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Title: Burton of the Flying Corps
Author: Strang, Herbert
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Burton of the Flying Corps" ***

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[Illustration: Cover]



[Illustration: THROUGH THE SKYLIGHT.  _See page_ 22.]



                             BURTON OF THE
                              FLYING CORPS


                                   BY

                             HERBERT STRANG



                      _ILLUSTRATED BY C. E. BROCK_



                                 LONDON
                              HENRY FROWDE
                          HODDER AND STOUGHTON



                        _First printed in 1916._



          PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY R. CLAY AND SONS, LTD.,
     BRUNSWICK STREET, STAMFORD STREET, S.E., AND BUNGAY, SUFFOLK.



                                CONTENTS


I DÉFENSE DE FUMER

Showing how Burton made a trip to Ostend in pursuit of a spy


II THE DEATH’S HEAD HUSSAR

Relating Burton’s adventure in a French chateau


III BORROWED PLUMES

Showing how Burton caught a German in Bulgaria


IV THE WATCH-TOWER

Showing what followed an accident in Macedonia


V THE MISSING PLATOON

Relating an incident of trench warfare in Flanders



                         LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


                             COLOUR PLATES


Through the Skylight . . . _Frontispiece_ (_see page_ 22)

An Interruption

Nonplussed

Hands up!



                            DRAWINGS IN LINE


"Oh, Mr. Burton, sir"

Signals of Distress

"I give him in charge"

Congratulations

"You have had an accident"

The German Way

The Marquis is hit

The Door fell in with a Crash

An Aerial Somersault

"He looks a terrible fellow"

A Discomfited Spy

"Dismount, sir"

Milosh waits

"A strange find, upon my word"

A Perilous Moment

The British Way

The Captain is annoyed

Headings on pages 9, 63, 129, 163, 246



[Illustration: Chapter I Heading]


                            DÉFENSE DE FUMER


                                   I


About one o’clock one Saturday afternoon in summer, a
hydro-aeroplane--or, as its owner preferred to call it, a
flying-boat--dropped lightly on to the surface of one of the many creeks
that intersect the marshes bordering on the river Swale.  The pilot, a
youth of perhaps twenty years, having moored his vessel to a stake in
the bank, leapt ashore with a light suit-case, and walked rapidly along
a cinder path towards the low wooden shed, painted black, that broke the
level a few hundred yards away.

It was a lonely spot--the very image of dreariness.  All around extended
the "glooming flats"; between the shed and Luddenham Church, a mile or
so distant, nothing varied the grey monotony except an occasional tree,
and a small red-brick, red-tiled cottage, which, with its flower-filled
windows, seemed oddly out of place amid its surroundings--an oasis in a
desert.

The youth, clad in khaki-coloured overalls and a pilot’s cap, made
straight for the open door of the shed.  There he set his suit-case on
the ground, and stepping in, recoiled before the acrid smell that
saluted his nostrils.  He gave a little cough, but the man stooping over
a bench that ran along one of the walls neither looked up, nor in any
way signified that he was aware of a visitor.  He was a tall, fair man,
spectacled, slightly bald, clean shaven, dressed in garments apparently
of india-rubber.  The bench was covered with crucibles, retorts,
blow-pipes, test tubes, Bunsen burners, and sundry other pieces of
scientific apparatus, and on the shelf above it stood an array of glass
bottles and porcelain jars.  It was into such a jar that the man was now
gazing.

"Hullo, Pickles!" said the newcomer, coughing again.  "What a frightful
stink!"

The man lifted his head, looked vacantly through his spectacles for a
moment, then bent again over the jar, from which he took a small portion
of a yellowish substance on the end of a scalpel.  Placing this in a
glass bowl, he poured on it a little liquid from one of the glass
bottles, stirred it with a glass rod, and watched.  A smell of ammonia
combined with decayed fish mingled with the other odours in the air,
causing the visitor to choke again.

"Beautiful!" murmured the experimenter. He then poured some of the
solution into another vessel and gazed at it with the rapt vision of an
enthusiast.

Ted Burton leant against the doorpost. He knew that it was useless to
interrupt his friend until the experiment was concluded.  But becoming
impatient as the minutes passed, he took out a cigarette, and was about
to strike a match.  Then, however, at a sudden recollection of his
surroundings, he slipped out into the open air, taking great gulps as if
to clear his throat of the sickening fumes, and proceeded to light his
cigarette in ease of mind.

By and by a cheery voice hailed him from the interior.

"That you, Teddy?"

"If you’ve quite finished," said Burton, putting his head in at the
door, after he had first flung away his half-smoked cigarette.

"Glad to see you, my dear fellow.  I say, will you do something for me?
You came in your machine, of course."

"Of course.  What is it?  It’s about lunch-time, you know."

"Is it?  But it won’t take you long. I’ve run out of picric acid, and
can’t get on. Just fly over to Chatham, will you, and bring some back
with you.  You’ll get it at Wells’s in the High Street: you’ll be there
and back in half an hour or so."

"Can’t you wait till after lunch?"

"Well, I can, but it will be a nuisance. You see, the whole experiment
is hung up for want of the stuff."

"Oh, very well.  By the way, you’ve done it at last, I see."

"Done what?"

"Pulled off the phenosulphonitro-something-or-other that you’ve been
working at I don’t know how long."

"How on earth did you know?" inquired his friend with an air of surprise
and chagrin.

Burton pulled out a newspaper, unfolded it, and handed it over, pointing
to a short paragraph.


We understand that a new high explosive of immense power, the invention
of Dr. Bertram Micklewright, is about to be adopted for the British
Navy.  Dr. Micklewright has been for some years engaged in perfecting
his discovery, and after prolonged experimentation has succeeded in
rendering his explosive stable.


"Well, I’m hanged!" cried Micklewright, frowning with annoyance.  "The
Admiralty swore me to secrecy, and now they’ve let the cat out of the
bag.  Some confounded whipper-snapper of a clerk, I suppose, who’s got a
journalist brother."

"It’s true, then?"

"Yes, by Jove, it’s true!  Look, here’s the stuff; licks lyddite
hollow."

He took some yellowish crystals from a porcelain bath and displayed them
with the pride of an inventor.

"I say, Pickles, is it safe?" said Burton, backing as the chemist held
the stuff up for his inspection.

"Perfectly," said Micklewright with a smile.  "It’s more difficult even
than lyddite to detonate, and it’ll burn without exploding.  Look here!"

He put a small quantity into a zinc pan, lit a match, and applied it.  A
column of suffocating smoke rose swiftly to the roof. Burton spluttered.

"Beautiful!" he gasped ironically.  "I’m glad, old man; your fortune’s
made now, I suppose.  But I can’t say I like the stink. Takes your
appetite away, don’t it?"

"Ah!  You mentioned lunch.  Just get me that stuff like a good fellow;
then I’ll prepare my solution; and then we’ll have lunch and you can
dispose of me as you please."



                                   II


Burton returned to the creek, boarded his flying-boat, and was soon
skimming across country on the fifteen-mile flight to Chatham.

He had been Micklewright’s fag at school, and the two had remained close
friends ever since.  Micklewright, after carrying all before him at
Cambridge, devoted himself to research, and particularly to the study of
explosives.  To avoid the risk of shattering a neighbourhood, he had
built his laboratory on the Luddenham Marshes, putting up the
picturesque little cottage close at hand for his residence.  There he
lived attended only by an old woman, who often assured him that no one
else would be content to stay in so dreary a spot.  He had wished
Burton, when he left school, to join him as assistant: but the younger
fellow had no love for "stinks," and threw in his lot with a firm of
aeroplane builders.  Their factory being on the Isle of Sheppey, within
a few miles of Micklewright’s laboratory, the two friends saw each other
pretty frequently; and when Burton started a flying-boat of his own, he
often invited himself to spend a week-end with Micklewright, and took
him for long flights for the good of his health, as he said: "an
antidote to your poisonous stenches, old man."

Burton was so much accustomed to voyage in the air that he had ceased to
pay much attention to the ordinary scenes on the earth beneath him.  But
he had completed nearly a third of his course when his eye was
momentarily arrested by the sight of two motor-cycles, rapidly crossing
the railway bridge at Snipeshill.  To one of them was attached a side
car, apparently occupied.  Motor-cycles were frequently to be seen along
the Canterbury road, but Burton was struck with a passing wonder that
these cyclists had quitted the highway, and were careering along a road
that led to no place of either interest or importance.  If they were
exploring they would soon realise that they had wasted their time, for
the by-road rejoined the main road a few miles further east.

On arriving at Chatham, Burton did not descend near the cemetery, as he
might have done with his landing chassis, but passed over the town and
alighted in the Medway opposite the "Sun" pier.  Thence he made his way
to the address in the High Street given him by Micklewright.  He was
annoyed when he found the place closed.

"Just like old Pickles!" he thought. "He forgot it’s Saturday."  But,
loth to have made his journey for nothing, he inquired for the private
residence of the proprietor of the store, and luckily finding him at
home, made known the object of his visit.

"I’m sorry I shall have to ask you to wait, sir," said the man.  "The
place is locked up, as you saw; my men have gone home, and I’ve an
engagement that will keep me for an hour or so; perhaps I could send it
over--some time this evening?"

"No, I’d better wait.  Dr. Micklewright wants the stuff as soon as
possible.  When will it be ready?"

"If you’ll be at the store at three o’clock I will have it ready
packed."

It was now nearly two.

"No time to fly back to lunch and come again," thought Burton, as he
departed. "I’ll get something to eat at the ’Sun,’ and ring old Pickles
up and explain."

He made his way to the hotel, a little annoyed at wasting so fine an
afternoon. Entering the telephone box he gave Micklewright’s number and
waited.  Presently a girl’s voice said--

"There’s no reply.  Shall I ring you off?"

"Oh!  Try again, will you, please?"

Micklewright often took off the receiver in the laboratory, to avoid
interruption during his experiments, and Burton supposed that such was
the case now.  He waited; a minute or two passed; then the girl’s voice
again--

"I can’t put you on.  There’s something wrong with the line."

"Thank you very much," said Burton; he was always specially polite to
the anonymous girls of the telephone exchange, because "they always
sound so worried, poor things," as he said.  "Bad luck all the time," he
thought, as he hung up the receiver.

He passed to the coffee-room, ate a light lunch, smoked a cigarette,
looked in at the billiard-room, and on the stroke of three reappeared at
the chemist’s store.  In a few minutes he was provided with a package
carefully wrapped, and by twenty minutes after the hour was soaring back
to his friend’s laboratory.

Alighting as before at the creek, he walked up the path.  The door of
the shed was locked.  He rapped on it, but received no answer, and
supposed that Micklewright had returned to the house, though he noticed
with some surprise that his suit-case still stood where he had left it.
He lifted it, went on to the cottage, and turned the handle of the front
door.  This also was locked.  Feeling slightly irritated, Burton knocked
more loudly.  No one came to the door; there was not a sound from
within. He knocked again; still without result. Leaving his suit-case on
the doorstep, he went to the back, and tried the door on that side.  It
was locked.

"This is too bad," he thought.  "Pickles is an absent-minded old buffer,
but I never knew him so absolutely forgetful as this. Evidently he and
the old woman are both out."

He returned to the front of the house, and seeing that the catch of one
of the windows was not fastened, he threw up the lower sash, hoisted his
suit-case over the sill, and himself dropped into the room.  The table
was laid for lunch, but nothing had been used.

"Rummy go!" said Burton to himself.

Conscious of a smell of burning, he crossed the passage, and glanced in
at Micklewright’s den, then at the kitchen, where the air was full of
the fumes of something scorching.  A saucepan stood on the dying fire.
Lifting the lid, he saw that it contained browned and blackened
potatoes. He opened the oven door, and fell back before a cloud of smoke
impregnated with the odour of burnt flesh.

"They must have been called away very suddenly," he thought.  "Perhaps
there’s a telegram that explains it."

He was returning to his friend’s room when he was suddenly arrested by a
slight sound within the house.

"Who’s there?" he called, going to the door.

From the upper floor came an indescribable sound.  Now seriously
alarmed, Burton sprang up the stairs and entered Micklewright’s bedroom.
It was empty and undisturbed.  The spare room which he was himself to
occupy was equally unremarkable.  Once more he heard the sound: it came
from the housekeeper’s room.

"Are you there?" he called, listening at the closed door.

He flung it open at a repetition of the inarticulate sound.  There, on
the bed, lay the old housekeeper in a huddled heap, her hands and feet
bound, and a towel tied over her head.  This he removed in a moment.

[Illustration: "Oh, Mr. Burton, sir"]

"Oh, Mr. Burton, sir, I’m so glad you’ve come," gasped the old woman;
"oh, those awful men!"

"What has happened, Mrs. Jones?" cried Burton; "where’s the doctor?"

"Oh, I don’t know, sir.  I’m all of a shake, and the mutton’ll be burnt
to a cinder."

"Never mind the mutton!  Pull yourself together and tell me what
happened."

He had cut the cords, and lifted her from the bed.

"Oh, it near killed me, it did.  I was just come upstairs to put on a
clean apron when I heard the door open, and some one went into the
kitchen.  I thought it was the doctor, and called out that I was coming.
Next minute two men came rushing up, and before I knew where I was they
smothered my head in the towel, and flung me on to the bed like a bundle
and tied my hands and feet.  It shook me all to pieces, sir."

Burton waited for no more, but leapt down the stairs, vaulted over the
window sill, and rushed towards the laboratory, trembling with nameless
fears.  He tried to burst in the door, but it resisted all his strength.
There were no windows in the walls; the place was lighted from above.
Shinning up the drain-pipe, he scrambled along the gutter until he could
look through the skylight in the sloping roof.  And then he saw
Micklewright, with his back towards him, sitting rigid in a chair.



                                  III


Burton drove his elbow through the skylight, swung himself through the
hole, and dropped to the floor.  To his great relief he saw that
Micklewright was neither dead nor unconscious; indeed, his eyes were
gazing placidly at him through his spectacles.  It was the work of a
moment to cut the cords that bound the chemist’s legs and arms to the
chair, and to tear from his mouth the thick fold of newspaper that had
gagged him.

"Wood pulp!" said Micklewright, with a grimace of mild disgust, as soon
as he could speak.  "Beastly stuff!--if I’ve got to be gagged, gag me
with rag!"

"Who did it?  What’s it mean?" said Burton.

"It means that somebody was keenly interested in that paragraph which
the Admiralty clerk so kindly supplied to his journalist brother."

"The new explosive?"

"Yes.  Competitors abhor a secret.... The taste of printer’s ink on pulp
paper is very obnoxious, Teddy."

"Hang the paper!  Tell me what happened."

"It was very neatly done.  As nearly as I can recollect, a man put his
head in at the door and asked politely, but in broken English, the way
to Faversham.  Being rather busy at the time I’m afraid I misdirected
him.  But it didn’t matter, because a second or two after I was kicking
the shins of two other fellows who were hugging me; I’m sorry I had to
use my boots, but my fists were not at the moment available. You see how
it ended.

"They had just fixed me in the chair--printer’s ink is _very_
horrid--when the telephone bell rang.  My first visitor told one of the
others, in French, to cut the wire: it must have been rather annoying to
the person at the other end."

"I was trying to get you in the ’Sun.’  But go on."

"Their next movements much interested me.  The commander of the
expedition began to scout along the bench, and soon discovered my
explosive--by the way, I proposed to call it Hittite.  He was a cool
card.  He first burnt a little: ’Bien!’ said he.  Then he exploded a
little: ’Bien!’ again.  Then he scooped the whole lot into a brown
leather bag, just as it was, and made off, lifting his hat very politely
as he went out.  He had some trouble in getting his motor-cycle to
fire----"

"They came on motor-cycles?  I saw two crossing the railway at
Snipeshill as I went.  Look here, Pickles, this is serious, isn’t it?"

"Well, of course any fool could make Hittite after a reputable chemist
has analysed my stuff.  I shall have to start again, I suppose."

"Great Scott!  How can you take it so coolly?  The ruffians have got to
be caught. Can you describe them?"

"Luckily, they allowed me the use of my eyes, though I’ve heard of
speaking eyes, haven’t you?  They were all foreigners.  The commander
was a big fellow, bald as an egg, with a natty little moustache, very
urbane, well educated, to judge by his accent, though you can never tell
with these foreigners.  The others were bearded--quite
uninteresting--chauffeurs or mechanics--men of that stamp.  Their boss
was a personality."

"He spoke French?"

"Yes.  You brought that picric acid, Teddy?"

"It’s in the house.  By the way, they gagged Mrs. Jones too."

"Not with a newspaper, I hope.  I’m afraid the poor old thing will give
me notice. We had better go and console her."

They mounted on the bench, clambered thence through the skylight, and
slid to the ground.

"Look here, Pickles," said Burton, as they went towards the house, "I’m
going after those fellows.  Being foreigners they are almost sure to
have made for the Continent at once.  I’ll run down to the road and
examine the tracks of their cycles; you’ve got an ABC in the house?"

"It is possible."

"Well, hunt it out and look up the boats for Calais.  How long have they
been gone?"

"Perhaps three-quarters of an hour."

"A dashed good start!" exclaimed Burton.  "We’ll save time if you bring
the ABC down to the creek.  Buck up, old chap; no wool-gathering now,
for goodness’ sake."

They parted.  A brief examination of the tracks assured Burton that the
cyclists had continued their journey eastward. They would probably run
into the highroad to Dover somewhere about Norton Ash.  Returning to the
creek he was met by Micklewright with the buff-coloured timetable.
Micklewright was limping a little.

"There’s no Calais boat at this time of day," he said.

"Did you try Folkestone?"

"It didn’t occur to me."

Burton took the time-table from him and turned over the pages rapidly.

"Here we are: Folkestone to Boulogne, 4.10.  It’s now 3.35," said
Burton, looking at his watch.  "I can easily get to Folkestone in half
an hour or less--possibly intercept the beggars if they don’t know the
road: in any case be in time to put the police on before the boat
starts.  You’ll come, Pickles?"

"Well, no.  I strained a muscle or two in scuffling with those
gentlemen--and I’ve had nothing but newspaper since eight o’clock.  By
the way, you may as well take the only clue we have--this scrap of pulp.
It is French, as you see.  And, Teddy, don’t get into hot water on my
account. The resources of civilisation--as expressed in high
explosives--are not exhausted."

Burton stuffed the newspaper into his pocket, and in three minutes was
already well on the way to Folkestone.  Micklewright watched the
flying-boat until it was lost to sight; then, pressing his hand to his
aching side, he returned slowly to the house.

The distance from the Luddenham Marshes to Folkestone is about
twenty-five miles as the crow flies, and Burton had made the flight once
in his flying-boat. Consequently, he was at no loss in setting his
course.  A brisk south-west wind was blowing, but it very little
retarded his speed, so that he felt pretty sure of reaching the harbour
by four o’clock.  Keeping at an altitude of only a few hundred feet, he
was able to pick up the well-known landmarks: Hogben’s Hill, the Stour,
the series of woods lying between that river and the Elham valley
railway line; and just before four he alighted on the sea leeward of the
pier, within a few yards of the steamer.

A small boat took him ashore.  He avoided the crowd of holiday makers
who had already gathered to watch him, and making straight for the pier,
accosted a police inspector.

"Have you seen three men ride up on motor cycles, inspector?" he asked.

"No, sir, I can’t say I have."

"Three foreigners, one a tall big fellow?"

"Plenty of foreigners have gone on board, sir.  Is anything wrong?"

"Yes, they’ve assaulted and robbed a friend of mine--you may know his
name: Dr. Bertram Micklewright, the inventor. They’ve stolen Government
property, and it’s of the utmost importance to prevent their crossing
the Channel."

"Where did this take place, sir, and at what time?"

"At Luddenham Marshes beyond Faversham, just before three o’clock."

"They’d hardly have got here, would they?  They’d have to come through
Canterbury, between thirty and forty miles, and with speed limits here
and there they’d only just about do it."

"I’ll wait here, then.  You’ll arrest them if they come?"

"That’s a bit irregular, sir," said the inspector, rubbing his chin.
"You saw them do the job?"

"Well, no, I didn’t."

"Then you can’t be sure of ’em?"

"I’m afraid I can’t, but there wouldn’t be two sets of foreigners on
motor cycles. You could detain them on suspicion, couldn’t you?"

"I might, if you would take the responsibility."

"Willingly.  I’ll keep a look-out then."

It occurred to Burton that the men might leave the cycles and approach
on foot, so he closely scrutinised all the passengers of foreign
appearance who passed on the way to the boat.  None of them answered to
Micklewright’s description.

"Haven’t you got any clue to their identity, sir?" asked the inspector,
who remained at his side.

"None; it happened during my absence. They tied up my friend and gagged
him.  I came across country in my flying machine yonder."

"They’ll lose this boat for certain," said the inspector, as the
steamer’s warning siren sounded.  "You’re sure they are Frenchmen?"

"Yes; well, they left a French newspaper behind them."

"Do you happen to have it with you?"

Burton drew the crushed paper from his pocket, and handed it to the
policeman, who unfolded it, and displayed a torn sheet, with only the
letters IND remaining of the title.

"That’s the _Indépendance Belge_," said the inspector at once.  "I
expect they’re Belgians, and aren’t coming here at all. Ostend’s their
mark, I wouldn’t mind betting."

"Via Dover, of course.  Is there a boat?"

"One at 4.30, sir.  I’m afraid they’ve dished you."

"I’m not so sure about that," said Burton, glancing at his watch.  "It’s
now 4.20; this boat’s off.  If the Ostend boat is ten minutes late too I
can get to Dover in good time to have it searched."

"Then if I were you I’d lose no time, sir, and I hope you’ll catch ’em."

Burton raced back to the boat that had brought him ashore.  In five
minutes he was on his own vessel, in two more he was in full flight
before the favouring wind, and at 4.35 he dropped on the water in the
lee of the Admiralty pier at Dover.  But he had already seen that he was
too late. The boat, which had evidently started on time, was at least
half a mile from the pier.

"Yes, sir, I did see a big foreigner go on board at the last minute,"
said the policeman of whom Burton inquired ten minutes later.  "He was
carrying a small brown leather hand-bag.  I took particular note of him,
because he blowed like a grampus, and took off his hat to wipe his head,
he was that hot."

"Was he bald?"

"As bald as the palm of your hand.  A friend of yours, sir?"

"No," said Burton emphatically.  "He’s got away with a secret worth
thousands of pounds--millions perhaps, to a foreign navy."

The policeman whistled.



                                   IV


Burton stood looking at the diminishing form of the steamboat.  The
constable touched his sleeve.

"You see that gentleman there, sir?" he said.

Following his glance, Burton saw a slim youthful figure, clad in a light
tweed suit and a soft hat, leaning over the rail.

"Well?" he asked.

The constable murmured a name honoured at Scotland Yard.

"Put the case to him, sir," he added; "he can see through most brick
walls." Burton hastened to the side of the detective.

"A man on that boat has stolen the secret of the new explosive for the
British Navy," he said without preamble.  "Can you stop him?"

The detective turned his keen eyes on his questioner and looked hard at
him for a moment or two.

"Tell me all about it, sir," he said.

Burton hurriedly related all that had happened.  "A cable to Ostend
would be enough, wouldn’t it?" he asked in conclusion.

"I’m afraid it would hardly do, sir," replied the detective.  "Your
description is too vague.  Tall man about forty, bald, with a
hand-bag--there may be dozens on the boat.  It would be too risky.  We
have to be careful.  I saw a notorious diamond thief go on board, but I
couldn’t arrest him, not having a warrant, and nothing certain to go
upon.  You had better go to the police station, tell the superintendent
all you know, and leave him to communicate with the Belgian police in
due course."

"And give the thief time to get rid of the stuff!  If it once passes
from his hands the secret will be lost to us, and any foreign Power may
be able to fill its shells with Dr. Micklewright’s explosive.  It’s too
bad!"

He looked with bitter disappointment at the steamer, now a mere speck on
the surface of the sea.  Suddenly he had an idea.

"If I got to Ostend first," he said, "I could have the man arrested as
he lands?"

The detective smiled.

"I don’t think the Belgian police would make an arrest on the strength
of your story, sir," he said.  "Why, you can’t even be sure your man is
aboard.  Arresting the wrong party might be precious awkward for you and
everybody."

"I’ll risk that," cried Burton.  "It’s my funeral, any way."

"That little machine of yours is safe, I suppose, sir?  It won’t come
down and bury you at sea?"

"No fear!" said Burton with a smile. "Still, in case of accidents,
here’s my card. All I ask is, don’t give anything away to newspaper men
for a couple of days, at any rate.  It’s to a newspaper man we owe the
whole botheration."

"All right, sir; I’ll give you a couple of days.  I wish you luck."

Burton hurried to one of the small boats lying for hire alongside the
pier, and was put on board his own vessel.  He started the motor, but in
his haste he failed to pull the lever with just that knack that jerks
the floats from the surface.  At the second attempt he succeeded, and
the water-plane rose into the air as smoothly as a gull.  The steamer
was now out of sight, but he had a general idea of her direction, and
hoped by rising to a good altitude soon to get a glimpse of her.  The
wind had freshened, and time being of the utmost importance, Burton
congratulated himself on the possession of a Clift compass, by means of
which he could allow for drift, and avoid fatal error in setting his
course. The steamer had nearly an hour’s start, but as he travelled at
least twice as fast, he expected to overhaul her in about an hour if he
did not mistake her direction.

His mind was busy as he flew.  He had to admit the force of what the
detective had said.  It would almost certainly be difficult to induce
the Belgian police to act on such slight information as he could give
them; and in the bustle of landing, the criminal, of whose identity he
could not be sure, might easily get away.  Burton was beginning to feel
that he had started on a wild-goose chase when, catching sight of the
smoke of the vessel some miles ahead, he suddenly, without conscious
reasoning, determined on his line of action.  Such flashes sometimes
occur at critical moments.

Waiting for a few minutes to make sure that the distant vessel was that
in which he was interested, he bore away to the east, instead of
following directly the track of the steamer.  It was scarcely probable
that the flying-boat had already been noticed from the deck.  He
described a half-circle of many miles, so calculated that when he
approached the vessel it was from the east, at an angle with her course.

He was still at a considerable height, and as he passed over the vessel
his view of the deck was obscured by the cloud of black smoke from her
funnels.  In a few seconds he wheeled as if to return on his track; but
soon after recrossing the steamer he wheeled again, and making a steep
volplané, alighted on the sea about half a mile ahead.  Then with his
handkerchief he began to make signals of distress.  There was a
considerable swell on the surface, and it might well have seemed to
those on board the steamer who did not distinguish the flying-boat from
an aeroplane that the frail vessel was in imminent danger.

[Illustration: Signals of distress]

The steamer’s helm was instantly ported; she slowed down and was soon
alongside. A rope was let down by which Burton swung himself to the
deck; and while he struggled through the crowd of excited passengers who
clustered about him, the flying-boat was hoisted by a derrick, and the
vessel resumed its course.

Burton made his way to the bridge to interview the captain.

"I’m very much obliged to you, sir," he said.  "And I’m very sorry to
have delayed you.  My engine stopped."

"So did mine," returned the captain, with a rather grim look about the
mouth, "or rather, I stopped them."  Burton did not feel called upon to
explain that his stoppage also had been voluntary. "And I shall have to
push them to make up for the twenty minutes we have lost. You would not
have drowned; I see your machine floats; but you might have drifted for
days if I hadn’t picked you up."

"It was very good of you," said Burton, feeling sorry at having had to
practise a deception.  "It’s my first voyage across Channel. I started
from Folkestone; better luck next time.  I must pay my passage,
captain."

"Certainly not," said the captain.  "I won’t take money from a gallant
airman in distress.  I have a great admiration for airmen; they run
double risks.  I wouldn’t trust myself in an aeroplane on any account
whatever."

Burton remained for some minutes chatting with the captain, then
descended to the deck in search of his quarry, to be at once surrounded
by a group of first-class passengers, who plied him with eager questions
about his starting-point, his destination, and the nature of the
accident that had brought him down.  He answered them somewhat
abstractedly, so preoccupied was he with his quest.  His eyes roamed
around, and presently he felt an electric thrill as he caught sight, on
the edge of the crowd, of a tall portly figure that corresponded, he
thought, to Micklewright’s brief description.  The man had a round red
face, with a thick stiff moustache upturned at the ends.  His prominent
blue eyes were fixed intently on Burton. He wore a soft hat, and Burton,
while replying to a lady who wanted to know whether air-flight made one
sea-sick, was all the time wondering if the head under the hat was bald.

Disengaging himself by and by from those immediately around him, he
edged his way towards this stalwart passenger. It gave him another
thrill to see that the man held a small brown leather hand-bag. He felt
that he was "getting warm."  No other passenger carried luggage; this
bag must surely contain something precious or its owner would have set
it down.  Burton determined to get into conversation with him, though he
felt much embarrassed as to how to begin.  The blue eyes were scanning
him curiously.

"I congratulate you, sir," said the foreigner in English, politely
lifting his hat. Burton almost jumped when he saw that the uncovered
crown was hairless.

"Thank you, sir," he replied, in some confusion.  "It was lucky I caught
the boat."

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he thought, "What an idiotic
thing to say!" and his cheeks grew red.

"Zat ze boat caught you, you vould say?" said the foreigner, smiling.
"But your vessel is a hydro-aeroplane, I zink so? Zere vas no danger zat
you sink?"

"Well, I don’t know.  With a swell on, like this, it wouldn’t be any
safer than a cock-boat; and in any case, it wouldn’t be too pleasant to
drift about, perhaps for days, without food."

"Zat is quite right; ven ze sea is choppy, you feed ze fishes; ven it is
calm, you have no chops.  Ha! ha! zat is quite right. You do not
understand ze choke?" he added, seeing that Burton did not smile.

"Oh yes! yes!" cried Burton, making an effort.  "You speak English well,
sir."

"Zank you, yes.  I have practised a lot. I ask questions--yes, and ven
zey ask you chust now vat accident bring you down, I do not quite
understand all about it."

"It was quite an ordinary thing," said Burton, rather uncomfortably.
The explanation he had given to the questioners was vague; he was loth
to tell a deliberate lie.  "Do you know anything about petrol engines,
sir?"

"Oh yes, certainly.  I ride on a motor-bicycle.  One has often trouble
viz ze compression."

"That’s true," said Burton, feeling "warmer" than ever.  The foreigner
was evidently quite unsuspicious, or he would not have mentioned the
motor-cycle.  "We have excellent roads in England," he added, with a
fishing intention.

"Zat is quite right; but zey are perhaps not so good as our roads in
France, eh?"

"Your roads are magnificent, it’s true; still--what do you say to the
Dover Road?"

"Ah!  Ze Dover Road; yes, it is very good, ever since ze Roman times,
eh?  Yes; I have travelled often on ze Dover Road, from Dover to
Chatham, and vice versa. Viz zis bag!"

Burton looked hard at the bag.  He wished it would open.  One peep, he
was sure, would be enough to convict this amiable Frenchman.

"I have somezink in zis bag," the Frenchman went on in a confidential
tone--"somezink great, somezink magnificent,--_éclatant_ as we say;
somezink vat make a noise in ze vorld."

He tapped the bag affectionately.  Burton tingled; he would have liked
to take the man by the throat and denounce him as a scoundrel.  But
perhaps if he were patient the confiding foreigner would open the bag.

"Indeed!" he said.

"Yes; a noise zat shall make ze hair stand on end.  Ha! ha!  Ah! you
English.  You are ze great inventors.  Your Sims, your Edvards, your
Rowland--ah! zey are great, zey are honoured by all ze crowned heads in
ze vorld.  Zat is quite right!  I tell you! ... No; it is late. You
shall be in Ostend, sir?"

"Yes."

"Zen you shall see, you shall hear, vat a great sensation I shall make.
Now it gets dark; if you shall pardon me, I vill take a little sleep
until ve arrive.  Zen!..."

He lifted his hat again, and withdrew to a deck chair, where he propped
the bag carefully under his head and was soon asleep.



                                   V


Burton strolled up and down the deck, impatient for the boat to make the
port. He was convinced: the man was French; he was tall, urbane, and
bald; he rode a motor-cycle; he knew the Dover Road; he guarded his bag
as something precious, and it contained something that was going to make
a noise in the world.  What so likely to do that as Micklewright’s
explosive!

One thing puzzled Burton; the man’s allusion to English inventors--Sims,
Edwards, Rowland--who were they?  Burton subscribed to a good many
scientific magazines, and kept closely in touch with recent inventions;
but he did not recall any of these names.  It flashed upon him that the
Frenchman, rendered suspicious by his fishing questions, had mentioned
the names as a blind; he had spoken of Sims, Edwards and Rowland when
his mind was really full of Micklewright.

"If that’s your game, it won’t wash," he thought.

He determined, as soon as the vessel reached port, to hurry ashore,
interview the Customs officers, and warn them in general terms of the
dangerous nature of what the Frenchman carried.  If only the bag had
been opened and its contents revealed, he would not have hesitated to
inform the captain, and have the villain detained.  But the Customs
officers, primed with his information, would insist on opening the bag,
and then!--yes, there would undoubtedly be "a noise in the world," when
it became known that so audacious a scheme had been detected and foiled.

The sun went down, the steamer plugged her way onward, and through the
darkness the lamps of Ostend by and by gleamed faintly in the distance.
Burton made his way to the bridge again, and asked the captain to allow
the flying-boat to remain on the vessel till the morning; then he
returned to the deck, and leant on the rail near the gangway.

All was bustle as the steamer drew near to the harbour.  The passengers
collected their belongings, and congregated.  Some spoke to Burton; he
hardly heeded them. He had his eye on the Frenchman, still slumbering
peacefully.

The bells clanged; the vessel slowed; a rope was thrown to the pier; and
two of the sailors stood ready to launch the gangway as soon as the boat
came to rest. The moment it clattered on to the planks of the pier
Burton was across, and hurried to the shed where the Customs officers,
like spiders in wait for unwary flies, were lined up behind their
counter, cool, keen, alert. He accosted the chief douanier, described
the Frenchman in a few rapid sentences, suggested that the brown bag
would repay examination, and receiving assurance that the proper
inquiries should be made, posted himself outside at the corner of the
shed in the dark, to watch the scene.

The passengers came by one by one, and answering the formal question,
had their luggage franked by the mystic chalk mark and passed on.
Burton’s pulse throbbed as he saw the tall Frenchman come briskly into
the light of the lamps.

"Here he is!" whispered the officers one to another.

"Have you anything to declare, monsieur?" asked one of them, with formal
courtesy.

"No, no, monsieur," replied the man; "you see I have only a hand-bag."

He laid it on the counter to be chalked.

"Be so good as to open the bag, monsieur," said the officer.

The Frenchman stared; the passengers behind him pricked up their ears as
he began to expostulate in a torrent of French too rapid for Burton to
follow.  The officer shrugged, and firmly repeated his demand. Still
loudly protesting, the Frenchman drew a bunch of keys from his pocket,
selected one, and with a gesture of despair laid open the bag to the
officer’s inspection.

Burton drew a little nearer and watched feverishly.  The officer put his
hand into the bag, and drew forth a bundle of what appeared to be
striped wool.  Exclaiming at its weight, he laid it on the counter, and
began to unroll it.  His colleagues smiled as he held aloft the
pantaloons of a suit of pyjamas.  He threw them down, and took up the
object round which the garment had been wrapped.  It was a large glass
bottle, filled with a viscid yellowish liquid, and bearing a label.

"Voila!" shouted its owner.  "Je vous l’avais bien dit."

The officer took up the bottle, eyeing it suspiciously.  He examined the
label; he took out the stopper and sniffed, then held the bottle to the
noses of his colleagues, who sniffed in turn.

"It will not explode?" he said to the Frenchman.

"Explode!" snorted the man scornfully. "It is harmless; it is perfect;
it contains no petroleum; look, there is the warranty on the label.
Bah!"

He struck a match and held it to the mouth of the open bottle, which the
officer extended at arm’s length.  The flame flickered and went out.

"Voila!" said the Frenchman with a triumphant snort.

Then fumbling in his pocket he drew out a sheaf of flimsy papers.  One
of these he handed to the officer, who glanced at it, smiled, said, "Ah!
oui! oui!" and replacing the stopper, rolled the bottle in the pyjamas
again.

"But it is not yet certain," he exclaimed. "Monsieur will permit me."

He plunged his hand again into the bag, whose owner made a comical
gesture of outraged modesty as the officer brought out, first the
companion jacket of the pantaloons, then a somewhat ancient tooth-brush.
He rummaged further, turned the bag upside down.  It contained nothing
else.

"A thousand excuses, monsieur," he said, replacing the articles, and
chalking the bag.

"Ah!  It is your duty," said the passenger magnanimously.  "Good-night,
monsieur."

Catching sight of Burton as he was passing on, he stopped.

"Ah! my friend, here you are," he said. "I give you vun of my announce.
It has ze address.  I see you to-morrow?  Zat is quite right!"

Then he lifted his hat and went his way.

Burton thrust the slip of paper into his pocket without looking at it.
He felt horribly disconcerted.  The fluid in the bottle was certainly
not Micklewright’s explosive; that was a crystalline solid.  He had made
an egregious mistake.  It was more than disappointing; it was
humiliating. He had been engaged in a wild-goose chase indeed.  His
stratagem was wasted; his suspicions were unfounded; his deductions
utterly fallacious.  While he was dogging this innocent Frenchman, the
real villain was no doubt on the other side of the sea, waiting for the
night boat from Dover or perhaps Newhaven.  He had made a fool of
himself.

Despondent and irritated, he was about to find his way to the nearest
hotel for the night, when he suddenly noticed a second portly figure
approaching the shed among the file of passengers.  The man was hatless;
he was bald; he carried a brown leather hand-bag.  His collar was limp;
his face was clammy, and of that pallid greenish hue which betokens
beyond possibility of doubt a severe attack of sea-sickness.

At the first glance Burton started; at the second he flushed; then, on
the impulse of the moment, he sprang forward, and reaching the side of
the flabby passenger at the moment when he placed his bag upon the
counter, he laid his hand upon it, and cried--

"My bag, monsieur!"

The bald-headed passenger glanced round in mere amazement, clutching his
bag.

"Excuse me, monsieur," he said quietly, "it is mine."

The Customs officer looked from one to the other: the pallid foreigner,
limp and nerveless; the ruddy Englishman, eager, strenuous and
determined.

"Ah!  You gave me the warning.  You were mistaken," he said to Burton.
"The other bag contained only pyjamas, a bottle, and a toothbrush;
nothing harmful.  Monsieur is too full of zeal; he may be mistaken
again.  He accuses this gentleman of stealing his bag?  Well, that is a
matter for the police.  I will do my duty, then you can find a
policeman.  Have you anything to declare?" he concluded in his official
tone.

"Nothing," said the foreigner.

"A thousand cigarettes!" cried Burton at the same moment.

Each had still a hand on the bag.  At Burton’s words the passenger gave
him a startled glance, and Burton knew by the mingled wonder and terror
in his eyes that this time he had made no mistake.

"Comment!  A thousand cigarettes!" repeated the officer.  "Messieurs
must permit me to open the bag."

He drew it from their grasp.  It opened merely by a catch.  The officer
peeped inside, and shot a questioning look at Burton, who bent over, and
at a single glance recognised the small yellowish crystals.

"That’s it!" he cried in excitement.

"Monsieur will perhaps explain," said the officer to the owner of the
bag, who appeared to have become quite apathetic. "There are no
cigarettes; no; but what is this substance?  Is it on the Customs
schedule?  No.  Very well, I must impound it for inquiry."

The man, almost in collapse from weakness, began to mumble something.
The officer’s remark about impounding the stuff disturbed Burton.  If it
got into expert hands Micklewright’s secret would be discovered.

Acting on a sudden inspiration, he took a cigarette from his case, and
struck a match.

"Eh, monsieur, it is forbidden to smoke," cried the officer sternly.

At the same time he nodded his head towards the placard "_Défense de
fumer_" affixed to the wall.

"Ah!  Pardon!  Forbidden!  So it is," said Burton, who was shading the
lighted match within his rounded palm from the wind.  He made as if to
throw it away, but with a dexterous cast dropped it flaming into the
open bag.  Instantly there was a puff and whizz, and a column of thick
suffocating smoke spurted up to the roof. The officer started back with
an execration.  A lady shrieked; others of the passengers took to their
heels.  The air was full of pungent fumes and lurid exclamations, and in
the confusion the owner of the bag quietly slipped away into the
darkness. Burton stood his ground.  His task was done.  Every particle
of Micklewright’s explosive that had left the shores of England was
dissipated in gas.  The secret was saved.

[Illustration: "I give him in charge"]

Choking and spluttering the officer dashed forward, shaking his fist in
Burton’s face, mingling terms of Gallic abuse with explosive cries for
the police.  A gendarme came up.

"I give him in charge," shouted the officer, with gesticulations.  "It
is forbidden to smoke; see, the place is full of smoke! The other man;
where is he?  It is a conspiracy.  They are anarchists.  Arrest the
villain!"

"Monsieur will please come with me," said the gendarme, touching Burton
on the sleeve.

"All right," said Burton cheerfully.  "I can smoke as we go along?"

"It is not forbidden to smoke in the streets," replied the gendarme
gravely.

And with one hand on the prisoner’s arm, the other carrying the empty
bag, he set off towards the town.



                                   VI


Two evenings later, Burton descended on the creek in the Luddenham
Marshes, and hastened with lightsome step to Micklewright’s laboratory.
It was the time of day when Micklewright usually ceased work and went
home to his dinner.

"Still at it!" thought Burton, as he saw that the laboratory door was
open.

He went on quickly and looked in. Micklewright was bending over his
bench in his customary attitude of complete absorption.

"Time for dinner, old man," said Burton, entering.

"Hullo!  That you!  Come and look at this."

"Upon my word, that’s a cool greeting after I’ve been braving no end of
dangers for your sake."

"What’s that you say?  Look at this, Teddy; isn’t it magnificent!"

Burton looked into the bowl held up for his inspection, and saw nothing
but a dirty-looking mixture that smelt rather badly.

"You see, it’s like this," said Micklewright, and went on to describe in
the utmost technical detail the experiment upon which he had been
engaged.  Burton listened with resignation; he knew by experience that
it saved time to let his friend have his talk out.

"Magnificent!  I take your word for it," he said, when Micklewright had
finished his description.  "But look here, old man, doesn’t it occur to
you to wonder where I’ve been?"

"Why should it?" asked Micklewright in unaffected surprise.  He looked
puzzled when Burton laughed; then remembrance dawned in his eyes.  "Of
course; I recollect now.  You went after those foreigners. I had almost
forgotten them."

"Forgotten the beggars who had stolen your secret?" cried Burton.

"Hittite!  Well, you see, it was gone; no good pulling a long face over
it, though it was a blow after three years’ work.  I groused all day
Sunday, but recognised it as a case of spilt milk, and this morning
started on a new tack.  I’m on the scent of something else.  Whether it
will be any good or not I can’t say yet."

"Surely you got detectives down?"

"Well, no, I didn’t.  It’s much the best to keep such things quiet.  The
fellows had got away with the stuff, and before the police could have
done anything they’d be out of reach.  So I just buckled to."

"Very philosophic of you!" said Burton drily.  "I needn’t have put
myself about, then.  Well, hand over fifty francs, and I’ll cry quits."

"Fifty--francs, did you say?  Won’t shillings do?"

"No; I was fined in francs.  I won’t take advantage of you."

"I seem to be rather at sea," said Micklewright.  "Have the French
started air laws, and you broken ’em and been nabbed? But what were you
doing in France?"

"Come and let’s have some dinner," said Burton, putting his arm through
his friend’s.  "I’m sure you don’t eat enough. Any one will tell you
that want of proper grub makes you dotty."

Micklewright locked up the laboratory, and went on with Burton to the
house. Burton found his suit-case in the spare room and was glad to make
a rapid toilet and change of clothes.  In twenty minutes he was at one
end of the dining-table, facing Micklewright at the other, and old Mrs.
Jones was carrying in the soup.  Burton waited, before beginning his
story, until Micklewright had disposed of an excellent steak, and
"looked more human," as he said; then--

"Since I saw you last, I’ve been to Ostend," he began.

"Jolly good oysters there," said Micklewright.

"Ah!  You’re sane at last!  I didn’t go for oysters, though; I went
for--Hittite."

"You don’t mean to say----" cried Micklewright.

"Don’t be alarmed," Burton interrupted. "There’s none there now.  Just
listen without putting your spoke in, will you!"

He related the incidents of his flights to Folkestone and Dover, his
pursuit of the steamer, and the trick by which he had been taken on
board.

"And then I made an ass of myself," he continued.  "But it’s
owing--partly at any rate--to your lucid description, Pickles. Tall,
stout, bald, moustache, brown bag; all the details to a T.  I got into
conversation with the man, and when it turned out that he was a
motor-cyclist, knew the Dover Road, and had something in his bag that
was going to make a noise in the world, I made sure I’d got the right
man.

"You can imagine how sold I felt when, after persuading the Customs
fellows to insist on opening his bag, all they fished out was a suit of
pyjamas, an old toothbrush, and a bottle full of a custardy-looking
stuff.  He was very good-tempered about it--much more than I should have
been if my wardrobe had been exposed. I was feeling pretty cheap when
another fellow came along, whom your description fitted equally well,
though he wasn’t a scrap like the first man.  He had evidently been
horribly sea-sick; had gone below, I suppose, which was the reason why I
hadn’t seen him before.  The wind had carried away his hat, and his bald
pate betrayed him.  I got his bag opened; had to pretend that it was
mine, and full of cigarettes; and your stuff being loose in the bag it
went up with a fine fizz when I dropped a match into it.  That’s why you
owe me fifty francs.  They lugged me off to the police station, and next
day fined me fifty for smoking on forbidden ground, though, as I pointed
out, _I_ hadn’t done any smoking, and they ought really to have fined
the fellow who had the stuff in his bag. They were very curious as to
what that was, but of course I didn’t give it away.  And it’s rather
rotten to find that after all you don’t care a copper cent!"

"Not at all, my dear chap; I’m extremely grateful to you.  I only hope
you won’t ruin me."

"Ruin you!  What do you mean?"

"Well, you see, with Hittite safe, I shall be so sickening rich that I
am almost bound to get lazy."

"If that’s your trouble, just hand it over to me; _I_ don’t mind being
rich, though I’m not an inventor.  But I say, Pickles, that reminds me:
do you know any inventors of the names of Sims, Edwards and--what was
the other?--Rowland?"

"Can’t say I do.  Why?"

"Why, the wrong man--the bottle man, you know--gassed about the
greatness of our English inventors, and mentioned these three specially,
to put me off the scent, I thought.  Of course his talk of inventors
made me all the more sure that he had your stuff in his bag."

"Well, I can’t recall any of them.  Sims--you’ve never heard me talk of
any one named Sims, have you, Martha?" he asked of the housekeeper, who
entered at this moment with the coffee.

"No, sir; though if you don’t mind me saying so, I’ve been a good mind
to name him myself this long time, only I didn’t like to be so bold."

"My dear good woman, what are you driving at?" asked Micklewright in
astonishment.

"Why, sir, I dare say busy gentlemen like yourself don’t notice it till
some one tells ’em, their combs and brushes being kept tidy unbeknownst;
but the truth is, I’ve been worriting myself over that--I reelly don’t
like to mention it, but there, being old enough to be your mother--I
mean, sir, that little bald spot jest at the crown of the head,
sir--jest at the end of the parting, like."

Micklewright laughed as he put his hand on the spot.

"Well, but--Sims?" he said.

"Well, sir, it didn’t ought to be there in a gentleman of your age, and
thinks I to myself: ’Now, if only the master would try one of them
hair-restorers he might have his locks back as luxurious as ever they
was.’  And I cut the particklers out of that _Strand_ magazine you gave
me, sir, and how to choose between ’em I _don’t_ know, they’re all that
good.  There’s Edwards’ Harlene for the Hair, and Rowland’s antimacassar
oil, and Tatcho, made by that gentleman as writes so beautiful in the
Sunday papers; he’s the gentleman you mean, I expect--George R. Sims."

The men shouted with laughter, and Mrs. Jones withdrew, happy that her
timid suggestion had given no offence.

"To think of you in pursuit of a hairdresser gives me great joy," said
Micklewright presently.  "He _must_ have been a hairdresser, Teddy."

"I suppose he was," assented Burton rather glumly.  "By the way"--he
felt in his pockets.  "He gave me a handbill; I didn’t look at it at the
moment; it’s in the pocket of my overall, of course.  I’ll fetch it."

He returned, smoothing the crumpled slip of paper, and smiling broadly.

"Here you are," he said.  "’Arsène Lebrun, artist in hair, having
returned from London with a marvellous new specific for promoting a
luxuriant vegetation’--I am translating, Pickles--’on the most barren
soil, respectfully invites all gentlemen, especially those with
infantine heads’--that’s very nice!--’to assist at a public
demonstration on Sunday, August 20. Arsène Lebrun will then massage with
his fructifying preparation the six most vacant heads in Ostend, and lay
the seeds of a magnificent harvest, which he will subsequently have the
honour to reap.’  Hittite isn’t in it with that, old man."

At this moment there was a double knock at the door, and Mrs. Jones soon
re-entered with a letter.

"From the Admiralty," said Micklewright, tearing open the envelope.
"Listen to this, Teddy."


"’I am directed by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to say that
they are prepared to pay you £20,000 for the formula of your new
explosive, and a royalty, the amount of which will be subsequently
arranged, on every ton manufactured.  They lay down as a peremptory
condition that the formula be kept absolutely secret, and that the
explosive be supplied exclusively to the British navy.  I shall be glad
if you will intimate your general agreement with these terms.’"


"Congratulations, old boy!" cried Burton heartily, grasping his friend’s
hand. "It’s magnificent!"

[Illustration: Congratulations]

"I really think you are right, and as it’s very clear that but for you I
shouldn’t have been able to accept any terms whatever, it’s only fair
to----"

"Nonsense!" Burton interrupted.  "All I want is fifty francs, for
illicit smoking--a cheap smoke, as it turns out."

"Can’t do it, my boy.  Wait till I get my Lords Commissioners’ cheque."

A week or two later, Burton’s firm received an order from Dr.
Micklewright for a water-plane of the best type, with all the latest
improvements in canoe floats, and the finest motor on the market.  When
the machine was ready for delivery, Micklewright paid a visit to the
factory.

"It’s a regular stunner, old man," said Burton, as he explained its
points to his friend.

"Well, Teddy, do me the favour to accept it as a birthday present--a
little memento of your trip to Ostend."



[Illustration: Chapter II Heading]


                        The DEATH’S HEAD HUSSAR


                                   I


"My compliments, Burton!  You brought her down magnificently," said
Captain Rolfe. "Not much damage done, I hope?"

The airman stooping over the engine grunted.  In a moment or two a grimy
face was upturned, the tall figure straightened itself, and a crisp
voice said ruefully--

"Magneto smashed to smithereens!"

He passed round to the side of the machine, and retailed at short
intervals the items of a catalogue of damage.

"A stay cut! ... Two holes in the upper plane! ... Four in the lower!
... Chips and dents galore!  Still, we can fall back on the old wife’s
consolation: it might have been worse."

"All the same, it’s precious awkward," said Captain Rolfe, putting his
finger through a hole in the lower plane.  "The Bosches will be here in
ten minutes."

"Not under twenty.  They’ve some difficult country to cross.  But, of
course, there’s no time to lose.  It’s lucky there’s a village close
by."

Edward Burton, airman, with Captain Rolfe, who accompanied him as
observer, had just made an enforced volplané and landed safely after
running the gauntlet of German rifles and machine guns.  At the moment
when he was flattering himself on being out of range, a shell burst
close beside the machine, bespattering it with bullets and putting the
engine out of action.

Rolfe had seen cavalry galloping in their direction.  The sudden descent
would apprise the enemy of what had happened. Whether in ten minutes or
in twenty, there was no doubt that the arrival of the Germans would
place the airmen in a tight corner.

The first thought of the trooper is for his horse.  The airman is
concerned for the state of his aeroplane.  It was not till long
afterwards that Rolfe and Burton discovered that they, too, had not come
off unscathed. Luckily it was only Rolfe’s sword-hilt that had been
shattered, not his groin; while Burton examined with a wondering
curiosity two neat black holes in the loose sleeve of his overalls.

It did not occur to either of them that there was at least plenty of
time to slip away and hide before the Germans came up.  Their instinct
was to save the aeroplane--a hopeless proposition, one would have
thought.

Along the road from the village, a quarter of a mile away, half the
population was already speeding to the scene.  The half, alas! was now
the whole.  There were women old and young, boys and girls, old men and
men long past their prime; but there was no male person from seventeen
to fifty except the village idiot, who flung his arms about as he ran,
making inarticulate noises.

"Hang it all!" Burton ejaculated.  "A crowd like this will dish any
chance we might have had."

The crowd suddenly parted; the men doffed their hats, the women bobbed,
as they made way for a horseman.  It was an old straight figure, with
short snow-white hair and a long grizzled moustache.  He cantered
through the throng, turned into the field on which the aeroplane lay,
and reined up before the Englishmen.

[Illustration: "You have had an accident"]

"You have had an accident, messieurs?" he said, raising his hat.

"Worse than that, monsieur," replied Rolfe, in fluent French.  "The
Germans have hit us; the machine is useless; they are on our track."

"Ah!" exclaimed the Frenchman.  Then, turning to the crowd who had
flocked up behind him and stood gaping around, he spoke in quick,
staccato phrases, in a tone of command.  "Back to your houses, my good
women.  Take the children.  These gentlemen are of our brave ally.  You
men, drag the aeroplane to the inn.  Bid Froment lift the trap-door of
his cellar ready to let the machine down.  Some of you smooth away the
tracks behind it.  Quick!  You, Guignet, post yourself on the mound
yonder and watch for the Germans.  The inn cellar is large, messieurs;
there will be plenty of room.  As to yourselves----"

The wrinkles of his aged face deepened.

"Ah, I have it!" he exclaimed.  Turning to Rolfe, he went on: "You are
an English officer, monsieur; that says itself.  You have observations
to report.  Take my horse; it is not mine, but borrowed from one of my
tenants; my own are with the army.  There is no other in the village.
It will serve you."

"Thank you, monsieur," said Rolfe, as the old man dismounted.  "In the
interests of our forces----"

"Hasten, monsieur," the old man interrupted.  "Guignet waves his arms.
He has seen the Germans.  As for you, monsieur----"

"I will go to the inn," said Burton.

"My château is at your service, monsieur, but I fear it will prove an
unsafe refuge.  A haystack, or a barn----"

"I must stay by the aeroplane, monsieur; get it repaired if possible."

The old man shrugged.  Guignet came up.

"The Bosches have taken the wrong road, monsieur le marquis," he said.
"They are riding, ma foi! how quickly, towards old Lumineau’s farm."

"That gives you more time," said the old gentleman to Burton.  "Pray use
it to save yourself.  They will not be long discovering their mistake.
Adieu!  I salute in you your brave nation."

Bowing, he hurried away across the fields towards a large château that
reared itself among noble trees half a mile distant. Burton followed the
crowd towards the village inn.

"A fine old fellow!" he thought, "but he doesn’t know the Germans if he
supposes that the wine-cellar will be a safe place.  I must find
somewhere better than that."

He overtook the men before they reached the village.  Passing the
ancient church, an idea occurred to him.

"Is there a crypt?" he asked.

"Parfaitement, monsieur," a man replied.

"Halt a minute."

He hastened to the priest’s house adjoining, at the door of which stood
the curé in his biretta and long soutane.  A minute’s conversation
settled the matter.

"It is a good cause, monsieur," said the curé.  "Direct our friends."

Superintended by Burton, the men wheeled the machine through the great
door into the church.  While Burton rapidly unscrewed the planes,
willing hands opened up the floor, and in a quarter of an hour the
aeroplane was lowered into the crypt.

"Is there an engineer in the village?" Burton asked.

"Mais non, monsieur, but there is Boitelet, the smith--a clever fellow,
monsieur.  You should have seen him set monsieur le capitaine’s
automobile to rights.  Boitelet is your man."

Burton hurried to the smithy.  Boitelet, a shaggy giant of fifty years
or so, accompanied him back to the church.

"Ah ça!" he exclaimed on examining the engine.  "I can repair it, yes;
but I must go for material to the town, ten miles away.  It will be a
full day’s work, and what is monsieur to do, with the Bosches at hand?"

Burton thought quickly.

"Make me your assistant," he said after a minute or two.  "I’ll strip
off my overalls and clothes; lend me things--a shirt and apron.  A
little more grease and dirt will disguise me."

"But monsieur is young," said the smith. "All our young men are at the
war.  The Bosches will make you prisoner--shoot you, perhaps."

"An awkward situation, truly," said Burton, rubbing a greasy hand over
his face. Suddenly he remembered the half-witted stripling among the
crowd.  Could he feign idiocy as an explanation of his presence in the
village?  He could mop and mow, but nothing could banish the gleam of
intelligence from his eyes.  And his tongue!--he spoke French fairly
well, but his accent would inevitably betray him to any German who
chanced to be a linguist.

"There is only one thing," he cried.  "I must pretend to be deaf and
dumb.  Tell everybody, will you?"

"It is clever, monsieur, that idea of yours," said the smith, laughing.
"Yes; you are Jules le sourd-muet, burning to fight, but rejected
because you could never hear the word of command.  But you must be
careful, monsieur; a single slip, and--voilà!"

He shrugged his shoulder expressively.

"The Bosches!  The Bosches!" screamed a group of frightened children,
rushing up the street.

The people fled into their houses and shut the doors.  Only the curé and
the smith were visible, the latter standing at his door leaning on his
hammer, with an angry frown upon his swarthy face.  Within the smithy
Burton was making a rapid change of dress.  He rolled up his own clothes
and equipment and threw them into a corner behind a heap of old iron,
and donned the dirty outer garments hurriedly provided by the smith.
After a moment’s hesitation he ferreted out his revolver case from the
bundle, and slipped the revolver inside his blouse.

"If they search me, I’m done for," he thought.  "But they would shoot
the smith if they found the thing here, so it’s as broad as it is long.
The case must go up the chimney."

Then, completely transformed, he came to the door in time to see a troop
of the Death’s Head Hussars gallop up the street.

They reined up at the door of the smithy.

"Now, you dog, answer me," said the major in command.  "And tell the
truth, or I’ll cut your tongue out.  Have you seen an aeroplane
hereabout?"

"Oui da, mon colonel," replied the smith, with an ironical courtesy that
delighted Burton.  "I did see an aeroplane, it might be an hour ago.  It
came down close to those poplars yonder, but rose in a minute or two and
sailed away to the west."

"Go and see if he is telling the truth," said the officer to two of his
men.  "And you, smith, look to my horse’s shoes.  Who is this young
fellow?  A deserter? a coward?"

"Oh, he’s brave enough, mon colonel," the smith answered.  "But the poor
wretch is deaf and dumb, a sore trouble to himself and his friends.  You
may shout, and he will not hear you; and as to asking for his dinner, he
can’t do it.  I only employ him out of compassion."

The officer glanced at Burton, who was trying to assume that
pathetically eager expression, that busy inquiry of the eyes, which
characterises deaf mutes.

"If he were a German we’d make him shoot, deaf or not," said the major.
"You French are too weak.  Well?"

The troopers had returned, and sat their horses rigidly at the salute.

"Without doubt an aeroplane descended there, Herr Major," one of them
reported, "and it flew up again, for there are no more tracks."

"It is not worth while continuing the chase.  Night is coming on.
Quarter yourselves in the village--and keep the people quiet.  No one is
to leave his house."

The troopers saluted and rode off, leaving a captain, two lieutenants,
and four orderlies with the major.

"Look alive, smith," cried that officer, in the domineering tone
evidently habitual with him.  "Are the shoes in good order?"

The smith turned up the hoofs one after another, and pronounced them
perfectly shod.

"Very well; if any of the troopers’ horses need shoeing, see that it is
done promptly, or it will be the worse for you.  Now for the château,
gentlemen; monsieur le marquis will be delighted to entertain us."

There was a look upon his face that Burton could not fathom--an ugly
smile that made him shiver.  The horsemen rode away, and Boitelet, the
smith, spat upon the ground.



                                   II


"Come inside, monsieur," murmured the smith, glancing round to see that
no German was within hearing.  Then he threw up his hands and groaned.

"He is an insolent hound," said Burton, sympathetically.

"Ah, monsieur, it is not that; all these Prussians are brutes.  I fear
for monsieur le marquis."

"Who is the marquis?  He has a soldierly look."

"He was a fine soldier, monsieur.  Every Frenchman knows his name.  In
the army he was plain General du Breuil; here in his own country, where
we love him, we give him his true title, that has come to him from the
days of long ago.  Ah! there is great trouble for him.  I know that
man."

"The major?"

"Major he may be; spy he was.  It is clear.  Listen, monsieur.  Some
three years ago, before monsieur le marquis retired from the army, he
had in his service a secretary, said to be an Alsatian, very useful to
monsieur, who was compiling his memoirs.  One day he was dismissed, none
of us knew why. Monsieur le marquis had discovered something, no doubt.
There was a violent scene at the château.  Monsieur’s son, Captain du
Breuil, kicked the secretary down the steps. He came into the village,
hired a _calèche_ to drive him to the station, and departed.  We have
seen no more of him until this day. He is the major."

"You are sure?"

"It is certain, monsieur.  He was then clean shaven, and now wears a
moustache, but I know the scar on his cheek."

"And you fear he will insult the marquis?"

"Worse than that, monsieur.  A few days ago monsieur le capitaine, brave
soldier like his father, was wounded in action only a mile or two away,
when our gallant cuirassiers charged the Bosches and drove them
helter-skelter from their trenches.  He was found on the field by old
Guignet, and carried secretly to the château, and there he lies,
horribly hurt by shrapnel."

"And now they will make him prisoner?"

"That would be bad enough, but I fear worse.  The Bosches are brutal to
all.  What must we expect from a man who has a grudge to pay off, and
finds his enemy helpless in his clutches?  The major will not forgive
his kicking."

"It’s a bad look-out, certainly," said Burton.  "I like your old
general; he came to our help so quickly.  But what about my engine?"

"Ah, oui, monsieur, it is a pity.  I dare not leave the village now.
The Bosches passed quickly through here in their retreat a few days ago;
I did not expect to see their ugly faces again.  You must wait,
monsieur.  Come into my house, and share our soup.  If God pleases, the
hounds will go again to-morrow."

Burton accepted the good man’s offer of hospitality, and shared a simple
meal with him, and his wife, and two wide-eyed children who gazed with
interest at the stranger.

When the meal was nearly finished, the smith suddenly exclaimed--

"Ah! here comes old Pierre, with a German.  Have a care, monsieur.
Remember you are deaf and dumb."

Looking out of the window into the darkling street, Burton saw a bent
old man tottering along by the side of one of the orderlies who had
recently ridden away.

"They are not coming here, Dieu merci!" said the smith at his elbow.
"They are going to the butcher’s.  These Germans eat like hogs."

"Who is the old man?" Burton asked.

"Servant of monsieur le marquis, monsieur.  They have grown old
together.  There is no other left in the château.  Some are at the war;
the rest fled, maids and men, when the Germans came before.  Ah! it is
sad for monsieur and madame in their old age, and their son lying
wounded, too."

The old serving-man passed from the butcher’s to the baker’s, and thence
to other shops, with the orderly always at his side.  Soon the old man
was staggering under a load of purchases.  He faltered and stopped, and
the orderly shouted at him, and threatened him with his sword.  Burton’s
blood boiled.  He would have liked to catch the German by the neck and
shake him until he howled for mercy.

[Illustration: The German way]

Then an idea struck him.  If he offered to help the laden old man he
would make some return for the general’s kindness; perhaps he might be
of some further service in the château.  He made the suggestion to the
smith.

"It is madness, monsieur.  You would put your head into the lion’s
mouth."

"What more natural than that a deaf mute should earn a sou by using his
muscles? Arrange it, my friend."

"They say you English are mad, monsieur," said the smith with a shrug.
"A la bonne heure!  But you will get more kicks than sous."

"Make an opportunity to tell the old man that I am deaf and dumb, and
that he is to pretend he knows me.  He must inform his master and
mistress also.  Will he be discreet?"

"He will be anything you please for the sake of monsieur le marquis.
Come, then, monsieur."

They left the house, and came upon the scene just as the orderly had
terrorised the old man into making another attempt to carry his burden.
The smith soon discovered that the orderly knew no French.  He arranged
the matter by signs, pointing to Burton’s mouth and ears, and indicating
that he was muscularly strong.  At the same time he spoke rapidly in
French to old Pierre.

"Ah, bon, bon!" said the old man.  "I understand perfectly.  Be sure I
will tell the master.  Monsieur may rely upon me."

Burton shouldered more than half the load, and set off for the château
side by side with Pierre, the orderly following.



                                  III


The Château du Breuil had been luckier than many similar country houses
that stood in the line of the German advance.  Whether by accident or a
rare considerateness, it had not been shelled, and the officer who had
last quartered himself there, though a German, was also a gentleman.  It
stood, a noble building, in its little park, whole and intact as the
first marquis built it in the reign of Henri Quatre.

At either end was a projecting wing of two stories, the wings being
connected by the long one-storied building that contained the
living-rooms.  Burton found the part of deaf mute irksome; he wished to
question old Pierre as to the quarters in which the Germans had disposed
themselves.  But he perforce kept silence, listening to a fragmentary
dialogue in German between the orderly and Pierre, who, as he afterwards
learnt, had been valet to the marquis when the latter, as a young man,
was military attaché to the French embassy at Berlin.

They arrived at the kitchen entrance. Pierre went in first, and at once
addressed an old white-haired lady who was stuffing a chicken at the
kitchen table.  He spoke so rapidly and in so low a tone that Burton
could not follow his words, but he gathered their purport when the old
lady glanced at him, and signed to him to lay down his load on the
table.

"Madame la marquise has understood," he thought.

The orderly waited awhile; then, seeing that the lady had set Pierre and
the deaf mute to pare potatoes and turnips, he went off to report that
preparations for dinner were at last in train.

"A thousand thanks, monsieur," whispered the marquise when the German’s
back was turned.  "It was good of you to help old Pierre.  But, believe
me, it is unwise of you to stay.  If you should be discovered----  If
you made a slip----"

"Madame, to run risks is my daily work," said Burton.  "I am glad to
serve you--even in the capacity of kitchen-maid."

The marquise smiled wearily.

"We are playing strange parts, God help us!" she said.  "I am in great
distress, monsieur.  The German officer----"

"Boitelet has told me about him, madame," said Burton.  "Pardon: I
interrupt; but we may have little time.  Will you tell me what has
happened?"

"My poor son!  They dismissed our good doctor who was attending him;
they carried him, ill as he is, from his own room to one of the
servants’ rooms, and there they have locked him in with my husband.  It
is on the floor above us.  They have taken our rooms in the other wing
for themselves. They have ransacked the wine-cellar, and loaded the
table in the dining-room with my poor husband’s finest vintage.  But it
is not what they have done but what they may do that fills me with
dread.  That horrible man----"

Old Pierre, who was standing near the door, at this moment put his
finger quickly to his lips.  When the orderly entered, the marquise was
turning the chicken on the spit, and Burton was cleaning the knives.

"The old frau is slow," said the German to Pierre.  "The officers are
growing impatient.  She had better hurry, or there will be trouble."

"Madame la marquise will serve the dinner when it is ready," said
Pierre, quietly.

"Teufel!  You are insolent," cried the orderly, striking the old man
across the face.

Burton smothered the exclamation that rose to his lips.  The marquise
flashed at the German such a look of indignant scorn that he was
abashed, and went out muttering sullenly.

"The visit of that horrible man," the old lady went on, ignoring the
underling’s brutality, "is not accidental, I am sure.  He contemplates
vengeance.  He was dismissed with contumely, and I fear he will make my
poor son pay."

Burton could only murmur his sympathy. He watched with admiration the
quick, deft actions of the marquise, who prepared the dinner as
skilfully as her own cook could have done.

There was no opportunity for further conversation.  The orderly
returned, and lolled in a chair, commenting on the old lady’s movements
in offensive tones that made Burton tingle.  When the dishes were ready,
the marquise told Pierre to carry them in.

"No, no, old witch," said the orderly, with a chuckle.  "The Herr Major
is very particular; she must serve him herself."

Pierre translated this to his mistress, protesting that she must not
submit to such indignity.

"Eh bien, mon ami," she said, "they cannot hurt me more.  For my son’s
sake I will be cook and bonne in one.  Carry the dishes; I will show
them how a marquise waits at table."

Burton assisted the old man to convey the dishes to the dining-room,
following the marquise.  At their entrance there was a shout of
laughter.  Four officers sat at the table--the major, his captain, and
two moon-faced lieutenants.

"Where are your cap and apron, wench?" cried the major.  "Go and put
them on at once.  And make that dumb dog there understand that he is not
to bring his dirty face inside; he can hand the things to you through
the hatch."

The marquise compressed her lips, and, without replying, returned to the
kitchen, and came back in a maid’s cap and apron. What was meant for
indignity and insult seemed to Burton, watching from the hatch, to
enhance the lady’s dignity.  She moved about the table with the
quickness of a waiting maid and the proud bearing of a queen, paying no
heed to the coarse pleasantries of the Germans, or to their complaints
of the food, of which, nevertheless, they devoured large quantities.

"A tough fowl, this," said the major, "as old as the old hen herself."

"Ha, ha!" laughed his juniors, in whom the champagne they had already
drunk induced a facile admiration of the major’s wit.

As the meal progressed, and the Germans’ potations deepened, their
manners went from bad to worse.  They commenced an orgy of
plate-smashing, flinging pellets of damp bread at one another and at
pictures on the walls. Burton’s fingers tingled; from his place at the
hatch he could have shot them one by one with the revolver that lay snug
in his blouse.  But he contained his anger.  The four orderlies were in
an adjacent room; the village was filled with the troopers; and hasty
action would probably involve the destruction of the château and the
massacre of its long-suffering inhabitants.

Presently they called for coffee, and the major went to the marquis’s
cigar cupboard, promising his subordinates the best smoke of their
lives.  The champagne seemed to have affected him less than the other
members of the party, and Burton gained the impression that he was
holding himself in for the accomplishment of some sinister purpose.

Dismissing the marquise with a curt and contemptuous "Gehen Sie aus," he
called in an orderly to lock her in the upper room with her husband and
son.

"Now get your own suppers and turn in," he said.  "You may be disturbed;
the sneaking Englishmen are somewhere in the neighbourhood; so keep a
man on guard to give warning, and post a sentry in the corridor.  Send
Vossling to me."

His own orderly entered.  The major opened a fresh bottle, and passed it
round the table; then with a "Verzeihen Sie mir" to his companions, he
rose, and took the man into the passage out of earshot.  Burton had
slipped back into the kitchen; the passage appeared to be vacant.

A few minutes later old Pierre, his face blanched to the colour of
chalk, staggered into the kitchen.

"What is the matter?" asked Burton, alarmed.

He poured out a little brandy, and held the glass to the old man’s pale
and quivering lips.  Pierre gulped the liquid, looked around with horror
in his eyes, and signed to Burton to throw the door wide open.

"They must not know, monsieur," he said in a whisper, tottering to a
chair.

"What is the matter?" Burton repeated.

"I was in the passage, I heard them coming.  They are not there,
monsieur?"

"No, there is no one," said Burton, looking out through the open door.

"I slipped into the dark ante-room, monsieur, and hid behind the tall
clock.  They came in."

"Who?"

"The major--Schwikkard, the accursed spy, and his man.  I heard what
they said. ’The old marquis is a bitter enemy of Germany,’ said
Schwikkard.  ’He fought against us in ’70.  He is a dangerous man. Now,
if the west wing of the château caught fire--_caught fire_, you
understand--say, in the early morning.’ ... They are not there,
monsieur?"

"No.  Go on."

"’Caught fire!’ he said.  Mon Dieu! ’In the early morning--not too
early, for that would disturb the sleep of some good Germans; but not
too late, for that would bring the whole village here.  If the west wing
were burned, and all in it’--_all in it_, monsieur!--’it would be a good
thing for Germany.  Understand,’ he said, ’it will be an accident.  We
should all try to put the fire out, but we should not succeed,
naturally.  These old places burn well.  You understand?  Well then,
good-night--and see that you don’t call me too soon--versteht sich!’
The orderly chuckled, monsieur. Mon Dieu!  Monsieur et madame, le pauvre
capitaine!  Ah ciel!  Quelle horreur!"



                                   IV


The old man sank back in his chair, half fainting.  Burton gave him more
brandy. Aghast at the atrocious villainy of the scheme--incredible but
for the crimes which had already stained the German arms--he was for the
moment unable to think of anything but the scene he saw in
imagination--flames illuminating the dawn, eating away the staircase,
enclosing the three helpless people above in a fiery furnace.

The old man groaned aloud.

"Take care!" whispered Burton.  "Tell me, are there arms in the house?"

"Why, yes, monsieur; a rifle and two revolvers, in the captain’s
room--well hidden, par exemple!"

"Is there a back staircase to the upper rooms?"

"By that door yonder, monsieur," replied Pierre, pointing to a small
door in the corner.

"If anybody comes and asks about me, say that I have gone home.  Pull
yourself together for the sake of monsieur and madame."

"But, monsieur----"

"Chut!  The party is breaking up. Listen!  They are going to their rooms
in the east wing.  Courage, my friend!"

He extinguished the oil lamp, pressed Pierre’s hand, and stole
noiselessly through the door in the corner.  It opened to a narrow
staircase.  At the head of this there was a passage leading between
bedrooms to the main staircase farther along.  There was no lamp in the
passage, but a faint shine through a skylight lit dimly its farther end.
And just as Burton gained the top step, and peered cautiously round the
edge of the wall, he was amazed to see Major Schwikkard unlock a door on
the left, and enter the room.

"Go into the next room," came the curt command in French.

"Monsieur, I cannot leave my son," protested the marquise.  "Have you no
humanity at all?"

"Gabble is useless.  Go into the next room, and take the old man with
you.  Or shall I shoot him before your eyes?"

The two old people came into the passage, followed by the major, who
hustled them into the adjoining apartment, locked them in, and returned.
Burton, dreading lest he intended to proceed at once to extremes with
the wounded man, and resolved at any cost to prevent it, darted on
tip-toe along the passage to the room in which the marquis and his wife
were shut up, silently unlocked the door, and whispering, "Courage,
monsieur et madame: await my return," he left them, and went to the next
door.  It was closed.

Through it he heard the German’s voice. It was no time to shirk risks.
Grasping the handle firmly, he turned it, and gently pushed the door,
little by little, until he could see into the room.

The German was seated on a chair by the bedside, his back to the door,
ostentatiously cutting a fresh cigar.  Beside him was a small cabinet
with medicines.  On it he had laid his revolver, out of the reach of the
young soldier on the bed.  They presented a strange contrast, the blond,
bulky German, red-faced, brimming with physical energy, and the
Frenchman, whose eyes, feverishly bright, gleamed out of pale sunken
cheeks, and whose emaciated hands lay idle on the coverlet.  His dark
head propped on the pillow, he lay perfectly still, corpse-like save for
his burning eyes.

"An excellent cigar!" said the German. "Who should know that better than
I? Once more I am indebted to your amiable parents for their
hospitality.  I make my acknowledgments.  Madame la marquise has been
most attentive; she looked charming, if a little faded, in cap and
apron; and you would have been delighted to see her handing the plates."

The invalid’s fingers twitched; a flush mantled his cheeks.  He tried to
lift his head, but it sank back weakly upon the pillow.  Burton felt
that the German was watching his victim with malicious satisfaction.
The shaft had struck home.

"Don’t rise, don’t rise, my dear sir.  I realise how little our good
German shells suit the constitution of you Frenchmen. You have no
stamina, you know: a puff"--he blew out a cloud of smoke--"and you are
gone!

"You scarcely hoped, perhaps, to see me again after our last parting at
the gates of your hospitable château?  You find it, perhaps, a strange
chance that brings me again beneath this roof?  Yet perhaps it is not so
strange after all, for, helpless though I was at the time, I vowed that
some day or other I would return.  And thus we meet, sooner than I could
have hoped--our parts somewhat changed.  I was then a helpless German in
France; you are now a helpless Frenchman in what is going to be Germany.
When you were up and I was down, you heaped upon me insults and abuse,
and struck me--me, a well-born Prussian!--because I did my duty to my
country.  Did you reflect?  Did it ever cross your French mind that a
German, a Junker, a soldier, a man of culture, would not brook the
insolent perversity of one of your decadent race? Now I am up and you
are down, and we can square accounts.  You are to learn what it is to
strike a German.  Of this your château, of you and the vile French brood
within it, there shall not remain to-morrow aught but ashes.  That is
what I have promised myself these three years.  I will pay my vow!"

During this speech, hissed out in a tone of the bitterest rancour, the
German had held his cigar between finger and thumb, lifting his hand now
and then to emphasise his words.  Perceiving that it had gone out, he
cut another, lit it, and lolled insolently in his chair, his long legs
stretched beneath the bed, as if gloating over his intended victim. The
young captain had not uttered a word. No change of countenance revealed
his feelings, or so much as hinted that he had heard the German’s
tirade.  His eyes appeared to look past his tormentor, but nothing in
their expression warned Schwikkard of what he saw.

There was a brief interval of silence; then the German drew up his legs.

"Sleep well!" he said.  "I assure you your sleep shall be a long one!"

He flicked the ash of his cigar into one of the medicine glasses, and
was about to rise, when a hand shot over his shoulder, and grasped his
revolver.  Turning on his chair with a start, he flinched as his right
ear touched the cold muzzle of a second revolver which Burton pointed at
him.

[Illustration: AN INTERRUPTION]

"Sit down!" said Burton, quietly, in French.  "If you make the slightest
sound, I will shoot you on the spot."

The German’s face blanched under its sun-tan.  A muzzle to the right, a
muzzle to the left, each within a few inches of his head! Speechless, he
sank down into his chair, and the cigar fell upon the floor.



                                   V


Covering the shrinking German with the revolvers, Burton glanced round
the room, and moved towards an electric bell-push in one of the walls.

"Does it communicate with the kitchen?" he asked the wounded man, who
nodded--weakness and the thrill of emotion bereft him of speech.

Burton rang the bell--a single sharp ring. In a few moments Pierre
appeared.  The expression of foreboding dread in his eyes gave way to
consternation, joy, eagerness, in turn.

"Some stout cord, Pierre," said Burton, "and shut the door behind you.
My revolver may go off, and it would be a pity to disturb your master’s
guests."

The irony was lost upon Major Schwikkard. The turning of the tables
seemed to have completely unnerved him.  It is, perhaps, not true that
all bullies are cowards at heart; but a man is tested by adversity.

Pierre soon returned with the cord, and in a few minutes he trussed the
German securely, Burton standing over him with a revolver.

"Now a gag!" Burton said.  "Take one of those strips of linen; monsieur
le capitaine will spare us one of his bandages."

At this the German found voice at last.

"You--you treacherous----"

"Not so loud, monsieur l’espion!" said Burton, fingering the revolver.

The German gurgled.

"You will--all be--shot," he gasped, "as soon as they discover----"

"Allons!" exclaimed Pierre, thrusting the gag firmly between his jaws,
"it is done, monsieur."

"There is an unoccupied room, Pierre?" asked Burton.

"Assuredly, monsieur, at the end of the passage."

"Then we will take him there, and tie him down on the bed.  His friends
will no doubt miss him in the morning, and release him--perhaps about
breakfast time!"

Such was Burton’s contempt for the man that he felt no touch of
compunction at the effect his words produced.  Pierre and he were
carrying the German between them. His staring eyes proclaimed an agony
of terror.  At dawn the wing was to be fired. He had carefully provided
against premature discovery.  His friends would be still sleeping off
their liquor.  He saw himself lost.

He writhed, his lips worked, but the inexorable gag prevented
articulation.  The two carried him into the farther room, laid him face
upwards on the bed, and bound him firmly to the four posts.  The
moonlight, streaming through the window, threw a ghastly pallor upon his
countenance.  His eyes pled for mercy, and Burton, after a few moments’
hesitation, relented.  If the terror-stricken wretch would show any
spark of good feeling, he would relieve his fears.  He loosed the gag.

Schwikkard gulped, moistened his lips, and spoke gaspingly.

"You have me in your power ... but your revenge will recoil on you....
Release me; I will leave the château at once.... I will agree to any
terms....  You shall go unharmed."

"You would bribe me?" answered Burton, coldly, disgusted that the man
had said no word of regret.  "You have given us no reason to believe
that your word is more to be trusted than any other German’s. We are not
going to kill you, in spite of your threats to a helpless gentleman and
your treatment of Madame.  Your threats, perhaps, were not meant in
earnest----"

"No, no," cried the German eagerly. "It was only--only a joke."

"Ah! such a joke is in very bad taste, so we will leave you to think it
over."

Remorselessly he replaced the gag, and they left him to his reflections.

Returning to the invalid’s room, they consulted in whispers.  The
captain had closed his eyes.  Full of admiration for his self-control in
giving no sign of having observed the stealthy approach from the door,
Burton hoped that the wounded man might be strong enough to bear removal
from the château to the curé’s house, and thence to the British lines.

"Can we move him?" he asked Pierre.

"Ah, no, monsieur," replied the old man, bending over the bed and gazing
with poignancy of affection at the haggard face.  "It would kill him."

Burton pondered, while Pierre spoke gently to his master’s son and
poured wine between his lips.  The captain’s eyes were eloquent of
gratitude.

"There is only one thing to be done," said Burton at last.  "Our army is
slowly advancing: we must hold the château until it comes."

"But, monsieur, it is impossible!" cried the old man.  "The Bosches are
in the house: they fill the village."

"True; but this wing is defensible against anything except artillery,
and we have a valuable hostage in the major.  Let us see what monsieur
le marquis says."

They went to the room where they had left the old general and his wife.
Burton explained to the former what he had already done, and what he
proposed to do.  There was a gleam in the old soldier’s eyes.

"Ma foi, monsieur, la bonne idée!" he cried.  "It makes me young again."
Then he glanced at his wife, and his face was full of trouble.
"Chérie," he said, "there will be danger.  It will be no place for you.
Will you not go to the curé’s?  It is dark: Pierre would lead you across
the fields."

"Mon ami," replied the old lady firmly, taking the general’s hand, "my
place is with you and with Fernand.  Is it for nothing that I am a
soldier’s wife?"

The marquis pressed her hand; his eyes were moist.

"Monsieur, it shall be," he said, simply, turning to Burton.

"Will you come with me then, monsieur?" said Burton.  "Pierre, bring
food and candles from the kitchen, also a chisel if you have one."

The marquise returned to her son’s room; Burton, accompanied by the
general, made a rapid tour of the floor.  The head of the kitchen
staircase came to the passage near the door of the servant’s bedroom in
which the captain was now laid.  The window of the room, overlooking the
parterres in front of the house, was opposite the door.  There were two
doors, one on each side of the passage, opening into rooms both of which
communicated with the bedroom.  One of these had been temporarily
occupied by monsieur and madame; in the other, Major Schwikkard was
confined.  At the farther end of the passage was a door opening on to a
landing, from which the grand staircase descended to the hall below.

The general’s experienced eye marked the possibilities of the situation.

"They will come up the grand staircase, monsieur," he said.  "This door
is our outer defence.  We must barricade it.  If they fire through it,
their shots will fly straight along the passage to the door of my son’s
room.  They will hardly penetrate that and the barricade that we shall
raise behind it.  The Germans will break down this door and come into
the passage.  We must then defend the rooms."

"And if they attack from the outside, monsieur?"

"The windows are shuttered.  You observed that, and sent for a
chisel--to loophole the shutters?"

"That was my idea."

"It was good.  We must barricade the shutters also in such a way that we
can approach the loopholes obliquely.  Their Mauser bullets will easily
penetrate the shutters, although they are of oak."

"Here is Pierre.  We must be very quiet and very quick; the sentry below
will wonder at the prolonged absence of his chief."

"Is there a sentry?"

"There was to be.  I will see."

He tip-toed to the head of the grand staircase, and peeped over the
rail.  One of the orderlies was standing bolt upright against the door.

The three men removed their boots, and carried every portable piece of
furniture to the doors and windows, piling them one upon another, and
strutting them with chairs, towel horses, and other small objects. The
chisel proved a useless tool for boring the hard oak.  There was a fire
in the captain’s room.  Burton made a poker red hot, and with this burnt
a few loopholes in the shutters.  After nearly an hour’s strenuous work,
carried on with extraordinary noiselessness, the preparations were made.

The old marquis was now trembling with excitement and fatigue.  His wife
gave him some wine, and, while he rested, Burton looked to the weapons.
The German’s revolver and his own were full.  The marquise brought out
two more, a rifle, and ammunition, from the depths of a cupboard.

There was now only to await events.  It was nearly midnight.  How long
would it be before the sentry became uneasy at his commander’s absence?
With German stolidity, and the Prussian soldier’s fear of his officer,
he might never think of moving from his post.  But after a time he would
certainly be relieved, and possibly a consultation with the relief would
lead to action.

As Burton sat nursing the rifle, he was conscious of a smell of burning,
distinct from the smell caused by boring the wood.  Pierre had been
absent for some little time in the room where the major lay.  He came
through the communicating door, followed by smoke. Burton started up.

"Have they set the place on fire already?" he asked.

"No, no, monsieur," the man replied, with a strange smile.  "I was
merely burning some paper."

Thinking that there were perhaps some documents which must not fall into
the Germans’ hands, Burton asked no further questions.  Once or twice
again the same grim smile appeared about the old servitor’s lips, and
Burton concluded that he was pleased at having accomplished a necessary
task.

Two hours passed in almost silent waiting. The only movements were those
of the marquise in tending her son.  Then, about two o’clock, they heard
some one try the handle of the door at the end of the passage. Burton
had locked it.  In a moment there was a tap at the door.  No one
answered. It was repeated, louder and more energetically. Burton nodded
to Pierre.

"What is it?" the man asked in German.

"The Herr Major; is he here?"

"Yes; he is resting; he must not be disturbed."

Footsteps were heard receding.  The sentry was apparently satisfied.

"We must give them warning some time before dawn," said Burton,
"otherwise the man Vossling will carry out his orders, and set fire to
the staircase."

"Knowing that the major is in this wing?" said the general.

"He may not know that.  On the other hand he may.  Then he will suspect
that something is wrong.  In the one case, we should be burnt alive; in
the other, the man would be uneasy and come to wake the major.  But the
longer we delay the more chance of relief.  The sun rises at about
half-past six; the place was to be fired before dawn.  How will the
orderly interpret his instructions?"

"It is a nice calculation," said the marquis, who with renewed strength
had recovered his keenness.  "Will he wait until the darkness begins to
thin, or abstain from setting up a rival to the sunlight?  I do not know
the German mind."

Time dragged for Burton.  The marquis and his man dozed; the marquise,
in the intervals of her ministrations, read a book of Hours.  The slow
clock ticked on the mantelshelf; three struck, and four.

At a little after four there was a loud knock on the door.

"At last!" said Burton, half in relief, half in misgiving.  The old men
started up, and grasped each a revolver.  The lady put down her book and
clasped her hands on her lap, pressing her lips together as if to shut
in a cry.

"Who is there?" demanded Burton in French.

"Where is Major Schwikkard?" came the answer.  An officer was speaking.

Burton saw that further concealment was useless.

"He is here," he called down the passage, "a prisoner."

The German swore.

"You dogs!  You imbeciles!" he shouted, shaking the door.  "Let me in.
What do you mean by this buffoonery?  If it is your trick, you
white-headed old fool, you shan’t escape hanging because you were once a
soldier.  You and your man are civilians in arms.  You shall die by
inches. Let me in, I say."

There was no reply.  The officer shook the door again.

"Force it with your shoulder, Vossling," he said with an oath.

The door creaked, but the lock held. Next moment there was a crash; he
had blown in the lock with a shot from his revolver.  But the door
banged against the wardrobe placed behind it.  The German swore again.
Then there was silence. In a few minutes, several voices were heard.

"Remove this barricade, you old French fools," said the captain, in a
voice thick with sleep, wine and rage, "or we will blow the place to
atoms."

"And Major Schwikkard?" said Burton, quietly.

"That is not an old man speaking," said the captain to his companions.
"There was no one else in the house except the old hag and the wounded
man."

"And the deaf mute," said one of the others.

"Potztausend!  If that dirty fellow has played tricks on us I will crop
his ears and cut his tongue out.  Give them a taste."

Their revolvers spoke; three shots crashed through the wood, flew along
the passage, through the open door opposite, and finally embedded
themselves in the shutter.  A moment later Burton, stepping to the edge
of the doorway, lifted his rifle and fired. There was a cry from beyond
the barricaded door, a volley of oaths, and a general stampede for
safety to the landing.

For a few minutes there was silence. The marquise stroked her son’s hot
brow. Then a fusillade burst through the door and the stout barricade
behind it.  The bullets pattered on the shutters, but the three men had
stood back out of the line of fire.  None of them was struck by a shot,
but a splinter of wood from the wardrobe glanced off the inner door ami
grazed Pierre’s cheek.  Again and again the fusillade was repeated.  The
defenders, husbanding their ammunition, and careful not to expose
themselves, did not reply; they waited in grim silence, to meet the
enemy’s next move.

The failure of their efforts enraged and nonplussed the Germans.  Warned
by the shot that had wounded one of them, they made no attempt to storm
the barricade. There was a short interval, and they were heard
discussing the situation in low tones. The result was made clear in a
few minutes. Bullets began to crash through the shutters to all the
windows.

"They have brought up men from the village, and surrounded the wing,"
said the general.

"We shall be in no danger," said Burton. "Firing from the ground, their
shots will go through the ceilings."

In a short time this became apparent to the assailants.  The attack
ceased for a little; then, through the window of the room in which the
major lay, bullets flew horizontally across the room, a few inches above
his head.

"They will kill their own officer!" cried Burton.  "We can’t leave him
helpless in his present position."

"He deserves no pity," said the general. "Still, we are not Germans.  My
camp bed is there, lower than the bed he is on, and easily moved.  Let
us place him on that."

"Mon Dieu!  It is the bed you slept on in ’70, monsieur," cried Pierre.

"What then, my friend?"

"It is sacrilege, monsieur; it is treason to France--pardon, mon maitre,
I should not have said that, but it would tear my heart to see a German
on that bed."

"Let that be our _revanche_," said the general, quietly.

"I hope a German bullet may find him," muttered the old man, as the
others released the stiff figure upon the bed.  They kept on their knees
to avoid the flying bullets, and so transferred the German from the
larger bedstead to the low single bed on which the general had made the
campaign of ’70.  They placed it against the wall in the corner near the
window, out of danger. Leaving Pierre on his knees to fire up if any
German tried to enter the room through the window, they returned to the
invalid’s bedroom.

"Strange that they should be so reckless of killing their own officer,"
remarked Burton.

"They are callous ruffians," the general replied.  "Besides, it is war;
one life is of little account.  That is what we all have to remember.
The individual life is nothing; the cause is all."

The passage and the rooms were filling with suffocating fumes.  The
noise of shots, of splintering wood, of shouting men, was incessant.
Hitherto, save for the single rifle shot fired by Burton, the defenders
had not used their weapons.  At the end of the passage they could not
have escaped the hail of bullets; from the side doors they could not
take direct aim.  But the attack had now become so violent that
reprisals must be attempted, or the defences would be utterly shattered.
An idea came suddenly to Burton.  Closing the door leading to the sick
man’s room, so that the passage was completely dark, he passed into the
next room, shoved a table through the doorway, set a chair upon it, and
waiting until there was a slight lull in the attack, climbed upon the
chair.

Standing thus above the enemy’s line of fire, and in darkness, he was
able to see, through the gaps made in the barricade and the door, a
faint light filtering through from the lamp in the hall below.  A crowd
of Germans had come quite close to the door, and were thrusting their
rifles through the jagged rents in the panels.  Burton took careful aim
at one of them, fired, and a yell proclaimed that his bullet had gone
home. A second shot claimed its victim.  Then the enemy, cursing with
rage, rushed back from the door, and for a time continued firing from
the angles of the landing.

Meanwhile the window at which Pierre was left had been driven in,
shutter and all, by repeated blows of an axe wielded by a man mounted on
a ladder.  The old man fired just as the German was stepping from the
ladder to the window-sill.  Shot through the heart, the intruder fell
headlong.  None of his comrades was bold enough to emulate his daring.

The general had been chafing at his inability to take a positive part in
the fight. Stimulated by the success Burton had had from his post of
vantage, the old warrior’s Gallic spirit threw aside caution.  Slipping
into the passage, he was in the act of placing another chair on the
table when a bullet fired from the angle on the landing struck a brass
bracket on the wall at his left, rebounded from it, and buried itself
with a splinter of brass in the old man’s arm. He reeled.  Burton sprang
down to assist him, and carried him fainting into the bedroom, where his
wife received him into her arms.

[Illustration: The marquis is hit]

"Hard luck!" thought Burton, for the shot that wounded the general was
the last to be fired for a considerable time.



                                   VI


The enemy ceased firing, both within the château and without.  Wondering
what their next move would be, Burton remained heedfully on guard, rifle
in hand.  Pierre, overcome with grief at the collapse of his master, was
assisting the marquise to restore him and to bind up his wound.

Presently the German’s voice came through the door.

"General du Breuil!"

"What do you want?" Burton called.

"You treacherous hound!  I have nothing to say to you," cried the
German, angrily. "I speak to the general."

"The general deputes me to answer for him.  If you will not speak to me,
you will go unanswered."

"Who are you?" the German asked with an oath.

"The general’s deputy," replied Burton.

"That will not avail you," cried the officer, sneeringly.  "I have sent
to the village to fetch that rascally smith who assisted your imposture.
When he has told me who you are, he shall be deaf and dumb for his last
minute in life."

Burton felt chill from top to toe.  He had not thought of the peril in
which his stratagem might involve the smith.  The Germans were capable
of any enormity. But he could do nothing--except gain time. Would the
British advance guard arrive before all was lost?

"Well, if the general chooses to employ a cur as his deputy, so be it,"
the German went on.  "Like man, like master.  Take this message to the
general: If he does not yield, I will fire the château."

"And if we surrender?" said Burton.

"We will deal with him as a soldier. He will be tried by court-martial."

"On what charge?"

"That, having been a soldier, with no excuse of ignorance of the laws of
war, he, as a civilian, resists the military power."

"And if he is found guilty?"

"His fate will lie in the discretion of the court."

"And his old servant?"

The German, anxious to gain his ends without further fighting,
hesitated, then replied, equivocally--

"The court will decide."

"And myself?"

"The court will decide," replied the officer, impatiently.

"Is that all?"

The German smote the door angrily.

"Your answer!" he cried.

"You will give us a few minutes for consultation?"

"Five minutes: no more."

Burton stood on his chair, holding his rifle.

"I heard it, monsieur," said the voice of the marquise in an undertone
behind him.  "My poor husband is incapable of speech.  We must leave all
to you.  But can we resist fire?"

"Madame, I seek to gain time.  We can expect no mercy from the Germans.
There is but one hope--that our army will arrive in time.  If that hope
fails----"

"Spare us fire, monsieur, I implore you. It is frightful."

She wrung her hands piteously.

"Trust me, madame; hope, and pray," said Burton.

When the five minutes were up, the German hailed him.  "Your
answer--quickly."

"Monsieur le capitaine," said Burton, suavely, "we cannot surrender yet.
We should like to kill a few more Germans."

The officer let out a vicious oath.

    "Then roast!" he cried.  "You and the rest."

"Including your worthy commandant, mon capitaine?  Don’t forget him."

"You have murdered him."

"That is the explanation of their reckless shooting," thought Burton.
He replied: "Not at all.  We are not Germans."

"You lie!" cried the captain, whose anger was rapidly getting the better
of him.

"Did I not remind you, monsieur, that we are not Germans?"

The officer was speechless with rage. Burton imagined his quandary.  It
would be awkward for him if he set fire to the château and burnt his
superior.  His next words showed his state of mind.

"You say Major Schwikkard is alive.  Prove it."

"Nothing easier, mon capitaine," said Burton.  "You must give me a few
minutes. He is a heavy man."

He saw that there was nothing to lose, possibly something to gain, by
convincing the German.  Slipping down from his perch, he hurried to
Pierre, who was kneeling at his master’s chair.

"Come with me," he said, and led him into the room where the major lay
gagged and bound.  The bed was a light one. They carried it to the
window, and tilted it on end.  Leaving Pierre to maintain it in that
position, Burton returned to the chair, and kept silence until the
captain impatiently demanded his proofs.

"I must trouble you to descend and go to the rear of the wing,
monsieur," said Burton.  "It is dark: no doubt you have a flashlight?"

"We have; what then?  Do not play with me."

"Far from it, monsieur.  I am aware of the gravity of your position.  Go
down to the garden at the rear, and look up at the window that will then
face you.  But do not flash your light up until I give the word."

The German snarled under his breath. Burton caught the sounds of a
whispered consultation at the stair-head.  A minute or two later the
officer called up from the garden.  Burton withdrew the piled-up
furniture, opened the shutters, and helped Pierre to lift the bed,
tilted as it was, to the window.  The major’s form, stretched upon it,
somewhat resembled a mummy in a case.

"Now, monsieur!" Burton called.

The glaring light of an acetylene lamp was thrown up towards the window.
It fell on the major’s face, which, ghastly in itself, looked death-like
in the glare.

"He is dead!" the captain shouted.

"Not at all--only afraid; he overheard your amiable intentions.  We will
demonstrate."  He turned to Pierre, saying: "Fetch some pepper."

"There is none upstairs, monsieur.  I dare not go below."

"Some snuff?"

"Ah, oui! monsieur le marquis likes his pinch.  A moment, monsieur."

He went into the bedroom, took a snuff-box from his master’s pocket, and
returned. Burton opened the box, took a large pinch of snuff, and held
it to the major’s nose. There was a slight but dramatic pause. All was
silent.  Then the major’s features became convulsed, and the silence was
rent by a resounding sneeze.

"Now, monsieur le capitaine," cried Burton, "could a dead German sneeze
like that?"

There were snarls of rage from below, mingled, Burton thought, with
suppressed laughter from some of the troopers who had gathered in the
background behind their officers.

"With your good pleasure we will resume our interesting conversation
above," said Burton.

With Pierre he lowered the bed and carried it back to its former
position.  Then he replaced the shutters.

"Another ten minutes gained," he thought.

The ten minutes were prolonged to fifteen. The captain was consulting
with his subordinates.  Presently he called through the door--

"Are you there?"

"Always at your service, monsieur."

"Seeing that Major Schwikkard is apparently alive, we will permit you to
surrender on terms."

"What terms, monsieur?"

"You shall be allowed to pass through the German lines."

"I should like to consult the general, monsieur," said Burton, still
talking to gain time.

"Five minutes."

"Let us say ten, monsieur," Burton pleaded.  "It is, you will admit, a
serious matter."

"Ten, then; not a minute more."

At the end of the ten minutes the captain called for an answer.

"The general wishes to know, monsieur, what guarantee he has for
safety."

"The word of a German officer," snarled the captain.  "Be quick!"

Waiting a minute or so, Burton said--

"The general has a little difficulty in making up his mind--pardonable
at his age.  You give him another ten minutes, monsieur?"

"Three; not a second more," cried the German, completely hoodwinked by
Burton’s tone, and unaware of the vital consideration in Burton’s
mind--the return of Captain Rolfe to head-quarters.

"Very well, monsieur.  I will bring the general’s answer in three
minutes."

The marquise and Pierre were holding their breath.  The same thought
possessed them both; to what lengths would this audacious Englishman go?

The period elapsed; the captain called peremptorily for an answer.

"The general, monsieur, has considered your offer," said Burton, "and he
feels safer where he is."

At last the German’s besotted intelligence was penetrated by the
suspicion that he had been played with.  He poured out his venom in a
torrent of virulent abuse, snatched at his revolver, and fired
point-blank into the darkness.  The bullet struck one of the legs of
Burton’s chair, the chair broke under him, and he fell with a crash.
The effect of the shot, heard but not seen by the Germans, was hailed by
them with a shout of triumph.  But Burton crawled into the bedroom, with
no worse injury than bruised elbows and shins.



                                  VII


Into the next few minutes were crowded, as it seemed to Burton in
reminiscence, the events of hours.  Emboldened by the supposed success
of the captain’s shot, the Germans renewed the attack with great
violence and determination, both within and without.  Repeated
onslaughts were made on the tottering door, which was now almost
completely splintered, and on the barricade of furniture behind it.
Burton had lost no time in replacing the broken chair, and twice his
steady fire from near the ceiling sent the attackers back in a
disorderly heap.

Meanwhile two of the windows and their shutters had been riddled by
long-distance fire, and men were again mounting on ladders to break into
the rooms.  At one, Pierre played a manful part; at the other, the
general, bracing himself as the peril grew greater, stood holding his
revolver in his left hand, and shot man after man.

The grey light of early morning was now stealing into the room,
depriving the defenders of the advantage of darkness.  The shouts of the
men, the reports of the guns, the suffocating fumes, made the place an
inferno.  At the bedside the marquise still bravely held her post.
Burton was too busy to notice the extreme pallor of her face, the
trembling of her hands, the agonised look of terror in her eyes.

With a wild shout the infuriated Germans crashed through the broken
door, and began to pull away the barricade at the end of the passage.
While they were doing so, it was impossible for their comrades to
continue firing; the attack was interrupted, and Burton shot down many
of the enemy among the pile of shattered furniture.  But he recognised
that, the Germans having won an entrance to the passage, it was only a
question of minutes before the defence was overwhelmed.

At this moment he heard a groan in his rear.  Pierre, badly hit, had
staggered from the window he had been defending through the
communicating doorway into the invalid’s room.  "It is all over with
me!" he moaned, sinking at his mistress’s feet.  The crack of the
general’s revolver still sounded at short intervals from the next room.
Here and there the woodwork was smouldering; before long it would burst
into flames.

"There is only one thing to be done," thought Burton, resolved to
maintain the struggle to the end, desperate as the position was.  "We
must keep together, and make a last stand at the captain’s bed."

Filling his magazine, he poured shot after shot into the enemy crowding
in the doorway and bursting through the barrier.  The survivors reeled
back under this withering fire, giving Burton time to leap from his
perch, run into the room, and call the general to his side.  Pierre was
helpless, the invalid was half dead, only the general and Burton
remained to stem a tide which would soon flow back with tenfold force
along the passage.

The two men posted themselves before the bed, ready to meet the final
rush. Unknown to them, the marquise had taken the revolver from Pierre’s
hand and stood in front of her son, like a lioness defending her cub.
The attack was renewed simultaneously on all sides, but a strange
inadvertence on the part of the enemy intervened to deal a partial
check.  They were shooting from the demolished barricade at the end of
the passage.  At the same time their comrades outside had begun to fire
through the window in a direct line with it.  Several of the Germans in
the passage fell to the bullets of their own friends.

Growling at this mishap, the unwounded men broke through the doors at
the sides into the rooms.  Burton had closed and barricaded, as well as
he could, the communicating doors, but he felt with a sinking heart that
a few seconds would bring the unequal contest to its inevitable end.

The din was terrific, and with it was now mingled a surprising sound
from outside the house.

"A machine-gun!" said Burton to himself.  "They will shatter their own
men!"  He had no more time to think about it. The door of the room to
his left fell in with a crash; in the glimmer of dawn the opening was
crowded with Germans.  Burton and the general emptied their revolvers
into the mass; it collapsed, and the two men hastily filled their
chambers to meet the next, the final rush.

[Illustration: THE DOOR FELL IN WITH A CRASH]

But there was a strange lull in the rifle fire.  From outside again came
the rattle of a machine-gun, and, in a momentary interval of silence,
Burton caught the sound of cheers.  Surely they were not German cheers?
He thrilled with the conviction that the voices this time had the true
British ring.  He waited the expected rush; it did not come.  The
doorway was clear; heavy feet were trampling in frenzied haste along the
passage.  With the intermittent rattle of machine-guns close at hand
came unmistakable British shouts.

Burton rushed to the window.  The shutters were now in flames.
Wrenching away the bars, he thrust his head through the shattered glass,
and joyfully hailed the khaki-clad Lancers who had reined up below.
There was not a living German to be seen. The greensward and the
trampled parterres were strewn with prostrate forms.  And with a rattle
and clank a battery of horse artillery galloped upon the scene.

"We are saved, madame!" cried Burton, turning back into the room.  "Our
Lancers have put the Germans to flight."

"Dieu merci!" murmured the lady, falling on her knees at the bedside.

"Ah, les braves Anglais!" said the marquis, grasping Burton’s right hand
with his left, and jerking his arm up and down like a pump handle.

They looked at old Pierre, who had raised himself, and was feebly
shouting: "Vivent les Anglais!  Vive monsieur le sourd-muet!"

Then, to Burton’s amazement, he cracked his fingers, and laughed like a
lunatic.

"The poor fellow’s brain is turned," said the marquis.

"No, no, monsieur, I am not crazy.  Ah, ah! it was a trick to play!"

"What are you raving about, mon vieux?" asked the marquis.

"The smoke, monsieur!  The paper!  I gave the spy Schwikkard a
foretaste.  Ha! Surely he believed his last hour was come. See,
monsieur, I burnt some brown paper in the stove under his nose.  He
would fire the château!  Eh bien! assuredly he believed it was already
on fire.  It was drôle, monsieur--fine trick, n’est-ce pas?"

"Schwikkard is our prisoner, without doubt," said Burton to the marquis.
"Shall we untie him?"

At this moment entered Major Colpus of the Lancers, stepping gingerly
over the wreck of door and furniture.

"A pretty mess they have made of it," he said, with double intent.  "You
are Burton?"

"That’s my name."

"Captain Rolfe told us we should catch a half-regiment of hussars if we
hurried. He rather expected you would be a prisoner. We got to the
village just as some of the Germans were hauling away one Boitelet, the
village smith, it appears.  They left him to us, and he gave us an
inkling that you were concerned in the rumpus here. The Germans have
skedaddled; we have a few prisoners below.  You have had a whack or two,
I see."

"I wasn’t aware of it," said Burton, looking with surprise at dark
stains on his blouse.  "The marquis and his man are both wounded."

"Glad to meet you, monsieur," said the officer, who, with British
shyness, had affected to ignore the presence of all but Burton.  Now,
however, he greeted monsieur and madame courteously, knelt down and
rendered capable first-aid to the marquis and Pierre, and seeing at a
glance that the man in bed was very ill, dispatched Burton for the
regimental medico.

It was not until the doctor was engaged with his patients that Burton
found an opportunity of releasing Major Schwikkard, and handing him as a
prisoner to the British officer.  He was scarcely recognisable.  The
long vigil, with the dread of being roasted by his own instructions, had
broken him both in body and mind.  He looked years older.  His cheeks
had fallen in, his whole frame shook, and his hair was patched with
white.  When Major Colpus addressed him cheerily, he stammered, tried to
complete a sentence, and burst into tears.

"Poor wretch!" the major murmured. "Doctor, here’s another patient for
you. Now, Mr. Burton, come and tell me all that has happened."

"I want to get back to my aeroplane," protested Burton.

"No hurry for that.  Your friend, the smith, has borrowed a spare mount,
and ridden off to the town to fetch something or other for it.  I shan’t
let you off."

Burton growled that there was not much to tell, and turned to take his
leave of the old marquis and his wife.  In their over-flowing emotion
they could hardly speak.

"God bless you, monsieur!" said the marquise, brokenly.  "You have saved
us all.  Your doctor says that my son will recover.  Take a mother’s
thanks, and wear this, monsieur.  May the good God preserve you!"

She took from her neck a chain bearing a richly jewelled cross, and
pressed it into Burton’s hand.  He bade them good-bye.

"Adieu, monsieur!" said old Pierre, as Burton shook hands with him.
"The wound--it is nothing.  Your good doctor has stitched it up.  I was
not born to be killed by a Bosche.  Ah, ça!  It was a good trick,
monsieur, n’est-ce pas?"



[Illustration: Chapter III Heading]


                            BORROWED PLUMES


                                   I


The tramp steamer _Elpinike_, bound from the Peiræus to the island of
Tenedos with supplies for the Allied forces, was thrashing its way
northwards through the blue waters of the Ægean Sea.  It was a warm,
sunny day; the Levantine crew lolled on the bulwarks, and a mixed group
of passengers was gathered on the after-deck.  Three or four French
officers, smoking cigarettes, basked on deck-chairs; several men, whose
nationality it were hard to determine, leant in picturesque attitudes
against the wall of the deck-house; and a couple of Englishmen, wearing
overalls and low cloth caps, and with blackened briar pipes between
their lips, sat side by side on the third of the steps leading to the
bridge. They eyed with faint amusement the centre of the group, a very
fat man sucking a very fat cigar, who lay back in his creaking
deck-chair and discoursed at large.

Mr. Achilles Christopoulos, as he had announced himself to his
fellow-passengers, was the agent of the charterers of the vessel. He
was, he assured them, a very busy man. He had broad, bulging, swarthy
cheeks, a multiple chin, and a heavier moustache than is common among
his compatriots; for Mr. Christopoulos was, by his own account, a Greek
of Greeks.  His English was fluent, with little oddities of accent and
pronunciation; and after every few words he drew deep, audible gasps for
breath.

"Yes, zhentlemen," said Mr. Christopoulos, waving his cigar towards the
Englishmen and Frenchmen, "my country will remain neutral.  Of war we
have had enough; it is time we had a rest.  And tell me, why should we
pull your chestnuts out of ze fire?  Tell me zat?  What did you do to
help us against ze Turks twenty years ago?  Nozink.  And two years ago?
Nozink.  We are nozink to you.  We wait; zat is our policy; and when ze
time comes, why, zen we show ze world we do not forget our history."

"Ah, bah!" exclaimed one of the Frenchmen, flinging a half-smoked
cigarette into the sea.  "You are egoist, monsieur.  Your history--vat?
I zink of Pericles; I zink of your patriots since a hundred years. Ah!
zat vas not zeir policy."

"But ze time has changed, monsieur. Pericles, he is dead.  Ze German
Emperor, he is alive."

"Conspuez-le!" said the Frenchman.

Mr. Christopoulos smiled.

"Consider with calmness, zhentlemen," he said, as though appealing from
the excitable Frenchmen to the more stolid English.  "Ze Turk, with ze
German Emperor at ze back, is to-day a new man. Ze King of ze Hellenes
knows ze power of Germany.  He runs no risks.  We have men who are
ignorant, who do not zink. Zey make a fuss, cry for war; ze king knows
it is foolish, and holds tight ze reins. Greece owes much to Germany,
and shall owe more."

The French officers burst into angry declamation.  The Englishmen, who
had taken no part in the conversation, listened for a few minutes
longer, then got up and strolled along the deck.

"Talks too much, Teddy," said one of them.

"Let ’em talk," replied the other.

Edward Burton, of the Flying Corps, after several months’ exhausting
service in France, had been invalided home.  On reporting himself at
headquarters after his convalescence, he was ordered to the Dardanelles.
Taking a P. and O. steamer for Alexandria, he had met on board an old
friend, Dick Hunter, who had recently come into the corps from a line
regiment, as observer.  The supply ship in which they took passage at
Alexandria had put into Athens with a broken shaft, and to save time
they had joined the _Elpinike_ at the moment of her leaving port.

The _Elpinike_ was very old, very dirty, very smelly, and very slow,
plodding along at seven or eight knots.  The two airmen, accustomed to
easy and rapid flights, were thoroughly weary of the voyage by the time
the vessel reached harbour.  They found themselves there in the midst of
intense activity, reminding Burton of the bustle and orderly confusion
at the bases in France.  They reported themselves at headquarters, only
to learn that, pending the arrival of new machines from England, there
was no seaplane ready for them, and they had to resign themselves to
kicking their heels for a time.  There was, however, plenty to interest
them.  Troops--British, French, and Colonial--were continually arriving
from Egypt and departing on transports for the Dardanelles. Warships
came and went; airmen were present who had reconnoitred for the fleet in
the attacks on the forts, and to discover the strength of the Turks on
both sides of the strait.  These retailed their experiences for the
benefit of their comrades newly arrived, who grew more and more eager to
set to work.

Now and then they ran up against Mr. Christopoulos, who was quartered
near them, and found it a little difficult to shake off that garrulous
man of business.  He showed a disposition, they thought, to presume on
the acquaintance made during the voyage from the Peiræus.  As a rule
they gave only perfunctory acknowledgments of his greetings; sometimes
they were unable to escape him.

"You are still idle, zhentlemen?" he said one day.  "Zere is a shortage
of aircraft, I hear.  How provoking!"

"It gives us time to get acclimatised," said Burton.

"Zat is true.  It is very fine air.  You like ze wine of ze country?  It
is very fine.  You know, of course, zat here came ze fleet from my
country for ze siege of Troy.  Ah! we Greeks were ten years taking Troy,
and I zink you will be ten years taking Constantinople."

"Let’s hope not," said Burton.  "Your ancestors hadn’t aeroplanes, you
see.  Our planes will be even more useful than the Wooden Horse."

"Perhaps.  And when do you expect to get to work?"

"All in good time."

"You will go to Enos, perhaps?"

"We shall go wherever we are sent. You’ll go back to Athens in the
_Elpinike_ to-morrow, I suppose?"

"No.  My business keeps me here.  I am a very busy man."

He went on to describe some of his activities, and the Englishmen,
breaking away at last, made but a cool response to his genial "Au
revoir, zhentlemen."

It was ten days before their seaplane arrived.  The engine required very
little tuning up.  They made a few trial trips, to accustom themselves
to the atmospheric conditions of the Ægean Sea, and looked forward to an
early call to action.

On returning to their quarters one night, they were surprised to see a
British sentry at the door of the house where Mr. Christopoulos lodged.

"What’s up?" asked Hunter, stopping.

"Got orders to guard this house, sir," replied the man.

"What for?"

"A party of us was sent to arrest the chap that lives here, sir--the fat
Greek Christopoulos.  Don’t know what he’s been doing; swindling
somebody, perhaps."

"Did you get him?"

"No, sir.  He can’t be found."

They passed on, and, after changing, went to the restaurant for their
evening meal.  There they learnt that Mr. Christopoulos was suspected of
spying.  It appeared that he must have got wind of the order for his
arrest, and had decamped; but his disappearance was a mystery, for no
vessel had left the island since the morning, with the exception of a
small country sailing-boat.  It was conjectured that he had left on one
of the small craft engaged in bringing provisions to the base; but
though several of these had been overhauled at sea by fast despatch
boats, no trace of the fugitive was discovered.

Two days later the airmen were summoned to headquarters.

"Your machine is in order?" asked the staff-officer.

"Yes, sir--ready for anything," Burton replied.

"Then you’ll ship on board the ----."  He named a cruiser lying in the
harbour. "There are rumours of a large Turkish concentration at Keshan.
You’ll find out if they are true.  The cruiser will take you up to the
Gulf of Saros, and you will start your flight from the neighbourhood of
the coast somewhere south of Enos.  The cruiser will await your return."

They hurried down to the harbour. The seaplane was slung on board the
cruiser, which steamed away northward, through the huge armada of
British and French war-vessels, transports, and supply ships that
thronged the sea.  It was an open secret that the preparations for a
combined attack by land and sea were far advanced.  They heard the
distant boom of heavy guns, which grew louder and more continuous as
they neared the mouth of the strait.  When they opened up the headland
of Suvla Burun the course was altered a few points to the east, and
another hour’s steaming across the Gulf of Saros found them some five
miles from the coast, off Kurukli.  Here the cruiser hove-to, and the
seaplane was slung out.

The captain had already given the airmen their bearings.  North-west lay
Enos and the river Maritza, with the Bulgarian port of Dedeagatch
beyond.  Keshan, their objective, was to the north-east, about thirty
miles distant from the coast.

"I will cruise about for four or five hours," said the captain, "keeping
well out to sea, out of range of the batteries in the Bulair lines
yonder."  He pointed due east to the neck of the Gallipoli peninsula.
"You have plenty of petrol?"

"Enough for the job," replied Burton.

"Well, good luck to you.  ’Ware shrapnel."

They slipped over the side into their places.  Burton started the
engine, and, after skimming the surface for a few moments, the seaplane
rose like a bird and soared away, ever higher, towards the coast
northward.



                                   II


The sky was clear, the air calm--an ideal day for airmen.  In a few
minutes they passed over the rocky and precipitous line of the coast and
pursued their flight inland.  Hunter, closely scanning the country
beneath through his glasses, presently exclaimed, "A gun!" and shortly
afterwards, "A battery!"  The guns were cleverly concealed from
observation from the sea, behind a cliff, marked by a clump of the dense
brushwood that flourishes on the shores of the Gulf of Saros.  Hunter
expected a shot or two from the gunners, but they made no sign, probably
unwilling to reveal their position to the warships in the bay.  They
were saving their shot for more serious work than firing at seaplanes.

Northward they saw a river flowing east and west.  Passing over a
village--Kiskapan, according to the map--they crossed the river almost
at right angles with its course, and beyond a range of low hills
discovered their objective about five miles away.  They had travelled
some thirty-five miles by dead reckoning, which corresponded with the
estimated distance from the cruiser.

Before they obtained a full view of Keshan itself they perceived
evidences of a considerable concentration of troops.  At several points
around the town there were extensive encampments.  Clouds of dust to the
north, east, and north-east betrayed the movements of troops or convoys.
And when they were still about two miles from the town they heard the
familiar rattle of machine-guns and the long crackle of rifle fire.  But
they were too high up to feel any anxiety, and while Burton wheeled
round and round in an extensive circle, Hunter busily plotted out on his
map the positions of the camps, and made notes of the directions of the
movements, the estimated number of the battalions, and the nature of
their arms.

After a while Burton began gradually to drop, in order to give Hunter a
chance of recognising gun emplacements.  At about two thousand feet the
enemy opened fire. White and creamy puffs of shrapnel floated and spread
in the air.  A shell burst some distance beneath them, another above
them, and soon the machine was cleaving its way through a thin cloud of
pungent smoke. It appeared that at least six guns were at work.

"Better get out of this," shouted Hunter. "I’ve got about enough
information."

"We’ll go a little farther north," replied Burton, "to see if any
reinforcements are coming up towards Keshan."

"All right, but go a bit higher; I heard two or three smacks on the
planes just now."

Rising a little higher, Burton swept round to the north.  In a minute or
two Hunter was able to see that the hill track from Rodosto was choked
with transport of all kinds.  Right and left, every possible route from
Constantinople and Adrianople was equally congested.  It was clear that
a vast army was being concentrated within striking distance of
Gallipoli, and on the flank of any force moving eastward from Enos or
any other point of disembarkation.

Burton then headed west towards the Maritza, intending to return by way
of Enos and discover, if possible, what force the Turks had available
for the defence of that place.  They were passing somewhat to the north
of Keshan, to keep out of the way of the batteries, when Hunter suddenly
caught sight of an object like a large bird low down in the sky on their
left hand.  A few moments’ scrutiny through his glasses confirmed the
suspicions which had seized him on the instant.

"An aviatik, coming our way," he called.

"Won’t catch us," responded Burton with a smile.

"Stay and fight it?"

"It’s tempting, but we mustn’t.  It won’t do to run risks when our job’s
to collect information."

Hunter acquiesced with a sigh.  Burton shifted his course a point or two
to the west, so as to run nearly parallel with the enemy’s aeroplane.

A moment or two later he gave a start of alarm.

"What’s the matter?" asked Hunter.

"Afraid there’s a leak.  The petrol gauge is falling faster than it
ought.  They must have knocked a hole in the tank.  See if you can find
it."

Hunter twisted in his seat, bent over, and began to examine the tank.

"Can’t find any leak," he said presently. "If there’s one, it’s out of
reach.  How’s the gauge?"

"At this rate we shall be done in another ten minutes."

"Whew!  How much farther to go?"

"At least twenty miles, perhaps more. I wish we had come straight.
There’s absolutely no chance of getting back before the petrol gives
out.  Where’s the enemy?"

"Still on our port side, going strong.  It looks as if she means to
chase us, thinking we’re running away.  We shall have to fight now,
shan’t we?"

"Yes.  We’re bound to come down in a few minutes, and if we don’t tackle
her at once it’s all up with us.  How far is she off?"

"About a couple of miles, I think, and about the same height.  Her
course is between us and Enos, worse luck!"

"Wish we had a machine-gun!  I’ll come round; take a shot when we’re
within range, and for goodness’ sake cripple her."

He brought the seaplane round in an easy curve, at the same time
climbing to get above the enemy.  His eye was all the time on the
rapidly falling gauge.  The aviatik held on its course for a little,
then wheeled to the south-west, as if to cut the seaplane off.  It was
clear that the enemy airmen had no wish to avoid a fight.

Burton’s wheeling movement had now made his course almost due east, so
that the two machines were rushing obliquely towards each other at the
rate of about a hundred miles an hour.  When they crossed, Burton was
slightly ahead of the enemy, and, to his surprise, somewhat lower.  At
almost the same moment Hunter and the enemy’s observer opened fire with
their rifles, but each was handicapped by the fact that he was firing
from right to left, and no damage seemed to have been done on either
side.  As soon as Burton had passed the enemy, he banked his machine and
wheeled to the left, climbing as rapidly as possible to make good the
deficiency in height.  The aviatik also made a spiral movement to the
left, with the result that in a few seconds the machines were once more
converging on each other.  This time, however, Burton was slightly to
the rear of the enemy, and when their tracks crossed, he shot up behind
it on its left. The aviatik, a second or two too late, made a desperate
effort to edge away eastward, but the movement only brought the two
planes closer together.

"We can’t stick it another minute," gasped Burton.

Hunter did not reply.  He had dropped his rifle and seized his automatic
pistol. The machines were at point-blank range. Hunter fired.  The
enemy’s observer screwed himself round in his seat to reply. Aiming at
the pilot, Hunter sent a stream of bullets from his pistol.  The pilot
fell forward.  For a moment the aeroplane rocked and seemed on the point
of capsizing.  Then the observer seized the controls, and, with a
recklessness that bespoke inexperience or want of skill, began a
perilously steep volplané.

[Illustration: An aerial somersault]

Hunter looked down.  The machine was rapidly dropping towards the edge
of the lake a little to the east of the Maritza River. Suddenly, while
yet some distance from the ground, the aviatik’s descent was averted,
possibly by an air pocket over the lake.  For a moment it seemed poised
without motion, then it turned a somersault. The observer fell out, and
dropped into the lake at the same instant as the machine crashed on to
the bank.

Meanwhile Burton had circled round. His tank was nearly empty.  He must
either come down or fall down.  There was no sign of life in the wrecked
aeroplane; the observer had disappeared in the water; no one was in
sight.  Swinging round again Burton adjusted his elevator so as to
descend on the lake, and in a few seconds the seaplane was resting on
the surface within thirty yards of the spot where the aviatik lay, a
mangled heap, on the bank.



                                  III


"We can wade ashore," said Burton.  "I can see the bottom."

"Hadn’t we better mend the leak?" Hunter suggested.

"But I want to see if the German has any spare petrol.  We’ve lost a
lot."

They waded through a foot or two of water, and examined the wreck.  One
of the wings was crumpled up; otherwise the machine had suffered little
injury.  The pilot, a fair-haired German of Saxon type, was dead.  There
was plenty of petrol in the tank, and Hunter drew this off into a tin
can while Burton returned to the seaplane, pulled it ashore, and set
about discovering the leak.  It turned out to be a long thin crack on
the underside of the tank.

"How on earth are we to mend this?" said Burton, looking at it ruefully.

"Why not stuff it up with mud?" said Hunter.  "This stuff at the edge of
the lake seems to be clayey, and it will harden in no time."

"Good!  It may last for the few miles we have still to cover.  Just keep
a lookout while I work at it."

Hunter went up the bank.  A rough bridle-track skirted the lake and
disappeared in a plantation that came down to within about a hundred
yards of the water.  To the south the view was shut in by a wooded
knoll.  There was neither man nor house in sight.

Burton had just kneaded some clay for stopping up the crack when they
heard shouts in the distance, apparently from a southward direction.  He
ran up and joined Hunter, and they went together to the knoll some
hundred and twenty yards away, from which they expected to get a view of
the southern shore and perhaps of the men from whom the cries came.
They were careful to keep under cover, and, on arriving at the knoll,
lay flat on the ground. As they had hoped, they could now see a large
portion of the lake which had previously been hidden from them, and
caught glimpses, on the western side, of the bridle-track here and there
among the trees.  At intervals it disappeared behind slight hillocks or
denser stretches of the plantation.

For a minute or two they saw no human beings.  The sounds had ceased.
But presently, about a third of a mile away to the south, they caught
sight of a party of half a dozen horsemen searching the shore of the
lake, now trotting into the wood, now riding at the edge of the water,
now cantering along the bridle-track in the direction of the Englishmen.

"Turks!" murmured Burton.

"They must have seen the machines fall," said Hunter.  "This is awkward,
Teddy."

"It is, by Jove! and there are more of them.  Look at that lot behind
there. They’ll be here in three or four minutes--no time to plaster the
crack and get away."

"We had better scuttle our plane and dive into the woods.  There’s just
a chance of our getting across the Maritza into Bulgaria."

"That means internment.  Besides, it would be simply rotten to destroy
the machine if we can help it.  Perhaps there’s some other way.  In any
case we must get back.  Put on a sprint."

They raced back to the spot where they had landed, the knoll concealing
them from the Turkish search-party.  The sight of the body of the German
pilot suggested an idea to Burton.

"Look here, we must trick them," he said rapidly.  "There’s a bare
chance of saving our machine, and I doubt whether we’ve time enough even
to destroy it.  For the next quarter of an hour I’m a German, and you’re
my English prisoner.  We are done if there’s a German among them, but
that’s our chance."

Removing his own cap, he replaced it with that of the German pilot,
borrowing at the same time one or two small articles of his equipment.
Then he bound Hunter’s hands and feet.

"Slip-knots, old man," he said.  "You can free yourself in a jiffy.  But
don’t do it too soon.  Just in time!  I hear them coming.  Here goes!"

He uttered a loud shout.  In a few moments the horsemen appeared on the
crest of the knoll.  Burton waved his left hand, with his right holding
a pistol pointed at Hunter’s head.  The horsemen, led by an elderly
Turkish officer in grey uniform and fez, galloped down towards them.
While the officer was still several paces distant, Burton saluted and
addressed him.

"Sprechen Sie Deutsch, mein Herr?"

No one would have guessed with what anxious trepidation he awaited the
answer. He had used almost all the German he knew. His heart leapt when
the Turk shook his head.

"Vous parlez Français, monsieur?" said Burton.

"Oui, certainement.  Qu’est-ce que c’est que ça?"

"You have come in good time, monsieur le capitaine," said Burton in
French. "I regret that I do not speak Turkish, and that our conversation
must proceed in a language which, no doubt, you cordially detest.  Our
good Kaiser will soon forbid the use of it in Europe; German and Turkish
are the languages of the future. Meanwhile! ... You see, monsieur le
capitaine, there has been a duel in the air. My pilot was, unhappily,
shot by the enemy. We both had to descend; the enemy, no doubt, had
difficulties with his engine. No doubt he expected to find both the
pilot and myself dead or disabled.  But a true German, like a true Turk,
is a hard man to kill.  Single-handed I attacked the enemy as they
landed.  Imagine their consternation and fear!  One of them, using the
long legs which serve the cowardly English so well, fled into the wood.
The other lies here."

The Turkish captain bent over his saddle to inspect the captured
Englishman.  For his benefit Hunter assumed an expression of sullen
ferocity.

[Illustration: "He looks a terrible fellow"]

"It was well done," said the Turk in French.  "He looks a terrible
fellow.  I make you my compliments, monsieur.  It was a brave deed to
attack two men single-handed."

"Oh, that’s nothing to us Germans," said Burton airily.  "We never think
of odds.  We are like that; the greater the adverse odds, the better
pleased we are."

"That is indeed the characteristic of your noble nation," said the Turk
politely.

"Still, it is as well to reduce the odds when we can," Burton went on.
"Half the enemy’s force has escaped.  Could you spare a few men,
monsieur le capitaine, to scour the woods?"

"Certainly, though I have little time to spare.  I am engaged, you will
be glad to know, in escorting a fellow-countryman of yours, monsieur--a
German in the secret service, who has just landed at Enos--with
important information for headquarters at Keshan."

He broke off to give his troopers orders to hunt about in the woods for
the escaped English airman.  They were to return, even if unsuccessful,
at the sound of his whistle.  Meanwhile, Burton and Hunter had exchanged
uneasy glances.  The German could not be far away.  No doubt he was
coming up with other members of the escort.  The sight of the falling
aeroplanes had drawn the officer in advance.

The troopers galloped off.  The officer turned once more towards Burton,
whose expression of countenance gave no sign of the agitation within.

"It will be interesting to meet a fellow-countryman in this lonely
spot," he said calmly.  "May I offer you a cigarette, monsieur?"

The Turk took one from the opened case, thanked Burton, and turned the
cigarette over in his fingers.

"Made in Cairo, monsieur?" he said.

"Yes, it is a privilege of us airmen to levy upon the enemy.  Refugees
have no need to smoke.  With the airman it is a necessity--it steadies
the nerves."

"True.  And they make good cigarettes in Cairo."  He lit the cigarette
from an automatic lighter.  "The Englishman looks frightened."

"He expects to be killed, I suppose, not knowing our German humanity.
But you will excuse me, monsieur, if I examine the English aeroplane.
It will come in useful."

Burton returned to the machine, and, after feigning to examine it,
proceeded to plaster the crack with nervous haste.  The Turk had
followed him, and, remaining in the saddle, watched his operations with
much interest.

"It was this injury that caused the Englishmen to descend," Burton
explained. "German bullets never fail."

"An English bullet was more successful, however," said the officer,
glancing at the dead pilot.

"Not more successful, surely, monsieur. We have scores of good pilots,
we can replace every man that falls; but the English cannot afford to
lose a single machine.  And do not our German newspapers tell us that
they have hardly any left?  The earth is the Kaiser’s; the sea is his;
the air is his also.  Turkey will flourish again in German air."

Having filled up the crack, Burton proceeded to pour petrol into the
tank.

"This fellow-countryman of mine?" he said.

"He will be here soon, no doubt.  He is a trifle stout, and a poor
horseman. Consequently he travels slowly.  When he saw the aeroplanes
descending he insisted on our pushing on to render assistance to his
fellow-countrymen.  He cannot miss the track, there is only one.  But he
should be in sight."

The Turk looked backward over the track, then saying, "Excuse me," he
wheeled his horse and began to trot towards the knoll. Burton had by no
means completed the replenishment of the tank.  He felt that something
must be done.

"Monsieur le capitaine!" he shouted.

The Turk pulled up.  Burton went towards him with an air of mystery.

"Your men are at fault, monsieur," he said.  "It would be a pity to let
the Englishman escape, and you have no time to waste. Perhaps if I show
the way!"

He walked on up the knoll, the Turk riding by his side.

"There, monsieur, you see that big tree on the far side of the bay?  If
you do not find the fugitive thereabout you won’t find him anywhere."

The Turk hesitated.  Perhaps he was considering whether it comported
with an elderly captain’s dignity to take a personal part in the search.
Burton eyed him anxiously, hoping that he would go, meet the approaching
German, and take him with him.  The pause was brief.  The temptation to
catch a live Englishman overbore all considerations of dignity. With a
word of thanks to Burton the Turk cantered on towards the big tree.

Burton breathed again.  He hurried back to the seaplane.

"Slip the knots, Dick," he said, "but don’t get up.  I’ll give you the
word.  I hope I’ve got rid of the Turk for a while."

He was in the act of pouring petrol into the tank when a figure appeared
from round the western base of the knoll.  It was a big
Sancho-Panza-like person, mounted on a mule.

"Great Scott!" murmured Burton.

Dropping the empty tin, he hastened to the aviatik for another.

"I say, Dick, do you recognise that fellow?" he asked.

"Christopoulos!" Hunter whispered.

"As large as life!  What on earth are we to do?  He will recognise us
directly, even if he hasn’t done so already."

"Shoot him and scoot!"

"I haven’t enough petrol yet.  The tank still leaks, though not so
badly, and if we shoot, the Turks will swarm up before I can fill up and
get away.  I think I had better go on with the job, let him come up, and
trust to luck."

Keeping his back to the pseudo-Greek, Burton carried another tin to the
seaplane. Before he had emptied it into the tank the spy came within
hailing distance and let out a jovial greeting in German.  No doubt he
had recognised the German airman’s cap, and, without misgiving, hailed
his supposed compatriot.

"Good-morning, my friend," he shouted. "I congratulate you.  Another
German victory!"

Burton, his back still towards the spy, finished pouring out the petrol,
and placed the tin on the ground.  As he straightened himself he
discreetly drew his revolver and suddenly turned round.  The spy was now
within half a dozen paces of him.

"Thank you, Mr. Christopoulos," he said.  "Another victory--but not a
German victory.  We shall presently see who is to be congratulated.
Meanwhile, you will dismount."

The German, who had reined up at the first glance at Burton’s face,
turned a sickly colour and half-opened his mouth as if to shout.

"Silence!" cried Burton peremptorily. "If you make the slightest sound I
will shoot you on the spot."

He held his revolver carelessly in his left hand, not pointing it at the
German lest any of the Turks should come within view.  The spy showed
more alacrity than skill in dismounting.  He clumsily clambered from his
saddle, without daring to turn his head in the direction of the Turks,
who could now be heard calling to one another beyond the knoll.  Burton
went up to him.

[Illustration: NONPLUSSED]

"Hand over your revolver," he said.

"I haven’t got----" the spy was beginning.  Burton cut him short.

"No nonsense!  Hand it over.  Quick. At the word ’three’ I fire.
One--two----"

With an agonised look the German made a dive for his revolver.  Burton
took it with his right hand before it was released from the spy’s tight
pocket.  From a distance they might have appeared to be shaking hands.

Burton had been rapidly casting about for a means of disposing of the
German. He could not shoot him in cold blood; there might perhaps be
time to tie him up, but he would then still be able to convey to the
Turkish headquarters the information he had gathered at Tenedos. That
must certainly be prevented.  There was only one thing to be done: they
must take him with them.

Just as Burton had reached this conclusion, a Turk appeared on the
knoll.

"Come with me," said Burton sternly.

The German accompanied him to the seaplane.  He might be supposed to be
indulging his curiosity.  Standing between him and the knoll, Burton
said--

"You are interested in aviation.  Seat yourself on the right-hand
float."

The spy made as if to turn round. Burton lifted his revolver.

"Don’t waste time," he said.

With a groan the spy sat on the spot indicated.

Burton seized the strap that bound him to his seat, and rapidly tied the
German to the upright connecting the float with the body of the
seaplane, calling to Hunter--who, still lying on the ground, had watched
these proceedings with excitement--to cover the spy with his revolver.

The prisoner had hardly been secured when the Turkish captain cantered
over the knoll, followed by two or three men.

"Now, Dick!" cried Burton.

Hunter sprang up and rushed to his place.

"Not there!" said Burton.  "Get on to the left-hand float to balance the
machine."

Meanwhile he had started the engine, in desperate anxiety lest it should
not have gathered momentum before the Turks came up.  The spy had heard
the thudding of their horses’ hoofs as they, seeing the supposed English
prisoner spring up, galloped down the knoll.  Turning his head, he let
out a frenzied shout.  But it was too late.  Burton had vaulted into his
seat, and, just three seconds before the amazed and furious Turks
reached the brink of the water, the seaplane was skimming the surface.

The spy was now filling the air with his frantic cries.  Burton
afterwards said it was like the booming of a buzzard.  The Turks
dismounted, and from the edge of the lake fired at the fast-receding
machine. One or two shots pierced the planes, and from a shrill cry of
terror from the German, Burton supposed that he had been hit. But he was
too busy to think of him. Forcing the engine to the utmost he was
already manipulating the elevator.  The machine rose steadily.  At the
first possible moment Burton swung it round to the west. In a minute or
two he crossed the Maritza. Climbing ever higher, he shifted his course
a point or two to the south, and within twenty minutes the machine
swooped down beside the cruiser, a few miles out in the bay, and a
number of laughing bluejackets hastened to assist two dripping objects
to climb on board.

[Illustration: A discomfited spy]



                                   IV


The cruiser made all speed back to Tenedos. There the spy, a forlorn,
chapfallen individual, was taken ashore under an escort of marines.
Within a short time a drum-head court-martial was constituted.  Papers
found on the prisoner left no doubt of his occupation; his protest that
he was a subject of King Constantine availed him nothing.  When the
sentence had been pronounced, he recovered his courage and confessed
himself a German, and it was as a German soldier that he paid the final
penalty.

Burton’s exploit was reported to the Admiralty, and some weeks later,
when he returned one evening from reconnoitring the Turkish trenches
after the landing on the Gallipoli peninsula had been so magnificently
accomplished, he was welcomed with the news that he had been awarded the
Distinguished Service Medal by the King.



[Illustration: Chapter IV Heading]


                            THE WATCH TOWER


                                   I


A rough, lumbering ox-cart was crawling slowly up a steep winding
hill-track in Southern Macedonia.  The breath of the two panting oxen
formed steam-clouds in the frosty air; slighter wreaths of vapour clung
about the heads of the two persons who trudged along beside them.  One
was an old man, tall, broad, and vigorous, his hair straggling beneath
his fur cap, his long white beard stiff with the ice of his congealed
breath.  The other was a boy, whose face, ruddy with health and cold,
showed scantly under a similar cap much too large for him, and above a
conglomeration of warm wrappings reaching to his feet and giving him the
appearance of a moving bundle, thick and shapeless.

"I am tired, grandfather," murmured the boy, pausing at the foot of a
steep ascent.

"Tchk!" the old man ejaculated, emitting a puff of white breath which
the north-east wind from behind carried over the head of the nearest ox.
"Put your shoulder to the wheel, Marco.  Show yourself worthy of your
name."

The boy obediently went round the cart and set his shoulder to the heavy
wooden wheel on the off side.  His grandfather shoving at the other,
they helped the labouring oxen to drag the vehicle up the ascent, and
then stopped to rest.

"That was well done, little son," said a woman of some thirty years,
sitting in the forepart of the cart.  She handed the boy a cake.  Behind
her the cart was piled high with bits of furniture and bundles of
household gear.  The boy seated himself on a rock and nibbled his cake.
The oxen moved their heads about as if in search of provender.
Straightening his tall form, the old man turned his back, and in the
full blast of the bitter wind scanned the country to the north-east.  A
faint boom sounded far away in that direction.  The woman started.

"Do you see anything, Father?" she asked, anxiously.

"Nothing, Nuta.  But we must on.  It will be two hours or more before we
can call ourselves safe."

Smacking the heaving flank of the near-side ox, he set the beasts in
motion, and the cart creaked and jolted on over the rough track.  This
was lightly covered with snow, which showed traces of those other
travellers who in this December of 1915 had journeyed over the same
route.  Snow lay deeper in the hollows on either side, and on the
heights in the distance.  It was a bleak and desolate landscape, its
rugged features somewhat softened, however, by the blanket of snow. Here
and there dark patches stood out in the surrounding white, representing
bushes or trees; but there was no house or cottage, no sign of life.

Old Marco, a small Serbian landed proprietor, had postponed his flight
from before the invading Bulgars until all the other inhabitants of his
village had departed.  To the last he had hoped that the French and
British forces would arrive in time to save him.  His son was away
fighting, as were all the men from the little estate.  Having loaded all
his portable possessions on to the cart, he waited with his
daughter-in-law and grandson until the ever-approaching boom of guns
warned him that further delay would mean ruin, and then set off
southwards, to gain, if possible, protection from the Allied forces that
were said to be retreating on Salonika.

The old man’s pride was wounded.  He traced his descent from that Marco
Kralevich who, towards the end of the fourteenth century, struggled to
maintain the independence of Serbia against the Turks, and whose name
and knightly prowess live to-day in song and story.  He had never tired
of relating to young Marco the heroic deeds of his great ancestor, and
it cut him to the heart that he was compelled, in the wreck of his
country’s fortunes, to abandon the homestead where he had kept alive the
traditions of Serbian valour.  Even now, old as he was, he would have
borne a part in the national struggle but for the claims of his dear
ones upon his protection.

The cart lumbered slowly on.  From time to time the old man glanced
anxiously behind, appealing to the boy--did he see anything moving
there, or there?  On one such occasion, when they stopped to rest
themselves and the oxen, and the old man was looking to the rear, young
Marco suddenly pricked up his ears, and stood intently listening.

"A strange sound, Grandfather," he said. "Where?"

The boy nodded towards the east. "What is it?"

"Like the hum of a bee far away."

The old man came to the boy’s side and listened.

"I cannot hear it," he said after a few moments, adding impatiently,
"Tchk!  This is not the time of bees."

"But I hear it still," persisted Marco. "It is louder."

He looked around, puzzled to account for the unaccustomed sound.

"I hear nothing," said his mother.

"Look!" he cried, pointing excitedly into the grey sky.

The eyes of his elders followed his outstretched hand, but they saw
nothing.

"It has gone," sighed the boy after a little.  "But I did see something.
Perhaps it was an eagle.  I think it flew just behind the hills there."

His eyes ranged the horizon, where the rugged line of white indented the
sky.  A spot of blue appeared in the pale vault, and a ray of sunlight
trickled through.

"Look!" cried Marco again, stretching out his hand this time to the
north.  "There is something moving on the snow."

The old man gazed northward, rubbed his eyes, shook his head.

"Can you see anything, Nuta?" he asked.

"Dark specks, miles and miles away--yes, Father, they are moving.  There
are more of them.  They are like ants."

"The Bulgars!" muttered the old man. "Come, we must haste."

Returning to the cart, he whipped up the oxen, and the patient beasts,
heaving their load out of the drift into which its wheels had settled,
hauled it, creaking and groaning, towards the brightening south.



                                   II


Meanwhile, in a broad gully not far away, a different scene was being
enacted.

Across the gully lay the tangled ruins of a biplane.  From the midst of
the wreckage crawled a long figure, in the overalls, helmet, and goggles
of a member of the Flying Corps. His goggles had been partially
displaced, and lay askew upon his nose.  There were spots of blood,
already frozen, upon his cheek. His movements were slow and painful, and
when, having emerged from the shapeless mass of metal and canvas, he
tried to stand erect, he reeled, saved himself from falling by an
effort, and dropping upon an adjacent rock, rubbed his eyes, groaned,
and sat as one dazed.

His immobility lasted only a few moments. Staggering to his feet, his
features twisted with pain, he walked unsteadily to the ruins of the
aeroplane.

"Enderby, old chap," he called, bending down.

There was no answer.

Swiftly he pulled away the broken wires and fragments of the shattered
framework, beneath which the form of his companion was pinned, then
knelt and laid his finger on the wrist of the unconscious man.

"Thank Heaven!" he murmured.

Taking a flask from his pocket he poured a few drops of liquid between
the half-open lips, then lifted the man carefully out of the wreckage
and laid him down on the slope. Upon his brow he placed a little snow;
he repeated his medicinal dose, and watched anxiously.  It was some
minutes before the eyelids opened, only to close again as a spasm of
pain distorted the injured man’s features.

"Where is it, old man?" asked Burton.

"My leg."

The answer came faintly.

"It doesn’t hurt you to breathe?"

Enderby shook his head.

"Arms all right?"

And when Enderby had lifted them one after the other, Burton placed the
flask in his comrade’s right hand.

"Take another pull at that while I have a look at you," he said.

Removing the puttees and cutting away the stocking beneath, Burton saw
that his friend’s right leg was broken.  He felt him all over, causing
him to wince now and then as he touched a bruise.  There was no other
serious injury.

"Your leg’s badly crocked, old man; but I’m jolly glad it’s no worse.
When that shell winged us I made sure our number was up."

"What about you?"

"I’m just one compound ache--must be bruised from top to toe.  Our
luck’s out to-day.  Just clench your teeth while I see what I can do in
first aid.  The machine’s smashed to smithereens.  How I’m to get you
back to the M.O. beats me."

"Whereabouts are we?"

"Somewhere in Macedonia!  In a gully, with hills all round, not a living
thing in sight.  I hoped we’d be able to flutter back to our lines, but
it wasn’t to be.  Our troops must be miles away, and getting farther
every minute, worse luck!  What fate dogs us, that we must always be
retreating? Ah! that made you squirm; sorry, old man, but you’ll be
easier now."

He had bound up the leg, and now brushed away the beads of sweat which
the exertion, in his own sorry state, had brought out upon his brow.

"Now, look here, Enderby," he said, "the best thing I can do is to
trudge off after our men and get a machine to bring you in.  And the
sooner I start, the better. You ought to be safe enough here.  You’re
well hidden; the Bulgars’ advance won’t bring them past this spot,
there’s no road. But if I lose any time they’ll be somewhere in the
neighbourhood before a machine could arrive, and then it’ll be hopeless.
I’ll rummage out some food from our wreck, and leave you that and my
flask----"

"You’d better take it; you’ve a long tramp before you, and may come
across some advance patrols of the Bulgars for all you know.
Besides----"

He paused.  Both men pricked up their ears simultaneously.  Each looked
an anxious inquiry at the other.  From somewhere not far away came a
rhythmic sound--a succession of strident, scraping sounds--which in a
moment they recognised as the creaking of a cart.

Neither man spoke.  Burton stole down the gully, and round the shoulder
of a hill in the direction of the sound, which grew louder as he went.
Apprehensive that his plans for the rescue of his friend were already
defeated, he peered cautiously round the corner of rock.  He beheld a
rough hill-track winding upwards from right to left across his front.
Some distance to the right another track ran into the first, skirting a
spur from a north-westerly direction. Nothing was visible on either
track, but the regular monotonous creaking of the cart was drawing
nearer.

Burton drew back behind a rock and waited.  Presently, from round one of
the innumerable bends and twists in the main track, appeared the great
heads of two oxen yoked together; then a woman’s form came into view,
perched on the forepart of a heavily laden cart; last of all, tramping
in the rear, a tall old man, and, by his side, a boy whose head reached
scarcely higher than his elbow.

The watcher breathed more freely.  It was only a typical refugee party;
he had already seen hundreds like it toiling along the southward roads
to Salonika.  There was nothing to fear here; on the contrary, it
suggested a means by which Captain Enderby might be at once removed,
without the delay that would be caused by his own going and coming.

The cart was creeping laboriously up towards him.  When it was nearly
opposite, Burton stepped forth from his hiding-place. His sudden
appearance drew signs of momentary alarm.  The woman stiffened; the old
man whipped out a revolver; the boy ran round in front of the cart, and
with a fierce expression, comical on his young face, stood before his
mother, drawing from his belt a knife.

Burton threw out his hands and called out that he was an Englishman.
But even before he spoke the attitude of hostility had relaxed, the
woman had addressed a few words to the old man, and he had already
replaced his weapon.  They had recognised that the stranger was neither
a Bulgar nor a German.  Only the boy remained suspicious and alert,
stoutly gripping his knife.

The cart had stopped.  Burton walked towards it.  He had picked up a few
words of Greek during the eleven months he had spent in the East, and he
explained in that language that he was a friend and an Englishman.
Rather to his surprise the old man replied in French.

"Does monsieur speak French?"

The wall of nationality was down, and in the language of their common
ally the Serbian and the Englishman held a rapid colloquy.  Presently
the old man turned to the boy.

"You were right, Marco," he said in his own tongue.  "That thing you
heard humming like a bee, that thing you saw moving like an eagle, was
an English aeroplane.  It has come to the ground and broken, struck by a
Bulgar’s shell."

"Oh! let me see it," cried the boy, eagerly, forgetting all else in the
new object of excitement, slipping the knife back into his belt, and
moving away from the cart.

"Wait!" said his grandfather, peremptorily. He resumed his conversation
with Burton.  There was anxiety, hesitancy in his air.  He appeared to
be struggling with himself.  "The enemy is not far behind," he said.
"We have far to go; every minute is precious."  He looked nervously
along the track behind him, then seemed to question his daughter with
his eyes.  She nodded.  "Tchk!" he ejaculated.  "I will do it.  No true
Serb, monsieur, much less a descendant of Marco Kralevich, can refuse to
succour an ally of his nation.  Show me the way."

Young Marco, to his disappointment, was left to guard the cart and to
keep a lookout.  The old man hastened with Burton to the spot where
Captain Enderby lay beside the wreck of the aeroplane.  As they went,
Burton caught sight of a square tower on a hill-top far away to the
south.

"What is that?" he asked.

"An old watch-tower," replied the Serb. "There are many such on high
points in different parts of the country."

Burton paused a moment to scan the solitary tower through his field
glasses, then resumed his course.  On reaching the fallen man, the old
Serb at once set about placing the injured limb in splints formed out of
the wreckage, preparatory to carrying him back to the cart.  He was
still thus engaged when Marco came running up the gully.

"Grandfather," he said, breathlessly, "a party of horsemen are coming up
the side track."

"How many are they, boy?"

"Ten or twelve.  They are far away."

"I must go back," said the old man. "You will still be safe here."

"I will go with you," said Burton.  "My glasses may be useful."

They followed the boy, who ran ahead, regained the cart, and went beyond
it to the point where the two tracks met.  The sky had now cleared, and
the white-clad country glistened in the sunlight.  Keeping under cover,
Burton peered through his glasses along the winding track.  At first he
saw nobody, but presently a horseman came into sight round a bend,
followed closely by two more riding abreast.  After a short interval,
another couple appeared, the first file of a party of ten, riding two by
two.  They were still too far distant for Burton to distinguish anything
more than that they were in military uniform.

He told the old man what he had seen.

"Beyond doubt they are Bulgars," the Serb growled, drawing his fingers
through his beard, which the sunlight had thawed.

He stood silent for a little, his eyes fixed in thought, his hands
working nervously.

"They will overtake us," he said at length.  "We must move the cart from
the track.  Come, monsieur."

They hurried back to the cart.  At a word from the old man the woman
dismounted, and going to the heads of the oxen, led them off the track
over the rough ground of the hill-face, while the three others set their
shoulders to the wheels.  By their united efforts the unwieldy vehicle
was hauled round the shoulder of the hill towards the gully, to a spot
two or three hundred yards from the aeroplane, where it was out of sight
from either of the tracks. Leaving it there in charge of Marco and his
mother, the two men returned, obliterating the traces of the wheels in
the snow, and finally posting themselves behind a rocky ridge near the
junction of the tracks, where they could see the approaching horsemen
when they should pass, without being seen themselves.



                                  III


Some twenty minutes later they heard the tramp of hoofs, somewhat
muffled by the snow, and guttural voices.  Soon the first horseman
passed before them--a Bulgarian officer.  Immediately behind him came a
group of three, the two on the outside being German officers, the
horseman between them a middle-aged Serb in the characteristic dress of
the peasant proprietor. The watchers noticed that he was tied round the
middle by a rope, the other end of which was held by a Bulgarian trooper
riding behind.  Old Marco’s eyes gleamed with the light of recognition.
He told Burton later that the prisoner was one Milosh Nikovich, a friend
of his, a small farmer whose property lay a few miles from his own
estate.

On arriving at the junction of the tracks the officers halted.  One of
the Germans took a map from his pocket, and pored over it with his
companions; they were apparently consulting together.  Then they put
questions to their prisoner.  Their words were inaudible.  The Serb’s
face wore an expression of sullen defiance, and it was clear that his
replies were unsatisfactory, for the trooper who held the rope moved up
his horse, and lifting a foot, drove his spur savagely into the
prisoner’s calf.  The man winced, but remained motionless and silent.
Burton heard old Marco mutter curses below his breath.  Then one of the
Germans pointed southwards questioningly; the prisoner gave what
appeared to be an affirmative answer, and the party pushed on.  It soon
disappeared through the windings of the track. The watchers counted
fourteen in all.

When the enemy were out of sight and hearing, Burton turned to the old
man.

"A scouting party?" he said.

"Without doubt," replied the Serb. "The main body must be behind.  Will
you look for them through your glasses?"

Burton left their hiding-place for a spot whence he could view the
tracks and the plain beyond.  No troops were in sight, but the boom of
guns came faintly on the air from the north-east.  Burton knew, from
what he had seen during the morning’s reconnaissance, that somewhere
eastward from the spot where he stood the British forces were steadily
falling back in face of overwhelming numbers of Bulgars and Germans.
Was it possible that the patrol that had just passed was the advance
guard of a flanking force? Unluckily his reconnaissance had been cut
short by the Bulgarian shell almost as soon as it was begun.  The peril
of Captain Enderby and himself, and of his Serbian friends, was
complicated with a possible unexpected danger to the British army in
retreat.  To guard against the latter seemed to be out of his power.
The immediate question was, how to ensure the safety of Enderby and the
Serbian family with whose lot his own was for the moment cast.

Remaining at the spot from which he could detect any signs of an enemy
advance from the north, he talked over the situation with old Marco.

"The enemy are in front and behind," he said.  "It seems we have little
chance of getting through.  But if we don’t get through----"

"We should be safe for a time in the gully.  The enemy will keep to the
tracks. But that would help us little in the end, for if they advance
beyond us, they will form a wall without gates, and we must either
surrender or starve."

"And meanwhile my friend is without proper treatment, and may have to
lose his leg or be lamed for life.  You have no stomach any more than I
for being a prisoner with the Bulgars.  Don’t you think we had better
push on, and try to slip past the scouting party?  It is not likely they
will go far in advance of their main body.  Isn’t there a way over the
hills without taking to the track?"

"If we were on foot we might steal through the country, but not with the
cart. That holds all my worldly possessions.  And your friend cannot be
moved without it. Look, monsieur; do not my eyes, old as they are, see
masses of men moving on the plain yonder?"

"You are right," said Burton, after a glance northward.  "The main body
is on the move.  We must decide at once.  Let us carry Captain Enderby
to the cart, push on, and trust to luck."

Hurrying back to the gully, they carried the injured man to the cart.
While the Serb led this back to the track, Burton took the precaution of
removing the carburetter and one or two other essential parts from the
engine of the aeroplane.  This was badly smashed, but it was just as
well not to leave anything of possible use to the enemy. Then he hauled
the machine-gun from the litter that covered it, expecting to find it
hopelessly shattered.  To his surprise it appeared to have suffered no
injury except superficial dents, and the ammunition belts were evidently
perfect.  Hurrying after the others with the engine parts, he laid these
on the cart, then took young Marco back with him to help him carry away
the machine-gun and ammunition.

"We’ve saved something from the wreck, old man," he said to Enderby as
he came up with the gun on his back.

"Hardly worth while, is it?" asked the captain.  "There’s precious
little chance of our getting through.  Hadn’t you better shy it into a
gully in case they capture us?"

"I will at the last minute if things look hopeless; but we’ll stick to
it as long as we can."

All being ready they set off along the track. Old Marco sent the boy
ahead to scout. The woman resumed her seat on the cart, where a
comfortable place had been arranged among the baggage for Captain
Enderby.  The two men followed on foot, pushing at the wheels where the
gradient was too steep for the wearied oxen.

So they toiled along for upwards of an hour.  Young Marco ahead had not
caught sight of the horsemen; there was no sign of the enemy in the
rear.  It was the old man’s hope that there would be time, if danger
threatened, to rush the cart into some hollow or some gap between the
rocks.  Such a threat was more likely to arise from the scouting party
than from the larger force behind, and the boy, as instructed by his
grandfather, kept sufficiently in advance to give timely warning.

The track was continuously up hill, broad at some points, at others so
narrow that the cart was only just able to pass between the rocky
borders, sometimes as low as kerbstones, sometimes rising to a height of
many feet.  The frequent windings prevented the travellers from getting
a direct view for any considerable distance ahead.  Every now and then
they had glimpses of the watch-tower which Burton had previously
noticed, and which they were gradually approaching. At such times he
scanned it through his glasses, half expecting to find that some of the
scouting party had ascended it to survey the surrounding country.  But
no human figures yet showed above the summit.

At length, however, on rounding a corner, the travellers were startled
by a sudden flash from the tower.  They halted, Burton levelled his
glasses, and declared that he saw two heads and pairs of shoulders
projecting above the top.  Other flashes followed, at intervals long or
short.

"They are heliographing to the main body behind us," he said to Enderby,
repeating the information in French to the Serb.

"Can they see us?" asked Enderby.

"They might perhaps if they looked, but they are gazing far beyond us,
of course. We had better back a little, though."

They had, in fact, halted before the oxen had come completely into view
from the tower, and by backing a few feet they were wholly concealed.

The three men held an anxious consultation. The tower was probably two
miles ahead.  To go on would involve discovery by the enemy.  On the
other hand, parties of Bulgarians might already be marching up the track
behind them.  It seemed that they were trapped.

"We had better wait a little," Burton concluded, "and see whether they
leave the tower and go forward.  In that case we might venture to
proceed."

The signalling continued for some few minutes, then ceased.  The men
disappeared from the summit of the tower. Burton was on the point of
suggesting that they should move on when he caught sight of a small
figure flitting rapidly from rock to rock down the track towards them.

"It is the boy," he said, after a look through his glasses.

In a few minutes young Marco arrived, excited and breathless.

"Three horsemen are coming down the hill," he reported.

"Tchk!" muttered the old man, repeating the news.  "How far away,
child?"

"A mile or more.  They are riding slowly; the track is steep."

For a few moments consternation and dismay paralysed their faculties.
That the horsemen formed part of the patrol they had already seen was
certain; no others could have safely passed the tower occupied by the
enemy.  Discovery and capture seemed inevitable.  The fugitives might,
indeed, clamber among the rocks and conceal themselves for a time; but
the nature of the ground at this spot precluded the removal of the cart,
and its tell-tale presence on the track unattended would put a short
limit to their safety.

At this critical moment the old Serb’s experience of half a century of
mountain warfare came to his aid.

"We must ambush the Bulgars," he said. "Look there!"

He pointed to a spot a few yards in their rear, at the end of a narrow
stretch of the track which had given him an anxious moment in leading
the oxen.  On one side the bank rose rugged and steep, on the other it
fell away, not precipitously, but in a jagged slope which had threatened
ruin to the cart if the wheel had chanced to slip over the edge of the
track.  Burton quickly seized the possibilities of the situation.

"By Jove!  It’s risky, but we’ll try it," he remarked to Enderby.

The captain had already taken his revolver from its case.  But old Marco
had conceived a plan that would render Captain Enderby’s co-operation
unnecessary.  He explained it rapidly to Burton, and they proceeded to
carry it out.  The woman was told to conceal herself behind a thorn bush
growing in a cleft in the bank.  The cart was backed to the chosen spot,
and young Marco, his eyes alight with excitement and eagerness,
clambered up to the driver’s seat.  A rug was thrown over Enderby and
the machine-gun lying at his side, and the old man took up a position
with Burton behind the cart, concealed by the pile of furniture from the
eyes of any one approaching down the hill.

The Serb had taken a rifle from beneath the baggage.

"There are only three," he said.  "I can shoot them one by one."

"No, no!" cried Burton.  "The shots would alarm their friends above.
Besides, they’ll be more useful to us alive, as hostages, perhaps, even
if we don’t get useful information out of them."

"You are right," said the old man, "but it is a pity," and he
reluctantly laid the rifle aside.

They had reason to commend young Marco’s scouting, for only a few
minutes after their preparations were completed, the horsemen were heard
approaching the bend. The boy, whose eyes had been fixed on his
grandfather, at a nod from him whipped up the oxen, and the cart lurched
forward just as the horsemen came in sight.  As if surprised by their
appearance, Marco pulled up so that there was barely room for a horse to
pass on the side where the bank shelved downwards.  His grandfather and
Burton were still hidden in the rear.

The three horsemen had been riding abreast, but at sight of the cart
they moved into single file.  The first was a German officer; then came
the Serbian prisoner with the Bulgarian trooper holding the rope behind.

The German officer reined up, and asked Marco a question.  The boy shook
his head, and the German turned impatiently to the prisoner, ordering
him to repeat the question.  At this moment Burton, revolver in hand,
slipped from behind the cart on the side of the declivity, while the old
man with some difficulty squeezed himself between the wheel and the high
bank on the other side.  A gleam in the eyes of the prisoner apprised
the German that something was happening behind him, and he was in the
act of turning when his arm was seized and he saw himself confronted by
a determined-looking young airman, levelling a revolver within a few
inches of his head.  One arm was held as in a vice, the other hand was
engaged with the rein; it was impossible to draw his own revolver.  He
called to the trooper to shoot, but that warrior was otherwise engaged.

"Dismount, sir," said Burton, quietly. "You are my prisoner."

[Illustration: "DISMOUNT, SIR."]

And seeing that there was no help for it, the German made haste to obey.

Meanwhile on the other side old Marco had performed his allotted part.
The trooper, catching sight of Burton before the German, was for a
moment too much surprised to be capable of action; but then, dropping
the rope he held, he was about to spur forward to his superior’s
assistance, when the old Serb, who had crept round while the man’s
attention was occupied, suddenly hurled himself upon him.  The old man
was beset by no scruples.  A Bulgar was always a Bulgar.  A shot would
raise an alarm; cold steel was silent.  All the strength of his sinewy
arm, all the heat of age-long national hatred, went into the
knife-thrust that hurled the trooper from his saddle, over the edge of
the track, and down the sharp-edged rocks of the slope beyond.

Within less than a minute the ambush had succeeded without any sound or
commotion that could have been heard by the enemy in the tower nearly
two miles away, and out of their sight.



                                   IV


"Milosh Nikovich, this is a good day, old friend," said old Marco, as he
released the prisoner.

"A good day indeed, Marco Kralevich. But I am amazed.  Who is he that
dealt with the German?"

"Hand me that rope, if you please," came from Burton in French.  "Clasp
your hands behind, sir," he added to the German, in English.

"You shpeak to me!" spluttered that irate officer.  "Know you zat I am
an officer, a captain of ze 59th Brandenburger Regiment?  It is not fit
zat I haf my hands bounden."

"You must allow me to judge of that, sir," remarked Burton, with a quiet
smile.

"No, I protest.  I refuse; it is insolence. You captivate me, zat is
true; you seize me ven I look ze ozer vay; zat is not vat you call
shport.  But I gif you my parole----"

"I can’t accept it, sir."

"Ze parole of a German officer----"

"It’s no good talking, captain," Burton interposed, bluntly.  "The word
of a German has no value just now.  If you do not submit quietly I shall
have to use force.  No doubt you will be released when you are safe in
the British lines.  Come now!"

Amid a copious flow of guttural protestation the captain allowed his
hands to be tied behind him.

"I felt rather sorry for the chap," said Burton to Enderby afterwards.
"He looked a decent fellow as Germans go, and perhaps I did him an
injustice.  But, being a German, we can’t trust him; and we can’t afford
to take risks."

While he was engaged in securing his prisoner, the two Serbs had been
conversing rapidly.  Old Marco came up to him, and took him apart.

"We have gained time at least, monsieur," he said.  "My friend Milosh
Nikovich tells me that the others are remaining in the tower for the
night; the main body is not expected until the morning."

"That will give us a chance to slip past in the darkness--if only your
wheels didn’t groan so.  Stay!  I have some vaseline in my wallet, I
think; we can grease them with that.  It’s nearly four o’clock, I see;
the mist is rising; that will help us.  I suppose, by the way, the
Bulgars in the tower will not expect this German to return?"

The old man spoke to his compatriot.

"He does not know," he said.

"Then we shall have to look out.  Luckily the sun is going down; they
can’t heliograph any more; and it will be impossible for the people
above to see the track through the mist, so they won’t know that the
horsemen have been checked.  If the air had been clear they would
certainly have become suspicious on failing to catch sight of the party
on open stretches behind us.  With luck we shall get through.  What were
they doing with your friend?"

The old Serb repeated what Milosh had told him during their colloquy.
His village had been raided; most of the inhabitants had been massacred
by the Bulgars; he himself had been impressed as guide, and forced to
lead the patrol to the tower, which they knew by hearsay, though
ignorant of the hill-track that led directly to it.

"I reproached him for his weakness," added the old man apologetically.
"He ought to have refused to act as guide. Better that a Serb should
have allowed himself to be shot.  But a man does not always see clearly;
he has a family--who are safe, praise to the Highest!"

"But why did they wish to reach the tower?"

"It commands the country for many miles.  They could see from it the
forces of your brave countrymen.  Without doubt they signalled what they
had discovered, and I suspect that to-morrow a force of light cavalry
will come this way to fall on their flank at the cross-roads below."

"That is one reason the more for getting through.  We must do it
to-night.  You know the country, my friend; we must act on your advice."

Since no move could be made until it was quite dark, they sat down on
the rocks and took a meal, eating sparingly of their provisions as a
matter of prudence.  Who could tell what the night and the morrow would
bring forth?

The Englishmen were amused at young Marco, who, munching a wheat-cake,
solemnly watched their every movement, and eyed longingly the sandwiches
they took from their tin.  Burton beckoned him forward and gave him a
sandwich.  The boy took it, hesitated a moment, then shyly offered his
wheat-cake in exchange, and ran back to his mother.

"I’m afraid you’re in great pain, poor old chap!" said Burton, noticing
the pallor and drawn expression of Enderby’s features.

"Oh, that’s all right.  I can stick it out. I rather fancy our German
friend feels worse.  It must be horribly galling to his nobility.
What’s his name’?"

The German was sitting apart, moodily gnawing his moustache.  Burton
went over to him, loosed his hands, and offered him a sandwich and his
flask.  The former he accepted with a sort of unwilling graciousness;
the latter he declined.

"Your visky I drink not; I haf in my own flask goot German vine.  You
permit me?" he asked, ironically.

"Of course.  It isn’t whisky, by the way. May I ask your name?"

"It is Captain von Hildenheim.  I am not pleased.  Zis is not ze
handling zat is vorth a German officer.  Vunce more--

"Sorry.  We can’t have it all over again. You must make the best of it.
It won’t be for long."

"No, zat is true; it vill not be for long," returned the German with a
slight smile.

"He evidently thinks we shall be collared to-night or to-morrow," said
Burton, when, having bound his prisoner again, he returned to Enderby.
"Have you got a cigarette in your case?  Mine’s empty."

He sat by his friend, smoking in silence, meditating as he watched the
wreaths mingling with the mist in the growing darkness. Presently he got
up, and went to the spot where the Serbs were grouped.  Young Marco,
wrapped in a rug, was already asleep on the cart.

"What about this tower?" he asked the grandfather.  "How is it placed?
What is its strength and its state of repair?  I don’t ask idly; an idea
occurred to me just now."

"I know it well," answered the old man. "Twenty years ago I held it
during a Bulgar comitadji raid.  It stands on a spur on the hill-top.
The track passes not far beneath it.  On two sides the ground forms a
sort of glacis.  The tower is solidly built of stone; it has two
storeys.  What is its condition, Milosh Nikovich?  It is twenty years
since I was there."

"It is strong and sound, Marco Kralevich, except inside.  They took me
only into the lower room.  The woodwork was rotted away, or perhaps some
of it has been removed."

"Yes, it may be so.  In the last war the Greeks held it for a time
against the Turks. The place is well chosen for a watch-tower. From the
top you see for many miles, most freely towards the north-east, whence
we have come; less freely, but still a great way, towards the
south-west, in which direction the British Army is retreating, monsieur.
Tchk!  Why did not your country and France allow us to fall on the
Bulgars before they were ready?  Serbia pays a heavy price."

Burton felt he had nothing to say to this, and after a few condoling
words returned to his place by Enderby’s side.  The information he had
gathered had caused his half-formed idea to crystallise.

"I say!" he began, seating himself on the edge of the cart.

"Say on," returned Enderby, smiling at his friend’s solemn face.

"Well, there are only ten or eleven in the tower above there."

"What is the precise force of your adverb?"

"What adverb?  Oh, ’only.’  Well, ten or eleven’s not a great crowd.
There are four of us, without counting you and the woman----"

"Three men and a boy!  We’ll assume for the moment that one Englishman
is worth four of any other nation; but are your two and a half Serbs
equal to the other six or seven?  Of course I see what you are driving
at."

"Well, isn’t it worth trying?  There’s no doubt that a Bulgarian column
intends to cut off our men’s retreat, and if we could seize the tower,
and hold them up even for an hour or two, it might make all the
difference."

"But they’re in possession; and remember, the attack needs more men than
the defence. The odds are dead against you, Ted."

"Not altogether.  You must allow for the darkness, surprise, and the
cocksureness of the enemy.  Didn’t a corporal carry off twelve prisoners
single-handed at Loos the other day?  With a little luck----"

"We’ve a way of assuming that the luck is going to be on our side!
Well, see what the old Serb says.  I must be out of it, unfortunately;
but you needn’t consider me."

"That’s very good of you, but, of course, I do consider you.  If it
wasn’t for you I’d not hesitate a moment."

"Don’t let that trouble you.  At the worst they’ll only collar me.  The
risks will be wholly yours."

Burton returned to the Serbs, sat down beside them, and talked to them
until the dusk had deepened into night.

The upshot of their conversation was presently disclosed.  While young
Marco was thoroughly greasing the axle-trees, Burton inflicted a still
deeper wound on the dignity of Captain von Hildenheim by gagging him.
Milosh was already in possession of his revolver.

Then the little party started quietly on the upward track.

A cold wind had set in from the north-east, dispersing the mist, and
carrying with it an occasional shower of powdery snow. Except during
these brief showers the sky was clear and brilliant with starlight.  A
glance behind showed the red camp-fires of the enemy far in the plain
below.  Ahead, the tower, when they caught sight of it, loomed black
like a sentinel against the indigo background.  A faint glow shone from
one of its shutterless windows, half-way up the wall.

The track was so well shadowed by its rocky banks that there was little
risk of the party being seen.  Yet, when they were still some distance
from the tower, Burton deemed it prudent to call a halt.  There was a
whispered consultation, then Milosh went forward alone to reconnoitre.

Creeping up with every precaution, eyes and ears alert, he came within
sight of a low wall some forty or fifty paces from the tower, pierced by
a single aperture where at one time had been a gate.  This wall shut off
the tower and the crag on which it stood from the narrow bridle-path
that mounted the hill to the north, and fell away to the south towards
the valley.

In the gap in the wall a sentry stood, finding such shelter from the
biting wind as the thickness of the stonework afforded.  He blew upon
his hands, stamped his feet, murmured his discomfort.  At one moment he
took out a watch, and seemed to caress it with his fingers.  He did not
lift it towards his eyes; he could not have seen the time in the
starlight; and the shiver which visibly shook him as he returned it to
his pocket was the shudder of physical cold; he had forgotten the
ruthless butchery of the Serb who had, not long before, been the owner
of the watch.

[Illustration: MILOSH WAITS.]

All was quiet around.  Only the feeble ray high up in the tower showed
that the place was occupied.  The sentry’s faculties were numbed by the
cold, or he might have noticed that the even contour of the wall, some
few paces from him to the north, was broken by a dark protuberance which
had not been there in daylight.  It might have been a buttress, except
that there were no buttresses on the outside of the wall. Astonished as
he must have been if he had observed it, he would have been still more
amazed had he been tramping his beat before the gate instead of cowering
from the icy blast.  For the dark shape moved, imperceptibly, like the
hour hand of a clock, yet surely, and always towards him.

Within two paces of the gateway it suddenly stopped.  The line of the
wall was no longer broken.  There was nothing now for the sentry to see.

A few minutes passed.  The sentry muttered, growled, stamped on the
ground. After all, he could not keep warm.  He had sheltered his nose
and ears at the expense of his feet.  Only movement could restore the
circulation of those chilled members.  He picked up his rifle, came out
through the gateway, swung round to the right, and tramped along close
to the wall.

No sooner was his back turned than the dark shape that had remained
motionless at the foot of the wall glided swiftly up to and into the
gateway.  The sentry turned at the end of his beat, and butted with
quick step against the bitter wind, approaching the gateway--and his
doom.  He had just passed the opening when a few inches of steel glinted
in the starlight.  There was a stifled groan, a sigh.  The rightful
owner of the watch was avenged.

Three minutes later Milosh rejoined the little group that was waiting a
couple of hundred yards below.

"Well?" old Marco inquired in a whisper.

"It is well, old friend.  The way is clear."



                                   V


During the scout’s absence, Burton had become acutely conscious of the
bruises which he had almost forgotten.  He dreaded lest his aching body
should not be equal to the strain of a fight against odds.  But he
resolutely turned his mind from his own condition, and set himself to
concert a plan of action with old Marco and Captain Enderby.

They decided that while the attack was proceeding Nuta should remain
with the cart.  If it succeeded, she would be brought up to the tower;
if it failed, and the enemy made their appearance, the possession of
Captain von Hildenheim should serve as security for the safety of
herself and Enderby. A threat to shoot him would no doubt induce his
party to come to terms.  The expression on the woman’s face as she took
Enderby’s revolver was sufficient guarantee that she would not fail in
the part assigned to her.

Five minutes after the return of Milosh the little party set off on
their adventurous enterprise.

"Good luck, old man!" said Enderby, as Burton took his leave.  "Sorry I
can’t be with you, but we’ll meet again before long."

They stole up the road in single file, Milosh leading, followed by old
Marco, Burton, and the boy in succession.  Reaching the wall, they crept
along its shadow to the gateway, noiselessly entered the enclosure, and,
after a swift glance around, sped towards the tower.  The clank of
bridles and the pawing of hoofs did not alarm them; Milosh had already
explained that the horses had been placed in the large chamber that
formed the ground floor.  To this there was no longer a door, but
through the vacant doorway came a faint glint of light.

At the entrance they halted, and peered in.  Ranged along the wall to
the right stood the horses, which, scenting strangers, moved restlessly.
In the left corner the rays of a lamp fell through an open trap-door
above, lighting a rough wooden staircase.  From the upper room came the
sound of voices mingled with snores.  At the uneasy movements of the
horses the conversation ceased for a moment.  A head appeared at the
edge of the trap-door, and a rough voice ordered the animals to be
quiet, as one might tell a dog to "lie down."  Another voice from behind
sleepily asked a question. The first man replied, and withdrew from the
opening.  Then the low-toned conversation was resumed.

There being but one entrance to the tower, and but one gateway in the
wall, the single sentry whom Milosh had disposed of had no doubt been
considered a sufficient guard; but old Marco had decided, leaving
nothing to chance, to post his grandson at the doorway, to keep watch
outside and give the alarm if any sudden interference should threaten.
The boy grasped manfully the revolver given him, and stood against the
wall out of the ray of light.

The others slipped silently across the room to the staircase.  At its
foot they halted a moment, looking up towards the trap-door. The
staircase was clearly a rickety affair. Some of the treads were missing;
the handrail and balusters which had formerly edged it on the outer side
were now wholly removed.  Signing to his companions to move carefully,
Milosh began to ascend.

At his first step there was an ominous creak, masked, however, by a
renewed stir among the horses.  The old Serb and Burton followed in
turn, treading as lightly as they could.  Milosh was half-way up when,
stepping over a gap, his foot came down heavily on the stair above, and
the timber emitted a loud groan.  The voices above ceased; then a gruff
voice in the Bulgarian tongue muttered: "What was that?"  Milosh hurried
his ascent.  A shadow fell on the men below him; something had moved at
the edge of the trap-door.  A cry of alarm ended in an inarticulate
gasp; for the second time that night a Serbian knife had taken toll of
the national enemy.

There was a loud shout from behind the fallen man, followed by confused
cries from the awakened sleepers.  Regardless now of any noise they
might make the three men sprang up the remaining stairs.  A shot rang
out as Milosh flung himself into the room, with Marco close behind him,
and when Burton stood upon the floor, he found himself in the thick of a
furious _mêlée_ that gave him no time to take in the scene.

Of the men in that upper room, only two had been awake--the Bulgarian
officer and one of the troopers.  When their conversation was
interrupted by the sounds from below, the trooper had leant over to see
what was happening.  It was he that had fallen to Milosh’s knife.  The
shot had been fired by the officer, and the other men, aroused by the
noise, had disengaged themselves from the horse rugs beneath which they
had been sleeping, and were now crowding in confusion to repel the
unexpected attack.  Only half awake, some of them had not even seized
their arms. Behind them towered the bulky form of the second German
officer who had led them earlier in the day.  He alone had his wits
about him.  Shouting orders and curses, he threw a swift glance at the
three intruders, then sprang to the lamp hanging from a bracket on the
wall, and dashed it to the floor.

But this move, upon which he had calculated to assist the defence,
giving the men time to collect their sleep-dulled senses and regain the
advantage of numbers, turned in fact to their undoing.  The darkness
lasted only an instant.  Then Burton whipped out his electric torch.
The lamp had illuminated both parties alike; but now the electric beam
dazzled the eyes of the Bulgarians while leaving their assailants dim
and indistinct.

Burton could never afterwards clearly recall the incidents of the fight.
The hollow tower rang with shots, fierce shouts, and even more
significant cries.  His one abiding impression was the Berserker fury of
old Marco.  With knife in one hand and revolver in the other, the Serb
flung himself upon the foes, his stalwart form seeming to be everywhere
at once.  Even his heroic ancestor could never have disposed of more of
the traditional enemy in equal time. Milosh fought with the fury
generated by his recent wrongs, accompanying every knife-thrust with a
yell of triumph.  Some of the Bulgars threw themselves down, and tried
to crawl towards the trap-door.  But Burton, holding his ground there,
cut off their escape, and while his torch lit up the scene for his
friends, he assisted them with his revolver whenever he could do so
without risk to them.

Long as it appeared to those engaged in it, the struggle was in reality
a short one. Taken unawares, the Bulgars were no match for their
assailants, nerved by desperate necessity.  At the last, when the din
had somewhat diminished, Burton staggered under the impact of a large
form, and saved himself from being hurled down the staircase only by a
stiffening of the muscles and a dexterous back-throw over his thrust-out
knee.  He stooped and grappled his fallen assailant.

"I surrender!" gurgled a panting voice in German.

The officer’s revolver had slipped from his grasp at the moment when,
tripping over one of the Bulgars, he lurched against Burton. The latter
kicked it down the staircase. There was silence now in the upper room.
Burton flashed his torch around it.  Marco and Milosh stood panting
above their prostrate foes.  It seemed that of all the party only the
German officer was left alive.  But the electric beam fell on one
shivering wretch cowering behind a trestle table in the far corner.
Milosh instantly dashed towards him, and Burton had much ado to persuade
the infuriated Serb that, the officer having surrendered, the fight was
now at an end. Old Marco had sunk to the floor, exhausted by his efforts
and his wounds, unheeded in the heat of the strife.  The silence was
broken only by the champing and pawing of the frightened horses below.

Burton was tying up the prisoners, Milosh was collecting the arms of the
slain, when old Marco suddenly exclaimed--

"Monsieur, there are only eight!"

The words were scarcely out of his mouth when a shot rang out below, and
the boy’s voice shouted an alarm.  Leaving the others to complete his
work, Burton dashed down the staircase to the doorway, just in time to
see two men sprinting along beyond the wall in the direction of the
waiting cart.  Young Marco babbled an explanation of their presence
excitedly in his own tongue, but Burton could not wait for explanations;
it was enough that two of the enemy’s party had been outside the tower,
probably _en vedette_ to the south, and were now speeding towards the
north and their main body.  No doubt they had heard the uproar, guessed
what had happened, and run off to carry the news.

Burton at once dashed after them, anxious about the safety of his
friends at the cart, even more than about the peril of the whole party
if the enemy’s march should be hastened.  Young Marco flew along at his
heels.  But the fugitives had had too long a start.  Even the beam of
the torch failed to discover them.  Immediately after the torch flashed
there was the report of a revolver, and Burton ran at break-neck pace
down the rugged track.  He came to the cart.

"Gone away!" cried Enderby.

"You’re not hurt?"

"It was Nuta’s revolver.  We heard some one coming, but didn’t know
whether friend or foe until you flashed your torch.  Then I guessed.
But two men were just on us then; they swerved to avoid the cart, and
dashed away beyond us there.  The woman was quick, but it was too dark
to aim, and I’m afraid they’ve both got clear."

"That’s a pity.  They’ll report that we’ve got the tower, and the
Bulgars may swarm up in an hour or two.  We must get you out of harm’s
way."

He made signs to Marco that he wished the cart to be driven up at once.
The boy whipped up the oxen, and the vehicle lumbered away with
Hildenheim trudging disconsolately behind.  At the gate in the wall they
met old Marco.

"Let the woman and the boy go on with your wounded friend," he said to
Burton. "They cannot help us; why should we endanger them?  Moreover,
they would then save the goods in my cart."

"As you please," said Burton.  "But you yourself will hold to your
agreement, and help us to check the enemy as long as we can?"

"Assuredly, and Milosh Nikovich will remain with me."

But when the matter was put to Nuta, she resolutely refused to leave the
old man.

"It is well, my daughter," he said, laying his hand on her shoulder.
"We will live or die together."

This being decided, they resolved to utilise the cart in the defence of
the position.  The more valuable parts of its load were removed,
together with the British machine-gun, and carried into the tower.  The
cart was then drawn across the gateway to block it up, and the oxen were
taken some distance away to the south, and tethered in a bush-covered
dell.  Meanwhile Milosh had cleared the upper room, and made some effort
to obliterate the traces of the fray.  There the party took up their
quarters.  They were all utterly weary.  It was perhaps unlikely that
the enemy would arrive before the morning, but Burton and the two Serbs
arranged to take turns at watching through the night. What preparations
could be made to meet an attack must be left until at least a partial
rest had restored their exhausted energies.



                                   VI


There was little conversation during the night.  Every member of the
party was so fatigued that, when not on watch, he slept heavily.
Enderby alone was wakeful, from the pain of his wounds, and he addressed
Burton only in occasional whispers, lest Hildenheim should overhear him.
The two German officers conversed in their own tongue, pitching their
voices low; but neither of the Englishmen understood German.  At
intervals the distant boom of heavy guns indicated that a night attack
was in progress somewhere to the east.

Before daybreak Burton roused his companions. It was necessary to lay
their plans in readiness for the expected advance of the Bulgarian
troops.  In company with old Marco, Burton took stock of their
resources.  They had the weapons of their enemies--ten rifles with about
two thousand rounds of ammunition, three revolvers with thirty rounds
apiece, their own machine-gun with three ammunition belts.  There was a
plentiful supply of provisions, but little fodder for the horses.
Burton was tempted to make good their escape while there was yet time;
but after a few moments’ reflection he reverted to his purpose of
delaying the enemy’s advance to the last minute of endurance.  The
tower, commanding the narrow track, offered great advantages to the
defence; and guessing that the Bulgars’ advance guard would consist of
cavalry unprovided with artillery, he hoped to be able to hold his own
until help arrived.

The first necessity was to inform the British general of the anticipated
flank attack.

"Your grandson can ride a horse?" he asked old Marco.

"Tchk!  The boy sat a horse as soon as he could walk," replied the old
man, with a laugh.

"Then I want to send him with a note to our men.  Will you instruct
him?"

He wrote in his pocket-book a note explaining that Captain Enderby,
wounded, with himself and two Serbians, both slightly wounded, were
holding a tower in the hills some ten miles south of Strumitza.  They
expected to be attacked by a Bulgarian column moving south-west across
the hills to cut the British line of retreat, and would hold out as long
as possible.  Their greatest need, if attacked in force, would be
ammunition; and he pointed out that the position would be hopeless
against artillery.  Tearing the leaf out, he folded it, addressed it to
"Any British Officer," and gave it to Marco, who tucked it inside his
tunic.  As soon as dawn glimmered the boy mounted one of the horses and
set off, disappearing into the mist.

"We had better take the horses out," Burton suggested.  "They will only
hamper us here; besides, we may as well keep them alive if we can."

On old Marco agreeing, Milosh led the horses to the dell where the oxen
had been tethered overnight, tied them together, and hobbled them to
heavy fragments of rock. Meanwhile the others strengthened the cart
barricade, blocked up the entrance to the tower with stones, broken
timber, and other rubbish, and placed the machine-gun at a narrow window
commanding the track. Then Burton climbed the ladder leading to the top
of the tower, to examine the country through his glasses; but the heavy
white mist hid everything from view.  Guns boomed incessantly; the
sounds were little louder than they had been in the night.  It was clear
that the British retirement was being conducted without hurry.

When he came down he found that Nuta had got ready a meal for his party
and the three prisoners.  With these latter, since his arrival at the
tower, he had had no conversation. Now, however, Captain von Hildenheim
addressed him.

"Major Schwartzkopf demands to know vat you do," he said.  "Ze major
shpeak no English."

Burton glanced at the elder German, who stared at him with mingled
insolence and sullenness.

"Tell him that I hope before the day is out to hand him over to the
British provost-marshal," he said.

Hildenheim translated.  The major gurgled out a rapid sentence.

"You mistake," Hildenheim went on. "Major Schwartzkopf vish to know vat
you do here."

"That is my business.  If the major has patience he will see."

The Germans talked together, and Burton gathered from their smiles that
they supposed him ignorant of the Bulgarian advance, and flattered
themselves that the tables would soon be turned on him.

When breakfast was finished, Marco asked Burton to accompany him to the
chamber below.

"Twenty years ago," he said, "when I was here, we kept a few prisoners
in a cellar below the floor.  Shall we not place our prisoners there
now, for safety’s sake?"

"Let us have a look at it," Burton returned.

Scraping away the litter of hay, earth, and fragments of wood from a
corner of the floor, Marco disclosed a trap-door.  They lifted this, and
Burton descended a short ladder, Marco following him with an improvised
torch.  They found themselves in a shallow cellar, stuffy but dry.

"What is this?" exclaimed Marco, pointing to a number of small wooden
boxes ranged along one wall.  "They were not here in my time."

The boxes were thickly covered with dust, and had evidently been long
undisturbed. Burton carefully prised up the lid of one of them.

"It is full of sticks of dynamite!" he said, astonished.  "A strange
find, upon my word!"

[Illustration: "’A STRANGE FIND, UPON MY WORD!’"]

"And look!" added Marco.  "There is a tunnel--that was not here either."

In one of the walls was an opening about four feet high.  Entering this,
the two men groped their way along a straight tunnel just wide enough
for them to pass in single file.

"This must have been made by the Greeks when they held the tower," the
old man continued.

"For what purpose?  There’s nothing in it."

"But there is the dynamite in the cellar behind.  I think the tunnel
must have been intended for a mine."

"To blow up something outside?  Let us see in what direction it goes."

A glance at his compass showed him that the tunnel ran towards the
north-east.

"It is plain," said Marco.  "Here at the end we may be standing beneath
the track. The Greeks intended to blow it up.  I suppose the necessity
passed when the Turks retreated, and the dynamite was left here and
forgotten.  Perhaps the Greeks who made the tunnel were killed in the
fighting afterwards."

"Well, this may be a lucky find for us.  We must see if it does end
beneath the track."

Measuring his paces as they returned to the cellar, he went up, and
counted an equal number from the doorway of the tower, following the
direction of the tunnel as nearly as he could judge it.  The
thirty-second pace brought him to the wall; there were still nine more
to take.  At the forty-first he arrived at the centre of the track.

"You were right," he said; "the intention was clearly to have a means of
blowing up the track.  As you say, an explosion just there would make it
impassable.  This may be a lucky find for us, my friend.  We must remove
the dynamite to the end of the tunnel, and make some sort of fuse."

They returned to the tower.  It was now half-past nine, the mist was
thinning, and before taking in hand the preparation of the mine, Burton
thought it well to make another survey from the top of the tower. With
Marco he climbed the ladder.  Even with the naked eye he was able to
see, winding like a serpent across the white plain, a long column of
troops, its rear merging into the mist.  Through his glasses he
distinguished its composition.  In advance of the main body of infantry
rode squadrons of cavalry.  Here and there appeared files of pack-mules.
He handed the glasses to Marco, whose face gloomed as he watched the
unending stream.

"The mules carry mountain guns," he said.  "That’s bad.  They are coming
on quickly, too.  We shall not have time to prepare our mine."

But as they went down again, to make final preparations for meeting the
impending attack, an idea occurred to him.  Taking Marco to the lower
floor, he said in English, loud enough to be heard by the prisoners
above--

"A bomb would blow us all to smithereens. I had no idea there was so
much dynamite there."

The Germans instantly rose to the bait. They could be heard in excited
discussion above.  Waiting a few minutes to allow his words to produce
their full effect, Burton returned to the upper room.  The officers
broke off their conversation and looked at him uneasily.

"I beg your pardon, sir," said Hildenheim at length, hesitatingly.  "You
shpeak of dynamite?"

"I did, yes--there is a considerable quantity in the cellar below."

Looking very grave, Hildenheim translated to his companion, whose alarm
found vent in impassioned volubility.

"Major Schwartzkopf protests viz indignation," Hildenheim went on.  "Ve
are prisoners--so; but ze law of nations do not permit zat prisoners be
confined in a place of danger."

"Danger, gentlemen!  It was you who chose this place.  What danger do
you anticipate?"

"Our allies ze Bulgars zis vay come.  Not understand?  Zey attack zis
place.  Ve sit on high explosive below; ze Bulgars shoot high explosive
above; ve are blowed to--vat you call it?--schmiddereens!"

"Surely your allies love you too well; they will not subject you to such
risks."

"I know not so much about zat.  Zey love us--yes; but if it is zeir duty
zey blow us up all ze same."

"We shall all be in the same boat, then. But perhaps you have something
to suggest?"

"It is ze law of nations zat you keep us safe."

"You are quite safe so far as we are concerned.  Obviously I cannot
remove you. If your friends shell us--well!"

"But you can remove ze dynamite.  You can take it out, inter it, shuck
it into--vat you call it?--a gully."

"We haven’t time for that.  But I have an idea.  There is a long tunnel
leading from the cellar.  If you and your companions care to carry the
dynamite to the farther end of the tunnel, it will be out of harm’s way
so far as the tower is concerned."

"Zat is not ze vork of German officers."

"No; quite so.  If I were you I wouldn’t do it.  But, as you may have
gathered, I intend to hold the tower as long as I can. Your cavalry is
already on the move.  It will not be long before they attack.  If you
care to remove the dynamite, you may stay in the cellar until--until I
fetch you out. Otherwise you will remain here."

The Germans consulted.

"Ze Herr Major agree, viz protest," said Hildenheim presently.

"Agrees!  To what?"

"To move ze dynamite--vat you ask."

"I beg your pardon, I ask nothing.  You will do as you please.  I said
if I were you----"

"Ach!  Ze Herr Major agree all ze same," interrupted Hildenheim,
eagerly.

"Very well."

The Germans struggled to their feet.

"You shall unbind our arms," said Hildenheim.

"When you are in the cellar.  Watch your footing as you go down."

He preceded them down the stairs.  When the three men were in the cellar
he left them his torch to work by, instructing them to carry the boxes
to the end of the tunnel.

It was necessary to devise a train for exploding the dynamite at the
pinch of necessity.  Having no gunpowder this was a difficulty until
Marco hit on a method. He bade Nuta bring some cotton cloths and some
jars of grease that were among their belongings in the cart.  The cloths
he asked her to tear up into thin strips, and then to soak thoroughly
with the grease.  By knotting these strips together she could make, he
hoped, a match as long as the tunnel.

There was no time to test it, or to judge how quickly it would burn.
Scarcely ten minutes after the woman had begun her task Burton saw, from
the loophole at which the machine-gun had been placed, the head of the
enemy column appear on the track within effective rifle range.  It
consisted of a half-troop of cavalry, and was moving with cautious
slowness.  In another minute it came to a halt.  Two officers in front
held a consultation.  One of them peered through his glasses at the
silent tower.  Their attitude suggested uncertainty.  The lack of
signals from the tower must have apprised them that their friends were
not in possession of it; but the information conveyed by the men who had
escaped overnight was necessarily vague, and they were ignorant whether
the position was held by their foes, or had been abandoned.

At the window, but out of sight of the enemy, Burton and the two Serbs
watched them keenly.  Enderby had been placed at the remote end of the
room, behind a barricade of timber, accoutrements, and rugs. In the last
few moments Burton had discussed with him whether it would be well to
open a parley with the enemy, and announce his intention of disputing
their passage.

"My advice is to the contrary," said Enderby.  "Deeds, not words.  A
shot will tell them all you wish them to know."

The consultation on the track came to an end, and the horsemen began to
move forward slowly.  Two of them, one apparently an officer, rode a
little in advance of the rest.  When they were still about half a mile
distant, Marco raised his rifle to his shoulder and fired.  Apparently
he missed, for the two men instantly threw themselves from their horses
and took cover among the rocks at the side of the track.  A bugle rang
out, and all down the column, as far as it was in sight, the troopers
dismounted, left their horses, and advanced up the track on foot by
short rushes from one patch of cover to another.

"What will they do?" Burton asked himself.  He tried to put himself
mentally in their position.  All the information they could have was
that the tower was in enemy hands.  They could not know who its captors
were, or how many they numbered.  No doubt they would suppose that the
patrol had fallen to a superior force, but they would infer that this
force was a comparatively small one, since it was already clear that no
attempt was to be made to dispute their passage on the track itself.
Their natural course would be to feel the strength of the garrison, and
perhaps to refrain from throwing themselves against a strong defensive
position until they had brought up guns to bombard it.  The wild and
rugged nature of the ground made rapid movement difficult, and Burton
hoped that the inevitable delay would not only enable the British Army
to secure its retirement, but would also give time for the dispatch of a
light force to bring off himself and his party.  The latter event he did
not count on; it might prove to be impracticable; in that case he could
only look forward to the ultimate capture or destruction of the tower.
It was his resolve to hold up the enemy till the last possible moment;
if surrender were then necessary to save Nuta and Captain Enderby, he
would at least have the satisfaction of duty well done.

Up to the present Marco’s shot had been the only one fired.  The two
Serbs, if left to themselves, would have aimed again and again at the
Bulgars, of whom they caught glimpses as they darted from rock to rock.
But Burton prevailed on them to withhold their fire.

"They don’t know exactly how we are placed," he said to Marco, "and we
may as well keep them ignorant as long as possible. They are bound to
leave cover if they mean to attack us; then will be our chance."

The position gave incomparable advantages to the defence.  Standing on a
spur of the hillside, the tower could be assailed only from the track;
its rear face overhung a precipitous cliff which not even a goat could
scale.  For more than a hundred yards from the tower the track was
wholly devoid of cover; the declivity on the one side and the high
jagged ground on the other equally forbade an encircling movement.
Burton’s hope grew high as he weighed the chances for and against him.

The enemy had crept up to within about three hundred yards of the tower.
The next fifty yards of the track were exposed, then there was a break
in the bank in which they could find cover among low boulders and
stunted bushes.  It was at this point that they would first come in
sight of the wall surrounding the tower enclosure.  Burton concluded
that as their mission was urgent, they would not wait the arrival of
their artillery, which no doubt they had sent for at the first alarm,
but would dash along the exposed portions of the track, shelter
themselves temporarily below the wall, and then endeavour to carry the
position with a rush.  The gateway was blocked by the cart, but the wall
could easily be scaled, and the slender defences of the tower entrance
would yield in a few minutes.  It was of prime importance, therefore,
that the enemy should be prevented from reaching the wall. The track was
wide enough for four or five men to move abreast.  By means of the
machine-gun, Burton could mow the enemy down if they advanced in mass;
but having very little ammunition for it, he had decided to use it only
as a last resource.  In the early stages of the impending action he must
depend on rifle fire, and he realised that, with no more than three
rifles, a great deal depended on the extent to which the enemy could be
intimidated.  Personally he was at a disadvantage in respect of his
unfamiliarity with the Bulgarian rifle.  Marco had explained to him the
sighting arrangements, which were adjusted to the metre scale; but he
recognised that his first shots would be experimental.  At short range
he could hardly fail of success.

Some minutes passed; the enemy gave no sign of movement.

"Keep your eye upon them, while I go and see how the prisoners are
getting on with their work," said Burton to Marco.

He went down to the cellar, observing on the way that Nuta had completed
a large coil of the cotton rope.  The Bulgar was staggering into the
tunnel with the last of the boxes of dynamite.  Hildenheim was donning
his tunic, which he had stripped off for the sake of ease in working.
From the coolness and the unsoiled appearance of Major Schwartzkopf,
Burton inferred, with secret amusement, that that officer had not put
himself to any exertion.

"I zink I hear a shot, sir," said Hildenheim.

"I thought so too," rejoined Burton. "But we are not engaged with your
friends yet, and as I see that all the dynamite is removed, you are safe
here--for the present."

"So!  I know ze Bulgar language.  Ven our allies haf ze tower taken, I
vill haf much pleasure to--vat you call it?"

"Interpret for us?  Thank you, captain. I am sure you are anxious to be
useful."

The dull reports of two rifle-shots recalled him.  As he closed down the
trap-door, he heard Schwartzkopf guffaw.  Springing up the stairs he
rushed to the window, where the Serbs were now firing steadily, seized
his rifle, and looked down the track.  A small party of the enemy had
broken cover, and were rushing uphill in irregular formation. Several
had already fallen; one dropped to Burton’s first shot; but the rest
gained the cover of the stunted bushes before mentioned.

"How many have got through?" asked Burton.

"About half-a-dozen," Marco replied.

"They haven’t answered your fire?"

He had hardly spoken when a hail of bullets pattered on the stone walls.
Some had come from the advanced party in the bushes, some from their
comrades concealed farther down the track.  One flew through the window,
and struck the wall a few feet above Enderby’s head.  The three men drew
back.

"It is clear they have discovered where we are firing from," said
Burton.  "We had better give them the next shots from the roof.  There
are loopholes in the parapet."

They climbed up the ladder, and, kneeling behind the parapet, peered
through the loopholes.  For some minutes the enemy continued to fire at
the window without exposing themselves.  Presently, under cover of their
shots, a second party, larger than the first, emerged from the rocks far
down the track, and ran up to join their fellows hidden among the
bushes.  Instantly the three men opened fire; one after another the
Bulgars fell, but eight or nine reached shelter in safety.  The enemy’s
fire redoubled in violence; apparently they supposed that the defenders
were shooting both from the window and from the roof, for Enderby called
up that bullets were flying into the room, and at the same time
splinters of stone were struck from the parapet.

Suddenly the firing ceased.  Burton, looking through his glasses, saw
reinforcements hurrying up along the track far below. Clearly the attack
was to be pressed, and the worst was yet to come.  So far he was well
satisfied.  The enemy had been held up for more than an hour; every
minute gained might be of priceless service to the British forces.
Every now and again the dull boom of artillery from the south told him
that his comrades were still fighting a rearguard action against heavy
odds.  To prevent the enlargement of those odds was worth any sacrifice.

Burton realised that as yet he had had to deal with only a small
advanced guard.  The fight would take on quite a different complexion
when the main body now pressing forward came into action.  There was no
sign of irresolution in the enemy.  Even though he should sweep the
track twice or thrice with the machine-gun, they would then discover
that his ammunition was expended, and three rifles would avail nothing
against the numbers who would pour upwards to the assault.  It was time
to prepare to play his last card--to light the train which, after an
unknown interval, would explode the dynamite and render the track
impassable.  The tower was doomed.  If not carried by assault, it would
be shattered as soon as artillery was brought to bear on it.  But even
though it were destroyed, and all in it, the destruction of the track
would delay the enemy for many hours, and his object would be gained.

He inferred, and rightly, as it proved, that the lull would continue
until the enemy had come up in sufficient strength to burst through at
all costs.  But there was no time to spare, especially as so much
uncertainty attended the action of the mine. Leaving the two Serbs to
keep watch, Burton went below.  Nuta was still knotting the lengths of
cloth, but he saw at a glance that the coil she had completed would
suffice.  He made her understand by signs that she was to follow him to
the cellar, carrying the revolver.

The eager looks with which the prisoners met him bespoke their
confidence that he had come to beg their intercession with victorious
Bulgarians.  They were immediately undeceived.

"I am going to fire the dynamite," he said.  "This place will no longer
be safe for you.  You must quit the tower.  Follow my instructions to
the letter.  When you leave the entrance, you will cross the enclosure
to the wall on the south side, climb it, and go as far along the track
southward as you please.  If you attempt to move in the opposite
direction you will instantly be shot.  That is quite clear?"

Hildenheim’s looks had grown blacker and blacker as Burton spoke.

"It is a trick!" he burst out in a voice hoarse with rage.  "It is
against ze law of nations.  Zere shall be reprisals.  You make var
prisoners vork to blow up zeir allies; you----"

"Nothing of the sort," Burton interrupted sharply.  "You removed the
dynamite for your own safety; you are at liberty to bring it back, and
take the consequences.  You must decide at once."

This reduced the German to silence.

"Was giebt es?" asked Schwartzkopf, evidently puzzled by the captain’s
agitation.

When Hildenheim had explained, the major came to a decision with great
alacrity. It would be absurd to reject the chance of escaping with a
whole skin.  There was a short excited colloquy between the two Germans.
Then Hildenheim sullenly announced their acquiescence, and they followed
Burton and the woman up the stairs. When a passage had been opened in
the entrance, the three prisoners made to issue together.

"Not so fast--one at a time, if you please," said Burton, anxious not to
leave the tower himself.  "The major first; turn to the right, that’s
your way.  The woman will escort you."

At another time he might have been amused at the sight of the German
hastening towards the wall with an effort to maintain his dignity, Nuta
following with pointed revolver a couple of yards behind.  But the
situation was too tense for amusement.  He was on thorns; at any moment
warning shots might recall him to his post, and the mine had still to be
completed.  The instant the Bulgar, last of the three, reached the wall,
Burton hurried into the cellar.  He laid the cotton train on the floor
of the tunnel, kindling its nearer end.  At the farther end he upturned
the open box of dynamite, placed a few cartridges at the extremity of
the train, and packed the remaining boxes closely one upon another, so
that the space between the floor and the roof was completely blocked.
Then with feverish haste he scraped up loose earth from the floor, and
dug stones out of the wall with his knife, and heaped them up against
the boxes, so as to minimise the effect of the explosion towards the
cellar.  On his return he saw that the cotton appeared to be burning
satisfactorily, and regained the roof of the tower after an absence of
little more than twenty minutes.

The situation had apparently not changed. All was quiet.  None of the
enemy in the vicinity of the tower were in sight, but the columns were
steadily rolling up the track in the far distance.  A little later,
however, there was a sudden rush from behind the rocks, accompanied by a
hot fusillade. Bulgarian infantry swarmed up the track, and though many
of them fell to the three rifles, many more got through, stumbling over
the bodies of the fallen, and joined their comrades in the shelter of
the bushes.  Nuta had come up, and as the rifles became hot, she
replaced them with fresh weapons.

The enemy advanced in an unending stream for five or six minutes.  The
crackle of rifle shots mingled with shouts and screams.  Then at the
blast of a whistle all movement ceased.

Burton calculated that at least sixty men had run the gauntlet and were
now waiting among the bushes.  Only about a hundred yards of open track
separated them from the wall of the enclosure.  To check the coming dash
with three rifles would be impossible.  Would the explosion in the
tunnel happen in time?  He dared not go below again to see how the train
was burning, nor could any one else be spared.  Suppose the mine failed?
The rush must be checked somehow; nothing but the machine-gun would
avail.

Leaving the Serbs on the roof, Burton went down into the room, and
placed himself at the gun.

He had not long to wait.  A whistle sounded shrilly.  The men dashed
from the cover of the bushes and poured up towards the tower, shouting
and cheering.  Behind them their comrades opened fire from the rocks.
Burton held his hand for a few seconds.  Then, when the foremost rank
had covered about half the distance, the machine-gun rapped out a hail
of bullets.  In a few seconds the track was swept clear as by an
invisible scythe.

Silence fell again.  It was clear that the enemy had not reckoned with a
machine-gun, for though, taking advantage of the charge, another body of
men had rushed up to the bushes from the rear, they made no attempt to
advance farther.

Minute by minute passed.  Except for occasional sniping, the enemy took
no action. But the lull seemed ominous, and Burton remained keenly on
guard, keeping a look-out from behind the shield of the machine-gun.

"I don’t like it," he said to Enderby once. "There isn’t much doubt that
they have sent word to their gunners, and we shall soon have shells
hurtling upon us.  There may be just time to carry you down and put you
in safety beyond the tower."

"Nonsense!" Enderby returned.  "It makes me sick to be idling here.  I
won’t go and keep your Germans company.  My arms are sound enough, and,
hang it all!  I won’t stand this any longer.  Lift me out, and give me a
rifle."

"No, no!  Anything rather than that. At this window you’d be potted to a
certainty.  Perhaps it’s better as it is, for if you were outside, and
the rest of us were smashed, you couldn’t get away."

"And I’d rather peg out than fall a prisoner to those German-led
Bulgars.  Don’t worry, old chap!"

"That wretched mine must have failed," said Burton, presently.  "Nuta
must go and relight the train."

But just as he was rising to call her, he noticed something far down the
track that caused him to drop back again.

"They’re smuggling a machine-gun into position!" he cried.

He had caught a glimpse of the barrel projecting over a ledge of rock.
With instant decision he trained his own gun upon it, and before it
could open fire, he pumped out a hail of lead that struck it from its
position, and the men serving it, in spite of their shield, were killed
or disabled either by direct shots, ricochets, or splinters.

"One belt empty!" he said, as he replaced it with a full one.  "By
George! Now we’re in for it!"

He had heard the characteristic scream of a shell.  Immediately
afterwards there was a terrific explosion, and he saw a tall column of
smoke, stones, and dust shoot into the air from the rocks not two
hundred yards away. In another half-minute another shell exploded, a
little nearer.

"They must be ’phoning the range," he said.  "Look here, Enderby, I must
get you out of it.  I can’t leave the machine-gun now, but the Serbs
must carry you away. Marco Kralevich!" he shouted.

The old man hurried down.

"They’ll have the range in a few minutes," said Burton.  "I want you and
your friend to carry Captain Enderby out along the track yonder, towards
where the prisoners are.  Take your daughter, too.  When you come back,
go down into the cellar and relight the train; it must have gone out.
They will smash the tower; the only chance of holding them up is to
explode the mine. Make haste, for Heaven’s sake!"

Marco summoned Nuta and Milosh from the roof.  They lifted Enderby, and
were half-way down the stairs with him when the Bulgarian gunners made
their first hit.  A shell carried away a corner of the parapet. The
tower shook under the explosion, and the falling masonry plunged into
the enclosure, raising a dense cloud of dust.  Burton trembled for the
safety of his friends, but his thoughts were taken from them by a
renewed movement among the enemy. Immediately after the crash, the men
concealed in the bushes sprang out, and dashed forward with a cheer.
They would have been wiser to wait.  Burton saw them indistinctly
through the dust, but he had the range to a yard, and again they melted
away under his withering fire.

Shells were now bursting around the tower. There was another crash
above; fragments of stone fell into the room, striking Burton in many
places.  It was a moment of racking anxiety.  He dared not leave the gun
until the track had been destroyed, yet the tower might crumple down
upon him.  His ammunition was running short--would Marco get back in
time?  Even if he relit the train, would the flame reach the explosives?
And at that crisis he nerved himself for what must be regarded as a
supreme act of self-sacrifice.  If all else failed, at the last moment
he must go himself into the cellar, and fire into the charge.

Deafened by the explosions that now recurred every few seconds,
smothered in dust, struck by fragments of stone, half choked by fumes,
he still held his place at the window. The enemy had learnt a lesson.
They kept out of sight.  Before long the guns would have done their
work, and when the tower was in ruins the way would be clear.

"They won’t charge again till we’re smashed," he thought.  "Now for it!"

Taking his rifle, he hurried down the stairs.  At the trap-door he
halted a moment. He knew the risk he was about to run.  His work in the
tunnel had been so hurried that the backward force of the explosion
could not be wholly checked.  He was taking his life in his hands; but
it was the last hope. He gathered himself together.  His foot was on the
first step when he was brought to a halt by a rifle shot below.  The
next instant he was hurled back by a terrific concussion, and fell, an
immense noise dinning in his ears.  For a moment he lay dazed.

"Marco must have done it!" he said to himself as he staggered to his
feet.

Down into the cellar he sprang, gasping in the noisome fumes.  His
electric torch, still gleaming, lay on the floor.  Near the mouth of the
tunnel he saw the heroic old Serb prostrate.  He rushed to him, stooped
over him.  Was he yet alive?  Burton could not tell.  Exerting almost
superhuman strength he managed to hoist the big man to his back, and
staggered with him across the cellar, up the steps, and across the
floor. Almost broken down under the weight of his burden, he was just
reaching the entrance when there was an appalling crash.  The tower
tottered and collapsed, and the two men fell together.

[Illustration: A PERILOUS MOMENT]



                                  VII


When Burton came to himself, it was to find an officer in khaki, with
the red cross of the R.A.M.C. on his sleeve, bending over him.

"That’s all right!" said a cheery voice. "He’ll do now!"

"Where am I?  Where’s Marco?" Burton asked faintly.

"The old Serb?  Don’t worry about him. He has concussion, but he’s a
tough old boy, and we’ll pull him through."

"And the Bulgars?"

"Toiling like niggers to make a new track a mile from here.  It’s all
right.  Take this morphine tablet.  You shall hear all you want to know,
twenty-four hours from now. Rather hard luck to be knocked out twice in
one day, I must say."

Young Marco, after long wandering and losing his way several times, had
lighted on a part of the British rearguard and delivered his note, which
passed from a subaltern through his company commander and colonel until
it came to the hands of the brigadier. An examination of the map decided
that officer to dispatch a regiment of light cavalry to the tower.  They
reached it some ten minutes after it fell, having heard the outlines of
the story from Captain Enderby, whom they met a few hundred yards away,
keeping an eye on the three prisoners, as he said with a smile.  Milosh
and Nuta, who were returning to the tower when the explosion occurred,
had narrowly escaped burial in the ruins.  Rushing forward through the
smoke and dust, they had found the two men unconscious but alive,
protected by the only half-destroyed arch of the entrance.

The shelling had ceased with the fall of the tower; the track had been
rendered utterly impassable by the explosion of the mine; and before the
enemy were aware of the presence of the British cavalry, and their guns
again came into play, the regiment had withdrawn with Burton, his party
and the prisoners, and were well on their way to the British lines.

The value of the defence of the tower was handsomely acknowledged by the
brigadier. It had saved his rearguard.  The Serbs were compensated for
the loss of their belongings in the abandoned cart, and young Marco,
besides presents given him by the British officers, found himself the
happy possessor of innumerable souvenirs from the men.  Old Marco, who
soon recovered, received special commendation and reward for his heroism
in firing the mine at the risk of his life.  As for Burton, no one was
more surprised than he when he learnt that his name had been sent in for
the V.C.



[Illustration: Chapter V Heading]


                          THE MISSING PLATOON


                                   I


Burton rode at an easy jog trot, smoking a cigarette.  He had a day off,
and by way of recreation had borrowed a horse to visit the battery for
which he had done a good deal of "spotting," but which he had not yet
seen.  His only communication with it had been by wireless from the air.

It was a fine spring afternoon--rather ominously fine, he thought, for
the sunlight had that liquid brightness which often preludes dirty
weather.  Dust flew in clouds from the white road before the gusty wind.
From somewhere ahead came the booming of guns, and now and then he saw
bursts of smoke above the trenches a few miles away.

He came to a solitary house at the roadside.  It was partly demolished;
but in the doorway, flanked by a solid wall of sandbags, a subaltern was
standing.  Burton reined up.

"Officers’ quarters of No. 6?" he asked laconically.

"The same," was the reply.

"My name’s Burton: thought I’d come over and have a look at you."

"You’re the chap, are you?  Well, I’ll take you round.  They’re all in
the gun-pits, waiting orders.  Take your horse round to the back: we get
pip-squeaks here occasionally."

Having placed the horse in safety, Burton accompanied his guide across
the road, through what had once been a market-garden, to a turfy mound
resembling a small barrow, such as may be seen here and there in the
south of England.  But this mound in France was obviously not an ancient
burial-place.  There was something recent and artificial in its
appearance.  A deep drain encircled it, and on its western side there
was a small opening, like the entrance to an Eskimo hut.

"Here we are," said his guide, Laurence Cay, second lieutenant.  "Mind
your head."

Burton stooped and entered.  He found himself in a spacious chamber,
dimly lit through the doorway and the hurdles stretched across the
farther end.  To him, coming from the brilliant sunlight, the interior
was at first impenetrably dark; but as his eyes became accustomed to the
dimness, he saw the gun, clean, silent, on a bed of concrete; rows of
shells placed in recesses in the walls; and the opening of a tunnel.

"That leads to our dug-out," said Cay. "We’ll find some one there."

A few steps through the tunnel brought them to a large cave-like room,
furnished with table and chairs, four bunks and a store cupboard.  Two
officers were taking a late luncheon.

"Let me introduce Burton, V.C., D.S.O., one of our spotters," said Cay.
"Captain Adams, Mr. Mortimer."

"Hullo, Burton?  So it’s you.  How d’ye do?" said the captain, shaking
hands. "Haven’t seen you for an age.  Have a drink?"

"A cosy little place, this," said Burton, as he quaffed a mug of cider.

"H’m!  Pretty fair.  We’re proof against anything but a ’Jack Johnson.’
They haven’t discovered us yet.  We’ve had a few pip-squeaks and
four-twos, by accident. We make better practice, I think."

"You missed a chance this morning."

"How’s that?"

"Well, that mill, you know, just across the way--the Huns’ divisional
headquarters."

"Across the way!  It’s five miles--and a hill between!"

Burton, who knew Captain Adams of old, ignored the interruption.  It was
an easy amusement to "draw" Adams.

"With a little promptitude, and--h’m--accuracy, you might have bagged
the whole lot; and who knows if Big or Little Willy mightn’t have been
there on a visit?  But you were so slow getting to work that they all
got away--except the cooks."

"But, hang it all!  I gave the order ’Battery action’ one second after
we got the first call from O.P. and...."

"Yes, but your first shell plugged into a cabbage patch half a mile to
the left."

"O.P. reported 300 yards," snorted the captain indignantly.

"Wanted to spare your feelings, old man. As I was saying, it only scared
the Huns and gave them time to clear out.  The second shell was just
about as far to the right: demolished a pigsty."

"Come now, how the deuce do you know that?"

"Well, the divisional cooks started to make sauerkraut and sausage----"

At this point Adams noticed that his subalterns were writhing with the
effort to contain their laughter; and perceiving at last that he was
being "chipped," he caught Burton by the collar and hurled him towards
one of the bunks.  This was the opening move of a scrimmage which might
have continued until both were breathless had not Adams suddenly
remembered himself.

"Gad, Burton, this won’t do!" he said. "Bad example to those young
innocents" (indicating the subalterns).  "Quite like old times at
school, eh?  But really----"

"How long have you been a captain, Adams?"

"Gazetted a fortnight ago; it came through orders a week later.  Must
give up skylarking now, you know.  Have another drink."

They sat down, compared notes, talked over old times: the conversation
became general.

"Trench raids are becoming more common," said Cay presently.  "You heard
what happened the other day?"

"What was that?"

"The better part of a platoon of the Rutlands is missing.  They hold the
trenches in front of us, you know.  Well, they got up a night raid, and
penetrated the Huns’ first line: came back with a handful of prisoners
and no casualties to speak of.  But when they took stock, something over
forty men of this platoon were missing."

"They went too far, I suppose, and were cut off.  Very bad luck."

"If they’re prisoners!  Whatever happens to me, I hope I shan’t be a
prisoner. These raids are the order of the day now; I suppose they’re
useful.  At any rate they give our fellows something to do."

At this moment Burton started as the words "Battery action" came from
somewhere in a roar like that of a giant.

"Megaphone!" cried Adams, jumping up.

The officers rushed into the gun-pit.  The men who had been working
outside came racing in.  In a few moments another order was shouted
through a megaphone by the man in the telephone room--a shell-proof cave
hard by.  "Target M--one round battery fire."

Captain Adams took up a map of the German trenches, and with a rapidity
that amazed Burton, angles and fuses were adjusted, and in a few seconds
a shell went whistling and screaming towards its invisible target miles
away.  Cay had gone to the wireless instrument in the corner, and sat
with the receiving telephones at his ears.

"Range right; shell dropped quarter-mile to the left," he called
presently.

New adjustments were made; the gun fired again.

"How’s that?" asked Adams.

It seemed only a few seconds before Cay, repeating the message he had
received from the invisible aeroplane scouting aloft, replied: "Got
him!"  A moment later he added: "New battery----"  He broke off: the
burring of the instrument had ceased. He tried to get into communication
again, but failed.  "Ask O.P. if they’ve seen the ’plane," he called to
the telephonist. Presently came the answer: "Went out of sight behind a
wooded hill.  Afraid a Hun ’Archie’ has brought it down."

Meanwhile the order "Break off" had been received.  The immediate task
of the battery was accomplished.



                                   II


The officers returned to their dug-out.

"Your colleague hasn’t had your luck, Burton," said Adams.  "It’s more
than a pity.  He had evidently spotted a fresh battery.  The Huns will
have time to conceal it unless some one else spots it and tips us the
wink."

They went outside and scanned the sky. No aeroplane was in sight.

"I think I’d better go up," said Burton. "I’m off duty to-day, but it
would be a pity to lose the chance.  The new battery must have been
visible from where he saw your target.  I ought to be able to find it if
I go at once."

"A good idea!  We might smash it before it gets to work.  You’d better
’phone your flight commander.  I’ll lend you my trench map."

Burton hurried to the telephone room. In a few minutes he returned.

"O.K.," he said, "but I’ll have to go alone.  My observer’s away, and
there’s no one else handy."

"That’s awkward.  You can’t pilot and work the wireless too."

"Perhaps not, but if I can spot the battery I can return with my
observer to-morrow, and then we’ll be able to set you to work on it."

"Good!  You’ve seen what we can do."

"Well, not exactly seen; but apparently it wasn’t a pigsty this time.
Look out for me in an hour or so."

He returned to the house, remounted, and rode back rapidly to the
aerodrome. There he explained the circumstances at greater length to his
flight commander, set the mechanics to work, and within ten minutes was
ready to start.

"We’re in for a storm, I fancy," said his commander as he got into his
place; "but perhaps you’ll be back before it breaks."

The weather had gradually changed. The sky had become thick, the air was
sultry and oppressive.  As Burton climbed in a wide spiral it was like
going from a Turkish bath into the cooling room, fresh and exhilarating.
He circled over the aerodrome until he had attained an altitude of six
or seven thousand feet, then steered towards the German lines, still
rising steadily.  The spot for which he was making was four or five
miles away.  Soon the bewildering network of the British trenches glided
away beneath him.  Then the German trenches came into view.  On the
roads behind he noticed tiny black specks moving this way and
that--supply wagons, no doubt, or motor-cars bringing up fresh men.

The whirr of his engine was broken into by something like the sound of a
pop-gun. He looked around; a woolly ball of smoke hung in the air on his
right.  Immediately afterwards there were more pops, and the ball became
the centre of a cluster.  Burton swerved to the left, then dodged a long
roll of greenish-yellow smoke with a red tongue of flame in the centre.
The German "Archies" were at work.  He flew on, swinging from side to
side, until he calculated that he was about three miles behind the front
line of trenches.  Then he turned at right angles and commenced a
methodical search of the ground stretched like a patchwork quilt below
him.  Here was a brown patch of plough-land, then a blob of vivid green
denoting grass, or one of green speckled with white--an orchard in the
blossom of spring.  In the distance the silvery streak of a river
pursued its winding way.  A train was rolling across it, like a toy
train on a toy bridge.

A dark mass below him broke apart, resolving itself into individual
dots.  "Afraid of bombs," he thought.  At the spot where the centre of
the crowd had been, the ground appeared to be blackened.  "Shouldn’t
wonder if that’s the missing aeroplane," he thought.  "It caught fire,
or they’ve burnt it.  But where’s that new battery?  Things are getting
hot."  Shells were bursting all about him.  Now and then the machine
lurched, and he looked round anxiously to see the extent of the damage.
A few wires, perhaps, were hanging loose; a few rents gaped in the
fabric; nothing serious as yet. But it was getting very uncomfortable.

Up and down he flew, feeling the strain of doing double work.  With his
map pinned down in front of him he scanned the ground for some new
feature.  Ah! What is that?  Peering through his glasses he descries a
group of men in suspicious activity about a clump of bushes.  They
scatter as he passes over.  A shell sets the machine rocking.  He swings
round and soars over the spot again, even venturing to descend a few
hundred feet.  The clump is not marked on the map.  What is that in the
middle of it?  The flight has carried him beyond it before he can answer
the question; but he turns again, and circles over the place.  There is
something unnatural in the appearance of the bushes.  The shells are
bursting thicker than ever.  Something cracks just behind his seat.  But
he thrills as he realises that his reconnaissance has succeeded.  "The
battery is hidden in that clump, or I’m a Dutchman."

He marked the spot on his map, moved the elevator, soared aloft, and
steered for home, making a circuit northward to avoid an anti-aircraft
gun that lay directly between him and the aerodrome.  And now for the
first time he was aware that the threatening storm was about to burst.
The westerly wind had increased in force; the sky was blacker; huge
waves of cloud were rolling eastward.  He flew into the wind and tried
to rise above the clouds.  Suddenly Heaven’s artillery thundered around
him; there was a blinding flash; he was conscious of pain as though he
had received a heavy blow; then for a while he was lost to all about
him.

When he partly recovered his senses and tried to regain control of the
machine he was in a state of bewilderment.  The aeroplane was nearly
upside down.  He scarcely knew which was top and which bottom.  He
struggled to right the machine: when he succeeded, with great creaking
of the controls, he was alarmed to see that he was within a few hundred
feet of the ground, above a wood.  Exercising all his self-command he
managed to swerve clear of the tree-tops, and in another moment or two
the machine came to the ground with a bump that seemed to shake out of
place every bone in his body.

Half dazed, he unstrapped himself with trembling fingers and scrambled
from his seat.  Rain was pouring in a deluge.  The sky was black as
night.  His feet had just touched the sodden soil when he became aware
of a number of figures rushing towards him from the undergrowth.
Fumbling for his revolver, he was felled by a shrewd blow.

[Illustration: THE BRITISH WAY]

Again he lost consciousness for a moment. Then he heard an English
voice.

"You silly blighter!  Couldn’t you see?"

"He was going to shoot."

"Well, what of it?  He couldn’t hit a haystack.  Didn’t you see he was
fair crumpled with the fall?"

"You may talk, but I wasn’t going to be shot in mistake for a bloomin’
Hun."

"I tell you any fool could see he was one of ours.  I was sure of it.
You ought to have made sure--striking your superior officer."

"Silence, you men!" called an authoritative voice.  An officer had come
up from the shelter of the wood.  "The noise you are making can be heard
a mile off.  You’ll bring the whole Hun army down on us."

As a matter of fact, the men had begun by speaking in stage whispers,
their tones becoming louder and louder in their excitement as the
altercation proceeded.

Burton rose stiffly and painfully to his feet.

"Beg pardon, sir," sheepishly muttered the man who had knocked him down.
"It’s raining so hard----"

"That’s all right," Burton interposed. "Where am I?"

"It’s you, Burton!" said the officer. "Come among the trees.  You men,
lug the aeroplane in; the rain’s so thick that perhaps the Huns haven’t
seen where it fell."

"But we’re in no danger in our own lines?" said Burton in surprise.

"We aren’t in our own lines," rejoined the officer, dragging Burton into
the wood. "We’re marooned."

"Gad, Hedley, are you the missing platoon?"

"Yes; I’ll tell you."

"Let me have a look at the machine first.  By George!  I thought I was
done for."

"It was a narrow squeak.  But you’ve always had wonderful luck.  Here’s
the machine.  What’s the damage?"

Burton examined the aeroplane and gave a rueful shrug.

"Two holes in the engine cowl, a dozen in the planes, bracing wires shot
away; they don’t cripple her, but the worst thing is that one of the
landing wheels is buckled. She’s useless till that is put right."

"Well, perhaps we can get that done for you.  You seem as badly crocked
as the machine, and no wonder."

"But tell me, Hedley, where are we? And how did you get here?"

"Tell you by and by," said Hedley, who spoke in whispers and showed
other signs of nervous apprehension.  "Come on."

"But I can’t leave the machine."

"You must.  We can’t take it with us. It won’t be found while the rain
lasts."

"I can’t fly back unless I get this wheel straightened."

"All right.  Stanbridge," he said, calling up a short, sturdily-built
corporal, "get that buckled wheel off.  Quick work!"

"Very good, sir."

"You’ll find some tools on board," said Burton.

"And don’t make a row," Hedley added.

It was the work of only a few minutes to detach the wheel.  There was no
conversation; everybody showed nervous impatience; two or three men kept
watch at the edge of the wood.

"Now then," said Hedley.

He led the way, groping through the wood.  Burton followed on his heels:
he felt himself a compendium of aches.  Rain was still falling.  Through
it could be seen the blurred lights of a distant building.  A short walk
brought the party to what appeared to be a thick hedge of bramble
bounding a field.  There was a whispered challenge.

"Potsdam," whispered Hedley in return, giving the password.

He turned, took Burton by the arm, and guided him through an opening
which had suddenly disclosed itself in the bramble hedge.  A sentry
stood aside; the party filed in.  Burton found himself moving down a
sharp declivity, which by and by opened out into a spacious cave, lit by
a single candle-lamp.  Two or three men got up from the stools on which
they had been sitting.  The floor was roughly boarded. A table stood in
the centre.  Along one side were a number of large wooden bins.

"We sleep on them," said Hedley. "Rather stuffy quarters, you perceive."

"Concentrated essence of earth and candle smoke," said Burton, sniffing.

"Also bacon fat and the smell of our cooker.  Sit down, you shall have
something to eat and drink in a jiffy."

"You won’t forget the wheel?"

"No.  Stanbridge, get that wheel put right."

Among any score of British soldiers there will usually be found a
factotum who can turn his hand to anything.  It was not otherwise with
these men of the Rutland Light Infantry.  Having seen the work started,
Hedley heaved a sigh of relief.

"Now we can talk," he said.



                                  III


"You heard about the night raid?  Well, we were completely cut off from
the rest by a counter attack, from the flank.  We tried to bomb our way
back, lost heavily, got all muddled up.  There seemed to be a whole
brigade of Huns between us and our lines, so the only thing to be done
was to give them the slip, and dodge around in the hope of finding a
weak spot where we might break through.  There are only twenty-four of
us left.  We managed to keep together, and were lucky enough to escape
the Huns; but of course we got hopelessly lost.  Just before daylight,
dead beat, we stumbled into the wood yonder, not caring much what
happened to us.  In the early morning an old French farmer found us
there.  My hat! we felt pretty bad when he told us we were deep in the
enemy’s country, and a company of Huns billeted in his farm only half a
mile away.  Rummy, isn’t it?--he’s held on, working his farm in spite of
everything, and the Huns don’t seem to have bothered him much."

Here one of the men brought some freshly-fried bacon, biscuits, and
light wine.

"Fall to!" Hedley went on.  "It was a tremendous bit of luck, old
Lumineau’s finding us, because of this cave of his.  It is on the
outskirts of his farm, and he concealed here a lot of his spare stores
when he had news that the Huns were coming up last September
twelvemonth.  The cave has had a history, it appears, and it’s lucky
again that the Huns don’t know of it.  The old farmer told me it used to
shelter a famous band of outlaws centuries ago.  During the Revolution a
local nobleman’s family lived in it for months.  More recently it has
been a store for smugglers running goods across the Belgian frontier.
We’re pretty safe here, though of course a strolling Hun may discover it
any day, and then----"

"How did you happen to be in the wood when I came down?"

"We weren’t there, but we heard your engine, and Stanbridge, who’s got a
wonderful ear, declared it was English, so we rushed up on the chance.
If it hadn’t been so dark and raining so hard, the Huns would certainly
have seen or heard you; but you always had all the luck!"

"You’ve had a good share, anyway."

"We have, that’s true.  Old Lumineau has kept us well supplied, at
Heaven knows what risk to himself.  We’re hanging on here in the hope of
getting back some day. It’s pretty hopeless, I expect; but I’m not going
to give in till I must."

"Can I do anything for you?"

"I don’t see how you can.  We must trust to luck."

"When that wheel’s straightened I’ll fly back and report to your
colonel."

"He can’t do anything.  Nothing short of a general push could gain this
ground, and he won’t risk hundreds for the sake of a score.  Our only
chance is to slip through when they’re strafing one night; even then the
odds are a hundred to one against us. Still, I dare say the C.O. would
be pleased to know what’s become of us, and I’ll be glad if you’ll tell
him.  But d’you think you’re fit to fly back to-night after your
gruelling?"

"Oh yes!  I’ve had a bit of a shake, but a little rest will set me up.
I’ve discovered a new battery the Huns have rigged up, and must report
as soon as possible. Look: here’s the spot."

He showed the mark recently made on his map.

"Good!" said Hedley, examining the map with interest.  "But the Huns’
trenches aren’t marked so completely as on mine.  Here you see we have
them all plotted out: we know them as well as we know our own."

"That’s useful.  I say, Hedley, I don’t see why we shouldn’t make some
practical use of your presence in the enemy’s country, and get you away
too."

"As for getting away, we shall have to depend on ourselves.  As I said
before, the C.O. won’t risk hundreds for the sake of our little lot; and
if he would, the Brigadier wouldn’t allow it."

"I don’t know.  Could you make me a copy of the map so far as this
neighbourhood is concerned, putting in the position of the cave?"

"Certainly: I’ll scratch it in on a leaf from my order-book."

The rough drawing completed, Burton folded the paper and put it in his
pocket, remarking, half in jest, half in earnest--

"If the Huns collar me, I’m afraid I’ll have to eat it.  Now this is my
idea."

There ensued a long discussion, in the course of which Hedley passed
from doubt to confidence and enthusiasm.

"Well, if you bring it off," he said in conclusion, "it’ll be a
tremendous score. You’re a V.C. already: I don’t see what more they can
do for you--except make you a lord."

"My dear fellow! ... There’s just one point.  I ought to have a better
landing-place than that wood.  After to-night’s affair I shall be
nervous if there are trees about.  Is there anything more suitable and
safe?"

Hedley considered.

"There is," he said presently, "a little farther away.  Beyond the wood
the ground rises: it’s the nearest thing to a hill these parts can show.
Then it dips into a wide grassy hollow.  That’s your place.  I’ll get
old Lumineau to show three small lights there to-morrow night at eleven.
In the hollow they won’t be seen by the Huns: besides, I’ll get him to
mask them except from the sky."

"That’s capital.  Well, if I don’t turn up by eleven or soon after
you’ll know that either I have been winged on the way or that the
Brigadier has turned down our little entertainment.  In that case, you
must do the best you can on your own."

"Right, old man.  What I’m most afraid of is that you won’t get away
safely.  There’s no strafing to-night, and the Huns are bound to hear
your engine.  You’ll make more noise going up."

"But it’s dark: there’s no moon; and I shall be well up before they spot
me."

"Let’s hope so."

"What’s the time?"

"Ten minutes to nine.  Better wait till midnight.  Take a nap."

"I will.  Wake me when the time comes."

Burton was one of those lucky mortals who can sleep anywhere at any
time.  In a few minutes he was sleeping soundly.  At midnight Hedley
roused him.

"Time’s up," he said.  "The rain has stopped, and the sky’s clear:
there’s just enough starlight to show you the way. I’m sending
Stanbridge and a squad to replace your wheel, carry the machine out and
see you off.  I’d better keep on the _qui vive_ here, I think."

"Good-bye, then--till to-morrow."

Following the men, Burton stole out of the cave and crept with extreme
caution into the wood.  The neighbourhood was quiet; the only sound was
the booming of guns far away.  The wheel was replaced; the ’plane was
quickly dragged or lifted to the open hollow about a quarter of a mile
away. Burton spent a few anxious minutes in looking over the engine by
the light of his electric torch; then he strapped himself into his seat,
and ordered Stanbridge to whirl the propeller while the other men clung
to the rear of the machine.

"Race back like mad when I’m off," he said.  "’Ware Huns!"

The engine began to roar.

"Stand clear!" he said.

The machine rolled off along the grass, gathering momentum; the tail
lifted; the wheels rose clear; and she skimmed the grass like a huge
bird.  In a few seconds Burton was slanting upward on the first round of
his spiral course.

Ten minutes later a party of German infantry, some fully clothed, others
in various stages of deshabille, rushed breathlessly over the rise into
the now deserted hollow.

"I am sure," said one of them, "the first sound came from somewhere
about here.  Then an aeroplane rose like a big black bird above the
trees.  I gave the alarm the moment I heard the engine."

"You must have been dreaming, stupid," said his lieutenant, irritable at
being wakened. "There was no aeroplane here at nightfall; one couldn’t
have gone up if it hadn’t come down first, and I must have heard that.
Think yourself lucky I don’t report you for sleeping on duty.
Feldwebel, bring the men back."

The lieutenant turned on his heel and plodded grumbling back down the
hill. The glare of Verey lights, the bursting of shells in the sky
westward, might have confirmed the man’s story; but Lieutenant
Schnauzzahn was never the man to admit himself in the wrong.



                                   IV


A little before eleven on the following night, the Germans on that part
of the front were thrown into agitation by a sudden burst of unusually
violent gun-fire from the British artillery.  Such a bombardment was
commonly preliminary to an infantry attack, and the German soldier,
though brave enough, is no longer quite easy in mind at the prospect of
meeting British "Tommies."  The few men in the front trenches cowered on
the ground or in their dug-outs; the communication and support trenches
filled up; and Verey lights illuminated the No Man’s Land across which
they expected the enemy to swarm when the bombardment ceased.

The deafening din and crash stopped as suddenly as it had begun.  The
Germans rushed into their front trenches.  But there was no sign of
movement on the now brightly lit space.  There was no rifle fire, no
bombs, no sound of cheering.  All was quiet.  They were puzzled.  Was
the attack postponed? The shelling had not lasted long enough to do very
much damage.  Perhaps it was intended to frighten them.  None would
admit that, if such were the object, it had succeeded.  For a time they
stood to arms, watchful, suspicious, uneasy.  But the bombardment was
not resumed.  Nothing showed above the British parapets.  They loosed
off a few shots to relieve their feelings; then settled down to the
weary night-work of the trenches.

At the moment when this brief bombardment opened, Burton made his ascent
from the aerodrome behind the British lines.  At the moment when it
ceased he was circling behind the German lines, some 2000 feet in the
air, vainly endeavouring to pick up the pre-arranged signal-lights in
the hollow.  His flight had been carefully timed with the bombardment;
he ought to have landed under cover of the noise; but the best
arrangements are apt to be nullified by the unforeseen.  A mist
blanketed the ground, dense enough to obscure completely any lights of
less than electric intensity.

This was baffling.  It was also alarming. The purring of the engine,
hitherto smothered by the continuous gun-fire, must now be distinctly
audible below.  One searchlight had already begun to play; before long
the aeroplane would be in the full glare of their intersecting rays.
What should he do?  To go back meant the breakdown of the whole scheme;
the opportunity might not recur. Yet to land haphazard would be to court
disaster; to land at all might throw him into the hands of patrols sent
out to capture him.

While he was thus uneasily turning over the problem, his eyes, strained
earthward, suddenly discovered three tiny points of light arranged
triangularly.  They as suddenly disappeared; a puff of wind had for the
moment broken the mist, which had then rolled back and obscured them.
But the glimpse was enough to decide him.  He dropped a thousand feet,
wheeling, so far as he could judge by guesswork, around the spot at
which he had seen the lights. Once more he caught sight of them; they
were brighter.  Another searchlight was sweeping the sky: it was neck or
nothing now.  Keeping the lights in view, he dived steeply, coming to
earth with a sharp jolt, within twenty paces of the apex of the
triangle.  Before the machine had lost its impetus, however, it crashed
against the stump of a tree at the edge of the hollow.  Burton was
thrown forward in his seat; fortunately the strap prevented him from
being hurled out.  Recovering from the shock, he loosened the strap,
climbed down, glanced around, and seeing no one, proceeded to examine
the forward part of the machine.  He gave a gasp of dismay. The
propeller was smashed.

The consequence of the disaster immediately flashed into his mind.  He
could only get back in company with the Rutlands. If they failed, he
would fail too.

He had just assured himself that the damage was irreparable with such
appliances as were at his command in the cave, when he became aware of
light footsteps rapidly approaching.  Expecting to see some of the
Rutlands, who had been no doubt looking out for him, he raised his head
towards the crest of the rise.  Next moment he was in the grasp of two
men, one of whom, mouthing guttural triumph, gripped his throat in a
strangle hold.



                                   V


About half an hour before Burton started from the aerodrome, Captain
Bramarbas of the 19th Pomeranian infantry of the line laid down his
knife and fork with a grunt of satisfaction.  He wiped his lips, tossed
off a glass of wine, and turning gleaming eyes upon Lieutenant
Schnauzzahn of the same regiment, who sat opposite, he ejaculated--

"Gott sei dank!  These French swine have one virtue: they can cook."

"It is wonderful!" the lieutenant agreed. "Who would have thought that
an old French farmer would have had such resources?  Cheap, too."

"Cheap indeed!" laughed the captain. "Between you and me, old Lumineau
will have difficulty in turning our paper into good German money after
the war ... Ist es aber entsetzlich--the noise of those swine."

The door had just opened to admit an old woman servant bearing coffee.
From the adjoining room--the spacious farm kitchen given up to the
captain’s men--came a guttural roar.  A hundred Germans feeding like one
make a variety of unpleasant noises.  It is not a mere coincidence,
perhaps, that the Prussian loves a pig.

The officers took their cups of coffee, lit cigars, and lolled back in
their chairs.  The door closed behind the servant, reducing the sounds
to a muffled hum, not loud enough to disturb the comfort of gentlemen.
It was a pleasant hour.  The day’s work was done; they were three or
four miles behind the firing line; the farm was a snug billet.  They had
been working late; supper had taken the place of dinner: when they had
finished their cigars they might go with a good German conscience to
bed.

Presently there was a knock at the door.

"Come in," said the captain drowsily.

A sergeant entered, and stiffly saluted.

"What do you want?  It is late.  I gave you your orders."

"Herr Captain, I ask pardon for disturbing you, but----"

"Waste no time, Ascher.  Say what you have to say quickly, confound
you!"

[Illustration: "Say what you have to say quickly--confound you!"]

"It is important, Herr Captain.  For some time I have been suspicious of
the farmer, as the Herr Captain knows, though he does not condescend to
share my doubts. True, the farmer, though a Frenchman, is very obliging"
(here the sergeant glanced for a moment at the remains on the table),
"but I felt that his amiability was a mere blind, and I watched him."

"Ha!  Now what did you see?" said the captain, sitting up.  "If there is
treachery----"

"Once or twice at night the farmer has gone out towards the wood yonder.
I asked myself, why?  There is no farm work at night.  To-night I
followed him.  It was difficult, Herr Captain, for he moved very
cautiously, stopping and looking behind and around him."

"That itself is suspicious.  Well?"

"He made his way beyond the wood, up the hill, and down into the hollow
on the other side, and there, Herr Captain, he placed three small lamps
on the ground, so."  He moved to the table, and arranged three bottles
triangularly.  "He lit them."

"And you?  You seized him, of course?"

"I thought of doing so, Herr Captain, and of demanding an explanation;
but I felt it was a matter for the Herr Captain’s discretion----"

"And you left him!  Idiot!  They were signals, of course.  You ought to
have put them out, tied him up, and brought him to me in the morning.
Now I lose an hour’s sleep.  Idiot!"

Captain Bramarbas was active enough now.  He got up, buckled his belt
and put on his helmet.

"Come, Schnauzzahn," he said, "we will see to this ourselves."

"Why not send a squad?" suggested the lieutenant.

"Ach! the swine are probably drunk. They are dull fools at the best.
Come along!  We’ll slip out through the window, to avoid warning the
servants."

The two officers and the sergeant climbed out of the window and hastened
towards the hill.  They had scarcely gone when the servant who had
waited on them knocked at the door, and receiving no answer, hearing no
voices, quickly opened it and looked in.  She glanced from the vacant
chairs to the open window.

"Eh, mon Dieu!" she muttered, and closing the door, hurried back to the
kitchen.

The three Germans had covered about half the distance to the hill when
the sound of heavy firing from the right broke upon their ears.  They
stopped, and stood for a few moments watching the shells bursting in
rapid succession in the neighbourhood of the trenches.  The captain
swore.

"It looks like an attack," he growled. "These cursed English!  We must
make haste in case we are called up in support. No sleep to-night,
Schnauzzahn."

They hurried on, and in five minutes more were creeping up the low
incline.  At the crest they halted and peered into the hollow.  A figure
was bending over one of the lamps, which emitted a brighter light into
the mist.

"Go and capture him, Ascher," whispered the captain.

"Shall I bayonet him, Herr Captain?"

"No; we must use him.  We can shoot him later."

The sergeant crept silently upon the old farmer from the rear.  It was
the work of a few seconds to overpower him and cast him helpless on the
ground.

The two officers went forward.  As they descended the slope they became
aware that the lights were less visible.

"They’re intended as signals to an aeroplane," said Schnauzzahn,
approaching them rapidly.  "See!  They are directed above."

"Villainous treachery!  But our good German wits will defeat it.
Listen!  Do you hear an engine?"

"No," replied the lieutenant after a brief silence.

"Then we have still time.  Ascher, move the lamps near the slope.  We’ll
spoil his landing!"

The sergeant carried the lamps to the foot of the slope, and placed them
close together.

"Not so, idiot!" cried the captain, "arrange them as they were before.
Don’t you understand?"

Hardly had the lamps been rearranged in their triangular position when
the whirring of an engine was heard through the thunder of the distant
guns.

"Here he is!" said Bramarbas.  "I hope he’ll break his neck.  If he
doesn’t, you and I will seize him, Schnauzzahn; Ascher will guard the
farmer."

They waited.  The aeroplane could be heard wheeling above.  The
bombardment suddenly ceased.

"The English have changed their minds. They can’t have done much harm in
ten minutes.  So much the better!" said the captain.  The searchlights
began to play. "Potztausend!  I hope he won’t be shot down.  Much better
for us to capture him. Can he see the lights through the mist?"

"No doubt he has seen them.  The sound has stopped.  He has shut off the
engine."

"Bring the Frenchman over the crest, Ascher, and don’t let him cry out."

Thus it happened that Burton, after his unlucky accident, found himself
in the grasp of Captain Bramarbas and Lieutenant Schnauzzahn of the 19th
Pomeranian infantry of the line.

The German officers were mightily pleased with themselves.  They had
supped well: French cooking and French wine predisposed them to rosy
views.  Nothing more delightful could have crowned their day.  A French
spy, an English aeroplane and an English airman--all in a single haul!
The Iron Cross had often been awarded for much less.  And, of course,
there was something behind it all.  An enemy aeroplane would not land
thus in the German lines unless there was some important object to be
gained.  The English, no doubt, were mad; but after all there was method
in their madness.  The next move must be to discover the nature of this
Englishman’s scheme, and his means of communication with the farmer spy.
Then compliments, promotion, and the Iron Cross!

Some such thoughts as these raced through the Germans’ minds in the
moment of exultation, when, for the first time, their hands laid hold of
English flesh.

"Hand over your revolver," said the captain in German.  "Do you speak
German?"

"No," said Burton, making no resistance as Schnauzzahn relieved him of
the weapon. He felt very wretched.

Captain Bramarbas was disappointed. Neither he nor his lieutenant spoke
English, and it did not occur to him for the moment that the Englishman
might speak French.

"We’ll march our prisoners down to the farm," he said to Schnauzzahn.

"Wait a moment.  They may have accomplices who will remove or destroy
the aeroplane as soon as our backs are turned. That would be a pity."

"What then?  If one of us stays to guard the machine, and there are
accomplices, he would have to meet an unknown number single-handed."

He stood pointing his revolver at Burton. They must find a way out of
this quandary.

"Why not send Ascher to the farm to bring up some men?"

"Again, he might be sprung upon by the enemy.  Of course, they would
have no chance in the end, but for the present, until we know more, we
had better remain all three together.  Listen!  Do you hear anything?"

"No."

"They may be lurking somewhere to take us unawares, though how they
could conceive such a scheme, so mad, so insolent----  Ach! I have it."

The captain had indeed at last made up his mind--and, as the sequel
showed, chosen the wrong course.  It was, perhaps, no worse than
another, for it was chosen in ignorance of the circumstances; but his
calculation sprang from a typically German misconception of the
psychology of an Englishman.

A sentry was always on duty at the door of the farm.  A couple of
revolver shots would give him the alarm, and in a few minutes the
Pomeranians, swine in their hours of ease, but good soldiers
nevertheless, would rush to their captain’s assistance.

Burton stood motionless.  Schnauzzahn was a little to his left.
Bramarbas faced him, holding the revolver.  The captain suddenly fired
off two rapid shots, moving the revolver to the right so as to avoid
hitting his prisoner.

The airman’s life is punctuated by swift decisions, depends on the
perfect co-ordination of act with thought.  Burton’s mind worked quicker
than lightning. Before the German had time to cover him again, he shot
out his right arm, rigid as a rod of metal, struck up the captain’s
wrist with a sharp jerk that sent the revolver flying, and a fraction of
a second later dealt him with the left fist a fierce upper cut beneath
the jaw, and lifted him into the bushes.

A bullet scorched Burton’s cheek as he spun round to deal with
Schnauzzahn. Another stung his left shoulder.  But he hurled himself
upon the agitated lieutenant, and with a sledge-hammer blow sent him to
join his captain.

There was now only the sergeant to dispose of.  That worthy stood over
the prostrate farmer some little distance away, and though he had heard
the thudding blow and the crash as each of his superiors fell, he had
not clearly seen what had happened.  Burton was dashing towards him when
a Verey light illumined the scene.  And then the sergeant was transfixed
with amazement and terror, for on one side of him he saw the figure of a
British airman, on the other, sprinting up towards the lip of the
hollow, a score of silent forms in the well-known khaki. Ordinarily, no
doubt, he was a brave man, but at such a moment as this valour melted in
discretion.  He flung up his hands.

[Illustration: HANDS UP!]

The German officers meanwhile had picked themselves up.  They were
surrounded and seized.  The light had died away.

"Quick!" said Hedley.  "I hear the Huns rushing out of the farm.
Where’s Lumineau?"

The farmer had risen, and came to him.

"Get away to the cave," said Burton. "I’ll be after you in a second:
must fire the machine."

He rushed to the aeroplane, poured some petrol out and applied a match,
and as the flame shot up into the air, dashed after the Rutlands and
their three prisoners, who, under the guidance of the farmer, were
disappearing into the wood.  Five minutes later, when the Pomeranians
arrived on the scene, their amazed eyes beheld only a blazing aeroplane;
not a man was in sight.

Arriving at the cave, the panting Englishmen threw themselves down; some
laughed silently; the spectacle of three gagged Germans was very
pleasing.

"What brought you up so opportunely?" asked Burton.  "Not the shots?
There wasn’t time."

"No.  Old Jacqueline warned us.  She missed the officers, saw the open
window, and guessed that they had got on the track of Lumineau.  Trust a
Frenchwoman’s wits!  But I say, what’s your news?"

"It couldn’t be better.  The Brigadier, as it happened, had ordered an
attack on the German trenches for to-night.  When your C.O. explained
the circumstances, he was quite keen to fit his arrangements to our
scheme."

"That bombardment wasn’t bluff, then?"

"He timed it to give me cover, and broke off to delude the Huns.  The
attack is fixed for two o’clock, when they’ll have given up expecting
it."

"That leaves us plenty of time to get to the trenches.  It’ll be
ticklish work, getting through.  I’ll tell old Lumineau: we depend on
his guidance.  If he declines the job we shall be horribly handicapped."

He took the farmer apart, and held a quiet conversation with him.  The
old man readily agreed to guide the party to the vicinity of the third
line of trenches.

"But you’ll come with us all the way?" said Hedley.  "The farm won’t be
safe for you after this.  You’ll be shot."

Lumineau shrugged and smiled.

"Perhaps not, monsieur," he said. "The Bosches did not see us; they will
only be puzzled.  I will go now back to the farm; do you see my
amazement when they tell me their officers have disappeared?  I will
lead a search--not in this direction, par exemple!--and I will come back
in good time to lead you.  A bas les Bosches."



                                   VI


Some few days later, Lieutenant Hedley was dispensing hospitality to a
few friends in a neat little officers’ estaminet in a village behind the
lines.  Among his guests were Captain Adams and other officers of the
Rutlands’ supporting battery, and Burton of the Flying Corps.

"It took us about forty minutes to smash that battery you spotted,
Burton," said Adams, with an air of pride.

"Better than pig-killing," returned Burton solemnly.

"Oh, we cut up a few pigs too."

"How do you know?" asked Hedley.

"Well, you see, in the first place," Adams was beginning earnestly, when
Laurence Cay interrupted him.

"We haven’t time for firstly, secondly, thirdly, old man.  We want to
hear about Hedley and his missing platoon.  By George! it must have been
creepy work."

"A good deal of it was literally creeping," said Hedley.  "Old Farmer
Lumineau led us through woods and orchards for miles--a roundabout way,
of course.  It was ghastly, trudging along in the dark, trying to make
no noise, afraid to whisper, stopping to listen, starting at the least
sound.  We got at last to a little copse just behind the farthermost
line of trenches, and there Lumineau left us.  We were on thorns, I can
tell you.  It seemed that the attack would never begin.  We couldn’t
hear any Huns anywhere near us, but caught a note of a cornet now and
then from some billet on our left rear.  I looked at my trench map----"

"In the dark?" asked Adams.

"No, you juggins! in the light of my electric torch, screened by the men
stooping over me.  I got a pretty good idea of our whereabouts, and
talked over a plan of action with my sergeant--a capital fellow--and
Burton.  I nearly yelled in sheer excitement when I heard the row as our
chaps started bombing the first trenches. We heard the Huns then, too;
rifles, machine-guns, whizz-bangs: it was an inferno.  We crept out into
the communication trench I had spotted, and had nearly got to the second
line when we heard a crowd of Huns racing across from our right. We
waited a bit, went on again, and came smack into a traverse.  It was
pitch dark, but we had no sooner scrambled over than a star-shell burst
right overhead.  We flung ourselves down, dashed on when the light died,
and--well, I hardly know what happened next.  All I know is that somehow
or other we discovered that we were pressing on the rear of a lot of
Huns who were being forced back by our fellows in front, and there was a
good chance of our being scuppered by our own bombs.  I passed along
word to give a yell, and the men shouted like fiends let loose.  That
was enough for the Huns.  Rutlands in front of them, Rutlands behind
them!  ’Kamerad!  Kamerad!’ they bawled when I called to them to
surrender; and to make a long story short, we scooped the lot and got
safe through with a few trifling casualties."

"What beats me," said Adams, "is how Burton managed to deal with three
armed Germans single-handed.  How was it, Burton?"

Now Burton was never very ready to talk about himself.  He flicked the
ash off his cigarette, and hesitatingly answered--

"Just a bit of luck, Adams."

"Yes, but what?"

"There were only two really."

"Hedley said there were three."

"So there were," said Hedley, "but there was only one upright when I
arrived on the scene."

"What about the others, then?  Come, Burton!"

"They weren’t far away.  The fact is, I knocked ’em down, if you must
have it."

"Both at once?  Right, left--that way?"

"No, one after the other.  You see, the captain gave me an opening, and
I took it, that’s all."

The company were not satisfied with this far from lucid explanation, and
pressed Burton with questions until the details were dragged out of him.
He had to endure a flood of congratulations, until a diversion by
Captain Adams, who had been meditating a tit-for-tat for Burton’s
"chipping" on the occasion of his visit to the battery, brought welcome
relief.

"Well," said the captain, slowly unfolding a copy of the _Times_,
"Burton has been gassing a good deal, but what does it all amount to?
The official account won’t shock his modesty.  Listen!  ’Last night we
captured certain elements of the enemy’s first and second lines of
trenches in the neighbourhood of ----, and are now consolidating our
gains!’"



                                THE END



          PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY R. CLAY AND SONS, LTD.,
     BRUNSWICK STREET, STAMFORD STREET, S.E., AND BUNGAY, SUFFOLK.



           *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *



               HERBERT STRANG’S STORIES OF THE GREAT WAR


A HERO OF LIÉGE (Belgium).
FIGHTING WITH FRENCH (Flanders).
FRANK FORESTER (Gallipoli).
BURTON OF THE FLYING CORPS.
THROUGH THE ENEMY’S LINES (Asia Minor).


                           HISTORICAL STORIES


WITH DRAKE ON THE SPANISH MAIN (Elizabeth).
HUMPHREY BOLD (William III and Anne).
THE ADVENTURES OF HARRY ROCHESTER (Anne).
ROB THE RANGER (Wolfe In Canada).
ONE OF CLIVE’S HEROES (Clive in India).
BOYS OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (Peninsular War).
BARCLAY OF THE GUIDES (Indian Mutiny).
KOBO (Russo-Japanese War).
BROWN OF MOUKDEN (Russo-Japanese War).


                                ROMANCES


JACK HARDY: A Story of One Hundred Years Ago.
PALM-TREE ISLAND (Adventure in the Pacific).
SETTLERS AND SCOUTS (East Africa).
THE ADVENTURES OF DICK TREVANION (Smugglers).
THE AIR SCOUT: A Story of National Defence.
THE AIR PATROL: A Story of the North-West Frontier.
TOM BURNABY (the Congo Forest).
SULTAN JIM (German Aggression in Central Africa).
A GENTLEMAN AT ARMS (the Times of Elizabeth)
SAMBA (the Congo Free State).
THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN (Central Asian Mysteries).





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