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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

THE DEATH STAR

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RGL e-Book Cover 2018

ILLUSTRATED BY J. MACGILLIVRAY


Ex Libris

First published by William Collins, London, 1940

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2018-07-26
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Illustration

"The Death Star," William Collins, London, 1940, Dust Jacket


Illustration

"The Death Star," William Collins, London, 1940, Book Cover


Illustration

"The Death Star," Title Page



To the Memory of

JULES VERNE

First of science-fiction writers, to
whom all those who follow in his
steps owe a debt of gratitude,
I dedicate this book.

T.C. BRIDGES.




In this vintage science fiction novel Bridges describes an Earth largely devastated and depopulated by a terrible disturbance in the solar system. The story relates the adventures of seven men adrift in a marvellous airship of the future. There is a battle to death between two scientists, one seeking to build up a new and better world on the ruins of the old, the other a fiend fighting to set up a system which would destroy finally what life was left on Earth.




TABLE OF CONTENTS



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


Frontispiece

Illustration

The four men leaped back in such a
hurry that one fell over on his back.



CHAPTER I. — THE NEW SUN

WITH a faint whine from her compact little radium engine the helicopter shot almost straight up into the vast mass of brutally black cloud which overhung London. It was the third hour of the great darkness, and the city, with its tremendous towers of glassite gleaming with multi-coloured lights, vanished almost instantly in the smother.

Frank Lynd, tall, slim, grey-eyed, looking younger than his eighteen years, sat at the control board and watched the altimeter. Ten—fifteen—twenty thousand feet were passed, and still the little ship ploughed upwards through a darkness like the plague of Egypt. He glanced at the thermometer, then stared at it: by all laws it ought to be registering at a temperature many degrees below zero, yet the mercury stood at sixty above.

"What's it mean?" he asked of his companion in a strained voice. Dex Halstow, Frank's companion and best friend, was stocky, dark-haired, had high cheekbones, and eyes of a peculiar hazel green. He frowned.

"What's the use of asking me? Something wrong with the works. I'd say it was the end of all things. Must be pretty bad, or Sir Daniel wouldn't have been so urgent."

"How the mischief can we find him in this?" asked Frank. His pleasant face looked pinched, and his grey eyes were full of trouble. Dex shrugged.

"What's the use of worrying?" he growled. "We've got to die some time." Frank's face relaxed. He laughed—this was so like Dex.

"I don't want to die yet," he retorted; "and you don't either. I believe it's getting a bit lighter." He peered upwards. Sure enough, the awful blackness was not quite so black. A sullen red glow began to break through it.

"The sun!" Frank cried.

"About time, too!" grumbled Dex. "Keep her to it." But the little helicopter, built only for travel in the lower atmosphere, was very near her ceiling. The air at this great height was almost too thin to hold her spinning vanes. In the blackness and confusion which reigned below there had been no time or opportunity to get one of the stratosphere flyers which were used for all long-distance journeys. The needle of the altimeter wavered at twenty-three thousand. The temperature had dropped a little, but was still extraordinarily high.

"Drive her west," Dex suggested. "It may not be so thick over the sea."

"That's no good," Frank told him; "we shall miss Sir Daniel. He said he'd meet us over London. I'm going to give her all she'll take. It's a bit risky, but better than going down into that black pit again." As he spoke his long slim fingers were busy with the controls. The faint whine of the engine grew to a thin shriek. The vanes were spinning at almost incredible speed, and the brave little machine began to rise again. The black mirk turned to grey, the red glow grew stronger.

"Now perhaps we'll see something," said Frank. Dex was staring upwards.

"You'll see something, all right!" he said grimly. "We've got a new sun." As he spoke the helicopter broke out through the upper level of the vast canopy which covered the planet into the cloudless blue of the upper atmosphere, and such a blast of heat and light struck upon her as dazzled and almost blinded her crew. There was the sun, a little past the zenith, but, as Dex had said, there was also a second sun flaming in the north-west. It was smaller than the real sun, but it was burning with terrific heat and trailing behind it a blazing, comet-like tail.

"A new star!" gasped Frank. "And—and look at the way it's moving. You were right, Dex. This is the end of all things."

"Not of us," snapped Dex. For once the two young men seemed to have changed characters, and it was Dex who refused to be discouraged. "Can't you trust Sir Daniel?"

"I'd trust him above any man," Frank said; "but even he can't stop that star from burning up the Earth."

"Then he'll probably take us to the moon," Dex answered coolly. As he spoke there was a sound like a chiming clock striking, a musical rhythm of three notes. It came from a small box of silvery metal next the instrument board. "There he is, calling," Dex added sharply as he switched on a loud speaker.

"Well done!" came a deep voice. "I am above you, but coming down. I shall drop beneath you and remain poised. You can settle on top of my ship and enter by the air lock. Be quick—every minute counts." The last word had hardly died away before a great dark object dropped like a thunderbolt out of the glare above. It passed the helicopter at a distance of less than a quarter of a mile, stopped, steadied, and moved swiftly towards the little machine.

It was so swiftly done that all that Frank and Dex could see was that she was a dirigible built of metal of a glowing purple hue, and that she was evidently under perfect control. Next instant she was poised, steady as a rock, immediately beneath the helicopter. Frank lowered his little machine carefully until it came to rest on the curved top of the dirigible. With a click a door shot open and a head showed in the opening.

"Quick, you chaps," came the same deep voice as had spoken through the telephone.

Frank and Dex needed no urging; they had not even time to marvel at the amazing phenomenon of a huge mass of metal remaining suspended, motionless, in mid-air. Certainly this ship had no fans or vanes to hold her. She had not even a propeller. The two dropped swiftly through the open trap, and the door instantly closed behind them.

"But our 'copter—can't we make her fast?" Frank asked. The big man beside him shook his head.

"No time. Every minute counts."

"But she may fall on London—she may kill some one!"

The big man shrugged.

"It makes no difference. They will all be dead within a few hours." The words sent a thrill of horror through Frank, but the other was quickly opening the inner door of the air lock, and the three stepped on to a stairway leading down to the centre of the great hull. A moment or two later they entered a large cabin lit by a soft wireless light. The air, though warm, was deliciously cool compared with the blinding blaze outside.

Their conductor motioned them to two chairs, and spoke through a phone standing on a metal table. Instantly the great ship was under way again, and, by the pressure which forced him back against the pneumatic cushions of his chair, Frank realised that the speed was far beyond anything that he had yet experienced.

"You'll have to sit still for a bit," said Sir Daniel Counsellor. "As I told you, every minute counts. The star is travelling faster than I imagined. If we are not under cover in something less than an hour we shall share the fate of the rest of mankind."

Frank stared at the speaker. He knew him well enough, for Sir Daniel was his dead father's cousin and had acted as his guardian for the past five years. He had always been extremely kind, and it was to him that Frank and his friend Dex Halstow both owed their technical training. Sir Daniel was nearly sixty, but looked no more than forty-five. He was a magnificent man, with a great leonine head, an immensely deep chest, and possessed of vast physical strength and endurance. His brain matched his body. For years past he had been looked upon by the Inner Circle, the world's master scientists, as the greatest of them all. Yet he himself had never been a member of that all-powerful body, but had preferred to devote his life to private research in his great laboratory in the northern mountains. This spot he had chosen by reason of its freedom from earthquakes.

"You're thinking I left it to the last minute, Frank," Sir Daniel went on. "That is not my fault—the ship was only completed this morning. This is her first trip.

"Her first trip!" Frank exclaimed in amazement. "And you risked coming after us like this?"

"I needed you, Frank—you and Dex both. I only wish I had time to collect a few more of the younger generation, but this terrible thing has come upon us so suddenly."

"What is it, sir," Dex asked: "a comet?"

"I don't know. It isn't an ordinary meteorite, for it is giving off terrific heat. Possibly two of the smaller planetoids have collided. To tell the truth, I have been expecting something to happen for more than six months past, ever since that extraordinary explosion on Mars. That was one of my reasons for building this ship."

"And where are we going?" Frank asked. "To the moon?"

"No. I don't say I couldn't reach it, for this vessel is built to travel in space. But, even if we reached the moon, what use would it be? There is no atmosphere. At present we are heading back to Ben Barran. We shall be there in less than an hour."

"Ben Barran?" Frank repeated. "But you said every one on earth would perish!"

"No—not necessarily every one on earth. Most of them must die, but I am hoping that the precautions I have taken may save our lives."

"And Thea?" Frank exclaimed sharply. "Will—will she be safe?"

"Thea is waiting in the Rock House," said Sir Daniel gravely. "She will share our chances." He stopped speaking, and fixed his eyes upon a small television screen in front of him. Under ordinary conditions the land above which they flew would have shown upon it, but now all that was visible was a vast sea of dark writhing vapours. Yet Sir Daniel seemed to know precisely the position of the ship, and presently, lifting a telephone, spoke into it.

"Cut the power, Trent. We're going down." Next instant the long cigar-shaped ship had plunged into the fog sea. She was still travelling at great speed, but nothing like so fast as before. Again Sir Daniel spoke to the unseen Trent.

"I'm taking charge. Cut off power the instant you get my signal." He turned to Frank.

"It's all right. Thea has switched on the neon flares. Yes, I see them." He touched a button. The low thunder of the rocket gases ceased, the great ship floated stationary. Sir Daniel spoke again through the phone.

"Can you see the flare, Trent? All right. Push her on very gently. That's it. She's inside. Now lower her." There was a slight jar, and again the great vessel was at rest. Sir Daniel stood up.

"We're safe—for the moment, at any rate. Come—Thea will be waiting for us." Frank and Dex followed him through a door in the ship's side. They stepped out on to a platform, to see the ship lying in a cradle. On either side were walls of rock, and, above, a roof of solid granite. They were in a great cave lit by wireless globes. A tall, slim girl, with curly, golden-brown hair, came flying up the steps to the platform.

"Dad! Dad! Oh, I'm so glad you're back! And Frank—and Dex." She gave them each a hand and a flashing smile. "I've been so terribly anxious," she went on. "The wireless is hopeless—I could only get a word now and then. They say something has happened to the Heaviside Layer, and that signals are going straight out into space." She paused and the smile faded from her face. "Dad, is it true? Are we all done for?"

Sir Daniel put an arm round his daughter.

"It's bad, my dear. It could hardly be worse. This comet, or whatever it is, is getting very close. Whether it will actually hit the Earth or not I cannot tell, but in any case the heat it generates must destroy a great part of life on this planet. Whether we shall escape or not I cannot tell, but we have a better chance than the rest. We have water and oxygen, and our screens will cut off some part at least of the heat. We must trust in Providence, Thea." He paused and looked at the boys. "Have you fellows had anything to eat to-day?"

"We had breakfast, sir," Frank answered. "I haven't thought of food since."

"We must eat, even if the skies fall," said Sir Daniel. "Can you find us some food, Thea?"

Before she could answer there came a crackle from the wireless followed by words. They were broken and indistinct, yet audible.

"Professor Manikoff speaking from the North Polar Observatory. The comet is approaching the earth at an inestimable speed. It is already within the moon's orbit. Impossible to say whether..." A frightful crackling cut off the next few words, then the voice came again: "Temperature here has risen to seventy. Fog coming up. Ice melting rapidly." Another crackle. They waited, but nothing more came.

"Inside the moon's orbit," Sir Daniel repeated slowly. "That gives us something under four hours. Plenty of time to eat our luncheon," he added with a firm smile.


CHAPTER II. — DOOM!

FRANK never forgot that meal. A very good meal, for there was a cold pie, salad, dishes of fruit, and, for drink, a fruit sherbet. It was served by Sir Daniel's old servant, Joe Cogan, who had been with him for thirty years.

All were wondering whether this was the last meal they would ever eat; yet they talked quite cheerfully, chiefly about Sir Daniel's ship.

"Samarite, I call it," said the scientist. "I've been after it for years, and got it at last. Gryde was after it, too, and it seemed just a chance which of us found it first. I was successful, and Gryde offered me half a million for the secret, but I refused. Gryde's not the sort to be trusted with stuff like this. He's too ambitious. He might have started in to smash things up."

"But what is it?" Frank asked. "It must counteract gravity."

Sir Daniel nodded.

"That's it, Frank. The perfect anti-gravity alloy. As you see, she is covered with shutters of Samarite which can be adjusted from within at any required angle. When all are closed along the bottom, the ship becomes weightless. By adjusting them, some open, some closed, I can maintain her at any desired level. The hull is of zircon steel, hard as diamond, almost indestructible."

"The space ship at last!" cried Frank.

"Space ship?" repeated old Cogan in a rusty voice. "Then the sooner we gets there the better, I'm thinking, for pretty soon there won't be no earth left."

"Too late for that, Cogan," said Sir Daniel with a smile. "We're safer here, inside this mountain, than we should be in space."

"What beats me, sir," said Dex, looking round, "is how you cut this tremendous great hole in solid granite."

"It was quite simple. I used alberstine, the disintegrator invented by Georges Albert. The land is mine, all the materials were brought here by air, and, since I have plenty of electric power from the river, there were no difficulties."

"You haven't told us how you drive the ship," Frank said.

"I use lazan in my rocket tubes for fast travelling, but I can switch over to a radium drive for a long journey."

"She's a miracle," said Frank slowly, with his eyes on the ship.

"There—that's a name for her, dad!" exclaimed Thea: "The Miracle."

"It'll be a miracle if she ever takes a second trip," croaked Cogan; then, before any one could answer him, a low roar came to their ears. It grew louder, the whole mountain quivered slightly; there was a crash—then silence.

"It's all right," came Sir Daniel's deep voice. "Just an avalanche. The heat is peeling the snow off the top."

"It's getting hotter, Daddy," said Thea.

Sir Daniel nodded.

"And it's going to be hotter still, my dear. This star is incandescent, and my chief fear is that it may burn up a large part of the Earth's atmosphere. Without doubt it will scorch up all life over a wide surface of our planet."

"Dad, tell me honestly—have we any chance?" Thea asked. Her face was rather pale, but her blue eyes were brave.

"We have a better chance than most, Thea. The doors of this cave are air-proof. We have oxygen and ice. If you want the whole truth, my chief fear is the earthquakes which are certain to occur as the star passes."

Thea nodded.

"If we go, we all go together," she said steadily. "That's one comfort. But, oh, Dad, it's terrible to think of all the poor people outside, who have no chance of escape." Tears welled in her eyes, and for a moment she covered her face with her hands. A voice broke upon the silence. It came from a special short-wave radio which Sir Daniel had switched on.

"The Southern Hemisphere is still unaffected by the earthquakes which are beginning to rock North America. But at Cape Town the temperature has already risen thirty degrees, and the heat is unbearable." A pause broken by crackling sounds, then the voice went on: "The ice has broken on the Great Lake, and Niagara Falls are blocked by a vast accumulation of floes. A tidal wave is sweeping the Northern Pacific. Temperature all over the world is rising." Again a pause. "Fog covers this station, but at Vancouver the comet is visible. It floods the city with a dreadful crimson glare. People are dying from the intense heat. Here the temperature is—." There was a crash, then silence.

"Poor devil! He's fainted," said Dex.

"Dead, more like," put in Cogan gloomily. "And so shall we be if it gets much hotter. It's eighty-five degrees even in here."

"Don't croak, but turn on the fans," said Sir Daniel calmly. "We shan't let the temperature rise any higher," he continued. "I turned on the frost machine before I started for London, so we have a considerable store of dry ice. With the fans drawing the air across it, we shall do well enough."

His calmness encouraged the others, yet the suspense was terrible. An hour had passed since their reaching the cave, but it would be nearly three hours more before they knew their fate. And all of them had sufficient knowledge of astronomy to be certain that if this celestial terror struck the earth anywhere within a thousand miles of their refuge, none of Sir Daniel's precautions could save them. Trent came up. He had been busy inside the ship. He was a solid, square-set man, a first-class mechanic, the sort who speaks little but thinks a great deal.

"Sit down and have some food, Trent," said Sir Daniel.

"Thank you, sir. The fog's lifting."

Thea jumped up.

"I'm going to the door to see. Come, boys." The doors were of alumite, light, immensely strong, transparent as glass and ray- proof. What they saw outside was not reassuring. They looked into a dull glare like smoke rising from a furnace. It was not so much the fog thinning as the blaze from the new sun shining through the great pall of vapour which rose from the heated earth. Suddenly the solid rock beneath them quivered.

"Earthquakes starting," said Thea. Frank shivered slightly. He had never before felt a quake. Somehow it seemed to bring the horror closer. He glanced at Thea. Was that bright, delightful girl doomed with the rest? Dex spoke.

"One thing I'm precious glad of," he said solemnly: "I've no people to worry about."

"Nor I," said Frank, "except my cousins down in Surrey. I'd like to know how they're making it."

Dex shook his head. Thea turned and went back and they followed her.

Soon the earthquakes became almost continuous. Now and then a few small splinters fell from the roof, but there were no heavy falls. The granite was seamless. Yet the constant quivering made them all feel rather sick. The heat increased, but the thermometer did not go above ninety degrees. The dry ice saved them, but outside a dull glare beat upon the doors like a furnace blast. So two hours passed, the longest hours that any of them had ever known. Sir Daniel glanced at his wrist-watch.

"Nearly time," he said quietly. "Within half an hour we shall know whether we are to live or die." The words were hardly out of his mouth before a dull roar broke on their ears. They thought at first it was another, greater, quake, but Sir Daniel knew better.

"Wind," he said.

"Wind?" repeated Frank.

"All the wind in the world, Frank. The greatest gale this world has ever known."

The roar increased. It rose to a yelling shriek. They all rose and trooped towards the doors. As they reached them the fog was swept away as if by magic and instantly the air was full of such burning, blinding light that with one accord they flung themselves on the stone floor of the cave, covering their eyes from the blasting, intolerable glare. It was Sir Daniel who kept his head and told them what to do.

"Tie your handkerchiefs over your eyes, then get back into the inner cave." He had to shout to be heard, for outside such a wind was blowing as never was known before on the face of the planet. They did as he told them, yet even in the inner cave the glare was like a furnace, and the heat was such that they could hardly breathe.

The blast of wind died almost as swiftly as it had come; then from outside they heard sharp cracklings, and clouds of smoke arose.

"The woods are afire," said Dex. "This is the finish, isn't it?"

"Keep your hearts up," Sir Daniel bade them. "This comet, star, whatever it is, must be travelling at enormous speed. It may pass before everything is destroyed."

"I'd like to see it," Dex said. "Sir Daniel, if we put on smoked glasses, couldn't we open the observation shutter up at the top there and take a look?"

"Try it if you like," said Sir Daniel.

"Coming, Frank?" Dex asked, and the two, after fitting smoked glasses firmly over their eyes, set to climbing the metal ladder leading to the ventilation opening which had been cut in the roof of the cave. Standing on the platform, Dex slowly pushed the shutter back. The heat that fell on them was like the glare from an electric furnace. The very air seemed aflame. Shielding their eyes with their hands, they peered out. Frank gasped.

"The whole land's afire," he muttered. The sight was indeed appalling. The great fir plantation which lined the river for a mile or more was wrapped in flame; the birches higher up were mere smoking skeletons; the grass itself was nothing but white ash, and clouds of steam rose from the stream at the bottom of the valley. The whole countryside glowed like molten brass.

But the awful thing was the comet itself, a globe of fire larger than the sun at midday, coruscating with leaping flame. It seemed almost overhead and travelling with incredible speed.

"The Day of Judgment," Dex muttered as he pulled back the shutter. "It's the finish, Frank. Let's get back. If we've got to die, let's all die together." He wrung his hand. "I've burnt my fingers," he added with a wry grin. "That metal is pretty near red-hot."

Half-blinded, the two groped their way back down the ladder. Frank had just reached the bottom, and Dex was only a few steps up, when there came a crash so tremendous that the great mass of Ben Barran quivered like a jelly. Dex, flung from the rungs by the fearful concussion, fell upon Frank. Both sprawled on the floor, stunned, completely knocked out.


CHAPTER III. — NEWS FROM THE HELPERS

DEX was the first to come round. He lay in pitch darkness, with a dull roaring in his ears, and it was some time before he realised that he was still alive.

"Frank!" he called hoarsely; but there was no reply. "Frank!" more loudly, and all of a sudden a light sprang out, dazzlingly bright in the gloom. Cogan was standing over him with a Loom lamp in his hand.

"You alive, Mr. Dex? I made sure you was dead."

"Frank—how's he?"

"Breathing," Cogan told him. "Blest if he ain't alive, too!"

"But what's happened? The comet—where's it gone?"

"Busted! That's what Sir Daniel says."

"And that noise?"

"It's rain. All that there smoke and vapour coming down again. It's raining like it never rained before. First we're baked, now we're going to be drowned." Dex sat up and looked at Frank. Just then Frank's eyes opened.

"I—I thought I was dead," he said thickly.

"Don't blame you," said Dex. "I was sure I was! Cogan says the old comet's gone bust." Frank's eyes widened.

"Then that's what we heard—I thought it was the end of the world."

"So did I." He paused. "I wouldn't wonder if it was," he added gravely. "Looks to me as though we're about the only folk left alive."

"What's that roaring?" Frank asked.

"Rain, Cogan says. Fire and water—I don't see how anything can survive the two."

"Sir Daniel, is he all right? And Thea?" Frank asked sharply.

"They was knocked out like the rest of us," Cogan told him. "But they've come round. But I don't reckon any one else is left alive," he added gloomily. Frank climbed to his feet.

"Water's better than fire, Dex. I feel I can breathe for the first time for hours. Hallo! Here's Sir Daniel."

"Well, we've come through it, lads," said the scientist.

"But has any one else?" Frank asked gravely.

"That I can't tell. I fancy the whole Northern Hemisphere is in ruins, but there may be survivors in the South."

"It's an awful business," said Frank with a shudder.

"Awful, indeed; and the more reason why we should be grateful we have been spared; and still more grateful that our ship remains uninjured, and that we have food and stores for at least a month."

"Looks as though we'll need a ship to get out of here. The whole world will be under water if this goes on," said Dex. "Let's go and take a squint, Frank."

"And you might open the doors," said Sir Daniel.

It was wonderful to open the doors and to feel the gush of cool, wet air that rushed in, replacing the stagnant heat. But outside they could see nothing at all except one solid cascade of water. Already torrents were rushing down the hillside, while from below there was a thunder like the Niagara rapids. The boys stood awhile, breathing deeply. Though it was warm as a summer day, the temperature was falling fast. Frank shivered.

"I feel absolutely cold. I'm going to put on a coat."

"Me, too," said Dex. "I say, Frank, we'd better take care of our clothes. The next suits we'll probably have to make for ourselves."

"And then there won't be anything to make 'em of," Frank answered.

"Don't croak," said Sir Daniel.

They had supper, and then they were suddenly so sleepy that they decided to turn in. The nerve strain had been terrific, and the frightful heat had tired them sorely. In another hour they were all in bed, and Frank did not stir until his alarm roused him at seven next morning.

He dressed quickly, and went to the mouth of the cavern. The rain had stopped, grey dawn was just dimming the darkness in the east, and the air bit cold—cold with the chill of a mid- winter morning. It was still too dark to see anything, so he went back, closing the doors behind him. To his surprise Sir Daniel was seated at the short-wave special radio, their private instrument which they had used for speaking to the firms from whom they ordered their goods, and to aircraft flying overhead. What was still more surprising, Sir Daniel was wearing a pair of the old-fashioned earphones.

Sir Daniel raised his hand for silence, and Frank waited. He waited a long time. Now and then Sir Daniel spoke in a language which Frank did not understand. It was more than a quarter of an hour before Sir Daniel at last ceased speaking and removed the phones.

"You don't mean you've got some one?" cried Frank eagerly.

Sir Daniel smiled as he looked up.

"Yes, there are still survivors, Frank. But wait until after breakfast. Then I will tell you all a secret which I have kept during the whole of my life, and have never yet mentioned to a soul." Frank found Dex helping to lay the table, and told him what he had heard. Dex looked serious.

"You don't reckon the boss has gone a bit nutty?" he remarked.

"Nothing like that," returned Frank promptly. "He's got something for us—I can swear to that—something that pleases him mightily. You ought to have seen how his face lit up."

Dex turned a quantity of knives and forks out of a basket.

"I'm mighty glad you think he's all right, Frank. And I'm equally pleased to hear there's some one alive besides ourselves. It would be a pretty ghastly business to find we were the only folk left on this planet."

"You're right," said Frank seriously. And just then Thea and Cogan came in from the kitchen with the dishes. Frank found his appetite in spite of his excitement. Sir Daniel ate little and slowly, as was his custom. It was not until the table had been cleared and the dishes washed that he summoned all the rest into the inner cave.

"Did any of you ever hear of Olaf Gard?" he began.

"Olaf Gard?" repeated Frank, frowning thoughtfully. "Yes, I know the name. Wasn't he President of the Scandinavian Confederacy in the big war of 1958?"

"That's it," said Sir Daniel. "Glad you remember your history. A great man, Olaf Gard. He did as much as any one to save Europe from a great menace. Afterwards, you may remember, he retired. It was said that he intended to devote the rest of his life to pure science. In point of fact, he collected a few faithful followers and left for some unknown destination." He paused. "It is to his grandson I have been talking this morning."

"His grandson!" repeated Frank.

"Yes. President of the colony who call themselves The Helpers. I am happy to say that they are all safe and well in their secret retreat near the South Pole. My father was Olaf Gard's friend. It was to him and no one else that Gard confided his secret. My father passed on the secret to me, and I alone have kept in touch with Gard's son and grandson. Now at last I am allowed to speak. Olaf Gard the Third wishes me to tell you that he will welcome us in the Rift. There is great work before us. Together we must gather up the broken threads of our ruined world. Will you help?" Frank's eyes glowed.

"You bet we'll help," he cried.

But Dex Halstow frowned.

"You say they're near the South Pole, Sir Daniel? I'd like mighty well to know how they've kept themselves hidden all this time. I didn't reckon there was an acre of this old earth that hadn't been surveyed."

Sir Daniel smiled.

"That's Gard's great secret. You'll understand it when you get there. I propose to start tomorrow, if we can get the Miracle ready in time."

That day was the busiest Frank had ever known. Including Trent and Cogan, the whole party was only six in number and, between them, they had to load and provision the Miracle for a voyage of at least nine thousand miles. Fuel, food and weapons had to be got aboard. Frank and Dex wondered at the amount of the latter that Sir Daniel had collected, but they asked no questions. It was clear that their chief meant to be ready for trouble if it came.

The main armament of the Miracle consisted of two electric guns, made on a principle discovered first by Professor Birkeland, a Swedish inventor. They were very light, completely silent, and fired a shell loaded with nazite. The velocity depended on the power used, the extreme range being about twenty miles; but the most interesting part of the weapon was that the projectile did not explode with a timed fuse; the presence of any mass of metal within a hundred yards of its flight would cause it to explode, and the terrific force of the nazite would destroy any aircraft or ship within that range.

All that day the whole party, including Thea, toiled steadily, and when the task was finished they almost fell asleep over their supper.

"We need not start too early," Sir Daniel told them. "Will seven o'clock suit you all?"

"We'll be ready," Thea said as she went off to bed.

That night they all slept in the ship. By seven next morning all was ready. The Miracle, lifted gently from her cradle and glided out into the open. The great doors closed automatically behind her, and Sir Daniel's fingers moved on the switchboard, closing the Samarite shutters. Swift and silent as a balloon the ship rose. At two thousand feet Sir Daniel steadied her and switched on the power. A low hissing sound came from the stern, and the Miracle drove southward.

Frank and Thea stood together by one of the alumite windows, looking out. The scene beneath filled them with such horror that for some time neither spoke. So far as they could see, all was desolation. Not a green thing remained. The high ground was just bare rock, for the tremendous rain had wasted away all the soil; the valleys were choked with foul black mud. Thea shuddered.

"It's like a nightmare, Frank! Do you suppose all the world is like this?"

Frank shook his head.

"Most of it, I'm afraid, Thea." He pointed. "That's Glasgow."

"Glasgow! Oh, Frank, how ghastly!" Beneath them were miles of utter ruin. A huge tidal wave, sweeping up the Clyde, must have covered the whole city. Broken walls rose out of an indescribable mass of mud and rubbish. Not even a curl of smoke remained to show a sign of life.

The speed of the Miracle increased. Ripping through the sunlit air at five miles a minute, Sir Daniel held her straight down over the border and headed for London. But everywhere it was the same. One day had changed beautiful England to a hideous burnt and blackened desert. From north to south there was not a sign of life. London was as dead, though not so flat, as Glasgow.

Thea turned a white face to her father.

"I can't bear it, Dad. Let's get over the sea."

He shook his head.

"We must cross France, Thea. I have to see if there's any life."

There was none. France and Spain, too, were dead as England, and the whole coastline was changed by the force of the tremendous tidal wave that had swept in from the Atlantic. The greatest change was seen when they ran down the Mediterranean, for all the low-lying part of the Sahara was under water. Thousands of square miles of sea covered the desert.

Sir Daniel headed for the East, but the story was the same. Then, ahead, they saw a great plume of ruddy smoke. One of the old volcanoes had burst into furious eruption. Sir Daniel rose to twenty thousand feet, but even then the air quivered and throbbed with the furious volcanic forces. Darkness fell as they were over the Great Rift, which was now one vast inland sea. They had covered four thousand miles without seeing a sign of life.

Thea got supper, but none of them had much appetite. All were oppressed with a dreadful feeling of loneliness. Sir Daniel understood.

"You'll feel better when we reach The Helpers," he told them.

"But we don't know them," wailed Thea. "All the people we know are dead. I can't bear it!"

Suddenly Cogan stepped into the cabin.

"There's a light ahead, Sir Daniel."

"A light. What sort of a light?"

"Looks like the exhaust from a liner, sir. Trent, he thinks the same." Thea looked up, wide-eyed.

"Who are they, Dad—The Helpers?"

"No—Gard would have told me if they had been sending to meet us. These aren't Helpers."

"Then who are they?" Thea asked.

The telephone rang from the engine-room where Trent was navigating. Trent's voice came:

"The strange ship's turned, and is coming towards us, sir. I've signalled her, but got no answer. I don't like the way she's acting."

"All right, Trent. I'll take charge," Sir Daniel told him as he stepped quickly to the control board and pulled over a switch. On the screen above appeared the shape of a large rocket ship travelling towards the Miracle at tremendous speed. Sir Daniel spoke through a microphone.

"Who are you? What do you want?"

Almost instantly came the reply, the voice as loud and dear as if the speaker was standing in the cabin.

"Never mind who we are. Slow up and wait for us. If you don't, you will be instantly destroyed."

Sir Daniel switched off and turned to the others.

"Gryde!" he said calmly. "I thought as much."


CHAPTER IV. — THE FIRST BRUSH WITH THE BLACK SHIP

"GRYDE?" repeated Frank Lynd. "Who's he?" But Sir Daniel did not answer. His fingers were busy with the controls, and suddenly the boom of the rocket drive was cut off.

"You're not going to stop?" cried Dex Halstow, in a voice between amazement and horror, for each instant the strange ship was looming larger on the television screen. She was three times the size of the Miracle, and her elongated hull was black as coal. On her upper deck was a hump, knife-edged in front, but swelling out to a considerable breadth amidships, and in it they could see a row of ports no doubt concealing guns of some sort. She was a tremendous and terrifying object.

Still Sir Daniel did not speak. He was working on the controls—quickly yet without any appearance of haste. And then, quite suddenly, the black airship dropped right out of the screen. Dex drew a long breath.

Gryde's rasping voice made itself heard again.

"Fools! Do you think you can escape me?"

Almost as he spoke a streak of blue fire leaped across the screen, and the Miracle, quivered under the force of a terrific explosion.

"That's something pretty powerful," said Thea calmly.

Her father nodded.

"And not badly aimed, either. Only, of course, Gryde couldn't know we were rising vertically."

Crack! A second explosion made the night quiver, and the flash of it showed like a bursting rocket on the screen. But it was not as close as the first. The Miracle, with her anti-gravity slats closed, was rising like a balloon, only very much faster. The needle of the barograph was swinging backwards with astonishing speed and in less than a minute the ship had jumped from a little over three thousand feet to more than ten thousand. Trent, who was at a window, turned.

"She's after us, Sir Daniel! She's got her nose up, and, by gum, she's shifting! Coming up at an angle of sixty or better."

Sir Daniel smiled slightly.

"It will be interesting to see what her ceiling is," he remarked as he turned back a few slats. "We mustn't rise too quickly," he added. "We might strain the ship as well as ourselves." All the same, the Miracle was still going up at a pretty rapid pace. She had passed twelve thousand feet. She seemed to be falling out into space.

"Feeling queer?" said Thea to Frank.

"A bit buzzy in the head, but nothing to shout about," Frank answered.

Thea nodded.

"I've got the same feeling." She called to Trent: "Are we gaining, Trent?"

"Yes, miss. The Black Ship's circling. I think she's lost us."

"Bound to, now we've cut off our rockets," agreed Thea. "We're not showing any lights, and they can't possibly see us." She turned to her father. "We ought to be all right now, Dad." Sir Daniel shook his head.

"I'm not taking any chances, my dear. Gryde's a resourceful devil." He continued to rise.

Suddenly the screen, which had gone dark, blazed with a glare of intense white light.

"Watch out, boss!" yelled Trent. "He's put on a searchlight."

"Some searchlight!" muttered Dex as he ran to the window. What the source of the light was none of them could tell, but it was surely something entirely new in the way of lights. The strange thing about it was that the lower part of the beam, where it left Gryde's ship, was invisible, yet the light fixed on the Miracle turning her into a shape of living fire.

Boom! Again the stout ship quivered and rocked with the fury of a tremendous concussion, while the thin air around her glowed like a furnace. So tremendous was the shock that Thea was flung down, but Frank caught her just in time to save her head from striking the edge of the instrument board.

"Thank you, Frank," she said gently, as she drew herself from his arms. "Did—did it hit us?"

"No." It was Trent who answered; "but it was mighty close."

"Hang on, all of you!" boomed Sir Daniel's deep voice. "Drop to the floor and lie there." They obeyed—no one ever dreamed of questioning Sir Daniel's orders—but he, man of iron, stood by the instrument board while levers clicked under his powerful fingers. If the Miracle had risen swiftly before, now she fairly hurtled upwards. She rose into the sky like a shell from a gun. Frank's head felt as if it was swelling like a balloon, while his body was crushed against the floor as if a huge weight was pressing it down. Fifteen, twenty, twenty- five thousand feet were passed, and still they rose. It was not until the barograph showed 35,000 that Sir Daniel checked the headlong swoop into space. Trent staggered to his feet and looked out again.

"That's beat 'em, sir," he said hoarsely. "I reckon she's give up."

"It's nearly beaten us!" replied Sir Daniel with a faint smile. He dropped into a chair as he spoke. This frantic uprush had tried him as well as the others. Before sitting down Sir Daniel had equalised, and now the Miracle hung poised seven miles above Earth's surface. The hull of the ship being airtight, and the supply of oxygen constant, her occupants could breathe in comfort, and their bodies quickly adjusted themselves to the diminished pressure. In a few minutes they were themselves again.

"Think we're all right now, Dad?" Thea asked.

The scientist pursed his lips.

"I have my doubts, my dear. Gryde hasn't got anti-gravity, yet it's quite plain he has something special in the way of ships. I heard rumours that Mordoff had invented a new type of rocket engine, but I have no details."

"Who is Mordoff?" Dex questioned.

"A Russian. An expert on explosives. He and Gryde were both employed by the Inner Circle, but Gryde was always a brute, and got into trouble for bullying his crew. He is said to have flogged a man to death. They tried him, and sentenced him to five years in the under-sea prison; but he escaped in company with Mordoff. The two completely vanished, and so did a brilliant Italian, called Falardo, who was employed in the Central Metal Works. There was a world-wide search, but they were never found. My own belief is that they found refuge somewhere in the Tien Shan Mountains, at the back of Tibet. That, as you know, is about the one spot on earth where a refugee might still have a chance of hiding, for the mighty caverns are still very little known."

"And they've survived!" said Frank, frowning. "Rotten luck!"

"Bad luck, indeed, Frank!" agreed Sir Daniel. "Yet that's natural, for if their workshops are underground, they had the same advantage that saved us. In any case, they were farther from the path of the star than we. But now, at any rate, we know what we are up against."

"We shall have to beat them," said Thea in her quiet voice.

"Not merely beat them, Thea," her father answered: "destroy them. There's no compromising with a man like Gryde. He is insanely ambitious, utterly cruel, and I tell you quite plainly that, so long as he lives, there can be no hope of restoring our shattered world."

Frank looked up quickly.

"Do you think he knows about The Helpers?"

"I hope not. I think not. Olaf Gard at any rate does not believe that he knows of their refuge. What I am afraid of is that we may lead him to it."

Dex whistled softly.

"Gee! That would be a nice mess-up. What are you going to do, Sir Daniel?"

"I'm going to hang up here in the sky until day comes. We can do that—Gryde can't. He's got to keep his engines going, and that means fuel. Sooner or later he'll have to go back to replenish his tanks, and that gives us our chance. Once we are safe in Gard's retreat, we shall have all his resources to help us in our fight against this menace. And, as I say, we shall have to destroy Gryde utterly, and all his crew, before we can start on our task of rebuilding the world. Go down to the stern look- out, Frank, and see if Gryde's ship is visible."

"I'll go, too," said Thea, and with Frank she disappeared down a companionway. They made their way down a passage running above the keel of the ship, and entered a small compartment at the stern. Here in the floor was a circular window of alumite, which gave a clear view of anything immediately below the ship. They looked down into fathomless depths of darkness.

"There she is," said Thea, pointing to a dull red glow far down in the blackness. It was the fiery exhaust from the rocket tubes of Gryde's ship.

"Still circling upwards," said Frank; "but of course she can't see us, and I think she's pretty near her ceiling."

"I wonder Gryde isn't using that light of his again," Thea said.

"Probably it needs too much power to use it much," Frank answered shrewdly. "Wait. I want to talk to your father." He spoke through the phone. "Couldn't we bomb her, Sir Daniel?" he asked. "She's almost exactly below us at present."

"Not worth the risk," was the answer. "She'd be very difficult to hit, and we should give away our position. If we could use the gun it would be different, but we can't train it straight down. Keep me informed of her movements."

Thea shivered.

"It's dreadfully cold here," she said.

"What do you expect?" Frank smiled. "It's about fifty degrees below zero outside, and the cold strikes through this alumite. You'd better go up, Thea."

She shook her head.

"Not yet."

"Then take my coat," said Frank as he pulled it off.

"No—no," Thea said, but Frank insisted. He wrapped it round her.

"You are the kindest boy," said Thea gratefully. "I haven't half thanked you for saving me from falling just now." She turned and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, and Frank went rather red. Just then Sir Daniel's voice sounded.

"You two can come up. Gryde's clearing out."

"So he is!" exclaimed Thea. "Look, the glow is fading. He is going east." They ran up. Dex met them at the head of the companion.

"Gryde called us again. Said he'd got something better to do than hang about Africa all night. But, say, you ought to have heard what he promised to do to us when he catches us."

Thea's lip curled.

"When he catches us? Two can play at that game! It may be he'll be the mouse and we the cat. We saw him moving off, Dad. But did he mean it?"

"I don't know whether he meant it or not," said Sir Daniel in his deep voice. "Anyhow, I'm too old a bird to be caught with chaff. We are staying just where we are until dawn. We'll let Gryde do the hunting." He laughed. "I think the first trick is ours, anyhow."

"Thanks to you, sir," said Frank.

Sir Daniel laughed again.

"Keep your compliments, and go and turn in, my lad. All you three youngsters go to bed. Trent and I will keep watch. To- morrow is going to be our busy day."


CHAPTER V. — THE POISONED CREW

FRANK woke suddenly from depths of sleep, and for a moment could not imagine where he was. The silence was broken only by the soft breathing of Dex, who shared the cabin; otherwise there was not the faintest sound. Memory came back in a few seconds, and Frank sprang off his pneumatic mattress and stepped swiftly to the window.

To his surprise, the Miracle was over the sea, and he looked down through miles of emptiness to a vast blue plain fretted by thin lines of white. At first he was puzzled. Overnight they had been far inland above Africa. How, then, since the engine had not been used, did they come to be over the sea? Then he remembered the great wind that blows always at these heights, and realised that, while he slept, the ship had been drifting like a bubble in the gale.

Next minute Dex was beside him, and he, too, was surprised to see the sea until Frank explained.

"So we've been drifting all night," Dex said. "Must be way out over the Indian Ocean."

"No, this is the Atlantic, Dex. Up here the wind is always easterly."

Dex nodded.

"It's clean water, anyway. Different from the Mediterranean, which was all mud. Say, I don't see anything of the Black Ship."

"Or of any other," Frank answered sadly.

"That's so," replied Dex in an equally subdued voice. "Gosh, it's pretty awful, old lad! Do you reckon that star has cleaned up everything?"

"Everything at sea. Even where the heat wasn't so great, the wave must have rolled. I don't suppose there's a ship afloat on all the waters of the world."

Dex shivered and was silent. Then he shook himself.

"I reckon it's up to us to make the best of it, Frank. Anyway, we've got Sir Daniel—and Thea."

Frank gave him a quick look. He had often wondered whether Dex was as fond of Thea as he was himself. A nasty little spasm of jealousy clouded his affection for his friend. But that did not last. Frank's nature was far too straight and clean to allow such thoughts to hang and canker.

"Yes," he said slowly. "It's something to be jolly grateful for, Dex. And you and I weren't saved for nothing. We have to spend the rest of our lives helping to pay the debt we owe to Sir Daniel."

Dex nodded.

"That's a fact," he agreed gravely. "Get your things on, Frank. As Sir Daniel said last night this is going to be a busy day." They shaved and washed and dressed, but were not out of the cabin before a low thunder from the stern told them that the engines had started again. The Miracle headed due south, went shooting through the sky.

The boys reached the saloon to find Sir Daniel still at the control board. In spite of the fact that he had not slept for more than twenty-four hours, there was little sign of fatigue about his iron frame.

"Did you see the Black Ship again, sir?" was Frank's first question.

"No, and I'd be happy to think I never should, though I'm sure I shall, for Gryde will be after us again as soon as he has refilled his tanks."

"He'll have a job to find us," said Dex confidently.

"I trust so. Yet you have to remember, Dex, that Gryde is almost certain to have caught Gard's wireless. True, it won't give him direction, for Gard and I speak in cypher. Yet it will tell him that there are still people alive, and he will never relax until he finds them."

"He'd better watch out that we don't find him first," Dex answered.

Then Frank struck in: "Mayn't Dex and I take charge, sir, while you get some sleep?"

"Yes, but first we'll have some breakfast. Ah, here's Cogan with the eggs and bacon!"

Thea had already set the table, and now she came in with the coffee and greeted them gaily. In her embroidered tunic and short, divided skirt she looked fresh and charming. Frank waited at the controls, but Sir Daniel told him to sit down.

"I've fixed her on her course," he said. "I have a balanced control, an improvement on the 'iron man' which they used on the old-fashioned aeroplanes. Since our course is perfectly straight south for the next fifteen hundred miles, there's really nothing to do. And she'll keep her level—I'm holding her at thirty thousand."

They were all hungry, and the bacon and eggs smelt delicious. Then Dex said gloomily:

"Hadn't we better go slow with the eggs? As there aren't any hens left, there won't be any more eggs!"

Thea looked at him reproachfully.

"You might have let us enjoy our breakfast before saying that."

"But it's true, Thea."

"It may not be true. The Helpers are almost sure to have chickens. And if they haven't there'll be some birds left in the world, won't there, Dad?"

"I hope so, my dear. I think it likely that Australia may have escaped more lightly than the rest of our poor planet. Still, Dex is right, and we shall have in future to go without many of the things we have considered necessaries. Much depends on The Helpers."

"What about Gryde?" Frank asked. "Do you think he has much in the way of stores?"

"I don't, Frank," Sir Daniel answered. "He would probably have a fair amount of stuff in his caverns, but he will have no way of replenishing stores of food unless—as I say—Australia may have escaped. In that case, it will be only a few weeks before he is desperate."

Frank nodded.

"Then the best thing we can do is leave him to starve."

"It may be. We shall see what Gard says." Sir Daniel finished his breakfast and got up. "I am going to take four hours sleep. You will watch the control board, and if anything goes wrong call me at once. Call me, too, if you sight anything such as a ship."

"Very good, sir," Frank answered as he moved across to the controls. He and Dex remained in the saloon, while Thea and Cogan cleared the dishes and then went to tidy up the cabins. The Miracle drove on steadily. Everything, including her rocket drive, could be handled from the controls, so there was no need for any one to go below except at long intervals. Even the oiling was automatic. The weather remained extremely fine. Occasionally they passed over a bank of soft cloud, but in the main the sky was clear and the sea was beautifully blue. Outside, of course, the cold was intense, but in the electrically-warmed saloon the temperature was kept by thermostats at a comfortable sixty degrees.

They had been travelling three hours when they first saw ice. This was no novelty to any of them, for all had flown over the Arctic before now—there were few young people of their age who had not visited at least three continents. Dex gazed down at the glittering bergs.

"Couldn't have been so hot here," he remarked.

"It would take more than twenty-four hours heat to melt those mighty masses of ice," said Frank. "If you look, you'll see that all the tops are smoothed off."

"I wonder what it did to the Antarctic Continent," said Thea thoughtfully.

"They reckon the ice cap is three thousand feet thick. I don't suppose it's made much difference," Frank answered.

Dex, who was looking out of a window, gave a quick cry.

"There's a ship below. Hung up on the ice." He snatched up a pair of glasses and focused them. "She has a flag flying upside down."

"I'll call Dad," said Thea, and ran. She was back in a minute with her father, but the Miracle was already miles past the wreck. Sir Daniel turned the ship and came round, at the same time reducing speed. In a couple of minutes they were again over the wreck. Sir Daniel stopped the engines and the Miracle hung motionless in midair. He took the glasses, and carefully examined the broken ship.

"She's quite small," he said. "I can't see any one alive on her, but there are bodies on her deck. We'll go down."

"It's not a trap, sir?" suggested Frank uneasily.

"I don't think so. Thea says you've seen nothing of the Black Ship?"

"We've seen nothing at all until Dex spotted this."

"Then I think we're safe." As he spoke, Sir Daniel was busy with the levers, and the Miracle dropped swiftly and silently towards the sea. Within a very short time she hung just above the surface.

"You and Trent will visit the wreck, Frank," said Sir Daniel. "Use the Burton boat. Report fully, and especially as to what signs the ship shows of fire or heat."

Frank hurried to obey. The Burton boat was a collapsible affair which took Frank and Trent but a few moments to open out. Then they opened a flap in the bottom of the Miracle and slid down on to the water. They pulled across towards the berg.

There was hardly a breath of wind, the sea was calm, and the scene one of amazing beauty. It was summer in these latitudes, and the bright sunlight was reflected from walls and pinnacles of ice, making the bergs glow like giant gems. The ship, a small but powerful looking vessel of about five hundred tons, lay on her side on the sloping edge of a large flat berg, with the stern towards them.

"She's the James Jeans," said Frank. "One of the magnetic research ships. And her paint isn't even scorched. I suppose it was the wave which shoved her up on the ice. By Jove, I wonder if any of her people are alive."

"They aren't showing, if they are," replied Trent as he pushed the skiff carefully up the ice slope to the ship.

Frank climbed aboard. A crumpled body had slid down the deck, and lay in the scuppers. He stooped over the man.

"Quite dead," he said sadly. "And, Trent, this chap's been gassed. Look at his face—it's the colour of lead."

They began to explore. The ship herself seemed little harmed, except that her bows were smashed. There were two more bodies on the deck, both with the same nasty blue look about their faces. Frank walked, or rather scrambled, forward, for the deck was sharply tilted. Then he noticed a funny thing. In the deck, which was made of an aluminium alloy, he noticed a small round hole.

He stooped to examine it, and at once noticed a faint but peculiar odour. It was rather like that of over-ripe apples. Next instant a wave of giddiness seized him. He fell over sideways, and would have rolled down into the scuppers if Trent had not cleverly caught and saved him.


CHAPTER VI. — TREACHERY

"IT'S all right, Thea." It was Sir Daniel's deep voice speaking. "Don't cry, my dear. He's not dead. He's coming round."

Frank opened his eyes, and the first thing he saw was Thea, very white and strained, bending over him. He was in his own bed in the Miracle. He tried to smile at her, but his lips felt frozen. Sir Daniel put a strong arm around him, lifted him, and put a glass to his lips. The contents ran through his veins like fire, and the dead feeling began to pass.

"W-what happened?" he managed to ask.

"You were gassed," said Sir Daniel. His square face hardened, and his eyes gleamed like polished steel. "Every one in that ship was gassed. There's only one survivor, and he was not in the ship at all. We found him on the ice. He's a coloured man, and was probably the cook, but he's half frozen and still too dazed to talk clearly."

"You mean the crew were alive when they were wrecked?" asked Frank, horrified.

"As much alive as you or I. They survived the meteor storm, only to be murdered by that fiend, Gryde."

"But why?" Frank gasped.

"For the sake of the stores that the ship carried. She's been looted from stern to stern. All her food and all her scientific outfit stolen."

Frank groaned. It seemed beyond belief that any man could be brute enough to do such a thing.

Sir Daniel went on:

"The chief was Charles Wigram. We found his body in his cabin- -a man whose scientific knowledge would have been invaluable to us. We found, too, his diary, which gives a description of the Death Star from his point of view, and assures us that in spite of the wreck, no lives were lost in his ship. He must have been actually writing it up when the Black Ship appeared, for the last words are, 'Someone else survives the catastrophe. A large airship is approaching from the north.'"

"And then they murdered him!" muttered Frank.

"Gryde murdered him, and it was the mercy of heaven he did not murder you, too, Frank. If you or Trent had gone below, nothing could have saved you."

"The gas must be pretty bad," said Frank.

"Dreadful stuff! Morcite, I think. One of the cyanogen compounds. We had a job to clear the inside of the ship before we could go below."

"Then it was a trap?" said Frank.

"Very likely it was meant to be. Anyhow, it explains why the Black Ship gave up chasing us. She must have been heavy with loot. And now listen to me, all of you." Sir Daniel spoke very quietly but with a force that made each word sink into the minds of his hearers. "I will not rest until I have utterly exterminated Gryde and his whole crew. And I lay it upon you two, Frank Lynd and Dex Halstow, that, if I lose my life, you are to use yours to accomplish this task."

"I promise that," said Frank quietly, and Dex nodded.

"That goes with me, Sir Daniel."

"And if all else fails, I will fight him," said Thea solemnly.

There was silence a while, then Frank spoke.

"How long have I been out?"

"Nearly six hours," Sir Daniel told him. "We are over the Antarctic Continent, and should reach our destination in another hour."

"Six hours," repeated Frank. "But it ought to be dark."

"You forget where we are," said Sir Daniel. "This is midsummer in the Antarctic. There will be no night here for another six weeks."

"I had forgotten. What's it look like? Has the ice melted?"

"Some of it. There are large lakes of fresh water in the hollows, and, here and there, bare rock is visible. But the real ice-cap is hardly touched."

"Does Gard know we're coming, sir?"

"He knows, for I told him when we were starting. But I haven't called him, and I don't mean to. It would be disaster if Gryde caught any wireless message."

"But how will you know when you are over the valley?" Frank persisted. "You said it was covered with a roof, and that of course will be snowed over."

"Don't worry—I have the exact bearings. Now sleep a little if you can. I want you to be fit when we arrive." He left him, and Frank closed his eyes; but he was too excited to sleep, so lay quiet, waiting. At long last the thunder of the exhaust abruptly ceased, and a thrill ran through him as he realised that the end of their long journey was reached.

Too excited to lie still, he managed to get up and stagger to the window. Instead of the flat surface of snow or ice which he had expected, he found himself gazing down into a sea of fog which lay flat beneath the Miracle. At that moment Thea came in.

"Frank, what are you doing?" she demanded.

"Looking out of the window," Frank answered innocently.

"You ought to be in bed."

"I'm all right, Thea. But what's happened? What's all this fog?" Thea's pretty face had a serious expression.

"It's the thaw, Frank. The snow which usually hides the great sheet of laminite covering the valley has melted. Dad says that Gard and his people are using artificial fog to conceal themselves."

Frank whistled softly.

"Yes, I see. I can spot the laminite now—like a great glass roof. This is bad, Thea, for, if Gryde happens this way, he can't help spotting that there's something unusual beneath him."

"And then he'd drop those dreadful bombs of his," wailed Thea. Frank laid a hand on her shoulder.

"Don't look so sad, Thea dear. You can be quite sure a man like Gard has means of protecting his people against that sort of thing. Remember what your father said about him."

"I hope you're right," said Thea fervently. "Oh, we're going down!" A door had rolled open in the laminite beneath them, and the Miracle was sinking, silent as a soap bubble, through the gap. Down she dropped through a layer of dense fog, then suddenly was in clear air. Thea drew a quick breath.

"Oh, how lovely!" she cried. "It's like fairyland."

"Or the palm house at Kew," replied Frank.

Beneath them lay the most wonderful and beautiful garden they had ever seen or dreamed of. There were beds of vegetables, groves of fruit trees, and long lines of exquisite flowering shrubs and trees. In among them ran streams of crystal-clear water and paths of different colours.

The valley was narrow, being only about half a mile wide, but it stretched away on both sides to a great distance. The laminite roof was supported on graceful columns of metal, gleaming in the clear light which irradiated everything, but the source of which was not visible. There were no houses, and almost the whole bed of the valley was given up to crops and fruit and flowers.

"And look at the people," said Thea in an awed voice. A little to the south was a broad open space on which had been erected a metal cradle, evidently to hold the Miracle; and here were several hundred people, both men and women. All were dressed in white, the men in tunics, the women in short skirts. Their heads were bare. Frank whistled softly.

"They look like Greek gods," he murmured.

"No—Norse gods," said Thea. "See how fair they are! Come, Frank, we're just settling. I want to get out and talk to these people. It's terribly exciting!" They hurried into the saloon. The main port was already open, a gangway was run out, and as Sir Daniel stepped on to it a man advanced to meet him.

The most magnificent man that any of them had ever seen. He was over six feet, and splendidly built, but it was not his appearance that impressed them so much as the extraordinary sense of power that came from him. He took both Sir Daniel's hands.

"So you are here at last," he said in perfect English. "I am glad. We are all glad. And your daughter." He turned to Thea and kissed her cheek; then Sir Daniel introduced the boys. A girl stood by Gard. She was nearly as tall as he, and had the most lovely skin and hair like spun gold. Her great eyes were blue as the sea.

"My daughter, Gerda," Gard said. "She will look after you, Thea." Thea looked a child beside this magnificent young woman, but the two were friends at once. If Gard radiated power, Gerda was all kindness. The two went off together. Dex stared.

"Gosh, what a girl!" he whispered in Frank's ear.

"She's wonderful," Frank agreed gravely, but inwardly he was delighted—perhaps, after all, he need not be jealous about Thea!

Others of The Helpers crowded round them. They spoke English. All were tall, fine people, and full of pleasure and interest at meeting their guests. Sir Daniel and Gard stood talking. Sir Daniel was telling Gard of the attack by the Black Ship, and of his fear for the Valley.

"I know of this danger," Gard answered calmly. "Although none of us ever leave the Valley, we have been able to keep in touch with current events by means of our wireless. We have also detector screens with which we are able to obtain pictures of all who figure in the news. Gryde is a fiend—and a very dangerous fiend. I do not think, however, that there is much risk of his finding the Valley."

"But the roof is bare. The snow has melted from the laminite," said Sir Daniel quickly.

"I know," Gard replied; "but already the temperature on the ice-cap has dropped to just above zero, and snow is bound to fall again shortly. Unless he comes within twenty-four hours we are safe."

"He'll hardly do that unless he has more than one ship," said Sir Daniel. "My belief is that he was taking his cargo of loot back to the Tien Shan, where, I feel sure, he holes up."

"I think you are right," Gard answered. "Now let me take you to my house. You will all need to rest after so long a journey. Afterwards I will show you our resources, and we will discuss means for ridding our planet of this menace."

At this moment Trent came running out of the ship. His face was white with rage and horror.

"That dirty beast," he cried thickly, as he reached Sir Daniel. He was so upset he could hardly speak. Sir Daniel laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Steady, Trent—no use getting excited. Tell us what has happened."

"He was shamming, sir—the man we picked up off the ship, I mean. Cogan and I, we went down to the engine-room to see that all was right, and when I came up again I looked into the cabin where the chap was—and he wasn't! I ran up, and there he sat at the wireless!"

"How long had he been there?"

"I can't tell, sir, and I don't reckon he ever will—I hit him, and I think I killed him."


CHAPTER VII. — SNOW

TRENT was right. When they reached the wireless- room of the Miracle the coloured man lay flat on his back on the floor, quite dead. Trent was very powerful. In his rage at the fellow's treachery, he had hit with all his might, and driven the man's head against the wall with such force as to break his neck. Gard stooped over the body. He opened the man's shirt at the throat, then looked up.

"Not a negro at all, Sir Daniel! A white man whose skin has been artificially darkened."


Illustration

"Not a negro at all, Sir Daniel!"


"And I never suspected," said Sir Daniel with an unusual touch of bitterness.

"How could you? The trap was too cleverly laid." Gard rose. "A pity he is dead."

"I'm sorry!" said poor Trent, very much distressed.

"No one blames you," said Sir Daniel kindly. "Any of us might have done the same." He paused, then went on. "I wonder how much he told Gryde!"

"A very little would be enough," said Gard quietly. "I think we must take it that Gryde is now aware of our hiding-place."

"And it's all open and exposed," said Frank sharply as he looked up through the window at the wide expanse of laminite roof through which the pale rays of the Antarctic sun struck down into the depths of the gorge, mingling oddly with the artificial light which illuminated it.

"But you can throw out your fog, Mr. Gard," put in Dex quickly.

"That would only give Gryde a landmark," said the tall Norseman.

"It may snow," put in Frank. Gard nodded.

"Even that will not help us greatly, seeing that Gryde will have the exact position."

"You certainly take it quietly, Mr. Gard," exclaimed Dex.

Gard smiled. "There is no use in getting excited, my boy. In any case our position is not hopeless."

"But you don't know how bad those morcite bombs are!" Dex replied. "If he got just one in through the roof, there would not be a soul left alive in the place."

"It is not so bad as that," Gard answered. "We have long foreseen the possibility of attack from the air, and have guarded against it. At a pinch we can flood the whole floor of the valley, and six feet of water would neutralize the effect of any bombs which could be dropped."

Dex pointed through the window to the lovely gardens which bordered the stream running through the centre of the gorge.

"But you'd ruin all that!" he exclaimed in a horrified tone.

"True," said Gard; "and naturally we should only flood the place as a last resort, for it would seriously affect our food supplies, and destroy all these new varieties of fruit and vegetables which we could not possibly replace."

"You have stores?" Sir Daniel asked.

"For two years. That was the rule made by my grandfather, and we have always kept it." He paused and looked round. "But there is no reason why we should remain here, Sir Daniel. The danger is not imminent. I think we may take it that we have at least four days or, more likely, a week before Gryde attacks us. I don't know the speed of his ship, but his base must be at least eight thousand miles away. Meantime, you need a bath and change of clothes and food. We can discuss our plans over supper." He led the way out of the room and down the ladder to the floor of the valley. He stopped for a moment to give directions about the body to one of the young men who waited quietly outside, then led the way towards an opening in the cliff face.

The path ran between beds of rich earth planted with vegetables and fruits, all growing luxuriantly. Accustomed as they were to the immensely improved cultivation in Britain, the boys were amazed at the perfection they saw here on every side. Many of the plants were quite new to them, and as for the flowers, they had never seen anything like them. The air, which was beautifully fresh and not too warm, was full of their fragrance. Gard saw their astonishment.

"We have been here a long time," he said. "You must remember that. Also that the men and women whom my grandfather brought here were carefully picked. We began with scientific gardeners as well as scientists in all branches. We have a rich soil, unlimited electric power and we have kept in touch with outside developments by wireless. For another thing, we are plagued with none of the plant diseases of the outer world, none of the insect pests. If we have excelled it is no great wonder."

Yet everything the visitors saw filled them with amazement, especially when they entered the rock house. If they had not walked through an archway in the face of the cliff they could never have told that they were in a cave-dwelling. The rooms were lofty, softly lit, and the air as fresh as outside.

"We use a good deal of ozone," Gard explained. "It is easily produced, and goes far to keep us all in good health."

"I never saw such a fine-looking lot of people in my life," declared Frank.

Gard nodded.

"Illness is almost unknown among us." He led the party into a great chamber, beautifully proportioned, which seemed to glow with golden light. Yet no lamps were visible, and the light seemed to emanate from every square foot of the walls.

"This is one of our living-rooms," he said. "The walls are coated with a preparation discovered by my uncle, Eric Hjalmar, which gives out light without heat, just as the firefly does." He went on and showed them their bedroom, which had a bathroom behind it.

"You'll find your own things here," he said, "but also suits such as we wear, if you like to try them. Come, Sir Daniel, your room is just beyond."

"I say, Frank," said Dex, looking round, "this is just about the finest bedroom I ever saw."

"Never mind the room," said Frank: "I'll toss you for first bath." He won, and presently was splashing in a great square bath of pure white porcelain, set level with the flagged floor.

By the time Dex had finished his bath, he found Frank got up in a white tunic with a blue band around the neck. It was belted at the waist with a girdle of blue leather. His legs were encased in white breeches, worn with pale-blue stockings and shoes made of the same leather as the belt. The stuff looked like dull-finished silk, but was softer than silk and very light. Dex stared.

"Gosh, but you look fine, Frank! I wish I was tall and fair like you."

"You'll be all right. Your kit is green and brown. Shove into it, and let's go to supper. I'm starving."

Dex did look all right. The Helpers evidently knew just what was most suitable in the way of clothes. Yet both felt a little strange as they went back into the great room. Olaf Gard was there with his tall daughter and half a dozen splendid-looking men and women.

"I am glad you are wearing our clothes," Gard said.

Frank saw Gerda smile at Dex. Then Sir Daniel came in, looking magnificent in a tunic of golden brown, and with him, Thea, who wore a plain but very beautiful dress of palest blue. Two women who were dressed just like the rest of the Helpers brought in the food. The first course was fish, with a delicate pink flesh like salmon-trout.

"We have no meat," Gard explained. "We could, of course, get it, for seals are plentiful in our sea caves; but we find we do better without it."

"What about tea and coffee?" Sir Daniel asked.

"None of us have ever tasted them," was the answer. "I don't think we are any the worse."

"You don't look it," agreed Sir Daniel, with a twinkle in his eyes.

Gerda began to ask Dex about London, and the two were soon talking eagerly. All the Helpers seemed to speak English. By common consent nothing was said about Gryde until the meal was over. Then glasses of some drink which tasted like a delicate cordial, but was not like anything the boys had ever drunk, was served, the table was cleared, and they all moved into comfortable armchairs of very light white metal, cushioned with the same silky substance that the Helpers' clothes were made of.

"Gard," said Sir Daniel, "how big is this valley of yours?"

"Roughly seven miles long, and half to three-quarters of a mile wide."

"And the stream that runs through it—where does that go?"

"It runs out through caves to the sea. We have opened out the caves, and can reach salt water. But it is against our rule to build ships or leave this Continent."

"Still, you could do so at a pinch?"

"Yes, but we should not have time for that before the attack comes."

"No, but your people would be safe in the sea caves."

"They would be safe here. We have air locks at the entrances, and large stores of oxygen."

Sir Daniel nodded.

"I am wondering as to the best course to pursue—whether to let Gryde do his worst, hoping that his stores will run short, and that he and his men will starve; or whether to attack his Black Ship and endeavour to destroy it. Our difficulty is that we know so little. It may be that Australia and New Zealand have largely escaped the effects of the meteor, in which case Gryde can reprovision himself on that side of the world. Then again, we are quite ignorant as to the powers of Gryde's ship. She may have weapons of which we suspect nothing. For all we know, he may have a second ship, or even a fleet. What can you tell me, Gard?"

Olaf Gard shook his head.

"Very little, Sir Daniel. As to Australia and New Zealand, I should say that all the coastal cities have been destroyed. Even on the coasts of this Continent the tidal wave was enormous. Cities such as Sydney and Melbourne and even Brisbane must have been overwhelmed. Still, inland towns may have remained, though I am afraid that very few people can have survived the heat blast. Even here the temperature on the ice surface rose to eighty degrees for a short period. As for Gryde's ship, of that you know more than I, for you have seen and fought it." He thought for a moment, then went on: "The decision is in your hands, Sir Daniel. We will be guided by your advice."

Frank was sitting upright. His keen young face was alight with eagerness. Sir Daniel looked at him.

"Well, Frank? Tell us what you think."

"I say, fight him, sir!" Frank's voice rang clear through the big, silent room. "What is the use of waiting and letting him destroy this lovely place with his horrible bombs? You yourself said that there is no compromising with a man like Gryde, and that, as long as he lives, there is no hope of mending this broken world. The fight must come sooner or later. Then the sooner the better. I believe that, with the Miracle, we can destroy him."

Sir Daniel turned to Dex.

"And you, Dex, what do you say?"

Dex sprang to his feet.

"I say I'm with Frank all the time. Like him, I believe in the Miracle."

A little stir went through the listeners. Gerda's fine eyes were shining as they rested on the sturdy youngster. Sir Daniel seemed the least moved of them all.

"But suppose that the fight goes against us? Suppose that the Miracle, and we with it, are destroyed? Then what is to become of our friends here?"

Gard spoke.

"God forbid that such a thing should happen!" he said gravely. "Yet even then we should not be helpless. With the resources at our command, and the knowledge you can give us, Sir Daniel, we could build a second and larger Miracle; and in any case we should never give in so long as any of us were alive."

"I am sure of that," said Sir Daniel. "But could you build such a ship? What metals have you here?"

"Iron, copper and aluminium, chromium, beryllium, and magnesium. We have no gold, silver, or lead, but most of the alkali metals are available. There is coal, too, though we have not troubled to mine it, having ample power from our turbines. The turbines are at the head of the Rift, and completely under cover, so that they cannot be wrecked by bombs. And they are approached by rock tunnels from our houses."

Sir Daniel's grave face lighted.

"Good!" he said. "Then you can make Samarite and build another Miracle. I will give you all my formulae and plans to- night, and I suggest that the work be put in hand at once. As for Gryde, I agree with Frank and Dex. We will attack him as soon as he appears."

"We need not wait until he appears," Gard said. "Our detectors will give us warning long before he is in sight."

At this moment the door opened and a man came in. He was smaller and shorter than any of the Helpers whom they had so far seen, and one leg was withered, causing him to limp badly. But his head was magnificent, with a great domed forehead and the most wonderful eyes that Frank or Dex had ever seen in a human face. They seemed to be absolutely luminous.

"It is snowing, Master," he said in a deep, rich voice.


CHAPTER VIII. — THE BELL RINGS

GARD sighed with relief.

"That is good news, Peder. Peder, I will introduce you to our friends, Sir Daniel Counsellor and his daughter, Frank Lynd and Dex Halstow. Sir Daniel, Peder Bjordal is our greatest scientist and head of all our works. I shall ask you to give him the formula for Samarite and the plans of which you spoke. He will understand them far better than I."

"I will get them at once," said Sir Daniel, and he, Gard, and Peder went out together. The boys and Thea stayed talking with the rest, and each party had so much to tell the other that they sat till nearly midnight.

It snowed all night, and next morning no sunlight penetrated the laminite roof. But no one could have noticed that down in the Rift, for wireless lamps cleverly hidden in the face of the cliffs gave a radiance like soft sunlight. The air was warm yet fresh, and, when the two boys went out, they noticed that small birds were flying about and singing delightfully.

"And to think any man would bomb a paradise like this!" said Frank bitterly.

"I don't reckon you could call Gryde a man," replied Dex. He glanced at the Miracle lying in her cradle. "We ought to be busy getting her ready for the show."

"Trent's in her right now," Frank told him. "Let's get some grub first. Hullo!—here's the chief coming out." Sir Daniel, bareheaded, came out of the arched entrance.

"What a marvellous place!" he said. "And marvellous people. Peder Bjordal is a genius. I have never met a man with such a brain. If he had been with us when we built the Miracle, Gryde would never have had a chance."

"Has he got any tricks up his sleeve?" Dex asked.

"A number. And one may be our salvation. He has invented a stuff he calls thulite, which disintegrates almost any metal except the precious ones. His men are busy making bombs of it. Boys, if we could hit the Black Ship with just one of these bombs, that would be the end of her!"

"Fine!" declared Dex. "We'll surely do it Sir Daniel. But how are we going to get the ship up with all that snow on the roof?"

"That will not trouble us—the trap-doors open inwards. But we shan't have much time for the job, for, even if Gryde's ship is detected a hundred miles away, he can cover that in no time. I want everything to be ready for an instant start."

"What can we do, sir?" Frank asked.

"Go and get your breakfast," said Sir Daniel with a smile. "Trent and Cogan can do all that is necessary for the moment. The job is to get these bombs ready. Peder promises me a supply within twenty-four hours."

There was no bacon for breakfast, but Thea pointed out to Dex that there were plenty of eggs. There was no coffee, but there was a drink made of roasted nuts which was better than any coffee they had ever drunk, while, instead of milk, there was a rich cream from the sap of a tree originating in South America. As for the fruit, it was perfect. In spite of the danger that shadowed their lives they were all very cheerful.

Afterwards the boys went back to the ship, but Sir Daniel packed them off again.

"Go and explore the valley," he said. "I know Gerda longs to show you its wonders. We are safe enough for another twenty-four hours."

A little trolley line ran the whole length of the valley. Gerda, Thea, and the two boys stepped into a light electrically- driven trolley and glided silently down alongside the stream which tinkled over a bed of pure white sand. Here and there it opened out into pools full of fish and surrounded by trees laden with fruit. Men were busy in the gardens, pruning, grafting, sowing. All the hard work, Gerda told them, was done mechanically.

The tiny railway plunged under a lofty arch and ran along a ledge cut in the side of an immense cavern, the floor of which sloped downwards steeply. The air grew cooler. Suddenly came the keen tang of salt water, and the car stopped beside a subterranean sea. Great seals lay on the rocks. They were as tame as cows, and paid no attention to the new arrivals. Small boats were drawn up just above high-tide mark on slipways, and fishing nets hung drying on frames. All was light as day, and the light showed the crystal clearness of the deep water and the darting forms of shoals of fish.

"Where does this lead to, Gerda?" Thea asked.

"To the Antarctic Sea. My great-grandfather explored it, but he made a rule that none of us should go outside, and we have always kept it."

"All the same, it would be a useful bolt hole in case of trouble," Frank said. "We could build a ship like the Miracle which would work as a submarine just as well as an airship. You'd like to go outside, Gerda?"

Gerda hesitated.

"I'm not sure. We are so happy here. And I think the look of the ruined world would almost break my heart."

"All the same, you'll have to make up your mind to it, Gerda," Dex said. "It's up to us to start this old planet up again. Once we've licked Gryde—"

A bell rang in the car with a high, musical note; then came a voice:

"Come back! Gryde is coming—hurry!"

The surprise was so great that for a moment Dex and Frank stood stunned. It was Gerda who caught Dex by the arm and swung him to the car. Next moment they were all in it and racing back at top speed. Gerda drove, and, in spite of the urgency, her hands were rock-steady.

"He can't be there yet," Dex muttered. But just then Gard's warning voice came from the invisible speaker on the dashboard.

"Be careful, my daughter. The car is not built for more than fifty. And there is time. The Black Ship is still a good way off."

"Twenty minutes, anyhow—more, perhaps," said Frank. "I say, Gerda, Gryde won't catch your father's voice, will he?"

"Not on this very short wave," was the girl's answer. After that no one spoke until they pulled up close to the Miracle. Sir Daniel was waiting for them.

"An ugly surprise!" he said, but, in spite of the danger, his voice was deep and steady as usual. "The Black Ship must be faster than we imagined."

"We haven't got those bombs yet," said Frank anxiously.

"Peder has just brought me the first six. He is coming with us. Get in. We must rise at once."

The boys sprang in. Sir Daniel waited one moment to kiss Thea, then followed. The port clanged to, and Frank spun the wheel which tightened the metal door in its seal. Sir Daniel was at the controls. He was looking up through the crystal window overhead.

"The gate—why don't they open it?"

At that moment Gard's voice came through the phone at his side.

"The trap doors will not move, Counsellor. We cannot tell what has happened, but we cannot open them."

Those in the control looked at one another in dismay. Every moment counted. If they could not get out before the Black Ship was overhead, all was lost—so, at least, they all thought.

"We are doing all we can," came Gard's quiet voice, "but if, after five minutes, we fail, you had best take your ship down the valley into the cave. There, at any rate, she will be safe from bombs. We shall seal our doors and wait."

"Right!" Sir Daniel answered in the same quiet tone. "We are watching the clock."

That five minutes was the longest that any of those in the small control-room had ever spent. All the time their eyes were fixed on the laminite roof above, but, whatever efforts were being made, no effects were visible. Sir Daniel spoke once.

"Peder, what's the weather like outside?"

"It has stopped snowing," said the cripple. "The wind is light, but clouds still cover the sky. They lie at about two thousand feet."

"The five minutes are up." It was Frank who spoke.

"Any hope, Gard?" Sir Daniel asked through the phone.

"None, I fear. And the Black Ship is very near. You had better move."

Sir Daniel waited no longer. His great, capable hands moved among the controls. The shutters closed, and the ship floated gently out of her cradle. Her sharp bow pointed down the valley, and she seemed to drift, light as thistledown, through the Rift.

"There's room in the cave?" he asked of Frank.

"Heaps, sir."

"But how about putting her down?"

"On the water, sir. She'll lie there if you give her just enough gravity."

"She will," said Sir Daniel quietly. Then, as the Miracle entered the cave: "You're right, Frank," he added: "there's room for a liner." He let the ship hang over the great pool for a few moments while he made adjustments, then down she settled with hardly a splash and lay perfectly steady. And almost at the same moment came a voice from the phone—not the short-wave phone which had been installed to talk with Gard, but the Miracle's own set.

"Gryde speaking! Can you hear me, Counsellor?"


CHAPTER IX. — BATTLE IN THE HEIGHTS

SIR DANIEL closed the mouthpiece of the phone.

"The question is whether we shall answer," he said. "There is always the chance that he may not be able to tell exactly where the Rift lies."

As if Gryde had heard what he said, the same voice came again.

"I have my bearings within five miles or less, Counsellor. Lindner gave them to me before you caught him. If you do not reply I shall sow the whole of this flat area beneath me with bombs until one breaks through. Then you and all your Helpers are at my mercy." Gryde's voice was indescribably harsh and threatening. It was as clear as if he stood beside them.

Sir Daniel closed the mouthpiece of the phone and looked round at the others. Frank spoke.

"I should answer, Sir Daniel. Gryde can't know that we are safe here under hundreds of feet of rock. And if he locates us exactly he will waste his bombs and spare the valley. He can bomb the roof of this cave till kingdom come, without hurting any one."

"Frank is right," Peder agreed. "Answer him, Sir Daniel. Ask what his terms are. Do not defy him, but, if possible, delay him."

Sir Daniel frowned slightly. "I don't quite see what good that will do, Peder, but I fancy you must have something up your sleeve."

"I have," said the cripple quietly. "A plan is in my mind, but delay is everything. We need at least an hour, and two hours would be better."

"I know you hear me." It was Gryde's voice again, more menacing than ever. "I give you two minutes to reply. If at the end of that time I get no answer, I begin to bomb."

Sir Daniel uncovered the mouthpiece of the microphone.

"I hear you, Gryde. What do you want?"

"Unconditional surrender," rapped back Gryde. "You are at my mercy, and you know it. I'm taking your ship and the formula for this new metal of yours. I shall help myself to such stores as I require. If you yield at once, and give me no more trouble, I grant you your lives."

Frank bit his lip, Dex looked like a thundercloud, but Sir Daniel's face did not change.

"Your kindness surprises me, Gryde; but perhaps we are not quite so much at your mercy as you suppose. Your bombs, even if they penetrate into the valley, will not hurt us, for we and all the people are in gas-tight shelters, with food and air to last for years."

"Bluff! Lies!" snarled Gryde. "You'll talk differently the minute my first bomb drops in your pit."

"Your bombs will do harm, Gryde. I am not denying that. They will destroy useful crops and food stores. But that will be your loss as well as ours, for I know you need stores a great deal more than we do. You can drop all the bombs you please, but you cannot get into the valley."

"I'll show you whether I can get into your accursed valley," barked Gryde, and next moment the rock roof above them quivered slightly, and a few fragments of stone fell splashing into the depths. Dex laughed, but Sir Daniel clapped one hand over his mouth, and with the other closed the speaker.

"Sorry, sir," said Dex, "but I just couldn't help it. It's as Frank said—Gryde's wasting his stuff on the solid rock."

"It is bad stuff," said Peder Bjordal gravely. "A bomb like that would wreck the whole roof of the valley."

"How much rock is there overhead, Peder?" Sir Daniel asked.

"At least two hundred feet."

Sir Daniel nodded.

"It was lucky we came here into the cave. We—" His voice was drowned by a second heavy concussion, but this did no more harm than the first.

"Good thing that snow fell," said Frank.

"If I only knew whether it was snowing now," Peder said anxiously.

Before any one could answer, Gryde's voice came again.

"Does that teach you anything, Counsellor? Answer, if you are alive to speak."

"Very much alive, Gryde, and quite unharmed, thank you. We heard you coming, and made our preparations in good time. Now, are you going to waste any more bombs, or are you ready to talk?"

"Talk, you fool? Why should I talk? I am master of the world."

"Not yet, Gryde. You will have to come to terms with us first."

Gryde's temper went. He swore savagely. Those below waited until the outburst was over, then Sir Daniel spoke:

"Gryde, you can hang up there till you freeze or starve, but you won't get anything out of us by threats or bombs. Sooner or later you will have to make terms, and the sooner the better so far us you are concerned. What is it you want?"

They could almost hear Gryde's teeth grind. "I've told you," he barked: "unconditional surrender."

"If you are going to waste time talking nonsense, I shall cut you off and let you do your worst!" Sir Daniel answered. "I make this suggestion—that you wait for an hour, while I talk things over with my friends here. Then I shall know better what to say to you."

There was silence for a few seconds then Gryde's voice came again. "I'll give you one hour—not a minute more," he snarled. "And if you try anything against me in that time—!"

Sir Daniel cut off both sender and receiver.

"And what now, Peder? We have your hour."

"He was talking about snow," put in Dex.

"That is what much depends on," said Peder. "But even without it, we have a chance. Sir Daniel, there is a way out through this cave to an inlet of the Antarctic Sea."

A glow showed in Sir Daniel's deep-set eyes.

"Large enough for the ship to pass?"

"Yes—with care."

"You mean, then, that we should go out that way, and try to rise above the Black Ship, and bomb it?"

"That is my plan. When I took my weather records early this morning, it was fine, but there were signs of a fresh snow fall within a few hours. If even a slight shower came, it would give you a chance to rise unseen and get a position above Gryde's ship.

"I understand, perfectly," Sir Daniel answered. "Let us be moving."

"It is a heavy risk," said Peder gravely. "If positions are reversed, and the Black Ship gets above us—"

"Risks are part of the game," Sir Daniel cut in. As he spoke he was already manipulating the controls.

"There is no light in the outer part of the cave," Peder warned him.

"We have our searchlights, bow and stern," Sir Daniel answered, as the Miracle began to move quietly along the surface of the water. Within a couple of minutes she had rounded a curve and was in pitch darkness. Sir Daniel switched on the bow light, and slowed the ship, as he worked her carefully through a narrow winding channel.

"Switch off now," Peder said presently, and, as the light went off, they all saw a grey patch ahead which was the mouth of the tunnel.

"Awkward if Gryde spots us coming out," said Sir Daniel. "So far as I can see, it isn't snowing."

"Not yet," said Peder, "but unless he is exactly overhead he will not see us. This is a very narrow fiord." Sir Daniel sent the Miracle forward at a crawl. She swam over the surface of the smooth water like a duck. As they approached the entrance, they saw, opposite and barely a couple of hundred yards away, a vast wall of rugged, dark-coloured rock which towered to a height of many hundreds of feet. The calm, dark fiord was patched here and there with small ice-floes. Sir Daniel pushed the nose of the airship just level with the mouth of the tunnel and stopped her.

"Frank," he said, "go forward and look through the periscope. Report if you can see anything."

Frank ran forward, but he had not reached the bow before there was a blasting roar overhead, and the glare of a rocket exhaust was reflected in the dark water of the fiord. He came racing back.

"She's passed!—went west," he cried breathlessly.

"Did they see us?" Dex asked sharply.

"Not likely. The cliff overhangs. No, I'm sure they didn't see us. Now's our chance, Sir Daniel."

Sir Daniel did not hesitate. He sent the Miracle straight out into the fiord, and swiftly worked the levers, closing the Samarite shutters.

"We're going up in a hurry, Peder," he said. "Is your heart all right?"

"It's better than my leg," said Peder, with his charming smile. "Do not trouble about me. Sir Daniel."

Up went the Miracle. No balloon ever rose so swiftly. In a matter of seconds she was clear of the cliffs, and shooting towards the clouds. The sun had gone now, and a pall of grey covered the whole firmament.

"There's the Black Ship!" said Dex, pointing. She was about five miles away, cruising at comparatively slow speed, and at a height of no more than a thousand feet. Her great bulk, with its tail of fire from the exhaust tubes, loomed like a black blot upon the polar world of white.

"They've seen us!" cried Frank. "They're coming round." With amazing speed the Black Ship whirled, and, rising as she came, drove towards the Miracle. Sir Daniel and his companions watched in silence. The speed at which they were rising made it almost impossible for them to move. Their feet felt as if they were glued to the floor. The needle of the barograph raced backwards.

A spark of blue fire glowed against the great humped turret of the Black Ship. Next instant the Miracle rocked with the force of a terrific explosion. But the shell had passed under her, and then she was in the clouds. Enveloped in a grey, frozen fog, the ship still shot upwards.

"A close call," said Sir Daniel; "but we are safe for the moment."

"Only for the moment. We shall be through it soon," Peder said quietly, and, almost as he spoke, the Miracle flashed out into bright sunshine again.

"Seven thousand feet," murmured Sir Daniel, with a glance at the barograph. The ship was still lifting perpendicularly, but Sir Daniel dared not let her rise at anything like her full speed. Had he closed all the shutters she would simply have fallen out into space like a stone. She would have risen above the Earth's atmosphere, and the sudden change of pressure might have burst her open.

Eight thousand, nine thousand—she was reaching the ten thousand level, when Dex pointed again.

"Here she comes!"

Gryde's huge Black Ship had just shot out from the flat grey floor beneath, and was heading upwards at a steep slant. Behind her streamed a comet of fire from her rocket drive. Her speed was terrific, and her great size completely dwarfed the Miracle. Small wonder that Frank, looking at her, felt his heart sink. It seemed beyond belief or hope that the Miracle could cope with so terrible an enemy.

The moment Gryde sighted the Miracle, his gun spoke again, but once more Sir Daniel eluded the shell. The moment he saw the nose of the Black Ship appear out of the clouds, he had flung back more shutters, so that the Miracle fairly leaped upwards. Even so, the shell passed so close beneath them that Frank and the others heard the shrill scream of its passage. Sir Daniel's lips tightened.

"We have to keep above him. It's our only chance. I wish I knew what his ceiling was."

Figures reeled past the pointer on the altimeter. Twelve, thirteen, fourteen—fifteen thousand feet! Gryde had abandoned his rocket-like flight. He was circling, coming up in a tight spiral, but, even so, with very great speed. In spite of the electric radiators, the temperature within the Miracle was falling fast. Outside there must have been a hundred degrees of frost, and the Miracle's polished surface reflected the sun's rays instead of absorbing them.

The altimeter showed twenty thousand. The ship was four miles above the ice cap, and still she rose. Peder was shivering, and Frank caught up a coat and made him put it on.

"We may have to go right up into the stratosphere," Sir Daniel told them.

"That is about 56,000 feet in these latitudes," Peder said.

"They say it gets warmer above that point," put in Frank.

"No one's been high enough to know!" said Sir Daniel with a slight smile.

Dex broke in: "We're almost above him. Can't we try a bomb? Shall I take Peder down to the release?"

"Try it," said Sir Daniel briefly. "I'll endeavour to keep her exactly above Gryde."

The two went down into the lower compartment, but Peder's lameness made him slow. Sir Daniel had switched on the rocket drive. He and Frank watched Gryde's ship through the periscope. She was still driving up at a very steep angle, but spiralling so that she would prove a very difficult target.

"They'll never hit her," muttered Frank, and even as he spoke he heard the clang of the release, and saw a small dark object hurtling downwards. Frank stood like a statue with his eyes glued on the black speck.

"No—he's missed!" he gasped, but already a second thulite bomb was on its way.

"That's better," said Sir Daniel: "I—I believe it's got him!"

But the pilot of the Black Ship had seen the bomb coming, and at the last moment flung the bow up so sharply that the great vessel was almost standing on her head. The bomb actually struck the side of Gryde's ship, and Frank distinctly saw the red flash of impact, but it bounced off and fell away into the depths. He groaned.

"No use! We'll never get him now. They'll be looking out too sharply."

Sir Daniel had stopped the Miracle for the few moments while the bombs were being dropped, and within that short space of time the Black Ship had gained a deal of height. Now she began firing again—not with her big gun, but with something of the type of a giant machine-gun which flung out a rattling shower of projectiles. Sir Daniel saw the first flash, and switched on again.

He was a second too late. There was a loud clang as a projectile struck the underside of the Miracle. It was followed by a sharp whistling sound.

Then the rocket drive was silent!


CHAPTER X. — BLIZZARD

"THEY'VE holed us!" said Sir Daniel. His voice was quiet as ever, but Frank saw the grim set of his face. The whistling continued—it was the air hissing out. "Go and see," he ordered. As Frank flung himself down the steps leading into the lower part of the ship, he met Dex helping Peder up.

"Got us, Frank!" Dex cried. "It cut the pipe running from the fuel tank. We can't use the engine till it's repaired. Trent and Cogan are at it, but the air's all going out, and they won't be able to stick it for long."

"The oxygen masks," Frank said as he flung past. "Tell Sir Daniel."

It had been cold enough in the control-room. As Frank dropped through the double doors leading into the engine-room, it was like stepping into liquid ice. He noticed, too, a queer sour smell. Trent and Cogan had turned off the fuel, and managed to plug the broken pipe. They were now endeavouring to close the gaping rent in the outer envelope of zircon steel. But their faces were almost as blue as their fingers, and they moved slowly and clumsily. The Miracle was already approaching 30,000 feet, and the air was so thin, so deficient in oxygen, that the two were dying on their feet.

"Out of this!" Frank ordered. It was odd how thin his voice sounded. He grasped Trent by the arm.

"You'll die if you stay here. We must have oxygen. Dex is getting the masks."

Trent hardly seemed to hear. The ship was still shooting upwards. Having no other control of her, Sir Daniel was rushing her towards the stratosphere. It was his only hope of saving her from destruction.

Frank himself was suffering badly. He felt as if an iron band was round his chest, his head was spinning. But he was still able to drag Trent to the steps. There was a thud behind him—Cogan had collapsed. Frank felt almost desperate.

At that moment Dex appeared, wearing an oxygen mask. He saw Cogan on the floor, and plunged down to help him. Frank managed to get Trent through the hatch, and there, in breathable air, they both revived. As soon as they could fill their lungs they turned back to help Dex, but he, in spite of his small stature, was immensely strong, and had managed to carry Cogan into the air lock.

Cogan was insensible. They had to give him oxygen, and even when he came round he was good for little.

"Lay him on the lounge and put a rug over him," Sir Daniel told them. Frank saw that his chief's hands were blue with cold. He glanced at the barograph which showed forty-four thousand feet. Nine miles up.

"Gryde's still coming," said Sir Daniel, and there was a grim edge to his voice.

Frank looked in the periscope. The Black Ship was still struggling after them, but she was more than a mile below.

"She's pretty near her ceiling," added Sir Daniel; "but we shall have to keep rising as long as she does. I daren't let her come nearer. A second shot might finish us." Frank did not speak, but what he was thinking was that they were pretty well finished already. Then, as if Gryde had read his thoughts, the pirate's voice came through the phone.

"Are you ready to come down, Counsellor?"

"No, thank you, Gryde. We can stay up here for a month if need be."

"And freeze to death?" retorted Gryde. "Oh, I know you're hit. I can see the hole. I know it's in the engine-room."

"Yes, you made a good shot for once, Gryde," Sir Daniel agreed equably; "but it's only one compartment pierced, and no one hurt. We have plenty of air still, and are quite comfortable." Sir Daniel winked at Frank, and Frank, though it was all he could do to keep his teeth from chattering, grinned back. Gryde swore savagely.

"Then stay there a month if you want to, and, when you come down, you'll find me waiting for you. Meantime, I can amuse myself by bombing your friends in the valley."

"Gryde," said Sir Daniel, "there's one thing you want above and beyond everything else: that is the secret of Samarite. And I am the only man in the world who knows it. You drop one bomb in that valley, and I will drop myself and this ship into the bottom of the ocean. Do you hear?"

"I hear," snarled Gryde. "And I tell you, I'll have you and your ship first, and the men of the valley afterwards. Now stay and freeze, fool!" With that he turned his great ship downwards, and shot like a black rocket towards the cloud pall far beneath.

"He gave up rather suddenly," said Frank in a puzzled voice.

"It was the wisest thing he could do," Sir Daniel answered. "He knew he could not reach us, he knew we are disabled. Why then waste fuel vainly chasing us? You have to remember that Gryde uses some form of oil fuel—and that there is no more oil! Or, if there is oil, there is no one left to collect or ship or distil it. That, I think, is Gryde's trouble."

"But what's the fellow after now?" Frank asked impatiently. "You say he's saving fuel, Sir Daniel; but surely he won't dare lay his ship on the ground? There's no cover on this continent, and we could bomb her to blazes."

"You are mistaken, Frank," said Peder. "Gryde can cover his ship with snow so that we cannot see her."

"We'd find her before she could rise," Dex said.

"We have to get down first," said Sir Daniel rather grimly. "And that we dare not do until our engine is running again."

"It will be difficult to effect repairs at this height," said Peder. "The cold is too great, and our hands will be too numb to hold tools. If I may advise, I would say we had better let the ship drop to twenty or even fifteen thousand feet. Then, at any rate, we shall be in breathable air."

Sir Daniel looked doubtful.

"We may put ourselves within range of Gryde's guns, Peder, and that would be fatal."

"He cannot see us," said Peder. "By this time it is snowing down below."

"But Gryde can rise, and he will know just where we are," Sir Daniel objected. Peder shook his head.

"You forget the wind, Sir Daniel. We are already at least sixty miles west of the Rift, and moving at the rate of nearly a mile a minute."

Sir Daniel laughed.

"You're quite right. I had completely forgotten the constant wind at this height. Very good!—we will go down and see what we can do in the way of repairs."

It was quite time to go down, for the cold inside the Miracle was piercing. The interior of the hull was warmed by a dynamo driven by the engine, and, with this out of action, the temperature inside the ship was already below zero. Sir Daniel began to open the anti-gravity shutters, and the ship dropped swiftly. As the needle of the altimeter dropped back, the thermometer rose. Not much, for, even in summer, the temperature on the Antarctic continent rises little above freezing point; yet even so the few extra degrees made a deal of difference. At ten thousand feet Sir Daniel balanced the ship and, leaving Frank and Peder in charge of the control-room, with directions to keep a very sharp look-out, he with Trent and Dex went down into the engine-room.

In spite of a heavy coat and gloves, Peder was still shivering. He was not accustomed to temperatures of this kind. He pointed downwards.

"Gryde is—how do you say—catching it!"

"Snow?" Frank asked.

"A blizzard. I knew it would come. The barometer fell fast last night."

"I wonder how he lands that ship of his," said Frank thoughtfully. "He can't slap her down on ice or rock—she's a great heavy brute."

"I think more likely on the water," Peder answered.

"But if there's a blizzard, that won't be much fun."

"These storms are local. He may fly beyond its area."

"All the better—then he's wasting fuel."

Peder frowned.

"We cannot be certain about his fuel. He may have large stores in his hidden place in the hills."

"We can't be certain about anything," said Frank with a shrug. "We don't know what the conditions are in Australia and New Zealand, or Japan. We—" He broke off sharply. "Great Scott—look at that!" he cried, as huge peaks showed up on the periscope, their glittering summits high above the storm wrack. The Miracle was being driven by the wind at a terrible pace, straight upon one of these ice-clad pinnacles. "Call to them below, Peder. I've got to lift her." He worked at the shutter controls.

Relieved of half her weight, the ship swirled upwards like a dry leaf; yet even so she cleared the summit by only a couple of hundred feet. Frank had not had the faintest notion of the force of the wind until he had this landmark to prove how the Miracle was moving. The periscope now showed a vast tangle of mountains beneath, snow dust streaming like smoke from their summits. He dared not lower the ship again, for if she were swept by the gale against one of the peaks, she would be cracked like an egg flung upon a paved floor.

Then, suddenly, the Miracle was flung upwards again in one great swoop, twisting and turning so that Frank and Peder had to hang on like grim death to prevent themselves from being flung to the floor. Cogan was shot from the couch on which he had been lying, but luckily had sense and strength enough to cling to a stanchion and so save himself from being badly hurt. Next moment the ship was falling again, caught in a down draught, and Frank had to work furiously to save her from crashing on a mountain top terribly close beneath.

"What was it?" Peder asked. In spite of the danger he was marvellously calm.

"A volcano," Frank panted. "A lake of liquid fire. I just caught a glimpse in the periscope. Great Scott, I thought she was going to loop the loop! I say, I hope those people below aren't hurt."

"I'll find out," said Peder, hobbling across. Frank heard him open the hatch, but could not spare him a look. It was all that he could do to keep any sort of control of the ship, which leaped like a cork in a mill race. Peder came back.

"Dex is stunned—his head is cut. No, it is not serious, but he cannot help with the work. I must go down."

"No, sir," said Cogan, climbing to his feet. "With your bad leg you wouldn't have a chance. I'm fit for work again." He staggered as he went, yet go he did.

"How are they getting on?" Frank asked anxiously of Peder. "If we don't get power soon, there's no saying what may happen."

"They have covered the hole in the hull with a suction mat, and they are busy with the pipe," Peder answered. "Sir Daniel says that they will have it finished in about half an hour."

"Then we've just got to hang on!" said Frank grimly.

It was more than half an hour before Sir Daniel appeared in the control-room, and by that time the mountains had long vanished, and there was nothing beneath but the endless sea of bitter-looking grey cloud. The cold seemed worse than ever.

"All right now, sir?" Frank asked.

"The engine will run," Sir Daniel replied; but there was something in his voice and manner that bothered Frank.

"What's wrong?" he asked bluntly.

Sir Daniel looked at him and paused a moment before he replied.

"The damage is worse than I supposed. I took it that the thing that hit us was a solid bullet. It was a shell filled with some corrosive fluid. What it is I don't know, but it has eaten into the metal in a dozen places."

Frank stiffened.

"Yet you say the engine will run?"

"Yes—at half-speed. I think it will take us back to the Rift, but if we meet the Black Ship again it's going to be awkward, Frank—very awkward indeed."


CHAPTER XI.— LIMPING HOME

SIR DANIEL stood at the controls, Peder beside him. Dex was out, so was Cogan, and Frank was with Trent in the engine-room. The two were using everything they knew to stop the horrible corrosion caused by Gryde's shell, but with very little success. It seemed to affect all metals equally. A hideous yellow rust spread before their eyes, and no amount of oil or grease could stay it. They had been forced to bind the injured pipes with insulated tape, but every minute were afraid of a burst which it would be beyond their power to repair.

Meantime the Miracle drove slowly back against the gale. Below her the blizzard still raged. Not a sign could be seen of the continent beneath them. They did not even know whether they were above land or sea.

"That's why Gryde left us," said Trent, as he got out a fresh roll of tape and began to unreel it. "He knew the kind of trouble we'd be in. It's my belief he's waiting for us."

Frank shrugged.

"He'd have a job to find us now."

"I reckon we've got a job to find ourselves, Mr. Frank! Lord only knows how far we've been driven, or which way the Valley lies. And if we don't get there soon, it's my belief we won't get there at all," he added grimly.

Frank did not speak. He could say nothing cheering, so preferred to remain silent. Sir Daniel meantime was talking to Peder.

"Have you any idea where we are, Peder?"

Peder shook his head.

"I will confess that I have none," he said gravely. "It is the first time I have ever been outside the Rift, and, although I know the geography of the continent, I can see no landmarks."

"I can't even see those mountains we crossed," said Sir Daniel.

"The wind has changed, I feel sure of that," Peder told him. "It has pulled round to the southward."

"In that case, we may be over the sea."

"It is possible—I cannot say."

"How long do these blizzards last?"

"Sometimes as much as three days, but not usually so long at this time of year. But there is no counting on the weather, Sir Daniel. The star has upset all calculations. It will be months before we return to normal."

Sir Daniel looked down at the grey cloud-floor beneath.

"Peder, we're in a very tight place. We don't know where we are. At any minute the engine may cease working. Then we are completely helpless. We shall drift with the wind until we land on some scorched continent, or fall a victim to Gryde. It seems to me that our only chance is to call up Gard, and get our direction."

"It is a great risk, Sir Daniel. Gryde may catch the message."

"That, of course, is the risk. By this time Gryde knows that we are using a special short wave, and there isn't much doubt that he has been experimenting to find it. Yet I feel it is a risk that we must take."

Peder still looked doubtful. At that moment the engine-room telephone rang, and Frank's voice came through.

"The supply pipe is going in a fresh place, Sir Daniel, and we're running short of tape. Have you any idea how far we are from the Rift?"

"None at all, Frank, but I mean to find out. I am calling Gard."

"Calling Gard! Won't Gryde hear?"

"He may, but it's a chance that has to be taken."

"Very good, sir," was all that Frank said as he went back to his work.

"Well, Peder?" said Sir Daniel.

"I agree, Sir Daniel. You are right," replied Peder gravely.

"Then you speak, Peder. I cannot leave the controls."

Peder moved to the short-wave microphone and spoke. Within two minutes he was back beside Sir Daniel. His eyes were shining, and his expression showed intense relief.

"We are much closer than I had thought. I think we are within thirty miles. The direction is south-west by west."

Sir Daniel sighed with relief.

"Tell them below. It will cheer them." With his eyes on the compass, he corrected the course, and, making due allowance for the wind, pointed straight back for the Rift. For the present he kept above the clouds, but he knew that soon he would be forced to dive down into the hell of yelling blizzard. And it was not going to be any easy matter to drop the ship safely into the narrow fiord between the walls of ragged rock.

But to that he hardly gave a thought. It was Gryde who filled his mind. If the pirate had caught that message he would of course be waiting over the fiord, for he must know just how the Miracle had emerged from the valley.

"Keep a cool look-out, Peder," he said: "for Gryde, I mean."

"I know," said Peder simply. Dex, who had been lying all this time on one of the two couches in the control-room, suddenly scrambled to his feet. Blood stained through the bandage on his head and his brown face was pale, but his eyes were bright.

"I'm all right now, Sir Daniel. I want to help to keep watch." It was no use saying no, for Dex had made up his mind. "I'll go forward," he went on. "I can see a whole lot more from the bow look-out than you can in the screen."

He went out, and Sir Daniel kept carefully on his course. While he knew the direction of the wind, it was impossible to know its force, so that there was difficulty in being sure of his air speed. Sir Daniel reckoned this to be about fifty miles an hour, and at the end of twenty minutes he began to let the ship drop towards the clouds. It was terrifying to watch the way in which the great masses of freezing vapour curled and rolled under the urge of the hurricane. Sir Daniel knew that, once within those raging masses, it would be impossible to see anything, and that it would be a desperate task to find the fiord. The Miracle was within a few hundred feet of the storm roof, when a bell rang sharply, and the voice of Dex came through the speaker.

"Black Ship in sight, Sir Daniel. Coming up out of the clouds."

"Then Gryde did hear!" was all Sir Daniel said, but as he spoke his hands were busy, and the ship dropped like a plummet into the swirling mists. Quick as he was, he was only just in time, for the Miracle vibrated in every bolt to the crash of a shell which exploded with terrific force immediately above her.

"Good thing Dex was looking out!" Sir Daniel said to Peder. "Five seconds later, and Gryde would have had us."

"You went down," said Peder; "Gryde, no doubt, thought you would go up."

"Yes, but what will he do now? That is the question," Sir Daniel asked, as he drove the ship through the tempest. Under full power even this wind would not have affected her, but, crawling as she was, she quivered under the blast.

"He cannot see us," said Peder.

"I'm not so sure. The flame of the exhaust will show through a considerable thickness of cloud. He may try to bomb us."

"He will not hit us," Peder answered confidently. "Not in a gale like this."

There was no sign of the Black Ship as the Miracle bored her way through the blizzard. Already her hull was thickly coated with snow. In the periscope nothing was visible but swirling clouds of snow-flakes.

"Call the Valley again, Peder," said Sir Daniel. "It doesn't matter now if Gryde does hear. If I don't get fresh direction, I shall never find the fiord."

Peder obeyed. He spoke for a minute or more before he looked up from the phone.

"We are farther than I thought," he said. "We are quite ten miles east of the fiord. But Gard says that the glass is rising fast, and that the storm is passing."

"I hope it won't pass until we are under cover!" said Sir Daniel. "Crippled as we are, we should be easy prey for Gryde." For a few moments the silence was broken only by the low roar of the rocket drive, then Peder spoke again.

"It is clearing, Sir Daniel." Peder was right: the snow-cloud was thinning, the light was increasing, the blizzard was passing as suddenly as it had come. Next minute they caught a glimpse in the screen of an ice-clad hilltop beneath them. Sir Daniel spoke through the engine-room phone. "Frank, we have only a few miles to go. Gryde is somewhere above us. The storm is passing. Dare we make a dash?"

"I don't know, sir," Frank answered unhappily. "The rust keeps spreading. The pipes are leaking, and the fumes are bad. If you push her, the vibration will be dangerous."

"All right, Frank, we'll carry on," Sir Daniel answered calmly. "We haven't far to go."

"It's the last few miles that count," said Peder. He, like Sir Daniel, kept perfectly cool, yet they were both desperately anxious. The clouds were shredding away at amazing speed, and through the thinning veil above they could already see the sun.

"She's after us again!" It was Dex's voice. "She's ahead, coming down towards us, Sir Daniel. You can see her on the screen. Listen! Turn the bow up towards her, and let me try the gun—I have it loaded."

"A forlorn hope," said Sir Daniel. "Still, any hope is better than none, and Gryde doesn't know of the gun. But the shell is small, and I doubt if it will penetrate the Black Ship's hull."

As he spoke, the Black Ship had come full into view on the screen. The sun shone upon her vast black bulk as she shot triumphantly down upon her victim. The nose of the Miracle, rose, and from her bow came a sound like the click of a giant air gun.

"No use!" said Sir Daniel. "I must make a last dash for it, and trust to the engine holding out." He was in the act of speaking to Frank when the click came again and Peder, who was watching the screen, gave a quick cry.

"He's hit her!"

"Hit her—where?"

"In the after-fin—blown it right off!"

"Keep her bow up," Dex yelled through the phone. "For any sake, keep her bow up—I've got her if you do."

The Black Ship seemed suddenly out of control. Her bow had risen sharply. Sir Daniel, calm outwardly, yet inwardly seething with excitement, swung the Miracle as Dex had asked. Click! It was amazing that the sound should be so slight. Next instant a bright flash blazed against the Black Ship's turret. Watching her in the screen, Sir Daniel and Peder distinctly saw her stagger.

"Who taught the boy to shoot like that?" muttered Sir Daniel. "I believe he has saved us."

"And I can see the fiord," cried Peder, for once showing a trace of excitement. "Unless Gryde recovers quickly, we are safe."

The Black Ship was trying to turn, but the loss of her fin had affected her steering, and instead of coming round like a top, she was running in a wide circle. Yet her speed was unimpaired, and it looked as if she might still get above the Miracle before the latter should reach safety.

"I'll chance a last burst," said Sir Daniel as he pushed over a lever. The Miracle darted forward.

"She won't stand it," came Frank's agitated voice from the engine-room.

"We're nearly there, Frank—not a mile to go. And Gryde's above us!"

"All right—carry on!"

The gale had dropped to no more than a stiff breeze, and almost before Frank had finished speaking the ship was above the fiord. Sir Daniel's hands worked like lightning as he opened the shutters, and the Miracle dropped like a stone. Before she reached the water Sir Daniel reversed the gravity, and she alighted with no more than a slight splash.

"Be quick!" breathed Peder. "Gryde's coming."

In spite of the danger, Sir Daniel's hands were rock-steady as he turned the Miracle towards the cave mouth.

"He's above us—here comes a bomb," breathed Peder. Then his voice was drowned by a splitting crash. The Miracle quivered in every seam, lumps of rock rattled and crashed on her steel casing, the air was dark with smoke and dust. The shock was so great that for a moment Sir Daniel believed the end had come. He could no longer hear the engine or the purr of the rocket exhaust. Then he saw Peder's lips moving, but, since he could not hear a word, realised that the explosion had, for the moment, deafened him. Peder kept on speaking, and at last Sir Daniel caught his words.

"We are safe. We are in the cave. Switch on the bow light."

Sir Daniel obeyed. He was still half stunned, but his senses were coming back. At this moment Dex came staggering back. His face was still very white, but his eyes were blazing.

"We're all right—we're safe!" he cried, then tumbled flat on the floor.


CHAPTER XII. — THE GREAT RESOLVE

GARD was waiting as the crew of the Miracle came out of the open hatch.

"So you beat him? Fine work, Counsellor!" Gard's deep voice was like an organ note as he greeted Sir Daniel.

"Is he beaten?" questioned Sir Daniel.

"He has gone. We saw the Black Ship flying north. And she is damaged. We could see that. She was steering badly. She is now beyond reach of our detectors."

"Well, here's the chap that did it," said Sir Daniel, turning to Dex, who was coming out between Frank and Trent. Each had an arm round him.

"He is hurt!" Gerda sprang forward. "Give him to me." She flung her strong young arm round him, and Dex's pale cheeks flushed, but his eyes were very happy.

"It was he who did the shooting," went on Sir Daniel. "His second shot cut away her fin, and the third exploded on the face of her turret. I rather think it did in her gun." A cheer burst from the tall Helpers, and echoed up and down the valley. All turned to look at Dex.

"It was just luck," said Dex. "Frank or any of us would have done the same thing, only he and Trent were working for dear life, trying to save the rocket drive, and Sir Daniel and Peder were navigating, and poor old Cogan was knocked out. I don't want any credit that doesn't belong to me," he added stoutly.

"You come with me," said Gerda firmly and, with her arm round him, led him away.

Gard spoke.

"You all look rather the worse for wear. Bath, supper and bed is my prescription. To-morrow we will hear the story, and plan what to do next."

Frank could hardly believe his ears when they told him that the Miracle had been away from the Valley for only eight hours. It seemed like a lifetime, yet, now that the excitement was over, he was so weary he could hardly keep his eyes open. One of the Helpers brought him a hot drink, a delicious cordial which braced him so that he felt able to bathe, change, and eat a good supper. Then he went straight to bed, and did not move for nearly twelve hours.

When he awoke, he was not even stiff. He had never felt better in his life. He had a swim in the big swimming-bath, then went to breakfast with a raging appetite. Dex was there, with his head still bandaged, but looking amazingly well and cheerful; then Thea came in, and Frank felt as happy as Dex.

Gard knew all about the fight with the Black Ship. He and Sir Daniel had been out early and surveyed the damage done to the Miracle. Peder had found an alkaline solution which had stopped the rust; but the damage was pretty serious, and, as soon as breakfast was over, they held a council.

"We can put your ship right inside three days, Sir Daniel," Peder said. "And the gates of the Valley are already working properly. We found that they were squeezed—no doubt some after-result of the earthquakes, which we felt even here."

Sir Daniel looked round.

"It seems to me that the first thing of all is to protect the Valley. Gryde will come back, that is certain."

Gard nodded.

"Yes, he will come back, but it will take him some time to make repairs. I should say we have at least a fortnight's breathing space."

"He surprised us last time—he may do it again," Sir Daniel said.

Peder shook his head.

"He will not be so quick this time," he answered with an air of certainty. "His ship is badly damaged. You know we hit her with a thulite bomb."

"But it bounced off," returned Sir Daniel.

"It exploded first. Possibly Gryde did not notice the explosion, but, if even a very small quantity of thulite was left on the side of his ship, it will eat steadily into the metal. By this time he has a hole the size of his head, and he will have his work cut out to stop it. This chemical generates heat like the old-fashioned thermit, but is much more difficult to deal with."

"I guess that'll give Gryde something to think about," said Dex with a chuckle.

"It will delay him, at any rate," said Sir Daniel, with a nod. "But, as I said before, it is the Valley I am thinking of. Next time Gryde is going to bomb us, and his bombs are particularly nasty things."

"Hexynitrate," said Peder; "but I can make that, too, and perhaps something worse."

"Bombs will not help the Valley," Sir Daniel went on. "Have you any scheme for protection, Peder?"

"I am thinking of guns like yours, Sir Daniel. Their advantage is that there is no flash or report, so that Gryde, if he comes over, could not detect them. I should like to mount at least a dozen of them, and should use shells charged with tondite. I should synchronise the firing and since the effective vertical range would be at least ten miles, I think we could be practically sure of hitting Gryde's ship."

"Quite—so long as it was light. But suppose Gryde waits till winter and darkness?"

"Then I should use terbian flares. They will ascend to something like five miles, and make twenty square miles as light as day."

"You have an answer for everything, Peder," said Sir Daniel; "and, given time, I believe you can do all you say. I shall certainly breathe more freely when your guns are built and in position." He paused and looked across at Gard. Then he spoke again, but in a slower, more deliberate tone, "Granted that we can make the Valley safe against invasion, are we to stay here for the rest of our lives?"

"We have stayed here for three generations, Counsellor," Gard answered.

"And we have been very happy," added Gerda.

"Yes, my dear," agreed Sir Daniel, "you have been happy. But will you be happy to feel that the whole of the rest of this planet is dominated by pure evil in the shape of Gryde? Remember that very possibly there are other survivors besides ourselves. Are they to live out their lives as slaves to Gryde and his crowd?" He stopped again, but no one spoke. The silence in the lofty, softly-lit room was intense. Sir Daniel's wise eyes went from face to face, then he continued: "There is more. Do you think that a man like Gryde will sit down calmly under defeat? Do you not know that his ambition is as boundless as his cruelty? He is himself a man of considerable scientific attainment, and he has with him Mordoff, greatest of Russian scientists, and Falardo, who took the Roxton prize for his thesis on explosives eight years ago. Between those three there is no saying what devilish inventions may not be hatched. Horrors beyond the ken of even Peder here. From now on life in this valley can no longer be the happy thing it has been in the past. Each morning we shall wake, wondering what calamity the day may bring forth. I ask you again, are we to be content to remain here?"

"What else can we do?" asked Gerda in a low voice. Her lovely face had gone very pale.

"Sir Daniel means that offence is better than defence," said her father in his deep voice.

"That is what I do mean, Gard. Peder tells me that he has more than once caught Gryde's wireless, and that he knows definitely his secret hiding-place in the Tien Shan Mountains. We have my airship, which, if not so large as Gryde's, has powers that his has not. And, with Peder's help, I think it will carry weapons unknown to Gryde."

"You mean to go and attack his stronghold?" Gerda asked.

"I do. It is the last thing that Gryde will expect, so I shall have the advantage of surprise. I may even be upon him before his airship is repaired, in which case he will have no means of offence, and I mean to rain bombs upon him until the last of his rascally crew is exterminated." A little stir went round the room.

Dex was the first to speak.

"I'm with you all the way, Sir Daniel," he said.

"Me, too!" Frank agreed.

Peder Bjordal nodded gravely.

"I, too, think that Sir Daniel is right. There will be no peace for us so long as Gryde and his Black Ship ride the air. Life will be one long watching and waiting, and, instead of cultivating our gardens, we shall be toiling all day in the workshops trying to perfect new means of defence."

"It's a big risk," said Gard gravely. "You had a very narrow escape yesterday, Sir Daniel."

"Yet we did escape, and, although our ship was not built for fighting and has but one gun, we have driven Gryde away."

Gerda shuddered.

"It is a horrible business," she murmured.

"You wouldn't have us funk it, Gerda?" said Dex, looking at her.

Gerda's fine eyes flashed.

"No one could accuse any of you of cowardice," she exclaimed; "not after yesterday!"

"But yesterday isn't to-day or to-morrow." It was odd to hear Dex speak so solemnly. "And don't you think that, if we had to stick here like rabbits in a hole, we should all end up as rabbits?"

Gerda wrung her hands.

"Oh, I don't know! I hate this fighting."

"If you could bring Gryde round to your ideas it would be all right, my dear," said her father. "But I am beginning to be convinced that Sir Daniel is right—so much so that I volunteer to be one of the crew of the Miracle."

There was a murmur of applause, but Sir Daniel broke in:

"No, Gard; you have to stay run the Valley."

"Will you let me come?" said Peder.

"I won't," replied Sir Daniel with a laugh. "You're much too valuable to risk, Peder. All day yesterday I was kicking myself for having allowed you to come with us." He turned to Gard. "I'd like two more men. Mechanics and fighters. I'm sure you can fill the bill."

"I can," said Gard. "You shall have the brothers Knut and Fred Noring. They are first-class mechanics, and first-rate men from every point of view. You have not seen our workshops yet, Counsellor. Shall we go?"


CHAPTER XIII. — THE STRANGE PLANE

THE workshops were in the cliff at the head of the Valley, and even Sir Daniel, who had seen all the finest workshops in the world, opened his eyes wide at the amazing display of machinery, all driven by humming turbines, installed in the natural tunnel at the back of the excavation. Where the river came from, no one knew, but Gard told Sir Daniel that it flowed always in a constant volume, and that its temperature never varied.

The cliff was highly mineralised, and tunnels running out of the great shop led directly to veins of ore, which was brought down in trucks and smelted on the spot. About a dozen men were busy in the place. There was no smoke or dirt, but every sort of labour-saving machinery. Those twelve men were able to do as much as a hundred could have done a century earlier.

Peder took Sir Daniel into his office alongside the works, and soon the two were deep in discussion.

"With a ship like yours, Sir Daniel," said Peder, "the matter of weight is no longer a problem. She will easily carry two or three times the amount of munitions that Gryde's much larger ship can hold. I propose that you take a large supply of this new explosive of mine. I call it annihilite. It has the peculiar property of seizing on the nitrogen of the air when exploded. Enough to fill a comparatively small shell or bomb will burn up the air over an area of more than two hundred yards diameter, while the force of the explosion destroys all life over a much larger space."

"Dangerous stuff to carry!"

"Not at all, for it can be exploded only by a special detonator."

"Supposing that Gryde's base is entirely underground," said Sir Daniel. "Even annihilite won't break through hundreds of feet of rock."

"No, but the place must have an entrance. If you can drop one of these bombs anywhere near it, you will blow it in and imprison him."

"That sounds good," said Sir Daniel, and Peder went on:

"Your difficulty will be to reach Gryde's place without being detected. He probably has screens as perfect as ours. I suggest that you cover your ship with this paint." He picked up a glass bottle which held a fluid almost as clear as water, but with a faint bluish tinge. "Coated with this you will be practically invisible at any height above five thousand feet. The brighter the sky, the harder it will be to see the ship."

"But it doesn't hide the sound of the rocket drive, Peder."

"No. I suggest you go to leeward forty or fifty miles, and let the ship drift across with the wind. You can be sure of wind at the requisite height. That reminds me—we nearly froze yesterday. You ought to have heating apart from the engine."

"You think of everything, Peder; but remember we haven't much time to do all the work."

"Do not trouble yourself. It simply means putting on more men, and I have a hundred mechanics if I need them. Every boy born in the Valley has to go through a year's course in the shops. Now, if you approve, I am going out to give my orders."

For the next week they all worked for at least ten hours a day, and on the eighth morning all was ready for the start. The Miracle was stuffed with Peder's munitions and inventions, in the uses of which Peder himself had carefully instructed them. Among other things, she had a radio set devised by him, which worked on what Peder called a sub-etheric wave. He told Sir Daniel that they could call the Valley at any time without the faintest risk of Gryde's catching the call.

Just before leaving, Peder took Sir Daniel into his office for a last talk. The door was closed, and no one overheard a word of what they said, nor did Sir Daniel himself speak of it. But Frank and Dex noticed that Sir Daniel brought away a small package which, when he got into the ship, he put away in his own cabin.

Every soul in the Valley stood waiting to see the Miracle rise from her cradle, and a thundering cheer came from five hundred throats as the beautiful ship soared lightly towards the open gates in the roof. Frank and Dex stood at the stern window, watching Gerda and Thea, who were waving their handkerchiefs. The Miracle lifted through the great doors and, as Sir Daniel switched on the drive, shot away northwards.

Soon the Miracle was at 15,000 feet, and travelling at great speed. Sir Daniel held his course for the Cape, and, late in the afternoon, they sighted land. Crossing Africa, Sir Daniel ventured to bring the ship down to about 5,000 feet, and sent the boys forward to see if they could detect any sign of life on the continent. There had been heavy rain, and the veldt was turning green. The seeds, at any rate, had survived the Star. As they crossed the mountains near the Natal border Dex exclaimed sharply:

"There's something moving on that ridge!" He sprang to the phone and called to Sir Daniel to slacken speed. "It looked to me like a man," he told Frank.

Frank had already focused his glasses.

"It's not a man. It's a monkey—an ape. There are three or four of them. They live in caves, Dex. That's how they pulled through."

Dex frowned.

"Looks to me as though there's nothing left but the creatures that can go underground."

"Well, there'll be quite a lot of them! Ant-bears, rabbits, marmots, perhaps even lions. Lions often live in caves. Also fish and alligators. I expect there'll be some natives, too. Tell Sir Daniel what we saw."

The ship drove on, and by night was over Rhodesia. Her crew kept watches, but the navigation was so simple that only two were needed to handle her, one at the controls, one in the engine- room. The two Norings, who were great fair-haired fellows, had already settled down to their work. But they spent all their spare time at the windows, watching a world they had never yet seen.

The shortest cut would have been across the Indian Ocean, but Sir Daniel decided to fly north as far as Egypt before turning east. He was anxious to see the state of the world. They were over the Sudan at dawn, but there was not a sign of life. One thing that struck them all was the absence of bird life. At breakfast Sir Daniel was troubled.

"Many insects will have survived," he said, "and, with no birds to check their increase, Africa may become uninhabitable."

"We shall have to bring birds from Australia," Frank said.

"It will be a great work, to re-populate the world," remarked Knut Noring, so solemnly that Frank smiled. But Sir Daniel nodded.

"You are right, Knut; but we must be grateful that we have a world left to re-populate."

Two hours later Egypt was beneath them. They got a fresh shock, for almost the whole country was under water. It was shallow, because later they saw the tops of pyramids rising like islands out of the sea. But Cairo had gone, so had the Suez Canal. The whole isthmus had sunk, and Africa was cut off from Asia.

Winging high above the barren mountains of Sinai, they saw Jerusalem standing apparently unharmed. But there were no people. To their right lay the Dead Sea, which seemed to have doubled in size.

"The sea has broken through," Sir Daniel said. "That's the deepest hole in the land surface of the world, and will make a small ocean. Now I'm going high over the desert."

For hundreds of miles the sun blazed on bare sand or stark hills, but the Miracle, twelve thousand feet up, was in comparatively cool air. The boys tired of staring down at this hideous desolation, and took naps by turns. Sir Daniel told them that they had better sleep while they could, for before long they would be over Gryde's base.

About five that afternoon Dex rushed into the cabin which he and Frank shared and shook Frank awake.

"A plane in sight!" he exclaimed.

Frank started up.

"Gryde?" he cried.


CHAPTER XIV. — NEWS FROM NEW ZEALAND

"IT'S a plane," Dex said; "but not an airship— just an ordinary 'copter." He dashed out again, and Frank followed him to the control-room. They had now crossed the whole width of Arabia, and were just north of the Persian Gulf, which stretched, intensely blue, to the south. Against it, on the screen, and very far beneath them, the plane was clearly visible. It had turned and was coming up towards the Miracle.

"They've been calling us," Sir Daniel said. "They saw us first and began to talk. I shut them up as quickly as possible, but I am greatly afraid the damage has been done. Gryde's people must be listening-in the whole time."

"Are you sure these are not some of Gryde's people?" Frank asked sharply. "That it isn't a trick of his?"

Sir Daniel frowned slightly.

"It's on the cards, Frank, but hardly possible. By no possible means could Gryde have come to know that we are on our way, and in any case we have not come straight. We are hundreds of miles off any track Gryde could have expected us to take. For another thing, their voices are English. No mistaking them, and I don't think that Gryde's got Englishmen in his crowd. They wouldn't mix."

Frank nodded.

"You're waiting for them," he said, for he noticed that the drive had been cut off, and that the Miracle was dropping.

"Yes. They can't possibly do us any harm, and if they did prove to be spies, we can make them prisoners." Dex was standing by one of the ports.

"They're coming straight up. There are two of them. It's an English plane—a Marvin, I think."

"Go up on the top deck, Dex," Sir Daniel ordered. "You have your ray gun?"

"You bet! It's in my pocket, sir. If there's any monkey business I can paralyse the two of them before they know what's bitten them."

"I don't fancy there'll be any monkey business. Let them make their plane fast in the rests, then bring them here."

Dex vanished. Sir Daniel and Frank heard the plane land overhead, and a few minutes later Dex returned with the visitors. He was brimming with excitement.

"They're from New Zealand, Sir Daniel. This is Mr. Mark Thorn, and this one's Mr. Jack Hardy."

Mark Thorn was tall and dark, and would have been good looking if he had not been so thin and gaunt; Jack Hardy was short and square, with a mop of rough hair and a freckled face. He was clearly a mechanic. Both were quite young.

"Halstow tells me you're from England, Sir Daniel," said Thorn sharply. "Is it true? Is there no one alive?"

Sir Daniel took the tall young man by the arm and led him to a chair. "Sit down, Mr. Thorn. You are worn out. You, too, Mr. Hardy. When did you last sleep or eat?"

"We had food with us, but we've finished it. We haven't had much sleep since we started three days ago."

"Dex, get some coffee," said Sir Daniel; but Dex had already gone. He was back in almost no time with a thermos of hot coffee and a tray of food.

"You will eat before you talk," said Sir Daniel firmly. Thorn's eyes were full of dumb longing, but he obeyed, and a little colour came back into his thin face after he had swallowed a cup of the excellent coffee. As for Hardy, he ate like a starved man. Thorn looked up again.

"Is it true, Sir Daniel?"

"It is true," replied the other quietly. "There is no one left alive in England, so far as we have been able to see."

"Then my dad's gone, and my brother and his wife and the kids!" Thorn buried his face in his hands.

Sir Daniel laid a kindly hand on Thorn's shoulder.

"But you are alive, and you have to carry on. Tell me—what about New Zealand?"

"Some of us are left, but all the coast towns are finished. The tidal waves must have been a hundred feet high. And the earthquakes were pretty bad."

"What about animals—sheep, cattle?"

"Most of them came through. Yes, the stock came off better than we did."

Sir Daniel drew a breath of relief.

"That's the best news I've heard. We can repopulate the world from New Zealand."

Thorn looked at him blankly.

"Repopulate the world!" he repeated. "Why, it's dead. There are no ships left, no people, except a few thousands in New Zealand, no machinery, no food. What do you mean?"

"Just what I say," Sir Daniel answered in his deep, strong voice. "Things are not so bad as you imagine, Thorn. There are other people, there is machinery, and if the world's shipping is destroyed we still have aircraft, and we can build new vessels of all sorts. You are worn out. What you need is sleep, and then you will be able to take a more cheerful view of things. You and your friends in New Zealand have a great task before you. New Zealand will for centuries to come be the centre of the new civilisation and it will be a far finer thing than the old. Now you must rest."

"Not yet. I couldn't sleep till I've heard more. Where do you come from, and what are you doing here?"

Sir Daniel paused. Frank and Dex watched him anxiously.

"He's all right," Dex whispered in his ear. Sir Daniel smiled.

"I know that, Dex," he replied in an equally low voice; then in a louder tone, "Very good, Thorn. I'll tell you briefly why we are here. You heard my warning over the radio."

"Yes, and wondered at it."

"I was afraid of being overheard. Listen!" He went on to tell Thorn about Gryde and the crew of the Black Ship, and of the absolute necessity for destroying this nest of evil before a start could be made with building up the world again. As Thorn listened his whole expression changed. His eyes brightened and the tired lines cleared from his thin face.

"Fine!" he exclaimed when Sir Daniel had finished. "Let us help, Sir Daniel. Jack here is a good man, an absolutely first- class mechanic, and white as they make them."

Jack looked up from his plate of cold meat.

"Don't you pay no attention to him, mister. I ain't no fighting man, but, lumme, you'd ought to see him in a scrap!"

"I know good men when I see them," said Sir Daniel with his very pleasant smile. "I'd like nothing better than to have you both with me, but you have a bigger job. As soon as you are rested, I want you to go straight back to New Zealand, and tell your people to get busy. Tell them what I have told you. I will give you the wave length by which you can communicate with Gard and The Helpers, and they will give you advice. Already they are building airships like this one, and within a few weeks or months they will be in touch with you."

Thorn nodded, then frowned.

"Suppose things don't pan out just as you hope, Sir Daniel," he said bluntly. "Suppose this fellow, Gryde, proves too much for you—what then?"

"Then it's going to be pretty bad," Sir Daniel admitted frankly; "but even then there is still hope. The new ships that Gard's people are building will be more powerful than this, and sooner or later Gryde will be smashed. In any case you will hear through Gard of what has happened. If we do come to grief, you and your people will have to take to the caves. Luckily you have plenty of them. Gryde may visit you, but he won't destroy the stock, because he will need it. I think I can trust you to do your best."

"You can," said Thorn briefly; then suddenly he dropped back in his chair, his eyes closed, and he was sound asleep.

"He ain't had a wink for three nights, and not much since the big bust," said Jack Hardy. "Never thinks of hisself, he don't."

"Lay him on the couch," Sir Daniel ordered, and Frank and Dex lifted Thorn on to one of the couches, took his shoes off, and covered him with a rug.

"You go and lie on the other," said Dex to Hardy. "We'll look after your plane."

In another minute Jack Hardy was as sound asleep as Mark Thorn. Frank looked at Sir Daniel.

"What do we do—carry on?"

"Yes. We have still a long way to go, and these two must get their sleep out. We can run a little south, and start then over India."

Frank was looking anxious.

"Do you think Gryde heard?"

"That depends on his instruments. The power from their little radio was very small. I am hoping it may not have reached Gryde."

"Guess we'd better hope hard," remarked Dex. "It'll be a mess if Gryde's expecting us."

"It is no use worrying," said Sir Daniel calmly, and as he spoke he was lifting the Miracle and switching on the drive. The 'copter, folded in a recess in the outer casing of the Miracle, would take no harm. The ship drove on towards the east, with the great plains of Persia beneath her.


CHAPTER XV. — FIRST BLOOD

"LOOK at the Indus!" Dawn was just breaking, and Dex had come into the control-room to relieve Frank. Frank pointed to the screen on which the Indus, some ten thousand feet below, was thundering down in a giant flood miles wide.

"I reckon it's the melted snow from the hills," said Dex.

"It ought to have run off by this time."

"I don't know," said Dex shrewdly: "first avalanches fell and blocked all the streams, then the big rain washed them out, but took two or three days to break 'em down. Seen any sign of life?"

Frank shook his head.

"No one. India's as dead as England."

"It'll be different up in the hills. I wouldn't wonder if there were quite a lot of people left in Kashmir and Tibet. Say, those chaps are still asleep!"

"Good job, too," said Frank, but as he spoke Thorn stirred. His eyes opened, he looked round vaguely as if he couldn't remember where he was, then he saw Dex, sat up, stretched, and yawned.

"Feeling better?" Frank asked.

"Heaps," said Thorn. "Fit as a fiddle, and jolly hungry. Where are we?"

"Near Multan—or what was Multan."

"About time we pushed off."

"You must have breakfast first. No hurry. We have a long way still to go. Dex, take him to our cabin for a wash, and you might tell Cogan to see about breakfast."

While breakfast was being cooked and eaten, the Miracle turned due east. Sir Daniel changed course, so as not to bring the ship over the Himalayas before Thorn and Hardy had left. By this time they could see the wall of giant mountains towering against the sky. Their tops were still white, but it was strange to see great rock bastions bare up to quite twenty thousand feet. Sir Daniel cut out the drive and balanced the ship, and Trent took charge, while Sir Daniel, Frank, and Dex went up to see the others off. Their 'copter had been refuelled and provisioned.

"You've given us fresh life, Sir Daniel," said Thorn very earnestly. "I am going to do just what you've told me, and I shall keep in touch with The Helpers. But the news we'll be waiting for will be that you've smashed Gryde. Jack and I wish you all the luck in the world."

"We do," said Jack Hardy. "And don't I just wish I was coming along too," he added.

"If we fail, it'll be your turn next, Jack," said Sir Daniel, as he shook hands with the mechanic. Then Thorn and Hardy took their seats in their little machine, and next moment it rose gracefully above the Miracle, then darted away to the southeast. The others went back into the ship and sealed the port behind them.

"We are going up," said Sir Daniel as he began to move levers. "The wind is easterly, so we shall have to make a big round in order to drift down with it. Still, we ought to be over Gryde's base before night."

Frank, who had been gazing through the port at the 'copter, turned quickly.

"We've another job before that, Sir Daniel," he said in a voice of sharp excitement. "Here's the Black Ship!"

Sir Daniel bent over the screen. Sure enough, he saw a dark dot high above the mountains to the north. It was travelling at very high speed. Even during the few seconds he watched it, he could see it grow in size. Dex spoke.

"Say, it's after the 'copter. I don't reckon they've seen us at all." Dex was right—Sir Daniel knew that at once. The enemy ship was burning the air in pursuit of the New Zealanders. In a flash he had turned the Miracle, accelerating as he did so. She darted forward like a bullet from a rifle.

"Get to the gun, Dex," ordered Sir Daniel, but Dex was already at the door, and Frank diving down through the hatch into the engine-room. Sir Daniel spoke through the telephone.

"Use the new bombs, Frank."

"That's what I'm getting, sir," came the answer.

Each instant the black torpedo-shaped airship grew larger. In this intensely clear air, every detail was visible. Puzzled lines creased Sir Daniel's forehead. He put his lips to the telephone.

"Frank, this is not the Black Ship. It's smaller."

"But it's Gryde's, sir."

"Not much doubt of that! I'm going above her. If we get her with even one of those bombs, it ought to do the trick." He cut off and called to Dex:

"Dex, don't shoot until I ring you. I shall swing the bow, to give you a chance for a couple of shots. Then I'm going over her to bomb her."

By this time Mark Thorn and Hardy had seen their danger, and were getting the last ounce out of their 'copter. But her top speed was only about 180 miles an hour and the Gryde ship was moving a great deal faster than that. For the first time since he had built the Miracle, Sir Daniel let her out, and even he was amazed at the way in which she responded.

Owing, no doubt, to Peder's invisible paint, Gryde's men had not seen the Miracle until she was less than a dozen miles away. Then they suddenly abandoned their chase of the 'copter, and turned towards the Miracle. Although smaller than the Black Ship, this craft was at least as big as the Miracle, and, using his glasses, Sir Daniel could see she was heavily armed. She had not only a gun in her turret, but one showing through a port in her bow.

Sir Daniel touched the button calling Dex, and at the same moment checked speed. That was enough for Dex. A moment later Sir Daniel heard the sharp click of the Berkeland gun. But this time the shell went wide. Small blame to Dex, for both ships were moving at tremendous speed. A pale flash winked from the turret of Gryde's ship, but their marksman, too, was equally adrift. Sir Daniel never even heard the burst of the shell. Dex had a second shot, but this, like the first, missed the enemy. Sir Daniel spoke.

"Lay off, Dex—I'm going up." Next instant the Miracle was rushing silently towards the blue, while two more of Gryde's shells burst in wide circles of white smoke a long way beneath her. Spinning almost on her axis, Gryde's ship turned and made off north. Sir Daniel's keen eyes glowed, and keeping his height he went after her.

"Frank, are you there?"

"Yes, sir."

"Get ready. We shall be above her within three minutes." There was no answer, but Sir Daniel could picture Frank leaning over the bomb release, sighting downwards, waiting his chance. As the seconds ticked by, the Miracle swiftly overhauled Gryde's ship. Her gunner kept on firing, but Sir Daniel swerved the Miracle, and only one shell burst close enough for them to feel its explosion.

Gryde's people drove their airship to the very top of her speed, but the Miracle gained hand over fist. Then, as she was almost above the other, suddenly clouds of grey vapour burst from both sides of the enemy, billowing out into a vast fog- cloud. Sir Daniel expected her to turn, but she did not. She carried on, still pouring out smoke from hidden apertures. Frank's voice came through the phone.

"Shall I use the infra-red ray, sir?"

"No need. They can't carry on for ever with that sort of thing. Wait, and I'll tell you when to let loose."

He dropped lower. The smoke veil cut both ways, for if it saved Gryde's ship from being bombed, it barred her from shooting at the Miracle. Presently Sir Daniel had got his ship presumably exactly over the other, and about two thousand feet above her. But the smoke still drove out, and was ejected in such volume that Gryde's ship remained invisible. For miles they carried on like this; then, without the slightest warning, Gryde's ship swung out of the cloud at right angles, at the same time pointing her bow upwards at the Miracle. But Sir Daniel, with his eyes on the screen, spotted the manoeuvre just in time, swung the Miracle in a swift circle, and the enemy shells, two of them, whizzed harmlessly past.

"Now!" cried Sir Daniel, but before the words were out of his mouth Frank had released the first bomb. It wasn't half-way down before a second, then a third followed.

The first missed the stern of Gryde's ship by a matter of feet, the second Gryde's steerman escaped by a desperate twist, but the third dropped smack on her turret. A vast sheet of white- hot flame blazed out, and, although the Miracle was nearly half a mile above the other, she rocked with the force of the explosion. Blasted like a partridge struck by a charge of shot, Gryde's ship seemed to stop dead and hang motionless for a moment; then her bow dipped, she upended, and dropped like a plummet towards the distant earth. She struck a bare hillside, and a vast cloud of smoke and dust spurted up. When it cleared there was nothing left that bore the shape of a ship—merely fragments of torn metal, lying in a wide circle around a deep crater in the soil. Frank came hurrying into the control-room. His face was rather white.

"It was your turn to-day, Frank," said Sir Daniel.

Frank shuddered.

"Annihilite! A good name, but brutal stuff."

Sir Daniel nodded.

"Don't let it worry you, boy. We have to be brutal sometimes. I only wish that Gryde himself had been in that ship."

"You think he was not?"

"I'm sure of it."

"You're not going down to see?"

"It wouldn't be any use. I doubt if there's anything left to identify."

Frank stood, frowning thoughtfully.

"Gryde will know by this time," he said.

"Not a doubt of it. They must have called him. Surprise is out of the question now, Frank."

"Do you think Gryde will attack us?"

Sir Daniel shook his head.

"I wish he would, for, with these bombs we have now, we could smash his Black Ship. But I don't think there's a chance."

"Then there's no hurry. I mean, it might be better to wait a bit—to keep Gryde in suspense."

"Not a bad idea, Frank; but there's one snag you haven't thought of: the longer we give him, the more time he has to get ready for us."

"I had not thought of that," agreed Frank. "Then you're going straight ahead?"

"I am going ahead, and, even after this delay, hope to be there to-night."

"Hurray!" cried a voice, and here was Dex. "I've been listening," he said, "and I'm all for getting the job off our chest as quickly as we can. Sorry I made two such rotten shots, Sir Daniel, but Frank made up for me."

"We've drawn first blood," agreed Sir Daniel, "and I only hope Gryde knows it." As he spoke he was lifting the ship and turning her head to the north.

Up and up they rose, until even the tallest of the tremendous pinnacles lay far beneath them. Then he accelerated. Up in this thin air the pace of the Miracle increased rapidly.


CHAPTER XVI. — THE SECOND BLOW

THE Miracle passed Simla, once the great pleasure resort of India, but the height was too great for them to see how the town had fared in the general destruction; then, leaving majestic Mount Kamet on the right, she passed out across the great tableland of Tibet.

Here the earthquakes had done terrible work. Whole mountains had fallen, blocking the valleys, and the torrents had piled against the mighty dams, building new lakes which shone blue under the pale sky. Frank and Dex watched these things in the screen, but Sir Daniel had his eyes on the map, and was driving towards the distant spot which Peder had marked with a small red circle.

But not straight: he kept his course for a point about a hundred miles south, and, reaching that, sent the Miracle in a great curve eastwards. The wind was steady from that direction, and he meant to use it to bring the ship silently over Gryde's stronghold.

So far the day had been fine, except for a few flurries of snow far beneath them; but now they were running into different weather. A layer of cloud lay beneath, but whether it was storm or merely fog they could not tell.

"We shan't be able to see a thing," Frank said unhappily.

"No more will Gryde," Sir Daniel responded. "It works both ways, Frank."

"Suppose it's blowing hard, how are you going to gauge your distance? You can't use the drive without Gryde hearing."

"We'll just do our best," Sir Daniel answered, so quietly that Frank felt half ashamed.

A few minutes later Sir Daniel cut out the drive, and let the ship drift. At the same time he began to let her down. Bleak mountain tops rose above the sea of cloud, and as the Miracle came lower they were relieved to find that there was not much wind. Silent as a wraith, the airship drifted onwards, keeping just above the level of the clouds. Sir Daniel dared not go lower for fear of striking some cliff or mountain side.

Suddenly came a ring from below, then the voice of Knut Noring, who was in charge of the detector screen.

"I get a sound, Sir Daniel. I believe it is a dynamo."

At that very minute a puff of wind rolled away the mist, and a gleam of sunshine showed an amazing sight. Far below lay a long narrow sheet of black water, which looked to be of enormous depth. It was four or five miles long, but not more than a mile wide. On either side cliffs of dark rock rose in tiers to a height of thousands of feet. They were crowned with fantastic peaks, and the cliffs themselves looked as if mad giants had carved them. Here a huge turret rose, and there a rock that looked like a gargoyle on the spouting of an ancient cathedral. Snow crowned the heights, and hung in dazzling patches on the projections lower down, but the lake was free from ice.

At the upper—that is the western—end of the lake, a cascade of white water shot from a great hole in the cliff face, and, curving outwards, fell in a solid spout into the black lake, flinging up a veil of spray. High as they were above it, those within the Miracle could plainly hear the sullen roar of the fall through the sensitive plates fixed in the shell of the ship. Frank gazed at the wild scene revealed in the screen. He shivered slightly.

"It looks like Dante's idea of the infernal regions!" he muttered.


Illustration

"It looks like Dante's idea of the infernal regions!"


"Then it should just suit Gryde and Co.," replied Sir Daniel dryly.

"You think this is the place, sir?"

"Hardly a doubt." He pointed to the map. "We are exactly on Peder's mark, and if that was a dynamo Knut heard, it all fits in. There's Gryde's water power—" pointing to the spout.

"Then it's as we thought. His place is underground."

"Certainly. This is all limestone. That whole mountain-side may be hollow." Frank shook his head.

"Looks pretty hopeless, sir! If Gryde was safe from the star, how are we going to tackle him? All the stuff we've got wouldn't break through that rock, and as for damming that spout— " He stopped with a shrug. Sir Daniel was quite cheerful.

"Oh, it's not so bad as that, Frank! There are always two sides to a problem. Unless that river runs entirely underground, I think we have Master Gryde on toast."

Frank looked up quickly.

"Dam it the other side, you mean? Cut off his power?"

"Just so. If we do that, his heat goes, his light— everything."

Knut's voice came again.

"It is a dynamo, Sir Daniel. Fred and I both get it."

"That settles it," said Sir Daniel with a satisfied air. "We'll let her drift straight over, and see what there is the other side."

Frank spoke.

"But they'll see us! Gryde may have anti-aircraft guns at the top, and we don't want any more of those corrosive shells inside us. Drifting as we are, we'd be an easy target."

While they talked, the wind was carrying them over the lake, and the last of the fog had blown away. In the clear evening sunlight the whole grim valley stood out on the screen like a photograph.

"I don't think they will see us." Sir Daniel was quite cool, "and if they do, we're not an easy target. In any case they'd be expecting us from the other direction, and you may take it they're listening for the sound of our drive."

Frank was not convinced but he did not like to say anything more. A minute later Dex rang up.

"There's something on the top of that cliff at the end of the lake. Looks like a gun emplacement. I guess that's what it is."

"I told you!" said Frank.

But Sir Daniel was answering the phone.

"Just what I expected, Dex. But I don't think they'll see us. I'm rising again." Levers clicked, the Miracle, rose like a bubble, and Frank held his breath as she came over the rugged summit of the cliff.

There was a gun; there was more than one gun. In the screen he could see no fewer than three grim muzzles pointing skywards. Each instant he expected them to belch fire and smoke, but nothing happened. The silence was unbroken, and in a matter of moments the Miracle, ten thousand feet up, drifted across the danger spot and passed towards the sunset.

"Well?" said Sir Daniel, and there was a ghost of a twinkle in his keen eyes.

"I was scared," Frank confessed.

"I was not," answered Sir Daniel. "You see, I know how nearly invisible this paint makes her. Young Thorn told me he never saw us until he was within half a mile."

"And what now, sir?" Frank asked. Sir Daniel pointed to the screen.

"There's our river, just as I hoped. It runs through a deep gorge. As soon as we are out of range from Gryde's guns, I mean to drop and start bombing. We ought to find some place where we can dam it completely."

"Gryde will hear."

"Of course he will hear. But what can he do?"

"Come out with his ship."

"Just what I most hope for. I know how to fight him now, Frank. But tell Dex and the others what I am doing."

Frank did so, and Dex answered almost at once:

"I've spotted the very place to start bombing. See that steep slope on the right with snow on it, and rocks sticking out? A couple of bombs will start about a million tons rolling."

"He's right, Frank, that's the spot," said Sir Daniel, examining it in the screen. "I'm going down a bit."

"Not too low, sir. We don't want to lose sight of Gryde's mountain."

"You'd better go below and release the bombs," said Sir Daniel. "Drop three or four pretty quickly, two near the bottom first, then the others higher up."

"You'll have to use the drive to hold her," Frank reminded him. "The wind's taking her pretty fast." Sir Daniel nodded, and Frank dived through the air lock. Trent had the bombs ready for him, and the moment the Miracle, was in position Frank let two go.

The crash of the explosion down in that narrow gorge was terrific. Two great black pits appeared at the base of the slope, and at once the shale above began to slide. At the same time masses of rock, broken from the opposite cliff by the concussion, crashed down into the torrent, sending up fountains of spray. Frank did not wait, but, as the Miracle moved, dropped two more bombs which fell about half-way up the slope.

The roaring echoes had not died before the whole slope began to shift. Slowly at first, then faster and faster it fell. First snow and shale, then huge rocks and boulders went rolling down with an ever-growing thunder of sound.

"Well, if I ever saw the like!" gasped Cogan, as the first huge wave reached the bottom and, rolling right across the stream, struck the opposite cliff and fell back—only to be crushed by a fresh mass. "It's like a mountain falling," he added.

"It seems to have done the trick," said Frank, as he gazed down at the gigantic dam, piling higher and higher each moment. And still the rocks rolled and bounced like pebbles, and the slide went on, until there was nothing left above but bare rock. Almost instantly the torrent bed below the dam went dry, while, above it, the water began to pile up.

"That's one in the eye for Mister Gryde!" said Trent vengefully. He had not forgiven Gryde for so nearly ruining his engines with that corrosive shell. But Frank was already on his way back to the control-room. Sir Daniel was looking pleased.

"Excellent, Frank! If Gryde hasn't got storage batteries, he will be in the dark in less than five minutes."

"It worked all right, sir; but sooner or later the weight of water will burst the dam, or else it will run over."

"Of course; but then, if the flood doesn't drown out the rats' nest, we can do the same thing again higher up. Since we can remain aloft without fuel, we can stay here a month, if need be. I don't think it will take that long to bring Gryde to his senses!"

"I hope you're right, sir," said Frank. Sir Daniel as a rule was right, but Frank had a feeling that it wasn't going to be so easy as all that. He looked at the screen, and noticed how dim the picture was. "Sun's down, sir. What are you doing for the night?"

"I shall let her drift, Frank. At a good height. I don't want any surprise attacks by the Black Ship." He lifted the Miracle, cut out the drive, and she floated like a bubble ten thousand feet above the loftiest peaks.


CHAPTER XVII. — "WE ARE WAITING NOW FOR GRYDE TO TALK TERMS"

ALL night a listener sat at the phones. Congratulations came through from Gard on the two successes of the raiding party, Dex spoke to Gerda, and Frank had a short chat with Thea. Then Sir Daniel had a longer talk with Peder. But no word came from Gryde.

Dawn found the Miracle some five hundred miles east of Gryde's stronghold, but she was presently back to station over the dark lake. The weather was still clear, and everything beneath plainly visible—but there was no sign of life.

A lake half a mile long had formed behind the dam, but the water was still twenty feet below the top of the tremendous landslide caused by the annihilite bombs. Sir Daniel reckoned it would be at least two days before the river could reach the top of the obstacle. Leaving Frank in charge of the ship, he went forward to the observation-room and, using powerful glasses, thoroughly examined the land below. Back in the control-room, he talked to Frank.

"I have spotted the tunnel where the river cuts through the cliff, and I see a big cave-mouth above. It is closed, and camouflaged to look like rock, but I have no doubt it is the door to Gryde's den. And I expect the hangar where the Black Ship lies is just inside."

"Then we can bomb it," said Frank eagerly.

"I doubt if we can bomb it, for the cliff projects above it; but if we move off to a fair distance, we can use the gun on it."

"And smash up the ship? Let's do it," begged Frank.

"Not yet. First I shall call Gryde, and tell him he is at my mercy."

"You mean, make terms?" asked Frank.

"Yes."

Frank looked serious.

"But I thought you said that we'd got to wipe out the whole lot."

"If Gryde, Mordoff, and Falardo are prisoners, I don't think that their men will be dangerous. Especially as I should have them all out of this rock nest of theirs and blast it to pieces."

Frank was silent. For a second time within a few hours he felt that he could not agree with his chief. He remembered Peder's advice—to bomb the entrances and destroy the whole gang. So long as Gryde was alive there could be no peace for the world. If Sir Daniel noticed Frank's lack of agreement, he did not speak of it.

"Keep her as she is," he said. "I am going to breakfast."

A little later Dex rang up.

"There's a man by the gun emplacement. He's using glasses. I reckon he's spotted us. Want to drop a bomb?"

"Ask Sir Daniel. He's in the mess-room."

Sir Daniel returned to the control-room, and as he opened the door a call came. Gryde's harsh voice sounded from the speaker.

"Are you there, Counsellor?"

"I am here," replied Sir Daniel.

"I hear you got one of my ships yesterday."

"Just as I've got you now, Gryde," was the quiet answer.

"You flatter yourself. I'm quite happy."

"A state of mind that won't last long, Gryde. I have cut off your power. You are already without light or heat. And that is only the beginning."

Gryde laughed, but the laugh grated.

"You talk big, Counsellor, but there is more than a laminite roof between you and me. All your fine new explosives cannot do me or my men any harm. And you dare not come down from the skies to fight me."

"I'm not such a fool," Sir Daniel answered dryly. "But I would not be too sure I was safe, Gryde, even in your cave. It is in my power to block every way in or out." Gryde laughed again.

"Bluff! Pure bluff! You know nothing of my home here in this mountain."

"Wait a minute, Gryde," said Sir Daniel. As he spoke he turned a switch, and Frank bit off an exclamation of amazement. On a small screen above the phone suddenly appeared the figure of Gryde himself, standing at the microphone, and of two men, one on each side of him. Sir Daniel went on:

"You say I know nothing of your surroundings. How, then, do I know that you have not shaved this morning, that you are wearing a heavy grey overcoat, that Mordoff stands on your left, and Falardo on your right? Shall I go on?"

The expression of amazement on Gryde's face almost made Dex laugh, but Frank stared as if he could not believe his eyes. Television, of course, was a commonplace to him; but to get a picture of a man with the aid of nothing but a microphone was almost beyond belief.

"Are you convinced, Gryde, or do you want further demonstration?" Gryde's language was enough to fuse the microphone. An expression of disgust crossed Sir Daniel's face. "That won't help you, Gryde," he said curtly. They saw Gryde turn to the two men beside him. Mordoff spoke, but in so low a voice they could not catch what he said; then Gryde turned sullenly again to the microphone.

"You can't cow me with your tricks, Counsellor. And you can't hurt us. If you can see so much, you'll know we can carry on here indefinitely. We have other means of getting power besides our dynamos; we have stores of all kinds, and weapons of which you know nothing. Do your worst and see what happens."

"Is that your last word, Gryde?"

"My last for the present. You may hear some more which you won't like so well before you're much older!" The screen went dark. Gryde cut off.

"So that was Gryde?" said Frank softly. "Ugh, what a face! But how did you do it, Sir Daniel?"

"I don't even know how it is done. Peder installed the mechanism. It is on this principle he calls subetheric."

"He's surely a marvel," Dex said.

"A great brain," Sir Daniel agreed. "And that is only one of a number of new inventions he has installed."

Dex spoke. "Better get busy, hadn't we, chief?" Sir Daniel sighed.

"On his own head be it!" he said in a low voice. Then he raised his head. "Yes, we are now going to show Gryde that we are his masters. Dex, you will load the gun with a tondite shell, and see if you can burst that hidden door."

Frank interrupted:

"Wouldn't it be well to bomb that gun emplacement, first, Sir Daniel? They're certain to try and use the guns against us."

"You are right. We will do that first. I leave it to you, Frank." Frank nodded and hurried down through the air lock. Before he could place the first bomb in the release, a puff of smoke blossomed about a hundred yards to the left of the Miracle, and the concussion made her quiver in every plate.

"They haven't wasted much time, have they?" said Trent, who had been listening through the phone to the talk above. "Well, Mr. Frank, I reckon we'll teach Gryde something before we've done with him."

Crash! Crash! Two more shells burst, but both were a long way behind and below the Miracle, which was travelling swiftly and rising at the same time. Frank was not exactly happy, for any one of these shells, if it burst close enough, would wreck the Miracle; yet he knew that she was very nearly invisible from below, and that it would be by luck rather than skill if Gryde's gunners hit her. He, on the other hand, had a perfect mark, and, as the ship circled and came back over the cliff top, he let three bombs go in quick succession.

The first was short, and struck the face of the cliff nearly a hundred yards to the east of the emplacement; and the huge sheet of flame it flung out hid the effects of the two next. The firing ceased abruptly, and as the Miracle swung again, and Frank got a full sight of the cliff top, he could hardly believe his eyes. All trace of the guns and their emplacement had vanished completely, and instead there lay a great saucer of blackened, smoking rock.

"It's actually fused the rock," he said to Trent.

"Sure thing!" Trent answered. "Glad I wasn't where the gunners were!" he added with a wry grin. "Still, there's one thing certain—they never knew what hit them."

Sir Daniel's voice came through the phone.

"You seem to have made a good job of it, Frank. There won't be any more firing at any rate."

"Don't be too sure, sir. Gryde may have other guns. The hill- top is so broken that it's impossible to see."

"I think we'll chance it, Frank," Sir Daniel answered. "I'm going to let Dex try what he can do with the Berkeland. Go forward, if you like, and help him."

By the time Frank had made his way through the double doors into the bow compartment, the Miracle was already some miles east of the lake. Sir Daniel cut out the drive, lowered and steadied her, then spoke to Dex.

"Can you see that door, Dex?"

"I can see it, sir."

"Try the tondite first, and see if you can burst it; then use thulite. I'm fairly sure that the Black Ship is inside, and, if we can destroy her, Gryde is helpless. I don't think he is likely to have a third ship."

"I'll have a whack at it, sir. Keep her just about steady."

"Gryde's too quiet," Frank said, frowning, as he lifted a shell from the case and gave it to Dex.

"He's got to be quiet," returned Dex. "What else can he do about it? We've cut off his power and busted his guns, to say nothing of disabling his Black Ship."

Frank shook his head.

"It's all too easy," he muttered, but Dex, busy loading the gun, did not hear him.

Then Dex began sighting. He took his time about this, for there was no hurry, and he did not wish to waste ammunition. Also his target was a very small one, and not too easily seen. "I reckon that's about it," Frank heard him say, then, before his finger could press the button, the Miracle shot upwards with a jerk that flung them both down on the rubber-covered floor.

Dex scrambled up and reached for the phone but, before he could speak to Sir Daniel, there was an explosion which almost stunned them, and sent him to the floor again. The ship was rocking and rolling so that they could neither of them get up.

"Must have hit us," gasped Dex, as he sat up, clinging to the gun stanchion.

"Told you so!" said Frank hoarsely.

"But what was it?" Dex demanded.

Sir Daniel's voice came through the speaker.

"An aerial torpedo. Lucky I saw it in time. That was big stuff, and it very nearly got us."

Frank climbed to his feet and spoke through the phone. "It didn't hit us?"

"No, but it was a great deal too close to be pleasant. The worst of it is, I didn't see where it came from."

"What are you doing?"

"Moving out of range. I don't know what the range of these things is, but I'm taking no chances." Dex recovered and took the phone.

"Can't I have my shot, sir?"

"It will have to be a long one, Dex. I think we had better do a little more bombing first." Dex frowned, but made no objection. It was clear that Sir Daniel was right, and that the only thing to do was to bomb the hill-top thoroughly. Sir Daniel went across the mountain at no more than five thousand feet. As he explained to Frank, this was safe, for these aerial torpedoes travel comparatively slowly, and they would see one coming and be able to escape it.

Frank and Trent between them set to bombing the great hill thoroughly. Wherever there was anything that looked like an opening they dropped an annihilite bomb. After an hour of this the hill looked like a sugar cake that has been standing in the sun. Almost every ledge and projection was flattened out, and the whole of the lofty ridge smoked like a volcano. Not only that, but thousands of tons of rock had gone down in tremendous slides which were piled like bastions at the foot of the cliffs. One lucky bomb had cut away the ledge above the big entrance, exposing it plainly to view.

"Must have given Gryde a headache, I'm thinking," said Cogan to Frank when it was over. "'Pon my Sam, Mr. Frank, I believe if we had enough of the stuff, we could flatten out the whole show."

"It's deadly stuff," said Frank, whose own head was ringing with the concussion. Even at a mile up each blast had been felt all through the Miracle. He turned to Dex.

"Your turn now, old man. I don't fancy they've got anything more to loose at us." He phoned Sir Daniel.

"Are you calling Gryde, sir?"

"No!" Sir Daniel's voice had a grim edge. "It's his turn to talk. Carry on."

The Miracle moved east a couple of miles, and Sir Daniel steadied her. A tondite shell was inserted in the breech of the gun, Dex sat behind the long, thin barrel and took careful aim, then at last pressed the button. There was no report, hardly any recoil, but the shell, swiftly increasing its speed as it passed through the gun, left the muzzle with a screech, and hurtled towards the distant cliff. With its impact a white-hot flame spurted; then came the sharp smack of the explosion, which echoed up and down the great gorge like a rattling peal of thunder.

"A trifle high, Dex," said Frank as he inspected the mark with his glasses. "But there's a big black patch over the top of the door, and I think you've knocked a hole clean through the rock."

Dex frowned.

"A rotten shot! I do better when I've got no time to waste." He slipped in a second shell. Again the click, again the screech, and a few seconds later the splash of flame and the cracking report.

"That's done it!" said Frank with quiet satisfaction. "Got it smack centre, Dex, and blown the whole door to blazes." Dex snatched up his glasses. He looked, he chuckled.

"Gosh, some hole!" he said. "I believe I can see the Black Ship inside. Yes, that's her bow, all right. Give me one of those thulites, Frank." Quickly as he could load and fire, Dex smacked three of the thulite shells into the opening, and every one registered a hit. "Now I'm going back to the tondite," he said. "That ought to bring the roof down and finish the show."

It did. The shell drove straight into the opening, and, when the boys were able to see what had happened, the cave was a grisly mess. The opening had been enlarged so that the light streamed in, and they could see the shadowy length of the Black Ship half buried in broken rock.

"She's properly smashed," said Dex, "and the thulite will simply eat her. Frank, I honestly believe Gryde's busted higher'n a kite."

"Good work, Dex!" came Sir Daniel's voice through the phone. "No need to waste any more stuff. I fancy Gryde will be ready to talk pretty soon. Meantime I'm going up."

All this had taken quite a long time, and the sun was far past the meridian. Cold clouds drifted across the sky, and a flurry of snow darkened the air. As the Miracle rose, the scene beneath her was one of utter desolation. Cogan served lunch, and all were hungry enough to enjoy it. The ship tacked to and fro above the lake, pushing up slowly against the wind, then drifting back; but of Gryde or any of his followers there was no sign or sound. Sir Daniel called the Valley, and told what they had done.

"We are waiting now for Gryde to talk terms," he was saying, when suddenly Gryde's voice was heard from the other speaker.

"Counsellor, are you there?"


CHAPTER XVIII. — DEX WAS RIGHT

"I AM here," Sir Daniel answered. Frank noticed that his voice had no expression at all. It was completely colourless. There was a slight pause, and Sir Daniel pulled a switch. Gryde's face showed at once on the screen, and Dex grinned as he pointed out to Frank that the pirate had shaved. But there was no sign of Mordoff or Falardo, and the light in the rock chamber where Gryde stood was evidently dim.

Gryde spoke. Clearly he was trying to copy Sir Daniel and keep control of his voice, yet it grated with ill-suppressed rage.

"I'm sick of your infernal bombs, Counsellor. I'm ready to talk."

"There is no need for talk," Sir Daniel answered in the same cold impersonal tone. "I require one thing only—unconditional surrender."

"Not asking much, are you? And what are you going to do with me if I do surrender?"

"Give you fair trial."

"With you as judge, counsel, and jury?" Gryde sneered. "Hadn't you better think again?"

"Olaf Gard will be your judge. I shall be no more than a witness for the prosecution."

"And a fat chance I shall have!" said Gryde with a bitter laugh. "If you can't suggest something better than that, I'll stick it out in here. Your fuel can't last for ever."

"I shall soon have a fresh supply from The Helpers," Sir Daniel replied.

"So they're building another ship? But that can't be done in a week or a month. Counsellor, I still have resources of which you know nothing. I, too, can build another ship, and, when I've done it, I'll wreck this remnant of a world you're so eager to build up. I want terms and I mean to have them." He paused. All in the Miracle's control-room noticed that his voice was fading, and that his face on the screen was dimming. He went on quickly:

"My power is going. See here, Counsellor. If I come up with either Mordoff or Falardo in a 'copter will you give me safe conduct?" Sir Daniel frowned. "You'd better make up your mind quickly," Gryde went on. "I'm running on storage batteries, and, if you don't agree, this is the last chance you'll have of making terms. You've damaged me badly but I'm not bluffing when I tell you that I have power to do you a lot of harm still. This isn't my only base. I have another that you know nothing of and already my men there are getting busy." The sound of Gryde's voice had become no more than a whisper. Sir Daniel looked round at the others.

"Don't do it," whispered Dex urgently. "It's a trick!" But Sir Daniel shook his head.

"What he says may be true," he said in a low quick voice. "I can't risk it, Dex. And what harm can two men do? We shall search them before they enter the ship."

"Better decide," came Gryde's voice once more, but so faintly, they could barely hear it. Sir Daniel turned again to the microphone.

"You can come, Gryde. Two only. And if you try any treachery you die."

There was a sound like a laugh with a bitter ring in it, then the screen went quite dark.

Dex swung round on Sir Daniel.

"Chief, you're not going to let that swine come aboard the Miracle?"

"My dear Dex, what harm can he do?"

"I once saw a snake that looked quite dead strike a dog and kill it!"

"But we shall draw Gryde's fangs before he comes aboard—that is, if he's foolish enough to bring any."

"I'd as soon let the devil himself come aboard," Dex exclaimed. "I saw his face. That was enough for me. Frank, if you were skipper of this ship would you let him aboard?"

Sir Daniel was the most long suffering of men, but for once he showed a little impatience.

"Neither of you is captain of this ship, and you must let me do as I think best. In any case it is too late to change my mind, for here he comes." He pointed to the screen, and a small 'copter which had just risen over the far rim of the mountain was circling upwards at a steep angle.

Dex was rather white. He was biting his lip, and Frank, thinking he would burst out again, nudged him gently. Sir Daniel spoke again.

"I am not angry with you, Dex. I do not trust Gryde any more than you, and I shall take all possible precautions. I shall personally search both Gryde and his companion before letting them come inside the ship. And one word more, whatever I do, show no astonishment. You'll remember?"

"We'll remember," Frank promised and Dex nodded assent.

"Call Trent," Sir Daniel went on. "He will come up with us. Now I am going to my room for something, and then we will go to the top deck and meet these men."

He was back in a minute, carrying a walking-stick, which seemed an odd thing to use aboard an airship.

"I take it you both have your ray pistols?" he said as he started up the companion.

"And wouldn't I like a chance to use mine!" whispered Dex in Frank's ear as they two followed Sir Daniel. "I will, too, if the fellow so much as looks sideways."

Frank did not answer. The fact was, he was almost as uneasy as Dex. He hated the idea of Gryde's even setting foot on the Miracle.

The wind bit strong and cruelly cold as the four reached the top deck of the ship, but they had not long to wait before the 'copter, piloted by Gryde himself, pitched gently down into the rests. As Gryde stepped out the boys were struck by his enormous depth of chest and breadth of shoulder. Though he was quite a tall man, he did not look his height. His hair was fair and so was his skin. He had a big hooked nose and a straight gash of a mouth. But what struck the boys most as they looked at him were his eyes. They were yellow—yellow as those of a bird of prey.

His companion, Falardo, was a complete contrast, tall, slim, dark and handsome in a sinister fashion. His hair was black as polished jet, and his eyes almost equally dark. One look at him was enough to show that he was as ruthless as Gryde himself. Gryde wore a huge overcoat made of pony skin and a leather helmet, but Falardo had a fur coat which must have cost a great deal of money. Gryde looked at Sir Daniel, and a sneering smile twisted his thin lips.

"I'm here," he said curtly. "And this is Falardo." Sir Daniel moved forward. He seemed to have suddenly become lame, for he limped, helping himself with his stick. But the boys and Trent, warned beforehand, showed no surprise.

"I shall search you," he said. "My friends here are provided with ray pistols, an invention of my own which I need not explain, except to say that the discharge paralyses the person against whom it is aimed."

"Cut the cackle and get to it," Gryde answered rudely. "But you won't find anything. We're not fools enough to think we can tackle your crew single-handed."

He held up his hands, and Sir Daniel searched him thoroughly, but found no weapon of any sort. Falardo then submitted himself to a similar search. A very fine silk handkerchief, a lizard skin pocket-book, a cigarette-case and matches, seemed to be all he had about him.

"We will go below. It is too cold to talk here," Sir Daniel said. "Trent, lead the way. Mr. Gryde, you and Signor Falardo will follow." As the party started down, Frank and Dex were together at the tail of the procession. Dex was biting his lip.

"I never reckoned the Chief would let them inside," he muttered. "And into the control-room, too!"

"Don't worry, Dex," whispered Frank. "We have our ray pistols. We can paralyse them both like a flash if they make a suspicious move."

Dex was not comforted.

"It's all wrong," he growled; then there was no time to say more, for they were in the comfortable warmth of the control- room. Frank saw Gryde's yellow eyes take in his surroundings at a glance. He caught the covetous flash in their depths, and realised that Gryde would give his soul for the secret of Samarite.

"Sit down," said Sir Daniel with cold courtesy. He himself took a chair, but still held his stick in his hands. He did not offer food or drink, and since he was the most hospitable of men, this showed the boys his opinion of his visitors.

There was silence for a moment or two. Each seemed to be waiting for the other to begin. Presently Gryde was forced to speak.

"You have had time to think things over, Sir Daniel," he said, and it was plain that he was trying to be civil. "As I have told you twice, I am not so helpless as you think. My workshops are intact, and all the bombs in this ship can't harm them. You haven't touched my other base, and you never will, for you don't know where it is."

"If it exists at all," said Sir Daniel smoothly.

Gryde's yellow eyes flashed, his thin lips twisted. Then he laughed nastily. "So that's your game! All right. Keep your own opinion. If you don't believe in it, so much the better for me."

Sir Daniel remained perfectly cool.

"I might remind you, you have talked a good deal of bluffing, Mr. Gryde. It is only natural that you should try it under the present circumstances. Now I will give you a few facts. I have cut off your power, so that your workshops are useless. You are without heat or light. Your ships are both completely destroyed, so that you cannot carry out any further raids. True, you may have a few helicopters, but they have no fighting value. You have a considerable number of men, but your stocks of food are limited. You cannot replace them in this Arctic wilderness, or, for that matter, anywhere else. It is my belief that, if I left you now and went back to the Rift, you would simply starve."

"Why don't you do it, then?" retorted Gryde. Sir Daniel remained unruffled.

"Because I have more regard for your men than you. The world needs men, and some of them at least may be useful."

Gryde laughed.

"I wonder if you'd say so if you saw them." He paused and stared at Sir Daniel. "Can't we come to terms? You leave Asia to me, and you can have the rest of the world, if you want it. I'll give you a written agreement not to interfere with you or your Helpers. And I'll say this: I'm what you'd call a hard character, but I've never broken my word on the rare occasions when I've given it."

Sir Daniel's face hardened.

"You might keep this treaty, but you can't bind your allies to do so. What would be the result? Within a few years the world would be split up into two Powers, each with ideas and aims totally different. There would be war, endless war. I've seen enough of that sort of thing in my lifetime. I don't mean to risk it for those who come after me."

"Then what do you want?"

"Surrender, Mr. Gryde. Unconditional surrender."

Gryde shook his head.

"Not good enough, Sir Daniel." He rose as he ended.

Falardo, who had so far been silent, spoke:

"Wait a minute, Gryde," he said smoothly, in English as good as Gryde's, but with a slight foreign accent. "Can we not make an alliance with Sir Daniel and his followers? He will, I think, acknowledge that you and Monsieur Mordoff and myself have certain scientific knowledge which will be of value to the humanity of the future. If we pooled this knowledge and offered it in return for a treaty—" He paused and took his cigarette-case from his pocket. "I may smoke?" he asked politely.

"Certainly," agreed Sir Daniel, and at that moment the cigarette-case, which was a large one, made apparently of green jade, slipped from Falardo's hand, fell to the floor and broke to pieces. Almost before it touched the floor Falardo and Gryde both had whipped out their handkerchiefs and covered their mouths and noses.

Dex, who had been watching the two men with cat-like intentness, whipped out his ray pistol and levelled it. Before he could pull the trigger, however, his sight failed and every muscle was paralysed. He fell over sideways and lay as one dead. The last thing that reached his failing senses was the sound of two other falls.


CHAPTER XIX. — THE TRIUMPH OF GRYDE

HEARING was the last sense that left Dex—it was the first that came back. He lay in a half- waking, half-sleeping state, but with a sound of moaning wind in his ears. His eyelids felt as if lead weights lay upon them, and it seemed hours before he could lift them. Even then there was nothing to see except darkness illuminated by one small square of pale light.

For a long time he stared at this, wondering vaguely what it was, and by degrees realised that it was a window through which moonlight came. He tried to move, but all his limbs were cramped. He was vaguely conscious that he was miserably cold, and that his head ached hideously, but why this should be he could not imagine. For the life of him he could not remember what had happened. He did not know where he was or how he came there. He kept on instinctively trying to move, and by slow degrees found that his fingers would work. This comforted him a little, for he had a sort of idea that he had suffered from some dreadful illness and was dying.

Suddenly he heard a new sound. It was a groan. So there was someone near him, someone in trouble! Dex Halstow had splendid health and an almost perfectly made body. This helped him to pull himself out of the nightmare state in which he was sunk, and to recover the memory which he had temporarily lost. The groan came again. He found himself able to speak. "Who is it?" he called hoarsely. There was no reply.

Dex tried to get up. Twice he fell back, but the third time succeeded in sitting up. Now his eyesight was improving, and by the gleam of moonlight he was able to see that he was in a rock chamber with one small window high overhead. There was no other light, and there was no heat, and, since the window appeared to have no glass in it, the temperature was many degrees below freezing point. All that had saved Dex from freezing to death was a large coarse blanket in which he had been wrapped.

Dex struggled to his feet, off the cot on which he was lying. He was dreadfully dizzy, and his tongue felt like a dry stick; but the groans spurred him to exert himself. The blanket fell away from him as he got up, and he shivered in the cruel cold. Yet the movement did him good, and as his muscles began to work so did his mind. Memory came back, and all in a flash he saw Falardo dropping that fatal cigarette-case.

"Gassed!" he gasped, and leaned against the wall. Again he heard the groan. "Frank, is that you?" he demanded.

"Dex!" The voice was so weak and thin, Dex hardly recognised it. Yet it must be Frank. He staggered across the cell and bumped against another roughly made cot.

"It is you, Frank?"

"Yes. W-what's happened? Where are we?" Frank, it was plain, was as mazed as Dex had been a little before.

"Gryde's got us!" Dex's voice was fierce. "Don't you remember? Falardo's cigarette-case! It broke as it fell. It was full of some gas. It knocked us all out." Frank groaned.

"Oh, Dex, then he's got Sir Daniel!"

"It was the Chief's own fault," said Dex savagely. "I warned him not to let that swine aboard. I told him Gryde would trick us, and now he's done it. He's got the ship and all of us. He is what he said he would be—Master of the World."

"We're not dead yet," said Frank softly.

"No such luck! I wish we were. As it is, we are Gryde's prisoners, Gryde's slaves. And—and—Gerda—" His voice broke and he was silent.

Frank was trying to move. He had got his in senses back, and his memory, but not the control of his muscles. And, like Dex, he was terribly thirsty.

"I wonder if there's any water?" he asked.

"I'm a beast," Dex exclaimed sharply, "thinking of myself, forgetting how you're suffering. I'll see." He began searching in his pocket. His ray pistol was, of course, gone. So was his sheath knife; indeed they seemed to have left him nothing but his handkerchief. Yet presently he found a match in the lining of a pocket, and carefully struck it. The little gleam of light shone on the rock walls, the bare rock floor, the two cots, and on an arched doorway in the wall. Dex went through, and found a small washroom with a metal jug and basin. The jug was full of water, already coated with ice. Dex tasted it. It seemed all right, so he brought it back and gave Frank a drink, then took one himself.

"That's better!" said Frank. "I wonder what that stuff was, Dex."

"Does it matter?" Dex was again deep in despair. "It finished us, anyway!"

Frank sat up, pulling the blanket round him. It was of Tibetan make, heavy and none too clean.

"Get your blanket, Dex," he said. "Then we can talk."

Dex obeyed. He came and sat beside Frank. The blankets were large enough to go round both, and Frank wrapped them carefully around Dex and himself. "We shall have to be careful," he said. "We don't want to get frost-bitten."

"They say freezing isn't such a bad death," Dex replied in a flat voice. Frank laughed.

"Dex, you've got it badly, haven't you?"

"What do you mean? Could anything be worse?"

"Of course it could. So long as Sir Daniel's alive, I don't despair."

"He may be dead."

"I'm quite sure he isn't. He's the only man who knows the secret of Samarite, and Gryde won't kill the goose that lays the golden egg if he can help it."

"But he won't tell, and then Gryde will kill the lot of us."

"Buck up, Dex!" Frank spoke quite sharply. "Things are bad enough without your blues. Let me tell you one thing." He lowered his voice and spoke in a whisper. "Sir Daniel called the Valley before Gryde came aboard to tell them that he was coming. When they don't get any more messages or answers to their calls, they'll know something is up, and Peder will get busy."

"Why won't they get any answer? Can't Gryde talk?"

Frank's voice was the merest whisper as he replied.

"Gryde hasn't the password."

Dex refused to be comforted.

"It will take Peder six months to build his ship, and meantime Gryde has the Miracle. He can go to the Rift and smash it to blazes."

Frank sighed.

"All right, Dex. Perhaps we'd better try and get some sleep. You'll feel better then. You'd best lie alongside me, then we can use both blankets and keep ourselves from freezing."

Dex obeyed. The two lay down side by side, and Frank was happy when the regular breathing of his friend told him that he was asleep.

Frank himself felt as if sleep was impossible, yet presently he, too, dropped off, and never moved until roused by the opening of the door. A man came in, a yellow-skinned, slit-eyed fellow with a pock-marked face and shaggy ink-black hair. A Tartar, Frank thought. He carried a wooden bowl in which was boiled rice and meat. This he dumped down on the floor and, after pointing to it, went out without saying a word. Frank heard the key turn in the massive lock.

It was daylight now, and a gleam of watery sunlight came through the barred window which faced east. Frank roused Dex, who woke with a sharp start.

"Breakfast, Dex," Frank said. "Better eat it while it's hot. We'll wash afterwards." There were two spoons in the dish. Each took one and began. Dex did not speak, and Frank was worried by the look of him. He had never before seen his chum in such a despondent state. Dex seemed to have lost all hope: his eyes, usually so bright, were dull, and there was no colour in his face. He ate mechanically, while Frank was hungry enough to enjoy the coarse ill-cooked food.

Frank realised that it was no use talking or trying to cheer Dex, and he wondered uneasily what would happen if they were shut up like this for days on end. His own head was better, but he was still feeling the effects of the drug.

Yet the food did Dex good. Frank could see that, and when it was finished Dex got up and began to examine their prison. He tried the door; then, standing on the cot, tried to reach the window. But it was too high, and even Frank, though so much taller, could not get his fingers within a foot of the ledge.

He came back and wrapped himself again in his blanket. At last Dex spoke.

"If one could only do something! To sit like this and freeze—it's enough to drive one mad."

"It's bad," Frank agreed. "But hang on to yourself, Dex. I'm not feeling too good, either."

At once Dex melted.

"I'm a selfish hog, Frank! But it's sitting here, thinking, knowing how hopeless it is, that takes all the stuffing out of me. It's no use kidding ourselves. We shall never get out of this. Gryde will see to that."

A sardonic laugh from behind made them both start. The door was open, and Gryde himself stood there.

"You spoke the truth for once, Halstow," he said. "Not that I shall have to worry about you, personally, for even if you got outside you wouldn't last long. Had a good sleep?"

"Very good, thank you," said Frank politely.

Gryde laughed again. The sound grated on Frank's nerves as a file would have upon his skin.

"When we get a few more people in the world we shall have to advertise that gas as a sleeping draught. It's an invention of my friend Falardo, and he calls it hypriol, but it was my idea to carry it in a cigarette-case. The minute old Counsellor invited us aboard I knew we had him and all of you. I told him I had tricks up my sleeve of which he knew nothing, but the old dotard wouldn't believe me. I think you'll admit I was right."

Gryde was in a good humour and Frank decided that he liked him even less in this state than when he was in a rage. As for Dex, he was taut and quivering, his cheeks were white, with a red spot in the centre of each, and Frank stepped in front of him, fearing he would fling himself on Gryde. Gryde himself must have seen it, but he paid no attention. He looked round the cell.

"Cold quarters, gentlemen, but you have yourselves to thank for that. You smashed my windows, and you cut off my power. But I'll have that back pretty soon, and then your pretty Miracle will pay me for the rest of the damage."

"And may I ask what you intend to do with us?" Frank asked with unruffled politeness.

Gryde looked him over.

"Give you a job, if you behave yourself," he replied; then, without waiting for a reply, he went out, pulling the door to and locking it behind him.

"Son of a dog!" snapped Dex. "He came here just to gloat over us. Why didn't you let me go for him?"

"Because nothing would have pleased him more than an excuse to use your own ray pistol on you. Didn't you see it in his pocket?"

The two settled down again to wait. There was nothing else to do. The cold was cruel, and, in spite of their blankets, they suffered badly. Their watches had been taken from them, so that they had no means of knowing the time. The sun went in, the wind increased, and flakes of finely frozen snow began to sift in through the bars of their window.

Suspense made matters worse for them, for they did not know what had happened to Sir Daniel or the Norings or to either of the others. Dex fell deeper into silent despair, and Frank had all he could do to keep his own quivering nerves from breaking down. He thought of Thea, and was grateful that she at least was still safe. Yet she would be dreadfully anxious, for by this time The Helpers would be aware that something had happened to the Miracle. Peder, Frank knew, would do all he could, but even Peder could not build an airship in less than a couple of months.

At last the door opened again, and a man came in. He was one whom they had not seen before, a stocky fellow with a muddy complexion, who looked like a Russian but spoke English.

"You will come with me," he said curtly. "The chief's orders." He had an electric pistol in his large fist, and with him were four Tartars, all armed. Clearly there was no resisting his orders, so Frank and Dex followed. The Russian led the way, the Tartars followed. The passage outside was partly natural, partly artificial. The whole of this limestone rock was honeycombed with tunnels and caves. It sloped downwards, curving and twisting as it went. Frank saw a score of side passages, and did his best to memorise them as he passed, but it was very difficult. They met no one, but heard sounds of hammering echoing up from some unseen workshop. Here and there great masses of rock had fallen from the roof, the result, no doubt, of the Miracle's bombs.

Frank counted his steps, and reckoned that they had walked just over three hundred yards when they came under a high arch into a great rock chamber. It was barbarically lighted by torches set in sconces around the walls. Frank saw electric lamps, but clearly the power was still off—the dam held.

The smoky glare illuminated a sort of dais at the far end, on which sat Gryde, with Falardo and the Russian, Mordoff. The latter was a bull of a man, with a head of shaggy hair and cold grey eyes. But Frank and Dex hardly glanced at him, for there was Sir Daniel, standing leaning on his stick in front of the dais, and, with him, the two Norings, Trent and Cogan. Trent had a bandage on his head, but Cogan and the others seemed to be unhurt. Sir Daniel was his usual calm self. From his face it was impossible to tell that he had lost everything that he held most dear.

The boys were marched up alongside the others, and their guards fell back. In all, there were a dozen of the Tartars—and a wickeder lot Frank had never seen. Such feelings as pity or kindness simply did not exist in their make- up.

Gryde's yellow eyes surveyed the latest comers, and his lips twisted in an ugly smile.

"I'm trying to instil a little sense into your chief, Lynd," he said, "but he is foolishly obstinate. I am offering him terms. He will tell you what they are."

Sir Daniel turned to the boys with a smile.

"Good-morning, Frank. Good-morning, Dex. First I have to offer you my apologies. You were right, Dex, and I was foolish in allowing Mr. Gryde to come aboard the Miracle. Having said that, I will tell you what his terms are. He offers us our lives and liberty in exchange for the secret of Samarite." He paused a moment, and Dex opened his mouth to speak—but Sir Daniel raised his hand.

"Wait! I am old. My life is nearly done. But you others are young and many years lie before you. I give you a free choice. If you think that I should pay the price, I am quite ready to do so."

"Does he mean that we can take the Miracle and go home?" Dex asked bluntly.

"No. He claims the Miracle and all in her."

"But I'll take you back in her," Gryde put in. His voice was less harsh than usual, and Frank and Dex both realised that he was intensely keen for his terms to be accepted.

Dex spoke straight to Gryde.

"You know that our friends in the Valley have the secret?"

"I know that," Gryde answered smoothly. "If I have it, too, that makes things even." Frank was watching Dex. He saw Dex bite his lips, and knew the struggle that was going on inside him. Dex loved life and he loved Gerda. It would be hard indeed for him to lose both. But Dex's face hardened, and he turned to Sir Daniel:

"Don't do it, Chief—that's my vote."

"Mine, too," said Frank firmly.

"We're with you, sir," put in Trent. "Cogan and I, we've talked it over, and we both think that it would be crazy to let these chaps into the secret. They'd bust up the Valley and own the world."

"And you, Knut and Fred?" Sir Daniel asked.

Knut straightened his great frame.

"My brother and I vote with the rest, Sir Daniel. Our lives count for little compared with those of our people in the Valley."

Sir Daniel looked Gryde in the face.

"You hear, Mr. Gryde? The vote is unanimous. We refuse to buy our lives at the price you require."

While he listened, Gryde's face had changed. His lips had drawn back, showing his large white teeth, his yellow eyes seemed to flame with fury. Yet he still kept some measure of self- control.

"I didn't know I was dealing with a parcel of lunatics," he said with a bitter sneer. "As you've told your followers, Counsellor, they are young and may live many years. Yet you'd sacrifice them all for the sake of one scientific secret!"

"You are mistaken, Gryde," replied Sir Daniel, leaning on his stick, yet speaking in the same even, steady tone. "I am not sacrificing them. If they had asked me to accede to your terms, they would themselves have been sacrificing all they hold most dear—their honour, their faith, their principles. You will no doubt murder us, you will have my ship with all that she contains, but without this secret, you can never become master of the world."

Gryde's temper went to the winds.

"With or without this secret, I am already master. If you don't give it me, I shall take it from that other who has it already. But"—he paused and smiled horribly—"I don't despair of getting it from you, Counsellor. If you think that you and the rest of your idiots are going to be shot out of hand, you are sadly mistaken. Listen: you will go back to your cell and be fed. Your life is valuable to me. The rest will also go back to their cells; but they will not be fed. Their blankets will be taken from them, except at night. I would take them away altogether, only that then they would die too quickly. At intervals you will have reports as to how they are faring. One by one, they will die of cold and hunger, knowing that you, their chief, are responsible for their deaths, and could save them by speaking a few words."

Sir Daniel's fine face had gone a little pale, but his voice was perfectly steady as he answered:

"You may lead a horse to water, Gryde, but you cannot make him drink. I shall die with my friends, and you"—he raised his hand and pointed at Gryde—"you, I think, will die almost as soon as we. Of one thing I am quite sure: you will never be allowed to be master of this world." He spoke so solemnly that for a moment Gryde seemed to quail, then he sprang to his feet.

"Take them away! Take them to their cells! And take all their blankets away. Before long you will sing a very different song, Sir Daniel Counsellor!"


CHAPTER XX. — THE SECOND CHANCE

FRANK and Dex dropped on one of the cots, exhausted. For hours they had been jumping, wrestling, shadow- boxing, taking any sort of exercise to save themselves from freezing to death. They had had no food since morning, and now were both savagely hungry. In cold like this the body must have fuel, or it soon runs down. Dex spoke.

"If that chap comes with our blankets I'm going right for him."

"What's the use?" Frank asked. "He'll only shoot you."

"I guess shooting's better than freezing. Besides, if Gryde wants to keep us alive, maybe he won't dare shoot."

"And what then?" Frank asked.

"If I could get him down I'd take his pistol and go look for Gryde. If I could finish him I'd die happy."

"I'm pretty much of the same opinion myself," Frank said slowly.

"Then let's do it. You never know what may happen. Especially when you've got nothing to lose and everything to gain."

"If he's coming he'll come soon," Frank said. "It's nearly dark." Dex shivered.

"Gosh, but it's cold!" he muttered. "Frank, if I ever get out of this I'll go and live on the Equator." Frank looked at the other. It seemed to him an odd thing that Dex, who a few hours ago had been so down that Frank had feared for his reason, was now ready to take the maddest risk. Dex saw his look and laughed. "You think I'm crazy, Frank! I reckon I am. There comes a point when nothing matters."

"I'd rather have you crazy than depressed, Dex! I'm feeling the same way. We'll tackle this chap. Let me jump him."

"No, I'm better for that than you. I'll tackle him round the knees. Then you plug him. Remember, he mustn't have time to shout." He got up. "He's coming. I hear steps outside." As he spoke he stepped softly across the room and took up his position against the wall. The steps stopped, the key turned in the lock, Dex tensed. The door began to open, but it only opened part way. The blankets were flung in, and before Dex could do anything the door slammed back and was locked.

"He knew. Someone must have been listening," Dex cried fiercely. He dropped back on the cot, limp and lax.

"Quite likely," Frank said, as he picked up the blankets and wrapped one round Dex. "So after this we'll be careful," he added grimly.

"There won't be any after. They'll never give us a second chance." Dex was again in the depths of despair, and even the warmth afforded by his blanket did not help him.

Frank whispered in his ear.

"Buck up! They'll have to come right in to get the blankets away from us!" And Dex revived again!

"I hadn't thought of that. But what's the use? By morning we'll be so nearly dead we shan't be able to put up a fight."

"We shall, if we save our strength. Let's roll up and go to sleep."

It was the only sensible thing to do, and when they lay close together, with both blankets round them, a little warmth came back to their frozen, half-starved bodies, and they slept. But it was a restless sleep. No one sleeps well when hungry, and both kept on dreaming of smoking-hot roasts, of fried potatoes, loaves of fresh bread.

Some time after midnight Frank woke. The moonlight striking through the bars above fell full on his face. By this time he was ravenous, really aching with hunger. He began to wonder how long it would be before this dreadful ache must kill him. Then his thoughts turned to the visit of the Tartar in the morning. Gryde, he thought, would send two men, but it did not matter. If there were a dozen, he and Dex would fight them.

Then in the aching stillness of the bitter night his ears caught a slight sound. He lay absolutely still, listening intently. Someone was coming very softly and carefully up the passage, stopping every now and then, as if uncertain of his position. Frank's heart began to beat painfully. This was not the Tartar! Who could it be? He shook Dex gently, and Dex awoke with a start, and would have cried out only that Frank quickly put a hand over his mouth.

"Listen!" Frank whispered tensely. "There's someone outside."

Both heard the steps again. Frank got up softly and went to the door. Dex followed. The person, whoever he was, stopped outside their door.

"Frank!" came a well-known voice.

"It's—it's Sir Daniel!" Dex gasped.

"Quiet!" Frank hissed. "We're here, Sir Daniel," he whispered with his lips at the keyhole.

"Then get quite back from the door while I open it." They stood back. They were both simply dumbfounded. The thing was impossible. Frank found himself quivering all over—not with cold but with sheer excitement. For the moment he had forgotten cold, hunger, everything except the amazing fact that their chief had escaped and was going to help them to escape, too.

Something was happening to the door. The wood around the lock was falling away, as if it had gone suddenly rotten. The process was amazingly swift, but quite soundless. The wood was not burning or charring, but simply disintegrating. Within half a minute the whole massive lock was exposed. They saw Sir Daniel's hand, wrapped in a handkerchief, come through the hole, grasp the lock and lift it away bodily.

As the bolt dropped out of the staple the door swung back, and in came Sir Daniel. He closed the door behind him. He had his walking stick in his hand, but was no longer limping.

"So that was it!" whispered Frank, pointing to the stick.

Sir Daniel smiled.

"Another of Peder's inventions. No time to explain it now. Here, take this. Not much, but all I could manage to save." He handed out two lumps of rye bread. Coarse, hard, dark stuff, but more welcome than wedding cake! With every mouthful Frank and Dex felt new life in their starved bodies. Sir Daniel went on: "I wasn't sure which your room was, but reckoned we were all close together. Now I must get Trent and Cogan and the Norings. They will be farther up."

"And what then?" Dex asked eagerly.

"I know no more than you. We must search for weapons. If we can find some, we can at any rate put up a fight."

"You bet!" said Dex, as he finished the last crumb of his bread. "You didn't meet any one, chief?"

"Not a soul. I've an idea, though, that there's a guard at the end of the passage—near the big room. I saw a light down there."

"If we could only get our hand on Gryde!" breathed Dex longingly.

Sir Daniel shook his head.

"He's not here."

"Not here?" Frank repeated. "How do you know?"

"I saw the Miracle leave. I watched her from my window just before dark."

Dex's cheeks went suddenly red.

"You mean the swine has stolen our ship? Great Scott!—do you reckon he's going to the Valley?"

"No," said, Sir Daniel quietly. "He has only gone for a trial trip, but I dare say he will be out all night. I hope so, anyway. And I hope that Mordoff and Falardo are with him."

"By Jove, yes!" breathed Frank. "Without the leaders, we may be able to do something with the rest."

"Don't be too sanguine," Sir Daniel warned him. "There must be a hundred men at the least in this place, and perhaps twice that number."

"I don't care if there are a thousand!" said Dex; "not if I can once lay my hand on a gun."

"We mustn't waste time talking. I have to get the others out. Come."

Merely to leave that horrible prison cell put new life into Frank and Dex. They closed the door behind them and crept along the passage. Luckily it was not quite dark. This was the upper story, so to speak, of the mountain, and there was a grating overhead through which a shaft of white moonlight struck down.

The next door was only about fifteen feet from the one they had left. Sir Daniel tapped on it gently, but there was no reply, no sound, from inside. He pushed it, and to his surprise it was not locked. Just then they heard a movement inside. Quick as a flash Dex pulled Sir Daniel away, and stood in his place close against the door. A voice came from within, but in a language none of them knew. The remark was repeated in an angry tone, and steps approached the door.

Dex drew back his right arm and struck with all his force. There was a thud, a slight choking sound, then a heavy fall. Dex leaped forward and found himself astride a man.

"Got a light?" he whispered sharply. Sir Daniel's ever-useful stick provided one, and there on the floor lay the same Russian who had conducted them down the passage the previous morning. He lay perfectly still, and his eyes were closed. Dex had knocked him out completely.

"Our eavesdropper!" said Dex curtly. "Rip off some of his clothes, Frank; we must gag him." They tied and gagged him thoroughly, then searched him and found keys, a large sheath knife, and—to the intense joy of Dex—an electric pistol, fully loaded. Meantime Sir Daniel, looking round the room, had found a bottle and glass. The bottle contained vodka or some similar spirit.

"This explains it," he said. "This fellow was put here to listen to you. Gryde thought he might pick up something useful. But he drank too much to keep awake properly."

"He won't do much more listening," said Dex.

"But this tells us something," put in Sir Daniel. "There is probably a listener in each alternate cell. It will be the next one that holds some of our people."

"And here are the keys," said Dex. "That will save time, sir." Sure enough, Trent and Cogan were in the next cell, and their joy at seeing Sir Daniel and the boys was intense. He hastily explained how he had got out and told them that Gryde was away. With the knowledge of a listener next door, all talking was carried on in the lowest of whispers.

Cogan's eyes gleamed.

"Then I'm a Dutchman if we're not in charge of his whole blooming hill before morning," he declared. "Let's get the Noring boys, Sir Daniel—they're good scrappers."

Two doors farther up they found Knut and Fred. Accustomed to the warmth of the Valley, they had suffered terribly from the cold, but the sight of their companions made new men of them. They were sorely in need of food, and it was decided to see whether the spy in the middle cell had some. In any case it would not do to leave him behind, in case it occurred to him to see if the prisoners were safe.

They stole in on him, caught him asleep, and tied and gagged him before he was well awake. His room yielded invaluable loot, another electric pistol, a torch, a long, sharp knife, a whole loaf of bread, and a large piece of cold meat. The food was rapidly shared, then the door was locked on the outside, and they went into the passage to discuss what was best to do next.

"We'd ought to get to the power house," Trent said.

"What's the use?" demanded Dex. "There isn't any power."

"If we could find the stores and the kitchen, and cut off the grub from these chaps, we'd have 'em proper," suggested Cogan.

"Not a bad idea," said Sir Daniel; "but it seems to me there is something more important to attend to first. We want disguises. In these clothes we show up far too plainly."

"I guess that's the most sensible thing any one's said," agreed Dex. "But the trouble is, we don't know where the power house or the kitchen or the store-rooms or anything else are, and while we're looking for them we'll go running into some of these pirates, and then we'll have had all our trouble for nothing."

"Of course you are right, Dex," said Sir Daniel. "But I do not quite see what we can do except start searching. None of us has any idea of the geography of these caves, and there must be miles of them."

"But these fellows have," Dex answered, jerking his thumb in the direction of the closed doors.

"Even if they would speak we could not understand them," Sir Daniel objected.

"But if they were set to listen to us," Frank put in quickly, "they must understand English."

"That's so!"

"And I'll make our man talk!" said Dex grimly.

"I won't have torture," said Sir Daniel.

"Don't worry," said Dex; "we'll persuade him. I'll take Trent along. The rest of you keep quite quiet, please."

He whispered to Trent a moment, took the key and opened the door of the cell in which the Russian was lying tied. Dex and Trent went in and closed the door behind them. The moon gave just light enough to see. Dex took the gag out of the Russian's mouth.

"We want your clothes," he said curtly. "Strip!"

"But I shall die of the cold," answered the Russian miserably.

"You probably will, but I can't help that. One of us has got to have a disguise." He put his pistol to the man's head. "Strip!" he ordered again.

The temperature in that cell was below zero. Even with the blanket, a man had all he could do to keep alive. Dex knew this as well as the Russian. The man shrugged.

"It would be kinder to shoot me at once."

"All right," said Dex brutally, and raised his pistol. The man cowered away as far as his bound limbs allowed. Trent spoke.

"P'raps he could put us on to finding a suit or two somewhere, Mr. Dex." The Russian jumped at the idea.

"I can find you clothes—much clothes," he said quickly.

Dex shook his head.

"No good," he said to Trent. "We could not trust him. He'd only lead us into trouble."

Trent played up. "Maybe you're right, Mr. Dex."

But the Russian, seeing a hope of saving himself, began to beg and implore.

"I swear to you I will not betray you. I will take you to the store-room. At this hour there will not be any person there. I am telling you truth. You may kill me if I lie to you."

"I certainly shall," said Dex, and spoke to Trent again. "I don't believe we can trust him. Better shoot him." He raised his pistol again.

The Russian's eyes were bright with terror.

"I beg of you to spare to me my life," he implored. "I will swear by anything you wish that I will be true to you."

Dex lowered his pistol again.

"Are there clothes for us all in this storeroom?"

"Yes, if you can open the door."

"We can open any door," Dex told him.

The man went on begging and imploring, and by degrees Dex allowed himself to be persuaded.

"But if you make one suspicious move," he ended, "if there are a hundred of your friends coming to the rescue, you won't live to join them." With that he cut the man's ankles loose, but left his hands tied to his sides. He led him out.

"This man is showing us the store-room," he said to the others. "I have warned him that he will be instantly shot if he tries any tricks."

"I have swore I would not trick you," said the Russian, looking from one to another of the grim, unshaven faces surrounding him.

"Lead on, then," Sir Daniel ordered curtly.

Dex was on one side of the man, Trent on the other. Both carried electric pistols, which made hardly any sound, but could fire fifty times without reloading. The others followed.

Frank had his eyes on Dex, and noticed that he had his head up and walked with a confident stride. He wished that he himself felt half as hopeful. Here they were in the heart of the enemy's stronghold, among scores, perhaps hundreds, of savage Tartars and Mongols, men to whom human life was as little as that of a rabbit. Their case was desperate indeed, yet Frank consoled himself with the thought that, if they had to die, they would die fighting, and that at any rate was better than starving and freezing in that horrible rock prison. Fred Noring beside him seemed to divine Frank's thoughts.

"We have nothing to lose, Frank, everything to gain. And we have Sir Daniel to lead us. I think we shall win."

"Either that or go out decently," Frank said. He spoke to Dex. "Ask the Russian how many men there are here."

Dex questioned the other.

"Nearly two hundred, he says."

By this time they were nearing the big audience room, but, instead of going into it, their guide turned to the left down a broad passage, dimly lit by roughly-made candles stuck in holders at long intervals. It was evident that Gryde had not yet got back his power. They came to a massive door.

"That is the store-room I promise to show you," said the Russian.

"Is there any guard there?"

"No one guards it. The door is strong."

"Trent, take him a little way back, and turn his face to the wall," Sir Daniel directed, and as soon as they had done so he set to work on the door. Unscrewing the handle of his stick, he placed the end against the wood, and the disintegrating ray began its deadly work. It made no sound whatever, but the wood changed colour and shredded away. Within a very few minutes the lock was exposed. Sir Daniel wrapped his hand in the handkerchief, which had been specially treated by Peder, lifted the lock out, and opened the door. Inside all was dark. Sir Daniel was stepping forward, when Frank caught him by the arm.

"Look out!" he whispered. Two eyes, red as fire, showed in the gloom, and without a sound a huge dog leaped straight at them.


CHAPTER XXI. — THE ATTACK ON THE ARMOURY

WITH astonishing quickness Fred Noring sprang in front of Sir Daniel, and struck out with all his force. His massive fist thudded against the great beast's chest and knocked it backwards. Before it could regain its feet Dex had jammed the muzzle of his electric pistol against its body and fired twice. The creature quivered and lay still.

"Gee, it's a wolf!" muttered Dex, as the light of Sir Daniel's torch fell on the dead brute.

"No—a Tibetan wolf-hound," replied Sir Daniel briefly. "A good thing for me you were so quick, Fred. If one of those dogs gets you by the throat, it spells finish! You, too, Dex."

But Dex was angry.

"That dirty Russian! He must have known."

"He swears he didn't," Trent said.

"This is no time to argue," Sir Daniel said. "Here are clothes. Help yourselves quickly."

On shelves around the walls were bundles upon bundles of garments of all kinds, most of them made of leather or sheepskin; there were also bales of blankets and other woollen goods, as well as boots.

"Frank, you and Dex and the Norings, first. The rest of us will keep guard. Dex, use that knife of yours to cut open the bales, and don't waste a minute." Dex ripped open a bundle, and pulled out half a dozen huge overcoats lined with sheepskin. They completely hid their other clothes. For their heads they found caps made of Astrakhan.

"Fine and warm, Sir Daniel," said Dex as he came out. "We've left you plenty."

Within five minutes they were all equipped. Cogan grinned at Trent. "You make a mighty good Russian!" he remarked.

"You—you look more like an Eskimo!" Trent retorted.

The welcome warmth of the wool-lined coats and the few mouthfuls of food had put new life into them all. Sir Daniel realised that they were ready for anything, but even he was puzzled as to what to do next. Dex spoke.

"Guns—that's the next thing, Sir Daniel. If you agree, I'll make this chap take us to the armoury."

"Do, if you can," Sir Daniel replied briefly. A scared look showed on the Russian's face when Dex demanded to be led to the armoury.

"There can no one go there," he answered. "It is strong guarded. They shoot. All the men come. They kill you, me— all."

"Sounds tough!" said Dex, but there was a reckless gleam in his eyes. "How many guards?" he demanded.

"Four men. The better men. They not sleep."

"And we are seven. And we have two pistols. What about it, Sir Daniel? We must have more guns. I wonder if there's any way of tricking these guards?" When Dex was in this mood nothing daunted him. What was more, he was not merely reckless—he could use his head. Sir Daniel knew this and trusted him.

"Where is this armoury?" he asked of the Russian.

"The door is in the wall of the great room. The chief only has the key. I tell you true, you not able to get in. And the guards, they shoot quick." The man spoke in a hissing whisper. He was badly scared. "If trouble come, they call help," he added. Dex turned to Sir Daniel.

"Look here, Chief, will you let me go on alone and scout? I know my way to the big room. I'll just have a look round and come back. There's light inside, so I shall be able to see how many men there are and what they are doing."

Sir Daniel hesitated, but only for a moment. Someone had to do it, and Dex was the one who would do it best. "Go ahead, Dex. I needn't tell you to be careful."

Without another word Dex started down the passage. His shoes were rubber-soled, so he made no sound as he walked. The candles gave light enough for him to see his way, and he was quickly at the turn into the main passage.

Here he stopped and looked carefully up and down. To the right all was dark, but to the left, towards the foot of the slope, he saw a gleam of light. He could not hear a sound, either above or below, so walked on down the slope towards the light. It leaked through a narrow opening between two heavy leather curtains which hung across the door of the big room, and, peering through this crack, Dex could see four men crouching round a brazier in the centre of the room. The brazier was full of red-hot charcoal.

Of the four men one was white—a Russian, Dex thought, and probably the officer. The others were brown-skinned Asiatics, all big, powerful fellows. They wore the same sort of heavy sheepskin coat that he himself had on, and close-fitting Astrakhan caps. Their coats were belted, and in each belt was a big dagger in a scabbard. Their guns were shoulder quick-firers of the Ferranti type, light, but extremely formidable. Each could discharge small nickel-tipped bullets at the rate of three hundred to the minute. But these guns were not in their owners' hands; they were stacked a little distance away.

That was the only redeeming feature in the situation and Dex, crouching silently outside the curtain, did not think much of it, for the space between the door and the brazier was quite forty feet, a distance which could not possibly be covered before the guards could reach their weapons and open fire. The longer Dex studied things, the less he liked them. For the life of him he could see no way of surprising these men. The guards were all awake; now and then they exchanged a few gruff words, but Dex could not understand what they said.

He looked all round the room, but there was no cover of any sort. Almost opposite, above the platform where Gryde had sat in judgment, was a door—no doubt that of the armoury. There was no other way in or out of the great rock chamber, which was about eighty feet across and perhaps twenty in height. The night was passing, and if they could not get hold of arms before Gryde returned, they were finished. The best they could hope for was to die fighting. Dex was nearly at his wits' end.

Then at last he saw something which gave him new hope—a very slender hope, but still better than nothing. Exactly above the brazier was a hole in the roof, a good-sized hole, two feet or more across. It struck Dex that if he could get up above it, he might draw off the attention of the guards while the rest rushed them.

Rising very softly, he crept away up the passage again. He had passed a flight of steps running up out of the passage only a few steps back. Up these he went on tiptoe. Once away from the passage, it was dark as a chimney, but though Dex had a flash taken from the Russian, he would not use it unless obliged to. Up he went and up—and suddenly saw stars overhead. A bitter wind cut his cheeks, and he realised that he was on the top of the mountain. The moon was still fairly high in the sky, and its light showed him the summit of the great hill sloping towards the south, blasted everywhere by the bombs from the Miracle.

He turned in the direction of the rock chamber and presently found the hole, from which rose a current of warm air. Lying flat on his stomach, he was able to see the brazier exactly below him, and the four guards grouped around it. It was enough. Turning, he went quickly back to the others.

"One of us goes on top," he said, "and drops a rock slap on the brazier. It'll chuck hot coals all over 'em, and the rest of you will run in on top of them and nail them before they can get at their guns. But you'll have to be sharp. Watch the hole, and the very second you see the stone coming down, go right in!"

"It may work," said Sir Daniel.

"It's got to work, sir," said Frank. "If we don't get those arms, we're done."

Sir Daniel nodded.

"Very well. We will go at once."

"What about the Russian?" Dex whispered in Sir Daniel's ear. "We can't run the risk of his giving the show away."

"We will tie him and leave him in this storeroom," said Sir Daniel.

When the Russian understood what was to be done with him, he was terrified.

"When Gryde comes he will cut my throat," he told them.

"Don't worry," Dex told him. "Gryde's own throat may be cut before you see him again. Anyhow, we will look after you."

There was no time to waste. They tied the man, gagged him and put him in the store-room. But they gave him a couple of blankets to keep him warm. Then the whole seven went quickly down the main passage. Since Dex knew the way up to the roof, Sir Daniel had left him to drop the stone. At the last minute Dex had a whispered word with Frank and Trent. They were the ones who had the two pistols.

"Don't be shy about shooting," Dex told them. "If the guards get one of those guns to work you haven't an earthly. The chief's too kind-hearted. If it wasn't for him I'd take one pistol and pot the lot from up above." Frank nodded; and Dex was off up the steps. The rest tiptoed to the curtains.

The guards were still around the stove, but, just as the six took up their position, one rose to his feet. Frank held his breath. If this man came to the door, he was bound to see them— and that would be their finish! He and Trent both levelled their pistols, prepared to shoot on the instant. But the guard was only stretching his cramped limbs, and Frank sighed with relief as he saw him sit down again on his wooden stool.

It seemed to Frank that hours elapsed with nothing happening. He began to wonder if anything was wrong with Dex. He crouched like a sprinter ready to start on a hundred-yard dash. Every sense was concentrated on the hole in the roof.

He was the first to see the stone. It was a great lump of rock, weighing at least twenty pounds. It fell with a crash on the brazier, and a shower of hot coals flew in a wide circle, scattering the floor with burning embers. The four men leaped back in such a hurry that one fell over on his back.

Like a pack of hounds the six leaped forward. Frank led. The white officer saw them and sprang for the guns. One of the terrible weapons was actually in his hands when Trent shot him. Of the other three, one charged Frank, but he dodged aside, hit the fellow on the jaw and floored him.

It was all over in a matter of seconds. The surprise was so complete that the officer was the only one of the lot who had had to be hurt, and he not seriously. Trent's bullet had scored his skull over the left ear, but the wound was shallow and he would recover. They were busy tying the prisoners up when Dex came racing down again.

"You made a good job," he said to Frank.

"It was almost too easy, Dex," replied Frank. "I'm getting scared."

"Don't go quarrelling with your luck, or it will leave you," Dex said seriously. "See if that officer chap has got the keys of the armoury."

"It's hardly likely," said Sir Daniel. "Gryde probably keeps them." But, almost as he spoke, Trent, who had been searching the wounded man's pockets, held up a key. Dex grabbed it.

"Shall I try the door, Chief?"

"Yes. Go with him, Frank. The rest of you take those guns. Trent, watch the door. The others will stay here."

To the delight of Dex the key turned in the lock, which was lucky indeed, for the door was faced with tempered steel. Sir Daniel's disintegrator would have taken a long time to pierce it. Dex flashed his light.

"Gosh, look at the stuff!" he exclaimed.

Frank's eyes widened. The armoury was nearly as big as the audience room, and packed with every sort of weapon. There were scores of these Ferranti quick-firers, hundreds of electric pistols and rifles, a large number of the newest type of bomb- throwers and howitzers, as well as racks of the curved swords in which the Tartar fighting men still rejoiced. The far end was piled, roof high, with cases of cartridges, shells, bombs and explosives of the latest types. There were other stores, such as ropes, timbers and wireless sets. Dex stepped forward and began to pick out guns, pistols and ammunition for the whole party. The small light cartridges for the Ferrantis were fitted in balaenite belts, and Dex hung so many of these around him that he looked like a Christmas tree. Frank spoke.

"Dex, if we fired this lot we'd blow off the top of the mountain."

"And ourselves with it!" said Dex dryly.

"We'll have to do it before we leave," Frank insisted.

"But not now." It was Sir Daniel who spoke. He had just come into the place. "If we do, Gryde is bound to see what has happened when he comes back with the Miracle, even if he is able to land at all. In any case, he will know what is up. Take these things out, and lock the place, and then we must try to find the hangar where Gryde will return with the Miracle. It seems that our one hope is to surprise him as he comes out of the airship." Dex looked doubtful.

"We can't tell when he'll come back. It seems to me, Chief, that our next job is to find the larder and lay in some grub."

Before Sir Daniel could reply there was a sudden rattle of shots. Not the light reports of an electric pistol, but the spitting crackle of a Ferranti.

Dex went out of the armoury like a bullet from a gun, with the others after him. As they reached the audience room they saw the Norings and Cogan making for the door. From the passage beyond came shouts and shots. Trent sprang back through the door and slammed it.

"They're attacking," he called out. "I saw them just in time, and stopped them. But there are a lot of them." The key was on the inside of the door. He turned it, and as he did so it shook under a heavy impact. Sir Daniel spoke:

"Unless they have explosives, they can't get in."

"And we can't get out!" snapped back Dex. "They'll bring tools from the workshops and break down the door."

The white officer was sitting up. He had got back his senses, and was looking at Sir Daniel's party with a cynical smile.

"You thought yourselves clever," he said in good English, "but I was too smart for you. I called them. Now you are done for."

Dex laughed.

"Don't be too sure! If it comes to the worst we can put a match to the stuff inside the armoury and blow the whole place to blazes."

"And yourselves with it," sneered the officer.

"Don't forget yourself and the fellows outside there. And what's Gryde going to do? With this place smashed up, he's finished."

The officer bit his lip. He had nothing more to say.

The assault on the door had stopped, but those inside knew that Dex was right and that Gryde's men were only waiting for tools to break in. Frank had a bright idea. He pointed to the hole in the roof.

"There are ladders in the armoury. We can get out that way."

"You've hit it," cried Dex. "Sharp now, before they start breaking in."

He and Frank ran back into the armoury. Sir Daniel spoke to the others.

"We can't leave these prisoners here. They know too much. Knut and Fred, you two carry them into the armoury. Better gag them. Trent, you and Cogan wait on each side of the door with your guns." He had hardly finished speaking before Dex and Frank were out with a ladder, which they quickly put into position. With their great strength, the Norings lifted the four prisoners into the armoury with equal speed, the door was locked, and the rest went up the ladder. The guns and ammunition and some rope were passed up. Finally the ladder, too, was hauled up.

"That will puzzle them," grinned Dex. "They'll wonder where the blazes we've gone."

Trent handled his gun lovingly.

"Sir Daniel, if we were to lay for 'em up here we could do a nice clean-up. There wouldn't be many got out alive."

"Too much like slaughtering rats in a pit," replied Sir Daniel.

"We can't stay out here very long," Dex said, shivering. "In spite of these coats, we'll freeze solid."

"No need to stay here," Sir Daniel told him. "My idea is to get back into the hill by way of the Black Ship hangar—that is, if your shells haven't blocked the whole place."

Dex brightened up at once.

"And spring a surprise on them from the rear? That's fine! Come on, then. It's time we were moving."

By this time the moon was very low, but the night was clear, and there was still enough of it for them to find their way across the shell-torn hilltop. The first part was easy, but then came a very steep slope, both treacherous and dangerous. Without the rope they would have been helpless, but with it they managed to carry on. The difficulty was to avoid starting a rock slide which might be heard inside the caves. Another trouble was the intense cold which numbed their hands and made it difficult to grip the rope. It took half an hour's hard work before they gained the mouth of the great cave where the ruined Black Ship lay among piles of shattered rock.

"You certainly made a mess of it, Dex," said Frank, staring at the twisted metal and masses of wreckage. The Black Ship looked as if she had been lying out in the weather for half a century. The thulite had eaten and corroded her metal in the most amazing fashion. Sir Daniel, however, was looking in the opposite direction, towards the dam. There were lights up there. Men were working on it, and, even as they watched, there came the dull boom of explosives.

"It still holds," he said. "But there's a power of water behind it. They're trying to open a tunnel, so as to prevent a flood. I wish I could see how they were getting on."

"There's not light enough for that, sir," Frank told him. "Hadn't we better see if we can force our way through into the caves. It's four o'clock, and it will be light soon after seven."

"You are right, Frank. We will get on."

Getting on was a slow job, for they had to clamber over huge sharp-edged rocks, and all were pretty heavily loaded with guns and ammunition. The roof, too, was in a very shaky state, and now and then fragments flaked away and fell. Yet they did it at last, and found themselves in a wide, smooth-floored tunnel leading down they knew not where.

Presently Dex, who was leading, stopped and sniffed.

"I smell food," he said eagerly. "I reckon we're coming to the kitchens."

In a moment they had all pulled up. The few mouthfuls of bread and meat that had been shared between them a few hours earlier had stayed their stomachs, and the excitements of the time between had given them little chance to think; but the warm scent of cooking now made them all ravenous. Even Sir Daniel, who had fared better than the rest, yet had saved most of his food for the others, had the same gnawing feeling below his belt.

No one spoke, but they moved on slowly and very quietly, with the food smell growing stronger all the time.

They had been coming downhill the whole way from the cave, and Sir Daniel had been expecting to reach the shops, which would probably be close to the turbines. Yet it was quite natural to suppose that the kitchens would be near the shops for most of the men would be working there. Dex stopped again and held up his hand. Next moment steps came racing up the passage towards them. Instinctively they all seven plunged into one of the numerous side passages, Dex at the same time switching off his torch.


CHAPTER XXII. — THE MAN FROM K.I.

The main passage was not quite dark, for here and there were the rough candles which were being used to replace the electric light. One of these was stuck on a projecting rock point almost opposite, and next moment the running man appeared in its light.

He was tall, slim, brown-faced, but with good features, a complete contrast to the flat-nosed, squint-eyed Tartars who made up most of Gryde's crew. He wore rough blue overalls much stained with grease. He had a knife in his hand, but it was just an ordinary carving knife. His eyes stared, his lips were closed, his nostrils distended—it was instantly plain that he was running for dear life. Pounding behind him came two squat, yellow-faced ruffians. Their faces were murderous, and each carried a great, crooked blade.

Without waiting for any order from Sir Daniel, Dex and Trent sprang out. The two Tartars stopped as if they had hit a stone wall, and stared in speechless amazement at the white men who faced them with pistols ready. The one opposite Dex, seeing that his opponent was, as he thought, a mere boy, suddenly cut at him with his tulwar. The crooked blade would have ripped Dex if he had not leaped nimbly to one side. Then, instead of firing, he drove his left fist against the angle of the man's jaw. It was a perfectly-timed blow, and the Tartar was out on his feet. As he slowly collapsed and crashed to the floor, the expression on his companion's face almost made Frank laugh.

"Good for you, Dex!" Frank said, and Trent chuckled.

"That taught him a useful lesson," he remarked, as he disarmed the other Tartar. In a matter of moments they both were tied, gagged, and dragged away up the side passage into the darkness.

"That brown man was a Hindu," said Sir Daniel. "I wonder who he was, and why they were after him?"

"They meant murder, sir," said Trent.

"That is true," came a new voice, and here was the brown man. He stood before Sir Daniel and salaamed. "My life is yours," he said gravely.

"Who are you?" Sir Daniel asked.

"My name is Ranjit Singh. I am from the Punjab. I have served the British Raj, and was sent north on a mission. The star fell, and the great heat burned the earth. I escaped by hiding in a cave. Finding myself alone in the land, I despaired, yet still walked northwards. I came to this mountain, saw men working, spoke to them, and they seized me and made me a slave in their kitchen." He stiffened as he spoke and his eyes blazed with anger. "One of them taunted me to-night, saying evil words of the British, telling me that this Gryde had captured the last white men and was about to kill them. I took up a knife and slew this boaster. Then others would have killed me, had you not saved me."

Sir Daniel looked hard at the man.

"You were in K.I.?" There was a flash of surprise in Singh's eyes. Then he salaamed again.

"It is true, sahib."

"He was one of our Secret-Service men," Sir Daniel told the others. "He is to be trusted." Drawing back a little into the recess, he briefly explained the situation to the Punjabi.

"And you have escaped, and you have weapons?" said Singh swiftly. "Then let us go quickly and make an end of these swine, before their master returns."

"How many are there in the kitchen?" Dex asked.

"There are but four now. We have them like that—" He held up his right hand closed.

"But there are others," Sir Daniel said. "In the shops—do you know the way?"

Singh nodded.

"I know the way. It is not far. But it is true, there are many, and some are armed."

Dex turned to Sir Daniel.

"We might raid the kitchen first, sir. We all need food. While we're eating, we can plan how to tackle the next stage."

"That is good sense," Sir Daniel agreed, and Singh led the way. The kitchen lay to the left of the broad passage. This, Singh said, led down to the great river cave at the bottom of the hill. The workshops were in the river cave.

"No shooting if you can possibly help it," Sir Daniel warned them, as they went softly down the side passage.

Singh stopped and beckoned. There was no door to the kitchen. They looked through an arched entrance into a long narrow room.

In the Rift, the kitchen of The Helpers had been entirely electric. Everything from mixing bread to baking was done by electric power. Here there was nothing of the sort. Perhaps Gryde knew that it was useless to give these semi-savage people electric stoves. What Sir Daniel and the others saw was a row of charcoal braziers, exactly the same as had been used in Central Asia for centuries past. Three of these were alight, and men were standing over them, busy with pots and pans. The only modern touch about the place was the row of idle electric bulbs hanging from the ceiling, and a petrolite lamp which stood on a rock shelf at the far end. That part of the cave was bright enough, but the entrance was in deep shadow.

Ranjit Singh spoke to Sir Daniel in a whisper. He was asking that he might be given a tulwar and a pistol, and be allowed to stalk the four men. But Sir Daniel refused. He was afraid that Singh might be tempted to shoot.

"We will all start at the same time," he said, "except one, who will be left to guard the entrance. If they see half a dozen guns pointed at them they won't have much to say."

Singh looked disappointed, but he was too well-trained to argue. Trent was left to guard the door, and the rest went swiftly into the room.

In their sheepskin coats and caps, they looked so much like Gryde's fighting men that the four cooks merely stared at them, and the white men were on them before they had a chance to resist. Not that they were likely to try it: they knew all about machine guns, and up went their hands like one man. By this time the men of the Miracle had become experts in tying and gagging prisoners, and these fellows were trussed up and tucked away in a corner in a matter of moments. Then with one accord all turned to the cooking pots.

"This smells good," said Dex, sniffing the nearest, and taking it off the fire. "Find some bread, Frank." There were scores of loaves on a shelf at the side, and Frank dragged down half a dozen. The Norings found plates and spoons, and the stew was rapidly ladled out. Before he ate a mouthful, Dex ran across to Trent with a plateful and a loaf of bread.

"Seen anything?" he asked.

"Yes—two chaps came past down the main passage. I'm wondering if they're from the big room above. They must have bust the door long ago, and by this time they've probably guessed which way we went."

"Well, they didn't guess we were in the kitchen, anyway, and I don't reckon they will just yet. You can eat and watch at the same time."

"I can that, and heaven help any one that tries to take this grub from me before I've finished it."

Dex hurried back, and told Sir Daniel and the others of what Trent had seen. Sir Daniel nodded.

"The chances are all against their finding which way we went. They probably think we have cleared out altogether. It wouldn't occur to them that we'd come in here again."

"What are your plans, sir?" Dex asked.

"We must find the second hangar, and wait there for the Miracle. We can do nothing without her."

"Not much, it's true," said Dex. "But there are sure to be 'copters. If we could find them we could clear out."

"Where to?" demanded Sir Daniel.

"New Zealand, or any place where there might be some white folk."

"How far should we get before Gryde found and destroyed us?"

"We should have to fly by night, and hide during the day."

"You advise our trying this, Dex You'd like? to do it?"

"I guess there's nothing in this world I'd hate worse," replied Dex.

"Then don't waste our time with foolish suggestions," said Sir Daniel severely.

"Very good, sir!" said Dex, and he started on his plate of stew.

"Are all of you agreed that we must retake the Miracle?" Sir Daniel asked of the others.

"Yes, sir," said Frank promptly.

"Same here, sir," said Cogan.

"Wouldn't feel happy in anything else," Trent declared.

"We are with you, Sir Daniel," said the two Norings on the same breath.

"And you, Singh?" asked Sir Daniel.

"I ask only for a chance to kill this Gryde," said the Indian; but though his voice was quiet, the flash in his dark eyes was proof of his fierce hatred of the man who had enslaved him.

"The next thing is to find our way," said Sir Daniel. "We have no idea where this second hangar lies. All we know is, that it must exist, unless the ship which we destroyed came from Gryde's second base."

"Oh, that was only a yarn, sir," said Dex. "I'm mighty sure Gryde was lying when he talked of that. There's a hangar somewhere in the mountain, and it must have escaped our bombs. Do you know where it is, Mr. Singh?"

"I do not know where it is," said Singh; "but this I do know— that the second ship of which you speak, sahib, came from here, and not from any other place. I myself saw it leave, and noticed that it was smaller than the one you call the Black Ship."

"Where did you see it first?" Dex asked.

"It was over the north side of the lake—that is all that I can tell you."

Dex looked at Sir Daniel.

"We hardly dropped any bombs that side. The odds are that the hangar is in the northern face."

Sir Daniel agreed.

"The worst of it is," he said, "to get there, we have to cross the river which runs from west to east through the hill. And since there is probably an open tunnel the whole way, that is going to be awkward."

"The river runs through a big cave, sahib," said Singh: "open, as you say."

"We'd better have a look," Dex said briskly, as he finished his plate of stew and poured out a mug of hot tea. Again Sir Daniel agreed, but Singh was doubtful.

"There are many men in the shops in the big cave," he told them. "It will mean fighting to get through, and, if any of us are hurt, it will be difficult.

"But there doesn't seem to be any other way," said Sir Daniel bluntly.

"Unless," said Frank, "we went back up to the top of the hill by the way we have come."

"I don't think that's any use," put in Dex. "That north end of the hill is sheer cliff. And it's very high—we wouldn't have enough rope to get down. I reckon we'd better have a look at the big cave."

"We will do that," Sir Daniel decided. "There is one thing in our favour: without electric light, a great place like that is bound to be pretty dark. We may be able to slip across unseen. Fill your pockets with bread, and let us be moving."

The meal had done them all a deal of good. Even Frank, though he had the level mind which realises danger, began to feel more hopeful. So far they had done wonders, in the face of great odds, and once they could gain the hangar, if they were able to hold it, they should be able to surprise Gryde. They went quietly out of the kitchen into the side passage, but had hardly reached it before they heard the thud of many feet echoing down the main passage.

"It's those fellows from the top," Trent said.


CHAPTER XXIII. — THE GREAT CAVE

"LET'S tackle them," said Dex. "If we wait for them at the mouth of this side passage, with our guns we'd finish the lot."

"And bring the whole crowd up from the big cave below!" said Sir Daniel sharply. "No, get back to the kitchen and hide. Singh, you will stand at one of the stoves, and answer if they come in."

There were plenty of hiding-places in the dim cave-kitchen. As Dex crouched beside Frank behind a big bale, he whispered, "I only hope they do come in, and spot us. We'd have done a heap better to wait for them. They can't know we have guns, and we'd have wiped out the lot before they had a notion what was happening. The chief's too cautious. We'll never get through if we don't take a few chances."

Frank grinned.

"We have taken one or two!" he answered dryly, and then he tensed, as two of the enemy came hurrying into the kitchen. One called to Singh in a harsh tone. Singh raised his head and answered. The boys could not understand what he said, but it seemed to satisfy the Tartars, who gave him some order, then hurried back up the passage. Dex watched them longingly.

"When they don't find us in the shops they'll come back," he muttered, "and probably meet us. And it's only two hours to daylight. If Gryde gets back before we reach that hangar, we're in the soup."

This was true, and Frank felt very anxious. Sir Daniel was beckoning to them, and they gathered again at the door.

"Singh says that they have turned back," said Sir Daniel. "These fellows think that we are hiding in the unused passages to the south. So we are safe to try for the big cave."

"But it is not safe to go through it," Singh said bluntly. "There are many men and armed guards."

Sir Daniel shrugged. "We must try it, Singh. You can see for yourself that it is everything for us to reach the hangar."

"I am willing, sahib," Singh answered simply. "With our guns we may defeat the dogs."

"Then lead the way," said Sir Daniel.

As they crept silently down the passage, Frank had no particular feeling of excitement. The fact was, he had been through so much in the past few hours that his senses had become blunted. Though well aware that within a few minutes he and the rest might be fighting for their lives, his pulse was not a beat above normal. Looking at the others, he saw that they were as steady as he.

Singh reached the entrance to the big cave, and stopped. He stood for a moment close against the wall, watching, then beckoned the rest forward. Frank found himself looking down into a cave of such huge size as he had not dreamed existed. He could not see the roof or either end. The only boundary visible was the wall opposite, which looked to be fully a quarter-mile away. In front was a slope leading down to the dry river-bed, and on the far side of the bed a second slope running upwards.

All this Frank saw by the light of a great Loom lamp, hanging above a furnace around which a number of men were busy. This furnace was a good distance to the left of the place where the main passage opened into the cave. It stood on a broad, flat ledge above the river bed. There was a lot of other machinery along this ledge, but the furnace seemed to be the only place where men were working.

The clang of hammers echoed against the unseen roof, and beat upon the sides of the cave, making a continuous thunder of sound.

"Gryde isn't wasting any time," Dex said in Frank's ear. "I'll bet he's started another Black Ship already."

"But he's got no power," Frank objected.

"That's an oil furnace, I think," Dex said. "I say, Frank, it's going to be awkward if we've got to pass it. The light's very bright."

"If the hangar's on the north side, we have to cross the cave to reach it," Frank told him. He turned to Singh. "Do you know of any way out of this place?" Singh shook his head.

"I have been here only to carry food to men at work. I have had no opportunity to search for ways out. It is only by chance we shall find such a way."

Sir Daniel broke in:

"This side of the mountain is full of tunnels, so it's only reasonable to think we shall find the same thing on the other side of the cave. I think we had better cross at once, and see if we can find a passage. Do you agree, Singh?"

"I agree, sahib," said the brown man gravely.

"Then lead the way," Sir Daniel told him. "And be careful, all of you," he warned the others. "Make no sound, and, if Singh stops, drop flat on the ground."

They went down the slope in single file. Rough steps led as far as the wide terrace above the river. Overhead they could see dimly the cables which carried the current from the unseen dynamos at the head of the cave; but these were dead now, and all the work seemed to be concentrated around the one furnace. There were a lot of men there. Beyond the terrace it was a steep climb down into the river bed, but the latter was so nearly dry that they did not even wet their shoes in crossing.

On the far side there was no terrace, no steps, and Frank felt easier in his mind. If they had got so far without being seen, there did not seem any reason why they should not go right through the cave with their enemies none the wiser. He said so to Dex, and Dex agreed. There was not much fear of their being heard, either, for the hammering drowned all other sounds.

It was a steep climb up to the far wall, and when they reached it there was not a sign of any opening. The only thing to do was to walk along it in a westerly direction and search for a passage. They could not go fast. The slope was too steep and the rock terribly rough. Here and there small springs broke out from the wall, and made slippery patches which they had to cross with the very greatest care. All were carrying heavy loads of guns and ammunition, which did not make the going easier.

They began to approach the circle of light flung by the great lamp above the furnace, but so far they had found no passage. True, there were holes and recesses in the cave wall, but nothing like a way through.

"They'll see us if we go much further," Frank said to Sir Daniel.

"I'm very much afraid they will," replied his chief. "Yet we must go on. Time is running short, and, if we do not find this hangar before Gryde arrives, all our trouble will have been for nothing."

"Oh, yes, we've got to go on," said Dex. "Look here, Sir Daniel, if we creep, they won't be so apt to notice us against the rock."

"That will be best," agreed Singh, so down they all went, and began to creep in single file, taking what cover they could among loose boulders. It was cruelly hard work. Painful, too, for the sharp rock cut their knees. Though the temperature in the cave was well below freezing point, Frank found himself sticky with perspiration.

The light grew stronger. Frank felt that the men at work by the furnace simply must see him and his companions, and expected every moment to hear a shout or a shot. Yet nothing happened. Either the men were too busy on their job to have eyes for anything else, or Frank and the rest could not be as conspicuous as they thought they were.

They crept on and on, until at last they were past the ring of bright light, and then came to some loose rocks, where they were able to stop and stretch their cramped limbs and get back their breath.

"That's better!" said Frank, mopping his forehead.

"You're easily satisfied," Dex retorted. "We haven't found any way through this wall, and it's very near dawn."

"We must push on," Sir Daniel said. "The cave wall is more broken to the west. There must surely be a passage there."

"Look here, chief, let me go on a bit and take a look, while you rest," said Dex. "Cogan's pretty done, but I'm fresh enough."

Sir Daniel agreed and Dex went on. The rest sat among the rocks waiting and resting. There was no danger of their being seen, and the noise of hammers still echoed under the lofty roof. It was this noise that prevented their hearing the steps of two men who came up the slope towards them, and the first warning they had was the white beam of a powerful torch which blazed full in their faces, and a harsh command to put up their hands.

Two electric pistols covered them. It would be suicide to disobey. Up went twelve hands as one.

Frank's spirits sank like lead, as he realised how they had been trapped. These two men, sinister-looking Tartars, were no doubt members of the search party whom they had escaped by climbing through the roof of the audience-room. They must have come in along the dry river-bed. The gloating triumph on their flat faces proved how delighted they were at their success. The one who spoke English pointed to Sir Daniel, and ordered him to come forward.

"Others, if they move, they die," he threatened harshly, and it was very plain he meant it. Sir Daniel was in the act of stepping forward, when out of the gloom to the west came two sharp shots, and the Tartars collapsed on the cave floor. As their bodies rolled down the steep, Dex sprang into sight.

"I had to do it," he said hoarsely. His face was working. "It was murder, but I couldn't help it."

"Murder—nonsense!" said Sir Daniel sharply. Then he added quickly, "Don't worry, lad—you did exactly right."

"But now they all come," said Singh, and of course he was right for that rattle of shots had been heard to the farthest limit of the great cave. The hammering had stopped, and the silence that followed was more terrifying than noise. It lasted only a few seconds, then was broken by the scream of a siren, a shrill, high-pitched sound which made their ears ache.

"The pack call," said Sir Daniel. "We'd best take cover, and get ready for them."

Dex spoke breathlessly.

"I found a passage. Hadn't time to explore it. Saw that searchlight, and came running."

"Where is it? Show us, quickly, Dex!" exclaimed Sir Daniel. They were all on their feet, their loads on their backs. Just in time, too, for lights were gleaming here and there in the cave, and there was a sound of running feet—many running feet.

"This way," said Dex, and a little way along the wall there was the mouth of a passage. Dex shone his light down it, and the others saw with dismay that the floor was littered with rocks fallen from the roof. It did not look as if it had been used for years past. Sir Daniel took command.

"Dex, go on down and find if there is a way through; the rest of you pile up those stones in the entrance, and make a breastwork. Hurry! They're coming."

"They're coming, all right!" said Dex. "Listen to the tramp of them."

"There must be the full couple of hundred," said Frank, as he and Trent between them lifted a big rock and slapped it down on the wall that was rising fast across the entrance.

"They'll have a job to get through this," Trent said.

"The wall won't help us if they've got gas shells," Frank told him, levering up another stone. "Our one chance is that Dex may find a way out."

"The parapet is high enough. Get your guns ready," ordered Sir Daniel, and quickly the Ferrantis were placed in position, with the cartridge belts ready.

"Don't fire till they are quite close," Sir Daniel continued. "They can't know we have Ferrantis, and we want to make the most of the surprise."

"We'll surprise 'em all right!" said Trent gleefully, as he lay down behind his gun and squinted through his loophole.

From the gloom outside came the rustle and scrape of sandalled feet moving up the steep slope. Frank's heart was beating a little faster than usual, yet he was not the least bit scared. On the contrary, he felt a fierce exhilaration. No more dodging and ducking—this was going to be a fight to a finish.

"They don't know where we are," Trent whispered in his ear.

"That's true. They'll have to use a light, and that will give us our chance."

"And won't we take it!" Trent answered. "The only thing I'm sorry about is that Gryde isn't with them. I'd give a finger to draw a bead on that fellow."

"Shut up!—they're coming!" Frank murmured.

A low-voiced order came out of the darkness, and next instant a dozen machine guns cracked together, and a storm of bullets beat against the cliff face. The noise was deafening, as the guns fired burst after burst. Metal projectiles hosed the parapet and the rock wall on both sides of it. Dust filled the air, and splinters flew in every direction. But Sir Daniel and his party, flat on the floor and protected by their parapet, came to no harm. The firing ceased, and again the voice of the unseen leader gave an order. Frank, of course, could not understand what was said, and Singh was not near enough for him to ask its meaning. But he had not long to wait to understand it. Next moment a shaft of intense white light began to play across the lower edge of the cave wall. It was so bright that its reflection showed up plainly the whole group of machine gunners and a large number of other men behind them, half-way down the slope.

"Now!" Sir Daniel snapped, and instantly five Ferrantis spoke as one. The surprise was complete. The machine gunners went down as if blasted by lightning, and great gaps appeared in the ranks below. The light snapped out, and from the darkness came only a sound of groans.

"That surprised 'em all right!" remarked Trent with a chuckle.

"They'll be back," prophesied Cogan. "Wonder how Mr. Dex is getting on?" He looked round but, except for a faint spot of light far down the passage, there was no sign of Dex. There was nothing for it but to wait, and this waiting began to get on Frank's nerves. Besides, it was intensely cold and the chill bit cruelly.

"They'll try gas next time," Cogan said, but no one answered. The groans died away, and an ominous silence reigned in the great cave. Frank strained his ears, and thought he could hear steps in the distance; but he could not be certain, and it was far too dark to see what was going on.

As the minutes dragged past, Frank began to feel very anxious. It could not be much more than an hour to daylight, and if Gryde got back before they could find and reach his hangar, it was hopeless to think of recapturing the Miracle. All depended on being on the spot before he arrived, and surprising him as he and his companions stepped out of the ship. Sir Daniel spoke.

"Men are moving opposite," he told them in a low voice. "They are probably getting a gun into position, and we are helpless if they use big stuff. One shell will smash this barricade of ours, and, if it is gas, finish us all. I think we had better follow Dex up the passage."

"If it's a blind alley, that doesn't help us much, sir," Frank said. "Wouldn't it be better to push on through the cave? If we went up the river bed to the west, we could be sure of getting out into the open."

Before Sir Daniel could answer, here came Dex himself.

"The passage is blocked with a lot of loose stuff, chief," he said quickly; "but there's a draught of air through the chinks, so it's open beyond."

"Can we open it?" Sir Daniel asked quickly.

"That's just what I don't know," Dex answered in a worried voice. "I think we can, but I can't be sure."

Sir Daniel turned to Singh.

"What is your opinion? We cannot stay here. Shall we go back up the river bed, or try to force our way through this passage?"

"It is a long way back up the river bed, sahib," Singh said. "It is my belief that our enemies would see us before we could reach the opening. As you ask my opinion, I advise that we try to force our way through this tunnel."

Sir Daniel was already on his feet.

"I agree. Come quickly, all of you. There is danger here. Dex, you must show the way, for we dare not use any light until we are at the rock face."

They crept away, stumbling among the loose stones, and were hardly twenty yards from the mouth when the whole cave shook with a tremendous concussion, and a blaze of white light leaped across the opening. Small stones rained from the roof, not large enough, however, to do harm.

"Your hunch was a good one, chief!" said Dex dryly. "There wouldn't have been much left of us if we'd stayed where we were."


CHAPTER XXIV. — THE TREASURE HOUSE

"DON'T talk—get on!" Sir Daniel answered.

The passage curved a little, so that it was safe to use a flash, and after some thirty yards they came to the barrier. Here the roof had fallen, and the whole passage was blocked with great lumps of limestone. Trent and Cogan started on it instantly, but Sir Daniel stopped them.

"Begin at the top," he ordered. "We can never hope to clear the whole thing. The best we can do is to make an opening at the top big enough for us to crawl through. And be careful, all of you. The roof is rotten, and if it falls some of us are going to be killed and the rest captured."

"Me, I'd sooner be killed right off," said Cogan, as he clambered up the pile of loose rock and started pulling pieces off the top.

Sir Daniel directed them, and the rest, including Singh, worked like beavers. Knut and Fred Noring were the most useful. They worked together, and, between them, shifted rocks which were beyond the strength of any of the others. Twice more came the explosions of big shells in or near the entrance, but the party were so far in that they were protected from splinters. The danger was that the concussion might bring down the roof, and the marvel was that it did not. Block after block was prised out, lifted, and flung down, and after five minutes desperate work Dex called out that they were through.

"It'll be a tight fit for you, Sir Daniel, but I reckon you can just manage. You'd better come first."

"I like your cheek!" said Sir Daniel. "I'm not as big as Fred or Knut." All the same he did not hesitate, but climbed up, stuck his head into the hole, and began to wriggle through.

It was a tight fit indeed, and Dex was terrified lest the big man should stick. But in spite of his sixty years, Sir Daniel had muscles of iron and a heart to match. Inch by inch he hauled himself forward, and with a sudden gasp disappeared into the gloom on the far side.

"You next, Knut," ordered Dex.

Knut went through, then his brother, and after him Trent.

"Now you, Singh," Dex said. But Singh flatly refused.

"The sahib Frank goes next, I last. It is but fitting." There was no time to argue, for already they could hear men in the cave-mouth.

"Shove on, Frank. They're coming," said Dex breathlessly. Frank simply shot through, and if Trent had not caught him on the far side would have crashed on his head on the rock floor. As Dex wormed his way after, shots rang out behind him. It was the rattle of one of the Ferrantis.

Dex was horrified. He believed that Gryde's men were shooting at Singh. He would have turned and gone to his help, but this was impossible. As Trent caught him on the far side he whirled round.

"Give me a pistol," he panted—but just then the slim Singh came through the hole like a rabbit bolting into its burrow.

"Gosh, but I thought they'd got you!" said Dex. "Are you hit?"

"No, sahib, but some of those budmashes are. Alas! I had to leave my gun behind."

"Who cares? We have plenty left. Come on." Sir Daniel paused. "If we exploded a bomb under the roof, we could bar the passage against all pursuit."

"And very likely bring the whole roof down on our heads," Dex said; "but I'm game to try it, all the same."

"I'll do it," said Trent, and he fished a small Marks bomb out of the bag he carried. He set the time fuse, climbed up, laid it in the hole, and sprang down; then he and the rest went away down the passage as fast as the rubble of sharp-edged rocks strewing the floor allowed.

Whump! The explosion was only a small thing, but the crash that followed was deafening. Frank turned and flashed his light back down the passage.

"We can never get back that way," he pronounced.

"Sure thing," agreed Dex, "and they can't follow us, either. Maybe now we'll get a little peace and quietness."

"Too much of it, if we don't find a way out," replied Frank. "This passage hasn't been used, Dex. It's just a natural one." Dex refused to be discouraged.

"The air's fresh. It leads somewhere."

"Might lead to a shaft or a chimney we couldn't climb. What then, Dex?"

"Don't croak!" said Dex sharply. "We've been through such a lot to-night, I'm not going to believe that we shan't come out on top."

The passage curved and twisted, sometimes broad, sometimes narrow. Shining white stalactites hung from the roof, and in places came down so low that the travellers had to bend double. In one place they had to creep on hands and knees. Then, all of a sudden, it ended in another passage which ran at right angles. This was much wider and higher, and had a clear floor. Sir Daniel sighed with relief, for the creeping and crawling had tried him.

"This is better," he said.

"It goes the wrong way, sir," said Frank. "We want to carry on north."

"We may find another cross-road," replied the other as he turned to the left.

"Some one's done a good job here," said Dex to Frank. "Look at the walls and the floor and the roof—all cut true as a tunnel. And—see that." He pointed to a life-sized figure carved in relief on the right-hand wall, a figure sitting cross- legged with hands folded in front of him. "A Buddha, isn't it?"

"A Buddha it is," agreed Sir Daniel. "It proves that this part of the caves must have been used as a monastery in some past age."

They went on and passed two passages leading to the south— that is, in the direction of the river—but none to the right. Then, suddenly, they were at the foot of a great flight of stone stairs, running up straight in front of them. The walls on either side were a mass of weird carving. Dex shrugged.

"I reckon we've got to go upstairs. Nothing else for it. But, say, I wish we had a map of this maze."

Singh stepped forward, and looked closely at the stairs.

"Sahib," he said to Sir Daniel. "Men have ascended these steps."

"Lately, you mean?"

"Within the week. See the marks in the dust."

Sir Daniel pursed his lips.

"What do you make of it?" he asked.

"That Gryde himself, or one of his counsellors, uses these stairs. These are the marks of shoes, not sandals."

"That is clever of you, Mr. Singh," said Sir Daniel. "None of the rest of us would have noticed it. Are there no other marks?"

"None."

"But how did he get here?" Dex questioned keenly. "It couldn't have been by the way we came."

"No, for there were no footmarks in the first part of that passage," Singh told him.

"Then Gryde came by one of the other two passages," said Dex. "And if he came that way, his men can come by it, too."

"That is true; yet they have not been here before, for, as I say, there are no sandal marks upon these stones. Nor are there any electric lamps in these passages."

"Then what's it mean?" asked Dex.

"Hadn't we better go up and see?" Frank suggested with his usual common sense.

"The sahib speaks wisely," said Singh. By this time they were all as keen as could be to find the answer to this riddle, and, with Sir Daniel leading, hurried up the stairs.

Naturally they expected to find another passage; instead there was a deep recess, a sort of landing, and opposite the head of the stairs, a heavy door. They stood for a moment staring at it. Dex was the first to speak.

"I'll bet it's Gryde's special room. He probably lives here, so as to keep away from that unwashed crowd."

"It might be," allowed Sir Daniel. "Anyhow, we had better see- -that is, if the disintegrator will open it."

Singh stared as Sir Daniel unscrewed his stick and went to work. His eyes widened still more as he saw the solid teak of which the panels were built flaking away.

"But this is a marvel!" he muttered.

The timber was enormously thick, and it was some time before the great lock was bared and could be lifted out. Then the heavy door rolled back on well-oiled hinges, and Dex flashed his light into a long and lofty rock chamber.

"The treasury!" he gasped, and stood very still, gazing in amazement at the enormous wealth piled in this gloomy place. Gold bars were stacked against the walls and glinted dully in the white light of the torch. There must have been many tons of them. On shelves above was loot of all descriptions. Indian swords, the hilts of which glittered with rubies and diamonds of enormous size, jewelled Buddhas, necklaces and bracelets enough to stock a dozen jewellers' shops, barrels and cases probably filled with coin. For quite a minute the whole party remained motionless, staring at such a display of wealth as they had hardly dreamed existed. Then Sir Daniel broke the silence.

"And the whole lot would not buy one loaf of bread to-day!" he said quietly.

Singh nodded.

"Truth, sahib, yet some of these things have beauty, and if our world recovers, they will again have value."

Sir Daniel walked in. Trent and Cogan seemed half-paralysed by the riches surrounding them. Cogan looked into a chest, dipped in his hand, and brought it out full of golden coins, then let them dribble back again. Of them all, Frank was the least affected by this treasure house. He glanced at his watch, then walked quickly down the long room. He had caught a glimpse of faint light in the distance, and hoped that it might be a way out.

"Look out!" It was the deep voice of Knut Noring. "There are men below."

Frank dashed back. A light gleamed below, and he saw a black mass of men filling the passage from wall to wall. Trent was getting his gun into position, Cogan pulling bombs from a bag.

"No lock on the door—we're in the soup!" Dex said sharply. By Sir Daniel's orders, lights were switched out and all was dark in the treasury.

"Those men are afraid," Singh said in a low voice. Frank saw at once that he was right, for these Tartars, though all heavily armed, were hesitating to climb the stairs.

"Superstitious," he answered. "I'll bet that Gryde told them this place was haunted. They're scared of the figures on the walls."

"Shall I let 'em have it, Sir Daniel? I can knock blazes out of 'em with one belt."

"Wait!" said Frank swiftly, and, groping his way to the nearest chest, he fished out a couple of handfuls of coins and pitched them down the stairs. The coins bounced, rattling and clinking to the bottom.

"What the blazes—?" began Dex; then suddenly the men below made a rush, and half a dozen flung themselves on the shining gold discs. Dex laughed delightedly, and grabbing two more handfuls flung them down.

"Look at 'em—fighting like wild cats!" he chuckled.

"Better than slaughtering them," Sir Daniel said. "Throw a few more, boys, then let's get this door closed and blocked. Those gold chests will make it solid as the rock itself."

By this time Gryde's soldiery were fighting like lunatics for the coins. They were piled one on top of another, scrambling like school children for sweets. Some man behind, no doubt an officer, was cursing savagely and beating them with the flat of his sword, but they paid no more attention to him than if he had been a mosquito. Sir Daniel pushed the door to, then switched on the lights, and they all set to work piling everything heavy they could find in a solid barricade.

The gold boxes were so heavy that, without the Norings, they could never have been moved. But Knut and Fred heaved them up and slammed them into position, and within a few moments there was enough stuff against the door to stop anything except a shell from a big gun or a very heavy charge of explosive.

"They won't get through that very easily," said Trent with a satisfied air.

"They'll get in more easily than we can get out," Dex retorted. He turned to Sir Daniel. "A fine fix we're in, sir, bottled up in this place. Very little grub and no water, and Gryde due back any time now."

Trent and Cogan looked rather blue but Sir Daniel refused to get excited.

"We didn't come here because we wanted to, Dex. We came because we had to, because there was no other place to go. And you have to remember that, if we hadn't got in here, we should be fighting for our lives out in that passage. Here, at any rate, we have a chance to think and plan our next move."

"That's just it," said Dex: "we can't move."

Frank, who had been down the room again, came back in time to hear Dex's words.

"Don't be too sure, Dex. There is a way out."

Sir Daniel turned his keen eyes on Frank.

"A passage?"

"No, sir, a sort of window. It's a deuce of a long way down, but luckily we still have the rope."

"Show me," said Sir Daniel briefly.

By this time the enemy officer had evidently got control of his men again, for they were outside the door, and loud crashes were heard as the men attacked it with axes. But this did not worry the defenders, who knew that their barricade would hold against anything short of high explosives. To be on the safe side, Sir Daniel directed Trent and Singh to remain on guard with machine guns, while he and the others followed Frank down the long room.

A patch of pale light showed in front. It was an opening cut in the solid rock, about four feet square, and it had been glazed with heavy glass. Sir Daniel drove the butt of his rifle against the glass and shattered it, then poked his head out and stood for a few moments, gazing downwards.

"You're right, Frank," he said rather grimly, as he withdrew his head. "It's a long way to the ground. And even when we are down, I can't see where we are to go. Still, there's no choice, so the sooner we start the better. Knut and Fred, bring a chest heavy enough to anchor the rope." This was done and the rope made fast. "Now who is going first?" he asked.

"I'm the lightest, sir," Dex said. Sir Daniel smiled.

"Feeling a bit more cheerful, Dex? All right, go ahead. Leave your rifles. The last man will lower those before leaving." Dex scrambled on to the sill, took hold of the rope, and swung down into the gloom. It was not quite dark, for the sky had a tint of grey in the east, and evidently dawn was not far off. There was little wind, but the air was like liquid ice. Frank, leaning out and doing his best to steady the jerking rope, could see that the cliff dropped sheer for about fifty feet to a ledge which seemed fairly wide, and that there was a second drop beyond. How deep that was he could not tell, for the ground beneath was invisible in the gloom. It seemed a long time before the rope ceased jerking; then came the voice of Dex.

"All right—I'm down."

"What's it like?" Frank asked.

"A ledge. Pretty broad. Can't see where it goes, and there's a devil of a drop on the far side." Sir Daniel put his head out.

"Use your torch. It's no use our getting stranded on a ledge half-way down a cliff. Remember, we can't take the rope with us and we haven't any more." They saw the gleam of Dex's torch far below. They saw him move along the ledge and disappear around a bulging outcrop. In two or three minutes he was back.

"The ledge goes on as far as I can see, and the cliff below turns to slope. Steep, but I think we can scramble down."

"Good! You next, Cogan."

Cogan was not very good on a rope, but with Dex holding it below, he managed all right. Just then Singh came up with his swift, silent stride.

"I have to inform you, Sir Daniel, that the enemy have ceased their attempts to break down the door, and have sent for explosives. I heard the officer's order."

Sir Daniel grunted.

"Then the sooner we are out of this the better. Knut and Fred, you go next."

The two Norings went down one after the other with amazing speed. Big as they were, they were adepts at this sort of work.

"You now, Mr. Singh," Sir Daniel said, but Singh flatly refused.

"You, as leader, are more important than I," he answered. "With your permission, Trent and I will let down the guns and stores and follow you."

Sir Daniel knew it was no use arguing with this slim brown man.

"It seems to me you are the boss, not I!" he said with a twinkle in his eyes. "But this is no time to talk." And out he went. Trent and Singh then let down the guns and followed, and in a very few minutes all were standing safe on the ledge. Dex looked up at the dangling rope.

"Pity we can't take that with us. It gives them a chance to follow us," he said regretfully. Singh, who had come down last, gave the rope a jerk, and, to the amazement of them all, down it came.

"Gosh, but that was a regular conjuring trick!" Dex exclaimed. "How did you do it?"

Singh picked up the rope and showed him the end. It was burned through.

"A short length of slow match," he explained in his courteous way. Dex looked at him with fresh respect. "You took a chance. Darned if I'd have done it!" he remarked.

"We had better move on!" Sir Daniel suggested.

They moved and quickly. The ledge was broad and ran slightly upwards. They were glad to be moving, for the cold was intense, and the pall of grey cloud seemed to promise snow. The ledge itself was covered with snow, but this was dry as powder and frozen so hard that it was not slippery.

For a quarter of an hour or more they tramped along the ledge which still trended upwards. None of them had any idea where it would lead them, but they all hoped they might find the hangar cave which Singh felt sure was on this northern side. Suddenly Dex sprang forward and caught Sir Daniel by the arm.

"There she is!" he said sharply: "the Miracle!"


CHAPTER XXV. — BAD BUSINESS

THEY all saw her, a tiny dot far to the north, barely visible among the thickening clouds. She was heading towards them.

"Get to cover!" Sir Daniel ordered crisply. As luck had it, there was a deep recess almost opposite the spot where they stood, and one and all ducked into it swiftly.

"Think they saw us?" Frank breathed.

"It's not likely," said Sir Daniel, "but that's entirely owing to Dex's quick eyes. Another minute, and we must have been spotted. Lie low, all of you!"

All eyes were fixed on their beloved airship as she dived gracefully out of the grey smother overhead and dipped towards the mountain.

"Singh was right," said Sir Daniel. "The hangar is on this side."

"But we are too late," groaned Dex. "We ought to have been there before she settled." He looked so desperately unhappy that Sir Daniel felt forced to comfort him.

"We have done our best, Dex. And don't give up hope. If we can reach the hangar we can get in."

"But she'll be heavily guarded," Dex answered. "They'll tell Gryde right off that we are out, and he'll have every man he can raise on the spot. We shan't have a dog's chance."

Sir Daniel refused to be discouraged.

"It will take some time before they can collect their men. Half of them are hunting us. Brace up, Dex. We'll make a fight for it." By this time the Miracle was barely a mile away, moving slowly towards the mountainside.

"That fellow can handle her," said Frank grudgingly.

"The hangar must be just the other side of that big buttress," Sir Daniel remarked, and plainly he was right, for in a couple of minutes the Miracle passed out of sight at a distance of only a few hundred yards.

The moment she was gone they all started running. Their ship seemed to draw them like a magnet. Even Singh, who had never before seen the Miracle, was as eager as the rest. With the tails of their long Russian coats flapping behind them, they fairly raced up the steep ledge, the dry snow flying in dust under their feet. The ledge narrowed as they reached the great rock buttress, and they had to drop into single file and go more cautiously. A stumble or false step would have sent them toppling down a snow slope steeper than a house roof.

Frank was the first to reach the angle of the rock wall. Peering round it, he saw the Miracle not a hundred yards away, lying in a sort of metal cradle. The cradle was on wheels running on rails, and although she could only just have alighted, men were already pulling her swiftly into the mouth of a great cave. Dex peered over his shoulder.

"The beauty!" Frank heard him mutter. "And we can't touch her," he added bitterly. Frank drew back to let Sir Daniel have a look.

"Sir Daniel," he said eagerly, "what about making a rush? If we got in a volley we might clear those fellows who are winding her in. Then we'd have Gryde." Sir Daniel shook his head.

"Madness, Frank! Gryde has bombs. Or he could shoot us down without showing himself. No. We must wait until they are away. No doubt they will tell Gryde that we have escaped, then I feel sure he will at once go in search of us. He can't have any idea of where we are, and by the time he knows we shall have the ship and be gone."

"I suppose you're right," said Frank slowly.

While they spoke the Miracle had been drawn right into the cavern; then, before they knew it, there was a creak of pulleys, and two great sliding doors rolled out from recesses in the rock and came together with a click. At the same moment the first flake of the threatened snowstorm began to drift down out of the greyness overhead and a gust of icy wind moaned off the northern heights. Frank shivered, not so much with cold, as with a sense of foreboding. In spite of the danger, he wished that Sir Daniel had consented to the rush attack he had suggested. Sir Daniel spoke.

"Yes, it's cold, Frank, but the snow gives us cover. I am going forward to see if I can make a hole through those doors. You can come with me. The others will stay here and watch, in case those men who are by now in the Treasury have got a rope and are following us."

The snow was thickening every moment, whirling down in a soundless cloud of small hard-frozen flakes. Inside a couple of minutes Sir Daniel and Frank both looked like walking snow men. It was so thick, they could not see the doors until they bumped into them. Sir Daniel took off his glove and felt the door.

"Metal," he said, "but I don't know what kind. And this isn't a matter of cutting out a lock, Frank, but of making a hole big enough for a man to creep through."

"A long job, you mean, sir?"

"A very long job, I'm afraid. And we have to remember that Gryde will know sooner or later that we got out of that window. Then he will realise where we are."

Frank said nothing. He was feeling more unhappy than before. Sir Daniel unscrewed his cane and set to work. Frank stood over him and did his best to protect him from the ever-rising blizzard. The cold was terrible, and made his heavy coat feel no thicker than a sheet of paper. His hands and feet were rapidly growing numb. After about five minutes Sir Daniel looked up.

"Frank, it's no use. Either the power is gone, or the metal has some special resistance."

"Then we'd better try a bomb," Frank said. "We have a few left."

"Quite useless," Sir Daniel answered with decision. "Our small bombs would have no effect whatever against a sheet of metal like this. All we should do would be to advertise to Gryde where we are."

"Then, for any sake, what are we to do?" Frank burst out, with an irritation he had never before shown.

Sir Daniel rose and laid a quiet hand on Frank's shoulder.

"Steady, lad. I know what you are feeling, and, believe me, I am as troubled as you. So far as I can see, there is but one thing to do—that is, make our way back into the great cave by the dry river bed, gain the armoury, if possible, and then blow everything up. With his stores gone, Gryde will be helpless, for he cannot replace them, and we shall die with the knowledge that we have saved our friends in the Valley."

Frank drew a long breath.

"As bad as that, is it?" he said slowly. "All right, sir. You know best."

The others listened in dead silence as Sir Daniel explained the position. Not even Dex had anything to say. Then they started on the desperate task of finding their way round the north- western shoulder of the mountain and down its flank to the river bed. The storm grew worse, the snow pelted them like frozen sand, stinging their faces and blinding their eyes. The ledge grew so narrow that they were forced to rope themselves together. With heads bent against the blast they crawled onwards, growing always more numb and exhausted. The knowledge that they had failed to reach and capture the Miracle depressed them bitterly, yet every single one was savagely resolved to smash Gryde's power or die in the attempt.

At last the ledge began to go downwards, but the snow was so thick that they could not see where it led; then suddenly it broke off altogether, and there was nothing for it but to struggle down the terribly steep slope to the right. Without the rope they would have been helpless. As it was, Cogan twice lost his footing, and was only saved by the others bracing themselves and holding him. Cogan did not utter a word of complaint, but it was clear that he was growing exhausted. His short legs were not built for work of this sort.

To Frank it seemed that they had been scrambling and climbing for half a day when at last big Knut Noring, who was leading, called out that he was on level ground. They found themselves on another ledge, wider than the one above and leading downwards at a gentle slope. But the blizzard was still so thick that they could see no more than a dozen paces in any direction.

By this time Cogan was staggering with sheer exhaustion, so presently, when they came to a hollow in the mountainside, Sir Daniel ordered a halt. It was a huge relief to get out of the wind, and they sprawled in the shelter, resting their aching limbs. Trent got bread out of his knapsack, and Singh produced a bottle of spirit which he had looted from the kitchen. It was fiery stuff, and the boys took a sip only, while Knut and Fred refused it altogether. But it did Cogan a lot of good, and Trent, too, felt better for it.

Singh spoke once in a whisper to Sir Daniel, but apart from that none of them talked. They knew what they had to do, or try to do, but it was no use making plans. They had to trust to luck to get them through.

When they got outside, the snow was not quite so thick, though the wind was bitter as ever. Luckily the ledge continued, and presently they were round the flank of the mountain and out of the worst of the blast. Another ten minutes and Knut stopped.

"There's the river," he said.

Sure enough the deep bed of the river cut their path, and a little to the left was the dark mouth of the tunnel through which, in some past age, it had forced its way through the great barrier of porous limestone.

They paused, looking for the best way down the steep bank. Then Dex, looking round, gave a sharp exclamation.

"Where's Singh?"

Singh had been walking last, at the end of the rope. Now he was not there at all.

"We must go back and look for him," Dex declared.

"I don't think we can do that, Mr. Dex," Trent said quietly. "Look up the pass—they're the fellows who've got him."

A score of men were coming—Gryde's men! They must either have come down from the window of the Treasury or out of the hangar.

"Back! Get under cover," Sir Daniel ordered sharply. "They haven't seen us yet." All scrambled for cover among the boulders, and quickly made ready their guns. It was still snowing heavily, and it seemed that Sir Daniel was right and that these men had failed to see the fugitives, for they came straight on, heads bent against the storm.

"Ready!" came Sir Daniel's order. "Let them have it." Dex and Trent were the two to fire. For an instant or two there was a sharp rattle like a stick being drawn across palings. When it was over not one of their pursuers was on his feet. Some lay on the ledge, the rest were rolling down the snow-clad slope.

"Butchery!" muttered Sir Daniel with a shudder; "but it was them or us. Now get on."

"But Singh?" Dex remonstrated.

"It is too late," Sir Daniel said curtly; "they will have killed him. We have work—our last work—to do. Come." And without another word made off down the slope. Dex was almost mutinous. He had come to like and admire the Indian.

"I've a jolly good mind to go back alone," he said to Frank.

"Don't be a fool," Frank replied roughly. "As he says, we're all booked, anyhow, but we've got to get that armoury before we go out." Dex subsided, and they scrambled down the steep bank into the river bed. There Sir Daniel halted them.

"There may be guards inside," he told them. "If there are, we have to get them without shooting. Knut and Fred are the two strongest. They will tackle the men. Meantime, move silently. There must not be a sound."

"The chief knows his own mind," Dex whispered to Frank. Frank only nodded and they passed silently into the tunnel.

It was a blessing to get out of the savage drive of the blizzard, but they were all too anxious about reaching the cave to think much of anything else. The actual tunnel was only some fifty yards long, and there was plenty of head-room; but it was very dark, and the stream bed was uneven and littered with stones. It was desperately difficult to move as quietly as they all knew they had to move. The tunnel was not quite straight, and they were more than half-way through before they caught sight of the lights of the cave.

They stopped in dismay; for now the big Loom lamp was alight again, and there were other smaller lights all down the length of the immense cavern. The first thing these lights showed was that two men were posted in the bed of the river at the entrance to the cave. Sir Daniel pointed to them, but there was no need to do so, for Knut and Fred had already seen them, and, laying down their guns and packs, were stripping off their heavy coats. Then, like two great cats, they began to crawl forward.

The others, standing back in the darkness, held their breath. For his part, Frank thought it a forlorn hope. The two Norings were, he knew, immensely strong and immensely plucky. On the other hand, they had never in their lives tackled their fellow- men in anything but friendly contests—and this was life or death! If they failed, if even one of the guards was able to shout or fire his rifle, that was the end—the end not only for the Norings, but for all of them. The end of The Helpers, too, for unless they could explode his magazine, there was little hope that Gryde would fail in his boast of conquering the world.

There was so little light that it was hard to see what was happening. Knut kept to one side of the river bed, Fred to the other, and the two seemed to melt into the rock against which they crawled. Frank lost sight of them altogether. In spite of the cold he was sweating, there was a tightness across his chest, and his hands were clenched so hard that the nails dug into his palms. Of the guards, one was facing the cave, but the other had his back against the rock of the river bank. Frank felt certain that the man must see Knut before Knut reached him.

Seconds dragged by with agonising slowness, then suddenly the man who had his back to the rock straightened, turned, and took a step forward towards the cave. A shadow lifted above him. Frank could not see what happened, only that the man fell forward on his face. At precisely the same moment Fred sprang upon the other guard. There was the thud of a fall, but no other sound whatever.

"They got 'em!" Dex breathed, but Frank found himself unable to speak. All he could do was fill his lungs with air. A minute later the Norings came softly back.

"Afraid I killed my man," said Knut simply. "I broke his neck."

"How did you make him turn?" Dex asked.

"An old trick. I pitched a pebble over his head."

"My man's alive," said Fred, "but I gagged him."

"Good work," Sir Daniel said. "We will go on."

"The lights are pretty bright," Trent remarked uncomfortably.

"We keep to the bed of the river," Sir Daniel answered. "If we walk close under the bank the chances are against our being seen. It's the last place they'd be looking for us."

"Very good, sir," Trent said quietly, and again they were off. At this end of the cave the river bed was deep and narrow, and, by keeping well under the banks, they were not seen. The dynamos also gave them cover. But all the time Frank was wondering what would happen when they came under the glare of the big Loom lamp. For at least a hundred yards the bed of the river and the slopes on either side were light as day.

It gave Frank a thrill to find himself once more in the great cavern. He knew that it was extremely unlikely that he and his companions would ever leave it alive, yet he was doggedly determined, if it were any way possible, to reach the magazine before he died and blast it sky-high.

There were men in the cave. They were not working, but watching. Peering over the rim of the bank, Frank could see dim figures right up against the wall on either side. It was plain that Gryde was guarding every tunnel mouth, but Frank consoled himself with the thought that there were a lot of these passages, and that Gryde's forces must be well scattered. If they could only get through the cave in safety there was a chance they could fight their way up the main passage, shooting down the small knots of guards before they were able to mass.

While these thoughts passed through his mind the party were coming near to the great circle of light thrown by the Loom lamp. Yet Sir Daniel, who was leading, went steadily on. He kept close under the south bank, and the rest followed in single file. The light was so bright that it threw their shadows on the rocks, yet so far there was no sign that any one had seen them. Frank's hopes began to rise. Once past the big light, the worst risk would be over, and there seemed at least a chance they might reach the armoury.

Suddenly Sir Daniel stopped and bent down close under the wall, and the rest swiftly followed his example. A shot had been fired up by the tunnel through which they had come.

No need to ask what had happened—they all knew. The guard at the tunnel mouth had been relieved or visited, and the dead man had been found with his gagged companion. The shot was a signal.


CHAPTER XXVI. — UNDER FIRE

IN a tight place Sir Daniel always showed himself the leader.

"Those furnaces," he said sharply. "There's cover. And you, Dex, shoot out the big lamp."

One shot was enough. The big lamp crashed to ruin. At the same moment the party bolted for the furnace. Bars of metal, newly smelted, lay in piles. There was light enough from the other lamps to see them, and all went desperately to work to pile up a barricade. Two stacks were already in position, lying about three feet high. There was plenty of material to make the two ends, and here the Norings did marvels. The great bars, weighing as much as two hundred pounds apiece, were flung into position like straws. Within an incredibly short time the whole party were lying inside a square about ten feet each way, a sort of pen, of which the sides were solid metal, thick and heavy enough to stop machine- gun bullets. And the furnace protected them completely from firing from the south side of the cave.

Men were running and shouting, the whole cave was in an uproar. They heard some one yelling orders—and still nothing happened. Meanwhile they made their guns and ammunition belts ready, and prepared to put up a fight.

"A pity we can't get at them before they bunch," Trent said.

"We shall be able to kill more of them when they do bunch," remarked Fred Noring in his deep, gentle voice.

Dex chuckled.

"I never knew you were such a bloodthirsty blighter, Fred!"

"It is not bloodthirsty to kill rats," replied Fred simply, and this time it was Trent who laughed.

"Never heard it put better, Mr. Fred. Well, I reckon a good many rats will be killed before they finish us."

"Keep your heads down," Sir Daniel ordered, "and don't fire a shot until you can see what you are firing at. Remember, they have plenty of ammunition, but our stock is limited."

"We've got enough to finish the lot if they come close," Trent said.

"That's why I'm telling you not to waste any," Sir Daniel answered, and the words were hardly out of his mouth before the firing began. It came from the north side of the cave. There were guns in at least three different places, and the air was thick with small high-velocity bullets. They clattered on the rock, and ricochetted viciously off the metal sides of the pen, but did no harm to any of those inside. Burst after burst was fired, and the air was so thick with bullets that it was impossible to move. Frank was lying next to Sir Daniel.

"What will Gryde do?" he asked his chief. "He isn't wasting all that stuff for nothing."

"You are right, Frank. My own idea is that he will try to get near enough to gas us. You have to remember he wants us alive, not dead."

"The Samarite secret! I'd forgotten; but of course you're right, sir. Then we'd better look out for any one creeping up. Shall I pass the word to the others?"

"Do, and tell them to keep their torches ready as well as their rifles. Frank, I wish we had brought gas masks from the magazine."

"We couldn't carry everything," Frank answered. "As it is, we have more than Gryde reckoned on." At this moment Dex suddenly let loose half a dozen shots.

"Got him!" he said savagely. "Fellow crawling up on us round the furnace," he explained.

"Just what I expected," Sir Daniel told him. "Watch the river bed. We are closer to it than I like. A man might throw a small bomb from there into this pen."

"I'll tell Trent to watch that side," Dex said, and leaned over to do so. The constant rattle of machine-gun fire drowned all other sounds, and one had to get one's lips close to a man's ear to make him hear.

The firing died away, with only an occasional burst, and Frank felt sure that something was afoot. It was very trying to lie there on the cold rock, unable to fire back or do anything to defend oneself. And, of course, Frank, like the rest, knew that their chances of getting away were not one in a million.

Suddenly the firing increased again. There were half a dozen guns at work, and the bullets were thick as sleet. Dex winced as a splinter, deflected from above, cut his shoulder. Trent suddenly flashed his light, and his gun kicked as he fired a burst in the direction of the river. A shrill scream rang above the rattle of the firing.

"And that's another who won't try it again!" Trent remarked as he lay flat once more. The firing died away until a silence settled like a pall in the huge cavern.

"That chap had a bomb," Trent said. "I saw his arm come up, and I reckon I cut it off at the shoulder."

"Then you probably saved us all, Trent, for that was gas," said Sir Daniel. "Yes, I believe I can smell it, but luckily the draught down the cave is blowing the stuff away."

"I wonder what Gryde will try next?" questioned Dex. "He's too quiet to suit me."

"He can starve us out," Frank said.

"He hasn't got the patience for that," Trent replied shrewdly. "Hallo, what's that?" Something had fallen with a plop on the rock above them. Next instant a blaze of dazzling light broke out, making the whole immense cavern bright as day.

"He wants to have a look at us," said Cogan. "Well, he won't see much."

"Where are his men?" Trent asked, peering between the bars. "I can't see one of them."

"Down in the river bed, most likely," Cogan told him. "Sir Daniel," he added eagerly, "if you'd let me and Trent get out, we might clean up the lot of them with a bit of luck."

"You wouldn't get your heads over the edge before they were full of lead," Sir Daniel told him. "Keep still. Here's some one with a white flag."

"Gryde himself!" breathed Dex.

"You're not going to let him talk, sir?" put in Cogan. "Let me plug the swab."

"We can't do that, Cogan. We must respect a white flag."

Gryde stopped about fifty feet away on the opposite side of the river bed.

"Are you willing to talk, Counsellor?" he called, and once more Frank noticed how extraordinarily harsh and unpleasant his voice sounded. Yet the man himself was a formidable figure, and it took pluck on his part to march up like this even with a white flag.

"I'll talk if you want to, Gryde," said Sir Daniel, standing up; "but I don't quite see what good it will do."

"Don't you want to live?" Gryde asked.

"It all depends," replied Sir Daniel in his calmest voice.

Gryde laughed.

"You take it coolly. I have to hand it you that you have spirit, Sir Daniel. You've given me a lot of trouble, and done more damage than I could have believed possible. But I think you must allow that I have you now. Oh, yes, you are safe for the time being in that pen, but I could wipe you out any time I wanted with one high explosive shell. You'll admit that?"

Sir Daniel nodded.

"That's true—but you want us alive, Gryde! You are thinking more of Samarite than of anything else."

"I can keep you alive, but you'll stay in that pen you have built. You may have a little food, but you have no water. You're badly crowded, and it's very cold. Personally I think you will find it worse than those cells above. You will be able to watch one another starve or freeze to death."

"You needn't trouble to paint the picture, Gryde. We all know what cold and hunger are like. What we want to hear is what it all leads up to. Are you still bargaining for the secret of Samarite?"

"I am, and I mean to have it!" Gryde never could stand Sir Daniel's gentle, bantering tone. Though he tried very hard to copy it, he always ended by losing his temper. He was beginning to do so now.

"Gryde," said Sir Daniel, "as I've told you before, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink against its will. We all long ago decided that you were not the man to entrust with any such secret as that of Samarite. We stick to that decision."

The flare still burned brilliantly, and in its light they could see Gryde's face twist and change till it looked like that of one of the demons carved on the wall of the great stairs.

"You obstinate old fool!" he roared. "Do you think that you can measure your strength against mine? Do you mean to tell me, Counsellor, that you will really sentence your followers to death?"

Not a muscle of Sir Daniel's fine face changed.

"I'll let them answer for themselves, Gryde," he said. "My friends, do you say yes or no?"

One and all, they sprang to their feet.

"No!" they shouted in one voice.

Gryde shook with fury. He bit his lower lip till the blood came.

"That's finished it," he snarled. "That is your death sentence. I shall not give you another chance. And when a gas shell is loosed I shall be somewhere near enough to hear your screams for mercy."

"And now, Mr. Gryde, if you have quite finished, would you kindly relieve us of your presence? It is almost as nasty as your language. Besides, in spite of your white flag, I am having some difficulty in restraining my men from shooting you."

Gryde stopped swearing. He bared his teeth like a wolf, then shook his fist savagely and stalked away. The light fizzled and died, and the great cave was in gloom, lit only by a few feeble lamps.


CHAPTER XXVII. — MASS ATTACK

"DO you think it's true, chief?" Dex asked. "About a gas shell, I mean?"

"It may be," replied Sir Daniel calmly, "but somehow I don't think he will use it."

Dex was amazed.

"Why not?"

"I'll tell you. He hasn't given up the idea of getting the Samarite, and if he kills us he knows he won't get it. He doesn't really believe he can get into the Valley. He wants us alive, not dead, and he will start torturing us one by one in order to make me talk." He paused, then went on: "And I probably should talk. The things these Tartars can do to you are pretty terrible."

"But how can he get us?" Dex demanded.

"In this way: He thinks we shall be watching the rocks above us for this poison shell to fall. My idea is that he will collect a big force of men in the river bed and rush us. We could kill quite a lot, but the rest would swamp us."

Dex whistled softly.

"I shouldn't wonder a bit if you were right."

"It's only an idea," Sir Daniel said, "but it might be worth listening for sounds in the river bed."

The rest had taken Gryde's threat seriously, and Sir Daniel's words cheered them a little. Poison gas was a nightmare, and Trent and Cogan had been deciding in whispers to shoot themselves if it came. They were not going to let Gryde listen to their groans.

Minutes dragged by. It was bitterly cold in these cramped quarters, though there was a little warmth from the furnace close above them. They lay very still and listened with straining ears. There was no more shooting, but men were moving here and there. It seemed that Gryde was collecting his forces, and that made the prisoners think there might be truth in Sir Daniel's idea. Presently Dex put his lips close to Frank's ear.

"They're coming closer. I heard a pebble move. It seemed to be up behind the furnace."

"We can't do anything yet," Frank answered. "We've just got to wait." Dex's ears were very keen. A minute later he spoke again.

"There are men in the river bed. Barefooted, I reckon, but I heard a sort of rustle."

Frank passed the news to Sir Daniel.

"Sounds as if you were right, sir," he added.

Silence again. The cave seemed darker than ever, and the suspense was very difficult to bear. All of them had their guns ready.

Now, it is almost impossible for a number of men to move in the dark without making some amount of noise, and every one in the iron fort heard the next sound, which was definitely a stumble. All were equally sure it came from the river bed.

"Get ready," Sir Daniel whispered, and the words were not out of his mouth before firing began from the north side of the cave.

"That's to cover the attack," Sir Daniel told them. "Trent, you still have some bombs?"

"Five, sir."

"Then lob one over into the river bed."

Trent eagerly obeyed. He set the trigger and pitched the bomb high. It fell in the very centre of the river bed, and the fierce crash of its explosion was followed by howls of agony. Quick as thought, Trent flung two more, throwing them as far as he could. Then a machine-gun began to clatter again, and Trent toppled backwards. Cogan caught him.

"Not killed yet," Trent said hoarsely. "It's my shoulder. But did you see them? There's a hundred or more in the river bed. If we could only get the guns on to them?"

"Not a hope!" growled Dex, for the bullets were whistling over the pen like bees. Sir Daniel himself tied up the wound in Trent's shoulder and stopped the bleeding.

"It's missed the bone," he told him. "But you won't be able to use that arm for a bit."

"I don't suppose that makes much odds, sir," said Trent with a grim chuckle. "They'll be all over us in two twos."

"Here they come," cried Dex, as he swung the muzzle of his Ferranti and began firing. Frank grabbed Trent's gun and let loose with it, and the two Norings got busy. Gryde's men ducked back—they could not stand the fire. But those inside the fort heard men running past under the bank.

"They'll come at us from both sides," Cogan growled. He had no gun, but the two remaining bombs were beside him, and he pitched one over into the river bed. Whether he did any execution could not be seen, but the blaze of the explosion showed a number of men coming up from the east side. Meanwhile, the firing from the north wall continued to be so heavy that the defenders could not raise their heads.

Suddenly came a rush from the east. Dozens of men leaped up out of the river bed, flung themselves flat, and began to crawl forward. The Norings blazed away at them, but it was difficult to depress the muzzles of the guns enough to reach them. Then Fred's gun jammed. Cogan used the last bomb, and that stopped the advance for a moment, but it was plain that the end was near. Men were all round them, and the defenders' ammunition was running short.

The firing from the north side had stopped. The gunners must have seen that they risked killing their own men. Two slit-eyed Tartars came leaping over the northern wall of the fort. Dex shot one with his pistol and Sir Daniel seized the other and flung him down on his head with a force that cracked his skull.

Now it was hand to hand. Frank was on his feet with his machine-gun swinging to and fro, firing his last belt of cartridges. Fred Noring was using his gun as a club, and Dex was spraying the attackers with the small bullets from his pistol. Knut Noring was down, but Sir Daniel was on his feet, and he, too, had a pistol. Frank, Dex and Sir Daniel between them kept up so hot a fire that the ground around was strewn with the dead; but the light was too bad for accurate aiming, and all knew there would be no time to reload.

Gryde's men were like a starving wolf pack. Nothing stopped them, and in spite of the slaughter there seemed to be scores all around.

"Last round," said Dex to Frank. "So-long, old man. They're not going to get me alive."

"Nor me," said Frank, but his voice was drowned in a deep roar which came from the west end of the cave. A terrible sound, not like thunder, for the note of it was deeper and more continuous, and every instant it grew louder.

"The dam!" shouted Sir Daniel. For once his deep voice almost cracked with excitement. Every one realised at the same moment that the dam had burst, and that the savage Tartars, unafraid of bullets, were bolting for their lives.

"Quick!" snapped Sir Daniel. "Out, all of you! Make for the southern passage."

As he spoke he lifted Trent and swung him on to his back. Fred picked up his brother and slung him over his shoulder; then they were out of the pen and scrambling up the steep slope.

They were only just in time. Millions of tons of water rushing like a mill race down the slope of the great cavern struck the furnace, broke in a great surge, swamped the pen, and spread in a black sea, dappled with splashes of white foam and with yellow rafts of floating ice. The old bed of the river vanished in a trice, and in less time than it takes to tell the flood was half- way up the slope on either side.

It came lapping at the heels of the fugitives. Sir Daniel, in spite of his great strength, was staggering, but Frank caught the legs of Trent, and helped to bear his weight. Fred needed no help, though his brother's weight was at least twelve stone. Up and up they scrambled.

"Aren't we safe yet?" Frank panted, as they climbed a ledge and stood ten feet above the water.

"No," snapped back Sir Daniel; "it will fill the whole cave. The lower tunnel will choke." Frank gasped, but Sir Daniel was right, for next moment a great wave drove back as the flood struck the eastern wall and recoiled in a swinging surge.

Breathless, they fought upwards. They had forgotten Gryde and his Tartars, forgotten everything except the hungry flood. Dex was the first to see the passage which opened exactly above them. They plunged into it, and fell back against the wall, breathing in long whistling gasps. Dex looked out over the mounting sea of floodwater.

"I say, Frank, do you think Gryde's in there?"

"I devoutly hope so," Frank replied.

"Anyhow, most of his men are," Dex said hopefully. "Fred, how's Knut?"

"A bullet through his thigh," Fred answered. He was on his knees tying up the wound. "The bone is not touched."

"We got off lightly," Dex said. "Chief, this gives us a chance."

"Certainly a chance," Sir Daniel answered. "Now all depends on what men are left above. Have any of you got cartridges?"

"I've a few left for my pistol," Dex said. They searched and found two full clips for the electric pistols, and a couple of dozen cartridges. Sir Daniel looked down into the cave. There were a few men up under the opposite wall, but not a single one, so far as could be seen, on their side.

"If we can reach the magazine," he said, "Gryde is definitely finished."

"If he isn't finished already," Dex remarked.

"Don't flatter yourselves—Gryde is still very much alive!" The harsh voice came from the gloom above them, and there was just light enough for them to see Gryde standing in the passage, and with him the huge Mordoff. Both had heavy automatics in their fists.

The revulsion made Frank feel sick. To have escaped from the double peril of the hordes who had attacked them and the flood, only to fall into the hands of their arch-enemy once more was a blow too bitter for contemplation. Yet it was plain enough what had happened. Gryde had been high enough on the cave floor to escape the flood by one of the numerous passages running off the south side of the cave, and had at once cut round in order to get behind the fugitives in case they should escape.

"Gryde is not so easily finished, my friends," the man went on, his voice grating with malice. "Even if he has lost a few men by the accident of the flood, he is still very much here, and quite capable of out-guessing his enemies. I think you will admit, Counsellor, that this time you are completely in my power." He paused, then went on: "Don't move, any of you. Monsieur Mordoff and I are both dead shots. Any attempt at resistance, and we shall shoot you in the legs." He stopped again, evidently hoping that one of them would answer, but there was no reply. "Nothing to say?" he chuckled. "Even the great Sir Daniel is silent. Well, a little later on we may persuade him to talk, eh, Mordoff?"

"He will talk," said Mordoff in a voice like the growl of an angry bear. "If he do not talk, he will scream!" he added with gloating triumph.

"They still have two pistols and one gun," Gryde went on. "I heard them say so. Relieve them of these, my good Mordoff, while I keep them covered. Afterwards we can conduct them to the audience room." He laughed again, and it was a hideously sinister sound.

Mordoff had taken only one step forward when the crash came. It sounded as if the roof of the passage behind him was falling. Mordoff stopped, half turned, and as he did so Dex's right hand flashed up and his pistol spat a rattling hail of bullets. Mordoff's gross body toppled over backwards, falling against Gryde and spoiling his aim. Gryde's heavy pistol roared, but the bullets struck the roof, and, before he could regain his balance, half a dozen of the deadly little pellets fired by Dex struck him in the body and down he crashed alongside Mordoff.

The whole thing had happened in a matter of seconds, and the rest were stunned into silence. Then came a voice from above.

"I threw a stone, sahib. It was all I could do—I had no gun." There was Singh, covered with mud, his clothes torn, his face no longer brown but livid with exhaustion. Sir Daniel got back his breath.

"A stone?" he repeated. "It saved us, Singh!"

Singh was leaning against the wall; it was plain he could hardly stand.

"The sahib Dex," he said with a faint smile, "do not forget his shots." Then he swayed, and Sir Daniel was just in time to save him from falling.

* * * * *

"He is all right," Sir Daniel said as he poured a few drops of spirit between Singh's lips. "It is only exhaustion. He is not wounded."

Half an hour had passed since Gryde's death, and the party were in the welcome warmth of the great kitchen which they had entirely to themselves. So far as they could discover, there was not one of Gryde's ruffians left alive, except the Russian they had left in the store-room. Gryde must have collected his whole force in the cave, and that was now filled many feet up the walls with the enormous mass of water which had collected behind the dam.

"He's got a right to be tired," Trent said. "All the way up to that dam and then back—to say nothing of blowing it sky- high. Can't think how he did it."

Dex took a bite at a big sandwich.

"It was a fine job," he said warmly.

"There's another of us who did a good job," remarked Sir Daniel with a twinkle in his kindly eyes.

"Shucks!" said Dex, getting rather red. "I always said I'd give a finger to have the pleasure of shooting Gryde, and I didn't even have to lose the finger."

"I know a girl who will be pleased to hear about it," said Sir Daniel, "and I'm going to give myself the pleasure of telling her. Frank, will you come with me now to the Miracle? Gard will be wondering what has become of us."

"What about the rest of us, sir?" Dex asked.

"Look after the wounded, and help Cogan cook a good supper," said Sir Daniel. "To-morrow we will blow up the magazine and start back for the Valley by way of New Zealand."


THE END