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Title: The Raid of Dover - A Romance of the Reign of Woman, A.D. 1940
Author: Ford, Douglas Morey
Language: English
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THE RAID OF DOVER:

A Romance Of The Reign Of Woman:

A.D. 1940.

by

The Author of "A Time of Terror," "The Devil's
Peepshow," &c.


   "If that Old England fall
   Which Nelson left so great----"

   LORD TENNYSON.


London: King, Sell, & Olding, Limited,
27, Chancery Lane, W.C.
Portsmouth: Holbrook & Son, Limited.
1910.



AUTHOR'S NOTE.


_While this Forecast in Fiction has been running as a Serial,
the writer has realised that in some respects it may be open to
misconstruction. Patriotism, not pessimism, is its real keynote._

 "This England never did, nor never shall,
 Lie at the proud foot of a conqueror,
 But when it first did help to wound itself."

_That is the crux. England is being wounded by Englishmen; and the
events imagined in this story are only a concrete example of the
possibilities foreshadowed by Mr. Balfour (Jan. 24th, 1910) in the
following words:--_

 "If the pressure of public opinion is not effected, then I tell you
 with all solemnity that there are difficulties and perils before this
 country which neither we nor our fathers nor our grand-fathers nor our
 great-grand-fathers have ever yet had to face, and that before many
 years are out there will be a Nemesis for this manifest and scandalous
 folly in saving money just at the wrong time, in refusing to carry out
 a plain duty."

_The history of the rise and fall of nations is only the story of Cause
and Effect. Given concomitant causes (1)--the unchecked blight of
Socialism, (2) the Revolt of Woman on "democratic lines," (3) weakened
Maritime Power--and the Effect is only too likely to be that England
will "lie at the proud foot of a conqueror." Let it be hoped that
the British people will remove the causes and prevent the otherwise
probable result._

_It must not be supposed that the writer identifies himself with the
views expressed by any of his characters on the subject of Woman or
Votes for Women. On the contrary, he thinks that women have been
treated with small tact and much harshness. But we already have
abundant evidence of the dangerous result of giving the franchise
to hundreds of thousands of uneducated men; and if, even short of
universal suffrage, the vote should be granted to the other sex on what
Mr. Asquith calls "democratic lines," it would mean that hundreds of
thousands of uneducated women might join hands with the existing forces
of enfranchised Socialism. That way madness lies, and the end of the
British Empire, "which peril Heaven forfend!"_

_The story is, in some sort, a sequel to "A Time of Terror," in which
the sign of the Spider may be taken as a reminder of the fabled Kraken.
The Kraken, in turn, may be taken to symbolise the German Fleet, "a
sea monster of vast size said to have been seen off the Coast of
Norway." Oddly enough, Pliny speaks of such a monster in the Straits of
Gibraltar,--which blocked the entrance of ships._



CONTENTS.


 PROLOGUE.

 CHAP.                                   PAGE

     I. THE LOST LEADER                   i.

    II. A PRISONER OF THE MAHDI           v.


 THE RAID OF DOVER.

     I. HOW NICHOLAS JARDINE ROSE          1

    II. HOW ENGLAND FELL                   6

   III. ABOARD THE AIRSHIP                13

    IV. THE STAR OF LIFE                  21

     V. A THREEFOLD PLEDGE                25

    VI. THE REVOLT OF WOMAN               33

   VII. THE PRICE OF POWER                44

  VIII. WARDLAW'S WORKS                   51

    IX. THE LOOSENED GRIP                 59

     X. ZENOBIA'S DREAM                   66

    XI. THE NEW AMAZONS                   82

   XII. A SECRET AND A THUNDERBOLT        94

  XIII. THE RAID OF THE EAGLES           104

   XIV. THE FIGHT FOR THE FORT           114

    XV. IN THE HEART OF THE HILL         122

   XVI. SIGNS AND WONDERS                134

  XVII. HOW THE RAID FAILED              142

 XVIII. THE WRECK OF THE AIRSHIP         152

   XIX. THE COUP D'ÉTAT?                 164

    XX. LINKED LIVES                     172

   XXI. THE WRATH OF SUL                 179



PROLOGUE.



CHAPTER I.

THE LOST LEADER.


Wilson Renshaw, the most brilliant member of the House of Commons,
was on the verge of a complete breakdown at the end of the memorable
Session of 1930, a session in which the marshalled forces of Socialism,
allied with the insurgent women of England, had almost, but not quite,
swept the board.

The Vacation of that year had brought a truce in the fiercest
Parliamentary campaign known to modern times, and Renshaw, under the
peremptory advice of medical specialists, left England for a prolonged
holiday.

He went to Egypt, recruited his health at Cairo, and then, in pursuance
of a long-cherished wish, set out by a circuitous route for Khartum.
With the exception of Jerusalem, the Nubian capital was regarded by the
young English statesman as the most sacred spot on earth, sanctified,
as it was, by the blood of General Gordon, a Christian soldier, who, to
the indelible disgrace of the political clique then in power, had been
left unsupported in the midst of his blood-thirsty enemies, until it
was too late to rescue him.

That for which Gordon had paved the way; that which Kitchener and
Macdonald had gallantly achieved, in these latter days political
sentimentalists, Englishmen of parochial mind, had gradually undone.
Egypt, brought to a pitch of high prosperity under the civil
administration of Lord Cromer, had been gradually allowed to lapse back
into native hands. There had been no absolute evacuation at the date
of Renshaw's arrival in the country, but the British garrison had been
reduced to insignificant proportions.

But Renshaw did not come back! He had vanished from the ken of
civilization--swallowed up as effectually in the Nubian desert as
when the earth had opened and swallowed up Dathan and covered the
congregation of Abiram. The history of Egypt and the Soudan, written
in blood at the period in question, only accorded with that written
in ink, in advance of the event, by those who in the first decade of
the twentieth century foresaw the outcome of Little Englandism all the
world over. The native movement--the strength of which the dominant
party in Parliament had chosen to ignore--manifested itself in scenes
of sudden and overwhelming violence, while at the same time the Holy
War, preached by a Mahdi in whose existence great numbers of people
had refused to believe, claimed as sacrificial victims nearly every
white-skinned man throughout the length and breadth of the Soudan.

The caravan with which Renshaw was travelling fell into the hands of
the Mahdi's adherents, betrayed by a treacherous guide, who then spread
the news--anticipating what he had every reason to believe would really
happen--of the death of The White Kaffir, as a consequence of the
resistance he had offered to a band of "True Believers." The news was
received in England with grief and lamentation by those who esteemed
Renshaw, appreciated his talents, and knew how essential were his
services if the aims of the Socialist-Labour Leader, Nicholas Jardine,
and his party were to be defeated. But the public in general saw in the
disappearance of the rising statesman the almost inevitable result of a
rash enterprise. It came to be regarded only as an incidental episode
in the wholesale upheaval of which India, Egypt, and other lands once
dominated by the British sceptre soon became the scene.

All this had happened ten years and more before the critical events
of 1940. From time to time during that period little-credited reports
reached England concerning a certain white prisoner in the hands of
the Mahdi, who was believed by some to be none other than Renshaw,
the missing man. But, except with a few, these rumours carried little
weight. It was not the first time that tales of that sort had reached
home after the disappearance of well-known men in remote regions of the
Dark Continent. Many, recalling the explorations of Dr. Livingstone,
and Stanley's expedition for the rescue of Emin Pasha, said that when
Renshaw was found and brought home they would believe that he was
alive--and not before.

Meanwhile, in England, Nicholas Jardine carried everything before
him. The Constitutional Party, leaderless and disorganized, seemed
to sink into helpless apathy, and right and left the rapid shrinkage
of the British Empire bore witness to the ruinous success of new and
revolutionary parties in the State. Sometimes, in the House of Commons,
old followers of the Labour Leader's missing rival asked questions,
which, for the moment, attracted marked attention and, in some minds,
roused most sinister suspicions. Had the President received any
information that tended to confirm the rumour that Mr. Renshaw was
still living and undergoing the tortures of a barbarous imprisonment?
Was it a fact that, after a specified date, the Government, or any
members of it, had been notified, not only that Mr. Renshaw was alive,
but that on payment of a ransom he might be restored to his country?
Had any confidential information been received from certain oriental
visitors who, from time to time, had come to this country? Was it, or
was it not, a fact that certain periodical payments of large amount had
been made out of secret service funds in relation to Mr. Renshaw and
his alleged imprisonment?

These searching questions were evaded in the usual Parliamentary
manner, and it was observed that never was President Jardine--such was
his official title as chief of the new Council of State--so black and
taciturn as when this suggestive topic was from time to time revived in
Parliament.



CHAPTER II.

A PRISONER OF THE MAHDI.


Through all those dreadful years Wilson Renshaw lived--lived day and
night the tortured life of a white man at the mercy of the black. Year
after year the iron entered his soul, even as the Mahdi's fetters ate
into his swollen and bleeding limbs.

There were others who suffered with him in the barbaric prison-house.
What he endured was no less, no more, than they were made to bear.
Happy indeed were those whom death released from misery and anguish
that tongue could never tell, nor pen describe. Hell itself, as
pictured by maddest brain of the most fiendish fanatic, could not have
shown greater resources in the way of physical and mental torture.
The Black Hole of Calcutta lacked many of the special horrors of the
inner den in which the prophet's prisoners were herded during all the
awful hours of night. The bloodstained walls of the Tower of London,
if walls could speak, whispering of the rack, the thumbscrew, and the
boot, might tell indeed of sharper anguish, sooner over. The secret
history of the Spanish Inquisition, if published, would reveal not less
ingenuity--perhaps greater, in the refined subtleties of cruelty. But
the prison at Khartum excelled them all at least in one respect--the
prolongation of the agony inflicted.

Not for weeks or months, but for years, if life endured, the prisoner
had to suffer. Wearing three sets of shackles, with an iron ring round
his neck, to which was attached a heavy chain, Renshaw--the White
Kaffir--the man of culture and social ease in London, but here the
reviled unbeliever, when night came was thrust into a stone-walled room
measuring some thirty feet each way. A large pillar, supporting the
roof, reduced the space available. Two prisoners, in chains, were dying
of smallpox in a corner; some thirty others, suffering from various
diseases, lay about the floor, which reeked with filth and swarmed with
vermin. A compound stench, sickening and over-powering, assailed the
nostrils, and every moment this increased as more prisoners, and yet
more, were driven in for the night. The groans of the sick, the screams
of the mad, the curses of others as they fought fiercely for places
against one or another of the walls, blended in awful tumult as the
door was closed upon the darkness within. Yet again and again that door
was opened, and more prisoners were crowded in; until, at last, they
fought and bit and raved even for standing room.

Night after night, for nearly four years, Renshaw, the man of delicate
fibre and refined training, the son of Western civilization, lived
through such scenes as these, amid incidental horrors of bestiality
that cannot be set down. When the uproar in the prison attained
exceptional violence, the guards threw back the doors, and lashed with
their hide-whips at the heads and faces of the nearest prisoners, and
every time that this occurred some of them, struggling to move back,
fell to the ground, and were trampled under foot.

Renshaw was the only white prisoner among the Soudanese and Egyptians
who thus endured the tender mercies of the Prophet--the Prophet for
whom, it was said, the Angels had fought and would fight again, until
every follower of the Cross accepted the Koran of Mahommed. For, like
many of the greatest crimes that stain the annals of mankind, this
prison discipline, in theory, was designed to benefit the souls of the
captives. The White Kaffir, as an unbeliever, a dog and an outcast, was
a special object of the Mahdi's solicitation. Only let him believe and
his fetters should be struck off, or, at least, some of them. He had
but to cry aloud in fervent faith, "There is but one God, and Mahommed
is his Prophet!"

But it was a cry that never passed the lips of Wilson Renshaw. The lash
was tried again and again. Fifteen to twenty lashes at first; then a
hundred; then a hundred and fifty. But still the bleeding lips in which
the white man's teeth were biting in his anguish would not blaspheme.
"Will you not cry out?" the gaoler asked. "Dog of a Christian, are thy
head and heart of stone?" No answer; and again and yet again the lash
descended.

If only death would come, kind death to end this pain of mutilated
flesh; this still sharper pain of degradation and humiliation! But
death came not. Courage, indomitable pride of race, a godlike quality
of patience, armed the White Kaffir to endure the slings and arrows of
his dreadful fate. Death he would welcome with a sigh of gladness, but
these barbarians should never, never break his spirit.

At last the rigour of his sufferings was abated. Out of the mists of
what seemed an interminable period of delirium, he awoke to a change
of his treatment that caused him much surprise. No longer was he to be
half starved. At night he was allowed to sleep alone in a rough, dark
hut in a corner of the prison compound. Each day he was permitted,
though still fettered, to go down to the river, on the banks of which
the prison was placed, and wash in the waters of the Nile. From all
of these changes it became apparent that his life, and not his death,
was now desired. The motive for the change he had yet to realize. A
whisper here and there, a chance word from his gaolers, with sundry
indications, fugitive and various, at length convinced him that this
amelioration of his fate could have but one sinister explanation, and
one inspiring motive. If not the Mahdi himself, then some of the more
covetous of his leading followers must be drawing payment from some
mysterious source, a subsidy for holding him secure, here under the
burning African sun, remote and cut off from all chance of rescue or
escape.

Yet escapes were planned, for even among these barbarous people there
were a few who felt compassion for the hapless condition of the White
Kaffir; and when it began to be rumoured that he was a man of high
consideration in his native country, others, moved by cupidity and
the prospect of a great reward, found means of letting Renshaw know
that, _on conditions_, they were willing to secure him at least a
chance of freedom. But every plan fell through. The Mahdi's spies
were everywhere, and those who fell under suspicion of seeking to
aid Renshaw to break free from his captivity received a punishment
so terrible that he shrank from listening to any further offer of
assistance.

Presently his condition underwent yet further betterment. He became a
prisoner at large--though still fettered and still closely watched.
Employment he had none, save the performance of a few menial offices.
Books he had none, save Al-Koran, the volume containing the religious,
social, commercial, military, and legal code of Islam. But here, in
the heart of this dreadful land, among the dark people of the Dark
Continent, he now learned to look upon the book of life itself from
a new and startling standpoint. Before him was unfolded a new and
terrible chapter of history in the making, a chapter which revealed the
slow marshalling of millions of the dark-skinned races, eager to wrest
dominion and supremacy from the white-skinned masters of the world.



THE RAID OF DOVER.



CHAPTER I.

HOW NICHOLAS JARDINE ROSE.


The fall of England synchronised with the rise of Nicholas
Jardine--first Labour Prime Minister of this ancient realm. When he
married it was considered by his wife's relations that she had married
beneath her! It fell out thus. In the neighbourhood of Walsall an
accomplished young governess had found employment in the family of
a wealthy solicitor, who was largely interested in the ironworks of
the district. Her employer was conservative in his profession and
radical in his politics. He took the chair from time to time at public
meetings, and liked his family to be present on those occasions as a
sort of domestic entourage, to bear witness to the eloquence of his
orations. On one of these occasions a swarthy young engineer made
a speech which quite eclipsed that of the chairman. He carried the
meeting with him, raising enthusiasm and admiration to a remarkable
height, and storming, among other things, the heart of the clever young
governess.

The young orator was not unconscious of the interest he excited. Bright
eyes told their tale, and the whole-hearted applause that greeted his
rhetorical flourishes could not escape attention at close quarters.
Fair and refined in face, with fine, wavy light hair, the girl
afforded a striking contrast to this forceful, dark-skinned man of the
people; but they were drawn to each other by those magnetic sympathies
which carry wireless messages from heart to heart. It would be too much
to say that he fell in love with her at first sight. Had they never met
again, mutual first impressions might have worn off; but they did meet
again, and yet again. Coming to her employer's house on some political
business, young Jardine encountered the girl in the hall, and she
frankly gave him her hand--blushingly and with a word or two of thanks
for the speech which had seemed to her so eloquent. After that, in the
grimy streets of Walsall and in various public places, the acquaintance
ripened, until one winter day, outside the town, she startled him with
an unusually earnest "good-bye." The children she had taught were going
away to school; she, too, was going away--whither she knew not.

"Don't go," he said, slowly; "don't go. Stay and marry me."

She was almost alone in the world, and shuddering at the grey prospect
of her life. Besides, she loved him, or at least believed she did.
Within a month they were married at the registrar's office. Nicholas
Jardine did not hold with any church or chapel observances. After the
banal ceremony of the civil law, he took his bride to London for a
week. Then they returned to Walsall. His means were of the scantiest;
they lived in a little five-roomed house, with endless tenements of
the same mean type and miserable material stretching right and left.
The conditions of life, after the first glamour faded, were dreary
and soul-subduing. All the women in Warwick Road knew or wanted to
know their neighbour's business; all resented 'uppish' airs on the
part of any particular resident. They were of the ordinary type, those
neighbours, kindly, slatternly, given to gossip. Mrs. Jardine was not,
and did not look like, one of them. She was sincerely desirous of
doing her duty in that drab state of life in which she found herself,
but she wholly failed to please her neighbours, whose quarrels she
heard through the miserable plaster walls, or witnessed from over the
road. Worse than that, she found with dismay, as time went on, that she
did not wholly please her husband. She was conscious of a gloomy sense
of disappointment on his part; and she, though bravely resisting the
growing feeling, knew in her heart that disillusionment had fallen upon
herself. The recurrent coarseness of the man's ideas and expressions
jarred upon her nerves. His way of eating, sleeping, and carrying
himself, in their cramped domestic circle, constantly offended her
fastidious tastes.

When their child was born life went better; and all the time Jardine
himself, though rather grudgingly, had been improving under the
refining but unobstrusive influence of his cultured wife. One thing, at
least, they had in common: a love of reading. Most of the money that
could be spared in those days went in book buying. It was a time of
education for the husband, and a time of disenchantment for the wife.
She drooped amid their grey surroundings. The summers were sad, for the
Black Country is no paradise even in the time of flowers. Everywhere
the sombre industries of the place asserted themselves, and in the
gloomy winters short dark days seemed to be always giving place to long
dreary nights, hideously illumined by the lurid furnaces that glowed on
every side.

Jardine himself was as strong as the steel with which he had so much to
do in the local works in which he found employment. But his wife found
herself less and less able to stand up against the adverse influences
of their environment. It came upon him with a shock that she had grown
strangely fragile. Great God in heaven!--men call upon the name of God
even when they profess to be agnostics--could she be going to die?

Her great fear was for the future of the child; and her chief hope
that the passionate devotion of Jardine to the little girl would be a
redeeming influence in his own life and character. Both of them, from
the first, took what care they could that their daughter should not
grow up quite like the other children of the Walsall back streets.
Their precautions helped to make them unpopular, and "that little Obie
Jardine," as the Warwick Road ladies called Zenobia, was consequently
compelled to hear many caustic remarks concerning the airs and graces
that "some people" were supposed to give themselves.

Good fortune and advancement came to Nicholas Jardine too late for
his wife to share in them. The once bright eyes were closed for ever
before the Trade Union of which he was secretary put him forward as a
Parliamentary candidate. The swing of the Labour pendulum carried him
in, and Jardine, M.P., and his little daughter moved to London. They
found lodgings in Guildford Place, opposite the Foundling Hospital.
The child was happier now, and the memory of the mother faded year by
year. Life grew more cheerful and interesting for both of them as time
went on. Members of Parliament and wire-pullers of the Labour party
came to the lodgings and filled the sitting-room with smoke and noisy
conversation. Zenobia listened and inwardly digested what she heard.
Sundays were the dullest days. She often felt that she would like to
go to service in the Foundling Chapel, but that was tacitly forbidden.
Religion was ignored by Mr. Jardine, and among the books he had brought
up from Walsall, and those he had since bought, neither Bible nor
Prayer Book found a place.

Jardine had other things to think of. He was going forward rapidly,
and busy--in the world of politics--fighting Mr. Renshaw in the House
of Commons. When the old Labour leader in the House of Commons had
a paralytic seizure, the member for Walsall was chosen, though not
without opposition, to fill the vacant place.

There were millions of voters behind him now; Nicholas Jardine had
become a power. At last the popular wave carried him into the foremost
position in the State. The resolute Republican mechanic of miry Walsall
actually became the foremost man in what for centuries had been the
greatest Empire in the world.

Before that great step in promotion was obtained, Jardine had removed
from London to the riverside house, in which he still resided, when
a certain young Linton Herrick came from Canada and stayed with his
uncle--Jardine's next door neighbour.

According to the new Constitution, the Government held office for five
years. The end of that term was now approaching, and every adult man
and woman in the land would shortly have the opportunity of voting for
his retention in office or for replacing him with a successor, man
or woman. He talked much with his daughter of the struggle that was
coming, as it had been his custom to do for years. She was his only
companion, the only object of his affections, the one domestic interest
in his life.



CHAPTER II.

HOW ENGLAND FELL.


So much for the man. What of the Empire? Nicholas Jardine had
witnessed, and assisted in, its collapse. He had witnessed the result
of a "corner" in food stuffs, and discovered that Uncle Sam was not
the man to miss his chance of making millions merely because in theory
blood is thicker than water. He had witnessed, also, some of the
effects of the great international confidence trick. The feature of
the common swindle so described is that the trickster makes ingenuous
professions. The dupe, not to be outdone in generous sentiments,
places his watch or his bank-notes in the trickster's hands--just to
show confidence. The trickster goes outside and does not come back
again. So, in the matter of national armaments, Germany had avowed
the friendliest disposition towards Great Britain. England, fatuously
eager to believe in another _entente cordiale_, obligingly sapped her
own resources. Germany, with her tongue in her cheek, went ahead,
determined that England should not catch up to her. Thus had the way
been paved for certain disastrous events: the cutting of the lion's
claws, the clipping of his venerable tail, and the annexation of vast
outlying domains in which the once unchallenged beast aforetime had
held his own, monarch of all he surveyed.

When Germany conceived that the fateful moment had arrived, Germany
pounced. France was friendly, but not active, Russia active and not
friendly, Italy was busily occupied in Abyssinia, and nominally
allied with Germany. Austria had her hands full in Macedonia, and was
actually allied with Germany. Spain and Portugal did not count. Holland
disappeared from the map, following the example of Denmark. The German
cormorant swallowed them up, and German squadrons appropriated the
harbours on the North Sea, as previously those on the Baltic. While
these European changes were being effected with bewildering rapidity,
our former allies, the Japanese, who had learnt naval warfare in the
English school, played their own hand with notable promptitude and
success. Japan had long had her eye on Australia. She wanted elbow
room. She wanted to develop Asiatic power. Now was the time, when
British warships were engaged in a stupendous struggle thousands of
miles away. The little navy that the Australians had got together for
purposes of self-defence crumpled up like paper boats under the big
guns of the Yellow Fleet. Australia was lost. It made the heart ache to
think of the changes wrought by the cruel hand of time--wrought in only
a quarter of a century--in the pride of Britannia, in her power and her
possessions.

India, that once bright and splendid jewel in the British Crown, the
great possession that gave the title of Empress to Queen Victoria of
illustrious memory--India, as a British possession, had been sliced to
less than half its size by those same Japanese, allied with pampered
Hindu millions; and it was problematical whether what was left could
be held much longer. The memorable alliance with Japan, running its
course for several years, had worn sharp and thin towards the end.
It had not been renewed. Japan never had really contemplated pulling
chestnuts out of the fire for the sole benefit of Great Britain. They
saved us from Russia only to help themselves; and now that Great
Britain was derisively spoken of as Beggared Britain, the astute Jap,
self-seeking, with limited ideas of gratitude, was England's enemy.

In South Africa, alas! England had lost not only a slice, but all.
The men of words had overruled the men of deeds. What had been won in
many a hard-fought battle, was surrendered in the House of Commons.
Patriotism had been superseded by a policy of expediency. The great
Boer War had furnished a hecatomb of twenty thousand British lives. A
hundred thousand mourners bowed their heads in resignation for those
who died or fought and bled for England. Millions had groaned under the
burden of the war tax, and then, after years, we had enabled Brother
Boer to secure, by means of a ballot box, what he had lost for the
world's good in the stricken field. They had talked of a union of
races--a fond thing vainly invented. Oil and water never mix.

Socialists, in alliance with sentimentalists in the swarming ranks of
enfranchised women, had reduced the British Lion to the condition of
a zoological specimen--a tame and clawless creature. The millennium
was to be expedited so that the poor old Lion might learn to eat straw
like the ox. If he could not get straw, let him eat dirt--dirt, in any
form of humble pie, that other nations thought fit to set before the
one-time King of Beasts.

In another part of the world, the link between England and Canada,
another great dominion, as Linton Herrick well knew, had worn to the
tenuity of thinnest thread. Canada, as yet, had not formally thrown off
allegiance to the old country, but the thread might be snapped at any
moment.

Linton, who had lived all his life in the Dominion, knew very well
how things were tending. The English were no longer the dominant
race in those vast tracts. They might have been, if a wise system of
colonisation had been organised by British Governments. But the rough
material of the race had been allowed to stagnate and rot here in the
crowded cities of England. Loafers, hooligans, and alien riff-raff had
reached incredible numbers in the course of the last five-and-twenty
years. Workhouses, hospitals, lunatic asylums, and prisons could not be
built fast enough to accommodate the unfit and the criminal. Meanwhile,
the vast tracts of grain-growing Canada, where a reinvigorated race
of Englishmen might have found unlimited elbow-room, had been largely
annexed by astute speculators from the United States. The Canadians,
unsupported, had found it impossible to hold their own. The State was
too big for them. As far back as 1906, the remnant of the British
Government garrison had said good-bye to Halifax; and the power and the
glory had gone, too, with the once familiar uniform of Tommy Atkins.

At Quebec and Montreal, all the talk was of deals and dollars. The
whole country had been steadily Americanised, and Sir Wilfred Laurier,
when he went the ultimate way of all Premiers, was succeeded by
office-holders who cared nothing for Imperial ties. For a time they
were not keen about being absorbed by the United States, for that
would mean loss of highly paid posts and political prestige. The march
of events was too strong for them, and between the American and the
British stools they were falling to the ground. It was bound to come,
that final tumble. The force of things and the whirligig of time would
bring in the assured revenges. The big fish swallows the little fish
all the world over.

It was the programme of Socialism that had weakened the foundations
of the British Empire and paved the way for the troublous times that
followed. Cajoled by noisy agitators and the shallow arguments of
Labour leaders and Socialists, the working man lost sight of the fact
that his living depended on working up raw material into manufactured
goods, and thus earning a wage that enabled him to pay for food
and shelter. The middle-class had proved not less supine. So long
as Britannia ruled the waves, and the butcher and baker were in a
position to supply the Briton's daily needs, all went well. But when
a family could get only one loaf, instead of four; and two pounds of
meat when it wanted five, it necessarily followed that a good many
people grew hungry. Hungry people are apt to lose their tempers,
their moral sense of right and wrong, and all those nice distinctions
between _meum et tuum_ on which the foundations of society so largely
depend. Moral chaos becomes painfully accentuated when, as the result
of a naval defeat and an incipient panic, the price of bread bounds
up to eighteenpence per quartern loaf, with a near prospect of being
unprocurable even for its weight in gold. All this had happened
in these once favoured isles, because the masses, encouraged by
self-seeking and parochially-minded leaders, had been more intent on
making war upon the classes than on securing their subsistence through
the agency of British shipping, protected by the British Navy at a
height of power that could keep all other navies at a distance.

In olden time, when the earth was corrupt and filled with violence,
the word came from on high: "Make thee an ark of gopher wood." And
Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear,
prepared an ark, to the saving of his house. But while the ark was
a-preparing, the people went about their business, marrying and giving
in marriage, making small account of the shipbuilder and his craze.
It had been pretty much the same in the twentieth century, when the
British people were warned that another sort of flood was coming, and
that they, too, would need an ark, of material considerably stronger
than gopher wood. They refused to believe in the flood. But it came. It
was bound to come.

We fought, yes; when it came to the critical hour, we fought for dear
life and liberty--fought hard, fought desperately, but under conditions
that made comparative defeat inevitable. And the fight was for unequal
stakes. To us it was an issue of life or death. To our foes it was
an affair of wounds that would heal. The law of nations, the law of
humanity, itself counted for nothing in that deadly and colossal
struggle. Our merchant ships were sent to the bottom, crews and all.
No advantage of strength or numbers served to inspire magnanimity. It
was a fight, bloody, desperate, and remorseless for the sovereignty of
the seas, a fight to the bitter end. And it was over, for all practical
purposes, in a week. The British Government did not dare to maintain
the struggle any longer. The Navy would have fought on till victory
had been attained or every British warship had been sunk or disabled.
The spirit of the service did credit to both officers and men, for
much had been feared from disaffection. Socialism had crept into the
fleet. Political cheapjacks with their leaflets and promises had sown
discord between officers and men, and here and there had been clear
indications of a mutinous spirit. But when it came to the pinch, one
and all--officers, seamen, and stokers--had manfully done their duty.
Where they were victorious, they were humane. When they were beaten,
they faced the fortune of war, and death itself, with firmness and
discipline. But all in vain as regards the general result. England's
rulers for the time being, alarmed at the accumulating signs of a
crumbling empire, daunted by the popular disturbances that broke out
in London and the provinces, made all haste to negotiate such terms of
peace, and agreed to such an indemnity that the dust of Nelson, and
of Pitt, may well have shivered in their graves. Peace, peace at any
price! was the cry. Peace now, lest a worse thing happen through a
continuance of the struggle. Germany, however, would not have stayed
her hand, and England would have become a conscript province, but for
the daring feat of a little band of Englishmen. Six of them, in the
best equipped air-ship that money could buy, by means of bombs almost
entirely destroyed the enormous works of Messrs. Krupp at Essen. By
this means Germany's resources were so gravely prejudiced that it
suited her to stay her hand for the time being. Out of this act of
retaliation sprang the famous Air-Ship Convention, of which the outcome
will appear presently.

During these dire events the women had votes, and many of them had
seats in Parliament. Their sex was dominant. They heard the cry of
the children. The men heard the lamentations of the women, and were
unmanned.

Thus was Great Britain reduced to the level of a third-rate Power--a
downfall not without precedent in the history of the world's great
empires. But sadder even than the accomplished downfall was the fact
that vast numbers of Britons had grown used to the situation, had so
lost the patriotic spirit and fibre of their forefathers that the loss
of race-dominance and of the mighty influence of good which Empire
had sustained, seemed to them of little moment compared with their
immediate individual advantage and petty personal interests.



CHAPTER III.

ABOARD THE AIR-SHIP.


"So you've made the young lady's acquaintance on the river?" remarked
the Judge, looking amusedly at his nephew.

"Yes," said Linton, "and the President's, ... in the garden."

"'Youth, youth, how buoyant are thy hopes,'" quoted Sir Robert,
chuckling.

"And," added the young man, with a slightly heightened colour, which
the gathering dusk failed to conceal, "they've promised me a trip in
their air-boat!"

Sir Robert groaned. "Air-boats! Wish they'd never been invented." He
flicked away the ash of his cigar and gazed at the first stars faintly
twinkling in the evening sky. They were sitting on the terrace, and the
September air was as balmy as the breath of June.

"Look!" exclaimed Herrick, springing to his feet, "don't you see one
over yonder?"

His uncle gazed and nodded. "And just imagine," he said, "what it will
mean when the present law expires and all restrictions are removed.
Everyone will want to be at liberty to 'aviate'; and as a consequence,
we shall want an enormous staff of air-police to control the upper
traffic and check outrage and robbery. I tell you, sir, the world's
going too fast. The thing won't work!"

"Everything will settle into shape in time," argued Linton, soothingly,
his eyes still following the evolutions of the air-boat with its
twinkling lights.

"Well, you're young, and may live to see it, but it won't be in my
day," sighed Sir Robert, "and I don't want it to be. Who wants an
air-ship calling for his parlour-maid at the attic window? Who wants
thieves sailing up to his balcony? And as to collapses and collisions
overhead--we've had some of 'em already--and it don't add to the gaiety
of nations or the comfort and security of the peaceful citizen down
below."

"It'll all come right, sir," said Herrick cheerfully.

"Perhaps it will and perhaps it won't," was his uncle's comment.
"It's not so much a question of individuals as of nations. How are we
going to regulate international commerce? The fiscal question, like
the Eastern question, will assume a wholly different character. You
may sail a ship, but you can't build custom houses in the air. What
about imports and exports? What about a hundred things that have been
governed hitherto by the broad fact that man and merchandise have only
been able to move about either on sea or land?"

"She's coming this way," exclaimed the inattentive Herrick.

The little ship, wonderfully swift and graceful in her motions, was
crossing high above the river, then circled gradually lower and lower,
nearing them, like a bat, at every sweep.

"There's a lady in her," said the Judge, "perhaps it's Miss Jardine."

The two men, with the electric lights from the dining-room throwing
their figures into relief, must have been clearly outlined to the
people in the boat.

"Yes," declared Linton. "I'll hail her. Boat ahoy! is that the
_Bladud_?"

"Aye, aye," answered a man's voice, and then they thought they heard a
low laugh from the lady in the stern. The boat circled lower and lower.

"Gently," said the Judge under his breath, "it's the President, it's
Jardine himself, with his daughter."

"Would anyone like a sail?" came the question from above.

"Yes, of all things," was Linton's eager reply.

"She's not built for more than three, or we would offer to take you
too, Sir Robert."

The Judge had risen to his feet. "Heaven forbid! Much obliged to you
all the same, Mr. President."

The fans were at work now, assisting in the delicate process of letting
down the boat by slow degrees in the centre of the lawn. She reached
the ground gently and lightly, and Linton and the Judge went forward
and greeted her occupants. Then Linton Herrick stepped aboard, and his
uncle moved clear of the wings.

The _Bladud_ rose to a height of about 200 feet. Then the elevating
apparatus was switched off, and the boat having circled in a few
ever-widening sweeps, sped away in the direction of London. Until now
the President, who was in charge of the machinery in the fore part of
the boat, had scarcely spoken. Linton sat in the stern beside Zenobia
Jardine, who, so far, also was silent, her attention being required for
the steering gear, with which, however, she seemed perfectly familiar.

Jardine now explained that the _Bladud_ needed only one-third of her
power for keeping afloat, and two-thirds for propelling her. After
that he became unreservedly communicative. Whether it was due to the
fact of being in the air, instead of upon earth, or to a ready fancy
for the young Canadian, the President showed himself in a character
which seemed to cause his daughter pleased surprise. There was nothing
pompous or self-important in his manner. He talked like a man who is
delighted to get upon his favourite hobby in company with a sympathetic
listener.

"It's the birds we had to study, the birds in the air," he said. "When
I was about your age I was an engineer, and I used to study birds,
because they gave us the best pattern for an air-ship; it's nature's
own pattern, and you can't beat nature. There's the breast bone,
for instance, provided with a sort of keel to serve as a point of
attachment for the muscles that set the wings in motion. There's the
small head, with a pointed beak, like a ship's bow. Then you've got the
light expanding wings that press like a fan on the elastic air waves.
Those are nature's aeroplanes, Mr. Herrick, and that's the model we've
had to follow. Then there's the tail, tapering off--that's nature's
rudder."

"We get everything except the feathers," ventured Linton.

"Feathers are not essential," was the answer. "There are wings of
other sorts. The bat has no feathers. It is fitted with a sort of
umbrella frame from top to toe, so to say, that can be expended when
required for flying. But for an air-ship we get the best model in the
frigate-bird or the albatross--that's what we've aimed at in our newest
aeroplanes."

"And the best motive power?" queried Linton.

"The air itself, compressed as we've got it here," said Mr. Jardine,
with decision. "Air can do everything. Nearly a century ago, 'Puffing
Billy,' the primitive locomotive, proved that the adhesion of the
wheels to the rails was sufficient to give drawing power. Everybody
had doubted it. Then everybody doubted whether anything heavier than
air could be sustained and move in air. That's why they wasted money
and lives in ballooning. The fallacy was disproved. We are disproving
it at this very moment. Then came another problem--what was the right
sort of motor? They tried everything. There were endless difficulties
as regards the steam engine. The internal combustion motor was a
remarkable source of power. They used it largely in submarines. It gave
the necessary electrical energy when the vessel was propelled under
the sea. But petrol was not the last word in locomotion. The first and
last power, when you know how to harness it, is the air itself. That's
what we've come to after many false starts and failures. You see, you
get extreme lightness combined with great power. The bursting pressure
and the reduced pressure are all calculated to a nicety per lb. to the
square inch. You can have power that will serve for a toy-ship--say
three-quarters of a minute, for a flight of 200 yards; or you can build
upon the same basis for any size, weight, or distance that can be
required."

"Isn't it wonderful!" exclaimed his daughter with enthusiasm; and
Linton nodded. "Wonderful, indeed, yet here it is!"

Her father went on stolidly: "It was proved many years ago that a
flying machine weighing nearly 8,000 lbs., carrying its own engine,
fuel, and passengers, can lift itself into the air. An aeroplane will
always lift a great deal more than a balloon of the same weight."

"I know," agreed Linton, "and it can travel at a high rate of velocity
with less expenditure of power."

"Exactly; a well-made screw propeller obtains sufficient grip on the
air to propel an air-boat at almost any speed; the greater the speed
the greater the efficiency of the screw. We are going slowly at this
moment, but I could put her along at 70 miles an hour, if one wanted
to."

Suiting the action to the word, he did increase the speed very
considerably for a short distance, and conversation had to be
suspended. It was the quickest travelling Linton had yet experienced
in the upper air, and he turned with some anxiety to Zenobia Jardine,
thinking the pace might tax her nerves. She was perfectly calm,
however, and her father set all fears at rest by saying, as he
slackened pace again:

"The steering with the new gyroscope is almost automatic, just as if
she were a torpedo. Even in a stiff wind she reverts to a horizontal
keel. It is simply like the balancing of a bird."

"The _Bladud_ is splendid!" cried Linton with conviction.

"She's hard to beat," was the President's comment. "But, after all,
she's only the natural outcome of the air-gun, which has been known
for generations. An air-gun is shaped like a rifle, with a hollow
boiler or reservoir of power. You force into the reservoir by means of
a condensing syringe as much air-power as it will hold. By opening a
valve a portion of the air escapes into the barrel of the gun. That's
what takes place when you pull the trigger. The released air presses
against the ball just as gunpowder would. Off goes your bullet without
a sound or sign to show that it has been discharged. Air condensed to
1-46th of its bulk gives about half the velocity of gunpowder. It's
precisely the same principle that's firing us through the air at the
present moment."

"It's a wonderful discovery!" was Linton's comment.

"Yes," mused Mr. Jardine, "and yet the thing was always there to be
discovered."

"Just as the air waves were always ready for wireless telegraphy, but
unused till Marconi came along at the beginning of the present century."

The President looked around him at the star-spangled heavens and drew
in a deep breath:

"Yes," he said, slowly, "and there are more secrets waiting to be
revealed."

"There's a professor of chemistry in one of the American universities
who thinks we shall be able to live on air some day," laughed the young
man.

The President did not laugh. "Why not?" he asked. "We know well enough
we can't live without it. It's quite conceivable that the atmosphere
contains undetected sources of nourishment. They may be generated by
vaporisation or by electricity and chemical action within the air
itself. No one knew anything about ozone a hundred and fifty years ago,
and he would be a rash man who said that ozone is the last word in
atmospheric discovery."

"It may end in air cakes," suggested Linton, rather flippantly.

"Or begin with air-cakes and end in air-tabloids," said Zenobia. "What
a glorious idea! Only think how it would simplify housekeeping. Meat,
vegetables, fish, and all the rest, might be superseded, and the
butcher's bill would cease to be a terror."

"And dyspepsia would be abolished with the weekly bills."

"Nature, the only universal provider; complete independence of foreign
imports. No starvation and no over-feeding. We should no longer go in
for a big square meal, but for a small round tabloid."

"Cooks, with all their greasy pots and pans, would not be wanted. You
could carry your meals in your waistcoat pocket and eat them when you
pleased."

"Yes," agreed Miss Jardine with mock seriousness, "instead of sitting
down to a food function--soup, fish, joint, entrée, pastry and dessert,
as if it were a sort of religious ceremony! The possibilities are
endless."

"And the prospect glorious!" chimed in the Canadian--then the two
young people, having kept the ball of frivolity rolling to their own
satisfaction, laughed merrily, and even the grim, dark face of the
President relaxed into something like a smile.

"But there would be rather a sameness in the diet," added Zenobia,
thoughtfully.

"We could vary it occasionally by harking back to the old fleshpots.
Besides, discovery would lead to discovery. The constituents of the
atmosphere defy the microscope at present, but by and by they may be
seized upon and served up in different forms and combinations for the
nourishment of man."

"And woman."

"The greater includes the less. They--oh! I beg your pardon! I was
forgetting. The old order is changed. We live in the Reign of Woman."

Rather to Linton's surprise, instead of hearing a quick retort, he
thought he heard a low and rather plaintive sigh.

"Ozone, at any rate, has a special flavour," remarked Mr. Jardine. "It
resembles lobster, and, like lobster, you can have too much of it. But
the plants have always lived on air. Man consumes the flesh of beasts,
but the beasts have built up their flesh by eating grass or plants.
Thus, indirectly, we ourselves live on air already, and draw our
vitality from the atmosphere. Presently we may get it by a shorter cut,
that's all. So your air-cakes and tabloids may really come to pass,"
and Mr. Jardine nodded.

This time there was no laughter, partly because the idea did not seem
so wild, and partly because they were now close to London, and the
wonder of the lighted capital spreading down below was a strange and
solemn thing to look upon.



CHAPTER IV.

THE STAR OF LIFE.


The _Bladud_ passed swiftly over Paddington Station, and followed the
line of the Edgware Road to the Marble Arch. The incessant roar of
the traffic below reached their ears, and it was a relief to get over
the great, far-spreading Park--silent and only faintly lighted by the
scattered lamps. To the left, Park Lane had a gloomy look. The famous
residences of the wealthy, like hundreds of great London mansions in
the neighbouring squares, were untenanted. People could not afford to
live in such palaces nowadays; the governing bodies of the capital had
done their best to ruin it by Socialistic experiments and over-rating.

At Hyde Park Corner, which was soon reached, once more the tumult of
the traffic rose into the air, and the long lines of electric lamps
stretching eastward along Piccadilly, gave the impression of an
enormous glittering serpent down below. They followed the route to
Piccadilly Circus, where the blaze of lights and the swiftly changing
units in the thoroughfares produced an effect that, seen for the first
time by Linton Herrick, held him in a sort of fascination. Trafalgar
Square and the Strand produced the same bewildering characteristics,
and to the right the effect conveyed by the illuminated bridges was
marvellously beautiful. The _Bladud_ circled widely so that Linton
might take his fill of the spectacle. Then Mr. Jardine headed her
eastward again, and for awhile the streets below lay gloomy and silent
until they had crossed the City. Soon the lights of the Commercial
Road and Whitechapel outlined the great thoroughfares of the East
End, while in every direction branch streams of flaring, smoky light
showed where the hawkers and hucksters plied their evening trade.
They had sailed over the Isle of Dogs and Greenwich Reach before the
President put the boat about; then in the distance, like a lighthouse,
the great clock towering over the Houses of Parliament came into view,
the dial shining like a huge, dull moon. In these days it was always
illuminated, whether the House were sitting or in recess.

"Look!" exclaimed Zenobia, suddenly.

Away in the heart of Southwark huge flames were shooting into the air,
and monstrous clouds of woolly looking smoke rolled slowly from above a
conflagration.

"A fire," said Mr. Jardine, "and a big one, too. We'll have a look at
it."

"Not too close, father," said his daughter, for the first time showing
nervousness.

"Keep her to windward," said Mr. Jardine, slowing down a little, and
the girl obeyed. Vast showers of sparks rose into the air; they heard
the hiss and splash of water, and the pant-pant of half a dozen fire
engines as they played upon the burning buildings. The lights shone on
the helmets of the firemen--clambering here and there on the roofs of
towering warehouses, and dense masses of people seemed to be packed
into the streets, on whose pallid, upturned faces the lights produced a
strangely weird effect.

The sight below seemed full of awe and terror. Presently, a sudden gust
of wind changed the direction of the smoke column and brought a volley
of sparks over the _Bladud_.

"Hard a-port!" cried Mr. Jardine, "we'll get out of this."

In a moment they had veered away from the scene of the conflagration,
and were crossing first the river, then Cannon Street, almost at full
speed. The fans were set to work, and they rose to a greater altitude
to avoid all risk of colliding with church towers and steeples. A dark,
domed mass took shape a hundred feet away, and over it the great cross
of St. Paul's loomed for an instant into view; a train with faces
showing against the lighted windows, crawled across the railway bridge
at the foot of Ludgate Hill; and far away in the West the gleam of
another fire lighted up the sky with a sudden threatening glare.

From below there now arose the piteous bellowing of cattle. They were
passing over the huge markets in Smithfield, and the shouts of the
drovers blended with the noise made by the doomed and harried beasts,
whose flesh was to feed London on the morrow. Soon another long row of
lights revealed Southampton Row, running straight, as it seemed, from
Kingsway to Euston. The station clock showed that it was nearly ten.
They swept over the quiet West Central squares, over the Euston Road
and Regent's Park, and so onward and away, until the huddled dwellings
of the capital gave place to suburbs, dark roads, and silent fields.

Linton, through the later sights and sounds of the night, was conscious
of being in a sort of dream; and in the dream the girl by his side
was the principal, nay, the only figure save his own. The end of a
light scarf that was round her neck blew across his face; the sway
of the _Bladud_ brought her arm against his own, and each slight
contact seemed to thrill him. Once or twice he glanced at her face,
almost inquiringly; for now he had the oddest feeling that she was no
stranger; that in reality they knew each other and had only met again;
that in the past, somehow, somewhere he knew not when, there had been a
kinship or a tie between them. From the first moment of their meeting
she had interested and attracted him. Of that he was well aware.
But not until they sat side by side in this aerial journey had the
impression of which he was now conscious crept into his mind or memory.
What could it mean? That strange exhilaration of the upper air, the
quickening of imagination, wrought by their rapid travelling high above
the solid earth and all its limitations, perhaps might account in some
degree for the puzzling feeling that possessed him. He glanced at her
again; their eyes met, and in hers he read, or fancied that he read, a
telepathic answer to his thoughts.

Suddenly he found himself repeating, as if with better understanding,
lines that always lingered in his memory:

 "Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
 The soul that rises with us, our life's star,
 Hath had elsewhere its setting,
 And cometh from afar."

"How odd," murmured the girl in a wondering voice, "the very lines that
I was thinking of," and in low tones she finished the quotation:

 "O joy, that in our embers
   Is something that doth live;
 That nature yet remembers,
   What was so fugitive!"



CHAPTER V.

A THREE-FOLD PLEDGE.


All through the following day the deep impressions of the previous
evening held Linton as one is held by the memory of some haunting
and impressive dream. Everything down below seemed insignificant
and irrelevant. They were dining out that evening, and he could
not shake off the feeling that in everything connected with that
ordinary function he was playing the part of a small automaton on a
puppet stage. He and his fellow-puppet, Sir Robert, got into a little
motor-car and rushed over five miles of little roads, between two
little hedges, to General Hartwell's little bungalow. Presently, they
were sitting round a little white-covered table, cutting up food with
little implements, and taking little sips out of little glasses. How
wise and important they thought themselves in the midst of all these
little things; how self-satisfied everyone appeared! There were four of
them at the dinner-table, the third guest being Major Edgar Wardlaw,
of the Sappers, a man to whom their host showed great deference and
affection. Wardlaw talked but little; the look in his eyes and the
lines on his broad, fair forehead suggested concentration of thought on
some problem remote from those which the others were discussing.

The General himself did most of the talking. He was a woman-hater, that
is to say, a hater of woman in the abstract. To the individual woman he
was gentleness and kindness itself. But rumours of a new and daring
forward movement by the Vice-President of the Council and her party
had roused the veteran to a pitch of extraordinary resentment. It was
said that Lady Catherine contemplated forming a regiment of Amazons in
the Twentieth Century! It was monstrous. The General boiled over with
disgust and indignation. His language at times became absolutely lurid.

"A devilish nice pass we've come to at last," he growled. Then he
seemed to be vainly ransacking his vocabulary for strong language, and
gulped down his wine in default of finding an adequate objurgation. The
judge laughed with gentle amusement at his fiery old friend.

"It's all very well to laugh, Herrick, but, damme, sir, it's the last
straw, it's the last straw!" roared the General.

"Just what we've been wanting," said Sir Robert, calmly.

"Eh, what d'ye mean?" General Hartwell stared.

"When people get the last straw laid on, they can't stand any more. So
now's the time for the worm to turn."

"You're right! By gad, you're right! But how's the worm going to manage
it?" cried the old officer, leaning back.

The judge fingered the stem of his wine glass and gazed thoughtfully
at the table-cloth. Major Wardlaw turned his gaze on him as if
suddenly recalled from the regions of mental speculation. Linton, also
self-absorbed as yet, began to listen and to wonder.

"You have strong views about women. You don't exactly love the sex,"
said the Judge.

"How can a man love 'em when he sees the mischief they've done by
their ambitions and pertinacity?" demanded the General.

"My dear fellow, you are too sweeping. They're not all alike. There are
plenty of good women left in the world."

"Show me where they are, then! I don't say they all set out to break
the Ten Commandments. But it's their love of power, their restless
ambitions, their confounded unreasonableness, that have played the
deuce with us. They want to rule the world, sir, and they weren't meant
for it, and it's not good for them, and they know it!"

They all laughed at the General's vehemence, and extending a wrinkled
forefinger, he went on, with unabated powers of declamation:

"Men ought to have nipped it in the bud, that's what they ought to have
done. Instead of which we gave place to their insidious aggressions.
We gave 'em an inch and they took an ell. We gave 'em the whip hand,
and they weren't content with it in little things. By heaven, they're
chastising us with scorpions. And there'll be the devil to pay before
we can put 'em back in their proper place. But, mark you, it'll have to
be done, if we want to call our souls our own, it'll have to be done.
Why! my blood boils when I think of the misery shrewish, self-willed
women have inflicted on some of the best fellows in the world. I know
cases. I've seen it done among my old friends. I knew a man, he was a
retired Colonel with a splendid record. What do you think? His scold
of a wife used to send him out to buy cream for the apple-tart. It's
not always the wife. Sometimes it's the mother-in-law. Sometimes it's
a sister. Now and then it's a daughter. I know an old school-fellow,
a parson; the poor beggar has three plain sisters quartered on him;
great, gaunt women who talk about 'dear Robert,' and badger dear
Robert out of his life. His only happy moment is when they're all gone
to bed. He'd like to marry; but he's too soft-hearted to send 'em about
their business. I tell you the man's afraid. I know another fellow, too
... but there--what's the good of talking!"

Major Wardlaw was raising from his seat.

"Excuse me for two minutes, General!"

"Yes, yes, to be sure," assented his host, and when the Major had
closed the door behind him, he dropped his voice and leaned across the
table.

"Now there's a man! The best engineer the British army has produced
for thirty years. That man, sir, designed the great fort they built at
Dover to guard the Channel Tunnel. He's got a big brain and a great
heart, but in one way he's shown himself a fool. What does he do but
go and marry a garrison flirt, sir, a little thing with a pretty
face and fluffy hair, and the tongue of a viper. The poison of asps
was under her lips. I can tell you she led Wardlaw a life. Now she's
dead and gone, and I do believe he's sorry! He worships the child she
left him,--little Miss Flossie. She's upstairs at the present moment.
Wardlaw's gone to say good-night to her. He worships the ground she
walks on, and that child takes it all for granted. By heaven! she
orders him about. She's got her mother's blue eyes and fluffy hair, and
I'd wager she's got her temper too. By-and-by she'll lead her father a
pretty dance. He wouldn't come here to stay with me--and, mind you, I'm
his oldest friend,--no, he wouldn't come without Miss Flossie. Oh these
women! By heaven, they raise my gorge."

"My dear Hartwell," said the Judge, calmly, "You go too far. You're
prejudiced...."

"Prejudiced!" exclaimed the General, "were Thackeray and Dickens
prejudiced? Look at Becky Sharpe and the way she treated that big
affectionate booby, Rawdon Crawley. Look at that girl Blanche Amory,
the little plotter who ran after Pendennis. And if you come to Dickens,
what about Rosa Dartle,--a woman as venomous as a serpent!"

"Types, my dear fellow, types; but not a universal type."

"There's lots more like 'em," nodded the General.

"And many more unlike them. You see, we old fogeys...."

"Fogeys, by gad! Speak for yourself, Herrick."

"I do," said the Judge, "it isn't that I feel like a fogey any more
than you do. It's the label that the world insists on fastening on men
of our age, and it is apt to make us feel bitter. We're supposed to
have had our time and finished it. It's not what we feel, Hartwell,
it's what we look that settles it, and I'm afraid, my dear fellow,
sometimes when our hair turns grey our tempers turn bitter. It's the
way of the world...."

"It's the way of the women, I grant you."

"Come, come, let us leave the women alone for a bit. They've brought
things to a crisis. It's the last straw. Well and good. Doesn't that
suggest an opportunity?"

"Now, you know, you've got something in your lawyer's head. Come, man,
what the deuce are you driving at?"

"We haven't drunk Renshaw's health yet," said the Judge with apparent
irrelevance. They rose and raised their glasses. Linton--who had taken
no part in the recent discussion--now watched his uncle expectantly.
"Renshaw, God bless him! and bring him back to England!"

"By the way," said Sir Robert, casually, as they resumed their seats,
"is Wardlaw with us?"

The General, who had taken his old friend's lecture in good part,
nodded: "Of course he is. Isn't nearly every man, in both services? Do
you suppose we want an army of Amazons armed with lethal weapons to
keep in order?"

"What about the Corps of Commissionaires?"

"Being their Commander, I ought to know. Seventy per cent. of 'em, at
least, are dead against petticoat government. They're good chaps, and
they've seen good service. They don't like the way the country is being
run any more than you or I do. You take my word for that."

The Judge mused for a moment, tipping the ash from his cigar.

"What about the old Household troops?" he asked.

"Same story. But what can we do without a leader in Parliament? and
suppose, after all, poor Renshaw is dead?"

Sir Robert Herrick suddenly abandoned his careless bearing, threw
away his cigar, and took from his pocket a letter written on foreign
notepaper. "Listen," he said, "both of you," and lowering his voice,
he read the letter, slowly and distinctly so that every word was
understood. Then he twisted it into a spill and burnt it bit by bit.
They sat for a few moments in silence.

Then from the General, whose fierce little eyes seemed starting from
his head under the bristling white eyebrows, there came a sort of
gasping exclamation: "God bless my soul! Why not?" Then, after a pause,
dropping into the familiar style of their early days: "You know, Bob,
there's risk in it. I'm with you to the last. I'm with you; but there's
risk in it, we must remember that."

"Yes, there's risk in it," answered Sir Robert, gravely. "We must
count the cost. But the risk and the cost are not half what they were
in other days, when men were ready to die for their country and their
cause. If Tower Hill could talk it could tell many a tale of men who
were faithful unto death. If the block could unfold its secrets; if
the red axe could speak, there'd be some stern lessons for modern men
to ponder on. Did you ever read how Balmerino faced the headsman after
Culloden? Come what may, we shouldn't have to face the axe, Hartwell."

"Hanging would be no improvement," growled the General. "Still, mind
this, I'm with you heart and soul, if we can work it out."

"I don't think we should have to face the hangman either," said the
Judge quietly. "We might, perhaps, have to spend the evening of our
days behind prison bars. Even that is doubtful. Nothing succeeds like
success. What's treason under one rule becomes loyalty under another.
History has illustrated that over and over again?"

"What age would Renshaw be by this time?"

"Why, not forty, even after ten years' captivity. He is the only man
who can bring back the ancient glory and prestige of the Kingdom.
Once in our midst, the people will rally round him with enthusiastic
loyalty. If well organised, it will be a bloodless revolution,
Hartwell, a glorious and thankful reversion to the old system of man's
government for man and woman. It is best suited to the British nation.
We've tried something else and it's proved a failure."

"A d----d failure," agreed the General, heartily.

"We've given way to cranks and noisy, shrill-voiced women; to vapouring
politicians; to socialism and all the other isms. We had a notion
that we could ante-date the millennium and work the scheme of national
life according to ideas of equality and uniformity. It can't be done.
Experience proves that anomalies work well when logical systems fail.
It's a conceited age, a puffed up generation. We are not really wiser
than our fathers, though we think we are. Let us try to revert to first
principles."

"I'm your man, heart and soul," said General Hartwell, and the two old
friends grasped hands across the table.

"I knew you would be!" There was a shine as of tears in the Judge's
eyes. "But you and I can't work this thing alone. We must have
colleagues; not many, but some, or at least one," and he looked at
Linton Herrick.

"I'm with you too, sir," said the young man simply, "show me the way,
that's all."

"We three alone at present, with loyal hearts and silent tongues," said
Sir Robert, gravely.

"The Three Musketeers!" ventured Linton.

"By Jove, yes," agreed the old officer.

"And we undertake everything that serves the State," added Sir Robert,
solemnly. They rose by mutual understanding and clinked their glasses.

"All for one! and one for all!" they cried with one accord.

And Major Wardlaw, opening the door at that moment, stared amazed.



CHAPTER VI.

THE REVOLT OF WOMAN.


England was agitated by two items of the latest intelligence. The same
journal which announced the sudden and serious illness of President
Jardine also recorded a bold move in the campaign of the Lady Catherine
Kellick, Vice-President of the Council of State. Enormous interest was
roused, not so much by the advertised notice of a public meeting on
affairs of State, as by the rumours of its real object. Ostensibly,
the people of London were invited, so far as the accommodation of the
Queen's Hall would permit, to hear a statement as to the position
of public affairs and to consider questions of national importance.
But it was well understood that the real aim of the convener of the
meeting was to strengthen her grip on the helm of State by means of her
rumoured forward policy, in the interests of the sex which she claimed
to represent.

Long before the hour fixed for the meeting, multitudes of people of
both sexes approached Langham Place by every converging avenue. The
doors of the Hall were besieged by an enormous concourse, and the
police on duty soon found themselves entirely powerless to preserve
order. As evening approached, the crowd became more and more dense,
extending southward far into Regent Street, and northward into Portland
Place. Every window in the Langham Hotel was crowded with wondering
visitors, looking down upon the immense assembly, from which rose
angry shouts as mounted constables forced their horses through the
outskirts of the crowd in the vain effort to keep the people on the
move. When darkness rendered the situation still more dangerous, urgent
representations were made to the managers of the Hall, and the doors
were suddenly thrown open. A wild yell of relief or eagerness rose
from thousands of throats, and a scene of indescribable violence and
confusion followed, as men and woman pushed, struggled, and fought
their way towards the entrances. In a few moments every seat had been
seized, every inch of standing room occupied. The attempts of the
attendants to attend to the angry demands of those who held tickets
for reserved seats were absolutely futile. Every gangway was blocked
by pushing and struggling humanity, and those who, alarmed by such
a condition of things, sought to force their way out were prevented
from doing so by the swarms of people who were already wedged in the
corridors.

A babel of voices arose on every side, but at length the audience was
weeded out to some extent, and the great numbers that remained settled
down in patient expectation, solaced, after a time, by the music of
the grand organ and the singing of the songs and choruses. Tier after
tier at the back of the platform, usually occupied by musicians, had
been reserved for Members of Parliament and officials of State. Not one
seat was vacant save the chair of the Vice-President. When the hour
appointed for the meeting struck on the clocks of the neighbouring
churches, there was a great clapping of hands, and an excited waving of
hats and handkerchiefs. A tall thin figure, wearing a flowing robe of
scarlet, now advanced from the right-hand side of the platform, and, on
emerging from behind the rows of palms and ferns, came into full view
of the audience.

Although she had become so great a power in England, the Vice-President
was only known by means of pictures and photographs to a great number
of those who were present. They gazed at her with wonder and interest.
There was character in every line of her face. Her grey hair, swept
back from the broad low brow, made her look older than her actual
years. Her eyes were rather prominent and staring. The upper lip was so
long as to betoken a marked degree of obstinacy, and her chin, square
and firm, with the flesh bagging a little on either side, accentuated
the general indications of hardness.

When she spoke, her greatest charm was made known. Her voice was
excellent, it had that kind of purring intonation which reminded some
of the older people of the celebrated actress Sarah Bernhardt; her
friends said that it was partly because of the "purr" that she had
acquired the popular nickname of "Lady Cat."

There were no formal preliminaries. Raising her hand for silence, she
began to speak, and her first sentence was well chosen and arresting:

"The Amazon is the greatest river in the world!"

Puzzled glances were exchanged, and here and there was heard a
wondering titter. Were they in for a lecture on geography?

The speaker went on without a pause, and swiftly undeceived them:

"The Amazon flows from the Andes with such stupendous force, in such
enormous volume, that its waters are carried unmixed into the Atlantic
Ocean."

They now had a dim idea of what was coming, and the impression was
speedily confirmed:

"There are other mighty forces in the world besides that river, and I
for one, speaking for the sex to which I belong, would glory in the
name of Amazon. Call us Amazons, if you will. Let those laugh who win;
women are winning all along the line!"

Shrill applause went up from hundreds of women in the audience. The
men, in a minority, were silent and uneasy.

"The time has come for facing facts, for examining claims and titles.
Man's title to be Lord of Creation is full of flaws, and we dispute it."

Frantic cheers and handkerchief-waving came from the women; a few deep
groans from the men.

"It is no use trusting to recent history. The men by force and fraud
got into possession of all the good things, all the power that life
has to offer, and thousands of us have meekly acquiesced. If you are
content to be regarded as the weaker vessel, if it satisfies you to be
compared with men as water is compared with wine, or moonlight unto
sunlight, be it so; we who are wiser must leave you to your fate. But
some of us have already advanced a stage or two towards the position we
claim rightfully as our own. Yet, you women of England, mark this, the
stages already covered are nothing to what we can and will achieve."

Excited applause for a few minutes prevented the speaker from
proceeding. A fierce disturbance broke out at the back of the Hall, but
was promptly quelled.

"One thing all men and women here to-night must realise. There cannot
be two Kings in Brentford, no, nor a King and Queen. Of the two sexes,
one alone can reign. Which shall it be?"

Shrill cries of "ours, ours!" broke from the speaker's supporters.

"Yes," she cried triumphantly, "our turn has come at last; it _shall_
be ours, if women only stand to their guns. But there can be no halting
half way. Forward or Retreat!"

"Forward, Forward!" came from the now enthusiastic audience, with eager
cheers and shouts, and again the cry went up: "Forward, one and all."

"Forward let it be. But, remember, the race will be to the swift and
the battle to the strong. To-night I call you to arms. To-night I
remind you that among the ancient races of the world there were women
who set us the example that we need. The story of the Amazons of old is
no fable. They lived--they fought for supremacy. They won it and they
held it. So can we!"

Tumultuous cries, blended now with angry hisses from the men, disturbed
the meeting. But so great was the ascendency which the Vice-President
already had acquired over most of her hearers, that a wave of her
hand stilled the uproar, and she was enabled to proceed. At the same
moment, on a screen at the back of the platform, was thrown a startling
life-sized picture of an Amazonian warrior:

"Behold!" cried the orator, grasping the dramatic moment and extending
her arm, "Behold Thalestris--Queen of the Amazons!"

For an instant the vast audience paused--surprised, staring, almost
bewildered.

"You are asking yourselves who was Thalestris," the speaker continued.
"The Amazons founded a state in Asia Minor on the coast of the Black
Sea. Herodotus will tell you how they fought with the Greeks; how they
hunted in the field and marched with the Scythians to battle. Well,
Thalestris became their Queen. They styled her the daughter of Mars.
She set the men to spin wool and do the work of the house. The women
went to the wars, and the men stayed at home and employed themselves in
those mean offices which in this country have been forced upon our sex.
The Amazons went from strength to strength; they built cities, erected
palaces, and created an empire. And there were other Amazonian nations.
All of them acted on the same principle. The women kept the public
offices and the magistracy in their own hands. Husbands submitted to
the authority of their wives. They were not encouraged, or allowed, to
throw off the yoke. The women, in order to maintain their authority,
cultivated every art of war. For this is certain--all history proves
it: force is the ultimate remedy in all things. That was why the
Amazons of old learnt how to draw the bow and throw the javelin."

"For shame! for shame!" roared a man's voice from the balcony.

"There is plenty of cause for shame," was the speaker's swift retort,
"but the shame is on the men, the swaggering, bullying, self-sufficient
men who in times past held women in subjection. Why, there were men in
England not so very long ago who would put a halter round a wife's neck
and bring her into open market, for sale to the highest bidder. It used
to be the law of England that men might chastise their wives with a rod
of specified dimensions...."

"We don't do it now," shouted the same voice.

"No! because you cannot and you dare not. It used to be said that there
was one law for the rich and another law for the poor. But it was
always a much more glaring truth that there was one law for men and
another law for women. It was so in the Divorce Court until we women
altered it. It was so in respect of the results of what was called a
lapse from virtue, and we are going to alter that. It was so in regard
to votes and representation, and you know we have changed all that!"
Loud and vehement applause from the majority of the audience greeted
this allusion to the suffrage.

"More than half the nation is no longer disenfranchised. But we must
not rest content. Like Alexander, we seek more worlds to conquer, and
conquest will be ours. While women have grown, men have shrivelled.
Athletic exercise and a freer and more varied life have given our
women thews and sinews. But the men are decadent, degenerates who have
led indolent, self-indulgent lives. They have given up the Battle of
Life. Thousands of them are as enfeebled in body as in intellect. We
see around us an undeveloped, puny, stunted race. What? Call these
creatures men? I tell you they are not men, they are only mannikins!"

Immense uproar broke out again in every part of the heated, crowded
building. When it was subdued, the speaker resumed in scornful tones:

"Better masculine women than effeminate men! Better the Amazon than
the mannikin! Read the story of Boadicea, of Joan of Arc, and of Joan
of Montfort! Read what history will tell you about Margaret of Anjou!
Worthy successors were they of the Amazons of the Caucasus and the
Amazons of America, the noble women who gave their name to the greatest
river in the world. Like the women of old, let the Amazons of the
present century--the Amazons of England--learn to arm, and learn to
fight."

There was a moment's pause. Then the Vice-President, in tones now
piercing and tremulous, cried out:

"Who will join the First Regiment of the Amazons of England?"

The electrified audience saw the speaker raise her hand, and at the
signal twenty girls in smart military uniform marched on to the
platform, saluted, and stood at attention. Each Amazon's hair was cut
short, but not too short to be frizzed. On each small head was worn a
helmet like that of Thalestris. The braided tunic was buttoned from
shoulder to shoulder in the Napoleonic style, and the two rows of gilt
buttons narrowed down to the bright leather belt that encircled the
waist. "Bloomers" completed the costume, and a light cutlass and a
revolver furnished each Amazon's warlike equipment.

Laughter, applause, and shouted comments greeted the entrance of the
girl-soldiers. It became a scene of indescribable confusion.

Then once more the Vice-President vehemently appealed to the audience:

"Who will join the Amazons of England?"

Shouts of "I will, I will!" came, first, from the body of the hall;
then from every part of the building, until, at last, the women seemed
to answer in a perfect scream of eagerness. Many minutes passed before
silence was restored. Then it was announced that all recruits could
give in their names as they left the hall, and the Vice-President went
on to move in formal terms a resolution declaring that this meeting was
firmly persuaded that the cause of the nation and of woman required
that the women of England should take up arms, and pledged itself,
first, to support the establishment of a new body of militia to be
recruited from the ranks of the young women of England; and, secondly,
to claim from the State the same rate of pay that hitherto had been
paid to men alone.

A thin young woman with hectic cheeks and excited manner sprang to her
feet on the right of the platform and seconded the motion. She only
made one point, but it went home. "I'll ask you one question," she
exclaimed, in tones so shrill that here and there a laugh broke out:
"Are we inferior to poor Tommy Atkins?"

The aggregate answer was so ready and so violent a negative that the
opposing element was momentarily subdued. Storms of applause broke out
as she resumed her seat.

But with equal readiness another speaker was on her feet on the other
side of the platform. In clear high tones her voice rang out over the
noisy assembly: "I oppose it!"

Another storm--a storm of remonstrance now arose. Cries of "Shame,
shame," were hurled towards the platform. Then, as some of the audience
recognized the new speaker, they exclaimed to the people near them:
"It's the President's daughter! It's Zenobia Jardine!"

"Order, order!" roared a minority of the audience, now somewhat
encouraged, and in a few minutes, while Zenobia waited--her eyes
bright, her lips firmly set--order was secured. The Vice-President had
sat down. She looked at her young opponent with no friendly eye, taking
no trouble to secure her a quiet hearing. But there was a section of
the audience that had only waited for a champion, and meant to see fair
play.

"I oppose it," repeated Zenobia, "because I believe that to arm women
and train them to fight will be a mad and wicked act. It would mean
a return to barbarism. It would be adding a monstrous climax to the
progress of a great cause. Instead of being the final exaltation of our
sex, it would lead to our political extinction and our ruin. Let us
have none of it."

The Vice-President's face wore a wicked look, and her thin lips
tightened as this appeal drew a loud cheer from the men and from a
certain number of the women in the excited audience.

"It has been said that the empire of women is an empire of softness, of
address. Her commands are caresses, her menaces are tears!"

"No! No!" came from the throats of the Vice-President's supporters. The
Vice-President herself arose.

"Will the speaker favour us with the authority for her quotations?" she
asked in loud and cutting tones.

"Rousseau...." began Zenobia nervously.

"An effeminate authority indeed!" exclaimed the Vice-President. "We are
not all in love" she added sneeringly.

She seemed for the moment to have won the audience back to her cause.
But Zenobia was not beaten.

"Very well!" she cried, "I will give you an English author. Doctor
Johnson, at least, was not effeminate. What did he say? 'The character
of the ancient Amazons was terrible, rather than lovely. The hand could
not be very delicate that was only employed in directing the bow and
brandishing the battle-axe. Their power was maintained by cruelty;
their courage was deformed by ferocity'.... Besides, the whole thing's
impossible." Conflicting cries broke out in every quarter, and the rest
of the sentence became wholly inaudible. There was a slight lull when
the Vice-President rose and raised her hand.

"Is it your pleasure that this lady be heard further?" she demanded.
The hint received a ready response, and shrieks of "No, no!" drowned
the protests of the minority. In a moment, the Vice-President put her
resolution and called for a show of hands. In another moment, she had
declared the motion carried by an overwhelming majority.

At a sign, the organ gave forth a trumpet note, and then burst into a
rushing volume of sound, which drowned all cries and counter-cries, and
ended the meeting in a scene of unexampled tumult and excitement.



CHAPTER VII.

THE PRICE OF POWER.


After the great and epoch-making meeting in Queen's Hall, the disturbed
state of public feeling was accentuated. It was generally felt that
the sex-conflict which the revolt of woman had brought about now was
shaping towards some new and startling climax. A crisis was at hand.
Moreover, at the same time, the appearance and rapid development of a
serious and unfamiliar epidemic created widespread alarm.

At first people had laughed at the "new disease," but the laughter was
shortlived--like great numbers of those whom the epidemic attacked.
Harley Street described it professionally as a recrudescence of _plica
polonica_; and just as at an earlier period people had contracted
influenza into "the flue," they now went about asking each other how
about the "plic." It was a malady which at one time had prevailed
extensively in Poland, and but little doubt could be felt that it had
now been introduced into England by the Polish Jews, whose alien colony
in Whitechapel and other parts of the East End had attained enormous
proportions. The peculiar feature of the plic. was that it attacked
the hair of the head, matting it together and twisting it in hard
knots, to touch which caused the most exquisite pain; this symptom was
often accompanied with manifestations of acute nervous disorder. The
patient speedily became feverish, and in most instances showed signs
of derangement in the functions of the brain. As the malady developed
sleep was banished, or, when obtained, would be disturbed by dreadful
dreams. Profound depression weighed upon the spirits, and the bare
sight of food and drink excited strong repulsion. Gouty pains in arms
and legs caused acute agony to some of the sufferers, and in many cases
there were fits of giddiness and an affection of the optic nerve that
produced temporary blindness.

The disease more often than not proved fatal. Physicians were at a loss
for radical cures, and a course of thermal baths was found to be the
most efficacious palliative that the faculty could recommend. Under the
advice of Harley Street, great numbers of patients, in the early stages
of the disease, flocked to Bath for the water-cure. Not since the
days of the Georges had the famous city of the west harboured so many
afflicted visitors. Every hotel was crowded from basement to attic. The
lodging-house keepers exacted monstrous prices for the most indifferent
accommodation. Local doctors drove a roaring trade, and every other
woman in the street seemed to wear the familiar garb of the hospital
nurse.

Among the distinguished persons who had been advised to have recourse
to the healing properties of the famous baths was the foremost man,
officially speaking, in the country. Nicholas Jardine was declared to
be suffering from a severe attack of the prevailing epidemic, and the
papers announced that the President would at the earliest possible
moment leave London for Bath.

This intelligence caused far more anxiety throughout the country
than might have been anticipated. It was not that the President was
particularly beloved, but that among a large section of the community
the Vice-President was distinctly unpopular. Her ambitions and the
determination of her character were well known. Hence the prevailing
apprehensions. What might not Lady Cat accomplish in the temporary
absence of the President? And, worse still, what might not she dare and
do, as the champion and inciter of woman, if the head of the Government
should die?

The instrument of Government provided that supreme executive authority
should be vested in one person--the President, or his deputy for
the time being, in conjunction with the Commons in Parliament
assembled. The functions of the Lords had long since been abrogated.
The President, or his deputy, in the circumstances stated, with the
assistance of the members of the Committee or Council of State, had
the fullest powers as the executive, and, in effect, presided over the
destinies of the nation.

From the President the judiciaries and magistrates derived their
honours and emoluments. In him was vested civil command of the national
forces both by sea and land. With the sanction of the Council, he could
maintain peace or declare war. These powers were to some extent checked
by the enactment that no law of the realm could be repealed, suspended,
or amended without the consent of Parliament; but in Parliament the
Vice-President had powerful support.

In the event of the death of the President, the other members of the
Council could immediately nominate his successor. It was well known
that the "Cat" had striven to ally herself in marriage with Nicholas
Jardine, with the object, as most people believed, of indirectly
grasping the reins of Government. It was known also that, foiled in
that design, she treasured feelings of animosity against the President
and his daughter. What, then, would be likely to limit her revenge or
curb her ambition if an opportunity like the present could be made to
serve her purpose?

It was widely felt that a crisis impended; that events of dark
and threatening character were shaping for some great struggle or
convulsion, the issue of which no one could foresee. The men of
England, though in the course of years they had yielded inch by inch
before the persistent aggression of the other sex, were not wholly
forgetful of their past, nor blind to the possibilities of the future.
The more virile among them remained rebels against woman's dominion,
struggling, like strong but despairing swimmers, against the rushing
tide that was sweeping them away. But such men were in a notable
minority. Vast numbers seemed to have lapsed without resistance, if
not without reluctance, into the position of underlings. Relieved of
various responsibilities, they acquiesced in the position which the
other sex had gradually assumed. They had grown lazy and half-hearted.
With a shrug of the shoulders they accepted the widely-held dictum that
their own sex was decadent. In point of numbers that was beyond denial.
The entire birth rate of the country had fallen, year after year, but
more notable than that was the emphasis given to the dominant note of
the age by a steady diminution in the percentage of new-born males.

The more vital question arose, what view would the women themselves
take of any new departure on the part of their leading representative
in the Councils of the State? But such a question could not readily
be answered. It might be hazarded that most of those who had displaced
the male competitor or who were already in the way of promotion, would
be for holding the ground and making any further bid for supremacy
that occasion should suggest. But still there were known to be great
numbers, patient and, so far, inarticulate women, who viewed the
existing state of things with deep regret, and anticipated the future
with positive alarm. If the men and the women were in opposite camps,
"the sex" undoubtedly was divided in sentiment; for the change of the
old order of things had brought many developments that told against the
grace and charm of woman's life.

She had gained something; but she had lost more. The protective
character which in former times man had felt bound in honour to assume
for the benefit of the weaker vessel had been largely discarded.
Chivalrous feelings were blunted by the competition in which woman had
engaged with man. If the grey mare was bent on being the better horse,
she must accept the conditions of the competition. However reasonable
and welcome this might seem to the mature or hardened woman, it was
far from agreeable to the young and charming girl. For still there
were charming girls in England, girls who wanted to be wooed and won;
girls whose hearts fluttered at the sound of a certain footstep; girls
who did not want to rule their lovers, but to lean on them; girls to
whom romance was the spice of life. Such girls as these, and it was
whispered that they grew in numbers, shrank from the harsh conflict of
the battle of life, in which it seemed to be expected that each and
all would readily engage. They found in the open doors of professional
business or political life inadequate compensation for the deference,
tenderness, and delicate consideration which had been accorded by men
to earlier generations of women. The Forward faction with their facts
and figures, could count on great numbers of adherents. But certainly
there were others, and perhaps the best and sweetest in the world of
women, who looked with growing distaste and resentment upon the leaders
who had brought the business and the pleasures of life to such a pass.

There was one English girl who, in the trouble that had come upon her
by reason of her father's illness, discovered and pondered on these
momentous questions. What would it profit a woman to force herself out
of her ordained place in the plan of creation? And what should she give
in exchange for that submissive tender love of wife for husband which
the Sacred Book declared to be the law of God?

Zenobia Jardine, turning for the first time to the Bible, pondered over
mysterious passages of the early Scriptures, which came to her with all
the greater force because they had not been weakened by parrot-like
familiarity. It was a revelation. Historical or allegorical--regarded
either way--the story of the Garden of Eden and the first parents of
the human race was imperishable in its power and significance. Therein
lay the true lesson of life. The waves of the centuries had vainly
surged around it. Like pygmies biting on the rock, the newest of new
theologists, and the latest of scientific discoverers, had left the
rock still standing, impregnable in its eternal strength. The voice
that spake to the woman in the garden seemed to be speaking still:
"What is this that thou hast done?" And the woman's answer was: "The
serpent beguiled me, and I did eat." The enmity that had sprung from
that far-off and typical wrong-doing was bearing bitter fruit. The
bruising of the heel had been renewed through all the history of man
and woman. The woman now was bruised in her affections.

In the Homeric story, Thetis took her son Achilles by the heel and
dipped him in the river Styx to make the boy invulnerable. The water
covered him save where the heel was covered by his mother's hand. And
it was through the heel, that one vulnerable spot, that ultimately
death assailed the hero. So, also, it seemed to the reflective girl,
the heel typified her heart. All the armour of life that she had taken
to herself under the auspices of her father would not avail against the
enemy who assailed her in that one weak spot.

There were times when she felt that she had discredited her training
and fallen below her appointed level. There were other times when she
felt instinctively convinced that in woman's weakness lay her truest
strength--her greatest victory in her ordained defeat.



CHAPTER VIII.

WARDLAW'S WORKS.


To counteract the dangers arising from the Channel Tunnel, long since
an accomplished fact, and to soothe the apprehensions of a large
section of the public, new defence works of enormous strength and
intricacy had been constructed on the heights of Dover. Always a place
of vast importance by reason of its position, the ancient stronghold
now had become more notably than ever the key to England. As a
watering place it had steadily dwindled in importance. Its neighbour,
Folkestone, easily held the palm for all pleasure-seekers; but the
commercial development of Dover as a port of call for the great liners
had been remarkable, just as its strength for naval purposes had been
vastly augmented. The completion of the Admiralty Harbour by the
construction of the East Arm and the South Breakwater now afforded a
safe haven for the largest warships in the British Navy. Here they
might ride at anchor, or safely come and go, always protected by the
monster guns which had been mounted in the various forts.

The commercial harbour had been provided with a huge marine station,
where transatlantic passengers in ever-increasing numbers were enabled
to land or embark under shelter, continuing their journey either on
land or sea with a modicum of inconvenience. It was the great aim
of competing steam and railway companies to simplify the methods of
travel and enable everybody to go everywhere and do everything with
the greatest possible amount of comfort. Those who could not trust
themselves, invaluable as they were to themselves, amid the chops of
the Channel, now might travel by tunnel to and from the Continent, and
thus avoid the risks of nausea or the inconsiderate assaults of wind or
wave.

By one means or another thousands upon thousands of passengers of all
nations and tongues streamed through Dover year after year. It was
before all things a place of passage--in so far as it was not a place
of arms. If one had repeated to most of these globe-trotters Gloster's
question in King Lear: "Dost thou know Dover?" the answer would
probably have been: "Well, I just caught a glimpse of it." From the
Channel, Shakespeare's Cliff, to the westward of the Admiralty pier,
certainly was found less impressive than most people had expected.
Like English life, as a whole, it seemed less spacious than it was
considered to be in the days of good Queen Bess. But then, of course,
Shakespeare, with his cloud-capp'd towers and gorgeous palaces,
was always such a very imaginative dramatist. Still, there was the
ancient, though slowly-crumbling, cliff remaining in evidence to remind
English folk and foreigners of the splendid story of England's past.
There, too, on Castle Hill, the ancient Roman Pharos--adjoining St.
Mary's-in-Castro--reared its roofless walls towards the clouds. The
mariners of England and of Gaul no longer needed the lights of the
Pharos to guide them in the Channel, and, of course, the venerable
bells that used to ring for matins and evensong were silent many a
year before Admiral Rooke removed them to Portsmouth parish church.

The great Castle, close at hand, was visited by very few excursionists.
The climb between Castle Hill and the Western heights was found
fatiguing. More Americans than Englishmen appeared to interest
themselves in the story of the Castle; its occupation by William of
Normandy after the Battle of Hastings, its associations with King
John's craven submission to the Papal Legate, its victorious defence
by Hubert de Burgh, the French attack--fruitless again--of 1278, and
other incidents of historic interest. The Long Gun, known as Queen
Elizabeth's pocket-pistol, still pointed its muzzle sea-ward, and the
inscription in low Dutch, very freely translated, rashly adjured the
current generation to--

 "Load me well and keep me clean,
 I'll carry my ball to Calais Green."

But inspection of the Castle was not encouraged, and tourists of
foreign appearance who showed a disposition to take snapshots in the
vicinity were promptly checked in their pursuit of the pleasing but too
common art of photography. Yet it was certain that, pigeon-holed in
every war department, of continental and, perhaps, of certain Eastern
powers, there were full details, or nearly full, of the elaborate
defence works with which Dover was provided. It was known that Castle
Hill was honeycombed with subterranean passages and galleries, and
that the Castle (nowadays a barrack rather than a fortress) was thus
connected with the modern forts in its immediate vicinity.

Fort Burgoyne, to the north of the castle itself, was, until recent
times, the strongest link in the chain of defence, its guns being of
great calibre, and commanding a vast range over land and sea. But far
more powerful, and better equipped with modern armament and military
resources, was Fort Warden; such being the name given to the works
which had been specially constructed as a safeguard against possible
attack by means of the Channel Tunnel. The very hill had been hewn and
carved and moulded to meet the needs of such a danger. Commanding the
gradual sweep by which the railway descended towards the Tunnel, the
great guns of Fort Warden were always trained upon the gaping archway
from which the incoming trains were constantly emerging.

The highest battery of the Fort occupied a dominating position
overlooking all the _enceinte_ fortifications, which were armed with
machine guns and small cannon. There was a subterranean passage
connecting the fort with the waterworks of a large service reservoir
in a hollow of the hill, which had been constructed in modern times
to ensure an adequate supply of water for the troops and the Duke of
York's School. Fort Warden was complete in itself; but, linked up with
the other fortifications, it formed, as it were, the citadel of a
composite fortress where, in the event of attack, the last stand would
be made by England's defenders. Round the fort extended a double row
of trenches, and within these was a moat. Strong wire entanglements
defended the trenches, and the loopholes in the breastworks were
protected by 3/4-inch steel plates with a cross-shaped opening for the
rifles. In addition, strong bomb-proofs were provided for the reserves,
with wide bomb-proof passages leading to certain of the other forts. In
all directions on the hill were placed howitzers and mortars, most of
the battery positions and gun epaulements being ingeniously masked and
difficult for an advancing enemy to locate. The military scientist who
had designed most of the elaborate defences and put finishing touches
to those of earlier construction was Major Edgar Wardlaw of the Royal
Engineers. His old friend General Hartwell held that from the point
of view of an invading enemy, this quiet, unassuming officer was the
most dangerous man in all the British army. Major Wardlaw certainly
knew better than anyone else of what Dover Castle Hill was capable.
The military authorities were very chary of rehearsing its possible
performances, because, in the vulgar parlance of an earlier period, it
would give the show away. It was a "show" that must be closely reserved
and kept dark in times of international peace and quietness.

Meanwhile, the hillside showed but few signs of life; the winds of
heaven blew over it, the rains descended, or the sun shone. Birds
hopped about, and people came and went. Often there was hardly a sound
to break the silence of the hill. A visitor who had climbed the heights
could gaze over the town of Dover and the hills and valleys behind
it, or look right across the Channel to the coast of France, quite
undisturbed by human voice or sound of busy life. But Major Wardlaw
could have told that visitor that on the instant, at a signal, this
placid scene could be converted into one of awful violence and furious
sound; that in a flash the hill would vomit forth, as if from many
avenues of hell, wholesale, fiery death and indiscriminate destruction.
On every side would rise the roar of monster ordnance, the ceaseless
rattle of machine guns, the deafening crack of musketry.

Woe betide the foe that dared to rouse the sleeping monster of the hill!

Such were Wardlaw's Works, as they were called throughout the British
army. When the Major retired from active service, he still lingered
in the neighbourhood of his _magnum opus_. In a charming bungalow,
perched on the hillside of Folkestone Warren, he and Miss Flossie spent
unruffled days amid eminently healthy surroundings.

The Warren, a bay of much natural beauty, had been rescued from
neglect. A station on the line from Folkestone proper to Dover afforded
easy access to the Bay; trees had been planted and roads cut in the
hillside. Everywhere on summer nights the lights gleamed from villas
and bungalows, and down below on the new jetty, and at the mastheads
of scores of pleasure craft. The place suited Major Wardlaw admirably,
and even little Miss Wardlaw, who was by way of being exacting, seemed
quite satisfied with her surroundings. Her father kept a small cutter
in the bay, and frequently took the young lady for health-giving sails
upon the dancing sea. Usually their port of call was Dover. The Major
was always going to Dover. He couldn't keep away from it. When the
cutter was laid up for the winter, he went by train, or sometimes
walked across the wind-swept downs. Dover town itself had no particular
attractions for him. The magnet lay on Castle Hill. In short, Wardlaw
could not keep away from Wardlaw's Works. Even when he was not visiting
the Works, he was always thinking about them. When military friends of
his came over from the Castle or from Shorncliffe, they seemed to talk
of nothing else but Fort Warden--all that it was, and all that it would
be if the critical hour of conflict or invasion ever came.

Flossie Wardlaw disapproved of the whole thing. It annoyed her--this
constant absorption, this ever recurring topic of conversation.
Personally, she refused to discuss the Works, and had it been possible
would have forbidden all allusion to the Fort when those tiresome
friends dropped in and talked "shop" with her father. Poor Wardlaw,
torn with conflicting emotions, knowing that the child was jealous of
the Works, used to look at her apologetically when one of his cronies
started the everlasting topic. But Flossie was not easily to be
mollified. With her little nose in the air, she would glance severely,
disdainfully, at the author of her being, tossing back that mass of
silky, sunny hair from which her pet name was derived.

And now the hated subject of the "Works" was more to the fore than
ever, for the military movement among the women of England had brought
Fort Warden into prominence in the newspapers. The Vice-President
of the Council, in pursuance of her policy, was turning the Fort to
unforeseen account. The First Amazons, as they were popularly called,
had been "enrolled and uniformed," and now the Fighting Girls (as some
people styled them) were to have this wonderful fort placed at their
disposal for the purpose of training and instruction in the art of war.
The idea was very popular among the Amazons. Some two hundred of them
were to spend a fortnight in the Fort, and then give place to another
batch, the Fort meanwhile being vacated by the artillerymen, save only
a handful of gunnery instructors and lecturers. So the men marched out
of the tortoise-backed "Works," and the Amazons, very smart in their
new uniforms, and full of gleeful excitement, briskly and triumphantly
marched in.

It was a picturesque episode in martial history which afforded
excellent scope for lively descriptive reporting. Great numbers of
people seemed to be pleasurably interested in the event, just as they
used to be in the volunteer military picnics on Easter Monday. There
were others, however, who, like General Hartwell noisily, and Edgar
Wardlaw quietly, condemned the whole thing as monstrous, unseemly, and
fraught with danger to the nation. The majority, however, laughed at
the minority. What was there to be afraid of? There was not a cloud
in the international sky. England's difficulties, they said, now were
purely domestic. Greater Britain had been so cut up and divided that we
had nothing further to fear. Surely no greedy Jezebel would dream of
stirring up a Continental Ahab to covet and lay violent hands on the
remnant of Naboth's Vineyard.



CHAPTER IX.

THE LOOSENED GRIP.


"Bladud, the son of Lud, founded this Bath three hundred years before
Christ."

It was a far cry from Bladud to Nicholas Jardine! A goodly span, too,
from the time when a great statesman was carried through the streets of
Bath, swathed in flannels; his livid face, peering through the windows
of the sedan chair, the fierce eyes staring from beneath his powdered
wig. One can almost see his ghost in Milsom Street, and hear the
whisper spread from group to group: "There he goes! the great Commoner,
Mr. Pitt!"

And now through the streets of the same town they wheeled a very
different sort of statesman; and yet, perhaps, the product, by slow
processes of inevitable evolution, of that very time "when America
thrust aside the British sceptre, when the ingenious machine of Dr.
Guillotine removed the heads of King and Queen in France, when Ireland
rose in rebellion, when Napoleon grasped at the dominion of the Western
World, when Wellington fought the French Marshals in Spain," and when,
God be thanked! Nelson triumphed in Trafalgar Bay.

Just as the inhabitants and visitors of Bath used to take off their
hats to William Pitt in his sedan chair, so now the new generation
saluted Nicholas Jardine, when, seated in his bath-chair, he was
drawn through the streets to the baths. For though times were changed,
the President in his way was a great personage--such a remarkably
successful man; and in all times it has been proved true that
nothing succeeds like success. Jardine, when he acknowledged these
salutations, showed an awkwardness unknown to those to the Manor born.
It disconcerted him to be stared at, especially now that he was ill.
He hated traversing the public streets, and often sat with closed
eyes until his chair entered the bathing establishment. Once there he
became alert and interested--but not in the reminiscences of Georgian
functions and the manners and customs of the fops and flirts of that
vanished period. What appealed to him, as a trained mechanic, was the
heritage of far remoter days. The brain of the Roman Engineer and the
skilled hand of the Roman Architect and Mason had left these signs and
wonders for future generations to look upon. The great rectangular
bath had only been uncovered about sixty years earlier. The Goths and
Vandals of an earlier period had built over it their trumpery shops
and dwelling-houses. But the present bath, with its modern additions,
actually was built upon the ancient piers. The very pavements, or
scholæ, that bordered it were those which the Roman bathers had
trod. The recesses or exedræ corresponded with those at Pompeii, and
had been used for hanging the clothes of the Roman bathers or for
resting places. The floor of the bath was coated with lead, and in all
probability that lead was brought from the Roman mines in the Mendip
Hills, where had been discovered the imperial emblems of Claudius and
Vespasian.

The President was not without a sense of the beautiful. The scene
around him awakened his imagination. He knew that the wooded slopes
of the stately hills, the stone hewn from the inexhaustible quarries,
and the broad river--formerly spanned by bridges and aqueducts graceful
in outline and noble in proportions--each and all had furnished the
means which skilful hands had put to glorious uses. Yet all these
ingredients of beauty might have remained unused but for the wonderful
thermal waters which here, for untold centuries, had risen ceaselessly
from fathomless depths, streaming ever from rocky fissures, filling the
pools and natural basins, and still overflowing into the rushing river.

But this beneficent spring and these now verdant hills must have had
their remote origin in some terrible concussion of natural forces.
Mother Earth had laboured and brought them forth, far back in her
pre-historic ages. Subterranean fires, begotten by the portentous union
of iron and sulphur, had waited their appointed time. Drop after drop,
the hidden waters had filtered on inflammable ingredients, until the
imprisoned air at last exploded, and the earth, rending and rocking in
appalling convulsions, opened enormous chasms and brought forth, amid
fire and smoke and vapour, the embryo of all this lovely scene. The
City was the offspring of seismic action; the earth had travailed and
brought forth these wooded hills. The smiling valley, where now stood
the City, was but the crater of an extinct volcano, perpetuated in
memory by the steaming waters that still gushed upward from the mystic
depths.

Below the streets and houses of the modern town were the original baths
of the City of Sulcastra, of many acres in extent. Here, indeed, in
this most wonderful of Spas, history unfolded itself page by page--the
City of Sul in the grip, successively, of Roman, Saxon, Dane; dynasty
succeeding dynasty, sovereign coming after sovereign, statesman after
statesman, until now, when a Walsall mechanic in a bath-chair was all
that England had to show by way of substitute for absolute sovereignty
and sceptred sway.

And with Nicholas Jardine, too, the relentless law of time was at work.
The sceptre was falling from his grasp. The grass withereth; the flower
fadeth. Man passes to his long home, and the mourners go about the
street. Would it be his turn next? Every day Zenobia seemed to see in
her father's face signs of a slowly working change. She witnessed the
melancholy spectacle of waning strength, of failing interest in those
things that once had absorbed his thoughts and energies. It wrought in
her a corresponding change, a protective tenderness which she had never
felt before, a deepening sense of the transience and sadness of human
pomp and circumstance, a broadened sympathy with all the sons of men.

A great silence seemed to have fallen upon the man who in the past had
made so many speeches. A brooding wistfulness revealed itself in his
expression. There was a haunting look of doubt or question in his eyes,
a look as of one who, without compass and without rudder, finds himself
drifting on an unknown sea. The land was fading from his sight. The
solid earth on which he had walked, self-confident, self-sufficient,
no longer gave him foothold. His nerveless hands were losing grip on
the only life of which he knew anything, the only life in which he had
been able to believe. And day by day, and night by night, there came to
his mind the memory of his earlier life, of the faith that he had seen
shining in the dying eyes of the woman who had believed while he had
disbelieved. Vividly he recalled to mind--albeit with a sense of wonder
and irritation--an occasion when he had sat beside her in the old
Cathedral at Lichfield. The sun was setting, and its glory illumined
the huge western window; the words of the great man of action, who was
also the man of great faith, were being read from the lectern, and at
a certain passage his wife had turned and looked at him with sad and
supplicating eyes: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are
of all men most miserable."

If in this life only ...! All other hope he had scorned and rejected.
No other hope had seemed needful to his happiness and success. But
now? Already _this_ life was dwindling and departing. He felt it; he
knew it in his inmost being, as his steps faltered, his hands grew
thin and pallid, and his brain, once so busy with a hundred projects
and ambitions, now refused to work, or brought to him only recurrent
recollections of things which in the prime and strength of his manhood
he had scouted and despised.

If in this life only ...!

Sometimes a great restlessness possessed him, and Zenobia, in the
silent watches of the night, heard him moving heavily and slowly about
his room. On one of these nights, anxious and alarmed, she hurried in
and found him standing at the window in the darkness. The furnished
house they occupied was on Bathwick Hill, and the night scene from the
windows was one of striking mystery and beauty. The blackness of the
valley in which lay the ancient city, and of the towering hills on
every side, was studded with myriads of lights--shining like stars in
an inverted firmament.

"Father!"

She crossed the room and laid her hand upon his arm; but, scarcely
heeding her, the sick man still stood by the window, looking as if
fascinated on the magical scene of the night. Zenobia also gazed, and
gazed steadfastly; but the impression made upon herself was wholly
different. With him it was a sad impression of farewell. But in
Zenobia's brain there suddenly sprang up an extraordinary sense of
recognition. There was a subtle, haunting familiarity in the scene she
looked upon--this valley and these hills, in and about which all that
was modern, save the lights, was quite invisible. Thus might the valley
of Sulcastra have looked under the darkened sky two thousand years
ago. Thus might the lamps of Roman villas, temples, baths, and public
buildings have twinkled when a vestal virgin, maintaining Sul's undying
fires upon the altar, looked down upon the silent city.

The puzzled girl caught her breath, half sighing, unable to shake off
the belief that at some remote period she had gone through precisely
the same experience that was now presented to her. And, doubly strange,
in connection with the scene, though she could see no reason for it,
her thoughts flew instantly to Linton Herrick. She became oppressed,
almost suffocated, with a sense as of pre-existence--a bewildering
sensation, almost a revelation--that seemed to tell of the mystery of
the ego, of the indestructibility of human life.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was the last time that Nicholas Jardine looked down upon the old
city, by night or by day. The next day he remained in bed, and the day
after, and all the days that were left to him. The afternoon sunshine
came upon the walls, the shadows followed, night succeeded day. The
demarcations of time became blurred. His calendar was growing shorter
and shorter. The world mattered less and less to him, who had played a
leading part in it; and already he mattered nothing to the world. Death
was not close at hand. Nevertheless he was dying.

 "For this losing is true dying:
 This is lordly man's down-lying:
 This his slow but sure reclining,
 Star by star his world resigning."



CHAPTER X.

ZENOBIA'S DREAM.


The night which followed her heartsearching experience of feeling on
looking down upon the sleeping city of Bath, Zenobia had a dream. It
was a vision of extraordinary vividness, and strangely circumstantial.

Beneath her eyes the golden light of a summer sunset was flooding
the temples, the baths, the stately villas of ancient "Rome in
England"--the city of Sulcastra. Garbed as a Priestess of the Temple,
she stood upon a plateau, high on the Hill of Sul on the east side of
the valley. Behind her rose the Temple of the Goddess, and by her side
stood one whom she knew to be the sculptor Lucius Flaccus, son of that
centurion who was charged to carry Paul from Adramythium to Rome. He
had been telling her in graphic phrases of his association with the
great Apostle; how for the first time he had heard him on Mars' Hill
at Athens boldly rebuking the listening and resentful throng who had
erected there an altar _to the unknown God_. Then with a gesture of
repugnance which horrified the priestess, the narrator, quoting the
Christian preacher's words, had turned and pointed towards the Temple
in which she with other vestals kept ever burning the sacred fire of
Sul.

"Forasmuch, then, as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to
think that the Godhead is like silver or gold, graven by art or man's
device...." Thus far he had spoken when her own voice interrupted
passionately:

"Do not blaspheme the gods!"

"The gods are dead," he answered sternly, "nay, rather, they have never
lived. Our Roman gods have eyes that see not, ears that hear not, they
are but silver, gold, or stone--the work of hands like these." Thus
speaking, he held forth his hands, delicate and mobile, in one of which
was grasped the chisel of his ancient art. The priestess stood for a
moment looking in his eyes, silent, terror-stricken. "Yet," he went on,
bending his gaze upon the city with a sigh, "Sulcastra is beautiful."

He knew and loved each particular feature of artistic beauty in the
city. Its architecture afforded him a delight that never failed. The
symbolic work of the chisel was evidenced on every side. The noble
columns that supported the terraces; the pavements resembling those
of Pompeii; the graceful friezes and delicate cornices appealed
irresistibly to every votary of art. Indeed, the Thermæ of Sulcastra
were held by many of the cultured Romans to be not less splendid than
the baths at Scipio Africanus, or even those built at Rome by Caracalla
and Diocletian. For here, too, the lofty chambers were ornamented
with curious mosaics, varied in rich colours and infinitely delicate
in design. And here, also, the medicinal waters were poured into vast
reservoirs through wide mouths of precious metal and Egyptian granite,
while the green marble of Numidia had been brought from afar to give
variety to the native stone from the adjacent quarries. The fame of
the wonderful waters went back for eight centuries before the birth of
Christ. Here, according to tradition, Bladud, son of Lud the British
King, father of King Lear, had found a cure for his foul leprosy.
Yonder had stood the first Temple of Minerva, dedicated by that same
Bladud to the goddess. Had he not sought by magical aid to soar aloft
like the eagle, only to fall and be dashed to pieces on Minerva's altar?

The sculptor shaded his eyes against the slanting rays of sunlight,
and turned his gaze upon the vast stadium in which at stated intervals
the people of Sulcastra witnessed the elaborated games of mighty Rome.
Such an occasion recently had occurred, a scene of splendid pageantry
and power which invariably moved the spectators to superstitious awe,
and often to wild excesses of fanaticism. Young and old had implored
the favour of the gods, and pledged themselves to maintain unbroken the
religious observances of the Rome people. In the darkness of night,
mystic sacrifices had been offered on the banks of the river; and the
whole city, as the sculptor and the priestess now looked down upon
it, still seemed to be fermenting with the excitement which the great
celebration had occasioned.

At that very moment an imposing procession was seen to be advancing
towards the Temple of Minerva. Trumpet note after trumpet note echoed
round the hills. Chariots full of garlands and branches of myrtle
approached the shrine. A large black bull was being led to the
sacrificial altar, and youths and maidens, chanting a hymn to Minerva,
carried in procession costly vases full of wine and milk to be poured
as libations to the goddess, while others bore cruets of wine, oil, and
perfumed essences to anoint the pillars of the sacred monuments within
the temple.

Lucius Flaccus looked down upon the procession with sad and moody
eyes. The Vestal's eyes were bent no less sadly on the sculptor, as
if divining all his thoughts. They sprang, she doubted not, out of
the subject of their conversation, and she turned uneasily towards the
pillar-altar on which the sculptor's skilful hands had been at work. It
stood upon the turf at the entrance to a little grove which gave access
to the gates of the Temple of Sul, the temple in which she herself
ministered as priestess.

A cloth lay over the graceful monument, to the inscription upon
which the young Roman had but just now put the final touch. His work
upon the monument, screened from view, had long excited the interest
and curiosity of the Romans and the slaves who passed that way, but
reverence for the goddess and respect for the sculptor himself had
served to arrest all questions. The work of art, it was thought, would
be unveiled in time; and doubtless it would prove to be another and a
worthy tribute to the goddess who presided in a special manner over the
fortunes of the city.

Lucius Flaccus had studied in a great and noble school. He had gazed
long and often on the famous statue of the Olympian Jove modelled in
ivory by the master hand of Phidias. He had marked every curve and
feature of the Minerva--standing sixty cubits high--on whose shield the
great Athenian sculptor had so marvellously represented the wars of the
Amazons. There were those, indeed, familiar with the work of the young
Roman who foretold for him an imperishable reputation as an exponent of
the noble art to which he was devoted.

Lucius Flaccus had been welcomed in Sulcastra as one who was likely to
add to the beauty of the city, and the honour of the special goddess
of the citizens. The sculptor's art, like the Ten Commandments, was
written on tables of stone. It was for all time; nearly five hundred
years had passed since the chisel dropped from the hand of Phidias,
but the glory of his work remained. It was indestructible. So also,
thought some, might the handiwork of Lucius Flaccus be handed down from
century to century.

The cult of Sul was scarcely distinguishable from that of Vesta. Like
Vesta, she was a home-goddess, a national deity, whose vestals were
solemnly pledged ever to maintain her altar-fire, lest its extinction
should bring disaster on the people.

Sul, also, was a fire deity. According to the kindred mythology of
Scandinavia, the goddess was so beautiful a being that she had been
placed in heaven to drive the chariot of the Sun from which she took
her name--that glorious sun, the rays of which were now illuminating
the city of Sulcastra. Sul, in the eyes of the Romans, was more exalted
than Soma, daughter of the Moon, though in the East Soma was held in
the highest reverence as the mother of Buddha. Soma was the sovereign
goddess of plants and planets. In the Vedic hymns she was identified
with the moon-plant which a falcon had brought down from heaven. Its
juice was an elixir of life. To drink it conferred immortality on
mortals, and even exhilarated the gods themselves. But even greater
virtue and miraculous power did the Romans attribute to the waters of
Sul, and with better evidence of their potency. For here, in Sulcastra,
century after century, and ever at the same temperature, the magical,
unfathomable well had poured forth its mystic waters for the healing of
the people.

The Temple of Sul, like that of Vesta, was circular, to represent the
world; and in the centre of the temple stood the altar of the sacred
flame, ever burning to symbolise the central fires of Mother Earth,
just as the sun was deemed to be the centre of the universe.

There were nothing strange or unusual in freedom of conversation
between the Priestess and the Sculptor--who, in former years, had added
many decorations to the Temple. The virgin priestesses were permitted
to receive the visits of men by day; by night none but women were
suffered to enter their apartments, which adjoined the sacred building
in which they ministered. Each priestess was pledged to continence for
thirty years. During the first ten they were employed in learning the
tenets and rites of their religion. During the next ten they engaged
in actual ministrations. In the final ten years they were employed in
training the younger vestals, and after the age of thirty they might
abandon the functions of the temple and marry. Few exercised that
option. Custom, when such an age was reached, had become ingrained, the
impulses of youth frozen, and the honour paid to their office became
more valued than the prospects of marriage.

The reverence shown to them was very great, but so also was the
punishment that followed a lapse from the letter or the spirit of
their duties. The least levity in conduct, the smallest neglect of
ministerial duty, was dealt with by the Pontifex or the Flamens,
and visited with great severity. The loss of virginal honour, or
the failure to maintain the sacred fire, involved a penalty of
inexpressible terror. The condemned priestess, placed in a litter, shut
up so closely that her loudest cries were scarcely audible, was carried
through the city in the order, and with the adjuncts, of a funeral
procession, a journey of death in life--its goal the niche or narrow
vault in which the living vestal was to be immured.


THE SCULPTOR'S STORY.

The dreamer knew these things, and still dreamed on. It seemed as if
her own voice broke the silence:

"Fain would I know more of this same Paul of whom you speak."

Then she paused, but looks still questioned him. Presently the young
Roman spoke again--

"My father, the centurion Julius, was charged to carry him to Rome,
and I had planned to bear him company. We took ship to sail along the
coasts of Asia; touched at Sidon and afterwards at Cyprus, the winds
being contrary. Later we transhipped at Alexandria, and thus reached
Crete. The seas grew dangerous, and the sailors feared. Scarcely had
we sailed when there arose that strong, tempestuous wind they call
Euroclydon. The ship, being caught, could not bear against the wind,
and we let her drive. Then, near the island of Clauda, we were like to
be driven on the shore; and fearing quicksands, we struck sail, and so
were driven again. The tempest tossed us, and the ship was lightened.
We cast adrift the tackling; but still the tempest held us; neither sun
nor star appeared for many days, and all that time the ship was driven
before the storm, until at length the shipmen deemed that we drew near
to land. They sounded and found twenty fathoms. Again they sounded and
found five fathoms less. Then, fearing we should be upon the rocks,
they made all haste to cast four anchors from the stern, and waited for
the day."

"The storm had lasted long?"

"For fourteen days and nights."

"And there were many in the ship?"

"Two hundred, three-score and sixteen souls; and everyone was saved.
Land lay before us, though we knew it not. But we discovered close at
hand a creek. So they took up the anchors, loosed the rudder-bands,
hoisted the mainsail to the wind, and made for shore. She ran into
a place where two seas met, and went aground. The forepart held and
seemed immovable, but soon the hinder part was broken by the violence
of the waves. The soldiers then would have killed all the prisoners,
lest they should escape, but my father stayed their hands. Those who
could swim sprang first into the sea. Others on boards, and some on
broken pieces of the ship, made for the land, and I, with all the rest,
came safe ashore."

"The gods be thanked; the gods be thanked for that." The words came
fervently from the Vestal's lips.

He turned on her and sighed. "What! still the gods?"

She pressed her hands upon her brow. "Is there no more to tell?"

He paused a moment. "Already I have told too much if told in vain.
The island we had reached was Melita, and Publius, the chief man
of the place, received us courteously. Paul healed his father of a
grievous sickness, and many others also, ere we departed in a ship of
Alexandria. We touched at Syracuse, and then at Rhegium, whence we went
towards Rome. There many brethren greeted Paul with joy, and there in
reverence and sorrow did I part from him."

"And he--this Paul himself?"

"Remains at Rome, having his own hired house, receiving all who come to
him, preaching of the Heavenly kingdom, teaching with all confidence,
of the coming of the Christ--no man yet forbidding him."

Deep silence fell between them, and the only sound came from a droning
that in Sulcastra never ceased by night or day--the voice of the
rushing river as it poured across the weir.

Now they stood erect; each was tall and nobly framed; each face had
beauty intellectual and physical. Yet in the sculptor's features and
his deep-set eyes there was the look that visionaries wear, the stamp
of those who nourish great ideals. The gaze the priestess bent upon
him told a different tale. The dreamer knew this woman loved this man,
while he, as yet, had found no passion in his soul for her. She raised
her hand in gesture of adieu, and moved with slow steps towards the
temple. Then, as if stirred by sudden impulse, she turned to him again.

"And this Paul--tell me--what teacheth he concerning women?"

"He teacheth that man is the image and the glory of God, and woman the
glory of the man. That man is not of the woman, but the woman of the
man: neither was man created for the woman, but the woman for the man.
He commandeth that women keep silence in the Christian churches, and in
all things be subject to their husbands, for the husband is the head of
the wife."

"Then he forbiddeth not to marry?"

"Is not Paul the Apostle of Him who blessed the marriage feast of Cana?"

"In whom thou dost believe?"

"In whom I do believe," he answered steadfastly. "I tell thee that
the banner of the Cross shall one day float above the capitol of Rome
itself."

The priestess took two swifter steps towards him. "Then why, O Lucius
Flaccus, hast thou built here an altar to our Goddess Sul?" She pointed
to the pedestal beside them; and he, answering not a word, stretched
forth his hand and drew away the covering that concealed the apex.

There, in the fading light, there stood revealed the hated emblem of
the Christian Faith.

"A cross!" she cried, "a cross!"

The sculptor raised his eyes and clasped his hands:

"The Cross of Him who died for all the world!"


THE VESTAL'S FATE.

The spirit of the dream had changed. A sense of horrible foreboding
agonized the dreamer. No longer did the sculptor and the priestess look
down upon Sulcastra. Yet the dreamer knew all that had happened and was
happening still.

The city was in tumult. The baths, the public schools, the temples were
deserted. People thronged the streets. There was but one thing spoken
of--an outrage on the goddess whom they all revered. Lucius Flaccus,
the favoured sculptor of Sulcastra, son of Julius the centurion, had
erected on the threshold of her temple an altar to the God-Man of the
Nazarenes. Nor was that all. The sacred fire that should have been kept
burning in Sul's temple had been suffered to die out, if indeed it had
not been deliberately extinguished; climax of all--Verenia, priestess
of Sul, had been found in the broad light of day kneeling with bowed
head before the hated emblem that profaned the grove. Amazement had
given place to fury. The cry went up for punishment--a cry redoubled
when it became known that the augurs foretold dire calamity for
Sulcastra and the citizens, as the inevitable consequence of an outrage
so profane. The people feared the vengeance of the gods!

Yet there were some who kept a grief-stricken silence in the midst of
all the raging of the citizens, for each of the offenders was well
esteemed, and both belonged to honoured Roman families. The dreadful
fate that lay in store alike for the sculptor and the priestess moved
many hearts to awe and anguished apprehension. In each case the
appalling penalty was as certain as the dawn of day. Lucius Flaccus
would be carried to the rock of Sul, high on the steepest hill that
overlooked the valley, and thence cast headlong on the rocks below. For
Verenia, the priestess, a yet more awful punishment was prepared--the
slow starvation of a living tomb.

The dreadful preparations were complete. The Vestal's grave was
ready--a narrow niche in the massive stone foundations of the
Temple--the temple of that goddess whose worship she had mocked. In
this tiny cell was placed a pallet, a lamp that when lighted would burn
for forty hours, and a small quantity of food. All knew what course the
funeral ceremonies would follow. The Pontifex would read some prayers
over the doomed priestess, but without the lustrations and other
expiatory ceremonies that were used at the burial of the dead. When the
last prayer had been uttered, the lictors would let her down into the
vault, the entrance would be filled with slabs of stone, then covered
up with earth.

The awful hours, the agonizing days, would slowly pass. The lamp
would flicker and the light expire. Deep silence that no shriek could
pierce would shut the buried vestal from the ken of all who loved her.
The food would fail; then, slowly, hour by hour, and day by day, the
dreadful sentence of the law would be fulfilled. No father, mother,
lover, friend, could save the victim, or by one iota lessen the
torture of starvation, or that still greater torture of the brain to
which her judges had condemned her.

Did not the crime of which she was convicted strike at the root of the
religion of the people? The maintenance of the sacred fire as a pious
and propitiatory observance was not peculiar to the Romans. The Hebrews
held it a divine commandment: "The fire shall ever be burning upon
the altar, saith the Lord; it shall never go out." Undying fires were
maintained in the temples of Ceres at Mantinea; of Apollo at Delphos
and at Athens; and in that of Diana at Echatan. A lamp was always
burning in the temple of Jupiter Ammon. The ancient custom came from
the Egyptians to the Greeks, and from the Greeks to the Romans, who had
made it a vital, essential feature of their faith. Like the veil of
Astoreth in the temple of the moon-goddess at Carthage; like the sacred
shield which, as Numa Pompilius avowed, had fallen from heaven, the
altar-fire of Sul safeguarded the domestic prosperity, the political
wisdom, the military supremacy of Rome in Britain.

And this gross insult to the mighty goddess had been perpetrated in the
midst of the festival; on the very eve of the ceremony of the blessed
waters used specially on that occasion for purifying the temple of Sul.
It was a local event of paramount importance, for then the statue of
Sul was covered with flowers and anointed with perfumed oil. The Salii
marched through the city carrying vessels, richly decorated and of
beautiful design, containing water from the sacred spring. The feast
lasted for three days, and during that time the Romans undertook no
serious or important business. The banquets with which the festival
was concluded were magnificent and costly. The edict of Numa Pompilius
enjoining reverence to the gods remain unrepealed. It was obeyed in
Sulcastra as in Rome itself. Inscribed on tables of stone, it could be
read in all the schools and temples:

"Let none appear in the presence of the gods but with a pure heart
and sincere piety. Let none there make a vain show and ostentation of
their riches but fear lest they should thereby bring on themselves the
vengeance of heaven.

"Let no one have particular gods of his own, or bring new ones into his
house, or receive strange ones unless allowed by edict. Let everyone
preserve in his house the oratories established by his fathers, and pay
his domestic gods the worship that has always been paid to them.

"Let all honour the ancient gods of heaven, and the heroes whose
exploits have carried them thither, such as Bacchus, Hercules, Castor
and Pollux. Let altars be erected to the virtues which carry us up to
heaven; but never to vices."

These dread laws the sculptor and the priestess had impiously broken
and defied.

The climax was at hand. A strange, loud clangour beat upon the ear,
pierced by the wailing cry of weeping women. The dreamer heard the
tramp of many feet; then saw a long and closely packed procession
emerging from the centre of the city. Slowly and solemnly the multitude
advanced. The first section of the great procession reached the
narrower road which wound amid the trees that beautified the Hill
of Sul. High up on the barer slopes of the great hill stood out the
jutting rock from which the sculptor was to take his last long gaze
upon the sunlit world. A band of lictors headed the procession. Behind
them, with head erect, walked Lucius Flaccus on the road to death.

The trees swayed gently in the morning breeze, the birds were singing
in the groves; the glory of the summer decked the land. Yet the
tenderness of nature and all the splendour of the world seemed but
to mock the tragedy of that slow procession. On every side was life,
life, strong, abundant, free; but this one lonely man, bare-headed and
white-faced, who climbed the hill, had done with life. With each step
of the slow advance he drew nearer and nearer to the gate of death.

The second part of the procession was lead by twelve Salii, each of
whom carried a shield on his left arm and a javelin in his right hand.
They were dressed in habits striped with purple, girded with broad
belts, and clasped with buckles of brass. On their heads they wore
helmets which terminated in a point. From these men the clangour came.
Sometimes they sang in concert a hymn to Sul; sometimes they advanced
with dancing step, beating time with their javelins on their shields.
Next came many mourners, women and children, weeping and wringing their
hands as in a funeral procession; and then a closely-curtained litter,
with priests on either hand followed by the Pontifex, magnificently
habited and carrying a staff or sceptre in his hand.

Priestesses, with bowed heads and clasped hands, followed the Pontifex.
Then came another body of lictors, followed by a miscellaneous
multitude of citizens and their families; and, finally, a tall
centurion leading a company of soldiers.

The road grew steeper, narrower, winding round the hill; and the first
body of lictors, with their prisoner, had passed out of view of the
company that followed, when suddenly arose a violent outcry and the
clash of arms. The sculptor had turned upon his guard, seized a javelin
from one of them, and mounted the steep bank beside the road. The
whole procession halted in confusion. Disconcerted priests whispered
and gesticulated; the crowd closed up and filled the narrow way from
side to side.

"Romans! hear me!" The appeal, in high-pitched, fervent tones, came
from Lucius Flaccus, and was not unanswered by the people:

"Hear him! let him speak!"

The lictors at the bidding of the Pontifex half turned, but being few
in number were daunted by the strenuous cries of the excited crowd. The
sculptor seized the moment of their irresolution and raised his voice
again:

"Romans! spare her." He pointed to the litter. "You who have sisters,
daughters, restrain your rulers from an act that would disgrace a
barbarous nation."

Murmurs and conflicting cries were raised. The priests sent messengers
to the soldiers at the rear of the procession. But the crowd, closer
and closer packed, rendered it difficult for the messengers to pass.
Above the tumult, the Pontifex cried in shrill excited tones: "The gods
demand her death!"

Thus incited, many in the crowd shouted in assent, while others cried
again: "Hear Lucius Flaccus, hear him!"

Once more the sculptor raised his voice: "The gods are names for
priests to conjure with...."

For a moment indescribable tumult prevailed. The centurion sought in
vain to force a way through the dense, now struggling, mass of people.

Again the sculptor made a passionate appeal: "I implore the aid of the
Roman people. I call upon my fellow citizens to save a woman. To what
purpose do we expose our lives in war? Why do we defend our wives and
sisters from a foreign enemy if Rome has tyrants who incite the people
to violent and vindictive acts? Soldiers in arms, do not endure these
things! Free citizens, exalt yourselves by being merciful."

The frantic appeal now met with no response. Lucius Flaccus looked
wildly round, despair and desperation in his face.

He raised the javelin, and for the last time his voice was heard:

"Then thus, and thus only, can I save her from a crueller fate!"

In an instant he sprang upon the lictors who confronted him, and,
striking left and right, actually reached the curtains of the litter.
A shudder of horror ran through all the crowd. The women shrieked. The
people swayed and struggled, and the next moment it was seen that the
sculptor had been beaten back, though not yet secured. He sprang upon a
rock beside the road and raised the javelin high in air.

"Then, Romans, if infernal gods there be, let them accept another
sacrifice!"

Down flashed the steel, the sharp point plunged into his heart; and,
throwing out his hands, he swayed into the lictors' arms.

A dreadful silence fell upon the people.

Then from within the thickly-curtained litter came a despairing and
half-stifled shriek.

       *       *       *       *       *

With that wild, agonizing cry Zenobia awoke. The cry from the litter
was her cry. It was her own voice that died away, and what was this
mysterious sound--rising from the valley with the mists that melted
at the break of day? The sound was the same that the sculptor and
the priestess had heard nearly two thousand years ago; the voice of
many waters as they swept across the weir, insistent, unceasing--the
monotone of doom.



CHAPTER XI.

THE NEW AMAZONS.


On every side the continued rivalry between the sexes in their struggle
for supremacy in national life was producing lamentable results.
To this general evil now was added the new move inaugurated by the
Vice-President of the Council in the matter of military training. The
unfortunate illness of President Jardine had facilitated the schemes
of that daring leader of the women, and it soon became apparent that
preparations for enrolling large bodies of Amazons, though hitherto
kept secret, in fact had been very far advanced before the memorable
meeting at Queen's Hall.

Recruits flocked in from every quarter. The idea of military service or
a military picnic for a few months in the Amazonian militia appealed
to all sorts and conditions of girls and young women. Those who had
reached the age when the resources or pleasures of home life had begun
to pall, those who saw no chance of getting married, those who had
met with disappointments in love and were stirred with the restless
spirit of the times, those who rebelled against parental rule, domestic
employments, or the monotony of days spent in warehouse or office, one
and all caught eagerly at the idea of a course of military training
in smart uniforms, with the possibility of encountering experiences
and adventures from which parents and guardians had sought to withhold
them.

Ready pens were at the service of the New Amazons. History and
tradition were ransacked by industrious scribes in search of precedents
and raw material for "copy." The _Epoch_, (the unofficial press organ
of the Vice-President) boldly vaunted the capacity of women to bear
arms. Who would dare to deny that women were as brave as men? In
modern times the Dahomey Amazons had been a force in being. An eminent
professor had made researches which went to show that the Amazons of
old were real warriors. Humboldt refused to regard American Amazons as
mythical, and other trustworthy authorities had confirmed his view.
Then there were the Shield Maidens of the Vikings, to whose existence
witness was borne by historical sagas. The ancient literature of
Ireland set forth as a fact that "men and women went alike to battle in
those days." Did not a certain abbot of Iona go to Ireland to organise
a movement against the custom of summoning women to join the standard
and fight the enemy? In Europe, not so very long ago, the Montenegrins
and Albanians called their women to arms in the hour of national
extremity.

The _Epoch_ presented the 1st Amazons of England with a silken banner,
embroidered with a representation of Thalestris the Amazonian queen,
and pointed out that, however fabulous might be the achievements of the
women warriors of ancient times, modern warfare need make no similar
demands on the physical strength of woman. War had become a feat of
science, rather than of endurance. It was no longer necessary for
contending champions to engage in a trial of muscular strength. Macbeth
and Macduff were not called upon to "lay on" until one of them cried:
"Hold! enough." Battles were fought and victories won at long range.
Thin red lines and Balaclava charges belonged to ancient history. And
if by any chance it should come to fighting at close quarters, had
woman shown herself lacking in courage, or even in ferocity in such
encounters? Why, in every memorable riot in which the civil population
had been in conflict with the soldiery, the women, again and again, had
proved themselves to be the foremost in attack and the most fertile of
hostile resource. Thus argued the _Epoch_ and other press advocates of
the New Amazons, at the same time citing many instances of the prowess
exhibited by individual women on fields of battle.

Vast numbers of young persons, supremely ignorant of life in its uglier
and more dangerous aspects, thus encited, discovered that they were
not, and could not be, happy at home all the year round. They wanted
variety; they pined for change and excitement; and all of them were
firmly pursuaded that they knew much better than their elders what
was good for them. In their eyes all things were not only lawful, but
all things were expedient. They stood up with stolid looks, deaf to
remonstrances and appeals, and expressed an obstinate wish to join the
Amazons. Numbers of them, being more self-willed than their parents,
got their own way, and were enrolled; while still larger numbers were
put back as physically ineligible, but with liberty, in some cases, to
renew their application at a future time.

That the movement had "caught on" nobody could deny. That it was full
of dangerous possibilities became more and more apparent every day.

Zenobia, who came to London to attend the Queen's Hall meeting, had
returned to Bath to nurse her father, whose illness showed increasingly
alarming symptoms. Linton Herrick, meanwhile, was not wholly without
occupation, for there were sundry private conferences between his
uncle and General Hartwell at which his presence was required. These
discussions and reports became of the more importance in view of
certain news from the East and of the complications likely to arise at
home in the event of the illness of the President proving fatal.

Nevertheless, there were times when Linton found himself mooning about
his uncle's house and garden in a state both of mental and physical
restlessness. He missed Zenobia, missed a glimpse of her on the river,
or a flash of her as she sped away in the _Bladud_ to London. They had
met often, and it seemed to him as if they had known each other all
their lives. He would have given anything to hear the yelping of her
dog Peter next door, because it would have betokened the presence of
Peter's mistress.

Before Mr. Jardine's departure for Bath, the young Canadian had sat
with him and talked on many topics and on several occasions. The
enormous strides which Canada had made, and was making, in the way
of prosperity greatly interested the President. Linton, however, was
astonished to find how little the man whom fortune had pitch-forked
into a foremost position in England really knew about Colonial affairs.
He frequently fell into amazing geographical errors, mistakes quite
comparable with that of a certain Duke of Newcastle who announced with
surprise to George II. his discovery that Cape Breton was an island.

Linton liked the President, not wholly for the President's sake, but
partly for the same reason that he had developed a friendly feeling
towards Peter the dog. The President, on his part, certainly had taken
a fancy to him, and in those bedside conversations talked with far
less reserve than he was in the habit of employing in conversations
with Englishmen, particularly young Englishmen. These conversations
gradually impressed Linton with the belief that this hardheaded and
successful mechanic, who found himself, thanks to the strength of a
numerous and well-drilled party, at the head of the State, actually
was discovering his own deficiencies--the educational deficiencies,
the intellectual deficiencies for which doggedness and powers of
oratory were no true substitute. In a word, it seemed as if, in that
time of inactivity and reflection which a bed of sickness enforces,
Nicholas Jardine had begun to realise his own shortcomings as a ruler
of men--his unfitness to direct the destinies of a nation great in
history, and still great in possibilities of recuperation if only well
and wisely led.

"If you should be down West, come and see me at Bath," were the
President's parting words. "Indeed I will," said the young man
heartily, and there was something in his eyes as he turned to say
good-bye to Zenobia that made her colour. Nothing seemed more probable
to both of them at that moment than that Linton would find himself down
West, and nothing more certain than that there would be only one reason
for his going there.

The young man had fought his way into Queen's Hall on the night of
the great meeting, solely and wholly because he had heard that Miss
Jardine was likely to be present. But he had no idea what line she
was likely to adopt in reference to the momentous question under
discussion. Yet the one drawback that hitherto he had found in her was
her attitude, or what he feared was her attitude, towards the question
of woman's ascendency. In the crush of the hot and noisy meeting, he
had failed to see Zenobia on the platform, and when she rose to speak
his feelings were strangely blended--of admiration at her bearing,
and of dread less she might say something than ran counter to his own
convictions. But her actual utterance astonished and delighted him;
and the hostile method of the "Cat" provoked in him such feelings of
fierce resentment as he had never felt towards womanhood before. Yet
there was one sentence that fell from the Vice-President which caused
him to be sensible of emotion of another sort. That sneering suggestion
that the younger speaker must be in love excited him strangely. He felt
an intimate personal concern in that scornful imputation. In love with
whom?

And now he had ample time in his uncle's riverside house, with the
empty dwelling and silent garden on the other side of the hedge, to
ponder the same question. The _Bladud_, however, proved a great boon.
It had been left at his disposal, and Wilton, the Jardine's engineer
and skipper, was always ready to accompany him in an air trip. Wilton
was a hard-featured little man with a soft heart and a shrewish wife,
who kept the domestic nest in so spick and span a condition that poor
Wilton could never take his ease at home, and therefore appreciated any
good and sufficient reason for getting out of it.

Wilton confessed to Linton Herrick a treacherous thought. It concerned
the wife of his bosom and the new Amazons.

"Seems to me," said the little man, "as this here scheme may be a good
thing in a manner of speaking. There's girls, and, maybe, there's wives
too, that wants a bit of a change. Well, that's right enough. Why not?"

"What do you mean?" asked Linton, wondering and amused.

"Wot I mean, under pervisions, mind, under pervisions...." Linton
laughed, but Wilton was quite serious, his thoughts engaged in a great
domestic problem, his hands busy with the machinery of the _Bladud_, in
which they were just about to go aloft.

"Well, it's like this, I wouldn't be for letting women jine a reg'lar
army, but militia's different. They'd get a 'oliday at Government
expense. When they come back they'd be more contented-like with their
'omes; and while they was away, well, there...." rubbing his head with
a pair of pincers.

"And while they were away the men would have a quiet time, eh?" laughed
Linton, who had heard of Wilton's family history.

"You've 'it it, sir, you've 'it it," said Wilton, without the vestige
of a smile. "Not but what women has a lot to put up with, mind you; and
there's times when they're as kind as kind. Still, wot I say is, a lot
of 'em's never content unless they can have the upper 'and, and that's
what's wrong with England."

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, at Bath, the condition of Nicholas Jardine had given Zenobia
cause for increasing anxiety.

In the hushed and tranquil days that sometimes come with October, the
leaves fall of their own volition, and with scarcely perceptible sound.
Their hour has come, and, with a faint whisper or rustle of farewell,
one by one they flutter down to mother earth. Thus also, the leaves of
human life are ever falling--the sighing souls of men, obedient to the
immutable design, passing from out the bourn of time and space.

In those last days, when the certainty of the end came home to him,
Jardine, for the first time, began to ponder on problems to which he
had scarcely given a thought in the active years of his remarkable
career. Perhaps in the silence of the days, and in the deeper silence
of the nights, he asked himself unconsciously those same questions
which, thousands of years ago, the Son of Sirach had framed for all
time in language so expressive: "What is man, and whereto serveth he?
What is his good, and what is his evil? As a drop of water unto the
sea, and a gravel-stone in comparison of the sand, so are a thousand
years to the days of eternity!"

"All flesh waxeth old as a garment; for the covenant from the beginning
is: Thou shalt die the death. As the green leaves on a thick tree, some
fall and some grow: so is the generation of flesh and blood, one cometh
to an end, and another is born."

"Every work rotteth and consumeth away, and the worker thereof shall go
withal!"

One day the President startled Zenobia by asking for a Bible. She
brought it wonderingly. He signed to her to read. And as she read to
him, the sick man and his daughter looked up into each other's eyes
with something like bewilderment.

"Father," cried the girl passionately, as she closed the Book, "Why did
you keep it from me? Why did you do it?" The dying man looked into her
face with troubled gaze, and whispered something very faintly. Was it
the word "Forgive?"

A yet stranger and more terrible ordeal was in store for Zenobia. To
her lot it fell to hear from her father's lips a confession that seared
her to the very soul. This confession presently was embodied in his
will, which two days later he dictated to his daughter.

His mind was perfectly clear, though his hand could scarcely hold the
pen. As a matter of precaution, he insisted that the doctor and the
nurse should be the attesting witnesses. The will was sealed in an
envelope, and placed under lock and key. When that was done, Zenobia,
with set face, hurried to the nearest telegraph office and sent the
following message to Linton Herrick:

"I implore you to come immediately. A matter of life and death."

Meanwhile, Jardine had settled his affairs, and finished with the
business of life. Like the King of old, he turned his face to the wall.
Yet startling things were occurring close at hand--strange occurrences
within this very city of Bath. To others they were sufficiently
alarming. Indeed, there had been something in the nature of a panic.

The first manifestation had taken place at the Grand Pump Room Hotel.
The King of Bath, if he could have come to his realm again, would have
encountered not a few surprises, and would have found the famous Hotel
transformed beyond all recognition. The examples of London, Paris, and
New York had been diligently followed. There was a stately Palm Court,
with marble columns and gilded cornices. Oriental rugs and luxurious
fauteuils had been lavishly provided. On a raised marble terrace,
during the dinner hour, a stringed band furnished an undercurrent for
the banal remarks of the diners. There were rooms in the Adams style,
rooms in the Louis the Sixteenth style, a Charles II. Smaller dining
Room, and a Smoking Room in the Elizabethan style--with ingle-nook and
heavy ceiling beams in oak. But the people who dined and chattered
and smoked amid these surroundings were not Elizabethan, Stuart, or
Georgian in style. They were the product of the twentieth century, and
were of no style at all; they lacked repose and dignity; they were
self-conscious, self-assertive; believers, and encouraged to believe,
in the powers of the almighty dollar, hustlers and bustlers, who rushed
hither and thither, and did this or that without knowledge and without
appreciation, and solely for the purpose of being able to say that they
had done it. Everything inanimate in this twentieth-century Bath Hotel
was very beautiful. There were skilful imitations of Adams, Sheraton,
and Chippendale; there were coloured marbles, trophies, garlands,
ornamentation of all sorts in gilt and bronze; decorative panels,
with consoles and mirrors everywhere,--everything being in elaborate
imitation of something else and something older.

But in one corner of the Grand Dining Hall was one thing real and
old--a fountain of Sulis water, which had been brought into a
decorative niche and enshrined amid elaborate allegorical figures which
nobody understood.

It was typical of England. She had gained in some ways, she had lost
in many more. She had acquired electric appliances, telephones, and
air-ships, but lost in grace and picturesqueness. Frequenters of Bath
no longer wore wigs, laced coats, and buckled shoes. They no longer
settled their little difficulties with the rapier. The ladies had
discarded powder in any appreciable quantities, and patches altogether;
but people of quality had vanished from the once familiar scene.
Quantity had taken the place of quality everywhere. Money had proved
the great key and the great leveller. There was a dead level in style
and tone and appearance. Society had to be taken in the mass, instead
of in the class, and notabilities were far to seek.

Such were the people upon whom the panic seized, amid the clatter
of knives and forks, the rattle of plates, and the popping of
corks--inseparable accompaniments of the _table d'hôte_ dinner hour.

The visitors started to their feet with cries of dismay. An astonishing
thing had occurred. The fountain of Sulis water in the grotto at the
end of the great dining hall had suddenly burst its bounds! The pipes
were forced from their position. Great volumes of orange-tinted,
steaming water began to flood the room. The members of the string band,
whose seats and music stands were placed among the ferns and palms, in
immediate proximity to the fountain, grasped their instruments, and
beat a precipitate retreat. Ladies, uttering shrill cries, jumped upon
chairs. There was a scene of uncontrolled confusion. In a few moments,
water, almost boiling, covered the floor to the depth of several
inches, and male guests and waiters, carrying the ladies on chairs or
in their arms, made all haste to escape into the vestibule.

At the same time the springs in the Roman baths displayed extraordinary
activity. Everywhere the water rose in enormous and unprecedented
volume. All the baths were hastily cleared of occupants and closed
to the public, and the most astounding reports spread like wildfire
through the city. The corporation officials speedily came upon the
scene, and trenches were hastily cut for the purpose of carrying the
overflow of water direct into the river. To the intense relief of
everybody, in the course of a few hours the flood slackened.

Two days later, when people had begun to think there had been no
sufficient reason for their fears, came other sounds and signs
of abnormal activity in the earth itself. Faint tremors shook the
surrounding hills, more especially Lansdown, and these signs were
succeeded by sundry landslips, which sent many of the hillside
residents flying in terror from their houses. A huge crack presently
opened in the high plateau of the hill, and from this fissure arose at
intervals strong puffs of curious, reddish-tinted vapour.



CHAPTER XII.

A SECRET AND A THUNDERBOLT.


President Jardine was dead.

Low lay the head, and still the form of the man of whom flatterers
had often spoken as the uncrowned King--an Oliver the Second, the
Cromwell of the Twentieth Century. His, indeed, had been the power
symbolised by the ancient Crown, the Sceptre, and the Orb. The
vanished majesty of great dynasties--the Normans, the Plantaganets,
the Tudors, the Stuarts, and the House of Hanover--had but paved the
way for the practical rule of this man of the people. Even yet, it is
true, the jealousy of political parties had preserved--none knew for
how long--the title of King for a descendant of Queen Victoria. But a
grudging socialistic democracy had left the legitimate monarch little
more than the dignity of an august pensioner. The King was shorn of
regal authority, deprived of all real prerogative of royalty, and
neither expected nor allowed to take any real part in the government of
his shrunken empire.

And now that the lifeless hand of the President had dropped the real
sceptre, whose hand was to take it up? Was the reign of woman to be
inaugurated on new and bolder lines; or would man, in the nick of time,
re-assert himself? The women had their leader in Catherine Kellick, a
daring, unscrupulous and energetic champion. But where was the leader
of men? Everywhere the lament was uttered: "If only Renshaw were back
at Westminster!" And everywhere the question was asked: "Where is he?
Is it true he is still alive?"

Zenobia's telegram was delivered late at night, and in the absence of
Wilton it was impossible to start immediately. Before daybreak on the
following morning Linton was knocking at the door of his cottage, and
in half-an-hour the little engineer had got the _Bladud_ into working
order.

It was very early, on a calm autumn morning, when Linton, at a sign
from Wilton, stepped on board. The _Bladud_, rose rapidly into the
air, but at first there was nothing to be seen. The atmosphere being
charged with the vapour of the night, the air was warm, and the sky
veiled with a misty curtain of cloud. In eight minutes they had risen
a thousand feet, and the earth below was hidden from them by a woolly
carpet of mist. Rising and rising still, at a height of 5,000 feet, the
_Bladud_ emerged from the clouds, and away in the east was seen a long,
long line, bright as silver. The day was breaking, and the shadows fled
away. Every moment the great silver bar lengthened and broadened, a
moving miracle of the empyrean, at which the young Canadian gazed in
fascination and in awe.

But the marvel of marvels was to come; and it came swiftly, in that
deep silence of the spheres, which is as the silence of Him by whom all
things were made. Yes, all created things, thought Linton, filled with
wonder--the earth beneath them, still partly hidden from sight, the
limitless realms of the air through which they moved, and this great
orb of day that was rising as if from the depths of some immeasurable
crater. Presently the sun, as it climbed above the cloud rim, began to
flood with pure and glorious light the rolling tracts of vapour that
surrounded them, like an illimitable molten sea, whose billows glowed
and gleamed beneath the darting beams.

Higher and higher rose the _Bladud_, a tiny speck in the midst of the
immeasurable clouds, which ever broke and crumbled into new shapes and
shreds in full light of the broadening sunshine. Already the morning
mists below were in some measure dispelled, and through the breaking
vapour glimpses of the earth became more plainly visible.

At a height of 9,000 feet, the surrounding oceans and mountains of
vapour assumed a hue of roseate violet that far transcended the beauty
of anything upon which Linton's eyes had ever looked before; while from
the east a thousand golden rays--pathways of light and glory--were
darted forth above the sleeping world. When they had reached a height
of 13,000 feet, the air was almost clear, and far down below London
became visible--London so mighty, yet now so insignificant! Linton
could see a railway train creeping out of Paddington like some little
caterpillar on a garden path. The steam from the engine was but a thin
serpentine mist, like smoke from a man's pipe. Everything below was
flat and dwarfed to one mean artificial-looking plane. Away East, the
dome of St. Paul's seemed scarcely more important than a thimble. The
Docks were merely an elaborate toy in sections; the rolling Thames a
winding ditch; the ships like little playthings for young children.
Yet the range of view had become enormous, and as the morning cleared
Wilton pointed out hills and church steeples that were a hundred miles
away.

In that solemn and wonderful hour Linton Herrick felt within himself,
as Goethe did, the germs of undeveloped faculties--faculties that men
must not expect to see developed in life as it is, so far, known to
us. Yet there was the aspiration in his heart and soul. How glorious
for the astral body to plunge into the aerial space; to look unmoved on
some unfathomable abyss; to glide above the roaring seas; to mount with
eagle's strength to heights unthinkable!

Looking upon the supernal grandeur of the sunrise, he realised that
he was in the presence of God's daily miracle. It steeped his soul in
faith and thankfulness.

       *       *       *       *       *

Linton, guessing that the President was _in extremis_, nevertheless had
hoped to be in time to bid a last farewell to the taciturn man who had
shown him much friendly feeling, and of whom, as Zenobia's father, he
was anxious to think the best. But when the _Bladud_ descended on the
spacious lawn of the house on Bathwick Hill, the blinds were down. The
whole place wore that sad and subtle air which impresses itself upon a
scene of death. There was no need to ask questions. Linton understood.

A faint, half-hearted yelp from Peter was the first sound that greeted
him. Presently, inside the darkened house, he awaited the coming of
Peter's mistress.

The door opened very quietly, and Zenobia entered; a slim, sad figure,
the blackness of whose dress in that dim light heightened the pallor
of her face. Her hand was in his own. He looked into her eyes; the
gaze of the lover softened and chastened to that of the tender and
compassionate friend.

"You understand how much I feel for you," he said.

"Yes," she answered gratefully, "It was good of you to come. But, in a
sense, it is too late."

He waited quietly for what she chose to say.

"I mean," she added "that I hoped you could come before ... before the
end. But at the last it was sudden, so sudden."

"You have something to tell me. There is something I can do for you in
your trouble?"

Zenobia paused for a moment. Then, with some effort and a faint tinge
of colour coming to her cheeks, continued:

"If you had come while my father lived, I could have told him...." She
looked down, and drew a long deep sigh of distress. "I could have told
him," she then went on with greater firmness, "that you, if you were
willing, could help us, though so late, to do an act of justice to
another. Mr. Herrick, it grieves me to tell you...."

She turned away and rested her elbows on the marble mantelpiece, unable
for the moment to proceed.

"Perhaps I know more than you suppose," he said very gently, "and,
perhaps, I can guess the rest."

"No," turning towards him, "I won't ask you to guess. Why should you
help me, unless I tell you all, everything--everything, fully and
frankly? Will you read this?"

He look the paper the girl placed in his hands, but did not immediately
unfold it.

"I am willing to do anything you can wish, asking no questions," he
said.

She looked at him with eyes that seemed to shine with grateful tears.

"You are good to me. I have no other friends."

"I am your friend," said Herrick, not without a tremor in his voice,
"yours to command, always and in everything."

For the moment she could not speak, but held out her hand to him
impulsively. Holding the slim fingers tenderly, he bent and kissed them.

"That paper," she said, "is my father's will. Will you read it, please!"

Then she sat down and turned away her face.

Linton read the will. The sheets rustled as he turned them over. He
folded and returned them.

"I knew something of this," he said quietly. "Now I understand all. You
need tell me no more."

"Is Mr. Renshaw still living--is it _really_ true that he is still
alive?" she said looking up anxiously.

"Quite true."

"Thank God. Oh! God be thanked for that!"

"It is not too late."

"Only too late for him to know and seek forgiveness."

"You mean your father?"

The girl bowed her head. Then she burst out vehemently: "It must not
be softened down. I know, I feel, the horror, the wickedness of what
was done. I must accept the shame, the punishment. The sins of the
fathers must be visited on the children. It is the law of nature and
the law of God! I want to make atonement; yet nothing can undo the
past, the cruelty and wickedness of all those years of suffering and
imprisonment."

"Renshaw will not harbour revengeful or vindictive feelings, I am sure
of that," Linton answered soothingly. "He is a man of noble character,
and a Christian gentleman."

"And it was he, a man like that, whom my father...." she paused, biting
her trembling lips. "Oh it is horrible, horrible!"

"But he repented, he was sorry--the will proves it," said Linton.

"Yes, it is written there, a public confession, the dying declaration
of his sorrow and his shame. There shall be no concealment. He did not
wish it at the last. The truth must be made known to all the world."

"If Renshaw wishes it. But I do not think he will."

"Where is he now--is he ill, is he safe?"

"He is recovering, getting back his strength, in a monastery in Herm,
one of the smaller Channel Islands. Arrangements are being made for his
return to England at the right moment."

She stood up, interested and excited.

"Yes, yes?"

"A society has been formed--the members call themselves the Friends of
the Phoenix. My uncle and General Hartwell are at the head of it. The
aim is to restore Renshaw to power. He is the only man who can save the
country in the present crisis."

"And you are helping--you are one of them?"

He nodded. "I am to bring him back to England in the _Bladud_ if I have
your permission."

"Don't lose an hour," she cried, "don't lose an hour!"

"Not a moment, when the time is ripe. I am waiting orders. They will
reach me here."

"If only my father could have known of this before he died."

She sighed and looked at him wistfully, then said appealingly: "You
will come upstairs?"

Linton bowed his head and followed her. Upstairs in the room from which
the President had looked out on the lights of Bath for the last time
the sheeted figure lay upon the bed. They paused for a moment side by
side. Then Linton gazed for the last time on the cold and rigid face of
Nicholas Jardine.

Three days later, the sun, shining through the windows of the ancient
Abbey church, fell upon sculptured saint and heavenward-pointing
angel, revealed the lettering on many a mural tablet dedicated
to long-departed men and women, illumined the sombre crowd of
black-clothed worshippers, and gleamed on the silver coffin plate of
the dead President.

Deep organ notes rolled beneath the fretted arches as choir and
congregation, with heads bowed low, raised in mournful cadence the wail
of the _Dies iræ_.

Apart from the girl, by whose side Linton Herrick knelt, perhaps there
were few present who really mourned for Nicholas Jardine. But, as
people do at such a time, they mourned for themselves, they mourned for
humanity; and recent local events--the strange convulsions of nature,
with the apprehension of more terrible possibilities to come, served
to accentuate the feelings of the worshippers. For the moment, at any
rate, they believed in the life of the world to come. They recognised
in the burial of the dead that dread passing through the gate of
judgment to which man, frail man, has ever been predestined. The air
was full of lamentations:

  "Day of wrath! O day of mourning!
  See fulfill'd the prophets' warning!
  Heav'n and earth in ashes burning!

  Oh, what fears, man's bosom rendeth,
  When from heav'n the Judge descendeth,
  On Whose sentence all dependeth!

  Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth,
  Through earth's sepulchres it ringeth,
  All before the Throne it bringeth!"

Verse after verse the solemn litany continued:

 "Ah! that day of tears and mourning,
 From the dust of earth returning,
 Man for judgment must prepare him;
 Spare, O God, in mercy spare him."

The funeral march pealed forth as the body was borne from the Church.
Slowly the congregation dispersed, until at last only one figure
remained, the solitary kneeling form of Zenobia.

       *       *       *       *       *

Within an hour after Linton had left the cemetery, he received
a telegram in cipher from Sir Robert Herrick. He gave immediate
instructions to Wilton, and sent a message to Zenobia. She came to him
at once.

Linton looked at her with troubled eyes. There was something infinitely
pathetic in the aspect of this slim, fair girl with the sunny hair, on
whose face suffering and distress of spirit suddenly had set so sad a
stamp.

"Good-bye," she answered, "God grant that you may both come safely
back. When Mr. Renshaw is in England, I must see him, I must tell him
all."

With a final pressure of her hand, he turned away. However much his
heart might be wrung at leaving her, however hard to keep back the
words of love and tenderness that rose to his lips, he must be silent
for the moment. There was a task to be performed. It was the hour for
action. Great issues were involved. A national crisis was at hand.

That much Linton knew. But as yet he did not know that the crisis
was to assume a double and appalling complexity. A thunderbolt had
been hurled against England from an unexpected quarter. A swift and
staggering blow, well timed in the hour of Jardine's death, had been
levelled against the remaining pillars of her once proud Empire.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE RAID OF THE EAGLES.


It was the suddenness of the calamity that staggered humanity. One
day not a cloud in the over-seas sky, and the next a catastrophe that
petrified the nation. In London the hoarse croaking notes of the
news-vendors--the ravens of the press--filled the streets and squares,
and flaring placards, displayed in every quarter, attracted the notice
of ever-increasing crowds. Men wrangled, and even fought, over copies
of the papers, and edition after edition was reeled off to meet the
enormous public demand. It was the news from Dover that created this
unparalleled excitement. An inconceivable thing had happened. By means
of crafty strategy, a mixed body of American and German troops had
seized and were in possession of Fort Warden! Immediately the wildest
and most conflicting accounts were in circulation. But, separating
the chaff from the wheat, the more responsible of the London journals
presently set forth a bald statement of the facts--facts that were
alleged to be beyond dispute. The statements published by these papers,
indeed, were said to be authorised by the Chiefs of the Intelligence
Department at the War Office. Further details, however, constantly were
coming over the wires, and it was known that large bodies of regular
and territorial troops were being hurried to the aid of the garrison at
Dover.

The first report, viz., that foreigners had obtained a foothold by
means of the Channel Tunnel was officially contradicted. The simple
truth was as follow: On the previous evening a Hamburg liner had
entered the commercial harbour, and some hundreds of her passengers
at once had landed on the jetty. There was nothing remarkable or
suspicious in such an occurrence. The great German liner was a
familiar and frequent visitor to the port. Though it was noticed
that a large number of passengers came ashore, that circumstance was
plausibly explained by the statement of the ship's officers, who said
that something had gone wrong with her machinery. It would take the
engineers two hours or more to put right the defect. What more natural
than that most of the passengers should land and fill up the time by
the inspection of the points of interest in the town? The harbour
officials estimated that altogether some three hundred men had come
ashore. They had the appearance of tourists. The evening was cold,
and, wearing travelling caps and capes or ulsters, the visitors passed
briskly across the jetty and disappeared, in little parties of eight or
nine, into the town.

The townspeople, as they were putting up their shutters, noticed the
strangers as they passed through the streets. It was remarked that they
spoke to each other in low tones or not at all, also that they did
not loiter or stare about them like ordinary sightseers. The general
impression was that they had only landed to stretch their legs, and
meant to climb the hill and then come back again. They certainly did
climb the hill, but none of them returned. It was not until an hour
later that an amazing rumour spread throughout the town. The story was
brought by bands of excited Amazons belonging to those to whom Fort
Warden had temporarily been given up for gunnery practice. Their pale
faces and distraught appearance at once made it clear that something
very serious had happened. Yet the townsfolk were incredulous. The
thing seemed so absurd, so impossible! These girl-soldiers, they
thought, were the victims of some monstrous practical joke or of
hysterical hallucination. Who could possibly credit such a tale? But
the Amazons, in trembling tones and with nervous gestures, declared
that it was true. Their numbers rapidly increased; some of them came
tearing down the Castle Hill in uncontrollable alarm. All of them, in
one way or another, verified the amazing story.

It was this: A band of foreigners, comprising 150 Americans and 150
soldierly Germans, armed with revolvers, had "rushed" Fort Warden.
The approaches were open at the time, and guarded by only a few
artillerymen. It was visitors' day, and the visitors were departing
as the foreigners arrived. The struggle was of the briefest. Those of
the artillerymen who showed fight had been instantly shot down. The
others had been secured, together with the chief gunnery instructor
and the head of the chemical department--a non-combatant from whom the
foreigners had violently forced such information as they needed. As
for the Amazons themselves, they had not been maltreated--but, what
was worse, many had been insultingly kissed or roughly caressed by the
invaders. With all speed and no ceremony, they had been contemptuously
bundled out of the fort--and here they were to tell the tale!

A staff-officer at the local head-quarters, to whom the report was
carried by a breathless tradesman, lost no time in ringing up Fort
Warden. For some time there was no reply. He rang angrily again
and yet again; at last came some unintelligible response. He swore
irritably, and then roared an inquiry:

"Are you there? Who is it?"

Still no reply.

"Why don't you answer? What's this I hear about the Fort?"

The only answer was an inarticulate growl.

"Why the devil don't you speak? Who are you?"

Then, at last, came an intelligible response--in English with a strong
American intonation:

"Guess you'd better come and see!"

       *       *       *       *       *

How and why had this dastardly combined attack on England come to pass?
The story can be briefly told. Great Britain had long been regarded by
America as old and stricken in years--not merely as the old country,
but as a country that was in its dotage--old and played out. America
was young and lusty, and quite persuaded that the old folk at home were
too feeble to retain the management of the old Estate. Already the
United States, in the scramble for British possessions, had pocketed
some nice little pickings. The West Indian Islands, the Bermudas
and British Guiana, had been virtually surrendered to Washington.
England for years, but in vain, had sought to placate this big and
blustering branch of the ancient race whenever family friction had
arisen. Again and again weaker members of the clan, poor relations,
like Newfoundland, had been sacrificed to the demands of the United
States. But some appetites are insatiable, some ambitions unbounded. A
new order of American politicians had arisen, men who aimed at a great
federation of the Anglo-Saxon race, with America not as the junior
partner, but as the head and ruling spirit of that federation. When
the possessor of a great estate becomes imbecile or lapses into second
childhood his affairs are taken out of his hands--for his own good and
for the due protection of his solicitous relations. That, argued the
plotters, was just what was needed in the case of Great Britain. The
indications of decrepitude had been slowly but, to keen observers,
convincingly manifested during a period of more than thirty years.
Thirty years ago Englishmen would have scouted the idea of an American
invasion, or the idea of America in alliance with Germany against Great
Britain. Monstrous! Was not blood thicker than water? Were not the
American people our own kith and kin? Yes, but times had changed, while
human nature had remained the same. America had become a cosmopolitan
country. From all parts of Europe--and especially from Germany--men had
emigrated to the United States. Thither, too, swarms of the yellow from
China and Japan, had insidiously made their way in spite of opposition;
and year after year the black population of the great continent had
enormously increased, while the Anglo-Saxon birth-rate had rapidly
declined. The British element in America thus had been absorbed,
submerged. The old and consolatory theory of family ties, like other
popular fallacies fondly cherished in spite of the march of events, at
last had been convincingly exploded by the raid on Dover.

Signs of the coming times had not been wanting. England, fearing a
German invasion, had kept her fleets in home waters. The great scheme
of Imperial Defence, much discussed in 1909, had not been perfected. As
far back as the earthquake of 1906 in Jamaica, the growing inability
of England to look after her outlying possessions had been strikingly
instanced. No British Squadron was near at hand in that hour of trial
to succour the afflicted islanders. Was it not an American, not an
English, Admiral who had come to the rescue of the British colony?
Had not the English Governor been summarily suppressed by the Home
Government because he had ventured sarcastically to point out that
American assistance, however kindly meant, was not required, and had
not been regulated by the accepted law of nations?

From that day forth--and there had been other similar examples--the
more enterprising politicians of Washington took an increasing interest
in British affairs, and dreamed dreams in which the old familiar
colours on the map of the world--where once upon a time red was so
predominant--underwent some radical and striking alterations.

Of course, there was one part of the British dominions, and that
very near to the centre of British Government, in which America
had taken the closest interest for more than a century. There was
Ireland, the emigrated population of which had become part of the
mixed population of the United States. The Irish vote, moreover, had
become of increasing importance to those who wished to hold the helm at
Washington; and, in truth, it was the old and long cherished idea of
planting the American standard on Irish soil that gradually had led up
to this daring exploit, the news of which the great guns of Fort Warden
were booming out to all the world.

It was not really surprising that men with so marked an aptitude for
commercial enterprise as the American wire-pullers should have turned
covetous eyes towards the Isle of Erin. Ireland was the great junction
for the ship-line between the Old Country and the New, an unexploited
island of noble harbours, rich in mountain, lake, and river.

A certain Senator Hiram P. Dexter, a Prince of Tammany, who had become
President of the United States, crystallised the idea thus:

"England had colonised America. Why should not America re-colonise
depopulated Ireland. She could then dominate her former senior partner
in the ancient British firm and make things hum!"

The idea was "cute," inspiring. Nevertheless, it was certain that,
however anxious she might be for peace and quietness, Britannia could
never tolerate another flag so near to her own centre of government.
The line must be drawn somewhere. Hiram P. Dexter and his friends
realised that for dominion in Ireland, even under the Jardine
dispensation and in the reign of woman, England must needs fight, fight
to the bitter end; unless, indeed, by some master-stroke of policy and
daring she could first be disabled by the strong man armed.

Hence the plan of campaign--by unscrupulous strategy to seize the key
of the castle, the stronghold of Dover; while, at the same time, the
squadrons of the two Eagles menaced the coast of Ireland itself and
landed troops at various points.

It was an infamy; it was a dastardly and fratricidal act; it was a
combination worthy of Herod and Pilate! All these things were said.
But history is not made or unmade by the aid of epithets. History
reckons with great national forces, race problems, and the bed-rock
of accomplished facts. Abundant precedents could have been cited,
and nothing succeeds likes success. In this case, if the attempt
should fail, it might be explained away as the mad raid of a band of
freebooters. Those who survived might be nominally called to account,
just as had happened fifty years earlier after the futile raid of a
certain Dr. Jameson, and others, when one Kruger was "King" of the
Transvaal. In either event, whatever England might think and say of
this stab in the back, there were millions in the States who would
applaud the blow as smart beyond anything that had ever been attempted
by American Presidents, and Hiram P. Dexter would go down to posterity
as a Napoleon of enterprise--the man who realised that even America
was not big enough in these mid-century days for the mixed peoples of
the States; that the dominant race in that massed population needed
more room to turn round in; more scope for hustling; fresh fields and
pastures new for the feverish multiplication of the almighty dollar.

But there was another nation to be reckoned with.

The two greatest competitors for world-power and commerce were Germany
and America. And Germany and America did not want to fight--at present.
A system of mutual concessions--with mental reservations--better suited
the provisional purposes of Berlin and Washington, at any rate for
the time being. Clearly, nothing could be done by way of aggression
in Europe without taking Germany into account. So the business-like
President of the States had engineered with the Germans what brokers
and auctioneers describe as a big "knock-out." They had come to
an understanding--about England--an understanding provisional and
tentative.

Again, thirty years ago Englishmen would have scouted such an idea.
But nothing stands still. We ripe and ripe, and then from hour to hour
we rot and rot. So also with the Empires of the world. The law of the
survival of the fittest operates in all created things. Britain herself
had been one of the chief exponents of this immutable law. Not by means
of Peace Conferences and a tentative reduction of armaments, coupled
with pious platitudes concerning methods of barbarism--otherwise
War--had her great Empire been built up. With the strong hand, in past
times, we had belaboured effete and wealthy Spain. With force of arms
we had driven from the seas Holland--once our great and powerful rival
for the trade of the world. We had humbled Napoleon and the pride of
France on the field of Waterloo. India had been taken with the sword.
With shot and shell and reeking bayonet these and other things were
done. And as we had done unto others, by reason of the necessities of
national existence, so might we rationally have expected that others in
their turn would do unto us.

History, though in our self-absorption we forget it, is full of
dramatic surprises, and suddenly develops startling situations. The
rise of Japan had been a staggering surprise--both for Europe and
America, and, indeed, had become a great factor in the latest departure
of American policy. There had been other shocks, and there were more
to follow. Over all the white nations there hung a dark and ominous
shadow, ever increasing, caused by the rise and rapid expansion of
the yellow and black. The East was filling up, and inasmuch as Great
Britain still held much coveted territory in the West, and had money in
her banks, it was around and against the British Isles that the Spirit
of Annexation still watchfully hovered--ready to pounce.

The raid at Dover--whether failing or succeeding--therefore must be
viewed as a sign, a lurid, awful sign, of altered times. The hour was
well chosen. Nicholas Jardine, the Man of the People, lay dead. The
nation was in the throes of a domestic crisis, the Champion of the
Women straining every nerve to take the dead President's place, and
pursue a programme which would satisfy the special aspirations of her
sex.

Yet it could not be believed that such a nation, a race originally
so splendid in fibre, so dogged in courage, would take the onslaught
of her rivals lying down. England, surely, now at the eleventh hour,
would be roused to action. England would fight, and even dying breathe
defiance to her foes. But, alas! England sorely needed leadership--the
potent magic of some great personality to inspire her people with
courage and enthusiasm. And in this hour of dire distress, Renshaw, the
only leader who could have commanded a widespread patriotic following,
was lost to England--lying scarred and beaten, it was said, chained
like a dog in the prison of the Mahdi.

So thought most of those who thought of him at all. Yet, even while his
name was on their lips, the Phoenix was reviving. Sir Robert Herrick
knew it. General Hartwell and Linton knew it; and there were others,
quick of hearing, keen of sight, who already heard the flapping of the
wings; saw the Phoenix rising from the ashes of the past and speeding
from afar towards our violated shores.



CHAPTER XIV.

THE FIGHT FOR THE FORT.


The enemy still held the fort. All through the night a terrific
bombardment had been maintained, and even when the first grey line of
dawn began to creep across the downs the insistent fury of the guns
increased rather than diminished. Major Wardlaw estimated that during
the last twelve hours over eleven thousand shots had been fired from
the big guns of Fort Warden, while thousands of shrapnel hurled against
its fortifications from the various encircling field batteries manned
by British gunners were beyond all definite calculation. At the height
of the bombardment not less than 80 per minute must have been directed
by way of return against the British batteries, and in this onslaught
the great guns (of which there were seven at work in Fort Warden)
contributed the most overwhelming and terrible results. This deafening
and incessant rain of fire was directed mainly against the Castle and
Fort Burgoyne, but, incidentally, it had wrought ruin and convulsion on
every side. Shells falling into the town of Dover had already reduced
it to heaps of tumbled masonry. Here and there great volumes of smoke
rose from the wreckage of shops and houses. The Town Hall--the ancient
_Maison Dieu_, founded by Hugh de Burgh, Constable of Dover, in the
reign of John--having escaped destruction during the night, caught
fire about daybreak, the flames, rushing upward in the morning air,
watched by thousands from the western heights, to which the terrified
inhabitants had fled for safety.

On the Castle Hill the bluish haze caused by the ceaseless bursting
of shells and shrapnel in some measure veiled the central scene of
conflict; and this haze, spreading far and wide over the landscape,
presently assumed the most delicate and beautiful colours as the sun
rose up and threw its shafts of light on hill and dale. When the light
grew stronger, cloud after cloud of smoke was seen to rush aloft from
the contending forts, and every moment the sun, with growing glory,
painted these rolling billows with glorious hues of burnished gold or
bronze. Here and there, while the people watched, columns of earth
and chalk rose high into the air, as shot and shell ploughed deep
into the soil, while flashes of fire from the bursting shells, the
pale smoke rushing like steam from the shrapnels, and the leaping
fountains of soil, all combined to give the beholder the impression
of some terrific convulsion of nature. So extraordinary and ghastly
was the general effect produced that many of the spectators believed
they were witnessing a volcanic eruption allied in some way with the
seismic disturbances reported to have occurred at Bath and other inland
watering-places.

Yet towards the awful crater of this man-made volcano, British troops
were now advancing. It had been fondly hoped by the British staff
that the tremendous bombardment from the big howitzers, maintained
ceaselessly during the night, would have disabled Fort Warden to such
an extent that an infantry attack in the morning would meet with but
feeble resistance. Very few of the officers, however, had any true
conception of the enormous strength and staying power with which
Wardlaw had endowed his military master-piece.

Yet the onslaught had to be made. To the Highlanders--brought over
from Shorncliffe--was entrusted the honour of leading the attack on one
side, while the Royal Marines, from Chatham; were simultaneously to
advance on the other. The hour of trial came. Firing not a shot, but
with heads bent low, creeping forward, and taking advantage of every
inequality in the ground for cover, the attacking force approached the
flaming portals that confronted them. It was but a short distance, for
during the night the saps had been carried close to the first circle of
wire entanglements. Some of the wires, moreover, had been destroyed,
leaving gaps through which the Highlanders were ordered to drag light
scaling ladders and approach the moat, while others pushed sandbags
before them to take the invaders' fire.

Suddenly the word of command broke hoarsely on their ears. As it came
from the Commanding Officer, a bullet struck him in the heart. He
fell with a groan that was hardly audible. At the last word of their
beloved Commander the Highlanders sprang up, and with an angry yell
rushed headlong towards the moat. But narrow though the space they had
to cross, the withering fire from the machine guns made it impossible
to traverse it. The leading ranks, officers and men alike, were beaten
down by lead as hail beats down a field of waving corn. The rest
wavered, turned, and in a moment the ill-starred regiment, all that was
left of it, rushed down the hill in desperate flight. Attempts to rally
them were futile. Neither man nor devil could, or would, stand against
that awful overwhelming hail of shot and shell.

On the other side of the fort, the Marines had approached somewhat
nearer to success. Here the gaps in the wire entanglements seen at
close quarters afforded some encouragement. With an inspiring cheer,
the men dashed forward, their bayonets fixed; but suddenly, as if from
the earth itself, sprang up an opposing line of bayonets. The gaps in
the entanglement were filled with German soldiers, and in an instant
the combatants were engaged, man to man, in a furious hand-to-hand
encounter. Deep groans and screaming blasphemies blended with the
tumult of the guns. Here and there in the mêlée, men whose bayonets
were broken off clubbed their rifles and savagely battered at each
other's faces; but still more ghastly than the injuries thus exchanged
was the hellish work effected by the hand grenades, of which the Fort
contained large quantities. These explosives, now used for the first
time on English soil, blew men literally to pieces. Neither skill
nor courage could avert these horrible results. The methods of the
anarchist had been allowed to find scope in the warfare of civilized
peoples. The bombs, wherever they struck, made mincemeat of humanity.

The Marines, like the Highlanders, had been driven back, and there came
a ghastly interlude when the Germans sought to rescue their wounded
and distinguish and carry in the dead. Those who had been butchered by
the hand grenades had to be hastily shovelled into sacks and baskets
before their remains could be removed. No pen could dare describe in
detail all the revolting sights which this small battle-field in a few
brief moments had revealed. Severed heads rolled down the hill, the
eyes wide open, the features fixed in horror. In one spot from ten to
fifteen corpses, friends and foes together, involved and twisted in a
shapeless mass, were suddenly discovered in a hollow. In many instances
the force of the explosions had torn the clothing from the bodies of
the soldiers. Arms and legs had been wrenched from their trunks and
blown away. From pyramidal heaps of mutilated English corpses stiffened
fingers pointed towards the sky.

Many of the Marines who had escaped the hand grenades had had limbs
clean amputated by the knife-like fragments of the high explosives ere
the rush was made. In some instances the upper halves of bodies lay
on the hill without marks of injury, the lower limbs having wholly
disappeared. Yet terribly and suddenly as death had come to these
devoted men, far more awful was the fate of those whom shell and bomb
had shattered without absolutely killing. These slowly dying fragments
of humanity lay moaning in their tortured state, praying as they had
never prayed before for that last agony which should release them from
sufferings that no tongue could utter and no imagination even picture.

Already the havoc wrought in human flesh had been accompanied with
inconceivable disaster in all directions. Fort Burgoyne, its guns
silenced by the more modern ordnance, was little better than a heap
of ruins--ruins piled high above the dead and dying gunners. The more
exposed batteries on the Western Heights had been dismantled long
before the inhabitants of Dover climbed the hill and gazed across
the valley. When, after the repulse of the British attack, the fury
of fight was abated for a brief period, and the smoke of battle
temporarily rolled away, the appearance of Dover Castle itself filled
the spectators with amazement and dismay. So great was the destruction
and the transformation that it was difficult to believe that what they
now looked upon had any association with the great towers and massive
walls which had been familiar objects to them all their lives. The
Norman keep, with walls more than 20 feet thick, had been so battered
as to present the appearance of a jagged range of rock. Peveril's
Tower had disappeared. The Cotton Gate, rising as it did to a height
of 90 feet and 460 feet above sea-level, by some miracle had escaped
all damage; but the Constable's Tower was reduced to half its former
height. The upper half, it was conjectured, lay crumbling in the moat
below.

What had happened to the Duke of York's School, which the boys had
evacuated overnight, or to the batteries that had been placed in
Northfall Meadows and on the Golf Links, could only be a matter
of surmise. The Pharos and St. Mary's Church so far seemed to be
untouched, possibly because the gunners in Fort Warden had not deemed
it worth while to waste their fire on either.

In all the awestricken throng that stood upon the Western Heights and
gazed across the ruined town towards Castle Hill, none had feelings
that corresponded wholly with those of Major Wardlaw. Scanning the
field of operations through his glasses, his face twitched as if in
actual pain. The attention of the uninformed lookers-on was constantly
diverted from one thing to another, the wreck of the Castle, the crash
of a roof as it collapsed in the town below, or the woolly clouds
caused by bursting shrapnel, which still was being fired at intervals.
But Wardlaw heeded none of the more picturesque effects. His mind, his
powers of observation, his poignant feelings, were intent on causes,
not effects. Every inch of the scene of operations was known to him. He
knew the position and capacity of each fort and field battery. He could
distinguish, where others knew no distinction, between the work of the
big guns, the siege guns, howitzers, mortars, and field artillery. A
sudden and terrific detonation told him that a huge naval gun had been
landed from one of the great ships in the Admiralty Harbour. It must
have been a work of enormous difficulty to get that gun ashore, during
the night, and a still more terrific task to drag it into position to
play with full effect upon Fort Warden. It was the work, as he knew,
of British seamen--British seamen at their best, which happily still
meant that there were none better in the world. But, more than all, his
thoughts ran on Fort Warden--the Fort itself.

Nearly all his life the study of fortification had obsessed him.
While he looked at people, or even talked to them, his mind had been
at work on parapets, banquettes, palisades, scarp and counter-scarp.
All the technicology of the art of war and of the scientific defence
of permanent positions was as familiar to this Engineer Officer as
are household words to household people. Fort Warden, as already
indicated, was the outcome of his concentrated mental labours and his
soldier's instinct. In his younger days superior officers had looked
rather coldly on his zeal. He had shown that he was a young man with
ideas, and ideas are unwelcome to officials who love red tape and
well-established grooves.

But as years went on and slow promotion at last came to him, he had
gained the ear of men in military power. Thus advanced in confidence
and authority, he had been allowed almost a free hand in designing the
modernized defences of Castle Hill. It was so desirable to sooth the
public mind that public money had been spent upon the works without any
sort of stint. Everything that the Major thought Fort Warden ought to
have was there. In construction his plans had been faithfully observed.
He had been allowed to make experiments of every kind. Not satisfied
with earthworks, moats, wire entanglements, and bomb-proof shelters
for the trenches, Wardlaw had adopted a novel system of armour plates
for the protection of the Fort--plates that were produced by the use
of tantalum ore alloyed with steel. This hardy metal, imported from
Australia, had been proved to possess the most remarkable qualities. In
itself it was heavier than iron, and could be so treated as to increase
by 30 per cent. the resisting power of any armour plates previously in
use for naval or military purposes.

The success of Wardlaw's designs, the wisdom of his
carefully-considered plans, the selection and apportionment of warlike
material (in the preparation of which the chemist played a more
important part than the armourer), had been only too amply justified.
Results affirmed the first principle of fortification and of the art
of gunnery, which principle lay in creating and arming a position of
such strength and such resources that it could be held by a body of
men greatly inferior in numbers to those by whom they were attacked.
Fort Warden, the great outcome of the Major's career, the splendid
achievement on the strength of which he had retired from active
service, thus stood justified beyond all cavil or dispute.

Yet, as he gazed towards the work of his hands, Wardlaw's heart was
full of grief and bitterness. There stood the Fort in all its pride
and strength; around it lay the victims of its fury; within it less
than three hundred foreigners still defied thousands of British troops
on British soil. Above it floated, so far, in victory, two foreign
Eagles--the flags of Germany and the United States.



CHAPTER XV.

IN THE HEART OF THE HILL.


While the dead were being buried and the wounded removed, there was
a long cessation of the savage struggle. Indeed, the long lull in
the firing almost led some people to believe that it would be heard
no more. Crowds on the Western heights glanced curiously, anxiously,
towards Fort Warden, with some idea that its picked garrison would now
abandon their desperate and daring attempt to hold the position. It
became known that the enemy's plans had been in part defeated--either
by reason of some official blunder or through the watchfulness of
the French at the other extremity of the Channel Tunnel. The German
troops that were to have raided the French terminus, and then poured
into England, under the protection of the guns of Fort Warden, already
seized by their advance guard, had not arrived, and could not now
approach to aid their countrymen. Movements of foreign warships and
transports were hourly reported by telegraph and wireless messages, but
the British Fleet had by this time formed a deadly barrier of iron and
steel around the coast line of Kent and Sussex. There must be a great
battle and a great defeat of our squadrons before another foreigner
could set his foot on Kentish shore.

The brooding day wore on, tense with suspense and fear. In the
stillness that accompanied the deepening of twilight, hundreds of
field-glasses were finally directed towards the silent fort to
discover whether the American and German flags had yet given place to
the white flag of submission. Any such anticipation, however, proved
unfounded. For suddenly, as the dusk increased, the roar of artillery
was heard; the masked batteries of the British once more had opened
simultaneous fire upon the Fort. Instantly the challenge was accepted.
Fort Warden roared its defiance. The big naval gun thundered its
repeated demand for surrender; the siege guns crashed in unison; the
howitzers savagely chimed in, barking as in sudden fury, like monster
dogs of war; and fifty field guns combined to swell the dreadful,
deafening chorus.

Presently the fire from the Fort slackened. It seemed clear they were
husbanding their strength for work more crucial. Or could it be that
they were running short of ammunition? Perhaps, it was conjectured,
more damage had been done to Wardlaw's Works than the British had
supposed. Such speculations cheered the spirits of officers and men.
But the wiser among them only shook their heads. They appreciated the
mettle of the men who held the fort, realised that they had counted
the cost, expected no quarter, and meant to win or die. The British
staff knew that it would be folly to cry until they were out of the
wood. They realised that many a man must bite the dust in agony before
the British Standard floated over Wardlaw's Works again, if, indeed,
it ever fluttered there at all! The invaders would, and must, hold the
Fort till their last gasp--not because they in themselves could hope
for ultimate triumph over the increasing forces that now surrounded
them, but because to them time was everything--time for their
countrymen to develop elsewhere the work of conquest; time for the
American and German combined squadrons to land troops at unprotected
spots of Great Britain and Ireland, while they, the daring three
hundred, monopolised the attention of the flower of England's troops.
The plans of the Allies were elaborate. This was but their first great
move.

Meanwhile, imperative orders had been given for the British to attack
the Fort again. The attempt was to be made directly darkness had set
in, and it was only to pave the way for a new and even more determined
onslaught that the guns had broken forth in the renewed bombardment
already chronicled. Troops, Regular and Territorial, still were pouring
into Kent.

No drum or bugle note disturbed the evening air; an interval of ominous
silence, pregnant with dreadful threats and dire potentialities,
preceded the renewed attack. When the hour had come, the word of
command, uttered in a whisper, was whispered on from rank to rank.
In open order, the swarming infantry battalions crept swiftly up the
hill, simultaneously making for the Fort on every side. They reached a
certain point, then paused under the last scrap of cover that remained
available, while the field telephones sent swift messages to certain
batteries. The signals served their purposes, and as the guns burst out
again, the men sprang to their feet and doubled forward.

Those who were advancing from the South stopped almost instantly,
dazzled and confused. The powerful searchlight of the Fort glared
into their faces with bewildering suddenness, and the insistent
racket of rifles and machine guns told them that their advance had
been discovered. The doomed and blinded soldiers fell in scores, in
hundreds, before a withering storm of bullets. Then, just as suddenly
as it had been revealed, the flashlight was concealed; but only
to glare forth again on the British supports that were hurried to
the front. Thus, brilliant light and deepest darkness alternated in
swift and bewildering succession, and through both alike the leaden
messengers of death mowed down the advancing troops.

Rank after rank reeled back upon their climbing comrades. On the South
side, once more, the attack had failed, and failed at heavy cost.

North, West, and East, the result had been the same--repulse, defeat.
The night was now illumined with extraordinary brilliance. Star-shells,
rising high into the air above the Fort, burst in quick and dazzling
succession. The blinding glare lighted up the hill, the sea, and
every field and building, revealing, too, the fleeing figures of the
retreating force and the prostrate forms of hosts of dead and wounded.
A hail of bullets from the Maxims persistently pursued the remnant of
the fleeing soldiers, and swept the plateau and the hillside clear of
living things.

Pom, pom, pom! the murderous machines of wholesale destruction
continued their deadly work until the men who worked them could find no
living thing to put to death.

Broken and beaten--many of them desperately and horribly wounded--the
panting remnant of the attacking force heard, as, at last, they halted,
a shrill shout of triumph from the jubilant defenders of the Fort.

But the night's work was far from finished. The Fort must fall--cost
what it might, the Fort must fall. If it could not be captured above
ground in the staring light of star-shells, the attack must be made
by burrowing in darkness through the hill itself. Preparations for
this desperate and dangerous work had been already started, and much
progress made. For twelve hours or more, during what appeared to be
a suspension of hostilities, the sappers had worked in relays with
furious and unremitting energy. While their comrades above ground were
being repulsed, while the star-shells went up in a rapid succession,
and the implacable searchlight swept the hill in all directions, the
picks of the Engineers, yard by yard, were steadily hacking a way
towards the very foundations of the Fort.

These tunnelling operations would have been infinitely more tedious
and more arduous had not an elaborate system of subterranean passages
already been provided by Major Wardlaw. Various cunningly devised
galleries bad been secretly cut in the hill in order to furnish the
garrison of the Fort (on the assumption that the garrison would be
English and acting on the defensive), with the means of taking an
attacking force in the rear, and of laying mines for the destruction
of any besiegers. But the tables had been turned, though how far, if
at all, the invaders were aware of these hidden avenues and the method
by which they could be made available, remained a matter of doubt and
anxious speculation to the British Staff. Meanwhile, hour after hour,
deep in the heart of the hill, the sappers sweated at their work.
Nearer and nearer they approached to the spot at which a mine, if
exploded, might be expected to shatter at least a section of the Fort,
and open a way for British bayonets to enter.

A few more yards and the vital point would be reached. Then, suddenly,
the sapper who was wielding a pickaxe in advance of all the rest paused
in his work, listening intently. He raised his hand excitedly, and the
officer in command of the party instantly crept forward, and with an
imperious gesture stopped the work. The sappers, their faces shining
in the lantern light, at first wondered what it meant. But soon enough
they heard and understood. Faintly, as through a massive wall, there
came to their ears the fateful sound of tapping--the click, click,
click of other pickaxes. It came from below the tunnel they themselves
were cutting. One thing, and only one, could explain the sound. The
invaders had found out, or someone had betrayed to them, one of the
secret tunnels of the hill.

The sappers, pale as death, gazed in each other's faces. In a flash
they realised the awful jeopardy in which they stood. The invaders were
counter-mining at a lower stratum! beneath their very feet. At any
moment--while a breath was drawn or glances were exchanged--they might
explode their mine!

There was an awesome pause, then the officer gave a sharp,
half-whispered order. Instantly, boldly, the picks were at their
work again. It was a desperate race for time--here in this cramped
tunnel--in the smothering depths of mother earth; and no man's life
was worth a moment's purchase. Yet iron self-discipline prevailed. The
sappers worked with almost frenzied haste and vigour. After ten minutes
of furious, exhausting labour, they were allowed to pause. The chests
of the toilers heaved painfully; some of them tried to hold their
breath; others shook their heads impatiently, as if to stop the singing
in their ears. They wanted to listen, to hear, and know their fate.

No sound reached them. It was a moment of agonizing tension. Then,
nearer than before, they heard the picks again. Suddenly the sound
ceased. The invaders had completed their work. There was no time to
lose. At a sign from the officer, who brushed a handkerchief across his
face and drew a laboured breadth, a grim-faced sergeant began to crawl
back swiftly to the distant opening of the tunnel for the dynamite.
Another and more torturing pause ensued.

Which mine would be exploded first?

It was an affair of minutes, then of seconds. Their mine was not yet
ready. But duty held them to their ground. Though hell should burst
upon them on the instant, the flaming portals must be faced.

Out in the open, those who watched and waited suddenly heard a
thunderous detonation. A huge mass of earth and chalk rose high in the
air, and clouds of whitish smoke spread skyward in the full glare of
the searchlights. Three engineers, half doubled up, now came rushing
from the tunnel to the outlet, bursting among a little group of
officers, who staggered back with horror in their faces.

"Done for ... countermined!" One of the sappers gasped out the fateful
words, then sank exhausted on the ground.

"My God!" exclaimed Helmore, the officer in charge of the relief party,
falling back a pace. Then, promptly recovering his self-control, he
cried: "Forward to the rescue. Some of our men may be alive!" He
himself dashed into the tunnel, followed by half a dozen men. At
a little distance, the narrow avenue was blocked. The miners were
entombed! but an indirect opening had been made by the concussion,
which gave the rescuing party access to another tunnel. Following
this, and finding it intact, Helmore, in advance of the party, raised
his lanthorn and saw in the distance an exposed angle of a massive
concrete wall. He understood at once that the exploded mine, working
in a lateral direction as well as upward, had exposed the caponiere,
or covered lodgment under the counter-scarp, which Wardlaw had sunk in
that position designedly for the protection of the Fort. Therefore, the
holders of the Fort, in a measure, were hoist with their own petard.
Their mine had exploded first, but at the same time it had exposed a
point against which a subterranean attack now might be directed.

The moat encircling the Fort was twenty-eight feet wide and eighteen
deep. Strongly fortified everywhere, a special feature of its strength
lay in the caponiere gallery. The walls of this gallery, constructed
beneath the entire counter-scarp, were some seven feet thick. On
this, the South side, as also on the East, the gallery was divided by
concrete partitions into five communicating cells or chambers. These
chambers, as Lieutenant Helmore knew from the confidential plans of
the defence works, communicated, cell with cell, by low and narrow
doorways. From the last of the five cells, by a narrow flight of steps,
could be reached a door of massive steel, and on the other side of that
door a passage five feet wide passed beneath the rampart and the moat
into the interior of the Fort itself. This communication, of course,
was intended to enable defenders of the Fort to reach the caponieres
which jutted into the moat at intervals, and thence fire upon any
troops that sought to bridge it.

The enormous importance of his discovery made Helmore forget for a
moment the fate or peril of his ill-starred comrades--buried as they
were in the adjacent débris. Indeed, it was apparent that nothing could
be done for them. Their dreadful fate was sealed, and the faint groans
that at first reached the ears of the would-be rescuers soon entirely
ceased to be heard.

Helmore, after a moment's pause, sent a man back with news of the
discovery to his commanding officer, who instantly grasped the
requirements of the situation. He issued certain rapid orders, and a
hundred men darted down the hill in prompt obedience. Meanwhile, the
relief sappers, guided by Helmore, crept through the narrow tunnel into
which an opening had been forced by the explosion. Without losing an
instant, the Engineers began to chisel several holes in the exposed
section of the concrete wall. A charge of dynamite was passed along,
and all made ready. The men rushed back and waited. The crack and crash
of a violent explosion followed, and the sappers, hurrying forward,
followed by other troops, found that a broad gap had been made in the
gallery of the caponiere. Through this breach they crept and crawled,
to find themselves in the first of the five cells, or gallery-sections,
that have been described.

Opposite to them was the arched doorway leading into the next chamber.
But already the defending force had occupied it. Foreseeing that the
entire gallery might be rushed chamber by chamber, they had brought
heavy sandbags and piled them high, close to the first doorway.

Against these obstacles the attacking party hurled themselves,
furiously but in vain. Half a dozen engineers immediately commenced
to break through the wall itself, in the hope of thus reaching the
adjoining chamber. Only a few men could work in so confined a space,
and while they hacked against the solid wall, the German defenders
now thrust their rifles between the gaps of the sandbags and fired
at random. Four Englishmen fell dead, or desperately wounded. Their
comrades dragged them back, making room for others. The Colonel's
orders had now been carried out, and hand grenades were passed along
from man to man. These fearful engines of destruction were only to be
used in case of dire extremity; because, closed within these walls,
beneath the hill, the explosives might well prove as fatal to the men
who used them as to the enemy. For the same reasons, doubtless, the
German soldiers engaged in this subterranean struggle, so far, had made
no use of bombs.

The sappers having found it hopeless to cut a wider entrance through
the wall into the adjoining chamber, another plan was quickly thought
of and attempted. A can of kerosene was passed along and poured upon
the sandbags; then another and another. The moment a light was applied,
the soaked sandbags began to burn with so fierce a flame that the
soldiers on each side were driven back, and for a brief space the
chambers on both sides of the archway were left quite tenantless. Then,
with a half stifled cheer, a dozen British soldiers, their rifles
clubbed, dashed across the chamber and thrust the burning mass into
the inner cell. The Germans in the opposite entry already were hastily
piling more sandbags in position, but the gap was not wholly filled
when the attacking party rushed upon them impetuously and with an
excited shout. Bayonets crossed bayonets now, but neither side could
get free play either for attack or for defence. Over the waist-high
sandbags in this second archway, the combatants with desperate fury
thrust and stabbed. Groans and savage oaths blended with the flash of
steel. The place grew slippery with blood. Men fell and could not rise
again. Comrade trod comrade under foot and heeded not.

Only one lanthorn now remained alight, half revealing the intent and
savage faces of the combatants. The Germans seemed to have no light at
all. And poor Helmore, who held the solitary lanthorn aloft to guide
his men, thus helped to direct the fatal thrust that laid him low.
With a hoarse cry, one of the Germans had hurled a bayonet through the
doorway. It pierced deep into the lieutenant's throat. The lanthorn
dropped from his upraised hand, and he fell against the wall. Blood
gushed in a torrent from his mouth, even while he bravely strove to
utter the last word of command:

"Forward, men, forward!" he gasped, then spoke no more.

A young soldier who heard him had marked well the position of the
archway, ere darkness hid it, and, maddened at the fall of his
officer, he hurled a hand grenade towards the opening. The effect was
instantaneous and terrific. The dreadful shock was succeeded by a still
more dreadful silence.

When a light was struck it was seen that every German in the inner
chamber had been blown to pieces.

A moment's hesitation in face of the ghastly sight, then, as the light
went out again, the British sprang into the inner cell to find, or
rather feel, that it was splashed and smeared with blood and clogged
with spongy fragments of the mutilated dead.

Cell number two, by some freak of the explosive, had not been affected,
and as the third chamber thus was gained, a sergeant, shouting in the
darkness, gave the eager word:

"Forward again! we'll have the Fort! By God, we'll have the Fort!"

Again the men pressed forward, but this time no defenders barred the
way. In the distance there was a sound of hurrying footsteps. The
Germans had retreated down the stone stair which led to the steel door
of communication.

Reinforcements had now reached the gallery, and fresh lights were
brought. Well might the newcomers shudder and turn sick at what those
lights revealed in chamber number three. At the moment it was quite
impossible to carry the dead and wounded to the rear. Officers and
men were swarming in, and none could leave the gallery. But word was
passed along for surgeons to be sent, and the wounded were laid against
the walls, leaving a clear gangway. Then the advance was cautiously
continued.

Another officer--Carlow, who had just obtained his company--now
took command. Promptly but slowly, he headed the advance, for this
silence, this sudden cessation of resistance, might betoken some deadly
ambuscade.

The men went forward, two and two. Chambers four and five proved to be
quite deserted. They reached the farther archway of cell number five,
and there Carlow, halting, peered down into the darkness of the narrow
stair.

As he stood, gazing, listening, strange and pungent fumes crept up
between the walls. He gasped for breath and staggered back. The men
behind him did the same. The fumes were rising, spreading--permeating
the low gallery with extraordinary rapidity, travelling swiftly
into every chamber. Only a few understood how this awful sense of
suffocation was occasioned; and some who guessed that from an air-pump
down below the Germans were pumping asphyxiating gas into the gallery
guessed it too late. A few, before the gas had wholly overpowered them,
fought their way back to the open, but more than a hundred men dropped
where they stood in the close chambers--dropped and died.



CHAPTER XVI.

SIGNS AND WONDERS.


That important person, Miss Flossie Wardlaw, was extremely angry!
Events were interfering with her plan of life, and upsetting all her
theories of fitness. The preoccupation, the infatuation, shown by the
only other member of her family for something outside domestic life was
too exasperating. That tiresome fort at Dover was absorbing all her
father's thoughts. He grew paler and more haggard day by day, bestowing
less and less attention on the far more important interests that
concerned his little daughter and the familiar programme of her daily
life.

Flossie told herself that she was not unreasonable. She had been quite
ready to make allowances. Alarming things, she knew, had happened close
at hand. Impudent foreigners had seized Fort Warden by stealth. The
ceaseless boom of the big guns disturbed the current of existence in
the bungalow. Things were tiresome; indeed, quite worrying when they
kept on like that! It was dreadful, that Englishmen, her father's
soldier-friends, should be killed by foreigners--killed in England
too, only ten miles away; usually they were only killed a long way
off, and that seemed different. But, of course, it could only end in
one way; the offenders would be turned out and most severely punished.
Meanwhile, the repeated and prolonged absence of her father at Dover,
and his preoccupied behaviour when he was at home, filled Flossie
with mixed feelings of annoyance and sympathy, in which the former
ingredient became more and more predominant. Her queenly power seemed
to be undermined. Her faithful subject had deserted her. Oh! that
horrid Fort!

Miss Flossie nursed the personal sense of injury, and husbanded her
growing grievance, to the exclusion of thoughts concerning the national
questions that arose. So much depends upon the point of view; and that,
in turn, so much depends upon one's age.

Nevertheless, the issues of the struggle at Fort Warden were vitally
important. They riveted the attention of many millions of the
population of the world. Here in England itself the seizure of the fort
had assumed a colossal significance, shaking the nation out of the
ever-narrowing grooves of Parliamentary and municipal party conflict,
compelling men to look back to a great history and forward to an era of
littleness that gave pause even to the most selfish and complacent.

Cost what it might, the enemy must be driven out. Our Flag must wave
above that fort again.

A spreading feeling of fury and resentment arose against the
Government. To this complexion had we come! Pushing politicians,
self-seeking wire-pullers of both sexes, had dragged England in the
dust. So much for Petticoat Government! So much for the Amazonian
craze, this make-believe of women-soldiers and girl-gunners. Woman
had largely ousted man from place and power, and this was the result!
A handful of foreigners had been emboldened to assail us on our own
sacred soil. Popular anger expressed itself afresh by breaking out
viciously into the old doggerel:--

 "Old Nick and the Cat,
 With Johnnie and Jan,
 Have brought poor England
 Under a ban!"

Truly, Man was needed at the helm to which at this crisis woman clung
so obstinately. Man was wanted in his old authority, and, behold! in
every department of control woman was clinging to his coat-tails,
hindering his action, dividing his counsels, prating of peace when
there could be no peace, and exhibiting a rudimentary unfitness to
grapple with an unprecedented and desperate situation.

The outcry came not from the men alone, but with increasing vehemence
from the very sex that had struggled for supremacy. Women out of
office--necessarily the vast majority--now began to discover that
those aggressive or more fortunate representatives of their sex who
had obtained salaried posts or prominence of some sort in public life,
were in many cases frauds and failures. This rule of woman that had
come to pass was not what the great mass of her sex had contemplated
or intended. They confessed it to husbands and brothers; and husbands
and brothers nodded in wise and ready acquiescence. Their faces plainly
said: "I told you so."

Thousands of women ruefully admitted the impeachment. Successful
rivalry--mostly vicarious--had brought them no real joy. They had
gained power and lost love; and in their inmost hearts they knew that
love was worth the world. Always it had been part of woman's character
to strive for her own way, and always she had ended by despising the
man who permitted her to gain it. Yes! woman's collective triumph in
this new age, as she now sadly realised, had cost her dear. With
the gradual abandonment of man's protective affection had gone the
true ingredients of her happiness; much that made up the grace and
joy of life, tenderness and chivalry, caressing mastery, the rightful
dominance of the stronger sex. Yes! love was worth the world.

The heel of woman disclosed her weakness--and revealed her strength.
Fool and blind! grasping at the sceptre she had lost the kingdom; the
kingdom of the heart, encircled and protected by the strong arms of a
lover as the guardian-sea encircles England's shores. Like an electric
spark this spirit of regret and discontent flew through the land. A
little more, and it would mean a revolution. Away with the unnatural
dominion of Woman! Back to the reign of Man!

It would have been idle to expect unanimity where pride and personal
interest were so closely involved. The pushing leaders of social
democracy and the Vice-President and her following were not likely to
submit without a struggle to the restoration of hereditary authority.
Woman in office and power throughout the State would be sure to cling
desperately to her foothold, and no one could yet foresee the outcome
of the swiftly dawning struggle.

The hands of a little band of energetic men, however, were busy
throwing wide the floodgates, and no two men were more active than
those veterans, one of the army, and the other of the law--General
Hartwell and Sir Robert Herrick. To them it seemed that the signs of
the times were full of deep significance, and pregnant with the highest
hopes. They knew that there were still some men with grit in England,
men who saw with bitter wrath the pass to which the nation had been
brought. In their eyes the governance of this once glorious land had
become a byword and a mockery. And it was because of this that the
present humiliating spectacle was to be seen at Dover.

Nor was that all. In the midst of these alarms, there was something
else that shook and terrified the people, filling the minds of
thousands with forebodings and distress.

Strange symptoms of seismic disturbance had been reported not only
from Bath, but also from other parts of England. Such awe-inspiring
tremblings of the solid earth must ever produce a sense of apprehension
which at any moment may grow into a universal panic. It was noticed
that, so far, these disquieting indications were confined to the
neighbourhood of thermal waters. At Matlock, Harrogate, Leamington, and
Woodhall Spa, there had been a marked increase in the volume of the
rising waters, with other signs of an abnormal earth activity.

What did these things betoken? Signs of the times, they were variously
interpreted. As in the days of Noah! The great multitude of men and
women laughed at the shipbuilder and went about the business of their
daily lives, so now hosts of dull and unimaginative persons remained
unmoved in their obtuse philosophy. Others there were who believed
a providential influence was at work--conveying an admonition and
a warning by some such solemn signs as those predicted to occur
before the last great change of all. Were there not to be signs in
the heavens, and signs in the quaking earth, the sea and the waves
roaring, nation rising against nation, creation, animate and inanimate,
preparing for the awful Armageddon foreshadowed in the page of Holy
Writ?

Events were moving fast. A fanatic named Richards, stalking wild-eyed
through the land, broke out into fierce prophetic utterance, mocked and
jeered at by many, but followed by rapidly increasing numbers. This
strange man entered on a pilgrimage from one to the other of the inland
watering places, where symptoms of earthquake had been felt, everywhere
inspiring awe and wonder in breasts of thousands. In South London,
which he first visited, he was followed by enormous crowds, consisting
to a great extent of women. Here, on the Surrey side, there had been
a corresponding departure from the normal, for the old forgotten Spa
of Bermondsey had developed a new and disturbing energy. While this
ancient spring rose in unexampled quantities, and at high temperature,
the once famous Spa at Epsom, only some twenty miles away, exhibited
a like activity. The argument was irresistible that such far-spread
manifestations of the same character must necessarily spring from a
common cause.

If so, then these mysterious subterranean workings also pointed to the
pending evolution of some common result; it might take the shape of
some terrific upheaval and convulsion that would reduce the British
Isles to their primeval form, submerge them in the sea, or even change
the face of Western Europe.

Still these were but dark shadows and dread potentialities. Time alone
could show whether events would verify such grim forebodings. But,
meanwhile, there was one concrete and absorbing fact--the presence in
England of the invading foreigner. This, at least, was a stern reality,
pressing and predominant. The terrible Three Hundred still held the
Fort; the great guns still roared and boomed, the pom-poms worked
incessantly. Stiffened forms in increasing numbers strewed Castle
Hill; the numbers of the dead and dying mounted daily.

The highest military authorities now were constantly engaged in
vehement and anxious conference with Major Wardlaw. The discussions,
renewed again and again, early and late, had dealt with all aspects
of the existing problem, had touched on and passed by many suggested
expedients. One project, in particular, had excited much difference
of opinion. Urgent advice had been given officially and through the
newspapers to call the air-ships into play. Fort Warden, turtle-roofed,
was supposed to be entirely bomb-proof, but it was argued that if all
the air-ships in England--some 200--were to concentrate above the Fort
and pour down bombs and explosives in great quantities, the result
could hardly fail to terrify, if not to annihilate, the obstinate
defenders. But Edgar Wardlaw shook his head. He alone knew the enormous
resisting power that he had built up against this very contingency of
warfare.

Moreover, there were the obligations of treaties to be remembered.
Air-ships were not to be used in warfare. International compacts on the
subject of aerial navigation must be respected. To set a dishonourable
example by disregarding them for our own immediate purpose might lead
to disastrous international results. Two, and more than two, could play
at such a game as that!

And even, while the idea was being mooted, its immediate adoption
became impossible. In a single night every English air-ship, the
whereabouts of which was known, sustained mysterious, and, in most
cases, irreparable damage. Such a discovery could not be concealed
from the public. It was clear that some great and elaborate conspiracy
was afoot, that the agents of the enemy were numerous, active, and
daring, here in the very heart of England. It was clear, too, that the
Government had been caught napping, and only too probable that worse
surprises might yet befall the country. The police, it is true, made
several arrests of suspected persons, but prevention, not cure, was the
national desideratum. While the grass grew the steed might starve. Of
what avail the slow formalities of legal, investigation, the jog-trot
of red-tape routine, when the enemy was already at the gate, aye, in
the heart of the citadel?

In this crisis it transpired that the _Bladud_ was the only air-ship
unaccounted for. There were conflicting statements about her recent
movements; but presently it became known that she had been lent by the
late President to a young Canadian friend named Linton Herrick. Mr.
Herrick had been seen to go up with Wilton, the Engineer, and it was
believed that subsequently the _Bladud_ had been identified with an
air-ship that had been seen travelling rapidly, and at a considerable
altitude, over the English Channel.



CHAPTER XVII.

HOW THE RAID FAILED.


Flossie had spoken. Silent resentment, obdurately nursed for quite two
days, had given place to voluble reproaches. He was naughty, she told
her father; never before had she known him quite so naughty. Why! he
had hardly opened his lips for days and days; he had not taken her
out, nor brought things home, or done anything. Waking that morning
very early and very hungry, she had found nothing--not a thing--under
her pillow--no, not even a lump of sugar; and he knew perfectly well
that there were always lumps of sugar in the sideboard. No! he had
forgotten. He did not love her, that was quite clear. His head was
fuller than ever of that horrid Fort. If he did not look out he would
go there and get killed himself presently, and that would be a nice
thing to happen, wouldn't it?

Under the shower of these reproaches, Major Wardlaw hung his head. His
silence and submissiveness slightly mollified the stern young lady.
Like many others of her sex, Flossie must needs scold and then be sorry
for the object of her reproaches. To-night there was something in her
father's looks and bearing that arrested her vehemence. Why! goodness
gracious! what was the matter?

"You know," she said shrewdly, looking at him as she stood between
his knees with that steady gaze of youthful eyes that is often so
disconcerting, "You know, if you weren't a great big man, I should say
you were going to cry."

"Nonsense, nonsense," her father answered, and hugged her closely in
his arms.

"Mind my hair," said Flossie sharply, "I'm very tired and I'm going
to bed. I hope you won't be naughty any more. Promise!" He nodded
with a queer look in his eyes. "_You_ look tired, too! come up early.
To-morrow we'll be just the same as ever, won't we? You shall be very
nice, and I shall forgive you, because, after all, I do love you, don't
I?"

"That's right," he said gravely.

"Yes, but you're not right. I've never seen you quite like this. I'm
sure there's something. Where's my book?"

He picked up the story-book and she tucked it under her arm, smothering
a yawn that suffused her blue eyes and showed all her pretty teeth.

"Good-night; be good," she said, and kissed him.

"Yes! But you've forgotten your hymn."

The child looked at him searchingly. His manner puzzled her more and
more. His voice seemed hardly natural; he was grave, intensely grave,
yet trying to cloak his seriousness by speaking in ordinary tones.

"Must I, to-night?" she asked, half closing her sleepy eyes.

"Yes, dearest, please, to-night."

She glanced down at the story-book under her arm, and her father
understood the look. Flossie wanted to reserve her few mental energies
to finish a chapter in bed. But with a little sigh of resignation,
she began in drowsy tones the recitation of the hymn. The theme was
resignation. Wardlaw seemed to hang upon the well-known words:

 "If Thou shouldst call me to resign
 What most I prize, it ne'er was mine;
 I only yield Thee what is Thine;
                   Thy Will be done."

He bowed his head.

Flossie, too heavy-eyed to notice, turned away. Her father looked up
quickly.

"Kiss me again, darling."

He held her by the arms in front of him, firmly but lightly.

The child roused herself to sudden alertness.

"One for you, and one for me, and one for both together. That's three!"
she observed after the third kiss--"Just for a treat."

His eyes followed her as she crossed the room. At the door, she turned
and nodded warningly.

"Something nice to-night, mind, and don't stay up too late."

Wardlaw held his breath and kept his seat while Flossie went slowly,
languidly, up the stairs. Then, with clenched hands and tortured eyes,
he started to his feet.

The last time! God in heaven, could it be truly that?

Never to know the kiss of her childish lips again, never to feel her
warm, clinging little arms around his neck!

With bloodshot eyes and still clenched hands he paced the room.

Away in the distance the booming guns broke out again with their
dreadful monotone, recalled inexorably the work he had to do. He had
weighed it well, pondered it, as he told himself, too long already. The
Fort must fall! All other means had failed. Blood had been poured out
like water, and to no purpose. Yonder on the hill, thousands of men,
obedient unto death, his brothers in arms, had braved the weapons which
he, Wardlaw, had stored within those impregnable defences, weapons
which had been turned against his own country and his own people with
such terrible results. England could not wait while the foreigners were
starved into surrender. The Fort must fall without delay. He, Wardlaw,
knew the master-key of the position, and also knew that he who used it
must be prepared to lose his life. Why had he not used it before?

There were reasons which would satisfy reasonable people: the surprise
of the situation, the slowness of the military authorities in inviting
his assistance, the probability that, finding themselves without
support in a hostile country, the invaders would throw up the sponge.
But none of these probabilities had been verified. The Fort was still
held by the foreigner; and the Fort must fall!

Edgar Wardlaw was a scientific soldier--not one of those men of
bull-dog courage who, obedient to orders, would hurl themselves without
thought into a bloody struggle. The mind that can devise and perfect
death-dealing armaments is not necessarily, or even probably, a mind
that inspires and braces the fighting quality of the every-day soldier.
The red badge of courage can indeed be won by men of high-strung nerves
and delicate organisation, but it is won at most tremendous cost.
Wardlaw had been slow in coming to his resolution, but he would never
recede from it. They were arms of love that had enchained him, at the
last--the arms of a little child. But now he was breaking even those
fond links asunder. He was ready--almost ready.

Pacing the room, he glanced at his watch. It was nearly ten o'clock.
Soon she would be asleep. He went over to the sideboard and made a
quick yet careful search, finding a small fancy cake, some fruit, and
sugar; as Flossie had said, there was always sugar, though other things
might fail.

He must delay no longer. Carefully and on tiptoe he went up the
creaking stairs. The servants were chattering and laughing in the
kitchen, but in the child's bedroom there was not a sound. He entered
cautiously. Yes, she was asleep, long lashes resting on the delicately
flushed skin, lips slightly parted, one arm thrown out upon her open
book.

Wardlaw moved cautiously across the room and stood looking down upon
the sleeping child. He looked long, and who shall say with what
poignant and unutterable agony of spirit. Then he slipped the paper bag
containing what he had brought with him under the pillow, and gently
moved the book, lest it should fall upon the floor and wake her. The
volume contained two stories, bound up together--"Sintram and his
Companions," and "Aslauga's Knight," stories whose leaves come out of
the old Saga-land, bringing with them the romance and adventure that
charm the children, while also they reveal to older folk the mystic
conflict of the human soul. Sintram's Companions, as Wardlaw knew, were
Sin and Death, Companions of us all. With Death by his side, Sintram
had to ride amid the terrors of the narrow mountain gorge--just as the
Pilgrim of the immortal Progress had journeyed through the Valley of
the Shadow.

His eyes rested on the open page of the story-book:--

 "When Death is coming near,
 When thy heart shrinks in fear
     And thy limbs fail,

 Then raise thy hands and pray
 To Him who smoothes the way
     Through the dark vale."

He bowed his head and closed the book quietly, placing it near the
child's pillow. Downstairs the clock chimed a quarter after ten--cheery
little chimes, ticking off the flight of time as if endless days and
years still remained for all who heard them.

And yet for him who listened only a few hours of life remained. Death
called him--not in the heat and excitement of battle, but in this still
hour of cool blood and calm reflection. It made it vastly harder to
obey.

Never again would he hear those familiar tinkling chimes. This was his
last farewell to all that he held dear. Death coldly beckoned him, as
Sintram was beckoned at the entrance of the gorge. His hour had come to
pass into the Shadow. The stern implacable demand of duty was ringing
in his soul, and he dared gaze no longer on his sleeping child. If she
should wake and look into his eyes, courage, honour, duty, all that
makes man obedient unto death, might fail him even now. He dared not
press his lips upon her cheek; he dared not even touch her hand.

She stirred and muttered something in her sleep. He quickly raised and
kissed a few strands of her lovely hair; it was the last touch, the
final leave-taking!

The father turned away. The child slept on.

       *       *       *       *       *

A hundred yards from the bungalow--appointed to stay there, so that
Flossie should not hear and wonder--a motor-car awaited him. The
chauffeur belonged to his own corps--the Engineers. The man saluted
him and looked anxiously at the drawn--white face, on which the
lamp-light fell. Not a word was spoken. Wardlaw took his seat, and
immediately the car, like a sentient thing let loose, sped swiftly on
the road to Dover.

It was a night of starshine and soft breezes. As they climbed the
rising ground, the pure air from the sea grew stronger. Bracing,
health-giving, breathing life, it fanned the face of the silent man who
was rushing towards his self-appointed doom. Stiff and rigid, he sat,
staring into the night, but conscious of nothing around him or before
him. All his thoughts were of what was left behind--the dainty bedroom
with the shaded light, the rosy sleeping child, the delicate dimpled
face that he should see no more, his one ewe lamb of all the world.

"If Thou shouldst call me to resign...."

The burden of the hymn was ringing in his brain, insistent, agonizing.

On and on sped the car. Away to the South the flashlights were sweeping
the Channel, and, ahead, the first outlying lights of Dover soon came
into view. Every moment the dull, dogged voices of the guns grew louder.

Still Wardlaw remained rigid and voiceless, as one who is paralyzed by
some dreadful nightmare, while ding-dong in his mind the words of the
hymn persisted and repeated: "If Thou shouldst call me to resign.... If
Thou shouldst call me to resign." ...

They were close to Dover now. The car sped down from the heights. Ahead
of them on the hard white road a lanthorn was swinging to and fro, and
the chauffeur slackened speed to answer the challenge of the guard. He
gave the password, and again the car tore forward.

Houses on either side now were numerous. Presently the car wound down
into the town. Silent, half-ruined, the unlighted streets gave an
inexpressible impression of melancholy and disaster. Here and there
the vibration caused by the passing car brought down loosened stone
and brickwork with a sudden clatter. At one spot some fragments of
mortar flew out and struck Wardlaw in the face. They pricked him
into consciousness. He shook himself and gave a brief order to the
chauffeur. The car turned down a side street, and presently drew up
before a large house standing in the shelter of the Castle Hill.

There were lights in all the windows; shadows passed and repassed
across the drawn blinds. A strained air of animation and activity
pervaded the place. A group of orderlies stood about the entrance, and
through the open doorway there were glimpses of officers hurrying from
room to room with clank of spur and rattle of accoutrement. This house,
the head-quarters of the military staff, contained for the time being
the brain of the British Army--foiled, so far, but still feverishly
bent on devising means for the expulsion of the obstinate invader.

As the car stopped, a tall officer hurried out and grasped Wardlaw by
the hand. It was a grasp that told more than words could utter--a grasp
that recognized the arrival of a supreme moment, at once the grip of
friendship and the clasp of greeting and farewell.

"The General's expecting you. I'll take you to him at once!"

Wardlaw nodded, and, still as one that dreamed, followed the
aide-de-camp into the house.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the following day great news was wired throughout the length and
breadth of England, and cabled far and wide throughout the civilised
world.

The newspapers of London and the provinces, in eager competition,
issued special editions in quick succession. Everywhere great placards
announced in heavy type and infinite variety of colours, a gladdening
fact: the Fort had fallen!

The hero of the hour was Major Wardlaw, but no sound of joy or triumph
could ever reach his ears--Wardlaw was dead. The published particulars,
though brief, were all-sufficient and convincing. The Major had calmly
and deliberately laid down his life for his country and his comrades.
What shot and shell and bayonet had failed to do, he, single-handed,
had achieved. The episode was all the more tragic and impressive by
reason of its great simplicity. A method was known to Major Wardlaw,
as the designer, by which he could flood the Fort. The enemy would be
drowned like so many rats in a gigantic trap. The master-key was in his
hands, and though--high honour be to them--there were other volunteers
for the fatal work, he had steadfastly refused to let another British
soldier lose his life in that prolonged and dreadful struggle. He was
prepared, resolved, to die--and death had come to him.

Single-handed he had gone into the heart of the hill. The furious
inrush of the water stored in the reservoir, which his own hand had
deliberately let loose, claimed him, as he knew it must, first victim
of the overwhelming flood.

But the Fort was ours again! It was a counter-stroke with which the
enemy had not reckoned; a danger which the invader was wholly unable to
avert. As the waters of the Red Sea overwhelmed the Egyptian Warriors;
as that ancient river, the river Kishon swept away the foes of the
armies of Israel, so, in a new and terrible way, the water floods had
destroyed the invaders of England.

With a dull, elemental roar, with a suddenness that allowed of no
flight, and a force that admitted of no resistance, ton after ton of
water poured into the interior of the Fort. The sealed fate of its
occupants was almost instantaneous. Of the survivors barely twenty men
escaped with their lives, and these immediately fell into the hands of
the encircling troops, and became prisoners of war.



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE WRECK OF THE AIR-SHIP.


The little island of Herm possessed only one building of importance, a
monastery of French refugees. In the great walled-in courtyard, there
was present an object of special and curious interest to the monks. The
arrival of the _Bladud_ had been observed with astonishment by all the
inmates of the monastery, who naturally associated its coming with that
of a certain mysterious visitor--a sun-scorched, iron-grey emaciated
man--who had recently landed on the island, coming, it was said, from
the coast of France. The visitor, who remained in complete seclusion
in the building, sedulously nursed back to health and strength, was
treated with extraordinary deference and respect by the Superior.
That much the monks could not fail to know; but any sly inquiries and
surmises on their part were met with the sternest and most peremptory
discouragement.

Excitement was quickened, therefore, when, only a few hours after the
arrival of the air-ship, preparations were made for the distinguished
visitor's departure. Linton stood in the courtyard, glancing anxiously
at his watch, while Wilton, the engineer, put some finishing touches to
the gear. The little man had proved himself a model of discretion. He
asked no questions, but now and then threw quick glances towards the
tall, thin stranger, who, at a respectful sign from Linton, had taken
his seat in the stern of the boat.

Whether Wilton knew or suspected the identity of Wilson Renshaw, who
now calmly waited for the voyage to commence, Linton could not tell.
He suspected that he did, and, little guessing what a few hours would
bring forth, he registered a mental promise that the silent, faithful
little engineer should not go unrewarded. It struck him that there
was a good deal of nervousness in Wilton's manner, as he threw upward
glances at the sky.

While the preparations were being completed, the Superior of the Order
stood close at hand, addressing in subdued tones his deferential and
earnest farewells to Mr. Renshaw, and Herrick, raising his eyes,
saw the peering faces of at least a score of monks at the upper
windows of the monastery. Glancing higher still, he noted with some
uneasiness that the scurrying clouds, copper-tinged from the setting
sun, betokened the coming of a wild and stormy night. Fervently he
breathed a prayer that the aerial voyage might have a happy issue. But
by this time he knew enough of air-ships to be aware that there were
perils which no scientific inventions, and no precautions, can wholly
nullify: risks from defects and mishaps with machinery, dangers from
both combined, that at any moment might bring about some irreparable
catastrophe. Yet, to-night, everything must be hazarded. Not an hour,
not a moment must be lost. The time had come. To let it pass unseized
would be to miss the tide at the flood, to sacrifice the touchstone of
fortune.

He glanced at Wilton:

"Ready?"

The engineer gave a quick nod and lifted a grimy finger towards his
cap. Linton, raising his own cap, turned towards the illustrious
passenger:

"Shall we start, sir?"

"At once, please," was the answer.

Linton stepped aboard and grasped the helm. Wilton took his place
forward, and the Superior, bowing obsequiously, moved to a safe
distance from the aeroplane.

The faint preliminary throbbing of the engine instantly commenced.
The boat began to rise, slowly at first, then more rapidly, as the
elevating power obtained freer play. Every window of the monastery
now was plastered with wondering, eager faces, intent on the _Bladud_
as she soared aloft. The Superior made angry and imperious gestures,
but the monks did not, or pretended not to, see. This mounting of the
aeroplane with such a passenger must not be missed. It was a spectacle
the like of which they would not see again.

Higher and higher climbed the _Bladud_, beating the air with her
flapping wings. The cold breeze rushed through the wind-harp on the
mast with a sighing, mournful sound as the boat swept in swiftly
widening circles through the air. The passenger, impressed but not
perturbed, glanced sharply round him; then, feeling the growing
keenness of the wind, he drew his fur coat across his chest.

When they were high enough, Herrick, with one eye on the compass, put
the tiller over and gave an order. Wilton lightly moved a switch, and
immediately the _Bladud_ headed at high speed for the open sea.

       *       *       *       *       *

As the hours passed, night fell dark and thick about them; the wind
became more violent, and ever and again chilly, sleety squalls affected
to some extent the equilibrium of the boat. No one spoke, except for
an occasional query from Herrick, to which Wilton responded by act or
gesture only.

Not one of the three men on board knew of any definite cause for
anxiety, yet in the minds of at least two of them there was a growing
sense of tension and disquietude. The muscles of Wilton's face twitched
as he sat in silence, his eye watchful and his hand ready.

Yet, so far, all went well. To avoid prolonged dangers of the open
channel, they tacked northwards towards the coast of France, intending
to resume the sea course as nearly as possible above the Straits of
Dover. Nearer land the air grew less cloudy. The twinkling lights of
habitations far below became visible like distant glow-worms. From
the numbers of these lights they could form an idea of the size of
the towns and villages over which they passed. Some thirty-five were
counted. Presently the silent passenger himself identified the locality
and said that they were passing over the highlands between Cape Blanc
and Calais.

It was time to give the ship a different course; and once again below
them lay the wide expanse of sombre, tossing sea. But the _Bladud_
now encountered the strength of a growing gale from the North-East,
and soon it became apparent that she was being dangerously deflected
from her proper course. It was a discovery silently made, but fraught
with the fears of potential disaster. If they should be blown out to
sea, there was but one ultimate certainty--death for all on board. The
store of motive power could only last for a given number of hours, and
already much of the power had been expended. Their hope must lie in
reaching dry ground within a period that grew perilously shorter and
shorter even while they thought of it.

Entrusting the helm for a moment to the passenger, Herrick crawled
forward, and while the rising gale shrieked above them and around them,
held a hasty, whispered conversation with the now excited engineer.

"We'll never do it, sir, we'll never do it," Wilton said, hoarsely.
"St. Margaret's Bay; Why, see! we've left it far behind already. No
landing there to-night. What's the best air-ship that ever was built
against a wind like this?"

"Land us anywhere, anywhere," was Herrick's vehement answer.

"Yes, if we can," muttered Wilton, gloomily. "I'm afeard there's
something wrong with her, and that's the truth, Mr. Herrick."

"Good God!" exclaimed Herrick, with an anxious glance towards the
figure in the stern.

"See that?" gasped the engineer, as a strong gust from the north drove
the bow of the boat farther sea-ward. "See that, sir? I tell you, she
can't stand it."

Again and again the same thing happened. The gale, so far as it was
easterly, drove them westward along the coastline, and ever and again
the fierce gusts from the north forced them away from it. Linton
crept back to the stern. Thirty minutes passed--minutes of increasing
suspense. At the end of that time they had lost their bearings. The
_Bladud_ became more and more beyond control.

"Is there danger?" Renshaw asked the question very softly.

"I am afraid there is, sir," said Linton.

The other nodded: "I thought so. What part of the coast is that down
there?" he asked after an interval.

Linton peering over, pondered a minute before he answered:

"Dover's left far behind by this time. We've passed Hastings. Those
must be the lights of Brighton."

"We can't get down?"

"Impossible at present. We must drive straight ahead. Inside the Isle
of Wight there'll be a chance for us--more shelter and more ships.
Wilton knows that part."

"Can we last as long?"

"I think so--I hope so."

A long silence fell as the _Bladud_ battled with the wind. Then there
came a startling, rending sound that indicated some defect in the
machinery. The boat began to veer erratically.

"Steady, sir, steady," roared Wilton, making a trumpet of his hands.
"For God's sake head her north!"

From below there rose a sullen, surging sound, the threatening monotone
of angry waves breaking upon a rocky shore.

The sound grew fainter. They must be travelling inland--across the Isle
of Wight. Now, then, was the time for a descent. Dimly in the forepart
of the boat, Wilton's bent form could be discerned, his face peering,
his hands at work in the complex box of the _Bladud's_ machinery.
Suddenly he threw himself back, sitting on his heels, and Herrick
thought he saw his hands raised with a gesture of despair. The _Bladud_
lurched and swayed violently, and for a moment it seemed as if the
gyroscope had wholly failed to act. If that were so, in a moment the
boat might lose her equilibrium, and all would end. But that was not
the trouble. Linton now realised that it was the lowering apparatus
that would not work. The _Bladud_ still rushed madly forward. With
unchecked speed, they flew across the island. Another coast line then
came into view--the long low line of lights stretching from Portsmouth,
across Southsea to Eastney and Fort Cumberland. There was hope, then,
or if not ground for hope, at least a fighting chance!

But the _Bladud_ now by some inexplicable perversity of the machinery
made obstinately for the eastern extremity of the line of lights. That,
again, might serve if only they could descend on the wide common of
Hayling Island. They were nearing it every moment. Presently from below
there rose a new menace, an angry sound--grating and monotonous, that
Linton could not understand.

"What's that?" he shouted.

"The Woolseners," bellowed Wilton, in reply, and made a wild gesture
with his disengaged hand. He knew the deadly peril--those shifting
banks of shingle churned in the shallows by the ceaseless action of the
tides and waves. The Woolseners were as fatal as the Goodwin Sands to
every ship or boat that found herself among them.

With a desperate effort, aided by Renshaw and directed by Wilton,
Herrick forced over the helm. Another ominous crack reached their ears,
but for the moment they were successful, and a sudden squall from the
east aided their combined efforts. They now were heading straight for
Portsmouth Harbour. All might yet be well!

Still travelling at great speed, they traversed nearly half the
distance, it now being Wilton's design to bring the _Bladud_ down on
Southsea Common. Then, suddenly, the horizontal movement of the boat
absolutely ceased. All the motive power that was left in her began
through some terrible mishap to be expended in the development of
rapid elevation. The frantic efforts of Wilton to check the upward
rush were unavailing, the boat went up and up with terrible velocity.
This last catastrophe was paralyzing, overwhelming. Climbing higher
and higher, the boat would rapidly exhaust her small remaining store
of compressed air. Then, in an instant, would commence a reversal, and
the _Bladud_ would rush down through space--the end for all on board,
inevitable death.

Linton again left the helm in Renshaw's hands. It was useless to retain
it. He scrambled forward to assist Wilton in his desperate efforts to
right the machinery. A dreadful feeling of sickness began to overpower
him as the air-ship swayed and waltzed in the upper air-currents,
lurching and righting as if struck by successive waves, but ever
mounting higher and yet higher.

It grew intensely cold. Feathery flakes of snow began to envelop them.
Their lungs laboured. It became more and more difficult to breathe.
Linton gasped enquiries which either Wilton did not hear or could not
answer. He glanced back at their ill-starred passenger, who had set
out to recover power and a great position and now was rushing to an
awful death. He saw that Renshaw's head rolled limply on his shoulders.
Already he seemed to be insensible. Filled with terror and alarm, he
shouted to Wilton though the man was close to hand, but his voice,
though the effort of utterance was so great, sounded even to himself
quite faint and far away.

By the light of the protected spirit lamp fixed to the tiny engine
house, Linton saw that the recording instrument already registered an
altitude of 20,000 feet.

A dull indifference began to take possession of his mind. His
faculties were slowly freezing. Even his eyesight now began to fail. He
could scarcely see the column of mercury in the glass, or the minute
hand of his watch. He felt that consciousness would soon completely
desert him. His right hand was resting on the gunwale of the boat; he
found he could not raise it. He could scarcely move his lower limbs,
and, turning once more to glance at the barometer, his head fell
forward helplessly.

By a violent exercise of his muscles and his will, he raised his face
a little, but for an instant only. It drooped again. He slid down into
the bottom of the boat. His fading gaze sought that of Wilton. They
looked into each other's eyes, like dying men bidding one another
silent, sad farewells. The mists of death already seemed to be closing
on them, when a sudden variation of the temperature, or, it may be,
some magnetic current partially revived them. But the _Bladud_ still
rushed upward, ever upward. They had reached a height of four miles
above the earth, and the temperature had fallen to 24° below freezing
point of water. To this appalling altitude the _Bladud_ had ascended
with almost incredible rapidity.

Upward, and upward still, they went, until five miles, then six, was
reached above the surface of the vanished earth.

Out of the void a muffled voice reached Linton's ears, the welcome
voice of a living fellow-creature. It was Wilton trying to rouse him,
Wilton speaking with urgency and vehemence.

Gradually he came out of his swoon; familiar objects close to him
revealed themselves again. Wilton was lying in the bottom of the boat.
He was striving in vain to reach Linton. The piercing cold had almost
paralyzed him. His hands were freezing.

What did Wilton want? What was he trying to do?

As far as could be judged, they had now reached an altitude of 37,000
feet--nearly seven miles. The mists closed in again. The thread of life
was on the point of breaking. Linton became half conscious that a thick
crust of ice had formed upon his clothes, his breath was freezing on
his lips and in his nostrils. He glanced again with an agonizing effort
at the moving record of their elevation. Another 1,000 feet, and then
2,000 feet. Needles of ice were pricking at his eyes. Close to him the
prone form of Wilton seemed to be covered with minute crystals from
head to foot. Linton tried to stretch out his hands to touch him, but
found that they were helpless, numbed. What, he vaguely wondered, was
Wilton doing now? What mad idea was this? With an exhausting effort the
engineer had just smashed the lens of his telescope. Then his hands
seemed again to fail him.

Watching him helplessly, Linton felt that everything was useless,
hopeless, lost. It would soon be over.

But Wilton had gripped the broken glass of the telescope between
his teeth. What was he doing now? Why was he sawing frantically,
convulsively, at that tightened cord?

Ah! that was it! Well done, Wilton. But it was hopeless, quite
hopeless, after all. Linton rolled his head feebly. They had climbed
another 1,000 feet, and they were mounting still.

No! What was this? There was a change. Something had happened. Linton
was sensible of a strange eddying, a pause, a feebler flapping of the
aeroplanes.

Merciful God! The boat had ceased to rise. Now she was sinking,
sinking, with appalling speed, yet checked to some extent by the broad
aeroplanes, just as a bird would be when, with extended wings, it
floated down to earth.

He tried to frame some words; tried to touch Wilton with his hand;
failed to do either. Wilton lay motionless, with bleeding lips.

       *       *       *       *       *

Out of the blur of mental chaos, Linton Herrick found himself roughly
dragged back to consciousness. Kneeling in the boat, he discovered that
he was submerged in water to the waist; flecks of salt water smote him
in the face; all around there was a welter of wild, tossing waves.

In his ears, to add to his distraction, there sounded a harsh and
melancholy bell. It was tolling, tolling, close at hand.

The _Bladud_, water-logged, tossed feebly in the trough of the angry
sea. Built on a theory that she could float for a considerable period,
it nevertheless rushed in upon Linton's mind that in a few minutes she
would sink. He struggled to his feet, grasping the rigging as he did
so. Something arrested his attention. What was that silent log-like
thing the waves were rolling yonder in the semi-darkness? It must be
Wilton, poor Wilton, who had saved their lives--or tried to save them,
only to lose his own. Wilton! Dead!

A voice hailed him. It came from Renshaw, his companion. He also was on
his feet, swaying from side to side as the boat, settling deeper and
deeper in the water, plunged and lurched beneath them.

"Look!" cried Renshaw, "the buoy! We must swim for it!"

As he spoke he plunged over the side and struck out for a towering
object that rose and fell in the waves only a few yards away. Linton
realised that that was where the clangour of the bell was coming
from--the refuge of the shipwrecked--the bell-buoy close at hand!

Before he fully knew what he was about, he, too, was struggling in the
waves. He was a strong swimmer, but, clogged with his wet clothing,
another yard or two would have been too much for him. He shouted some
incoherent words of encouragement to Renshaw, and struck out with all
his small remaining strength. The tall frame-work of the Spit-buoy rose
out of the sea just in front of him. From its apex came louder than
ever the noise of the iron clapper beating on the metal, as the tossing
sea roiled the huge buoy this way and that.

His hand touched something hard.

He grasped an iron rail. Slowly and laboriously he drew his dripping
form out of the sea. Then, panting heavily, he threw himself down face
downward, full length, on the deck of the buoy, and stretched out both
hands to the other swimmer. Renshaw's strength seemed well nigh spent.
He was making futile struggles to rid himself of his heavy coat. As he
rolled over helplessly, almost swept beneath the buoy, Linton grasped
his collar.

The next moment he had drawn him to the rail. A breathing space, and
then another effort, exhausting and prolonged.

Two panting men, half drowned but saved, lay side by side upon the
buoy, fenced from the greedy sea by rusty, dripping iron bars. Above
them, in the stormy mournful night, ding dong! the bell kept clanging
to and fro--this way and that, with every wave and motion of the
singing sea.



CHAPTER XIX.

THE COUP D'ÉTAT.


While the fierce struggle for Fort Warden was proceeding, and while
Nicholas Jardine lay dying, the Vice-President of the Council and her
adherents were engaged in desperate efforts to strengthen the grip of
Woman on the governance of England. To wrest to their own advantage
the crisis that would arise on the expected death of the President
was of paramount importance to the Kellick party. To turn it to their
destruction was the anxious object of their political opponents. Thus
was foreshadowed--for the critical hour--a fierce and crucial struggle
for supremacy.

The chief directors of the counteracting movement, General Hartwell,
the woman-hater, and Sir Robert Herrick, wise in counsel and learned in
law, were in constant conference. They met daily, and their conferences
and study of reports often lasted far into the night.

The outcome of their labours was to be seen in the creation of an
association, which Linton had mentioned to Zenobia. It embodied both
men and women, who styled themselves, as a bond of union, the Friends
of the Phoenix. The general aim of this association was to re-establish
man in his proper position in the State, and the particular aim to
bring about the restoration of the long-lost leader, Wilson Renshaw.

The last mentioned feature of the programme, though at first received
with natural incredulity, presently acted with magical effect in
quickening public interest; and when secret, but authoritative,
assurances were forthcoming that Renshaw still lived, had been released
by the Mahdi, and was about to return to England, vast numbers speedily
enrolled themselves as Friends of the Phoenix. The great strength of
the movement lay in the voluntary enlistment of hosts of disciplined
men. The Police, the regular Army, and the Territorials, furnished many
thousands of recruits.

The old Household troops followed General Hartwell almost to a man; the
Corps of Commissionaires followed suit. These men, in turn, rendered
excellent, because unsuspected, service as propagandists among the
humbler classes of the civil population. Evidences of disgust and
discontent with the aggressive dominion of Woman were found on every
side.

The time was almost ripe. It looked as if but a match were needed to
produce a vast and far-reaching conflagration; and the main problem
that exercised the minds of General Hartwell and Sir Robert was how,
when the moment came, to use the ready instruments of revolt without
incurring the risk of bloodshed and the development of civil war. Every
possible precaution was taken. The Friends of the Phoenix pursued their
plans with the utmost secrecy, it being realised that, in order that
the projected _coup d'état_ might succeed, it was essential that it
should take the Kellick faction completely by surprise.

Finally, it was decided to seize the occasion of a banquet in the City,
at which it was known that the Vice-President would make an oratorical
bid for a new mandate from the nation. This banquet, postponed from
time to time in consequence of events at Dover and the President's
illness, was to take place shortly after Mr. Jardine's funeral. It was
announced that reasons of State and public convenience rendered further
delay impossible; "Reasons of State" meant the interests of the Kellick
faction; "Public convenience" had reference to the opening of a new
London railway tube.

An extension of the old Tube from the Post Office, via Gresham Street,
to the Guildhall, had long been a cherished scheme of the City Fathers.
The old approach through King Street and Cheapside to the head-quarters
of the Corporation was only suitable for use in fine weather. But
whatever changes and chances had befallen London during the first forty
years of the twentieth century, British weather had developed but
little alteration, and certainly no improvement. That State processions
and civic functions should be spoilt by drizzle, rain, or fog, as
so frequently had happened to pageants of the past, was felt to be
not merely inconvenient, but quite uncalled for. The new alternative
route presented many advantages. Celebrities and non-celebrities bound
for the City on great occasions would be enabled to enter a special
train at the West End, and could come to the surface in Guildhall
Yard. The feast of oratory and the flow of champagne might thus be
attained without the disadvantage of a preliminary journey through
the rain-swept streets of the murky city. In like manner the members
and officers of the corporation would enjoy similar immunity whenever
official occasion required them to go westward.

The feminine note in politics had something to do with the project; for
woman, advanced woman, in her hours of ease and finery did not like
to have her feathers and laces spoilt by London smuts and drizzle;
and woman, of course, had become very much in evidence in the City of
London. Facetious persons went so far as to say that the City Fathers
had been superseded by the City Mothers, and further justified their
views by treating the male minority as indistinguishable from a set
of old women. The arrival of Woman as a member of County Councils and
other public bodies, not to say in Parliament itself, long ago had
rendered it practically certain that the conservatism of the City must
ultimately yield to the onslaughts of the sex. In the fulness of time
a woman took her place on the Bench as Chief Magistrate of the City
of London. A wondering world was called upon, for the first time, to
do honour to a Lady Mayoress, who shone with no reflected light. She
herself was the Sun of the City firmament. Lord Mayor for some years
there was none.

The Lady Mayoress who held office at the critical period that had
now arrived was a devoted ally of the Vice-President, and bent on
advancing in every possible way the authority and interests of her
sex. To this end the Corporation, which had largely subsidised the new
branch tube, had solicitously waited the opportunity to entertain the
acting representative of government in honour of the occasion. On the
day of the banquet, the principal City streets presented their normal
appearance to the eyes of all ordinary observers. The Vice-President
and her supporters were to travel to the Guildhall by the new route.
There was no occasion, therefore, for decoration, or for the special
services of the military, or even of the police. Nevertheless, large
numbers of uniformed men might have been observed moving through the
side streets in small parties. In the neighbourhood of the General Post
Office and of the Guildhall these numbers rapidly increased as the hour
appointed for the function drew near. At the same time there were
similar musters in the immediate vicinity of the Houses of Parliament,
the War Office, the Admiralty, and other public offices.

There was no apparent connection between these various groups, but
in reality they were acting in complete unison. They had the same
password--"the Phoenix"--and were directed from one and the same
centre. In a word, one and all, these men were Friends of the Phoenix.

Towards afternoon, when Londoners began to look for the early editions
of the evening papers, which were expected to contain a summarised
report of the Vice-President's speech in the City, extraordinary
rumours began to spread throughout the Capital; and in the Clubs, the
restaurants, the railway stations, and in the streets groups of men and
women engaged in eager and excited discussion. The impatience of the
public became uncontrollable. Crowds besieged the news-vendors' shops,
and clamoured at the railway bookstalls. Even the newspaper offices
were invaded, and when, at length, copies of the evening journals were
available, hosts of people struggled fiercely to secure them. Scenes
of extraordinary tumult were witnessed. The newsboys, tearing through
the streets on their bicycles, were waylaid. Men fought and scrambled
for copies of the papers, and as placard after placard appeared, public
excitement was augmented until it reached the verge of frenzy.

 A COUP D'ÉTAT.

 REIGN OF WOMAN ENDS.

 RENSHAW RETURNS.

Wild cheers and shouts broke out when lines like these were read by
gaping multitudes. People came hurrying to their doors and windows;
drivers of cabs and omnibuses stopped their vehicles, staring,
laughing, shouting, questioning, and adding to the general babel and
bewilderment. The streets were blocked. The news ran through the town
like flame, evoking everywhere unbounded enthusiasm and the wildest
joy. The climax was reached when overhead were heard the wind-harps
of a fleet of air-ships. Fifty or sixty of the official craft had
been repaired and brought into the service of the Phoenix. Sweeping
over every district of London, they scattered tens of thousands of
cards bearing Renshaw's portrait, and containing the same three-lined
announcement that figured on the placards of the leading newspapers. At
the same time, throughout the populous provincial centres, as well as
in the Capital, similar cards in enormous numbers passed from hand to
hand, and were scattered lavishly in every public place.

But it was at Whitehall that the interest and excitement culminated.
For there, riding through the streets, bare-headed and gravely
acknowledging the plaudits of an enormous concourse, Renshaw himself
was seen, passing on his way to the House of Commons, supported by
General Hartwell and Sir Robert Herrick, and escorted by a jubilant
army of the Friends of the Phoenix. The Friends already were in
possession of all the Public Departments. Officials who withstood them
or protested were quietly but summarily displaced.

Everywhere the plan of campaign had worked like clockwork and without
a hitch; and nowhere was the bloodless revolution more complete than
in the City itself. The Vice-President's expected speech had not been
reported because it was never uttered. The Friends of the Phoenix, in
strong force, had taken possession of the Post Office Station of the
new Tube directly the train carrying the City's distinguished guests
had passed into the tunnel. At the same moment, another body of the
Friends had seized the Guildhall terminus. Only those in the secret
knew of what was happening in the depths of the earth. The City went
about its business, the banquet waited, but no guests arrived. At both
ends of the avenue the approaches to the Tube were completely blocked.
The force available to maintain the blockade was more than sufficient.
A handful of resolute men could easily have prevented access to or
from the level of the streets. The lifts, by preconcerted signal, had
been disconnected; the narrow winding staircases from the subterranean
stations were effectually blocked. No violence was used; none was
necessary. Behind the barriers at the top and at the bottom of the
staircases stood resolute men, determined and trustworthy Friends of
the Phoenix, who turned a deaf ear to all appeals and protests. No one
was allowed to go down; no one was permitted to come up. Questions,
clamour, threats from the imprisoned Vice-President and her party
availed nothing. It was necessary to isolate certain people for a
certain time, and isolated they were.

Meanwhile, London learnt about the great and new situation. The Friends
of the Phoenix carried out welcome change, and the nation got a firm
grip on the to the letter the plans of their leaders, and Wilson
Renshaw, saved from all perils, acclaimed throughout the Capital, was
triumphantly restored to a position of power from which no enemy or
rival could displace him.

But he had a message for the nation, and for all nations, and the
speech in which he delivered it thrilled the white man's world. He
warned the peoples of Europe and America of a coming conflict,
which would dwarf to insignificance all the international struggles,
however stupendous, hitherto known to history. The white peoples,
he declared, must abandon their mutual rivalries and ambitions. The
sexes in civilised countries must check their suicidal competition for
supremacy. Each and all must prepare, with united and unbroken front,
to face the common foe. They were threatened with annihilation. Not
so long ago the British nation alone had embraced 360 millions of the
coloured races of the globe. Vast numbers of these had passed under
other sceptres; but the change had only served to accelerate the rising
of the dominated natives, who, far and wide, had learned to realise
the overwhelming strength with which the weight of numbers had endowed
them. No longer would the Black Man submit to their absolute dominion.
No longer would the Yellow and the Tawny accept as their predestined
masters the little band of pale-faced rulers by whom they had so
long been held in subjection. The revolt was imminent. The Mahdi had
proclaimed a holy war. The Crescent would be in the van, and North and
South, and East and West, the coloured races would rise against, and
seek to overwhelm, the recreant children of the Cross.



CHAPTER XX.

LINKED LIVES.


Linton Herrick, losing not a day nor an hour in London, had carried the
great news to Zenobia. Much that wired and wireless messages could not
convey, he, as one of the inner circle, was in a position to explain.
But the triumph of the Friends of the Phoenix and the restoration of
Wilson Renshaw did not exhaust the subject of their conversation.
Linton was charged with an impressive and confidential message from
Renshaw himself. The restored Minister entreated the daughter of the
dead President to resort to no act of public reparation; he besought
her to let the dead past hold its dead. The story of her father's crime
need never be given in its fulness to a censorious world. Against his
enemy the rescued rival nourished no resentful bitterness. His feeling,
rather, was one of sorrow that the temptations of power and ambition
and the weakness of human nature had wrought the moral ruin of a man in
whom he had discerned many admirable and striking qualities.

Zenobia Jardine was greatly moved. She recognised the nobility of
Renshaw's attitude, but she still had misgivings as to her own path
of duty. The messages reached her at a time when she was torn with
conflicting feelings, bewildered by new sensations, impressed with new
aspects of human life, agitated by complex thoughts and emotions to
which hitherto she had been a stranger. It was a crisis in her life.
Subtle but masterful influences were at work upon her inmost being.
Scales had failed, as it were, from her eyes, and her soul looked out
upon possibilities of which in her unenlightened days she had never
even dreamed. Love, duty, religion--each and all had acquired for her
a deep and wonderful significance, and in her heart she feared to be
presented with the problem of choice. Could these things be reconciled
in the light of the revelation that had come to her? Would they be her
armour and her strength wherewith she could go forward to some great
predestined goal; or, if she chose the one, must she of necessity
eschew the rest? One thing she knew for certain when she again held
Linton's hand and looked into his face. This was the man she loved
and always would love--stranger still, it seemed as if he were a man
she always _had_ loved. But she knew now of his daring, his fidelity,
his narrow escape from death, and realised his clear, though unspoken
devotion to herself.

And he, for his part, had known no peace until he found himself at her
side again. Renshaw had placed at his disposal the _Albatross_, one
of the swiftest of the Government air-ships, and another engineer had
succeeded to the place of poor Wilton. Westwards he had rushed on the
wings of the _Albatross_, leaving the lights of London, its crowded
streets, its shouting and excited multitudes, far behind.

And now, side by side, he and Zenobia and Peter, her dog, engaged in
dog-like explorations on the route, went slowly across the quaint
bridge with its low-roofed shops that spans the Avon, and passed
through the streets of ancient Bath.

"What would you do? What is your advice?" the girl asked, turning to
him suddenly. They had been silent for some time, but each knew well
what occupied the other's thoughts. "Respect Renshaw's wishes," was
Linton's firm reply.

"But the will--the confession is in the will," said Zenobia.

"The will need not be proved. With or without it, what your father left
belongs to you, his sole next of kin."

She looked down thoughtfully. "It is your advice?" she asked, quietly.

"Yes, mine as well as his."

"Then I shall follow it."

When next they spoke it was upon another subject.

"This place strikes me oddly," said Linton, looking round as they went
up the slopes of Victoria Park. "I have never been here before, and yet
I have a curious feeling...."

She turned quickly. "How strange! I know what you are going to say."

"I believe you have the same feeling--as if we had been here before,
you and I together, as if all that surrounds us were familiar."

"Is this the first time you have felt like this?" she asked eagerly.

"No, but I have never felt quite what I am feeling now." Again, with
puzzled brow, he glanced round.

"Once," she went on, hesitatingly, "the first time we went up in the
_Bladud_, you remember that night ...?"

"Yes, yes, I felt it then," cried Linton, pausing.

"And the other night," Zenobia continued, seriously, "when I looked
from a window down on the lights of Bath I had a strange sensation as
if it were a scene which I had always known, and after that I had a
dream in which that feeling was confirmed."

"Curious," said Linton.

"Do you believe in the theory of pre-existence?" she asked, abruptly,
"do you think it possible that in some former state of being you and I
or others can have met before?"

"It may be so," he answered gravely. "Wise men have held the theory.
Who can limit the life of the ego--fix its beginning, or appoint its
end?"

"If the breath of God is in us," said Zenobia solemnly, "all things
must be possible. We, too, must be eternal. We may sleep and we may
wake, but all the time we live. The soul does not belong to time, but
to Eternity, and Eternity is an everlasting Now."

"Yes," said Linton, "why should not the spirit have an all-pervading
presence:--

 "Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
 And the round ocean, and the living air,
 And the blue sky, and in the mind of man!"

While they were speaking thus gravely, they entered the Botanical
Garden on the slope of the hill. Opposite the bench on which they sat
down they noticed a sundial of curious construction. On the face of the
dial, fixed at an angle, was an iron cross. They looked at the sacred
emblem, at first vaguely, and then with growing attention. Below it was
an inscription.

"What mysteries, what mysteries enfold us," murmured Zenobia. She
turned to him with a smile and a sigh that were pathetic. "What, I
wonder, is the true philosophy of life?" she whispered.

Linton sat silent for a moment. Then he leaned forward, and as he did
so one hand closed upon and held her own. "I think we have it here in
this inscription:--

 "The hours are found around the Cross, and while 'tis fine,
 The time is measured by a moving line,
 But if the sky be clouded, mark the loss
 Of hours not ruled by shadows from the Cross."

"Ah! The Cross! The Cross!" sighed Zenobia.

Linton repeated the word in a pondering and half-puzzled tone, raising
his hat with instinctive reverence. "I feel more than ever that this
place is not new to me," he added, rising and looking round with
wondering eyes.

"And I, too, have the same persistent sense of memory," half whispered
Zenobia. "There is a tradition that perhaps explains my dream--do you
know it?--that in the days of the Romans there was a heathen temple
here, where we are sitting, and that an early convert to Christianity,
a sculptor of great skill, erected a cross upon its threshold."

"And the sculptor was put to death! I have read it, or did I dream it?"
He turned and looked down upon the city, as if seeking some clue or
inspiration. "There was a priestess," he said slowly, "a priestess...."

Zenobia had risen to her feet. "A priestess of the Temple of Sul.
Yes! she, too, was put to death. They buried her alive." She pressed
the backs of her hands to her brow; her gaze assumed an almost tragic
intensity. "She had listened to the sculptor. They found her kneeling
by the Cross, and in the Temple of Sul the sacred fire had gone out...."

She paused. Each looked into the other's eyes. A flash of inspiration
came to both of them.

"Your face," she said, "is the face of the sculptor in my dream."

       *       *       *       *       *

Heavy clouds had been rapidly gathering overhead; the atmosphere had
grown strangely oppressive. So full had they been of other thoughts
that no reference had been made to the developments of natural
phenomena which had lately caused so much dismay in the locality,
and, indeed, throughout the country. It was known that the signs of
disturbance already chronicled had gradually diminished, and for some
days the volume of water rising from the thermal spring had been
little more than normal. The emission of smoke or vapour arising from
the fissure on Lansdown had entirely ceased. But at this moment the
sombre clouds that had gathered over the city seemed to be heavily
charged with electricity, and there was a peculiarity in the sultry
atmosphere which suggested some threatening association with the
abnormal signs that lately had caused so much alarm.

The day, throughout, had been exceptionally hot for the time of year,
but it seemed to Linton as if the mercury must now be mounting up by
leaps and bounds. An unnatural, brooding stillness had spread over
the whole town. The few people who were walking in the Park did so
languidly and in silence; a heavy weight pressed irresistibly upon the
spirit. All things, animate and inanimate, seemed to be subsiding,
drooping, under the pressure of some gloomy and mysterious influence.

Peter, returning from sniffing explorations in the undergrowth of the
gardens, came whining to his mistress's feet, as if seeking for the
consolation of close companionship. Zenobia sat down and patted the dog
affectionately.

"Peter is frightened," she said, "there must be a storm coming."

Linton looked around, but answered nothing. But he realised that the
signs within and without were such as people who lived in tropical
countries had more than once described to him.

Peter sniffed the air, and then gave voice to a long and piteous howl.

"We had better be going," said Linton, while Zenobia, still stooping,
tried to soothe the dog.

When she looked up there was an expression on Linton's face that
puzzled her. She rose quickly and laid her hand upon his arm, following
his gaze upward and around.

"What does it mean?" she asked, breathlessly.

"If this were not England," he replied, with hesitation, "I should
think it meant...."

As he spoke a low but formidable rumble became suddenly audible, coming
not from above, but from below. Fraught with indescribable awe and
menace, it produced an instantaneously petrifying effect. They stood
rigid, holding to each other, waiting, listening for the coming climax.
It came as in a flash. The rumble grew into a thunderous roar. A blue
flame suddenly shot into the heavy clouds above them, and beneath their
feet the solid earth rocked and swayed, again and yet again, as if with
the rolling motion of a mighty wave.



CHAPTER XXI.

THE WRATH OF SUL.


The earthquake, in the twinkling of an eye, had changed the face of
all nature around them, and while it did so it annihilated stereotyped
manners and conventional restraints. To Zenobia it did not seem strange
that Linton's arms should be folded protectingly about her, or that she
should cling to him, face to face and heart to heart. The moment of the
earth's convulsion had bridged a gulf and wrought a revelation. They
knew themselves, beyond all doubt, for what they were, lovers and twin
souls, pledged to each other by unspoken vows.

The dreadful shock had come and gone, but the external changes
and terrors which the catastrophe had brought about could not be
immediately realised. Presently they discovered that the ground had
moved with them, and that they had been swept to a considerable
distance from the plateau on which they had been standing. A great
gap yawned where the sundial had stood. Peter had disappeared. They
themselves had been saved from falling by the trunk of a giant
tree--one of the few which had not been up-rooted--while below them, on
the slope of the hill, new spaces were revealed where other trees had
crashed down to the ground.

The air was full of a strange echoing din, caused by the collapse of
buildings outside the limits of the park and in the town below. In
the midst of these reverberating sounds, and in strange contrast, was
heard the prolonged wail of terrified women and the shrill cry of a
frightened child.

Gasping, and looking up the hill, they could see, rising from
Lansdown, dense volumes of sulphurous smoke, through which shot vivid
gleams of forking flame. Elsewhere a greyish veil began to spread
across the land. A steaming, suffocating atmosphere choked their lungs.

"There may be another shock! We must escape for our very lives," Linton
whispered hoarsely.

Zenobia, white to the lips, made a faint gesture of assent. "Hold my
hand! We must find a way across the river," he said quickly.

Again she made an obedient sign; and Linton, guiding her, they moved
cautiously forward in the strange grey twilight which began to enfold
them.

Awe-inspiring sounds had been succeeded by a silence which was scarcely
less terrible. A sense of horror half paralysed their faculties as
they cautiously moved forward down the slope. Almost at their feet
had opened a chasm which revealed many solid blocks of masonry, such
as had been used of old in the construction of the Roman Baths. The
rending of the earth had exposed to view a section of what looked like
the foundations of an ancient and imposing temple. Between the massive
walls, at the bottom of some steps, they observed a narrow cell or
chamber, and as they stepped past the shadowy opening, Zenobia's foot
came into contact with an ancient Roman lamp.

Of these things neither of them was fully conscious at the moment. They
were mental photographs, vivid experiences unconsciously stored in
memory and fraught with a strange confirmatory significance not yet to
be appreciated.

Hand in hand, picking their steps apprehensively, they made their
way between the fallen trees down to the broad avenue leading to the
lower gate of the Park. Here, at the gate, for the first time they
encountered evidence of death and disaster in the town itself. Houses
had collapsed on every side; distracting moans and piteous cries from
unseen sufferers assailed their ears. For a moment they paused before
a monumental heap of stone and timber, impelled to render help in
answer to these vague but terrible appeals.

"We can do nothing," groaned Linton, in answer to Zenobia's questioning
pause. "Come," and he led her quickly round the wreckage of the houses.

Stumbling, half running, they made their way by a devious route down
towards the heart of the town. In Queen Square there was a frightened
crowd. Women and children, weeping and sobbing, were kneeling on
the roadway with hands upraised in prayer. Men came running towards
them shouting unintelligible warnings ... questions. Terrified faces
appeared at many upper windows. They saw a frenzied girl leap from the
parapet of a tottering house and disappear behind a heap of ruins.

In the lower streets the destruction wrought was less noticeable,
but a new terror was revealed. The sound of rushing waters reached
their ears, and every moment white-faced men and women tore past
them, crying in shrill tones: "The Spring! the Spring!" Then they saw
eddying streams of steaming, orange-tinted water creep round street
corners, overflow the gutters, and spread into the road. The water rose
so rapidly that they had to turn aside and once more take to higher
ground. They found themselves crossing Milsom Street, and as they did
so a loud explosion sounded at the upper end, accompanied with an
over-powering smell of gas. Screams rent the air, and another crowd
of men and women, some of them carrying children in their arms, came
rushing helter-skelter down the street.

None of the houses at the lower end had fallen, but several were
bulging forward and appeared to be deserted. And here already
the predatory instinct was at work. Linton caught the arm of a
filthy-looking tramp just as he raised an iron bar to smash the plate
glass window of a jeweller's shop. He hurled the thief aside, then
grasping Zenobia's hand again he dragged her forward, making for the
nearest bridge.

But once again their way was barred. From a great crack in the
roadway a fountain--a geyser--of the yellow, steaming water suddenly
leaped into the air. To avoid it they were compelled to make another
circuit. They hurried down some narrow streets and reached the open
space in front of the theatre. Fighting their way through excited and
gesticulating groups of people, they passed the hospital, and, turning
to the right, reached the front of the Grand Pump Room Hotel. Limping
and enfeebled invalids, who could scarcely move unaided, were streaming
from the the building, appealing eagerly for guidance to a way of
escape from the perils that surrounded them. Tremulous but unheeded
questions were heard on every side as Linton and Zenobia crossed the
road and reached the Colonnade. To their right, from the doorways of
the Grand Pump Room itself, another flood of tinted steaming water was
pouring rapidly over the broad pavement and stealing into the Abbey
Church. By keeping close to the opposite wall they escaped the stream,
and leaving the great Church, which so far seemed intact, upon their
right, they soon reached the space in front of the Guildhall. Only a
little distance and they would gain the bridge!

"This way!" cried Zenobia, as Linton, who knew nothing of the town,
stopped in hesitation. But as she spoke, the pavement, barely ten
yards away, bulged suddenly, then split apart, and with a violent rush
another geyser burst into the street. They drew back just in time, and
hurried breathlessly towards the Station Road. On their left rose the
tall building of the Empire Hotel; behind them was the Abbey. A sudden
shout impelled them to look back. A third geyser had opened in the
middle of the roadway, and in an instant columns of steaming water were
spouting high into the air.

"Quick! Quick!" urged Linton. His voice was scarcely audible, for
as they approached the river a mighty roar was coming from the weir,
dominating the multitudinous sounds of terror which filled the air on
every side.

In this appalling crisis earth and air and water seemed united as in a
ruthless conspiracy for the destruction of humanity. In the presence
of these vast, mysterious, and irresistible forces, man, the boasted
master, lord of creation, was subdued and helpless. The effect produced
on the inhabitants of the city was that with which the struggling
atoms of the race, accustomed only to a calm and ordered system, ever
encounter nature in her moods of unfamiliar violence. In tempests of
the deep, in the awful hurricane, when winds and seas mix and contend
in a Titanic conflict, nature ignores the puppets tossing on the
helpless ship, or half drowned on the surging raft. What is man in
presence of the waterspout that towers from the ocean to the clouds?
How shall he face the unfathomable whirlpool that yawns for the frail
boat in which he is compelled to trust? Whither shall we fly, when,
as now, the earth vomits forth from unimaginable caverns the scalding
water floods that she has stored within her depths throughout uncounted
centuries? None can stand unmoved when the hills smoke and the earth
trembles; when darkness, a darkness that may be felt, spreads in a
sinister and all-pervading veil over a world that seems abandoned to
the powers of evil? Powdery ashes were falling everywhere upon the
doomed city. From Lansdown a vast vaporous column, a dreadful blend of
water, bitumen, and sulphur, rose high into the clouds. As the great
column branched and spread, assuming the form of an enormous pine-tree,
the darkness deepened, save where, above the hill itself, red-coloured
flames slashed hither and thither through the cloud at frequent
intervals. Terrific explosions accompanied these manifestations; and
Linton, as he half carried Zenobia towards the river, was possessed
with the fear that the great hill might be completely riven and pour
forth streams of boiling water or of lava, that would not only submerge
the town itself but destroy all life within a radius of many miles.

Conceivably, indeed, it might be the beginning of the end--the end,
at least, of England; for what were the British Isles but the summit
of some vast mountain whose foundations were buried deep in the
unfathomed sea? It had been forgotten that Great Britain with Ireland
and its Giant's Causeway, afforded incontrovertible evidence of
volcanic origin. These islands, with the Hebrides, the Faroe Islets,
and, finally, Iceland, in fact constituted a vast volcanic chain, with
Mount Hecla as its seismic terminus--a focus more active than Vesuvius
itself. And here, at the other end of the chain, was Bath, where for
thousands of years the waters of Sul had maintained a disregarded
warning of that inevitable convulsion which, at last and in the fulness
of time, had come to pass.

In the midst of these flashing thoughts and fears that darted through
his brain, Linton was possessed with the conviction that their only
possible hope of safety lay in crossing the river, the surging roar of
which each moment became more audible and threatening. Others in great
numbers were animated with the same belief. Linton and Zenobia, indeed,
found themselves involved in a madly-rushing crowd of panic-stricken
men and women. Swept this way and that, they were in danger of being
hurled to the ground and trodden underfoot by thousands of hurrying
fellow creatures bent on self-preservation and on nothing else.

Still supporting Zenobia with one arm and fighting his way forward step
by step, Linton presently managed to turn the angle of the tall hotel.
On their right the river, swollen enormously by the inrush from the
hidden springs, had almost reached the level of the parapet. Boiling
floods had poured, and still poured, into the Avon, blending with the
normal stream; and the soul-subduing terror of the scene was augmented
by the great clouds of steam that rose from the surface of the hurtling
river.

With desperate exertions, still supporting his half-fainting companion,
Linton reached the turning towards the bridge. The narrow entrance was
choked with a dense and struggling crowd, through which half a dozen
men, lashing frantically at rearing horses, strove recklessly to force
a passage. Screams and oaths blended with the angry roaring of the
weir. The struggling people swayed hither and thither in dense compact
masses, while a body of firemen from the station close at hand, seized
the heads of several horses and forced them back to give the foot
passengers some slight chance of escape.

Individual efforts were futile in the midst of this confused and
fighting crowd. By the impetus and weight of numbers, however, Linton
and Zenobia, holding closely to each other, were swept as in a human
eddy on to the bridge itself. The same contributory force of numbers,
close packed between the windows of the shops, carried them rapidly
towards the other side. Again and again there was a crash of glass
as the terrific pressure forced in one or other of the windows; but
far more ominous was the angry, roaring voice of the invisible river
beneath them. Rising higher and yet higher every moment, it buffeted
the bridge with unceasing and increasing violence, the torrent whirling
round the piers and buttresses, fiercely impatient for greater
destruction, as it tore upon its way towards the thundering weir.

It was a question of time, and the time must needs be brief. The bridge
must go. Half way across, beneath the feet of the scrambling, sobbing
crowd, the roadway split and cracked. There was a sudden lurch that
sent Linton and Zenobia, with a dozen others, into the open doorway
of a right-hand shop. Like all the rest of the bridge buildings, it
was but one storey high, and at the end of the short passage a narrow
stairway gave access through a trapdoor to the leads. Linton, breathing
heavily from his exertions, gasping a few words of encouragement to
Zenobia, pondered in a flash the possibilities of the position. Those
who had been swept into the deserted shop with them were making frantic
and futile efforts to force their way back into the endless crowd that
still streamed across the bridge in such maddened haste. But a place
once lost in that dense multitude never could be recovered. In truth,
there was no choice, and in a moment his resolve was taken.

"The roof," he whispered, half to himself, "the roof!" Mounting the
steps, he swept back the trapdoor, and, reaching down his hand, drew
Zenobia after him. They emerged upon the flat roof of the shop. Only a
dwarf party wall divided it from the rest.

Below, on their left, the rushing and tumbling tide of humanity pressed
forward to the Bathwick side. Below, on their right, they beheld the
terrifying river, curdled in foam and throwing off increasing clouds of
heavy steam. They scrambled forward quickly, passing on from roof to
roof. Behind them came the sudden sound of rending masonry. A dreadful
scream, a wild cry of despair from the multitude, pierced the powdery
air. The bridge was slowly yielding to the enormous pressure of the
swollen river; but Linton and Zenobia had safely reached the other
side. Raising the trap door of the last shop in the row they descended
rapidly and gained the road. Here the congested throng spread out
across the wider space, and hurried onward to Great Pulteney Street.

As they paused there came a sound--terrible, arresting,
never-to-be-forgotten--the united wail of despairing voices, rising
above the crash of the collapsing bridge as it carried with it, down
into the boiling flood, hundreds of helpless and entangled fugitives.
Zenobia, clinging convulsively to her protector, drew sobbing breaths
at those appalling sounds. But for his supporting arms she would have
sunk fainting to the ground.

"Courage," he whispered. "Courage still."

For the moment he himself believed that on this side of the river they
were safe. But at that instant they felt again beneath their feet the
quaking of the ground--a long and undulating throb. They reeled against
a wall and stood there panting, until a quickened sense of peril
impelled them once again to hasten forward. Turning up Edward Street,
and leaving the church upon their left, they climbed the hill, until
exhaustion compelled them to sink down upon a roadside bench and ease
their labouring lungs.

Thick grey smoke, heavy with choking particles and powdery ashes, was
spreading everywhere; and from this higher ground, looking back towards
the fiery summit of the volcanic hill, they could see cloud after cloud
of fire-torn vapour mounting with spiral motion towards the darkened
heavens.

Wearied though they were, they struggled to their feet, and once more
set their faces towards the hill. Linton fully realised that the area
of disturbance was far wider than he had at first supposed. Safety, if
attainable at all, could only be secured by placing many miles between
themselves and the volcanic district. It was no time for weighing small
considerations. Silently he decided what to do.

They reached the house in which the President had spent and ended
the last days of his life. The hall door was wide open; darkness and
silence reigned in the interior. The servants, obviously, had fled.
Linton shouted, but no answer came. It was clear to him that the
engineer of the _Albatross_ was in full flight with the rest.

Bidding Zenobia rest a minute in the hall, he opened the glass doors on
the inner side and ran down the steps into the garden. There lay the
_Albatross_, ready, as he knew, for an immediate aerial journey. His
own knowledge of the mechanism of an air-ship, though not complete,
was now sufficient, or, at any rate, it must be trusted. The boat
was rather smaller than the _Bladud_, and in some respects contained
improvements. A swift examination of the machinery satisfied him that
the _Albatross_ was fit for flight.

Hurrying up the steps he called Zenobia. She came to him obediently and
instantly, calmness restored to her, and in her look a ready submission
to all that he thought best.

"Will you trust yourself to me?" he asked very tenderly, taking her
hand. "The boat is ready. I think you will be safe."

"I trust you in all things," she answered. "I am ready."

He led her down the steps into the garden and helped her to her seat on
the stern-bench of the _Albatross_.

"You can steer?" he asked.

"Yes, if you direct me."

"All's ready, then. Keep her before the wind. Now, up and away!"

He himself stepped into the boat and immediately switched on the motive
power, adjusting the gear to suit the plans he had already formed.

The _Albatross_ rose steadily into the air, then, gathering speed in a
few rapid circles, began like some huge bird to wing her flight from
the dread scene of the catastrophe.

Behind them as they sped upon their way arose another violent
detonation. Suddenly the clouded air was rent with vivid lightning, and
this revealed the falling pinnacles of the Abbey Church. Then, as the
thunder crashed above their heads, Linton beheld a vast and fiery chasm
open in the labouring hill. Out of its lurid depths the waters of Sul
leaped upwards in a mighty column, a fountain, as it were, of liquid
fire.

Then darkness settled on the scene, and all was still.


The End.



_BY THE SAME AUTHOR._


The Devil's Peepshow.

_By the Author of "A Time of Terror."_


Morning Post.--"_The Devil's Peepshow_ is a remarkable book.... Its
interest is never in doubt.... The causeries of this little company
afford just those opportunities for political criticisms and shrewd
moralising in which the author is singularly felicitous.... But the
political lessons are not framed in epigram alone.... The delightful
and erudite essay on the 'Weird of the Wanderer' is, perhaps, the best
thing in the book, and strikes the undercurrent of mysticism with
fine suggestiveness.... Whoever the author is, he is a man of nice
penetration, and a philosopher worth listening to."

Westminster Review. "Love and politics in equal proportions form the
main ingredients of _The Devil's Peepshow_, ... and the lurid title ...
serves as a fitting preliminary to the series of sensational episodes
that make up this story with an unmistakable purpose."

Liverpool Daily Post. "The volume is as thrilling as its
predecessor.... The central theme of the story, that of a strong man of
high qualities and noble ambitions, who falls a victim to the lures of
an enchantress, is well developed. The author has force of style."

Irish Times.--"The most impressive passages are those regarding the
unfortunate position of some of the middle classes."

Yorkshire Dally Post.--" ... it is a very up-to-date story of London
Society during the season 1906, in which all the prominent politicians
and personages of the day take part.... The novel is, however, no
mere sensational melodrama, for the author makes it the medium for
expressing very freely his ideas on politics and religion, which are
by no means complimentary to the present Government, whose individual
members he ridicules unsparingly and not without power ... the very
strength of the contrast gives it relish."



A TIME OF TERROR

(Second Edition).


Evening Standard.--"A politico-social romance of London and
England--prophetic, of course, sensational and thrilling."

Scotchman.--"Truly a time of terror, and the anonymous author has a
clever enough pen with which to expose the vices--some of them real
enough--of the opening years of the twentieth century."

Outlook.--"The story of a man's revenge against a nation, our own.
After war and internal anarchy, the capture of the Kaiser and the death
of the avenger ends with a national thanksgiving. Very eventful."

The Tribune.--"Whatever the cause, the occurrences are certainly
terrible; ... beside the lurid vision, enormous in range and horrifying
in nature, the accumulated sensations of a score of 'shilling shockers'
pale into insignificance.... The book is written with much spirit."

Yorkshire Post.--"The details are worked out so cleverly that there is
a thrill on nearly every page. This is the work, one would say, of a
practised writer, and the lover of sensational literature should not
omit to read it."

Literary World.--"This is a well-written, and in many respects a
powerful story.... There are many sensational scenes, and plentiful
satire of the social and political world of to-day."

Aberdeen Free Press.--"The unaffectedly hair-raising title is indeed
a fitting preliminary to a series of as startling episodes as have
stirred the body corporate of English fiction for many a day.... The
whole book is, it is true, sensationalism, but it is sensationalism
with a purpose.... Some passages contain a fine plea for the Christian
faith. It is a most original book, and at its lowest value an excellent
entertainment."

Newcastle Daily Journal.--"_A Time of Terror_ is original in conception
and vividly effective in development. Its author is sure to be heard of
again, and a later work from his pen will be eagerly awaited."

Third (Sixpenny) Edition now on Sale.

HURST & BLACKETT, Ltd.





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