

General Sir Hercules Nichelson, Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Flying
Corps, had been with me for half an hour, and was just taking his leave.

"Then all that is satisfactorily arranged, Sir John," he said. "We shall
supplement your patrol ships with three war-ships at Plymouth and three
at the Scillies. They will, of course, be air cruisers, both faster and
better armed than your boats, and between us both we shall put an end to
this pest before many days are over."

"I sincerely trust so," I said. "And I do not see how it is possible
that there should be any further outrages. The net will be too close.
America, with its much greater coastal area, is taking extraordinary
precautions."

"It will be impossible for these devilish scoundrels to escape," the
General repeated with confidence--the onus of it all was not falling
upon _him!_--"and now, we quite understand one another."

"Perfectly, I think, Sir Hercules."

"Your chief station officer is to be in full command, under you, at each
air-port."

"It was your suggestion, Sir Hercules, and since it came from you, I do
think it would be best. My men are always patrolling the air-lines. The
organization is complete already."

"Exactly. And as for my fellows, they will be proud to serve under such
gallant and experienced officers as those of the A.P."

"It's kind of you to say so."

"Not at all. It is the truth. And now, as an older man, let me give you
a little advice, if I am not taking a liberty. Don't let this affect you
too much, Sir John. Every sane man knows that neither you nor anyone
else could have avoided what has happened, or have provided against it.
It is a great thing to have an acute sense of responsibility; I honour
you for it. But don't overdo it. I know the strain you are enduring.
Don't let it go too far. If you were to break down now, that would be a
final disaster...."

The kind, white-haired old man shook me warmly by the hand, and left the
room.

Almost immediately young Bickenhall, my private secretary, came in.
"Here is the morning's Press, sir," he said, and upon my table he put
down various columns cut from the journals of that morning--all dealing
with the sensational and terrible events on the Atlantic that were now
the common knowledge of the world.

I sat down to glance through them--I was keeping an iron grip upon
myself these times--in order to gauge public opinion. It occurs to me
that, in order to acquaint you with the progress of events from my
awakening at Plymouth till the morning of which I speak, I cannot do
better than quote a paragraph here and there from the daily papers. It
will bring us up to date more quickly and concisely than in any other
way.

This, then, from one of the leading London journals, a weighty, somewhat
ponderous sheet, with considerable influence:


"... We have given an account of the first attack upon the air-liner
_Albatros_, under command of Captain Pring, whose conduct in such a
trying situation did not deviate from the best traditions of our British
aviators. Most people would have thought that after such a dastardly
outrage, the unknown pirate would have been content to rest upon his
infamous laurels and retire to his lair, with the valuable booty he had
secured. But it was not so. With an audacity unparalleled in the annals
of crime, this vulture, on the very next night, commits an outrage
which, for ferocity and daring, makes the first one seem like a mere
frolic.

"It is now possible to disentangle something of the truth from the
various conflicting stories that have reached us, and it is, moreover,
confirmed in its essential details by the authorities of the Air Police
at Whitehall, who have issued a guarded statement.

"It appears that two nights ago the famous air-liner _Atlantis_ left
the Plymouth sea-drome about nine in the evening. The Captain, Commander
Pilot Swainson, was one of the best known and trusted officers in the
Transatlantic service. He did not anticipate the slightest danger. Sir
John Custance, Chief Commissioner of the Air Police of Great Britain,
was himself at Plymouth, having hurried down from London upon receiving
news of the first piracy. Sir John insisted that the _Atlantis_ should
be escorted, for half of her journey to America, by the armed Patrol
Ship '1,' under command of Superintendent Pilot-Commander Lashmar,
D.S.O., himself an officer of great distinction. Half-way across the
Atlantic the liner was to be met by a similar escort of the United
States A.P., and let us here say that it is difficult to tell what other
precautions Sir John Custance could have devised.

"The _Atlantis_ carried the Royal Mail and a full complement of
passengers, among whom were some distinguished names. Mr. Bootfeller, of
the United States Senate, Mr. Greenwell, the well-known publisher, the
Duke of Perth, and 'Walty Priest,' the cinema 'star,' were among the
men, while in the list of ladies was Miss Constance Shepherd, a young
actress, of whom it is not too much to say that she has endeared herself
to the British public.

"About two o'clock in the morning disastrous and terrible news began to
filter through to the Plymouth wireless stations. It can be summarized
as follows: When not more than two hundred and fifty miles west of
Ireland, the patrol ship, which was flying three miles or so behind the
_Atlantis_, was suddenly attacked by an unknown airship. The moon had
set, the ten-thousand-feet level was dark, and the attack was delivered
without the slightest warning. Patrol Ship No. 1 was instantly disabled
by a rain of shells. Captain Lashmar was shot dead, and with him
perished all of the crew except three men, one of whom was so seriously
wounded that his life is despaired of, the other two being only slightly
wounded.

"An utter wreck, the patrol ship was just able to descend to the water,
where she rested like a wounded and dying bird.

"Meanwhile the unknown ship caught up with the _Atlantis_ and
commenced--as in the case of the _Albatros_--with shooting away her
wireless aerials. The rudder and stern propeller were then destroyed,
and the great liner forced to plane to the surface of the water. Six
masked and armed ruffians went aboard of her, and a systematic looting
of the ship commenced. Captain Swainson could not bear this. He drew a
revolver and shot one of the pirates dead. Then, calling on his crew to
assist him, he made a determined rush, regardless of consequences. The
fight was unequal. Captain Swainson was the only defender who carried
fire-arms, while the robbers were provided with heavy automatic pistols.

"Five men of the _Atlantis_ were killed almost instantly, and the rest
cowed, while the systematic robbery continued. And now, alas! 'horrors
upon horror's head accumulate.' Their evil work completed, the ruffians
sought out Miss Constance Shepherd and her maid, Miss Wilson, from among
the passengers. These unfortunate ladies were forced at the pistol's
mouth to embark upon the pirates' small boat, in which they were rowed
rapidly to the pirate ship and taken on board. The ship then rose from
the water and was lost to sight.

"Meanwhile two heroes were at work. On board the broken patrol ship two
able navigators, Paget and Fowles, were wounded, indeed, but not
entirely disabled. Both men had some knowledge of wireless, and with
superhuman toil, as the hours went on, they contrived to rig up a
temporary apparatus which, at last, served to send out a brief account
of the disaster and a call for help.

"When rescue ships arrived at early dawn, they found that the patrol
ship had drifted close to the _Atlantis_, and that Dr. Weatherall, the
surgeon of the liner, had swum aboard the No. 1 and rendered what help
he could to the wounded men.

"Press representatives are at Plymouth, but, so far, few of the
passengers of the _Atlantis_ have been able, and none have been allowed
by the authorities, to make personal statements for publication. This
embargo, we are assured, will be removed by this evening.

"This is a precise account of what has happened. We must now turn to the
consideration of the situation...."


Another journal, a weekly one this time, headed its remarks with a
portrait of my unhappy self. Underneath was written: "The Man the
Atlantic Pirates tricked!" The rag had an immense circulation in all the
tap rooms of England.

Well, I would see what the blackguards of the country were reading about
me. Shrewd young Bickenhall wouldn't have brought the unclean thing in
if he hadn't thought it worth while. I give it for what it's worth:


"Poor Johnny Custance! You're up against it good and thick to-day, and
no mistake, and Paul Pry"--this was the signature of the tout who wrote
the article--"can't say he's very sorry for you. For some time past a
little bird has been whispering in the clubs that all is not well in the
State of Denmark--to wit, the office of the Commissioner of Air Police
at Whitehall. The aristocratic young gentlemen who daily condescend to
drop into this palatial edifice for an hour or two have long held the
reputation of being the best dressed of all our minor Government
officials, and, considering the salaries they draw from the public
purse, this is not surprising. But I have never yet heard that they did
any work worth mentioning, or, indeed, anything to justify their
precious and beautiful existence.

"Flying Police we must have, and never has the necessity for them been
greater than at this moment; but there is a vast deal of difference from
the handy pilot of a patrol ship at Plymouth or Portland and the
bureaucratic popinjays of Pall Mall.

"Sir John Custance, Bart., is the typical Government official of the
musical comedy or the comic paper. He is an aristocrat who, after a
short experience in the air, is shoved into the highly-paid and
responsible position he holds without any reason that the man in the
street can understand. A baronet, and, if report speaks truly, a man of
considerable private means, I have--in common with many other
people--often asked myself what possible qualification this young
gentleman can have for his job. Johnny is a most estimable person, no
doubt, in private life. I have heard it remarked that his moustache is
one of the most perfect things in the West End of London, and he is
frequently to be seen adorning a stall or box at the Parthenon Theatre.
But few people have ever taken him seriously as the head of our Air
Police, and now nobody will."


There was a row of stars here, as if Mr. Paul Pry paused for breath, or
was stopping to pick up another handful of mud, and then he went on
again:


"If the nation is called upon to pay thousands and thousands a year for
the upkeep of an efficient service of Air Police, it is entitled to see
that it gets it, and that the man in charge is able to provide it. What
has happened? A crew of murdering ruffians in an airship have looted two
of our greatest air-liners, slaughtered several people, kidnapped one of
our most popular actresses, and escaped scot-free. Vanished into the
wide! While Sir John Custance twiddles his thumbs in Whitehall and calls
upon the air forces of the Admiralty and War Office to supplement his
own miserably inefficient organization.

"As usual, we are not without some very special and exclusive
information in this office. My readers know from past experience that
their Paul is not easily caught napping. I believe that I shall have
something to say that will startle everyone in next week's number,
though, for certain reasons, I cannot be more explicit at present.
Before concluding these remarks, however, I must say a word or two about
the extraordinary and sinister disappearance of delightful Constance
Shepherd. Sad as it is to hear of brave men shot down while doing their
duty, there is something peculiarly terrible in the carrying off of the
little lady to whom London owes so much. Dear little Connie! We of
Bohemia knew and loved you well! Many is the happy hour that Paul Pry
has spent in your company, many the bumper of bubbly water he has
quaffed to your success!

"No one could possibly have foreseen such a tragic ending to the
American journey which Miss Shepherd set out upon with such high hopes.
And yet, there was not wanting a slight shadow of premonition. Only a
week ago she said to me: 'Paul, I'm not so sure, after all, that
everything will go well. There are certain things. I can't tell you of
them----' But I must refrain from betraying a confidence. Let it be
enough to say that my little friend had her moments of dejection, when
she was not entirely happy about the future."


I put down the paper and rang for Bickenhall. "You've read this, I
suppose?" I asked, pointing to it.

He nodded. "Lies, of course," he said; "mere words to fill up the
column."

"No doubt. Still, the man hints all sorts of things, damn him! And one
can't neglect any possible clue." I was in a raging fury, and Bickenhall
saw it, though he was far from suspecting the true cause.

"The office is in the Strand," he said, "three minutes by taxi. I'll go
and interview this Paul Pry and put the fear of God into him."

I knew my Bickenhall. He is an energetic and hefty young man, and though
I had little hopes that he would discover anything of value, I had a
shrewd suspicion that Mr. Paul Pry was about to experience a peculiarly
unpleasant ten minutes.

I was right in both my conjectures.

The secretary returned in half an hour. "Just a ramp," he said. "I found
a greasy ruffian smelling of gin in a back room, and frightened him out
of his life. He's never met Miss Shepherd, and has no private
information whatever. Will apologize in any manner you like."

I am not going to bother you with what the journalists wrote. There were
hundreds of columns of suggestions, conjecture, reproof, alarm, and so
forth. On the whole my department was let down fairly lightly, and I was
glad. Please don't think that I cared twopence for myself. I did not.
But I should have bitterly resented any serious reflections on my staff,
officers and men, who were, and are, as able and loyal a body as can be
found anywhere in the world.



CHAPTER V

THE FAMILIAR SPIRIT OF MR. VAN ADAMS


At mid-day I had an appointment with the Home Secretary. He received me
with the utmost kindness, and we had half an hour of highly confidential
talk. The purport of it will appear later. This is not the place for it.

Towards the end I informed him that I had a request to make.

"Tell me," he answered at once, "and let me repeat that the Government
has every confidence in you, Sir John. Don't take this too hardly, I beg
of you."

I had a sudden impulse. "I trust," I said, "that my anxiety for the
public welfare is in no degree overshadowed by a private sorrow. Indeed,
I am sure that it isn't. But, if I may speak in confidence, I should
like you to know, sir, that I was engaged to be married to Miss
Constance Shepherd."

There was a perceptible silence. I heard the great man take a long
inward breath, and murmur to himself, "Poor fellow!" Then he did the
right, the quite perfect thing: he stretched out his hand, and took mine
in a firm, warm grasp.

When I could speak, I returned to business.

"My request, sir, is this. I want to disappear for a month."

"Disappear, Sir John?"

"That's what it amounts to. Practically, I am going to ask for four
weeks' leave of absence. It must be private, though. If the news were
published the public would misunderstand, and think I was deserting my
post in a time of difficulty and danger."

"Whereas?"

"Whereas I want to investigate this affair in my own way. I believe that
the theories of the Press and public, and also those of Scotland
Yard--with whom I have been in consultation--are quite wrong. Nor do my
communications with America give me any reason to change my opinion.
This is a matter of life and death to me. I owe the Government, who have
promoted me so rapidly to the high position I occupy, a solution of this
mystery. I owe them and the public that the fiends who have committed
these outrages should be brought to justice. And, if God allows me, I
will do it. My honour and that of my department are at stake. Those two
things come before anything else. In addition, I have the private
reasons of which I have told you. And, in order to succeed, I am
persuaded that my way is the only way."

"You have certainly the strongest motives a man well could have to urge
you on. But can you be a little more explicit?"

"I want to leave Mr. Muir Lockhart in charge at the office. He is
perfectly capable of taking charge. He has everything at his fingers'
ends. And I shall arrange that he can always communicate with me at any
time."

The Home Secretary thought for a moment, and drummed with his fingers on
the arm of his chair. He had been a famous barrister, and renowned for
the perfection of his turn-out. His finger-nails were pink and polished
as the light fell upon them, and I wondered if he had them manicured.

Then he looked up. "Very well, do as you like," he said suddenly. "I
take it that you know what you're about. And heartfelt good wishes for
your success."

... This is how I plunged into a series of dangerous adventures, a dark
underworld of crime and almost superhuman cunning, probably without
parallel in modern times.

Arrangements were soon made at Whitehall. Muir Lockhart was an
understanding man, and by three o'clock in the afternoon I walked out
into the sunshine free from all official cares for a month. I took a
long, deep breath as I crossed the Horse Guards Parade and made my way
to the long, green vista of the Mall. "The first act is over," I
thought. "The curtain is rising on the real drama. Somewhere in this
world there is a man whose discovery and death I owe to Society and to
myself."

And I was a man who never failed to pay a debt.

I have given you but little indication of my mental state during the
last few days. It won't bear much writing about even now. A cold fury,
instead of blood, came and went in my veins, and my heart was ice. Every
now and again, especially when I was alone, agony for which there is,
there can be, no name got hold of me, and sported with me as the wind
sports with a leaf. I suppose I had a tiny foretaste of what is felt by
a soul that is eternally damned. I _dared_ not think too much of
Constance and her fate. If I had let myself go that way the running
waters would have risen and overwhelmed me utterly. But, thank God, my
intellect held. The streak of hardness which had served me so well in my
career, and had enabled me to push to the top at an early age, came to
the rescue now. Every faculty was sharpened; the will concentrated to a
single purpose. I was alone, and I walked in darkness, but I was
conscious of Power--charged to the brim as a battery is charged with the
electric fluid. As I walked calmly up St. James', on the way to my
chambers, I doubt if a more single-minded and dangerous man than I
walked the streets of London.

And I knew, by some mysterious intuition, that I should succeed in the
task before me. I had not, as yet, more than the most rudimentary idea
how I was going to set about it, but I should succeed. Don't
misunderstand me. I had hardly any hope of seeing my dear love alive
again. I believed that all the joy of life was finally extinguished. But
justice--call it vengeance rather--remained, and I was as sure that I
was the chosen instrument of that as I was that I had just passed
between Marlborough House and the Palace of St. James.

My expensive but delightful chambers in Half Moon Street were on the
second floor--sitting-room, dining-room, bed and dressing rooms and
bath.

The sitting-room was panelled in cedar-wood, which had been stained a
delicate olive-green, with the mouldings of the panels picked out in
dull gold. Connie and her gay young friends, when they came to have tea
with me, or supper after the theatre, used to say that it was one of the
most charming rooms in London.

I had spent an infinity of time and money on it, determined that it
should be "just so." For instance, the carpet was from Kairowan in
Tunisia, and had taken a whole family of Arab weavers five years to
make. Never was there a more perfect blue--not the crude peacock colour
of the cheaper Oriental rugs, but a blue infused with a silver-ash
shade, contrasting marvellously with the warm brick-reds and tawny
yellows. It was a bargain at four hundred pounds.

I had hung only half a dozen pictures in this room, all modern and all
good. My "Boys Bathing," by Charles Conder--better known as the painter
of marvellous fans--was a masterpiece of sunlight and sea foam which
made me the envy of half the collectors in town. Then I had a William
Nicholson--"Chelsea Ware"--that was extraordinarily fascinating. It was
just some old Chelsea plates and a jug standing on a table. It doesn't
sound fascinating, I know, but the painting was so brilliant, there was
such vision in the way it was seen, that one could look at it for hours.

There was an open hearth of rough red brick in the room, deep and
square, and when there was a fire it burned in a gipsy brazier of iron.
I had a lot of trouble to get this last of the right shape, and finally
it had to be made for me, from the design of an artist in Birmingham.

Such a room, with its perfect colour harmonies and severe lines,
required no knick-knacks. Nothing small or petty, however beautiful in
itself, could be allowed there. I had two cabinets of magnificent china
in my dining-room, but china would have been quite out of place here.
Along one wall, about four feet from the floor, was a single shelf of
old pewter--cups and flagons of the Tudor period with the double-rose
hall-mark--and that was all.

As I entered and flung myself wearily into a chair, the afternoon
sunlight poured in through the half-drawn curtains of sea-green silk. In
the ceiling a hidden electric fan was whirring, and the room was
deliciously cool. And as I looked round, the place seemed hateful beyond
all expression. I was sick of it, loathed its beauty and comfort; an
insane desire came to take a hammer and wreak havoc there as my eyes
fell on the only photograph in the room. It was one of Constance, in a
frame of dull silver, studded with turquoises, and she had given it to
me no longer than a fortnight ago.

Thumbwood slept at the top of the house. He came in, after I had been
resting for a few minutes.

"I've made the necessary arrangements, Charles," I said, "and we shall
start operations at once." I had no secrets from this devoted friend and
servant.

"Glad to hear it, Sir John. I've been round the town this morning, and
there's a lot of talk."

He followed me into the sitting-room and brought me cigars.

"You see," he went on confidentially, "a gentleman's servant, especially
if he belongs to the club just off Jermyn Street, and more specially
still if he's been a racing man, hears all that's going on quicker than
anyone. This morning I've been talking to the porters and valets of two
of the best clubs, Sir John. Then I 'ad a crack with Meggit, the
bookmaker, what does all the St. James' smaller commissions, and after
that I strolled to the Parthenon Theatre, and took out the stage
door-keeper and filled him up and made 'im talk a bit. 'Im and me is
great friends consequent of my taking so many messages and flowers for
you, sir, when Miss Shepherd was acting there."

"Ah! I see you haven't wasted your time." I smiled inwardly at
Thumbwood's idea of helping me.

"No, Sir John. I've learned a lot of funny little things, just trifles,
so to say, but they may prove useful later on. There's one thing you
ought to know at once. Them theatricals have been talking, and it's all
over town that Miss Shepherd travelled down to Plymouth with you. It's
certain to be in the papers this afternoon, if it ain't already. There's
been half a dozen reporters buzzing round the theatre this morning."

I ground my teeth with anger, but only for a moment. Of course, the
thing was inevitable. There was only one thing to do.

I took up the telephone on the writing-table and got put on to the
_Evening Wire_. "I am Sir John Custance," I said to the editor. "I hear
that there is a good deal of talk going about London in respect of Miss
Constance Shepherd and myself. To avoid the least misconception, I
authorize you to state, in your next edition, that Miss Shepherd and I
were engaged to be married. I'll send my servant down to your office at
once, with a note confirming this conversation."

It was the only way, much as I hated it, to stop malicious gossip, and I
scribbled a chit to the editor.

"Get into a taxi and take that at once," I said to Thumbwood. As I gave
him the letter, there was a ring at the front-door bell.

The little man went out and I heard voices, one harsh and deep, that
seemed familiar.

"Who is it?" I asked as Charles returned. "I can't see anyone...."

"Wouldn't take any denial, sir. It's the American gentleman who picked
up Captain Pring after the attack on the _Albatros_. Says he must see
you."

"Mr. Van Adams?"

"Yes, Sir John."

"Show him in."

A moment afterwards I was shaking hands with the thickset man whose jaw
was like a pike's and whose eyes resembled animated steel. Thumbwood
went off with the letter. I heard the front door close after him.

Now I don't suppose at that moment I would have seen any other man in
London unconnected with my office at Whitehall. I didn't want to see the
millionaire, but directly he was inside the room my irritation vanished.
He had meant to see me. He had now accomplished his end, and I had a
firm conviction that sentries with fixed bayonets wouldn't have kept him
out.

He sat down quietly in the chair I indicated, and took a cigar with
great deliberation. I was not in the least impatient. I knew now that I
was glad that he had come, and waited for him to begin. When he did
speak the harsh voice was considerably modified, and no one whatever
could have said that he was an American.

"Any success I may have made in life," he said without preliminary, "has
come from the faculty of judging men. I started, as a youth, with this
power in a more than ordinary degree. I've been developing it ever
since."

He puffed thoughtfully at his cigar. He had said this with calm
determination, not in the least as if he were speaking of himself, but
merely as a man stating a fact which would be useful a little later on.

For my part I said nothing. I felt as though I was playing a sort of
decorous game with rigid rules. To speak then would be to revoke!

"... And, though the ordinary man does not like to hear such a
statement, I have a pretty good idea of you, Sir John. You're not an
ordinary man. That's why I'm here. I'll put it in two words. I want to
help you. I _can_ help you. It is for you to say if you want me."

Now there could only be one answer to a question like that. The man in
my arm-chair was one of the most powerful men on earth. Moreover, his
reputation stood high. He was no financial pirate. The whole world
trusted him.

"I answer that, Mr. Van Adams, with a single word: Thank you."

He nodded as if pleased. "Quite!" he said, and then, half turning in his
chair, "of course I don't ask you to tell me any official secrets...."

I laughed at that. The Government would have let this man know all there
was to be known upon his simple request.

He saw that I understood. "There are none for one thing," I told him.
"You know exactly as much as my department knows, as I told the Home
Secretary this morning. There are no developments, except, of course,
the protective measures we and the States are taking. The one thing I
_can_ tell you, and which is in strict confidence, is that I have
arranged for my official duties to be carried on by my assistant for a
month. From this afternoon I am absolutely free to do what I like and go
where I like. No one will know of this but my confidential servant. I
intend to devote this evening to mapping out a plan of campaign."

"That's good, Sir John. That is just what I wanted to hear. Let me
explain my motives. They are not complicated. One is that, as one of the
chief money-brokers of the world, I naturally want to prevent any
financial panic. Next, I am a bit of a sportsman in my way. I like
hunting things down. This pursuit appeals to me a good deal. And,
last--when I was five-and-thirty, a desperate gang of crooks in San
Francisco kidnapped my little daughter Pearl--she that is Duchess of
Shropshire now--and held her up to ransom. It was before you took
notice, for I'm close on seventy, but the episode created some
considerable stir at the time. I can pretty well guess what you are
going through now."

As he looked at me his eyes were no longer like living steel, nor his
jaw like a pike's.

So he also knew! I mumbled something or other.

"Quite," he answered quickly, and then went on: "In thinking over
various ways in which I could be of use I have come to a certain
conclusion. Money, I suppose, won't help you--though, of course, any sum
is available?"

"I have the Government behind me, and I myself am not poor, thank you."

"It is as I thought. In England I myself can do nothing _personally_
that others cannot do as well. In America I have every sort of
influence...."

I looked him in the face. "I am not going to trouble about America in
the very least."

"Quite! I see what you mean. And I am absolutely of your opinion. Now
I'll come to what I _can_ do for you."

He rose slowly from his chair and came up to me. When he spoke he had
dropped his voice a full tone.

"I must let you into one or two little secrets about myself," he said.
"In the first place, a man so rich as I am does not become so without
making powerful and unscrupulous enemies. Also, American methods are
direct. It will probably surprise you to hear that my life has been
attempted twelve or fifteen times, but that is the case. Some of the
methods were diabolically ingenious, too! However, I stand here to-day,
quite unharmed and quite safe. Why? I'll tell you.

"Quite early in my successful career I saw what would happen. I watched
other men assassinated, and was determined that it shouldn't happen to
me. How was it to be avoided? I thought that point out very carefully,
and came to a conclusion. I must find, and then attach to my person,
someone of extraordinary intelligence, cunning, skill and personal
prowess. My ambitions ran high. I wanted someone who would devote his
whole life to my service, a familiar spirit, no less! It took me three
years of steady work to find that familiar spirit--to discover the exact
combination of qualities I required. But a multi-millionaire is the
Magician of to-day, and I have a Genie as clever and infallible as any
out of the old 'Arabian Nights.' I pay him the salary of a cinema star,
and I say, meaning every word of it, that there isn't another like him
in the world. Do you think this tall talk, Sir John?"

It was certainly amazing, but I could not but believe him.

"You startle and you interest me deeply," I replied. "You are to be
congratulated."

"I am--on a unique human possession. Well, you can't have failed to see
what I'm driving at. I will lend you this man, place his services
entirely at your disposal, for a month!"

For a moment or two I was silent. I believed every word that Van Adams
said, and I was not hesitating--only just letting the offer, and what it
meant, sink into my mind. It became plain. It was like the offer of a
rope-ladder to a man in prison, a light and a pickaxe to an entombed
miner.

"It is the most generous offer I've ever heard of, Mr. Van Adams. I
can't express my thanks. You really mean this?"

"I do. And as an ounce of proof is worth a ton of talk--allow me to
introduce you to Mr. Danjuro!"

He turned round as he spoke and I with him. Then I gave a cry of
astonishment, which I could not have kept back to save my life.

Standing some yard or so away was a little Japanese gentleman, not much
more than five feet high. He wore gold pince-nez, a neat blue lounge
suit and brown boots. There was nothing noticeable about him in any way,
except an unusually fine cranial development--a massive forehead and a
great space between the corners of the dark eyes and the ears.

"Good heavens, how did he get here?" I said.

Van Adams laughed. "I daresay he'll tell you; I don't know," he
answered. "I just told him to be here. I wanted to give you an object
lesson, in fact. Now, Mr. Danjuro knows all that I know. You can trust
him absolutely. He knows what is in front of him, and he knows where to
find me when I'm wanted. Now I'll leave you together and say
good-afternoon."

He was gone almost before I could thank him.



CHAPTER VI

MR. DANJURO, THINKING MACHINE, EXPLAINS HIMSELF


"Won't you sit down?" I said foolishly. The little Japanese bowed
politely and did so.

I was at a loss what to say. My mind was in a whirl. I wanted to laugh,
to call Van Adams back, but my dominating sensation was one of supreme
annoyance. So this natty, commonplace little Asiatic was the
millionaire's "familiar spirit"! He was unique, was he! I cursed myself
for several kinds of fool to have saddled myself with this amazing
stranger at the beginning of my work. At any rate, I reflected
irritably, as I sat down opposite, I could easily send him off on some
wild-goose chase or another....

Yes! I was never more annoyed in my life, and my annoyance lasted for
exactly sixty seconds. Without the slightest embarrassment of any sort,
and with no preliminaries at all, Mr. Danjuro plunged into business. His
voice was clear and low. He had no accent of any kind, though his
English was a trifle pedantic and scholarly. He spoke as impersonally as
a gramophone.

"... I am entirely with you, Sir John, in your opinion that it is not in
the United States of America, but here--in England--that we shall solve
the mystery surrounding this dark business."

"But I never said ..."

He smiled faintly, almost wearily. "And since I have the great honour to
be associated with you, I trust you will allow me to suggest a plan of
campaign."

"I was going to try and think one out to-night."

"It is a privilege to assist. I have come in contact with many crafty
and malignant criminals during the last thirty years, but here one
detects a master. It will be a pleasure indeed to hunt him down. Have I
your honourable permission to smoke?"

With one hand he produced a square of rice paper and a pinch of tobacco
from his pocket, and rolled a cigarette on his knee like a conjuring
trick. He had not raised his voice, but a sudden gleam came into the
oblique black eyes which suggested the deep but hidden ferocity of his
race.

He resumed. "From all I have gathered, and I have talked much with
Captain Pring, Mr. Rickaby and the passengers of the _Albatros_, we
have to look for a man who is (1) an aviator in the first rank; (2) an
inventor and mechanical genius, or able to command the services of such;
(3) a person of some wealth or able to procure money."

I followed him completely and said so. From what we already knew these
deductions were perfectly fair ones.

"I thank you. Now we come to the man himself. I believe him to be a
person of education, and one who has held a good social position. He is
also desperate in his circumstances, and a person to whom material
pleasure is the highest good."

"Rickaby said that the men who came aboard the _Albatros_ spoke like
educated people."

"Yes. Our field of search already begins to grow narrower. Am I right in
saying that every aviator in this country must pass an examination and
be licensed before he is allowed to fly?"

"It is so. All aviators, professional or amateur, must have a licence
from the Air Police. This is registered. I have already had the records
for the past ten years searched at Whitehall. But this has yielded no
result. There is no one who could possibly be our man."

"It was well thought of, Sir John, if I may say so. But in my opinion we
shall have to go back a good deal further than ten years. We now come
to the question of the pirate airship itself and its peculiar qualities.
Let us fix upon one--the silence of its engines. I am aware that the
constructors of motor engines have been busy upon this problem for
years."

"And with little result. The problem has not been solved."

"Except by our unknown friends. I have already examined all the recent
patents of silencing devices at your patent office here. I spent
yesterday morning there, and found nothing. The significance of that is
obvious. Any ordinary inventor who had discovered something of such
importance would protect it at once. We can therefore make up our minds
that in no regular motor-engineering works throughout this country has
the complete silencer been evolved. It would be impossible for the most
brilliant inventor to keep such a thing entirely to himself."

"Again the field shrinks?"

"Yes, Sir John. We now have a man of the character already indicated,
who, as he has undoubtedly constructed silent engines, must have done so
in secret. He must have had private engineering works in order to make
an important part of his machines. The point is, where? On the
Continent? I think not. He would be watched far more carefully than in
this country. America is still more unlikely. Let us assume England.
Having done so, we can, I think, safely deduce that for obvious reasons
this man and his confederates--for we know he has them--would endeavour
to build his pirate ship as near as possible to the place he intended to
use as the base of his operations. And that base--if your experience
bears me out--is certainly somewhere or other on the coast?"

"Of course, one would say that it must be so, Mr. Danjuro. And yet it
seems impossible. The whole coast of England is patrolled by the
coastguards. For all practical purposes England is no bigger than a
pocket-handkerchief. I thought of Scotland and the Northern Isles. I
thought of wild places on the Irish coast. I have had a fleet of
airships surveying and photographing these places for the last two days.
No hangar bigger than a motor-shed could have escaped their notice. All
the land police of the villages round the coasts have been interrogated
by Scotland Yard. Nothing, nothing whatever has been seen."

I spoke with some passion, for I felt it. The sense of impotence was
maddening.

The Japanese rolled another cigarette. As he did so the door opened and
Thumbwood came in.

"I delivered your note, Sir John, and the editor's compliments and
thanks."

"Charles," I said, "this gentleman here is Mr. Danjuro. He is going to
help us. Mr. Danjuro is "--I hesitated for a moment, really it was
difficult to describe him!--"is one of the foremost detectives in the
world!"

Thumbwood's hand went up to his forehead in the stable boy's salute.
Then, as he saw my guest full-face, he started. "I saw you this morning,
sir," he said. "You were talking to old Mrs. Jessop, the dresser at the
Parthenon Theatre. It was in the 'Blue Dragon,' just round the corner by
the stage-door."

"And you were with the stage-door keeper. A curious coincidence," Mr.
Danjuro replied, with his weary smile, and at a look from me Thumbwood,
very puzzled indeed, left the room.

"I spent part of this morning at the Parthenon Theatre, Sir John. Your
servant apparently thought of doing the same thing. A man of
considerable acumen?--I imagined so. To proceed. Now that we have
cleared away a few preliminary obstructions, we arrive at a point which
I regard as of great significance. You are engaged--I speak of intimate
matters, but purely in my character of a consultant--to Miss Constance
Shepherd, a young lady of beauty and celebrity."

... Confound the fellow, he spoke of Connie as if she were a fish!

"That is so," I told him.

"That young lady was kidnapped by the unknown airman. From among all
the passengers she and her maid were singled out. Now that fact--upon
which you must have already pondered considerably--is a key fact. Was it
done for the purpose of holding this lady up to ransom? I see the
suggestion has been made in the Press. I answer no. In the first place,
it would be altogether too dangerous a game, and the attempt would
certainly lead to discovery. Secondly, there were other people on board
who would have been more profitable prey. The Duke of Perth, for
instance, or the cinema actor who receives sixty thousand pounds a year.
Now it is extremely improbable that in the rush and excitement of the
attack and robbery of the _Atlantis_, the pirate leader was suddenly
struck by a pretty face. Indeed, we know from accounts of the passengers
that Miss Shepherd was deliberately searched for. That indicates with
certainty that the pirate knew she was on board, and had a design of
capturing her. In its turn, this predicates a former acquaintance, and,
undoubtedly, a repulse in the past. Hence my inquiries and my interview
with the theatre dresser this morning."

I astonished that little man. It was the first and last time. Leaping up
in my chair, I believe I shouted like a madman. At any rate, Thumbwood
was inside the room before I could find words to speak.

Something had flashed upon me, white-hot and sudden, as an electric
advertisement flashes out upon one at night. It was something that I had
entirely and utterly forgotten until now.

"There was a man," I gasped, "a scoundrel who had been annoying Miss
Shepherd for a long time. He wanted to marry her. She told me of it.
_And he was once a celebrated flying man!_"

"Long ago, in the Great War," said Danjuro calmly. "Major Helzephron,
V.C. I was aware of it."

"And one of the boys if ever there was one, sir!" Thumbwood broke in.
"Warned off the course everywhere. I've got a bit of information too!"

I stared at them, trembling with excitement. And then reality, like a
cold douche of water, brought me to my senses. Of course, it was
impossible. The thing was a mere coincidence. Why, while the first
ship--the _Albatros_--had been attacked, this man, Helzephron, was in
London! He had travelled west in the same train with me and Connie.

"May I ask exactly what you know, Sir John?"

... I told Danjuro precisely what had happened at Paddington and how
Connie herself had explained it.

He listened to me in attentive silence. When I had finished, I saw that
a small leather pocket-book had appeared in his hands--everything that
the fellow did had the uncanny effect of a clever trick--and he was
turning over the leaves.

"So far," he began, "in the consideration of this problem we have been
eliminating impossibilities, or improbabilities so strong that they
amount to that. This has left us with a small residuum of fact, unproved
fact, but sufficient to work from. One thing emerges clearly. It is the
nature and personality of our unknown friend. It is not too much to say
that he MUST be very like what we have imagined him to be. A certain
person appears dimly on the scene--this Major Helzephron. Let us see how
his personality squares with the personality we have been deducing. Mr.
Thumbwood has apparently collected some information. I have done so,
too. Let us pool results!" He looked at Charles, who blushed.

"Out with it, Charles; you've done splendidly," I said.

"Well, Sir John, I found out that this gentleman is a pretty bad
wrong-'un, judging by the company he keeps. And he used to annoy Miss
Shepherd something chronic. He'd wait at the stage-door and try and
speak to her when she got into the car after the performance, and he was
always leaving notes and flowers with the stage-door keeper. Miss
Shepherd would never take them. She always sent them back from her room.
It got so bad at last that she complained to the stage manager, and he
had a plain clothes man from Vine Street there one night. Major
Helzephron was told off pretty plainly, I hear. He used to come very
nasty sometimes, and once or twice he was fair blotto! And Mr. Meggit,
the commission agent, knows him well. He's done a lot of racing in his
time, and no open scandal. But he knows how to work the market, and the
best men won't lay him the odds no more."

I shrugged my shoulders. It was only what one expected. The man was one
of the fast blackguards who infest the West End of London; that was all.
There were dozens like him. The facts only seemed to prove that he could
not possibly be connected with the Atlantic outrages.

"You see?" I said to the Japanese, sure that he would follow my thought.
Then I thanked good little Charles and he left the room.

"That is the surface," Danjuro replied. "I cross-examined a _woman_ who
was in constant attendance on Miss Shepherd. From her I learnt just what
your servant has discovered. But I went a little deeper. It is a case of
genuine overmastering passion on the part of this man. Nothing less. He
is of a dangerous age for that to come to him, certainly over forty-five
years. A woman knows. But that is not all."

"So far we have learnt nothing of importance." I was getting restive, I
wanted to be _doing_ something. And yet, what was there to do? If I had
thought all night by myself I could not have mapped out the situation
more clearly. And as I looked at the little man, half lost in a big
saddlebag chair, I felt ashamed of my irritation. A brain packed in ice
was there, a logical machine of the first order. I could not expect
humanity, sympathy, from such a one. Still, it would have helped! Hadn't
I lost the one thing that made life worth living? What might not be
happening to Connie even now?

... He read my thoughts like a book, confound him!

"I understand your feelings, believe me, Sir John," he said, "but I must
go my own way. We have not been talking for an hour yet! And if it is
any consolation for you to know, let me say that it is imperative that
we leave London to-night."

"My nerves are strained. Please go on," I answered. "I can hardly tell
you what a godsend your appearance on the scene really is to me."

"In my business as agent and guard to my patron, Mr. Van Adams, it is
always necessary that I keep more or less in touch with a certain circle
of what I may describe as the aristocracy, the brains of International
Crime. It has proved useful. After my visit to the Parthenon this
morning I called upon an old acquaintance, the Honourable James
Brookfield."

"Lord Slidon's son? The man who got five years ..."

"Yes. Of course, everyone knows his name. He made one little slip. Mr.
Brookfield is very acute, and a great student of character. Entirely
incapable of understanding a man or woman of decent morals and normal
instincts, he is infallible in his judgment of the criminal type. Mr.
Brookfield owes me any little service he can render, and I supplemented
my request for information with a note for fifty pounds."

"And you learnt ...?"

"That Major Helzephron is all we have just heard, but a far more
sinister and formidable person than anyone suspects. He is a man of
marked intellectual powers. Below the veneer of coarse pleasures and
fast life in London and Paris, there is something that glows like a hot
coal. His appearances in town are irregular and fitful. His real life,
Brookfield is certain of this, is lived far away from cities. And it is
_a life with a purpose_."

Quite suddenly and unexpectedly Mr. Danjuro began to reveal himself.

The last words were spoken in a changed voice. The flatness and monotony
had vanished. The words vibrated in the room, and I felt the thrill of
them. It was the power of personality, and from then onwards I was hand
in glove with this bizarre thinking machine that Fate had sent me.

I tried to emulate Danjuro's dispassionate and scientific method.

"It is curious," I said, "that a real intellect should care to spend
part of its time in rake-helling round the low clubs, the gambling-rooms
and stage-doors of London. Such a thing is known, but it is rare."

"You put your finger instantly upon what seems a weak spot in my
character sketch. But let us assume that it has been done with a deep
motive."

"Ah!" He knew, or suspected, something more. He referred to his
notebook.

"Two years ago a certain Mr. Herbert Gascoigne was expelled from Christ
Church College, Oxford."

"Sent down, we call it; but go on."

"The case was a bad one. The young man had established a sort of
gambling club and ruined several of his contemporaries. It was
discovered that he was using a roulette wheel that had been tampered
with. He came to London and drifted into the worst gang of swindlers.
Major Helzephron met him. They became very friendly. The younger man was
obviously under the influence of the elder Finally Gascoigne deserted
his old haunts and has disappeared."

I began to see light.

"On several occasions my astute friend, Mr. Brookfield, has witnessed
precisely the same phenomenon. Some young man of the upper classes has
been ruined socially, and our enigmatic friend has taken him up, been
seen about with him, and so forth. Finally the young man vanishes."

"It is not philanthropy, Mr. Danjuro."

"It is not, and it gives rise to curious speculations. Where could a
Napoleonic criminal, patiently planning and meditating a stupendous
coup, find a better recruiting ground than among the desperate and
ruined young men of his own class? The plan is in itself evidence of
genius. They speak his language, he understands their way of thought;
there are a thousand bonds between them. I can conceive no more solid
and formidable combination than just this. The one last virtue remaining
to these desperate and outcast young men will be loyalty to their
leader. Society has cast them out, therefore they will make war on
Society. Given that attitude of mind, a leader like Major Helzephron,
and a plan so daring, and the thing becomes plain as daylight. And if
this man had not fallen into an overmastering passion for Miss Shepherd
there would have been no means of getting on his trail at all."

It was only with great difficulty that I could control my thoughts. We
seemed miles nearer the truth than I had been an hour ago. Then one idea
emerged clearly.

"Quite so. And isn't it all in our favour that we, and we alone, are in
a position to connect Helzephron with the piracy? He will think himself
perfectly secure?"

"I do not for a moment believe," Danjuro replied with emphasis, "that a
single soul besides ourselves has the least suspicion. The man will have
taken supreme care to cover his tracks. My inquiries could have
suggested nothing to the people I interviewed. Mr. Brookfield thinks I
required my information for quite another reason. Yes, Sir John, we have
a task of immense difficulty and danger before us. You must recognize
that to the full. My sincere belief is that it would be somewhat safer
to venture into a cage of cobras than where we have to go. But"--he took
out his watch--"it is five o'clock. Let us say that the game begins at
this moment! Very well. We, and not the enemy, have scored the first
point!"

He suddenly glided from his chair with a single sinuous movement. As he
stood up he was transformed. The bland modern look faded from his face.
It grew terrible. The eyes narrowed to slits of light, the square jaw
protruded, the grey lips were caught up in a tiger-grin, and the slim
body seemed to swell out with iron muscle like a wrestler stripped in
the arena.

You have seen some of the real old Japanese colour-prints, pictures of
the ancient Samurai or the frightful Akudogi shouting at you--yes? The
flat, awful stolidity, the incarnate hate....

Then you have seen something of what I saw then.

Wow! Millionaire Van Adams was well served!



CHAPTER VII

THE CURIOUS FIGHT IN THE RESTAURANT


"It is a good deal to ask, Sir John," said Danjuro briskly, "but, for
the moment, will you place yourself entirely in my hands?"

"I am perfectly content to do so."

"Then permit me to press the bell." He did so.

"I left a black bag in the hall," Danjuro said politely when Thumbwood
came in. "Would you please let me have it?"

The bag was brought. Danjuro placed it on the table and opened it.

"You are very well known, Sir John," he remarked. "Major Helzephron and
his friends have either seen you at some time or other, or have
certainly seen the numerous pictures of you that have appeared in the
newspapers during the last few days. It is imperative that you change
your appearance at once. I foresaw that and have brought materials."

I am afraid I whistled with dismay. The idea didn't please me in the
very least. "Is it really necessary?..."

"Absolutely. But it will not inconvenience you. Will you go into your
bedroom and clip off your moustache with scissors, afterwards shaving
the upper lip clean? You see, the man who leaves London to-night must
not in the least resemble the Chief Commissioner of Air Police."

I went and did it. I had to. When the operation was over I shouldn't
have known myself, it made such a difference. I never knew that I had
such a grim and forbidding mouth!

I returned to the sitting-room. Mr. Danjuro did not make the least
comment, but he removed my collar and tie with the deftness of a barber
and fastened a towel round my neck. Then he sponged my skin all over
with some faintly pink stuff out of a bottle. When he had done that, he
began on my hair with something else, and finally my eyebrows.

"May I ask what you are doing?" I said after a time.

"I am dyeing your hair black, Sir John. The dye can be removed at any
time. The appearance is absolutely natural. The drug I am using is not
generally known. I procure it from a friend in the Honcho Dori at
Yokohama, and also the liquid which has already changed your skin from
blond to swarthy. I will treat your hands in a minute."

I suppose I was three-quarters of an hour under his ministrations
before he stepped back and looked at me critically. "Part your hair in
the centre, instead of at the side, wear a low collar instead of a high
one, and spectacles--they can be of plain glass--and you need not have
the slightest fear of recognition. In fact, Sir John, as far as outward
appearance goes, you have already ceased to exist!"

There was a mirror over the mantel-shelf. I stood up and looked. It was
marvellous! It was uncanny, too. A dark-haired, dark-skinned stranger
leered out of the glass at me, and I turned away with mingled feelings
of amazement and disgust.

"Do you drive an automobile?" the Japanese asked.

I jumped at the suddenness of the question, for my thoughts were far
away. "Yes, I have a touring car of my own in a neighbouring garage."

"It will be better not to use it. We shall take one of Mr. Van Adams'
cars. It is ready."

I laughed. "I've a lot to hear yet, you know, Mr. Danjuro, though I have
placed myself in your hands without reserve. But you made very sure of
me beforehand, didn't you?"

"It is Mr. Van Adams' command," he answered simply, and I reflected that
here, indeed, was a man with a single soul.

"We shall leave London at midnight," he went on, "and drive through the
whole of the night. I, also, am an expert chauffeur, and we can relieve
each other."

"Thumbwood can drive, too. Of course we take him with us?"

"He will be of the greatest assistance. Now, Sir John, if you want to
take a little sleep, now is the time. I should like to consult with your
servant, if I may, and have a chat with him. We shall have a good deal
to do with one another."

Strangely enough, I did feel drowsy, despite my excitement. A couple of
hours' sleep would refresh me wonderfully, and I knew it.

"Very well; I think it is a good suggestion. Say for two hours."

"By all means. I will carry out some other arrangements meanwhile. You
shall have full explanations later on, and I thank you sincerely for the
confidence you have reposed in me."

While we were talking we had left the room and crossed the hall.

"A pleasant sleep," he said, politely opening the door for me. "We will
go and have a look at Major Helzephron later on."

"_What?_" I shouted.

"He is in London. I have never seen him and I must certainly do so."

"In London?" I cried, a dozen conflicting thoughts crowding and
crushing into my mind.

"... It is the reason that we leave London to-night."

Then he had shut the door on me and was gone. I had known him less than
two hours. I was a man accustomed to rule, whose whole life was spent in
giving orders, and I lay down on my bed like a lamb without a further
question. And, what is more, I did exactly as Mr. Danjuro had said. I
fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

At a little after eight Mr. Danjuro and myself sat at dinner at the
Restaurant Mille Colonnes. Most people know that expensive and luxurious
home of epicures, with Nicholas, its stout and arrogant proprietor, and
M. Dulac, its famous chef.

We sat in the south gallery, at the extreme end, against the wall. The
electric lights in the roof above us had been extinguished, and our
table was lighted by candles in red shades. Indeed, we sat in a sort of
darkness which must have made us almost invisible to the other diners,
most of whom sat in the longer arm of the gallery at right angles to our
own.

We, on the contrary, could see everything. We could look over the gilded
rail into the hall of the restaurant below, and every detail of the
gallery on our own level was clear and distinct, though there was such
a towering erection of flowers and ferns in the centre of our table that
it obscured what would otherwise have been a perfect view.

I wore a low, turned-down collar and a dark flannel suit. Danjuro, also,
had changed his clothes, and, in some real but indefinite way, his
appearance. He wore a flannel suit and a straw hat, and also a necktie
which I suddenly spotted as that of my old college, Christ Church,
Oxford. But the extraordinary thing about him was that he seemed fifteen
years younger.

He had promised to explain at the "Mille Colonnes." As we began upon the
salted prawns and the stuffed olives he did so.

"You are now Mr. Johns, an Oxford tutor, Sir John. I am a young Japanese
gentleman, my own name will serve, whom you are coaching. We are going
into the country with this disguise. It is one which will easily account
for your being in the company of an Asiatic gentleman, and which you
will have no difficulty in sustaining."

It was, indeed, a simple and excellent plan for avoiding undue
curiosity. I said so, and then: "Now perhaps you will tell me where we
are going. I have my ideas...."

"We are going west," he answered gravely. "To Cornwall."

My heart beat fast. It was what I wanted him to say. "To the home of
Helzephron?"

"Yes. For it is there we shall be in the very centre of the web. In
those far western solitudes, despite the recent opening up of the Duchy
to tourists, there are still vast spaces of lonely moorland and
unvisited coast where one may walk for half a day and meet no living
soul. There is a great Hinterland between the little town of St. Ives
and the Land's End that for all practical purposes is unknown and
unexplored. Later on, I will show you certain maps.... It is in one of
the remotest spots of all that Major Helzephron has his house. I tell
you, Sir John," he continued, with a sort of passion, "that in those
lost and forgotten solitudes, where England stretches out her granite
foot to spurn the Atlantic, strange secrets lie hid to-day! On those
grey and lonely moors, where the last Druids practised their mysterious
rites, and which are still covered with sinister memorials of the past,
lies the explanation of the terror which is troubling the world! There,
and there only, shall we discover the secrets of the air, and--if human
skill and determination are of any avail--Miss Constance Shepherd!"

An obsequious waiter came with iced _consommé_. He was followed by the
great Nicholas himself, bulging out of his buttoned frock-coat--Nicholas
never wore evening dress--who bowed low and had a whispered
confabulation with Danjuro.

I remarked on this unusual honour. "I do what I wish here," the
Japanese replied. "It is, of course, through Mr. Van Adams. I hold this
place in the hollow of my hand--as you will presently see!"

He gave one of his rare and weary smiles, and then said quietly: "Please
do not get up or move. Major Helzephron has just come into the gallery!"

I could not have moved. His words turned me to stone.

"I felt sure," he went on, "that for a day or two Helzephron would show
himself in London. Knowing what we know--or at least suspect--such a
move was a certainty. He is in the habit of coming here. He booked his
usual seat at this restaurant, and his usual box at the Parthenon
Theatre--and for reasons obvious to you and me, if to no one else in the
world! I confess to an anxiety to look upon this man."

"You have had this corner darkened?" I said quickly. "No one can see
_us_ here?"

"Not clearly. And Helzephron would not know who we are if he did see us.
But, as he is sure to come upon us in Cornwall, it is better to take no
risks. To that end I have had a little device arranged for us which
proved of great service to me once in Chicago."

He bent forward to the mass of ferns and flowers in the centre of the
table, disarranging the greenery at its base. At once a green-painted
tube became visible, and then a slanting mirror, the size of a postcard.

"What on earth is that?" I whispered.

"An adaptation of the periscope!" he replied, taking a magnifying glass
from his pocket, adjusting it, and bending over the mirror. "The lens is
focussed upon Helzephron's table. With this magnifier I enlarge the
image in the mirror. Ah! So that is the honourable gentleman!"

A faint hissing noise came from him. His face stiffened into fixed and
horrible intentness as he stared through his magnifier at the little
oblong of mirror.

"Shi-ban, Go-ban, hei!" he muttered. "There are two, then. I expect the
younger man is the Honourable Herbert Gascoigne, of whom we have heard!"

The hissing noise continued, the ecstasy of attention did not relax for
two or three minutes.

At last Danjuro looked up. His face, which had seemed carved out of
jade, relaxed.

"Will you take my seat?" he said politely, handing me his reading-glass.
"A little drama will commence in a few minutes. It will interest you!"

I gave him a glance of interrogation as we exchanged chairs.

"We shall be in Cornwall to-morrow, and in advance of our friends," he
whispered. "But, in order that we may carry out our preliminary
inquiries quite undisturbed, I have thought out a little plan by which,
if all goes well, Major Helzephron will be detained in London for a day
or two--you will see."

Trembling with eagerness I stared down at the mirror.

The periscope was perfectly focussed. The addition of the reading-glass
made everything perfectly clear.

Two men in evening clothes were seated at a table. Their heads were
close together, and they were talking earnestly. One was a tall,
handsome boy of two-and-twenty, with a fair complexion and a reckless,
dissipated cast of face. Young as he was, evil experience had marked
him, and his smile was that of a much older man.

But I scarcely cast a glance on him as I stared at the coloured, moving
miniature of "Hawk Helzephron." The man's face was deeply tanned; above
the brows a magnificent dome of white forehead went up to a thatch of
dark red hair--the forehead of a thinker if ever I saw one. The face
below was seamed and lined everywhere. The thin nose curved out and down
like that of a bird of prey. The mouth was large, well-shaped, but
compressed, the chin a wedge of resolution. And, as he talked, I saw a
pair of slightly protruding eyes, cold and fierce. The whole aspect of
the man was ferocious and formidable to a degree.

"Watch!" whispered Danjuro.

I watched, and this is what I saw.

Into the picture came a thick-set, brutal-looking man, with a blazing
diamond in his shirt-front. He was passing Helzephron's table when his
dinner jacket caught a wine-glass and swept it to the floor.

The hawk-faced man looked up with a scowl and said something just as the
portly Nicholas and a waiter appeared in the background, as if passing
casually by.

The thick-set man bent down till his face was close to Helzephron's. He
said something also, with an unpleasant smile.

Instantly Helzephron leapt up and drove his fist full into the other's
face.

The fight that followed ended very speedily. The thick-set man took the
blow calmly. Then, without heat, and in a fashion which instantly told
me the truth of the matter, he set about Helzephron, hitting him where
and when he chose, until a shouting crowd of guests and waiters
separated the combatants and a policeman and commissionaire hurried them
away from the gallery.

During all the tumult Mr. Danjuro sat quietly smoking a cigarette.

"That was Mr. Wag Ashton, the pugilist," he remarked. "Honourable
Nicholas and the waiter saw that the honourable Helzephron struck him
first. I think the Major will be resting for a day or two before Mr.
Ashton summonses him for assault."

I felt faint with surprise and amazement.

"So you, you arranged ..."

He interrupted me. "Now let us finish our dinner in peace," he said.
"Some river trout, _meunier_, are coming."

An hour afterwards, with myself at the wheel, a huge sixty horse-power
Limousine, loaded with luggage and with Messrs. Danjuro and Thumbwood
inside, was rolling down the Piccadilly slope.

To Penzance.



CHAPTER VIII

THE HUNTING INSTINCT IS STIMULATED BY A PROCESSION


The big car rolled down Piccadilly. She was a beauty to handle, as I
discovered in the first two minutes. The very latest type of electric
starter, a magnificent lighting installation--every convenience was
ready to my hand. I was in an extraordinary state of mind as I steered
the car through the late theatre and restaurant traffic, purely
mechanically and without conscious thought about it.

The predominant sensation was one of immense overwhelming relief at the
prospect of _action_. Mere office activities, the planning of guard and
patrol ships, conferences with pilots and officials, had been quite
powerless to calm the terrible fever of unrest within me. It was
commanding other people to do things, not doing them myself. I knew all
the time that I should have been happier piloting one of the war-planes
over the Atlantic. Now, at any rate, I was doing something real. I was
actually setting out, in my own person, upon a definite quest. It might
be all moonshine. I was well aware that many hard-headed people would
have laughed at this expedition, considering the slender evidence I had.
They would have talked about "circumstantial evidence," the folly of
pure assumption, and so forth. "Behold this dreamer cometh!" would have
been their attitude.

And although I was driving the big car up Park Lane for Oxford Street
and the road to the West, I did feel as if I were in a dream. My whole
life had been altered by the events of the past few days, ruined for
ever it might be. To-night its stream was violently diverted from its
course. Everything with which I was familiar had flashed away, and I was
on the brink of the fantastic and unknown. There was not a man in London
setting out upon so strange an errand, under circumstances so
unprecedented, as I was this night. We slid by a huge white house, set
back from the railings, and with all its windows looking out over the
Park. It was the London palace that Mr. Van Adams had built for himself
during the last five years, and the strangeness of my affair was
intensified at the sight.

Only a few hours ago the great man had been sitting in my chambers, and
introducing the enigmatic figure that sat behind me in the car. Here
was a dream figure indeed! It was impossible to think of Danjuro as a
human being. He was just a brain, a specialized force, devoted to one
object, and probably, as Van Adams had hinted, the supreme force of its
kind in existence. Already I had placed myself in his hands, and not
only my personal interests, dear as those were to me, but my
responsibilities to the State as well, and that was no small thing for
him to have achieved in so short a space of time. The unique detachment
and concentration that was sitting behind me had an almost magical
effect upon one's mind and will. With such help, surely, I could not
fail?

I fell to thinking of what the Japanese had already achieved, the quiet
and masterly skill of his analysis, the cold audacity of his plot to
keep Helzephron in London, the neatness and finish of his operations as
witnessed by the periscope upon the dinner-table at the "Mille
Colonnes." Surely, Helzephron, or whoever was the master-criminal, was a
doomed man with Danjuro on his track?

We were running out of Ealing now, and traffic was almost gone in the
long, straight westward road among the acres of market gardens and
glass-houses that fringe the western approach to the metropolis. I let
out the powerful engines, and as the car leapt like a spurred horse, my
heart leapt up into anger at the name Helzephron.

Connie--poor, lost Connie--had told me herself how the man had pestered
her, and I had seen him at Paddington with my own eyes. The
investigations at the Parthenon Theatre by Thumbwood and Danjuro had put
the details in the picture, and an ugly one it was. The man, V.C. as he
was, had a bad reputation enough. I had watched him that very evening,
marked every line upon the hawk-like, cruel face, and thrilled when the
vulgar pugilist attacked him. It was the next best thing to thrashing
him myself! Yet--I record this as an interesting point of my psychology
at the beginning of the enterprise--I was disgusted with and loathed the
man only. I did not hate him, for I found it, even now, impossible to
believe that he was the abductor of my girl.

Understand me if you can. Danjuro had convinced my intellect, but not my
heart. My state was the reverse of the ordinary state in such a
situation. Plenty of people believe in anything--a religion for
example--by faith, and cannot justify their faith intellectually. Their
belief is always confident and strong. I believed intellectually, but
had no faith, which was why this quest seemed shadow-like and a thing in
a dream. No doubt, the long night drive and my curious companion--I was
always conscious of him--intensified the impression of unreality.

About three in the morning Danjuro spoke through the tube and insisted
on relieving me. I stopped the huge car in a dark, tree-bordered road,
where the moonlight lay in pools and patches of silver, and exchanged
seats with the little man. As I stood on the road and stamped with my
feet to restore the circulation, the night-breeze rustled in the leaves,
and far away I heard the nightjar spinning. Never was such a still and
solitary place. Danjuro's face in the moonlight seemed as immobile and
lifeless as one of those Japanese masks of wax with eyes of opalescent
glass that you can buy in the Oriental shops.

I got inside and, suddenly weary, sank back in the luxuriously cushioned
seat. The car started again, and Thumbwood switched on a light in the
roof. He produced a Thermos flask of hot soup, which I found delicious
and refreshing.

"How have you been getting on with Mr. Danjuro?" I inquired.

"Very well, thank you, Sir John. He knows everything, I do believe. If
there's one thing where I should detect a man who was talking through
'is 'at, it's 'osses. Stands to reason. But this gentleman knows 'osses
like a blooming trainer, sir. And as for the games of the crooks in the
ring and on the course, he's wide to every one of 'em. I generally
carries a pack of cards in my pocket, sir, and I've got one with me now.
The things 'e showed me passes belief. I've seen a good deal of that
sort of work, but Mr. Danjuro's an easy winner. I wouldn't play poker
with 'im, no, nor 'alfpenny nap, for a fistful o' thick 'uns!"

We breakfasted at Exeter, and I had the opportunity of a shave and a
bath. I remember that when I was half-way up the hotel stairs a horrid
thought struck me, and I hurried down again to consult Danjuro.

How would the stuff he had put on my skin stand hot water and soap?

He reassured me, however. Nothing would remove the beastly stuff but a
preparation he carried with him, and I bathed in peace.

It was a beautiful morning when we started again, and for many miles our
route lay close to the smiling Devon sea. The waves were sapphire blue,
framed in the red sandstone rocks, and the sky resembled a great hollow
turquoise. It was a bright morning, and one side of me rejoiced in it;
but the thought of my girl was always there, a constant sullen pain, for
which the morning held no anodyne.

Thumbwood drove on this stretch of the journey, and Danjuro sat inside
studying innumerable maps, and now and then making notes in a
pocket-book. I wondered what thoughts were seething and bubbling behind
that massive dome of skull.

Apart from the scenery, there was plenty to interest a Commissioner of
Air Police. The sky was speckled with small private planes, converging
upon Plymouth or Exeter from many a pleasant country residence. There
was no longer any need for the professional man or the prosperous
tradesman to live within a very few miles of his place of business. Men
flew to their day's work, and from considerable distances, and as a
matter of course. A mile or two out at sea one distinguished the large
steady-going passenger airships by which England was now ringed, and
occasionally the Royal Mail boats cut the sky like javelins. More than
once I spotted one of my police patrols. It was curious to remember that
I, who sat here with a stained face and shaven lip, bowling along the
Devon roads at a miserable forty miles an hour, had supreme control of
all those aerial argosies.

There were few cars upon the roads at this early hour. Contrary to
general opinion fifteen years ago, the popularity of flying had by no
means killed the automobile. It had lessened their numbers in an
appreciable degree, and made the roads more pleasant. I should, of
course, have preferred to reach our destination, or, at any rate, to
have travelled the greater part of the way towards it by airship. The
system of registration and the police regulations--framed by
myself--would have given too much away. My actual identity and purpose
might not have been discovered, but we should have been easily traced,
and Helzephron--if he was what we suspected--would be the first to hear
of a private aeroplane making its appearance in the solitudes where he
lived.

Towards midday we were approaching Plymouth, when I began to feel
uneasy. The agony I had endured there a day or two ago, when Thumbwood
burst into my bedroom with news of the _Atlantis_ disaster, clouded my
memory. I felt that I never wished to see the pride of Devon again.
This, though, was merely weakness which I crushed down. More practical
considerations occurred to me. I made Charles stop the car and got
inside with Danjuro.

"Look here," I said, "hadn't we better run straight through the town and
get on into Cornwall? We can lunch at St. Germans or somewhere."

"You have some special reason for avoiding Plymouth, Sir John?" Danjuro
asked politely.

"Well, it's the air-port for America. One of my largest stations is
there. Dozens and dozens of people know me. I've always been a familiar
figure in Plymouth, and never more so than lately, of course."

The Japanese gave his little weary smile. "I do not think you realize
the alteration in your appearance," he said. "I assure you, and I am an
expert in these matters, that no one at all would ever recognize you. I
had proposed to stop in Plymouth for at least a couple of hours."

"Why, exactly?"

"For several reasons. One is that I shall be able to purchase some local
Cornish maps and a directory or two, which I need, and found no
opportunity of procuring in London. But that is not all. Here we are in
the very centre of air matters, as far as the Atlantic is concerned. The
place is still seething with excitement. Nothing else but the piracies
is spoken of. The town is packed with correspondents of the principal
European newspapers. It is in a ferment. I much wish to go about with my
ears open for an hour or two. I do think, Sir John, that it would be
unwise to neglect this opportunity, for you as well as myself. There is
no knowing what we may pick up."

"You're certain about my disguise?"

"Perfectly certain. You will not, of course, enter into long
conversations with anyone who knows you well, as your voice would betray
you. Otherwise you may rest secure."

"Yes, that's the weak point," I replied. "I've always heard that,
however perfectly a man may be disguised, you cannot disguise his
voice."

He rolled a cigarette with the quick snatching movement of his fingers
that always struck me as a miracle of dexterity.

"It is not true," he remarked. "I have invented five methods, three
mechanical and two medical or chemical, whichever you like to call
them. When we have leisure I will show you. But there is no need for
anything of the sort in your case. It will give you confidence, Sir
John, to test the completeness of your new appearance. If you will go to
the Royal Hotel and lunch there--keeping awake to hear the general
talk--I will join you about three."

"Very well," I replied, though with some reluctance, "and the car?"

"Mr. Thumbwood has been with you at the 'Royal,' and he is not
disguised. It would be better that he should not approach the hotel. We
will put you down a short distance away. I will remain in the car and
direct Thumbwood where to go."

Nothing escaped this little man! He seemed to foresee and provide for
everything, and when I alighted five minutes afterwards, some two
hundred yards from the hotel, I felt fairly secure in my new character
as Mr. Johns, the don of Christ Church, Oxford.

Immediately I was in the street I became aware--you know how one
does?--that the Japanese was right, and Plymouth was in a ferment.
London is too vast for anything but a national calamity to make any
alteration in the outward appearance of things, and even then it takes a
sharp eye and a man well versed in the psychology of crowds to detect
anything unusual. Not so a big provincial town.

As I walked along the classic façade of the theatre and turned the
corner to the main entrance of the hotel, I saw one thought on every
face and heard one single topic of discussion. The streets, always so
gay and cheerful with military and naval uniforms, seemed more crowded
than their wont, and there was a definite electricity in the air. I know
that I felt stimulated, encouraged to persist, and as I ascended the
massive steps of the hotel, my clean-shaven lips smiled to think with
what interest I should be regarded if anyone had but an inkling of whom
I was and upon what mission.

And then I had a shock.

Standing in the big lounge-hall, and talking to a man in a black
morning-coat and a silk hat, was my second in command--Muir Lockhart,
Assistant Commissioner of Air Police! He was in uniform, a special
uniform that we both wore upon ceremonial occasions only.

"Yes," he was saying, "I'm down here representing the Chief."

I dared not stay to listen, but I walked towards them as slowly as I
could. Muir Lockhart has a somewhat high, penetrating voice.

"When did you come down?" asked the other man.

"Arrived half an hour ago, flew down from Whitehall this morning," said
Muir Lockhart.

"Then Sir John Custance isn't coming?"

My assistant shook his head. "Utterly impossible," he said. "Sir John
cannot leave town just now. He must be at the head of things; can't
possibly be spared. I saw him this morning before I left; he had been
working all night and was nearly dead. 'Explain my position to them,' he
said; 'nothing but strict duty would keep me away from Plymouth to-day.'
So, you see how it is, Mr. Mayor?"

"Oh, quite, quite! Well, I must be getting round to the Guildhall. You
will march up your men at half-past one? Thank you."

The man in the silk hat, who I realized must be the Mayor of Plymouth,
hurried away. I was left face to face with Muir Lockhart.

He stared at me, not offensively, but in such a way that he could not
have missed a detail of my appearance; he always was an observant
beggar. Then he passed by without a sign of recognition. Good! I
reflected, if my own colleague, who saw me for several hours each day,
did not know me, no one else would. It seemed a good omen, and I blessed
Danjuro in my heart.

And what a splendid liar Muir Lockhart was! He knew that I had gone away
on my own, and he hadn't the least idea in the world where I was! It
was a temptation to discover myself, but I refrained.

I was very puzzled. What on earth was he doing here in uniform, and
talking to the Mayor about? I hadn't a suspicion of the truth even then,
and I had a curious sense of being out of things, forgotten and on the
scrap-heap! The long drive had made me hungry and I thought about lunch.
Before going into the coffee-room I wished to remove the stains of
travel, so I went down the corridor to the lavatory.

When I entered a man in his shirt-sleeves was bending over one of the
basins and sluicing himself with many splashes. As I was washing my own
swarthy hands he emerged from a towel and gave me a casual glance.

It was Mr. Van Adams!

I could not repress a violent start, the thing was so sudden. What did
this gathering of the clans mean? He noticed my movement at once, and
looked at me with inquiry in his eyes. The lavatory was quite empty save
for our two selves, and my decision was taken at once.

"Mr. Van Adams?" I asked.

"Sure!" he replied. "You have the floor--shoot!"

"You don't know me?"

"Not from the great Lum-tum, though your voice is kind of homey."

"I'm Sir John Custance. Danjuro's been faking me up. He's down here
with me."

"Gee!" said Mr. Van Adams. "Aren't you the fresh thing now, Sir John? So
you're down for the obsequies incog.? That's what I've come for--matter
of respect. Flew down from Park Lane after breakfast."

"I'm on my way west. We only stopped here for an hour or two, as Danjuro
had some business."

"I've ordered lunch in a private room overlooking the square. Come right
up, Sir John, you'll be able to see everything from there."

"Thank you. But I'm still in the dark. I'm right away from the office
now, as you know. I saw Commander Muir Lockhart here just now, but I
couldn't speak to him...."

He took me by the arm and led me along the corridor to the lift.
"Captain Lashmar, of your force and the five men of the patrol boat are
being buried to-day," he said; "also Captain Swainson, of the
_Atlantis_, and the boys murdered on _his_ ship."

I flushed under my dye. I had never heard a word of it. I felt an
absolute beast as we entered the private room, and I tried to explain to
the millionaire.

"Think you callous and unfeeling?" he said in answer. "Guess I know
better than that, my friend. You're out to prevent just such a
spectacle as we're going to witness from ever happening again. You're
playing a better game than prancing along at the head of a procession.
You're getting busy at the heart of things. Now sit down and share the
pork bosom and beans, or whatever they've given us. And tell me all
about it."

We sat down to lunch, and after a glass of Burgundy, I told Van Adams of
all that had occurred, and also expressed my complete confidence in
Danjuro.

"You're right," he said. "There isn't an investigator on the globe
that'd carry a tune to him. He has his orders to stick to you right
through and he'll carry them out. That little man's got a brain like the
Mammoth Cave, and he's without human passions, save only one--he'd go to
hell in a paper suit for me! See here----" and the millionaire told me a
string of anecdotes about the uncanny little Jap that would make the
fortunes of a writer of Romance.

He was still on the same subject when he stopped in the middle of a
sentence.

The noise in the square outside was suddenly hushed, and we heard a
muffled chord of music. Rising from our chairs we went to the windows.
Everywhere, as far as eye could reach, was a black sea of heads, from
among which the slender clocktower on its island in the centre rose
like a sentinel.

The pavements were lined by troops, soldiers and sailors in equal
proportions, and there was a flutter as of falling leaves as every head
was bared and the piercing sweetness of Chopin's "Funeral March" filled
all the air.

Then they came, following the band: thirteen coffins covered with
flowers, thirteen brave heroes, who would never slant down the long
reaches of the upper air again.

After the hearses walked Paget and Fowles, the two heroic airmen who had
called the rescuing ship by wireless, and then came the chaplains and
Muir Lockhart.

For my part I saw the whole procession in a dream. The head of the
Transatlantic Air Line, the Mayor and Corporation in their robes--the
stately funereal pomp of it all seemed unsubstantial and unreal.

Mr. Van Adams was kneeling a yard or two away from the window. His head
was bent, he had a crucifix and a string of golden beads in his hands,
and was saying prayers. Who would have thought it of this master of
millions with the pike-like jaw? I suppose he was a Catholic.

But my mind was far away, above the heaving wastes of the Atlantic, and
I saw an unnamed, unknown ship rushing through the air, at a speed
undreamed of hitherto in the history of flight. And in the pilot's seat
I had a vision of a hawk-faced man with cruel eyes and a smile upon his
hard, thin lips....

I stood there for so long that the very tail of the procession was
passing by, and Mr. Van Adams rose from his prayers with the sign of the
Cross, and touched me on the arm.

"Look!" he said, pointing down into the street.

I followed his finger and saw Danjuro standing on the opposite kerb. He
was looking after the cortège, and his face, with the expression on it,
was quite clear to see....

In an instant I came out of my dream.



CHAPTER IX

THE MAN WITH THE WICKED FACE


On the morning after our arrival I stepped out of my bedroom window at
Penzance and stood upon the balcony.

Many times had I flown over Cornwall; never had I set foot in the Duchy
until now. Plymouth had always been my furthest west.

The sea was blue as the Mediterranean, the sky a huge hollow turquoise,
the air all Arabia. Away in the bay St. Michael's Mount, crowned with
towers, gleamed like a vision of the New Jerusalem in some old monkish
missal--and the heart within me was so hard, stern, and full of deadly
purpose that no summer seas nor balmy western winds could touch the
rigour of my mood.

For we were on the battlefield now. There was no more vagueness nor
speculation. I, in the place I occupied, owed a debt to society, and to
myself a personal and bitter revenge. And those debts should be paid.

Danjuro knocked and entered the bedroom. Yesterday afternoon, within
half an hour of our arrival at Penzance, he had disappeared, telling me
not to wait up for him, as he could not say what time he would return. I
accordingly went to bed early, for I was tired out, and had not seen him
until now.

"I have been very busy, Sir John," he said. "In the characters of a
mining engineer at one place and agent for a foreign shipping firm at
another, I have been making some very necessary inquiries. I engaged a
local motor--our own would hardly have suited the part--and I have
covered a great deal of country."

"And your exact object?"

"I have two. One is to discover any private engineering works where
special engines could have been made in secret. You will remember that
we both came to the conclusion that the Air Pirate could have obtained
silent engines in no other way. The other is--petrol."

"Petrol! I never thought of that! I see what you mean."

"Precisely, Sir John. An airship such as the one we are after must have
a constant supply of petrol, and, of course, consumes enormous
quantities. When I can connect a certain private individual with the
receipt of such quantities, we are another step forward."

"How have you got on?" I asked eagerly.

"I have nothing definite. But there are certain indications--slight,
oh, very slight!--which I am following up. I will go into everything
with you this evening. Meanwhile you have your own day mapped out."

"Yes. I have studied the local maps and asked a good many questions.
After breakfast I shall walk over the moors to this little lonely
village of Zerran. It is about eight miles away from here, and, I
understand, not more than one and a half from Tregeraint Sea House,
which is the home of Major Helzephron. There is a fair-sized
old-fashioned inn on the cliffs where we shall probably be able to get
rooms."

"And settle down to our reading party," he replied, with a sudden gleam
in his narrow eyes. "I have the Greek texts of Plato's 'Republic' and
the 'Meno' in my portmanteau; it is wise to pay attention to details! We
shall, then, meet at dinner this evening, and I expect that your news
will be of great importance. With your permission, I shall take
honourable Thumbwood with me. He will be useful."

After breakfast, with some sandwiches and a flask, I set out, passing
down the main street of the far western town, and by the last station in
England, till I found myself mounting a winding road which led upwards
through a suburb towards the moorlands.

The air was heavy with the perfume of innumerable flowers. Tall
palm-trees grew in the gardens of old granite houses, a sub-tropical
flora flourished everywhere, and it was difficult to believe that one
was in England. The hedges were luxuriant with ferns that grow in
hot-houses elsewhere, Royal Osmunda and Maidenhair, and every moment the
road grew steeper.

If you look at the map of Cornwall you will see that the extremity of
the county forms a sort of peninsula. Penzance is on the south, and
faces the English Channel on the south. My back was now turned to this,
and I was walking due north, towards my objective, the vast and little
known "Hinterland" of mountainous moor and savage coast which lies
between the Channel and the Atlantic.

As I went, the warmth and colour, the riot of Nature all round, seemed
as unreal as a dream. It brought no ease or healing to my soul. Deep,
deep down, though controlled and prisoned by the will, an unending agony
was lying. I'm not going to insist upon this, or often obtrude it in my
story. But you must not think that, until the very end, I knew a
moment's peace. My dear love and her awful fate were ever before me, and
all the sights and sounds of Nature in this western paradise breathed
nothing but her name.

... At last the habitations of man grew fewer. Gardens gave place to
sloping fields enclosed by "hedges" of stone, and at length a long,
level sky-line above and in front showed me that the moors were close.

I reached the top at last, and took in a great breath of the sweetest,
most exhilarating air that I have ever known. The unfenced road
stretched away ahead of me for miles, a long, white ribbon laid upon the
heath and yellow gorse. I was on a vast plateau of gold and brown and
purple. To the left great hills crowned with rock granite tors cut into
the sky, and to the right was the jagged summit of Carne Zerran, three
miles away as the crow flies. At its foot, on the edge of mighty cliffs
that fell away a sheer three hundred feet to the ocean, I knew lay the
little village that I sought.

I looked at my map for a moment, took out my pocket compass, and then
plunged into the heather. Already I had a good idea of the lie of the
country--it is an instinct with your flying man--and I realized that an
accurate knowledge of it would prove invaluable in the task before me.

I met no living soul during that first walk over the moor. Larks were
singing high above in the blue; a pair of the rare Cornish choughs, with
their scarlet bills, flew screeching from the summit of a lichen-covered
rock as big as a house; but until I got to Carne Zerran, and looked down
to the narrow strip of pasture lands and cornfields that lie along the
cliffs, there was no sign of human habitation.

Far down below I saw a church tower and a little cluster of grey houses.
Beyond was the coast-line, with a creamy froth of breakers at the foot
of the jagged cliffs, and the Atlantic, "Mother of Oceans," beyond.
There was no land between me and New York! I suppose that in all the
glory of sun and colour, superb spaces of sea and sky, I stood alone,
and looked upon a scene as fair as any on this earth. But as I focussed
my binoculars, and swept the coast, my only thought was that here--if
anywhere at all--was the heart of the mystery I had come to solve.

Well! It was a fitting setting, in its lonely vastness. Anything might
happen here among these Druid-haunted hills. A crafty fiend, a man with
a great intellect and Satan in his soul, might well find this his proper
theatre!

About a mile from the village, and just below me, I saw the cliffs bent
inwards between two projecting headlands. This must be the Zerran Cove
of the map, and--yes, seemingly upon the very edge of the precipice was
a long, grey building, which could be none other than "The Miners'
Arms."

I began the descent, leaping from rock to rock, where the adders lay
basking in the sun. After a few hundred yards, I struck a gorge,
through which a stream fell towards the sea. Here I found a well-defined
path, which looped downwards to the ruins of a deserted tin-mine. I saw,
as I passed it, the windowless engine-house, and the gaunt timbers of
the winding gear still in place. The gibbet-like erection and the dumps
of useless stuff covered with rank dock leaves made a forlorn and ugly
picture in that narrow gorge where the sun hardly penetrated.

I passed it soon, and came out upon the main coach road from St. Ives to
Land's End, and, crossing this, found a side lane, which took me direct
to the remote hostelry I had seen from the heights above.

It was a large place, covered with ivy, and no doubt did a considerable
trade eighty years before, when the innumerable tin-mines on the moor
were all at work. Now it seemed forgotten by the world, and all asleep
in the sun. "An ideal base for our operations!" I thought, as I strode
through an open door into a long, low room, with a stone floor and
heavily timbered roof.

It was cool, and so dark after the blazing sunshine that, for a moment,
I could see nothing, though I heard a sound of stertorous breathing.
When my eyes became accustomed to the gloom I saw that there was a man
asleep by the little counter. He sat on a bench which ran along the
wall, and his head was buried in his arms, which rested on a
beer-stained table. By his side stood a bottle half full of whisky.

Supposing him to be the landlord--and no engaging figure at that--I
touched him on the shoulder. It was like springing a trap! Instantly he
snatched away his arms and sat up. For a second sleep held him. Then it
passed away like a breath on glass, and if ever I saw fear on a man's
face I saw it then.

He was dressed in a blue jersey and an alpaca coat, oil-stained and
dirty. His hands were the hands of a mechanic, with grimy nails. But it
was his face that held me. It was sleek and cunning. There was a curious
mixture of refinement and wickedness. He seemed like a naturally
sensitive man, whom circumstances, indulgence, or some special
temptation, had led very deeply astray.

I noted all this while he stared at me with a drooping jaw and bloodshot
eyes. His skin had turned dead-white, like the belly of a fish, and
whatever he was thinking I felt that I would not have that man's
conscience for a million.

"I want you," I said--they were the first words that came.

He made an inarticulate noise.

"You are the landlord, aren't you?"

At that he gave a long breath and his rigidity relaxed. He snatched at
the whisky bottle, poured some into a glass and drank it off neat.

"Lord, how you startled me!" he said glibly. "I was far
away--dreaming--and you frightened me out of my life!"

It was my turn to be amazed, though I showed nothing. The fellow spoke
with a cultivated voice and accent which were impossible to mistake. He
was not what I had thought him.

"I am very sorry," I said; "you must please excuse me. But I naturally
thought ..."

"Of course you did!" he said, and a civil but ugly smile came on his
clever, unpleasant face. "As a matter of fact, Trewhella, the landlord,
has just gone to the village for a few minutes. He asked me to keep
house for him. He's almost due back now."

Thanking him urbanely, I sat down, my mind working very quickly. He
offered me some whisky, and though it was the last thing I wanted, I
accepted after a show of reluctance. He was watching me out of the
corners of his eyes the whole time.

"Can you tell me," I said, with great openness of manner, "if I can get
rooms here, or in Zerran village?"

He became alert at once. "Rooms, to stay in, do you mean?"

"Yes. I am an Oxford tutor, and I have a young foreign gentleman in my
charge whom I am coaching. I want a quiet place for three or four weeks,
and this seems ideal for the purpose."

His face cleared. "I should imagine so," he replied. "I know Trewhella
does let sometimes."

"You live here?" I remarked, with polite indifference.

"I have been here for a year," he answered. "I am, as a matter of fact,
a mining engineer--hence these clothes! I belong to a little private
syndicate of friends who are opening up a disused tin-mine, on the moor
not far away. Ah, here is the landlord! Trewhella, this gentleman wishes
to speak to you." And then to me: "Good-morning, sir. No doubt, if you
come here, I and my friends will see something of you. We are mostly
public-school and University men ourselves, and we often look in here of
an evening after our day's work."

He waved his hand and went out into the sunshine.



CHAPTER X

SIR JOHN CUSTANCE COMES UPON THE HOUSE OF HELZEPHRON


Mr. Trewhella was an elderly Cornishman, with welcoming manners, the
native shrewdness of his race, but without guile. We got on famously
from the word "go." He had three bedrooms and a large sitting-room to
let. His wife, who had driven into St. Ives, was, he asserted, a good
cook. As for Thumbwood, he could wait on us and live with the landlord
and his wife. Finally, there was an empty barn which would hold our car
very comfortably.

"And what would you be thinking of paying, zur?" asked Mr. Trewhella.

"I shall leave that to you. I may tell you that the gentleman I am
preparing for his Oxford examination is wealthy. He is a Japanese
nobleman, and as long as you make us comfortable ..."

This had the desired effect. The landlord became expansive in his slow
way, and showed me all over the premises of his quaint and rambling
dwelling. It was a wild and fantastic spot, an ancient haunt of
smugglers and wreckers, I learnt. The back-yard opened straight into the
short pneumatic turf above the cliffs, the brink of which was not more
than two hundred yards away. Here the stream, which flowed past the inn,
descended in a series of miniature cataracts to a tiny cove of
deep-green water, almost enclosed by two towering precipices, crowned
with jagged spires and pinnacles of rock. There was a little scimitar of
golden sand far down at the water's edge, and the scene was one of
savage grandeur that I have rarely known surpassed in all my travels.

As he stood on the height and looked down, I saw something which seemed
strangely out of place. A line of street rails, with wooden rollers at
intervals between them, fell at a dizzy angle from a spot some ten yards
away on the turf, ending abruptly on the level, and in front of a
smallish hut of corrugated iron.

"What is the rail for?" I asked. "Surely you don't haul the
boats"--there were two of them lying on the beach--"right up to the top
of the cliff! It must be two hundred and fifty feet!"

"Nigher three hundred, zur. No. Them rails belong to bring up machinery
and stores for Tregeraint Mine by Carne Zerran. They do come by sea in a
lil' steamboat. 'Tes more convenient so. There be a lil' oil engine in
that shed to haul 'em up in trucks. I let the land, for 'tes all mine
down-along, and they do pay me ten pound a year."

We strolled back to the house, Mr. Trewhella proposing a Cornish pasty
and beer for lunch.

"Now you mention it, that gentleman who was keeping house for you just
now said that he was a mining engineer."

The landlord's big, weather-beaten face wrinkled like a stained window.
He began to heave and chuckle, finally exploding in a bellow of
laughter.

"Mr. Vargus!" he spluttered, "Mr. Vargus! He _thinks_ he be a mining
engineer, but a knows no more about it than my pig! He be a clever
gentleman, sure 'nuf. He do have some braäve knowledge to machinery,
I'll allow. But mining, and tin-mining!"

Mr. Trewhella could find no further words to express his contempt for
the mining attainments of my friend with the refined and evil face.

"You see," the landlord continued, as we ate our pasties, "I'm an old
mine-captain myself, bred and born to it. 'Tedn't likely as I could be
deceived. When I heered that a gentleman had come into Tregeraint Manor
and the old mine, and proposed to work it, I laughed, I did. I know
every inch of Wheal Tregeraint, and fifty years ago it was a fine
property. To-day them amatoors up along'll never get enough tin out to
oxidize, let alone smelt."

"Who are they, then, Mr. Trewhella?"

"That's what lots of folk asked when they first come here in twos and
threes. They're gentlemen, zur, like yourself, that's what they are.
Never was such a thing known in these parts, though folk are used to 'em
now. There's Mr. Helzephron, a Cornishman himself, and should know
better, Mr. Vargus, you seed, Mr. Gascoigne, a mad young devil if you
like, and near a dozen more. They all live together in the greät house
on the cliff and work the mine theyselves. Never no one else allowed.
They cooks and does for themselves, just as if they was in a mining camp
in California."

"No women, servants or anything?"

"Never an apron. My missus belong to say they lives like Popish monks,
which she see when travelling with a lady among the Eyetalians. 'Not so,
my tender dear,' says I. 'I never heered that Popish monks spent most of
their evenings in the village inn with a bottle of Scotch whisky afore
each man, and precious little left by closing time!'"

"A hard-drinking lot then?"

"Wonderful at their liquor. I tell you, zur, it's good for me! Now I've
got used to them and their funny ways, I wish they'd stay for ever.
Speaking from a strictly business point of view, that is. But soon
they'll find out they've lost their money and they'll jack it up. 'Tes
not in reason as they can go on, though they do seem so full of hope and
certainty, as you mind to up! But I _know_."

He was obviously pleased with my interest in his talk. I wondered what
he would have said if he had known who I was and why I was there? Under
a calm exterior, a professor munching potato pasty! I was filled with a
furious excitement. The man's gossip was worth a sovereign a word. Here
was, moment by moment, what looked like complete confirmation of our
suspicions. And yet, even as I realized this, I realized also how
infernally clever the scheme was. Without the clue which Danjuro and
myself alone possessed, there was nothing in the world to connect
Helzephron and Tregeraint with the business that was ruffling the calm
of two continents.

It was not my game to ask more direct questions than I could help. It
was better to let the racy stream flow on, with a word of comment now
and then. I ventured a calculated one now.

"Fools and their money are soon parted," said I.

"You may say that, zur! And they've poured out money like water.
Electric light, oal sorts o' cases full of new-fangled machinery, and
that mystery made about the silly old mine you'd think it was a seam of
diamonds."

"It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good, Mr. Trewhella!" I rose
from the table as I spoke. "But what you say about a dozen or more
gentlemen drinking nearly a bottle of whisky each rather surprises me.
I'm no foe to honest enjoyment, but ..."

I put on a slight primness of manner, as became the character I
sustained.

The landlord nodded vigorously. "'Tes so!" he agreed, "and most onusual.
They be gentlefolk, sure 'nuff, but shall I tell 'ee what I think?"

"What's that?"

"I think as most of 'em's dropped out, so to speak. I shouldn't be
frightened if as their families didn't have anything to say to 'em, and
they've nowhere much else to go. Mr. Helzephron knows what he's about,
he do. I judge by a kind o' reckless way they have, 'specially the
younger gentlemen. They don't seem to mind about ordinary things same as
most. Well, I suppose this fool tin-mining keeps 'em out of mischief."

I wondered.


When I set out upon the return journey I took another route. I found
from the landlord that by skirting the coast for a mile in the direction
of St. Ives I could come upon a moorland path that would take me to the
little railway-station of St. Erth. I could then catch a train for
Penzance. My ostensible reason was to vary my walk, my real one that by
this change of plan I should pass by and have a view of Tregeraint Mine
and the Manor House.

"Not that you'll see much or get close," said Mr. Trewhella.

"How is that?" I asked.

"I told you that Mr. Helzephron"--apparently the hawk-faced man had
dropped his military title in Cornwall--"do make a mystery of his
peddling mine. He goes further than that. The mine buildings and the
house are surrounded by two fences of barbed-wire and the Manor by a
high wall. 'Trespassers,' notice boards belong to say, 'will be
prosecuted with the utmost rigour of the law'!"

"Well, I shan't attempt to trespass, Mr. Trewhella!"

The landlord laughed. "Mine prospectin's not in the way of a larned
gentleman like yourself. Maybe it's as well. Mr. Helzephron has got two
dogs he turns out at night, and terrible ugly customers they be. Mr.
Vargus do tell me that they be Tibetan mastiffs, which am the largest
dogs in the world. They look like a sour-faced Newfoundland with heavy
ears, only bigger."

I tramped away from "The Miners' Arms." Although I recognized the fact
that we were only at the fringe of discovery, my mind was made up. Thick
darkness surrounded me, but I was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt
that Major Helzephron, and no other, was the man for whom the whole
world was hunting.

And as I thought of him and the crew of lost and reckless men who did
his will, the fair landscape seemed to darken, the sweet airs to be
tainted....

The path I traversed was the coastguard's path, as I could see by the
white-washed boulders to serve as a guide by night. It was never more
than two or three yards away from the brink of the savage precipices
that fell for two hundred and fifty feet sheer to the water. The ocean
was on my left; on the right the great hill, known as Carne Zerran,
towered up, and the edge of the high moors cut the sky. On that side it
was as though one were walking at the bottom of a cup.

After about half a mile of the path, it suddenly left the cliff edge,
and turned inland. For several hundred yards the brink was guarded by a
semicircle of barbed-wire fence, which made it impossible to approach. A
notice board informed the wayfarer that here, owing to old mining
operations, the cliff was extremely dangerous.

It looked so, indeed. The edge was broken and irregular. I saw that it
ran out in a curious headland for a considerable way, a mere wall of
rock with a razor-back path on the top, which curved round again and ran
parallel to the cliff on which I was, making a mighty chasm from which
rose the cries of innumerable sea-birds. There was a narrow mouth
seawards, and another headland jutted out to make a cove like the one at
the inn, though that, of course, had no winding cañon at the end.

I crept up to the brink, where the wire fence began, and, lying down,
with one arm round the first post, peered over.

It was a terrible place. The rock overhung so for hundreds of yards that
I could not see the bottom. But the other side of the cañon was clear to
view, a great wall of black rock, where sea-hawks nested, and
inaccessible to the boldest climber. To the right the cove seemed to be
of fair size from horn to horn, but it was no tranquil spot like the one
at the back of the inn. Even on a calm day like the present, the
Atlantic ground swell poured in with tremendous force, and was broken
with ferocious whirlpools and spray-fountains by toothed rock-ledges a
foot or two below the surface. The smallest boat could not have entered
Tregeraint Cove and lived there for a moment.

For some reason or other the place affected me most unpleasantly, and
it was with a little shudder that I retreated and skirted the fence
which guarded the dangerous part of the cliff. When I had passed by
this, the path turned at right angles and went inland.

As I turned I saw, perhaps a furlong away, the house of Helzephron.

It lay upon the eastern slope of Carne Zerran, an ancient, grim-looking
house of granite, long, low, and of considerable size. A few stunted
trees grew round about, and a fairly extensive domain of gardens, as I
supposed, surrounded by a high wall. Using my prism glasses, I could see
that this wall was topped by iron spikes. Of course, I was considerably
below Tregeraint as on the sloping hill-side, and it lay quite open to
view. Higher up, and beyond the house, was the derrick, engine-house and
sheds of the mine, with here and there dumps of débris and various
sheds.

Although the wire fences, which I soon made out, went round the whole
property, it lay quite open to the view. And when I had passed it, and
climbed to the table-land of the moor beyond, I saw that it would be
even more open to the eyes--spread out like a map, in short.

One thing was already certain. There was nothing whatever in the nature
of a hangar, no building that could possibly shelter even an ordinary
four or five seater biplane, to say nothing of an air cruiser.

I was not disappointed, because I had hardly expected to meet with
anything of the kind. The pirate ship, you will remember, was--like all
the big long-distance airships--a cross between what used to be known in
the old days as the "seaplane" and the "flying-boat." True, some of our
war aeroplanes of quite large size were fitted with floats that could be
raised, and wheels for land work in addition.

This might be the case with the pirate. But it was not to be thought of
for a moment that a man of Helzephron's intelligence would dare to house
his extraordinary ship where any one of my police could have
investigated simply by showing his badge of office. The land policeman
and the coastguards of the whole English coastline had already reported
on every hangar and aerodrome in the kingdom. If Helzephron was the man
I believed him, I was well aware that we were only at the beginning of
the duel.

I mounted up past the wire fences and the mine. I did not dare to use my
glasses in passing, for I saw in the distance one or two figures of men
strolling about by the engine-house and derrick. But when I was at last
among the heather at the top, I lay down, and took a long survey of the
buildings, drawing a careful map in my pocket-book, which might prove
of great use later on.

I waited half an hour at the little station of St. Erth, and then caught
a train to Penzance, arriving at the hotel about tea-time. As I came
into the lounge, after a wash and brush up, I saw Danjuro sitting in one
corner. He had a pile of newspapers round him, and I saw that the London
journals had arrived.

He handed me one of them as I sat down. A paragraph among the police
news was marked in pencil.

Major Helzephron had been taken to Vine Street Police Station, and
locked up for the night, charged with an aggravated assault on Mr. Wag
Ashton at the Mille Colonnes Restaurant, on the evidence of M. Nicholas
and the head-waiter.

A medical man had attended the Court on behalf of the prosecutor, to say
that Mr. Ashton was too unwell to appear until the morrow. Upon his
promising to attend the Court the next day, Major Helzephron was
admitted to bail.

"That gives us nearly two clear days," said Danjuro. "When Ashton does
appear, he will not press the case, and will own that he gave
provocation; Helzephron will be fined, perhaps let off. I see that
Honourable Ashton battered him a good deal! And now, your news, Sir
John, if you please."



CHAPTER XI

"THE AIR WOLVES ARE HUNTING TO-NIGHT!"


He made no comment, and did not interrupt me until I had completely
finished, nor did his inscrutable face give any indication of what he
thought.

"My own investigations," he said, "can be told in a few words. The small
steamship which brings supplies to the cove behind the inn is the
private property of Helzephron, and she is a great deal faster and much
better engined than most people are aware. She lies at the little port
of Hayle, which is on the main line from Plymouth to Penzance, in St.
Ives Bay. At certain times _large quantities of petrol arrive in
separate consignments from different parts of the country_. The _Sea
Gull_ is loaded to her capacity, and then makes the short voyage to
Zerran Cove."

"That's the last link!" I said. "No one could doubt now!"

"There is another, still more interesting fact. Hayle was once a place
of much greater importance than it is at present. There were large
foundries and engineering works there in the past. These have been
abandoned, owing to the silting up of the harbour, for many years, as
only vessels of small draught can enter easily to-day. But the foundry
buildings remain. From time to time a portion of them has been let for
this or that small enterprise. Three years ago Helzephron rented a part
of the works and installed machinery. He had about twenty labourers, but
the real work, whatever it was, took place in a large experimental shed,
to which no one was admitted but he and his friends. They were already
at Zerran, and used to drive over in motors every day. It was locally
known that some new machinery for Wheal Tregeraint was being made. Many
shippings took place from Hayle to Zerran Cove."

"But the ship, the Pirate Ship itself?"

"Who can tell? We go step by step in the dark. Many theories have
crossed my mind. I have dismissed them all. I want to approach this, the
most sinister problem of all, with a blank mind. We can do nothing till
we are on the spot. Our preliminary work is over, but the real labour
begins."

"A sinister problem enough," I answered bitterly. "But not the most
trouble to me. I tell you, Danjuro, that as I lay among the heather and
looked down upon that lonely house, as I thought of the devilish crew
that live there, for a moment my heart turned to water, and the agony
was more than I could endure. _She_ may be there, at this moment,
defenceless and in the power ..."

I could not go on. I covered my face with my hands, and was nearer
breaking down than ever before. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. "It
has never left my mind, either. Do not give way, for the moment of
action has come. We go to the inn at Zerran to-night--within the hour."

"To-night!"

"Yes. We cannot afford to waste a moment. Helzephron is kept in London.
One great danger is removed from our path. We shall never have a better
opportunity than now. In dealing with enemies such as ours, we must
strike quickly and strongly when they think themselves most secure.
Before dawn we must have penetrated the inmost secrets of Tregeraint."

I had by now grown accustomed to regard Danjuro as the leader of our
enterprise. His decision was like cool water to a man dying of thirst in
a desert. I stood up, absolutely myself. "There is, of course, no reason
why we should not install ourselves at Zerran to-night instead of
to-morrow morning. Trewhella won't mind," I said.

"I will order the car in an hour. Meanwhile, I have one or two things to
do. Perhaps you will settle the hotel bill, Sir John, and tell the
people that we are leaving?..."

It was a stiflingly hot night as the car climbed up to the moors, and in
the glare of our headlights the gorse and heather by the roadside
streamed swiftly like some golden cinema, leaving a more sable dark
before and behind them. Danjuro, by my side, was lost in thought. The
massive head hung upon his chest. About half-way on our journey he said
a curious thing. "This would be an ideal night for another raid in the
air-lanes of the Atlantic."

I did not answer, for I, also, was thinking deeply. So it was for
to-night! We crossed swords, fired the first shot, what you will, with
our cunning enemy in a few hours. What would they bring forth?

I felt no fear, only a deep resolution not to fail in rescue and the
execution of Justice. I was happier than I had been for days, for it is
thought that turns the bones to pith and thins the blood, not action.
And, as we flashed down the dark moor road to where the lights of the
solitary inn showed yellow, I sent a wordless prayer to the Throne of
Justice and Mercy. And, as if an answer was truly and instantly
vouchsafed, there came into my mind these words from the ninety-first
Psalm: "I will deliver thee from the snare of the hunter."

And after that I put mere abstract thought away from me.

As we rolled up silently to the inn, we heard a great noise of singing
from the long room. A tall woman came out of a side door, and I
explained that we had decided to come earlier than we had planned. She
was a comely, good-humoured dame, who made no trouble about our arrival.
Both bedrooms and sitting-rooms were prepared, and when Thumbwood had
taken the car round to the barn, he went upstairs to unpack the baggage.
Mr. Trewhella appeared from the bar. I introduced Danjuro, and we
arranged to have some supper at half-past ten.

Meanwhile the singing continued in great volume, mingled with the
twanging chords of a banjo.

"Your guests are merry to-night," said Danjuro.

"It's the gentlemen from the mine, sir," said the landlord. "It's one of
their nights off, so to speak. Would you like to join 'em for half an
hour?"

"I think not on our first night. But they sing very well. As a foreigner
I am interested in all English customs; may I take a peep?..."

He had gone to the communicating door as he spoke, and pulling aside a
red curtain which covered the upper half of glass, he looked through. I
did the same.

The long room was full of people and tobacco smoke. With a single
exception, that of Mr. Vargus, they were all quite young men, ranging,
I should say, from three-and-twenty to thirty. Most of them were dressed
in old tweed suits, but the material and cut told their own tale, and
spoke of the "right" kind of tailor. At first glance they might have
been a collection of naval officers or senior undergraduates, but only
at first glance. My eyes roved from face to face, and on each I saw the
loss of innocence and honour. Some were cunning; others had a brutality
in ill accord with their youth, and there was a hard bravado in the eyes
of all. It was sickening. One felt that one had suddenly looked upon
something that should remain hidden. In that haze of smoke lurked all
that was vaguely horrible, all that was monstrous and evil in the
universe.

I almost wanted to spit upon the floor, in an uncontrollable gesture of
repudiation. As I turned, I saw the landlord looking at me.

"A promising lot of young devils," said I.

"You do see it too, zur?" he replied, and then Danjuro touched my arm,
and I turned to look again. A man, without a hat, had just entered the
room from the outside. He sat in a chair which he had obviously occupied
before, for he was in naval uniform, and his cap was lying there. He was
a big, foolish-looking fellow, far gone in drink, but despite that his
face was the only wholesome one there.

"Who is that?" I whispered to Trewhella, as Mr. Vargus poured a
generous allowance of rum into the new-comer's glass.

"That's Billy Pengelly, our coastguard. The gentlemen do make a lot of
him, and he's none the better for't, for Billy's one as likes his drop.
Still, he goes and sleeps it off, and he belong to be strong as a bull.
And in these lone parts there's not often anyone to see if he's on the
watch or not."

A tall boy with a banjo took up his instrument and twanged the chords.

"Now, gentlemen!" he shouted in a clear fresh tenor, "a chorus!" And
without further preliminary he dashed into nothing less than the
"Pirate's Chanty" from "Treasure Island":


     "_Fifteen men on the dead man's chest!
          Yo, ho! and a bottle of rum!_"


The inn rocked with the volume of sound. I stood there fascinated, with
a sort of horror. The thing--knowing what I knew--was so daring and grim
that, more than anything else, it showed me with whom we had to deal.

The application was lost upon Danjuro, but I told him what it meant in
French, and he nodded with contracted eyes.


     "_Drink, and the devil had done for the rest,
       Yo, ho! and a bottle of rum!_"


One would have thought that the room could not contain the noise, and
that the very windows must be shattered, and in the very middle of it I
heard something else--the urgent, throbbing sound of an engine.

Danjuro heard it as soon as I did. "Motor-bicycle," he whispered.

The sound grew insistent. Whoever was coming rode hell for leather and
with the exhaust open. Then there was a succession of reports, a
grinding noise, and the door of the bar was flung suddenly open.

A tall man in goggles and overalls covered with dust walked in. As he
did so, the pirate chant stopped with dramatic suddenness, and the
singers jumped to their feet. Then he removed his glasses and his cap.

It was Major Helzephron.

They clustered round him thickly, and to each one he said a quiet word.
In every case, when this happened, the man spoken to nodded and vanished
into the night. I could hear them running outside the inn. Lastly,
Helzephron took Vargus by the arm, and they also passed out. I could see
the man more plainly than ever before. There was a great bruise round
about the left eye, and the face was pale. But it blazed with will and
purpose, and the cruel mouth was set in a malicious and abominable
smile.

"_The wolves are hunting to-night!_" Danjuro said to me two minutes
later in my bedroom, and once again his face was like a demon of Old
Japan. "Helzephron will not appear at the police court to-morrow. He has
arranged it somehow, and, after all, it is a trivial affair. He has
ridden down from London during the day."

"You mean that there is going to be a raid to-night?"

"I feel sure of it. Why else should Helzephron rush from London? And you
observed the manner of his confederates. Don't you see this--with all
his cunning precautions the pirate is far too clever not to know that
his career must be a short one. He cannot hope to remain concealed for
any great length of time. His object is to obtain an immense fortune
_quickly_. Already I calculate he has stolen jewels and money to the
value of two hundred thousand pounds. A few more such coups and he can
disband his crew and disappear for ever. Speed is the essence of his
plan."

"But we must do something, we must stop it...."

"Our opportunity for action is improved, Sir John. In the first place,
you must take steps to concentrate a fleet of patrol ships in this
neighbourhood."

"The car is here. I can write official telegrams in code to Plymouth
and London. Within an hour the hinterland and the sea from here to
Scilly can be covered with a swarm of ships. St. Ives is only six miles
away."

"Write the dispatches at once. I will call Thumbwood, who must take them
in, together with an official note from you to the postmaster."

I unlocked my portfolio and wrote the wires. There should be such an
invasion of the air to-night as Far West Cornwall had never known!

Thumbwood appeared, I gave him full instructions, and heard the
Rolls-Royce start below.

"And now, our part!" I said to Danjuro.

"If we are right in our conjecture, the pirates will shortly leave
Tregeraint on their expedition. How they will join the airship or where
we don't know. But we may safely assume that the house will be left in
charge of one or at most two men. The others will all be wanted to man
the ship; it is a simple calculation. Here is your chance. You must get
inside Tregeraint, obtain conclusive evidence, and if the poor lady is
there alive, bring her away in safety. Perhaps to-night the Pirate Ship
will make its last cruise! Our presence here, our identity, is quite
unsuspected. A concentration of hostile airships in this neighbourhood
is the last thing Helzephron will expect to-night."

"And you, my friend?"

"I would that I could come with you, for you go in danger of your life,
but, as I see it, my work should be different. Someone, in view of its
escape, _must_ solve the mystery of the Pirate Ship itself. I have a
theory already; I must put it to proof. There are boats in the cove
below--I see that the moon is rising, I know what I must do. But, even
so, I will come with you, Sir John, if you say so."

I shook my head. "No, I will go alone. It is my job."

Then Danjuro did a strange thing. He took my hand, bowed over it and
kissed it! "You also are of the Samurai!" he said.

In a minute more he carried in a heavy bag from his own bedroom, and
produced from it a miscellany of objects.

"Here is a twelve-shot automatic, with a dozen cartridge clips," he
said. "You know all about the working of it? I thought so. This pair of
wire-cutters you will need for the barbed fence. These two keys with
adjustable wards--you turn the milled screw at the end to adjust
them--will open any ordinary lock. Here also is an extremely powerful
steel lever, with a wedge end. In the hands of, a strong man like
yourself it will wrench open most windows or doors."

God knows there was no lightness in my heart, but in the usual English
way at serious moments, I laughed.

"The Complete Burglar!" I said.

Danjuro looked at me with a glance as cold as ice.

"I am in most deadly earnest, Sir John. You know what my experience has
been. Well, I say deliberately that I have never been in such peril as
you are going into."

"I meant nothing. And what is this?" I had taken up a little leather
tube with a lens at one end.

"A powerful electric torch. But it is more than that. You can instantly
reverse it in your hand, and if you press this stud, the plated bottom
flies open, and by means of a spring an ounce of cayenne pepper is
projected for several yards. It will stop anyone and operates
instantaneously. A little thing I invented and have found most useful.
These handcuffs are of papier mâché and weigh practically nothing. They
are from Japan and tough as the hardest steel. You may require them. And
I never go on an expedition without this tiny bottle of chloroform and
pad. You can stow everything about you with ease, and the combined
weight is as nothing."

I did so, and it was as he said. Then a thought struck me.

"Armed and prepared like this, I feel certain that I shall get in. But
there are two Tibetan mastiffs let loose in the grounds at night. I can
shoot them, but the noise of the report ..."

"That is provided for, Sir John. You see this gun?"

"It looks like a short-barrelled rook-rifle, except for the great
thickness at the breech."

"It holds ten conical bullets. They are hollow-nosed and expand on
impact. The point is that the gun is perfectly noiseless. Powder is not
used at all. The propelling power is liquefied carbonic-acid gas, and
all that is heard at the moment of firing is a sharp snap. With this you
can stalk the dogs and kill them easily enough. Do not forget your
hunting flask and brandy and water. And for concentrated food, should
you be detained in hiding, though I and Thumbwood will be coming to look
after you if you don't appear by morning, these solid chocolate cakes
are invaluable."

All this was done quickly, and with the most business-like precision.
Although my sense of humour told me that I was like the White Knight in
"Alice in Wonderland," I did realize that I should be a terribly nasty
customer to tackle, and I was grateful.

While we had been talking there came sounds from below of the closing of
the inn, and shortly after we were called to supper.

"Don't you stay up any longer, Mr. Trewhella," I said. "You must want
your rest. As for us, we are late birds. Both I and my friend sometimes
take a five minutes' stroll last thing before we turn in. That won't
inconvenience you?"

"Bless your life, no, zur. You do as you're a mind here. 'Tesn't like a
town. The key of the front door hangs on a nail by the side. And if you
_should_ be going out later, Billy Pengelly's in the empty pigsty, a
sleeping off what he's had, and there's a bucket of cold water on the
wall. In half an hour's time or so I know as he'd be grateful for having
it poured over 'en!"

We promised to perform what was evidently one of the amenities of this
primitive place and Mr. Trewhella withdrew.

"That coastguard may be useful to me," Danjuro said. "And now, Sir John,
I don't want to hurry you, but my advice is that you start. I don't
suppose that the band has left Tregeraint yet. But there are a hundred
hiding-places on the moor all round the domain, and you may be able to
see which way they go before you make your own attempt. I shall be on
the trail in a very few minutes after you."

"And Charles? He will be back shortly."

"I shall need him. I know he would wish to be with you, Sir John, but I
believe your chances are better alone. I shall not leave until he
returns, provided he is not unduly detained."

He went to the window and pulled aside the curtain. "A waning moon," he
said, "which will be at full power about midnight, when there may be
such a battle in the air as the world will hear with wonder!"

I saw to my gear. It fitted about me very comfortably.

"Well, good-night," I said, and without further words I went quietly out
of the house.

When I got a hundred yards away I turned and looked at it, all silvered
in the moon. The air was sweet with the perfume of shy moorland flowers
that give up all their treasure to the night. The Atlantic, far below,
made a sound like fairy dreams, and on the distant slopes of Carne
Zerran an owl sounded his melancholy oboe note.

A lovely night, gentlemen!



CHAPTER XII

THE KILLING OF MICHAEL FEDDON


The moon was in its last quarter, and shed a faint spectral light over
the moor as I came quietly up to the first of the barbed-wire fences
that surrounded Tregeraint. I lay down in the heath, certain that I was
quite invisible, and waited.

An hour had hardly elapsed since the band had left "The Miners' Arms."
Were they still here, or had they set out for their unknown destination?
I could not hear a sound of any kind. From where I lay the high wall hid
the house, and among the mine buildings higher up there was neither
light nor movement. Tregeraint might have been deserted for a hundred
years, and the roaring company of the inn had vanished into thin air.
And strain my eyes as I would, there was no sign of the great Tibetan
dogs.

I remained motionless for a quarter of an hour by the illuminated dial
of my watch. Then, as nothing happened, I began operations. The wire
was tough and intricate, but ten minutes' work with Danjuro's powerful
cutters disposed of it sufficiently for me to crawl through both the
first and second fence without a scratch. I stood now in the lower
portion of a large, oblong paddock of short grass, all grey in the moon.
The surrounding wall of the Manor was about a hundred yards up the
slope, and with the gas rifle on my arm I glided over the intervening
space like a ghost. My boots were soled with india-rubber and I made no
sound at all.

I found the wall to be ten or eleven feet high. It was crowned with a
_cheval de frise_ of iron spikes, and, owing to its height and smooth
surface, quite insurmountable. But I knew there must be an entrance
somewhere, and never expected to climb the barrier, and I began a
cautious circuit. About half-way round the extent I came to a wooden
door set in the wall. It was a mere postern, not more than five feet
high, and had a barred _grille_ in the centre of about a foot square. I
reflected that this must be a side or garden exit, and that the main
gate was probably on the other side, facing the mine-head. But it was
all the better for my purpose if this was so, and I took out my steel
"jemmy" and prepared to tackle it.

My intention was to prise it open with my tool, for I am a very powerful
man, but suddenly another idea occurred to me. The bars of the _grille_
were old and rusted. As there was no key-hole in the door, it was
obviously secured by bolts. I inserted my lever, and without putting out
my full strength, and with little more sound than is made by the
striking of a match, soon had three of the bars out of the wood and
lying on the grass.

My arms are long. I pushed my right through and my fingers, after a
little groping, caught the handle of the bolt, which slid back easily
enough. It had been oiled and showed that the door, which swung back at
once, was in constant use.

I stepped within, treading like a cat, and closed the door behind me. I
stood in a large and neglected garden, where shrubs and flowers grew as
they would and formed a miniature jungle, through which I could see the
dark façade of the house, now quite close. Everything was as still as
death, and I listened with strained attention for several minutes. So
far the work had been ridiculously easy, but as I crept up a moss-grown
path towards the building every nerve was on the alert. I was not
afraid, I think I can truly say so, but there was a chill on my soul.
This old house, with its atmosphere of robbery and murder, its singular
and formidable inhabitants, the unknown dangers of the approach, and,
above all, the thought that Connie might be within it, all combined to
wrap me in a terrible gloom of the spirit. Yet, looking back, I see
that this was well. It hardened all my resolution and made me terrible.

I had no thought of it then, but now I can see the grim horror of such a
being as I had become approaching the house step by step....

All the lower windows were shuttered. There was not a gleam of light
anywhere as I followed the path and came to the front, where there was a
grass-grown gravel sweep and iron gates in the wall. This part of the
house was plain and unadorned, save for a pillared porch and steps
leading down to the drive. A thick growth of ivy covered it from the
ground to the first-floor windows, and after I had gently tried the
heavy front door, which, as I expected, was locked, this suggested a
mode of entrance. If I could climb up and get on to the roof of the
porch, it might be possible to force the central bedroom window, which I
could see was unshuttered.

The ivy was of ancient growth, the stems thick and tough. Any schoolboy
could have mounted to the top of the porch. And any boy could have
pushed back the catch of the window with the blade of his pocket-knife,
opened it and stepped inside.

I stood in a bedroom, dark, except for a little pool of moonlight by the
window. I felt curtains, and I drew them before I switched on my torch.
It was an ordinary bedroom, very untidy, furnished with a suite of
painted deal. There was, however, a great saucer-bath full of water, and
a pair of Indian clubs. The wall was hung with photographs of football
teams, and in an open drawer of the little dressing-table was a pile of
gold and notes.

Commonplace enough, like an undergraduate's room at Oxford, but,
nevertheless, it affected me unpleasantly. It was like a sudden intimacy
with something abominable, as I opened the door inch by inch, and felt
for the powerful pistol in my pocket. My heart hung poised for an
instant as I stepped out into a dark corridor, and then I gave a gasp,
and my heart almost stopped beating.

I stood at the head of broad, shallow stairs. Below was a large hall,
dimly lit, and pouring up to me in a volume of sound came the melodious
thunder of a piano played by a master hand!

At first my knees grew weak, and I clutched the shadowy banisters to
save me from falling. Constance! Who could be playing in this evil house
but she! I can never forget the agonized pang of mingled joy and horror
that I felt. But as I crouched and listened, the fierce emotion passed
away. Whoever was playing, it was not my girl. A lost soul made that
music.

I glided down the stairs. Certainly the wolves had left their lair,
though in what manner I could not divine. The house was inhabited by
but one or two people at most. All the doors along the corridor stood
open, as if the rooms had been left in a hurry. The building _felt_
deserted, empty of its usual inhabitants....

A dim light came from an open door at the right of the hall. I peeped in
and saw a long shadowy room of great size. The walls were panelled and
hung here and there with pictures, the floor carpeted. Two immense oak
tables, with their complement of chairs, went up and down the centre,
and it hardly needed a butler's hatch in the wall, doubtless
communicating with the kitchen, to tell me that this was the dining-room
of Helzephron and his buccaneers.

At the far end, and opposite the entrance door, was a wide and lofty
archway, half covered by a curtain. It led to another room beyond, and
it was from this that a bright light streamed, and the sound of music
came.

I placed my gas rifle on the floor by the wall, took out my automatic,
unlocking the safety catch, and went to the curtain on tiptoe. There was
an alcove at the side, where some shelves had been, and this was
perfectly dark. I marked it as a possible hiding-place, and then pulled
the curtain aside for half an inch. Just as I did so there was a clash
of prelude, and the pianist began the enchanted Third Ballade of Chopin.

It was the man known to me as Vargus, the man with the smooth voice,
the face that was evil and refined. He sat at a magnificent grand piano,
swaying a little on his stool....

Do you know that marvellous composition of Chopin's? Most people have
heard it at least once or twice in their lives, played by some
_maestro_. I have heard the renderings of the great pianists of the
world, but none played as this man played.

A terrible remorse informed the unearthly music. It was as though the
player strained with every power of his being to recapture something
irrevocably lost. When he came to that strange passage which has been so
often compared to the soft cantering of a horse, the pain in the lovely
chords was unbearable. The artist, Aubrey Beardsley, made a wonderful
drawing of this passage--a spectral white charger ambling through a dark
wood of pines, bearing a lady in a cloak of black velvet. The picture
rose before my eyes as I stood, but it flashed away, and words of awful
significance took its place in my mind and fitted themselves to the
closing chords....


     "_Night and day he was among the tombs, and on the hills, crying
     out and beating himself with stones._"


As you may know, the piece ends in a furious welter of sound. It had
just concluded, and the player sat motionless as a wax doll, when
another figure heaved itself into my line of vision, a burly giant,
with red hair and a heavy, sullen face.

"Now you've finished that ---- row," he growled, "we'd better be moving.
We may get signals coming through soon. And I suppose I must feed the
canaries!"

I knew the man at once. There was no possibility of mistake. It was
Michael Feddon, the famous Rugby international, and six years ago the
idol of the public. It was said that he was the finest back that England
had ever seen. In the height of his career he had been mixed up in a
horrible, criminal scandal, and received five years' penal servitude.

I swallowed in my throat with loathing, but the next words drove all
thought of Feddon's career from my mind.

"Everything is ready on a tray in the kitchen, and the soup is on the
electric stove. It will be hot by now," said Vargus, in his soft, creamy
voice.

"I'll get it, and I wish the damned business was over. I said from the
first that when the Chief brought those two women here we ran more risk
than ever before. It'll turn out badly yet. Mark my words, Vargus."

Vargus took up a bottle which stood on a table by the piano. It was
brandy, and he poured out two glasses half full, adding soda from a
siphon.

"Here's luck; not a bit of it," he said. "If all goes well to-night, a
couple more expeditions will see us finished, with a hundred thousand
each, and scattered all over the globe. We all have our fancies. The
Chief's is this Shepherd girl. Well, in another fortnight he'll
disappear with her. Every man to his taste."

Feddon swallowed his brandy at a gulp. "She'll lead him a dance yet!" he
said. "I never saw such a spitfire. I hate going near her, and I wish it
wasn't my turn to stay at home. I'd tame her, though, if she were mine.
I wouldn't stand her pretty ways and the things she says, like the Chief
does. He's mad about the girl."

"And what would you do, my beefy friend?" said Vargus, with his
abominable smile.

Feddon touched his middle. He was wearing a leather belt. "Take this to
her," he said, "and beat her black and blue."

Vargus rose, grinning. "Well, get the food," he said. "I'll go down at
once. You'll find me in the wireless cabin."

Feddon lurched forward. I had just time to press myself into the alcove,
when he came through the curtain and strode heavily through the room
into the hall.

Vargus went to a tall mirror by the piano, as I watched him
breathlessly. He did something that I could not see, and it swung open
like a door. There was the snap of an electric switch, and I saw him
step into a lift, pull a rope, and sink out of sight, leaving the door
open.

He could not have sunk ten feet when I was in the room. It was large and
square, furnished with something like luxury, and brilliantly lit with
electric globes.

There was an arm-chair in full view of the archway. I sat down, and it
was still warm from its last occupant. That seemed to me amusing, and I
smiled.

Something clanked, a soft swishing noise changed to a distant rumble,
and the lift came into sight. I had it covered, but it was
empty--waiting for the man who was going to "feed the canaries."

I waited for him, too. There was a box of cigarettes close by. I lit one
and smoked quietly. Then I heard him coming through the dining-room, his
footsteps and the rattle of a tray.

The half-drawn curtain bellied out and was pushed aside. Feddon stood
there with the tray in his hands and the light shining on his ugly red
hair.

He saw me. His mouth opened and his eyes started out. He seemed
unutterably foolish, like a great cod, and I laughed aloud.

But he was quick, oh, quick and clever! Like the famous footballer that
he was! In a second he had ducked, and the loaded tray was skimming
across the room straight at my head, as he hurled himself after it,
quick as a snake strikes.

I was ready, though. He was not. My first shot broke his shoulder and
stopped him for an instant. Then, with a roar of pain and fury, he came
on again, and I shot him through the heart when he was three feet away.

Mr. Feddon would feed no more canaries.



CHAPTER XIII

THE SECRET THAT PUZZLED TWO CONTINENTS


I stood looking down at Michael Feddon's body. I was stunned. For the
man I had just killed I cared nothing, felt no emotion. I had saved him
from the drop; that was all. But, though I had been convinced that
Danjuro's and my own suspicions were absolute fact, the full realization
had come so suddenly that it clouded the mind.

Constance _was_ here, and she was unharmed!

I had, indeed, penetrated into the very centre of this lair of the
air-wolves, and already had enough evidence to hang the lot. For a
minute the mingled joy and relief was so great that I could not grasp
them.

The brandy bottle of Mr. Vargus was still on the side table. I stepped
over the body--the leather belt which he had proposed as an instrument
of correction for Constance was in full view--and helped myself
sparingly. Almost immediately my brain cleared.

I listened intently. The two shots from my automatic had alarmed no
one. The sinister house was as silent as before. It seemed quite certain
that Feddon and Vargus alone remained to guard it. Even the two Tibetan
mastiffs of which I had heard so much had disappeared.

To my right, the tall mirror swung on its hinges, and the lift beyond
was lit by a globe in the roof. To what it led I did not know, probably
some cellar where poor Constance and her maid were imprisoned, though a
lift seemed superfluous. At any rate, Vargus--the next person to
tackle--was down there, and it was long odds that I could not get the
better of him. Moreover, and this was in my favour, he was expecting
Feddon, and the arrival of the lift would not startle him at first, if
he were close by.

I examined the lift. It was electrically operated, and of a type
perfectly familiar to me, fitted with an automatic magnetic brake. I saw
that it travelled from its secret recess behind the mirror to one other
spot only, stopping nowhere on the way. A touch of the rope started it,
and it would stop itself when its journey was done.

Well, there was no use waiting. Again I must plunge into the unknown.
Connie was waiting! I wondered how honourable Danjuro was getting on,
and laid myself long odds that he wasn't having such an exciting time as
I was! How he would stare if he came back to "The Miners' Arms" in a
few hours and found me there with Connie, and the artistic Mr. Vargus
cooling down in the patent _papier mâché_ handcuffs from Japan! Mr.
Trewhella of the inn had shown me a large pig, which he called "Gladys,"
and of which he was fond. There was a vacant and stoutly-built sty next
door, which would be an excellent place of confinement for the
interpreter of Chopin!

... Yes, I thought these thoughts, even at that moment. I was madly
exhilarated. Everything had gone so easily and well. I stepped into the
lift humming a song. It was the old chanty that the pirates had roared
in the inn two short hours ago:


     "_Fifteen men on the dead man's chest._"


There was a looking-glass on one side of the lift--probably the thing
had been bought entire at some sale--and I saw myself in it. The song
died away. Whose was this grim and terrible face, gashed with deep
lines, with eyes that smouldered with a red light? Mine? I have told you
how Danjuro looked when the bloodhound that he was emerged for an
instant from behind the bland Oriental mask. There was not a pin to
choose between us.

The lift sank slowly. Every second I expected the soft jerk of its
stopping. But the seconds went on. Down and down, what cellar was it
that lay so low? Were we dropping to the centre of the earth? It seemed
an age before the motion slowed, and I had already obtained an inkling
of the truth when a dim archway rose up before me, and the machine came
to rest.

This was no cellar. I was deep down in Tregeraint Mine, which must run
under the house itself! In the necessity for fox-like caution, I did not
follow out the thought--not yet. But I believe that the subconscious
brain had already seen far into the mystery....

I stepped out into a mine cutting. The walls were cut in the rock, and
the roof here and there shored up with heavy timber props. It was wide
enough for two men to walk abreast, and quite eight feet high. Every
fifteen yards or so hung a roughly-wired electric lamp, and the floor
was beaten hard by the passage of many feet. The air was hot and
stagnant.

I prowled down this passage without a sound, my pistol in my hand, ready
to shoot at sight, but for what seemed an interminable time I met no
one, and saw nothing but the damp walls, here and there sparkling with
yellow pyrites and the green of copper.

There came at length a rough wooden door, which swung easily open, and
beyond a much narrower and higher passage than before, a more natural
cleft in the immemorial rock, it seemed, owing nothing to the agency of
human hands. It dripped with water. Hitherto I had been walking on a
level, now I trod a fairly steep descent, while the path was no longer
straight, but full of fantastic twistings. Each moment the air grew
cooler, and each moment a deep, murmurous noise, like very faint and
muffled drums, grew louder.

The lights, now suspended from a thick and tarry cable, were less
frequent than at first, and the place was full of shadows. But as for
the noise, that could only be one thing, the Atlantic ground-swell. I
was approaching the sea, doubtless by one of the old mine "adits," made
for ventilation many years ago and long before the invention of the
electric fan.

The narrow way ended in a door. It was latched but not locked, and I
pushed it slowly open. Immediately there was a sense of vast and gloomy
space. I say "gloomy," for it was not absolutely dark. Here and there
hung dim, yellow lights....

Advancing a step or two upon a floor of hard earth on sand, I found
myself in a vast cavern. It seemed as large as the shell of a cathedral,
and for organ there was the plangent, echoing sound of sea waves. The
sound came from my right, and was carried on a current of sweet,
brine-laden air. Peering through the darkness, I seemed to be aware of
a faint, ghostly radiance, a considerable distance away.

I had lost the capacity for amazement, but not of quick thinking. In a
lightning flash of realization I knew that I had penetrated to the heart
of Helzephron's secret, even before my thoughts arranged themselves in
sequence. And then, as near as possible coincident with my stepping
through the door, I heard a shout.

Someone had seen me....

The shout came from the other side of the long, aisle-shaped cave.
Simultaneously, half-way up the side, at a height of thirty feet from
the floor, there was a sudden illumination. I saw a broad ledge in the
wall, railed round, with a ladder staircase descending from it. A little
black figure was leaning over the rail, and it was from this that the
shouting came. It did not need his words to tell me that here was a
wireless station. I could see the drum and the battery shelf quite
distinctly.

"A signal!" he shouted, and I knew that he took me for the dead man
above. "They're coming back! The sky swarms with armed patrols and
warships. They've had to run for it, but the Chief thinks he's shaken
them off. I must switch on the guides!"

I gave an answering shout, keying my voice down to something like
Feddon's bass growl.

"It's C.Q.D.!--C.Q.D.!" came in a shrill voice of alarm, and Mr. Vargus
ran down the ladder like an ape.

C.Q.D.! The signal of "extreme danger." Well, I rather thought it was!

Where I stood I was in deep shadow, and my face could not possibly be
seen. I was much the same height and build as the dead man, and Vargus
ran down the cave without the least suspicion. He had gone to his left,
my right, to where I had already seen a pale light, and I followed him,
more slowly, at a distance of some ten yards. It was a natural instinct
enough. My only idea was to silence him, find Constance, and fly from
the horrible place. I could not know that I was making a fatal mistake.

I was running forward into complete understanding. The great cave turned
a little to the right. It opened out every second until at length I saw
the mouth, wide as that of the largest-sized hangar on an aerodrome,
flooded with moonlight!

Opposite, sixty yards away, was a precipitous wall of black rock;
between it and the mouth of the cave a terrible chasm, which fell sheer
to the water. It was all clear now. Far above, on the top of the cliffs,
was that fenced-in part with the "dangerous" notice boards. You will
remember that I had lain down by the side of this fence and peered
downwards. I had looked into the same gulf that I was now looking into
from a much lower altitude. And the rock there overhung so greatly that
there was no possible indication of the cave mouth where I now stood.

Moreover, the cave itself turned _inward_ from the sea, running parallel
to the cliff. _From the sea, as from the land, the opening of the cave
was entirely hidden._

Vargus was fumbling at a switch-board. He pulled down a vulcanite
handle; there was a green spark, and lights at the top, bottom and sides
of the entrance glowed out brightly.

Imagine an illuminated rabbit-hole in the side of a railway embankment,
and you have an exact miniature of what this vast secret cave had now
become. Go a little further and think of a bat whose lair was in this
hole, and was guided to it by the lights....

Vargus snapped another and smaller switch. I watched him with a sense of
complete detachment. I knew, as well as if I had been told, that he was
lighting guiding lamps somewhere on the two headlands that guarded the
entrance to the cave outside. No thought of danger came to me; I think
joy at this complete discovery, and wonder at the stupendous cunning and
achievement of it all were my only emotions.

"They may be here at any moment, Feddon. I tell you I don't like it at
all. I told the Chief that it was madness not to lie low for a bit. But
you know what he is. The Government has got the tip somehow, the Cornish
seas are _humming_ with enemies. That fellow, Custance, is smart as they
make them...."

He was moving towards me as these words came from him in a nervous,
disjointed stream of words. Then he saw me, and stopped bang in the
middle of a sentence.

It was my moment.

"How do you do, Mr. Vargus," I said. "You mentioned my name. Indeed, you
paid me a compliment for which I thank you. I thought I'd drop in for a
chat. Sorry to find Major Helzephron out."

I never saw a man in such deadly fear. His face went the colour of
cheese, and a horrible choking noise began in his throat. He staggered
to within a yard of the brink; another step and he would have plunged
into the abyss.

"You, you, _you_!" he said, the last word in a dreadful whisper.

"The Oxford professor--yes. Mr. Vargus, I am a lover of music, and you
have entertained me royally to-night. But you have played Chopin for the
last time in this world."

I lifted the pistol and covered his heart. His yellow mask quivered and
was still. "Quickly, please," he said, and there was even a faint smile
of relief about his pallid lips.

He could face death gladly, and I knew why. To have shot him there and
cast his body to the void would have been a mercy. I had other uses for
Mr. Vargus.

My pistol hand was steady as a rock. With the left I took out Danjuro's
handcuffs and walked up to him.

"Not yet," I said, when I was within a foot.

He saw what I meant. As comprehension leapt into his eyes he tried to
step back. He nearly did it, but I was just too quick for him. I caught
his ankle with the crook of my right foot, and he crashed on his back
with his head and shoulders actually over the chasm. Before he could
move again I had jerked him backwards by the legs, and had him
handcuffed.

I pulled him to his feet by his collar, and half marched, half carried
him back into the cave. He was nothing more than a bundle of clothes in
my hands.

"Now," I said, "take me _at once_ to the place where Miss Shepherd is
confined, and, though I make no promises, it may go less hardly with you
than the rest."

He twisted his head and tried to look me in the face. "If I do, will you
shoot me?" he whispered, fawning on me like a beaten dog. "For God's
sake shoot me, or give me an opportunity to shoot myself."

"The hangman will save you the trouble," I answered brutally. "Now then,
march!" He gave a great wail of despair.

"Ah, you don't know what I was once!" he cried, and there was such a
horror of remorse, a damnation so profound in that cry of agony, that a
fiend would have been moved.

"I heard you play the Third Ballade," I answered, and my voice was no
longer firm.

"Death, please, Death."

"Take me quickly to Miss Shepherd. Then perhaps--I can't kill you
myself, but ..."

It was as though my words poured a new life into his veins. His knees
still knocked together in a loathsome paralysis, but he made effort to
shamble forward.



CHAPTER XIV

THE AIR PIRATE AT LAST


Vargus was silent now. Our feet made no noise upon the sandy floor of
the cave. It was then that I heard something like a cat purring.

Unconsciously I stopped to listen. No, it wasn't a cat, it was the faint
drone of some night beetle; it was ...

On the right wall of the cavern, remember that my back was turned to its
mouth and the sea--there was a sudden flash of white light.

The rest happened in five seconds.

The light leapt out from the wall, and instantaneously the vast vaulted
place was brilliantly illuminated. I had a fleeting vision of wooden
galleries, a workshop and smithy, piles of stores, and then I wheeled
round with a shout of terror. The drone had leapt up to a deep, menacing
note, like the E string of a double bass. A circular furnace of white
light in the centre of a gigantic shadow rushed at me with incredible
speed.

A blast of wind struck me like the shell from a six-inch gun; the drone
rose to the echoing shout of an army as the Pirate Airship entered the
cave that was its home.

I had just the millionth part of a second in which to realize the truth
before my head struck; the wind seemed to tear out my very vitals, and I
knew nothing more.

       *       *       *       *       *

Once, when I was a boy at the seaside in Wales, I dived into a deep rock
pool, and, deceived by the clearness of the water, hit my head against a
submerged ledge, and for several seconds was stunned. There was no one
with me, but, fortunately, I recovered in time, and with bursting lungs
regained the surface.

The experience was repeated now, or so it seemed, with a curious
subconscious memory. I thought that I was rushing violently upwards
towards the light out of a well of darkness. Each moment the radiance
increased and my speed grew greater. There was a sound as of many waters
in my ears.

I opened my eyes. The light was brilliant, painful. Also, it moved and
flashed, and so it was not the sun of twenty years before beating
down....

Someone spoke: "Yes, it's the man himself. He's shaved off his
moustache, and his hair and skin are dyed. He's a fair chap really.
Look at his lower neck and chest. It's Sir John Custance right enough!"

I lay and listened. Although I heard every word, and perceived that an
electric torch was dancing about, the conversation hardly seemed to
concern me.

There was another voice: "Vargus said he admitted it, but Vargus has
fainted again."

Hands felt me all over. Things were taken from my pockets, and there
were sharp exclamations of surprise. Somebody gave a long, low whistle.

"No bones broken. His eyes are opening. Give me that flash, Gascoigne."

Someone poured brandy down my throat--I knew it was brandy--and I moved
my limbs and groaned.

Then I heard a shout as a door that I could not see was burst open.
"Feddon's killed!" came in a high, excited voice. "Poor old Feddy's shot
through the heart."

I think it was at this precise moment that I regained full
consciousness, and realized that I was not badly hurt. My whole body
felt as if it had been severely beaten, but instinct told me that there
was no real damage. As for the shock, it was not until several hours
afterwards that I felt its effect, though then it meant collapse.

I lay perfectly still, this time by design, and closed my eyes.
Everything had come back to me; I remembered every incident from the
moment I had cut the barbed wire to that when I had escaped, by a
miracle, death from the returning Pirate Ship.

My first thought was one of bitter disappointment. So they had run the
gauntlet, after all! The mystery ship had escaped the swarm of cruisers
and patrol boats that were looking for her. I believe I ground my teeth
with rage. A second afterwards I groaned out loud. The sound was wrung
from my very heart. I was too late to rescue Constance now....

All round me there was a buzz of low-pitched voices. Without any trouble
at all, I could detect the note of fear and consternation. And it was
tonic. My plight seemed desperate enough, but there was a chance yet.
They had taken my weapons from me, but others might prove as valuable.
The pirates were disorganized, alarmed. Well, craft should meet craft!
Surely, the moment was favourable?

I was in a dimly-lit place, surrounded by dark figures. How long I lay
thus I do not know, probably for no great space of time. At any rate, I
had not been in full possession of my faculties for many minutes when a
door opened, and a voice spoke in accents of authority.

It was a voice that I had never heard before, but I knew whose it was.

"I have made a careful examination of the house," came in clear,
well-bred tones, "and there is no one there. It is the same outside and
all round the fence. I let the dogs loose and they discovered nothing."

"How did this"--I was kicked brutally in the side--"get in, Chief?"
asked a voice.

"Cut the fence wire, and managed to open the door in the east wall. Then
climbed the porch and entered through Feddon's bedroom. The dogs
followed the scent and showed. That doesn't matter much now. The point
is that he's here."

"And we know what to deduce from that!" I heard, and pricked up my ears.
My friend Mr. Vargus had revived then! There was a soft malignancy in
his voice that made me shudder.

"Vargus is right. It is fairly certain that the game's up as far as this
place is concerned. They've marked us down, sure enough. In a few
minutes I shall take steps to find out exactly how much they _do_ know.
Meanwhile we appear to have some time before us, and we must carry out
the emergency plan that we've so often rehearsed. Gascoigne, Jones and
Sutton, Pointz, fill all the petrol tanks to full capacity, load
emergency stores, examine and reverse ship. When finished, report to me
in my room."

The men hurried away.

"Philips and Minver get on to the moor and report any man or body of men
advancing on the house. You will take rifles and act as outposts. At any
sign of approach, don't hesitate to fire. Then fall back on the house."

"Shall we take the dogs, Chief? They would be useful."

"No, I shall need them. The rest of you will hold the house till the
last moment. Then get into the lift and come down. It will take them
some time to find out the way and follow, while one man can hold the
passages for any length of time. We shall all be fifty miles out at sea
before anyone can break in down here, and all the swag is packed ready
to go on board. Vargus, you will stay down here and help me in what I've
got to do."

Several other men left the room.

In a lower voice, though I heard every word, Helzephron went on talking
to his lieutenant.

"... Mind you, I don't actually expect an attack in force, but we must
be prepared. For all we know, there may be a hundred men waiting on the
moor. One thing is certain. They know where, or whereabouts we are, or
that gentleman on the floor would not have got in, nor all those ships
be cruising about outside. So we must be off with all we can take to our
emergency base in the Hebrides. Once outside, nothing can touch us, of
course, and we'd get up to sixteen thousand feet at once. Barometer
readings make it pretty certain that it will be cloudy at dawn, and it's
a million chances to one against our even being seen."

I lay not three yards away. I had not noticed it until now, but my
ankles were tied together, and, weak as I was, any physical effort was
impossible. Helzephron had talked over his plans with an absolute
disregard of my presence. He may or may not have known that I was
conscious; quite obviously he didn't care twopence one way or the other.
And that meant one thing and one thing only.

Before the Pirate Ship fled from its lair for the last time John
Custance would have ceased to exist in the body.

"... Now for Sir John. How do you feel, Vargus? You took a nasty toss,
and it's damned lucky for you we turned up when we did! Do you feel
strong enough to drag Sir John into my room? If so, I'll go ahead and
turn on the lights."

"I'm quite strong enough for _that_," said Mr. Vargus, with a nasty
laugh, and in a few seconds he had me by the heels, and was towing me
like a log over an uneven floor. It was only by stiffening the muscles
of my neck till they cracked that I could keep my head from bruising
badly. Then a cloth of some sort was dropped on my face and tied round
my head. I felt myself carried for a yard or two, put into a chair with
an upright back, and then lashed securely to it by strong cords.

"I'll call you when I want you again," said the voice of Helzephron. "Go
and help the others load the ship. And remember that we must take every
round of ammunition we can stow in her. Twenty-four hours' rations will
be ample. We can renew those at any time. Shells are quite another
matter. Sacrifice everything to them."

A door closed. I heard the creak of a chair as Helzephron sat down.
There was a long silence, and through the cloth I could feel that he was
watching me.

The duel to the death began. I was as a naked man before another with a
sword. I braced every nerve and stiffened my will!

"You are in a very unpleasant predicament, Sir John Custance."

The voice was passionless, even a little weary.

"I think it's mutual, Mr. Helzephron," was my answer, and I put an
accent on the "_Mister_." He should have no honourable military title
from me.

"Well, that is possible. Indeed, I admit that you have seriously
deranged my plans. But the trumps are mine, after all. With your
intelligence you must be aware that you have a very short time to live."

"I don't doubt that, but I dispute your estimate of your hand."

"May I ask why?"

"With pleasure. I don't care twopence about my own life in comparison
with my duty to society. You care a good deal for yours, and you also
have a short time in front of you. If it is any satisfaction to you to
know, you're in a net from which even the particular minor devils that
preside over thieves can't free you."

Thus I lied bravely. A good deal, I thought, might depend on my ability
to get the scoundrel into a furious rage, and, anyway, it was a delight
to insult him.

A sharp breath told me that I had drawn blood.

"You use dangerous language, Sir John. You'll be sorry if you go on."

"Now, look here," I rapped out, in the tone I should have used to an
impudent office boy, "please understand that you can't frighten me. I
know that bounders of your type don't understand a gentleman and how he
feels about things. I only assure you that you will waste your time. And
time _ought_"--I said it with meaning--"to be worth more to you now than
all the valuables you picked from the pockets of the _Atlantis_
passengers."

He came up to me, and I thought that this was the moment. But he only
tore the cloth from my head and returned to his chair.

I looked round with interest. The room, no doubt part of the cavern
system into which the mine had penetrated, was matchboarded all round.
The boarding was painted white, and a cluster of electrics hung from the
ceiling. There was a carpet on the floor, a couple of arm-chairs, a
writing-table, and a big steel safe. In one corner was another door than
the entrance one, partly concealed by a green curtain hanging from a
brass rod.

Helzephron himself sat opposite. The handsome, hawk-like face was badly
bruised. He stared at me with concentrated malignancy. Then he smiled,
with a flash of large white teeth.

"Really, I should hardly have known you," he said.

"I should have recognized you anywhere, even with the bruises!" I
replied. "Mr. Ashton left you your teeth, I see."

His face grew dark. He nodded twice. "I thought that," he said, half to
himself.

"I saw the whole thing, and it was most amusing, Mr. Helzephron. I was
sitting in the smaller arm of the gallery at the 'Mille Colonnes,'
behind a centre-piece of flowers. I, _and my companion_, had concealed a
periscope in the flowers, and got the whole thing framed, as it were. It
gave a zest to the Burgundy. But I thought you'd have made a better
fight of it!"

The man leapt from his chair with a savage curse and took two steps
towards me, with clenched fist and lifted arm.

I looked up in that convulsed and purple face.

"Quite so!" I said quietly. "I'm tied up. It's quite safe to hit me."

If he was going to torture me, and I had few illusions on the matter, I
was having my innings now. He _had_ been a gentleman once, he had been a
brave soldier. It was because I knew this that I could stab him.

He didn't strike. He began to walk up and down the room, swallowing his
rage with an almost superhuman effort--being what he was. Perhaps shame
helped him, perhaps it was cunning, but he sat down again, and though he
trembled, his voice was calm.

"So you think me a coward, do you?" he said. "I'll do you the justice to
say that you're none."

My mind was working with an insight that it has never possessed before
or since. The key to the man's psychology was in my hand at last.

All criminals are vain. In great criminals vanity assumes colossal
proportions until it becomes a real madness. Criminologists call it
megalomania. It is egotism fostered and indulged to the point of
monstrosity, when all moral considerations are swept away, and the
subject thinks himself superior to all law, and glories in his
greatness.

_Lord of himself, that heritage of woe!_ I think Byron said that.

"You've correctly expressed me," I told him.

"Perhaps your detective work has not gone so far as to inform you that I
hold the Victoria Cross?" Yes! he was mad! No sane man of his extraction
would have said that.

"It is a distinction above all others, Mr. Helzephron. And you'll have
another very soon. Indeed, you'll never be forgotten. You'll be historic
as the one V.C. who was degraded. They'll do it the day before they hang
you at Pentonville, and it will be in the _Gazette_."

He grew quite white, whether from anger or shame I do not know. But I
went on. Something inside me that was not myself seemed to be speaking.

"You've been living quite an artificial life, you see, surrounded by
your amicable young friends and the artistic Mr. Vargus. You, no doubt,
think of yourself as of a very glorious order. Making war on society,
Ajax defying the thunder, King of the air, and all that sort of thing.
I'll bet anything you've compared yourself to Napoleon a thousand
times! It's the way the late Kaiser of Germany fell. It's called
megalomania. But you aren't anything of the sort, you know. You are a
cowardly thief, who steals and murders for the sake of his pocket. You
asked me a question and I've answered it."

He heard each word. His eyes became glassy and his jaw dropped. For all
the world he was like an evil child who hears the truth about itself,
and all the power was wiped out of his face as chalk marks are wiped off
a blackboard.

He got up abruptly, and left the room by the curtained door. He was away
for ten minutes. When he returned he was his old self, but with an
addition--he had been drinking back his devilishness. There was a strong
odour of brandy as he entered. His eyes were full and liquid, and he was
amazingly vital. I knew that I could hurt him no longer. He wore
impenetrable armour. He sat down and lit a cigarette. He smiled with an
evil good-humour. It was his hour now.

"Well, we've got acquainted at last," he began in an easy conversational
tone. "You've been excessively clever in hunting me down, and your
powers of insult are exceptional. I admit again that you have smoked me
out here, but as to putting an end to my activities, that's a very
different story. Your people can't get at me once I'm out of this snug
retreat, and they can't force an entry here until I'm gone. So much as
between the Commissioner of Police and the Pirate. You've had your say
and I've had mine."

"Then there is nothing more to be said."

"Excuse me, as man to man, there's a good deal. I purchased an evening
paper on the afternoon of the evening when I was attacked by your hired
bully."

At last the conversation was growing interesting.

"With stolen money?" I asked impudently. But it fell dead flat. I don't
think he even heard me.

"The paper made public some news that I had already gathered from
another source. The news of your engagement, Sir John Custance."

We stared at each other in dead silence for half a minute.

"To Miss Constance Shepherd," he went on.

I said nothing.

"... Who at this moment is not twenty yards away from you, and who will
fly with me to-night to where all your police boats will never find us."

"By force."

"Well, up to the present I admit that I have had to take the law into my
own hands. I am a man who believes in getting what he wants. Your
arrival, the fact that you're my guest for a short time, has given my
thoughts quite a new direction."

I saw that there was a deep and sinister meaning in what he said, but
not an inkling of the abominable truth came to me. He understood that
from my face, and he laughed out loud.

"Oh, this is going to be enormously refreshing!" he cried. "This is
going to make everything worth while!"

My heart turned to stone as I watched that unholy merriment.

When he had finished laughing, he said: "Miss Shepherd does not know as
yet that I have the honour of entertaining you. I am about to inform
her. And then, if she wishes it, as no doubt she will, you must really
meet. Journeys end in lovers' meetings, they say."

He was about to add something when there was a knock at the door. Mr.
Vargus came in.

"All loaded," he said, looking nervously at me, as if wondering what had
passed during his absence. "All loaded and everything ready for a start.
The others have gone up to the house."

"Well, there's nothing to report, or they would have telephoned down.
There is no hurry for an hour yet...."

Helzephron took the short man by the arm and drew him into a corner of
the room. They whispered together for nearly ten minutes. I could not
catch a word.

Then Vargus nodded with an air of triumphant comprehension, and left the
room.

"On second thoughts," said Helzephron, "I am not going to prepare Miss
Shepherd. We will let it be in the nature of a pleasant surprise."

He disappeared through the green-curtained door.



CHAPTER XV

LED OUT TO DIE


In relating what is immediately to follow I shall do so with as plain
and unvarnished a narrative as my pen can command. You will read of what
Constance and I endured, but do not ask me to do more than hint at the
anger of my soul. It is impossible to describe, at least it would
require the pen of a Dante or a Milton, nor would I describe it if I
could. It is bad enough to live that hour again even faintly and in
imagination. To call it up into full memory--soul memory--is a task for
which I have not the least inclination. You shall, therefore, have the
facts with very little comment upon them.

I think it's about all you'll need.

Helzephron was away for a considerable time. During his absence Vargus
peeped in once and looked at me. I won't describe his face.

When the hawk-faced man returned, he dragged my chair to the far end of
the room, and pushed the writing-table in front of it to form a
barrier. There was a deliberation in all he did that was inexpressibly
alarming. His lips were drawn in a tight smile, so that I could see the
teeth....

He set a chair over against the wall opposite, and then he went again
through the curtained door. A moment afterwards he entered, followed by
Connie.

The room grew whirlingly dark and cleared. I could not speak, for my
throat seemed to be closing up, but I saw my girl very distinctly.

She was, as I had never seen her, deadly pale, with large, dark rings
under her eyes and all the joy of life ironed out of her sweet face. Yet
she was not thinner and there were no lines. The colour had gone from
her cheeks and the lustre from her hair, but I somehow thought that her
physical health had not suffered alarmingly.

When she spoke I knew that this was true, and I knew why. Her
indomitable spirit remained. The sunny courage of the past had condensed
within her soul and turned to unconquerable purpose. Her voice was so
full of scorn that it cut even me like the lash of a whip. It was a
marvel that the tall man could have borne it for a moment.

But his eyes had a red light in them, like the eyes of a hound--mad.

"What new devilry is this?" the girl said, as her eyes fell upon me,
trussed up there behind the table. "Do you suppose that I want any
further evidence to tell me from where you come and whom you serve?"

"Look at this gentleman; look at him well."

"Another of your unhappy prisoners! So you add torture to your crimes.
And you dare to make me witness it!"

She turned in a fury of disgust and loathing, and made a step towards
the door. But before she moved further--God bless her!--she said: "You
have fallen into the hands of a very horrid scoundrel, sir, but ..."

At that I managed to cry out: "Connie, dearest, don't you know me?"

I ought not to have been so sudden. I cursed myself for it. It was just
as if I had struck her down, for she reeled, and fell into the chair in
a swoon.

I myself was near to it. There was a rush as of cataracts, a sensation
of drowning. When I recovered, the maid, Wilson, was ministering to her
mistress; there was a sound of pouring liquid, though I could see
nothing, for Helzephron stood directly in front of me, watching what
went on.

"Look here, Helzephron," I said hoarsely. "This _can't_ go on. For God's
sake stop it! Get her away before she recovers and do what you like to
me." I thought desperately for something that would move him.

He turned round slowly. "Too late now," he said slowly. "You've got to
go through with it, both of you."

The malice had faded out of his eyes. He spoke dreamily: "There is no
other way...."

He moved away and leant against the wall at the side, looking down
moodily at Constance, who was coming to herself. Her eyes opened, and
Helzephron made an impatient gesture with his arm. The maid, Wilson,
vanished like a ghost. I could see that she, poor thing, went in
terrible fear.

I spoke out directly I thought Connie could understand. I was
desperately determined to have my say. It might be the last chance. To
my surprise, though I soon understood the reason, Helzephron did not
interrupt.

"Yes, it is I, Constance. I'm disguised; that is why you didn't know me.
Darling, it's going to be all right. Be brave a little longer!"

I saw comprehension dawn in her eyes, and then they blazed out into
love. "John! You've come at last. It's been weary waiting. But you are
tied up." Her voice changed. "You're in the power of this man, too!"

"For this moment I may be; but that is nothing. He is tracked down and
his hour has come. He knows it. I made a mistake and he captured me, but
outside the forces are converging, and for him the whole world is now
no wider than this little room."

Helzephron made no sign. From his great height he stared down at us like
a stone figure. I doubt if he either saw or heard.

"Tell me quickly--he has not ill-used you, he has not laid hands on you,
hurt you...."

A bitter laugh burst from her. "He has stolen me away from life and kept
me here a prisoner. But there has been food to eat, and the cage is
gilded with the proceeds of his thefts. He knows well enough that if he
dared to touch me I should kill myself. No power on earth and none of
his cunning precautions could prevent it, and that also he knows. Thank
God his time has come."

"Tell me everything, quickly. A lot depends on it." How could I explain
that he was going to kill me, that he could and would do so long before
there was any chance of help arriving?

"He has dared," she said, and I never knew that a woman's voice could be
so hard, "dared to offer me what he calls love. The word is hideous in
such a mouth. He has raved, threatened and implored me to--to marry
him--to fly away with him and be his wife."

She shuddered terribly and sank back in the chair, as if exhausted. I
racked my brains for words. What could I say or do? That she would kill
herself rather than yield an inch I was certain. But he could still
prolong her torture. The chances were that he would get away in his
marvellous ship for a time. On the other hand, it might well be that the
searching airships were in such force by now that even the Pirate Ship
could not escape. There would be a battle in the air. She would be shot
to pieces by our cruisers' heavy guns. And Connie would be on board....

What could I say?

Helzephron stood up from the wall. With slow movements he lit a
cigarette, but his hand was trembling as if in a palsy. He spoke to
Constance.

"You have already told me that you love Sir John Custance," he said. "I
heard that from your own lips two days ago. But 'love' means many
things. And you may well have said it to keep me at arm's length. Sir
John Custance is here now, and in my power. What of him and you?"

Connie looked at him for a moment without a word. There was not a trace
of fear in her eyes. "I will tell you," she said at length. "That man is
my man, and I am his woman from now until the end of time and for all
eternity. You cannot understand, I know. But if words have meaning, mine
are plain enough."

Helzephron suddenly threw away his cigarette and gave what seemed to be
a sigh of relief. The sound, the gesture, were startling. I could not
understand....

"Well," he said, "that is another, and the last, illusion gone. My life
has been a succession of lost illusions, I think. I loved you, and I
love you still, with all the force and power of a nature which, whatever
else it may be, is stronger than that of most men in this feeble world.
I would have given you a love so rich, abundant and wonderful that you
would have forgotten your passion for this man. Mine would have consumed
it utterly. And you would have responded. You think not, but I know
better. It would have been flame and flame, LOVE. Now I see that it is
indeed too late."

His tones were not raised; there was nothing particularly eloquent in
the actual words he spoke. But to me they tolled like a great bell--a
bell that tolls while the iron gates of hell are opening slowly....

"Yes, too late!" Connie said quickly. "And you see it now! It could
never have been. And now you will let us go! Oh, be quick! Untie John,
please do; it must be hurting him so!"

For the first and last time that night two tears rolled down my cheeks.

I suppose that for a brief space there had been some lingering nobility
in Helzephron's mind, some flicker of life in that dark soul. The man
had not always been under the dominion of evil.

But now I saw, without possibility of mistake, the final eclipse of
good. It was a visible thing, the last awful act in the terrible drama
of his life, and it took place before one's eyes like crystals
dissolving in a glass.

He looked steadfastly at Constance.

"Sir John can go," he said, "for all the debt of ill-will I owe him, he
can go from here unharmed. My dear girl, it rests entirely with you!"

She did not understand.

"Oh, then let him go now, at once."

"That man," he answered, "lives, or dies a peculiarly unpleasant death;
goes free, or is nothing but a heap of clothes in half an hour, as you
shall decide, Constance."

By the slow dilation of her eyes, I think she knew what he would say.

"It is like this," he went on. "If I cannot have Love, the real thing,
at least Fate has put it in my power to demand--and have!--the second
best, the semblance of it. The moment that you give me your solemn
promise to marry me, Sir John walks out on to the moor."

I gave Constance one swift, warning look. Would the man believe that
another was as base as he himself? Everything depended on that.

"You cannot do it, Constance," I said, with a careful tremor in my
voice, trying to suggest a slight dawn of hope, and again I sent her a
signal of caution.

Helzephron gave an almost imperceptible start, and a faint smile began
to play about his cruel lips.

The fish was rising.

"It would be a martyrdom," I went on. "What is my life worth--even to
the State"--I thought that was a clever touch--"in exchange for such a
sacrifice?"

Praise God for her quick wits! She saw that I was acting, and fell into
her part with supreme naturalness. A wail of pain came from her, and she
covered her face with her hands. "I cannot let you die," she cried. "Do
I not love you? Is not your life of supreme value?"

I spoke in a tone of hardly veiled eagerness: "But your own happiness,
what of that?"

Connie made a passionate gesture of renunciation. She turned to our
torturer. "Sir," she said, "have you no mercy, no compassion?"

"I have nothing but one overmastering need."

"Then leave us. Let me be alone with Sir John for a few minutes." She
beckoned to him and he came, leaning his head low.

"Go," she whispered. "I cannot persuade him while you are here. Leave us
alone and I will do my best."

The fool was wax in her hands. That one confidential whisper seemed to
have transformed him.

"Yes, I'll go," he said, but I heard every word. "I don't think our
friend will take much persuading! You may be glad to marry a _man_,
after all!"

He was half-way to the door when suspicion took hold of him. "How do I
know that you won't be up to some trick?" he snarled; "try to loose him
or something? Not that there would be any chance of escape if you did."

"I give you my word of honour," Connie answered, "or you can tie me up,
too. That would be the best way. Fasten me in this chair so that I can't
move."

Helzephron shook his head impatiently. Then the door banged and we were
alone.

I began to speak at once. There was no time to waste.

"Dearest love of my heart, it is good-bye. We have managed to snatch
these few moments for farewell."

Her face shone with love and courage as she smiled at me. "Is there no
way, darling?"

"None. This is the end. We have fooled that devil for a minute. When he
returns and finds out the end will come quickly. Now, listen...."

In a few sentences I told her exactly how matters stood, and of my
certainty that Helzephron's course was almost run. Nor did I disguise
from her that in any attack upon the Pirate Ship her own fate was sure.

"What does it matter? I should kill myself, anyhow, rather than submit
to one touch from him. I have the means ready. Oh, my love, I am prouder
of you at this moment than I ever was!"

How I rejoiced in her! Never for a single instant had she believed that
I would let her do this thing. It was not even spoken of between us. It
was worth while dying for love and trust like this!

"And you see, dear love," she went on, "it will not be long. We shall be
together again in a few hours, never to part any more...."

Very solemnly and quietly we said farewell. Neither of us was unhappy. A
great exaltation and peace consoled us, but the moment is too sacred for
description here.

I gave one last look at her serene and radiant face, striving to image
it upon my brain, so that it should be the last thing I saw, and then I
called for Helzephron with a strong voice.

From the first instant that he stepped into the room and saw our faces,
he knew the truth.

He was very quiet, but his eyes shone again with the dull red light that
you may sometimes see in a dog's eyes. One could almost have pitied him,
for he was as one who desired even one drop of living water to cool his
tongue and was tormented in a flame.

I was praying hard for one boon--that Constance should not see me die.
It seemed that my prayer was answered, for he led her roughly to the
curtained door and pushed her through.

He whistled, and Vargus came in through the other door. The movements of
both men were detached and business-like. I had the odd fancy that this
was exactly how the paid executioner goes about his work in the prisons.

Once more the cloth was tied over my head, the chair was lifted, and I
was carried away. The swinging motion lasted a long time. I must have
been taken a considerable distance from the room of my agony when the
chair was finally set down. I heard the plangent beating of waves and
felt cool airs. I was in the central cavern once more, and near to the
mouth of it. So that was it! They were going to throw me to the
whirlpools and the rocks below!...

I felt strong and slender fingers about my neck--Vargus the
pianist!--and shuddered at the contact. The cloth was removed. It was as
I thought: all round was the cathedral-like cave, but now dozens of
lights were turned on, including a great blue arc-lamp suspended from
the roof, and all the shadows and mystery were gone.

Not far away, resting upon rubber-covered wheels, which were dropped
below the floats by an adaptation of the Raynor-Wallis patent, was the
great Pirate Ship, towering up under the domed roof, spreading her great
planes from side to side, lovely in her lines, an awful instrument of
power. Even at that supreme moment I longed to examine her, to go aboard
and make acquaintance with the wonders she held.

The ruling passion of a man's life dies hard!



CHAPTER XVI

THE HOUNDS FROM THIBET AND MR. VARGUS; WITH A DISCOVERY ON BOARD THE
PIRATE


They turned my chair so that I faced the mouth of the cave, which was
some thirty yards away. The moon had set. The short summer night was
over, and the first grey hint of the dawn, that I should never see, was
near.

Helzephron sat down on a stool a few yards away from me. His back was to
the cavern mouth. He spoke a word to Vargus, who padded away behind me.

"Why are we waiting?" I said.

"Because you had the misfortune to hear my friend Vargus pouring his
soul out at the piano, Sir John."

"I am still rather in the dark."

"I have no objection to satisfying a curiosity which is legitimate under
the circumstances. I was going to put a pistol to your ear and throw you
into the cove. But Mr. Vargus has fantastic tastes, and you have put his
back up. He asked me a favour, and as I owe him a good deal, I could
not refuse it. But I see he is returning. You shall have a concrete
explanation."

From, somewhere behind me I heard the padding of footsteps, accompanied
by a curious scuffling noise and the sound of heavy breathing. Then
Helzephron gave a short bark of laughter, and Vargus came round the
chair.

Then I knew.

On leather leashes Vargus held two monstrous dogs. Each one was as big
as a newly-born calf. They were like Newfoundlands, and yet unlike, for
there was a great bull-dog jowl to each....

"My Tibetan mastiffs," said Helzephron. "Death by dogs for a dog!"

Vargus brought the brutes within two yards of me. Their teeth were
bared, their hackles rose, there was the dull red light in their eyes,
too, but not a sound came from either.

Both men watched me intently, but they got none of the satisfaction that
they hoped. It was simply that the bitterness of death was over. That
was all. Fear was something that I was no longer capable of feeling. To
be worried to death by mastiffs was just like any other death, then. I
understood how it was that martyrs for religion, or any cause in which
they believed, died so quietly.

Helzephron cursed deeply. "Get it over," he said. "Take the dogs to the
far end of the cave. When I blow this whistle let them go. You'll hear
them running up behind you, Sir John," he said, with an insane chuckle.

Vargus disappeared.

I stared out at the cave mouth. Each moment it grew lighter. I thought
that I should have liked to have seen one more summer dawn. But
Helzephron was lifting his whistle; and then the mouth of the cave
seemed to recede and shrink to the size of a mere window.

A mere window. With idle curiosity I saw how a fat spider was slowly
descending his swinging thread, and I was a child again, seated at the
nursery window....

The whistle blew a shrill, echoing blast.

At once my mind awoke to full consciousness, and I braced myself to die
without a cry. The cave mouth became itself again, and the spider ...

_Hanging by one arm and a leg, half-way down a stout rope, was a short,
thick-set figure...._

As the rapid thud of the racing dogs grew loud the figure's right arm
raised itself.

_Bang! Crash! Bang! Crash!_ a wild howl of pain, thunderous echoes
rolling down the cavern, and Helzephron on his feet in time to see
something bounding towards him like an india-rubber ball.

I knew who that was. I had one glimpse of a terrible grinning face as
Danjuro leapt at the hawk-faced man; heard a strangled scream and a
long, crunching crack, and saw two whirling figures crash to the floor.

I can't express the suddenness of it all. Before my brain could register
the impression, another person was sprinting by me, yelling like a
fiend. Then Danjuro rose from the floor--alone--and my ropes were being
divided, my stiff limbs rubbed, and a calm, exultant voice remarked:
"Exit Honourable Helzephron."

I began to laugh weakly.

"You were just in time, Danjuro. Have you killed him?"

He was about to reply when there was a diversion.

Charles Thumbwood appeared. He had Mr. Vargus by the collar, and was
kicking him along to the accompaniment of flowers of language that I
shall not attempt to reproduce.

"Caught 'im at the telephone," gasped Charles. "Gr-r-r, you little
swine"--a furious kick--"Gr-r-r, you slime-lapping leper you! 'E was
telephoning to 'is friends, Sir John. Thank Gawd we come in time, Sir
John! Gr-r-r, there's one as you won't forget in an 'urry!" and lifting
Mr. Vargus several inches from the floor with a final kick, Little
Thumbwood flung him away, began to feel me all over with trembling
hands, and burst into a flood of tears.

But I had caught his words. The telephone! We should have all the band
upon us in two minutes, desperate and fighting for their lives.

"Quick!" I shouted, "follow me. We must get Miss Shepherd safe. There
isn't a moment to lose."

I don't know how I did it, and the first few yards were like running on
red-hot ploughshares; but I got going, and raced down the great cave,
past the Pirate Ship, to the door at the end.

I noticed a door on the left as I ran. It was the one by which I had
first entered, the one that marked the passage leading to the lift.

"Block that somehow!" I called to Thumbwood. "It may keep them back for
a minute or two. Shoot anyone who breaks through."

He understood and stopped at once. I saw him dragging up some cases to
make cover and lying down behind them, as I turned just outside the door
which led to the ante-room to Helzephron's private sanctum.

... We found Constance upon her knees in a richly furnished room. Her
maid, Wilson, was weeping and trembling in a corner. As we burst in she
shrieked with terror.

But Constance fainted dead away.

I took that unfortunate woman, Wilson, and shook her into sanity. There
was nothing else to be done, and I remember that it seemed quite
natural and obvious at the time. I knew that we hadn't a moment to lose,
and I was in a state of abnormal excitement.

When she had regained some sort of control, which was in less than a
minute, I ordered her to attend to Constance, and, when she came to
herself, to tell her that we were all saved and Helzephron as powerless.
Then I hurried out into the cave.

Danjuro and Thumbwood were working like demons. Piles of boxes and other
impedimenta had been erected in two strategic positions commanding the
door. Behind each pile were two or three automatic rifles and many clips
of ammunition. Just as I came up Danjuro went to the door and opened it
wide.

I grasped his idea at once. As you may remember from my former
description, the passage was a mere cleft in the rock. Certainly not
more than one man could walk abreast, and he could be shot down the
moment he turned the corner. A child who could shoot straight would have
been able to hold the passage, and behind the barrier on the floor of
the cave would have been safe enough.

"I trust honourable lady quite safe?" said Danjuro in his quiet, silky
voice.

"Yes; the maid's attending to her. Thank God that unutterable scoundrel
has not harmed her."

Then I remembered something. Danjuro's face was perfectly placid and
ordinary. The grinning devil-mask had vanished as if it had never been.
To look at him no one would have guessed that he was anything but a
peaceable little Eastern student, such as you may see by the dozen any
day round about the Law Courts in town. He rolled a cigarette in his
conjuring way as I spoke, and yet, a few moments ago those slender hands
had just broken the neck of the Master Criminal of Europe!

"Look here, old chap," I said. "I haven't had a moment to thank you. You
and Charles arrived in the very nick of time. A few seconds more and I
should have been done for; and as for Miss Shepherd ..."

I couldn't go on. I just held out my hand.

He didn't take it--cold-blooded little beggar! He just bowed politely
and murmured something that sounded like "Glad to be of any help!" Then
he brightened up. "I think, Sir John," he said, "that we can reckon
ourselves as quite safe from any intrusion now!" and he waved his hand
towards the open door.

"Let 'em all come!" remarked Thumbwood.

Then, quite suddenly, the floor of the cave seemed to heave up and down.
The great arc lights which made it as bright as day began to wheel round
like fireworks, and I fainted for the second time.

When I recovered it was to find myself in the late Helzephron's own
room. Something cold was on my forehead and something chilly and scented
trickled down my face. I opened my eyes, and Constance was kneeling by
my side.

"My love, my dear love!" she whispered. "I never thought that I should
see you alive again. Oh, thank God, thank God!"

Then her arms were round me, and for a long time we spoke no word. I
think I know what the man who was called back from death in Palestine
long ago must have felt....

She gave me food and wine, and at last, though I felt physically weak
and shaken, my mind worked again, and I stood up. We were alone in the
room, and no sound came from outside, so I concluded that all was safe
for the present.

"A little Japanese carried you in here," Connie said, "as easily as if
you were a child. I had just come to myself, and I thought, oh, John, I
thought that you had been killed, and that he was one of those awful
people. But he shouted out at once that what Wilson said was true and we
were saved. I believed him, in spite of the shock his appearance gave me
at first, and when he had put you down gently in this chair he hurried
away. John, who is he, and how are we saved?"

"We owe everything to him," I answered gravely. "He killed Helzephron
with his own hands"--I did not tell her about the dogs just then--"and
in a few hours we shall be back in the world. We can never, as long as
we live, pay our debt to Danjuro."

In as short a time as I could, I explained everything to her, from the
first moment when I had heard of her capture until now. I walked about
the room as I did so, and new life flowed into my cramped limbs. When I
had smoked a cigarette, I felt almost normal again.

"Now, dear," I said, when my story was over, "we aren't exactly out of
the wood yet, though there's nothing whatever to be alarmed at. Go into
your own room and collect your things together; whatever you want to
take away with you. Stay here with Wilson till I come again. I may be
some time. There are a good many things to straighten out."

One more embrace and I left her, sobbing with great happiness, and,
passing through the ante-room, hurried out into the great cave.

My first glance was towards the door of the rock passage leading to the
lift. It was still open. Sitting on the barrier twelve yards or so away
was Thumbwood. A rifle lay across his knees and he was placidly smoking
his pipe.

"All right?" I shouted.

"All O.K., Sir John," he answered, standing up.

"Not a sign of anyone. As a matter of fact, Mr. Danjuro and me have
ascertained that this 'ere dog-fancier 'adn't time to get through to his
friends upstairs. I got 'old of 'im just as he was topping the fence."

I followed his glance, and I saw Mr. Vargus, trussed like a fowl, on the
floor a yard or two away.

I had quite forgotten that ingenious and artistic person, and I started.
He was a sorry sight enough, dirty, blood-stained and horrible, as his
pale, wicked face stared up at me. He said nothing, and I shuddered as I
looked at him--shuddered as I had never done at Helzephron.

"Where's Mr. Danjuro?" I asked.

"Up at the mouth of the cave, Sir John. I was to send you to him
directly you came."

I nodded, turned, and began to walk up the great cave. The Pirate
Airship lay there, gleaming and wonderful. There was a light steel
ladder at her side as I passed, leading up into the fuselage, and it was
only by a strong effort of will that I could keep myself from mounting
it and exploring the mechanical marvels that I knew she contained.
However, I resisted the temptation and hurried on. The lights depending
from the roof grew dimmer each moment as I drew near the curving
entrance. "It must be full day outside," I thought, as the fresh sea-air
came to meet me, and then, as I turned round the bend, I saw the squat,
black figure of the Japanese silhouetted against the rosy fires of
sunrise.

Danjuro was standing motionless. He was looking down at some humped
objects upon the ground. The rope, like a wisp of spider's web, swung
gently to and fro. There was not a sound save the soft murmur of the sea
far down below.

"I'm all right now," I said, and he turned to me without a start, though
he could not have heard me coming.

His face was calm, but wrinkled up in every direction. He looked like a
man of immense age, and his narrow eyes were full of brooding, sombre
light. Almost at his feet lay the body of Helzephron. It had been
decently disposed with the hands upon the breast, and the morning light
played over the hawk-like, bronzed face and open eyes in which there was
now no cruelty.

The dead man was august as he lay there. There was a certain nobility
about the features. He did not look like a scoundrel, and all resentment
and hate passed away from me for ever as I looked at him.

The two huge dogs, one with a bullet through its brain, the other shot
in the chest and through the heart as it was in the act of leaping, were
hideous objects....

When I looked up again the wrinkles had gone from Danjuro's face, the
sombre expression from his eyes. It was a magical change, but I was long
past wonder at anything in connection with him.

"We will have those dogs skinned," he remarked in his ordinary voice.
"They will make a fine rug for your house, Sir John."

"No doubt; but we've got to get out of this first. Remember that there
are a dozen desperate scoundrels not far away. And I don't see either
Miss Shepherd or myself returning to the world up that rope! By the way,
I haven't heard how you managed to get here in time."

He told me the story shortly enough. There was not an unnecessary detail
and no comment whatever. Thumbwood supplied the lacking picturesqueness
some days later. But even as Danjuro told it, I realized the marvellous
sagacity and contempt of danger that had saved us.

It seemed that when he had arrived at Zerran, the idea of a cave, either
natural or enlarged by pretended mining operations, was already in his
mind. As soon as I had left the inn on my expedition, Danjuro and
Thumbwood had taken one of Trewhella's boats and set out eastwards along
the coast. The Japanese had already taken his bearings, and knew that
Tregeraint House would be a little to the left of the jagged peak of
Carne Zerran. They cruised along into the moonlight until they picked up
their mark, and not two hundred yards further on struck the entrance to
the S-shaped cove. Then Danjuro had no longer any doubts. No boat could
live in that cauldron of the waves, but it seemed a man could, for our
rescuers proved it!

He stripped and went in--I learnt afterwards that he was as much at home
in the water as a seal, and, of course, like so many of his countrymen,
he was simply a mass of steel muscles. In twenty minutes the secret was
a secret no longer.

Danjuro's next move was to row back to Zerran Cove at top speed, and
hasten up the cliff path to the inn. Here he disinterred the coastguard
from the pigsty and roused him to immediate action.

Ropes and crowbars were procured, the fenced-off "dangerous" area on the
cliff-top invaded, and Danjuro, with Charles, descended in the nick of
time. But there was more than this. The coastguard had his orders.
Directly the two men disappeared over the brink he was instructed to
make all haste to the watch-house, some two miles away in the direction
of St. Ives. From there the Chief Boatswain was to telephone all along
the coast to the various stations, and also to the police at St. Ives,
Camborne and Penzance.

"In three or four hours, perhaps sooner," Danjuro concluded, "an armed
force should be concentrating on the moors upon the house above. The
pirates will be desperate, and will put up a fight--at least, I think
so, but the end is certain."

"And meantime, all we can do is to wait here until something happens?"

"That is as you please, Sir John," he answered, looking at me curiously.

For a minute I did not see what he meant, but then a great idea dawned
upon me.

"The Pirate Ship!" I burst out.

"I have always heard that Sir John Custance is a skilled pilot," he said
with a bow.

I saw it all clearly. There was a gorgeous, dramatic end to it all well
within my grasp! It would be something to make the whole world gasp! The
Pirate Ship was, I knew, already loaded with the proceeds of the
pirates' robberies. It was not only full of loot, but prepared in every
way for a long cruise. Helzephron and his ruffians had planned an almost
immediate escape from the cave to some new refuge of which I had heard
them speak. Doubtless, if things had gone right with them, they would
have been off by now, with my mangled body tossed in the whirlpools
below and Constance still a prisoner. Helzephron would have mounted to a
great height, and trusted to his immense superiority in speed over all
the airships in existence for escape. I have little doubt that, had
things fallen out as he planned, he would have been able to carry out
his scheme. But God disposes....

There was nothing, so I thought at the moment, to prevent _me_ from
piloting the airship out of its lair. Once in the sky I could make a
bee-line for Plymouth, and get there in a little more than half an
hour--if it was indeed true that the mysterious ship could do her two
hundred and forty M.P.H. To swoop down to Plymouth sea-drome with
Constance, the Pirate Ship and the recovered treasure! That would,
indeed, be a triumph such as is given to few men to experience. I have a
fairly vivid imagination, and I saw it all in one radiant picture.

"Let's go and have a look at the ship at once," I said, and almost ran
back into the cavern, where she towered up and threw black velvet
shadows in the fierce blue light that streamed down from the suspended
arcs. Danjuro followed.

As I swung myself over the side and descended a short ladder, I found
myself in a roomy main cabin. A switch to my hand illuminated it, and
even then I saw that the ship had been designed by a master hand. Below
the port-holes, filled with toughened glass and provided with shutters
of a design that was new to me, ran a continuous seat of woven camels'
hair cord, easily convertible into sleeping bunks for half a dozen
people. There was an electric stove of polished aluminium for cooking,
and an electric radiator for warming the cabin, clustering round a
central supporting column. I saw also that there was a very complete
telephone installation connecting this main cabin with the pilot's room
forward.

Under the seats was a collection of wooden cases and a box of japanned
steel, which I judged, and rightly, contained the treasure taken from
the _Albatros_ and the _Atlantis_. A sliding door aft led into a
store-room, which seemed to contain everything necessary for a cruise of
several days. I noticed boxes of expensive cigars, bottles of whisky and
liqueurs, tinned oysters, larks, asparagus, such as wealthy yachtsmen
provide themselves with. The dogs did themselves well!

Leading out of this was a final cabin fitted with tools of every sort, a
rack of automatic rifles and pistols, and several thousand rounds of
small-arms ammunition. Here also, with a padded door, was a little
compartment for the wireless operator, and I pictured one of the
black-hearted scoundrels sitting there and picking up the messages from
airships of the trade routes with a grin upon his face.

Danjuro came with me and looked about him quickly, but with no change of
expression. "So far, so good," I said to him; "but all this is
unimportant, really, though it is very complete. What really matters is
the pilot's cabin, the engines, controlling gear, petrol supply, and so
on. Let's go forward. Do you understand anything about airships?"

"A very little, Sir John," he replied, and--so petty are we all at
times--I felt a perceptible thrill of pleasure at hearing there was at
least something of which this paragon was ignorant.

"Never had occasion to study them?" I asked, as we passed again through
the main cabin.

"I have watched the pilot in Honourable Van Adams' yacht the _May
Flower_, but that is all...."

I hardly heard him, for I was in the pilot's room at last.

I saw at a glance that here were a number of things absolutely new to
me, and so to all the aviators of the world. I am not going to be
technical. This narrative is written for the general reader, and my
expert conclusions have been published elsewhere. I can but indicate
some of the wonders of mechanical skill with which I was confronted.

For instance, the designer of the ship was the first man to solve the
problem of easy control. Up to the present all pilots had controlled
their ships--the movements of planes and rudders, etc.--with a certain
amount of manual labour. It is true that recent inventions had minimized
this; ball-bearings, the rack and pinion, had made the main control
levers and wheels much easier to move than they were in the old days of
the Great War--when flying first began to come into its own. But there
was still a great deal of physical strain, which greatly lessened
efficiency upon a long cruise. Moreover, the instant decision necessary
to be taken by an aviator--when a fraction of a second may spell safety
or ruin--had been always hampered by the comparative mechanical slowness
of control.

In the Pirate Ship this disability did not exist. Just as the largest
ocean-going liner--sea-ship, not airship, I mean--can be steered by a
wheel not more than two feet in diameter by the invention of the steam
steering gear, so the Pirate Ship was controlled by a series of little
wheels and levers, covered with leather, that looked like toys.

Electricity had been brought into play, and a touch of the pilot's hand
was magnified into power that in an instant would deflect a mighty
lifting plane or vast rudder.

The fuel capacity of the ship was immense. She carried as much petrol,
in the huge and ingeniously contrived tanks below the fuselage, as one
of the great air-liners, though she was not a fifth of the size. I saw
at once that she could keep the air for days.

Examining the cockpit, in which two quick-firing guns were placed, I
found them both of the very latest pattern, and mounted with a swivel
device that was far in advance of anything attempted hitherto. Only the
great battle-planes of the world's air navies could mount guns of such
power, and she could circle round them with ease while in full flight.

But it was when I mounted to the little deck above, and began to examine
the two huge six-cylinder engines, that my admiration and interest grew
beyond all bounds. The chief triumph of all, the silencing mechanism
that reduced the ordinary roar of air engines to no more than the hum of
a dynamo, did not at once become clear. It would have been necessary to
take the machines to pieces to have discovered everything; but an
examination of the exhausts put me on the track, and I marvelled at the
creation of a master-mind.

I was looking at the twin propellers, which had a curve that was new to
me, and even material that I could not immediately define, when Danjuro
hailed me from the pilot's room.

I tumbled down to find the little man bending over the various controls
ranged in front of the pilot's seat.

"It seems to me, Sir John," he said, "pray correct me if I am wrong,
that there is something wanting here. I know little about airships, but
something of electricity, and can quite understand this system. But it
seems to me that a key-part of the mechanism has been removed."

He pulled over a lever a few inches long. Its movement should have been
registered upon a dial above, but the needle never moved.

"Do that again!" I cried, and, mounting a step, put my head into the
little dome of glass in the cabin roof which commanded the whole length
of the ship. One of the tilting planes by the rudder should have moved
when the lever was pulled over.

It remained motionless.

"One of the honourable gentlemen upstairs has got a small but very
essential piece of linking apparatus in his pocket," said Danjuro.

It was only too true. A moment's reflection satisfied me of that, and I
stared blankly at my companion.

My gorgeous, if somewhat vainglorious, plan was knocked on the head.



CHAPTER XVII

THE MOMENT OF TRIUMPH


I descended from the airship in silence. Danjuro followed me. Thumbwood
was still on guard. The bundle that was Mr. Vargus lay upon the ground,
and a face like a white wedge of venom stared up at us. There was no
sign of the enemy, but I felt that we should not be left in peace much
longer, and my disappointment at the discovery on board the pirate was
keen.

"There is still a chance," Danjuro whispered in my ear. "And with your
permission, Sir John, I am going to try it."

I nodded, and he stepped up to Vargus and pulled him up into a sitting
posture, propping him against the barrier.

"There is a part of the control mechanism of the airship missing,"
Danjuro said, with silky politeness.

Vargus grinned suddenly, a momentary rictus that came and went, utterly
horrible.

"And we want that piece of the machine," the Japanese went on.

Vargus spoke, in his peculiar oily voice. "Then you may go on wanting,
you putty-faced little spawn of a monkey."

I cannot hope to describe the depth of poisonous hate the man put into
the words. His accent was cultured and refined; the great dome of the
blood-stained forehead spoke loudly of intellect, yet the voice somehow
reeked of the pit. I know that it struck me cold, and I saw the rifle in
Thumbwood's hands was shaking. Although this was the man who had devised
an abominable death for me, I can honestly say that I felt no personal
resentment. I can't account for it, but it was so.

I should have welcomed that, rather than the inward loathing, like a
shudder of the soul, at something inhuman and unclean.

What Danjuro felt I don't know, but he didn't turn a hair.

"I think you will assist us," he said.

For answer the thing below spat in his face.

I expected to see Danjuro leap upon him and strangle him where he sat. I
shouldn't have raised a finger to stop it. But it was not so. The little
man stepped aside and carefully wiped his face with a silk handkerchief
that seemed to come from nowhere. Then he went behind Mr. Vargus and
began to feel his head all over, with quick, delicate movements of his
fingers.

"How can you touch him?" I cried, hardly knowing what I said, for the
thing was ugly and uncanny beyond belief. Danjuro was like some sinister
phrenologist in a nightmare, feeling the bumps of a devil.

"I know now what I wanted to know about him," Danjuro purred after a
moment. "I never doubted the intelligence, Sir John. It is very marked.
And there is great energy and courage of a sort. But our friend who
spits has one little failing. He is afraid of physical pain."

"You're not going to ...?"

Danjuro looked me full in the eyes, and in his I saw a stony resolution
that I was in no state to combat.

"I will go and see Miss Shepherd," I said, and turning on my heel,
walked quickly to the inner end of the cavern. As I went I heard Danjuro
ask Thumbwood for a box of matches....

I am quite aware that there are lots of softhearted people who will say
I ought never to have allowed Danjuro to do what he did. Well, they must
have their own opinion, that's all. I believe it was nothing like so bad
as the cat-o'-nine-tails which is constantly administered in our
prisons, and under the circumstances I think it was justifiable. Call me
what names you like as you read this--you have not seen Mr. Vargus and
his dogs, nor spent a small eternity in the pirates' cave.

... Constance was wonderfully recovered. I spent a minute or two with
her, and then returned to the scene of action.

Mr. Vargus was speaking in a quick, panting voice, and these were the
words I heard:

"Gascoigne, Mr. Gascoigne; he has it. He was our second pilot. It was
always in his charge."

Danjuro gave his little weary smile. Then he put his hand gently upon my
arm and drew me away to the other side of the cave.

"We will now summon honourable Gascoigne," he said. "He is the young
gentleman we saw with late honourable Helzephron at the 'Mille
Colonnes.' The little necessary piece of the mechanism in his possession
is, I have just learnt, generally referred to as 'the link.'"

"But how ...?" I was beginning, when he pointed to a telephone
instrument upon a screen of tongue-and-groove boarding. "This
communicates with the house," he whispered. "Mr. Vargus nearly got
through recently, you will remember, just before the good Thumbwood
caught him."

He raised the instrument to his mouth and ear.

In a second or two a bell rang and Danjuro began to speak. I nearly
jumped out of my boots. The words were simple enough, but the voice
with its oily refinement was the voice of Mr. Vargus!

"Is that you, Gascoigne? Yes, Vargus speaking. The Chief says you are to
come down at once and bring the control link with you. What? No, the
others are to wait till they're sent for. What? Oh, yes, quite dead. I
wish you could have seen it!"

It was a triumph of mimicry that I shall never forget, the more so as it
was the only occasion on which I heard this marvellous man attempt
anything of the sort. Heaven knows what other talents he must have
possessed!

"The young gentleman was asking about you, Sir John. He seemed quite
curious about your end!"

I smiled grimly. "What are you going to do?" I asked.

In answer he hurried back to the open door and crouched down in the
shadow by its side. I motioned to Thumbwood to lie down behind the
barrier which was exactly facing the passage, and drawing my automatic
pistol, which I had regained from Helzephron's room, I retired to the
opposite side of the door and outside the line of direct vision.

There was silence for a minute or so, and then, far away in the rock, I
heard a hollow rumble and the clank of a gate. The lift had descended
and Gascoigne was on his way. A few seconds afterwards I heard a merry
whistle, fresh and sweet, as if the performer had not a care in the
world. He was whistling the lilting tune of a popular song which all the
street boys were singing at that time:


     "_Merry Maudie met her fate at Margate!_"


Callous young dog! In a moment he would not be so cheerful....

I had left it to that concentrated muscle, Danjuro, though I stood ready
to help if necessary. But I knew that he was a supreme exponent of
jiu-jitsu--_teste_ the hideous death Helzephron died--and I had little
fear. Indeed, I found myself looking on with a detached and interested
curiosity as one might at a prize-fight. I wondered if Danjuro would
kill him or not. And if you had supped so full of horrors as I had in
that awful cave, you'd have felt like that, too!

... For a second I saw Gascoigne in the full light from the roof and
framed by the archway, like a picture. It was the same young fellow,
with the dissipated face, that I had seen at the restaurant, though he
had not been among the singing pirates at the inn. He was extremely
handsome still, with the face of a lost angel. As a boy at school he
must have been beautiful.

Then the squat shadow that crouched by the lintel of the door, like a
monstrous toad, expanded swiftly. Danjuro caught Gascoigne by the right
hand with the speed of lightning, and pulled the arm out straight with a
jerk. Then, as the young man was falling forward, the left arm of the
Japanese shot out _under_ his captive's rigid right and the hand seized
the lapel of Gascoigne's coat. He was powerless. If he made the
slightest movement Danjuro would have broken his arm like a pipe-stem.
He could not swing round and hit with his left, and I saw his mouth open
with foolish amazement like the mouth of a fish, as his legs were kicked
from under him, and he fell back with his assailant on the top of him.

I tied his ankles together with neatness and dispatch, while I listened
to a sickening flood of blasphemous profanity that flowed from the
clear-cut lips of this _ci-devant_ gentleman in a ceaseless stream. More
and more I realized what a crew of utter devils Helzephron had got round
him.

At last he was bound, and Danjuro took from him a leather box, which he
wore suspended round his shoulders by a strap. He handed it to me, and,
opening it, I found it was the control link that we sought.

"You can fit that in all right, Sir John?"

"Oh, yes, I don't think it presents any difficulty."

"Very well, then, in a few minutes we will start; that is, if you think
you can take the ship out of this place?"

I had already considered that and decided that I could. It was a
ticklish job enough, and would require the most delicate care,
especially with an untried ship. But in the past I had landed on the
deck of a moving battleship, and there were few stunts that were not
familiar to me. I felt I could do it.

"I don't think I shall let you down," I said, and hurried to the ship.

Five minutes showed me that I had got the hang of the apparatus and that
electrical connection was restored, and I spent a further ten in
thoroughly examining and getting accustomed to the controls. Moreover, I
made one new and startling discovery.

There was no need, in this marvellous ship, for mechanics to swing the
propeller at the start. Again electricity from the ship's dynamo was
employed, and the starting device was a miracle of ingenuity, worked
from the pilot's cabin.

Mr. Vargus, though I offered to loosen his bonds at the feet, absolutely
refused to walk, and Danjuro carried him up the ladder and threw him
upon the floor of the cabin like a sack of corn. Gascoigne, now very
white and silent, was more amenable. It seems that Vargus had
acquainted him with everything that had passed as they lay together on
the ground.

"I'll go all right, sir," he said to me, as I helped him to his feet.

As I had the muzzle of my pistol in the small of his back, he couldn't
well do anything else, but he lost nothing by being civil.

"I can't believe that the Chief's dead and everything's finished," he
said, with a curious sort of sob. I realized that all sense of right and
wrong had left this youth early. He was the true stuff of which
criminals are made, incapable of putting himself in the place of his
victims, and while bitterly conscious of defeat and punishment to come,
incapable of remorse.

Without a trace of pose this man behaved just as if he were an officer
captured by the enemy in war-time, and I dare swear he felt just like
that. There is only one thing to do with these abnormals that get
themselves born now and then--destroy them.

Morally I felt sure that Gascoigne was not a hundredth part so
responsible as Vargus. But one was born a criminal, and, from that point
of view, insane. The other had had the capabilities of sainthood, but
had opened his soul to the Dweller on the Threshold and was doubly lost.

We went slowly towards the ship. "Good old bird!" he said, as any public
schoolboy might have said it. "I expect this'll be the last cruise I
ever take in her."

"Or in any ship at all," I answered. "I suppose you've no illusions as
to what's in store for you?"

"No, I suppose it's a hanging job," he replied, and I assented, though,
as you will learn, both his anticipations were to prove wrong.

Danjuro and I shifted Vargus out of the main cabin into the small one
where the tools and spare parts were stored. We didn't want Constance to
see him, and he was so well secured that he couldn't possibly do any
harm.

Gascoigne we left for the present on one of the seats, and I hurried to
fetch the two women, passing Thumbwood, still at his post.

"Everything is arranged," I called out, as I ran through Helzephron's
room. "We are going to fly to Plymouth at once in the Pirate Ship."

The maid Wilson shrieked.

"Oh, Sir John, that awful ship! I couldn't go in 'er again, not for my
life. Let's go in a taxi, Miss, please 'ave a taxi; I couldn't face the
ship."

"You'll lose your life quickly enough if you stay," I said to the
yelping fool, though, Heaven knows, the poor soul had gone through
enough to turn her mind entirely. Her mouth grew like a round O, and I
was preparing for another shriek when I suddenly thought of something.

"Miss Connie will be quite safe with me," I said quickly, "and I shall
put you in charge of Charles Thumbwood. You remember him? He'll look
after you all right, Wilson."

It acted like a charm. I had remembered Charles's attention to the
pretty maid in the train.

"Ow!" said Wilson. "Is Mr. Thumbwood here, then, Sir John?"

"Very much so. You will be his especial charge, and the journey won't
take more than three-quarters of an hour."

The girl picked up the dressing-bag, which she had dropped upon the
floor. "Then that will be all right," she said with a flush, and I
wondered if she thought Charles was going to pilot the ship himself. How
true it is that Faith can move mountains! No doubt Constance felt just
the same about me as Mary Wilson did about Charles.

... We had come out into the cave, and had walked a few yards towards
the looming bulk of the ship, when the telephone bell on the cave-side
ahead of us rang furiously. It kept on like an alarm-clock, and telling
the girls to remain still for a moment, I ran up and unhooked the
receiver.

A voice was bawling at the other end, so loud that the words rang and
buzzed one into the other, and I could only distinguish one or two. I
heard enough to know what had happened, though.

"Chief ... coastguard police ... rifles ... all round the house on the
moor were coming down ... two of us stay ... hold till last moment...."

So that was it! Billy Pengelly, the coastguard, had made good. The wires
had been at work while we had been about our mole-like warfare
underground. The avengers were among the gorse and heather, and the
remainder of the pirates were doomed....

"Come on," I shouted to Connie, realizing that there was literally not a
moment to lose, and, alarmed by the excitement in my voice, they started
to run.

When they had come up to me, and I started to run with them towards the
ship, there was a sudden thunderous report. Looking to the right, I saw
that Thumbwood had taken cover, and was lying on his stomach behind the
barrier. The open door was but a dim oblong of yellow light at that
distance, and I could not see a yard down the passage in the rocks.

Thumbwood fired again, and the echoing roar had not died away when
something went by my ear with a vicious _zipp_, and I heard the splash
of a bullet upon the granite.

The pirates were coming down in force, and, finding themselves between
Scylla and Charybdis, had turned at bay.

I knew Thumbwood would keep them where they were for a minute or two,
and I raced to the ship with Connie at my side. Wilson had fainted, and
we had to drag her between us.

Half-way up the light, steep accommodation ladder Danjuro was waiting,
perfectly calm and unconcerned. We handed up the unconscious maid, and
he disappeared with her in a second. Then Connie was helped up the
ladder, while the whole cavern began to thunder with a fusillade of
rapid firing.

"The police and coastguards are surrounding the house," I shouted, "and
the rest of the crew have come down, and are trying to fight their way
into the cave."

"It is what I thought, Sir John. Those gentlemen must be considerably
surprised at their reception! We can shoot them all down before they get
out of the passage. Perhaps, now that rescue is at hand, we had better
wait and do so?"

His eyes were glistening; I saw the light of slaughter in them. For an
instant I hesitated. What he said was sane enough. The risk was
comparatively small; it would only be postponing the triumphal flight.

Then I took a decision--it rested with me, and I was alone responsible.
"We mustn't shoot them all down," I shouted through the din, for bullets
were streaming into the cave behind as though they were pumped from a
hose. "Some of them must be brought to justice. We had better be off
and leave the coastguards and police to deal with them."

Thus I spoke. I said what I honestly thought was best at the moment,
though perhaps my mind was a little influenced by the natural and
terrible anxiety to get my girl away from further horrors.

At any rate, I decided, and all my life long I shall never cease to
regret it.

"Very good," said Danjuro. "Up into the pilot's cabin, quick, Sir John.
You are indispensable there. Prepare for an instant start. I will run
and fetch Thumbwood. We shall have to fire thirty or forty rounds
quickly into the passage to keep them back. Of course, they are firing
automatic pistols round the bend now, and not exposing themselves any
more. After we have fired we shall run for the ship. You will hear me
shout and then start like lightning!"

He slipped past me, and, crouching almost to the ground, ran back
towards Thumbwood like some great cat.

I flung myself aboard. Constance was attending to Wilson in the main
cabin. Gascoigne was lying bound where he had been thrown, but his eyes
were blazing with excitement.

I put a stop to that at once. "The remainder of your friends are being
shot down," I said curtly. "Lucky for you to be here."

All the animation died out of his face. And, as I didn't want to leave
him alone with Connie--it seemed a desecration that he should be in the
same place with her even for a moment--I whipped out my knife, cut the
bonds at his feet, and pushed him into the pilot's cabin, making him lie
upon the floor at my side as I got into the swivel chair. I could shoot
him dead in an instant if he moved.

Then I sat rigid, with my hand upon the switch which started the
engines.

In reality, I know now that the time of waiting was very short, but it
seemed an eternity to me. For the first time my nerves felt upon the
point of giving way. My hand trembled. I began to think of the narrow
S-shaped passage between high walls of rock to the sea, and realized the
appalling nature of the task before me. A mere touch of the planes upon
those iron barriers, and all the long struggle would prove unavailing,
the triumph turn to a defeat in which my girl and I, the superman
Danjuro, and faithful Thumbwood would lose our hard-won lives.

One touch and the ship would crumple up like paper and fall like a stone
into the cruel cauldron of jagged rock and furious waves far below.

There came a voice from the floor. Had the prisoner divined something of
my thoughts?

"... Look here, Sir John, you're up against a nasty job. It's the very
devil getting out of here if you don't know the way and haven't
practised it."

Something in the young fellow's voice told me that this was not mockery.
He was, moreover, the second pilot of the Pirate Ship, trained by
Helzephron himself.

"I did not ask you to speak," I answered.

"No, but really it's no end of a stunt. The controls are ten times as
sensitive as in an ordinary machine. If you were the best pilot living,
you'd find it hard to manage in a ship that's quite new to you, and has
all sorts of habits and tricks that no other has."

He spoke truly enough, and I knew it, but it was none the less
unpleasant to hear.

"I suppose you're afraid for your damned skin," I sneered.

"Oh, come, draw it mild," he replied. "I only spoke to try and help you.
I know when I'm beaten, and I don't bear any malice."

"If I do take you safely out, it will only mean the gallows."

"Oh, no, it won't!" he said. "I shall turn King's evidence. There are
lots of things I know that no one else except Vargus knows now. I shall
get let off with fifteen years. Bet you a fiver, if you like. It's to my
interest to help you out."

I can generally tell when a man is sincere, and I realized that this
young scoundrel was, despite--and perhaps because of--the baseness of
his motive.

"Help me?"

"Yes, out of the passage. Once you get in clear air you'll fly her
easily enough--and you'll be astonished, by Jove! But you'd better let
me pilot you. It's the lift and the sharp right bank that are so
difficult...."

"Get up," I said.

He scrambled to his feet.

"Stand there!" He leaned against the wall at my side, his hands tied
behind him and his arms tightly bound.

He was about to speak, when suddenly we both started. Something had
happened. For a moment I did not realize what it was. Then I knew. The
continuous thunder of rifle fire had stopped. Everything was dead
silent. I'd hardly become conscious of the fact when there was a loud
shout.

"Let her go, Sir John! Let her go!"

Danjuro stumbled into the cabin, panting like a whippet.

I pulled over the switch and then the lever of the starting mechanism.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE GOLDEN DREAM


The strangely-shaped propellers bit the air at once, the walls of the
cavern, flooded with spectral light, slid backwards, and as the ship
swerved round the curve towards the entrance, the day leapt at us.

Wow! but it was touch and go during the next ten seconds. If it had not
been for Gascoigne I am sure that I should never have gone through. The
great ship shot out of its lair like a dart; a touch upon the little
steering-wheel and she was banking in the terrible right-hand turn; the
granite walls seemed rushing to meet and crush her, and only the quick,
steady words of command from the prisoner, which like an automaton I
obeyed, got her finally into the straight....

And then--oh, then--I opened out the marvellous engines; she seemed to
shake herself for an instant like a bird poised for a long flight, and,
humming like a wasp, she shot up and out to sea....

The needle upon the speed indicator quivered round its dial, moving
ever upwards. Eighty, a hundred, a hundred and fifty--and thirty
more--we were doing nearly two hundred miles an hour, straight out over
the Atlantic before I had a thought of our destination, or of anything
but the supreme glory of that rush up the dawn wind.

The whole morning world was blue and gold, new-built and beautiful. Far
below, the Mother of Oceans lay in an unwrinkled sheet of sapphire, "as
it were a sea of glass mingled with fire." A tiny purple cloud upon the
horizon was the Isles of Scilly, sleeping under the sun.

Connie stole in and stood by my side, her hand upon my shoulder, and I
knew that her heart also was full to overflowing, as memory flared up
and down in us like the flame of a lamp in a draught. It was a moment so
exquisite, so full of gratitude to God, that no words of mine can do
more than hint at it. For we had escaped from hell and the snare of
devils, and knew it in one lightning flash of gratitude and joy.

As she stared out at the sea and sky, which glowed like the pavements of
the New Jerusalem, Connie quoted some words from Milton--the song of the
released spirit in his epilogue of "Comus":


     "To the Ocean now I fly,
     And those happy climes which lie
     Where Day never shuts his eye
     Up in the broad fields of the sky."


And then, as I glanced at the compass card and made a great sweep
round, so that we faced the jagged coasts of Cornwall once again, she
whispered, with a proud note in her voice:


     "For still the Lord is Lord of Might
     In deeds, in deeds, he takes delight."


Then, with a tiny pressure of my arm, she went back to the other cabin.

I had not noticed Danjuro for the last few minutes. He had led Gascoigne
behind me as soon as we had made the passage. Now he reappeared.

"Danjuro!" I cried, "this ship is wonderful beyond all imagining! There
isn't her equal in the whole world. She'll revolutionize flying. It's a
perfect joy to pilot her!"

Danjuro nodded calmly; he was not given to enthusiasms, this man with a
panther in his soul. "I have been speaking with the prisoner," he said.

"With Vargus?"

"No, though I have been to look at him, and he is quite safe. With
Gascoigne, and he has suggested something that has not occurred to
either of us, Sir John."

"His help will all tell in his favour when it comes to the trial. What
is it now?"

"Something eminently sensible and pressing! As you see, this ship is
quite unmistakable. Any pilot would recognize her from the descriptions
which have been circulated. We are now approaching the coast again and
about to fly to Plymouth. The air must be full of armed patrol ships,
and, whatever our speed, if we escape being shot down _en route_, we
should certainly be blown to pieces on approaching the sea-drome!"

I flushed up. I had been an incredible ass never to have thought of that
before. It was only too true. Nobody could possibly know that we had
captured the Pirate Ship....

I reduced our speed to half of what it had been. "What are we to do?" I
said.

"There is a complete wireless installation on board the ship. Can you
operate it, Sir John?"

"No. Even if I could leave the controls, that would be impossible. I
know nothing about it, unfortunately."

"Nor I, Sir John. It is a gap in my knowledge that I propose to remedy
shortly. But this Gascoigne is an operator, and offers to send any
message."

"I suppose we can trust him? He certainly saved us from disaster coming
out of the cavern."

I shuddered; I did not want to think of that blood-stained hole of
horror any more.

"Yes, I think he can he trusted. He has everything to gain, and can do
no harm that I can see. I cannot operate the keys of the apparatus, but
I know the Morse code, and if I stand by him I can check each letter as
he sends it out."

Then I had an inspiration too. "Good! And now I think I can make it
quite sure. I can remember the private code of the Air Police with
hardly a gap. We will call up Plymouth, and all the police boats now
flying, in that private code. Meanwhile, we had better run out to sea
again while you are taking it down."

Again I turned the ship, and as we spiralled up and out again, I formed
the message in my mind and translated it, word for word, into the
letters of the code, which Danjuro took down in pencil upon a sheet of
his pocket-book.

When I had finished, and as the message was necessarily rather a long
one it took some time, Danjuro marched Gascoigne away to the rear cabin,
where Vargus was lying. It was there, you may remember, that the
wireless apparatus was installed.

We were now reaching a great height, far above any of the regular
air-lanes, and I felt quite secure from any attack. Land, sea, every
reminder of the world below, had vanished utterly. With hardly a sound
from the magic engines we floated in a haze of gold chrysophrase. It was
like a happy dream, though never was dream so beautiful.

Connie stole in again. "I thought I would leave Thumbwood and Wilson
alone," she said. "They have been sitting side by side and whispering
to each other ever since we started. Neither of them seems to have the
least curiosity as to where we are or where we're going."

"How thoughtful of you, dearest! Was that the only reason you came in
here!"

The rest of the conversation is not a part of this story. It lasted a
long time as we droned round great five-mile circles of the upper air.
And then a telephone rang at my ear.

Danjuro was speaking. The message had been received at Plymouth, and an
answer had been coming through for the last ten minutes. He was writing
it down, letter by letter, from Gascoigne's dictation. Shortly
afterwards he brought it in to me, and as I read it off the world closed
round me again and fairyland vanished.

Triumph filled my veins and reddened my blood. The message came from
Muir Lockhart, who was at Plymouth again, and was one shout of wonder
and congratulation. "The whole world will thank you," it concluded.

For a little time I was intoxicated by that message. I saw myself a
hero, vindicated a thousand times in the eyes of all men, the Chief of
Air Police whose name would be historical. I think there are few men of
my age who would not have had their moment of vainglory; we are made so.
But as I read the message to the man who had brought it, I realized
that I had done nothing, after all, and that everything was due to his
marvellous brilliancy and courage.

Thank Heaven that I realized it without a pang of envy, and I told him
what I thought of him in no unstinted way.

He heard me to the end with no change of countenance. When I had done,
he said: "You have been very kind, Sir John, and I greatly appreciate
what you have said. If, indeed, you are indebted to me in any way for
the help I have been able to give, you can repay me, if you will."

"To the half of my kingdom!" I said, with a laugh, though I was in dead
earnest all the same.

"That is a promise, Sir John?" He looked down at me with magnetic eyes.

"A promise, Danjuro."

"Then, while I live, I ask you to say nothing whatever of my part in
this affair. I wish it kept as secret as possible; some little part must
leak out; there will be investigations, public trials, and so forth. But
much can be kept secret, and it rests with you and Thumbwood. And as I
have your promise, my mind is at rest."

"But this is madness, Danjuro! You are owed the thanks of two
continents. You ..."

He interrupted me.

"I want nothing of the sort. I have had your thanks, and that is
sufficient. The work itself is enough. My usefulness to Mr. Van Adams,
the endeavour of my whole life, would be destroyed if anything were
known."

Reluctantly I promised. "But Mr. Van Adams, I shall tell _him_
everything!" I said.

Danjuro bowed his head. A faint flush came into his yellow face. "If you
think I have done anything worth it," he replied, with a curious and
touching silence.

And this was the man with the panther in his soul! For the American
millionaire he had supreme love, with devotion--worship--and for no one
and nothing else on earth above or below it.

A man with a single obsession, a man of one idea. Well, most of the
great men in life have been that....

I steered for Plymouth at full speed, coming down to three thousand
feet. In a flash the jagged coast, fringed with a thin line of white,
came clear to view. We sped from the Atlantic, over the narrow peninsula
of land which divides it from the Channel, and then turned east. The
Bay, with St. Michael's Mount looking like a tiny white pebble, gave
place to the long, menacing snout of the Lizard, and, as a few minutes
later we neared Falmouth, a flight of airships rose from the water of
that mighty harbour and came up to join us like a flock of gulls, the
big Klaxon electric horns blaring a welcome. Dead Man's Rock and Gall
Island, Looe, Mevagissey, Fowey--all slipped away astern, and the bluff
outlines of Rame Head, from which the Devon watchers first signalled the
Armada, came rushing into view. I had been speeding far ahead, turning
back, flying all round the escorting patrol boats, which were doing all
they knew, letting them see what a wonder had come into our hands, and
rejoicing more and more in the powers of the ship, as I found them one
by one. Now I slowed down, and signalled by horn to the leading vessel
of the flotilla.

As we turned and entered Plymouth Sound, the others spread themselves
out in a great wedge, of which I was leader, like a skein of wild geese
upon the wing. A salute of guns boomed out as we flew high on the
Breakwater, and all the bells of Plymouth were ringing as I swooped down
into the sea-drome.

And all this time, for three-quarters of an hour or more, our two
prisoners had been alone together in the aft cabin, where the tools and
spare parts were stored. Neither I nor Danjuro had given them a further
thought, and it was the one fatal mistake we made upon that morning of
triumph.

Thumbwood had, however, been in to look at them once or twice, and had
seen nothing disturbing. Certainly, when some of my men came to take
them to the station, they were lying sullen in their bonds, and not
saying a word to each other of any kind.

But by that time the mischief was doubtless done.

       *       *       *       *       *

Space begins to press upon me. There are still two strange and
unforgettable scenes to add to this narrative, further tragedies to set
down. The last scene of all, which I have called "The Epilogue," was not
written for a year after the earlier part of this story, which is now
published as a whole for the first time. Why this is so will become
clear as you read on, if you care to follow me to the very end.

But as I would not weary you, I will only indicate the happenings during
the rest of that day at Plymouth in the briefest possible fashion. I am
impatient to bring the story up to the hour of eleven-thirty of the same
night.

Immediately we were at rest on the placid waters of the sea-drome, Muir
Lockhart, with a strong force of Air Police, came aboard. Constance and
her maid were taken in a motor-boat to one of my patrol ships, which
started with them for the Hounslow Aerodrome within half an hour of our
arrival. We both of us thought it best that she should proceed to London
immediately, and going by air in a Government ship, she would escape
all annoyance and publicity.

All approach to the sea-drome was barred, and though the Hoe was crowded
with spectators, none of them could approach anywhere near to us. When I
had given Lockhart an outline of what had occurred, the two prisoners
were taken over the pool with a strong guard, and run up in the private
lift to the A.P. station, where there was a strong cell ready to receive
them. Then I was free to show my colleague, himself an expert airman,
the wonders of our capture.

I was doing this--we were in the pilot's cabin--when one of my men came
in and said that a motor-launch had come alongside from the private
air-yacht _May Flower_, which was moored not a hundred yards away. I had
noticed, when descending, that a magnificent yacht was close by, but I
did not identify it as Mr. Van Adams' ship. It appeared that he had been
sleeping aboard for the last two or three nights, since he had flown
down from London for the funeral, and was now alongside.

Van Adams, of course, was an exception to all ordinary rules, and in a
minute he was shaking hands in the private saloon and betraying a most
lively curiosity as to our adventures. I put Danjuro to satisfy him, and
when we had discussed a bottle of Helzephron's champagne, I left a
couple of trusted men to guard the ship, and went ashore. Danjuro
returned to the _May Flower_ with his patron.

The rest of the day was a whirl of business and excitement, though I
managed to get three hours much needed sleep in the afternoon.

Wires from the Government, from America, from Royalty, poured in, in a
never-ceasing stream. There were innumerable officials to see, the
correspondents of the great newspapers to satisfy with some sort of
story--a hundred things to do and arrange for. The whole of England was
in a ferment, and the stone building of the Air Police on the Hoe was,
for a few hours, the centre of it all. The air was thick with patrol
ships, warning off aviators of all kinds from approaching the Pirate
Ship, which lay at rest and harmless by the north wall of the pool.

Just before I retired to rest the news of what was called "The Battle of
the Moor" began to come through. The pirates, seeing their ship gone,
had rushed up again into the house, and had held it with the courage of
desperation. Only three of them had survived, and were now locked up in
the police-station at Penzance.

... It would take many pages to detail the events of that crowded day,
which did not end for me until ten o'clock at night, for I was forced to
attend a congratulatory dinner at the "Royal." Previous to that I had
found it necessary to summon Danjuro from the _May Flower_, where he had
remained quietly with Mr. Van Adams during the day. It was necessary
that I should be restored to something like my former self, and only
Danjuro could make me blond again! My moustache, alas! he could not
restore.

I had arranged to sleep at the station, where there were several
bedrooms, and about ten-thirty I passed the sentry and entered the
grounds.

Plymouth was now quiet. It was a hot, dark night, with neither moon nor
stars. During the day the weather had changed, and now thunder muttered
far away at sea and amethyst sheet-lightning flickered upon the horizon.

Now and again a drop of hot rain fell.



CHAPTER XIX

LAST FLIGHT OF THE PIRATE AIRSHIP


The station superintendent met me in the office, which was brilliantly
lit and cooled by an electric fan.

"I expect you're feeling pretty well done, Sir John," he said.

"I feel pretty tired, Johnson, I own."

"There's a big thunderstorm coming up, not a doubt of it. The air'll be
cooler afterwards. All the arrangements about the prisoners are made,
sir."

The staff had been in communication with London all day upon this
matter, but I had not heard the result. I inquired from the
superintendent now.

"Our two birds, Sir John, and the three they've got at Penzance are to
travel to London to-night. They'll be brought up at Bow Street for a
minute or two, and remanded for a week to suit your convenience. The
Home Office will communicate with you, sir."

"Very well. How are they going?"

"The night mail train leaves Penzance at twelve, and gets here at two.
The other three will be on board and well guarded. Our prisoners will
join the train at Mill Bay Station. I've detailed Prosser and Moore to
escort them."

"See that the men are well armed. How are the prisoners?"

"Very quiet, sir. They seem to realize that it's all up with them.
They've taken their food all right."

"They are both together?"

"Yes, Sir John. You see, we've only the one cell that is absolutely
safe. But that can't make any difference. A man looks in every
half-hour. They can't hear him coming, and he reports that they don't
even talk."

"They're not handcuffed?"

"No, I didn't think it necessary, sir. They will be, and chained
together, too, when they leave for the train. We searched them
thoroughly, and took everything they had on them away half an hour after
they were brought in. Would you like to see them, sir?"

"I don't think so, Johnson. I've been a good deal too much in their
society during the last day or two. I don't want to look at that Vargus
again until he's in the dock, and I'm giving evidence against him."

"He's a wicked-looking customer, if ever I saw one," said the
inspector, with a face of disgust. "Well, good-night, sir, and I hope
you'll sleep well. I've told the station attendant to have your bath
ready at eight. He'll call you then."

The good Johnson went away, and I was left alone. My head ached, and I
felt disinclined for sleep at once. I undressed, however, and sat in
pyjamas as I smoked a final pipe. There was whisky, soda and a bowl of
ice, and I took a peg. I felt singularly low and dispirited. It was, I
supposed, the inevitable reaction of the nerves after all I had endured,
combined with the heavy pressure of the atmosphere and the electric
tension of the storm. At any rate, I remember feeling--as everyone does
at times--that the greatest triumphs and successes were worth very
little, after all, when once they were achieved. There is bitterness at
the bottom of every cup--_surgit amari aliquid_--and life was a poor
thing at best. And I fell to reflecting on the evil and misery that can
be wrought by one man.

The gaunt spectre of Hawk Helzephron haunted my mind, and the long row
of dead men that must be laid to his account, the brave fellows of my
own service, the Transatlantic people--to say nothing of the black
scoundrels that he had made and tempted, who had been hurried into
eternity with their crimes unrepented....

It was a morbid train of thought, but I was worn out, and the dark hour
had its way with me, until I thought of Connie and her merciful
preservation from harm, my own rescue. Then, rather ashamed of myself, I
made an effort to banish these gloomy imaginings, said my prayers, and
got into bed.

All the same, as I fell asleep, the stammer of the approaching thunder
and the white glare of lightning, which now and then flashed into the
darkened room, seemed like the growling of those awful dogs and the
glare of the advancing airship in the cave....

I think now that I must have had some unconscious premonition of the
tragedy which was racing towards me all the time.

... I was awakened sharply and suddenly, at first I thought by a flash
of lightning. But it was not so. The electrics had been suddenly turned
on, and there were men in uniform round my bed. The wind had risen and
was whistling outside. A deluge of thunder rain was in progress, and
great sheets of water were flung against the window.

I saw Superintendent Johnson. His face was white as linen.

"What is it?" I shouted.

He shouted in answer, and I heard his voice above the tumult of the
storm.

"The prisoners, Sir John," he wailed. "They've got away. They picked
the lock of the cell somehow, got into the passage, and broke the bars
of the window at the end. We none of us heard a sound!"

I leapt out of bed and began to bellow orders for pursuit--until I saw
Johnson's terrified face again, and knew that I had not heard all.

"... They got down to the water somehow, sir. They must have climbed
down the lift rails. _And they swam to the ship...._"

"Good God! _What_ ship?"

"Their own ship, Sir John. Somehow or other they managed to get on
board; we've just heard...."

"_Where are they?_"

"They did for the two men on board, and must have managed to start the
engines--_the ship's gone_. The searchlights are all over the pool, and
there's no trace of her. They were seen, Sir John, I ..."

He broke off short, the words drying up in his mouth. All the other men
shrank together in a frightened group as Danjuro came slowly into the
room.

I have never seen a figure so awe-inspiring, or terrible.

In moments of supreme emotion a European grows chalk-white, an Asiatic
grey.

The Japanese was livid grey now, and his face seemed carved with
fantastic gashes--grey rubber slashed with a knife. He was like a man
who had slept a thousand years and wakened to find himself old, and in
hell.

He came slowly up to me, moving like a thing on wheels drawn by a cord,
and when he was close, he spoke.

I can never recall his voice without an almost physical state of fear.
Suppose that you could go with Dante to that gate over which is written,
"_Abandon hope all ye who enter here._" And suppose, as you stood there
and listened, you heard a well-known voice far down, saying, "I am
tormented in this flame...."

Well, Danjuro's voice was like that.

"During a lull in the storm," he said, as if repeating a lesson, "I went
up on the deck of the _May Flower_ for a breath of air. Mr. Van Adams
accompanied me. We were looking over the water to the Pirate Ship, when
I saw lights flashing up and down through the portholes of the fuselage.
It struck me as strange. We wondered what the two men in charge could be
doing. As we watched, we were just able to distinguish two men coming up
on deck. Then there came a vivid flash of lightning, and I saw
everything plainly. The two men were Vargus and Gascoigne, and they were
carrying the body of a man in uniform, which they lowered into the
water."

Inspector Johnson gave a quick gasp. Danjuro continued:

"Without a moment's delay I got a couple of pistols, and Mr. Van Adams
and I jumped into the electric launch, which was moored alongside the
_May Flower_, though on the other side to that which faced the Pirate.
There was no time to summon help. We shot out into the pool just as the
storm began again with thunder-claps and a deluge of water. We were
within a few yards of the ship and making ready to board her, when Mr.
Van Adams flashed a powerful electric torch, and I saw Vargus with a
knife in his hand hacking at the mooring ropes. At the same time I
noticed that the lights in the pilot's cabin had been turned on.

"I took a snap-shot at Vargus and missed him. Almost simultaneously he
fired directly at the light of the torch which Mr. Van Adams held. The
bullet went through Mr. Van Adams' heart, and he fell back dead in my
arms--I was steering the launch. I fired off all the cartridges in my
pistol, but the thunder drowned the noise. The Pirate Ship began to
move. I saw the lights in her side moving along--and then she lifted and
disappeared."

The awful voice ceased, and all of us in that room stood like waxen
figures in a show.

       *       *       *       *       *

For three days the Press and public were kept in entire ignorance of
what had happened during the storm.

Upon the fourth, just as I was beginning to think that all my measures
were in vain and that the Pirate Ship had vanished utterly, the Head
Office in Whitehall received two long telegrams from the Prefect of
Finistère in France and the Chief of Police of Quimper, the old
cathedral city in Brittany.

On one of the wild and lonely Breton moors a goat-herd had discovered
the wreckage of a large airship. By it was the body of a young man, but
only one body. The telegrams urgently asked me to come over at once.

I did so, in my fastest patrol boat. Lying in a wild wilderness of gorse
and heather were the remains of the Pirate Ship. It had been destroyed
beyond possibility of reconstruction, and destroyed methodically and
deliberately while at rest upon the ground. There was no doubt about
that. The body I afterwards saw in the Morgue at Quimper was that of
Gascoigne. He had not met his death by any accidental means, but had
been stabbed in the back.

He must have been dead for quite two days before the goat-herd made his
discovery, and of Vargus, living or dead, there was not a trace.

I was back in London again that night, and just as I was going to bed
in Half Moon Street the bell of the flat rang. Thumbwood went to the
door and announced that Mr. Danjuro wished to see me.

He was in evening dress, and quite his old self again to outward
appearances, except that his black hair had turned an iron grey.

For a moment or two we discussed details of the inquest that had been
held _in camera_ upon poor Van Adams, arrangements made for the trial of
the three surviving pirates, and so on. Then I told him what I had seen
at Quimper.

"Mr. Muir Lockhart told me of the telegrams from France," he said. "I
called at Whitehall, but you had already started for Quimper, Sir John.
I must apologize for such a late call, but I was anxious to hear your
news. Now I see my way clear."

"I suppose, after your great loss, you will go back to America, or
perhaps Japan, and settle down?"

He shook his head.

"You know," I continued, "that if you cared for it, there is a
highly-paid and important position open to you with the Air Police?
Nothing would give me greater pleasure, as you know, than to have you as
a colleague."

"I thank you, Sir John, but I have other work to do. I am a rich man,
but that only interests me, inasmuch as it is a means to an end. When
that end is reached ..."

He made a curious gesture with his arm, which I did not understand.

"May I ask what your work is?"

He looked at me with surprise.

"Vargus is still alive," he said simply.

"He will be caught soon. The police of the world are looking for him, if
he is alive."

"I think it will be a long pursuit, Sir John. He has got off with the
treasure, and I know one or two things about him which are not generally
known. I do not think that Mr. Vargus will fall into the hands of the
police."

"Then you ...?"

"It is my work. I owe the spirit of my patron this man's blood, and I
shall pay the debt. Were he to hide in the depths of the sea, sooner or
later I shall find him. There is no power strong enough in life to keep
us two apart."

He had dropped his voice. The words hissed like a knife upon a strop.

"I wish you good luck," I said at length, and was about to say more, to
express my gratitude again, when he cut me short.

"I am leaving for Paris in half an hour," he said, "and must bid you
farewell, Sir John. Convey my humble compliments to Miss Shepherd," and
with a low bow and a frigid handshake he was gone.

Six weeks afterwards, on the day before my wedding, I received a
magnificent Japanese vase of the old Satsuma enamel, but the card
enclosed bore no address.

I did not see this extraordinary being again for nearly two years. Of
that meeting I shall write in the following short epilogue.



EPILOGUE


In the winter of 19-- I was at Monte Carlo for three weeks, taking a
short holiday alone, and also looking out for a villa at Roquebrune or
Mentone for my wife, who was to come out with the baby as soon as the
house had been secured.

Now and again I went into the "Rooms" and staked a louis or two upon an
even chance or a _transversale_ at roulette; but, speaking generally,
the Casino bored me. The cosmopolitan crowd of smart people--like
champagne corks floating on a cesspool--the professional gamblers, with
their veil of decorous indifference concealing a fierce greed for money
which they have not earned--a sprinkling of wood-ash over a glowing
fire--presented little interest, and I much preferred long walks and
drives in the earthly paradise of Les Alpes Maritimes.

I stayed at the Métropole Hotel, making it the base of my excursions,
and one evening, after dinner, I paid one of my rare visits to the
Casino. I wandered about the gilded, stuffy saloons, with their
illuminations of oil-lamps--so that no enterprising gentleman may cut
the electric wires and make off with the money on the tables!--the low
voices and almost sanctimonious manner of the players, the over-dressed
demi-mondaines who glide about with their hard, evil eyes. The place was
very full. All the chairs round the roulette tables were occupied, and
people were standing behind the chairs as well. As I am tall, I was able
to reach over and place my stakes, and I did so several times. When I
had lost four louis with monotonous regularity, I decided that it was
not worth while, and thought I would go and smoke, for, contrary to the
usual pictures in the magazines, smoking is _not_ allowed in the
roulette or trente-et-quarante rooms.

So I went out into the Atrium, the great pillared entrance hall, which
looks like an important provincial corn exchange, and lit a cigarette.
The place was fairly full of people, walking up and down, or reading the
latest telegrams, which are fixed up upon a green-baize screen, and I
was watching them idly when, coming round the corner from the
cloak-room, I saw--Danjuro!

My heart gave a sudden leap, the sight of him was so utterly unexpected
and recalled so much. To tell the truth, he seemed to belong to a long
past and forgotten dream, for Connie and I, by mutual consent, hardly
ever spoke of the days of the pirates.

Danjuro was about fifteen yards away. I saw his face distinctly, and was
certain that I was not mistaken. Then he looked up, and I could swear
that he saw and recognized me.

Be that as it may, he turned and slipped round the corner like a weasel,
and when I got there he had vanished. I made a search, of course, though
I knew how futile it would be if he wished to avoid me, and the result
was as I expected. There wasn't a trace of him anywhere, and none of the
attendants or door-keepers had seen a Japanese gentleman anywhere.

I went for a walk on the terrace in the moonlight, and then returned to
the hotel and sought my bed. For a long time I could not sleep. The
sight of Danjuro had made me restless. A legion of memories trooped
through the brain, and curiosity marshalled the procession. What was
that enigmatic and sinister being doing here? Was he still upon his
ruthless quest, moving through the panorama of European life like some
wandering Jew of vengeance? Nothing had ever been heard of Vargus again.
For my part, I shared the opinion of the police bureaux of the
Continent, that the soft-voiced and malignant scoundrel was dead.

It was pathetic to think of Danjuro prowling through life to avenge his
patron, wasting his magnificent powers upon a hopeless quest. Pathetic,
yes--so ran my thoughts--but one can't think of Danjuro as an ordinary
human being. He was simply a single idea, clothed in flesh, a marvellous
machine designed for one operation only, a specialist so perfect that he
became a monomaniac.

Poor Van Adams, to protect and serve him had been Danjuro's whole life.
Every faculty of mind and body had been devoted to that one end. And yet
he must have loved the American to have served him so? And if he could
love he was human!

I wrestled with the problem till dawn, and got no nearer a solution. I
knew that, despite our companionship in peril and the extraordinary
adventures we had gone through together, if Van Adams had lived and for
any reason had told Danjuro to put me out of the way, the little man
would have executed the job with neatness, dispatch, and an entire
absence of compunction.

I decided that Danjuro, as a subject of psychological analysis, was
quite beyond me, and did my best to forget the incident. With an effort
I managed to do so, and got a few hours' sleep before Thumbwood called
me. I said nothing to him of having seen Danjuro, for he also is
unwilling to talk much of the days of terror--perhaps because his wife,
Wilson, that was, and is still, Connie's handmaid--so strenuously
objects to it.

About half-past eleven I left the hotel and strolled to the foot of the
funicular railway which hauls one up from the narrow ledge of land on
which Monte Carlo stands to the heights of La Turbie. I designed to
lunch at the excellent hotel at the top in the clear mountain air, and
then to walk along the Upper Corniche towards Roquebrune, Eze, and the
mountains above Mentone. There is much to explore in these high
regions--ruins of Roman and medieval forts, built as a defence against
the raiding Moors of the Mediterranean, and here and there delightful
villas among pine-woods and olive groves, far from the haunts of men.

It was a house of this description, a mountain hermitage, that I wished
to find and take for six months. I knew that they were occasionally to
be let, but somewhat difficult to come across upon the books of the
agents. In Monte Carlo I had been assured that personal exploration was
the best and quickest way.

I lunched at La Turbie on a magnificent _bouillabaisse_ and
_riz-de-veau_, and after an interval set out upon my walk. It was a
magnificent afternoon, the air golden clear. Far away out to sea Corsica
lay like a dim cloud. The mountain side fell in terrace after terrace
of olives to groups of painted houses looking like toys. Away to the
right were the red roofs and gleaming white buildings of the Monte Carlo
palaces, and the promontory of the Tête du Chien was perfectly outlined
in the azure of the sea.

"Yes," I thought, "upon this great height is the place to live when one
comes to the Côte d'Azur, and I won't go home to-night until I have
found something...." And I began to climb by a by-path.

The afternoon was hot. After a mile or two I rested in the shade of a
great rock and fell asleep. When I awoke the sun, which sets early in
winter, even on the Riviera, was declining. I was not quite sure of my
direction, but thought that I could make Roquebrune by an oblique path
over the spur of the mountain, and from there easily descend to Cap
Martin and get a carriage, and take the tram which crawls along the
cliff to Monte Carlo. So I set out.

The path, however, did not prove to be the right one, and it was
twilight, or that extremely short interval which does duty for it in the
south, before I came to three or four stone huts fronting a plateau with
an enclosure full of goats. I explained my predicament to a swarthy
woman who sat knitting at a door, and she gave me directions. She also
said, in mingled French and Italian, for the frontier was not five
miles away, that there would be a small empty villa to be let a mile
onwards--at least, she believed so.

"Can you tell me the name of the owner, madame?" I asked.

"But, no, m'sieu. It is a new gentleman. He has bought the villa and the
larger one, which is close to it but higher up the hill. He is a scholar
of some sort, and lives quite alone, so he cannot want the smaller house
on the road. It was, moreover, always let in the time of the last owner,
M. Visguis, of Nice."

I thanked the good dame, refused a cup of goats' milk, gave her a
five-franc piece and started on my way again rejoicing. My luck was in.
This mountain châlet would be just the thing, and I made up my mind to
interview the recluse on my way home.

The sun sank, and night came up with a rush out of the Mediterranean.
Everything was dead still. There are no birds in these solitudes, and
the hum of day insects was over. Although the moon rose almost at once
and gave sufficient light to steer by, the place was eerie. Immense
rocks threw ashen shadows. The stone pines stood like silent sentinels,
and the huge coronet of jewels--topaz against black velvet--that was
Monte Carlo seemed a hundred miles away.

Following my directions, I came at length to the garden wall of a
fairly large villa, painted all along the sides, with gigantic and
melancholy trees, and the moonlight shed a ghostly radiance upon it.
This, I knew, was the house in occupation. The one that might be let was
lower down the slope and on the other side of the road--to my right. I
could just see the roof of it as I peered over the parapet.

Pushing open a wooden gate, I went up the garden path towards the Villa
Turquoise--that I had discovered was its name. Tree frogs were croaking
round the house, but as it was winter, there were no friendly fireflies;
once or twice the fans of a palm clicked with a dry, rustling noise.

It was difficult to find the door as I came up to the villa, but after a
moment, I saw a broad band of yellow light coming from the side, and
turned towards it. I walked upon the turf of a little lawn, and threaded
my way between orange and pepper trees, with here and there a bush of
Cape gooseberries.

And up to that moment I never had a suspicion or a qualm. Indeed, I felt
at peace with myself and all the world, washed and purified by the sweet
Alpine air and all the loveliness my eyes had looked upon that day. Then
I heard, clear, strong and sudden, a chord of music on a piano.

I stopped dead still.

Again that crash of sound, and then a smooth and mellow arpeggio, as
masterly fingers ran up and down the keys of a magnificent instrument.

I grew cold, suddenly and horribly cold.

I could see nothing but a long French window glowing orange with light
in the dark side of the house. I had heard nothing but some chords upon
a grand piano.

But in that moment, though subconsciously, I _knew_.

I moved forward in little automatic jerks, listening with a dreadful
fear, a sick certainty. The second before I came to the window and
looked inside, it began.

Played by a master hand, I heard the opening notes of the Third Ballade
of Chopin....

Another step, and, in the darkness myself, I could see into the room.

The musician was Mr. Vargus.

He had grown a little moustache, which was waxed at the ends, and a
small black imperial on his chin. He was also much fatter than when I
had seen him last, and he wore a smoking jacket of purple velvet. On one
finger was a diamond ring, which flashed in the lamplight as the firm,
powerful hands rose and fell.

There was a soft smile in the sly eyes as he interpreted the beautiful,
fantastic music.

I am going to tell you what happened without comment or any reference
whatever to my own feelings.

The melody progressed to that marvellous passage which Beardsley saw in
line as a white horse ambling through a dark wood of pines, ridden by a
lady in a dress of black velvet.

At the opening chords of the theme a door behind the player opened
quietly. He heard nothing.

An awful and august figure entered.

It was Danjuro, but not the Danjuro I had ever known.

He wore a robe of yellow silk with wide kimono sleeves, and a sash of
purple round his waist. Into the sash was thrust the long scabbard of an
ancient Japanese sword--a scabbard of tortoise-shell and silver. His
hair was differently arranged, his lips compressed into a single line.
The eyes, which seemed curiously elongated, glittered like black lacquer
in a high light.

He crept forward and touched Vargus on the shoulder.

The man in the velvet coat leapt up with a short, sharp cry. Then he
whipped round and came face to face with Danjuro.

They remained, staring into each other's eyes for several seconds.

I saw a ghostly change beginning in the pirate's face. Inch by inch
something crept over it like a veil as life ebbed away. Then he fell in
a crumpled heap upon the carpet.

The Japanese looked down at him without a change in his dreadful stony
glare. Then he bent down and pulled the limp form out straight, turning
it with its face downwards. He drew the sword and lifted it high above
his head.

As it gleamed I shut my eyes....

When I looked again, sick with the sickness of death itself, the figure
in the yellow robe had raised both arms above its head. The sleeves had
slipped away and the coils of muscle stood out upon the brown flesh.

Danjuro's lips were parted. He seemed to be speaking rapidly to
something above him. His whole face was irradiated with joy, and the
sword in his right hand shone like a tall flame.

He remained there for some little time. Then he lowered his arms, and
taking a square of purple silk from his breast, he cleansed the sword,
and I knew what he was going to do.

He placed the jewelled hilt upon the carpet and adjusted the point at
his waist, steadying the blade with his left hand. Then, with a loud
cry, as if of exaltation, he fell heavily forward....

He had gone to his own place in the way appointed to the Heroes of Old
Japan.


THE END


PRINTED AT

THE CHAPEL RIVER PRESS

KINGSTON, SURREY.


PATERNOSTER HOUSE,
PATERNOSTER ROW,
LONDON, E.C.
_July, 1919_.



ADVERTISEMENTS


Messrs. HURST & BLACKETT'S

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OF

NEW BOOKS _FOR THE AUTUMN OF 1919_


An Important Book

By HARRY FURNISS

My Bohemian Days

With over 120 illustrations from original and characteristic drawings by
this famous artist.

_In one volume, demy cloth_, +16s.+ _net_.

As a famous caricaturist and humorous artist the author has intimate
knowledge of the life of which he writes. He knew Bohemia from the
inside, and was closely associated with many of the interesting people
who are introduced into his book. He carries his humour into his
writing, and there are numbers of good stories to help him. The book not
only makes enjoyable reading, but it also throws a good deal of light on
a number of well-known characters in the world of Bohemia and the
atmosphere in which they lived. The many drawings by the author which
illustrate the book are a special feature, and greatly add to its
interest.


_A New Volume of the famous_

Memoirs of William Hickey

Edited by ALFRED SPENCER

_In demy 8vo, cloth gilt_, +15s.+ _net_.

This third volume continues the memoirs from 1782, and will be found as
fascinating as those which have already been published. It contains much
interesting matter concerning East India in the old Colonial days, and a
number of interesting letters arising out of the retention of Hickey and
his companion, Charlotte Barry, as prisoners by the French on their way
out to Calcutta. It is possible that the work may be completed with this
volume, but a fourth volume may perhaps be necessary. The price of the
present volume has, owing to increased costs of production, been
advanced to 15s. net, and the price of the first two volumes has also
had to be increased.

     _Reprints are now ready of Vol. I. (the Third Edition) and Vol. II.
     (the Second Edition) (1749 to 1782), each in demy 8vo, cloth gilt,
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A few short extracts from scores of columns of Reviews:

     _The Athenæum_: "One of the most interesting eighteenth-century
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_A delightful volume_

By LADY CATHERINE MILNES GASKELL

A Woman's Soul

By the Author of "Friends Round the Wrekin," "A Shropshire Lass and
Lad," etc.

_In demy, cloth_, +16s.+ _net_.

Under a thin guise of fiction Lady Catherine Milnes Gaskell has written
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Her previous books have already established her as a close observer of
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Some Press opinions on the Author's work:

     "The book, fresh and alive, reads as if it were an actual record of
     her life."--_Times._

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Just Ready

_A TIMELY AND IMPORTANT BOOK_

The New Traffic (Aircraft)

By W. H. BERRY

Editor of _The Car_ and _Aviation_ and Author of "Aircraft in War and
Commerce," "Fighting Aeroplanes," &c.

_In cr. 8vo, bound with frontispiece and a wrapper in colours, +3s.+ +6d.+
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One of the greatest problems of the day is to determine how aircraft can
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_Just Published_

Elizabethan Ulster

By LORD ERNEST HAMILTON

Author of "The First Seven Divisions" (21st Edition), "The Soul of
Ulster," etc.

_In demy 8vo, cloth, +16s.+ net._

     "A very full and detailed story of the beginnings of Ulster he has
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     "This history is studiously impartial ... a valuable and important
     contribution to Irish history."--_Scotsman._


NEW NOVELS

For the AUTUMN, 1919.

_Each in crown 8vo, cloth_, +6s. 9d.+ _net_.


Sanity Jane

By COUNTESS BARCYNSKA

Author of "The Honey Pot" (60th Thousand), "Love Maggy," etc.

This novel is almost certain to be in very great demand. It is a live
book, and Sanity is a very real girl. The book is distinctive, and a
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people as one finds them to-day.


The Death Drum

By MARGARET PETERSON

Author of "To Love," "Butterfly Wings," "The Lure of the Little Drum,"
etc.

As in her last novel, "The Sword Points of Love," Miss Peterson has
chosen East Africa as the background for her new story. It is based on a
native superstition that very few white people know anything about, but
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Panther

A Comedy of Morals

By R. A. FOSTER-MELLIAR

Author of "Blindstone," "And Betty Too," etc.

A novel of country life, in which there is a good mixture of
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The Air Pirate

By C. RANGER-GULL

Author of "The Snare of the Fowler," etc.

The author dates his story forward, when rapid transit and transport
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There is a love story, in which a young English baronet of the
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heroine. She is carried off to Cornwall by the pirate, who is in love
with her, in his airship, and then follow many thrilling adventures in
the efforts of her young lover to discover her. One sensation follows
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Love and the Cardinal

By J. H. SYMONS

Author of "The Supreme Mystery"

A story of the days of Cardinal Wolsey and the Court of Henry VIII. It
will appeal to all who like a good historical romance. The hero, a young
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Spade Work

By Mrs. HENRY DUDENEY

Author of "Candlelight," etc.

Another of the Author's stories of Sussex

Caroline Beech and her mother, with the airs of a duchess who has had to
do the work of a cook, and Enoch Wood, the musician who demands fame
above all things, and Juniper Sadgrove, with her glorious voice, are the
characters whose interplay form the plot of Mrs. Dudeney's latest novel.
She has set the scene in her loved Sussex, and her description of the
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The Green Shoes of April

By RACHEL SWETE MACNAMARA

Author of "Morning Joy," "Lark's Gate," etc.

An Irish love story out of the common, and with many ups and downs, but
with a happy ending. It is, as one expects from Miss Macnamara,
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made a mistaken marriage with an actress when he was very young. They
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They come together again and marry, Jasper believing himself free, but
his first wife reappears. All, however, comes right in the end.


Shooting Stars

By SOPHIE KERR

An intensely dramatic novel of married life--the story of Harleth
Crossey ("as self-willed as a shooting star and about as uncomfortable
around the house"), and his wife Marcia--she made all the concessions,
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You might have called it a rebellion; it was a startling, if cruel
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The Master Mind

By FERGUS HUME

Author of "The Mystery of A Hansom Cab," "Heart of Ice." etc.

In the working out of the plot and the discovery of the master mind of a
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The book is written carefully; there are no great improbabilities; the
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A good readable story.


A Whirlwind of Passion

By EDNA WORTHLEY UNDERWOOD

The publishers have pleasure in introducing the author with this novel.
It is perhaps not too much to say that since "Quo Vadis," no more
powerful historical romance has been produced. The story is most
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murder and sudden death. It is a brilliant book, full of life, movement
and colour, and it is of particular interest at the present time.


Green Ladies

By DOUGLAS NEWTON

Author of "The War Caché," etc.

A charming story told in a delightful manner, recalling the work of
Henry Harland. The scene is in Hampshire, where some mystery attaches to
the lady owner of a house occupied temporarily by a much-travelled man,
who is recovering his health. How he becomes interested in the lady, how
he gradually discovers her story, how he labours to free her from the
cloud that oppresses her, and finally is made happy by her, is so
daintily and beautifully related, that one wishes to read many of the
pages over again. Mr. Douglas Newton goes a long step forward with this
novel, which reveals him in a new capacity.


Embers

By JULES DEPREND

_A novel that won a $10,000 prize in America._

This story of life among the French Canadians on the American border is
refreshingly outside the common run of novels. It is remarkable for its
terseness of expression and as a convincing piece of realism. It is as
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dramatic situations, that it holds the attention from beginning to end.
Against his father's wishes, the hero takes up a course of study with a
view to becoming a priest. During his holidays he sees much of a
neighbour's daughter, who had been a companion of his childhood. How he
succumbs, then decides to continue his studies abroad, and eventually
returns to his sweetheart and child is told in this powerful book, of
which it may be said that it is not only a fine piece of work, but one
of genius.


Firecracker Jane

By ALICE CALHOUN HAINES

A breathless romance of the Mexican border, with a spirited heroine, a
good sportswoman with a high sense of honour. How she is, under stress,
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love tangle is unravelled, and she is left with her real love mate,
makes thrilling reading. The story is full of adventure, vivacious and
fresh.


The Cabin (La Barraca)

By V. BLASCO IBANEZ

Author of "+The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse+," etc.

Over a Quarter of a Million copies of this author's work have already
been sold in English speaking countries.

This may be said to be the masterpiece of a novelist who has established
himself as a great master. "The Cabin" was the book which first made
Ibanez's reputation outside Spain, and very large numbers of it have
been sold on the Continent and in America since its first appearance. It
is a vivid presentation of one side of Spanish life, and tells how a
hard-working farmer and his family are oppressed and wronged by his
neighbours, who had determined that the farm should not be tilled.
Disaster overtakes the family at the end of the conflict, and the
elemental theme of a blind communal hatred is thus worked out to its
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perfectly is it done. It is a remarkable work of art.


The Terrible Island

By BEATRICE GRIMSHAW

Author of "In the Strange South Seas," "Red Bob of the Islands," etc.

This story has all the charm and glamour of the South Seas and a
background of grim mystery, which make a plot full of thrills as well as
of delightful romance. "The Lady of Sea," who appears in such strange
fashion and so charms the hearts of Flower and Owen Ireland, is a
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"Rocky Jim" is a remarkable character creation. A novel that will well
support the author's great reputation.


+Messrs. HURST & BLACKETT+ announce that they have taken over the
publication of the very popular book--

Honeymoon Dialogues

By JAMES JAMES

of which a large edition (the 10th) is now ready. _In crown 8vo. cloth,
with picture wrapper_, +4s. 6d.+ _net_.


_SOME VERY SUCCESSFUL NOVELS._

_Recently Published._


The Holiday Husband

2nd Edition         By DOLF WYLLARDE

"A story of such temptation as must come to many girls."--_Daily Mail._

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Every girl should read it."--_Ladies' Field._

"The subject is one suggested by the problems that assail the
independent girl of to-day. In the treatment the authoress
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The Sword Points of Love

2nd Edition      By MARGARET PETERSON

"A very striking book. A sense of the actual quite out of the common. By
far her best book."--_Daily News._

"A clever story set out with a sober reality which lends additional
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Who Cares?

3rd Edition        By COSMO HAMILTON

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assured of wide popularity."--_Lady._

"An entertaining holiday novel ... depicts the pleasure-loving Joan
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Nurse Benson

2nd Edition        By JUSTIN HUNTLY McCARTHY

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sparkles and crackles exhilaratingly."--_Sketch._

"As effective in a book as on the stage."--_Yorkshire Post._

"A particularly readable novel ... exactly the kind for the holiday
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Morning Joy

By RACHEL SWETE MACNAMARA

"Desirée is a charming figure of youthful womanhood."--_Scotsman._

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is very clever."--_Sheffield Telegraph._


The Devil's Problem

2nd Edition       By MARGARET WESTRUP

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cleverness."--_Westminster Gazette._

"Characters well drawn ... we admire the novel for diction and
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"Every woman reader will delight in this book. The characters are
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The Stain      By ELEANOR NEPEAN

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characterisation."--_Times._


Hurst & Blackett's

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The Publishers have pleasure in announcing the issue of this new series
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By GERTRUDE PAGE

Whose Sales are now in the Second Million

Winding Paths
Some There are--
Where the Strange Roads Go Down
Follow After


By COSMO HAMILTON

Scandal            5th Edition


By CYNTHIA STOCKLEY

Poppy              177th Thousand
The Claw           128th Thousand


Also specially bound, 3/6 net.

A Gift Edition of Gertrude Page's famous book

Two Lovers and a Lighthouse

Which has been described as one of the most beautiful love stories ever
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STANDARD BOOKS ON THE HORSE.

By Capt. M. HORACE HAYES, F.R.C.V.S.


POINTS OF THE HORSE

A Treatise on the Conformation, Movements, Breeds and Evolution of the
Horse, with 658 illustrations. Revised and enlarged edition, and 279
illustrations added. 1 vol., super royal 8vo, cloth gilt and gilt top,
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VETERINARY NOTES. For Horse Owners

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ILLUSTRATED HORSEBREAKING

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RIDING AND HUNTING

_Revised and Enlarged Edition. In one vol., demy 8vo, cloth_, +16s.+ _net,
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FRIEDBERGER & FROHNER'S VETERINARY PATHOLOGY

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With notes on Bacteriology by Prof. R. TANNER HEWLETT, M.D., D.P.H.
Revised and Enlarged Edition, re-translated. 2 vols., demy 8vo, cloth
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By MRS. HAYES

THE HORSEWOMAN: A Practical Guide.

_Originally edited by the late Captain M. H. HAYES. Revised Edition,
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illustrations_.


By JAMES FILLIS

_Ecuyer en chef to the Central Cavalry School at St. Petersburg._


BREAKING AND RIDING. With Military Commentaries.

_Translated by Captain M. H. HAYES. With 70 illustrations from
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which over 50 are entirely new to the work, +16s.+ net.


Hurst & Blackett's 2/- NET Novels

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Fate and Drusilla

By Alice and Claude Askew


Love Maggy

By Countess Barcynska


The Golden Triangle

By Maurice Le Blanc


The Crystal Stopper

By Maurice Le Blanc


The Bombshell

By Maurice Le Blanc


To Right the Wrong

By Edna Lyall


In Spite of All

By Edna Lyall


Love's Burden

By Margaret Peterson


Fate and the Watcher

By Margaret Peterson


Love Wins

By Effie Adelaide Rowlands


Bequeathed

By Beatrice Whitby


Hurst & Blackett's 2/- Novels

Already Published.

Each volume bound and with a most attractive picture wrapper


Drusilla's Point of View      By Madame Albanesi
A Question of Quality            Madame Albanesi
The Honey Pot                    Countess Barcynska
The Youngest Miss Mowbray        Mrs. B. M. Croker
Red Bob of the Islands           Beatrice Grimshaw
Behold and See                   Lilith Hope
Heart of Ice                     Fergus Hume
The Hardy Norseman               Edna Lyall
Knight Errant                    Edna Lyall
We Two                           Edna Lyall
Won by Waiting                   Edna Lyall
In the Golden Days               Edna Lyall
Donovan                          Edna Lyall
Two Lovers and a Lighthouse      Gertrude Page
The Edge O' Beyond               Gertrude Page
Paddy the Next Best Thing        Gertrude Page
Love in the Wilderness           Gertrude Page
The Silent Rancher               Gertrude Page
The Rhodesian                    Gertrude Page
The Great Splendour              Gertrude Page
To Love                          Margaret Peterson
Butterfly Wings                  Margaret Peterson
Spies of the Kaiser              Wm. Le Queux
Secrets of the Foreign Office    Wm. Le Queux
The House of the Wicked          Wm. Le Queux
The Man from Downing Street      Wm. Le Queux
The Devil's Carnival             Wm. Le Queux
The Ides of March                Mrs. Baillie Reynolds
Worlds End                       Amelie Rives
                                 (Princess Troubetzkoy)
Shadows of Flames                Amelie Rives
                                 (Princess Troubetzkoy)
Pan's Mountain                   Amelie Rives
                                 (Princess Troubetzkoy)
The Long Lane's Turning          Hallie Erminie Rives
Lavender's Love Story            Effie Adelaide Rowlands
The Man with the Money           Effie Adelaide Rowlands
The Woman Who Lived Again        Lindsay Russell
The Turnstile of Night           Mrs. C. N. Williamson


Also by WM. LE QUEUX

The Life Story of the Ex-Crown Princess of Saxony

Told by Herself and related by Wm. Le Queux.


+Rasputin+ (The amazing true story of the Rascal Monk)

180th Thousand


And a New Volume

The Secret Shame of the Kaiser

     This Book of startling revelations, which is probably destined to
     be as popular as the Author's +"Rasputin," the Rascal Monk+ (180th
     thousand), is now published for the first time.





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