Roy Glashan's Library. Go to Home Page
This "lost" Edgar Wallace opus — Patria—was commissioned in 1917 by the British weekly newspaper The News of the World for publication as a serial consisting of 15 episodes. It is the novelisation of the homonymous 15-part film serial and has never before been published in book form.
The film serial Patria was made in 1916 on the basis of Louis Joseph Vance's novel The Last of the Fighting Channings.*
[* This novel apparently never appeared in book form. Serial advertisements suggest that it was syndicated in Hearst newspapers. See the Louis Joseph Vance page at the BlackHat Mystery Mystery Bookstores.]
A synopsis of the serial at the AllMovie web site informs us that:
"PATRIA was [billed as] a "preparedness serial" (aka propaganda epic!) filmed in Ithaca, New York, and featured well-known celebrity Irene Castle and actor Warner ("Charlie Chan") Oland.
"The serial originally featured a Japanese spy ring, headed by Oland, after gold and munitions and the heiress Patria Channing, portrayed by Irene Castle. When then-President Woodrow Wilson learned about this story he asked the producers, the Wharton brothers, who were filming the serial in Ithaca with funding from William Randolph Hearst, to remove propagandistic Japanese references from it, which wasn't easy, considering that was the nationality of the main villains. New footage was then shot to suggest that the bad guys had hired Mexican mercenaries to do their dirty work, and their own Japanese names were replaced by Mexican ones....
"The story is a spy/sabotage thriller in which Oland's character, Baron Huroki, is out to plunder and destroy munitions factory heiress and political activist Patria Channing and the Secret Service agent protecting her from the acts of sabotage on land and sea he initiates, with his not-too-small army of invaders. The action is fairly large-scale for a serial, chapter 10 being an out-and-out war between Huroki's army and the Channings' factory workers, and includes innovative miniature work by the Whartons' special effects team, predating the Lydecker brothers by many years, and a fantastic train trestle stunt!..."
Following the serial's release by Pathé Frères Cinema, Ltd., Edgar Wallace novelised it for The News of the World, which published the first installment on December 9, 1917. Each installment included one illustration in the form of a grainy scene from the film serial.
The first-edition e-book offered here was transcribed from image files of The News of the World donated for publication in Roy Glashan's Library (RGL). Credit and thanks for undertaking the task of transcription go to Judi and Colin Choat at Project Gutenberg Australia.
Portions of text in several of the original files are illegible, or nearly so. In those cases where an intelligent guess was possible the probable text is given in square brackets.
Copyright for this book in its present form is held by Roy Glashan's Library. Persons and organisations who wish to distribute it in any way or manner must first obtain written permission from RGL.
Here are some additional details about the film serial:
Produced by Leopold Wharton and Theodore Wharton; directed by George Fitzmaurice, Jacques Jaccard, Leopold Wharton and Theodore Wharton; assistant director, James Gordon; screenplay by J. B. Clymer and Charles W. Goddard, based on the novel The Last of the Fighting Channings by Louis Joseph Vance; art direction by E. Douglas Bingham and Archer Chadwick; cinematography by Levi Bacon, John K. Holbrook, Ray June and Lew Tree.
Cast: Irene Castle (Patria/Elaine), Warner Oland (Baron Huroki), Milton Sills (Captain Donald Parr), Marie Walcamp (Bess Morgan), George Majeroni (Señor de Lima), Allan Murnane (Rodney Wrenn), Dorothy Green (Fanny Adair).
Additional Cast: Wallace Beery, Nigel Barrie, Charles Brinley, Jack Holt, George Lcssey, M. W. Rale, Leroy Baker, Rudolph Valentino, F. W. Stewart, Elsie Baker, Howard Cody, Frank Honda, Sojin, Robin H. Townley.
Review: "From the standpoint of the box office—and, indeed from many others—International's Patria serial by Louis Joseph Vance, starring Mrs. Vernon Castle, is probably the best feature of that kind ever produced."—Variety, November 24,1916.
Note: Film historian DeWitt Bodeen claimed that Valentino appeared as an extra in the third episode during the midnight frolic scene. [Source: Screen Facts, Vol. Ill, No. 5 (1968).]
Silent. Action. B & W. 35mm. Running time, 15 episodes. © International Film Service, Inc., 21 December 1916.
[Quoted from The Valentino Mystique: The Death and Afterlife of the Silent Film Idol, Allan R Ellenberger, 2005.]
If you would like to view the surviving episodes of the original film serial on YouTube, click here. — R.G.
CAPTAIN DONALD PARR, of the United States Secret Service, stood in the shadow of a hedge and looked thoughtfully across the links of the Newport Country Club. He was watching two men, one tall and young, the other a man of middle age and middle height with a heavy, sleepy-looking face. That he should watch them so intently was only natural, for Captain Donald Parr had come swiftly to Newport to keep these two men under observation.
The mind of one, at least, was elsewhere than on the game. Once or twice Manuel Morales, the elder of the two, looked round as though in search of something.
"What are you staring at?" growled de Lima.
The other man made no reply. He was watching a tiny white flag at the far side of the grounds, a flag that waved to and fro with great rapidity and with something like system, and he was busy memorising the message which the signaller was sending. De Lima saw the flag, but could not read the signal.
"What is it?" he asked quickly.
Morales was frowning.
"I shall have to go back to New York," he said; "the Channings have turned down our contract for the supply of munitions."
"The money is all right," said de Lima, "why should they turn it down?"
"Why do the Channings do anything?" demanded the stout man. "They are a law unto themselves, my friend. Channings are that curiosity, a patriotic munitions works, and because they think that the arms we are buying will be used against American soldiers, they refuse to sell to us."
He threw down his club and walked quickly across the green to where the flag had been waving.
Another had seen that message and had jotted in down. As Morales moved towards the hidden signaller, Donald Parr stepped back into the bushes and made his way through the thick plantation in the direction which Morales had taken. The Mexican reached the bushes first, and after a glance to left and right plunged into the thicket.
He found awaiting him one of the eight men he had trained from childhood to his service. He was a lean, leathery-faced man, unmistakably a Polynesian. It was said of Morales that he paid periodical trips to the island to recruit likely servitors. It paid him to give them a college education—the sharper the instrument, the more effective it was for Morales' purposes.
"You got my message, Señor?" asked the man, and Morales nodded.
"Channings must change their mind," he said. "I want those arms, and I want them quickly."
"You will never get them, Señor," said the man decidedly. "Peter Ripley is the boss of Channings, and will be till Patria Channing comes of age, and even after. I know what you are thinking. The young lady comes of age to-morrow, but Ripley will be advising her all the time. There is only one chance for us."
"What is that?" asked Morales.
"If we remove him. He is an old man, but he may live for many years. Let me settle with him."
Morales nodded, and a gleam came into his eye.
"The girl might be persuaded," he said, half to himself. "She comes of age to-morrow—I am almost inclined to try it."
He took out his notebook and wrote a few lines.
"Here are your instructions," he said. "I want you to probe into Ripley's past and see if there is anything we can find against him, by which we can hold him. If the worst comes to the worst, Ripley must go."
The messenger stuck the slip of paper in the band of his peaked cap and without another word disappeared into the bush, and Morales slowly retraced his steps to where he had left de Lima. His mind was working rapidly. De Lima was a man of substance, a great favourite with society, rich, powerful, and well-favoured. He was a friend of Patria Channing, and had the entrée to the most exclusive set of Newport. Suppose de Lima tried his fortune with the girl? It was worth the attempt.
Captain Parr had been a witness to the meeting, though his place of concealment was too far away for him to catch the gist of the conversation which had been carried on between the two men. He saw the messenger slip the note into his cap, and when he turned and dived into the thicket, Donald, after a moment's hesitation, followed.
At first, the man walked slowly, then he quickened his pace. Presently, he heard the footsteps behind him and ran. He knew his pursuer was gaining on him, and redoubled his efforts. As he ran he heard the clatter of horses' hoofs, but could not judge the direction whence the sound came. He clapped on speed for one final effort, and then, without warning, leapt out onto the road under the very feet of a galloping horse.
The breast of the struck him and sent him flying back, half unconscious. As he fell, Donald Parr dashed out into the road a few paces away, and, taking in the situation, ran to the fallen man and, bending down, pulled the written slip from the cap-band.
"I hope he is not hurt," said a soft voice.
The Secret Service man looked up. A girl sat astride the prancing thoroughbred, her escort by her side.
"Why, Wrenn," he said, "this is unexpected."
Rodney Wrenn bent down with a laugh and took the outstretched hand.
"Miss Channing," he turned to his companion, "may I present Captain Donald Parr, of the Secret Service. This is Miss Patria Channing."
Donald had no need to be told that this was Patria Channing. He had seen her many times, had shadowed her more often than she could guess, and not once, but many times, had stood between her and danger, although she was unconscious of the fact. It was the first time that he had met her face to face, and he saw a tall and slender girl with a high forehead, a pair of grave brown eyes, and a chin that stood for the obstinacy and courage of the Fighting Channings. He knew her by repute as the richest heiress in America, the mistress of a munitions plant almost as great as Krupps. He knew something of the romance of this family which had fought America's battles for a hundred years, and now, as he felt the firm grip of her little hand, he realised instinctively that the Channings breed still held.
"No; he is not hurt," said Donald.
"Was he running away from you?" asked the girl. "Has he committed a crime? He looked like a chauffeur."
"I think he is knocked out," said Donald, "but don't worry about him."
The girl turned to her companion.
"Why don't you bring Captain Parr to my dance to-night?" she asked.
"Certainly," said Wrenn, with no great warmth; "but Captain Parr is such a busy man that I don't suppose he will have the time."
"I will find the time, Miss Channing, if you will give me the opportunity," said Donald, promptly.
The girl laughed and, with another glance at the underbrush which sheltered the fallen figure of the fugitive, turned and galloped away; and Donald, looking after her, had the curious sensation of having parted with an old friend. He turned back to the bush to look for the man. To his surprise, he had disappeared.
Morales had turned into the club with de Lima.
"Listen," said Morales. "You know Patria Channing. She likes you. You have the opportunity of meeting her. Why don't you marry her?"
"Marry Patria Channing," said de Lima, thoughtfully, and an ugly little smile lit his face; "by the Saints! That's an idea—but where do you come in? Why are you so keen on this?"
"I want munitions," said Morales shortly. "I am much deeper, financially, in this revolution than you know. If it is a success—and it will be a success if we get the arms—I stand to win a fortune as big as Patria Channing's."
"Even of she accepted me, Ripley—"
"I shall deal with Ripley," said the other grimly. "Try your luck."
A waiter approached them.
"There is a call for you at the telephone, sir," he said.
"For me?" said Morales in surprise. He got up and walked to the booth.
He heard the agitated voice of his agent and closed the door of the telephone-booth.
"Captain Parr came after me," said the voice. "He has taken from me the instructions you gave me."
"You fool," snarled Morales, savagely, "why didn't you shoot?"
"Señor," pleaded the voice, "I was knocked insensible. As I was recovering, I felt him remove the note. What am I to do?"
Morales thought quickly.
"There is no time to be lost," he said. "Get away as quickly as you can. Make New York to-night and settle with Ripley."
That night a gay and gallant party gathered at Patria Channing's palatial Newport home. Donald Parr thought he had never seen anything to radiantly beautiful as the girl as she swung into the crowded ballroom, and his heart gave a leap when he saw that she wore two of the roses that he had sent her. And yet, for all the confidence in her poise, there was a look of trouble in her fair face.
Rodney Wrenn, who had also watched for her coming, saw that look, and was uneasy. He looked, too, for the flowers he had sent and swore softly when he saw that they were not worn. He half-anticipated the answer she would give to the note which he had sent with the flowers: she had rejected.
The night was not far advanced when he led her out onto the moonlit terrace. She had dreaded this interview. De Lima she had dismissed in a sentence, for, contrary to Morales' belief, she disliked the man. "I would not marry you if you were the only man," as she repulsed him from the too-familiar embrace which he attempted. She had disposed of his hopes without compunction, and de Lima had gone miserably to the buffet to drown his sorrows in her wine.
But Rodney was different. She listened in silence to his suit and shook her head.
"I am afraid, Rodney, that I cannot give you an answer that will please you, she said gently.
"Won't you give me a little hope?" he asked.
She shook her head slowly.
"I don't think that would be fair either to you or two me," she said in that quiet, even tone of hers.
The heard footsteps on the tessellated pavement, and she turned with a look of relief.
"This is my dance, Miss Channing," said Donald Parr, as he came forward, quite oblivious of the cold welcome which Wrenn offered him.
"So it is," said the girl; "but you shall sit this out with me and thrill me with some of your Secret Service stories."
"I cannot promise you anything thrilling," he said as he led her away, not knowing that he was fated to share with her, before that interval was through, an adventure that would eclipse all he had ever experienced.
An elderly man, sturdy and bald, sat at a writing-table in a
luxuriously furnished room in New York. The home of the Channings, though
unpretentious, was furnished with a taste and a richness which were eloquent
not only of the wealth but of the discrimination of its owner. It was a noble
apartment, the most interesting feature of which was the great marble
fireplace, on the tablature of which was carved in raised letters:
"Pro Patria Mori."
Peter Ripley, who had grown old in the firm of Channings, and was not only the manager, but the guardian of the Channings heiress, and no less the Channings tradition, found the letter he was engaged upon, one which was not easy to write. He was handing over the account of his stewardship and removing from himself the very heavy responsibility which had laid upon him for so many years.
Faithful servant of the firm, he had acquired position and wealth in the course of his service, and he viewed the coming release from the strain under which he had lived for so many years with mixed feelings. He was glad enough to pass the responsibility to the owner of the Channings millions. Yet he could not help feeling that the girl was very young and inexperienced, and he felt, too, that he would miss and regret the burden which had passed.
He sighed heavily, and took up his pen to complete the letter, when he heard the faint tinkle of a bell, and presently his negro servant bearing a card on a salver.
Ripley looked at the card and read:
"Herbert T. Sawley
United States Secret Service."
He raised his eyebrows in surprise.
"Show him in, Rastus," and in a few moments a capable, bearded man strode into the room and took the seat which the other indicated.
"I have had a wire from my chief," said the Secret Service man without any preliminary. "He tells me there is some sort of plot against you, and warns you to be on your guard."
"Another," he said bitterly. "Was there ever a time when there was not a plot against the Channings? But I am not easily scared. By Heaven! Mr. Sawley, I'll give those fellows who monkey with the Channings all that they ask for, and some more!"
"If you need me," said the officer as he shook hands at parting, "you know where to find me. I am in touch with the Central Office day and night."
The detective had hardly disappeared from the street when a figure which had been watching the house stole round the corner and made his way noiselessly up the steps.
The agent of Morales had left his motor-car at a nearby garage, and had watched the arrival and departure of the Secret Service man from a vantage-point of the opposite side of the street. He came to the door and tried it. It yielded to his touch. A few minutes before the detective's arrival and departure there had come a messenger boy to the door, and whilst Rastus was interviewing his master the messenger had slipped back the catch so that it was a simple matter for his employer to make his entry.
The intruder closed the door behind him, moved stealthily across the hall, and after a brief reconnaissance, passed through the sliding doors of the great study.
Peter Ripley had finished his letter to Patria and had slid it into the pocket of his dressing-gown. He had dismissed the yawning Rastus with a nod and now, on the eve of his renunciation of his trust, he was seized with an irresistible desire to look upon the great treasure which on the following morning would be automatically transferred to his ward.
He walked to the fireplace and looked at the carved letters. He pressed the "P" in "Patria." The letter sank back until it was flush with the entablature. In rapid succession he pressed the remainder of the letters, and as he pushed home the final "A" there was a click, and the great fireplace swung back, showing a square aperture down which led a flight of stone steps. He stooped and began the descent.
No sooner had he disappeared from view than the emissary of Morales rose from behind a settee and followed cautiously. The old man reached the big vault, and his hand was on the steel door of the inner strong-room when he heard the sound behind him.
He turned in a flash, and saw the bulk of the stranger silhouetted against the light which flowed down from the study. Without a moment's hesitation he leapt upon the man. There was a short struggle, two quick flickers of flame, two crashes as the revolver exploded almost simultaneously, and Ripley heard the thud of his assailant's body as it struck the ground.
He leant against the wall, his hand at the wound in his breast. He knew his end was near. Painfully he crawled up the steps, touched the secret spring which brought the fireplace back into position, and staggered to the table.
He gripped the telephone and called a Newport number.
"For me?" asked Patria, in surprise.
"Yes, Madam; it is a trunk call from New York."
"I wonder what it is," said the girl.
She was standing on the terrace with Donald Parr when the summons came.
"I must go. It may be something important," she said.
Even as she put the receiver to her ear she had a strange sense of foreboding.
"It is I, Ripley," said a faint voice. "I am dying—come to New York at once—written letter—trust...."
There was a silence.
"What is it, what is it?" cried the girl with apprehension.
"Come—New York—" said the voice, and she heard the crash of Peter Ripley's body as he fell forward across the table—dead.
In a few incoherent words she explained the situation to Parr.
"It is too late for the ferry," said the Secret Service man, "but I have a motor-yacht in the bay. I can take you across in time to catch the last train."
They flew up to their rooms to change. Had either looked back they might have seen the head of Morales rise slowly over the marble balustrade of the terrace.
"You heard that," he said in a hoarse whisper.
De Lima's head came up.
"What is it?"
"Ripley's dead. He has left a letter. We must get to New York and secure that letter before she arrives. Where is Kanaka?"
"He is waiting," said de Lima eagerly; "can we get to their boat before they arrive?"
"Easily," said Morales.
He led the way across the grounds; his car was waiting, and in a few minutes they were on the landing stage. They seized the first row-boat they could find, and the three, for Kanaka, the Polynesian servant of Morales, was with them, pulled off into the bay.
"That is Parr's boat," said Morales, pointing to a graceful motor-launch.
They drew up by its side, and de Lima sprang aboard. Swiftly, he disengaged one of the wires, lifted up the cushion, opened the petrol tank, and pushed the wire-end into the pungent fluid, and as rapidly replaced the seat and the cushion.
"When he turns on the juice, there will be an explosion," said de Lima rapidly. "What are we to do?"
"Commandeer any boats we can find. I will go out with Kanaka in one. You stay and watch events in another."
There were plenty of moored boats to choose from, and they had hardly concluded their arrangements when the figures of Parr and his beautiful charge appeared on the landing-stage. They watched them row off, and saw the detective assist the girl into the boat.
"This is where I go," said Morales and started his engine.
De Lima had no eyes for anyone but the two people in the motor-boat. He saw Donald Parr lean down to turn the switch. Suddenly there was a deafening explosion, and the stern of the boat blew away in a hundred pieces. The white-faced girl crouched in the bow.
"Don't be afraid," said Donald steadily. "There has been some foul work here."
"There is no danger," he said cheerfully; "here is a potential rescuer."
De Lima's boat drew alongside. The Mexican held out his eager hands and half-lifted the girl into the boat. Instantly, with a quick jerk, he pushed off from the burning motor-boat. Donald understood his purpose too late.
"You have left Captain Donald Parr," cried the girl in alarm; "go back, go back!"
De Lima surveyed her with a leer. She saw he had been drinking, and there was something in his eyes which filled the girl with horror.
"My young friend," he said thickly, "I have arranged for you to spend the night with me—do you understand?"
She looked at him with a white, set face, and with a little laugh and a shrug de Lima turned to the engine.
"Go back! Go back, I tell you!" cried a stern young voice behind him.
He swung round with an oath—but put up his hands, for he was looking down the barrel of a revolver, and the girl's hand showed no tremor.
He gasped, made one blundering step toward her, missed his balance, and before he could recover he was in the water, floating astern of the swift-running motor-boat, which was now circling round on its way back to the burning craft.
Donald was getting ready to jump when he saw the boat put about. In a few seconds he was scrambling aboard.
The girl saw the frank admiration in his face, and dropped her eyes with a faint thrill of happiness. Donald made his way to the stern of the boat.
"I am going to catch that train," he said between his teeth, as he gripped the wheel and sent the long white racer flying for the distant ferry.
Morales was well ahead of him, and had landed at the railway pier just as the train steamed in. He strained his eyes back through the moonlit haze, but could see nothing of de Lima. Satisfied with the night's work, he walked into the car and settled himself down for the journey. So far his plan had succeeded, and the rest would be fairly simple.
With the start he had, and with Patria hopelessly compromised, everything was going his way—then he heard his name called excitedly, and turned around to see Kanaka standing in doorway.
"Look, look!" he pointed to the window.
The train was just on the move. He saw the figure of the girl and her escort, and ran to the platform. There was nothing to do but accept his defeat with a good grace, and his hand grasped her arm and assisted her to mount the steps to the car.
She was cold and distant, and Donald Parr favoured him with a look which suggested to the conspirator that his part in the evening's adventure had not escaped observation. He walked through to the next car, followed by his man.
"Kanaka," he said in Spanish, "unless you can think of something to get rid of these people, we are finished."
"Master, I have already thought," said the man, speaking rapidly. "Look here."
He led the way to the platform and pointed to a long steel lever.
"They are in the rear coach. As soon as we get them into a lonely stretch one pull of this lever disconnects the car, and leaves them stranded."
Morales' eyes narrowed, and he patted the other on the back.
"Some day you shall be a member of the General Staff," he said, half in jest, half in earnest.
The train rushed on through the night, and the two young people in the rear car, so oddly thrown together by fate, discussed the exciting events of the evening, a talk relieved by seeing a solitary motorist in a long racing-car was almost keeping pace with the train, for here the road and rail ran side by side.
Suddenly the speed of the car began to slacken. "What are we stopping here for?" asked Donald, and walked forward.
The was no need to ask the question. He could see the front part of the train receding rapidly in the distance. He hurried back to the girl.
"Quick!" he said. "Morales has slipped us."
He looked at his watch.
"We must be ten miles away from any telegraph office," he said bitterly. "Morales has planned his coup remarkably well."
Suddenly he leapt down from the train, jumped the fence which separated it from the road, and, standing in the middle of the roadway, raised his arms. He had remembered the motor-car; it was coming toward him, slowing a little because the road at this point was not of the smoothest. The car jolted to a stop, and a pleasant-faced youth looked enquiringly. Donald showed his badge, and in a few brief words explained the situation.
In a moment he had lifted the girl over the fence and she had jumped aboard, Donald crouching by her side.
"Let her go!" said the Secret Service man, and "let her go" the motorist did with a vengeance. The road improved, and the speed of the car increased. In a quarter of an hour they were in sight of the train. I half an hour they were level, racing side by side. Down the long road streaked the car, roaring like a fury, sometimes flashing under a bridge which carried the rail, sometimes a hundred yards distant, sometimes within a few feet of the lightning express, and all the time the car was slowly but surely gaining on its giant rival.
Now they were on the top of a high bank, and the road stretched out in a white ribbon for miles ahead. They were level with the engine, but the train had also increased its pace.
"We have got to go faster or we are beaten," shouted the motorist.
"There is a level-crossing at the bottom of here. If we don't get over it before it closes we shall be held up, and I can never recover the ground I have lost."
He was using every ounce of power he possessed. The car literally flew, and the rush of air almost stifled the girl. Then ahead of them they saw the the great white arm which barred the level-crossing slowly descend. The motorist set his teeth.
"Put your heads down!" he roared, and switched over his accelerator. With a bound the car went straight for the pole. It looked like certain death. The express was only a little behind them. If they missed destruction at the cross-bar it seemed inevitable that the train would get them.
The girl felt rather than heard the shock of the impact, and Donald, looking up with his heart in his mouth, saw the great thundering engine almost on top of him, and breathed a little prayer, and then, before they knew what had happened, the car was across and safe, speeding forward along the road that led to New York and the mystery which a letter in a dead man's pocket would unravel.
OUTWARDLY there was no sign of tragedy in the appearance of Channing House when the dusty racing-car jerked to a stop before the door. Patria had a wild hope that all might yet be well as she thanked the kindly owner of the car for the service he had rendered her.
Captain Donald Parr mounted the steps, pressed the bell, and stood listening. He heard the shuffling of feet in the hall, and heaved a sigh of relief.
The door was opened by Peter Ripley's old negro valet.
"Thank God!" breathed the girl, "we're not too late!"
Old Sam stared at her in amazement.
"Why, Miss Patria," he said, in his Southern accent, "yo' surely surprise me. Marse Ripley—"
"Where is he?" asked Donald quickly.
"He's in hyar, sar." Sam led the way to the study and drew back the sliding door. "Marse Ripley, hyar's Miss Patria—"
Of a sudden he was smitten dumb, and Donald saw the frozen terror on his face, and pushed him aside. He took in the scene at a glance, and his hand was outstretched to hold the girl back.
"Wait," he said, gently, and went into the study, closing the door behind him.
Peter Ripley was dead—that faithful life had flown. Donald lifted him reverently, and saw the sealed envelope in the pocket of his dressing-gown.
He pulled the letter from the pocket. It was addressed to Patria Channing. They carried all that was mortal of Peter Ripley to a sofa and laid him down, and the black servant wept over him.
Donald passed out into the hall, and saw the girl sitting, white-faced and haggard.
She looked up pleadingly as he came to her.
"Is he dead?" she faltered.
"Poor—poor Mr. Ripley—murdered?"
Again Donald nodded.
"But we will find the man who did this, and he shall pay," he said, quietly.
He remembered the letter he had found and handed it to the girl.
She tore open the envelope and read in silence: the she gave it to
My dear Ward,
Your 21st birthday finds you the last of the Fighting Channings. Such being the case, I have to inform you of a Sacred Trust that now devolves upon you. One hundred years ago the first John Channing, dying, left half his fortune to form a fund for State defence in the event of inability, through unpreparedness, to defend our border factories against aggression. The fund to-day totals a hundred million dollars in gold, stored largely in a secret vault beneath this room, to which the password is your own name, Patria. Wisely employed, this treasure may prove the salvation of your estates and retainers in the hour of need.
She was bewildered, horrified almost, at this revelation of responsibility, but Donald's cool, matter-of-fact tone helped her to recover her balance. He led her back to the study.
His eyes had swept the room and noticed the motto "Pro Patria Nobis" on the entablature of the fireplace.
"The hiding-place must be here," he said, "and the word 'Patria' must be the key which reveals it."
He fingered the marble letter, pressed it, and was not surprised when it sank. He pressed the others in turn, and, without a sound, the fireplace swung back and showed the entrance to the strong-room.
The girl looked in wide-eyed astonishment from Donald to the staring negro.
"I will go first," said Donald. "Wait until I return."
Slowly and cautiously he felt his way downward, his hand on the wall. Presently, his fingers touched an electric switch, and, pressing the little lever, the underground vault was flooded with light.
He took in all the details with one glance—the overturned table, the broken chair, and the figured huddled on the floor.
"Stay where you are," he called up, sharply, and stepping across the body, he turned it over.
He recognised the man instantly. It was Morales' messenger. The man was quite dead, for Ripley had been and expert shot, and this had not been the first time that he had been attacked.
Sam came gingerly down the steps, and together they carried the dead man into the hall.
Then Donald turned to the girl, and they descended to the outer vault together.
"This is evidently the way to the strong room," he said, pointing to the steel door which was set in the middle of the wall. "Is it locked? No, thank heaven!"
He pulled back the bolts, turned the handle, and the door swung open. Stepping inside, he felt for an electric switch and found it, and stood gasping, for the light revealed such a sight as he, with his wide experience of the unusual and the bizarre, never expected to see. It was a small room with a vaulted roof, and was innocent of furniture. On one wall hung the picture of a man in Georgian costume. There was no need to wonder who this was. The broad Channing forehead and the strong chin of the race were eloquent testimony enough without the little plate below the picture which told that this was the great John Channing, the founder of the Trust which had passed into the hands of the resolute and fearless girl who was the last of her race.
But it was no the picture that astounded him.
This only held his eye for a second. It was the store which filled the end of the room. Box after box of unpainted deal was piled in order, one upon the other. The stack of boxes reached from the floor to the roof, and stencilled one the exterior of each was a brief description of its contents.
Each of these contained twenty-five thousand dollars in gold, while every package which was piled in between contained gold bonds to many times that amount.
The girl stood gazing at this enormous wealth. Unlike her companion, she was not overwhelmed by the immensity of this great fortune. Rather did she sense the power for good or ill that such riches represented.
"Please God," she said slowly, "I am worthy of this trust!"
Donald was about to speak when a faint noise checked him. He tip-toed to the door and listened, then switched out the outer light and pulled the steel door close.
"What is it?" whispered the girl.
"There is somebody in the house," said Donald in the same tone, and felt for his revolver.
Morales, racing up from Newport by the fastest express, had not failed to observe the long white racing-car which had so steadily gained upon the train, and in one lightning leap had smashed through the barrier of a level-crossing and escaped destruction as by a miracle.
He might dismiss the incident as the reckless adventure of some young speeder, but Morales was too careful and too alert a man to dismiss the phenomenon as coincidence, and, as he came into New York, his placid face clouded with doubt.
He drove straight to one of the two houses he maintained—a strange house furnished in that Eastern style he affected, with silken screens and lacquer and priceless china—and called his agents about him. De Lima was safe—he had had a phone call from him a few minutes after reaching home. All that was left now was to discover what had happened to Peter Ripley.
He stepped from his motor-car, and, without hesitation, walked up to the door of the house. He took a key from his pocket, turned it, and the door swung open, and he and his Kanaka follower stepped noiselessly into the hall. He put his fingers to his lips, closed the door noiselessly, and looked around.
The light was burning, and he stifled an exclamation when he saw upon the hall table a woman's hat. So Patria and the Secret Service man had got here first, and all his doubts as to the passengers of the white racing-car were set at rest.
As he tip-toed through the corridor he heard an agitated voice calling on the 'phone for the central police-office. Old Sam, from the doorway of the study, had witnessed the invasion, and had divined its significance. Springing to the fireplace, he had swung back the secret door before he seized the phone to call for assistance.
"Stop him!" growled Morales, and six lithe Kanakas had flung themselves upon the old man and had borne him to the ground.
Morales looked around.
Where are Patria and her companion? That they were somewhere concealed in the building he knew. It was not likely that they would be hiding from him: rather was it certain that they had gained the secret strong-room and were oblivious of their presence. He sent his men scattering through the house making a quick but thorough search, but without discovering the hiding-place.
He smiled grimly to himself. He would find a way, not only to hide all evidence of the crimes he had instigated, of removing two dangerous obstacles to the successful pursuit of his scheme.
A can of petrol was brought up from the car, unscrewed and splashed about the room. Furniture, carpets, hangings were piled in a central heap and saturated with the spirit.
"Now I think we can leave the rest to fate," said Morales, and, stooping, applied a match to the petrol-soaked carpet.
Swiftly, the band made its way from the house, closing the door behind them, mounted the car, and, after one glance, which showed them the quick flicker of yellow flames upon the dark blinds, Morales gave an order, and the car glided away.
In the vault beneath the study Donald Parr had listened to the soft footfalls above. To go up and face the intruders would have been a simple matter, but such an act would have necessarily revealed the opening in the fireplace, which somebody had closed. Then, again, he was one against many, and a chance pistol-shot would have left the girl at the mercy of her enemies.
So he decided to wait.
"They will be gone presently," he said to Patria. "You are not frightened?"
She shook her head.
"I am not frightened," she said, frankly, "but I have a sense of some terrible danger impending."
Suddenly she lifted her head, and a look of horror came to her eyes.
"Do you smell anything?" she whispered.
Donald walked to the door. Before he could reply a wreath of smoke curled up under the iron door, and with it came the pungent smell of burning wood.
"The house is on fire!" he gasped.
The outer vault was now filled was now filled with smoke. Clearly, safety could not be that way. He came back to the girl, pulling the door to behind him.
"We are trapped," he said bitterly, and looked around for some means of escape.
In the outer vault there was neither window nor, as far as he could see, door other than that through which he had come. He looked around, his mind working rapidly.
Fate had indeed played a fantastic trick upon Patria Channing to bring her to this treasure house only that she might be sacrificed, suffering the most horrible form of death in the midst of this tremendous fortune that had descended to her.
She must have read his thoughts, for she smiled faintly.
"I have not given up hope," she gasped, as a cloud of smoke drove her back against the wall.
It was whilst she was groping through the smoke for some way out that Patria came upon a way to safety. She had slipped, and, reaching out her hand, had grasped the picture of the first John Channing. The picture fell to the floor with a crash, and the girl with it. In the space where the picture had hung was another steel door. Eagerly, Donald tried the fastenings, and, to his relief, the door swung backward, and that not a moment too soon. The room was rapidly filling with smoke, and the heat was becoming intolerable.
He half-lifted, half-dragged the fainting girl through, banging the door behind him. Instantly came a rush of cool, sweet air. He found himself in the garden of the house, the trap-door being one of the stone flags composing the path which led from the garden gate to the walled-up kitchen. He ran down the ladder and lifted the girl tenderly in his arms, and a few minutes later she woke to consciousness with the breeze blowing on her cheek.
The streets were filled with the clang and roar of fire-engines, and, looking back, they could see dense columns of smoke rising from the house.
Donald Parr lifted the girl through the gate, and hailed a cab.
"I am going to see you to an hotel. You usually stay at the Waldorf Astoria, don't you—Suite 97?"
She smiled at him.
"Captain Parr, you seem to know a great deal about me."
Donald's eyes twinkled.
"In our service one knows a great deal," he said. "No, I'm not going to say good-bye until I have seen you safely arrived at the hotel. I think you are up against a pretty tough crowd, and a crowd, moreover, which would stick at nothing."
She thanked him with her eyes as he took his place by her side.
Scarcely had the cab which carried them driven away before a squat little man, almond-eyed, and unmistakably Kanaka, rose silently from behind a pile of debris and passed through the gate and into the garden. He was a man whom Morales had left to watch the side of the house. He closed the gate carefully after him, and his keen eyes searched the garden for the method by which the two had made their escape.
Presently he stopped and looked down. He had found the flag newly displaced, and, after a glance round, he realised the trap, and without a moment's hesitation, lowered himself into the vault. What he saw there was satisfactory, for he came out in a few minutes, his face working with excitement, replaced the trap, passed swiftly through the gate, and five minutes later had reached Morales' house.
The Mexican's imperturbable face gave no indication of the exaltation which blazed within him. He clapped his hands. The screens of his Chinese room slid back, and his servants appeared. Outside of a yamen* there was never so smooth a service as Manuel possessed. Not for nothing had he spent ten years of his life in the East.
[* yamen—The office or residence of an official in the Chinese Empire. RG]
His plan was formed, and in a few minutes he had outlined the organisation to these men who were little more than his slaves; then, putting on his hat, he made his way back to the Channings' house, slipped through the garden gate, and came to the entrance of the vault. He passed down the ladder with his guide, the trap was dropped, and, led by his servant, Morales came to the treasure-house, and stood gazing in ecstatic joy at his fortune which he felt might by a bold stroke become his.
Donald had dropped one of the boxes, and the rolls of gold were scattered over the floor. Morales lifted one and broke it, and held the shining pieces in the palms of his hands.
"Bolt the door," he said. And the wicket leading to the garden was closed, and the heavy bolts shot.
He knew that neither the trap nor the house would be left unguarded. It was only by a fluke that he himself had managed to enter. There was no time to be lost. He passed up the stone steps which led up to the burnt-out study. The heat of the fire had destroyed the mechanism, and the entrance from the study was wide open. He must take his chance here.
"This is where they were hidden," he muttered, and wondered whether Parr would return by this way. Patria Channing would most certainly remove the money by the garden entrance; she would not court the publicity of bringing the boxes from the burnt house, which still attracted the attention of idle sight-seers.
"There is no time to be lost," he said. "Follow me."
He stepped carefully across the charred rafters, mounted the blackened stairs until he came to the fire-exit on the roof. Up this he clambered, followed by his men, crossed the roof, and found another fire-exit which would let them down into the house he had rented next door.
He made his way to one of the back rooms, and pulled down the blind.
"Come here, Haki!" he commanded, and pointed to the window. "From here you can see all that is happening in the garden. Ah! they have come."
He saw the gate swing open, and two men, unmistakably detectives, come in. With them were Donald Parr and Patria. He watched them as they made their way to the trap, and smiled as they disappeared down the ladder. They would find the wicket gate closed, and he speculated on what they would do. The steel door would resist any attempt to break through, and he could only hope that they would not think of entering the ruins of the Channing building and attempting to reach the vault through the fireplace.
Apparently they had no such intention, for when Patria and Donald came back they stood talking with the two detectives.
"They are going to find a mechanic to cut a hole in the steel," muttered Morales.
He looked at his watch.
"I have two hours, Haki," he said, "and you will wait here and shoot the first man who attempts to enter the vault, until I give the word."
The Kanaka boy nodded. He drew a long-barrelled revolver from his pocket and fitted a Maxim silencer to the barrel under Morales' approving eye.
Few people noticed the gang of Kanaka labourers who subsequently passed into Morales' house, or if they did notice them, they must have associated their presence with the fire.
An hour later a constable strolled along and saw that a furniture van was drawn up before Morales' door, and that individual calmly smoking a cigar and watching the transfer of his household goods to the van.
"Moving?" asked the policeman, carelessly.
"I can't afford to live by the side of a burnt-out house," he said slowly, "so I am just transferring my furniture."
"Some of those packages are heavy," said the policeman, as he watched a labourer staggering under a heavy box. "What have you got there?"
Morales took his cigar from between his lips and blew a ring.
"Bronzes," he said, carelessly. "I have a lot of old copper—I collect that junk."
Satisfied with the explanation, the policeman strolled on. Had he pursued his investigations (and escaped with his life), and had he passed through the gate into the garden, he would have seen a hole gaping in the wall of the next house. He would have seen men working in feverish haste, moving the heavy boxes of gold which formed the Channing fortune.
Donald had gone back to breakfast with the girl at her hotel, and now, at the appointed time, he looked at his watch.
"We shall find the workman waiting," he said. "I have put two of my men in the garden, so nothing could have happened."
"What do you intend to do?"
"There is only one thing to be done," said Donald, "and that is to burn through the steel."
"How did the door come to be fastened?" she asked curiously.
"That is a question I have been asking myself all the morning," replied Donald, biting his lip thoughtfully. "So far as I can remember, it was almost impossible for the door to have fastened itself. I cannot escape from the idea that it has been bolted."
"Bolted?" She turned a startled face to him. "Do you think there was somebody on the inside?"
"It is difficult to say, and, of course, it was impossible that it could be so," he said with a little laugh. "However, we will make a start."
The workman was waiting in the garden with his cylinder and compressed gas, and his long, flexible blow-pipe, and Donald beckoned him forward. They made a group—the two detectives, the workman, Donald, and Patria—which it would be hard to miss.
So thought the hidden marksman crouching behind the window of the house upstairs, and steadily aimed his revolver.
One of the detectives fell back with a groan into the arms of his comrade.
"Oh, Donald, what is that?" cried the girl, in alarm.
Donald threw a swift glance at the house. It was from that direction that the shot had come.
"I am going to investigate," he said. "Stay here!"
She would have followed him as he ran down the path towards the house, but Ryley held her back.
"Stay under cover!" warned the Secret Service man. "Somebody's firing with a gun fitted with a Maxim silencer!"
But inaction was an unthinkable attitude for a Channing, and, flinging off the restraining hand, she ran in the direction that Donald had taken. She missed him, and set out to make an independent search. For in the heart of Patria Channing there was no fear, and the prospect of coming face to face with a would-be assassin held no terrors.
Donald, after a cursory glance through the window of the burnt house, had made his way into the interior. He knew the shot had been fired from somewhere above, and proceeded to mount the stairs, searching every room that could hold the hidden assailant. He saw no sign of the marksman, and continued his search to the roof. Here, again, he drew blank.
"It was either this house or the next," he muttered, and crossed the low parapet to the roof of the adjoining building. He lifted the fire-exit and dropped quickly to the attic floor beneath.
To his surprise, he discovered that it was empty. He opened the door softly, and listened, and was rewarded by a faint sound from the adjoining room. It was the unmistakable click of a revolver hammer being drawn back. He slipped his automatic pistol from his pocket, and flung open the door just as the Kanaka marksman was steadying his aim for a second victim. Donald's pistol snapped viciously, and the man at the window collapsed to the floor.
A glance at the man's face told the Secret Service officer all he wished to know. This was once of Morales' gang, and Morales was evidently the tenant of this house. Why had he disappeared? Why had he posted this man to overlook the garden? Donald raced down the stairs and out of the front door.
In the meantime Patria had followed Donald up the stairs to the roof, and, seeing the open trap, guessed that he had gone that way. She, too, was astonished to find herself in a empty house, for she had been ready with apologies for the tenant, whoever it might be, for her extraordinary intrusion. She had not heard the crack of the pistol, and did not know of the tragedy which had occurred until she opened the door and saw the figure of the Kanaka huddled by the window.
She fled in horror, climbed the ladder which led to the roof, and passed again down the charred and shaky stairway of her burnt home to the wreckage of the study.
Where had Donald gone?
The she saw the gaping hole in the fireplace. Perhaps he was down there. She ran down the stairs, through the door to the inner vault—and found herself held in a grip of steel! She half-twisted round and tried to reach the little revolver in her pocket which Donald Parr had insisted upon her carrying, but in the hands of the man who held her she was as a child. She looked at the grinning face, the high cheek-bones, the almond eyes, the broad chin, and then closed her eyes with a shudder.
"You have come in time, Missie," he grinned, as he scientifically bound her to a chair. "You-all go die velly soon!"
There was a little keg of explosive near the wall, and from that led a sinister fuse which twisted and curved across the floor. The end passed through the broken wall, and, after a quick examination of her bonds, the Kanaka, with a leering nod and an evil gleam in his eye, struck a match and lit the end of the fuse.
The horror of the moment overwhelmed her. She could do no more than sit staring at the little spurt of flame moving slowly across the floor. She struggled to free herself, but in vain, and then she heard a sound at the other side of the steel door and knew that the workman whom Donald had employed was at work upon the steel. She saw the paint-work of the door blister and crack under the fierce white flame which was being applied at the other side.
The workers on the other side of the door heard a muffled scream, and Ryley, directing the operations, stood tense and white.
"For God's sake, hurry!" he cried. "That is Miss Channing's voice!"
The girl saw the bubbling, blinding light of the oxygen jet eating its way through the steel. She saw the rough circle of fire appear on the panel of the door, and saw, too, the spluttering fuse burn surely toward the explosive. Only her hands were loose, and even they were restricted by the running bonds about her wrists.
Struggle as she might, she could not free herself...Then her hand struck against a hard substance in her pocket.
She reached down and could just grasp the handle of her revolver.
The fiery fuse was now approaching its deadly end. She aimed her revolver steadily, murmuring a little prayer.
The sound in that confined space was deafening. She strained her eyes through the smoke—the bullet had severed the fuse!
Then, as she sank back, swooning, in the chair, a circle of metal fell from the door. Ryley's hand thrust in, pulled back the bolt, and the door swung open.
"In time, thank God!" said the detective huskily.
PATRIA CHANNING sat before here dressing-table, deep in thought. The events of that morning might well have shaken the nerves of the strongest. The bewildering changes of fortune which the past twenty-four hours had revealed, the acquisition of the enormous Trust Fund which her ancestors had left to her for employment in a moment of National emergency, the sudden arrival of the overwhelming responsibility which had come to her on her 21st birthday, the knowledge that in her hands, in spite of the mysterious disappearance of the Trust Fund, was not only a great fortune but the fate of a great business—Channing Munition Works was the largest in the country—and the lives of thousands of workmen were all sufficient to rob her of something of the youth and buoyancy which had been hers.
She had, too, the unpleasant memory of her own disagreeable experience. Twice she had been within an ace of death and twice when it seemed that her existence could be blotted out, a protecting hand had reached out to save her. She was an heiress, a great factor in national affairs but she was also a woman, and as she sat before her mirror, searching the delicate face reflected on its polished surface, it was less of the material things that she considered than the new influence which had come into her life with the arrival on the scene of Donald Parr. She had known the Secret Service officer little more than forty-eight hours and yet in his masterful way the clean-cut man with the stern, unsmiling face seemed to have taken control of her destinies.
It was not of the lost Trust Funds that she now thought, but of Donald Parr, who had as completely vanished as the heavy bars of gold from the Channing vaults.
Her maid came in and the girl turned quickly.
"Is there any news, Celeste?" she asked the girl.
The maid shook her head.
"No, mademoiselle," she said; "Mr. Ryley has just been to ask whether Captain Parr has returned."
"But surely," said Patria anxiously, "Captain Parr has been seen. Didn't Mr. Ryley tell you?"
"He was seen going toward the docks, mademoiselle," said the maid, "and after that no one saw him."
Patria rose wearily, a slim figure in her déshabillé. Beyond her blouse and her satin knickers she was undressed.
"Will mademoiselle wear—?" began the maid, when there came a discreet knock at the door.
The French girl crossed to the door, opened it, and came back with a telegraph form.
"Wireless?" said Patria glancing at the envelope in surprise, "who would send me a wireless?"
She tore open the envelope and read.
All the girl's blood left her face as she scanned the short message.
"My skirt, quick!" she said, "That coat! Telephone to the wharf to have my racing boat ready."
"But mademoiselle, your car is at the door."
"So much the better," cried Patria with a light of resolution in her eyes. "I can make the wharf sooner!"
She was dressed in a few seconds.
"'Phone Mr. Ryley to follow me to the lower bay," she cried back as she ran through the doorway; "I have found Captain Parr..."
When Captain Donald Parr had emerged from Morales' house it was to discover that the furniture van which he had seen drawn up in the road had vanished. He saw the policeman at the end of the street.
"Yes, sir," said the man when Donald had displayed his badge. "I saw the furniture of that dago fellow. It went away a few minutes ago."
"In which direction?" asked Donald quickly.
"I believe to the dock," said the policeman. "As they passed I heard one of the men say something about 'Buena Vista.' I suppose that is a ship."
"Buena Vista?" repeated Donald.
The name was familiar to him, and then he recalled the fact that he had seen an announcement in the paper that the ship had been chartered by a company which had supplied arms to the Chinese Insurgents and was now engaged in performing the same office for the Mexican rebels. The arrival of the ship had created some comment since captain and crew were Chinese.
It was not difficult to associate Morales with the outfit. He thanked the constable and followed swiftly in pursuit of the wagon. He had no difficulty in finding the wharf where the "Buena Vista" lay, and from his place of observation he could see men hastily trundling boxes aboard. From where he stood, he could not be certain that the boxes which were being taken to the ship were those which contained the Channing millions but he determined there should be a full investigation before the ship left port.
He would have no difficulty in obtaining a warrant to search the vessel and all depended upon when the boat was leaving.
The hurry of the men who were loading the boxes was suspicious.
"They can't be going at once," he said to himself.
He sought a dock official and was soon undeceived.
"Yes, sir, she is sailing almost immediately, and I understand she is going down without a pilot. I think her skipper must be mad for there is a fog coming up and it is a ticklish piece of water to navigate."
There was a shrill hoot of a siren.
"That's her," said the official, "she's off!"
Donald turned and ran back to the wharf.
The steamer was already moving, the side hatchways had been closed and the distance between the wharf edge and the side of the vessel was slowly increasing. This was not the time to hesitate.
Donald leapt at a monkey ladder that had been left over the side, swarmed up and dropped over the bulwarks. Fortunately for him, he was unobserved. The crew were busy fore and aft stowing away the mooring gear. Since they were mostly in their shirt sleeves he took off his own coat to render himself less conspicuous and stole cautiously round the deck houses in search of a place of concealment.
The dock official's prediction as to the condition of the weather was in a fair way to being fulfilled. The fog had rolled up so that it was hardly possible to see a hundred yards ahead of the bow. He heard the jangle of the telegraph of the bridge and the thud of the screws came more slowly. This was his chance.
He glanced up at the riggings. A wireless aerial stretched between the two masts and he traced a drooping wire to a small deck-house aloft of the bridge. He crept stealthily along and stopped as he heard voices. One of these was strange to him. The other he recognised as that of Morales.
"How long are we going to be held up here?" growled the Mexican.
"Half hour, half day, who knows?" said his companion, speaking in broken English, and Donald guessed that this was the captain of the "Buena Vista."
"Half a day!" exploded Morales, "that might spoil all my plans. What do you think, de Lima?"
"If you go," said the captain, "you run ashore, and if Your Excellency runs ashore you will be finished I think."
Donald waited to hear no more. He opened the door of the little cabin and slipped in. Sitting at his instrument with his receivers clamped to his ears was a little Chinaman, absorbed in his reflections.
"Hands up," said Donald and pushed the muzzle of his Browning under the man's nose.
Slowly and wonderingly the yellow hands went up.
"You are the wireless man," said Donald, "take this message. Do you speak English?"
"Yes, sir," said the operator. "I send many English message."
"Well, fire ahead," said Donald. "To Miss Patria Channing, Waldorf Astoria, New York, 'Fogbound on board "Buena Vista" lower bay. Advise Ryley. Need help. Parr.'"
Outside the cabin Morales heard the voice and recognised it. He ran after the retiring captain and pulled him back.
"There is a man in there. You have got to catch him," he whispered. "He is a Secret Service officer and if you don't get him he will get you! Take this pistol," and he pushed the weapon into the Chinaman's hands.
"Now send this message..." Parr was saying when the shutters which covered the window of the wireless house were flung open and a hand gripping a revolver was inserted.
"Makee finish!" said a voice, and Donald looked into the beady black eyes of Captain Yo-Chen.
He held a consultation with the hidden Morales and his friend.
"I t'ink I best thlow him in sea," said the little Chinaman pleasantly.
"No, no," said de Lima eagerly. "Put him in the hold. If the worse comes to the worst, he will be a good hostage for us."
And into the empty hold of the steamer Donald Parr was borne. The flung him down against the rusty ties of the vessel and left him.
"The question is," said Morales when they gathered again on the captain's bridge, "whether anybody knows where our friend has gone."
"They know pretty well, now," said de Lima, "if that wireless message has been picked up."
"I am not so sure that the information will be of much use to them," he said dryly. "Our young lady Patria Channing is a very impetuous person. It is as likely as not that she will come off alone to attempt his rescue."
De Lima's eyes lit up.
"That is too much to hope," he said; "you expect miracles."
"I sometimes get them," grunted Morales turning again to stare at the melancholy mist which hid all objects from view.
The steamer was now going dead slow. To the impatient de Lima it scarcely seemed to move. To the trussed and bound man in the hold it was moving all too fast. He had satisfied himself on one point. This vessel held Patria's fortune. If he had any other satisfaction it was that he was still alive, for he had sufficient faith in his own star to believe that he could yet overtake the villainy of these conspirators.
Morales, pacing the deck from side to side, searched the sea so far as the fog would allow him, for any sign of pursuit. At the first sight of an armed launch he determined to go full speed ahead and risk the fog, but somehow he trusted to his knowledge of Patria's character and he was not disappointed.
Suddenly he stretched out a finger.
"Look!" he said.
Through the fog they saw the long motor-boat racing toward them, one figure at the wheel.
"That's Patria, by heaven!" cried de Lima.
"Let her come alongside," said Morales. "Captain, get your team ready to take that girl the moment she jumps on board."
The launch ran alongside the big vessel. Patria steadied it with her hand, slipped a mooring rope through the rungs of the iron ladder, and climbed.
She had made her chase in a whirl of excitement which precluded any consideration of danger, and it was not until she reached the last rung that she realised the foolhardy character of her adventure.
She hesitated a moment, but in that moment a dozen hands clutched her, and dragged her on board. Men concealed under the bulwark leapt up and lifted her, fighting and struggling with all her frail strength, to the deck of the "Buena Vista."
She was dragged and carried to a deck cabin and flung in, and she heard the key turn in the lock. Breathless, she sank on the coarse bunk in the corner of the apartment and tried to arrange her scattered thoughts.
She knew Donald was a prisoner. She knew of the fearful risk she had incurred. She tried the door. It was locked. The window was covered with Venetian shutters, and suggested a more practicable exit. Near by the bed was a three-legged stool and, armed with this, she attacked the shutters, smashing the thin laths and clearing a space large enough to climb through.
There was no time to be lost. Fortunately, they has not left a sentry on the door and the sound of her escape had been muffled by the thud of the engines, for Morales was taking no more chances and had ordered the captain to put on full speed. She slipped off her skirt, climbed through the window and dropped to the deck.
To attempt to discover the place of Donald's imprisonment could only lead to disaster. She must reach land somehow and communicate with the naval authorities. She was thankful that she had taken the precaution of fastening her motor launch to the side of the ship and her only hope was that it would still be there. She slipped along the deck in the shadow of the deck-house and, fortunately, met none of the crew.
A glance over the side brought joy to her heart. The motor launch was where she had left it.
A group of three men stood on the bridge—de Lima, Morales and the captain—and the smiles on the faces of the two former indicated their gratification.
"You are a wonder, Morales," said de Lima admiringly. "Who would have imagined that she would have been such a fool to come alone?"
Morales nodded slowly.
"I have now two hostages; and as for you, my friend," he said waggishly, "you have a wife, if you play your cards correctly."
"What was that?"
"What was what?" asked Morales.
"I thought I heard something breaking," said de Lima.
"It was the engine," explained the captain. "She makes fonny noises when she go velly quick."
Morales turned upon his confederate.
"Your nerves are out of order, my dear de Lima," he sneered. "I don't think you were intended for this kind of work."
"The thing has been too easy, and I am nervous," said de Lima, apologetically.
"All big things are easy," philosophised Morales, waving his cigar to a fog-shrouded horizon. "Only little things are vexatious. There is less trouble and less danger in robbing a man of a million than in stealing his watch and chain." His philosophy was rudely interrupted.
"Look, look!" screamed de Lima and pointed over the rail.
Morales' eyes followed the trembling finger.
Patria stood poised on the bulwarks, ready to dive. In another second she had flashed downward into the sea.
"The motor-boat!" roared Morales. "Hang you Ye-Chin, I told you to cast it adrift!"
He flew down the ladder, but the captain was ahead of him, shrieking unintelligible instructions to his crew, who came running up from every part of the vessel.
"Over, after her!" shouted Morales, and crewmen leapt into the sea in pursuit. But Patria had gained the motor-boat and had untied the rope.
At the same time one of her pursuers reached the side and began to clamber aboard. Patria lifted the heavy boat-hook and struck wildly at the man and he fell back. A second made the attempt and again she drove with all her strength at the shining head of the Chinaman.
Then she flung over the lever and the little boat swung round clear of the ship and vanished in the fog, pursued by scattering shots from Morales.
The fog was patchy—in some places dense, in others no more than a thin mist, and through the swirling smoke wraiths the motor-boat streaked.
Patria had no idea in which direction she was going as she sat, wet and chilled, behind the steering wheel.
She only knew that Donald Parr was in danger and that she must get help with all possible speed. Such glimpses of the shore as she obtained through the lifting fog showed no sign of habitation. She knew that somewhere about was a naval station and that if she could once sight this her troubles would be at an end.
She ran into a thick bank of fog and was in despair when, without warning, she emerged into the thin sunshine and uttered a little scream of delight.
For right ahead of her was a trim white steamer. The sunlight glittered upon its brasses and was reflected in the polished steel barrels of its guns; and she did not need to see the national ensign which floated at its gaff to know that this was the warship deputed to guard the coast. She brought her motor-boat alongside and a brown-faced sailor gripped her wrist and pulled her aboard.
"Where is your captain?" she asked.
"He's fo'ard, miss," said the man, gaping with astonishment at the soaked figure of the girl. In her sodden blouse and knickers she looked like a bather who had got out of her depth.
Patria had neither time nor inclination to stand on ceremony. She ran along the deck and climbed onto the bridge. The white-clad officer saluted her as gravely and with as little evidence of the amazement he felt as though she were an every-day visitor.
"There is a ship there," she gasped. "It has a prisoner on board, and the Trust money...I want you to stop it."
The other listened to the incoherent outburst and knew that the girl's trouble was something more than ordinary.
"Take your time, madam," he said kindly, "and just tell me what is wrong."
"The Channing Trust," she said breathlessly.
"Are you Miss Patria Channing?" asked the other with a new note of respect.
"And you have some money on board a vessel?"
"And Captain Parr," she broke in, impetuously, "Captain Donald Parr!"
"I know Captain Donald Parr," he said quickly. "Of the Secret Service, isn't he? Is he a prisoner?"
She nodded again.
"They have stolen a great fortune," she said, "that was left to me—a national trust—and Captain Parr—"
"I understand," said the officer.
He gave a few sharp words of command.
"Parr was after it, and they got him—isn't that it?"
She nodded again, shaking her head when he offered her a chair. She stood by the steersman as he sent the bows of the Government steamer into the fog. Faster and faster the little vessel moved. The decks trembled with the vibrations of the engine. Men tumbled up from below and took their stations by the guns. As yet there was no sign of the "Buena Vista."
She lay somewhere under that pall of mist, but presently the look-out man reported the presence of a steamer on the port bow. The fog was lifting now, and they could see the churn of waters at the "Buena Vista's" stern.
"She's going at full speed," said the captain. "I don't know that I can overhaul her. Mr Gregory, put a shot across her bows!"
The crash of the gun shook the little vessel, and Patria saw a column of water leap up in front of the bigger ship, but she did not check her speed.
"Try another," said the captain, "and send her a signal. 'Stop or I will sink you!'"
Morales ducked away from the rail of the bridge as the second shell came whining across the sea. The little Chinaman standing by the engine telegraph rang the engines astern.
"What are you doing?" snarled Morales.
"I stop her," said the Chinaman complacently, "that war ship she catch us."
Morales saw the futility of proceeding.
"We must sink the ship and take to the boats," he said. "If we can't have the money, nobody shall! Open the cocks!" he ordered.
The captain hesitated.
"That Secret Service man, he be down below."
"Let him go down with it," snapped de Lima.
Donald, in his prison, had heard the dull roar of the guns and guessed their import. He tugged at his bonds but made no impression upon the cords which bound him. Then he heard the engines stop and start again and the whole structure of the ship jarred. His heart leapt at the sound for he knew that the "Buena Vista" was going astern. But his joy was short-lived.
Suddenly one of the cocks near which he lay began to gush water. Another and another followed at intervals. His hair almost stood on end when he realised the murderous plan. They were going to sink the ship and he was going to sink with it.
He struggles desperately with the ropes, but without success. The floor of the hold was awash and the waters were rising every second. Now they covered his ankles. Now they reached to his knees. He wriggled into an upright position, supporting himself by the steel ladder which led from the deck.
Higher and higher the waters rose. They were up to his waist and every roll of the ship threatened to submerge him. If he could only grip the ladder with his bound hands he could rise with the water but once that water reached the roof he knew he was a dead man. He could hear the boats being lowered, the squeaking of the rusty chocks reached him and he heard the jabber of voices as the crew tumbled over the side.
Morales was in the first boat to leave, and with him de Lima and the captain. The other boats got away as well as they could and all pulled frantically for a deserted stretch of shore.
They were not, however, to make their escape in safety. The gunners of the war-ship saw the boats and shell after shell screamed over them, bursting to left and to right. Morales craft was the first to reach the shore and he turned to see the fate of the crew. He saw one shell hit a boat and reduce it to a mass of leaping timbers and then he fled into the bushes.
A boat pulled off from the revenue cutter and pulled to the sinking "Buena Vista."
Patria was one of the first on board. Had she come too late? The deck houses were searched without sign of Donald Parr.
"He must be in one of the holds," said the officer who had accompanied her. "Get these hatches off, men—quick!"
Two sailors scrambled down the steel ladder. They peered into the swaying water and presently they saw in the gloom a face. It was barely clear of the water. Another second and Morales' work would have been done.
They hauled Donald Parr to the deck, cut loose his bonds and led him to where Patria waited.
No word was uttered, but she put out both her hands to him; and he knew that he had found not only life, but all that made life worth living.
MANUEL MORALES, by birth a Mexican, by inclination a crook, by taste and habit a thorough Eastern, had built up about him an organisation of espionage which might have done credit to a Bismarck.
It may be that Morales was himself half-Eastern of origin for he possessed many of the characteristics of the Polynesian race. With his Japanese house, his interest in screens, his fastidious, perfect domestic service, he maintained, at any rate, something of an Eastern state.
A week after his fortunate escape from the "Buena Vista" he sat cross-legged upon a cushion in a sunny room such as he loved—a room bare of furniture save for a low table, an old vase and a branch of frothy apple blossom.
The light percolated through the thin silk screens that served as windows and flooded the white floor.
De Lima, with his long yellow face and unhealthy eyes, sat ill at ease in an inelegant attitude on another cushion and listened impatiently and a little fearfully to the even drawl of the Mexican.
"My friend," said Morales, knocking the ashes out of a Chinese pipe, "we must recognise facts. There is no sense in pining or regretting. There is no such thing as 'might have been'—a matter either is or is not."
"We seemed to have everything in our hands," groaned de Lima; "by God, I feel sick when I think of it!"
"Then don't think," advised the other, coolly.
"We had the Channing millions," de Lima went on; "we had Patria Channing, we had that infernal Secret Service man—"
"And we lost them," concluded Morales, "or shall we say, lost them temporarily? The big fact is that, though we sank the 'Buena Vista,' with its treasure, the money has been salved by Patria's agents. We have to start afresh. We have two objectives. The first is to secure arms in an unlimited quantity for the insurgents at Mexico, because our fortunes are bound up with their success—I would rather be president of Mexico than the owner of the Channing Fund—and the other is to recover that fund."
"That is impossible."
"Nothing is impossible," said Morales, smoking serenely. "Do you know Mrs. Adair?"
"Fanny Adair?—yes. She is a great friend of Patria's. I met her at Newport."
"She is also a great friend of mine," said Morales with a little smile; "a very extravagant woman, my dear de Lima. Loses a great deal of money on Wall-street; loses more at bridge, and has an income sufficiently large to feed a healthy hen canary. I am a philanthropist—you would never suspect it, would you? I act as banker to needy society ladies, the kind who accept with reluctance and promise to repay on the 14th of next month, but who arrive in tears on the 15th and borrow a little more."
"But Mrs. Adair lives in style," said de Lima in surprise.
"So my bank-book tells me," rejoined Morales, drily. "There is no harm in your knowing that Mrs. Adair is so deeply in my debt that you'd have to sink a shaft to get her out. I am expecting the lady and rather fancy this is she."
The servant who had entered carried a card and Morales nodded.
"It is the lady—show her in Li-pen."
The girl who entered so confidently was a pretty brunette, smartly dressed. She nodded to de Lima who rose at her entrance.
"Get a chair for Mrs. Adair—I never use that barbarous article of furniture," said Morales. "You are punctual."
"I was getting ready to come to you when you 'phoned," said the girl, frankly; "I suppose Mr. de Lima knows...?"
"Mr. de Lima is entirely in my confidence," said Morale, and the girl laughed.
"I am growing quite shameless," she said. "I just hate borrowing money, but I feel sure I shall be able to repay you one of these days, Mr. Morales."
Morales smiled. She was nearer to paying her debt than she knew.
"I sent for you—I asked you to come," he corrected himself, for there was still need for showing some sort of deference to her, "in regard to Miss Channing."
The girl's eyes narrowed and a curious expression came into her face which Morales did not fail to notice.
"You are a friend of hers?"
Mrs. Adair nodded slowly.
"At least she thinks you are," he smiled, "and I am going to secure your help. Do you know the Follies?"
"Of course," she said, in surprise; "all the fashionable people in New York go to the Follies."
"And you have seen Elaine?" asked Morales carelessly.
"The girl who looks like Patria? Naturally; everybody has been talking about her. She is not exactly like Patria," she went on; "she wears her hair in a different way. Patria's hair is 'bobbed,' and Elaine's is long, but there is a remarkable resemblance."
"Do you think you could persuade Patria to go to the Follies to-night?" he asked.
Mrs. Adair hesitated.
"She doesn't like that kind of place," she said. "You know how high and mighty Patria can be, but I think I could persuade her."
"Do," said Morales. "I have a big scheme on."
He leant over towards her.
"Suppose I wanted to play a little joke. Suppose I wanted to substitute Elaine for Patria?"
"What would you do with Patria?" asked Fanny Adair suspiciously.
"That is entirely my affair." Morales' face went hard, and into his almond eyes came a glint. "I am playing for a big stake, and I am prepared to go to any length to secure what I have made up my mind to secure. And let me remind you, Mrs. Adair, that matters are not going particularly well for you. I happen to know you are very heavily in debt—excuse my speaking frankly—and it will take something more than the thousand dollars I am going to give you now, to save you from ruin. It would not be good for your world to know—"
The girl shivered.
"It would be social death. I would do anything, anything to prevent that," she said huskily.
Morales put his hand in his pocket, took out his note case, and extracted a wad of bills.
"This will do to go on with," he said; "remember you are to get Patria to the Follies to-night, and you must leave the rest to me."
He walked with her to the sliding panel which served as a door, and when she had disappeared he came back to de Lima.
"With any luck we should have Patria like that," he said, and clenched his hand.
Mrs. Adair found Patria more willing than she had expected. The only complication was supplied by the arrival of Captain Donald Parr.
He raised his eyebrows when he heard where Patria was going to spend the evening and readily accepted her invitation to form one of the party.
To Patria the attraction of the evening was, frankly, that Donald Parr would be there. Had he seriously demurred at her going, not all the influence which Fanny Adair possessed would have induced her to patronise the entertainment. She was no prude and she knew the best people in New York thought nothing of spending an evening at a midnight cabaret, but such a place had little attraction for her. Yet, when that night she found herself in company with Fanny Adair and Donald Parr, passing through the vestibule of New York's gayest resort, she was in her cheeriest mood, a cheeriness to which the anticipated fascinations of the Follies did not contribute.
Morales had arrived an hour before and had taken his seat at one of the tables. He looked round carelessly at the big audience, recognised a few, but saw, to his satisfaction, that the majority of those present were not of the world in which Patria Channing moved.
And then his eyes sought for the dancer. The band struck up a lively tune, a bevy of pretty chorus girls marched down the steps of the stage, the curtain was looped up and the girl he wished to see stood revealed in the limelight.
"Look!" he whispered to de Lima. "Did you ever see such a likeness?"
The face may have been a little coarser, but undoubtedly this girl bore an extraordinary resemblance to Patria. She had the same graceful figure, the same swinging walk, the same shy smile and, but for the long hair that curled about her neck, she might have been Patria.
Presently the dance finished in a thunder of applause and Elaine the dancer, after a little bow, walked to one of the tables at which sat a gloomy man in evening dress, who had been watching her from under his brows.
"Who is the man?" asked de Lima as the girl pulled up a chair and seated herself.
"That is Edouard," said Morales; "he is the proprietor of the place."
"And the girl?"
Morales shrugged his shoulders.
"He is mad about her," he said; "he would marry her to-morrow but for the fact that he has already got a wife and she has probably a husband," he laughed, sardonically. "You know what these stage alliances are."
"I see," said de Lima.
The girl looked slowly round the hall, taking stock of the audience and presently her eyes rested upon Morales. He gave her an imperceptible sign, a gesture toward the chair by his side, and presently she left her partner, scowling more than ever, and walked to the two men.
"Elaine, I want you to shake hands with Mr. de Lima. Elaine and I have known each other for some time—I hope your friend doesn't mind your coming here," he said, with a glance at the glowering man she had left.
The girl shrugged her shoulders contemptuously.
"Oh, him," she said scornfully. "Edouard thinks that he owns a girl body and soul. I am very nearly through with Edouard. I can't speak to a man but he doesn't make a rough house about it."
"Jealous, eh?" said Morales. "Now, look here, Elaine, if you ever left Edouard..."
She looked at him quickly and shivered.
"If I ever left Edouard," she said, "I want to get out of this country—quick!"
"That will cost you money my young friend, and I don't suppose you've got a lot."
"He sees I don't have a lot," she said, and helped herself to a glass of wine which de Lima pushed toward her.
"I can make you a rich woman," said Morales, "if you will do what I want you to do."
She looked at him keenly.
"Is it something crooked?" she asked, "because if it is, I am not going to touch it."
"It is something crooked," said Morales calmly, "and you are going to touch it. Where can we speak to you?"
"You can come to my dressing-room if you like," she said, after a pause, and led the way.
It was a pretty little dressing room papered in black and white and after the maid had been dismissed Morales came to business.
He put his scheme in a few words. At first the girl would have none of it, but Morales was insistent.
He pointed out the great possibilities that the money held for her. He showed a way out of a life which had evidently become distasteful, a way which offered her not only a relief from an exigent lover who had grown obnoxious, but of ease and comfort under new skies.
There was this in the scheme, that it appealed to the girl's histrionic qualities. She was an actress and confessed that she loved playing parts.
"How do I begin?" she asked after a while.
"You begin by cutting off your hair," said Morales, "you have got to 'bob' it the same as Patria."
He took a photograph from his pocket and showed it to the girl.
"She is like me," she confessed. "Do you think if I cut my hair like that I would look as good?"
"Try it," said Morales.
On the question of hair she took some persuading, but at last, with the help of her maid, she began the work. Carefully studying the photograph she fixed a new bandeau and when she turned upon the men de Lima gasped—for this was Patria!
Patria herself at that moment was entering the big room and was making her way to the table which Donald had reserved. She noticed the curious glances which were flung at her, the admiring smiles that met her as she passed, and was a little disconcerted.
"Why do these people look at me?" she asked Donald; "they don't know me."
Donald himself had been a little astonished for in this world he did not expect Patria to be recognised.
The girl's embarrassment was increased a few minutes later when the band struck up a two-step and, at Donald's invitation, she rose to dance. She did not realise that she and he were the only couple dancing until the music stopped and a deafening round of applause came from the crowded room. She was startled, frightened, at the publicity of it and Donald no less.
"Let us go," she said hastily; "isn't this awful?"
Donald was as puzzled as any but his bewilderment was turned suddenly to indignation for a thick-set man in evening dress, and a man who had evidently been drinking, lurched across the room and grasped Patria by the hand.
"Where are you going?" he demanded roughly.
The girl stared at him in fear and amazement.
"Let go my arm," she said. "You are hurting me."
"Where are you going?" asked the man again and at that moment Donald caught him by the collar, swung him round, and with a straight left sent him to the ground.
He half carried, half led, the girl into the vestibule and sat her on a chair whilst he went in search of his coat. She was alone for, somehow, Fanny Adair had disappeared in the melee, and she was terribly frightened.
She sat tense with apprehension and sprung up as she heard a footstep. It was not Donald. It was the same dishevelled, brutal-looking man who had seized her so roughly. She would have called out but he had a knife in his hand.
"I've got you," he gasped. "Going away with that fellow, were you? You make a sound and you're out!"
He gripped her by the waist and swung her round and before she knew what had happened he had lifter her in his arms, had kicked open a side door, and had passed into a narrow passage, kicking the door to behind him.
Donald had witnessed the assault and had leapt to the girl's rescue. He suddenly found himself seized by half-a-dozen waiters.
"Leave Edouard alone," cried an urgent voice in his ear; "it is his girl."
Mad with rage, Donald struck out left and right. He tore himself from the grasp of the manager's men and flung himself against the door through which the girl had disappeared.
With one great lurch he pressed the door down and heard the crash of the tumbling barricade. Another push and he was through, scrambling over the fallen furniture which had been piled against the door to prevent his entrance. He dashed up the rickety stairs.
The first door was empty. He listened. There was a faint scuffling sound from above and he took the next flight in half-a-dozen strides. He kicked open the door. Something glittered and flashed in his face, and he caught Edouard's wrist. Then the two men closed. Over and over they rolled upon the floor, Donald clinging to the man's knife hand and bringing all his weight to turn the wrist. Presently, with a sharp twist, the knife flew from the man's hand. In the midst of the struggle Donald found time to look around for the girl. He could not see her. The room was half filled with packing cases and he noticed a roll of carpet on the floor, but of Patria there was no trace.
He had not much time for observation, for his opponent was strong and cunning. He was, moreover, half mad with drink, which lent him an additional strength. The struggle was now to secure the knife, which lay on the ground, and toward this rolled and twisted.
Powerful as he was, Donald felt his strength going. The man Edouard disengaged one hand with a violent jerk and reached out for the knife. He was almost touching the weapon when a white hand shot out from the roll of carpet and gripped the knife.
At that moment Donald raised the fist which the other had released and brought it round with a crash upon the man's jaw.
"Is he dead?" asked the frightened girl looking at the prostrate form.
"I hope so," said Donald grimly, "but I am afraid not. We have not any time to spare. He may have some of his gang up here at any moment."
But the way to safety was clear. Three minutes later Donald, dishevelled and grimy, was driving to Patria's house, the girl at his side, grimly chuckling, but still puzzled over the extraordinary end to this cabaret visit.
Morales was early astir the next morning as imperturbable as ever, though the mad jealousy of a man whom he had not taken into account had almost ruined his pet scheme.
At nine o'clock Mrs. Adair came and with her someone who might have been Patria Channing but was in fact Elaine, the dancer, beautifully and fashionably dressed, a little ill at ease, a little frightened.
"Sit down," said Morales sharply, "and don't interrupt me till I've finished. Patria Channing is leaving by this morning's boat for Newport. You also will arrange to leave by the same boat. I have arranged that you shall have a cabin next to our lady. Elaine will be heavily veiled and will be a very sick woman, and I have arranged for someone to act as her nurse. In the night a splash will be heard and the nurse will arouse the ship and say that he patient has jumped overboard."
"Nay," said Elaine sullenly, "I am not in this."
"You are in this my beautiful dancing friend," said Morales, "and very much in it. Are you mad? When you land in Newport what will you be? Patria Channing, worth a hundred millions isn't good enough for you? Think of it, beautiful house to live in, hundreds of servants, motor-car—all that makes life worth living. The pick of any man you want."
He saw the avidity glow in the girl's eye and knew that he had won.
"Besides," he went on smilingly, "I am not going to kill Patria. I will arrange a boat to pick her up and keep her quiet until you get away with the stuff."
Fanny Adair knew that he was lying, and that she was being asked to pledge herself to murder, yet somewhere the mere possibility of the girl being spared was sufficient to calm her not over nice conscience.
There came an interruption to the talk. One of the kimonoed servants came in and whispered something to Morales in a strange tongue and Morales went out. He found a man waiting for him, a man whose disfigure face spoke eloquently of the rough time he had received at Donald Parr's hands.
"Good morning, Mr Morales, you were at the cabaret last night. You know Elaine. I saw you speaking to her. Do you know where she is?"
"My dear friend, how should I know?" said Morales with a deprecating smile. "You seem to have had a very painful experience."
The man's face went purple.
"I will fix that fellow Parr," he growled.
"Why not fix him now?" said Morales quickly.
It was an inspiration. All the morning he had been looking for some method by which he could keep Donald Parr from going on board the Newport boat and here was a heaven-sent opportunity.
"How can I fix him?" said the man suspiciously.
"Get a warrant for his arrest for assault," said Morales. "It is the easiest thing in the world. You are not going to stand any man knocking you about are you?"
"That is not what I call fixing," said the other.
"It is what I call fixing," said Morales; "take my advice and do it."
And so it came about that when Donald Parr was stepping out of his room, his trunk packed and with a quarter of an hour to catch the boat, he was confronted by a plain-clothes officer and a constable.
"What is the meaning of this?" asked Donald.
"I am sorry, Captain Parr," said the man apologetically, "but I have got a warrant to arrest you on a charge of assault."
Donald drove down to the Central Police Office, made his surrender and was promptly released, but precious time had been wasted and, after a glance at his watch, he realised that it was a waste of energy to attempt to reach the wharf. And so Patria Channing sailed alone on a fateful voyage under the very shadow of death.
She went straight to her cabin and sat down. The stewardess who came bustling to look after her was kindly but loquacious.
"We have not got many on this trip," she said as she started to set the cabin to rights; "there is a poor young lady in the next cabin, very ill she is."
"Ill?" said Patria idly. Her mind was far away and she asked the question almost mechanically.
"Yes, miss," said the stewardess, "she came on board just before the boat started. I didn't see her face but she had a nurse with her and a lady companion. They say she's not right in her head."
"That's very cheerful," said Patria.
"I don't think these nutty souls should be allowed to travel," said the stewardess, "you never know what they are going to be up to, and there's a lot of queer-looking fellows. They look like Chinamen—occupying the best cabins too," the old woman prattled on. "I never did hold with Chinks travelling white."
In the next cabin was a silent group of three. Fanny Adair, nervous, on the verge of hysteria, Elaine the dancer, uneasy, a little frightened, but buoyed up with the thought of the coming splendour which awaited her, and the hard-faced "nurse" whom Morales had chosen, a woman criminal whose life was in his hands, and who could be trusted.
Night had fallen and the pale moonlight lay upon the water as the big white vessel ploughed forward.
"I'm afraid, I'm afraid!" said Fanny Adair in a hollow voice.
The "nurse" looked down contemptuously.
"Well, it will be all over soon," she said, looking at her watch.
She raised the slats that covered the window of the deck cabin.
"There she is!" she whispered. "Now is our chance."
Patria was leaning over the rail contemplating the water.
Without a word the "nurse" slipped out and walked carelessly to her side.
"A nice evening," she said.
Patria looked round.
"It's gorgeous," she said, "it makes one feel so calm and happy. We are miles from land now, aren't we? What's that island over there?" she asked suddenly, pointing to the low-lying grey bulk.
The woman laughed.
"Why, that is The Island That God Forgot: haven't you seen it?"
"The Island That God Forgot," repeated Patria wonderingly.
"Nobody lives there, and you couldn't swim there if you tried," she added.
Patria looked at the woman wonderingly.
"Who wants to swim there?"
"You do," whispered the woman hoarsely, and in an instant one arm encircled the slim figure and a big hand was over the girl's mouth.
From the dark shadows of the deck came a figure and moved noiselessly to the side and lifted the girl in his strong arms.
She saw the hideous face of the man and screamed and at that instant he flung her, still screaming, into the sea.
Somebody shouted an order, they heard the clang of the engine bell, and the "nurse" leapt back into the cabin, gripped Elaine by the arm, and pushed her through the door of the cabin which Patria had evacuated.
"You are Patria Channing, now," she whispered fiercely, "do you hear? You are Patria Channing. I am going to tell them that my patient's leapt overboard."
She slammed the door and turned to face the startled passengers and member so the crew who came flying long the deck.
"Help, help!" she screamed, beating her breast in a simulation of panic, "my young lady jumped overboard."
"Jumped overboard?" said the captain.
"Yes, yes," said the 'nurse,' "she was mad—mad. I was asleep and she got out and leapt over the rail."
The captain leant over the side.
"God help her!" he said. "For there is no chance of saving her. The nearest land is ten miles away and I could not pick her up. Hello," his eye caught the bulwark, "there is a life-belt gone. Did you throw it?" he asked the "nurse."
"Me, no," stammered the woman, forgetting her role of distracted guardian for the moment. "I didn't throw it."
"Well, it's gone," said the captain. "I wonder who did it?"
Fanny Adair, half swooning behind the lattice of Patria's cabin, might have supplied an answer. For she it was who, in an agony of repentance, had sprung out to the deck and flung the life-belt toward the place where Patria had disappeared.
THEY called it The Island That God Forgot. Who christened it with that name no one knows, but probably it went back to the [dawn of] time. A low-lying strip [of land] covered with wild vegetation and susceptible to inundation during the periods of storm when wild north winds raged along the coast to [offer even the most] eccentric an attraction [spot for] settlement.
Yet around this desolate place centred the hopes of the Mexican insurgents. To [its shores, on dark nights, came] launches and row-boats packed with heavy square boxes which were carried ashore by indefatiguable labourers and deposited in one of the dozen huts which the company had erected. For this place was no less than a great ammunition dump to which the cartridges belts and high explosives purchased secretly and in small quantities all over the United States were brought and stored.
Miguel Fuentes, one of the Mexican overseers, strolled out of his hut in the early hours of the morning, rolling a cigarette as he went. The day was dawning greyly and the mystery of the waters was intensified by a slight fog which lay on the sea.
He reached the shore and looked around him with a dissatisfied air. This chilly northern atmosphere depressed him. He longed for the dry arroyos, for the sun-parched lands of the south, for the perilous heat that beat down upon the plains or the cool breezes which came at night from the snow-capped Sierras. He gave a grunt, licked the cigarette paper and was fastening it when his eyes strained seeward, focussed upon something which was floating with the current close to the shore.
"Santa Maria!" he muttered, "it is a woman!"
He saw the apparently lifeless figure of a girl, her head and shoulders supported by an encircling life-belt, her two arms outthrust, dangling limply in the water, and kneeling down he stretched out his hand, gripped the belt and drew it to him. In this strange way did Patria Channing come to The Island That God Forgot.
Patria Channing undoubtedly owed her life to the buoy which had been thrown to her by the repentant Mrs. Adair. Strong swimmer as she was she could not have covered the distance which separated her from the island. Supported by the belt, she had swum steadily throughout the night until, exhausted, she had lapsed into unconsciousness. Fortunately the strong current which swept toward the island had brought her landward.
"Where am I?" she asked, pushing back her hair and looking about the place.
"You are safe, Señorita," said the man who stood looking down at her. "I saved you. I, Miguel Fuentes." He slapped his chest.
"But where am I?" asked the girl, struggling to a sitting position on the edge of the bed. "I was in a ship and somebody threw me overboard. I want to go home. I am Miss—"
The Mexican smiled with an attempt at gallantry.
"You are home, little miss," he said with a leer. "This is my home on The Island That God Forgot. Here you shall stay and be happy, my little sea nymph."
There was something in the man's tone which the girl did not like. There was a fire in his eye which was all too significant.
He drank down a tumbler of brandy, wiped his mouth with his sleeve, and looked out of the window.
From where he stood he saw a little Kanaka in deep conversation with one of his countrymen. Evidently the rescue had been witnessed and presently the Polynesian foreman came to the house followed by two of the men. The Mexican's eyes narrowed. He loosened the revolver in the holster at his hip and unbarred the door.
"Who have you got here," demanded the Oriental.
Miguel stood between the girl and the three visitors, his thumbs in his belt, his insolent eyes looking down upon the smaller man.
"It is a friend of mine," he said.
"You not allowed to have friends on this island," said the little man. "She come with me."
"She stays here," snarled the Mexican. "I found her and she is mine."
The little man turned to his followers.
"Take the woman!" he said shortly.
Miguel's hand dropped to his gun and then both his hands shot up in the air, for the Polynesian's revolver covered him.
"Take the woman," said the leader again.
The girl watching the scene saw Miguel's hand reach back slowly until it grasped a small package that stood on the table, a package which she thought at first was the dry battery of some portable electric lamp.
Suddenly the Mexican raised the "battery" in the air.
"Stop!" he said, and there was a note of triumph in his voice and, to her amazement, she saw the Polynesian step back with a look of fear.
"You know what this is, you damned Chink," said Miguel. "There is enough nitro-glycerine here to blow you and this house to hell. Now get out!"
The three men backed out hurriedly and the Mexican closed the door again and broke into a chuckle of laughter as he replaced the little canister on the table.
"You can have me or you can have the Chinks," he said. "There is no other choice. Come."
He grasped her again, pinioning her in his strong arms and his hot lips sought hers.
The girl screamed, but if she was heard there was none who dared to force the door. Then of a sudden she jerked one hand free. Out of the corner of her eye she had seen that the canister of nitro-glycerine still stood on the table. He did not realise her purpose until, with a super-human jerk she had flung him from her.
"Stand back!" she gasped.
"Put it down, Señorita," he stammered, cowering back to the door. "Holy saints, you don't know what you are doing."
"Open that door," said the girl.
The man's face went grey with terror. Outside the door he knew that death awaited him, as sure as it awaited here in this room if the girl carried her threat into execution.
"Don't ask me, Señorita," he whined.
"Open that door," she said again.
He hesitated then, with shaking hands, he lifted the bar and opened the door a few inches. As he did so there was a crack of a rifle and a bullet struck the lintel of the door, sending a shower of splinters into the room. Quick as a flash he closed the door and dropped the bar.
"You see, you see," he said breathlessly, "they are waiting, the yellow men, Señorita, there is death outside!"
Patria thought rapidly. She still held the canister, poised ready to hurl at him whatever the consequences for herself. Yet it was impossible to make her escape by the door, and to send the man out was to send him to his death, without his death in any way benefiting her.
"Put up your hands," she said, "and come nearer. Now turn round."
Swiftly she slipped the revolver from his holster and, still retaining the packet of explosives, she turned the muzzle of the pistol upon the unarmed man.
"Is there no way out?" she asked.
In some curious way they both seemed to forget the roles they had played only a few seconds before, he the hunter, she the quarry. Both were now hunted, both in danger of death and ill-assorted comrades in their endeavour to reach safety.
"There is only one chance," said the man speaking rapidly, "and that is the aeroplane."
"The aeroplane," said the girl in surprise.
"Yes, yes," said the man impatiently, "in the next shed there is a two-seater. If we can get this out and start it we can reach safety."
He walked to the shuttered window, carefully unbolted and opened it a few inches. He closed it again.
"There are sentries on this side, too," he said in despair, "our only chance is to rush for it, Señorita, through that door. They won't fire into here for fear of blowing up the store."
He led the way through yet another door, along a passage of unpainted pine, and, stealthily opening a third door at the end, stepped out. A hasty glance round showed no sign of sentries and he beckoned to her.
They crept cautiously through a tangle of bushes, a journey which seemed interminable to Patria, until, with his finger on his lip, the Mexican turned.
"There is the shed," he whispered, and pointed to a low, broad, wooden building, one end of which consisted of a pair of doors which ran the entire width of the hangar.
Fortunately it was unlocked and Miguel, after a glance round, threw open the doors, revealing the long red propeller of an aeroplane. Again he made a cautious survey. There was nobody in sight. Miguel turned to the machine, his hand was on the fuselage, his lips were framing the words of instruction. Patria, with a heart beating high with hope, was preparing to mount into one of the seats when a shot rang out and Miguel fell forward on his face, dead.
Patria saw the bushes move, saw the cruel faces of the Polynesian guards peering through the leafy screen, heard the quick scramble of feet as they came driving through the bushes toward her, and then her heart gave a leap for a voice she knew cried:—
Donald Parr, having lost the boat to Newport through the subterfuge of his enemy, was confronted with the problem of reaching Patria. From New York to Newport is not a very considerable distance, but it takes time and, at best, he must wait for twenty-four hours for a boat and twelve hours for a train.
"I don't like Miss Channing being in Newport alone," he said, troubled.
The grey-bearded Ryley, his assistant, smiled to himself. He pretty well knew the cause of Captain Parr's anxiety to rejoin the fascinating head of the Channing family.
"Well, sir," he said drily, "there are other ways of getting to Newport, I guess, than by walking or swimming.
"There is a boat and there is a train," growled Donald. "Can you suggest any other way?"
"Well, sir," said Ryley, "you are a soldier, and I have heard that you have taken your certificate as a flying man. Why not 'phone the naval department and get the use of a seaplane?"
"By Jove! That's an idea," said Donald. "Just wait."
He was out of the room ten minutes and came back exultant.
"The commodore says I can take a machine from the beach," he said, delightedly. "They have just 'phoned down to tell Squadron 8 to put one at my disposal."
"Fine," said Ryley, "I won't come down and see you off, Captain. I am still trying to discover what has happened to that dancing girl."
"She disappeared last night. That, apparently, is what is wrong with Edouard."
"Where has she gone?"
Ryley shrugged his shoulders.
"If a man tried to keep tab of where a dancing girl spends her evenings he would go mad. Still, there is something queer about it. Elaine is not at her lodgings. She is nowhere in New York that I can discover and she has not been seen to leave. And I don't like the fact that she is the exact replica of Miss Channing. I think that fellow Morales is trying some of his funny business."
"He had better not," said Donald grimly.
He made his way to where the seaplane was waiting for him and discovered, in the mechanics who were preparing the machine for the flight, two old acquaintances.
Donald climbed into the fuselage.
"There is a rifle here," he said. "I don't think I shall want this."
"You had better take it, sir," said the mechanic. "Are you ready?"
Donald nodded. The man standing upon the great floats of the aeroplane pulled down the propeller blade and half a minute later Donald was skimming the waves, seaward, going faster every second, until, with a touch of his controls, he sent the white bird humming swiftly into the air.
He made Newport beach without mishap, left the seaplane in care of a naval guard, and made his way to Patria's beautiful "Cottage."
He was instantly admitted.
"Tell Miss Channing I have arrived, will you John."
"Yes, sir," said the man. "Why, what is the matter?"
The footman was talking to the neatly-dressed maid who was coming slowly down the stairs, her apron to her eyes, sobbing as if to break her heart.
So unusual a sight interested even Captain Parr. He knew the girl, having seen her attending upon Patria.
"What's the matter, Marie?" he asked.
"Oh, sir," sobbed the maid, "Miss Patria is so—so cruel!"
"So cruel?" repeated Donald in amazement, for Patria was the kindest and most indulgent of mistresses.
"It's quite right, sir," said the man, reluctantly. "My lady was very sharp with me this morning when she came and Mrs. Adair—"
"Oh, Mrs. Adair is here?" asked Donald in surprise.
"Yes, sir, Mrs. Adair checked her, but she was very rude to all the servants and to her chaperone, Mrs. Wrenn."
"Well, send a servant up to ask if Miss Channing will see me," said Donald, after thinking awhile.
So Fanny Adair was here. Patria had not told him that she was taking this woman, whom he sincerely distrusted. She had not even mentioned the fact when he had telephoned to her after he had told her that he had been detained and could not accompany her. Indeed, she had said she did not like making the journey by herself.
Presently a maid, who had been despatched upstairs, returned.
She looked strangely at Donald.
"Well," said the Secret Service officer.
"Miss Patria says, sir," said the girl in some embarrassment, "that she cannot see you and she does not wish you to call any more."
It took a few seconds for this staggering message to sink in.
"Very well," he said at last and, turning, strode with a puzzled face through the hall, unmindful of the curious eyes which followed him.
Mrs. Adair, from Patria's bedroom, saw the young man striding down the path and smiled. He had never been a great favourite and it had given her pleasure to have inspired his discomforture. The counterpart of Patria, who stood behind her, also watched the departure, but with no sense of satisfaction, for Elaine the Dancer, whose remarkable likeness to the heiress of the Channing millions was being utilised to serve a double purpose, came from a class which had a wholesome respect for the officers of the law.
"I don't like these fly cops," she said.
"My dear Elaine," said the shocked Mrs. Adair, "please remember that you are now masquerading as Miss Patria Channing and 'fly cop' is not exactly the word a lady would use. Captain Parr is not a policeman, he is a member of the Secret Service."
"I should worry what you call him," said Elaine, sinking down into a chair. "To me he is a fly cop all right and say, Mrs. Adair," she said with a malicious little smile, "you had better get out of the habit of calling me Elaine."
"Great heavens, did I?" said Fanny Adair, aghast. "I must be more careful and so must you my dear," she went on. "You must curb your temper and remember that in addition to looking like Patria, you have got to act like Patria, and Patria would not insult her servants."
Elaine finished her dressing leisurely. Her practical mind had gone very carefully over the situation. She had seen its advantages and its perils, and at that moment its perils were uppermost in her mind.
"We can get away with it when we are dealing with the police. We may get away with it when we are dealing with that fly—with Captain Parr, but I guess we are not going to get away with it when Edouard makes his dramatic entrance. I am scared of that fellow and I guess that if he starts anything I'll just fade away."
Mrs. Adair made a wry little face at the slang, but offered no further comment and soon they were gliding towards the Country Club in Patria's newest car.
Captain Donald Parr, who on leaving Patria's house had gone to the club, saw the party arrive. He was sitting in the sunny grounds idly reading the morning newspaper when the car stopped before the stone porch and deposited its passengers. He shrugged as he saw de Lima and Morales hasten forward to meet the guests and turned again to the newspaper. He read a little while and then a flaming headline caught his eye.
He saw the story, told in picturesque journalise, of a suicide on a boat, of a wild midnight leap into the sea of a demented girl and of the fruitless search for her. He dropped the paper to his knees and frowned. The boat was the same as that on which Patria had travelled. The cabin was next to that which he knew Patria had engaged.
He carefully folded up the newspaper and, rising, strolled towards the club. There was a little group in one corner of the shadowy stoep, a group consisting of Morales, de Lima, Elaine and Mrs. Adair. They sat at a table and one member of the party at least watched the approach of the Secret Service man with apprehension amounting to panic.
Donald strolled up to the party.
"How do you do, Miss Channing," he said.
"I suppose you know, Captain Parr, that Patria is going to marry Señor de Lima?"
Donald's eyes smiled.
"Are you?" he asked and the girl nodded.
"I congratulate you."
He took her hand. There was a subtle difference which he would have found it difficult to describe. It was a harder hand than Patria's. The grip was more nervous.
Here was Elaine, but where was Patria? Donald remembered the paragraph he had read and his face went white. He knew that this gang would stop at nothing, that it was absolutely unscrupulous and that Morales, in his determination to secure the munitions he required from Channings, would not stop short of murder.
He reached the hill road which wound round down past the club when he saw a man making a furtive way across the lawn towards the service entrance.
"One of Morales' men, and in a deuce of a hurry," muttered Donald.
He saw the man disappear into the back part of the club and, taking up a position where he could not be seen himself, Donald watched. Presently the man reappeared going back the way he had come and Donald caught a glimpse of Morales hurrying down to the main entrance of the grounds.
"That man has brought a message. Something has happened," though Donald.
The Polynesian came out onto the road and went swiftly down towards the sea and Donald followed him to the landing-stage and saw him disappear over the side of a large steam launch.
The detective walked back to some men who were mending their nets on the jetty.
"What boat is that?" he asked.
The man addressed looked round.
"It belongs to those foreign fishermen who live on The Island That God Forgot," he laughed.
Donald thought a while. The track of the steamer to Newport would lay within a few miles of the island and it was just about here that the incident occurred, according to the newspapers. Suppose it was Patria? Suppose she had reached land in some miraculous fashion? There was no time to waste. He guessed that Morales would now be on his way down and, by the fact that the launch still remained, that it was waiting for him. He ran swiftly along the beach till he came to the spot where the seaplane lay, an object of admiration to a small group of idlers.
He clambered aboard, the propeller was set going, and he set his course for the island. He made one circle above it before he shut off his engines and descended and no sooner did the noise of the engines cease than he heard the sharp crack of a revolver and dived suddenly down to the water in time to see a slim, girlish figure, revolver in hand, shooting at somebody who was invisible to him.
"Run!" he shouted. "This way—quick!"
Patria heard the voice, looked up and, swift as a deer, sped down to the water's edge. She swam to the 'plane and swung herself aboard. Donald had started the engines again the moment he touched the water and the 'plane, turning seaward, was speeding quickly westward before the breathless girl, wet and panting, had heaved herself over the side of the fuselage.
Something sung past Donald's ear. Something struck one of the wings and ripped a jagged hole. He knew they were firing and nodded to the girl reassuringly. Above the roar of the engines it was impossible to make his voice heard. She was trying to tell him something but he could not hear and then, as she pointed downward, he leaned over and looked.
They were bringing the aeroplane out of the shed, under the little Kanaka's instructions. Patria saw him stop and pick up something and put it in his pocket and then she remembered that, in the excitement, she had put down the little canister of nitro-glycerine.
The Kanaka leapt into the aeroplane, somebody started the propeller, and it rose in pursuit. Donald, with a professional eye, saw that the machine was faster than his. He realised, too, that it was probably armed with a machine-gun. His own seaplane was of an earlier type, a slow and steady "bus" such as is employed to teach young aviators their business.
He wrote on a little pad: "They may overtake us. Can you use a rifle?" and jerked his head in the direction of that weapon, thankful that the mechanics had had the foresight and wisdom to leave it there.
The girl nodded and took up the weapon, slipped back the bolt, and thrust home a cartridge from the magazine.
Their enemy had left the ground and was climbing up behind them at a terrible pace. Donald, calm and confident, realised the danger and banked over, taking the course which led him back across the island. He was a little above his enemy, but by his manoeuvre he lessened the distance between the two machines. He nodded to the girl and, taking careful aim, she fired. The first shot evidently missed; the second shot met with no better fate. At the third shot the figure in the driver's seat swayed and collapsed.
They were now above the island and, looking back, the girl saw the aeroplane suddenly dive. Straight as a plummet it fell down, down, and crashed on a building.
At the moment of impact a great jagged flame leapt from the building, there was a crash which sounded above the noise of Donald's engines, and the aeroplane was flung up fifty feet, as though by a giant hand.
In that second he dimly understood what had happened. He had no time to complete his train of reasoning, for explosions followed one another in rapid succession. A great pall of smoke hung over the island and through this smoke long tongues of flame leapt and dived. It took all his work now to control the machine. That roaring inferno was beneath him. The debris from the exploding ammunition was flung up left and right and it seemed that the seaplane was bumping through a sea of sparks.
Now they were clear of the island. The jolting, swaying seaplane resumed its normal position and Donald, looking down, knew that the danger was passed.
Hal an hour later the seaplane dropped gracefully to the shore, and he lifted the girl to a waiting boat.
Briefly he told the story of the impersonation. The girl listened in amazement.
"We must go at once," she said.
"Where will you go," he asked with a smile.
"To denounce those imposters and have this woman arrested," she cried indignantly.
"I know a better plan than that," he said and whispered something in her ear.
MANUEL MORALES was a man with a single objective and applied himself to the attainment of the thing he had schemed to secure with a ruthless strength of purpose which, directed in any other channel and to any other end, would have been worthy of the highest praise.
He sought a power which the mere possession of wealth could not give him. A fairly rich man he had not been greatly exhilarated by the fact that the whole of the Channing Trust Funds had fallen into his hands. By the same token, when they had slipped through his fingers and had returned to their rightful owner, he was not dejected. He had set himself out to overcome the Government of Mexico and to establish himself in the autocratic position which Porfirio Diaz had occupied and to bring this about it was necessary that his insurgents should have munitions.
Only one firm could supply him fully and that was the firm of Channings. Twice had he had Patria Channing in his power and twice had he failed to obtain the advantage which he had hoped for. From the well of his little launch which had brought him post haste from Newport at the news of Patria's escape from drowning and her arrival on The Island That God Forgot he watched unmoved the cataclysm which undid the work of twelve months.
His launch had rocked and rolled with the force of the explosions which destroyed the munition stores he had collected with such patient care and then, at a signal, the bow of the launch had swung round and he had gone back the way he came.
He understood the cause of it all. He had seen the aeroplane hovering over the island and had guessed that Patria had made her escape and that her rescuer was Donald Parr.
He took a cigarette case from his pocket, selected a cigarette and lit it with a steady hand. Had he followed the advice of Juan de Lima, who had accompanied him, he would have flown to safety. De Lima was in a fret of anxiety and made no disguise of his nervousness.
"If Patria has escaped we are finished," he said. "For God's sake, Morales, make a run for it."
Morales put out his cigarette and regarded it critically before he spoke.
"They are making these of an inferior tobacco," he said. "I shall have to complain. You were saying—"
"We will probably find the police waiting for us when we get back," said de Lima ruefully.
"My dear de Lima, not 'probably,' but 'possibly' is the word. There is no certainty that that was Daniel Parr in the aeroplane—it looked like a seaplane, by the way—and even if it was, it is not certain that Patria escaped, and even if Patria has escaped there would be considerable difficulty in proving that we were privy to attempted murder."
"But suppose Mrs. Adair or Elaine—" began de Lima.
"That is why I want to get back. If you are in any danger the soundest thing is to get as close to the source of danger as possible. Either you prevent its development or when the explosion comes you never know what hits you. Left to themselves those women might talk. With you and I on the spot it is extremely unlikely that they will open their mouths. If Patria has escaped she will go straight to the house and expose Elaine and as I have no means of knowing whether she has escaped except by being on the spot, I purpose returning to Newport."
"But—" de Lima began.
"That is enough," said Morales sharply, and for the rest of the journey he was silent.
There was only one thing to be done, as Morales saw matters (and he saw them very clearly), and that was to hurry on the wedding, or pretended wedding, between Elaine and de Lima. He confided this much to his assistant as they made their way back to the Country Club.
"My plan is simple," said Morales. "You marry Elaine immediately. In your capacity as her husband you take over control of the Channing works, and at once execute my order for munitions. That is what I get out of it."
"What do I get?" demanded de Lima.
"As a patriot," said Morales suavely, "you have the satisfaction of rescuing your unhappy country—"
"Oh, stop that," growled de Lima. "What do I get that is worth having?"
"A charming wife," said Morales, "control for a little time of the Channing millions—are those not enough?"
De Lima nodded.
"And here," said Morales, "is your fiancée."
He pointed to the girl who was coming across the lawn to meet them.
"Well," he asked, "what has happened this morning?"
Mrs. Adair answered.
"Elaine has rid herself of Mrs. Wrenn."
Morales raised his eyebrows.
"The chaperon, that was dangerous. Why did you do that?"
"She got on my nerves. Gee! I couldn't have that old hen fluttering around me all the time. I was scared that she would see I wasn't Patria."
"How did it come about?" asked Morales.
"Why, it was that fool notice you put in the paper about me being engaged to de Lima," sad the girl. "She saw it and said that I oughtn't to marry a man like that."
De Lima's face was as black as thunder.
"Damn her!" he said between his lips.
"I ain't struck on the idea myself," said Elaine regarding her "lover" critically, "but it was just a good chance of getting rid of her and her son and I jumped at it. Have you heard of Edouard?"
Morales shook his head.
"You needn't worry about him," he said confidently.
"I just do worry about him," said the impersonator of Patria. "Edouard's a bad man. He would think no more of coming to Newport and shooting up this bunch than I should think of taking a soda phosphate. He is one of those bad men you read about in dime novels, is Edouard."
She spoke with a sense of prophecy, for at that moment her discarded lover was on his way to Newport. He had heard that Donald Parr was there and after the events which followed Petra's adventure at the midnight cabaret he could not but associate the disappearance of Elaine the dancer with the Secret Service man.
The resolution to go to Newport was clinched when he read in the morning newspaper that news article dealing with Patria's upcoming marriage which had excited Mrs. Wrenn's consternation. With the article was also printed a picture of the heiress which was, in fact, a picture of Patria, but to Edouard it was Elaine and none other. He had read the announcement with his early morning seltzer, had packed in hast, and arrived in Newport that afternoon. A few judicious inquiries located Morales' party and he made his way to the Country Club, determined on bringing back the girl who represented the one love of his erratic life.
The big hall of the club was filled with dancers and Elaine, to whom dancing was a passion, found the afternoon a particularly entertaining one. Two men were watching her, one an unauthorised visitor to the grounds, the other a tall, handsome man in white flannels, who sat with a Secret Service officer at a table from whence a view of Morales' party could be obtained.
Presently Donald rose and strolled over, nodded pleasantly to Morales and smiled down at the girl.
"How are you?" he asked. "I have come over to ask you for a dance, Miss Channing."
The girl hesitated, then rose, and they were soon stepping a measure amongst the happy dancers.
"He doesn't know," said Morales, and heaved a sigh of relief.
De Lima, who had gone white at Donald's approach, recovered something of his shattered nerve.
"Then Patria must have perished," he whispered eagerly.
"Who knows," said the philosophical Morales, airily.
Presently Donald led back the girl, and for a moment they stood face to face.
"Thank you very much, Miss Channing, for your kindness," said the Secret Service man; "you dance exceedingly well."
She smiled at the compliment.
"Almost as well," Donald went on slowly, "almost as well as Elaine, the dancer at the Follies."
The man who had been watching at the window saw all this, and beckoned a waiter.
"Say," he said, "take my card in to that dago."
The austere servant looked at him questioningly.
"Are you a member?" he asked.
Edouard handed the man his card and covered it with a dollar bill.
"That stout guy," he said, indicating Morales, and the waiter, with a little more deference in his attitude, passed through the French windows and brought the card to its destination.
Morales looked at the name.
"Your friend, Edouard," he said to the startled girl, "but don't be afraid, I will go out and talk to him."
He greeted the sullen man with a smile.
"Sit down and have a drink," he said. "What do you want?"
"What do I want," snarled Edouard. "What do you think I want? I have come for my girl, and what's more, I am going to take her away."
"My dear sir—" began Morales.
"Say, don't put any of that rough stuff on me," said the other.
"Just listen to reason," said Morales, "and please don't raise your voice. I can tell you all about Elaine and where she is."
He watched the effect of his words.
Now it was a fact that although Edouard had seen a girl with Donald Parr he had not recognised either. Their backs had been turned to him, and though he caught a momentary glimpse of Parr, he was not sure that this was his man.
Morales saw the uncertainty in his face and began, in his even exact voice, to explain.
In the meantime Donald had mounted the broad stairs of the club and had strolled into the card room, where a dozen voices claimed him for the poker parties which were in progress.
Donald smiled and shook his head.
"I am not playing, boys," he said.
"I'll bet Donald's got a better game," said a voice.
"And a bigger one," said Donald, "with stakes as high as the Woolworth building."
He got no further for the swing door swung open and de Lima came in. Half of his face was fear, half showed hate for a man who had shown so unmistakable a contempt for him.
"I want you," he said.
"I am here," said Donald quietly.
"You have just insulted Miss Channing. You have told her that she reminded you of a professional dancer."
"I believe I did," said Donald, in the same voice.
"Well, damn you, take that!"
He brought the back of his hand across Donald Parr's face and the Secret Service Man did not move or flinch. The players stopped their game and were watching the curious scene. Those who knew Donald Parr knew also what the sequel would be.
De Lima jerked out his pocket book and extracted a card.
"You will know where to find me," he said.
Donald took the card, but his eyes never left the other's face. Slowly and deliberately he tore the card into a dozen pieces.
Almost in the same moment his fist swung round and de Lima went sprawling back over the card table. He scrambled to his feet and reached for his revolver, but Donald caught the wrist, wrenched the pistol from his hand and, with a deft jerk, unloaded it. Then he stuck the revolver back into the pocket of the Mexican's jacket and strode past him out of the room.
"I will kill him! I will kill him!" screamed the infuriated de Lima, struggling to escape from the hands of the players.
Presently they let him go and he went stalking out of the room followed by derisive laughter. He carried his humiliation to Morales and came bursting into his chief's presence so absorbed with his grievance that he did not realise that Morales had a visitor.
"By God! Ill kill that man, Morales. The world isn't big enough for him and me! The dog struck me!"
Morales stopped him with a gesture.
"I want you to meet a friend of mine, Edouard. This is Mr. Juan de Lima and now I can tell you, if you want to know, where Elaine is."
It wasn't until later in the day that Donald Parr rode out into the country. The man who had been watching him followed steadily in his wake, keeping at a distance, but never losing sight of the rider. It was a happy circumstance for the tracker that Donald rode most of the way at a walk, for Edouard was stout and not given to taking exercise and on the few occasions when the unconscious officer broke into a trot, Edouard found himself in some difficulty to keep up the chase.
The way led to a little wood which overlooked the sea. Here, perched above the rocks, commanding a clear view of the Atlantic, Patria had built herself, in the years that had passed, a tiny cottage which she had used partly as a bathing house and partly as a retreat when the Newport season bored her to such an extent that she found it necessary to go to nature for a relief from her ennui.
It was to this pleasant little home that Donald had brought her after her escape from the island and here, at his request, she was remaining, waiting for a favourable moment to expose the woman who was impersonating her and the gang of swindlers who were behind the deception.
She heard the patter of a horse's feet and she waved her hand as Donald came into sight.
He dismounted and hitched his horse to a tree.
"Everything is going well," he reported as he caught her in his arms. (Their friendship had gone very far since that accidental meeting a little more than a week before.)
"But when can I come back?" she asked. "I am so impatient to reveal myself."
He shook his head gravely.
"While you are here you are safe," he said. "Once they know that you are in the land of the living your life would not be worth that—" He snapped his fingers.
She frowned and shook her head wearily.
"Isn't it awful being pursued like this? I sometimes wish—" She stopped.
"That you hadn't the responsibility?" he asked.
"No!" She threw up her head proudly. "I am the last of the fighting Channings, and I would be a coward if I shirked responsibility. I am going through with this, whatever happens. I will defeat this gang if it costs me the last dollar I have."
"Spoken like a Channing," he smiled, "and—"
He was looking at her face when he saw it suddenly blanch and her eyes open wide in terror.
"What is it?" he asked quickly.
"Please go into the house at once: leave me here."
"Do as I ask you, Donald," she begged, and half pushed him towards the path that led to the house. "I want to be alone. I have a reason."
He did not notice that suddenly she had twisted round so that she stood between him and a clump of bushes around which he had ridden when she had first seen him. He was perplexed and worried but he saw how earnest she was and, without another word, he left her, walking slowly to the house.
The girl watched with clasped hands, her eyes fixed upon the bushes. She had seen a hand holding a pistol, had heard a click, and the curse of the man who had pointed it, when it had misfired, and now she turned to confront the vengeful Edouard as he came blundering up the path.
"So you are her, are you?" he grated; "you are coming back with me Elaine!"
"I am not Elaine," said Patria, "you have made a mistake."
"You can't put that over me," said the man; "I have got you now, and I am going to take you back."
"He lunged at her round the waist, and she struggled.
"You are wrong! You are wrong!" she breathed. "I am not Elaine."
He laughed in his rage.
"I have a good mind to kill you now, and then finish off that man of yours. I have, by God!"
"No, no, no!" She clung to the pistol hand with the desperation of despair.
Round and round they struggled then, suddenly, under the pressure of his hand the pistol exploded. He roared an oath, and brought it up almost level with her face.
With a quick push, she turned it aside as it exploded again and the man, with a groan, sank limply to the ground. She looked at him in horror. There was a thin trickle of blood by the side of his head. Had she killed him? She dared not touch him, hardly dared look at him. She heard the quick step of Donald and flew towards him, and in a few incoherent words gasped the story of the encounter.
"I have killed him! I have killed him!" she sobbed.
"Whom have you killed?"
"That man, that horrible man who was in the cabaret. He thought I was Elaine."
Donald would have gone back to the man alone, but she insisted upon coming with him.
"He is here," she said, "here."
She uttered a cry of astonishment, for the man had disappeared and with him had gone Donald's horse, which he had left a dozen paces away.
Donald made a quick search. He found traces of blood, but the man and his pistol had vanished.
"You probably stunned him for a moment, but he recovered and bolted with the horse," said Donald. "After this, my poor dear, I am not going to leave you alone. We can't afford to wait another day, you must go back to your ordinary position in 24 hours."
"Well," said de Lima, with a sneer, "your plan didn't work."
"But for a fluke it would have worked," said Morales coolly. "Patria is alive and is waiting her opportunity to re-appear."
"At the fancy dress ball?"
"In many ways the fancy dress ball is an inspiration," Morales went on, lighting his cigarette. "Elaine did not like the idea of giving a party to celebrate her engagement, but then, Elaine is a little commonplace. I hate to speak unkindly of your future wife, de Lima, frankness has always been my failure."
"Do you think Patria will turn up to-night?" said de Lima.
"I am pretty certain she will," said Morales. "I have accordingly sent a card of invitation to our friend, Edouard, with a private notification that both Donald Parr and his girl will be present."
He met his fellow conspirator in the hall of Patria's house that night.
"Where is Elaine?" asked de Lima.
"She is there."
Morales indicated a slim figure dressed as a Turkish dancing girl.
"Have you heard any more of Patria?"
"No more, except that she goes bathing every day and that she sometimes goes on canoe trips with the estimable Captain Parr."
"Is she here, to-night?" de Lima asked quickly.
"I am afraid that part of our scheme is not coming off," said Morales; "everybody who has come into the grounds has been carefully scrutinised."
De Lima walked up to the girl.
"How are you feeling?"
"I am feeling fine," said Elaine, but there was an anxiety in her tone which betrayed the words.
"What is it?" he insisted.
"Well, if you want to know," she snapped, "I've got a feeling that Edouard's here. I saw a man in the garden just now, dressed in a black domino and a mask, but was the same build as Edouard. He walked like him and held his head on one side just as Edouard does."
De Lima laughed.
"If I hear any more about Edouard I shall be jealous," he said with heavy jocularity.
He confided the conversation to Manuel.
"We had better watch that fellow, and keep him away from Elaine," said Morales. "I did not think he would come till later."
Elaine had not been mistaken. Eduard was indeed in the grounds, disguised in a shabby domino which he had hired and watching with a strained attention every movement that Elaine made.
That he himself was being watched, he did not realise. Morales had, for this purpose, taken off some of his attendants whose duty it was to report the arrival of Patria, an extremely fortunate circumstance, for nobody saw the slim figure of a girl dressed in a scanty bathing costume and her figure hidden in a striped bathing cloak, who came to the house by a little used path, accompanied by a masked man in riding kit.
"Nobody ought to be watching this way," whispered Patria; "it is a private entrance that I had made for myself."
The newcomers were quickly in the house and passed into the hall, exciting no more attention than did the other eccentric garbs.
"Stay down here," she said to Donald, under her breath.
"Where are you going," he asked.
"I am going up to my room. I think it will be empty."
"You are armed?" he asked.
She nodded and, escaping attention, she slipped through the thong and quickly mounted the stairs. She assumed that her double would be using her private room and in this she was not mistaken. She turned the handle of the door softly and entered. A maid was busy putting away clothes and Patria guessed that this was Elaine's dresser.
The woman started at Patria as though she had seen a ghost.
"Go and tell your mistress I want her. Go!"
The woman looked at her with open mouth then, turning suddenly, fled from the room. She ran down the stairs through the hall into the garden, stopping now and again to enquire the whereabouts of the Egyptian dancing girl. She found her at last, dancing a Mexican tarantella with De Lima and beckoned her.
"Oh, miss," she said in agitation, "there is someone to see you in your room. She wants you at once."
Elaine felt a sudden sinking of heart. She half-turned to call Morales, thought better of it and walked hurriedly back to the house. She stopped again outside the door of the room as though with a premonition of impending danger, then turned the handle and walked boldly in.
She started back as she faced the muzzle of the pistol which Patria held.
"Take off those clothes," said Patria sternly.
Elaine looked at her. It was as though she was looking into the mirror and seeing herself, and for the first time in her life she saw the remarkable resemblance she held to the girl whose place she usurped.
"What are you going to do?" she asked, tremulously.
"You are going to change clothes with me," said Patria.
In a few minutes the change was effected.
"Have you any private papers you want to take away with you?"
"Upstairs," she managed to say.
"Go up and get them," said Patria.
The girl went out and closed the door behind her. Patria had given her this chance of escaping. She had no quarrel against this woman, although she had been party to an attempt upon her life.
The familiar room looked inviting and Patria smiled as she thought of the blow which would come to the fortunes of her enemies as a result of a simple change of clothes.
She walked to the window, put down her pistol on a seat and raised the sash. Had she looked out she would have seen a ladder planted against the window and a man in a black domino crouching in the shadow of the wall at its foot.
She wanted air.
She wanted to rid the room of the unwholesome perfume which the dancer had used with such lavishness. She heard the door handle turned and, to her surprise, Elaine had come back.
"I can't find them. Give me a chance, Miss Channing—I wasn't in this plot—I—"
She had walked toward the window and Patria saw her start back with a little scream.
"Who are you?" asked Patria suddenly, to the masked figure, but Elaine had no need to ask that question.
Through the black ball mask that covered his face she recognised the intruder.
"Edouard!" she gasped.
There was a deafening report. The room was filled with the pungent smell of powder and Elaine, the dancer, collapsed in a heap on the floor as the door was flung open and Morales and de Lima rushed in.
He looked from the girl, revolver in hand, who stood by the dressing-table to the huddled figure of Elaine on the floor.
"What have you done, Elaine?" he asked.
That word gave Patria her cue.
"I have killed Patria Channing," she said, calmly, "and you have got to cover it up."
IN the grey of the morning Morales walked into the sitting-room of the apartment which de Lima occupied, as self-possessed and as immaculate as though he had just risen and been turned out fresh from the hands of his valet.
De Lima was haggard and heavy-eyed. He had been drinking, as Morales observed by a glance at the table and the half empty bottle of whisky.
"Well?" asked de Lima eagerly.
"Everything is all right," said Morales. "We have disposed of Patria's body quietly and without fuss. The sea will not give up its dead again and as for the unfortunate Edouard—"
"What happened to him?" asked de Lima.
He was found dead at the foot of one of the terraces. He must have missed his way and tumbled over the low balustrade on to the stone path beneath. That was a mere accident, as I had no difficulty in convincing the coroner.
"And what of Elaine?"
"She has gone off to bed very quietly. In fact I never saw her more completely mistress of herself. I pretty well know how Patria got into the house, but I wish our men had seen her.
"Was Parr present?"
"That is exactly what I cannot find out," said Morales, "and that is why I could have wished that she had been seen on her arrival."
De Lima rubbed his chin with an unsteady hand.
"I don't like the cool way that Elaine shot her," he said. "I hope that isn't a habit of hers."
"Spoken like a gentle humorist," smiled Morales. "Naturally I suppose you feel some apprehension at your fiancée's work but I do not think I should let it keep me from my bed. You ought to sleep. We are going off by the eight o'clock train."
"To where?" asked de Lima.
"To the Channing Munition Works," replied Morales, "where else?"
"Do you ever think of anything else but your munitions?" remarked de Lima.
"Very little," said the other quietly. You don't imagine that I have any grudge against Patria Channing or against the United States Government or its representative, Captain Donald Parr? I think both the individuals I name are very worthy, and under any other circumstances I should wish them well and go out of my way to help them to live the good life. But first and foremost I am for Morales. I must have munitions for my people and to get those munitions I am prepared to sacrifice everything and everybody.
Patria Channing had also passed a restless night. Though she had only been absent for a short time it seemed so strange to be back in her own room; strange to be without the motherly care of Mrs. Wrenn, stranger still to meet the half-timid, half-fearful glances of the maid who brought her an early morning breakfast and seemed so in terror of her mistress that Patria would have been hurt but for the recollection of the unfortunate woman who had masqueraded in her place and the terrible end she met.
But her greatest ordeal was to meet the sickly smile of de Lima and to endure the loving attentions which he, in his capacity as bridegroom-to-be, felt it fitting to pay.
"Good morning, Elaine," he greeted her with spurious heartiness. "Have you slept well?"
"Very well," said Patria calmly. "Where are we going?"
"We are going down to your works," he grinned, "and for heaven's sake don't forget that you are Patria Channing. You will very likely meet people who have known you since you were a baby."
De Lima smirked.
"After, there is a little church round the corner, where the last of the Channings and the last of the de Lima's will be made man and wife."
Patria started back.
"After all," said de Lima, "you are not doing so badly. My situation in life is infinitely superior to that of a dancing girl. You ought to reckon yourself lucky."
She noticed that he had dropped the role of the accepted lover, and for this, at least, she was grateful.
Before the time of departure she went to her room, wrote a brief note, folded it carefully in her handkerchief and put it in her bag. Then she descended again and was whirled off to the station, where Morales and Mrs. Adair were waiting.
Channings works covered many acres of ground. It was in itself a township of wooden huts that stretched as far as the eye could see. It had its own shops and stores, its own dusty streets, its own great wharf with scores of sidings filled with great box cars. It had even its own railway station for a branch line ran from the top of the bank into the works itself.
The manager's office was near the main gate, and to this Morales led her. He noted with satisfaction that everybody seemed to recognise Patria and hats came off, caps were touched, smiles were exchanged as she passed through the gates, whilst the clerks in the outer office flew to do her bidding. She was ushered straight into the big business-like office where Brown, the manager, a shrew-looking middle-aged Scotsman rose from his desk to welcome her.
It was here that Morales received his first shock. There was another man in the office besides Brown and that man was Captain Donald Parr, of the United States Secret Service, and the last man in the world whom Morales wished to see.
He greeted the party gravely, shook hands with Patria and exchanged a few words. She opened her bag to take something out and dropped her handkerchief. Donald stooped, picked it up, and returned it, deftly concealing the slip of paper which he had seen in its fold.
He lost no time in straightening out the slip and reading its message:
"I am to be married and can't get out of it, and must rely on you to get me away," said the slip.
It gave the name of the church and the hour of the ceremony.
Apparently he was nodding to the manager but the girl, who saw the gesture, realised that he understood and that he would provide for the situation when it arose. A weight seemed to roll off her mind at that nod. She had come to place the most implicit reliance in his judgment and ingenuity and she knew now that she could walk down to the altar with this detestable "lover" and that even at the eleventh hour and the last minute of that hour she could obtain freedom.
Brown, the manager, was talking.
"Yes, Mr Morales, I have received your order," he said, "but unfortunately I am unable to execute it."
Morales frowned. Then his large face creased in a smile.
"I suppose you are not the proprietor of these works?"
"No, sir," said Mr. Brown, quietly. "I am merely the manager."
"You know this lady?" He indicated Patria.
"Yes, sir," said the manager, "I know Miss Channing very well. She is the proprietress of these works."
"Good," said Morales in triumph. "And, as she is the proprietress of these works and a lady of legal age, I take it that you will execute any order that she gives?"
"Any order she can legally give," he said, carefully. "I shall be most happy to execute it. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Miss Channing cannot give any instructions as to the output of these works, owing to the fact that she has transferred her authority to someone else."
"What?" demanded Morales, shaken from his self-possession by the unexpectedness of the news.
The manager took from the desk a folded paper.
"This is a power of attorney," he said. "It was given to Captain Donald Parr on the day Miss Channing came of age. It authorises him to act on her behalf and take complete control of the Canning Munition Works."
He displayed the document with its red seal, and Morales rapidly scanned the closely written instrument and saw that it was in order.
He looked at Parr.
"Do you refuse to supply these munitions in spite of Miss Channing's desires?"
"Absolutely!" said Donald.
"Even though Miss Channing tells you—as I am sure she will—that it is her wish that these munitions should be supplied?"
"Whatever Miss Channing said would make not the slightest difference," said Donald, coolly. "I have the authority and I shall act upon it."
Morales chin sank upon his breast. He was thinking hard. He knew that it was impossible to go behind a power of attorney, but suddenly he remembered the solution. A power of attorney given by a single woman automatically lapses upon her marriage.
He raised his head with a triumphant smile.
"Perhaps you will change your opinion to-morrow, Captain Parr," he said.
Donald accompanied them to the door, exchanged a meaning glance with Patria, and watched them disappear through the big gate.
"I suppose Miss Canning gave you this on the day of her majority?" said Brown curiously.
"As you know exactly what is happening, I don't mind telling you," he said, "that that power of attorney was not given to me till yesterday. We had to date it back, otherwise they would have known that the person they call Patria is really Patria. Lock that in the safe," he went on. "I have to get busy."
He went back to his house by car, and called up Central Office on the 'phone.
"Send me the most reliable woman detective you have," he said, "somebody who can play a part."
An hour later a matronly-looking woman rang the bell of the flat and was admitted. She was with him for half an hour and when she left she was smiling as though she had heard something which vastly amused her and that there was more fun in prospect.
Morales was cheerful on his way back to town, hummed a little tune and was more than usually polite and attentive to Patria.
Punctually at eight o'clock that night, the hour of fashionable weddings, Morales called for the bride.
"You look beautiful my dear Elaine," he said admiringly, "I envy de Lima."
She did indeed look lovely in her white wedding gown and the veil bound about her head by a wreath of orange blossom but he noticed that she was nervous and he patted her hand.
"Don't be afraid of de Lima. Remember that I am your friend and will save you from any consequences that may be disagreeable to you."
At the church entrance they met Mrs. Adair and de Lima and, without any discussion, walked into the church and along the silent aisle. The clergyman met them at the altar rails, shook hands with the party and opened his book.
The marriage ceremony proceeded without interruption until the priest raised his head and asked:
"Does any person know just cause or impediment why these two people shall not be joined together in the bonds of holy matrimony? If so, let him now speak or forever hold his peace."
The girl waited, her heart beating furiously. It seemed at first there would be no response, then a clear voice called:
"I forbid this marriage."
It was the voice of a woman and they looked around in astonishment—a woman plainly dressed and accompanied by Donald Parr, who stood in the background and watched the scene with interest.
The clergyman stared at the intruder.
"What reason have you, Madam, to forbid this marriage?" he said sternly.
The woman walked straight up and faced de Lima.
"That is my husband," she cried, and threw her arms round his neck.
"Let go, let go, let go!" cried de Lima. "Damn you, I never saw you before."
"You are my husband, you know you are," sobbed the woman.
"You fool," said Morales, "what have you done?"
"I tell you I don't know her," said de Lima, and unlocked the arms from his neck; and the woman ran from the church.
"Where's Elaine?" said Mrs. Adair.
But Elaine had disappeared.
They ran to the edge of the church and caught just a glimpse of a motor-car as it turned and disappeared from view, and in the back seat were three people—"Elaine," Donald Parr and the woman who had so strangely interrupted the ceremony.
Donald drove the girl to his flat and whisked her upstairs and did not speak till he had shut and locked the door.
She looked at him in astonishment.
"Was he really married?" she asked, her feminine curiosity getting the better of her thankfulness at this delivery.
"That lady is a member of the New York police," he said, "and so far as I know she has never met de Lima before in her life."
They looked at one another and then simultaneously broke into a fit of laughter.
"Poor de Lima," said Patria; but the tears in her eyes were not of sympathy but of helpless amusement.
* * * * *
"A good general," said Morales, "has a plan and an alternative plan. The great Moltke said that the man who went into action with preconceived ideas of what was going to happen was a fool."
De Lima snarled contemptuously.
"Our great mistake was not to know that the woman who was shot in Patria Channing's dressing-room was Elaine, and that the lady who accompanied us with such docility was Patria herself. I must confess," mused Morales, "that I was somewhat puzzled by the change of spirit which the supposed Elaine was showing. It was unlike that child of the gutter—God rest her soul—to comport herself with dignity and to employ the classical phrases of the English language. How queer," he said, absently, "that that turbulent spirit should have gone out on the same night that the crude tough who killed her should have passed to his particular heaven, which I presume has a bar against which he can lean. Yes," he went on, more briskly, "it was Patria with us, and the power of attorney was a fake, probably given a day or two before. Just as the wife who confronted you so dramatically at the altar was a fake." He indulged in a noiseless little laugh. "I wish you could have seen your face!" he chuckled. "Even now you are not looking happy, but then—"
"Leave my face alone!" said de Lima roughly. "What is the alternative plan?"
"The idea is a strike. I think it can be arranged. Swartz—that is the man who was dismissed and whom you will see in a few minutes—has a following at the works and he has a big, big grievance and it is our job to make it a little bigger. There he is."*
[* There is no prior reference in the newspaper source to Swartz or to a strike. Perhaps some text was accidentally omitted from the newspaper at the time of publication.]
The man who entered was a pale man of powerful build, who nodded awkwardly to Morales, and sat down stiffly upon the chair that was placed for him.
"I am glad to see you, Mr. Swartz."
"I saw you yesterday morning, sir."
"At the works?"
"Yes," said Swartz, "you came down with the Channing girl and your friend."
"Quite right. I thought I saw you, too. That is why I sent for you. You were addressing a little open-air meeting in the town."
"Of course I was," said Swartz, violently. "I am not going to put up with the treatment I have received. To be dismissed after twelve years' service just because I had taken a couple of tots too much."
"This was not the first time you had taken a couple of tots too much, I understand," said Morales smoothly.
The man looked at him with suspicion.
"Who has been talking about me?"
"I know all about you, Mr. Swartz," said Morales. "You have been reprimanded twice and dismissed once before this occurrence."
"I am the best foreman they ever had," said Swartz, flushing darkly.
"Of that I have no doubt. What do the men say to your dismissal?"
"They are all with me; at least most of them," said Swartz. "If I had a few hundred dollars I could bring in the rest on my side."
"You may reckon not only upon a few hundred dollars, but upon a few thousand," said Morales. "I have heard of your case and I think you have been badly treated. Now, suppose you go back to Channing Town and organise a strike."
The man looked at him doubtingly.
"Who are you?" he asked, with brutal directness.
"I am a friend of Labour," replied Morales. "Mr. de Lima knows that my heart bleeds for the down-trodden workmen of America. Who are these people that they should set themselves up like gods?"
"That's what I say," said Swartz.
"I may be of some assistance to you. Oh, by the way, Captain Donald Parr has some position of authority, does he not?"
The man's face darkened.
"That's the swine that threw me out to-day!" he said. "I will get even with him!"
"I agree. He is a Government spy, and he will not rest until he has you under lock and key. Now, here's some money." He took his note case out and extracted a pad of bills.
"Go back and give the boys a drink. I shall be coming down to give you a little help. I don't want my name mentioned in this matter, you understand?"
"Quite!" said Swartz with a wink.
He put the money into his pocket as Morales rang a bell.
"And," Morales went on, carelessly, "if there was any trouble, any riot, any burning of building—you know how excited a mob can get when it has a genuine grievance—perhaps it would be all to the good. A little frightfulness, you know, helps to bring employers to their senses."
"I get you!" said the man, with a grin.
Morales waited until the door had closed upon their visitor, then he turned with a little smile to his companion.
"'Oh, Havoc, thou art afoot, take thou what course thou wilt.'" he quoted.
"Is that original?" asked de Lima, who had a profound respect for the erudition and genius of his friend.
"It was very original when Shakespeare said it," replied Morales, "but has been a little hackneyed ever since."
The effect of the visit of Swartz was not long in being felt. Two days later the manager of the works rang up Patria Channing and confided his fears.
Donald, who was with her at the time, took the message.
"Do you think it will develop into anything serious?" he asked.
"I am not so sure that it won't," said brown's anxious voice. "You know how these things get going. Swartz seems to be addressing meetings every hour of the day, and at meal times the men take their grub and sit round him, listening."
"I will come down," said Donald.
"If there is trouble, I will go too," said the girl.
He shook his head.
"It may be worse than Brown imagines," he said, seriously, "and I think the best thing is for you to stay where you are."
She was not satisfied, however, to remain inactive, and after Donald had gone she paced her room restlessly. The passive part had never appealed to her and appealed less at this moment than at any other time of her life.
This restlessness could have only one development. She spent a wakeful night, sleeping only by fits, and in the morning Donald, not having reported save by a non-committal and colourless report he sent through on the 'phone, she rang the bell and ordered her little two-seater car to be brought.
"I am going to the works," she said. "If Captain Parr rings up tell him I am on my way."
Donald had arrived at Channing Town at a critical moment. The workmen had already downed tools and their attitude was so ugly a one that the manager had sent in a call for armed guards and had placed them in commanding positions about the works.
"There has been a lot of drinking in the town," said Brown, "and I don't like the look of things."
"Do you think they will attempt to do any damage to the works?"
"I think it is pretty certain," said the other; "but we can keep them in hand for the time being, and if matters get any more threatening, I will telephone to the Governor and ask for a company of militia."
Yet, though enthusiastic meetings were being held in the town, though Swartz exhausted himself in a frenzy of oratory and won the frantic approval of the strikers, they were disinclined to take the initial steps which would put them beyond the pale of the law, and it was not until the evening that the serious attack was delivered and was beaten off from the main gates.
The strikers, however, were more successful against one of the outlying groups of buildings, which they fired. Fortunately, no munitions were stored there and though the spectacle of this great fire—illuminating as it did, the fighting which went on in the vicinity, and adding to those combats an additional tragedy—was sufficiently terrifying, Donald knew the worst had come.
In the dawn he looked across the smouldering heap of ruins.
"Are there any explosives outside the works?" he asked Brown.
"There is a car-load on the down siding."
"Can you get to it?"
Brown shook his head.
"I will telephone through to the station-master and tell him to send down an engine to pull it out," he said, after consideration. "It can go up to the next station and nobody will be any the wiser. They will probably think it is empty."
He went to his office and telephoned, returning with the cheering news that the station-master was sending an engine down to carry out the instructions.
The fact that there was a store of explosives waiting in a box-car was unknown even to Swartz and it was Morales who, prowling about in the early hours of the morning, had discovered the car, with its explosive label newly tacked on.
Within a short time of his discovery a big Baldwin engine came over the hill and ran down the steep gradient of the bank. The driver descended and turned a switch and the engine resumed its slow journey.
"They are going to couple up that car," said Morales suddenly, realising the reason for the engine's presence.
Followed by de Lima and Swartz, he made his way across a tangle of railway lines till he reached the engine.
He gave a signal to Swartz and as the engine-driver appeared at the narrow entrance of his cab a shot rang out and the old man swayed and fell heavily to the earth.
The three men sprang into the cab. Swartz jerked over the starting lever and slowly the box car moved through a maze of sidings and began to mount the steep bank. Not until they had reached the crest of the rise did Morales speak.
"Stop!" he said, and Swartz jerked back the regulator and applied the brake.
"What's the idea?" asked de Lima.
"This strike isn't going quick enough for me," replied Morales. "We want to get at the main works and this is the only way. Do you see that switch—" he pointed a little way down the slope—"turn it over."
"What's the idea?" asked de Lima again.
"The idea is simple," drawled Morales. "A gentle push will send this cart straight into the gate of the factory. The gate is barred and barricaded. The collision will be quite sufficient to blow the car and the works sky-high. Get busy with that switch."
There was a witness to this manoeuvre.
Patria had halted on the crest of the hill road at the site of the smoke which still poured up from the ruins of the outhouses. She had stopped the car and climbed the bank to get a better view, when she saw the engine and car come to a halt. She had witnessed the brief discussion between the two men, had seen the engine back a little, and had watched the laden car go slowly by its own volition on its way towards the works.
She scrambled down the bank, jumped into her little two-seater and flew at top speed down the road. It was curious that, in that moment of danger, she recall another race between train and motor car, of a level crossing where she had escaped death by a hair's breadth. It was towards such a crossing that she was making now, but her plans were not the same, for she did not intend that her two-seater should escape.
She had seen in a flash the whole diabolical plan. She knew every detail connected with Channing Works and knew that this switch line led to the gate.
Faster and faster sped her little machine. She was now well ahead of the box car which was, however, gaining speed with every yard it moved.
She turned to the right where the road crossed the railway, stopped her car in the middle of the rail and sprang out. She ran with the speed of fear and, glancing over her shoulder, saw the big upstanding box car approaching the place where she had left the obstacle and flung herself down behind a tree just as a deafening explosion told her that her plan had succeeded.
The air was filled with flying planks and twisted ironwork, the acrid scent of the explosives was almost overpowering, the ground on which she lay shook and rumbled on though at an earth quake, and Patria lost consciousness.
"IT'S a bad business," said Ryley, of the Secret Service, shaking his head. He stood behind the barred gates of Channings' Mill and his face was grave. On either side of the gateway little platforms had been erected to accommodate the armed guards who, from their vantage place, commanded the broad road leading up to the mill.
At a respectable distance stood a great crowd of men, the discontented workmen who, inflamed by the wild oratory of their leader, had struck work.
"The worst may be yet to come," said Captain Donald Parr, who stood by his side. "I am worried about Miss Channing, Ryley."
"I am sorry she came," said the older man gravely.
"If she had not come, my friends, there would have been an end to Channings," he said grimly.
"There is no doubt she saved our lives and saved the works," he admitted; "it was a plucky thing to do—derailing that dynamite car. I wonder she was not blown sky high. Still, I am sorry she is here now."
Donald waked to the gate and took a look at the mob.
"They have tasted blood," he said when he came back. "Having burnt the stores I don't suppose they will hesitate to try their luck with the mill. Of course, Morales is behind this."
"I caught a glimpse of him," said Ryley. "I think you have got evidence now for a warrant."
"I don't think we can get that warrant too soon," agreed Donald. "Here is Miss Channing."
He turned to greet the grave-faced girl.
"How do you feel, Patria?" he asked in a low voice, and held her hand longer than was necessary.
"A little tired," she smiled; "it is not a pleasant experience being in the vicinity of a dynamite truck when it blows up."
"I think you saved all our lives," said Donald seriously. "We are up against a very tough proposition. Morales will leave no stone unturned."
He heard a startled exclamation and turned.
Ryley, from the platform, called "Stand by to open those gates."
"What is it?" asked Donald quickly.
"One of our fellows is running for his life. Are all your men ready, sergeant?"
The man in charge of the guard nodded.
"Are your rifles loaded?"
"Sure," said the other laconically.
The racing figure of the messenger came nearer and nearer, the doors were opened to admit him and closed behind him, and he stood gasping and shaking before the girl.
"They are coming," he said breathlessly; "they are going to attack at once."
Brown, the manager, was beside himself with anxiety. He gripped Donald by the arm.
"For God's sake, get some help," he said, "we can never hold those fellows. They are ten to one."
Donald thought rapidly.
"I will phone the Governor and ask him to send a company of militia," he said, and walked quickly to the office, but even as he picked up the telephone, one of the strikers, who had climbed a telegraph pole a mile from the mill, neatly severed the cable that connected the factory with the outside world.
"They have cut the wire," said Donald, after a vain attempt to secure an answer to his signal; "that is serious."
He put down the 'phone and rejoined the group outside.
How serious it was, Manuel Morales knew. He and his agents had spent money like water. Every malcontent in the factory had bribed and plied with liquor and now formed the nucleus of a little revolutionary group.
To the majority it was a great and exciting adventure and they allowed themselves to be hypnotised by the eloquence of the paid orator, without realising that the principles he enunciated and they approved must be translated into violent and illegal action.
Swartz, the ringleader, was more satisfied with the development of affairs than was his employer.
"We have got them going," he said triumphantly, as he burst into Morales' headquarters, "these boys are ripe for anything."
"Let them do something," snarled Morales; "my time is important. I can't afford to wait."
Excited groups of men were forming up on the road leading to the mills. The majority of them carried rifles, the remainder were armed with revolvers and any weapons they could lay their hands on.
Morales drew his tool aside.
"Swartz," he said, "this attack must be a surprise. You have got to just rush the mills before they realise what is happening."
Swartz shook his head with an ugly frown.
"Can't be done," he said shortly; "one of the guards has been spying on us. We didn't realise it until we saw him running toward the mill and then it was too late to catch him. Don't be afraid, Mr. Morales," he said, "we shall be inside the gates in half an hour."
He elbowed his way through the men and delivered his final harangue.
"Boys," he yelled, "you know how the Channings have served me and that is just how they will serve you. They will fatten on your blood, and when you are no further use to them they will kick you out into the world. Are you going to stand for it?"
The crowd answered with a roar.
"Are you going to let them have it all their own way and treat you worse than dogs as though you had neither right nor soul?"
The answer was a yell.
"Then follow me," cried Swartz and broke into a run toward the mills.
He knew they would overtake him long before the danger zone was reached and by the time a crackle of fire announced that the guards at the works had sighted the leaders of the mob Swartz was well in the rear.
Brown, the manager, was the first to see the mob break into view through the trees which hid the turn of the road.
"They are coming," he yelled. "Fire on 'em."
The guards awaited the nearer approach of the infuriated strikers before they opened fire. Then there was a volley and three of the rioters fell limply on the road. For a moment the strikers' rush was checked. Hoarse cries of imprecation came from the defenders and the guards' rifles were raised again when a voice cried:—
It was Patria who spoke. With three quick strides she was at the gate, had flung up the bar and had passed through, walking fearlessly toward the scowling men who formed the front rank of the attacking legion. As soon as he recovered from his surprise, Donald Parr had dashed forward to one side and Ryley, revolver in hand, on the other.
She waved them back and went forward another pace.
"Why are you men anxious to destroy my property?" she asked. "What harm have I ever done you? Haven't I always treated you fairly and given you a straight deal?"
There was a little murmur from the strikers, an uneasy movement in the crowd, one or two isolated voices urged on the men to attack, but they stood steadfast.
"If anybody has a legitimate grievance," cried Patria in a ringing tone, "let him bring it to me. If you can't trust a Channing you can trust a woman who knows the lives you live and has never stinted you in any respect. If you want to shoot me, I am here to be killed."
"Bravo, Patria!" said a voice in the crowd and there was a little ripple of nervous laughter. It was clear that opinion was swinging round in her favour amongst the more clear-sighted of the strikers.
"I tell you what it is," she went on, raising her voice, her indignation lending a thrill to her words, "you men have been got at by those two scoundrels, Morales and de Lima. I am going to tell you the whole story."
In a few clear words she gave the history of Morales and of his attempts to secure his end.
"This man does not care," she went on, "if every one of you dies. All that he wants is to obtain arms and munitions for men who may be fighting your brothers nest week. He is trying to terrorise me, as he has terrorised other firms, to supply arms for America's enemies. I would sooner the whole of Channing's works were blown from the face of the earth," she continued with a throb of passion in her voice, "than that we should make a single cartridge or a single gun that brought about the death of one of our fellow citizens."
"Bully for you!" cried a voice then somebody shouted a cheer, and before she realised how complete her victory had been she was surrounded by a frantic, cheering mob, all seeking to shake her hand.
"There goes the greaser," shouted a voice. "He is bolting!"
It needed that one happening to turn the crowd upon the man who had incited the disturbance.
The chase of Morales and his companion would round off the proceedings and before Morales could realise the danger, he and his companion were in the midst of a mob that struck and clutched at him. One brawny workman tore the coat from the Mexican's back, another ripped off his collar with a jerk. They would have torn him limb from limb but the plotter's coolness did not desert him.
His strength was prodigious. With one lurch he flung himself clear of the detaining hands and in another second the crowd fell back before the muzzle of his revolver.
De Lima was already running, followed by the dishevelled Swartz and had reached the car which was waiting in the road. It was on the move when Morales, breathing heavily, ran alongside and sprang onto the footboard.
"After 'em!" yelled a voice, but now the Mexican's revolver was spurting fire and his car disappeared over the brow of the hill, leaving behind it a dozen wounded men who ruefully cursed the day they had met him.
"Did I do well?" Patria lifted her flushed face to Donald.
"Patria," he said soberly, "you are the most wonderful woman in the world."
She laughed, a little embarrassed, and freed herself of the bonds that held her arms.
"I think we have settled the business here, sir," said Ryley, coming up. "Are these fellows likely to cause any trouble elsewhere? You have not another munitions works in the neighbourhood, Miss Channing, I suppose?" he asked, good-humouredly.
Patria smiled and bowed her head.
"They can do no further mischief," she said, "unless—"
"Unless?" repeated Donald.
She shook her head again.
"I don't suppose they will go to the wharf. That is where I expected them to go first. You see, we have a little dock of our own where we ship munitions to Europe."
"Have you any powder there?"
She turned to Brown.
"We must have a great deal, Mr. Brown?"
"That is true, madam," said Brown, "we have got more explosive on the wharf than we have in the factory, as a matter of fact. But I think those men have had a lesson they will not forget and I cannot believe they would try again."
"Who would know about the box?" asked Donald.
"Well, Swartz would know for one," replied Brown; "one of those men told me that Swartz special enquiries about the quantities of stuff we had at the docks."
Donald turned to the girl.
"What do you think?" he asked.
"I think that these men will stop at nothing," she said.
"Then we will have a strong guard on the wharf," said Donald Parr. "Ryley, will you see to this?"
He escorted Patria back to New York and saw her safely to her house.
"Now I think you should have a good long rest," he said; "the danger for time being is over. I will come along and see you in the morning."
"Do you seriously think that there is no more danger?"
"For the time being," said Donald cautiously.
Those who believed that Manuel Morales could be rendered innocuous by one or twenty misfortunes did not know the man. He was too much of a philosopher to regret the past; too much of an optimist, despite his scorn of the title, to despair of the future. He was that dangerous type of conspirator which does not recognise failure. To understand his optimism and his confidence in his ability to overcome even the most adverse circumstances, was to understand how widespread was the organisation he controlled.
Those who control the destiny of nations are prepared for a hundred defeats and one victory, so long as that victory gives a final decision in their favour. When millions of money and unlimited power are at stake, when the whole future of a continent may be involved in the success or failure of some plan, the preparation of that plan is detailed, wide-spread and thorough.
Morales had agents in every town. He had a small army drilling in secret, ready at a word to mobilise. He had behind him, on the other side of the border, a dozen little armies ready to operate, if needs be, across the frontier. He had established so perfect a system of espionage that he could tell almost any hour of the day or night where his enemies were and what they were doing.
De Lima, squatting at his side in the little Japanese room of Morales' dwelling, was alternately fearful and angry, with the wild, bubbling anger of a degenerate Latin, and the blind, unreasoning fear imposed by that black streak streak in his composition.
"So your advice is to clear out," said Morales. "My dear fellow, you are seeing things out of proportion. Suppose this man has warrants for us—which I know he has not."
"It is only a question of time before the warrants are made out," said de Lima, agitatedly.
"Suppose he had them?" went on the calm Morales. "Our duty is to be as near as possible to the scope of our operation."
"You don't mean—" said the astonished de Lima.
"I mean," said Morales, "that I shall hold without deviation to my original plan. I have grown tired of telling you," he went on, patiently, "that I must obtain arms and munitions. As soon as the warrant is sworn against me I shall follow your advice, but until Parr takes that step I shall proceed to my next move in this game."
"What is that?" asked de Lima.
Morales did not reply. He clapped his hands and one of his Eastern servants appeared. He said something in a language which de Lima did not understand, though he recognised the word Swartz.
"What is Swartz doing?"
"It is not what he is doing," said Morales as a sharp twinge in his damaged hand caused him to make a little grimace; "it is what he has done. Here is the gentleman."
Swartz stepped lightly into the room, bowed to the two men and sat, waiting orders.
"Well," said Morales, "have you carried out my orders?"
"Yes, sir," said Swartz with a smirk; "it was much easier than I thought."
"What is it?" asked de Lima.
Morales puffed at his cigarette and looked at his companion through his half-closed eyes.
"Our excellent friend, Swartz, told me that there is a large consignment of explosives at the Channing wharf. In fact, a much larger quantity than there was in the works, in a finished state. Part of the Channing wharf," he went on, "consists of a large pier, and on this it is usual to shunt explosive cars, the contents of which are waiting shipment. At this precise moment there are twenty or thirty such cards on the pier, and may more drawn up on the wharf proper."
"Channings are pretty sure to have the place well guarded."
"The wharf itself may be patrolled but the pier is our objective. On a dark night it is, according to Swartz"—he looked up, and the man he addressed nodded—"absolutely simple to get beneath the pier: that is to say, beneath those car-loads of explosives. With the assistance of our friend here"—he indicated Swartz again—"we have prepared an unpleasant surprise for Patria Channing. Briefly, the plan is this. We have purchased an old lighter which we have filled with every kind of inflammable and saturated with petrol. To-night we will tow the lighter beneath the pier, fastening the boat to the piles, fix a time fuse, and—voilà!"
De Lima's eyes glittered.
"It only needs one more detail," he said harshly, "to make this a scheme after my own heart."
Morales smiled faintly.
"I presume it is something to do with the admirable Captain Parr?"
"I would like them both to be there," said de Lima.
"I am afraid I cannot satisfy you so far as Patria is concerned, but as for Parr—" He bent his brows in thought. "What time is it?"
He looked at his watch.
"Half-past five. It is extremely likely that Captain Parr is now taking tea with your—er—intended."
De Lima grated his teeth at the word.
Morales looked up at Swartz.
"Suppose Parr was called to the telephone," he said, "by someone whose voice he did not recognise, and suppose he was warned by a mysterious friend that some mischief was intended against Channings wharf?"
"He would tumble to that," said de Lima. "Do you think the man's a fool?"
"Wait a moment," Morales went on, stopping the other with a gesture. "Suppose that in the middle of this conversation the voice of this mysterious friend was stopped in such a way as to suggest to Captain Parr that that the villain of the piece—that is to say, you and I, de Lima—had come upon him unexpectedly and had gagged him. I think that would almost convince our Secret Service man that the warning was genuine. It's an idea," he said, and nodded.
That night, as the shades of dusk were falling on the water, a little launch swept out from a remote bay, towing behind it an unshapely craft covered with tarpaulin. Unseen by the patrols who paced Channings' wharf, the launched passed in the darkness to the side of the pier. The tow-line was cast off and the lumbering old lighter was pushed between the piles supporting the broad stage.
Skilful hands lashed it firmly to the great baulks of the pier, the long fuse was paid out and lit, and the men on the lighter scrambled back to the launch and drifted out into the grey of the sea.
Donald Parr was sitting with Patria, engaged in a serious discussion on the employment of the fund which had been left to her charge, when the telephone bell rang sharply. He took up the receiver.
The voice that spoke to him was unfamiliar. It was rather a husky whisper that he heard.
"Who is it?" asked Donald.
"I can't tell you," said the caller, "but I am a friend. Mischief is intended at the Channing wharf to-night and—"
"Yes, yes!" said Donald impatiently.
He heard a strangled cry and the faint sound of a struggle, then a crash as the 'phone through which he was speaking fell to the ground.
He jerked the hook impatiently, then hung up the receiver.
"What is it?" asked Patria.
"It may be a fake," said Donald, "but we can't run any risks. I think there is some trouble at the wharf."
"I feared so. I will go."
"No, no!" said Donald firmly. "There is no need for you to take the risk. I will go down to the wharf. I can get a taxi and be there in twenty minutes."
She demurred but he insisted, and a few minutes later he was driving at full speed toward the Channing wharf.
Apparently there was little to excite apprehension. He saw the foreman and the guards and noted with satisfaction the precautions which had been taken to prevent an intrusion. He picked his way across the metals, walked up and down the sidings where explosive cars stood end to end and even climbed upon one of the box-cars to make a survey of the whole yard.
Everything seemed normal and he had reached the end of the pier when he saw the flicker of a red flame at the far end. He turned and shouted:
"The pier is on fire!" and then ran in the direction of the place. He had taken half-a-dozen strides when there was a crash and a roar. He felt himself lifted and thrown back on the wharf.
He crouched to the ground amidst a shower of falling debris. The pier-end was now blazing and a second and a third terrific explosion followed the first as box after box of explosives detonated. He dragged himself back to the wharf. The fire was spreading; flaming pellets of wood had started new conflagrations in the main siding.
He saw the foreman running.
"I am all right. 'Phone the fire squad," he gasped, for his throat was filled with the noxious fumes of picric acid. Dazed and sick he was staggering across the plain siding when an explosion more terrifying than ever flung him senseless to the ground.
Ryley was the first to hear the news, and flew round to Patria.
"The Channing wharf is burning," he said, "and your box-cars are going up like crackers!"
The girl went white.
"Captain Parr is there," she gasped, "I must go to him!"
"It is madness!" said Ryley. "You cannot go, Miss Channing!" But she was already half-way down the stairs.
The nearest way was by water and her motor-boat, which she kept ready day and night, was waiting. Long before she reached the wharf she could see the flames and the great towering columns of smoke which rose from the burning cars. The explosions followed one another in rapid succession. Great fire-floats were rushing to the scene from all sides, but Patria's boat outdistanced them all.
Moored to one end of the pier was an old brig and to the side of this Patria ran her boat and clambered on board and crossed the gangway plank to the wharf. The picked her way over the debris through thick smoke and acrid fumes to the place where Donald had last been seen.
Two of the guards and the foreman, who had taken refuge on the brig, had pointed out the spot and had begged her not to make an attempt; but for the girl, something greater was at stake than the vast sums of money which were involved in the burning of the wharf.
Somewhere in that yellow evil cloud lay Donald Parr, injured perhaps dying. She needed no more pressing spur than that.
Ryley followed doggedly at her heels, wondered at her resolution and courage, and only half-guessed its cause.
"There he is!" And she pointed.
Ryley saw the recumbent figure of a mass lying amidst blazing wreckage, but the girl reached Donald first.
They lifted him up. He was still half-unconscious but the sight of Patria seemed to enthuse him with a new life.
"For God's sake, Patria, make your escape!" he muttered. "Get back to the gates!"
Even had she been willing, that way was closed. A great shaft of flame stretched across the only avenue of escape.
She turned back to the brig, the crew of which were frantically pushing the little craft clear of the blazing wharf. She stumbled aboard with the two men, crossed the deck, and looked down for her motor-boat. It had gone. The painter had been cut and the boat was drifting out to sea.
By this time Donald had recovered sufficiently to take charge. He had a brief interview with the captain of the brig and came back to the girl.
"We may escape the effect of the explosions," he said, "but the ship is already on fire. Our only chance is to hang on until we are rescued."
"Can't we swim?" said the girl.
He shook his head.
"The night is too dark," he said. "There is no chance of our being picked up. We will stay on the bridge as long as we can, and then we will take to the riggings. The mast will be the last to go and by that time we may be seen."
Ryley had already taken his decision. Stripping off his coat, he had leapt into the sea and was swimming with long, powerful strokes toward the receding motor-boat, which stood revealed in the light of the blazing wharf.
Donald saw the remainder of the crew take the same course. Two or three had leapt overboard and had swum back to the shore, taking their chance of the death which awaited them with every new explosion.
"Come, Patria," he said, suddenly.
The decks had grown uncomfortably hot. Long tongues of fire shot over the hatchways. The whole interior of the ship was a blazing furnace. They mounted the rigging and reached the too-mast.
The fire was now creeping along the deck and leaping at the foot of the mast.
"Do you think we shall be saved?" asked the girl, quietly.
Donald looked round. He could dimly see Ryley's head nearing the drifting boat, but he felt an ominous trembling in the mast to which he and the girl were clinging.
"It depends how long it takes for the fire to eat through the base of the mast," he said. "We may have to jump for it, yet."
He bent over and kissed the pale face near his, and at that moment the mast swayed left and right and then, with a sudden lurch, fell outward, and the girl closed her eyes and waited for death.
"PATRIA CHANNING and Parr have escaped They climbed to the top-mast of a burning brig and when the mast fell, master, I thought my troubles were at and end. But it fell near to the boat, and that Secret Service man with a beard—"
"Ryley," suggested Morales.
"Yes, that's the man. He rescued them."
"Very well," said Morales, and put down the telephone.
It was early morning following the great fire. Morales had assembled his confederates earlier in the night to listen at the open window for the first crash of the explosion. He had seen the skies grow red with the reflection of the greatest fire that New York had ever known.
And now he had received the report that told him that his scheme had only partially succeeded.
He sat for a long time deep in thought. It seemed that the point of resistance had shifted. Patria he might overcome. Parr he might deal with, but Patria and Donald was too powerful a combination. The girl, left to herself, might make mistakes. With this man always at hand, he could not depend upon such an error of reasoning.
"I made a mistake," he muttered to himself. "I should have separated those two long ago. The girl's in love."
He smiled as he thought of the jealous de Lima. De Lima was a rotten reed in such a crisis as this—the girl hated him. Obviously there was no solution here. Had she any other lover? Was there in the world no other disappointed man whose services he could win to his side? Was there nobody for whom Patria Channing had entertained a tender thought? His mind passed in review his knowledge of Patria' life. He remembered the first time he had seen her. Was it not with a young man who was reputedly her lover?
He remembered the name in a flash. The son of the chaperon who had been almost a second mother to Patria and who had been so summarily dismissed from her post by the dead dancer, Elaine.
But there must be something more dependable than the fascination which an old flame might exercise upon the heiress of the Channing fortune. It would require, he guessed, a very powerful influence to get Donald Parr from his place in the girl's esteem.
Donald must be discredited—but how?
It was whilst his mind was exercised in this direction that fate was playing into his hand.
Donald, worn out by the night's experience, had taken the half-fainting girl to his own home and handed her over to the care of his housekeeper. He had flung himself down on a chair, too wearied to make any exertion, and had fallen into a deep sleep, oblivious of the fact that he was at that moment the object of two men's thoughts.
Rodney Wrenn had risen that morning with an aching head and shaking hands and had surveyed gloomily the evidence of a night which had not been wisely spent. His dress clothes were scattered about the room. He clasped his throbbing forehead in his hands and tried to remember where he had been, He had spent the night at the club and he had been the witness of some accident—now her remembered, it was a fire, a fire at the Channing wharf—Patria's wharf.
He laughed bitterly. He had once had high hopes, but those hopes had receded into the background. He himself had introduced Donald Parr to the girl—he cursed himself as he remembered the fact.
He dressed slowly and walked into his sitting-room. Something at his foot arrested his attention, and he stooped and picked up a photograph torn in half. It was the photograph of Patria. He smiled again. Evidently he must have been feeling very bad the previous night if he had worked himself into such a rage that he destroyed his most precious possession. He carefully wiped the photograph and replaced it on the table and stood staring down at it. Donald Parr! An accidental meeting, a careless introduction, and all the high hopes that Rodney Wrenn had built upon his friendship with the Channing heiress had crumbled to the dust.
A blind, unreasoning fit of anger overcame him. His head was throbbing from his overnight excesses. He was feeling ill, and this in conjunction with the grievance which his mental disturbance exaggerated, made him forget the good friendship which had existed between him and Donald, made him forget the interest, genuine enough, which he felt in Patria's happiness and left him only with the recollection that he was an ill-used man who had been robbed of that which was rightly his.
Rodney was a weakling: he took the easiest way out of all his difficulties. He had found the easiest way to forget Patria was to drink, and now he felt that the only remedy for his present state of mind was to meet Parr face to face and tell him what he thought of him. This man was to have all that he had been denied, the love, the tenderness of a beautiful woman, a position equal to the greatest in the land. The thought inflamed him still further.
Donald was dressing when Rodney was announced.
"Ask him to come in," he said, and when the angry young man strode into the room, "why, Rodney, I haven't seen you for a long time. How are you my dear boy," he said.
The visitor threw his hat and stick upon a settee.
"Look here, Parr," he said rudely, "I have come to tell you what I think of you."
"Tell me in a lesser tone of voice," said Donald coolly.
He was quick to recognise the situation and to meet it.
"You know what you've done. You have sneaked your way into her heart and thrown me out, and you call yourself a friend."
"I certainly call myself a friend," said Donald, "and I am quite willing to argue that matter of friendship, but I do not think it is necessary to mention anybody's name but mine."
"I shall mention whom I please," snapped Rodney. "Patria Channing—"
"Yes." The quiet voice was immediately behind Rodney and he turned.
"Patria stood on the stairs which led down into that room. The face of the young man was scarlet and white.
"So she is here, is she, in your house? By God! You—"
He struck Donald across the face with his open hand.
The Secret Service officer did not wince or move.
"You had better get out," he said.
He picked up the young man's hat and stick and followed him to the door.
"These are your belongings, I think. Unless you want a reputation for eccentricity you had better take them.
"I will be even with you," snarled Wrenn.
"Then you'll have to come up a little higher than you are at present," said Donald, calmly, "and you have got a long way to climb. Good morning." He watched the young man disappear down the street and turned back to soothe the startled girl.
Someone else had witnessed the parting. Morales, bowling along in his smooth-running motor-car was, fortunately for him, taking the way that Rodney was striding.
He checked the driver.
"Slow down and follow that man," he said, for he had recognised the youth who had occupied his thoughts that morning. "If he turns into the Country Club," said Morales to himself, "I shall kill two birds with one stone," then "good!" he said, as he saw the figure disappear through the broad portals of the club.
De Lima was waiting for him.
"Has he turned up?" asked morales.
De Lima nodded.
"What is the idea of having a woman of that character to lunch with you?" he asked. "Why, we shall be the talk of the town."
"I don't worry about a person's character so long as they can assist me in my work," said Morales, "and I should hardly have thought that you would have been quite so squeamish."
"But Iris Mayne!" protested de Lima, "why, the woman is as bad as they can be."
Morales gave a low little laugh.
"I find those kind of people very interesting," he said drily. "If you have any compunction you need not come to lunch."
"What is the scheme?"
"You shall learn," said the other.
They found the woman waiting for them. Iris Mayne had been beautiful, and she still retained a vestige of her former charms. Under the powder and the rouge, skilfully applied, the tiny lines which advertised the life she had lived were hardly discernible.
"You are going to lose your reputation," she said, as she sat down at the table which he had reserved. "Lunching with me in broad daylight. You are a bold man, Mr. Morales."
Morales, who had an eye to the solitary figure of Rodney Wrenn, nodded.
"My reputation is an exceedingly difficult thing to damage," he said. "Now, listen. Iris. I have got some work for you and if you will carry it out you will be well paid."
He sketched the plan. The woman listened attentively. It was not the first time she had played the part he assigned to her, as he well knew.
He finished his lunch and approached the solitary Rodney. The young man looked up and scowled as the other came near.
"Hello," he said ungraciously.
"And how are you, Mr. Wrenn?" asked Morales. "I have been waiting to hear of your engagement.
"My engagement? said the other.
"I am sorry if I have been indiscreet," said Morales, "but I was quite under the impression that you were engaged to Patria Channing."
"Well, you can get yourself out of that impression," snarled Rodney.
"You don't mean to tell me," said the suave Mexican, "that the engagement is off?"
"It was never on," growled the other. "It might have been if it was not for that—" he stopped himself.
"If it had not been for Captain Parr?" suggested Morales. "I think it could still be."
"What do you mean?"
"Just what I say. Parr is exercising a fascination over the girl which could easily be removed."
"What is your object in telling me this?" asked Wrenn suspiciously.
Morales shrugged his shoulders.
"I am not exactly a friend of Captain Parr. I have one or two scores to be paid off."
"So have I," said the other, moodily, "but I can't see how they are going to be paid."
Morales looked round, then, lowering his voice:
"They can be paid with interest if you will help me."
Rodney surveyed the Mexican with suspicion.
"What help do you want?" he asked.
"In the first place, are you good friends with Captain Parr," he asked.
"No, curse him," said the other, tossing down a drink at a gulp. "I had a row with him this morning and struck him."
"So much the better," said Morales. "Do you think you could apologise to him?"
"What?" demanded the astonished Rodney.
"Suppose you wrote him a letter of apology," said Morales, slowly, "telling him that you were sorry—don't interrupt me till I have finished—and asking him to come alone to your apartments at a certain hour this afternoon?"
"I'll never do it."
"Wait till I have finished," said Morales, "and suppose you also wrote to Miss Channing, your mother used to be her chaperon, and arrange for her to call upon your mother, also at your apartments. You could tell her any lie you liked. Say that your mother is worried about your estrangement and ask her whether she will forgive you. By the way, did she witness the scene this morning?"
"That is all to the good," said Morales with satisfaction. "Apologise to her also, and ask her if, as a sign of her forgiveness, she will let you she will let you call upon her and take you round to your mother. Arrange to be with her at your flat half an hour before Parr arrives there."
"But my mother?" demanded the young man.
"She, of course, need not know anything about it. She need not be present at your flat."
"Suppose I do all these things," asked Rodney, after a moment's thought, "what will be the result?"
"I will see that there is a very charming lady waiting in your apartment to receive Captain Parr when he arrives," he said slowly. "Suppose the lady locks the door and pockets the key and accuses Captain Parr of making violet love to her. Suppose she screams and makes a scene and Captain Parr is arrested at the moment you arrive on the scene with Patria?"
"I see what you mean," said Rodney, thickly. "By God! I'll do it!"
Ten minutes later Morales was seated alone in the restaurant, when his Polynesian henchman came rapidly through the swing doors and handed him a slip of paper. Morales opened it and read:
"Parr has secured a warrant for the arrest of yourself and de Lima."
Morales refolded the paper, summoned the waiter and paid the bill, and for the first time since his great adventure had started there was something like fear in his eyes.
Donald was not surprised to receive a note in Rodney Wrenn's handwriting. The event of the morning had distressed him for he had liked Rodney and when he had read the apologetic preamble to the letter he was genuinely pleased.
Rodney Wrenn lived in a flat which formed one of a large block in a semi-fashionable quarter of New York. Donald had never before visited him and was glad of this opportunity. He knew something of Rodney's weaknesses, for the stories of his midnight dissipations were common property.
He resolved to have a frank heart to heart talk with the young man and endeavour to persuade him of his folly. Parr had seen too many men go out to allow this promising youth to pass over to the majority of the under-world without an effort.
He passed through the entrance hall of the apartment and, declining the elevator, mounted to the third floor. He found the flat and pressed the electric bell. Almost immediately it was opened by a woman. Donald was surprised. She was too well-dressed to be a servant, and he pretty well knew most of Rodney's relations and knew that she was not one of those. From her beautifully coiffured hair to her pointed painted shoes she was expensively dressed, a little too lavishly, thought Donald, who glanced again at the number on the door to satisfy himself that he had not made a mistake.
"I wanted Rodney Wrenn, but I am afraid I have come to the wrong flat," he smiled.
"Oh, no," said the woman, with a wonderful smile. "Mr. Wrenn will be back presently."
Donald hesitated, as though he had a premonition of trouble.
"He won't be long," said the fair lady, fashioning yet another smile.
Donald hesitated no longer. It was ridiculous to stand out in the corridor because Wrenn had a visitor. He walked into the room, the woman closed the door behind him, noiselessly turned the key and as noiselessly removed it from the lock.
"Let me take your hat and stick," she said.
Donald handed them over to her slowly. It had been a day of hat and sticks. He remembered with grim humour that he had accompanied a flushed and angry young man to the door of his house, and handed him those articles.
"Won't you sit down?" she sat on a settee and indicated a place by her side.
To refuse would have been ungracious and Donald seated himself.
"Do you know Mr. Wrenn very well?" she asked.
"Fairly well. I have know him since he was a boy," said Donald courteously. "You are a friend of his, of course."
"Oh, we are great friends," said Iris Mayne, with a little laugh. "I suppose you think it rather dreadful of me to be here all alone."
"I hadn't given it a moment's thought," smiled Donald, "and really, I am not easily shocked."
"Are you sure?"
He eyed her with surprise.
"Am I sure of what?"
"That you are not easily shocked?"
"Not very easily," he said good-humouredly.
He looked at his watch. It was ten minutes after the hour of the appointment.
"Are you certain that Mr. Wrenn will be back soon?"
"Oh, quite sure," she said.
"She offered him a cigarette, but he shook his head.
"Do you mind if I smoke?"
"I shall be delighted," he said.
He was getting a little bored if the truth be told. Feminine society had never much for him until the day that Patria Channing had dawned upon his life. They talked a little and he felt something touch his shoulder and half-turned with a start. The woman's arm had extended itself along the sofa so that it was behind him and her hand was now clasping the shoulder farthest from her. He unloosened it gently and replaced it, then he rose.
"I am afraid I cannot stay much longer," he said.
"Oh, but you must." She stepped closer to him and smiled up into his face then, before he knew what had happened, her arms were about his neck. "Stay a little while," she whispered.
He saw the trap and fell into a cold rage.
"Release your hands," he said sternly and when she did not obey he grasped her wrists firmly and threw her back. He did not feel in that moment of involuntary embrace the key being slipped into his pocket. It was done so quickly, so skilfully, that in that moment of anger it was unlikely that he would detect the trick.
He strode to the door and strove to open it. He turned again to the woman.
"Give me the key," he demanded.
She laughed in his face.
"Give me the key." He seized her and she screamed.
Wrenching herself free, she ran to the telephone and lifted it.
"Help!" she cried. "A man has locked me in this room and is—"
He snatched the telephone from her grip. The mischief was done now. He heard hurrying footsteps in the corridor and stood up close to the door as a police whistle was blown in the street outside.
He heard the crash of a hammer on the door and stood close against the wall. The girl was screaming now—she had also let down her hair and torn her blouse. All this Donald noticed with professional admiration, for such charges as that which she would make had come within his purview before.
With a crash the door swung open, hiding him for a moment. The men who had rushed in looked round and Donald knew that they had been planted specially for the purpose of providing witnesses to the charge of assault. They moved towards him but stopped at the sight of his automatic pistol.
"Stand where you are," he said, and at that moment two breathless policemen ran into the room.
"What's this?" demanded one.
"That man has assaulted me," moaned the woman.
The policeman turned to Donald and his arm was outstretched when, by an almost imperceptible movement, Donald turned back the lapel of his coat and showed the badge of the Secret Service.
"Take those people into that room," commanded Donald. "When I have gone you can bring them along to the station and I will charge them." He looked at his watch.
It was half-past four. He guessed that Wrenn would not have arranged this little scene without also having Patria in to witness his discomforture and his surmise was right, for as he went out through the entrance hall Patria and Rodney Wrenn descended from the girl's car at the door.
"Why, Donald," said the girl in surprise.
She looked from her stern-faced lover to the man at her side, white and shaking.
"Your scheme didn't work, Wrenn," said Donald Parr. "I thought you were many kinds of a blackguard but never suspected you of having fallen so low."
"What do you mean," asked the girl. "Is Rodney's mother here?"
"I found a woman of the town in his room," said Donald, remorselessly.
"For God's sake stop," said Wrenn, his lips trembling. "It was not my idea, it was Morales'."
"She was waiting there to trap me. It was a plot to discredit me in your eyes and you were brought to witness my humiliation."
"Is this true?"
There was no need to ask. The truth showed in the man's face. Without another word she took Donald's arm and he led her back to the car, leaving Rodney Wrenn standing, his head sunk on his breast, the picture of failure and dejection.
Morales neither knew or cared whether his scheme had succeeded. He was at that moment too keenly concerned upon his own safety.
At Morales' command a small army of Kanaka workmen had appeared mysteriously from nowhere, and were busily dismantling his house, carrying away boxes and furniture.
When the last box had been carried out Morales slipped back the silk screen door and examined the apparatus which he had placed there immediately on his return to the house.
Half-a-dozen gelignite cartridges were connected with a small battery, the long flexes of which lay curled up on the floor.
He turned to his assistant with a smile.
"The policeman who opens this door, and please the gods it's Captain Parr, will have a surprise," he said.
He felt the smooth flanges carefully, and his fingers inserted two small holes. Into each of these he fitted the end of two thin wires and fastened them tight with a screw. He screwed the other ends to the groove into which the door screen fitted when closed, then shut it gently.
He gave a last glance round, smiled approvingly at the death trap he had prepared and made his way into an outer room.
He carefully surveyed the street below and what he saw satisfied him that the hour of arrest was near at hand. Half-a-dozen men in plain clothes, but obviously policemen, were in sight, two at each end of the road and two others on the opposite sidewalk before the house. He stepped stealthily across a narrow passage and reached the back of the house. The car was in readiness and on the move, almost before he had seated himself.
De Lima had waited patiently at the restaurant, hoping for the return of Iris with news of her success. At five minutes past five he remembered that he had arranged to meet Morales at his house.
He knew that the warrants were out and kept clear of the main streets, reaching his destination by long detours and missing the scout who had been sent to warn him. He too noticed the watchers in the street and was alarmed, though he recovered his nerve with the thought that had there been any immediate danger Morales would have warned him.
He opened the door with his private key and stepped inside as Donald Parr's car came round the corner and the detectives closed on the house.
"Well, Ryley," said Donald, jumping from the car, "are they inside?"
"One of them is," replied Ryley. "I have not seen Morales but de Lima just went in as you arrived. They are pretty sure to be in."
"Is there a back entrance?"
"There is," said Ryley, with some asperity, "and that fool of a sergeant has only just remembered the fact. I have sent a couple of men round there straight away."
"I hope it isn't too late," said Donald. "Morales, with his army of men, is pretty sure to know that we are after him, and that the warrants are out."
"Anyway, de Lima's here," said Ryley, "he couldn't have got through the house before our men reached the back."
"Have you got a key of the door?"
"I think I can open it," said Ryley.
He turned to Patria, who was a silent figure of the group.
"There may be some rough work here, miss," he said. "I should advise you to keep outside."
The girl nodded. She stood at the foot of the steps as Ryley fitted the key. The lock turned and the door had opened an inch, when there came the crash of a tremendous explosion, beams and sashes flew out into the street, and the girl was flung to the ground.
In a moment the detectives had recovered themselves and poured through the shattered hall, Donald leading.
The interior was wrecked, the debris of smashed beams and broken brickwork lay upon the floor.
"There is one of our men," said Donald.
He jumped a pile of wreckage and bent over the still figure of a man who lay near the broken door through which he had passed so many times.
Donald turned him on his back.
"De Lima." he said. "Here is one who will not trouble us again."
"Is he hurt?" asked Ryley.
"He is dead." answered Donald, and covered the upturned face with his handkerchief.
THERE were two courses open to Manuel Morales. One was to abandon all hope of obtaining further munitions for his rebels, save those he was able to secure through smaller and less scrupulous munitions firms, and to retire with all speed to the Mexican frontier, and the other was to undertake one last desperate effort in the hope that he might at the eleventh hour break down the resistance which he was encountering, particularly from Channings.
One morning his lieutenant, the hard-faced Kanaka youth who was his shadow, brought a newspaper and, without a word, pointed to a paragraph.
Miss Patria Channing, owner of the great Channing munition factories, has converted part of the place into camps on a war footing where the whole of the large company of employees are undergoing a course of adequate training. Capt. Parr, late of the U.S. Army, has personal charge of the arrangements.
Morales read it and looked up.
"This is a dangerous business for us," he said. "We must put a stop to it. If other manufacturers adopt this scheme the Government will be forced by public opinion to prepare for war and will be ready for us too soon."
"What can you do?" asked his assistant.
"I can make this business of drilling employees singularly unpopular," said Morales with a smile. "It all depends on how far the Channings have got. Bring the car round. We will go and see for ourselves."
That morning, Patria Channing, in a trim, close-fitting uniform, greeted her new "commander-in-chief," as she styled Donald Parr, with a smile of welcome.
"Donald, you look splendid in your kit," she said, admiringly.
It was the first time she had ever seen the Secret Service officer in the garb of his profession, but the admiration in her eyes was very pleasing to the young man.
"I will return the compliment, with interest," he said.
"What is the programme?" she asked.
"We are going to review our new armies," he replied, and then, more seriously, "It is really a wonderful achievement of yours, Patria, to turn all these thousands of young men into soldiers."
"It would not be possible if they had not been as keen as I," she said, "and it would have been impossible if I had not had the assistance of an expert to drill them into shape."
Donald gave an amused little bow.
"I feel confident they will be wanted sooner or later," she went on, "and that is why I am so delighted at the rapid progress they have made."
She looked across the great lawn. Her new troops were drawn up in a hollow square and were waiting for the presentation of colours, which she had promised. The big flag, cased in shining black leather, protruded over the back of her car.
She turned to Donald.
"Do you think we have finished with Morales, finally?"
He shook his head.
"I think we have still trouble ahead of us," he said.
"But he has to get across the border," she persisted.
Again he shook his head.
"Even that I doubt," he replied quietly. "Morales is the type of man who does not relinquish any purpose on which he has set his heart."
"But what can he do?" she asked, scornfully. "His organisation is broken up."
"That is where you are wrong," interrupted Donald. "We have not seen the real Morales organisation. In fact, we have not even seen the fringe of it. The dozen or so men who have assisted him from time to time, who helped to move the Channing Fund from your house are as nothing compared with the full force of his following."
The girl looked bewildered.
"But where are they?" she asked.
"They are everywhere," replied Donald. "You find them in the factories, on the roads, you find them working in kitchen gardens, in offices—everywhere. Why, there is hardly a day that passes that we do not hear of men drilling in secret, of little parties of foreigners being taught rifle drill. I think we are justified in suspecting every Mexican in our midst."
"You had better join your army, my commander-in-chief," she bantered him, "and receive me with proper respect."
He saluted her gravely and made his way across the common. It was with the royal salute and presented arms that Patria was greeted when her car came to a standstill in the middle of the hollow square.
"Men of Channings," she cried, in her loud, clear voice, "soldiers and pioneers of the great army which is to come, I present you with the emblem of our nation. It stands for liberty and freedom, for victory in all just and righteous causes. It stands for the defence of the weak and aggression against the bullying strong. Take it and keep its honour and glory unsullied."
Morales watched the scene from the distance through his field glasses. He saw the flag handed to the bearers and heard the riot of cheers which broke from the men. He had witnessed the march to the parade ground, the swing of healthy limbs, the wholesome discipline of movement, and his face wore a serious look.
He slipped back to the seat of his car by the side of his assistant and the machine, turning, raced back in the direction from whence it had come.
He did not speak till he was back in the cottage.
"This matter is more serious than I thought. We have got to smash this first organisation and smash it now." he looked at his watch. "Patria will be going back to New York," he said, half to himself, "I can do nothing there."
He opened his notebook and wrote a few words. Then he summoned his shadow.
"Mobilise everything!" he said. "There is not a minute to be lost."
The Kanaka boy looked at the instructions and nodded. In a few moments he was on the telephone. Men received that summons in strange ways. Workmen in their factories, labourers in the fields, little groups of men drilling in the third-rate gymnasiums, dark-faced skippers of pleasure-yachts, well-fed tradesmen lounging behind their counters reading the latest copy of the "Diaro" which had come across the frontier—they heard and obeyed.
To some it came by breathless messenger, to some by the prosaic medium of the telephone. Some were summoned from their work by ragged couriers, and one or two were of such importance in Morales' general scheme that they received a personal visit from Guido, Morales' assistant, who was by turns chauffeur, secretary, and chief agent for the execution of all his subterranean plans.
One of these was the skipper of a little steam yacht lying at the jetty of Newtown.
"You will be waiting at the sea end of the Channing road with steam up ready to slip away at the first hint of danger," said Guido, and the captain saluted.
At the end of a tiring day Guido returned to the cottage and found Morales smoking calmly and immersed in a newspaper. None who could have seen the demeanour of this Mexican conspirator would have imagined that he had that day let loose forces of the dimensions which, all unsuspected by the authorities—for Parr's grave reports had never been wholly believed—had grown up under the nose of the government.
"Master," said Guido, "I have warned everybody to be ready for to-night."
Morales nodded slowly.
"The rendezvous?" he said.
"They will meet near the Ranger's hut. There is a wild stretch of heath there, and few people visit the place. Each section will come with its own car. Every man will carry two hundred rounds of ammunition and I have given your instructions that at the first sign of defeat they are to retire by the same way they came, without waiting for further orders."
"We must not fail this time," he said. "We must leave Channings' Mills a blackened waste, so that their fate shall serve as a warning to a few of the contractors who seem to be getting squeamish."
He rose and paced the room, his eyes on the floor.
"That is the unfortunate position, Guido." he said at last. "It looks as though we shall be denied even the munitions we are getting from other sources. This woman, Channing, believes her country is in danger—and she is not far wrong." he added thoughtfully. "The immense Channing fund is being spent without stint. She and Parr together are conducting a propaganda which is infinitely to us. Her agents are scouring the country. Every maker of munitions, even the smallest of the firms, has been interviewed and the position represented to them as being one of extreme danger."
He shook his head.
"If Patria Channing were on our side, even though she were poor and had no munitions works I verily believe we should get all we wanted."
"Master, she is only a woman," smiled the Kanaka with a deprecating shrug.
Morales looked at him long and thoughtfully.
"My poor Guido," he said, "you are of the East. So also am I, partly, but I have a western mind. Your ideas of women and mine differ. You cannot conceive that a woman like Patria Channing can endanger not only my future, but the future of Mexico. I not only conceive it, but I know it to be a fact. I admire Patria Channing," he mused, "and it will give me the greatest unhappiness to destroy her to-night."
"To-night?" Even the Polynesian was startled out of habitual calm.
"To-night," nodded Morales.
"But she won't be at the factory. One of our agents saw her leave for Newport by special train."
"That I know," said the other calmly. "Also I know she will not be at the factory, but she will make an effort to be there when the trouble starts, and it is my duty and privilege to see that she never arrives. Get me my coat."
As the man was putting it on Morales said:
"It is a thousand pities, but she is much too dangerous to live."
"You will want the car?"
The Mexican was standing on the steps, still deep in thought, when the question was asked. He roused himself from his reverie with a start.
"Yes, yes," he said. "You shall drive."
When the car came round Morales slipped into the seat by the driver.
"I told you in my note to mobilise everybody but Pietro Gonsales."
"Yes, master," said the other, in surprise. "I do not understand why you leave Pietro out of it. He might have been a useful man. He is a good shot—"
"Where does he live?" asked Morales.
"Why, I thought you knew where they all lived, master," smiled the youth. "He is a gardener who grows cabbages in the Lukina Valley."
"Near the railway, I believe," said Morales carelessly.
"Why, yes. As a matter of fact, it is very near the end of the bridge—the railway crosses the valley on a high trestle bridge."
"That I know," said Morales. "Also it is a single line. Also it is the only line which connects Newport with the Channing works."
The Kanaka considered for a moment.
"That is true," he admitted.
"So that, if by any chance Patria were called from her home, her special train would necessarily pass over that bridge."
"Master, you don't mean—" began Guido.
"Forward," he said. "I want our friend, Pietro."
In a little tumble-down cottage, one of a ramshackle row, lived Pietro Gonsales, a Mexican gardener who earned a fairly good living raising vegetables. With two or three Mexican assistants and half-a-dozen women of his country to perform the least pleasant of the work, he spent his days in cultivation and his evenings in drill in a little hall which this section of conspirators had hired for the purpose.
He did not recognise Morales who was still wearing his motor goggles, till the Mexican pushed the glasses up.
"Señor," gasped the man, "I did not expect to see you. I have been waiting for a summon, but none has come. Ramondo and Alphonso and Señor da Viga have been called to mobilise, but for me you have not sent. This I swear. Otherwise I should have been with our comrades—"
"Don't apologise, Pietro," said Manuel, "I need you for greater work. What is that?"
He pointed down the dusty road which ran alongside the railway.
"That, señor, is the bridge," said the other in surprise.
"Is it guarded?"
"Why, no, señor," grinned the man. "Who would steal it?"
Manuel looked left and right.
"Suppose we went on the bridge. Should we be seen?"
His companion shook his head.
"I am the only person who would see you," he said confidently. "There isn't a gringo for miles"—he used the term of contempt which the Mexican employs to describe the people of the northern Republic. "Tell me, señor, what I can do for you," he went on.
"I want a crowbar and a turn-screw—something heavy enough to remove a rail from that bridge."
The man looked at him open-mouthed.
"Why, as to that señor," he stammered, "that is serious business."
"More serious for you if you don't help me," said Morales sternly, "how long do you think you would live if you failed me in my hour of need?"
The man cringed and wilted under the wrath which blazed in Manuel's dark eyes.
"Pardon, pardon, señor," he said humbly, "I did wrong to ask you questions. I have a crowbar and a turn-screw for the workmen for the workmen, when they come, leave their tools in my house."
"You have some men working for you in your garden. Can you trust them?"
"With my life, señor," said the gardener promptly. "I know too much about them and the reason they have left Mexico for them to be any danger."
"You will take two men onto the bridge." said Morales, "On the central span you will pry loose one of the rails."
"But, señor," gasped Pietro.
"Don't interrupt me, you dog," snarled Morales. "I tell you, you will loosen the rail just sufficient to send the engine off and not sufficient so that the driver of the train can see. How many trains are due?"
"Señor, this is the private branch line which is only used by the Channing special. See, there it goes."
A train, consisting of a big engine, a truck and a parlour car, came sweeping round the bend and thundered across the delicate trestle, disappearing through a cutting on the other side of the valley.
"That is Patria returning from her review," said Morales and smiled. He turned to the man. "Now go to work," he said sharply, "there is no time to waste."
He left the sullen Mexican looking after him with troubled eyes.
The sun had sunk behind the dreary landscape when a solitary car came at a leisurely pace through one of the deserted roads which led to Channing town. The car pulled up at the side and the man called Guido alighted. He looked at his watch. He was in plenty of time. He climbed one of the banks and looked toward the twinkle of lights which marked the position of Channing town. Then he returned and waited.
Presently the deep hum of a motor-car reached him and he sprang into the middle of the road. The car came racing round the hill and, at Guido's signal, stopped. A dozen villainous looking men tumbled out and the car passed on.
Guido gave instructions to the leader and the men melted into the darkening plain. Car after car followed in rapid succession. Each carried a full load. The discipline was perfect. At a word of command they followed the direction indicated and disappeared.
The last car came, unloaded and swung to its appointed place, a natural parade ground to the left of the road, and screened from observation by high banks.
Guido left his own car by the side of the "park" and made his way to where he knew Morales would be waiting.
"All is ready!" He reported, with a military salute.
They were on the very outskirts of the town. From where they stood they could see the figures of the workmen in the streets and there was nothing to suggest that Donald Parr's little army was prepared for the attack.
But Donald had neglected no precaution. He had not only established a military unit, but he had equipped that unit with all its auxiliary parts. His intelligence scouts, stationed miles from the town, had noticed the passing of the cars and had duly observed the character of their occupants. His signalmen had flashed back a warning, and though Channing Town was, to all appearances, ignorant of the attack which was developing, behind its deceptive quiet the work of preparation was going on.
Morales looked round. The plain was apparently bare. As far as his eye could see in the dusk, there was nothing but stunted bushes and irregular grass-covered hummocks.
"Where are your men?" demanded Morales.
Guido smiled and raised a whistle to his lips. At the first shrill blast the plain was peopled with armed men. They were dressed in every conceivable kind of kit. Some were in rags, some were in broad cloth, but each wore a cartridge belt strapped about his waist and each man carried a rifle.
Morales nodded his approval and Guido's arm swung round. It was the signal for the advance. Noiselessly the tatterdemalion army moved forward toward the town.
"They should be inside the works before Parr realises what has happened," said Morales. He had hardly finished speaking when a shot rang out and Morales swore softly.
"What fool let off that rifle," he growled.
"It was not on our side," said Guido, quickly, "it was—"
It was a volley this time and a volley directed from Canning Town. They saw the flash of the rifles and bullets began to sing past Morales' ears.
A man came staggering back, blood running down his face. It was one of the leaders of the attack.
"What has happened?" demanded Morales.
"They were waiting for us, señor," gasped the man, "...hundreds of gringos in uniform like soldiers. Our men are wavering."
"Go back to them," commanded Morales, "curse you. You are ten to their one. One charge and you are in the works. Go back I tell you."
The man turned reluctantly and disappeared into the gloom. The rattle of rifle fire was now incessant. The attacking host, recovering something of its fighting spirit as the news was passed along the line that the defenders were weak in numbers, moved slowly forward.
They flocked into the main street with its wooden shanties, using every bit of cover. The defenders' rifles flashed from window and doorway, from roof top and gulley, but slowly they were being forced back.
Donald Parr passed along his line, encouraging, urging, stopping now and then to pick up the rifle of a fallen man and to empty its magazine into the shadowy figures that filled the main street. Some of the shops were burning and the flames revealed the extent of the danger.
Donald drew back a portion of his force and occupied Channing's big store, which covered the approach by the main street. The flame from a burning saloon gave his marksmen their opportunity. Man after man of the attackers fell in the doorway, but the odds were too great.
"There is only one thing to be done, Ryley," he said rapidly, "and that is to charge them. We must stake all upon the discipline we have been able to instill into these men. We cannot hold the store very much longer and it is burning. Pass the word to the men and tell them to fall in before the store and prepare to charge."
The manoeuvre was rapidly executed. The attackers were now dangerously near to the store and behind the store were the wooden walls of the mills.
"Fix bayonets!" yelled Donald. "Charge!"
At the sight of the flickering steel the insurgents halted. A few wild shots were fired and then the attackers broke and fled in all directions, followed by Patria's triumphant little "army."
Morales had not seen the beginning of the debacle. He had motored back to the house of one of the agents and had got on the telephone when the fight was at its fiercest.
Patria answered the 'phone herself. She did not recognise the disguised voice of Morales.
"Who is it?" she asked.
"Morales' men are attacking your mills," said Morales gruffly. "Captain Parr wants you to come at once."
He hung up the receiver with a smile and went back to witness the battle. He had scarcely arrived on the ground when the faint sound of a cheer came to him.
"What is that?" he asked sharply, but there was no need for Guido to answer the question. They saw their men running, stopping now and again to shoot back, and they were running toward the place where the cars were parked.
Some of the leading pursuers recognised Morales. A bullet went through his hat as he leapt aboard the car. He recognised Donald and fired at him but without effect. Morales leant over the back of the driver's seat.
"Hurry, hurry!" he roared.
The driver glanced back. He saw a car coming in pursuit.
"Is that one of ours?" he shouted.
"Parr!" cried Morales, laconically and, leaning back, he emptied his revolver across the tonneau.
His swift car passed another, bearing its full freight of panic-stricken Mexicans and he breathed a sigh of relief.
There was that barrier between him and the Secret Service officer.
Glancing back, his relief was short-lived, for suddenly the car swayed across the road and disappeared over a high bank.
"The fools!" he hissed, but he was already safe, did he but know it.
Donald's car was older and slower and every minute Morales was gaining ground and presently Donald gave up the pursuit.
"Pull up by that bridge," he pointed to the long, spider-web structure which covered the valley. "I will tap the wire and get onto Miss Channing."
Morales was now far ahead. He was skirting the edge of the valley and, from the higher ground he had reached, he could look back and see that not only that the road was clear of pursuers but he had a view of the bridge itself.
He tapped the driver on the shoulder and the car slowed down. Would she come? Would Parr discover the misplaced rail?
As though to supply an answer to his questions there came the distant shrill shriek of a whistle. It was bright moonlight and he could pick out every detail of the valley. He saw the train come swinging through the cutting and take the bridge.
On, on, it rushed, till it reached the central span and then it seemed to check its speed for a second, trembled as though making a mighty effort to balance itself, and then, turning slowly over, it fell, engine and car, two hundred feet into the valley below.
"We do not stop until we reach the place where the yacht waits," said Morales, climbing back to his seat.
But fate was against that smooth run. A passing motor-car came spinning up from the valley. Where the road skirted the sea, two miles further along, the chauffeur sent his car at a side road and realised too late his danger. Over the edge of the cliff went car and passengers. The pursuers alighted quickly.
"They're gone!" cried Ryley, looking down. "No! They're swimming! There's a yacht waiting to pick them up—oh, damn!"
Patria had made her way to the depot where her special waited with steam up.
She was alone in the big, luxuriously fitted car wondering what was the extent of the mischief her enemies had wrought. Why had not Donald telephoned to her and who was it he had deputed? She had not recognised the voice and she wondered why her lover had not sent Ryley or Brown, the manager of the works.
She had tried to telephone the mills but the wire had been cut. She did not feel that she was fool-hardy in taking this risk. If there was any danger, it was her duty to share it.
The train was now gathering speed and she looked out upon the ghostly countryside and thought of the man risking his life at that moment on her behalf and her pulse quickened.
The train was now nearing the valley bridge—she knew this journey so well that she could tell by every change of gradient exactly where she had reached. Now she heard the thunder of the engine as it struck the trestle bridge and, rising moved to the platform.
Then with a leap of her heart she heard the sudden grind of brakes, felt the jolt of the engine wheels as they left the line and struck the wooden ties. She felt the car sway over and leapt.
She missed the edge of the bridge but caught one of the projecting baulks that supported the ties. She felt, rather than heard, the train fall. The thunderous roar of the explosion came up to her. The shock of it almost swept her from her hold and she clung with the desperation of despair.
She had been seen. One of Donald's men at the far end of the bridge had detected the swaying figure and was running nimbly along the ties, followed by the Secret Service officer.
Donald peered over.
"Hold on!" he cried.
She was out of reach, but the man who had gone first locked his legs and feet about one of the sleepers and leant back so that he hung head downward over the chasm. He reached and grasped Patria by the wrist and half a dozen hands hauled her to safety.
Then someone lifted her in his arms.
"Donald!" she smiled faintly as he carried his precious burden across the rickety ties to terra firma, and she fainted almost for the first time in her life.
DONALD sat in the luxurious observation car which had been attached to the Border Flyer, and looked with admiration in his eyes at the slim beauty standing on the rear platform shading her face from the fierce sun's glare.
"Tell me one thing which amuses you," she challenged.
"We have effectively driven our friend Morales across the border, and relieved ourselves of any fear of what he may do, and yet we are following on his track, and intend depositing ourselves within a few miles of his headquarters."
The smile faded from her face.
"Is that true?" she asked.
"The information that we have is that General Morales has his headquarters within a dozen miles of your estate, and even if nothing is to be feared from him, we have the other insurgent, General Valdez, camped a few miles along the border."
"Oh, but there is no danger," said the girl, rousing herself as from a disagreeable thought. "There is peace on the border. I saw it in the newspapers this morning."
Donald smiled incredulously.
"There always is peace on the border, according to the newspapers," He said, "our only hope is that Morales and Valdez are still at daggers drawn."
"Aren't they friends?" she asked.
"They are rivals for the presidency," replied Donald, "which means that each is waiting for the opportunity to cut the other's throat."
"How very disagreeable," she shivered. "Men are ruining my home-coming." The news, however, did not weigh very heavily upon the girl. She was too young, too buoyant, too full of life and its possibilities to be long depressed and when the train halted at a wayside station she leapt to the ground and greeted the sturdily built man who came with outstretched hand to welcome her with almost boisterous heartiness.
"Captain Parr, this is the general superintendent, Rodman Pilsbury." She beckoned from a group of cowboys a shy looking young man "and this is Bud Morgan, a very good friend of mine. We used to ride this ranch together when we were little children, didn't we Bud."
"Sure, Miss," grinned the cowboy.
A car was waiting for her and, escorted by a wild group of cowboys and girls, she drove along the dusty road which stretched across the plain leaving the station deserted save for a Mexican who had watched the arrival of the train from a distance and who, when the party had disappeared, leapt on the back of a hardy bronco and galloped in the opposite direction to that which Patria had taken.
Patria's border home had that picturesque old-world air which the Spanish missioners had so indelibly stamped upon the architecture of the frontier. With its thick walls, its deep, shady stoeps, its low red roofs with their Moorish tiles, it had the grace and beauty which the Spanish fathers had brought with them from the sleepy towns of old Spain. "It is indeed very charming." said Donald, admiringly.
He stood in the paved courtyard, its walls covered with purple clematis. An orange tree laden with green fruit tapped the wall at one end of the yard, great masses of heliotrope clustered in one of the many porches and tall tiger lilies dropped their languorous blossoms at another corner.
"When you have done admiring our inanimate beauties, let me introduce you to Mrs. Pilsbury."
Donald shook hands with the matronly lady, and advanced to meet a shy girl whom Patria was leading forward.
"This is Bud Morgan's sister, Bess," she said, "and now I think you know all the important people and I am ravenously hungry!"
They sat down to dinner that night with no thought of danger which might be gathering against them.
The solitary Mexican watcher, who had seen the arrival of the train, and had been posted near the depot for six days to watch that arrival, made his way at an easy canter over the undulating plain.
At the end of two hours' ride he crossed a dry river bed, and climbed up the steep slopes of the plateau which lay beyond. There was no habitation in sight until skirting a high bluff, which dropped steeply to the arroyo, the ground sank down to a hollow, and here, half concealed by a group of big trees, stood two or three adobe huts.
He drew rein before the biggest of these and leapt off. His hand was on the door when it opened, and a stoutish man in a semi-military uniform stepped out. The messenger removed his grass-plaited hat.
"Señor Morales, she has come, two hours since." he said.
He spoke with humility, as well he might, for General Morales was a power on the border.
Morales turned to the doorway.
"Guido," he called, and his lieutenant came out.
The Kanaka boy wore a uniform similar to his master's and evidently occupied some military position of authority.
"You go to the men, and tell them I shall want them tonight. See that their horses are fed and watered."
Guido saluted and left.
Morales questioned the messenger, discovered, as he expected, that Donald Parr was one of the party, and dismissed him.
The Mexican was leaving when a thought struck him, and he turned back. "Señor," he said. "I have seen General Valdez."
"Where did you see him?" he asked quickly.
"Near here, Señor." said the man.
"Did he have many men with him?" asked the other.
"He was alone." grinned the Mexican, "our good General has only a few followers now, Señor. Most of his men went over to Carannza. There is nothing to fear from him."
Morales stroked his chin thoughtfully. Francisco Valdez was a good man, a dangerous man if he had a sufficient following, but, as the Mexican had said, that danger no longer existed. Valdez's half-hearted followers had been bought off and Morales could not consider him any more as a serious rival. As a partner, this lawless marauder doubly outlawed, with a price on his head could be extremely helpful. Once he could enlist his assistance many of the difficulties which Morales foresaw would disappear. The man was fearless and cruel to a degree. He was feared and hated, but mostly he was feared, and even Morales' own followers spoke of him beneath their breath.
"Go back to the place you saw the general and tell him I want to speak to him," he commanded, and the messenger remounted his horse and galloped off.
"Well?" asked Valdez, shifting his cigar to the corner of his mouth and holding his hands carelessly in his lap.
"I have asked you to come, general," said Morales, "because I need a strong, resolute man to assist me."
"What do I get out of this?"
"You get a place in the government," said Morales, "you get well paid, and you have an opportunity of paying off old scores."
The man's face darkened.
"That is the biggest consideration of all, Señor," he said, "if you are straight with me I am your man. What is the first move?"
Morales detailed the plot he had formed, told frankly the story of his efforts in America, and of how he had been thwarted.
"I have never despaired of finding a lever to force this girl Channing to supply me with the arms I require," he said.
"Have you none?"
"I have plenty," said Morales. "This building and the next are filled with cartridges and arms. Every day new supplies are coming across the frontier. There is one due this afternoon."
"In a bullock cart by any chance?" asked Valdez. "I have been watching your headquarters for three days and for three days I have seen bullock carts crossing the drift, apparently filled with straw."
"But actually filled with cartridge boxes," smiled Morales. "I see that you have utilised your time very well. Well, to proceed I think I have found that lever. The girl is in love."
"I think there is nothing in the world she would not do to save that young man's life. If we can get him in our hands we have only to dictate our terms to Patria Channing. His release in return for unlimited supplies."
"He will take a bit of getting if he is staying at the Mission," said Valdez thoughtfully. "There is a wild bunch of cowboys there and the place would resist a siege for months. Why not wait till he rides out?"
"I cannot afford to wait," said Morales. "I want him at once. In fact, I have arranged for the Mission to be attacked tonight. Are you willing to take charge of a raid?"
For answer Valdez rose and extended his hand.
"You can trust me," he said. "I know this country better than any man of your gang. Give me fifty good riders and I will bring you Captain Donald Parr by tomorrow afternoon."
That night at the Mission the question of Morales came up. It was after dinner that Donald took the Superintendent aside and questioned him.
"Oh, yes," said Pilsbury, "there's a bunch of greasers on the other side of the line. They are camped by Lovers' Leap."
"That sounds romantic," said Donald "what is Lovers' Leap?"
"It's a name we give to a great bluff. It is about two hundred feet high, with a sheer drop of a hundred and fifty feet on to the soft sands which have been washed up from the river. According to the story a Mexican and his girl, escaping from the girl's father jumped it."
"And were killed, I presume," said Donald, interested in this little romance of the border.
"No, sir," said Pilsbury contentedly puffing at his cigar, "they escaped. Oh, it wasn't such a miracle as you think. If you keep your head and jump straight, and happen to have the luck to strike a soft patch of sand you could do it with no worse harm than a few bruises—though it is not a jump that I should try myself," he chuckled.
"And Morales is there?"
The other nodded.
"They are an ugly crowd according to all accounts but so far they have not raided over the border. We are always ready for them and there is a patrol of the United States cavalry within call. I should not think they will venture over here."
"If Morales knew Miss Patria was here," said Donald uneasily, "I don't think he would hesitate."
"Anyway," said Pilsbury, "the house will be well guarded tonight, and there will be no chance of a surprise and they very seldom move in daylight."
Donald remembered the proximity of his enemy the next morning when Patria, looking slim and boy-like in her jodhpurs riding kit, came dancing on to the verandah. There are few women whom the long trousers of the jodhpur riding dress suit, but Patria looked radiantly beautiful.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"I am going for a ride," she said, "and you are not ready."
"I will be ready in ten minutes. Please don't go without me," he begged.
She laughed in his face.
"You are scared of Morales!"
"I am indeed," he said, grimly.
"Well you needn't be," she laughed, "I am not going out of sight of the Mission. I am just going to canter round. I have not ridden my old horse for two years."
He saw her mount and ride away with a heart full of misgiving. Then the sight of a cowboy on the horizon and the cloud of dust in the distance, which he had discovered earlier indicated the presence of the cavalry patrol, set his mind at rest.
An hour passed without any sign of Patria and he began to grow uneasy. Two hours went by and he consulted Pilsbury.
"I don't think there's any danger," said that sturdy man: "all the boys and girls are out on the ranch, and I expect she has stopped to have a talk with them. Hello!"
A mounted figure came tearing across the skyline, the horse's hoofs flung up clouds of dust.
"Why, that's Bess Morgan," said Pilsbury in alarm, "what the dickens is wrong?"
The girl pulled her horse to its haunches at the big entrance of the court-yard and slipped to the ground. Her face was white, and she could only point.
"What is it?" demanded Pilsbury; "quick Bess, what's the matter?"
"They are raiding—the Mexicans," she gasped. "A big party of them, and they are coming straight here."
As she spoke, Donald saw a dozen figures come flying toward the Mission. They were the cowboys who had been patrolling the southern limits of the ranch, and he knew by their hurry and a faint crackling of rifle fire which accompanied their flight, that the danger was great and imminent.
He looked round. There was no sign of Patria.
"Come in," roared Pilsbury: "quick!"
He dashed into the court-yard as the heavy gates swung to.
The cowboys were moving to their stations and the exchange of shots was now general.
"They are in force," said Pilsbury, "one of the boys said that Valdez is in charge and if that is so there's going to be hell."
"Where are the U.S. cavalry?" asked Donald.
"I guess they must be ten miles away now. I have sent a messenger off to them but if he gets through he'll be lucky."
Donald, blackened with powder smoke, took his place in the defending line and for an hour the combat raged; then Pilsbury's voice rose above the din of battle.
"Back to the Mission," he yelled. "Leave the walls. They're blowing in the gates!"
The defenders had scarcely scrambled to whatever cover they could secure in the building when there was a deafening report and the gates were blown in and now the fight degenerated into a general melee. Every man fought for himself. Bess Morgan, at the head of a flight of stone stairs leading up to the stoep before the house, shot with scientific accuracy and kept her attackers at bay.
Donald had time to take cover behind a stone wall where, only the night before, he had sat with his arm encircling Patria in the soft moonlight. It was not a good position and he marvelled that he was not shot down. He did not know that strict orders had been issued that he was to be taken alive, but this he guessed when, suddenly, he found himself struggling desperately with three of his enemies, who refrained from using either pistol or knife upon him.
He was already wounded, and if they had orders not to kill him, this mercy was not extended in the direction of sparing him from their violence. He was kicked and beaten with pistol butt and knife hilt till he went down with a groan to the ground.
Two men seized him and threw his insensible body across a horse. The rider mounted behind and with this capture the attack finished with startling suddenness and the raiders were spurring across the plain and were out of sight before the cavalry came up at a gallop.
Patria had seen the riders and had guessed something of their lawless mission. At the first sign of them she had dismounted and drawing the horse into the shade of a little wood she had seen them dash past. She knew the danger of going back, and decided that the only possible way of escape was to make a long detour, and mounting her horse she rode farther into the waste. She halted again and scanned the countryside. Save for a big, clumsy wagon drawn by two oxen, and heaped up with straw, there was no one in sight. Who the waggoner might be she did not know, but she guessed he was a Mexican and presumably unfriendly.
She decided to wait in her place of concealment and was rewarded for in an hour the raiders came back and Patria, despite her strength of will, could hardly repress a cry of dismay at the sight of the still figure which hung limply over the saddle-bow of one of the riders.
She knew it was Donald. She knew he was in deadly peril. To dash out was her natural inclination, but her good sense prevented so suicidal a step. The revolver she carried at her side would be of little assistance. She waited till the cavalcade had passed and followed at a distance. She saw the party halt and crept nearer to learn the cause.
The waggoner she had seen was in difficulties. One of his wheels had come off and apparently the raiders were sufficiently interested in the contents of the cart to dismount and replace the big disc of wood which served as a wheel. Then the party swept on at a trot, leaving the waggoner to rumble along in their wake.
Her mind was made up. She wrote a little note telling the direction she was taking—she knew the country and had ridden across it since she was a child—and slipping the paper into the strap of her horse's bridle she turned the beast loose with a friendly smack. The horse did not wait for any further encouragement, but set off at a steady trot toward the Mission and the stable from whence he had been too long separated for his own comfort. She watched him out of sight, then she followed on the track of the raiders.
The ox-cart was not more than fifty yards ahead of her, and dodging through the thick undergrowth and between the trees which shaded the road she came abreast of the cart unperceived by the driver walking at the head of his oxen.
She had made her plan, and with a quick leap she was in the cart and had plunged in the straw. She felt the hard corners of the boxes beneath her, and realised in a rush the nature of her conveyance. The carter was smuggling munitions across the frontier.
The party of horsemen who had gone on reached Morales' headquarters. Donald, who was recovering consciousness, was pulled to the ground and as unceremoniously hoisted again. He saw dimly a familiar face before him, a fat face wreathed in a triumphant smile.
"Captain Parr, I believe," said Morales.
Donald made no reply.
"It is a far cry to New York, and I didn't expect to have the pleasure of meeting you in my own country," said Morales.
"What do you want with me?" demanded Donald, steadily.
"You shall learn in time," said the other. "On this occasion I do not think you will slip through my fingers."
They hauled him into the interior of the hut and tied him securely to a heavy chair. Donald looked round and saw that he was in a store house which was filled with boxes of small arm ammunition. So this was Morales' headquarters, he thought—the house by the Lovers' Leap...He wished he had seen that historic bluff...His head fell drowsily on his chest, but he was jerked to consciousness by one of the dark skinned attendants, who gripped him by the hair and pulled back his head.
"Steady, steady, my man," said Manuel "we do not want to kill our dear friend. We have another use for him."
"You shall pay for this," said Donald between his teeth.
"You are paying now," said Morales, pleasantly.
He stepped out into the sunlight and called to him the dark-skinned man who had handled Donald so viciously.
"Stay here and keep guard." he said. "If you let the prisoner escape you will die. You understand that?"
"Si Señor," said the Mexican.
He sat by the door and rolled a cigarette, his rifle between his knees, and watched with idle curiosity a slow-moving bullock cart, which came painfully along the narrow, sandy road and halted near the door of the storehouse. The driver left his team and went in search of the refreshment which was his due now that his trying journey was at an end, and the Mexican sentry rose and stretched himself.
He wondered why Morales had been so foolish as to take the gringo alive and why having caught him and having his enemy in his power, he should treat him so gently.
His reflections were rudely interrupted. "Hands up," said a voice.
He spun round and dropped his rifle and raised his hands. Facing him with her back to the cart, was Patria, a slim, boyish figure, and in her outstretched hand was a revolver.
"Open that door," said Patria in Spanish. "Obey me or I'll shoot."
The man pushed the door open, then, quick as lightning, dived for his rifle. There was a sharp crack and he rolled over on the ground.
Patria looked down in horror at the dead man then, with a little shiver, stepped over him into the cool interior of the store.
Donald had seen the door flung open, heard the shot, and from where he sat had seen the sentry collapse, then—
"Patria!" he whispered.
She was at his side in a moment, her trembling hands loosening the knots which fastened him. Presently he stood up stiffly and stretched himself.
They were still in horrible danger, and to him the danger was more poignant now that the girl was sharing the risk.
"What was that?" he said. He took her by the hand and they were half through the door when they heard another sound. "That was another shot," he whispered.
"Crack! Crack! Crack!"
"It is the cavalry," said Patria. "I sent a note back."
"Come," said Donald, and hand-in-hand they ran from the hut and raced across the ground towards the river.
Morales had seen the oncoming cavalry and had issued swift orders.
"Mount the prisoner and ride into El Toro," he said. "We may not be able to hold these people at bay. Curse them. I thought if they saw Valdez they would have put the raid to his credit and have left us alone, but—"
From somewhere in the rear he heard a shot fired.
"That's the sentry!" he said.
He made his way swiftly back to the hut and stopped at the sight of the prostrate figure at the doorway. He turned the body over, the man was dead. With a roar of rage he dashed into the house. The hut was empty and a tangle of cords which lay before it told the story of the escape.
"They can't get away," he said. "Whatever happens we have got to get Parr—tell Valdez to hold these fellows in check for half an hour."
Swiftly he searched left and right through his field glasses.
"There they are," he said, suddenly. "By heavens! It was Patria!"
He stumbled through the bushes, followed by half-a-dozen of his men. He saw the fugitives climbing the scrub-covered ridge which he knew fell swiftly to the river.
"They can't get away," he said. "We have them!"
"Señor," said Guido "they can reach the river!"
"They can reach the river dead," he replied, "the ground falls away there for hundreds of feet. They are trapped!"
Donald led the girl upward. He saw over his shoulder the pursuers spreading out on either hand.
"I don't know what they are trying to do," he said to the girl, "they are taking their time. One would almost think that they were certain to catch us. Can you see our people?"
She shaded her eyes.
"They have crossed the river," she said "and they are fighting their way up to the plateau. Where does this lead to?"
"I don't know," he smiled "so long as it leads us to safety it doesn't matter."
He pressed her arm in his firm grip and looked down into the grey eyes of the girl who had dared so much for him.
They had reached the crest of the ridge and, momentarily, had lost sight of Morales. They walked a dozen paces and then Donald stopped dead, and his face was drawn and grey. The girl was not looking at him, she was staring downward.
The ridge ended as though it were cut off by a knife, and at their feet lay a sheer drop of two hundred feet. A rapid glance told Donald that there was no way down. The fall was sheer.
"The Lovers' Leap," he gasped.
"The Lovers' Leap?" said the girl, quickly; "what do you mean Donald?"
Rapidly he told her the story Pilsbury had narrated.
"There is a chance. It is just a chance," he said. "Look at the bottom. It is sand. There has been no rain for two months. Will you dare it?"
"I will dare all that you dare," she said quietly.
They heard a shout behind them and turned. Morales had reached the crest and, revolver in hand, was running toward them.
Without a word the girl sprang.
Down, down, down she fell, straight as a plummet. It seemed an eternity before there came the shock as she landed waist deep in the loose sand. She had hardly scrambled out before she saw the figure of Donald falling at a terrific rate. She closed her eyes and heard the thud of his impact, and dared hardly look, when she heard his voice and his little laugh, and she knew that the legend of the Lovers' Leap had been revived and was a living reality.
As for Morales, standing on the brink, as ready as any to recognise the verities he waited only a second to see the pair scramble to their feet: then he turned with a bitter imprecation and ran for his horse for the shots of the advancing cavalry sounded unpleasantly near.
ACROSS the dusty plain little columns of neat-gaitered men were marching in fours. They came from the direction of the railway, and on the previous night and throughout the early hours of the morning special trains had been running into the little wayside station and depositing troops of irregular cavalry, company after company of smart voluntary men, whilst from box cars and trailers came field guns, aeroplane parts, spare engines, and all the paraphernalia of war.
The denizens of this out-of-the-way spot had watched with amusement aeroplanes speeding through the blue towards the ranch house and had examined with curiosity at close range the intricate mechanism of deadly engines of war.
"I think they are nearly all here now, aren't they Donald?" said Patria, as she watched one of the last detachments march into the camp that had been pitched on the grass-land adjoining the ranch.
"That is," she laughed, "all that you know about."
"I don't trust the Greasers myself," said Pilsbury, "but I doubt if they will attack across the border. There are certain to be raids. You can't stop those as long as the Government refuses to let us go across and get our own back. Are you going to let our boys be part of your army, Miss Channing?"
"Why, I could ask for nothing better, Mr Pilsbury," said the girl. "They shall be my light cavalry and take part in the review this afternoon. Remember," she said with a parting warning, "they have got to try to ride at a walk and restrain their natural enthusiasm for loosing off their revolvers to express their happiness."
"That seems to me like discipline," said Pilsbury, with mock gravity, "but we will do our best. You couldn't expect them to see you and Captain Parr do a two hundred foot jump without getting a bit excited. I didn't think you would have the nerve to do it," he said, seriously. "We were on the road on the far side of the river bed when you jumped, and I had thought you were dead. When we saw you scramble down the sandy bank—why, the men just went mad."
"We were very glad you were there, Rodman," said the girl, quietly, and she recalled with a shiver the terrifying experience at Lover's Leap.
It was a wonderful little army that Patria reviewed that afternoon. The sun shone upon as brave a sight as the State had ever seen.
Cavalry, infantry, and artillery passed in column, punctiliously saluting their young commander-in-chief, who, clad in a white, serge uniform, and mounted on the big horse that had served her so well the week before, accepted the salute with a passion which filled Donald with wonder.
The infantry swung by in close rank, every man completely equipped. Their uniform differed slightly from the regular troops. Patria had wanted to make their costumes facsimile, but here Donald had been firm.
"Only congress has a right to raise and maintain an army," he said, "and our little force is quite illegal."
"Do you mean to say that we are acting against the law in equipping this army?"
"Absolutely," said Donald. "It is one of the most illegal acts you can commit."
Patria gasped with astonishment.
"You don't really mean that?"
"Of course I do," he said, laughing. "I myself am committing an act for which I might be tried by court-martial."
"Is that the law in every country?"
"In every country," he said. "It is known in England as 'illegal enlistment' and is an act of treason."
"But can't I call them soldiers?"
"You may not even call them soldiers," he said. "Our laws, fortunately, are rather lax, and we allow armed guards to private enterprises which are not allowed in other countries. Officially your army is an army of watchmen."
A light came to her eyes.
"And what better word to describe them?" she said. "They are America's watchmen, the guards who stand between our people and a ruthless enemy."
They rode off the field together, Pilsbury and Bud Morgan following. Pilsbury filled with legitimate pride at the exemplary behaviour of his light cavalry.
"Bud," said he, "we are going to be soldiers."
"Sure thing," said Bud. "I am writing to Marshall Fields for a sword."
"Is Bess staying with my mother tonight?" asked Pilsbury.
"Why, no," answered Bud, in surprise.
"She is going home with me."
The other grunted.
"What's wrong with that idea?" asked Bud Morgan.
"I guess I can't really give you any reason," replied Pilsbury. "Only somehow I don't feel good about your living so far away from the ranch. You are right up against that frontier, and, with those fellows raiding every other day, it isn't safe for women."
"Oh, shucks!" said Bud, disgustedly. "You've got that raiding bug in your head, Rodman—get it out."
He took farewell of the superintendent and of Patria at the ranch house and turned his horse's head homeward. The Morgans live about ten miles from the ranch house, in the south-western corner of the ranch. It was, as Pilsbury had said, unpleasantly close to the frontier though it did not lie near the usual trail along which the raiders came.
Bud Morgan lived with his mother, his sister, and his young brother Jack, a boy of fourteen, with a passion for the work in which Bud was engaged.
Long before he reached the homestead Bud saw the boy, an incongruous little figure, wearing a wide sombrero and a pair of cut-down trousers of Bud's. He was riding a donkey, which alternately refused to move, despite the gigantic spurs on the boy's heel or else lay down to roll in the sand, to the discomfort of his indignant little rider.
Bud overtook him, and stopped to roar with laughter at the spectacle. The boy looked up at him with a flushed and indignant face. About his waist was a cartridge belt, into which was thrust a tiny revolver which had the advantage, from Bud's point of view, of being absolutely unworkable.
"Why, kid, what's the matter?" said Bud between paroxysms of laughter. "What's wrong with your broncho?"
"It ain't a broncho; he's a darned old moke," said the boy, wrathfully.
Bud saw the boy mounted and gripped the bridle of the donkey, and realising that this was not the moment to indulge in his eccentricities, the animal consented to trot alongside.
His sister and mother had watched the comedy from the doorstep. Mrs Morgan, a gentle, pleasant-faced woman, welcomed her son with a wave of hand.
"You have just come in time, Bud, supper's nearly ready," she said.
"It ain't any more ready than me," said Bud. "I could eat Johnny's donkey. Well—" he turned to his sister—"and how did you like the grand review and parade?'
"It was fine, Bud," she said enthusiastically. "I wouldn't have missed it for the world. And those aeroplanes, weren't they wonderful?"
Between brother and sister existed a strong bond of sympathy. They had been brought up together amidst the dangers and hardships of the border, had shared one another's youthful sorrows and the few pleasures which had come to the hard-working folk of the prairie.
"I guess the Greaser will think twice before he crosses that little line," said Bud. "I never did believe that we should be troubled but after the attack on the ranch house why anything may happen."
"Come in to supper, you two," called Mrs. Morgan from the doorway. "With your talk of raids and Mexicans you have got me scared!"
The news of the arrival of Patria's army had been received at Morales' headquarters with something like dismay, and the Mexican conspirator was thankful that he had joined forces with the redoubtable General Villar.
The famous insurgent chief had not at first accepted Morales' suggestion of co-operation with anything like alacrity. Villar was at the head of a very considerable force and but for the fact that he had recently suffered defeat at the hands of Government troops and had lost a large number of his following he might have rejected the suggestion of joining hands with a man who could not be less than a possible rival for the presidency.
If he yielded to the suggestion which Morales had made in the course of negotiations it was only on the understanding that he should be in supreme control, a condition which, though it did not fit in with Morales' views and plans, he conceded. He was a born opportunist, and he did not doubt that, if the combined armies secured a victory, he would be able as easily to dispose of Villar as he would of his minor rival, Francisco Valdez.
It is probable that Villar held exactly the same views concerning Morales, for he was an old and wily insurgent, and this was not the first time he had been obliged for his own ends to seek the co-operation of dangerous men.
The ill-assorted trio, with Villar's chief of artillery, sat in counsel on the afternoon of Patria's review, full details and particulars of which had been furnished by the Mexican spies.
"I don't like it at all," said Villar. "They may spoil the whole of our plans."
"What are the plans?" asked Valdez.
The magic of Villar's name did not impress him. He had before now fought with and against the professional insurgent.
"Our plans are simple," said Morales, "and the general and I are in complete agreement. In Europe there is a war, as you know, and one of the belligerents is a very good friend of ours. There is a chance that America may be involved in that war unless she is kept busily occupied at home. We have received from our friend in Europe a very large sum of money and the promise of large shipments of arms on condition that we attack."
"Attack the United States?" said Valdez, with a sneer. "Señor, you are mad."
"Not so mad as you imagine," said Morales sternly. "It is a great country, a country of vast distances. From a military standpoint it is not worth that!" He snapped his fingers. "Briefly, America is unprepared. It would take her months to put an army in the field, and by the time those men were gathered we should have seized the States on our frontier. My friend, there are large towns for the looting, enormous stores, and for us the greatest prestige, Mexico would rise behind us. The Government would be defeated, and in its place I—I mean we," he corrected hastily—"should govern."
"Everything depends upon the first blow," said Villar. "I am an old campaigner in this country, General Morales, and what I say is true. It is the first blow which makes all the difference between failure and success, and it looked as though the first blow would inevitably bring success."
"And now?" asked Valdez.
"Now the position is charged," growled Villar. "Who, in the name of the saints, stirred this woman up to bring her soldiers to the frontier?"
He looked at Morales, but Morales blandly ignored the question.
"Even now it is not too late," he said. "A force of that character requires organising. If we can only learn Patria's plans—"
"Is there nobody who knows them?"
"Almost everybody in her employ knows them," replied Morales.
"Then it is simple. Send a raiding party to bring in one of those people and make them speak."
"They would die sooner than betray Patria," said Morales.
"May be glad to die," he said, ominously. "Francisco, I hand this task to you. Go down to the Channing ranch tonight and bring back somebody who can tell us what this girl Channing's intentions are, what is the strength of her force, what reserves she has on the way, and what ammunition she has stored near the border."
Valdez smiled and shook his head.
"I have had one raid, general," he said, "and I have no desire to take on another. However, you need not worry about that. Gomez came in this afternoon."
"That cut-throat brigand," said Villar, contemptuously.
"He has cut a few throats for you, general," said the outlaw, "and he is a useful man."
He went out of the adobe house, and, leaning over the rails of the verandah, he spoke a few words in Spanish to his orderly.
The man mounted and rode off, and presently returned with another, whose richly embroidered bolero showed him to be a person of some consequence. Though three parts Indian, as his colour testified his features reproduced all that was worse of his white ancestors—the cruel, thin lips, the almost almond eyes, the flat, broad nose, combined to justify his sinister reputation.
"The General wants to see you, Gomez. He has a task for you. How many men did you bring in?"
"Twenty, señor," replied the other, with a grin.
"Are they your own men?"
"Si señor; all good comrades."
"Come in!" said Valdez. "I've got a job after your own heart."
The consultation was a short one. Morales, explaining the brigand's quick, nervous hands gesticulating his readiness and pleasure.
"You understand," said Valdez, at parting, "It is a simple job. Don't bungle it. The Morgans live on the edge of the border and there is no one within thirteen miles. One man, two women, and a child. You ought to have no difficulty."
"And do I kill, señor?" asked the man, eagerly.
"Kill all you want, but bring me the girl unharmed. You understand?"
"Si, señor," said the man showing his teeth in a smile.
Bud was in the midst of his supper when his little brother slipper from the table and walked to the window, peering out.
"What is it, kid?" asked the young foreman.
"I thought I heard injuns," said the boy coming back to his place.
"I guess we shall have to buy a few Indians for you, baby. You'll never be satisfied till you see some galoot careering around with a couple of scalps!"
Suddenly he ceased speaking, and put down his knife and fork. He heard a sound—a stealthy footfall—and he raised his finger to enjoin silence.
Presently came a knock, and Bud went to the door and turned the key noiselessly. Suddenly he jerked it open. A man, who had been leaning against the lintel, almost fell into the room. One glance was enough for Bud Morgan. He saw not only one, but a dozen men, and they were all armed.
He slammed the door to and turned the key.
"Into the bedroom!" he said, as a shot rang out and a bullet came smashing through the window.
He reached up to the wall and took down his revolvers from the hanging belt. He heard the rifle butts crash against the door, and as one of the panels splintered he fired.
A second later the door was flung open. The first man across the threshold dropped dead, the second went down, and the third leapt at him and gripped him by the arms.
Someone pulled his legs from under him, but Bud fought with all the strength of desperation. They slashed at him with their knives—to shot at close quarters was too dangerous. Suddenly they released him and stepped back. Two shots rang out, and Bud fell in a heap across the threshold. They dragged him from the doorway and flung him outside. They were battering now at the door of the bedroom, where the girl, her mother, and her brother had taken refuge.
Bess was firing steadily through the door, but the rickety strip of wood which served that purpose fell in at the first kick, and she found herself struggling with a dark-faced Mexican. For her assailant, it proved to be an unusual fight. Accustomed as he was to the softness of the southern women, this girl was all whipcord and steel. Her little fists shot out, and he staggered under their impact.
He made an attempt to fling her down, and for a second left his face unguarded. In that second her left arm came round with a swing, something struck him on the point of the jaw, and he collapsed.
Almost immediately two of the band threw themselves upon her and bore her to the ground. She heard shooting, and struggled wildly, for she knew that they were shooting at her mother.
The boy, who had taken refuge under the bed when the fight started, waited till the room was clear, and then he rushed to the window, leapt out, and ran. He had only run a dozen yards when one of the Indians who had been left to guard the window saw him and fired, and the boy, spinning round, dropped to the ground.
Gomez directed the final destruction of the home. The furniture was piled together, an armful of dried grass was pushed beneath it, and ignited. In five minutes the little wooden cottage was a flaming volcano. They carried Bess past where the body of her brother lay, and she closed her eyes as she saw one of the Mexicans give the inanimate form a savage kick.
She was bustled to where the horses were waiting.
"You ride or I carry you!" said Gomez.
"I'll ride!" said the girl, and jumped into the saddle.
With a guard on each side of her, who set the pace, they galloped, captor and captive, along the trail across the border. The girl was half-mad with sorrow and fear, but with an effort she controlled herself. She could only guess her danger, and she knew she required all her wits.
Very steadily she checked her horse, and insensibly her two guards drew back to keep level with her. River after rider passed them, until they were the rearmost of the party. She had no plans, but she had not lost all hope. The road led along the base of a ridge, which was thickly wooded, and at intervals great branches spread their shade over the road itself.
She made her plan on the spur of the moment. It was some time before she could find a suitable tree. They were generally too high for her purpose, but after they had been riding for half-an-hour she saw ahead of her a branch which promised to serve her purpose.
She and her guards were a little behind the others, and she herself was riding just behind her custodians. Suddenly she flung her hands up and gripped the branch of a tree under which she was riding, at the same time kicking her feet clear of the stirrups. She hung for a moment, then dropped, and, turning, ran at full speed along the trail she had come.
It was a few minutes before they missed her, and then the whole party turned and came galloping in pursuit. The bank was too steep to climb. She raced on, praying wildly for some help, but there was no help in sight.
Two Mexicans galloped up, one on either side, and, stooping, each hooked an arm and suspended between the two horses she completed her journey to Morales' headquarters, half-fainting with pain and fatigue.
Bud Morgan lay where he had fallen for half-an-hour. His body was sore with the kicking he had received. He had a wound in his leg, but evidently no bones were broken. His head was throbbing, and, putting up his hand, he felt a jagged wound where a bullet had ripped the flesh.
He rose to his knees, and from his knees to his feet. He could scarcely stand, the whole world was dizzily revolving about him but presently he began to realise and remember.
He stared like a man demented at the flaming hut, and staggered towards it, but he heat drove him back. He stumbled over something, and, peering down, saw it was the body of the boy, his brother. He dropped on his knees with a sob, and lifted the little form in his arms. The boy was not dead. He opened his eyes and smiled, and Bud held him till the little heart had ceased to beat. He drew the body away from the fire, searched for but failed, to find his mother.
He somehow sensed that the object of this attack had been to carry off his sister, and the thought that she was in the hands of these half-breeds well night drove him mad. The stables were still untouched. The raiders would have searched in vain for his horse had been turned loose in the pasture, and by-and-bye it came whinnying towards him.
There was no time for saddle or bridle. With an effort which caused him the most excruciating pain, he hoisted himself on to the bare back of the animal, and, digging his heels into its side, he galloped along the road which led to the ranch.
There was no need to guide the horse—he knew every step of the way—and once on horseback some of his old strength and confidence returned. Every yard he galloped brought him untold agony, but he set his teeth and held on.
Down the long, uneven trail he passed at full speed; over dry watercourses, through little plantations, across trackless prairie, the horse made its way unerringly. He almost forgot his pain in the agony of the thought that pretty little Bess was in the hands of Mexican insurgents. The thought lent him strength and stamina to accomplish the impossible.
Like a flash he passed an outlying group of cowboys gathered before their hut, spending the evening in dance and song. He had enough reserve to reach the ranch, but could not afford to halt on the way.
Pilsbury saw the flying figure that passed without a word.
"There's something wrong at the Morgans'," he said. "Saddle up, you fellows!"
He mounted and rode in pursuit.
At the arched entrance of the ranch-house the sweating horse stopped, and Bud fell off into the arms of one of Patria's men.
It had been a great day for Patria. She sat at coffee with Donald, the latter looking singularly handsome in his neat dress clothes, and she was discussing with him the details of her scheme for policing the border.
A little frown wrinkled her pretty forehead and she glanced up.
"What is that you are reading so industriously?" she asked with feminine curiosity. "It must be tremendously important to take your mind off your army."
"Your army," he corrected.
He pushed the paper over to her with a little smile.
"It's another one of those New York articles, and it says that there is no trouble whatever on the frontier, and that all reports from the Rio Grande are to the effect that everything is quiet."
She shook her head.
"I can't understand it." She said despairingly. "Surely the facts are clear for anybody to see. I sent a report myself to the Government."
"The Government believes what it wants to believe," said Donald; "and that is mighty bad for the governed."
"'All is quiet on the frontier.'" she read again. "With Morales a dozen miles away!"
"It would not matter so much if it were only Morales," said Donald.
"Why, what do you mean?" she asked, in surprise.
"Villar has joined him. That means that there is a pretty big force on the other side of the line. So long as they fight amongst themselves there is no harm done, but if they decided to cross the frontier I don't think that we could hold them."
"Not even with our new force?"
He shook his head.
"We are dealing with armies now, dear; with an army better equipped with artillery than we, with probably more aeroplanes, and certainly with less scruples. It will not be a case of border riding we are face-to-face with what is practically an international situation."
"But—" she began, when there was an interruption, a swift clatter of horses feet, a shout, followed by the sound of half-a-dozen horsemen coming up at a gallop.
"I wonder what it is?" said Patria.
"Will you see?"
Donald was already at the door, and had stepped out on to the courtyard. He saw the group at the entrance. "What is it?" he asked.
"I guess there's been a raid, Captain Parr!" said Pilsbury's voice, in the darkness.
Patria stood in the doorway. She had taken in the situation at a glance.
"Bring him in here!" she said, and they took Bud Morgan into the dining room and propped him up in the chair which Patria had vacated. His face was streaked with blood his clothes were torn and stained.
He looked with a glazed eye from face to face as though uncomprehensive of what had happened.
Then gently, Patria coaxed the story from him, and he told it slowly, with big intervals between his sentences. He spoke of his brother, of his mother, of Bess, in a wandering, unconvinced way, as though to mention them were to admit the truth of the catastrophe which had overtaken that humble home.
"We were sitting at supper," he said, "...and the kid heard a noise...and presently I heard it, and I opened the door...there was a greaser...I slammed the door and reached for my gun..."
And so through the long, painful story he passed.
Before he had finished Patria was weeping silently, and Donald Parr, his face set and stern, was staring blankly at a news sheet which laid upon the table, with the headlines, "Peace along the border" uppermost.
"We must do something—we must, we must!" cried Patria, impetuously. "It is too horrible! Donald, send our men in pursuit!"
He shook his head.
"That is impossible, Patria," he said quietly. "It would be an act of war involving God knows what consequences, even to cross the border. We cannot involve our country in war, and we must devise some method. Catch him!"
Bud Morgan had collapsed across the table. They lifted him up and carried him from the room, and Patria was left alone.
She felt the terrible helplessness of the position. Even her immense fortune was powerless to save the girl from harm. She knelt at the table, and clasped her hands and prayed fervently for guidance.
BEFORE the insurgents' war council, grouped about a long table, sat their sole prisoner. Bess Morgan had had little time to recover from her fatigue. On her arrival Morales had been away and she had been literally thrown into a room which opened from the council chamber and had apparently used as a prison before, for the windows were barred and beyond a little straw on the floor, a long stool and a crucifix, it was bare of furniture.
The door was locked upon her and she was left to her own wretched reflections. For all she knew the whole of the family had been wiped out and at the recollection of that once happy house, and the terrible fate which her dear ones had met with, even her stout heart broke and she sat, her face in her hands, shaking in an agony of sorrow.
Women of the border do not spend much time weeping and soon she had dried her face and had made an examination of the room. The bars were solid and it was impossible to escape in that way, and to make double sure the insurgents had boarded up the outside of the windows, light being admitted through a skylight, which also was heavily barred.
She tried the door. Though it was loose fitting and she could hear distinctly people moving about in the council chamber, and even hear their voices, the door was a stout one and the lock too strong to encourage any hope.
She gave up her examination in despair and had gone back to her place on the stool when a key turned in the lock, the door was flung open and she was called by name. She stepped out into the big well-lighted room and glanced at the men about the table. The man with the drooping moustache, at the head, with three flamboyant decorations upon his tunic, she knew by repute. She had seen Villar's photograph in the American papers. The stout man, with the Oriental cast of features, she guessed was Morales. The thin, bestial-faced Mexican, who had carried her off, she was to learn was the redoubtable Gomez.
Valdez, clean-shaven, with a sneer upon his heavy face, was also new. She had seen the police notices offering rewards for his capture, and on these his photograph was displayed. The fifth man she did not know and gathered that he held some position of authority by the gold band round his cuff.
"Sit down there," said Villar and she sank into the chair. "I suppose you know why we brought you here?"
"I only know have raided the American frontier and that you will pay for this one of these days," said the girl.
"Let us have no heroics, my good girl," he said. "If I live long enough to pay for all my indiscretions I shall die at a good age. I have brought you here to ask you some questions. If you answer those questions truly you will not be harmed, but will be restored to your friends. If you do not answer those questions I will make you glad to die."
She made no reply.
"Are you willing to answer?" he asked.
"I am not willing to speak to men like you, murders and cowards," she cried. "You have never fought a clean fight in your lives. You are midnight assassins, and even then it takes ten of you to kill one white man."
"Hold your tongue, damn you!" said Gomez, who stood behind her.
Villar signalled him to be quiet.
"I won't waste time on any preliminary," he said, speaking excellent English, "and I will ask you now, what are Patria Channing's plans? Don't answer at once till I have finished. I know that everybody on the station has an idea what she intends doing. What position is she going to take up, and where?"
"I don't know, but if I did I would rather my tongue were torn from my head than tell."
"How many riflemen has she?"
The girl was silent.
"How many guns?"
Still Bess made no reply.
"What provisions are there on the station? Come, you know that?"
Bess did not speak.
"You try, Gomez."
Gomez, the brigand, had a short way with his prisoners, He gripped the girl by the hair and jerked her head back.
"You tell me what I want to know," he hissed, "or I take you into that room and I cut you into little pieces. First I flay your flesh, then I slit your face so you be an old woman. Do you hear?" He shook her head violently. "Will you tell?"
"Never!" she gasped. "You—you black man."
With a yell of rage he raised his hand to strike her, but Morales waved him aside.
"Come, come, my young friend," he smiled at the girl and his voice was suave and wheedling, "why do you make such a fuss about such a little? We are not making you tell us anything that will be harmful to your friends. It is quite an unimportant matter, but we want the information. Now be a good, sensible girl—we don't expect you to tell us what you don't know—and to-morrow you will be restored safely to your people."
But neither cajolery nor threats would move her. Valdez, leaning across the table, assailed her with a flood of foul abuse; Gomez grinned with rage, his talon hands gripped as though he had the will to let loose his tiger passion; Villar, dark and menacing, Morales still gentle and persuasive. None of these could make her change her attitude.
In the end she was thrown back into the prison room.
"She will speak," said Morales, "after she has reflected a little she will change her mind. If not, we will find a method."
"I say, kill her," stormed Gomez, "you heard what she called me—a black man! I, a hidalgo, a cabellero."
"Morales is right," said Villar. "Give her time. But she has already told me by her silence what I wanted to know."
"I say strike at once," said Morales vigorously. "There is nothing to gain by waiting. We know Pilsbury's force is there. We know it is not there for a holiday. We have already got enough men to overwhelm that force. I have brought into the country implements and means which have been effective by our friends in Germany. Now is the time to strike."
He looked at his chief and Villar nodded.
"We advance in twenty-four hours," he said, and the council broke up. Bess, with her ear glued to the door, had heard the decision.
In twenty-four hours she must find a way out! She must warn them! She knew enough of the position at the ranch to know that they were not prepared for so rapid an advance. She thought and thought and thought till her head dropped on her bosom from sheer exhaustion, into a fitful sleep, a sleep filled with horrible dreams in which Gomez and his evil eyes played a conspicuous part.
Rodman Pilsbury was astir the next morning at daybreak. He had spent a sleepless night, for Bess Morgan had a big place in his heart.
He walked across to the shed where Bud had spent the night and halted at the edge of the clearing.
Bud, too, was up and about, sitting listlessly on the shaft of a waggon, his bandaged head in his hands.
Rodman watched him as, with an air of utter dejection, the foreman rose and walked slowly toward the little plantation beyond the shed.
"Poor lad," muttered Pilsbury.
He stood looking at the young man, then he turned abruptly and walked back to where the cowboys were gathered preparatory to their morning ride.
"See here, boys," he addressed them, "I gotten a word to say to you."
They gathered around him.
"I figure it out this way," said Pilsbury, speaking rapidly, "Bess Morgan is in the hands of those damned Indians who call themselves Mexicans. Because they are on one side of the border and we are on the other, Uncle Sam says we must leave 'em alone whilst he writes a few notes at 'em, and I guess that may be good Washington law but it's bad border law, and I'm not going to stay here and let those swine have it all their own way."
"Bully for you," said a lank cowboy.
"I am going into that camp," continued Pilsbury, "whether I go over the frontier or under it, and I'm going to bring back Bess, or stay there myself. Do I go alone?"
There was a yell of "No."
Rodman mounted his horse.
"This is illegal and you follow at your own risk, but it's me for the sunny land of Mexico," and, putting spurs to his horse, he struck for the Mexican trail, his cowboys following, to a man.
Long before daybreak that morning Villar and Manuel Morales had left in two motor-cars to conduct reconnaissance and survey the ground over which they intended sending their men on the following day. They had waited at the edge of the patrolled area for daylight and, with the first grey flush of dawn, the two cars had gone forward towards American territory.
Manuel had intended making a final appeal to the girl and had gone to the council chamber for that purpose. The big room in which the meetings were held was also the communion living-room of the officers of the expedition and Manuel had halted on the threshold to survey with a sneer a scene which was all too frequent in this camp.
The table was littered with bottles and glasses and there had evidently been a meal. Villar's artillery commander was already half-drunk and Valdez and Gomez sat with their arms about two smirking girls who had come up from Mexico and formed part of the undesirable element in the village.
They were roaring a Spanish song in a hideous discordance. The whole party had taken much more drink than was necessary and, after looking a while, Manuel had turned with a shrug of his shoulders, abandoning all idea of interrogating his prisoner in such as atmosphere.
Villar went first, a quarter of a mile ahead of his companion, and out of sight in the twisting, dipping road. Neither man realised their danger until, turning out of a wood, Villar's car almost smashed into a party of horsemen drawn up across the road. They reined aside their horses and let it pass, then half the party turned in pursuit.
Villar realised his peril and fired, and a rattle of shots came back at him. He looked round and saw that half-a-dozen horsemen were in pursuit. Ahead of him was a hill, which meant that his speed must slacken and give his pursuers an opportunity of drawing abreast of him. He fired again, but missed the leader, who drew level as the crest of the hill was reached.
Villar pulled out a second revolver but, before he could fire, the horseman had flung himself from the saddle, into the car. There was a wild struggle, but by this time the car had topped the crest and was running at full speed down the steep gradient towards the plain.
The fight between the three men in the tonneau might have ended quickly if the chauffeur dared lend his aid, but the horsemen were still behind and to stop the car would have meant certain capture.
Down the hill road flashed the car with its struggling passengers and swung to the more even surface of the frontier road which ran east and west.
The chauffeur could not stop to turn. He must go on toward the ranch beyond which was another turning backward to the border. As he approached the confines of the ranch he saw a number of men busy in the road. They looked like soldiers and the appearance of the car coming headlong toward them seemed to create alarm.
One of the men dashed out into the middle of the road and raised his hands in warning. Patria's engineers had been busy all that morning mining and blowing up the roads and the ragged ridges at each side in order to form a defensive line in case of attack.
Just before the car had appeared, the centre of the road had been undermined, the charge laid, and the fuses touched off. There was no time to extinguish the fuses, they were almost burnt out before the car came into sight. The chauffeur saw the warnings but misunderstood them. He set his teeth and put forward his accelerator, and the car literally flew forward.
Its front wheels were over the mine when the charges exploded. There was a deafening roar, the earth was thrown up 200 feet and when the smoke drifted away and the dust settled the wreckage of the car stood in the crater which the explosion had formed.
The chauffeur was dead at his wheel, but the two men in the rear of the car still lived. They staggered out, clutching one another, and then, before the astonished engineers could intervene, the taller of the two wrenched himself free, half walked, half rolled, down the slope and disappeared into the thick bush at the front of the ridge.
The cowboy, wounded and terribly injured by the explosion, could only point and utter one word, "Villar!" before he collapsed.
The engineers raced down the hill and plunged into the bush. They expected to find the Mexican in the same deplorable condition they had left their comrade, but he was nowhere to be seen.
In the meantime, the other half of Rodman Pilsbury's party were watching for the second car which they had sighted. Presently this also came into view through the little wood. The car was moving more slowly than that of Villar and Pilsbury dashed alongside.
"Stop this car and put your hands up!" he shouted. And the chauffeur, taken by surprise, jammed on the brake.
Pilsbury dismounted and came to the side of the car.
"Step out, you!" he said, curtly, and Morales, with an oath, obeyed.
"Where is Bess Morgan?" asked Rodman Pilsbury, without preamble.
Morales smiled and shook his head.
"I am afraid I don't know what you are talking about," he said, smoothly.
"Where is Bess Morgan?" asked the other. "If you play with me, I'll play with you, in a way you won't like."
"I seem to remember," said Morales, "there was a young lady who came to our headquarters last night, but between us, she came quite voluntarily."
"That's a lie!" said Pilsbury, "but I won't argue the matter with you. I want that girl back unharmed."
Morales shrugged his shoulders.
"You are asking for the impossible. I have no power over the young lady, and if she likes the society of my friends—"
He caught the unpleasant gleam in Pilsbury's eyes, saw the thumb of the man pull back the hammer of his revolver, and stopped.
"Take those men and line them up!" said Pilsbury sharply.
He indicated the two Mexicans and the Kanaka boy who had been in the car with Morales. The man formed them in a line by the side of the road.
"Half-a-dozen of you take your rifles, cover these men, and when I say 'Fire!' shoot them!" said Pilsbury, and turned to Morales.
"You will send one of your friends back, or you can send two or the whole bunch," he said, "and they will return with Bess Morgan or I will leave your body for the buzzards. Do you understand that?"
Morales thought quickly. He had no doubt whatever in his mind that this man would carry his threat into execution. He was caught and all his schemings were at and end, unless he could escape: and there was no hope of escape. The girl was no longer necessary. Now that Villar had decided to advance immediately, it mattered little what preparation Patria had made.
"I agree." he said. He called Guido. "Take the car and Murillo back to headquarters and bring the girl here."
"But suppose they won't let her go?"
"It is my order," said Morales sharply, "and you have my authority to shoot any man who resists you."
Guido scrambled into his seat, the chauffeur took his place at the wheel, with Murillo at his side, and the car turned and went pelting back to headquarters.
The cowboys formed a little bivouac by the side of the road and Morales stretched himself upon the earth, aloof from the men, and passed the hours of waiting, with innumerable cigarettes.
Bess Morgan had spent a wretched night, despite her weariness. She had been constantly awakened by the uproarious gaiety of the supper party. She heard the singing. Once there was a violent quarrel, but harmony seemed to be restored and day broke and still found the party at their libations.
She heard the shrill voice of the women, and knew that neither help nor sympathy was to be expected from them. The sun was well up when the voice of Gomez roar above the din of talk.
"Here's daylight, amigo, and Louise has not come."
"Curse the woman!" said Valdez's voice. "She promised to be here."
"Oh, forget Louise," said one of the girls. "Aren't we enough for you?"
"Two girls and three men," chuckled Valdez. "No, we want another."
Somebody whispered a suggestion and she heard the dry, cackling laugh of Gomez.
"Si, si!" he said, eagerly. "Let us have her in! It will complete the party."
She heard the artillery officer's protest. He was not so drunk that he feared to disobey the orders which Morales had given, but his protests were overridden and the girl shrank back to the corner of her cell as she heard the click of the lock and saw Gomez step unsteadily into the room.
"Come, my beautiful!" he almost screamed, "you shall have wine and happiness."
He gripped her by the arm and dragged her into the big room, heavy with the fumes of smoke and wine.
"Sit down!" He thrust her into a chair at the head of the table. "To-day you are my girl! I shall call you Louise, my beautiful."
His arm was about her when Valdez pushed him back.
"This woman is mine," said the outlaw thickly, "I am the superior officer!"
"I took her!" snarled Gomez, gesticulating violently. "It was I who brought her here!"
"She is mine, I tell you!" said Valdez.
It looked as though the men would come to blows, Gomez had loosened the knife at his belt, when one of the laughing girls intervened.
"You shall throw for her!" she said.
It was a solution which appealed to both men. The dice were produced and the box rattled. The girl saw the little cubes fall, too horror-stricken to realise into whose power she was falling till a triumphant shout from Valdez informed her of his luck.
The next moment she was swung up from her seat, his arm was round her, his cruel face pressed to hers. Then, as she was on the point of losing consciousness, the door was flung open and Guido, his face whitened with dust, sprang in.
"Drop that girl!" he said. "The General wants her."
Valdez sprung round with a curse, and put his hand to his holster, but the automatic pistol in Guido's hand bespoke his earnestness.
The young man who was with him, whom Morales had called Murillo, stepped forward, lifted the girl from the chair, and had carried her out and placed her in the motor-car before the astounded Valdez realised what had happened. A second later Guido himself backed out, jumped into the car and, by the time the revellers had reached the door, the car was disappearing in a cloud of dust at the far end of the street.
Morales heard the sound of the motor-car engine and rising moved with the rest of the party to the road. The car stopped and the girl jumped out into the arms of Rodman Pilsbury.
"Oh, Rodman, Rodman," she sobbed.
He comforted her as best he could.
"All this is very interesting," broke in the calm voice of Morales, "but having fulfilled my part of the bargain, I look upon you to fulfil yours."
"You may go." he said curtly.
"My revolver?" said Morales.
Somebody unloaded the weapon and handed it to him and, without any sign of concern, he again boarded the car.
"In a very short time we shall meet again," were his final words, "in circumstances which you may regret!" And with this Parthian shot, he took his departure.
Some of the men were for following him, but Pilsbury stopped them.
"Let him go," he said. He frowned. "What does he mean by saying he will meet us again?"
"I can tell you that," said the quiet voice of the girl. "He is attacking in twenty-four hours."
Patria Channing had never looked so fresh and beautiful in Donald Parr's eyes as that morning when, clad in her long, close-fitting smock, her beautiful hair hidden under an aviator's helmet, she had stood beside her aeroplane and watched the mechanic putting the final touches to the machine.
"I am going to take a peek at the enemy's country," she said gaily.
"Don't you think you ought to take somebody with you?" said Donald, in a troubled voice. "I know you are a first-class pilot but this almost amounts to war flying. I have seen two or three aeroplanes over the frontier."
She shook her head laughingly and was up in the fusilage and her engine was roaring before he could frame another protest. He shaded his eyes and watched her as the graceful machine swept upward in big circles, and then went back to the ranch to finish the work he was at.
The absence of the hands worried him. He knew well enough the mission they were on, but it was not the thought of their violating the frontier that bothered him so much as the danger they ran.
He stopped at the entrance of the ranch to throw a final backward glance at Patria and uttered an exclamation, for Patria's machine was coming back to earth about four miles from the station.
"Engine trouble," he muttered and called for his horse.
It was the slightest of mishaps that had caused Patria to descend and she made a smooth landing on the broad smooth prairie.
It took her some little time to right the trouble.
Other eyes than Donald's had seen her fall. A tattered figure crouched beneath a tangle of undergrowth and heard the hoofs of his pursuers go galloping past, and had seen the cowboys searching the wood. He had lain still, scarcely daring to breathe and when they had passed he dragged himself painfully to the edge of the wood in time to see Patria's machine reach the earth.
He heard the returning cowboys and dropped again to cover. This time they passed him within half-a-dozen paces and it seemed inevitable that he would be discovered. He could hear their voices discussing him and presently, under the direction of the foreman, they split into three parties and turned back to the wood.
He waited another five minutes until they had passed from sight and sound and then he began to crawl stealthily along through the thick grass toward where the aeroplane lay.
Patria had descended from the machine and her hand was on the propeller when a voice said:
She looked round and saw, to her dismay, a dishevelled-looking man standing near one of the wings. His face was cut and bruised, his clothes were torn, and in his grimy hand was a revolver.
"Hurry!" he said again.
"Who are you?" demanded the girl.
"I am General Villar," said the man, "and you are going to take me back and land me in my lines."
"If I refuse?"
"You will never know what killed you," said the man grimly. "Hurry, now, I've no time to fool about! Your men are after me."
He looked back at a clump of trees through which he had seen one of the searching patrols ride.
There was no choice for Patria but her mind was active as she jumped back into the fuselage, after starting the engine. Villar followed her, more clumsily. There was not room for two in this little scout machine, but he was evidently familiar with the capacity of such aeroplanes and balanced himself by her side, clinging to one of the struts and half leaning upon a wing.
He showed no sign of trepidation, for this was not his first flight. Speech was impossible but he pointed the direction and, rising to two thousand feet, Patria headed the machine to his headquarters, which were visible at this height.
The aeroplane had hardly left the ground before the search party, warned by men who had seen the happening from higher ground, dashed into the field. They could only stand helplessly watching and when, five minutes later, Donald galloped up, told him the story of Villar's escape.
"Border or no border," said Donald, between his teeth, "I am going to take the law into my own hands."
"Look!" said one of the men. "She's turning back!"
He pointed to a speck in the southern sky.
Donald knew that she must be over the Mexican lines by now, but the machine showed no inclination of landing and, as the cowboy had said, it was on the point of returning.
Patria's plan had succeeded. It was a plan which she had made on the spur of the moment. As they neared the enemy's lines, she had thrown a searching glance at him, and saw that he was smiling.
He had recognised her—that she knew. To land him in his lines, according to her promise, would mean her own capture. She changed her course so that she would bring the machine to the south of the village where his headquarters were established, and he grabbed her shoulder and, in dumb show, pointed out her mistake.
She nodded, and then, of a sudden, she banked over to make a turn which would bring the machine above the collection of huts about which his army was encamped. The suddenness of the turn, the steepness of the bank, made him for a moment devote all of his attention to keeping his balance.
He looked down with a startled expression just as the aeroplane came over the centre of the village and at that moment Patria, who had been groping stealthily for a spanner, struck him with all her strength across the head.
He released his grip and fell. Down, down, down he went and struck the earth, a sprawling heap before the very door of the house where the night before he had sat in council.
A white-faced Patria stared down at the inanimate speck.
"I have kept my promise!" she said.
THERE comes to every man that central, crucial moment of life when all that he has striven for, all his plans, his hopes, and his ambitions are to be tested by the supreme accomplishment. Such a moment had now come to Morales. He was at last in complete control of all the insurgent armies which consolidated their objectives in his own plans.
He summoned a council of war as soon as the dead Villar had been buried.
"We move at once," he said.
"Across the frontier?" asked Valdez.
"Where else?" replied Morales.
"I am with you," said the outlaw, who had fallen naturally into the position of second in command. "You understand señor the difficulties of our task. Patria Channing has mobilised the whole of her forces. They are skilfully lead. They have all the best equipment of war, aeroplanes, modern artillery—."
"If you shirk it you needn't come," said Morales shortly, and the outlaw's face darkened.
"It matters little to me whether we go forward or backward," he said, insolently. "I am prepared for anything."
"You will have control of the cavalry," said Morales.
He spread a map on the table.
"There is only one danger, but I believe it is a great one," said Manuel.
"What is that?" demanded Valdez.
"That the United States Government shake out of their trance. Remember, Patria's army is not an official army; it is one she has armed and trained herself. Hitherto she has sought in vain for assistance from her Government. They believe that all the stories of raids and of danger from this side are exaggerated. Once they are alarmed the war is finished within a month and it is our business to carry the war as far into the United States as we can in the course of that month."
In one corner of the big square which faced his headquarters two batteries of artillery were parked and the drivers were busy at the long horse lines grooming their wiry beasts.
"Guido," he said turning to his companion, "we are on the eve of great happenings. There is a prize within my grasp greater than I have ever dreamt and you, my friend, are within reach of the reward which your loyalty has earned."
"Master," said his lieutenant, earnestly, "whatever success awaits you, for myself I know I shall not survive this battle."
Morales looked at him sharply.
"That is fool's talk," he growled, and yet he knew in his heart that this man had spoken the truth. He knew something of this strange race and the accuracy of its forebodings and he shivered slightly to hear the man speak so calmly of his coming death.
"Let us go on," he said. "Drive to the advanced pickets, I wish to take another look at the position we have to attack."
At that moment a different kind of war council was being held in Patria's ranch house. A little group sat about a table and they were waiting. Donald Parr, more serious than usual, glanced from time to time at the telephone as though it were some animate thing which would foretell by its expression the message it would presently speak.
"I can't think the Government will ignore this warning," he said.
"You don't know the Government," said Patria drily. "My dear Donald, I have naturally some influence with Washington. People with a hundred million dollars are not without friends in the Legislature."
"Then you believe they will ignore the warning?" asked Donald, incredulously.
The girl nodded.
"They will humour me," she said, "they will be very polite, and tell me that they well understand my agitation, but from their information they are satisfied there is no trouble and no danger. In fact, they will look upon me as an enthusiastic kind of lunatic who sees an enemy under every sombrero and an invasion in every cloud of dust that rises on the plain."
Donald shook his head.
"I can't believe that," he said, and at that moment the telephone bell rang sharply.
He took off the receiver.
"Yes," he said, "this is Miss Channing's ranch. Who is that? Very good." He handed the telephone to the girl.
"It is Washington," he whispered, "the Secretary of State's office."
"This is Miss Channing speaking," said Patria, "you had my message?" Above the buzzing and clicking of the long distance wire came a drawling voice.
"Yes, Miss Channing. We have investigated your statement and we are quite sure that you are wrong. We understand, of course, and we think it only natural that you are a little alarmed, and perhaps it would be better if you shifted your quarters from the frontier."
"But I tell you there's danger," said Patria, angrily. "A big force of Mexican insurgents is at this moment preparing to advance into the United States."
"Oh, dear no," said the superior voice, "you have been misinformed. We know that all is quiet along the frontier."
Patria smacked the receiver on to the hook savagely.
"They think we are mad," she said. "I told you how it would be."
"Do you mean to say they don't believe us?" asked Donald indignantly.
"I mean to say that they think we are scared by rumours," said the girl.
"There is nothing to do now but to take our own part."
Donald turned to his assistant.
"Man all the positions," he said, "and send an advance detachment to hold the bridge. We had better extend the trenches to cover the bridge. We will hold on there as long as possible, and if they work round our flank we must fall back upon the main position. Bertram, you are in charge of the artillery. You will register at three thousand yards from a point a thousand yards in rear from the main trench. You won't have time to dig gun positions, and you will have to take your chance in the open. Shrapnel for the infantry, high explosive for counter-battery work. Thank Heaven, they have got to be in the open too, and if you have all the ranges fixed and measured, you ought to have no difficulty. And you, Patria"—he turned to the girl—"I think you had better take a horse and ride for El Padro. You will be safe there."
"And leave you to fight it out?" she said mockingly, "the last of the Channings desert her army! Oh, Donald, you don't mean that?"
He shrugged his shoulders. He knew it was no use arguing.
"What will you do?" he asked.
"I have got my 'plane," she said. "Mason can pilot me, and I will observe.
"Is your phone fitted with wireless?"
"I don't like it," said Donald, fretfully, "it's a great risk, and it's not a job for a woman."
"I am going to do it," said the girl firmly, "of that I have set my mind which nothing will alter."
Donald made a little gesture of despair, but smiled. He had no doubt of the seriousness of the position. The army which was moving towards him outnumbered him two to one. He had reason to believe that he was out-gunned and, to make matters worse, the position he had to hold was not an ideal one. He was forced by the configuration of the ground and the course of the river beds which flanked the position to retire his right so that it rested upon the old mission house. He would have preferred fixing his line far in advance of this but had he done so his right would have been either uncovered since he had not a sufficiency of men to create a flanking post, or else he would have been holding an acute salient with all its attendant dangers.
The weakness of the whole position lay in the fact that the enemy could, with little difficulty, approach the Mission House under good cover, save for the last thousand yards, and supported, as they would be with artillery, it was not unlikely that the ranch house would be rushed and the whole of his trench position turned and enfiladed.
The soldier in him was concerned with this military danger. The lover in him was consumed with anxiety for Patria. He saw her come swinging out of her tent in her aviator's kit and went toward her.
"Don't forget," he said solemnly, "that that machine carries something more than the fate of this battle."
She dropped her eyes before his, and the two hands that grasped his arms trembled for a moment.
"I understand," she said in a low voice, "and please don't forget that these trenches and guns guard something which is almost as precious to me as the integrity of my country."
In another minute she was climbing into the fuselage, and the aeroplane was running swiftly across the level ground.
Donald had no more time for sentiment. After watching the biplane leap up into the blue sky, he went back to his headquarters.
The preparations that Patria had made though on a miniature scale, followed closely upon the lines of battle organisation which had proved so successful in the great European war.
At his headquarters was a great telephone exchange that carried lines communicating with every part of the field. Telephones had been established at the most forward posts in the trenches, at observation stations, and similar communication had been opened up with two small forces of cavalry that watched the flanks.
Every man of the little force which Patria had raised from Channing workmen, knew his job. There was no confusion, no overlapping, each section went quietly to its appointed post. The guns swung to their stations taking advantage of a slight depression of ground, which afforded them a little cover, whilst, far away to the rear, and out of gunshot, a field hospital had been established and the white ambulances stood in line, waiting for the signal to begin their work of mercy. Donald made a rapid tour of the whole area. He inspected the munition dumps, stopped a while to say a few encouraging words to the working parties which were busily digging trenches to the left and the right of the bridge, chatted a while with the white-clad nurses, and smiled to see Bess Morgan, quite recovered from her dreadful experience, laying out bandages and dressings.
He saw the mining companies and spent a few minutes in the tiny aerodrome where the last of his aerial forces was preparing to go up.
Pilsbury, in command of the cowboy cavalry on the right flank, came to take his final orders.
"I am not so sure that we will be able to hold the ranch house, Captain Parr," he said.
"I have my doubts about that, too," said Donald. "We can only hope for the best. Keep your men in hand and take no risks. If the ranch house falls, be in readiness to move as soon as you get the word. It will be suicidal to take your mounted men up against it so restrain them. I shall do my best to hold the place, but this must be an infantry and an artillery defence."
Pilsbury looked dubious.
"I don't know much about war, Captain," he said, "but I think our boys could hold it—"
Donald shook his head and laid his hand on the other's shoulder.
"Let me take the responsibility, Rodman," he said quietly. "I know pretty well what your boys can do, and I know there is nothing that you would not try, but, believe me, it would be madness to oppose your handful to trained infantry. You can serve me best by waiting. I shall use you either in a final attempt to save a hopeless situation or else to deliver a final smashing blow that will turn their retreat into a rout."
The men shook hands silently, and Rodman, turning his horse, galloped across the plain to where his impatient followers were waiting.
"You boys have just got to sit down and keep quiet," he said. "If the greasers come this far you can let yourselves loose on 'em, but Donald Parr says that once their artillery spots you a couple of shells will surely blow you all to blazes."
"Gee, I should worry about an old shell," growled a voice, and there was a little titter of laughter.
"You needn't worry, because it ain't your trouble, Mike," said Pilsbury, "and I guess you'll just sit down and do as you're told in the same old way, and won't forget that, although I ain't much of a general, I'm the superintendent of this ranch and there's a little girl waiting for me way back in that hospital tent who wants to meet me all complete."
The night passed in putting the final touches to the preparations. The men slept at their posts whilst the mounted troops moved restlessly in a screen well in advance of the infantry position.
Before dawn Morales' force was on the move. These half-savage men, the majority of whom were three parts Indian, march with a precision and a verve which did credit to the instructors Morales had employed for their education. There was something in their eagerness that was almost animal. Never before had half-breed soldiers gone forth to war with such enthusiasm.
They astonished even Valdez, who had a life-long acquaintance with the breed.
"You have performed miracles," he said admiringly, and Morales smiled.
"It is the oldest miracle of all," he said quietly, "they have been under my charge for months. You don't understand them because you don't trouble to interest yourself in any but your riders. Go and ask one where he is going." Valdez strolled across to a group of soldiers who were waiting the order to fall in.
"Buenos dias, chico. You look happy."
"Si, señor," said the man with a grin, "we are all happy, for there is great loot. The Americano señorita is very rich. She has millions and millions of gold dollars and when we have conquered her soldiers we have each to take as much of her money as we can carry in our pockets."
The outlaw smiled and strolled back to where he had left Manuel Morales. "I got the dope," he said laconically.
"I thought it was strange that this trash should be fighting for love of Mexico."
"It is time," said Morales looking at his watch, "do you come with me?"
"I ride," replied the outlaw, "a horse I understand, but a motor-car which has already killed one general may easily kill another."
The car went slowly through the narrow street of the frontier town, where Morales had assembled his main forces. It went slowly because the street was filled with marching columns of infantry, with long columns of artillery, with wagons and caissons and the paraphernalia of an army on the march.
Clear of the town the column spread the supply wagons in the centre the infantry on either side, and well ahead the protecting cavalry.
Behind the supply train came the artillery flanked by the infantry supports which in turn were screened on either side by infantry scouts.
Well ahead of the column, and circling high in the air were two aeroplanes attached to Morales force. The infantry were marching on one side of the road the other being left open for the passage of staff cars.
Morales passed the cursing soldiers, his car raising clouds of white, choking dust, and he reached the point which he had decided upon should be his base as his advanced cavalry began to spread preparatory to descending the broad valley which marked the limits of the Channing ranch.
The cavalry scouts did their work thoroughly. The wire fences were cut, the iron posts which separated them uprooted and overturned. Failure to take this precaution might make this wire a veritable death-trap in the event of defeat.
The Mexican general watched the deployment of his troops.
"Do you think we shall surprise them?" asked Guido.
Morales shook his head and pointed upward. High in the sky poised almost motionless it seemed was a tiny glittering speck for the rising sun had caught the wings of Patria's aeroplane and had suffused the big machine with delicate light.
"That is one of their scouts," said Morales, "and he is flying high." He fixed his glasses upon the watcher of the skies. "From the description I have had," he said, "I should say that was Patria's plane."
"There goes one of ours to attack," said Guido and pointed to another speck which was approaching from the east.
They waited in silence as the tiny planes circled about one another. High up in the air Patria, her hand upon the key of the wireless instrument, was flashing the news of the enemy's approach when she saw the strange plane coming up to her.
She was at least five hundred feet above her enemy but he was rising rapidly and banking over to avoid the shrapnel which was now bursting beneath him—for the defenders had also detected his presence in the skies and endeavouring to secure a position from which he could with safety attack.
She signalled to her pilot, and her machine banked to keep her enemy in view. They manoeuvred for five minutes darting left and right moving at an incredible speed and all the time Patria waited, her magazine rifle at her shoulder.
A dozen times the gunner of the enemy plane had fired at her. Above the din of the engine she could not hear the whine of the bullet, but once she felt the wind of it, and twice she had seen ragged holes ripped in the covering of the wings.
Then her opportunity came. In an incautious moment the pilot had banked toward her exposing for a second the well in which he and his observer sat.
Patria's keen eyes sighted a little row of tubes lying at the pilot's feet, and clipped into position from whence they could not move with every roll and dive the aeroplane took. In that one second of time she fired twice. At the first shot the observer sank limply in his seat. At the second came a blinding flash of light, a crash louder than the deafening roar of her own engines, and then in a dozen pieces the aeroplane fell to the earth.
"One of his bombs went off," said Donald, watching the combat.
His voice was shaky, for he knew the occupant of the victorious aeroplane. By now the cavalry scouts were opening up, retiring to their flanks.
A scattering fire of increasing intensity reached the defenders by the bridge. Presently they saw their advanced detachments retiring upon the bridgehead. Men were falling, but the retiring line did not increase its pace or lose its alignment.
And then the first gun spoke and from the south came a whine which increased to a shriek.
There was a tremendous report as the shell struck the ground behind the trenches of the bridge, and a great column of black smoke leapt up into the air. Another and another followed in rapid succession. Donald, at the advanced telephone post, established in a dugout, gave his order, and from the rear of the trench came the first thunder of Patria's guns.
In half an hour the shallow trenches which had been hastily dug to cover the bridge had been battered out of all recognition. Only the other trench could stand the fury of that bombardment.
Donald was back now at his directing station and calmer now that he had seen Patria's machine gliding to earth behind the lines. The reports which were coming through from the bridge were the reverse to cheering.
"They have too many guns for us, I'm afraid, and I am not sure that they are all in action yet," he said to his aide, "tell the battery commander to concentrate his fire upon their main positions and leave us to stop the infantry."
Fortunately Morales' soldiers were taking unusual risks. Men who had been shooting from a standing position all their lives could not readily be disciplined into seeking cover, and the defenders from their trenches took a terrible toll of the attacking host.
But though they might hold the infantry it was impossible to check the fire of the guns. The ground leapt and quivered under a savage bombardment. Trenches and dugouts were wiped out of existence and Donald went to the telephone and called the officer commanding the bridge-head defence.
"Retire from the main trench," he ordered, "do not wait. Go back, and take your wounded."
He saw a line of dots come racing across the open toward the prepared position as Morales' advanced troops rushed in triumph across the bridge. In the meantime Donald's attention was diverted to his right. The weight of artillery there was not so heavy, but the officer who was placed in charge of the ranch house reported that there was heavy firing on his front, and that two guns were shelling him at close range. Screened by the hill they were difficult to locate, and Patria's artillery searching for the hidden guns had no effect upon the volume of their fire.
Suddenly the hill crest facing the ranch house was alive with infantry. The defenders shot rapidly and desperately, but the attackers came on, swarmed over the outer defences, shot and stabbed their way to the outer wall of the ranch, and there was a hideous melee in the old courtyard, which ended with a sudden cessation of firing.
"They have taken the ranch house," said Donald bitterly, "hark at the devils squealing!"
He hesitated to turn his artillery upon the old mission. He knew it would be filled with wounded men of his own force and so he contented himself with rushing up a couple of hundred men to strengthen the block he had established north of the ranch road. These would be sufficient to hold up any further advance.
His casualties were increasing at an alarming rate. The white ambulances spun to and from the field hospital, groaning men, half naked, sat patiently whilst their wounds were being dressed by the deft-fingered nurses and widening gaps were appearing in the defensive line, gaps which Donald could ill afford to fill.
Favourably as the day was ending, events were not progressing at the rate which Morales had anticipated. He had expected a stiff fight, but nothing like this. From the hill village where he had established his post of direction, he witnessed the taking of the ranch house, but witnessed also the check which the troops received when they attempted to advance beyond.
The first party had been literally mown down. The second wave that followed had shared the same fate and a third had gone half way toward the trenches, had wavered, and had fled.
Guido stood by his side, a silent watchful figure, now surveying the field, now his master, and to him Morales turned.
"We are not going fast enough," said Morales with an oath "what is that fool Valdez doing. I told him to work round to the left of the ranch."
"He tried," said Guido, "but Patria's ranchmen are there and they drove him back."
Morales threw a swift glance at the heavens. The day was rapidly passing, the sun was already touching the western edge of the plain.
"We must carry these defences tonight," he said, "if we delay another day we shall have the United States army down on us and that will be the end."
He gave an order, and presently from a gap in the hills two fresh batteries of artillery came galloping over the darkening plain.
And now the thunder of sound was intensified. Under the cover of the guns the Mexican infantry moved forward duly to be repulsed and driven back again.
Patria had left the comparative security which the ranch house afforded and was back in the thick of the fight. She it was who reorganised the line when it was temporarily broken by sheer weight of metal, and it was her orders which went out that recovered for the defenders a vital salient which they had temporarily lost.
Donald saw her sitting at her table, a puzzled frown upon her beautiful face pencil in hand, tracing a new defensive line, and marvelled at the self-possession and the courage of this frail girl, who, unmoved by the fury of the battle, could calmly plan a new campaign on the very threshold of defeat and disaster.
"If they give us tonight we shall hold them," she said.
He shook his head.
"They will give us no respite, Patria," he answered, "this attack will last all night. Morales is throwing fresh troops into the field, and his gunfire is increasing. He has not tried his final coup."
"Nor have I," said Patria quietly.
"What do you mean?" asked Donald, in surprise.
"I increased our forces last week," said the girl, "I didn't tell you I wanted to give you a surprise. They will arrive by tomorrow morning."
"Splendid!" he cried, "how many men?"
"About fifty," said Patria, and his face fell.
"Fifty? But fifty are no use to us, dear, we want a couple of thousand men."
"Wait," she said. "I see you are going to be as surprised as Morales.
"What are they preparing for us?" she asked suddenly.
"Gas and liquid fire," said Donald, "I know they have them but for some reason Morales has not used them yet. I think he is waiting for the cover of darkness. But it looks as though we are going to have the experience," he said grimly. "Morales has profited by the lessons of the European war."
Patria smiled faintly.
"Wait a few hours," she said, "and you will discover that I also have learnt a lesson at the same school."
NIGHT closed down upon the hills and the smoke of the battle mingled with the rising mists. Burning buildings became more clearly apparent as the darkness fell and the waving arms of searchlights groping about the skies for night raiders added a new feature to the battle.
Morales, from his headquarters looked down upon where his fortune was being put to the test. He could see nothing except the innumerable flickering points of light where the trench line still held, quick, brilliant flashes from the guns, blobs of light that burst into view and faded as quickly where the shells fell. And from overhead came the ceaseless buzzing of a hidden aeroplane.
The Mexican was looking haggard and for the first time he had lost something of his confidence.
"We must win, we must win!" he muttered as he struck the table before him. "Has the flame squad gone forward?"
Guido, standing by his side, nodded.
"And the gas? Did they loose it?"
"We have employed every means," said Guido. "Neither the gas nor the flames have had any effect. The Channing army are equipped with gas masks, and we did not surprise them; they were ready for us."
Morales paced up and down the dingy room, his head upon his breast, his hands behind his back. He had withdrawn from the actual battle and taken up his position in the ramshackle hill village which had sheltered a small Mexican colony, supposedly friendly to the United States Government, but in reality a nest of spies which was supplying him at this moment with some of his most trusted intelligence.
"Send Valdez to me," he said, and a few minutes later the outlaw slouched in and sank uninvited into a chair.
His hat was on the back of his head, a half-smoked cigar clenched between his strong white teeth, and there was a look of weariness in his hollow eyes.
"Well," demanded Morales, "what is happening?"
The other removed his cigar, looked at it without speaking, and flung it to the floor. He helped himself from an open box on the table, biting off the end before he answered.
"That is a question I should ask you, Morales," he said insolently. "You promised me that we should defeat this force before nightfall. You told me you had wonderful instruments and measures for driving Patria into retreat." He struck a match and lit the cigar. "It doesn't seem to have happened." He puffed.
"I will break them before the morning," cried Morales, violently. "The whole position was in my hands as soon as I turned the flank. With the ranch- house in my possession it is impossible for them to hold out."
"Señor, they are holding on," said Valdez calmly, "all the efforts of the artillery have failed to drive them out of the trenches behind the house."
"Wait till the morning," said Morales, moodily.
Valdez scratched his head thoughtfully.
"In the meantime," he said, "train-loads of United States troops are being rushed down. I sent a patrol round to cut the wires but the mischief had been done. When they attempted to approach the railway station they were fired on and had to retreat. We might save the day yet," he went on, "if we could rush the main defences before daybreak. We are strong enough to deal with any force the Government can get down before 48 hours, but that strength is not ours unless we can overcome the Channing army. Did you know she was so well equipped?"
"I suspected it," he said curtly, "she inherited a hundred million dollars, which she has employed to form a first line of defence, but I never thought her preparations were so thorough. It is that cursed man, Parr, who has organised this."
Valdez shook his head.
"The prisoners that we have taken say that it was Patria, but whether it was Parr or Patria does not matter much. We are up against it general, unless we can carry the main position before the night has gone."
"You have a strong force of horsemen," said Morales suddenly. "Why have you failed to work round the flank?"
"For the same reason that you have failed to carry the centre," said Valdez promptly. "There is a pretty tough bunch of boys on that flank. All frontier fighters, and if you know the American frontier fighter as well as I do, you would not ask such a question. Push in the centre, general, and I'll look after the flanks."
He looked at the other curiously.
"Suppose you fail in this, Señor Morales?" he asked. "What happens to you?"
"I am finished, my friend. I have staked my all upon this adventure—and you?"
Valdez shrugged his shoulders.
"I shall be no better and no worse than I was before. It only means another government has put a price on me." He laughed softly. "If I come out of this battle alive, I shall be a lucky man. I don't understand this kind of fighting," he said, shaking his head. "It is not border fighting. A quick dash in and a quick getaway is more in my line, Santa Maria! If this is war, I don't want to see war again!"
He strolled out of the house, flung his leg over the waiting broncho and ambled down the hillside in the darkness toward a battery which flashed and smoked at the foot of the hill.
Morales would have been cheered had he been concealed in the headquarter tent of his enemy. Patria, pinched of face, the dark circles round her eyes betraying her weariness, sat with the smoke-stained and dishevelled Donald, surveying the situation.
"I think it is nearly time for your surprise to come up," said Donald, "our boys are holding out splendidly but they cannot accomplish miracles."
"Are the casualties very heavy?" she asked anxiously.
"It isn't only that," he said, "but we are running short of ammunition. I have had to restrict the working of the batteries and some of them are only firing 12 rounds an hour. The small arm ammunition has run short. We have no hand grenades left, and it looks as though we shall have to defend the line with the bayonet."
He looked at his watch. It was a little after midnight.
"Four hours to daylight," he said grimly, "I wonder whether we shall do it? What is your surprise, dear?"
"Come, tell me," he smiled, "we may not last long enough to see it."
"Oh, please don't say that," she begged. "I must not fail! I cannot fail! Everything that has been done would go for nothing. The forethought of the Channings which accumulated this great fund would be wasted. I should feel that I had been false to all the men of my race who had left me to fulfil the trust. We must hold out till morning. The tanks will be here by then—"
"I have had two made. They ought to have arrived yesterday. They left the railway at a point north of the ranch station and are on their way now."
"Tanks?" repeated Donald. "By heaven, if they come in time!"
"I didn't tell you," she went on, "I wanted it to be a surprise to you. I have them made on the French model. They are better for this kind of country."
"Are they travelling through the night?"
"There is a good road between her and Los Millinos and the message I received before you came in told me that they are making good progress. They should be here by four."
"I am glad you told me now," he said, with the light of battle in his eyes.
"What are you going to do?" she asked quickly.
"I am going to re-take the ranch-house. If Morales loses that position he cannot maintain himself in front of our centre."
There was a shrill whine, which rose to a shriek, and a violent explosion which shook the frail structure of the tent so that it threatened to collapse.
Donald stepped to the door and stepped out. He heard the 'Br-r-r-r' of aeroplane engines and came back to the tent.
"They are bombing us. You are not afraid, dear?"
She looked at him and shook her head slowly. Another shriek was followed by yet another explosion, but the bomb had fallen further away.
"I am going back to the front line," said Donald. "Those fellows of ours are being hard-pressed. Look!"
He pointed to the south where a great fiery glow of light lay on the horizon, like a midnight sun.
"What is it?" she answered.
"They are using the flame throwers," he said, "there is no diabolical inventions of war which the devils are not employing."
"They have used gas?" she asked.
"And are you going back to the trench without a gas mask? Oh, Donald! How foolish!"
"I gave mine to one of the boys," he said. "I think the gas attacks are over now. They can't have a very large quantity."
He gathered her up in his arms and kissed her.
"I don't know how this matter will end," he said, "but if the line breaks you are to get into your 'plane and make your escape."
"And leave you? Never!"
"Those are my instructions," he said sternly, "and remember that, whilst the plan of this battle is yours, the execution is mine, and if you are a good soldier you will carry out my orders."
In another moment he was gone, striding rapidly through the darkness.
Long before he reached the entrance to the communication trench, shells were bursting to the left and right of him. As he stumbled through the deep cutting which led to the front line shrapnel came pattering down, but fortunately he himself escaped, though men before and behind were stricken down.
The scene in the firing trench would beggar description. Most of the dug-outs had caved in, and one of the telephone posts had been blown sky-high by heavy explosive shells. Dead and wounded men littered the ground but those who lived stood calmly on the fire step shooting steadily at each dim and ghostly figure that presented itself.
He made his way to where a young commander was directing the fire.
"Can we hold out till the morning?" he asked.
"I doubt it," said the other. "I have 20 boxes of small-arm ammunition left. The men are using it sparingly but even with the utmost economy we cannot last much longer and we shall have to depend on the bayonet."
Donald gave a few instructions and made his way to the right of the line. Here the trenches had been dug in a hurry and their defensive quality had not been improved by the battering which they had received through the night. The commander had been killed, and a young non-commissioned officer was in charge.
"Are your casualties heavy?" asked Donald, and, to his surprise, the sergeant replied:
"No sir, not very heavy they have only got two guns working on us and most of the shelling is in the old trench which we have abandoned just ahead. They have not discovered that we have gone back yet. We dug this an hour ago, and he is putting most of his shells into the old position."
Donald peered over the parapet. He could see ahead of him and to his right the bulk of the ranch buildings, and, though left of this the rifle flashes came in a regular unbroken line, there was no sign of firing from the building itself.
He called the other's attention to this.
"They are using it as a hospital," explained the sergeant, "they put up a big red-cross flag just before sundown, and, though this may be a ruse and we are watching that sector, I have told the men to take a field of fire to the left."
"What is the distance to the ranch building?" Donald asked.
"Eight hundred yards," said the other promptly, "we could take it with the bayonet if we had any support."
"Could you take it without support?" asked Donald.
The young man hesitated.
"There is just a chance," he said.
"Then your orders are to take it at dawn. Let me see your watch."
He compared his own with that of the sergeant and found they were exact. He scribbled an order in his notebook and tearing out the leaf handed it to his subordinate.
"You will go over at twenty past four. At ten minutes past I will concentrate every gun upon the position ahead of you and at twenty past you will attack with the bayonet. In the meantime, tell your men to economise their ammunition—they will need it if they take the ranch."
"What about supports, sir?" said the man, as Donald was preparing to depart.
Donald smiled to himself in the darkness as he thought of the tanks.
"I hope you will have the kind of support that will help you better than men," he said enigmatically, and left the sergeant puzzling over his meaning.
Donald groped his way back through the gloom of the communications and reached the main position.
"They have just tried a flame attack," reported the officer. "We beat them off at close quarters, but some of our men have been badly hurt. At any rate, their flame-thrower is out of action for the rest of the night. We shot down the squad at fifty yards and the internal thing burnt itself out in No-man's-land."
Donald went into the one telegraph post that remained and sent an encouraging report to Patria. He walked up and down the line, helping the stretcher-bearers who cleared the wounded, redrew upon his map the approximate positions which the enemy were holding—they had pushed in to within fifty yards of the defence at some places, and then walked down the trenches toward the left where the attack had not been so intense.
He was half-way to the left headquarters when somebody yelled a warning.
He looked round. There was no communication trench nearer than fifty yards.
To escape was impossible. There was a dead man at his feet, but his mask had been removed.
Donald started to run, but had not taken a dozen strides when a ghostly white cloud floated slowly over the parapet and descended into the trench. He caught the faint, sickly smell, a smell of stale fruit and then he felt an awful sensation of choking. His breast heaved up and down, filling his lungs with the insidious poison. He had a sensation as though he had breathed red-hot flame. His head was bursting; he was blinded and deaf.
Someone grasped him by the arm, and he struggled to fight them off and then he lost consciousness. He came to himself an hour later to find Patria's grave eyes looking into his.
He struggled to rise, but there was a pain in his chest as though he were transfixed by a knife.
"Patria," he gasped. "Holroyd will attack on the right...at 4.20 this morning...you must give him all the artillery support you can muster... and the tanks..."
He lost consciousness.
"Yes, yes, dear," she whispered.
Presently he came to himself again.
"How did I get here?" he asked faintly.
She patted his head and smiled.
She did not tell him of the dreadful moment when two of the men had half-lifted, half-carried him into the office, and he had lain gasping for breath, her arms about him, his head pillowed on her bosom. Nor did she speak of that despairing hope when he had hung between life and death and when she had realised that without Donald Parr the world held nothing that was worth the having.
"You must lie still and keep quiet. The doctor has given you a hypodermic injection. I am going to see the artillery commander and give him your instructions."
She glided from the tent, and, closing his eyes he fell into a troubled but restful sleep.
Dawn came up slowly over the valley, and the orderly who came to bring Morales his cup of coffee found the Mexican general sitting bolt upright behind a table littered with papers.
Morales turned his head slowly as the man came in.
"Where is Captain Guido?" he demanded, hoarsely. "I sent him to the front line two hours ago, and he has not returned."
The orderly did not answer immediately, and when he spoke he was evasive.
"Senor general," he said, "all things are in the hands of the saints, and in terrible battles friends lose friends, wives lose husbands."
"Speak plainly," said Morales, "what of Guido?"
"Master, he is dead," said the orderly, "he was shot an hour ago on his way back from the lines. Thinking your Excellency was asleep, we did not tell you."
"Go," he said.
So Guido's premonition had proved to be true. He felt a strange emptiness and an indefinite sense of loss. He recalled how Guido had been his companion in all his adventures. He had been his messenger in New York, his right-hand man in the destruction of the Channing house and the robbery of its hidden treasure.
Guido had been with him in all his attempts on the Channing Mill and had organised the big attack by the insurgents. He had looked to him more than to de Lima for instant and unquestioning obedience, and now Guido was dead as well.
It was with a heavy heart that Morales walked from the room. He stood moodily staring down into the shadowy plain and he was possessed for the first time of a sense of failure.
The lines stood practically where they had been the night before, and though the defenders' fire had slackened it had not ceased. A horseman came galloping up the hill towards him and Morales recognised Valdez before the outlaw pulled up and dismounted.
"They are shelling the ranch house defences," he said without preliminary. "Every one of Patria's guns is concentrated on that front. Look."
He pointed to where the straggling buildings of the ranch showed faintly in the dawning light. The air was filled with little specks of light where the shrapnel was bursting whilst on the ground black explosive shells were exploding in angry red splashes of light.
"We are firm there?" said Morales.
He put the statement in the form of a question.
"We are firm nowhere, señor," said Valdez bluntly. "Our men are not used to his kind of fighting and they are getting tired of it. If the gringo uses his bayonet, I won't be answerable for the consequences."
He focussed his glasses upon the distant lines. The plain was lightening rapidly and in the clear morning air they could see every detail.
"Look, look," cried Valdez, "do you see the steel! They are going to attack with the bayonet."
Morales was searching the ground with his glasses, and suddenly he put them down with an oath.
"What are those?" he said and pointed.
The two men looked in silence for a few minutes.
"It looks like a fort or else like a great beetle," said Valdez in a wondering voice. "By the saints! It's moving!"
The two small shapes were crawling slowly across the plain, spitting smoke and flame and then Morales understood.
"Tanks—by God!" he roared.
The man at his side focussed his glasses.
"Are they tanks, señor?" he said in a low voice. "Then be sure that you have lost the day, for the men at the ranch house will never stand before any such terrifying thing. Look! There go Patria's infantry!"
The defenders on the right had left their trenches and were running in two even lines towards the Mexican positions. The rising sun which topped the hills at that moment reflected in a hundred points of light on their flashing bayonets.
The two waves swept into the Mexicans' trench, and then the enemy broke.
"They are running: they are running!" said Morales, between his teeth. "Look they have taken the ranch house. Oh, the cowards the fools! If they could have only stood for another hour."
The retreat of the Mexican left was serious enough. It was more serious when the panic which the unexpected apparition of the tanks had produced spread along the line.
In half an hour the insurgent force was flying in disorderly groups. Guns were abandoned, gunners cutting the fences which bound them to the timbers and mounting the horses, joined in the general flight.
And now across the plain to the north appeared three columns of dust. Valdez saw them first.
"The United States Cavalry," he said and leapt on his horse. He went at full speed across the field, galloping down the fugitives who stood in his way, and reached his irregular cavalry, who were waiting in the cover of a small wood to take their part in the fight.
But for the terror of his name they might have joined in the general retirement.
"Mount," he ordered curtly. "Round in these damned Indians and get 'em to stand."
Before the order could be executed, Valdez and his men found themselves fighting for their lives. Pilsbury's ranchers burst into view from their cover and charged straight down upon the Mexicans.
At the first volley the horse Valdez was riding stumbled and fell. He sprang to his feet, but a bullet grazed his head and knocked him backward. He strove to rise but a clear voice said:
Pilsbury was standing before him, revolver in hand.
"Help me," growled Valdez and stretched out his brown fingers.
Then, as Pilsbury stooped to take these, the outlaw fired. The bullet struck the superintendent in the shoulder and he staggered back. Valdez leapt up with a triumphant cry, but it was his last.
Bud Morgan had been standing by his chief and had witnessed the treachery. He was a crack shot with a revolver and Valdez, the outlaw, went down heavily with a bullet through his brain.
For Morales there was no retreat. He knew what mercy he could expect from his dupes, who were flying through the one pass which led to the valley. He had a couple of hundred men with him on whom he could depend and if he could hold the hillside valley that day he might be able to escape under cover of the darkness across the foothills which led to the mountains. He went back to his room and packed his bag, destroyed all the incriminating documents which revealed the extent of his plans, burnt his ciphers, telegrams and the books in which the details of his organisation were set forth.
Somebody brought him the news of Valdez's death.
"One enemy the less," he said
He had sent a servant out the night before to discover a path across the hills and it seemed that fortune was smiling upon him when the man returned and reported that he had discovered a way to safety.
"Senor, there is no danger, you can escape now," said the man, eagerly. "There is a small canyon where I have hidden the horses."
Morales nodded. He walked to the door of the house and looked out. Below him in the valley the last remnants of his army were flying before the pursuing cavalry.
"Patria Channing," he said shaking his fist to the plain, "we shall meet again, and there will be a bitter reckoning between us—"
His end came without warning. He could never have known what killed him. A high explosives shell which burst almost in his face smashed him beyond recognition, blew the house into a million fragments, and left no other memorial of the ambitions of this strange man than fire-blackened rafters and crumbled walls.
Patria Channing, her work at an end, took the hand of the grizzled American colonel and heard, as in a dream his congratulations.
"Washington thanks you for your splendid fight," said the American officer. "You have undoubtedly saved the country from a very serious invasion."
She had received a telegram to the same effect, but even this did not elate her, for she had attained to the zenith of happiness when Donald Parr had walked into her tent that morning, looking a little pale and shaken, but almost his healthy self again.
She wanted to leave this scene of bloodshed and strife. She asked for the comfort and the ease of civilisation and there was a new prospect of joy before her, for in that bleak daybreak Donald had asked her a question, and she had nodded her acquiescence, not trusting herself to speak.
She turned her eyes up to the straight-backed old soldier who was talking.
"The Government did not realise the splendid effort you made," he was saying, "they thought you had some private scheme and were employing an army in the pursuit of your own ambitions. They are wrong, and they realise how unjust they have been."
Patria smiled faintly.
"I did it for the flag," she said.
Roy Glashan's Library. Go to Home Page