Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.
THE Anthonys were ever an untameable breed, unbowed by circumstances, and though the last but one, the present laird, was a sport from all the true type, Richard, the last of all of them, was the most uncompromising, the most indomitable of the lot.
"What good are you?" demanded his uncle, Major Anthony. "What can you do?"
"I have to thank circumstances," smiled Richard. "I can swim, I can ride, and I can sail a boat against any man I ever met."
"That's it!" swore his uncle, blowing up with rage. "Sail a boat! That's all you can do! That's all you own beyond a suit or two of clothes! Sail a boat!"
"I mean to," said Richard. "I'm only waiting for you to talk business first."
"What business? Balderdash! What d'you think I'll do for you?—a failure!—a disgrace to the Anthonys! Not one penny! Not one ha'penny! You're disinherited! It's automatic. The estate provided for you while there was a chance to pass an examination. That ceased when you failed for the Indian Civil. To inherit, an Anthony must enter one or other of the services. You know that. You failed. What are you here for? I'll support no able-bodied man!"
"Did you ever fight one?" wondered Dick.
"What d'ye mean?"
"I'm giving you your choice. You fight or you pay me a thousand pounds; a thousand pounds was provided in the will for every Anthony in line of succession on entering any of the services. I want that thousand."
"You want—I've heard of impudence!" his uncle stammered.
"You either fight or pay," smiled Richard without moving.
"What d'ye mean?"
"I mean I'm entitled to the money and I've come for it. Don't answer yet. Listen! Just before old MacDougal died he told me how much you paid him to break my leg by accident. He quoted your actual words—'If he's not there, MacDougal, at examination time there'll be a hundred pounds for you.' He showed me the actual hundred—the actual bank notes you gave him. He offered them to me. His son Andry has the hundred now; he knows where it came from and for what, and he has tried to get me to take it."
The Major's jaw dropped, but he spun on his heel in an attempt to bluster.
"What mare's nest is this?" he spluttered.
"He admitted that you bribed him, and I thrashed him for it just three weeks ago today. He and I are quits. He put the admission in writing and I had it witnessed; my lawyer has it now."
The Major said nothing, thoughtfully. An officer—presumably a gentleman—found out at such expedients for saving money, it is perhaps wiser if he does say nothing.
"Under the circumstances," continued Dick, "I applied for a commission in a hurry, and saw a lawyer. I know where I am and where you are. I've come for that thousand, and I'll take it now or fight—now, understand—not tomorrow or the day after—now! And I give you from now exactly five minutes to come to a decision! No, don't try to leave the room—I've got my eye on the bell, too—thirty seconds are up! Think, man—you'd better think!"
After one wild glance around him for a way of escape Major Anthony sat down and thought deliberately.
"I'll pay," he said quietly, pulling out his check book, just as Dick snapped his watch shut. "It's extortion, but I'll pay."
Dick watched him write the check, and watched him write and sign a letter to the Lamlash bankers in confirmation of it.
"Now I'm off," he said, putting both into his pocket. "You'll pay my four hundred a year to my lawyer, or he'll be after you to know why. There's only one thing more before I go—the sword—I'm the heir—I've a right to it—I want it."
"No," said Major Wallace Anthony.
"Possession," said Dick, walking to the mantelpiece, "is nine points of the law."
He took down a wonderful old claymore, basket-hilted, with a beryl set in the top of the hilt, and characters etched rather rudely down the blade. It had no scabbard; and though the blade had been kept polished by almost unnumbered generations, the weapon looked older than the mantelpiece.
"I'll take it with me," said Dick, "and if you want it back you'll have to fight for it—except on one condition, of course. The day a direct heir is born I'll bring it back if I'm at the other end of the world. Failing an heir—remember the written evidence I hold against you—and—don't—let—me—catch—you—again! Good day!"
Holding the strange sword by the blade, he strode out, straight up the road to Lamlash.
"WHERE away, Mr. Dicky, sir?"
The voice and the accent were a Scotsman's speaking English with the prideful accuracy of learning newly won.
"Away, that's all," said Dick. "Just away."
"Ye have the sword, I see. I'm glad ye have it. Ye'll be goin' in the yacht?"
Andry was six full inches the taller of the two and looked even bigger in his uniform.
"Where are ye goin' Mr. Dicky? Where awa'?"
There was a pause while they eyed each other, Dick uncompromising, Andry recognizing the fact.
Forgetful of his uniform, he held out a great fist like a club with hairs and freckles on it. Then he remembered and changed to a salute. Dick reached his own hand out (and it was only very little whiter); Andry seized it, and was satisfied.
"If I could have gone into the old regiment, Andry, I would have been proud to have you for a servant. It was decent of you to enlist on my account. As it is, you're in and I'm out; you can't get out and I can't get in. Do your best to be a credit to the regiment. Good-by."
Andry saluted him again and stood at gaze as Dick walked off. Neither looked back until they were out of each other's sight.
After that Dick freed his hawser—threw it inboard—and jumped after it. He stood at the little ketch's helm until his headsails drew, and then sat down comfortably, headed down the Firth of Clyde with wind and tide aiding.
But not even Dick had ridden out a storm such as swept the whole of Western Europe for six weeks or more that summer.
He fought to a finish with the biggest bully he could find—the North Atlantic. He won, and it took him a month to win.
He was three days and three nights and another day in making sight of Brest, and he dropped anchor in water on a lee shore, too tired to do anything but let out every fathom of chain he had and fling himself below to sleep.
Nursing his sails' strength Dick bored close-hauled into the blackness, luffing a little and again when the worst of the wrenching squalls took hold of him, until a glimpse behind him over one shoulder told him that the lights of Brest were fifteen miles away; they were growing paler in the first dim efforts of a watery dawn.
Then he hove to. Then, with the spirit that had brought him out still running high, and growing higher as the promise of foul weather showed the need of it, he reached for his bagpipes. "Should Auld Acquaintance" skirled aloud and louder, where the gulls had days since ceased to dare. So it was not a gull that answered him, as the last notes died away. And the sea gives back no echo. They were pipes!
Then, as the gray dawn lifted, he caught the lilt and skirl and swing of pipes. Then, as he rose on a giant comber and could see 'round a twice-as-wide horizon, a patched gray lugsail showed, bellied tight and bearing down on his at a terrific pace.
In a small French fishing boat, such as poorer Bretons use, a giant of a man sat perched with what certainly were pipes across his knees. He sat with his legs in water, and was steering with evident intent of coming very close indeed to Dick.
"I found ye by wireless," he said with a note of pride, as he dropped into the cockpit later and accepted bread and cheese.
"Did you desert?" asked Dick; and these were the first words he had spoken.
"I did not. I bought ma dis-char-r-ge. It was verra costly, but I broke into the hunner' pound an' bought it."
"So I'm at y'r ser-r-vice," with an air of triumph.
"Very well, Andry. Man the pump."
So the two men went on from Brest, where one had started out alone, and through all that followed there was never any more compact than that between them—three words of agreement and an order—"Man the pump". They were enough.
CAIRENE society is cosmopolitan, but Princess Olga Karageorgovich was out of place.
If she was more than two and twenty, then the extra years were as artfully concealed as were her motives. She had all junior officialdom enthralled—enraptured—hypnotized by the art that glowed behind her eyes—attendant on her. The seniors (and their wives) all voted her a nuisance.
The princess posed as a student of institutions. And after Dick let go his anchor in the harbor of Alexandria and came on to Cairo by express, she grew interested in purely British things, asking a brand-new line of questions. Officialdom had hopes for a while that she even meant to visit Scotland.
The sunshine of Dick's character had strengthened, now that he had a companion of kinds.
The Bay of Biscay had treated them according to tradition. Turn about, they had to nurse the little ship day and night, night and day, ceaselessly.
When Andry was despondent, out would come Dick's bagpipes, and a swaggering refrain would answer back the storm, putting new fight in both of them. But after that there followed blue, sweet-sailing months in which they waddled leisurely along the coast of Africa, oblivious of time and unannoyed by the flag of England.
For a few days Cairo swallowed Dick. Officialdom, for his father's sake, put him up at the swellest clubs and entertained him. Sharp-eared, wide-eyed officialdom in sweat-wet suits extracted facts from him and sympathized in a manner all its own.
It was on a club veranda that Princess Karageorgovich heard Richard say things which convinced her—which made her send a cablegram or two in code.
She was not supposed to hear. She was supposed to be listening to the admiring chatter of a little group of worshippers. Dick, never a lady's man, even when the lady had soft eyes and was twenty-two, would have winced at the thought of sharing secrets with her. The hot, tired-eyed Proconsul in starched white drill drew Dick aside to where both thought themselves out of earshot. He was in quest of new, strong nerves—of un-mosquito-bitten energy—of youth, and young idealism, and clean pride—to feed the government machinery at 33 per cent of market price.
"You must be reasonable, my boy." It was clear that Dick had told him many things. "You must take what you can get. Because you failed for the Indian Civil and couldn't make the regular army for some reason or other is no reason why you shouldn't be a huge success with us. We want good men. Go home and get nominated—I'll give you a letter that will turn the trick."
"I wouldn't go home if they'd give me Egypt," answered Dick.
He raised his hat and stalked away, walking like a king and not at all aware of it; he seemed to himself more like a little, unimportant man who had said a lot too much. He reached his hotel and a new decision simultaneously.
He found Andry on the bedroom floor, crouched over the beryl-hilted sword, cleaning it, and he watched him for a while, half amused, half wondering.
"Pack up!" said Dick, after watching a little while. "We take the evening train for Alexandria."
Nothing loath, Andry obeyed.
BUT if Dick imagined that he was drawing back from a trap and that a quick retreat from Cairo would see him free of the world again, he mistook the signs or else he failed to see them.
"Who was the young man with the royal stride?" asked the Princess Olga Karageorgovich, not more than two minutes after Dick had left the club. And glad of a chance to answer what seemed for once a genuinely harmless question the Proconsul wiped inside his collar with a dripping handkerchief and told the truth.
He did not know that from behind a pillar the princess had heard every word of Dick's conversation, and he would not have cared two pins in any case. He was merely glad when the princess nodded him good afternoon and drove away.
But Andry—who was so suspicious of all strangers as a rule—was frankly and delightedly bewitched. She met him in the hotel corridor—by accident, of course—and wisely resisted the temptation to give him a gold coin.
"Off back to bonnie Scotland?" she asked him, with a smile that won his heart.
"No-no, leddy—na-na! We're gaun' tae Alexandria, on the train the nicht."
She smiled again and left him feeling as if the Sphinx had grown young again and had laid siege to him. And that evening as he stood on the station platform outside Dick's reserved compartment, he pointed out the princess and her little retinue fussing on to the train.
"She's a verra fine wumman, sir—verra fine!" he assured Dick, with an air of confidence. "Name, sir? Her name's the Princess Krakatchoustiwich. She's French. From France."
NO woman went in or out of the Hotel Tewfik Pasha without the benefit of Andry's notice, and there was one he particularly favored; she had round, brown eyes, and a dainty ankle, and she spoke so little English that he had to repeat things over and over again.
"If it is the business of a maid to let herself be kissed by a cannibale écossais and c-r-r-r-r-ushed comme ça," she panted, still trying to speak English, she was so unhinged with indignation, "then it is also business to say the price is a hundred francs, n'est-ce pas?"
"Speak French, imbecile," purred the Princess Olga Karageorgovich, "and do not speak so loud."
So the maid continued in her own swift-flowing tongue:
"He says-ugh! le monstre!—says—that he carries a sword in that bag, and that he sleeps with it because his master would rather die than lose it. He says he never, no, never, leaves it—not at any time. He showed it to me—ugh!—so big—and sharp—with two edges—and with a great beryl in the handle, old and badly cut—it is antique. He kisses me—là! He c-r-r-r-r-ushes me, comme ça. In the name of justice I demand a hundred francs!"
"Continue," smiled the princess, not noticing the modest request.
"There was no more, except that they leave here at daybreak—he did not name the steamer. Their berths have been engaged."
"Tell Filmi Fared I have news for him."
The maid bowed herself out in silence, and the princess walked to the window, whence she could see Dick Anthony striding along the sea-front as if the whole earth knew he owned it. She watched him as a snake might watch a bird until he crossed the street and disappeared in the hotel.
Her reflections were broken into—or perhaps continued—by the opening of the door. Filmi Fared bowed himself in, with both hands folded in front of him and his brown eyes fixed on the floor.
She stepped up to him and took his arm—led him to the couch—and stood there facing him, after compelling him to sit. He sat quite still, except that one hand stroked his gray-shot beard.
"News?" he asked. "Your messenger said news." He spoke French perfectly.
"Yes. News! I have the man for you."
Her young eyes that hinted so much deviltry flashed as his old ones could never do. "I have the leader. Listen, Filmi Fared—listen! There is little time. A king, named Alexander, once gave this man a sword. Is it not delicious? Where are we—in Alexandria, n'est ce pas? Who named it so? Alexander the Great—Iskander, as they call him—eh? Iskander, then, since our plot is laid in Arabic, gave a sword with a beryl in the hilt to this man's ancestor. Is that clear? Have you no imagination?"
"These are great lands—and times—for breeding legends," he remarked.
The princess laughed. "Have you one ready made, or must we invent one?"
"I was searching my memory."
"Bah! Let us invent! What is the legend of this Alexander? The legend, not the truth. He is almost a god, is he not? Tall—golden-headed—dignified—served by a giant—fearless—would that description fit him?"
"In popular imagination—yes."
"Well—my man is all those things—and more! My man is English, and a rebel—for I heard him say it! Now for the legend, though! It must be a prophesy—those always take the popular fancy best. Let us say—Iskander was to come again—in Alexandria, the city that he built and named after himself—he was to come holding a two-edged sword with a beryl in the hilt, given him by some god."
"It sounds like legend—like genuine legend."
"Then start the legend on its rounds!" exclaimed the princess, with the air of a teacher who has worked out a small boy's problem for him.
"It is time to act! This man, who can lead if he is made to, has booked his passage for tomorrow at daybreak."
"Filmi Fared—who is the arch conspirator? Who stands more committed and involved than any other man? Whose life would be forfeit if the English did but suspect his treachery? Eh—Filmi Fared? And—and—who—by a word or two—by a hint dropped here and there—could send him—Filmi Fared—to the six-foot drop and the hempen rope, to dance by the neck on nothing—eh? She who could pour all that good Russian money through her fingers—and could pour more—could—ah—hadn't you better begin your rebellion—Filmi Fared? The hour and the man are ready—Russia has paid and waits!"
"Where is your man?" demanded the Egyptian.
"Here. In this hotel."
"Does he know?"
"He knows nothing. He is opportunity. He must be seized, and used! You must make him prisoner—must hold him while the legend starts on its rounds—must show him to others—must compromise him, so that he dare not go back on you—must force his hand—and then strike, while the regiments are fat and the officers play polo and make love! And—do you hear me, Filmi Fared?—you must begin tonight!"
THAT evening when Dick had finished dinner, and had started for the steamer where his luggage was supposed to be all stowed by this time, Andry set off to swagger through the streets and let the ladies look him over. In lieu of a cane he carried the precious sword in its canvas cover under his arm, and it served as well.
At the place where six streets come together—where at night were principally shadows that hid the unguessable—Andry was hustled suddenly.
Before he could swing around and smite for the honor of the clan of Anthony, someone slippery had snatched the sword from underneath his arm. And before he could raise an outcry, or summon his wits, sword, thief, and those who had hustled him were gone—vanished—swallowed by the smelly silences.
Five minutes after Andry's breathless arrival back at the hotel found Dick there, too, listening in tight-kept silence—imagining his uncle with son and heir—recalling his promise—and considering his own predicament.
For one whole minute he cursed himself for having brought the sword away—for another he cursed Andry. Being British, his next move was to spring into a cab and hurry to police headquarters.
The police knew nothing, and cared less. They found it difficult to show even a semblance of interest—until Dick let loose on them a brand of wrath that was new in their experience. Then they consented to arrest the thief—if possible. Dick, considering advertisements and half a hundred other wild expedients, drove sadly back to the hotel to think.
It was the Princess Olga Karageorgovich—pink-slippered—her diamonds a-glitter and her divine eyes a-glow in the shaded corner of the hotel foyer—ignoring the conventions for the nonce and calling softly to him from between the potted palms—who first showed active sympathy.
"I buy many curios," she told him. "I know many of these men—and they know me. I am a known buyer. My agent knows the ropes. Let me send for him, and tell him to investigate."
"I'd be awfully glad if you would," said Dick, wondering how a woman could seem so young and speak so reliantly, and know so much.
So a Levantine named Henri was sent for, and dispatched in search. Very little more than an hour later he returned, and found Dick pacing up and down on the walk outside the hotel; and he knew—though Dick did not know—that both of them were watched through shutters of a first-floor window. He led Dick close up underneath the window before he spoke.
"A syndicate of thieves has bought the sword, sir, from the man who stole it. They say they will only deal direct. Will you come at once? If you will keep at a little distance so that no one will suspect, I will show the way."
"Andry!" called Dick, and the giant stepped out of the shadows, nearly frightening Henri out of his sallow skin; dumb with terror he glanced upward at the window. The shutters moved a trifle—forward and then backward—twice, silently, and Henri lost his fear. He made no objection then to Andry's following Dick.
Following their guide carefully, but keeping on the side of the street opposite to him, Dick and Andry treaded mazy side streets until they came at last to the dingiest, shabbiest part of Alexandria. Andry and Dick drew closer, Dick leading, but Andry so close behind that no man could have slipped between.
The guide crossed over at last—grinned in the sickly light of a small barred window—knocked a drum signal on the panel of a door, ten feet down a narrow passage—put his foot inside the door directly it was opened—and beckoned Dick.
"Let me go first!" swore Andry, thrusting himself past, heaving the Levantine to one side and rushing in. All he found was a pitch-dark passage and an old hag, nearly blind, who held a candle lamp. She peered up at him trembling and muttering.
"It's all right, Mr. Dick!" he called. And then he started, to find Dick beside him. He winced as Dick grabbed his arm.
"You impudent ass! The only man who dare take my wind is a better man! Get to your place behind!"
He flung Andry by the taut-wrenched muscles back and out through the door to the street, then strode straight on alone down the unlit passage.
Dick took no notice of him when the giant brought up to him, breathing hard, at another door.
The Levantine made more signals, and that door opened, too. The hag dropped out of the procession, and they went on in utter darkness—left, right, right, left—the guide calling out directions from behind and striking occasional matches to assure himself. Finally Dick paused at a narrow doorway on his right, that gaped blacker than the rest had done.
"That's right, sir," the guide called, "straight in there!"
Dick went ahead, and Andry followed close behind him. Suddenly the door closed on them—sliding in grooves, not swung—and they heard some kind of bolt go home with a well-oiled click. They were shut in, tight, in blackness of which they could sense the narrow limits. There was neither light nor ventilation.
Then both men heard something, and stood listening in silence. There were voices—the low, steady hum of a hundred voices—in a room beyond. Dick felt his way along the baked-brick wall. He felt up and down for a latch or lock, or keyhole, and found none. So he strode across the little room from wall to wall to measure it. There were ten clear feet of floor space.
"Lie down, Andry—on your back—feet against that wall—head toward this other door—that's it."
Andry obeyed, unquestioningly. Then Dick laid his own strength down in line with Andry's, with his feet on Andry's shoulders.
"Understand me—when I give the word, I want you to shove like hell!"
"Ready, sir!" said Andry, gathering Dick's legs in his mighty arms and filling his lungs.
Dick felt the heft of Andry's shoulders through his boots—heard the huge leg muscles crack, as the six feet five grew straight. His own hands—neck—shoulders—flattened and grew numb against the door—his own leg muscles nearly burst—and something began to give. Both men gasped and strained again—the still hot blackness shook and filled with yellow streaks—they grunted—there was a din beyond of scattering chairs and suddenly rutched feet—and the door went down in a blaze of light with a crash and the snapping of split woodwork.
In an instant they were on their feet—purple-faced with effort—hair disheveled—tremendous in the door frame. For an instant more they stared about them, blinking in the glare of light and trying to get focus. Then Andry leaped forward.
"I see the sword!" he yelled.
But Dick's outstretched arm prevented him, and he found himself jerked back again. Dick, too, had seen what Andry had. His eyes were fixed on a table-end at which sat Filmi Fared. The crowd of at least a hundred men had opened down the middle, and there was a clear gangway down the center of the room. The sword—out of its canvas case—lay in front to Filmi Fared, and he blinked from it to Dick, and from Dick to the sword again.
"Give me that sword!" commanded Dick.
No one moved. Then Dick strode forward, suddenly, Andry closing up behind him, covering his master's back with his own huge bulk. In a second Dick had the sword and was examining it to make sure that the beryl was still safely in the hilt. It was there! In his glee he swung it, and brought it to a whistling, humming shiver in the air above him.
"Zindabad Anthony Shah!" yelled somebody. And that was Persian, Dick understood it—knew what it meant. In twenty tongues the crowd yelled out the answer, "Long live King Anthony!"
Unthinking—but possibly with the vague idea that he was proving ownership—Dick swung the sword aloft again. The crowd yelled a salvo of applause and a flashlight streamed out. There was no camera visible—only a suspicious looking box affair in one far corner of the room.
"These gentlemen," said Filmi Fared, standing up, "Are the sworn representatives of sixty-eight thousand armed men who are at present in secret rebellion against British rule. The movement is world-wide—it is named Pan-Islam—but our present plans are confined to Egypt. We have waited only for a leader. You have been chosen as that leader. You are required to take an oath of allegiance to our cause—on the Koran—on the Bible—and on your sword. You are required to swear that when you have been raised to the throne of Egypt you will reign constitutionally. And you are required to commit yourself in writing before these witnesses. You should sign here."
Dick threw back his tawny head and laughed aloud.
"You sign, or you die," smiled Filmi Fared.
Filmi Fared was about to speak again, but he was interrupted by a signal on another door, at the end of the room opposite to that through which Dick and Andry had burst in.
The signal was answered, and another one replied again. Then the door opened, and closed again behind a woman, veiled to her heels in black. Her slippers happened to be pink and Dick wondered where—and when—he had seen just such slippers.
With a walk that was inimitable—and vaguely familiar—she walked down a gangway opened through the crowd, straight up to Dick. She tapped him with a fan.
"You are the uncrowned King of Egypt!" she asserted—in French aloud—for all the room to hear. Then she said it again in Italian, and in English, and in Arabic.
"Decidedly uncrowned!" smiled Richard, not knowing what to say.
"You must remain a prisoner until a story—a legend we have started—reaches its required destination. It went out tonight—like ripples of a pond, when a stone is thrown into it. It will travel fast. In the meanwhile, you had better sign. You are offered more than you perhaps realize."
Dick smiled, but did not answer.
She turned to the crowd and swept it with a majestic look.
"Leave me alone to speak to him!" she ordered.
The crowd drew back to the farthest wall. But that did not satisfy her; she waved them away.
"You have your choice between a kingdom and death!" said the woman, standing close and tapping Richard with her fan. She spoke in English now.
"Thanks awfully!" laughed Dick.
"You are said to be Iskander, come to life again with Iskander's sword. That is the story that has gone out tonight in ever-widening rings. In a week all Egypt will believe it. In a month—less, in two weeks—you will have all Egypt at your feet—you will be dealing with the great powers—acknowledged King of Egypt! Can you not see that these fools—these weaklings, none of whom dares lead—will then be your fools—your tools—you will be king and they your instruments? Is Richard Anthony afraid? You were not afraid to speak your mind to a high commissioner! Lead, man! Lead on! You are known for a rebel! Lead these other rebels!"
"I'm quite sober," said Dick, "and I'm not a drug fiend. You've chosen the wrong man."
"You're a proud man, aren't you?" she purred. "You are thinking of your honor, n'est ce pas? Well—it is gone, my friend, and you must win it back again! Yes—gone! You have been flashlight photographed with your sword aloft in the center of these rebels! Whether you consent to lead or no, that photograph hangs over you! That photograph alone would hang you—high as Haman—unless you lead, and win, win, win!"
"I wouldn't lead such an outfit as yours," he answered her, "If the King of England offered me the job!"
"Imbecile! Do you suppose that these men will risk letting you out of here alive unless you sign that paper there?"
"Who are you that ask?"
"Ah! My identity must always be a secret—"
"So?" said Dick—and he shot one arm out—a long, left arm that gathered her, and drew her to him, screaming. Then the beryl-hilted sword performed a task for which it had never been intended. It split the long black shroud that draped her to the heels. He pushed her away again, retaining her mask in his left hand, and she stood gasping in pink and cream and diamonds—the Princess Olga Karageorgovich—indignant—flushed—more lissome and more beautiful than he had ever thought a woman could be—Satanita at her savagest.
"Help! Help! Help! Kill him! Let him die, now! Slay quickly! He is a traitor—would betray us! Kill!"
There was a rush and Andry seized a chair. A hundred—more than a hundred—surged through the doors from either side. A knife, launched by a big Italian in the middle of the door that Dick had burst, whizzed at him—was seen as it flashed under the light—and stopped—caught in the sword hilt.
"Take it, Andry!"
Dick's eyes were on the big Italian, but he waited long enough for Andry to reach out and wrench the knife from between the steel of the basket hilt. Then he moved—and the Italian faded—leaving a gap in the doorway where he had been. And the football field at school had taught Dick what to do with an opening.
It was a fight that Sudanese might envy while it lasted—all rush and slash and thrust and roar and movement—a terrific impact—the hot, delirious feel of blood, backsquirted as the sword went in—the crash of a broken chair on human skulls as Andry widened the breach that Richard carved—a charge into blackness, where the cold steel was all that glimmered—and a burst with a wild hurrah into God's good midnight air, where a carriage waited at the corner and a driver slept.
Dick leaped for the box and Andry sprang inside.
"Madame—where is Madame?" asked the driver, waking up. But Dick's fist took him neatly underneath the jaw, and he toppled into the street gurgling.
By guesswork, and by sheer dead reckoning, Dick drove at the most prodigious flog for the shore—for the darkest part of the harbor front.
Dick and Andry sprang from the carriage, and a lash of the whip sent the horses galloping free in the direction of the city, with the empty carriage swaying in their wake.
"Look!" said Dick. "Jump for it!"
There was a boat, with three rowers in it, moored to a buoy some fourteen feet out from the shore. The rowers slept. Dick jumped first. He landed absolutely in the middle of the boat, and fell headlong over one of the natives, frightening him almost out of his skin. Andry followed with a groan and a monumental effort. He hit the water, like a whale descending, four short feet. Dick hauled him in.
"Know the Themistokles?" he asked. "The other harbor, eh? Well, take us there—give way—hurry up!"
The still sleepy native crew gave way. They were too accustomed to the manners and peculiarities of drunken first-class passengers from ships to be suspicious, and too interested in the money they would earn to hesitate. A half hour's row—for they had to search for the little ship—brought them alongside, and a sleepy watchman welcomed them.
"How much d'you want?" asked Dick.
"Ten shillings," said the owner of the boat.
"I'll give you a pound," said Dick, "if you'll lie alongside here till the steamer leaves."
"Very good, sir," said the boatman, with a grin.
"A pound," said Andry with a wry face, "Is an awfu' lot of money, sir!"
"It's cheap," said Dick. "It would cost us more than that, Andry, if they went back to the city and told tales."
THE Themistokles—one thousand tons—one class of passengers—Greek flag—mixed cargo—anything for anywhere—was due to start a little after dawn.
Andry went below—unpacked certain valises—changed into dry clothes and stowed away the sword. Thenceforth the two of them paced up and down the little afterdeck, one on either side—Andry prayerful, Dick fuming, and both of them taut-strung to jumping point.
They exchanged no word. They walked the deck and waited, each knowing what the other thought too well to waste breath.
"Andry!" said Dick after a while, when the tenth false alarm had set their hearts to fluttering against their ribs. The huge man hove alongside, and fell into step.
"To cut a long story short, Andry, my man, if we get out of this mess safely, this is where we part company. It was all very well for me to accept your service at a time when I was an independent man of means. Now I'm a fugitive! Then, I could draw a certain income from home at any time—a small income, but a certain one. Now—I have considerably less than a thousand pounds, and positively no prospects. Are you listening?"
"I've been photographed with a drawn sword, surrounded by a crowd of known criminals. I suppose about a hundred men would swear in a court of law that I am a rebel. Do you follow me so far? Very well. I've no right to drag you down into my quagmire, and I've no intention of doing it. At the first port we reach—provided we get away from here—I shall pay your passage back home again, and buy you a draft on Glasgow for a hundred pounds. That will put you where you were before. Do you understand me?"
"Is that all, sir?"
"Then hear me now! D'ye ken where I was before ye accepted my service, as ye call it? I was in the water—aye—swummin'—verra nearly drooned. Ye're big enough—ye're strong enough—tae put me back in again—an' I give ye leave. Then—I'd be where I was. Ye've a right to do that—an' no more."
Dick smiled a little. He was not much given to displaying the more serious emotions; they lay too deep.
"I didn't ask you to follow me in the first place," he asserted.
Andry touched his forelock—and Dick held out his hand.
The little liner's whistle screamed impatiently, but with due consideration of the cost of steam. A launch came alongside and disgorged some passengers. The companion ladder was hauled up and in. The steamer screamed again. The winch began to swallow steel chain with a roar as the windward kedge came home.
Then the little ship's propeller started turning with the steady, hypnotizing thug that calls more men than ever sails did. Alexandria began to fall away astern, and the chance of arrest grew insignificant.
He felt a pluck at his arm, but he did not turn. Then a more deliberate tug at his coat sleeve drew his attention, and he looked 'round—straight into the eyes of the Princess Olga Karageorgovich!
"I think we both had a very narrow squeeze for it!" she said in exquisitely shaded English. "But—" and she tapped him with a remonstrating finger—"You owe me for a two-horse carriage, Mr. Anthony! Remember—I shall claim the debt!"
A WESTER was blowing savage seas against the coast of Palestine, and the steamers trading up and down beam on to it made heavy weather. Half of the time the Themistokles whirled her one propeller in the air.
There were only three passengers who did not suffer on the ship's account. One of them—the Princess Karageorgovich—was too interested; Andry MacDougal was too hard bitten; and the third—Dick Anthony—would scarcely have suffered just at that time on a red-hot grid.
As a fugitive from justice—a Scottish gentleman of decent birth and nice distinctions—life held no very luring bait for him, and death, with a spice of accident, looked, smelled and tasted good.
It was Andry who drew a cord unwittingly and loosed the dogs of war. Andry dug his bagpipes from a box beneath the bunk and struggled forward. A few stray notes blew back along the deck to where the Princess Olga nestled in a steamer chair. She writhed each time the bagpipe music reached her.
One can be Scots, and have pity on the weaker sex. With his tawny hair blown into jungle by the wet, salt wind, Dick Anthony leaned forward and asked a question. Wind snatched the words, but not its meaning.
"Do the pipes get on your nerves?" he asked.
"One gets used to them."
He was a human man, and he looked her for an ungrudged minute in the eye, giving her all the admiration she could claim—and that was a prodigious quantity; from such a man as Dick it was inestimable; it made her delirious. Then he turned on his heel and left her.
Even as he struggled forward, leaning into the wind with dirty scupper-slush aslide between his feet and his arms outspread to grasp things, he looked different from other men—more dignified and less self-conscious. She left her seat and clung to a rail to watch him, knowing well that he would have laughed at her had he known it.
"Give them here, Andry!" he ordered; and the giant gave up his pipes with an expression of obedient resentment.
"There's a lady aft who doesn't like pipe music. I'll put these in the bag with mine."
Dick packed away the bagpipes and avoided the princess all afternoon. He avoided her again at dinner time by going without food, depending on Andry, who did not believe in missing meals, to watch the points for him without further definite instructions.
Fate helped out the next move certainly. The princess ran into Dick at a moment when there was no room to step aside.
"Thank you very much for stopping the music," she said simply.
"Not at all," said Dick uncomfortably.
The ship gave a terrific lurch. She clung to a handrail with both hands, and he was forced in common manliness to offer her an arm. Nor could he escape the ordinary civility of helping her to a chair.
"Thank you, Mr. Anthony," she said quietly.
He had to stoop to listen, for the engines were arguing with a rising sea.
"Are we enemies?" she asked.
"Yes," he said simply, and she laughed straight up at him deliciously, delighted.
"Then, my enemy, this is the flag of truce!"
She produced a white handkerchief—priceless, lace-edged, ridiculously tiny. Dick pulled out his immense one, laughing, too, and his laugh, as usual, calmed his own temper as well as other people's.
Dick went in search of a camp-stool. He set it in a corner close to her, where he could watch her face.
"I am sorry for you, Mr. Anthony. You and your man between you killed nearly a dozen men in Alexandria. You are an outlaw. How will you escape?"
But Dick was there to listen, and he could do that better than most men.
He could see that her eyes were violet and languorous (when she chose to have them so).
"It was my fault," she said then. "I should have asked you first. But who would dream of a man like you, a confessed malcontent, poor, proud and at a loose end, refusing the offer of a kingdom! Admit you were unreasonable, Mr. Anthony!"
"I was free of the world when I first saw you," he answered. "And I never invited you to interfere."
She switched her angle of attack with a suddenness that would have bewildered many men.
"You blame me," she insisted, "but you gave me neither time nor chance to make different arrangements. Instead of refusing soberly and treating my disclosures to you as confidences—"
"They were uninvited."
"—you fought. You fled, and you left me no course but flight!"
"I knew nothing about your plans and I cared less," said Dick. "If you want to know what I think of you I'll remind you that I heard you order that riffraff gang of conspirators to murder me."
"Do you really suppose I would have let them?"
"I'm sure," he answered quietly.
It was part of her creed that men whose price was high could nevertheless be bought, or blackmailed, or coaxed, or trapped, or shamed. She wanted Dick.
"Then believe it, Mr. Anthony. Perhaps you are right. Imagine yourself in my position, Mr. Anthony. Try. I offered you a kingdom, you remember—a kingdom and Russia's backing. For some quixotic reason that I don't profess to understand, you refused the offer at less than a moment's notice, and offered instant fight. You seized me most ungallantly, ripped my veil, betrayed my identity to men from whom it was a secret, upset the plans of three years that had cost millions, balked Russia's plans in Persia, and made Egypt and all British territory too hot for me and for yourself—all in one mad minute. And you complain because I called on them to kill you in the heat of that mad minute."
"I did not hear myself complain," said Dick.
"You forget that you made your escape in my carriage, leaving me 'in the soup,' as your idiom is. It was only by the most extraordinary luck that I contrived to reach my hotel in time to catch this steamer with my maid and luggage. Now I, too, am an outlaw. Are you imagining yourself in my position, Mr. Anthony?"
"In my position—when you reached Russia—as I shall reach Russia—you would no longer be a fugitive from justice."
"No?" said Dick; and she heard him catch his breath.
"You are a fugitive." She sat bolt upright, and told off the points with a cautioning forefinger. "You dare not set foot on British territory, and the wireless waves are surely out against you everywhere. You are lost. You are damned, Mr. Anthony."
He did not answer her. She misunderstood his silence.
"By this time a flashlight photo of you standing with sword aloft in the midst of known criminals is in the hands of the police. You slew men in a brawl. You stand convicted by circumstantial evidence—you, an officer in the British army, as I have heard you claim. What do you propose to do?"
"That is my business, and not yours," said Dick.
"In my shoes, would you not ask forgiveness and try to make amends?" Not a word said Dick.
"I am offering you, Mr. Anthony, the protection of the Russian government."
"No thanks," said Dick, and he arose to offer her his arm.
She knew enough to know when she had failed. She took his arm, and let him lead her to the head of the companion.
"My offer stands," she smiled over her shoulder as she left him.
"So does my refusal," answered Dick, and he strode on the dark deck again.
DICK went below at midnight. Too indifferent to undress, he lay with his clothes on, watching cockroaches hunt on the cabin floor and listening to Andry advertising sleep five cabins down the starboard corridor. Without warning, a shock came—a thousand-ton weight blow, with no answering ring at all, but a shudder and the sickening, yielding feel and sound of steel plates bending inward. Then the lights went out.
Andry woke and left his cabin like a whirlwind, but with his boots on, and felt his way back, cabin door by door, to where Dick thundered on the panels. The strain of the shock and list had jammed the door tight. In a moment Andry's feet were against the nearest bulkhead, and he grunted as his shoulders took the strain. The door creaked once and then went in, frame and all, as if a typhoon struck it. The door and Dick collapsed in the cabin corner.
"Ar-r-re ye dressed?" demanded Andry.
"Yes. Get off me! Man, you weigh a ton!"
"Is the bag packed? Aye; I have it an' the claymore, here; I have them baith!"
"Come on," called Dick. And all that Andry saw then was a black shadow, which he raced after in the blackness, trying to catch up.
They had struck a pilgrim ship, bound Meccaward.
Four of the little liner's boats were overside already, crowded full. Dick saw one boat go to pieces and another swamp in the thirty seconds while he watched.
Suddenly he turned and gripped Andry.
"The women!" he yelled. "They're below yet!"
But Andry pulled a wry face, and stayed to hide the bag and sword where he could find them.
At once someone pressed the button of an electric torch, and its all but exhausted rays shone golden on Dick's hair.
"I knew you would come for me," smiled the princess.
"We'll have to hurry up," said Dick.
The light went out. The blackness throbbed with human questioning and deep-breathed decision. Dick had to feel for the princess, and at the first touch she sank into his arms.
"Ah, Richard—oh, mon roi!" she murmured. "I am safe—I know I am safe!"
So Dick gathered her up and ran for it, stumbling over rats, and Andry followed him, with the princess' maid under one arm and a trunk in the other. He laid both on the deck beside Dick just as somebody on the bridge lit a bunch of oily waste. He rushed off at once, then for the sword and bag, and brought them back triumphantly.
Then the mate spied them, in the light of his weird torch.
"There's a small boat aft!" he shouted. "Take it!"
Standing was difficult already, and the slope of the deck was growing greater. Dick rushed astern, and Andry followed. In a minute, being sailors both of them, they had the little boat swung clear and Andry hove the luggage in. Their one chance was to get away before the mob knew that they had a chance and charged to take it from them. Within a minute, the maid lay in the bottom of the dingey. And then the worst happened.
A knife, meant for Dick, went slivering through the night. Andry hove the princess off her feet and swung her in beside her maid, and as he dropped her he snatched an oar.
More than a dozen times, ten feet each time, they drove the mob backward, blanched and wilting. They could not hold their gain, and Dick was running blood, although Andry did not know it. Suddenly, just as they had charged, Dick yelled to Andry to jump in and lower the boat.
"Na, Na! I'll no leave ye!"
"Get in and lower away!" commanded Dick, charging again like a bear at bay, to cover the retreat.
Andry blubbered then, while he obeyed.
When he stopped at last to lean on his oars and listen, the princess bent forward, laying a hand on his enormous one.
"Leave us here and swim back to him!" she urged.
"Jezebel!" he hissed. "I hae ma orders!"
Her agile brain was searching for another plan when a splash came that put new, sudden heart into Andry. The two stout oars bent into semi-circles, as his great back muscles cracked and the dingey spun. The little boat leaped on the wave tops as the flying fish scoot from the dolphins. Under the overhanging stern he stopped and plunged his arms in; in an instant Dick's dripping head was hauled clear of the gunwale; in an instant more he lay on the bottom of the boat, bruised and bleeding, but alive.
AT dawn the princess was bathing Dick's head with a handkerchief dipped overside, and a movement of his master's eyelids had decided Andry that the end was at least not yet.
He was glum—silent—ruminant for an hour, while a dirty steamer overtook them. He watched Dick's face until the Nizhni-Novgorod, bound for the Dardanelles and Black Sea ports—came beside them and lowered a Jacob's ladder down her grimy side.
Somebody called out in Russian from the bridge, and the princess answered. Disarrayed and tired, she stood up in the little boat and told them who she was.
They seemed to own no companion ladder. After a lot of talk with the princess, they took the cover off a hatch and rigged it in slings.
"Lay Mr. Anthony on that!" the princess ordered, as they lowered it overside from an outswing derrick.
"Leddies first!" said Andry; and his lips closed tight.
He was down on his knees by Dick before the sling was half way up the steamer's side.
"Ar-r-re ye awake, Mr. Dicky? Can ye hear?"
Dick smiled and opened both eyes.
"Then, 'tis what I feared! Listen—listen, laddie! Listen, sir! Y're forgettin'. She's no' frien' at a'—she's a verra weekid wumman, a' oor enemy! Wull ye no listen?"
Dick sat up and Andry sat down to chew the cud of wonderment. Both of them watched critically then as a boat was lowered from the Russian steamer's stern. It was a dingey, much like theirs, and two men could have managed it easily; but it held four. They came alongside in silence.
One of the Russians took Dick and helped him to the stern.
Then the Russian boat was full; there was no room for Andry, and he laid hold of the Russian's gunwale, that they might tow him along.
He yelled with rage when a Russian struck his wrist with an oar end. He reached for an oar to strike back. It was then he discovered that the oars were gone.
But the big man could swim. Dick laughed as he watched him swim for the Jacob's ladder, with the sword between his teeth.
A mate and two seamen hauled at the ladder, but they hauled up Andry. The giant sprang between them before they could think of seizing things to hit him with, and it was only the sight of Dick being helped out of the dingey on to the steamer's poop that prevented him from making bloody use of the claymore.
"Well done, my man!" smiled the Princess Olga Karageorgovich, stepping toward him.
She had counted on a Dick who was unconscious and an Andry who could not swim—on a Dick who could be lied to about Andry and perhaps—a little later taught to love. But even as she and Andry faced each other, with an oath of deathless enmity on Andry's lips, Dick walked unsupported off the poop.
Hatless, he saluted her. Then he took one step backward, turned and walked away. Andry turned on a scornful heel without troubling to salute and followed up the deck.
As her violet eyes watched Dick, they lit strangely.
"Eh bien, Monsieur Anthony of Arran!" she nodded after him.
Then she climbed to the bridge and talked more than a little with the captain.
ENGLAND is not the only land that produces gentlemen adventurers. Just such a man was Usbeg Ali Khan, the Afghan. If his features were the least bit Semitic, and his skin light olive, he was none the less strikingly handsome on that account.
It was news of a Pan-Islam movement taking root in Egypt that brought him to Alexandria and Cairo.
He found himself one of the many thousand men, all sitting on the fence—all waiting for a leader.
On the whole he enjoyed Egypt. But he grew weary of its peace, and he was ready for a move on to Morocco, where they told him a rebellion was simmering beneath French rule. He had sold his horses and was inquiring about passage when the word went around that "She" had a leader ready. So he hurried by train to Alexandria.
Observant, as his countrymen all are, he admired Dick Anthony and Dick's giant attendant in the street. Some time ago he had decided in his own mind that the princess must be "She" who paid and issued orders; but he did not connect her and Dick Anthony and Andry and the past and future and himself until that night of nights when Dick and Andry burst into the crowded room like revolution loosed, and he and a hundred more conspirators knew that instant that they had the man if only he would lead and they dared follow.
When Dick swung the quivering blade above his head in proof of ownership, it had been Usbeg Ali Khan who shouted "Zindabad Anthony Shah!" He had led the answering shout, "Long live King Anthony!" Last to leave the room at "Her" bidding, he had stood nearest to the door. He had seen Dick rip "Her" veil down and disclose the Princess Olga Karageorgovich. At her instant cry of "Kill him!" he had blocked the door a moment, for it suited him to see how this wonder of a man might acquit himself, with half a chance. He had watched the fight spellbound, while Andry backed Dick with a broken chair, and Dick hewed—smashed—burst a road to the outer night and freedom.
Above all, though, he had heard the story of the sword, that a king named Alexander had presented it to an Anthony. There is only one Alexander to the Afghans, or ever will be—but one magnificent Iskander. The tale alone had been enough to fire his veins and his imagination; but the tale, and the sword, and the man, and the fight he made, considered all together—Allah!
Within five minutes, he had sent his seven men hurrying through byways, with orders to scout fast and bring word later. Within an hour, they had tracked Dick down, and had brought him the name of the steamer, even, on which Dick waited for the dawn. Within five minutes of receiving that information, Usbeg Ali Khan was the only one of all that hesitating swarm who knew exactly what to do.
He rushed in a hired cab to the different steamship offices. The Themistokles, he soon discovered, was bound for Black Sea ports with various calls between. He was able to find out, too, that Dick Anthony had booked for Trebizond on the southern Black Sea shore. He smelled adventure. He detected plan in his hero's wanderings.
There was another steamer bound for Trebizond, without any intervening stop, that would leave in two days' time and get there one day later than the Themistokles. He booked by it for himself and his seven men.
So, all unaware of the fate of the Themistokles, he disembarked one afternoon into a bumboat expecting to find Dick ashore there ahead of him. Then he learned that the little Themistokles was what Lloyds call a "total loss." Dick Anthony and the Princess Olga Karageorgovich were named as having been among the passengers, and missing.
One day a Russian steamer dropped anchor in the infamous roadstead. There came bagpipe music from her deck, and his sensations were mixed as he recognized the lilt and swing of British battle tunes.
Then a gunboat caught his eye. She was going off, to bring away on overdue consignment of tin-plate from the Nizhni-Novgorod. He had a quick bargain, and took a trip by her, gazing though his field glasses at the Russian steamer's decks and commenting on what he saw through them with strange-sounding Himalayan oaths that made the boatmen stare and grin.
The Princess Olga Karageorgovich appraised Dick at his real value. It was for herself that she wanted him. She knew that if she was ever to have him for her own it was for Russia she must use him—with Russia's aid that she must win him. For the present she must steer Dick Anthony to Russia—and that seemed easy, seeing he had booked for Trebizond. He was now on the way to Trebizond; she took care that a mate should tell him as much in broken English, and she gathered—observing closely over the bridge rail—that the information delighted him and put him off his guard.
Savagery is akin to love in certain natures. Dick was sitting on a coil of rope, with his head between his hands—sore from a dozen knife-cuts, dizzy with headache. Andry stood beside him, swearing to himself and watching preparations being made for the Princess Olga's comfort.
But not even Andry, who had formed his opinion of the princess, and like an honest Scotsman, held it, divined her full intention.
She made Dick no more overtures of friendship, nor did she pretend any friendship for him. The details of what she told the captain never transpired, but she had the field to herself, and a wonderful imagination in addition to a sound true basis for romance; she said enough to bring the Tatar out through the Russians porous hide.
She was on the bridge, half hidden in her corner, when Dick essayed to brace himself and climb the bridge companion.
"Can I have quarters for myself and my man, captain?" he asked, with his foot yet on the last step up but one.
"Get forrard! Get—off—my—bridge!"
The voice and the words were ripe with all the insolence servility knows how to use. Dick glanced at the princess. She had heard every word of it and she was smiling—looking straight in front of her.
Dick's hand went into his pocket. "You can name your own price," he said; and one would have thought that he was speaking to an equal.
"Son of a —! You hear me say, 'Get forrard?'" That seemed to exhaust his English. He had said the unspeakable. He had offered gratuitous, blackguardly insolence in the presence of a woman. But Dick looked over to the stern at the Russian ensign—back straight at the princess, and laughed. The princess knew that he knew it was war between them—knew instantly that he knew she wanted him in irons. She frowned. The captain read the frown and misunderstood it.
A rifle stood in the corner of the wheelhouse, loaded. In a second he had snatched it, and he held it very close to Dick, thrusting the stock out and his own chin at the same time.
"See here! You see this?"
"Yes," said Dick, and he seized the rifle—twisted it with a sudden wrench that was irresistible—and spun it overboard. The captain was speechless.
"Bring the bag, Andry," Dick said quietly. "They've offered us the fo'castle. We'll take it."
Andry pulled the fo'castle door open, and a rancid mixed stench of onions, garlic and unclean men crept out to greet them. A dozen men sat up to glower as Dick strode in.
There was a trapdoor over the forepeak and a big ring in the floor to lift it by. Beyond the trapdoor, crosswise of the ship and above a locker, there were two bunks, both occupied.
"We'll take those two bunks," said Dick; and Andry said, "Aye, sir!"
Dick stood aside and looked around at his hosts, bunk by bunk. Andry laid the bag down, and passed him the canvas-covered sword. Dick held it just underneath the hilt, gathering in the slack of the canvas, so that it looked like what it was—a weapon. The Russians in the two bunks seemed to be asleep.
"Get oot, or I'll pull ye oot!" said Andry, suddenly enough and loudly enough to wake the dead; and the rapidity with which the man in the lower bunk produced a knife was proof enough that he had been awake and watching.
Then Andry pounced like a sparrow-hawk descending on a hedgerow. There was a swoop, two yells—and the knife went clattering against the bulwark at the farther end; after it, in quick succession—thud! thud! thud! went a Russian, then another one, a chest, blankets, belongings.
One of the men who had been thrown out of his bunk crawled to the door, slipped out, and ran aft with his complaint to the captain already stuttering from his lips.
"Lift that trapdoor, Andry!" Dick ordered.
Andry's back muscles bent into a bow of steel. Slowly the giant lifted the trapdoor clear and set it on its end, disclosing darkness and a deep-sea smell.
"Take those," said Dick; and Andry's huge fist shut on a box of matches.
"Open the bag. Take out the pipes—yes, yours and mine, both. Give me mine. Now swing yourself down there and hunt for anything inflammable. Search in the dark—don't strike a match until I tell you."
Obediently as a child, and trusting as a child—for he had seen the light in Dick's eyes, and he understood it—Andry swung his weight on to his hands and turned a circle. A moment he hung still by his eight fingers. Then he dropped, and his voice called, "It's no great drop, Mr. Dicky, sir."
"Is there a ladder there?" asked Dick.
"Aye. I've ma han' on it."
"Set it up, and then come get your pipes."
Soon Andry appeared head and shoulders through the opening, and gathered in his bagpipes as a mother takes a child.
"Hurry up and look for something that'll burn."
It was not in the least wonderful that the first thing Andry ran his nose into in the gloom of the forepeak was a barrel of petroleum. He announced his discovery with glee.
"Anything else?" called Dick.
"Waste, sir—half a bale o' it—opened up."
"Can you get the plug out of the barrel?"
"Aye, it's oot. It's runnin' oot."
"Let it run. Dip a pound or two of waste in it."
"Can you make a torch out of that?"
Andry hunted swiftly, his great arms outstretched in the darkness.
"Aye," he called presently. "I've found some wire."
"Once more Andry's head appeared above the level of the deck.
"Have you the matches safe?"
"Aye, in me pooch."
"Tune up, then!"
Together they filled the leather bags of their instruments with wind, while the Russians watched and wondered.
" 'Scots Wha Hae'," said Dick abruptly, and their chanters—both together—lifted to the tune.
The fo'castle of the grimy Nizhini-Novgorod seemed to reverberate and swell. Louder and louder skirled the pipes, fiercer, more defiant, till the whole ship was awake like a hive of bees and the decks clattered as men raced over them to see.
The door was pulled open suddenly, and the captain looked in over the head of six men; he was standing on a bucket at the rear of them. At a sign from Dick the music ceased with a suddenness that seemed to puncture eardrums.
"Come in, captain," smiled Dick.
The captain seemed to hesitate. It was perfectly evident to Dick that he was holding a revolver and did not want it seen.
"Light your torch, Andry!" he directed.
Andry struck a match. The torch flared up smokily. There was an instant rush for the door by all hands.
"Take a seat, captain," suggested Dick.
"What in hell is this?" he flustered, once more exhausting nearly all his command of English in one explosive sentence.
"A torch," smiled Dick. "Un flambeau, captain. We've discovered some petroleum below here. We've pulled the plug out, and everything below is wet with it—smell it, can't you, from where you are?"
"Damn! Say that again!"
Dick translated it into French for him.
"You see, captain, the ship's at our mercy. We purpose, now, to travel as first-class passengers or else to burn the ship!"
The captain swore. He blustered. He threatened law at the first port. But at each new argument the torch went lower into the forepeak. At last, Andry disappeared to pour new oil on his waste, and then the captain capitulated; he thought that his hour and his ship's had come.
He brought a table and wrote out a manuscript, in French, at Dick's dictation. A mate was sent for to witness the signature.
An engineer's cabin was to be made over to them at once. They were to have their meals brought to them there, and to have the undisturbed use of it. They were to have a meal at once, and after that three meals a day, the best that the ship could provide.
Finally, Dick was to be given a revolver for their protection and to enable him to enforce the contract afterward. The captain put up his greatest fight over this verbal clause; but he had to give way. He gave up the one he carried in the end—tossed it to Dick, unloaded, and threw the cartridges after it.
"I think we shall part company at Trebizond," said Dick.
They walked together down the deck, stared at stupidly by a crew who wondered where the leg irons were. And such was Dick's charm when he chose to exert it that in spite of warfare not five minutes gone the captain struggled already with an inclination to take his arm and support him to the cabin. In five minutes more Dick undid all that the princess had accomplished and left the captain wondering why in the name of Russia he had not treated this good fellow like an emperor from the first.
WITHOUT committing the belief to actual shape in her mind, the princess had come to believe that she and Fate were sister servants of the Russian empire; it was nothing to astonish her when Fate, arm-in-arm with Usbeg Ali Khan, produced an unexpected card and played it straight into her hand.
She was content to do nothing so long as Dick's aim was Trebizond, but once they were in the Black Sea, headed eastward, she began to work on the captain to omit his call on the southern shore.
"Steam straight for Batum!" she urged him.
But Dick's strong personality had already too far undermined her influence. There was a consignment of tin-plate in the hold for Trebizond, and the captain made that good enough excuse for firm insistence on his course. She decided on a master-stroke that would disarm Dick Anthony and leave him free apparently to go his own way, yet that would surely bring him to her goal.
"I have changed my mind," she told the captain. "I, too, will leave the ship at Trebizond."
Her mind made up, she made no secret of her plan, but told the maid to drag the trunk out where Dick Anthony could see it, and to pack it in full view.
Dick began to think that the end of interference was in sight. He knew utterly nothing about women, and did not want to know. When they came in sight of battlemented Trebizond and the promontory that sticks out to catch the Black Sea silt he was standing amidships. The princes, coming softly down the bridge companion, caught him unawares.
"Good-by, my enemy!" she smiled; and she held out a hand as Dick spun around to face her.
"Good-by!" There was humor—good-natured humor—in eye and voice and attitude. She sensed it instantly.
"I leave the ship here. I understand that you intend going ashore, but I don't expect we shall meet again—ever. I hope to get a lift on a gunboat to the Crimea. I'm sorry you won't let me be of service to you."
She held out her hand, ungloved. She smiled, too. Her violet velvet eyes looked a little moist, or so Dick thought. He held out his hand instantly.
"May we part friends?" she asked. "I would like to remember you in your best mood; won't you do something characteristic, just to oblige me before I go? Won't you and your man get out your strange instruments and play a Scottish tune for me?"
Dick, too, was something of a sentimentalist. It was a good excuse, too, for getting away from her. He and Andry went to their cabin, and two minutes later strode out together on the poop with that swing of the hips that a Scotsman keeps for bagpipe music. "Should Auld Acquaintance" was appropriate enough. It skirted across the water, very likely for the first time since the Highland regiments played it coming back from Crimea. So a signalman on a nearby Russian gunboat came out of a daydream—heard, looked, used his telescope—and understood.
Neither Dick nor Andry saw the Princess Olga's maid down on her knees by the bridge rail on the port side waving, waving, waving the same signal over and over again. But the gunboat lowered a motor launch and as the Nizhni-Novgorod dropped anchor half a mile out from the silted harbor, the launch came alongside, flying a Russian ensign. Almost before the ship had lost her way a Russian naval officer was standing on the unwashed deck, talking earnestly to the princess and making no attempt to conceal the fact that Dick was the object of his conversation.
"Damn!" swore Dick. If he had to be arrested he would have preferred his own countrymen.
But no arrest came yet. He watched them swing a derrick overside, saw the princess, her maid, the trunk and the officer all lowered into the boat, and saw the boat start off.
Andry leaned on the other side, about amidships. He was interested in the bumboat coming out in the wake of a pre-historic tug, very much interested in a man in uniform who might or might not be a Turkish officer—light-olive skinned, black-bearded, straight, who stood in the stern and peered through binoculars.
The bumboat came alongside, and the work began at once of lowering the tin-plate into it. The man in uniform came up the Jacob's ladder slowly, like a landsman.
He walked straight up to Andry and saluted him.
"I am from Alexandria," he said in English. "I have come to offer my salaams to Mr. Anthony. I am his friend. I have seen men in Trebizond who serve me. We all offer our salaams."
"Wait here, then!" commanded Andry, showing him a knotted, freckled fist. "Dinna move a foot till I come back."
He hove himself up on to the poop and clutched the rail beside Dick on the other side of the ship.
"Mr. Dicky, ye ken that black-faced mon who led the cheerin' back in Alexandria? Ye do? Aweel, he's doon yonder and wants to speak wi' ye."
Dick stepped across the poop and stared hard at the man who waited, then drew out of sight again.
"Is there no such thing as a lost scent—ever?" he asked. "So that's why they were laughing, eh? Pan-Islam movement, eh? Headquarters, I suppose, in Trebizond. Think they can drag me in here as easily as there! Tell the man I haven't a word to say to him, Andry!"
"If you're going ashore, the bumboat's going now, Mr. Anthony!" the captain called.
"I'm going on to Batum with you," answered Dick.
Ten minutes later, Dick and the princess stared at each other from the sterns of two different ships, and a third man swore as he stared in turn at each of them, through binoculars, from a bumboat loaded with tin-plate.
"Bismillah! Have I come thus for to fail?" he asked himself. "Or maybe others too, take steamer to Batum—others and their servants! Allah! But he is a proud man, that Anthony!"
THE wireless apparatus on the gunboat crackled, and an argument went out that was borne on sparks enough to keep the Batum operator on his mettle. Meanwhile, the gunboat got her anchor up and steamed in a wide semicircle, making nearly two knots to the Nizhni-Novgorod's one. The gunboat was leading by the time that night fell. So a procession steamed along—headed by the princess—followed by Dick Anthony, who thought himself free at last—and brought up at a quite considerable distance in the rear by a third party of eight men on a coasting steamer.
At Batum Dick gave the captain his revolver back with a laugh and a handshake and drove straight to a shop where English ready-made clothes were on sale on most terrific prices. There he fitted out himself and Andry so that they were at least presentable when they arrived at the hotel.
Later, after they had turned the hotel inside out and produced a bath for him, he left Andry behind and went off exploring in a cab, and although he was followed everywhere by a man in uniform in another cab, he was beginning to feel almost like the old Dick Anthony who did not care who watched him. When the other cab was topped and the man in uniform stepped out of it; when he climbed into Dick's own cab and invited him, very politely, to drive to the bureau of police, the sensation was like being plunged out of summer into winter.
He made no objection, of course, but his feelings as the driver changed direction are not to be imagined.
To his amazement a very polite official presented him with a passport, ready made out to "Richard Anthony, Esquire, of Arran in Scotland—a gentleman of leisure, traveling for his own amusement, and accompanied by Andrew MacDougal, his servant."
"How did you get the details?" wondered Dick.
The official smiled. "Systems," he said in French sententiously, "were devised for the convenience of gentlemen as well as for the inconvenience of rogues!"
"Wireless!" he thought, and he made a new plan on the instant. He would solve the whole problem by returning home!
"Thanks," he said, "but I sha'n't need this. I shall be leaving Russia by the first boat I can get passage on."
"I'm afraid not, Mr. Anthony! There is a charge against you."
"Then you mean that I'm under arrest?"
"Since you elect to use that word."
Dick closed his lips and his chin assumed an angle that was far more eloquent than a thousand arguments. The official leaned forward conciliatingly.
"You overlook a few things, Mr. Anthony. Our attitude is very friendly—very considerate. We appreciate your position fully. We know what news of your arrest would mean to you should it reach England. You will understand that piracy is not a charge which can be lightly overlooked; however ridiculous, it must be investigated."
"Thanks," said Dick. "I'll wait at the hotel. I can't afford to travel about."
The official opened a drawer, drew out two cards, signed them and passed them to Dick.
Make use of these, Mr. Anthony. Official passes on the main Transcaucasian railway. Take a look at the Caspian and come back. Batum is unhealthy."
Dick was prevailed on to accept the passes, for that did not imply the obligation to make use of them. He drove back to his hotel in dreary dudgeon, too gloomy to observe that an Afghan gentleman was waiting for him on the steps.
"My name is Usbeg Ali Khan," said a voice. "I would speak where we cannot be overheard."
Dick hesitated. The man looked like a gentleman and stood like one; there was no ruffianly bravado about him, nor any sign of cringe. But Dick remembered him and where he had met him last.
"I have a servant," said Dick. "One is all I can afford."
"I have seven servants, sahib. We are eight."
"I haven't anything to offer you," said Dick, moving forward, and the Afghan, who was considered a nobleman beyond the Himalayas, had either to eat his pride or leave. He went with a courtly salute which Dick returned punctiliously; even Andry saluted him, for the Afghan looked, spoke, strode and argued like a man.
"Pack the bag, Andry!" commanded Dick. "We've got to get away from these people or they'll give me no peace."
So he and Andry went to Baku, and something told Dick Anthony that this was the pushing-off place into worlds worth of strong man's while, where age-old chivalry was not yet dead and a man might strike for what seemed good to him. As he stood staring at the Caspian he forgave Fate, who had seemed so cruel to him. Suddenly, and without knowing why, he knew himself for a free man.
THERE, where the pipe-lines come together and the trains of oil-cars back down, screaming, to be filled—while a southeast hurricane played havoc with the anchored shipping and dyed the whole firmament dull red with the borrowed flame from a burning oil well—the devil came and tempted Dick Anthony.
He had been in Baku days already, wandering about and wondering at the ebb and tide of West and East. Everywhere Andry followed, patient as Job but savagely distrustful.
Dick stood, one evening, between two lines of oil-trains, watching to see how quickly they were filled; and a Persian in semi-Persian dress slipped underneath the couplings of two cars and spoke to him.
"Who are you?" demanded Dick.
"I am from Muhammad Ali Mirza."
Even Dick, who knew no politics, knew the name of the exiled Shah of Persia.
"What about him?"
"His highness sent for you."
The man waited, and Dick looked at him from head to foot.
"Come along, Andry," he said, and he made a sign to the man to lead the way.
Within ten minutes he and Andry stood in the dark courtyard of an old dismantled fortress. Two lanterns swung from the hands of men who looked like Cossacks, and threw a fitful light on about two dozen other men, some of them in Persian garb, who sheltered themselves from the howling wind under one of the ruined walls.
"I am Muhammed Ali Mirza," said a voice. "I am Shah of Persia."
Then Dick answered him in Persian, speaking fluently and grammatically.
"I know of you. What do you want with me?"
"The use of that sword of yours."
"My sword is my own!" said Dick, drawing it from the canvas cover. The men in front drew back half a step. But eight men on the right closed in and one of them touched the sword blade; he went down on one knee while he examined it. Then he looked up in Dick's eyes, and Dick recognized him—Usbeg Ali Khan."
"Are you in the service of the Princess Olga Karageorgovich?" demanded Dick in Persian.
"My sword is my own!" laughed the Afghan, standing straight. And Dick looked him in the eyes, by the light of a cheap oil lantern, in the gloom of a storm-swept Caspian night—and liked him.
Now a man stepped forward and led Dick aside.
He went on to assure him that the Princess Olga Karageorgovich was so filled with regret at her share of responsibility for his position that she had used her influence to bring about this meeting with the Shah, who was now, for the third time, about to make a desperate attempt on Persia with the connivance of Russia.
"Listen, Mr. Anthony! Lend your sword to this attempt, and within three weeks you can have every fanatic in Persia howling to follow you. The Shah will be a figurehead; you the power behind the throne; Russia your firm friend."
Dick laughed, but said nothing. The picture was not uninviting.
"Will you lend your sword to the Shah of Persia?"
"No," said Dick, and he stepped back from the wall. He was thinking hard. The man who had argued with him went on speaking. There was a crack in the wall beside where Dick had stood, and the voice that whispered through it was a woman's.
"Are you thinking of going to Persia?" asked Dick, walking straight up to Usbeg Ali Khan.
"To Afghanistan, sahib, through Persia. First across the Caspian, by boat."
"Is the boat ready?"
"All is ready but the weather. No boat can start in this storm."
Dick laughed again. "Will you start if I show you how?" he asked.
"Then you are for the ex-Shah?"
"No. I am against him."
"Then, I, too! Sahib, I will start now for anywhere you name and fight your enemies!"
"Come on, then!" said Dick. "Come on, Andry!"
"Arrest him before he gets away!" said a voice through the wall.
"Arrest him!" shouted the man who had argued vainly. Somebody blew a whistle, and there came the tramp of hurrying feet, in step.
"Our boat lies alongside the Katrinsky quay," said Usbeg Ali.
"Follow me, then," answered Dick.
"Comin' sir!" yelled Andry. And the ten—compact and swift—burst through the extended ranks of a Cossack regiment that was busy surrounding the ruined courtyard.
It took the Russians ten minutes to ascertain which direction the fugitives had taken, and twenty minutes more to get authority to act. An hour later a pursuing party stood on the Katrinsky quay staring through the murk at a sailing boat whose big, unwieldy sail was disappearing in the night.
DAY dawned on the Caspian. On a tongue of land that stretched out through the marsh to make the only landing place two men fought savagely, with tearing fingers—hot, hissing, face to face.
From out of the mist to seaward came the unexpected, deadened thump of oars, but the two fought on.
A sail developed out of the immeasurable haze. It swayed and grew nearer, silent, slack-draped, shadowy.
A rudder gurgled as an angle changed. But the two on shore lay locked in their hate-hold—deaf, dumb—oblivious, except to blood-lust.
The creaking of the weary oars began again, and a heavy-beamed unpainted native craft crept shoreward, head on, to the slow flap of an unfilled sail.
A giant leaped from the bows, face forward, ready for happenings. He caught the hellish rasp of breath, fought for between clenched fingers, and leaned forward with one hand to his ear.
"They'll be fechtin', Mr. Dicky, close at han'!"
"Make fast then and wait for me!"
The giant dragged the anchor overboard and plunged it into clay with one sweep of his tremendous arms. The action was instant, but he had not finished before another man stood beside him, who surely seemed lord of all he looked at; stood and looked as Viking never did—for the Vikings were slaves to superstition, and this man, Dick Anthony, was free. He had a strange old claymore hung to his side.
Dick stopped, and stooped to look closer into a patch of trampled grass. Andry MacDougal crouched behind him like a well-trained hound in leash. Dick seized a human leg and tugged at it; but there was no response.
Andry moved and chose another leg from out the tangle. He pulled as if he were helping to get an anchor up and the instant they were wrenched apart each turned on his rescuer; and—numb, dumb, breathless—they had spite enough remaining to be dangerous. Dick had to kneel on his man and squeeze the fight out of him.
Andry carried his half-throttled savage to the water's edge and ducked him until he was too weak to remonstrate; then he laid him on the grass.
"See yon!" he grinned, pointing.
Dick followed the direction of his finger, stooped where the grass had been trampled by the fighting, and picked up a little leather bag.
At the same instant, at the sight of the same small bag in Dick's hands, the men who had fought to a stalemate recovered breath, will, reason, or at least instinct. Instinctively Dick and Andy glanced, each to make sure that the other was alert. They glanced back, and there was nothing where the two had been; they had vanished like frightened animals.
"Did the bag have a deal o' silver in it?" wondered Andry.
"Gold!" said Dick.
From the boat that had borne them out of unexpectedness the rowers and their chief—eight men in turbans—were pitching their belongings to the shore in hurried silence.
"Do you happen to recognize this place Usbeg Ali Khan?" Dick asked.
"Nay, sahib! But I recognize dry land and know that Allah made it!"
"Would you care to sail farther and try for a better landing?"
"God forbid, sahib!" The Afghan stepped ashore, and bowed his stateliest.
"Didn't like it, eh?"
"May devils rot the boat and Russians ride in it!" swore Usbeg Ali Khan.
"Russian gunboats are scouring the Caspian now for a sight of it," said Dick.
Andry pricked up his ears; Usbeg Ali Khan stroked his black beard, and his seven waited silently in line, as became the henchmen of a warrior.
"Burn the boat, Andry!" ordered Dick.
A moment later smoke came from the half-decked-over afterpart. Two minutes more, and a tongue of flame licked up. They watched until a Caspian ripple lapped over the sizzling bulwarks like the lip of Nemesis, and there was nothing left but embers staining the smooth sea.
Dick turned to see eight Afghans with their hilts thrust out toward him. At a word from Usbeg Khan they drew. Eight blades shot upward, shimmering in the morning sun. Eight pairs of level, Asiatic eyes looked into Dick's.
And so, in the cool of a Trans-Caspian morning, the last of the Anthonys took his first steel-tipped salute, and answered it. The claymore's jeweled hilt went to his own lips, and he knew then that he and these eight men stood pledged in the bond unbreakable—the soldier's.
It was Andry who broke the spell.
"What's yon?" he asked, pointing.
"A horse!" said Dick. "A horse grazing!"
Eight of the ten had been war-taught in the trick of looking quickly; Andry had learned in the Army and at sea; yet Dick was quickest. Centering from a horse that grazed with an empty saddle on his back, all eyes searched out the plain in widening rings. In a moment Dick was off, running head forward, withdrawn sword, and the others—not yet knowing why they ran—where streaming after him, Andry last.
Then they all saw what Dick had seen at once, and yelled in chorus.
But no yells ever scared a pricked pig from his quarry. Gray, red-eyed, foaming at the mouth, squealing and grunting with indignation, the great-great-grandfather of all the boars was squandering the minutes, trying to turn a man over and so gore his stomach. The boar bled where lance had touched him, the man where the four-inch tusks had ripped through his clothing in a dozen places to the skin. But the man still lived, and still had wit, and strength enough to shield his face. The gray boar was too busy at his worry to heed shouts, and it was not until Dick Anthony—running as if there were thirty men behind him and a Rugby goal in front—had reached within ten yards that the brute looked up at him, blinked twice and charged.
The sword blade went in like a streak of light and came out reeking crimson.
"Is that good fellow hurt?" said a voice.
They all turned together to face a one-eyed man in a battered sun-helmet and muddied Vandyke beard. His clothes were nearly ripped from him; one long riding boot was cut from knee to heel as if it had been paper, and he was bleeding here and there, though in no place badly.
"Your horse?" Dick asked.
"Yes." The man was more interested in Andry's wound than in his own troubles. He was watching over Dick's shoulder.
"A mile away."
"Two. Cook bearer and groom."
"Any money in the camp?" asked Dick.
"Yes. Some. Why?"
"How much money, contained in what?" asked Dick.
The man stared harder yet, and looked uncomfortable.
"I keep my money in a leather bag with my initials on it."
"Gold, by any chance?" asked Dick.
"English gold," said the one-eyed man. He was satisfied by this time that Dick meant to rob him.
"What are the initials on the bag?" asked Dick.
"R.L." The man was speculating again, wildly now. Then Dick reached in his pocket and pulled out the little leather bag.
"Count 'em!" he said, holding it out.
The man chose not to count. He slipped the bag into his pocket, and his face expressed astonishment, apology, bewilderment in turn.
"May I reward your men?" he asked.
He held out the bag that Dick had given him, and for once in his life Dick did not understand. He actually blushed. The stranger, feeling very much a stranger, wilted.
"I beg pardon," he said.
It was plain that he still did not quite believe his senses.
"Won't you catch his horse?" said Dick, for most of the Afghans were clustered close to listen.
"My own servants ought to be somewhere near," said the one-eyed man uneasily.
Two of Usbeg Ali Khan's men lead the horse up at a walk, and held it while its owner climbed into the saddle clumsily; his hurts were stiffening.
"I'd like to do more than just say, 'Thank you'," he said, looking from Dick to Andry and then back again. "My name's Lancaster—Robert Lancaster."
"You might have mentioned that before," said Dick. "I am Richard Anthony."
A new world of understanding and a dozen mixed emotions swept across the man's face.
"If that's who you are, I can be of service," he said emphatically. "Will you come over to my tent? I'll be happy to give you some information."
"Information about what?"
"About the Okhrana."
"Never heard of it."
"Ever hear of the Princess Olga Karageorgovich?"
"Yes," said Dick, frowning.
"She's the paw of the Okhrana. Will you come?"
BY the time they reached the two white tents that glistened only one degree less than the myriad salt deposits, Lancaster had formed about as many false conclusions as one man well may form within one hour.
Then they all took seats on chairs and boxes in the larger of the two tents, and Robert Lancaster at once thrust out his muddy little beard as he found himself at a terrible disadvantage. Three pairs of calm, unfrightened eyes were leveled at him. He felt them read him to the marrow. And he had only one eye to answer back.
"Who's going to talk first, you or I?" he asked.
"You are," said Dick; and Robert Lancaster, nearly closing his one eye, became aware that what Dick said was so.
Lancaster fished inside an inner pocket which had escaped ripping by a miracle; he produced a hard case, drew out a clean card, and laid it in front of Dick, as if it were the ace of trumps. Dick picked up the card and recognized the name of a financial house that is nearly as well-known as some nations are. Robert Lancaster's name was in a bottom corner.
"I am their representative in Persia," he said.
"Banker is what I have called myself in Teheran for twenty years. Agent is what I am. That includes a lot of things. It includes, for example, the cultivation by means at my discretion, of intimate relations with certain of the telegraph people and others."
His one eye was watching keenly for signs of some effect on his audience.
"I know all of your recent history, Mr. Anthony!"
"For instance," he continued. "I know you are offered the command of the ex-Shah's army, in the third attempt he wants to make on the throne of Persia. You refused. You broke through the ranks of a Cossack Regiment that tried to arrest you, and put to sea in the teeth of a storm through which not even the gunboat dared follow you. Am I correct, as far as I have gone?"
"So far," said Dick.
"Then, believe me, Mr. Anthony, I am correct, too, when I say that your description has been telegraphed to every point around the Caspian, and every avenue for escape has been cut off. You are certain of arrest if you should try to move in any direction."
He pointed a finger at Dick, and looked along it with his one eye, as a man squints down a rifle barrel. Dick did not blench or answer.
"The Princess Olga Karageorgovich—I understood you to say you know who she is—has telegraphed to all points the offer of a reward of 5,000 rubles for your capture alive."
Dick looked interested, but was not moved to comment.
"Under all the circumstances, our meeting is the most fortunate thing that could have happened, and not to you only. I flatter myself that many, very many, will benefit by it later on. The point I'm driving at is this; from all accounts, you are a man worthwhile. If you had seemed an easy man to frighten or make use of, you would have been of no use to me. But a man who can break through Russia's hold as you did is the very man I have been looking for—is a man, Mr. Anthony, who can set me to writing cablegrams in code!"
He sat back and looked away, as if he expected Dick to arise and answer him; but Dick sat still; so after a minute he continued:
"Reasoning along the line that the Okhrana not not make such frantic efforts to capture a nonentity, I decided before ever I met you to befriend you if I could as a matter of business policy. The business policy remains, but a very strong element of personal regard is added to the motive for the offer I will make."
He might have been addressing three Supreme Court Judges. All three looked interested, and Dick by no means least of them; but Lancaster felt like the pleader for a weak cause, instead of what he was actually—a man of influence with influence to offer, at a price. Not one of the three was inattentive or indifferent. Yet no three men he had ever met had look so noncommittal.
"You said you had never heard of the Okhrana. It is the secret police of Russia. The Okhrana is the devil, busy about building hell—and the hell is here, in Persia, Mr. Anthony!"
Dick sat a little straighter, but said nothing.
"I invite you to wage war on this devil, Mr. Anthony—you, with whatever following you have as yet!"
"Is the invitation your own?"
"No, sir; my firm's. It shall be confirmed."
"And on whose behalf am I asked to fight?"
"First consider your position, Mr. Anthony," he cautioned, holding out that forefinger again. "You dare not go home, even supposing you could escape. There is a warrant out for you on account of the part you played in Egypt. You are a British officer. You see my information is complete about you—my telegraphic tentacles reach far and wide!"
"Here goes the first lie in your teeth!" said Usbeg Ali Khan, a rising and rattling his saber. "I fling it—I, who reported the whole of that affair in Alexandria to the authorities! There is no warrant for him, and there will be none. I told how he fought, and then fled from men who would have killed him because he knew too much, yet would not be one of them! They answered that my word was good. It is good now, and by the beard of the Prophet I swear I will ride anywither with him, and bear him witness in any court in any land. And I will fight beside him with this saber, wherever and against whom he sees fit to lead. My word is given. I am Usbeg Ali Khan!"
He sat down again, his white teeth showing a fierce, thin line between his black beard and moustache, and his very whiskers bristling with fight.
"I wish you had mentioned that before," said Dick. "I've been all this time imagining the British and Egyptian governments were both after me."
"Sahib," said the Afghan, proudly, "have I not spoken, now that there is need?"
"Thanks," said Dick.
Robert Lancaster, watching like a ferret with his one eye, and possessed of enough sense to toss aside conclusions when he found them wrong, decided that Dick Anthony was not a man to frighten into doing things. Dick, he felt sure, would have nerve enough to dare all the Cossack officers on earth, now that he knew his own honor to be safe.
"I suppose you'll go home, then, Mr. Anthony?" he said.
"I have three years' leave of absence," answered Dick.
"Then may I ask what you propose to do?"
"To listen. Weren't you making me an offer?"
"Yes. I was asking you to help Persia."
"What have you or your firm got to do with it?"
"We have many millions, Mr. Anthony, invested in northern Persia. We are ready and willing to spend more millions to defend what we have spent already. We will not, if we can help it, stand by and see Russia—nose-led by organized conspiracy—penetrate, and occupy, and keep, as she is doing in defiance of all promises and treaties." He leaned forward, and again the long forefinger pointed straight at Dick. "We have been waiting for a man—for the man!"
"To do what?"
"To lead whom?"
"I mean, Mr. Anthony, that the patriots, the few good, loyal men who love Persia and would fight for her, dare not show themselves for fear of Russia. Most of them are in hiding in the mountains—many of them not very far from here. Take command of those men, drive the Cossacks out of northern Persia by quick, stern action, and within two weeks you will have the whole of Persia at your back, and the Great Powers (goaded, remember, by finance) behind Persia. All that are needed are the courage and the initial heroic effort!"
"It's tempting enough," laughed Dick, "supposing, of course, that you could prove your authority for making promises. Your firm, I suppose, would ship arms and ammunition, and I haven't a doubt they could be smuggled. I'd like the adventure. But I must refuse as a British officer, if for no other reason."
Robert Lancaster detected a movement of Usbeg Ali's eye that gave him unexpected encouragement. He looked at Andry and read disappointment on the big man's face. So long as he could speak, Robert Lancaster could voice an argument.
"Will you talk to these patriots, Mr. Anthony and say a few words to encourage them?"
"Certainly," said Dick. "I'd be glad to talk to them. First, though, I need food for my men, horses and transportation."
"I was coming to that," said Lancaster. He turned to Usbeg Ali Khan. "You," he said, "are the least likely of the party to be recognized. Will you be good enough to take my horse and the message I will write to a place about ten miles away from here? My signature under a requisition will be enough to produce everything needed."
"I take my orders from Anthony Sahib!" said the Afghan.
"Go, please," said Dick.
Some twenty minutes later Robert Lancaster gave Usbeg Ali Khan repeated, definite directions, and the Afghan drove his heels in. The horse leaped forward like a shaft bow-driven.
IF Dick Anthony supposed that by escaping out of Russia into Persia he had shaken off the Princess Olga Karageorgovich, that was clear proof of his ignorance of women.
The Princess Olga had taken leave of him, a little ostentatiously, on the deck of the Russian tramp at Trebizond; and, though he had been certain that it was her voice whispering orders through a hole in a wall at Baku, he felt quite sure now that pride must have come to her aid and have made her see the impropriety of following him farther.
Fate piled the odds a hundred high against Dick Anthony when Olga Karageorgovich, princess of Russia, and arch decoy for Russia's underworld—whose power was the strength of the Okhrana, whose youth and beauty were twin foils for her ambition, loveliest, most versatile, least squeamish of all women—set her heart on him.
While Cossack officers still cursed the stern of the boat that disappeared into a Caspian hurricane, she was already sending telegrams. Questions and replies, orders and acknowledgments, Dick's minute description, even to his scars, flashed back and forth through a whole storm-shrieking night.
Five evenings later she and her maid applied their united genius to the task of dressing her for a ball that was all but quite official.
She danced with a dozen men whose breasts were a blaze of decorations, and she found her way at last to a sitting-out place between half tropical ferns and flowers on the arm of a man who wore no decorations.
"Well?" he asked, when he had satisfied himself that none could overhear. "Is this to be another Egypt? More millions of rubles, more promises, still less result?"
"I have done my utmost in each instance," said the princess, divining that she stood on the verge of danger.
"Certain other precautions have been taken this time," he said. "Anthony meets with approval—the very firebrand for the business!—But your plan goes into the discard. Yes, we have a better plan."
"Have I a part in it?" she asked with as little display of interest as she dared show.
"Yes, once again," he added darkly. "What do you know of Lancaster?"
"Nothing," said the princess, and the man beside her raised his eyebrows.
"Lancaster calls himself a banker, and is agent for big financial interests. He has missed no opportunity for the last three years of trying to find a leader for the so-called 'Patriotic Party' in northern Persia. He will offer Anthony what amounts to a kingdom. Being a British officer, Anthony will probably decline, although he may accept, in which case our game is one. But let us suppose that he declines. The play is then thoroughly to insult him and to force him to reprisals; I understand he is not the man to swallow an insult readily."
The princess chuckled. "He will fight!" she asserted.
"Anthony is to be harried from pillar to post, but never killed or caught until he had given us excuse enough for occupying northern Persia with two or even three army corps. Possession is nine points of the law, and——"
"And Richard Anthony is then mine!" said the princess unguardedly.
"No," said the grim man at her side, decisively. "By that time, Mr. Anthony will have ceased to be useful and will have grown dangerous. You shall choose his tombstone if you wish!"
AT the end of ten miles of savagely bad going. Usbeg Ali Khan's thoughts were interrupted by sight of a battered caravansary whose walls bought traces of more than one Cossack visitation in the shape of bullet-marks. The gate was shut, but he shouted and the man in charge came out to parley, only to be kept waiting while the Afghan made a keen-eyed survey of the ground. Then it did not sweeten Usbeg Ali's humor in the least that a Cossack officer should swagger out beneath the gate, look him over with studied insolence, read the latter, and nod contemptuous permission before he was admitted.
The keeper of the caravansary came down from the heights of arrogant suspicion to the deeps of grovelling servility, and the stables were thrown open that Usbeg Ali might make choice.
The horses, except for three of them, were a sorry bunch of crocks, and the men who lined up to go in charge of them were sorrier-looking yet. Their grovelling servility did no more than help to arouse suspicion latent in Usbeg Ali's Oriental mind and to put him, soldierwise, on the offensive. As he rode in he had seen the fresh dung and the hoof marks of two or three troops at least. He was quite sure they would not have left their unattended officer far behind or for any length of time. Therefore this was a plan and possibly a trap.
"So the Russians back in Baku know that we have landed, eh?" he reasoned. "For me—an Afghan—there would be no orders to hold hard. The Cossacks would have to leave to work their sweet will on me and my seven. They know Dee-k-Antonee has landed, and they have learned by telegraph a description of him and of his prowess that has turned their bones to water! So far so good!"
But his war-trained brain assured him that there had been a trap laid. Orders given in advance to stable hands, and troops of cavalry that galloped out of sight when one man came were proof to him of a preconcerted plan.
So, with a final cat-call of derision and a last peppery jest that included all Russia and all Cossacks, horse, infantry, and guns in one atrocious summary, Usbeg Ali marshaled his little party and set it clattering through the gate in the direction of the camp.
"Ho! Followers of Islam!" He flattered them at the limit of his soldiers lungs, well knowing that not one of the ragged ten deserve the title. "I lead you now to see a man of men, to see a warrior, to see a king, who landed in the morning mist with a sword hung at his side that once Iskander wore—Iskander—the sword of him who conquered the world."
Luck was all with Usbeg, as it usually is with men whose eyes are skinned and who's wit plays second to their pluck. Dick, who would have been furious had he guessed a fragment of the Afghan's game, and who would never under any circumstances have agreed to it, was all unwittingly setting the stage to rights and getting ready for a perfect climax.
Bored, as he always was when there was nothing strenuous and difficult to do, Dick bethought him of the boar's blood on his claymore. Usually Andry cleaned the sword and kept it brighter than a mirror; now Dick busied himself about the polishing and took his time to do the job thoroughly.
And while Dick polished, Usbeg Ali's brain was busy, at the center contriving new details of his plan. Like the Russian government, Usbeg Ali wanted Dick committed to a course. Unlike the Russian government, he wanted that course to be along the road to Kabul, and he prayed as did Russia, for an insurrection in the hills in order that Dick might be driven in the right direction.
He wanted this rabble of a post-horse party to be Dick's advance guard, the messengers of rumor, sowing rumor.
"Listen," he shouted, "followers of Islam!" And they loved him while they listened, because he accorded them a title to each none of them had any right; to a man they were rank backsliders.
"First, we will canter to the seashore where will be seven men of my race. So ran the prophecy! There will be seven Afghans waiting by the sea, with saddles, but no horses; with baggage, but no transport; with no sign of the ship that brought them, and yet with new, unsoiled shoes in proof that they did not march! Them we will take with us!"
They cantered in sight of the two white tents and swerved for the seashore instantly. For a mile or two then Usbeg Ali made strange signals as he rode; he assured them that he waved his arms to guard against witchcraft and powers unseen, and they grew less timid as they saw no seven Afghans, though their eyes could search the whole plain down to the seashore reeds.
But Usbeg Ali left off signaling. And suddenly seven armed men in turbans leaped from the long coarse grass and leveled automatic pistols at them in grim silence. Usbeg Ali gave curt orders in a tongue they did not understand, and the seven mounted. After that there was no chance of escape, for each of the seven had a dagger at his belt and the hand that twitched to use it. In silence, most unwillingly, the Persians rode the mile that lay between them and the tents, noting with fear-widening eyes a pile of baggage that was left behind, that there was no sign of a ship, and that the seven wore new shoes.
They rode very slowly, very grudgingly, but the mile rolled up, and the two white tents drew near, and a man with a drawn sword in his hand arose from between the tents to look at them.
True to Usbeg Ali's most minute description of him, with the Caspian sunrays glinting golden from his bare red head, a man stood as kings ought to stand, and smiled as a man should who is quite unafraid and quite uncovetous. He spoke in a strong strange voice that carried far, and a giant arose beside him from the grass. Usbeg Ali broke the spell with an Afghan oath, and the Persians broke and fled.
"What did you say to frighten them?" asked Dick. "And why aren't they headed straight for home?"
"Nay, sahib, it was none of my doing!" answered Usbeg Ali. "They fear the Cossacks behind them. And as we came they talked of an eagle, and of a man with golden hair, and of bloody war. There is an eagle overhead," he added, looking up.
"Why didn't you bring your baggage along?" asked Dick. "You'd better go for it, and we'll see how far we can travel before night. The mountains tempt me much more than the plain."
THERE was no pause in the game the Okhrana played, although there did seem a few days of peace while Lancaster led Dick and his party up over the spurs of the Elburz Mountains, traveling far more slowly than the "banker" wished because Dick would not overtax the poor, leg-weary horses. They had no means of knowing that a Cossack Regiment had taken advantage of their dallying to make a ring around them and precede them to the hills.
At a point where three hill spurs coincided at a ridge and the only passage to the mountain-range beyond was a neck of land, well wooded, that narrowed gradually to a notch of fifty feet between two cliffs, to open again into a natural walled amphitheater, the Russians bivouacked. And there, one by one, eight of the straggling, leg-weary victims of Usbeg Ali Khan's imagination strolled into the trap and were made prisoners. They were instantly recognized and flogged by Russian Cossacks for having deserted the Persian service. It was the crack of a knout and a victim's scream that warned the last two in time; they turned aside, climbed the unclimbable, preferring nearly certain death to the chance of Cossack mercy, and hurried to the mountains by a jackal trail. They reached a camp of refugees in a valley of the next range half dead and wholly convincing because they had been so thoroughly convinced themselves.
"Dee-k-Antonee is on his way to massacre them!"
They were telling their story for the twentieth time to a swarm of fierce, bearded men who listen with cocked rifles on their knees and cursed at the mention of the name of Russia, when Dick Anthony, blissfully unconscious of impending trouble, breasted the rise before the Russian's gap, riding at the head of his little party.
The old two-edged sword with its jeweled basket-hilt still hung from an old Sam Brown belt at his hip; and his mood as he rode was advertised by the tune he played for the rocks to echo back. He had his precious bagpipes out, and over his shoulder the beribboned drones were monotoning their fierce accompaniment to "Scots Wha Hae!"
"Halt!" rang a sudden order, and Dick halted. A Cossack outpost brought his rifle to the challenge, and the music ceased.
"Put your hands up!"
The soldier spoke in Russian, but Dick understood him.
"Shoot, if you feel that way!" he said in English; then he legged his horse forward, feeling nearly certain that the Russian would not dare.
At the sound of voices his whole party, except Lancaster and the baggage train, came cantering up. Then a Cossack officer showed himself in the middle of the gap and said something in a quiet voice to the man who had challenged; for answer, the rifle butt went to the ground again.
"Have a care, Sahib!" whispered Usbeg Ali. "See the smoke of twenty fires beyond the rise! They be many and we but ten, for Lancaster sahib is no fighter—he hides already among the baggage animals."
"Are you certain we are in Persia?" Dick asked.
Dick's strange eyes blazed, and had the Russian had the luck to see him once or twice in a fighting mood, as Andry had, and Usbeg Ali Khan, he would have called up his regiment then and there and finished the trouble before it could properly begin. But he made the mistake of thinking Dick an ordinary man; and he had his orders, which gave him very little latitude.
"For the love o' Scotland, give me a weapon, somebody!" said Andry in fierce undertones, and Usbeg Ali Khan slipped him a dagger. The rest loosened their sabers in the scabbards and looked to their automatic pistols when they judged the Russian's eye was not on them. Without another word to anybody Dick rode on and they pressed in cluster after him.
"Halt!" cried the Russian officer.
"For whom?" demanded Dick, still advancing. "Who are you?"
"I am commandant," he answered, "of this regiment of Cossacks, and at present I blockade this pass!"
He answered in English, and spoke fairly well, although without much fluency.
"On whose behalf?" asked Dick, advancing closer yet.
"On Persia's behalf," said the Cossack officer.
"Then show me your authority!" said Dick, still advancing.
"Here is my authority!" he smiled, pointing down the gap.
Down two sides of the natural amphitheater a regiment stood by its arms; a little farther off, amid the trees, the horses grazed at the end of picket ropes, saddled and ready.
"There is no road this way!" sneered the officer, doing his best to pick a quarrel on the first, directest line that offered. "We don't allow Britishers or Afghans or robbers of any kind!"
Dick had reached a sudden resolution, and before the Russian plan was changed or was in action and gaining speed. A leader who can lead by dint of being is all that ten good fighters lack to give them the advantage over numbers.
"Forward!" he shouted, and the cold steel cut a wide swath through the Russian ranks in the direction least expected. The Russian had expected in another minute to be shooting down the pass at ever-lengthening range, for it was fair to guess that Dick would retreat and try to get his party once more mounted. Their guess proved right, but in one way only—Dick charged like a sudden whirlwind for their horses and not his.
It was the football field again, the unexpected at an unexpected angle, by a resolute swift runner, well-backed up, and then, again, the unexpected. Each had a horse—even Andry had a horse—before the Russians were quite sure what the move meant.
Silent, except for drumming hoofs, the men swept down a forest glade, and this time the pursuers dared not fire for fear of hitting the remaining horses that were squealing at their picket-ropes.
The Persians, sniping from between the boulders, saw burst around the corner into view a ten-man party that, like the Duke of Wellington, would have been worth as many thousands to any side. They roared a welcome to them.
In a moment the rocks gave up their snipers, and a horde of savage riflemen swept down the hillsides, yelling, "Zindabad Dee-k-Antonee Shah!" In another minute Dick was riding in the midst of a surging mob that, mob or not, was sweeping the Cossacks back to where they came from; it was no longer a question of whether to retreat or not. The Russians were caught napping, outnumbered and intent on getting away. Within five minutes they had lost their commanding officer and fifty men.
At the head of a rabble that was fired by such new hope as to change it into stuff for making armies, Dick swept back through the amphitheater driving the Cossacks through it at the lower end. He reached the narrow gap himself in hot pursuit in time to see a woman gallop up, riding astride on a Cossack horse. He knew her instantly, and she knew him. She waved to him, and he did not answer.
He watched her gesticulating. He saw her rally the retreating Cossacks and get them to line up again. And then he saw her send one Cossack forward with a white flag. So he waved a handkerchief in answer.
"Bonjour, monsieur le bandit!" the Princess Olga laughed at him. "I have come to ask you for our Cossack wounded, and to offer you your baggage. Will you exchange? It seems we have no prisoners."
"Send my things and my men's along with Mr. Lancaster," said Dick, "and I'll have your wounded carried through the gap."
She sent the flag-bearer galloping back for Dick's belongings.
Dick watched the Cossacks lower down driving his pack-horses in a little timid bunch toward him, and then for nearly a minute looked at the princess, seeming almost to scorch her with his calm, strong eyes. She felt him read her inner secrets, and loved him the more for it.
"Dick," she said. "Let us play this game together!"
"You can do this," said Dick. "You can go back whence you came and tell your master, the Okhrana, that I am not its tool or fool. Tell whoever it is who owns it, the Czar if need be, that I will be the worst thorn ever Russia had in her side until Persia is free! I am an outlaw, am I? I will be one with a vengeance!"
"Dick! Dick Anthony!"
She made as if to put her arms out, but he answered with a grim salute and rode away.
DICK ANTHONY of Arran—Scots gentleman, with barely a shirt to his name, but with a heart that was unafraid—stood out alone where a spring splashed. One hand rested on a rock that looked not very much unlike a rough-hewn throne, and in the other was a jeweled claymore that had been forged in a forgotten century, but whose blade was as bright as silver.
Then, too, a grizzly, tremendous man with one arm in a sling rose out of the darkness from behind Dick and stood ready for emergencies, like Little John attendant on Robin Hood.
"Lie down again, Andry!" he ordered; and Andry MacDougal, who looked big enough to swallow him, grinned like a gargoyle and obeyed.
The unseen, undisciplined horde behind the shadows took its cue; the example was infectious, as intended, and once more the night breathed steadily.
Then a greybeard from the thousand armed men hidden amid the trees passed his rifle to another man and stepped out from the shadow of a mountain.
"In the name of Allah," he began, bowing low to Dick, "I speak for three thousand men of Iran in these mountains—all loyal men—who hide in fear of Russia. On those plains there are two or three thousand others—one with us at heart—who dare not make one cause with us because Russian guile and threats and bribery have rotted patriotic hearts. They hesitate—trusting nobody, and us least of all because—we have no man to lead us!"
"I have said I am a British officer," Dick reminded him. "I can advise you and I can stir public opinion until Great Britain for very shame must act in your behalf. But I cannot lead you."
"Prince!" said the old man, giving Dick a title that is only courteous, but bowing low to emphasize it, "our cause is just—our invitation personal to you. We do know dishonor to the man we asked to lead us!"
Dick Anthony sat still and laughed. It was a strange, far-reaching laugh, and musical as the devil made up of three separate inharmonies, and it had a weird effect as it went ringing through the night. It stirred the waking fire in Usbeg Ali now, and the Afghan rose out of the shadow.
"Lead them, sahib! Lead them!" he urged. "These men lack nothing but a leader such as thou, and their cause is just!"
The old Persian, who knew only Persian, sensed and understood. It seemed good to him to add Persian persuasion to the urging of the other two.
"Lead us against Russia!"
"Halt!" rang a sudden order through the stillness; and the same instant the whole night became alive the click of breach-bolts. Then silence—taut and fearful—followed. Not a man moved.
Then a new sound broke into the silence. A ragged outlaw, whose chief claim to notice was a rifle and a bandolier, came stumbling over the stones by the little water-course, running into the moonlight like a shadow shot out of the night.
"A woman!" he panted. "Two women—and two Cossacks—four in all: they demand speech with Dee-k-Anthonee!"
Dick was furious. Well he knew who was the only woman who would dare to track him through the Elburz mountain gorges to the haunt of Russia's enemies. The other could only be her maid. He had turned his back on the Princess Olga Karageorgovich at the head of a pass, amid Russian dead and wounded, fifty miles away, and he had thought every mile of the intervening climb worth while, because it was that much more trackless distance between him and her.
"Tell them they may go to—" he began.
But the shadows burst to pieces and the darkness shook as a thousand outlaws interrupted him and voiced one judgment.
"Stone them! Shoot them! Burn them alive." They are Russians—they come to win him over—take and burn them! Treat them as the Cossacks treated ours!"
"Silence!" thundered Dick, and his voice was like the sudden crashing of the elements.
His defiance rang to the farthest limits of the amphitheater, but not a murmur answered him. He had no notion how he looked, bare-headed in the moonlight; nor did he know what Usbeg Ali had told behind his back about his being Alexander of Macedon come to life again. He knew nothing in that minute except that he stood and faced a thousand in a ring of pale light beyond which he could not see.
The mob that had so long been weary of its lawlessness was beginning to have one mind and to be aware of it. For the first time it faced a man whose voice rang true—who dared dictate to it—who offered it no compromise, and only two alternatives—obey or fight!
"Prince!" said the old headman, bowing very low. "It is time, now, to give orders!"
"Zindabad!" yelled somebody with leather lungs. From opposite another yell answered him—than ten more—then a hundred. Then the timber on the hillsides shook as the whole crowd roared together:
"Zindabad Dee-k-Anthonee Shah!—Long live King Dick Anthony!"
"Silence!" he thundered, and instantly the whole glade seemed to ceased to breathe.
"Send men to bring those women in!" he ordered. "In my name—on my responsibility—let them be promised honorable treatment! Send the Cossacks back about their business. Promise them in my name they shall not be molested until they reach the Russian lines. Tell the women they shall have a bigger, more efficient escort to take them back again!"
They waited, thinking there was more to come, or perhaps an explanation. But Dick was not given to explaining things or wasting words.
Then the glades awoke to the birth of discipline. Men who had never yet obeyed, unless they were forced with whip or bribed, raced to be first to carry out the order, and it needed instant action to prevent a mad, undignified stampede.
"Zindabad Dee-k-Anthonee Shah!" they roared; and the woods and the hills were shaking to the thunder when a dozen men escorted two tired horses through the boulder-strewn gap, along the singing stream, into the amphitheater. On each horse sat a woman, astride on a Cossack saddle. Each was blindfolded, for that is outlaw custom the wide world over—designed far more to emphasize outlaw majesty than for the purpose of maintaining secrecy. The rear woman of the two rode heavily—despondently—dead weary and afraid; but she in the front had a high chin, and even the cloth that had been thrown over her head was made to lend her an added grace and the hint of coquetry, with an art that is born in some women.
Quietness shut down on them as they were led before Dick, and halted facing him.
"Why are they blindfolded?" he asked. "Are ye afraid of them?"
Unordered—uninvited—the Princess Olga Karageorgovich raised both hands and untied the cloth that hid her face.
"So, it is 'Zindabad Anthony Shah!' Already?" she said smiling. And, tired though she must have been, her smile was a thing to wonder at—to dare death for, if a man were built that way. "Oh, Richard, oh, my king—what did I tell you long ago in Egypt? Did I not offer you a kingdom then? Did I not say you were born for one? And now—after you have run away three times—what are you? Not Dick Anthony of Arran any longer, but of Persia!"
"Of Arran!" answered Dick, and she laughed at him with a musical, tinkling laugh that was not very much unlike a peal of silver bells.
Whether she was mocking him or not—and nobody could ever be certain of her mood—she was entitled to the outward forms of courtesy that ought to be the symbols of a man's own self-respect. She waited until he walked up to her stirrup, and she let him lift her to the ground.
"I have a word for your private ear," said the princess to Dick, "and I have ridden far and hard to tell it to you. You must make yourself King of Persia now, or hang! I am here to tell you how to do the one and to avoid the other!"
She thought that for once, perhaps he might be goaded into speaking first, and she waited; but he let her wait.
She wanted him furious—in a mood to take the bit between his teeth and dare whatever came of it—and herself enough in hand to guide him when he burst the bonds of self-restraint.
"Monsieur le superbe!" she called him. "You are going to need all your pride and resolution now—all your courage—all your brains."
"Meaning, I suppose," said Dick with perfect outward calm, "that you have invented a new game and hope to drag me into it. You'll fail."
"Mon sire," she laughed, "I can imagine you fighting with an ax! But never mind. I came for straight talking. This time the game is not mine; you are in the toils in spite of me and I am here to help you."
"I will have food brought you," he said stiffly, "and blankets if there are any to be had. You may sleep under the tree, and I will set a guard to see that you are not molested. One hour after dawn you and your maid go back to where you came from, with an escort big enough to deliver you safely at the other end. I have nothing to say to you. If you have anything to say to me you may say it here, and I will listen."
"You are in a net, Monsieur Anthony of Persia!" she mocked him, and pointed and accusatory finger that was meant to impress the crowd, for she could act best when her case was most difficult and desperate.
"You are a leopard who has changed his spots! A leopard trapped by Russia's secret government that has never yet let its victims go again! I—who confessed myself to you a member of that secret government—am here to help you. I am the little mouse who will gnaw the strands and let the leopard out!"
Dick laughed at her.
"The hunting won't last long!" he said, and the mockery in his voice was real, where hers had been acted. "A man took a letter for me late last night. Great Britain takes a hand next!"
"Shall I tell you to whom the letter was, and what you wrote?" she asked.
He did not answer her. Suddenly the painstaking completeness of the net began to dawn on him.
"You wrote to the British Minister at Teheran! You said——"
"Enough!" said Dick. "You intercepted it. What next?"
"Richard Anthony," she purred, "was drowned on the Thermistokles! The Russian government reported to the British government that his body was recovered, and then sunk feet foremost by a passing Russians ship! Who is this man who poses now as Richard Anthony of Arran? Who but an imposter, eh?"
The shame of the thought that his name was gone from him—that he might have to fight to prove his very birthright—overwhelmed Dick for the moment.
"There are others who know me—who can identify me!" he urged weakly.
"For instance—who?" she was mocking him again.
"Who—unless you—could have devised such deviltry?" demanded Dick. "Who but you could have devised it and then have the impudence to come here and offer help? Who but you would dare risk my holding you prisoner until——"
"Do it!" she burst out, leaping to her feet so that Dick stepped backward to avoid her. "Richard—my king of bandits—my king of wolves—my king-to-be—do it! Make me your prisoner and all Persia—all the world, if you will—is yours!"
She stepped toward him with her arms outheld, and he took no more steps backward; but as she came very close to him she stopped. It needed more courage than even hers to fling herself into Dick's arms then.
"I don't want the world," he said; and she watched his lips as if she expected something more. She watched him for half a minute and the listening darkness throbbed, for the dumb play was now obvious. So he answered the unspoken question, too.
"Or you, princess," he added quietly.
"But I want you, Dick Anthony! The Okhrana has you in its grip, and I love you—I would die, if you die! Only I can or dare help free you! I got you into the trap, but I can lead you out again! Already—Dick—already I have dared too much for my own safety, unless you listen to me! Dick, dear—I love you! I loved you back in the beginning, when we met in Egypt. I made the mistake of trying to make use of you because I wanted you great, as you deserve to be. I would die for you! I will die if you die! I have risked life and limb and reputation for you—and even more than those three, Dick. You would never guess the fate in store for me were the Okhrana to guess that I am playing false! Now, Dick, at this minute I am running the gravest risk a woman can run—offering to betray the Okhrana to you! Dick, dear—are you listening? Are you deaf? Are you insensible?"
But he bowed to her with the dignity that granted her acknowledgment in full of all her charm, and backed away.
"Are we enemies?" she asked.
"I would not willingly be any woman's enemy."
"Then, thank God, I am your friend!" she answered, speaking very gently—acting with all the power in her; death or success were the only possible alternatives in the fight she had entered on. "Truly—truly I am sorry that I ever interfered with you—that I harmed you! May I not try to make amends? May I not help you now? For I can help if you will let me."
"There is only one thing you may do," said Dick.
"Name it! I will do anything!"
"This. Tell the British Minister in Teheran, over your own signature or by word-of-mouth in person, that I am Dick Anthony of Arran—that I did not drown on the Thermistokles—that you were with me on that ship and knew me well. Assure him—as you can truthfully if you care to—that I am the victim of your damned Russian secret police—of the so-called Okhrana—and that I have done nothing of which a British officer need be ashamed. Ask him to allow me to surrender to him in Teheran and be heard in my own defense. You, and very nearly only you in Persia, can prove my identity and prove, too, how I came to be in this predicament. Will you do it?"
"Yes!" she said suddenly. And before she said it he knew well she was about to lie.
"Very well," he said, bowing punctiliously. "I shall make an opportunity to thank you—afterward. In the meantime, I will send you food. I hope you will sleep well. Fresh horses will be ready for you one hour after dawn!"
He turned on his heel, then, and strode into the shadow of the trees. Instantly he was surrounded by a hundred men—fierce, wide-eyed, hungry men—who wanted to know facts.
"What is it, prince? What said she? What is to be done with her? What news of the Cossacks? Was it truth—God's truth—that she is to be sent back unmolested?"
"If you think you are dealing with a liar," answered Dick, in no mood to be argued with, "you had better choose yourselves another leader! Myself, I would spit on a leader who lied—I would not follow him one furlong!"
"Then, prince—then thou art leader—leader indeed?"
"Yes," said Dick curtly.
No one word ever gave a thousand men more joy, nor set the treetops ringing to yell of greater exaltation.
"Zindabad!" yelled somebody with lungs like plates of brass.
"Zindabad!" a hundred echoed him. And then like a salvo of artillery there crashed across the amphitheater "Zindabad Dee-k-Anthonee Shah!"
They pressed around him. And as they looked through a gap between two treetops a sun-ray lit on him—the first glittering advance guard of another day—gilding his red hair and showing him in outline against the trunk of a great tree.
"Enough of that!" he said in Persian. "Enough of promises! Now for breakfast, and performances!"
They brought him the best they had to eat and at his orders fed the princess and her maid; wonder of wonders, they obeyed him to the letter and showed both women the strictest courtesy. Then, as Dick had promised, exactly one hour after dawn the princess and her maid set off on their return journey surrounded by an escort of fifty mounted men—every single mounted man, that was, who owned Dick as his chief.
"Will he not come and say good-by to me?" the princess asked.
"No!" they assured her. "Forward!"
"Nichevo!" she answered. "It does not matter! I will help him first, and he will thank me afterward."
A man rode back to report that little speech of hers to Dick.
"Do you believe her promises?" asked Dick.
"In the name of Allah, no! I believe nothing that a Russian says!"
"Then ride on—hold your tongue—and do your duty!" answered Dick, turning at once to Usbeg Ali Khan and dismissing the princess from his memory.
HE was a new Dick Anthony who turned to Usbeg Ali Khan when the princess disappeared through the gap that led out of the amphitheater.
"Usbeg Ali Khan!" he said in a voice that reverberated.
"I wish you to be second-in-command!"
The Afghan saluted him with dignity, but eyed Andry MacDougal sideways. Of Asia—deep-eyed, hard-bitten—he knew jealousy of old.
"Andry!" commanded Dick.
"Salute Usbeg Ali Khan!"
The great, grim Scotsman swung a hand like a semaphore and did as he was told. The expression on his wrinkled face as the freckles worked up and down was enigmatic; if he felt surprised, he certainly contrived to hide it, but if he felt pleased he hid that, too.
"You're third. You know no Persian. Your value lies in your loyalty and your soldier-training. If you could speak or understand Persian I would have made you second-in-command, but as it is I expect you to pick up a smattering of Persian if you can, and—er—always pay Usbeg Ali Khan the respect due to his position. No more talk about 'black men!' Do you understand?"
"Aye, I ken."
"I am a dead man, Andry! They've stricken Dick Anthony from the list—taken his name away!"
"Man—Mr. Dick—ye've only her bare word for it—mak' verra certain before ye leap at conclusions!"
"I've leaped!" said Dick. "She spoke the truth this time. I am a dead man. I'm going to be the livest dead man Russia or any other country ever buried! You're going to take orders from a ghost—you and Usbeg Ali!"
A quick survey, in the light of his new resolve, told Dick that he held a fist of trumps. Usbeg Ali Khan had been trained in war and lived in the hope of it; military drill and method—the art of making soldiers out of savages—were at his fingers' ends, and he had seven Afghan followers who had all served in the Afghan Emir's Army, where discipline is grim. Andry, too, was a soldier, trained in a Scots regiment.
"I am King Dick, am I? Very well! The game begins!"
Within an hour he had chosen seventy men from among the bandits, and in tens had set them to drilling under Usbeg Ali's seven. Seven, who have heart enough to follow one man all through Asia in the mere hope of a brawl, can do wonders when it comes to teaching others—particularly when the others want to learn.
IT was after dawn on the fifth day when a spent horse galloped by the brook into the amphitheater, and a ragged Persian fell from it—staggered to his feet again—and tottered to Dick Anthony.
"Prince!" he said, speaking with great effort. "Lo! A white flag met us! There was parleying! We gave them their two women, unharmed and with nothing taken from them. They bade us wait. She who is named the princess bade us wait, that we might be given presents. Lo! Even while we boasted, came the Cossacks and surrounded us!"
"Speak on!" said Dick grimly.
"Prince! God is my witness that I lie not! They took our white flag away. They took our horses. Lo! They tied us! They beat us dreadfully with knouts! Ten of us they shot and hung from treetops and the rest of us they tied together two by two!"
"And the rest are prisoners?"
"God is my witness that thirty-and-nine are prisoners, very badly beaten, and ill-fed."
"Oh!" said Dick; and the veins stood on his temples.
"Attend to that man!" he ordered; and a Persian who had been trained as hospital orderly in some mission station lead the messenger away.
"Form three sides of a hollow square!" commanded Dick.
He made each man turn into a common reserve every cartridge he owned more than thirty, and the reserve he ordered packed on the few mean pack animals that were in the camp. Each man was ordered to burden himself with a week's scant rations, and when the lines fell in again Dick passed along each rank and made them discard unnecessaries; whatever he refused to allow carried on the march he ordered cached, and he picked out ten old men to stay behind to guard the cache.
Then he sent Usbeg Ali Khan ahead with the advance guard, ordering them to fall back and command the left-wing when the enemy were once discovered and engaged. And so, he marched them down the mountain tops in a half-mile column, letting them grow used to the tramp of companies in step. Before long it amused them to feel the level places shake as twelve hundred feet would strike the earth together, then a hint of the strength of unity crept through the ranks, and Dick could hear—in the column's changing voice—the growth of a new heart in them.
IT was night and the Cossacks were sleeping—many of their sentries, too, were sleeping—when the storm burst. Instantly—before they were awake—men fought with wind and wet canvas in the drenching rain, shouting frantic orders that the thunder drowned—chilled to the marrow—disheartened—and a great deal more than half afraid, for a Cossack is not far removed from savagery and its superstitions cling.
Then a hundred horses, fastened together in a line, pulled their stakes free, and a minute later hell's delight was making as the hundred loosed themselves together through the frantic camp. And into that confusion, at the head of his twelve hundred, burst Dick Anthony!
The Cossacks tried to rally, but there was none to rally round. It was a butcher's work to fire into that mill; but war is war, and what the Cossacks suffered they had purchased at their own figure in advance.
That only a hundred and eighteen Cossacks died that night was due to Dick and his ability to bridle savagery. Galloping through the blackness, he found Andry—made him stop the wild pipe music that was maddening the Persians into fury—ordered him to make his men cease fire—then rode back along the line, picking out each officer and forcing obedience on him.
"Is there a woman in the camp?" demanded Dick in Persian, for he did not mean to let it be known that he knew Russian until he had exhausted all the possibilities of not seeming to understand it.
"No. No women!"
"Thank God!" muttered Dick between his teeth.
"There were thirty-nine Persian prisoners," said the same voice, "though where they are now God knows!"
"Find them!" demanded Dick. "Loose them and send them to me to be counted!"
"Who are you?" said the same voice. "To whom have we surrendered?"
"I am a dead man!" answered Dick. "I was drowned at sea and buried by the crew of a Russian ship!"
Then a commandant of Cossacks dragged his riding boots uncomfortably through the mud for four hundred yards and passed his sword hilt first to Dick, who took it and passed it to his Persian orderly.
"Provided my instructions are obeyed," said Dick, speaking Persian very slowly, "as many of you as are left may all go free at dawn. But any attempt to damage property—rifles, for instance—will result in your all being marched into the mountains and held indefinitely! Have I made my meaning clear?"
"Yes. I am memorizing what you say. My government will be interested to know what the actual words were."
Dick had won a bigger fight than anyone, but he took time to realize, although his men were not disposed to underestimate. The sight of eight hundred rifles—ammunition, tents, money, food, nearly seven hundred horses, a machine gun, swords, lances, and a mass of heterogeneous loot—enabled them to forgive the morbid-mindedness that let the prisoners go free, carrying their wounded.
WHEN the princess started into Persia on a trail that would have frightened nine men out of ten, and on a quest that ninety-nine men out of a hundred would have flinched from, a suggestion that the maid loved Andry would have met with ridicule.
So she rode out of Dick's forest glade without looking once behind her. She rode away with her eyes straightforward and did not see her maid look back, nor Andry, the tremendous, throwing kisses.
A night's rest under the protecting shadow of Dick's oak tree had revived her, and she rode at a pace and with a fearlessness that put the outlaw escort on its mettle.
Farther and farther ahead the princess rode; farther and still farther to the rear lagged Marie Mouquin; until at last a conversation started between her and a man who reined his horse into pace with hers, and dallied to keep her company. He knew enough Russian to understand her and to say the few things that occurred to him, but she began with the only Persian she knew, knowing that it was the key to conversation under the circumstances.
"Message back to whom?" he asked.
"That very big, great, ugly man!"
"Annreema—Doogeel?" he asked, for Andry MacDougal is not a name that lends itself to Persian utterance.
"Three hundred rubles are the price!" she answered. "Hide—follow me secretly to Astrabad—find me there—and take a message back—or no three hundred rubles!"
Down on the plain in the Cossack camp in the circling hollow of a hillspur, the princess had opportunity at last to show her temper.
"Surround the rabble that brought us here! Shoot ten of them and hang them to trees! Whip all the rest and put them in irons! Which ten? What do I care? Shoot any ten! Give Anthony something to simmer over up in those hills of his! Give me time to make Astrabad and then send one prisoner back; let him take an insolent message—one that will sting friend Anthony where he keeps his Scots pride! He needs rousing!"
At four in the afternoon of the second day, the cavalcade rattled and pounded into Astrabad, and the poor leg-weary horses dropped their heads, to stand blowing by a Cossack-guarded door. The princess sprang to the ground just as the knees of her own horse gave under it, and it lurched forward in the roadway dead; then, not troubling to thank or dismiss her escort, she half ran up the steps between two Cossack guards and disappeared through a door marked "Private—No Admittance" in three languages—Russian, Persian, French.
Two of the escort lifted the maid down and helped her to the steps where she sat with her head between her hands and waited until, at dusk, the princess came out again on the arm of a man in uniform. She was laughing, and the man—who, by the ribbons on his breast, was a person of importance—showed her a deference that seemed incongruous, considering her dustiness and saddle-tired dishevelment.
He waited for her while she railed the Cossack officer for looking more pinched and weary than his horse—dismissed the escort without thanks—and stood to laugh at the stiff leg-action as the weary horses trotted off. Then she took her companion's arm and turned with a little laugh at the dead horse that had carried her.
"Come along!" she said, with another shoulder shrug; and she did not trouble to look around once to see whether the maid came after her or not.
Marie Mouquin recovered after three or four days from the physical effects of her adventure in the hills, and, back again in favor for the sake of her good services as maid, sallied out to see things.
She began to scheme—to plan—to disguise herself and wander when she dared, and where she dared, about the city, hoping to pick up some thread or other that might lead to the solution of the problem she had set herself to solve.
It was late on one afternoon when she had gone, veiled like a Persian woman, to the outskirts of the city, and paused while a muezzin chanted from his tower.
"Allah is mighty!" boomed the voice above her.
The man paused and the city seemed to hush, waiting for him to begin again.
She looked up and see him leaning outward—gaping—his jaw dropped in astonishment and his hands clutched tight to the stone rail of his little balcony. She ran to the tower steps—opened the little door—and hurried, panting and stumbling, up the winding stone steps to the top. There she, too, leaned far out over the rail and stared in amazement at the site on the plain beyond.
There came a column of men, marching in fours, who hung their heads. It was most of a regiment, without its horses or its arms, dragging its feet painfully. It was led by a commanding officer who limped in tight riding boots, unclean, unshaven. There was no advance guard to announce that coming; they came in silence, overhung by a pall of powdery dust that seemed like the blanket of their shame.
"Dee-k-Anthonee has fought his first fight, and has won it!" went the murmur through by-ways and down passages; until the whole of native Astrabad was a-whisper, and a spirit of unrestfullness—a hint of the reawakening courage of a people—went abroad.
Marie Mouquin hurried down the steps and found her way to the palace where her mistress waited for her, fuming with impatience.
But she was stopped at the palace corner by a tattered man who plucked her skirt and pulled so hard at it that she was forced to turn and speak to him.
"Three hundred rubles was the price!" he said, pushing his face close to hers.
"Come back tonight—at midnight!" she ordered him. "There will be a letter ready to be taken back."
SO it happened that two letters reached Dick's mountain glade within an hour one afternoon; one was for himself and one was for Andry. One messenger had been sent by Dick before he assumed the chieftainship. The man had no means of knowing just what happened in the meantime, for the letter had been handed him with scowls; it bore the mark of the British Legation and a Russian frank as well.
Dick—mounted on a Cossack charger—was drilling horsemen, now, on a big flat parallelogram of ground beyond and above the glade. He leaned from the saddle—snatched the letter from the ragged messenger—and tore it open.
The letter ran:
My good man, whatever your real name and nationality may be, let me inform you that Richard Anthony, of Arran in Scotland, has been dead many weeks, and he was the last male of his line. You are, therefore, a proved imposter. Your letter was forwarded to me through the courtesy of the Russian authorities to whom—whatever your nationality or your pretensions, and whatever your offense against the law—I recommend you to surrender. I can take no official cognizance of you.
I am, sir, etc.
At the end was the penciled, scrawled signature of a man who would have risked life willingly to help an Anthony of Arran had he even half believed that a real Anthony needed help. Andry watched Dick's face from a little distance.
"Hoots! Hoots!" he muttered as he watched Dick now. "There'll be a stor-r-rm br-r-rewin'—a stor-r-rm worth twa o' any that's been yet! Ouay—weel I ken the signs!"
While he was still watching the second note arrived. The tattered messenger brought it to him in a cleft stick and held it out at arms length.
His face, when he saw that the envelope was addressed to Mr. Andry MacDougal, was a sight to have made all Asia laugh—mixed excitement, scorn for the spelling, and astonishment. He tore the envelope open under the eyes of a small army, whose attention had been caught by his grimaces.
Marie Mouquin wrote:
The Cossacks came this evening, without horses, without rifles, without anything. All Astrabad is excited. She says it is very good, but they say it is too bad. The telegraph now says that King Dick is too much and kill him quick. Positively yes, other Cossacks and artillery will march against King Dick very soon now. So, beware. Send and other man to me and I will send all the news. I paid this man three hundred rubles.
He walked over, grinning, to where Dick sat listening to Usbeg Ali's notion of a plan.
"There!" he said, holding out the letter. "That comes o' kissin' a wumman instead o' treatin' her wi' scorn!"
Dick read the letter, frowning. Then he tossed it back.
"All right," he said quietly. "Can you use that machine gun?"
"There's naethin' I'd like better!"
"Do it, then. Do you want men to draw it or horses?"
"Very well—choose the men. Take five hundred rounds tomorrow and practice at a target," said Dick. "How many men do the last arrival say the Russians have in Astrabad?" resuming his talk with Usbeg Ali he had left off.
"They say more than five thousand, bahadur, including guns."
"Good! Very well, Usbeg Ali. Get your seven together sometime tonight and give them a good talking to; put fire into them. But impress them with the need of exact obedience. And caution the men to be ready for a start at dawn the day after tomorrow. This time I shall serve out a hundred rounds per man, but otherwise we will march light."
"March on where, sahib?"
"On Astrabad, of course."
WHEN Marie Mouquin wrote Andry that the city of Astrabad was "excited" she omitted nine-tenths of the truth.
In the palace where the princess had her residence was the most disturbance. The situation was out of hand and the princess labored to regain control of it. She stormed; she showed authority in writing that made her responsible for all that took place on the Persian side of the border. The military granted it was genuine, saluted and refused obedience.
She sent telegrams, and so did they. Answers came to the effect that she, and only she, had authority to act and issue orders. By sheer weight of their count of guns and men their arguments began to have the better of it and by grudging inches at a time the princess yielded.
She wrote hurriedly:
Dick! Dear Dick! Escape at once along the mountain range to the unexplored country in the northeast! I cannot check the flood of indignation! You beat them to thoroughly! Run, Richard—run, and fight again! I cannot stop them from starting after you, with guns, nor from trying to capture and kill you this time. Run away to the mountain-tops in time!"
She sent the letter to the mountains by the hand of a man who she believed she could trust by the promise of a prodigious money bribe in case the man delivered the letter safely and brought back and answer.
The Russian military men—no lovers of the Okhrana that always made use of them, and always robbed them of the fruit of all their toil—made up their minds to strike fast and hard before the gathering storm of Persian rebellion could burst. They dared defy this woman; and the thought of rehabilitation in their own—the army's—and Persia's eyes was sweet.
She was present when they made their plan to send two regiments and a battery, and though she did not agree to it she contented herself by smiling enigmatically and saying nothing more against it. Later she wrote another note to Dick and sent it by a second messenger. Dick received neither message. A few hours before the Russian force marched out of Astrabad, he made his move.
He had seven hundred mounted men and fifty gallopers. There were more than a thousand men who marched with the steady thunder that betokens spirit as well as drill. And there were fourteen hundred new-joined infantry who might be counted on to help a winning side, but who would only handicap him in the case of a reverse.
Two letters from the princess and one from her maid sought Dick among the hills and kept ahead of the advancing Russians, while Dick marched swiftly—tired the horses out—and push the men to their last, leg-weary limit.
When he reached at last the lowest spur that overlooked the plain and the city of Astrabad was visible through a heat haze in the distance, Usbeg Ali rode ahead to tell him the exact condition of the force.
"But nineteen hundred men, bahadur! The wonder is the nineteen hundred a not nine!"
"Men who can march can generally fight!"
"Our proper course would have been, bahadur, to have rushed the city now, at once, while it is unprepared and before those soldiers can come back again. But heh! The men are weary, and the horses limp!"
"We'll rest here today and tonight!" said Dick. "And you may leave the selection of the proper course to me! How far back was it that a hundred and twenty men fell out in a body altogether?"
"That was last night, twenty miles away."
"Ay! They are good men. They swore they would rest and collect other stragglers and then follow. Will you go, then, Usbeg Ali—now—and take charge of those men? Make all the noise you can and seem to be as big a force as possible—extend your men, to that end. Get as near the city as you can. But, when your men want to run, let them; make it a retreat, if you can, and not a rout, but let them run and draw the Persians in pursuit. Then we will descend from this side and the city is ours. Do you understand me?"
"Then, goodby, Usbeg Ali!"
A LITTLE after dawn, Dick, watching through his glasses, made out Usbeg Ali riding at the head of somewhere near five hundred men, and he chuckled as he noted the formation.
Astrabad gave early warning of the trick's success. Dust rose above the house walls and betrayed the marching companies that concentrated in a hurry to oppose Usbeg Ali.
Dick—descending an hour later at the head of a long, extended line, and making no noise—was not observed until the space between him and Astrabad was less than between the Russians and the city. The Russians and Usbeg Ali were engaged and firing hotly before a lot of galloping and a hint of fresh formations in the Russian line warned Dick that he had been seen.
He sent all his infantry, and Andry with his machine gun, to Usbeg Ali's aid, taking the Russians on their flank and forcing them to stand or else be routed. Then, like an avalanche—reckless of what opposition might be left, and only thoughtful of the end in view—he launched himself at the head of his horsemen and swept straight on Astrabad.
By the time that the Russians realized that Dick was really headed for the city, Andry's machine gun had added its hell-stutter to the rest, and then Usbeg Ali galloped to the newcomers and placed himself at the head of the whole advancing force. After that there was nothing for the Russians but a grim, determined stand if they hoped for a less than rout or else surrender.
And while they lay to fire, and set themselves doggedly to show mere outlaws how trained soldiers can recover a setback, Dick galloped past them out of range—rode on, and on to the city gate. He had expected to have to take the gate, but Persians flung it wide for him, to yells of "Zindabad Dick Anthony Shah!"
There was never a king returning from conquest who received a greater ovation or a gladder one then Dick Anthony when he entered Astrabad.
There was no need for Dick to waste time visiting the Russian barracks, nor any need for threats; the Persians flocked to him, begging to be given orders. "Horses!" he demanded; and they ran to bring all the Russian horses they could find.
The word went round, and they broke down the doors of Russian magazines and piled the contents on Russian wagons. Then he led his column through the streets past the palace where the princess and her maid still stood before the door.
"Help!" they screamed. "Help!" And again, since they were women and he a gentleman, he took notice of them, coming to a halt.
"Will you leave us to the mercy of the mob?" asked the princess.
He recognized the certainty of what would happen should he leave the Russian women there. He said nothing, but he rode close to the steps and took the princess underneath the arms. She sprang, and he swung her up in front of him.
"My king!" she murmured, as he wheeled his horse, but he did not seem to hear; he was watching a Persian horsemen gather up her maid.
"Forward!" he ordered then; and for the next ten minutes the Princess Olga Karageorgovich was much too busy keeping still and clinging to find breath for words or brain for choosing them.
Dick stopped outside the city long enough to let them bring a mount each for the princess and her maid. He helped the princess spring into the other saddle. Then he spoke to her.
"Do you see that hill?" he asked, pointing to the north where the Atrak river marked the distant boundary of Russia.
"Yes," she said quietly—evidently not expecting what was coming next.
"Ride to it and wait there! Make straight for it if you value your life! Your countrymen—or as many as are left alive of them—will join you there presently! I'm off to round them up!"
She stared hard at him, refusing to believe her senses, but he spurred away from her.
USBEG ALI rode up grinning, to salute Dick and get a word of praise from him.
"You did well, Usbeg Ali!"
"Sahib, I did my best! Now what's next?"
"Back to the mountains where we came from, Usbeg Ali! We are brigands yet—not kings! D'you want to be caught like a rat in a trap in Astrabad and be blown to pieces by artillery? We're at war with Russia—with the world for all we know! We're outlaws! We're off!"
AS he watched the stricken enemy slink off toward the skyline and knew there would be vengeance later on, Dick Anthony no more feared the future than he thought of flinching from his own half-drilled rabble.
He admitted to himself now that his two quick victories within a week meant little more than two spur-marks on Russia's hide. He had to stir if he was to save Persia from the Russian yoke! Action, and only action—swift, unexpected and well-planned—could help him in Persia.
Russian dead and wounded lay scattered over two square miles of plain, and the walled city of Astrabad lay helpless for the taking.
His ragged line stood still gazing in wonder at him in the flush of his new success, gaping belief, now, more than ever of Usbeg Ali Khan's wild story, that made him Alexander of Macedon reincarnated. But he cantered down among the spaced-out companies, letting the sunlight flash along the blade of his strange jeweled claymore, and his voice was like the cracking of great whips, as he made his will known, his seat in the saddle that of a man who is obeyed.
"Back!" he ordered, "back to your hills again!"
"Let them loot, bahadur!" Usbeg Ali Khan advised, riding up to Dick's side.
Dick wheeled on him, spinning his big horse in one of those swift movements that were as disconcerting as they were characteristic.
"I made you second-in-command! What are you doing here? Take the left wing and answer for your men's behavior! Join your command, sir!"
Without another word he spurred to the far end of the other wing where his seven hundred horsemen were drawn up and Andry MacDougal leaned, swearing soft, endearing oaths at the machine gun.
"Where awa', Mr. Dicky?"
Dick reined in and the huge man laid a hand on the charger's withers.
"Back to the hills, Andry. Are your men in hand?"
"Then lead the way! Lead off with your gun! Back along the way we came!"
"Man! Her that's waitin'-wumman on the princess yonder!"
Dick scowled at the horizon. A cloud of dark dust curled and eddied above a low hill and stampeding Cossacks; beyond the cloud, he knew, was the princess who had interfered and played with him until he was outlaw who had once been proud Scots gentleman. It was only human to connect the princess and her maid together in one comprehensive loathing, and to forget for the moment that the maid had fallen victim to Andry's gargoyle charms—that she loved the huge man—and that she had already given proof of her devotion.
"Did you hear my order?"
"Ay! Stan' by y'r traces, there! Take hold!"
Sixty tired men sprang from the ground to do his bidding instantly, and Dick rode on to where all the Russian reserve ammunition lay piled on commisariat wagons, horsed from the stables of Russian officers.
"Forward!" he ordered, pointing to the hills, and the cavalcade began to move.
At the far end of the other wing Usbeg Ali swallowed his own thoughts of plunder and forced Dick's will on men whose ideal might be Persia liberated, but whose immediate yearning, like his own, was for the loot in Astrabad bazaars.
"Bismillah!" he muttered in his beard. "The fellow strokes his stubborn chin, looks up once to heaven, and then knows what to do! I tell tales of him that I invented and the tales prove true ones! I prophecy about him, and the prophecies come true! Who am I that I should doubt the hand of Allah! Nay—I am a soldier and I have my orders!"
He rode like a thunderbolt, once up and once again down the line, shouting for close order; and since close order presaged movement of some kind they obeyed him readily enough.
Dick halted where the foothills rose abruptly from the level land, and the horses could no longer drag the heavy wagons fast enough to keep up with the climbing infantry.
He ordered the wounded taken from the wagons where they lay on the cartridge boxes. He ordered bough-litters made for them, and told off carriers. Next, out came the cartridge boxes, and he served out two hundred rounds a man. There were thousands on thousands of rounds left over, and he had them packed on the horses. Then he ordered:
"Haul the wagons by hand along the ridge! Draw them up in line!"
They obeyed him, wondering. In full view of the distant city they arranged a barricade of wagons, overturning them and locking each to each until the whole was like a wall.
"Now guard them for me until my return!" Dick ordered, riding down to where the rearguard watched inquisitively. Usbeg Ali stared wide-eyed, but Dick bade him lead the advance guard now straight up toward the mountains.
"Lead off with the horse!" he ordered. "Throw out a screen ahead and on either flank. Wait for me unless I have caught up before you reach the fifth mile."
Dick shut his lips tight in a way that Usbeg Ali was beginning to recognize for the abrupt, blunt end of argument. He saluted and rode away.
"Now! 'Tention! Listen!"
They had been leaning on their rifles, but the crack and resonance Dick gave his words brought them up standing like drilled men.
"Yonder in Astrabad there are not many Russians left, but those we have just worsted may rally and return. They are likely to. I am going on, a day's march from here. If you are attacked you may send a man to warn me. Meanwhile you—Yussuf Ali—command this rearguard. Stand here and defend this position and these wagons until I come back. Don't trouble to conceal yourselves. Light fires tonight; let the Russians know where you are; and the best way to avoid attack will be to make the Russians think you are more numerous than you are. To the wagons—forward—march!"
Five minutes later, he left them digging trenches with whatever tools they could improvise, and he rode away with no doubt in his mind that they would stay there.
"Forward!" ordered Dick, riding to the head of the remaining infantry. Up, up Dick led but said nothing and no answered questions. Not even when they came on the advance guard, waiting for them on the plateau, and Usbeg Ali Khan rode back to report the trail all clear, would Dick give any details of his plan.
He called a halt at last when he reached the brow of a cliff that overhung the plain, and pointed to a fringe of trees behind which they might lie and rest.
"No camp-fires now! No watch-fires tonight! No noise! Eat your rations cold and sleep where you lie!" he ordered.
"Bahadur, I am second-in-command; may I not know the secret?" asked Usbeg Ali. "Am I likely to betray a confidence?"
Dick smiled. He knew well the Afghan's loyalty. But he knew, too, who had told those utterly amazing tales about Iskander come to life again, and he judged that such poetical imagination would be better not too freely fed. Dick wanted his army quiet—incurious—at rest.
"There's no secret, Usbeg Ali. I've got suspicions by dawn I'll know the truth. Help me pick watchmen now! Use all your wits—we need eyes, ears and silence!"
Then as Gideon once did in Bible story, Dick took steps to choose a handful from his host on whom he could depend. He and Usbeg Ali walked here and there, here and there, in and out among the companies, looking for men whose eyes were bright still, and who are not too tired to answer jest with jest.
It took them two hours to pick a hundred and fifty men; but at last they had three fifty-man platoons to take the strain in turn, and then they pushed a living fringe far forward, beyond the low foothills to the hot plain. Dick posted them, though Usbeg Ali went with him to see, and Usbeg Ali listened to the orders that he gave; but the Afghan learned little.
"Now for the closest watch that ever army kept!" commanded Dick. "The man caught nodding dies! The first man to get information wins promotion on the spot! I'm short of good sergeants!"
"We will watch as the night birds watch for mice!" they promised.
"Two hours!" said Dick.
"Two hours, and then relief for four—then, two hour's watch again!"
When the last fixed post had been attended to, he and Usbeg Ali walked back through the gathering gloom to the foot of the overhanging cliff, where Dick had ordered a grass bed made for himself, raised on four cleft sticks.
"I'm going to sleep here," he said, "where they can find me quickly. Go up to where the men lie; sleep until dawn!"
"It is an order, Usbeg Ali!"
So the Afghan went, regretfully—almost resentfully—yet sore-eyed from long wakefulness, and soon his snores sang second to Andry MacDougal's rasping salutation to the sleep god. The whole host was sleeping almost before the sun went under, and none but the shadow-lurking outposts saw four horsemen, one by one, go racing along the plain at chance, uncertain intervals.
Dick's orders were for silence and no attempt was made to shoot the gallopers; three slipped by untouched. So the fourth man, riding within sound of the third's hoof thunder, gathered confidence. He rode full pelt into a trap. They tripped his horse with a pegged rope, and pounced on him to strip him, and whether he broke his neck in falling or they broke it for him they reported him to Dick as dead. When they had torn every strip of clothing from his body they discovered a letter tucked in his sock, and hurried to Dick with it, quarreling as they ran as to who had earned the reward. Dick—leaping from his bed before they were within ten yards of him—promoted all five instantly.
Then he struck match after match, and burned his fingers in his eagerness to read the message, chuckling to himself and thanking the god of good adventurers because he knew enough Russian to understand the fifty words scrawled on a piece of unofficial paper. No need of an interpreter! No one to share the news! Nobody, then, to warn the Russians! For the hundredth time his trick of keeping silent had served him well!
At dawn, when the drifting, greyish mists were rising to proclaim the hour of prayer, he found Usbeg Ali Khan—adventurer, idealist, true believer—rising from a prayer mat facing Mecca.
"Look!" said Dick, pointing through a rift in the mist to the plain below. Something moved, slowly, like a darker bank of mist amid the rest—half a thousand feet below, and ten miles distant—noiseless apparently, and yet there was a hint of something that suggested thunder.
"By the blood of Allah's prophet!" said the Afghan. "Guns!"
"In a few hours we will have guns!" answered Dick.
NEVER, probably, since in the dawn of ages Asia first began to writhe under the hates and loves, the devilish desires and passion-bred wars of individuals, had the hot plains outside Astrabad seen fury such as rent the Princess Olga Karageorgovich while Dick's little army wound its way towards the hills.
"Cowards!" she screamed. "Curs!"
She turned them, though it took two hours. She brought them to a halt at last—rallied them—faced them about—and lead them back; and how she did it, only she knew. There were men behind her when she came whose faces streamed blood where her whip-lash had descended; there was an officer whose blood ran in his eyes. They followed her like little beaten dogs, tramping in fours as if in leash, too dazed and frightened to remember anything, or to do anything but obey her dumbly and march numbly at her bidding back to Astrabad.
They were challenged—brought to a halt outside the gate.
"Open!" she ordered, and the gate swung.
So she rode in at the head of a little more than two half regiments, reckless of the dead and dying on the plain outside and thoughtful only of Russia's grip that must be reclenched on northern Persia. Gone was her passion for Dick Anthony—gone up in a blaze of anger and replaced by a hate for him that was inhuman in its devilish determination. Gone was the thought of serving Dick by playing the Okhrana false—gone any hope of seeing him king.
Not a minute did she waste. The wires were down and the Caspian cables cut; she had the field all clear, and none now would be likely to oppose her orders. She seized new buildings for the Cossacks, raided the bazaars and seized an ample supply of food, arrested twenty of the leading citizens and whipped them—set Astrabad a-thunder with the preparation for new, resolute beginnings. Then, looking out toward the foothills from a high muezzin's tower, she saw Dick's line of wagons and believed that he intended to entrench himself in that position.
"Idiot!" she laughed, gazing through the binoculars. "He waits for me! I must smash the wagon barricade with guns!"
But the guns had been sent to harry Dick in his former fastness up in the Elburz mountains.
"Gallopers!" she ordered. "Four! No six!"
She wrote a letter, and made six copies of it, ordering the guns to hurry back and not wait for their escort, explaining in fifty words that Dick Anthony was entrenched near the city, and that therefore the road below the foothills must be clear. She sent them one at a time at intervals, in case of accidents. Two got by unobserved. The following three were seen. It was the last man whose letter reached Dick Anthony.
WREATHED in the rising mist, Dick Anthony stood silent on the cliff's projecting lip and gazed through binoculars.
"Bahadur!" said Usbeg Ali, drawing nearer now respectfully, yet somehow with a hint of insolence. He was angry that he had not been consulted.
Dick closed his binoculars, snapped them in their sling-case, and faced Usbeg Ali at last with a good-humored smile that made the Afghan wish he had not spoken.
"I'll trouble you to get your men in hand Usbeg Ali. Get a thousand hidden along the ridge to our right—that ridge that reaches out across the plains. You'd better hurry—the gunners won't be long about breakfast. Wait! Play a waiting game! When they get well within range, open on them; they'll limber up and retire to look for their supports after they've answered with a round or two. Leave 'em to me then. Don't follow—pepper 'em at long range. But don't break cover!"
So, while the gunners ate their breakfast, there crept between them and Astrabad a long line of Persians who had a crow or two to pick with Russia.
A trumpet sounded. Leisurely the gunners seized their reins and mounted. They started at an easy walk—six guns, one following the other, with an extra ammunition wagon to each gun and a considerable convoy of provisions.
A second trumpet sounded for the trot, and for perhaps four hundred yards the column jogged and bumped along, with heavy wagons jolting in its wake, making the dull, rumbling thunder that rides ever with artillery. Then, an officer of the advance saw something on the ridge ahead that awakened his curiosity.
Instead of sending an alarm back and letting the guns halt until he had investigated, he galloped ahead alone; and as he spurred—timed to a nicety—Dick Anthony led his seven hundred horsemen at a walk behind the other ridge. Now, the Russians were between two hidden bodies of an enemy and absolutely unsuspicious of the fact.
The officer rode on and nothing happened. He reached the edge at a point where low bushes crowned it. He rode over it and disappeared. Nobody heard that yell for help as he was dragged from his horse and knifed; nobody saw his body again, for the jackals finished it that night.
The rest of the battery continued to advanced, sublimely ignorant of twitching fingers curled over triggers and of a machine-gun whose mechanism purred to the testing of a canny, careful Scot. The Cossacks loosed their tunics—lit their pipes—and some of them began to sing.
It was that other sense all savage people have—that wordless intuition of impending danger that brought the advance guard to a halt at last within a hundred yards of the ridge. They halted first, and then an officer called "Halt!" without exactly knowing why.
The order had but left his lips when a rifle shot made the word his last one; and then instantly the whole long ridge became a line of spurting flame and there was no advance guard any longer—only a row of horses that stood patiently and one loose horse that galloped back. Heads appeared above the ridge, and yells that made the blood run cold were raised in a sudden storm of sound.
The Russians unlimbered and got into action with a speed that did them credit, and there were enough men left to man each gun and send a withering dose or two of grapeshot shrieking on its way across the ridge.
But Andry's machine gun opened on them pip-p-p-p-ip-ip-ip-p-pip-pip! In a storm of bullets that seemed to slit the very universe in fragments, and that rattled off the barrels of the guns like hail on a window, the Cossacks hooked their teams up, turned and fled—back in the direction of the mountains—back to meet the infantry who should be hurrying hot-foot to catch up to them.
They rode straight towards Dick Anthony. He loosed but half his seven hundred, and rode straight at them! There was sword-work before the guns were taken. A major of Cossacks, maddened at losing the battery that represented all the pride he had, singled out Dick and met him half way, blade to blade. The odds were on Dick Anthony the minute they touched points.
But a Cossack rushed to his major's aid, and Dick's good charger groaned, hamstrung and helpless. A Persian shot the Cossack dead as Dick dismounted, but the Russian major's sword missed Dick by the breadth of a breath of air.
"Surrender!" he yelled; but he gave Dick no opportunity to yield. Instead he rode in with a rush, to make an end.
Dick sprang, if a man may be said to spring whose movement is too quick to see, crossed the horse in front, and seized the major's leg. He could have killed him then and there, for the horse raced on and Dick's grip was unbreakable.
The next thing that the Russian new was that Dick's foot was on him and a claymore's two-edged point was at his throat.
Dick called half a dozen men and ordered one of them to snatch the major's sword away.
"Now, bind him hand and foot!"
He looked once keenly at all six of them, memorizing faces; each new he could pick all six again out of a thousand should he wish to.
"I hold you six answerable for him!"
He had time to look around him then, and in a second his calm humor left him. His eyes blazed again and his lips became a straight, hard line. His Persians were butchering their Cossack prisoners! Dozens lay dead among the gun-wheels and under the legs of the horses. Fifty more were lined up, ready to be shot, and he was just in time to fling himself in front of them, and stopped the folly that would have turned his battlefield to a shambles and his victory to a crime.
MIDNIGHT found the Princess Olga Karageorgovich chin on hand, staring at the distant Persian watch-fires that danced before a row of upset wagons.
She believed Dick Anthony behind that row of fires.
Reasoning, in her wild, swift-twisting way, ignoring facts and trusting only prejudice, she had deduced, that Dick was afraid to keep the city he had won. She believed him now to be waiting for reinforcements, and perhaps to be arguing with a swarm of discontented men. The only alternative suggestion she could make was that he meant to watch for the returning guns and then slip back to his mountain-top where he would think that he was safe.
She wrote another message and sent six more gallopers careering through the night, and this time each bore a little map that showed the line of Dick's probable retreat. The infantry were told, instead of following the guns, to climb into the foothills—hunt for Dick's trail—and lie on it in ambush.
Feverish hands, she knew, were laboring at the wires that had been cut. Within an hour from midnight she expected to be in touch again with Petersburg and the secret, swift pulsing heart of half the world's treachery. The Okhrana then would have to know what the outcome of the plan was to use Dick Anthony.
The thought was disquieting.
But that thought brought others, and it seemed to her she had won! From the first the plan had been to make Dick Anthony an outlaw, so that Russia—or rather the Okhrana that is Russia's bane—might have excuse for bringing down more troops to Persia. What more excuse was wanted for the invasion of Persia by an army corps?
She began to see now that her vengeance on Dick Anthony might be accomplished better while at the same time making her own position doubly strong with the Okhrana.
Through the dark, stifling streets she ran swiftly, though entirely unafraid, to a palace that had been assigned to her for quarters before she and the military came to loggerheads. There in a strong-box that was screwed to a heavy table, there were papers that contain the whole Russian dispositions as well as a chart of Persia's weaknesses.
She opened the box now and chuckled as she drew her finger over the map, sweeping every other minute at the moths that fluttered against the lamp or fell singed on her secret papers. Suddenly she slipped the map back in its envelope and called her maid.
The princess pointed to a chair at one end of her desk, and the maid sat on it, leaning both elbows in front of her.
With deft fingers, now, she took dictation, writing in longhand, but so swiftly that the princess scarcely had to pause. The princess spoke with her eyes on the wall in front—as if she were focusing the future—and she did not notice that Marie Mouqiin had inserted carbon-paper underneath the sheet she wrote on.
Sheet after sheet was filled. Sheet after sheet was laid on the blotter; but a carbon copy of each sheet fell into the maid's lap, and in a moment when the princess paused to think, shifting in her chair restlessly and glancing to a shuttered window, the sheets were rolled up and slipped into a stocking.
At dawn, they brought word that the wires had been repaired. By that time Olga Karageorgovich had a message ready, written in code, and hers was the first message that went through. It stated after asking that the army corps be started on its crawling way, that a letter giving fuller and important details followed; and the letter started, one hour later, in the pocket of a man whose orders were to kill as many horses as he could by galloping.
But before dawn, another messenger had gone off in a different direction; he bore a copy of the princess's letter, and the original of her secret map. Stowed with them in the envelope was a sheet on which the maid had poured her heart out in what she thought perfect English, and the whole was addressed in a rambling hand to Monsieur MacDoogle, chez monsieur Richard Anthony.
"MODERN guns, bahadur!" exalted Usbeg Ali. "Nearly automatic! Non-recoiling—no need to re-aim after each shot! A little intricate, the mechanism, yes—but shooting with such guns is easier to teach! Maneuvering? Ah—that is different, but we have picked our best men; they can already ride, and the teams are good! We are an army, now, bahadur—we have guns!"
But Dick knew they were very far indeed from being an army yet. He knew that two regiments of infantry were hurrying to overtake these guns he had just captured and that he must deal with those regiments within a few hours.
The Russians had all that he had not. They had even aeroplanes and wireless. He might expect at any time, he thought, to see a dozen aeroplanes circling like kites to mark him down; and he had heard too much from the princess about an army corps all ready to cross over the border not to believe in its existence.
"Get those guns hidden along the ridge!" he ordered. "We'll wait here for those Cossack regiments."
But he was not destined to fight two battles in the same place. Dick had hidden his six canon in ambush; Usbeg Ali Khan and the other Afghans were busy teaching their beginners the A, B, C of gun-practice; a screen of scouts had been thrown out in four directions, and Dick was busy taking stock of the contents of the captured wagons when the man appeared over the brow of a gentle rise—halted in doubt—and was brought down at long range by a rifleman.
Within ten minutes the dead man had been stripped and his letter was on its way to Dick. In the princess' usual style the letter was unaddressed, though it bore her scrawled initials. Dick tore it open—read the message to the Cossack infantry, ordering them to take to the hills and lie in ambush there—frowned, folded it, tied it in a cleft stick in a way that is customary all through the east—and called a horseman.
"Take this letter. Ride until you find the Russian infantry. Give it to their officer commanding. Say you had it from the Princess Olga Karageorgovich!"
Within an hour Marie Mouquin's messenger rode into view and threw up his hands in the nick of time.
He gave Andry a big envelope, and Andry passed it to Dick without so much as looking at it.
"It's yours," said Dick. "Open it!"
One by one, with awkward fingers that were more used to heavy labor, Andry drew out a letter from the French maid to himself, a folded map and twelve sheets of closely written carbon copy. He passed everything to Dick except the letter.
Dick sat on an ant-hill, pouring over the map and comparing it paragraph by paragraph and line by line with the carbon copy of a letter, his eyes glinted as he recognized the unmistakable genuineness of the map and letter, both; he recognized careful workmanship, and most ingenious pains in the provision for a constant succession of brigades on the march southward. And with an instant genius that is born in few men, and that cannot even be acquired by most, he laid his finger on the weak spot before he turned two pages.
"Look here, Andry!" Dick exclaimed. "Look here, Usbeg Ali! Where's Usbeg Ali? Send him here. Look at this, both of you. See? This is the track of the gunboats and other steam.craft that are to bring the first division by water. They're to deliver their loads in Astrabad bay and then return for more. See what it says here? Shallow water! See this footnote? 'Water growing shallower every year.' Note the provision for floats and native craft to be collected and kept in Astrabad bay to help the troops ashore?"
The Afghan was staring at the map over Dick's shoulder, running fingers through his beard and striving hard to make sense of what was altogether strange to him.
"Take it and look at it!" said Dick, pushing the map into his hands. "It's all planned for an advance, isn't it? Do you see the slightest preparation, anywhere in one particular, for a retreat? What would happen for instance, if it were attacked from this direction?"
"In the name of Allah the Compassionate, bahadur, this is the gift of God! The Russians are delivered into our hands!"
"Not yet quite, Usbeg Ali! But you see the idea? They've made a foil of us—they've used us as a good excuse for the advance; and once they get here—provided we stay still—they'll have us shut in at their mercy. But we needn't stand still. We can take the fight to Russia, and that, my friend, is what we are going to begin doing this afternoon!
"Usbeg Ali," continued Dick, "hurry, please, and pick me out the best four hundred men we have—four hundred diehards to lead on a forlorn hope!"
"You will invade Russia with four hundred?" laughed the Afghan.
"Surely," said Dick. "I want you and the rest to hold those two Cossack regiment's in check behind us."
THERE had been too many messages, too much ordering and counter-ordering, for the officer commanding the two Cossack regiments not now to be thoroughly on guard.
His scouts reported the approach of Dick Anthony's men long before half of his preparations for an ambush were complete.
Long-range firing began at once, but it served him to do little more than disclose to Dick the nature and extent of the defenses. The first inspection satisfied him that he might well take his four hundred horsemen away, for this was a clear case for infantry and guns.
"By the wagons, he's provisioned for a few weeks, Usbeg Ali! Lay siege to him!" ordered Dick. "If he surrenders, take him and his men up to our camp in the mountaintop and keep him there; otherwise, keep him hemmed in and busy. I shall be perfectly satisfied if I find him in the same place when I get back."
The four hundred rode off, and the only man who had the least idea of what their destination might be, or of the nature of the work ahead, was Dick, who rode in front of them.
He rode ahead for a mile or two; and then, since he did not know what new plans the princess might have made, nor what reinforcements she might have summoned, he sent twenty men along in front of him, under an Afghan officer who knew to an ounce, or a mile, the endurance of a horse and could guess within a reasonable fraction of the limit of a man.
What had been a cruel march from Astrabad was scarcely more than a pleasant gallop back again. In the cool of the night the horses were still fresh enough to quicken the pace, and it was long before midnight when the leading scout caught sight of a watch-fire burning before the barricade of wagons. He galloped back to report all well, and nothing less then Dick's authority could have suppressed the cheer which almost burst out from the column.
Dick went to the front row now and lead them along in silence, and it was he who answered the challenge of a sentry half a mile before he reached the barricade.
He rode on with scarcely a word to the sentry, and his men filed after him by two in silence.
"Salaam, bahadur!" said a deep voice when the barricade was near.
"You, Yussuf Ali?"
"All well, bahadur!"
"Good!" said Dick. "Leave fifty of your men here. Then take the rest and hurry to Usbeg Ali's aid. He needs you!"
"Back along the rode we came. Yes—now—tonight!"
OLGA KARAGEORGOVICH took hold of the reins of government in Astrabad and held them with a grip that would have done credit to a practised ruler of another sex.
She had enough men there to hold the place now against any new attempt Dick was likely to make, but not enough men by a long way to let her dare assume the offensive until the guns should come.
She sent telegram after telegram to Russia along the mended wire, urging that the army corps be started on its way.
In proof of how careful the Russian plans had all been laid for invasion of Persia when occasion offered, gunboats with troops on board began to arrive and dropped anchor in the bay the day after her telegram was sent.
She was seized with the yearning to have it out with Dick—to capture him, and torture him and kill him with her own fingers before the army corps should come to rob her of her revenge. The sight of his dead body would not be enough for her. She, she—must kill him with her fingers!
Then she saw dust and a column on the skyline. She sent gallopers to tell the guns to hurry. Gazing from a tower through strong glasses, she knew nearly as soon as the gallopers that the gunners had left their guns behind and were trudging as another regiment had done, weaponless, ashamed! Now she knew that Dick had fooled her; that he wasn't behind that row of wagons after all!
And, peering from behind the wagons, Dick laughed, in that strange and musical infectious note of his, in about three keys and without a word of explanation.
He could see, bit by bit, the whole puzzle piecing itself together into the shape he wanted. He could guess what move the princess was likely to make next; and his laugh rang like a bell as he saw the smoke of a fair-sized gunboat lifting over the seaward skyline.
THE commanding officers refused to march out of Astrabad until the men from the gunboats had marched in, and though she stormed at them and threaten them they stuck to their point. So there was a long delay while a little force of sailors, marines and nondescripts was got together on the shore and the boats were stripped of all except their engineers. Then, when the new force marched in, the old and far more numerous force marched out, hot-foot in an attempt to reach the two regiments before Dick Anthony could capture them or else utterly destroy them.
As they marched Dick watched them closely. He had seen the men brought from the gunboats by the shore. He saw the city gates closed and the few defenses manned by newcomers. Half-way, as he was, between the city on his right front and the bay on his left, he saw everything and read between the lines. Later, he saw the new, big gunboat drop her anchor in the mud and almost her whole crew landed to be marched into the city.
Russia was at her old game—advancing! No thought of a retreat or the need for covering one entered the head of anyone connected with the business.
At night, with steam hissing gently through the safety valves in proof of readiness for all contingencies and of oil fuel's superiority over coal, they all slept except for a man or two who watched the gauges in the engine rooms.
Dick's orders were given so silently that only the company officers gathered round him could hear them. The fifty men whom Yussuf Ali had been told to leave behind were left now in charge of the horses, and company by company the rest were led in silence to the shore, where they hid in deep shadows. Fifty men were sent to cut the wires again; for now it was Dick's turn to wish secrecy. Fifty more men lay down their arms and went in search of small boats. It was two hours after dark when the keel of the last small boat discoverable grounded between the reeds and a voice said:
"All ready now, bahadur!"
With a little splashing and oar-bumping, which made Dick and the company commanders curse, but did not disturb the drowsy gunboat crews, the five advance units of Russia's Caspian fleet were surrounded one by one. Dick blew a whistle, and at once the small boats all headed inward. An alarm was shouted, long too late. The bigger gunboat's siren screamed and her searchlight flickered and then flared, full-on. But by that time Dick was up the side of her—on deck with his sword drawn, and each of the other gunboats was in like predicament.
"Below with you! Get below!" commanded Dick, and the thinned-out crews obeyed. They showed less resentment and more curiosity than the military—more disposition to change masters without troubling themselves about it.
But even Dick, who knew what to expect, was surprised at the readiness with which he was obeyed. The engine room crews were utterly outnumbered, and in the bowels of the biggest of the gunboats—that on which Dick held the wheel—there was a grim, tremendous Andry with a rifle in his hand to see that the bridge signals were answered instantly; but there was no opposition anywhere. The men on the other for gunboats obeyed the orders of Dick's deputies as readily, and got up anchor without waiting for a taste of force. Threats were sufficient.
Dick led the way on the biggest of five gunboats through the winding shoal of Astrabad bay and out to open water while the city behind him stared at the row of watchfires he had left dancing before upturned wagons. Before midnight, he was out of sight of land, steering by compass, and very closely followed by the rest in single line ahead.
So he steamed with the wind behind him, ordering his men to study the bow machine guns and bring ammunition for them up on deck. To his amazement, a Russian gunner left on board as night watchman volunteered to show them how to use the seven-pounders, and Dick accepted his offer without comment; the knout with its stained lash hanging in the wheelhouse was sufficient comment on anything a Russian sailor did by way of treason.
Something of the same kind happened on the following ships, for when Dick led them in a long sweep around toward the lee of a big island his searchlight showed their guns housed, and scratch crews busy trying them. In a few minutes, he ordered the searchlight discontinued, for his heart leaped within him at the site of Russian riding lights. There were dozens of them! There was a regular fleet at anchor, ducking and tossing in a rising sea. There were enough ships there to be carrying ten thousand men—and he had five ships, with four hundred!
"Come on deck!" he ordered down the speaking tube, and Andry came.
"Now, Andry, choose your gun—take that seven-pounder if you care to. You can see the Russian ships? They think we are part of their fleet running to shelter behind them. The storm's rising every second. By the time we're abreast of them it ought to be a hurricane, and six shots ought to turn the trick for us!"
A-wash, a-reel, plunging like a deep-sea monster, Dick's ship headed straight for the Russian anchor-chains, followed dangerously close by four others that moved their helms as he moved his. Suddenly a spurt of flame leaped out from a machine gun, and a stream of lead went whistling—not at the front ships, but at those behind. Instantly the ships that were following Dick's opened up with all the guns they had—a score of rifles took up the refrain, turning the storm into hell's chorus.
Just as the Spanish Armada was defeated by the weather and not men, and only the courage of a faithful few played second to the weather, this steel armada of Russia's for the conquering of Persia was swept and washed into unrecognition by a Caspian southeaster. Dick took no credit to himself. He pursued the Russians till they were scattered all apart. And then, in that condition, Dick drew off and left them.
Is needed all his seamanship to lead his little string of ships back to the shelter of the island from which he had chased the Russians.
Before dawn, the storm died down a little—not enough for comfort, but enough for safety's sake. He ordered the anchors up at once and steamed away before the crews of the stranded Russian ships could recognize him or tell the direction he took. And before midday he steamed into sight of Astrabad Bay.
"Run the boats ashore outside the Bay!" he ordered. "Then blow them up. Let the engineers and crew bring their things ashore, but keep them prisoners—they'll be useful in an hour or two."
NEWS of Dick's coming was reported in Astrabad by the roar of five explosions, and by that time Dick had, in all, nearly two hundred prisoners. He marched them to the row of wagons on the hillside and then sent a mounted man to the city with a flag of truce and a word that he was willing to exchange.
"Tell him I will treat with him direct!" the princess answered.
The man rode back with her message and Dick frowned.
"Ride back!" he ordered. Tell her I will come and meet her half way, with one man, provided she shows my forty-three alive outside the wall first."
So the princess made a virtue of necessity and rode out with her maid, followed at a distance by Dick's forty-three.
Dick did not dismount. He touched his forehead, since he wore no hat, and then met the princess eye to eye.
"Is this a decent note to send to a lady?" she asked in French holding out a piece of paper from Dick's memorandum book that he had given to the gunner major.
"'These men are murderers,'" she read, "'and this officer has done his best to kill me. I can imagine no worse fate for either than to leave them to your tender mercy. Do your best or worst. Dick Anthony.' Is that a decent letter, Dick?"
"What's the matter with it?" Dick asked. "How did you treat them? Look at them!"
He could have bitten his tongue off in the next instant, for she turned before he meant her to and—saw!
She saw Andry, and there was little else to see because the man was huge, and Marie Mouquin's inches were all smothered in his fast embrace.
"Have you a chaplain in Astrabad?" asked Dick.
The princess smiled sweetly as an angel; so Dick knew he might expect new deviltry.
"Andry!" he said, sternly.
The giant set the maid on her feet and stood upright. The girl sobbed as she drew her first long breath in minutes.
"Get to your place behind me!"
"Now," said Dick. "We are here to exchange prisoners. I offer all I hold of your men against my forty-three you have brought out with you."
"Take your forty-three!" she said, glancing back and motioning them forward with her arm.
The poor devils were so sore and famished they could scarcely begin to march, but they drag themselves forward and each touched the earth as he passed Dick.
"That ends the parley, then!" said the princess.
"Since you say so," answered Dick.
"Then, take that, sir!"
She plunged her hand into her breast and drew a knife. She poised it—aimed it for ten seconds while Dick sat and smiled at her—and hurled it at him. But he ducked and the knife went whizzing past Andry's head as the big man rushed forward to protect his master.
"So, the parley's over, is it?" laughed Dick.
He looked down at the flag of truce that she had flung to the earth. Her horse was standing on it. He tossed his own down and laughed. She screamed, for she knew a turn of events was coming that she was not strong enough to cope with. She wheeled her horse and spurred him, but Dick seized her rein, and she looked up into his eyes again, flashing her hate of him, but conscious of the fact that she was at his mercy.
"My man Andry wants your maid," smiled Dick, "and she seems to want him. So he is going to have her."
The princess stared up at Dick, but she did not answer.
"She needs a chaperon," said Dick.
"Dick. What d'you mean?"
Dick recognized the new note in her voice, and his own changed instantly.
"I mean exactly what I say! Take your girl, Andry!"
More amazed than ever the princess had been, Andry step forward and obeyed.
"Dick seized the princess's bridle rein and started back toward where his own men waited. She tried to throw herself from the saddle, but he seized her around the waist; and since Andry's girl would follow him without persuasion, the giant left her to stride beside the princess's horse.
"You vixen!" Dick called her; and that was the hardest thing he had ever called a woman to her face. "You gave all your trumps away when you threw that knife at me! You will come now to the mountains and protect your maid's good name!"
She did not answer. She was dumb with rage and fear. Dick rode with her at a walk until he reached the barricade.
"Now, burn those wagons!" he ordered. "Hurry!"
Within ten minutes the long line of wood and wheels was all ablaze, and the princess looked past it at the Caspian, beyond whose waves was Russia and the world of intrigue and luxury that she loved. Her eyes were wet, but Dick laid a hand on her arm and called her.
"Come!" he said simply. Then, turning to his men, he shouted at them "forward! Ride! Ride to the aid of Usbeg Ali Khan!"
HOTTER than the roof of Tophet, dazzling like diamonds, and cut up into short horizons by a haze of hot air hurrying upward, the plains to the southward of the Caspian lay.
But above, where a mountain trail ran in and out between the rocks and trees and a current of cool air crept downward from the mountain tops, a few more than a hundred men galloped behind Richard Anthony—away from Astrabad—full pelt westward.
Not very far behind him—preceded by some fifty men, and with a closed-up guard on either hand—there rode two women, and a Scotsman, six feet five or more in height and built on the Samson plan.
The Princess of Russia who rode first, astride of a high Cossack saddle, grudged each inch of the journey.
The maid who rode behind her smiled, for her eyes were for Andry MacDougal on the flank. From time to time Andry glanced at the two women, for they were his charge; but no one except Marie Mouquin could have guessed which one of them might be his sweetheart, and as a matter of fact it was the princess who drew the first response from him.
"I wish to speak to Mr. Anthony."
He shot a living, scattering passageway to Dick.
"She wants to speak wi' ye!" said Andry.
"Send her to me," Dick ordered; and Andry let his horse stand until the leading troop had overtaken him.
The Princess Olga Karageorgovich trotted her horse until she was abreast of Dick.
"Perhaps you think that all the luck in the world is yours since a storm blew and helped you smash the Caspian Fleet? Eh? You err, my friend! Russia has a long arm, and a deep purse! You must have learned that I am part of Russia's secret government. I said secret government. Do you suppose, my friend, that the Okhrana—and that is the secret government—will leave me, who know all its secrets, long in your keeping? It would rather leave me dead!"
She spoke the truth now for the first time in her dealings with Dick Anthony. The Okhrana had given her leave to use Dick Anthony in her campaign of penetration into northern Persia. She had loved and lost him. Now she was his prisoner.
"I see what you mean," he said. "They'll think I'll make you talk. It's awkward. I brought you to chaperon your maid. Andry loves her and she seems to love him. Have to keep you until we've got them safely married, or else find somebody to take your place."
"What will you do with me when you've found this other woman?"
"Let you go."
As usual, the disconcerting unexpected! Of all the possibilities on her horizon, the one she liked least, and was ready to fight hardest to prevent, was the risk of being loosed and left to her own devices to protect herself from the Okhrana.
"Then, remember," she said, smiling triumphantly, "I have made no bargain with you! When you set me free, I am free to——"
"To go where, do what and say anything you please," said Dick.
"Can't you understand?" she sobbed. "Can't you see? I betrayed Russia for you! I betrayed the Okhrana!"
"I did not ask you to."
"Does that make any difference? They call me traitress! Will you—will you—have the heart to send me back to—to face the—co-co-consequences?"
"No," said Dick, "not if you don't want to go."
"Squadron!" he shouted. "Ter-t-rot! March!"
The Princess Olga Karageorgovich had won her way; but the upper hand, the mastery, was still Dick Anthony's.
BEFORE he rode away to invade Russia with four hundred men, Dick's orders to Usbeg Ali Khan had been peremptory. The Russian regiments were intrenched at bay, and they were to be held there, but there was to be no waste of life or effort. To make things doubly sure, Dick had insisted he would be best pleased on his return to find them still at bay. Usbeg Ali's business was merely to cut them off from all communication and to prevent them from marching on Astrabad.
To a hair he knew Dick's notions about discipline; but Dick's back had scarcely disappeared in a cloud of dust kicked up by his galloping squadron before Usbeg Ali's brain was busy with a plan for seeming to obey while disobeying.
The Russians were entrenched on a commanding height, with water in abundance and provisions that would very likely last a month. The two regiments were not at full war strength, but the scouts brought word of at least three thousand, against which Usbeg Ali had but four thousand half-trained rebels. Yet he did not hesitate.
He knew that the Russians would suppose Dick Anthony to be with the attacking force. Better than that, though, he knew that the Russians were not yet aware of Dick's capture of a battery and that six of their own guns were ready to be used against them.
But to have used all six with which to start things would have been flat disobedience of Dick's orders. One was to play the overture, and he had a right with one gun, to search out the enemy's defenses, for that was a proceeding no commander worthy of the name would dare neglect.
He took five hundred men and set them to dragging the five guns up hill, through a wild maze of ax-resisting forest, to a point a mile away that overlooked the Russian camp. To Dick, on his return, he intended it should look as if the Russians had tried to recapture their artillery; to the Russians it would look like a plan of Dick's to force the fighting.
He argued that Dick Anthony would not be back for ten days at least, for he knew nothing of Dick's plan to hurry and whelm the Russian Caspian Fleet; he supposed Dick on his way to gallop into Russia, not to steam in on a stolen Russian ship.
Day after day the five guns crept nearer to the hilltop. Again and again the Russians made a sortie from their height and tried to reach the one active gun to silence it. The fact that only one gun was being used against them led them to the false conclusion that Dick Anthony had captured only one, and it followed logically that within a day or two there would be a strong force coming from Astrabad to their relief.
On the fourth day of Usbeg Ali's almost superhuman effort, Dick was already hurrying to help him, thinking only of how soon he might cover the distance.
So, too, belly to the earth, a big Australian mare of the Indian army type thundered and sobbed beneath a Rajput sowar in her efforts to catch up.
The sowar rode from Teheran. His heavy saber lay across the pommel.
He was stopped, of course, by the rearguard. He did not speak when they demanded why he rode in such a hurry, but he showed a letter. They took his saber and in a moment they were guiding his leg-weary horse full pelt past the squadron to the front, where Dick rode.
"Give him his saber back!" Dick ordered, frowning.
The Rajput took his saber in silence, but saluted Dick. Then he held his letter out, and Dick tore it open, trembling a little as he saw that the envelope was stamped from the British Ministry at Teheran.
The letter ran:
DEAR MR. ANTHONY,
Since you prefer to call yourself, and be addressed, by that name.
In a letter addressed to the British Minister here, you made claim to be a British subject and to the right to surrender to this legation, to be heard in your own defense on the various charges made against you by the Russian government. Since the authorities at home have notified us, in reply to your inquiry, of the death of Richard Anthony of Arran, it is not possible to admit your claim either in fact or by implication; but your letter seems to prove sincere affection for your country, and there seems no doubt at all of your nationality, whatever your real name may be. You are therefore notified that Great Britain, France and Russia, as allies, are at war with Germany and Austria.
The following guarantee is therefore made to you in absolute good faith, and with the connivance of the Russian government.
Should you discontinue your efforts against Russia, and report at this legation immediately after receipt of this communication, you are promised a free passage out of Persia in any direction you care to take, except towards Russia.
Your obedient servant,
H. J. OMMONEY,
Assistant Secretary of Legation.
Dick's lips grew thin and his cheeks white beneath the tan as he read what was virtually his excommunication. Until now he had not doubted for an instant his ultimate ability to prove his real identity.
Now, in the teeth of the amazing, unexpected fact of European war, with Russia and England hand-in-hand in an unnatural alliance, he saw—as a man sees Fate's finger writing on a wall—his doom to utter outlawry and endless unrecognition.
"Ride back!" he ordered the Rajput. "Say I'll come and talk it over!"
"A letter, sahib! Give me a letter to take!"
The Rajput handed him a fountain pen and paper.
Dick wrote, resting the paper on a rifle butt that a front file laid across his saddle:
I shall come, by the main road from the West, as soon as I have relieved two Russian regiments, now surrounded. I shall come in a hurry, with a few men. Meet me anywhere along the road. Let the password be "Is it peace, Jehu?" and the answer "Peace!" I have an offer I will make, so let the man who meets me have full authority to accept or decline.
"The contents are for the eyes of the Secretary of Legation," he said quietly.
"He shall be the first to read it," said the sowar, thrusting the letter into a pocket inside his tunic. He mounted, saluted Dick, and then rode back along his way.
The princess, laughing at the guards who shouted to her to keep between them, spurred forward beside Dick, and looked up at him with an expression on her face that was the quintessence of confidential comradeship. He had to tell himself three times that she was his enemy before he could forget her loveliness and what seemed lovelight in her violet eyes.
"May I know the news?" she asked him in a voice that would have disarmed a scorpion.
"No," he said curtly; so she drew back to her place again amid her muttering guards.
He began to wonder whither destiny was leading him, Dick Anthony, who had always prayed to be a soldier, and who had been denied.
He had men and horses. He had captured Russian guns. And he had Andry. Andry MacDougal was a godsend neither more nor less, though likely to be rendered less efficient by the presence of his sweetheart. Andry was the essence of all loyalty, and an excellent, tremendous fighting man.
It was the princess who puzzled him. What use could he make of a woman who had betrayed him, over and again, that she might have him for her own; who did not dare go back to Russia, because she had betrayed the Russian secret government; who was likely to betray him again, and Russia again.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of cannonading far ahead.
"I might have known that Usbeg Ali could not wait!" he muttered. "Damn the man!"
A COSSACK lookout in the top branches of a walnut tree mistook Dick Anthony's oncoming squadron for the vanguard of a relieving force. He shouted the good news down to his commander, and Col. Ivanoff sent two or more men up into the tree tops.
The lookouts had excuse for confirming the first man's report. The man with the glasses shouted down that he could see two women riding with the force, and that was enough to assure the kernel that the new arrivals were from Astrabad, and Russian. Who else but the Princess Olga Karageorgovich could the woman be? And did she ever go anywhere without her maid?
Horsemen coming at a gallop, could be but the advance guard of a relieving force, he argued; and he remembered that there were not very many cavalry in Astrabad—the horsemen must be few. But he judged that the approach of Cossacks would be just as disconcerting to his Persian enemy and to Dick Anthony, whom he still supposed in command of the attacking force, as it was reassuring to himself, and he purposed to take immediate advantage of consternation in the Persian ranks.
He decided at once to sally in force. There was nothing desultory about the sudden Russian change of front and charge. They came like an avalanche and within five minutes of the start they had thrust themselves between all Usbeg Ali, with his guns and his five hundred, and his main body drawn up to defend the other gun. It was then, for the first time, that the Russians became aware of the other five guns, and then that the fancy seized them to recapture all six guns, instead of merely one, before what they thought was their relief could reach them.
In a matter of seconds Usbeg Ali Khan was shut in at the far end of the path that he had cut, and impenetrable jungle hedged him in tight.
"Surrender!" yelled the Cossacks, from the open end.
"Stand by the guns in the name of Allah!" thundered Usbeg Ali.
As many Cossacks as could crowd into the jungle lane were at hand-grips with Usbeg Ali's men when Dick's newcomers joined the main body.
"Andry!" roared Dick, and the Scotsman laid a hand on his shoulder; he was in his place where he ought to be, one yard behind.
"Get your pipes out—get 'em going—any tune!"
There was no need to run and get the pipes: Andry had them ready. In a moment "Cock o' the North" was screaming through the trees, and Usbeg Ali, down in his deathtrap, knew that Dick had come.
"Hey, Persians!" he shouted. "Another of Allah's sendings! Dee-k Anthonee is here! Forward in the name of Allah! Charge!"
Dick forced his way through the swarm of the main body, and the Russians reeled away in front of him. And where he went strode Andry, the gigantic, making music of a kind that mocks at fear. Section by section the Russians yielded and gave ground. There was only one line open along which they could retreat, and so they took it, up the hill behind them to the trenched camp they had left.
"You came in the nick of time, bahadur," said the voice of Usbeg Ali Khan.
IT was an hour before the tale was told in full and the lines of dead and wounded lay beneath the trees in the clearing.
"Have you counted them?" asked Dick.
"Bahadur, there lie five hundred and nine Russian dead and wounded and two hundred and ninety-seven of our men."
"And my order when I left you was 'let there be no fighting!'"
Usbeg Ali did not answer him.
"Now go. Take a white flag. Climb the hill and tell the Russian commandant that he may go free with the honors of war!"
"Bahadur—he will asked me why!"
"Tell him Russia, France and England are at war with Germany and Austria. Tell him I will not fight England's friends!"
Dazed, like a drunken man, and much less than half convinced, Usbeg Ali Khan attached a torn shirt to a stick and staggered up the hill.
Needless to say, the Russian commandant smelled more than one rat; he smelled half a dozen of them.
"Tell him to send those guns up here, and I will treat with him," he answered. Usbeg Ali spun on his heel with the haughtiness that few know so well as Afghans how to assume and started down the hill.
To his amazement, Dick did not order the resumption of hostilities at once. Instead, he made another white flag, gave it to a Persian, sent the man with it ahead of him uphill, and followed alone, on horseback. The commandant came out to meet him.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I have news, direct from the British Minister at Teheran," said Dick, "of a European war in which England, France and Russia are allies against Austria and Germany. As an Englishman, I offer you undisputed right of way back to Russia."
"I need proof of it!"
"Let's fight and get it over, then!" said Dick. "Come and get your guns! I'm going to train them on you from that gap. Hoist a white flag when you've had enough."
The colonel turned on his heel and hurried back toward the nearest earthwork, and the men lined up behind it took his gesture for an order.
"Fire!" yelled an officer in Russian.
A volley burst out in a livid line of flame from over the earth redout. Dick's charger reared and fell backward on the top of Dick, spurting blood from twenty places.
"Fire!" yelled an officer again.
A second volley plunked into the horse. The beast quivered and was still. Dick writhed. And then a yell that rent the forest burst from the Persian lines below. Nobody thought any longer of the guns, nor of any other thing than how to cross the space between him and the enemy in the shortest time and glut, with steel in yielding flesh, his savage hunger for revenge. For they thought Dick dead.
It was in Andry's iron arms that his breath came back to Dick.
"Stop the fighting if you can!" Dick panted; and the big man got up on his feet, to look around him, and if he might, obey.
So the fight died down. Usbeg Ali and a dozen men came struggling toward Dick, carrying Colonel Ivanoff, legs upward, fighting for sheer blasphemous disgust with his loss of dignity.
Dick did not smile. He drove his two-edged sword home into its scabbard, and turned aside to think what he should do or say to a man crazed by defeat and shame. And as he turned he heard Andry swear a deep Scot's oath behind him. His eyes sought Andry's—followed their line—and saw the French maid, Marie Mouquin, running uphill, dodging dead bodies and the arms of wounded men stretched out to clutch her skirts.
"She has gone!" said the maid. "She has taken horse! She has ridden away!"
"The princess! She! Olga Karageorgovich!"
"Ha—ha! Ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ho!" laughed Colonel Ivanoff. He did not know how utterly the princess had already dammed herself in the suspicious eyes of Russia, for he was not one of the men in touch with the secret government.
Dick had no more difficulty with him. The Persians made stretchers out of boughs and laid the Russian wounded on them, the Cossacks lifted them, and with the colonel at their head on his own horse they trudged down to the plain and to the track leading eastward for Astrabad.
"Up to the hills!" Dick ordered them.
There was one thing left that worried Dick, and it was not of the sort that generally worries generals in the field. There was a woman with his force, of a sort that does not settle down as a rule to roughing it, a woman of the rather pampered, very imaginative, city-loving type, who was in love with Andry. He owed it to Andry to preserve the maid's good name, yet he dared not, for the sake of human charity, send Marie back to be bullied, tortured, even perhaps killed by her erstwhile mistress.
"Any women with the new arrivals?" Dick demanded of Usbeg Ali Khan.
Andry brought Marie Mouquin, and stood her before Dick. Soon, timidly and one by one, twenty women followed Usbeg Ali out of blackness and grouped themselves in a semicircle to Dick's right. They were veiled, and behind them in the shadows lurked their menkind, ever watchful.
"They must serve the wounded. There is a woman here, a Feringee, who must know something of the art of aiding wounded. Marie Mouquin!"
The maid stood forward, glancing around for Andry.
"This woman has no husband. She is a prisoner. I mean that her honor shall be strictly guarded. So I give her into the keeping of these twenty women, and them into her keeping. They are to obey her, as soldiers obey an officer, yet they are never to allow her out of sight or out of reach."
And so it happened that when Dick reached his mountain aerie, out of sight and sound of the troubled plains, he was able to leave Marie Mouquin behind him and to ride on an errand of his own.
The thousands were awake to watched Dick go. The forest crashed to the thunder of their cheering as he rode through the gap at the lower end beside the watercourse, and it was minutes before Andry, riding along behind, could make his voice heard above the din.
They skirted Astrabad by twilight, slept within ten miles of the city, and were off again at dawn on the road to Teheran before there was any risk of being seen. It was a little after dawn on the second day after passing Astrabad that they were overtaken by two Afghans, with a note written in Persian from Usbeg Ali Khan. The men had ridden hard. The note was short and to the point:
Sahib bahadur, these are my two best personal followers, whose honor is my honor and whose blood and breath are my blood and breath. It is not good to ride so far as to Teheran with but one man. Thou, I and Andry would have been enough. These two take my place, just as I take thy place here. A salaam.
Usbeg Ali Khan.
"Ride on," said Dick. "Keep a mile ahead of me, and one of you ride back to warn me of anything suspicious."
He could not have told, had anybody asked him, why he felt nervous; but nervousness was so foreign to him that he took it seriously.
At dusk he expected to overtake the Afghans. Mile after mile he rode, and it was when the night shut down with no signs of his advance guard that the uncomfortable feeling of foreboding came back.
It was near a landslide that a voice said, "Ees eet peace, Jehu?" in an accent that was utterly un-English, and Dick knew himself betrayed. Instantly his mind flew back to the Rajput, who had brought a letter to him and to whom he had given a written answer. He recalled that he had given the password allowed to the Rajput before consenting to write his answer, and that the princess could not well have helped overhearing it.
"War!" he answered, following his pistol's click.
"King Dick! Will monsieur the king confer on me the favor of a minute's conversation?"
"Andry! Where are you, man?" Dick shouted.
There was no answer from behind him. In front Dick could see the dark form of Andry's horse looming. From somewhere near the horse the woman's voice began again, sweet, silvery, mocking:
"There were two men to account for him and he should be strangled by this time."
Dick did not speak. He dismounted, since a horseman is usually at a disadvantage in the dark and against men on foot.
She stepped out. Suddenly she flashed an electric torch at him full in his eyes.
"Lower it or I'll shoot!" he ordered; and since she knew for a certainty that he would keep his word, whatever he promised, she lowered it until it played on his horse's legs. He did not hear two stealthy footfalls drawing nearer, nor a third, not quite so stealthy from behind.
Suddenly she switched the light out, and Dick strained his ears for sound of movement in her direction.
"Monsieur le roi, I want you to come with me. I want you in Russia—alive! You are caught, my friend."
It was not until they were each within a yard of him and his horse shied at them that he heard two men; and then they were rushing at him with a rope and it was too late to move his pistol-arm or reach his sword.
A rope went around his neck and another snared his legs. The nooses tightened, and a man's full weight swung against each to throw him. He felt the blood surging to his temples and his knees begin to give.
Then, with no warning and no sound, two huge arms came from the depth of night behind him. Each wound itself around a Russian's waist. The tension was relaxed on the ropes, and a second later the men who held them screamed, writhed, bent backwards struggling, and were still.
Then a giant arose from the dark night and seized one Russian with both hands. Speechless, he raised him, poised him, tried his weight and hurled him with a grunt. The Russian seemed to hit nothing, but night swallowed him as if he had been a shadow.
Before Dick could get the blood of out his head and ears, the huge man stooped and seized the other rope-man. He whirled him by the legs, and sent him down the landslide after the first.
A pistol shot spat through the night, and the flash proved who had fired it, but she missed the horse and Dick.
"You throw a knife better!" Dick taunted her.
The princess fired again, and missed again. She was by Dick's horse before his order to stand where she was left his lips.
"As you say, I'm better with the knife!" she smiled, and her hand went to her bosom.
It was a sudden, unexpected move of Andry's that deprived her of the torch she held at her back. He flashed the torch full on her, and a clasp-knife shimmered in its rays as she aimed it at Dick's face. Andry spun her, and the knife went whirring through the dark.
"Kill me!" she said, laying a hand on Dick.
Dick meant to turn aside and put the horse between her and him, but before he could move she had flung herself into his arms, and clung there sobbing.
It was Andry again, flashing the torch, who proved too canny for her. He stepped around behind her, and again his fingers seized her wrist; he wrenched a second knife from them and held it out for Dick to see.
"Dick, I have shot my last bolt! I surrender!" Both hands were hold of him again. "Take me on your own terms!"
"No," said Dick.
"Will you leave me here?"
"Certainly! Get your horse, Andry."
Andry did as he was told and Dick, swinging to the saddle, called back to the princess standing in the middle of the track.
"We'll leave your torch burning on the grave of my Afghans, if we find them!" he said.
THE two Afghans were not dead, nor were their horses. They resumed the march until they came to a village where food and shelter could be had. They were more than half way to Teheran by this time.
As usual, Dick and Andry were mistaken for Russians. Unquestioned, they were led through the gate of a mud-walled village; their horses were taken off and stabled; men stood around awkwardly, wondering what next to do. It was perfectly obvious to these village Persians that Dick was a Russian police officer and Andry his subordinate, who chose to put prisoners to the torture under cover of the night and wring confessions from them before deciding what to do next. They were shown into a square hut with a heavy-timbered roof. Cords were brought them, a pot of hot charcoal and an iron.
"Shall we bring the other prisoner?" asked the village headman.
"How long has the other been here?" Dick asked.
"A week. There was a reward for him. He came here at night with two horses and demanded food. We seized him."
"Bring him!" commanded Dick.
Five minutes later, cursing and growling threats, there was led in the Rajput sowar who should have presented Dick's letter at the Teheran legation days ago. He said nothing, but dropped his head and waited.
"Leave us!" commanded Dick.
"He is dangerous!" said the headman.
For form's sake Dick drew his pistols and examined them before studying the knotted ropes that bound the Rajput's arms.
"Where are his weapons!" he demanded. "Bring them."
The headman wrought a saber and two pistols, and at a sign from Dick laid them in a corner of the room.
"Are stabled near your excellency's," said the headman.
"Have those horses ready in ten minutes!" ordered Dick.
He picked up the cord and pushed the iron into the red hot charcoal. The headman was satisfied. Surely, truly, indisputably, here was Russian rule being asserted, and he shivered for his own skin as he slammed the door and ran to do Dick's bidding.
Then, in the light of a smoking, stinking dim grease lamp, Dick and the Rajput eyed each other until Dick laughed.
"You'd better scream," said Dick in English. "Scream like a man in pain."
He let out a yell that curdled Dick's and Andry's blood.
"Will that do?" he asked almost casually.
"Do it again!" said Dick.
Andry helped out matters by beating the floor with a cord and dancing.
Then Dick strode to the door and opened it.
"Horses there?" he asked.
The horses stood in a row, six all told.
The headman bowed low, and Dick led his "prisoners" out through the gate in one-horse file, brought up by Andry, and he did not stop until the village ceased to be a shadow in the gloom or even a black ridge on a black horizon.
But when the bark of a village pariah had died down in the distance he drew rein. Then Andry drew his knife and cut the lashings in a hurry.
"No time to talk!" said Dick. "Go like the night wind! Have your letter yet?"
"Aye! They could not find it."
"Ride on, then, and deliver it. Tell 'em to meet me outside Teheran."
"At the tomb of Shamran Mirza, sahib."
"Good," said Dick. "Good-bye. Good luck to you!"
The Rajput saluted him and wheeled his horse.
THEY were too near Teheran now to ride openly, and Dick chose to lie up all day and moved by night. The British Legation might be acting in good faith, but he did not choose to enter Teheran just yet.
The challenge, when it came at last, proved unexpected. A man rode down through the gathering gloom, spurring as though at a tent peg.
"It is peace, Jehu?" he laughed.
"Peace!" said Dick, and the man reined in. Though the light was dim Dick recognized an Englishman.
"I am H. Ommoney."
"I am Richard Anthony of Arran."
"Ride this way."
Without another word he wheeled and led the way up a side-path to a tomb, domed and dignified even in its ruin, that stood like a watchtower overlooking the road from a height some half a mile away. As he followed him, Dick folded up the letter signed H.J. Ommoney very small and, checking his horse for a second, passed it back to Andry. Andry stuffed it down his boot, not knowing what it was and not caring in the least, but understanding fully that he was to hide it.
The ruined entrance to the tomb yawned dark and wide in front of them and the man who had said he was Ommoney dismounted. Dick followed suit.
"I'll talk to you alone," said Ommoney.
"I'll bring one man," said Dick.
"No!" said Ommoney.
"Yes!" said Dick.
Ommoney's eyes met Dick's and followed their line. Dick was looking at a Waler mare that bore and Indian military saddle on her back. Ommoney swore beneath his breath, and Dick knew by this, as certainly as he knew the contents of his pocket, that the Rajput sowar was inside the tomb.
"He hid the horse all right," said Dick, "but he didn't tether him tight enough!"
Ommoney said nothing, but led the way in, and Andry followed Dick, looming above him like an exaggerated shadow. At the same second Dick and Andry both caught sight of the sowar's eyes, so his voice that boomed "Salaam, bahadur!" was not a surprise.
"You may name your own price for that letter, said Ommoney with both hands in his pockets. "We want it back."
"Official recognition as Dick Anthony of Arran!" said Dick.
Ommoney shook his head.
Dick felt what he judged to be a snake that crept behind him gently, just touching him. It was the snake's attempt to get into his pocket that enlightened Dick.
The snake was a human hand that sneaked into his pocket and searched deep, but found it empty.
Then Dick moved his leg in such a way, and so suddenly, that the arm was gripped by the stout cloth. At the same second Andry pounced. A man screamed. Andry dragged a nearly naked Persian out into the candlelight, with his wrist held now in Dick's iron fingers and his hand still deep in the pocket. Dick turned about, so that the man could be dragged into the middle.
"Wrong pocket, though," said Dick. "Friend of yours, by any chance?"
"Never saw him in my life," said Ommoney.
"Well," said Dick, "for a legate of the British government, you lie handsomely."
With a smile of contempt Dick loosed the Persian, and the man ran through the ragged opening out into the night.
"If this story of war is true," said Dick, "it is I who hold trumps. I have an army of four thousand men, and it is growing. I even have some guns. You may tell the Russian Minister at Teheran, through the British Minister, that he may withdraw every Russian soldier from Persia and from the frontier, and I will guarantee both England and him that Persia will give nobody any trouble!"
"There would be no sense in my riding back to Teheran with nonsense of that sort. The terms offered you are a free passage to the sea, and transportation anywhere, provided you give back that letter."
"I refuse the terms," said Dick.
Ommoney fingered at a pistol, and looked into Dick's strange eyes. He knew that the eyes were laughing at him. He knew that Dick's hands were both behind his back. A dead Dick Anthony would have seemed to Ommoney to be a blow struck hard for England. Yet he dared not draw, although he knew he had Dick at his mercy.
"You understand, your safe conduct ceases from the minute you leave me?" he said, trying with one and the same thought to justify himself and yet excuse himself.
"I understand," said Dick, "that the British government disowns me and has sent a pup to tell me so. However, I accept the fact that I am disowned, and I'm going to take full advantage of it. Get out of here! Get out before I kick you out!"
Never had Ommoney heard such might expressed in a human voice, nor felt such terror as propelled him out into the night. The last Dick saw of him was a retreating shadow, followed at full gallop by a Rajput sowar.
"What did the sowar say?" asked Dick, walking out to the Afghans and signing to Andry to bring the horses.
"He bade us ride cautiously. He said there are Russians in the road between Teheran and here."
"Oh," said Dick. "Ready, Andry? Ready, all? Mount! Walk, march! Right wheel!"
"I am Deek Anthonee," he told them. "This is my sword of which you have heard." And he showed the great two-edged claymore with the beryl set in its basket hilt.
As once before he had come out of the dawn on Persia and had dazed her by his unexpectedness, so now he rode out of the night with a giant on a horse behind him and was accepted without question.
The dam was down at last. Dick Anthony was free! Disowned by England, scornful of Russia, free to fight for whom he would and for what he would. And the cause he chose was Persia's.
Like shadows in the wet mist, two Afghans pressed their horses forward uphill at wheezy jog trot, dispirited and fagged out, horse and man.
Two hundred yards behind them rode another man, redheaded this one, six feet five in his socks, built bull-wise, broad in the beam, heavy of neck and hip and thigh.
Two hundred yards again behind this giant there rode yet another man with red hair—bare-headed and with no more dejection about him than the dawn wears when it bursts red angry through a bank of cloud.
This last man halted every now and then, and waited to listen for pursuit.
They rode in the same order, until at last the air grew less saturated and the pine trees were more frequent. Seven thousand feet above sea level Dick Anthony was near his own now, and pursuit would have been serious business for any less than a brigade or two. There was no need any more to guard the rear; he had reached an altitude where he was king. He rode alone, ahead then, with Andry MacDougal laboring behind him and the Afghans last.
In an hour they reached a stream that boiled and gurgled through a gap by which the trail entered Dick's headquarters.
The gap wound around beside the stream, until it narrowed to twenty feet, and stream and track filled up the whole of it. There on a big horse sat a black-bearded Afghan, staring ahead of him with an eye that claimed authority.
"Salaam, bahadur!" he said, saluting.
"Salaam, Usbeg Ali Khan!" said Dick, returning the salute.
"Is it peace or war, bahadur?"
"War!" said Dick.
The Afghans eyes blazed, for he was a man of war, born into the babel of it.
He wheeled his horse, and led at a trot into the huge amphitheater.
"Zindabad Dee-k-Anthonee!" they roared.
Usbeg Ali Khan and Dick rode side-by-side down a living lane of men, who breathed in silence for fear of missing the first word Dick might utter.
"How many are they?"
"Eight thousand, sahib, all but eight."
"Very well," said Dick quietly, riding to the exact center of the amphitheater.
"Persians!" he shouted, seeming to face three ways at once. "The whole world is at war! Germany and Austria are at the throats of England, France and Russia! Now, then is Persia's opportunity!"
He paused for the information to sink in.
"A little while ago I was a British officer. I rode to ask British recognition of your cause. I have been refused. They say Dick Anthony is dead, and that I am an imposter. I am free, then—as the dead are free—to serve a new cause and a new covenant. Ye asked me to be leader. Some of you have fought behind me. Now, new men as well as old, think deep and choose again, for after this there shall be no more choosing!"
He drew his claymore, and it shone in the sunset like a flame.
"Those who are afraid to follow me—or who do not care to follow—may go!"
"Zindabad!" they yelled. "Zindabad Dee-k-Anthonee!"
"Now, swear ye!" Dick ordered.
At the word Usbeg Ali spurred his horse, and brought him to a plunging halt again in front of Dick, facing him.
"We obey! In the name of Allah, we obey!" thundered the eight thousand.
"Dismiss them!" ordered Dick "that will do."
Dick's tent, that had been a Russian officer's not long ago, was fenced about with branches, so that he had some privacy. By Usbeg Ali's orders, Dick and he and Andry could approach that tent unchallenged, but no other man could try the trick and live.
There was a fire inside the brushwood fence, and a couple of rough chairs stood by it. Dick sat down with evident relief that yet did not lack dignity, and Usbeg Ali at a sign from him took the other chair with a painstaking effort to imitate his manner.
"We must move at once," said Dick, "before——"
"Hah! Bismillah, yes!" said Usbeg Ali suddenly squinting upward at the stars.
"Surely I understand! Before she—that woman—makes more trouble we must move!"
All that his retort drew was a smile of amusement that was so evidently genuine it riled Usbeg Ali to the verge of being insolent.
"Aye! Surely it is a great jest, bahadur! By Allah, a jewel of a jest! It was a jest when she flung her knife and missed you but so much! It is a jest that she warns the Russians now, and gathers an army for our undoing! Tell me, bahadur, what good—what tiny, one small atom of the least good thing has come of your acquaintance with the Princess Olga Karageorgovich, or of the mercy you have shown her again and again?"
Dick patted his shirt, and something bulky showed for a second, bulging underneath.
"If we had not met the princess," said he, "Andry would not have met her maid. If I had killed the princess, she could not have slipped and given her maid the chance to get this to Andry."
He drew the bulky package from inside his shirt and laid it on his knee. Usbeg Ali's eyes sparkled at once.
"Spread it out, bahadur!" he urged, for he recognized on Dick's knee what the whole secret government of Russia would have given all it could to recover.
The table that Andry brought him out of black space was big and firm. Dick laid the packet on it and drew a map out of the envelope.
"See?" said Dick. "See Russia's game? See the treachery? While the fighting goes on in Europe Russia moves southward into Persia, square by square. The occupation will be an accomplished fact before whoever wins in the big war will have time to remonstrate!"
The Afghan knitted his brows above the map as if he would devour. Whichever way he looked, along whichever route, they're seemed nothing but Cossack preparations for invasion.
"See here, Usbeg Ali. The Russian plans are for an invasion of Persia from the north and east of the Caspian. They've made no plans on the basis of a possible reverse. These camps up here, where they're concentrated, aren't fortified; there are practically no forts anywhere that amount to anything. And the western side of the Caspian is open to us."
Usbeg Ali Khan saw Dick's plan now, and gasped at the daring of it.
"There is an enormous difference," said Dick, "between eight thousand men and five hundred thousand. We can travel forty miles a day, which half a million can't do. We'll invade Russia! Raid like a whirlwind up the western shore of the Caspian! See the point? A raid, that will take Russia off her guard!"
"By the blood of Allah, that will be the greatest wonder of the world!"
"Good! Get me twenty gallopers!" said Dick. "Twenty must start at dawn and pass the word all through the north! Pick me the best two hundred men we have to scout to the westward. Let our advance scouts leave at dawn; we'll follow them as soon as may be! There are five hundred miles of trail ahead, and after that—the fighting!"
* * * * *
It was barely, midnight, but the darkness seemed awake, and the far-spaced pickets now shouted words that were not mere numbers. The tang of the campfire smoke grew stronger as some sleepers moved, listened to the shouting and began to stir the embers. In a minute more the whole camp listened with held breath.
"All right!" somebody remonstrated, in an accent that was neither clubland English nor yet less than gentlemanly. "They're up! Can't you see?"
Then a horsemen came careering out of the blackness and reined in on his horse's haunches to yards from Dick's private hedge, with a bayonet exactly one-eighth of an inch away from his naked throat.
"Let him come!" commanded Dick.
The bayonet withdrew, and its wielder held the horse while the man dismounted.
"Amerikani!" said the horsemen, salaaming low to Dick.
Dick sat and the others stood as a rather fat man dressed in a well-cut khaki was brought forward between a dozen guards.
"Go!" commanded Dick, and the guard hurried away, back to the outer ring of gloom.
"My name is Jenison," said the newcomer, "Morgan Jenison. Am I right in supposing you are Richard Anthony?"
"His name is No Name!" Usbeg Ali boomed; his voice was like an echo from the dead, so that the American could not resist a shudder.
"It was that that I came to speak about," he said, looking straight at Dick.
Dick did not speak.
"I am deliberately risking the charge of not minding my own business—of butting in!"
The American spoke like a gentleman.
"I've become acquainted with a lady who calls herself the Princess Olga Karageorgovich," said Jenison, watching Dick's face with lynx eyes, that yet were not inquisitive enough to arouse resentment.
"I've nothing to do with her," said Dick at once.
"Let me tell you what my business is? You might change your mind."
Dick nodded. The American looked left and right, at Andry and Usbeg Ali Khan.
"I've no secrets from these two men," said Dick.
"Well, that's your affair. I was in Teheran on business until recently, and I may say I've heard from a dozen sources about your campaign against the Russians."
Dick looked very interested, which was proof that the American had made a good impression.
"So, when this news of a European war came you seemed to me the most likely man within reach who could help me take a hand in it. At the American Legation they're in a state of nervous exhaustion trying to be neutral, and I'd have been arrested if I'd let out a hint of my intentions. But I managed to round up ten Americans, and what with their servants and some Englishmen we knew, and their servants, and some Afghans who had come through from Kabul to do business with me, I got together a party, fifty strong.
"We slipped out of Teheran at night before they had shut the lid down quite so tight as they've got it now. We headed straight in your direction, and on the way the boys agreed to elect me captain of the force. I accepted. I'm Captain Jenison at present, in command of fifty men."
Dick looked up and stared at Usbeg Ali. The Afghan did not move.
"Didn't I give you orders?" Dick enquired. "Are those gallopers ready, and the scouts?"
Usbeg Ali hurried out of the enclosure, and almost at once his voice split the night apart as he shouted for company commanders. Dick took paper and pencil and wrote in Persian.
"Give that to Usbeg Ali," he ordered, and Andry marched out of the enclosure.
"Go on," said Dick, and the American smiled, for that was Dick's first admission of real interest.
"I came on the princess on the way. She was destitute in the hands of Persians in a filthy village about half way between Teheran and Astrabad. They had her in chains and I had a hard job. On the way here she opened up to me, and I understand your sentiments towards her are not exactly cordial." He paused to chuckle, and Dick swore softly to himself.
"She told me that she daren't go back to Russia because things she did for you have cost her the pull she had with the secret government. There was nothing for it but to take her under my protection. And I did."
"I don't envy you!" said Dick.
"It occurred to me that you'd take that attitude. So I played safe. I've made quite a story about my being your man. They ended by believing me your deputy. If we can't come to terms now, I shall raise the whole countryside—not against you, you understand, but under my command and independent of you—and you'll find that awkward. My men are less than a half mile away. I'll lead them away again if you prefer it, and——"
Dick's eyes were twinkling, and Jenison cut short his argument.
"Very well," said Dick, and Andry took stand again behind Dick's chair. Dick looked at Jenison and smiled with quiet amusement that was very aggravating. "In about ten minutes, Mr. Jenison, your men will be here."
You mean you've taken advantage of my being here to capture them?"
"Exactly that," said Dick.
"Am I a prisoner!"
"Not at all," said Dick. "You may go if you wish."
Then Jenison caught sound of the approaching tramp of men and horses, and the lines of his face showed speculation.
Dick left him sitting where he was and walked through the gap in his enclosure into the outer darkness. In two minutes he was standing before a weary little crowd, who eyed him distrustfully, leaderless and out of heart.
"Are you men Jenison's?" Dick asked.
"We are," said an Englishman with that voiced disregard of consequences that is a trademark of his kind and breed.
A woman—surely the princess, even through her rags, for no woman in the world could sit on a horse with half her grace—thrust her horse forward through the crowd.
"Dick!" she said; but Dick took no notice of her.
"Very well. See that they have rations, Usbeg Ali. Quarter them beyond the artillery lines."
He strode back, in through the gap in his hedge into the firelight.
"It's a pity you took such a high hand," said Dick, "and committed yourself so hopelessly with the princess."
"I did what no gentleman could have helped doing," said Jenison testily.
"You're responsible for the princess, and I shall hold you so. Keep her under guard; see that she doesn't interfere with me, my men or the woman who used to be her maid. On those terms, if you wish to follow me on this expedition, I'll take your oath now. I warn you it won't be a picnic party! Better think twice!"
"I'll come!" said Jenison.
"Very well," said Dick, and Andry clucked as the two shook hands and looked into each other's eyes.
* * * * *
Proof of the charm that the Princess Olga Karageorgovich possessed was that even in her tattered clothes, awry, wet and travel-stained, she still looked lovely.
As she sat on a rough-hewn campstool, looking like a humble Cinderella with her toes in the ashes, a woman passed her whom she recognized at the first swift glance.
"Marie!" she whispered; but the woman hurried on.
"Was I never good to you?" the princess asked. "Did you ever go hungry in my service?"
Mother pity took possession instantly of Marie Mouquin's will, whispering to her plausible bad logic about gratitude. She looked down at an untouched mess of greasy rice on a dirty wooden platter, and a second later she was hurrying through the darkness, dodging here and there between the groups of armed men.
Within five minutes she had snatched and put together half a dozen different sorts of food that had been prepared under her supervision for the wounded.
The princess did not look up. She ate daintily, and thrilled Marie Mouquin's generous little soul by the evident relish with which she ate. Then—slave of habit as we all are—Marie Mouquin checked a little scream.
"Have you no stockings?" she gasped.
"One torn one," said the princess between mouthfuls.
Marie Mouquin had only one pair of her own that she washed daily at a stream. Without a second's hesitation she sat down on the earth and pulled them off. The princess pulled them on with a matter-of-fact air that did not lack gratitude, but did not suggest the possibility of any other course.
"But I have no other clothes!" she wailed. Sheer shame would not permit Marie to leave the princess in such predicament, yet she could not take her own clothes off and go naked.
"There are only a Persian woman's clothes," she said after a moment.
"I could make a shift," said the princess. "I would be grateful."
Almost before the words had died Marie Mouquin was gone again, barefoot, at a run through the noisy camp. Andry, hurrying across the amphitheater with giant strides on some errand for Dick, intercepted her, picked her off the ground, and demanded to know what the bare toes meant. But she struggled free, slapped his face for his trouble and ran away laughing.
She pounced on a Persian woman who was sleeping near the quiet lines where the wounded lay, and shook her into consciousness.
In a very few moments there sat a Persian woman, veiled and mute, where the Princess Olga Karageorgovich had been.
Before the first pale rays of morning lit the peaks near by, two hundred men drew up, each standing beside his horse, to listen to a homily from Dick.
"You men are scouts," said Dick, "not skirmishers. So, ride and report! And remember that the fate of this expedition lies for the present on your individual wakefulness!"
Jenison proved to be a gift from the god of war to a man who could use gifts to their best advantage. He took charge of the guns, and set to work at once to pick the brains of all the men in the force who knew anything about them.
It was obvious to anybody of discernment that there were spies in the camp. But Dick expected to move too fast when he once got started to need to worry over what news filtered to his rear.
Neither Dick nor yet Jenison made the mistake of overlooking the Princess Olga Karageorgovich. Only they made the mistake of imagining their wits and watchfulness a match for hers.
Dressed as a Persian woman—talking Persian reasonably well—and keyed to the highest pitch of cunning by desperation, the princess, however, was a different creature, in a different mood from the forlorn, disheveled woman who had ridden into camp.
Within an hour of her change of costume she had overheard and guessed all of Dick's chivalrous arrangements about women. It was as good as signing his own death warrant for any man in that camp to interfere with any woman. The women came and went unquestioned so long as they kept within the limits of the camp.
There was nothing to be said, nor anything for the guard to report to Dick, when the woman whose clothing Marie Mouquin had commandeered came next day to see her dress on its new owner. It was no business of the guard or of anybody else that the woman stayed with the princess in her tent and talked.
But, on the other hand, it was a logical corollary that one of the spies should be hand in glove with the princess before the middle of the afternoon, and that without seeing her or trespassing within earshot of her tent.
He happened to be a veteran in his service—one whom other spies obeyed by reason of a master-word he knew. He happened to be one of the men on night-guard duty. His place by a dark rock in the middle of the far-spaced outer ring of pickets.
So he established communication that night with another man whose specialty was existence on the outer edge—a man who never trespassed into traps, but who could run like the desert wind and carry a message between a camel and his shadow.
But long before that arrangement was complete another and more complex one had been made within the camp. Messengers without messages would have been useless as messages without meaning or authoritative source. There was need of a master mind within the camp, free to make use of these links with the outer world. So at dusk, when the tired men lay by their arms and stared into the fires or talk or sang, and nobody within the camp was very watchful, the woman whose clothes the princess wore entered the tent and stayed there. And the princess passed out among the shadows!
Dick Anthony, striding by five minutes later, asked the guard if all was well and was answered in the affirmative.
The princess, in borrowed plumes, was making use of that minute of liberty to find out for herself what chance she had.
Men passed her, and some greeted her; but it was none of their affair whither she was going nor why she did not answer.
The shadows grew blacker and the men less watchful. All eyes were for the bright spots where the fires glowed hot—even Dick Anthony's.
His guards, thrusting their bayonets in here and there, were the only men on the alert within the amphitheater. At intervals they shrugged up underneath whatever shelter they could find to warm themselves, and when at last they saw Dick Anthony draw out a plan, lay it on a table at his side and grow absorbed in it, they almost ceased from their activity.
It was not very difficult then for a woman in dark Persian costume to crawl close to the hedge and peer through it undetected. It was not very difficult for the two clearest, most desperate violet eyes in Asia to recognize a map—nor presently, when Dick raised it to see better, to recognize the map. The princess gasped and nearly gave herself away.
She had thought Marie Mouquin's love for the giant Andry the sole reason for her presence in Dick's camp, and she had thought the woman's seizure in front of Astrabad due to no more than Andry's wishfulness. But if the map to which only the maid, besides herself, could ever have had access was in Dick's hands, what other secrets might not be his?
She hurried now. And, as her wit returned in a hot wave while she dodged among the shadows, she thought she saw a way of stealing a march on Dick and bringing him at last to beg of her.
She regarded her given word to Jenison, provided she thought of it at all, as subterfuge. She was thinking of nothing but the game she had to play, and as she fell panting into her tent and lay upon the earth inside, she clutched at the Persian woman and held her tight, as if she could draw strength from the plump, warm body.
"Go! Send me Marie Mouquin!" she said grimly, and the Persian woman started as if whipped, for the words came from between thin lips, propelled by desperation.
The woman disappeared between the tent flap and the princess rose, to stand waiting beside the entrance in an attitude that had changed each instant as she hesitated between a choice of force or soft persuasion. Finally, pattering through the dark slush, Marie Mouquin caught her undecided and checked a little scream as she saw the princess' face by the lantern light.
"Mother of God!" she murmured. "Are you ill?"
"No," said the princess. "Come! Listen to me! No, don't be afraid! Come in!"
She pushed and pulled her in; then stood with her back to the entrance, holding the lantern she had snatched out of Marie's hand.
"Do you know why I dare not go to Russia?"
"No," said the maid, and it was the truth.
"I dare not go to Russia because Anthony has that map. I am here—to—get—the map! It was you, Marie Mouquin, who stole that map! And it was you who sent it to Andry MacDougal, he who gave it to Anthony! So I am here—to deal with you and your man Andry! Yes—you hear me rightly—you and your man Andry! Listen! No, listen! Andry MacDougal dies tonight unless I get that map first and the plans that go with it!"
* * * * *
It was Usbeg Ali Khan, weary of telling tales to men who would have listened eagerly to twice as many, who took upon himself to hurry the army off to bed. His eyes were on a tent in which a light shone low, and cast an unexpected shadow. Used to the dark, he saw what the tent guards seemed to miss—a figure that slipped out of darkness, and dived through the tent flap on all fours.
As he hurried he saw the light inside beginning to move, and almost as he came abreast of the tent he saw a Persian woman leave it in a hurry, running as if a ghost were after her. The light inside the tent went out, so he knew that the tent had another occupant; she might be the princess, and she might be a substitute, but he chose to wait and see what the minutes might explain.
Soon Marie Mouquin came, carrying a lantern. He heard her checked scream as she passed inside the tent. He saw her swung round and pushed backward, and the snatched lantern held nearly level with her eyes. And he heard words in Russian that were enough for him. In another second he was gone, as the bats go, swift and dumb.
He loosed a horse from the long line staked down the middle of the camp and spurred him bareback to Dick's tent.
"Come! I said from the first it is foolishness to trust a woman! Come and see! Come and listen!" he choked. Dick pocketed the map, and his face was eloquent of uttered detestation of the business on which Usbeg Ali summoned him.
"Lead on!" he commanded.
He passed within the circle of the guards. They came to a stand six feet from the tent, on the side where a double shadow moved in time to a wavering light. He heard Russian voices, talking Russian, and not by any means for the first time he thanked the instinct which had warned him to conceal his knowledge of Russian from everybody.
"Andry MacDougal dies tonight," he heard, "unless I get that map and the plans that go with it!"
"I cannot! I do not even know where it is!"
"He is reading the map—under the canopy before his tent. Oh, yes, he is, for I have seen him. He is reading what must not reach the eyes of the British government! And the price of what he is reading, Marie Mouquin, is the life of your man Andry now, tonight!"
The voices in the tent died down though Dick could hear whispering, and in a minute more Marie Mouquin crept from the tent stealthily, leaving the lantern behind her.
Dick watched her go, then beckoned Usbeg Ali.
"Did you hear what was said, bahadur? Did you understand any of it? Or shall I tell?" he managed to gasp.
But Dick, with his eyes on the alert to pierce each shadow, did not seem to hear him. He reached his own enclosure, and passed in. He seemed surprised, though not displeased to find Andry there waiting for him.
"Andry," he ordered, "get your girl!"
Andry's jaw dropped and he hesitated in amazement.
"You'll find her behind the hedge at my back! Quick, man!"
Big as a bull, and heavy for his size, Andry could move like a landslide when he chose or Dick's order called for it. He hurled himself past Dick, and took the branch fence at abound, turning sharp back as he landed and pounced on somebody who squealed.
"It's her!" he gasped, more astounded than his captive.
"Bring her in!"
There was a struggle as he lifted her—a sharp smack as she slapped his face—a squeal as she was crushed into subjection in great iron arms that could have held four of her helpless.
Andry jumped the fence again with his girl held tight against his breast, and in another moment he had set her on her feet in front of Dick.
"Send Jenison!" Dick ordered suddenly. "Yes, you Andry. Go and wake up Jenison, and hurry!"
For five minutes Marie Mouquin stood beside Dick under his smoke-blackened canopy, studying his face and forgetting that she herself had been caught in the act of spying.
She was startled out of reverie by the approach of Jenison, screwing his face up and unscrewing it to get the sleep out of his eyes. He did not speak; he stood still in front of Dick, looking from him to Marie Mouquin and then back again.
"About the princess," said Dick, and Jenison looked startled.
"I'm responsible!" he answered
"I know you are! She's making trouble. It has got to stop!"
Jenison began to look exceedingly uncomfortable, and Usbeg Ali Khan's white teeth displayed themselves in a wide grin of amusement.
"If the princess gets what she wants," said Dick, "and asks to be let go, will you be content to let her go?"
"Yes, if I get your meaning rightly."
"That's all," said Dick.
"No, it's not all! I've a right to know what's going on! If I am answerable for her, I am answerable for what you do to her!"
"I'll tell you. Tomorrow she will be begging us to let her go, supposing that she hasn't given us the slip in the meanwhile. Will you agree to let her go?"
"D'you mean to try to frighten her?" asked Jenison, looking Dick straight in the eyes; and Dick said:
"No. You may take my word for it implicitly."
Jenison stalked off.
"You have your orders," he said quietly to Usbeg Ali, and the Afghan swaggered away muttering.
Then Dick turned on Marie Mouquin, and for a second she felt her heart jump to her throat, for he looked sterner than she had ever seen him.
"Whose side are you on?" he asked her suddenly, and she did not know how to answer him, for she was spellbound.
"That woman's? Russia's?"
She shook her head.
"Then do exactly what I say! Understand? Go to her tent one hour from now. Tell her you've watched me. Tell her I'm reading what she wants. Bring her here and show her. Then offer to steal the plans. Steal them, when you see the chance. Yes, steal them. But keep her to her terms. Insist that the plans leave camp within an hour! Give her no time to make any other disposition of them. Threaten to tell me otherwise. D'you understand?"
"Go and do it!"
Andry strode away into the night, his great feet sploshing into pools and squelching out again, marching like a dozen men.
The minute he was gone, Dick sent his sentries all away. Nothing loath, they hurried to snuggle into blankets by the different fires that claimed them. Then Dick went inside his tent and stayed there for ten minutes.
He came out with his cloak on, and sat down beneath the fluttering canopy by a fire that spat and sputtered. He pulled out a bulky package from beneath his cloak presently—extracted a paper from it—spread it on the table—and settled down, or seemed to, to a night of study.
It seemed a very long time before he arose at last and folded up the paper, and then he did a very strange thing. He slipped the paper back into the package, and tied the package with a string. Next he put the whole into a little steel cash box that had lain on the table under the cape of his great cloak. It was a strong steel box that once had held the papers of a Russian regiment. He locked the cash box, and put the key into his pocket.
Then, leaving the steel box on the table, in the full light of a lantern and the flickering fire blaze, he walked out of his enclosure, not troubling to look behind him once.
Wet to the skin and shivering, Marie ran through the dark to her own tent, where she took off her clothes and wrung them. A minute or two before the hour had passed she pulled on the still damp garments and ran out into the night with all her speed to make sure she would be out of breath.
"Imbecile!" the princess hissed at her, as she dived into the tent, under the eyes of guards whom Usbeg Ali had instructed to say nothing. "How long have you been! Where are they? Where are the plans? Give them to me!"
Marie Mouquin burst out sobbing, and threw herself on her knees.
"I am afraid!" she moaned. "I am afraid! What shall I do? What can I do?"
"There is only one thing you can do," the princess assured her pleasantly, prying loose the fingers that clutched at her Persian trousers.
"There is nothing I can do!" sobbed Marie. "Come with me and I will prove it to you." The princess drew the tent flap open and peered out, but all was black darkness except for the glow of a fire a hundred yards away.
"Come! Show me!"
The princess slipped through the opening, not flinching for a second when the cold rain came driving into her face. Marie slipped out after her, seeming to drag back, and not needing to pretend to be afraid, but after twenty yards of hurrying through whirling, whistling, wet blackness she gathered courage and began to lead, and presently they lay together very close to the place where the princess had escaped a bayonet thrust not long ago.
They lay for ten minutes, watching Dick Anthony, and he sat still studying what lay before him on the table. They saw him rise—saw him lock the papers in the small steel box—and saw him walk away, leaving the steel box on the table.
"Now!" said the princess savagely, gripping Marie Mouquin's arm with fingers that seemed to burn, so that the maid barely repressed a scream. "Now, imbecile! Go get it! Bring that box and save your man!"
Marie made a dash for it, for the princess might forestall her otherwise, and she was afraid, too, that she might laugh unless action brought relief. Hysterical excitement had her in its grip. Her dress caught in a twig and tore; she heard the princess curse her in fierce whispers; but she hurried—on through the gap in the fence through which Dick Anthony had passed—straight past the fire, to the table—grabbed the box and ran!
She ran as she had never moved in all her life—as if grim death himself were after her—back the way she came, past the princess, on into the night.
She took a header into her own tent, and fell prone on the rough bough bed, clutching at the blankets and biting them. The princess burst in after her, too out of breath to speak. She sprang on Marie, clutched her neck and groped for the box with her other hand.
So desire to laugh died out of Marie Mouquin to give place to desperation. She fought for a minute like a tiger-cat. She struck the wrist that tried to hold her, bruising it with the edge of the steel box. What she fought for was breath—time to get her breath, and name her terms.
"Give me the box!"
"No! No! No! I will not! I will give it to your messenger. I—with my own hands—I will give it to him! I will not have this in camp—a minute! It shall not be found on you or on me!"
"Imbecile! Ingrate! I tell you I will send it away at once!"
"I don't believe you! Move toward me and I scream!"
And the princess knew enough of her maid to know when her ultimatum had been reached.
"Have it your own way!" she panted. "Find me the man who has a bald head—Hussein Khalil—find him!"
"Stand back, then. No—out of the tent! Outside with you!" The princess walked out, seeing she had no alternative, and followed Marie through the mud and rain at what the maid considered a safe distance.
"There is your man!" said Marie suddenly, pointing to an open-sided hut of boughs and mud, within the deeper gloom of which a man swore horribly at dripping water. "Go and give him directions! I wait here."
So the princess went ahead, and what she said inside the hut was whispered too low for Marie to overhear, though she tried her best. In about a minute the princess and her man came out together, the man still swearing at the rain. It was much too dark for anyone to recognize them. They both approached Marie, but she stepped backward.
"If you have given him his orders," said Marie, "let him come alone. Go you away—back to my tent!"
Trembling with fury, the princess did as ordered. Then the man approached Marie, and she held the box out to him. He snatched it and made a swipe at her with his close fist, but she stepped back and he missed her. With an oath that only filthy lips could mouth, he ran then for the horse lines.
He seemed surprised to find the end horse ready saddled and bridled, but he did not stop to quarrel with his luck.
He rode on in silence, and did not know that two men talked about him from behind.
"Are you sure you warned all the pickets to let him by whatever word he gives?" asked Dick.
"Aye, bahadur," said Usbeg Ali.
"Very well," said Dick. "I'll wait here. Go on ahead, keeping behind that man. Warn them in case a woman follows to let her through too—and watch which way she goes! I want her tracked!"
In ten minutes' time, after pacing the distance twice between the exit and the nearest tents, Dick heard another horse, and this one was not coming at a walking gait. He had just time to step into a shadow before the horse, whose white foreleg he recognized, came cantering toward him and he saw go by, astride of a high-built Cossack saddle, none other than the Princess Olga Karageorgovich.
He waited and listened. He heard her horse increase the pace from a canter to a gallop—heard him leap the stream lower down where it crossed the trail—and then heard him settle down to do his best.
* * * * *
The peaks on every hand were being tinted by the earliest red rays of dawn, heralding a day of downpours, when Dick turned to order the first trumpet blown that should announce the start of his raid into Russia. He stopped with the word on his lips, for at that instant there was a commotion down at the main entrance. Two dismounted scouts were brought in, dead dog weary, and hurried along to where he stood by Jenison, Usbeg Ali Khan and Andry.
"Which way did she go?" Dick asked, for there was only one question uppermost in his mind.
"To the west," one man answered, hawking to get the dryness from his throat.
"To the west? How d'you know? Do you know where the west lies?"
The man was standing with his back to the rising sun, so he nodded in the direction that he faced.
"How far from here?" demanded Dick.
"A long march. As far as a good horse—my horse—can gallop between midnight and dawn."
"You have my leave to go," said Dick, and the man departed to get food.
Then Dick turned to the three beside him and gave them an inkling of the swift deductions passing through his mind.
"Their main plan now is likely to be what it was originally; this force of ten thousand—or whatever the number may be—is for our express benefit, to take us in the rear; the half million will swoop down on the east side of the Caspian as arranged, and we're to be caught between the upper grindstone and the nether."
"Sound the advance!" he ordered.
* * * * *
It was about four in the afternoon of a squashy rain-swept day before Usbeg Ali Khan sent word back that the enemy were now in touch, and that their scouts had escaped to give the warning. It was half-past four when Dick found a gorge between two hills that seemed to suit his purpose.
In an hour, while Usbeg Ali stung the Cossacks again and again to hamper their advance, Dick had the guns on a hill brow. In an hour he had placed them, and had built protection for the gunners. In another hour Jenison was in charge of them, with the ranges memorized.
Dick's plan shaped itself out of chaos as the night wore on and the storm continued. He let Usbeg Ali rest his men now, setting them to guard his flanks while he attacked. The guns under Jenison pounded the oncoming Russians until there was no choice left the Russian commander but to try to take them; and Dick fell back slowly toward them, growing every minute stronger as the reinforcements reached him from the rear and putting up a stronger resistance.
Dick opened fire at about eight hundred yards' range on the Russian column, and it squirmed on itself like a snake stung in the side. It changed front instantly, to find itself then outflanked by Andry and in the way of the machine guns that should have had clear play, Dick advanced; the guns overhead squandered ammunition, and Andry's contingent kept up a steady fusillade. The Cossacks could not help but fall back, and could not fall back on their own reserves.
By that time Dick had sent two thousand men to add heft to the drive, and the prelude to the dawn, played by pale shafts of reflected sunlight on a saturated sky, showed the commander of the Russians cut off from his fleeing men, surrounded and at bay.
The field was a shambles. Sick at heart with the sight of it, Dick gazed about him trying to see something that would cheer. It was the road to Russia, open and undefended, that gave him at last thoughts that were not so dread; and Andry came on him at gaze northward, planning the next move in the game.
"Yon's their commander!" he said pointing. He will na' surrender. What will we du? Wad ye shoot the body in cauld bluid?"
"Order him off the field!" said Dick. Send him after his fugitives into Persia!"
Andry grinned and walked off to obey. It was not for ten minutes that it dawned on Dick he had been ill-advised. He sprang on his horse and cantered toward the hillock on which the Russian and his staff had elected to make their last stand. As he rode he saw something that appalled him, and he spurred his tired charger into frantic effort.
The Russian commander appeared to have changed his mind, he could see him standing by Usbeg Ali Khan, and he saw that Usbeg Ali had the Russian's sword. They were standing at the foot of the hillock, looking upward, and shouting altogether, prisoners and captors alike. He could see, even from that distance, that Usbeg Ali yelled approval, while most of the Russians roared dissent.
On the little hill stood Andry, at the brow of a twenty-five-foot drop. He stood astride, his great thigh muscles strained to the bursting point and his knotted arms aloft. Gripped in his iron fingers up above his head he held the Princess Olga Karageorgovich, and she fought like a tiger to free herself, in vain.
Andry stopped, and his grin of rage died as he saw Dick's pistol leveled at him—died and changed to a look of stupid grief.
"Set her down!"
The giant obeyed, and Dick lowered his pistol.
Andry stumbled down the hill and slunk away with his chin low on his breast. Dick rode closer to the hill, and the princess looked down at him from its edge. She looked from him to a steel box at his feet, where Andry had hurled it preparatory to sending her after it.
"I'll bribe you," said Dick.
"With what, monsieur le bandit?"
"With that box and its contents. You may go. You may follow those fugitives that are being herded into Persia by my cavalry. I'll give you a horse. And as a reward for going you may take that box."
"Monsieur le bandit is crazy, but I will accept his terms!" she said in English.
She came down from the hill, picked up the box and mounted a horse Dick ordered brought for her. Then she rode off with a merry laugh at him, and it was not until she was out of earshot that Usbeg Ali Khan found tongue, standing beside a Russian general who was his prisoner.
"Bahadur! What is it less then madness to save that she devil's life and on top of it to give her back the map and plans that are our key to victory? That box is worth a rajah's ransom nay, an amir's! And you give it to her! Those plans and that map are——"
Dick felt inside his shirt and pulled a package out.
"Here are the map and plans," he said.
DICK led the way to the general's tent and Jenison brought up the rear.
"Sorry to have to use your tent," said Dick, "but I've none of my own. You caught me in a hurry, traveling light."
He motioned the general to a seat at the table, and the general unhooked his sword to lay it on the camp bed.
"Are you holding me to ransom?" he asked suddenly.
Dick stared very hard at the Russian, and Jenison stared hard at Dick, but neither said a word.
"You have been a very lucky man. Your luck in sweeping the Caspian of Russian ships was even more remarkable than your skill and daring. But you are a man of perspicacity; you must see—you must realize—that you cannot go on for ever defeating our regiments in detail or winning such battles as last night's. Now, Mr. Anthony, at this moment is the opportunity to get from Russia the best terms possible!"
"My price is known," said Dick. "I have never made a secret of it."
"Then I have been ill-informed," said the Russian, with a twinge of disappointment. "Will you be good enough to tell me?"
"The freedom of Persia, neither more nor less for Persia—and positive proof for myself and my identity! Neither more nor less for me!"
"But—Mr. Anthony—be practical! This talk about Persia is visionary—the matter is an international one. I——"
"You asked me my price and I have named it," said Dick rising. I shall have to ask you for your parole."
The Russian did as he was asked and signed the few lines with a flourish. Dick pocketed the paper at the moment that a horse splashed toward the tent outside. Its rider dismounted. The salaams of a Persian orderly left no doubt as to the newcomer's identity.
"Come in, Usbeg Ali!" shouted Dick, and a moment later the Afghan swaggered in, with the rain running from his beard and turban, and his high boots muddied to the top.
"Have you breakfasted?" asked Dick.
"Long since! I made a Russian cook it for me," he boasted with a sideways look at the general. "They are scattered, bahadur! There is not a troop of them left together. Would God there were a way of knowing what move the Russians make, without disclosing ours!"
"There is," said Dick, looking at Jenison. "You'd better get your man," and Jenison, with a wry face at the empty coffee pot, went out into the rain in search of one of his Americans.
"Give the general another tent," said Dick. "I have his parole. One sentry with orders not to let him out of sight will be enough."
Usbeg Ali Khan beckoned to the Russian and the two went out together, the general leaving his sword behind.
As the morning light shone stronger through the downpour he could see Dick Anthony, standing, bareheaded as always, at the entrance to the Russian general's tent. Dick's arm was stretched out, and a dozen men were listening to him in the rain with rapt attention.
"What is he ordering now?" the Afghan wondered.
He saw the men depart their different ways, and then watched Dick walk to a wagon near at hand that was very closely guarded. There were ten men posted around it, with fixed bayonets. From the opposite direction Jenison was coming with one of his Americans. The wagon was a strange one, of a type that Usbeg Ali in all his soldier experience had never seen.
From the middle of it rose a jointed pole to a great height, and from that were suspended wires that seem to have no conceivable use nor connection with anything except the wagon. But Dick seemed to regard wagon and wires with interest, so Usbeg Ali hurried, curious as a child. He arrived face to face with Jenison.
"Here he is," said Jenison. "This man can make a wireless out of a corkscrew and an old clock. He can work any kind of telegraph blindfolded, upside down and drunk."
"Know any Russian?" Dick asked.
"Um-m-m! Look the machine over. See if it works, and let me know. Don't send a message of any kind. Listen for messages. Understand?"
The American nodded, and Dick watched him climb into the wagon.
The wireless apparatus worked, as Jenison had prophesied it would. Sober as a judge, since there was no whisky anywhere, the most ingenious telegraphist that even the United States had ever grown too hot to hold imagined himself drunk has he took down letter after letter, but completely failed to string them into words. Dick, sitting beside him in the wagon, checked off the letters and put pencil dots at intervals, silent except for deep, steady breathing.
"Make head or tail of it?" the expert asked.
"Yes," said Dick.
When the instrument quit talking for a while, Dick drew out the general's little book and assured himself that the system of dots meant something. Then he sat on the wagon tail with his legs in the rain, but his body and hands inside, and started to decode the inside secrets of the most secret bureaucracy on earth.
"Where are you?" was the first part of the message, repeated a dozen times and until apparently the operator at the other end grew tired of asking.
"Send out something definite," said Dick over his shoulder. "Send some word that'll let them know they're in touch without giving anything away."
"Easy!" said the expert; and he sent a signal that is part of the international code, and so well-known that armies use it in casual conversation. Instantly the tune was taken up from the other end again.
"This is Baku. Where are you? Why are the overland wires down? What is happening?"
"Can you make it seem," said Dick, "as if we can receive, but not send?"
"Sure," said the expert.
After about five minutes more of frantic questioning the tale from the other end began to shape itself into the form of coded orders, repeated over and over again for the sake of certainty.
"The Princess Olga Karageorgovich must be rounded up and held. Find out from her where the papers are. Don't trust her again on any conditions or for any reason. Send her back here under close guard, unless——"
A word followed that seemed to have no meaning, although Dick searched the code book thoroughly. He pressed an arm against a bulky package underneath his shirt, and seem to find pleasure in it.
Baku soon resumed in code:
"Conditions on Prussian and Austrian fronts are serious. You must work alone. No force will invade Persia from the east side of the Caspian. Above all things get those plans. Try to trap Anthony. If the princess has the plans already, get them from her. In any case get rid of Anthony, and get the plans."
Dick worked with the code book, pencil and a piece of paper until he had an answer coded to his satisfaction. It was a risky game to play, to send an answer, for he had no means of knowing what peculiarities of style the general might have, and to have arouse suspicion would have been to throw away nine-tenths of his advantage.
But he decided the risk was worth it. Not knowing what he sent, the expert at the key flashed back to Baku.
The answer to that was immediate—
"Then reinforce me with ten thousand men."
Evidently the captured general was a man whom people humored as a rule, for they tendered him an explanation at some length.
"Impossible! All troops available are being rushed westward. The sooner you get the plans and finish Anthony the better, because your ten thousand men would be very useful. Hurry."
That seemed to be all Baku had to say for the time being, for the expert reporting nothing further coming through.
"Stay there then and write down whatever does come without answering," commanded Dick. "Send for me if they begin any rigmarole."
DICK went back to rummage among the general's belongings. He found and studied the general's campaign map that showed where the roads were, and the wells, and what forage and provisions might be expected at places on the road. He compared that map with his stolen, secret one—the map that betrayed intended treachery and that Russia now had sent ten thousand men to find.
Then he lay down on the general's bed, but he did not sleep. He lay, hour after hour, on the Russian general's bed, with his muddy boots on the general's private blanket, and thought out the problem point by point.
"For the sake of England and France," he said to himself, I'll save Russia's face for her. But she shall pay the price to Persia and to me in full, and in advance! Who sups with Russia, Richard Anthony, sups with a long spoon or goes hungry, and we're hungry enough—too hungry. We'll use the spoon!"
He arose and opened the tent flap an inch or two.
"Call me in four hours' time exactly!" he ordered the man on guard.
Then he lay on the general's bed, and was asleep in less than thirty seconds.
Dressed as a Persian woman, on a horse that Dick had given her, carrying a steel box that Dick had let her take, the Princess Olga Karageorgovich spurred into Persia past a line of Russian fugitives who fled from Usbeg Ali's cavalry. She ignored Russians and Usbeg Ali's men alike, for the Russians were supposed to be her own, and Dick's leave to be gone was passport enough to protect her from recapture.
Why had Dick Anthony dared let her have that box? If it contained, as she thought it did, plans and the map that would prove the Russian government a traitor to its ally, Dick could have made a better bargain with it than to toss it to her as the price of riddance.
At a slow amble she rode back toward Dick's camp. She rode for several hours, until she was brought to a stand at last by one of Usbeg Ali's outposts.
She rode on unmolested. It was not until after a wordy argument with a dozen of his fellows and an officer that the man spurred after her and past her and carried word of her coming through the rain to Dick's camp. And even then the orderly outside his tent refused to wake Dick until his stipulated four hours' sleep was over.
So the princess sat in the rain and waited for him—a wet, lone woman, on a dispirited-looking horse—and Dick, awake at once when the orderly called him, strode out unexpectant and met her face to face.
"I have come to ask mercy!" she said instantly, speaking before he could say anything.
"What do you mean?" demanded Dick.
She held the box out. Then she tossed it to his feet and for a moment he supposed that she had found some way of opening it already and had discovered his trick.
"Nothing less then dynamite would open that!" she said.
"What use do you purpose to make of the contents?" he asked her.
"Sell them! Sell them to the British! They are worth more to Russia, but Russia would bargain with me and then send me to Siberia!"
"Where do you purpose to make your bargain with the British government?" Dick asked her.
"Where else but at Teheran? I might get through to Teheran, and there is nowhere else to turn."
"I will give you a pass and an escort to Teheran," said Dick, "provided when you get there you will give the box and its contents to the British minister. I shall add a letter to what is already in the box, and something else. In the letter I shall say that you will prove my identity!"
"I surrender!" she said quietly, and then she dismounted into a foot of slimy mud.
"Get some kind of a change of clothes for her!" he shouted then see that she has a tent, or some place in which to change!"
Dick laid the box, all muddied, on the table and produced its key. He opened it, and the princess gasped. Usbeg Ali grinned.
"Blank paper, and a few out-of-date muster roles, you see! Nothing much to bargain with!"
"Bah! A bandit's trick! A trick for the sake of trickery! And to what purpose? To get rid of me? I would have gone in any case!"
Usbeg Ali laughed aloud, and Jenison looked uncomfortable.
"There shall be no trick this time," said Dick, emptying the box by turning it upside down. Perhaps you recognize this?"
The princess nodded and her fingers twitched as she recognized a letter that had been enclosed in the map that she purposed to offer to the British. It was a letter of four closely written pages, explaining much that was on the map, Dick put it in the box. Then he took pen and paper and wrote a short letter on one sheet that he showed to nobody. Signed but unsealed, he put it in the box with the Russian letter, and holding the box up to full view of the princess he locked it, putting the key back in his own pocket.
"Now," he said, "I'll send this key by a man whom I can trust to the British Minister at Teheran. The man shall leave within an hour. You—" he looked straight in the princess' eyes—"shall leave for Teheran at dawn tomorrow with an escort of ten men, and you shall carry the box.
"If you can satisfy the British minister that you are the Princess Olga Karageorgovich and that I am Richard Anthony of Arran, you will be able to make terms with him, I think. You may tell him he will find me at Baku! Let me have one of your Afghans, Usbeg Ali to carry the key and ten dependable men to ride with her at dawn. Thanks."
As the princess walked away, she nodded to Dick familiarly, ignored Jenison as a person of no importance and laughed at Usbeg Ali Khan.
A little later, Dick passed the tent that had been given the princess with a frown on his face that he could never quite refrain from at mere thought of her. Even now, when she called to him from between the tent flaps, he turned to listen to her and could find a smile of courtesy.
His smile grew sunnier for of late she had always called him by his first name.
"It is very cold and wet. I am only a woman, and I have been exposed to more rain than is good for me. Is there no brandy—perhaps even vodka—in the camp? May I have some, please?"
Across Dick's mind there flashed recollection of a wagon-load of vodka, part of the loot of the Russian camp, that he had ordered kept under rigid guard because he had use of his own for it. He went to the wagon, made one of the sentries pull out a small cask of the stuff, and, because there was no sense in leaving a broached cask to tempt the men, carried the whole thing to the princess' tent.
He went off at once and ordered a Russian officer's cot mattress taken to her, with half a dozen plundered Russian blankets. He had food sent to her. And because the close ring of sentries set by Usbeg Ali irked his sense of what was due a woman he ordered them away are left only one to watch her.
Then he went off about the thousand and one different things that call for the attention of a man who would lead eight thousand on a raid.
The camp became like an ant's nest for activity; and when the rain ceased at last and the clean, sweet air called out the fighting men from under cover to fill their lungs and stretch themselves, there was too much commotion and too much hilarity for minor things to be much noticed. Certainly nobody noticed a long slit in the back of the princess' tent, and a finger that rose and fell up and down in what might have been a premeditated sequence of short and long strokes.
Nobody noticed that the tent assigned to the Russian general, that was back to back to hers and a hundred yards away, had a slit in the back of it, too, or that another finger did very much the same thing in that slit.
Nor did it seem to be anybody's business that the sentry on duty by the princess' tent should go close to the fluttering flap and be given a cup of strong vodka.
And vodka is generous stuff when a man has not tasted spirits for a year or two. A second helping of raw spirits, passed to him by a slim hand through the opening of the tent, opened the man's ears and made mere words sound like the whispering of angels.
"Would he take a message? In the name of Allah the Compassionate, why not!"
Within five minutes the general was in possession of a scribbled note and within five minutes more the princess had her answer, scribbled across the lines of the same sheet of paper.
Then, would the sentry not be pleased to let a lady by? She would come back within ten minutes. Yes, she could see Dick Anthony now, examining the captured Russian cattle; surely she would be back before he had finished, it would take him thirty minutes more at least to complete his inspection at that rate and she would be back in less than fifteen. Meanwhile there was a third cup of good vodka, and if the sentry would step aside for just one second—so——
She was gone—a veiled Persian woman slipping by the shadows in a camp where a woman of any kind was sacred. She had vodka—lots of it—in the gourd they had provided for her drinking water hidden under her long veil.
Luck of the most amazing kind seemed to shadow the princess always in the inception of her plans and the beginning of the evolution. It was nothing less than luck that made Jenison relieve the guard on the wireless station with another man who was now stupid from being aroused from heavy sleep.
He had taken up his duty about five minutes before the princess came. And then from beside the wagon wheel a cup was held out to him by a Persian woman, who said in very pretty broken English——
"Wid Meester Anthonee's compleemens."
He reached for the cup, swallowed its contents, and allowed the veiled lady to fill it again. The second cup made him cough, and his head swam so that he did not ask a third; he was satisfied to lean on his rifle and wonder at the world at large.
Through the slit in the covered front of the wagon a slim hand followed by the shapeliest arm the wireless expert had ever seen, held out a cup of vodka. He held out his hand and touch the cup—took it—swallowed the contents—coughed—gasped—and passed it back for more.
"Pinch me when it's over!" he said in a level voice. "But not until it's over!"
Nobody saw the Persian woman climb up by a wheel and spring inside. Nobody heard the argument that followed.
"Uh-uh! Gimme summore, kid! Pass the bottle!"
"Give me a pencil and some paper. So, I will write a message—you will send it—then you shall have as much as you can drink."
From somewhere under her Persian dress the princess drew a little book that was identical with that taken by Dick from the general's belongings. Carefully, but with a speed that proved her long familiar with the code, she wrote out a message in a clear, bold hand.
"Send this," she said quietly.
"Gimme another drink, that's a good girl!"
"First, send this."
"Send what? What is it? Send it where?"
"Call P-P-L. Keep on calling P-P-L."
Automatically, almost, the man dispatched the signal number that she gave him, and from overhead the wires crackled that had been silent all afternoon.
Dick Anthony, passing up and down the horse lines, heard the crackling and turned his head. Then it occurred to him that the man in the wagon must be acknowledging signals. He went on examining the horses, being satisfied that the wireless expert would write down anything that came. But the crackling continued, at a growing pace, and Dick became uneasy.
Presently he left the horses, and went striding across the camp in a hurry. He had to pass the princess' tent to reach the wireless wagon. He saw the sentry leaning on his rifle half asleep; he went near enough to smell the fellow's breath and then he open the tent flap to find nobody inside. And still the wires up over the wagon crackled like burning thorns.
The nearest man was the sentry. Dick seized him by the scruff of the neck and shook him until he dropped his rifle.
"Go and get Jenison!" ordered Dick.
"Find him! Bring him!"
Then Dick saw Jenison, and timed himself to meet the American exactly abreast of the wireless wagon. The crackling had ceased, and a face that peered through an opening to see if all was clear drew back again as he approached.
"Hello, Jenison!" he called.
"Hello! What's new?"
"A change of plan, that's all. Sha'n't start for a few days—very likely three days, and perhaps four."
"But why? Man, why in thunder not?"
"Come to my tent and I'll tell you!" Dick took his arm and led him along.
While they squelched through fifty or sixty yards of mud Dick strode in silence, never once looking to the right or left.
"What's that noise?" demanded Jenison.
"News of my change of plan going to Baku! That's your wireless expert sending a message for the princess saying that we'll wait here three or four days because the men won't march!"
"Fact!" Dick assured him. "No, she isn't in her tent. I came from there. I gave her the vodka myself with which she bribed your man."
"On purpose to bribe him?"
"No. That part was unintentional. It was my oversight, so your man shan't be shot. Ah! Here is Usbeg Ali—Usbeg Ali, get a move on! We start in an hour, and sooner if you can!"
The Afghan saluted.
"Go and get your guns away, Jenison!"
Jenison, too, saluted, and the act seemed to give him pleasure.
"Has the man gone to Teheran with the keys of that box?" asked Dick.
"Surely," said Usbeg Ali.
"Then let me have that ten-man escort now instead of tomorrow morning."
"In five minutes they shall be here, bahadur."
"Don't want 'em here! Send 'em to the wireless wagon. Let 'em take the drunken man who is in there, and the princess, too, if she is in there. If the princess isn't there, let 'em take her from her tent and escort both to Teheran together. Be sure that the princess takes her steel box when she goes!"
"Is that all, bahadur?"
"The main thing is to hurry. Send Andry MacDougal to me if you see him anywhere. That's all, Usbeg Ali."
So the Afghan saluted, clicked his heels together, and was gone.
No bugle or trumpet blew to herald Dick's start on a raid that was more daring than any in the greatest war in history. It was sheer, stark, laughing madness, and every man who sploshed through the mud behind Dick Anthony that afternoon in time to "The Campbells Are Comin'" knew it—knew that Russia's millions lay over the border beyond and that nothing less than genius could save them from utter destruction! Yet, the mile-long columns laughed, tossing new jokes from company to company. Most of all they joked about the Princess Olga Karageorgovich, who many of them had seen sent southward surrounded by ten men.
Dick, except when some ribaldry or other passed him wind-whipped from the gun-tails back to the squelching infantry, did not even spare a passing thought for any woman in the world.
But the princess was thinking of Dick when she was not storming at the Persian horsemen who escorted her at Dick's command. The horsemen were not at all in love with the notion of riding away from the scene of Dick's next operation, and she worked with a will and a forked tongue to make them less so.
So she was in no mood to be hustled down to Teheran. When Dick determined first to send her there the idea had suited her finely, for she had thought herself at the uttermost end of her resources. But communication with the Russian general and discovery of the wireless plant had changed all that. She had been able to notify the Russian government of the whereabouts of those most important, most incriminating plans.
The plans were worth more to Russia than to England, almost infinitely more. She stood to gain almost infinitely more by following Dick and getting them, to bargain with them afterward, than by telling the British representative at Teheran of maps that had been in Dick's hands, but were now recaptured by Russia.
She had notified Russia of Dick's raid, repeating faithfully his talk of not starting for three or four days, to learn directly afterward that Dick fooled her. Then it was time to act desperately.
When she was certain that her vodka-soaked escort was asleep, she went hurrying out of the hut in which they had camped to run swiftly for the stables where fifteen horses moved restlessly.
She did not wait to pick the best horse, but sprang on the first and sent him careering out of the village, riding bareback with a halter for a bridle. She laughed as she struck the horse with the steel box that was all she owned of anything at all. She laughed again as she worked the horse around until he was headed northward in the wake once more of Richard Anthony of Arran!
THENCEFORWARD for a few days, though she fought with cruel weather, her progress was comparatively easy. Twice she changed horses, once stealing a remount from a village where Dick had left two hundred tired mounts in exchange for a hundred and twenty fresh ones.
Slipping between the extended ranks of the rearguard was a work of art, though not so difficult as might appear at first thought.
At last, in the rain of a desperate night, coughing as if her sides would shake apart, she slipped by Dick's farthest-placed picket and was brought to a stand by the picket next beyond.
He strode toward her, pounced on her, dragged her to her feet and marched her with a bayonet at her back to his corporal, who sent her, with another man to help, posthaste to Dick. And Dick was snatching part of the four hours of sleep that he allowed himself. He came from his tent, savage at the interruption, holding a lantern above his head and peering forward. She cast herself in the mud at his feet.
"Dick! Oh, Dick! Dick Anthony!"
Dick picked her up in both arms, for there was nothing else that a gentleman could do, and carried her into his tent, calling to the orderly to follow him. Then, while the orderly watched her and she drank the soup that had been made ready against Dick's waking, Dick went to a wagon and had room made for her on a mattress stowed between the stores.
After that he had her carried to the wagon, and a Persian woman was sent to wait on her. A dozen man were told off to march by the wagon three on either side, three behind and three in front, and then Dick mounted his own charger to see to the resumption of the march.
He was very close to the Russian border now, and his numbers had been swelled by the addition of Persians trained by Russian officers, who deserted to him as he marched northward.
Next morning Dick sent for the princess, and they carried her to him on a litter, for she seemed too weak to stand.
"What was the wireless message you persuaded that man to send?" he demanded.
She laughed at him until a fit of coughing seized her.
"Kiss me," she said, "and I'll tell you, Dick!"
Andry came, tremendous and solicitous, as he always did whenever there was a halt of any long duration. Silent as a rock he stood behind Dick.
"Ye mind ye gave me orrrders tae smash yon wireless wagon 'way back behind?"
"Before I broke the apppparrratus intae leetle bits, I found a wee bit paper. I hae it here."
He dropped the crumpled ball of paper into Dick's open palm, and Dick began to uncrumple it. He smoothed it out and held it toward the lantern, and Andry all but jumped in spite of his proud Scots phlegm when he saw the sudden change in Dick's face and sensed the turn affairs had taken.
"What is it, Mr. Dicky?"
But Dick was too busy to answer him. Spread on his knee was the coded message that the princess had bribed the American to send, and Dick's hand was busy searching in an inside pocket for the little book he had found among the general's effects.
The princess stared hard and tried to rise and snatch the message, but Andry saw her in time and his huge bulk intervened. The princess sank to her couch again.
"Tell me," said Dick, leaning forward suddenly and addressing the princess, "why did you say nothing of my having defeated your ten thousand men!"
The princess coughed for about two minutes, shook her head apparently in token that circumstances were too many for her, and decided in a whim of the moment to answer him.
"I agreed with the general not to."
"The general hoped that his men would rally and attack you from the rear. A defeated general is not persona grata in Russia. His best plan was to wait in the hope of a reverse to you that would set him free, and perhaps set him at the head of his own men again. He agreed to befriend me afterward, should circumstances favor him. I would really have told you had you paid the price I asked. And it was not a very high price. Tell them to carry me away."
Dick arose and stepped toward her litter.
"You shall have your price!" he said, and he knelt beside her as if she had been an angel and he was a suppliant for grace. Under the eyes of Andry and a dozen wondering Persians he bent over her and kissed her on the lips, and she threw her arms around his neck, sobbing and stuttering.
"Dick—Dick! Oh, Dick! There was never a day when I would not have died for you! Kiss me again, Dick, for I am dying!"
So he kissed her again, and then bent her arms back and released himself.
"Take her back to her wagon!" he ordered, and four men raised her litter.
"Andry!" he ordered suddenly. "Get word to Jenison and Usbeg Ali Khan to hurry on at once!"
HE went into Russia like a whirlwind, doing no more damage than to burn the telegraph poles and a few bridges over which an active enemy might possibly have cut him off.
His genius had detected Russia's weakness in the one spot where she was weak at that instant.
He marched due westward, in no hurry, until dark, and the Russians got behind him to cut off his retreat. That night he made a ten-mile line of bonfires, all of railroad material, telegraph poles, and ties; and, leaving the bonfires well alight, he marched east again, and fell on the Russians before their scouts could bring them word that the fires were an empty ruse.
He caught them on the flank, and again from the side on which they were certain he would not come; and before the Russian guns could form to give battle—before one round was fired—Usbeg Ali Khan, with a thousand men, had swept down on them under cover of black darkness and had put them out of action.
"On to Baku, now!" commanded Dick; and at dawn they lay down to sleep in sight of Baku, while Dick watched through his glasses the signs of panic that the appearance of a hostile force so near the city was bound to start in a population that is mixed of all the nationalities of the Levant, Asia Minor and the Caucasus.
Meanwhile a little procession wound its way to where Dick stood bareheaded, like a statue of resolution staring at what must be. Men carried a litter on which the princess lay, the general walked beside it and Marie Mouquin walked behind.
They laid the litter near Dick's feet. Signing for a bundle of blankets to be brought, Dick sat down on them beside the litter and bent forward so that he might hear better what the princess said. But he changed his mind on a sudden impulse and passed his field glasses to the general.
"Take a look!" he said curtly. "Take a good look!"
The general did as he was told, with eyebrows expressing wonder that he should be expected to see anything worth looking at in the neighborhood of Baku, the abominable.
"Get the hang of it?" asked Dick.
The general stroked his beard as he handed back the glasses. He looked down the length of Dick's little army, estimating it, and then again at Baku. But he did not answer.
Dick stooped over the princess.
"I'm sending into Baku now," he said. "You'd better tell me what creature comforts you want most, and I'll do what I can to have them brought to you."
She coughed until the litter shook and the general turned his head away. Dick signed to Marie Mouquin and the maid came forward.
"Make out a list of what she most needs!"
So Marie Mouquin, who had been the princess' maid for so many years that she knew what to write down almost without giving thought to it, made out a little list and handed it to Dick. Dick gave it to the general. And the general dropped his jaws until the gold filling of his back teeth showed.
"Take it into Baku!" ordered Dick.
"I am your prisoner," the general said stiffly, "and you have my parole. But I refuse to lend myself to any scheme of yours."
"Here is your parole!" said Dick, handing him a scrap of writing.
"Bring him his sword!" commanded Dick, and someone ran for it.
"Get him a horse!"
Then they brought the general's horse.
"What are your demands?" the general asked.
"I will only make them through the senior British official in Baku, consul or whatever he is. He must come out here and talk with me, and unless you want immediate action from my artillery, the senior representative of the Russian government had better come with him with authority to act!"
"I cannot promise," said the general, with eyes still on the dust clouds.
"Here's your horse. You'd better go. My card will reach there before you do; it will be my business card to show that I mean business. Understand me! I give them until noon, and not a minute longer!"
Wondering perhaps what his reception was likely to be—for a defeated Russian general is more likely than not to be sentenced to death by a court-martial—the Russian rode away, trotting slowly until he had gone a quarter of a mile and then urging the horse into a gallop. Dick stooped beside the litter again.
"Do you think they'll come and talk with you?" the princess asked.
"I know they will!" Dick answered.
Dick swung into the saddle and cantered ahead of the litter, halting by Jenison.
"Change the elevation of one gun, please," said Dick. "I want one shot—just one—sent straight over yonder distillery. I promised to send my card. Be sure you hit nothing. Fire when you like!"
The general repeated what Dick Anthony had said to him, and gave the Baku authorities as well a fair account of Dick's resolution and the efficiency of his little army and its guns.
"The guns are all trained on the gasoline!" he assured them.
The British very-high-official was invited to attend, and the matter was explained to him. At mention of the name of Anthony his gray eyes confessed to something more than the mild interest that had been his utmost concession hitherto. There seemed to be almost laughter in his eyes, and he had to clear his throat before he could speak.
"White's looking for him, you know," he said. "Most extraordinary case. Word reached England from your foreign office to the effect that young Anthony was dead and buried at sea. His uncle, I understand, wasn't sorry to hear it. But now the uncle is dead, and young Anthony would be heir if he were alive. Most extraordinary part of it is that our Minister at Teheran has written London to say that a man claiming to be Dick Anthony of Arran is at large in Persia.
"White is of Mervin, White and Melville, who are lawyers for the Anthony estate, and he asked leave to travel under my wing, so to speak, on this trip so that he might trace Dick, if possible. I knew young Anthony fairly well myself. Would know him again out of a million. Never saw a man quite like him, or with quite his presence. Most astonishing young man."
"Will you go with me, if I go?"
"I am at your service. I suggest that White go with us."
So White was summoned, combing his mutton-chop side-whiskers with nervous fingers, yet giving the impression that a silk hat and a frock coat where his rightful garb, and not altogether unpossessed of dignity.
They rode in silence side-by-side until Dick showed a white flag, too, from his eminence, and then the Englishman fell a yard or two behind.
Dick rode out to meet them, to escort them in person to the spot where the princess lay on her roughly-made litter.
The very-high-official slapped his thigh, so that his horse was scared and sidestepped. Dick's eyes and his met, and Dick laughed aloud.
"Hello, Uncle Charles!"
"Hello!" said the very-high-official; then he turned to White. "Recognize him, White?" he asked.
"That is Mr. Richard Anthony of Arran!" answered White.
"Oh, hello, White!" said Dick.
"My regards, sir! Glad to see you, Mr. Anthony!"
"Now, follow me, please," said Dick, and he led the way at a canter to the summit of the rising ground. Then he sent at once for Jenison and Andry and Usbeg Ali Khan, and as each came he presented him. At Dick's order men brought a blanket and laid it on the ground not far from where the princess lay. Dick felt inside his shirt and tossed a package into the middle of it. At another word from him, Andry and Usbeg Ali Khan each strode to the blanket and took stand beside it with a drawn sword in his hand.
"D'you recognize that?" asked Dick.
"No," said the governor of Baku.
Dick looked hard at him, and the governor stared back.
"Ask her!" advised Dick, pointing to the princess, who was being raised on pillows by Marie Mouquin. She seemed too weak even to rise into a sitting posture without help.
Frowning, for the princess was in disgrace, the governor stooped down beside the litter, and between long fits of coughing the princess told him in Russian that the papers constituted proof—absolute, unqualified proof of Russia's intention to march half a million into Persia at a time when she was bound by treaty with Great Britain to do nothing of the kind.
"Do you know what the papers are now?" asked Dick.
The governor of Baku nodded his head.
"Do you wish me to tell this gentleman—" Dick pointed to his uncle—"exactly what the papers are?"
"No!" said the governor.
"Well," said Dick, "he shall see them unless we can come to terms."
"What are the terms?" asked the governor.
"These," said Dick. "I am here on behalf of Persia. These men who have followed me are Persian patriots, who are in arms for the cause of Persia's freedom. In the presence of my uncle here, and witnessed by his signature, you are to give these men a written guarantee that Persian independence shall be always respected in the future. You are to agree to withdraw all Russian troops from Persia, and for all time, and to guarantee the integrity of the present boundary in perpetuity."
"I have no authority!" said the governor.
"Then get it!" answered Dick.
Dick drew out a watch.
"At exactly 30 seconds after noon, by my time, I shall begin to bombard that gasoline! Shall we compare watches?"
"The governor looked at the very-high-official whom Dick had called uncle, but the Englishman was staring steadily at the papers on the blanket. He seemed to be in a daydream.
"Incidentally," said Dick, "I shall show my uncle those papers, unless——"
"Come!" said the governor of Baku. "We will ride back!"
"No!" said Dick. "I refuse to subject any person of my uncle's political importance to the danger of a bombardment. He stays here!"
"I claim the protection of the Russian government!" said Dick's uncle, with a face that owned positively no expression.
"I can do nothing without authority," said the governor.
"Use your wireless!" ordered Dick. "But understand me, I begin to bombard at thirty seconds after twelve unless——"
The governor of Bakua paced up and down a time or two irresolutely, glancing from Dick to his uncle, all down the lines of Dick's ready little army, and then at the city and its tanks of dangerous, precious fuel.
"It seems I must leave you here!" he said at last.
So the governor of Baku rode away, not as he had come, with dignity, but at a furious gallop.
"Well, young man," said Dick's uncle, when the governor had gone, "what's it all mean? You've got the governor of Baku cornered, but what about afterward?"
"I shall hurry home!" Dick assured him.
His uncle whistled.
"As long as you're my prisoner," said Dick, "I'll make use of you. Let me present you to the Princess Olga Karageorgovich."
His uncle bowed, and the dying woman smiled. Between violent fits of coughing she told, at Dick's request—since memory of Dick's kiss was on her lips yet—how she had tricked and trapped and driven Dick into Persia that he might be made an outlaw and provide excuse for a Russian invasion of the country. She omitted little accept the story of her frenzied love for Dick and of her attempts to murder him.
"Could you drop your official rank for a minute or two?" Dick asked, when the princess had finished.
His uncle nodded.
"Then, strictly sub rosa and unofficially, I'll let you look at those papers."
Andry picked them from the blanket and held them out. Dick's uncle glanced at them, studied the map for about a minute, whistled and threw them back on the blanket.
"I'd rather not see any more," he said grimly.
"There's only one thing, then, I've got to add," said Dick. "I'm going to leave myself in your hands. You draw up an agreement with the governor of Baku and I'll sign it over your signature. I insist on permission for Andry MacDougal, Usbeg Ali Khan and his seven personal followers, Mr. Jenison and his followers and the Princess Olga Karageorgovich, as well as Andry's sweetheart, Marie Mouquin, to go where they care to unmolested."
"How about yourself?"
"I? I shall lead these men back into Persia, of course."
"I shall go to England, and shall ask you for your influence toward getting me a regular commission."
"I promise it to you now, my boy."
THE princess died in Baku, in Marie Mouquin's arms. Dick kissed her again before he left, and because she begged him to and she smiled as she died with the memory of his kisses on her lips.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.