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First published by William Collins, London, 1930

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"With Beatty in Jutland," William Collins, London, 1930


"With Beatty in Jutland," William Collins, London, 1930


Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII


Rodney fired straight into the bush in front.


GUN in hand, Sub-lieutenant Rodney Sterne tramped across the marsh towards Flatsea Creek. The frozen rushes crackled under his feet, the east wind, straight off the North Sea, bit like cold steel, and now and then a few flakes of hard frozen snow came whirling out of the gray canopy above, stinging his face like fine shot.

But Rodney cared for none of these things. Why should he? He was twenty, fit as any man in the British Navy; the blood ran warm in his veins, and this was his first day of a week's long-promised leave. He reached the sea wall, clambered up it, and stood, face to the wind, staring out across the gray waves of the North Sea. He shook his fist at them humorously.

"Blow all you like," he said, with a grin, "you won't get me for another week, so don't think it."

He dropped down quietly on to the saltings, the stretch of muddy marsh ground between the dyke and low water mark, and almost at once a teal rose from a little pool, and went off like a bullet from a gun. Quick as it went, Rodney was quicker. His twelve-bore spoke and the duck dropped with a thud on to the frozen mud.

"Not so bad!" remarked Rodney cheerfully, as he strode forward to pick up the dead bird, but before he had gone ten steps he was brought up short by a loud shout from the dyke above him.

"What the blazes are you doing; What do you mean by it, you infernal poacher?"

Rodney glanced up. A large, heavily-built, hook-nosed man was standing on the top of the sea wall. He had a gun over his shoulder, and was shaking his fist angrily in Rodney's direction.

"Looney!" was Rodney's only comment, and going forward again, picked up his bird, and transferred it to his game-bag.

Heavy boots came trampling through the half-frozen slush behind him. Turning, he confronted the large man who, by the expression on his great, square-jowled face, and the gleam in his small, pale blue eyes, was evidently in a wicked temper.

"Didn't you hear me?" he demanded hoarsely.

"Of course I heard you," replied Rodney, inspecting the other with a cold stare which seemed to add fuel to his fury. "Any one who was not stone deaf could have heard you the other side of the creek. Now, if you're quite done making this horrid noise, perhaps you'll be good enough to go away and play. I'm out to shoot, not to listen to vocal exercises."

The stout man gasped for breath. When he recovered it sufficiently to speak, he burst out again, "You impudent young blackguard! What do you mean by talking to me like this? I'll run you in. I'll have you jailed as a common poacher."

Rodney shook his head pityingly.

"I don't know whether you're mad or drunk," he said, "but you must be one or the other. This is my own land I'm shooting upon—or rather my father's." The other's face changed.

"Who are you?" he asked.

"I am Lieutenant Rodney Sterne, son of Jasper Sterne of Flatsea Holme."

"Where is Mr. Sterne?"

"I don't know that it is any business of yours, but he is in London, and will be back this afternoon."

"When did you come home?"

"You're very fond of questions," said Rodney looking the stranger very straight in the face. "If you must know, I came home last night."

"Then I suppose you haven't seen your father?"

"Not yet."

"That explains your ignorance of the state of things," said the other. "Mr. Sterne has leased Flatsea Island to me, and with it all the shooting and sporting rights."

Rodney stared as though he could not believe his ears.

"Leased the Island," he gasped.

"Yes. The business was only completed last week, and that is no doubt the reason that you have heard nothing about it. My name is Mandell," added the big man in a more conciliatory tone.

Rodney thought he liked the man's civility even less than his boorish rudeness. But he was so flabbergasted at the idea of his father letting the island pass out of his hands that he could hardly think of anything else. Flatsea that had belonged to the Sternes for four hundred years without a break—and to lease it to a stranger! And such a person as Mandell! Why, it was beyond belief. In a few moments, however, he managed to pull himself together.

"I know nothing of this," he said curtly. "I can but apologise for crossing your land with a gun. At the same time, I would point out that these saltings are free to every one. As you no doubt know, the land between high and low tide mark is Crown property, and free to fowlers."

"Not in all cases," answered Mandell. "In some manors there is a special grant of the fore-shore rights to the holder. I have been through the original Flatsea grant, and have discovered that all rights belong to the grantee. Since I hold the lease, they have passed to me, and I am within my rights in stopping all shooting along the shore."

Rodney bit his lip.

"We have never stopped them in four hundred years," he answered.

"Possibly not, but that makes no difference. It is my intention to turn the whole island into a sanctuary for wild fowl, and I regret that I cannot permit even you to shoot here."

"In that case I can, of course, say nothing," said Rodney. "I shall not transgress again." He turned as he spoke and walked quickly away with his gun over his shoulder. His lips were set tightly and all the joy had gone out of his heart.

Mandell watched him go, and a sinister smile twisted his mouth. "No, he'll not trouble me again," he muttered. And then—"Bah!—what fools these English are!"

Reaching home, Rodney went into the smoking-room, flung himself down in a chair, and picked up a paper, but he could not read. His mind was too full of what he had just heard. Never in all the centuries that the Sternes had lived at Flatsea Holme had they parted with an acre of land. There were farms, of course, farther inland, which were held by tenants, but the marsh and the island were part of the demesne, and he and his brother Wilfrid, now in France, had shot over them since they were big enough to carry a gun. The idea of leasing it was almost as incredible as if his father had leased the old gray manor house itself.

The whole thing bothered him terribly. There did not seem any reason for such a proceeding, and if his father had had such an idea in his mind, why had he not let his son know? More puzzling than all was the fact that it had been let to such an obvious cad as Mandell.

Well, there was nothing to do but wait till his father returned. That would be by the train arriving at Ipswich at half-past three. So after luncheon Rodney took the old car, which was the only vehicle they owned, and drove away across the flat, frozen roads to the county town.

The train was punctual, and Rodney met his father as he stepped out of his compartment. He got another shock, for Mr. Sterne looked years older than when his son had last seen him. He had gone very gray, his shoulders were bent, and his face had many new lines.

But his eyes lit up as they fell on his stalwart son, and he gave him both hands, and greeted him cordially.

"I only wish I had been at home to meet you, Rodney," he said. "But I did not get your wire until after I had reached London, and I had business which simply had to be settled at once. Let us get started, and then I will tell you all about it."

It was not until they were out of the town that Mr. Sterne spoke again.

"I suppose you've heard, Rodney?" he said wistfully.

"About Mandell, you mean? Yes, I met the gentleman this morning, and he warned me off the marsh." To save his life, Rodney could not quite keep the bitterness out of his voice.

"My dear Rodney, I can't tell you how sorry I am," replied the elder man. "I would not have had such a thing happen for worlds, if I could have helped it. But it was a choice between that and letting the house itself."

Rodney stared.

"I won't worry you with a lot of business," continued his father. "Here it is in a few words. A large amount of my money was in Rumanian oil. The war has cut off all my income from that investment. I have been left with hardly enough to carry on, and then came a sudden demand for payment of the mortgage which I raised five years ago for the new farm buildings.

"I was at my wit's end when this man Mandell wrote, offering to buy the whole place."

"To buy the place!" exclaimed Rodney.

"Yes. He offered me fifty thousand pounds." Rodney's eyes widened.

"The man's mad!" he exclaimed.

"That's what I thought. It is more than double the value of Flatsea and everything in it. But I told him it was not for sale. Then he offered me five hundred a year for the island and the marsh, if I would give him a five years' lease. What was I to do? I had but forty-eight hours to decide. There was no time to communicate with you or with Wilfred. And anything seemed better than letting the house."

Rodney nodded.

"You were quite right, father," he said quickly. "Don't say anything more about it. After all, five years will soon pass, and long before then we shall have the Huns whipped to the wide, and your Rumanian shares paying hand over fist. Just don't worry any more."

It was a moment or two before Mr. Sterne answered. "You're a good fellow, Rodney," he said, rather huskily. "I am very proud of you, my boy."

"And now," he added presently, "let's think what we can do for the rest of your leave. We must make the most of these six days that are left."

As he was speaking, Rodney had turned the car into the drive under the leafless trees. He got out to close the gate, and just then a telegraph boy came hurrying towards him.

"Telegram for you, sir," he said.

Rodney tore open the buff envelope. His face fell as he read the message, and he turned to his father.

"No use making plans, father," he said ruefully. "I have to re-join at once."

"What!—to-night?" exclaimed his father, in dismay.

"No, but I must get off first thing in the morning. 'Alicon' is in Harwich, and if you'll let me take the car I can get there in a couple of hours."

"Of course you shall have it," declared his father, "but, my dear lad, this is a sad blow. I was so hoping to have you with me for a bit."

Rodney got into the car again and took the wheel. But sorry as he was for his father's disappointment, he was not so sorry for himself. "I couldn't have stuck it," he said to himself. "I couldn't have stood seeing that blighter Mandell bossing around the island as if he owned it."


"HALLO, Totts," said Rodney, as he stepped aboard H.M.S. "Alicon" next morning. "What's up? Have the blighters come out at last? Is the High Canal Fleet at sea?"

Lieutenant Hugh Tottenham turned at sound of the eager voice.

"That you, Sterne? Jove, you haven't wasted much time! But no—no such luck! Dicky Trask has got a tummy-ache and has retired to hospital for the doctors to make up their minds whether they're going to amputate his appendix. That's why we had to call you back in such a hurry.

"I'm sorry, old son," he went on sympathetically. "It's poor luck losing your bit of leave this way."

"Oh, it's all in the day's work," replied Rodney, shrugging his shoulders. "But I hope poor Dicky isn't very bad."

"Don't think there's much the matter with him. I'm going to run over and inquire some time to-day."

"What—aren't we sailing?"

"Hope not. No orders yet, anyhow. Anything's better than the North Sea in an easterly gale."

"Captain's coming aboard, sir," said a quartermaster, stepping up to Tottenham.

Tottenham started slightly.

"By Jove, Sterne," he said eagerly, "that looks like business. He told me he was going to be ashore all day."

The gangway was manned, and a few moments later the smart sailor-like figure of Captain Chesney came quickly up the ladder.

"Ah, you're back, Sterne," he said, with an approving glance at Rodney. "That's lucky."

Rodney burned to ask questions, but a very junior second-lieutenant does not question his skipper.

"Come into my cabin, you two," continued Chesney.

"Something up," whispered Tottenham to Rodney, as the two followed the captain below.

Chesney closed the door of the cabin behind them, and smiled a little as he glanced at the two keen faces.

"Any news, sir?" ventured Tottenham.

"I don't know about news, Tottenham, but I can tell you this much. We sail in an hour, and our orders are to join the rest of our flotilla at a certain spot."

"Then—then—they're out, sir?" exclaimed Tottenham, almost stammering in his eagerness.

"That I don't know," replied Chesney, with decision. "I have no information whatever on the subject. Now send Walthew to me, and carry on."

For the next hour all was hurry and bustle. Liberty men were being brought off in a hurry, and boat loads of soft tack, green stuff and fresh meat being got aboard with a rush. But with that wonderful smartness which is characteristic of the British Navy, everything was stowed neatly away, and at the end of the appointed hour "Alicon" was steaming swiftly out of the harbour mouth, her sharp bows cutting the gray swells and flinging up a feather of foam which gradually increased in height as the revolutions quickened and the smart ship gained speed.

She was one of the new fast cruisers of 3000 tons, good for thirty knots, and carrying two of the latest type six-inch guns and eight four-inch as well.

Tottenham and Rodney shared the watch, and as they stood together behind the canvas dodger on the lofty bridge they divided their time between vain efforts to keep warm and talk.

"The owner's got something up his sleeve," observed Tottenham. "I'll lay the watchers have sent news of some sort.

"Another raid on?" suggested Rodney.

"Shouldn't wonder. And yet I don't know. There's no fog, and those beggars think twice before they venture out in clear weather."

"May be fog the other side for all we know," said Rodney. "The wind's dropped a lot since yesterday."

Tottenham nodded.

"That's so. But the beggars will bunk back if they run into clear weather. They're scared stiff of being caught by the battle cruisers."

Rodney chuckled.

"They are that. Gad, I'd give something to see David get on to them. I'll lay he'd teach 'em a thing or two."

"Phew, isn't it cold?" he added, as he swung his arms vigorously across his chest in an effort to restore circulation.

Tottenham shivered. "There's nothing made yet in the way of clothes that will keep out an east wind on the North Sea," he replied. "I've got two vests on and a sweater, and they're about as much use as brown paper."

There was silence a while. "Alicon" was not running straight out into the North Sea. Her course had been changed, and she was travelling almost due north, parallel with the coast.

"We shall pass your place, shan't we?" said Tottenham, after a while.

"Looks like it," replied Rodney, straining his eyes in the direction of the land. "Yes, by Jove, see that tower? That's our village church. And that's the island and the old lighthouse. You can't see the house because of the trees."

Tottenham and he stared hard at the low coast line from which they were separated by hardly two miles of sea. The wind had fallen light, and the clouds had broken. A pale gleam of wintry sun brightened the steel gray surface of the water.

Just then faint chimes came to their ears.

"What's that?" asked Tottenham. "It's not Sunday, is it?"

"No," replied Rodney with a smile. "It's not Sunday, but it's our church bells, all the same. They chime the hours and play a little tune at each hour. Extraordinary how clearly one can hear them! Listen—there's that flat note. One bell is slightly cracked, and we have never had the money to put in a new one."

### Verse

'All like bells of sweet St. Mary's
On far English ground,'

quoted Tottenham. "Know where that comes from, Sterne?"

"You bet. Adam Lindsay Gordon. The finest poet Australia ever has produced."

The sound of the chimes faded in the distance as "Alicon" drove past at nearly the speed of a train, and the talk turned to other things. But Rodney was fated to remember with uncommon clearness the sound of those bells pealing across the cold sea, and Tottenham's apt quotation.

The rest of the day passed quietly enough, and that night they rendezvoused with the first squadron of light cruisers, and, a little later, picked up the first squadron of battle cruisers which loomed gigantic through the darkness.

Then they turned almost due east, and drove onwards through the night.

Next day was Sunday, January 24th. Rodney had had the middle watch—that is from midnight till four in the morning—and when he came on deck again after a couple of hours' sleep in his clothes, he thought he had seldom seen a more unpleasant morning.

"Rotten, isn't it, old son?" said Totts, appearing in his oilskins, and glancing round at the lowering sky and heaving leaden sea. "War's an over-rated amusement. Who'd sell a farm and go to sea?"

"I wouldn't mind so much if I thought there was anything doing," replied Rodney; "but we haven't had a word of news, and I'm fairly sure that, if those swabs ever did poke their heads out, they've bunked again behind their minefields."

"Looks like it," said Tottenham morosely.

The light increased slowly, but there was no sign of sun. It was a typical North Sea morning, dull and bitterly cold. Still, there was no fog, and the rest of the fleet were clearly visible, steaming in a widely extended line. Of the battle cruisers, the giant "Lion," Admiral Beatty's flag ship, was nearest to "Alicon." Beyond her they could see "Tiger," "Princess Royal," sister ships to "Lion," and farther away and somewhat astern, the smaller and slower, but still enormously powerful ships, "Australia" and "Indomitable."

It was past seven, and the two on the bridge were beginning to think longingly of breakfast when a distant but unmistakable boom smote upon their ears.

"A gun!" cried Tottenham, and hastily put his glasses to his eyes.

Almost before Rodney could follow his example and get his binoculars focused, two more heavy reports came dully across the waste of heaving waters, then the light cruiser, "Aurora," which headed their line, suddenly opened fire from her six-inch guns.

"A scrap, by thunder!" exclaimed Rodney. "That's a German of sorts, Totts. See, over there, just on the sky line!"

Tottenham did not answer. He was shouting rapid orders. In a moment the whole ship was alive. The skipper came running up on to the bridge.

"What is she?" he asked sharply of Rodney.

"German cruiser, sir. Three funnels, but that's all we can tell at present. She's under the lee of her own smoke. The 'Aurora' has engaged her."

There was no need for the latter part of the explanation. "Aurora's" guns were already hard at it. The thuds of her long six-inchers made the air quiver.

"At last!" muttered Chesney, and then he took charge. The engines quickened to their full power; the long, light vessel quivered under their drive, and she began to forge through the water at tremendous speed.

There was no need to "clear" for action. Ever since August, 1914, every ship of the British Navy had lived, stripped and ready for all emergencies. In a moment or two every man in "Alicon" was at his station, and waiting tensely for the order to fire.

Rodney was in charge of one of the two six-inch. Beside him stood his chief gunner, Abel Telford, a man with the chest of an ox and fists like legs of mutton.

He was staring eagerly at the German. They were near enough now to see her hull and the constant flashes from her guns.

"Ah!" the big man drew a long breath. "Got her that time, sir. Did you see that shell get home, sir?"

Rodney nodded, then lowered his glasses. "She's turned," he said. "She's running."

"Ay, falling back on her supports, sir. There's more of 'em out on the sky line. D'ye see, sir?"

"I do. Battle cruisers, by the look of them."

"The same as shelled Scarborough and Yarmouth, I'll be bound," said Telford. "Send as we get a smack at the baby-killers this day."

By this time the whole British fleet was steaming at top speed in pursuit of the enemy. But it was only too clear that the Germans had no notion whatever of seeking battle. One and all they were legging it for all they were worth, seeking the protection of their own harbours or mine-fields. In spite of the superior speed of the British vessels, it was plain that it must be some time before the Germans would be within range, and the skipper gave orders that breakfast was to be served at once.

Rodney could hardly tear himself away from the fascinating sight of the German smoke clouds on the horizon, but he knew that the day might be a long one and that it was important to stoke while time permitted. He fled down to the ward room, stowed away a large quantity of fried bacon, toast and marmalade, topped off with a big cup of coffee, and was on deck again inside ten minutes.

"Alicon" quivered like a reed as her powerful engines forced her through the water. A pillow of foam stood out on either side of her sharp prow, while aft rolled a huge wave that always curled, yet never broke.

"Gaining, sir," said Telford, as Rodney came up to his gun. "You can see their hulls now. Won't be so long before we're in range."

The light cruisers were now steaming along on the quarter of the battle cruisers. They could have passed them, for "Alicon" at least was quite two knots faster than the giants which towered on the port beam. But there was no object in doing so. Lightly armoured craft such as "Aurora" or "Alicon" would be at the mercy of the big German guns if they came to anything like close quarters.

Yard by yard and mile by mile, the British fleet diminished the distance between themselves and the flying Germans, but more than an hour passed before a spurt of flame burst from the fore turret of "Lion," and with a mighty roar a huge 13.5 shell hurtled out in the direction of the enemy.

"That's started it!" cried Rodney, with gleaming eyes. "The admiral has fired his first shot."

Telford grinned contentedly.

"Now we shan't be long, sir," he observed, but his voice was drowned by the thunderous roar of a full salvo from "Tiger." Four of her great guns had spoken simultaneously, and nearly three tons of steel went screaming through the sky.


WITH his glasses focused on the German ships, Rodney watched eagerly for the effect of the first salvo. Action had been opened at a distance of nearly nine miles, and prodigious as was the force which had driven forth the great shells from the muzzles of the monster guns, it took them fifteen seconds, a whole quarter of a minute, to cover this distance.

To Rodney and the other watchers the interval seemed endless, but at last—at long last—he saw two white splashes shoot up, seemingly right under the side of one of the far distant enemy ships. And almost at the same instant two other splashes rose just beyond her.

"Oh, fine!" he cried, carried quite out of himself by such splendid markmanship. "Straddled her, Telford!"

"Then they'll get her next time, sir," declared Telford confidently.

The splash, anxiously awaited by the fire control officers, gives them means of judging whether their shots fall short of or beyond the enemy. The order is passed at once down into the turrets, the sights are altered, the runs relaid, and once more a salvo flies forth, searching hungrily for the foe.

As Telford had predicted, the second salvo was not wasted. A flash of reddish flame gleamed against the distant hull, and a growl of triumph arose from the throats of the watchers aboard "Alicon."

"That's give 'em something to think about," said Telford, grinning delightedly. "What d'ye think she is, sir—that there German?"

"'Blucher,' by the look of her. Can't tell for certain at this distance, but she's last of the line, and I know she's not as fast as their newer cruisers."

"She's got it again, sir!" exclaimed another of the men. "Right amidships that one was."

The din now became terrific. "Princess Royal" and "New Zealand" had begun to talk. Nor were the Germans idle. Every moment a fountain of water would rise somewhere close to one of our big ships. But the Germans were still so far away that the reports of their guns were hardly audible, and it was difficult to believe that each of those spouts of foam was caused by an eleven-inch shell which, if it got home in the right place, would be sufficient to sink even one of those proud monsters that raced so furiously across the sea.

"Great Scott, look at that!" exclaimed Rodney suddenly, pointing to two trawlers which lay right between the opposing fleets. They were doing their best to get out of the way, but the breeze was now dead light, and they were only crawling along at about three knots an hour.

"Dutchmen, sir," said Telford. "Pore beggars, I'll lay the wits is pretty well scared out of them. Ah, see that!" as a German shell plunged into the sea within a hundred yards of the nearest, flinging up the water higher than the trawler's mainmast. "Glad I ain't in their shoes," he added, with a chuckle.

But the trawler's danger lasted a few moments only. The fleet, now travelling at about thirty-three land miles an hour, swept past them, and left them unscathed, rocking in the foaming wake.

"'Blucher's' getting it hot," observed Rodney presently. "Looks to me as if she was afire aft."

"So she is, sir," Telford declared. "And that there one ahead of her—'Lion's' hit her more'n once."

"That's either 'Moltke' or 'Seydlitz,'" Rodney told him. "Yes, she's getting it hot. The worst of it is that every minute brings them close to their own mine-fields."

"Why can't the beggars turn and fight?" growled the big gunner.

"'Cos they know what 'ud happen to them if they did," rejoined one of the other men. "Sneakin' out in a fog and shelling lodging-houses—that's about all they're fit for."

But in spite of this man's sneer, the Germans were antagonists by no means to be despised. They were shooting hard and fast, and more than one shell had got home upon the Dreadnought cruisers that led the line.

"Alicon" had not been touched, for she, with her consorts, had been ordered to keep well away to starboard of the battle cruisers. Their work was to come later.

By this time it was about half-past ten, and the running fight had been in progress for fully two hours. All the Germans, excepting the leading ship of their line, the big "Derfflinger" had been pounded pretty severely, and a fire had been observed aboard the "Seydlitz." As for "Blucher," she was now beginning to lag a little, and over and over again the huge seventeen hundred pound shells from "Lion" and "Tiger" hulled her with deadly effect.

Suddenly a simultaneous shout arose from every throat aboard the "Alicon." "Blucher" was seen to swerve sharply out of the line, and, evidently beyond control, steam straight towards the British fleet. Huge clouds of black smoke were rising from her funnels and her upper works were blazing like a bonfire.

"She's done! She's done!" cried Telford.

"Don't be too sure," said Rodney quietly. "See, they've got her under control again.

"All the same," he added, "I believe she's a beaten ship."

"Maybe we'll get our chance now, sir," said Telford earnestly. "Ah, 'Indomitable's' after her!"

He was right. "Indomitable," which, owing to her slower speed, had so far been unable to take any part in the battle, had turned to port, and was driving hard to catch up the crippled "Blucher." At the same moment the German destroyers and light cruisers which had, hitherto, kept well away to the port side of their larger consorts, turned to starboard, apparently with the intention of making an attack.

Signals fluttered from "Lion," and this time a ringing cheer came from "Alicon's" men. It was the order to engage.

"Our show at last," breathed Rodney, as "Alicon" changed course, and followed "Indomitable" at top speed.

"We're in luck, sir," said Telford. "There's only 'Aurora' and us and three destroyers on the job. Admiral's keeping of the rest behind."

"To guard him against submarines," replied Rodney. "We shall be running into 'em thick, before long. We're not fifty miles off Heligoland."

"Wish it was five hundred," growled Telford. "Might give us some sort o' show to mop up the blighters."

Rodney hardly heard what Telford was saying. His eyes were fixed upon what was happening in front. Several of the German torpedo craft had shot in between them and the wounded "Blucher," and were pouring out clouds of black smoke to act as a screen. The rest seemed to be dodging away again.

He turned and glanced back at the big British ships, and at the very moment he did so, saw a great column of water shoot up under the port bow of "Lion."

A sharp exclamation escaped him.

"Good Heavens, she's struck a mine!"

"By the living jingo, so she has, sir!" cried Telford, in a horrified tone.

For the moment "Blucher" was forgotten, and all eyes were turned upon "Lion." She was still steaming, but her speed had dropped to less than half what it had been, and she had an ugly list to port. Destroyers were rushing up to give assistance and for the moment it certainly seemed that she was done for.

"What rotten luck!" said Rodney bitterly.

It was in truth the worst of luck. Though the case was not as bad as "Alicon's" people had thought at first, that German shell which struck "Lion" on the water line altered the whole fortunes of the battle of the Dogger. "Tiger" and the other cruisers still kept up the chase of the enemy, but had "Lion" been able to continue, the chances are that neither "Seydlitz" nor "Moltke," sorely battered as they were already, would ever have seen port again.

"They re taking the admiral off, sir," said Telford. "He's boarding 'Attack.'"

"Good name, too," replied Rodney. "And see, 'Lion's' flying the signal, 'Engage enemy more closely.' Well, let's hope we get our smack at them before they get out of our reach."

It looked as though Rodney's hopes would be realised. The seeming attack by German destroyers had been but a feint. They were now drawing off again, and "Blucher" was visible again through the thinning smoke. Her bows were still turned towards the port she was never destined to see again; but now "Indomitable" was in range and pounding her heavily with her twelve-inch shells.

"Look at her, sir!" said Telford, in a half-awed tone. "She's a blooming fiery furnace."

It was true. The great cruiser was burning furiously fore and aft, and had a heavy list to port. And still "Indomitable" pelted her with her tremendous missiles. Hardly one missed. The red flashes burst against the German's armoured sides, the shells swept her upper works. One of her turrets had been blown bodily over the side, and of her eight big guns only two were firing.

Suddenly, through the drifting clouds of smoke, appeared an enemy cruiser coming almost due north, and at the same moment a shell screamed over "Alicon's" funnels.

"Crikey, here's one got the pluck to tackle us!" cried Telford.

"Don't talk! Let 'em have it!" barked Rodney, but Telford was already sighting his long gun, and, next moment, with an ear-splitting crack, "Alicon's" first contribution to the battle went screaming through the air.

Another shell and another followed. The British matelots, rejoicing that their turn had come at last, served the guns like furies.

"Ah, that's got her!" cried Rodney. "Good for you, Telford!"

Telford's second shot had struck the forward funnel of the German and scattered it into scrap iron. The fragments had swept the deck like shrapnel, and thrown one of her gun crews into confusion. Worse—so far as they were concerned—the smoke from the broken funnel poured like a black fog over the whole afterdeck, blinding and suffocating the gun layers.

"Ah, she's turning, she's running!" cried one of the men as the German swerved and, turning eight points, went off at full speed.

But she had a sting in her tail. As she turned, her two after-guns came into play, and Rodney felt the whole fabric of the long, slim "Alicon" quiver as a five-inch shell, passing through her thin plating aft, burst with a shattering explosion between decks.

"Alicon" swerved like a wounded duck and began steaming round in a wide circle.


"STEERING gear cut!" muttered Rodney. "Gad, if the German comes for us now, we're done."

"Not she, sir! She's got her bellyful," said Telford. Next moment the engines were slowed, and the cruiser moved quietly on the slow swells, while an engineer-lieutenant with half a dozen tiffies toiled frantically to repair the damage.

The work was done within an incredibly short time, and five minutes later the engines were again revolving at full speed, and "Alicon" was under complete control. But the delay, short as it had been, had cut her people out of their share in the last phase of the long drawn out action.

"Look at her! Look at 'Blucher'!" came a shout, and Rodney looked up in time to see a sight which he never afterwards forgot.

The great German cruiser had received her deathblow in the shape of a torpedo fired by one of our light cruisers. She had heeled right over, and was slowly sinking.

Blazing furiously from bow to stern, she was now a veritable furnace. Her decks were actually red hot, and clouds of steam arose as the mass of almost molten metal dropped slowly lower into the cold gray waves.

As for her wretched crew, such of them as had survived the terrific bombardment to which she had been subjected, they were literally between the devil and the deep sea. Their choice lay between being roasted or drowned. Swarming like flies on her rail, they could be seen flinging themselves off into the water, now by ones and twos, now by dozens at a time. The dull-coloured swells were covered with black dots which were the heads of struggling swimmers.

Even Telford was moved to pity.

"Pore devils!" Rodney heard him mutter.

"Our next job'll be picking of 'em up," remarked one of the gun crew. He was right. Almost as he spoke, "Alicon's" engines stopped again, and the boatswains' whistles trilled.

A bluejacket came running up to Rodney.

"You're wanted, sir," he told him.

There was no need to say more. Rodney ran forward to his cutter, and in a trice she was manned and over the side, and pulling like mad across the heaving swells towards the fast-sinking German cruiser.

Before she reached her the end came. "Blucher" rolled right over so that her starboard side was level with the water. A score or more survivors were seen actually standing upright on the steaming surface of a battered armour plate.

Then with a final convulsive heave, like some great wounded sea monster in its last agony, her bow rose slightly, and she slid backwards under the water. A cloud of smoke arose, and for a moment or two the sea boiled furiously, while out of the vortex were flung up all kinds of miscellaneous rubbish, broken boats, odds and ends of half-burnt timber, cinders, oil, and among them not a few poor human remains which, only a couple of hours previously, had been living, breathing men.

Rodney, holding the tiller lines and facing her, saw the whole horrible business. Not that he had much time to think of its horror, for almost at once they were among the poor perishing wretches, and dragging them in one after another.

Some had ghastly wounds, some were horribly burnt and scorched. All, by their lined faces and sunken eyes, bore signs of having been through such an awful ordeal as few men have ever been called upon to endure.

The British matelots, all their anger forgotten at sight of such suffering, did what they could for the poor wretches.

"There's a chap over there a-holding on to a table, sir," said the coxswain, a smart young fellow called Hearne. He pointed as he spoke to a head that bobbed above a wave at some distance.

"Give way, men! Give way!" Rodney ordered and the boat sped away towards the man. She was within a few lengths of him when Rodney saw him let go and disappear.

"Pull!" he shouted; "Pull!"

A hand, the fingers clutching wildly at empty air, was just vanishing beneath the water as the boat shot up to the spot, Rodney made a grab, but missed it by a matter of inches. He was so near that he could actually see the hand glimmering faintly just below the dull surface.

The idea of a still living man going slowly down to his end in that freezing sea was too much for Rodney. Like a flash he sprang to his feet.

"Stand by!" he said, and before any one could stop him had dived overboard.

Rodney had learned to swim at an age when most boys can barely walk. His father had seen to that. He was almost as much at home in the water as on land, and in spite of the bitter chill, went straight down, head foremost, into the depths. His groping lingers met the man's arm, closed on it, and turning like an otter, he struck upwards.

At the same instant the German, in the blind agony of drowning, clutched him round the neck with the other arm.

Rodney struggled desperately to clear himself from the throttling grip, but he might as well have tried to tear himself loose from the tentacle of an octopus. He kicked out frantically in an effort to rise. It was no use. Instead, the man's weight was dragging him down.

The pressure on his lungs was deadly. He felt that in another moment he would open his mouth. And then, just at the last moment, something struck him sharply between the shoulders.

With a last desperate effort, he managed to turn and grasp it. It was an oar blade, and instantly he and his almost unconscious charge were dragged back to the surface and hauled by strong arms aboard the boat.

"Close call, sir!" said Hearne sympathetically, as he rolled Rodney in a spare oilskin. "Them Huns is never safe to meddle with."

"Very smart of you to reach the oar down, Hearne," gasped Rodney.

"I guessed what had happened, sir. And it was a lucky shot I made, for I couldn't see neither of you."

"Mighty lucky," agreed Rodney. "Are there any more to pick up?"

"Can't see no more, sir. And there's a fog a-coming on. I reckon we'd best get back to the ship."

"Right! Carry on, men."

The boat was at least a mile from "Alicon," and "Alicon" herself was fast disappearing from view in the thin mist which was beginning to drift, like pall smoke, across the sea. The men, who were hungry and tired, set to pulling with a will, when all of a sudden the sharp crack of a twelve-pounder smacked out with startling violence.

Before they could tell where the sound came from, there followed a startling roar, and not fifty yards from the boat the sea boiled and rose in a towering fountain of foam.

"Great Scott, they're at it again!" exclaimed Rodney, and, flinging off the oilskin, sprang up. "The German cruisers must have turned."

"No, sir," replied Hearne quickly, "that's an airship, not a sea-ship."

As he spoke he pointed upwards, and Rodney found himself staring up at the vast yellow belly of a gigantic Zeppelin, which, having sunk down through the cloud veil above, had just dropped a huge bomb.

"Well, if that ain't the limit!" growled one of the oilier blue-jackets in the boat—"bombing of the boats as is picking up their chaps!"

Next instant down came another bomb, even closer than the first. It seemed to sink ten feet before it exploded, and the charge must have been an enormous one, for the sea opened like a crater, and the wave that was flung up nearly swamped the boat.

"Port, men! Port! Pull hard! She's coming right over us," cried Rodney.

The men pulled with savage energy, and lucky for them that they did, for the third bomb dropped almost on the very spot they had just left.

"Gosh, that's a squeak!" muttered Hearne.

"Keep her going, men!" cried Rodney. "Keep her going. If we can get into that fog bank over there, we're safe."

The huge air-ship had changed course, and seemed to be pursuing them. Her vast bulk appeared to shut out half the sky. The roar of her powerful motor engines was like the clatter of a dozen aeroplanes at once. Not a soul in the boat but fully believed that his last minute had come.

The British bluejackets stuck to their task, and pulled for the fog bank with dogged, desperate energy, but the German prisoners, of whom they had eight in all, were terrified out of their lives. Some screamed aloud, some prayed for mercy.

"Getting a taste of your own culture!" growled Hearne, as his oar blade hit into the flank of a wave. "Funny ye don't seem to like your own medicine!"

Still another bomb came whizzing down from above, to set the North Sea boiling again. But this was by no means so good a shot as the last, and before the next could arrive the boat had driven into the comfortable shelter of the fog patch, and the Zepp was lost to view.

Rodney called a halt, and the panting men rested on their oars.

"Wonder 'ow much them bombs costs, Bill," inquired one bluejacket of his neighbour.

"Don't know, Jock, but they ain't made for nothing."

"Shameful waste, I call it," said Jock. "Think o' all that there stuff being wasted on the blooming waves. I wish I 'ad the money in my trouser pockets."

The whirr and clatter of the Zeppelin engines grew fainter. Somewhere out of the fog the twelve-pounder rang again with its vicious bark.

"One of our destroyers a-trying to fetch 'er down," remarked Jock, "but it ain't no good. They can't get the elevation."

Rodney looked round anxiously. There was now no longer the least sign of "Alicon," nor, for that matter, of any other ship. And, with his boat-load of prisoners, several of whom were wounded, he was naturally anxious to get aboard as soon as possible.

"I reckon she lies to the sou-west of us," said Hearne.

Rodney nodded. "That's the direction we'd better keep. Give way, men."

"Put the oily on again, sir. It's mortal cold," said Hearne.

Rodney did so. He was chilled to the very bone, for water and air alike were very little above freezing point.

They pulled on, but the fog had grown thicker, and its clammy wreaths enveloped them. They were like men groping in the dark. For the next ten minutes they plugged along steadily, but still no sign of the ship.

All of a sudden the beat of engines came to their ears.

"There she is," said Hearne, "coming to look for us."

The sound increased, then without the slightest warning a lean black bow came charging out of the fog straight upon them.

"Port!" yelled Rodney; "port, all!"

It was too late. True, they escaped the full rush of that charging mass of steel, but the wash caught them. The boat was swamped in an instant, and every mother's son aboard her left struggling in the chill waves.


"HE'S coming round. Get that cocoa ready. The poor beggar's as cold as stone."

The words came faintly, as if from a great distance, to Rodney's ears. His brain was still so muzzy and confused that he could not in the least remember what had happened, and had not the faintest notion where he was.

He tried to open his eyes, but they felt as though leaden weights lay upon the lids. At last, however, he succeeded in doing so, and found himself lying in a narrow bunk in a very tiny cabin. The fabric beneath him throbbed and quivered under the drive of enormously powerful machinery, and he could hear the hiss of parted water just outside the thin steel plating under the small port hole which lighted the cabin.

Next he realised that a slim-built, smooth-shaven young man was standing beside his bunk. By the red velvet band between the gold lace stripes on his cuff he realised that he was a doctor.

"Hallo!" said the latter cheerfully, "you've been a nice time coming round. 'Pon my Sam, for a bit I thought you were a goner!"

"Not me!" replied Rodney, and even to himself his voice sounded strangely weak and hoarse. "But I say, where am I? What's happened? And—and"—as recollection began to come back to his clouded brain—"what about my men?"

"Keep the catechism a minute, old chap," replied the doctor. "Here, Purley, give us that mug."

An orderly stepped in from the flat outside, and handed the doctor a big enamelled metal mug of some steaming stuff.

"Just get this down," said the latter to Rodney, "Then I'll do my best to satisfy your curiosity."

It was cocoa blazing hot, and laced with a tot of navy rum. To Rodney it was food and drink both, and he swallowed it to the last drop.

"Topping!" he said, as he handed the mug back. "Jove, I wanted something like that."

"I should rather think you did," replied the doctor. "'Gad, you're looking better already! Now then, I'll try to set your mind at rest. My name's Lancing, and this is the destroyer 'Deva.' Your chaps are all right. We picked 'em all up, and two of your prisoners. The others. I'm sorry to say, never showed up at all."

Rodney drew a long breath.

"Thanks be, my chaps are all right. Any chance of getting back to our ship?"

Lancing shook his head.

"Not for the present, I'm afraid. The chances are we're fifty miles from her by now. We're on a special job."

Rodney's eyes opened widely.

"East or west?"

"East. Fact is, David signalled us to follow up as near as we can, and try to find out whether the other three big Germans get home; also there's a lame duck we're chivying."

"Phew! What a game! Where are you now?"

Lancing shrugged his shoulders.

"Ask the owner. I don't know. All I can tell you is we're ripping along through the thickest kind of a North Sea fog, and we can't be a terrible long way off Heligoland."

"But we must be right in among the mine-fields, man!"

Lancing unbuttoned his jacket, and pointed to his life-saving waistcoat. "That's what I thought, so I took the precaution of putting on my floater," he replied quite cheerfully. "Still, I'm not worrying a lot. Our skipper knows his job as well as the next man."

"Let me see, who's got 'Deva'—Ballard, isn't it?"

Lancing nodded. "And a top hole chap, too," he declared.

"Must be, or he wouldn't have been given a job like this," replied Rodney. "I say, can I have another go of that cocoa?"

"Rather! Like some grub, too?"

"I should. I haven't had a feed since breakfast."

"You poor beggar! I'll send you something in. Now, I must go and have a squint at my other patients. And I say, if I were you, Sterne, I'd take a calk+ while I had the chance. It's likely to be a busy night."


He hurried off, leaving Rodney feeling a hundred per cent, better. Lancing's very presence was a tonic. He was none of your staid, elderly ship's doctors—nothing but a cheery, young medical student, one of scores who had hastened to put his services at the disposal of their country, and young enough to enjoy every minute of his difficult and often dangerous duties.

Presently Purley came in with a tray on which was a scratch but satisfying meal of sardines, bread and butter, marmalade and cocoa. Rodney ate enormously, then with a satisfied sigh dropped back on the pillow, and without another thought to the dangers that surrounded him, was almost instantly asleep.

How long he slept he had no idea, but suddenly he found himself sitting bolt upright, with the sound of a heavy report in his ears. Like a flash he was on his foot. It was nearly dark, but there was light enough to see his uniform, thoroughly dried, lying close at hand. Flinging off his borrowed pyjamas, he fairly hurled himself into his own things, and raced for the deck. As his feet clattered up the narrow iron ladder came a sudden burst of heavy firing, and as he thrust his head above the hatch a heavy shell screamed close above the deck, while a second shore away the top of the foremost funnel.

Less than a mile away, a shadowy bulk against the dim evening sky, was a good-sized cruiser. She seemed to be steaming at full speed, but it was clear that she was badly crippled, for "Deva" was catching her up hand over fist. Flashes of fire darted from her dark sides, but the light was bad, and the shooting worse. Besides, the destroyer was running on a zig-zag course which made her all the more difficult a target.

Rodney dashed to the bridge.

"Anything I can do, sir?" he asked of Ballard.

The skipper, a square-built man of about thirty, with a strong jaw and heavy eyebrows, gave him a quick glance.

"Oh, you're Lieutenant Sterne. Not for the moment, thanks. Come on up here, if you like."

Rodney was delighted. He hurried up on to the narrow bridge, which shook like a reed under the tremendous drive of the great nest of engines housed under the throbbing steel deck. "Deva" was doing all of thirty knots, and the wind of her rush nearly took the cap from Rodney's head. Every funnel showed a crimson cap of flame, and a storm of fine cinders beat down from them like fiery rain.

"A cripple," said Ballard briefly. "She's 'Stargard,' I believe. Our job is to finish her—that is," he added with a quiet smile, "if she doesn't finish us first."

The latter event seemed by no means improbable, for the German, if crippled, had plenty of guns left in commission. They were the five point ones, which all the German light cruisers carry, and one shell in the right place would be quite sufficient to finish the destroyer. Her steel sides were little thicker than a biscuit tin, and offered no resistance to anything much heavier than a rifle bullet.

Almost as Ballard spoke, a shell tore past them so close that the wind of it made Rodney stagger. It shore away part of the canvas dodger, and cut the steel rails of the bridge like a giant knife.

"Close call," smiled Ballard. He was the coolest man Rodney had ever met.

Another shell, a moment later, carried away the whole of their aerial, including the mast, and then a third just grazed the deck aft, cleaving a deep groove, but luckily failing to explode. But "Deva" herself seemed to bear a charmed life. The water all around her was churned into white foam by the hail of flying projectiles, yet not one got her in any vital spot. Meantime, with every minute that passed, she was lessening the distance between herself and "Stargard."

Rodney noticed the little groups that stood by the two deck torpedo tubes. He saw that Ballard, cool as he was, was eagerly reckoning the distance at which he would let go.

The moment came.

"Shut down!" he shouted to his torpedo gunners. Then he telegraphed an order to the engine-room, and at once the destroyer slightly slackened speed.

"Let go!" came the order.

From the bow tube of "Deva" a long, gleaming cigar-shaped object leaped, and vanished among the gray waves. Ballard did not wait to see whether the tin fish reached its mark. Sharp and curt came his orders to the men at the deck tubes, and one after another the torpedoes, driven by their heavy charges of compressed air, flashed out over the side, and sped away on their mission.

The third and last was hardly in the sea before the sky was split by a stunning explosion. A geyser of white water leaped against the cruiser's quarter. She quivered like a wounded beast, and almost instantly began to heel over.

"Done the trick!" remarked Ballard, as cool as ever. "That was the bow one. Not bad, eh, Sterne?"

Before Rodney could answer there was a rending crash almost under their feet, and "Deva," struck full amidships by the very last shell fired by the sinking cruiser, reeled and swerved. From below came a horrible grinding sound, then a cloud of white steam eddied up through the ventilators.

"Done for us, too, seemingly," continued Ballard, in his even voice. "Go below, Sterne, will you, and report damages. It's going to be a bit awkward if we can't steam, for there's no one to depend on but ourselves. To the best of my belief, we aren't ten miles off the Schleswig coast."

The steam was like a fog as Rodney clawed his way down into the depths. Some one was groaning down in the smother, and as he dropped into the alley-way below, he saw Lancing busily at work giving first aid to a badly-scalded stoker.

"What's the damage, Lancing?" asked Rodney quickly.

"What isn't?" replied Lancing coolly. "By the look of things, that last shell chewed everything up. It's killed three poor chaps, too, and there's two more besides this one badly scalded. But ask Renwick. He'll be able to tell you more about it."

Renwick, the engineer-lieutenant, Rodney found in the engine-room, working like a Trojan to stop the escape of steam. He was black as a nigger, and streaming with perspiration.

"Commander Ballard sent me to inquire the damage, Mr. Renwick," said Rodney.

Renwick, wrench in hand, looked up.

"Hardly sized it up myself yet, but it's pretty bad. Still, I believe we can get steam on her again in an hour or so. Not more than ten knots though, if that. That infernal shell has knocked half my engines into scrap iron."

Rodney thanked him, and hurrying on deck again, made his report. Ballard looked thoughtful, but only for a few moments. Then his face cleared.

"Ten knots. That'll be all right. We've got the night before us, and with luck we'll manage to sneak back to some sort of safety before daylight."

At this moment a big quartermaster came hurrying on to the bridge. His brown face was very grave.

"That shell has started a plate, sir," he said. "She's leaking badly."

"How much?" snapped Ballard.

"There's three foot of water in her already, and the pumps are useless. She won't float three hours."


ONCE more under her own steam, "Deva" wallowed through the dark water. But it was clear to all aboard that her fate was sealed, and that never again would she see her home port. Although the pumps were working once more, they could not cope with the steady inrush of salt water, and already the sea was invading the floor of the engine-room.

Ballard had set her course due north.

"I'm trying for Danish waters," he told his officers and Rodney. "It won't be much fun, being interned, but anything's better than a German prison, and that's all we've got to hope for if we land upon the Schleswig coast.

"Anyhow," he added, with an attempt at cheerfulness, "we've got one little job to our credit. 'Stargard' is off the German navy list."

Silence fell on the little group on the bridge. They were all too anxious to talk. And still the poor lame duck, with her engines clattering and groaning, struggled on her course.

Rodney was the first to speak.

"I believe I hear breakers," he said.

"Not unlikely," Ballard replied. "I can't tell exactly where we are, but probably off the island of Sylt."

"That means we've got a longish way to go yet," observed Walters, Ballard's second in command.

There was a rattle of feet on the bridge ladder, and through the gloom appeared Renwick's muscular figure.

"I have to report, sir, that there are six inches of water over the engine-room floor, and that, at the rate it is rising, the fires will be extinguished within another quarter of an hour."

Ballard muttered something under his breath. He paused a moment as if thinking deeply, then spoke sharply.

"I leave it to you, gentlemen. Shall we carry on till she sinks, or shall we drive her ashore and take our chances."

"I'm for the beach, sir," Walters answered unhesitatingly.

"And a German prison?" said Ballard.

"Not necessarily, sir. We might end better than that."

"Fighting, you mean?" said Rodney.

"Invading Germany. Just so," replied Walters, with a grin.

"I'm on," said Renwick grimly. "Well take a few Huns to Hades with us before we snuff out."

Ballard gave a satisfied chuckle.

"I quite agree with you, gentlemen." He turned to the quartermaster at the wheel.

"Port your helm," he ordered.

"Deva" swung slowly round at right angles to her former course, and ploughed heavily in the direction of the land. Ballard gave orders for all hands to be mustered on deck, and in a very few moments all, with the exception of the stokehold crew, who were still toiling below, were lined up.

Ballard addressed them.

"Men, our ship is sinking under us, and we have no chance of making a Danish port. Nor, as you probably know, is there the least chance of our being picked up by any of our own people. So our choice is between the Devil and the Deep Sea. Personally, I prefer the Devil, in other words the enemy, but any that prefer cold water are welcome to stay aboard."

There was a burst of laughter.

"The Devil for us, sir," came the response from threescore throats at once.

"I thought you'd say so," said Ballard. "So I have already headed straight for the German coast. To the best of my belief, we shall land upon Sylt, which is an island off the coast of Schleswig. Now then, all of you get your arms and rations. Full marching kit. Don't waste time. There's no saying how long the ship will last."

"She won't last long, and that's a fact," growled Renwick, and it was clear to all that he spoke no more than the truth. The sluggish way in which she moved was plain proof that she was very near her end.

The boats—they were only collapsibles—and the life-rafts were all ready, and the men drawn up on deck, each with his rifle and a hundred rounds of ammunition. A hefty-looking lot they were, even in that dim light, and well able to account for twice their number of Huns.

"You were right about those breakers, Sterne," said Ballard presently. "I hear them plainly now."

"I believe I can see them, sir," said Walters, peering out into the gloom to the eastward. "Yes, there's a line of white over there on the port bow."

As he spoke, came a sudden hiss of steam which gushed up through the main hatch and the engine-room gratings, and next moment the stokehold crew came tumbling up on deck.

"That's the finish," muttered Ballard. "The water's reached the furnaces."

The engines stopped, the screws ceased revolving, but the way she still held carried "Deva" forward.

"Tide's setting in, too," said Walters. "There's still a chance we may beach her."

"I'll give her another five minutes before I get the boats over," said Ballard quietly, and taking out his watch glanced at it by the shaded light of the binnacle lamp.

Slowly, very slowly, the broken craft surged forward. The breakers were now plainly visible as a line of white through the gloom. Their sullen roar sounded clearer every moment. Three minutes passed, four—then with a low, grating sound "Deva" took the ground, and driving her nose deep into sand, remained hard and fast.

"So far so good," said Ballard quietly. "Now the only question is shall we wait for dawn before landing? What do you think Walters?"

"No, sir. Much better get ashore at once," answered Walters earnestly. "Then we get a chance of a surprise attack."

"But I doubt if there's anything to attack except sand hills, and if there is, how are we to find it?" replied the commander. "Let's hear your opinion, Sterne."

"I'm inclined to split the difference, sir," said Rodney. "I believe, like Mr. Walters, that we ought to be ashore before light, but the night is young yet, and we are safe enough where we are. I should suggest that the men have a watch below and a good feed, and that we land about two hours before dawn."

"I thoroughly agree with you," replied Ballard decidedly. "We can't do better. Mr. Walters, be good enough to give orders to that effect."

Walters agreed cheerfully, and the men turned in, all standing. Barring the few necessary for the watch, everybody aboard the stranded craft got a sleep. At three they were roused out, and as there was no object in saving any of the stores aboard "Deva," the breakfast that was served was lavish.

Just before four began the process of landing the crew. The spot where they had gone aground was evidently a very desolate one, for there was not a light visible anywhere along the coast. All the same, orders were given that no more noise than was necessary was to be made. The men were specially warned against talking or laughing.

Ballard called Rodney.

"Mr. Sterne, I shall be obliged if you will go ashore with the first party. It will mean three, if not four journeys to get the whole crew ashore. I shall send Mr. Walters with the second lot. Myself, I have certain arrangements to make before I come ashore."

He did not specify what these were. There was no need to, for Rodney knew perfectly well without being told.

"Take your men with you," Ballard added. "And keep all well together, and close to the beach. If you are attacked, you must, of course, defend yourselves, but I hope it will not be necessary to fire any shots until the whole ship's complement are ashore."

"Very good, sir," Rodney answered, and proceeded to carry out his orders with all speed.

It was ticklish work getting through the breakers in the small collapsible boats, but luckily the breeze was dead light, and the sea very nearly calm. And the distance between the ship and the beach was only about five hundred yards. Twenty minutes after receiving his orders, Rodney had his own men from the "Alicon" and about fifteen of "Deva's" safe on the beach, and had sent the boats back to the destroyer.

"Regular blooming desert, this, sir," remarked Hearne, as he glanced at the desolate surroundings. The night was clear, and the cold winter starlight gleamed faintly on a barren landscape. As far as they could see, there was nothing but sand and marram grass. Inland, there rose against the dark sky a line of tall, rounded dunes.

"You're right, Hearne," replied Rodney, who, in happier times, had yachted along this coast. "It's all bare sand hills for miles. But there's a fair-sized town on the island—Westerland they call it. I don't know whether we are north or south of it."

"And how far may we be from Denmark, sir?" asked one of the men.

"Not more than thirty miles. The nearest point is Manö Island."

"How far are we from Germany? That's more to the point, sir," said Hearne, with a smile.

"From the mainland, you mean. Oh, seven or eight miles. There's a widish channel between Sylt and Friesland."

"And is there any troops on this here island, sir?" inquired the other man.

Rodney shrugged his shoulders. "I haven't a notion. But they are sure to have some. I believe they are always in a stew about our invading them."

"I reckon we've obliged 'em at last," said one man. "Let's 'ope they'll be grateful. But there—there ain't no thankfulness in a 'Un."

The others chuckled, and Rodney had to check them and order silence.

Within a few minutes more the second contingent came ashore, and just as the stars were beginning to dim before the light of a new day, Ballard, with the last of his men, reached the beach. His face, in the pale dawn, was set and grim. Rodney understood his feelings. It is bitter for any man to lose his ship.

"All well?" he asked of Rodney.

"All well, sir. No sign of the enemy."

"Very good. Then the sooner we move on, the better, for something will shortly occur which is calculated to rouse the attention of any Germans who may be in the neighbourhood."

Rodney asked no questions. As before, he perfectly understood. Low-voiced orders were issued, and turning due north, the eighty-odd British bluejackets marched rapidly up the beach.

They had gone no more than a mile when the stillness of the dawn was broken by a tremendous explosion, and with one accord the whole column halted and looked round. They were in time to see "Deva" rise skyward in a cloud of fragments which strewed the gray waters far and wide. A great umbrella-shaped plume of smoke rose to a vast height, and moved slowly away to the westward.

"Pore old barky!" Rodney heard a man near him mutter. But no one else spoke. They knew that they had literally burned their boats behind them, and that from now on their fate depended entirely upon their own rifles and cutlasses.

Without waiting for orders, they tramped on again. Rodney found himself next to Ballard.

"Couldn't chance her falling into enemy hands, Sterne," said the latter briefly. Then after a moment's pause.

"Do you by any chance know the coast?"

"I've yachted here, sir—about three years ago."

"Then, tell me, isn't there a village somewhere on the north end of the island?"

"Yes, a little place called Elbogen."

"I thought so. My notion is to try to rush it. There ought to be craft of some sort in the harbour. If we could seize boats enough to carry us there would be just a chance of making Manö Island."

"Very good idea, sir. The only trouble is that they wouldn't be anything but sailing craft, and there's mighty little breeze at present."

Ballard shrugged his broad shoulders. "We'll have to take our chances of that. The wind may come up after sunrise."

"Still," he added, "this is only a suggestion. We may never reach Elbogen at all. That explosion must have waked the whole island, and whatever forces they have here are probably on their way already to see what's up."

Before Rodney could reply, the sharp crack of a rifle came from the waste of sand dunes to the right, and a bullet very badly aimed sang viciously overhead, and plopped into the sea quite fifty yards from shore.

"They've arrived a little earlier than I expected," remarked Ballard calmly. Then raising his voice, "This way, men."

He led them inland towards the dunes and they followed at a run.

The unseen rifle spoke again and one of the leading men flung up his hands, and dropped flat on his face.


A COMRADE stooped over the fallen man.

"Done for, pore beggar! Right through the head," he said.

"Leave him, then. We may be able to bury him later," said Ballard quickly. "Forward, all of you. At the double! We must get shelter till we can see where this firing comes from."

Bullets were singing spitefully overhead as the line of bluejackets followed their skipper. He headed for a gully between two of the rounded dunes which fringed the beach. Thicker and thicker came the shots, but the firing was wild, and they reached the shelter of the gully without losing another man.

Ballard did not pause.

"This is a death-trap," he said quickly to Rodney, who was close beside him. "We must find higher ground."

The gully rose sharply. In a few minutes they reached a sort of saddle, with the rounded tops of sand hills on either side. Ballard turned sharply to the left, and scrambled up through the soft, sliding sand.

"Dig yourselves in here, men. Scratch any sort of shelter. So long as they haven't got field-guns we'll be safe enough here for the moment."

The bluejackets flung themselves down under shelter of the crown of the steep dune, and began scratching away, like terriers digging out rabbits. The sand was so soft that it was only a few moments before they had sunk into it. The hill lent itself to defence, for on their side it was crescent-shaped, the curves of the crescent protecting their flanks.

"Now, we've got to find out where those Hun riflemen are posted," said Ballard.

"Let me, sir," said Rodney eagerly. "I've done a bit of stalking wild fowl in my time. I ought to be able to stalk a Hun."

Almost before he got the required permission, he had started. He did not go straight up the hill, for he reckoned that it was the summit the enemy would be watching, but worked over to the right. Fortune favoured him, for here the ground was covered with a thin tangle of sea holly and other salt growth, and going flat on his stomach, and creeping snake-fashion he was able to gain the steep ridge of the crescent without being seen.

Below, to the north, stretched a long slope leading down into another gully much wider than the one they had come up. The first thing he noticed was a queer-looking building made apparently of tarred wood, which stood on top of the opposite dune. It seemed too solid and large for a fisherman's shelter, and it was certainly not a lighthouse.

But he had no time to speculate upon its uses, for a second glance showed him a number of men gathered in a small hollow in the side of the big dune below the building. There were, at a rough estimate, nearly a hundred, and their number was constantly growing as fresh men came hurrying down a road which came down the dune from the black-looking building above.

These men were not in the greenish khaki of the regular German army, but wore the gray uniform of the Landwehr or Reserve.

He lay staring at them for a moment or two.

"It's a big force for them to have in a place like this," he muttered in a puzzled tone. "And, by Jove, at the rate they are coming, they'll soon outnumber us two to one."

Fresh men came pouring down from above. He counted thirty-two. Then they ceased, and no more came. An officer was giving orders. Rodney could hear his voice, but the distance was too great to distinguish words. Then he turned, and, making his way back quickly to his own people, reported to Ballard.

"A hundred and fifty, you say!" said Ballard. "That's a lot for a forsaken place like this. But if they're only Landwehr, we ought to be equal to them. Wish I knew what they were going to do."

"I vote we rush them, sir," said Walters eagerly.

"I should have thought you'd read enough about frontal attacks during the land war," replied Ballard dryly. "We should lose half our men charging up that sandy slope. No, I'm inclined to sit tight and wait for them."

"If you'll allow me, sir," said Rodney, "I'll go back up to my spy-hole and watch them. I can give you a signal if they move. With their strength, I should reckon it's they who'll do the attacking."

Ballard nodded. "I shouldn't wonder if you're right. Yes, go ahead. You can semaphore if you see them move."

Rodney slipped hastily back, and crept into his lair among the thin, dry sand growth. He was just in time to see the last of the Germans leaving the hollow. The whole force was coming down the gully towards the beach. Clearly, they meant to work round and outflank the British force.

On the face of it, this seemed a crazy manoeuvre, for it would appear that they rendered themselves liable to a flank attack, or to a hail of bullets from the top of the hill. But this was not really the case, for now Rodney saw that they were using the same road which ran down from the building on top of the dune.

This road ran along the bottom of the gully, but being deeply sunk was as good as a communication trench. Not even the Germans' heads were visible, as they filed along it. As Rodney watched, the last of them dipped into it, and disappeared from sight.

"So they're trying to steal a march on us!" he muttered. "Jove, but it's lucky I spotted them in time!"

Turning quickly, he dropped down behind the crest of the sandy ridge, and hastily semaphored his news to Ballard.

Ballard wasted no time. Low-voiced orders were passed from man to man, and the whole of "Deva's" men went off rapidly towards the left flank of the hill.

"Got 'em, by jingo!" breathed Rodney, and set to running hard to catch up.

On the soft sand, the men moved almost soundlessly, and as they reached the ridge of the dune Rodney saw the leaders drop down and wait for the rest. Within a very few moments the whole force was arranged in a long line just under the crest of the hill.

Rodney ran for all he was worth. He was desperately anxious not to miss the show. But the sand was so soft and deep that at every step he sank over the ankles, and before he could reach his companions Ballard had given the order, and, like one man, the bluejackets sprang over the crest and vanished down the far side.

Rodney reached the top in time to see them racing down the steep slope beyond. Not in a bunch. They were strung out in a wide line, for Ballard, when he gave his orders, had known well enough that they could not hope to take the Germans entirely by surprise. Their scouts on the opposite hill would see to that.

In this he was right. Just as Rodney went leaping down after them a rattle of rifle-fire broke out all along the sunk road below, and bullets came screaming up past him as he ran.

Two of the British force went down—two only! It seemed amazing that the casualties should be so slight, but in a moment Rodney saw the reason. The sunk road was so deep that, while it afforded perfect protection to the men in it from bullets fired from above, it also prevented them from getting the range of the attacking party. Only the tallest men could hope to lift their rifles over the edge of the high perpendicular bank.

The bluejackets threw off all concealment. A roar of defiance arose from eighty throats, and in a human avalanche they poured down into the sunk road on top of the Germans.

There was little shooting. The work was nearly all cold steel, and the keen cutlasses wielded by brawny arms did fearful execution.

When, a moment or two later, Rodney arrived on the scene, the whole deep, narrow road was packed with struggling men, fighting furiously. In that narrow space the Germans had not room to wield their bayonets, and so were at a terrible disadvantage. Besides, they were not first-line troops, but mostly men of forty, fat and not as active as they had been. Fully one-third were already down, and the remainder were no match for their stalwart assailants. Panic was seizing them, and the only ones who kept their heads were their officers who, with hoarse shouts, did their best to rally their failing forces.

"Give it 'em, lads. Let 'em have it!" It was Walters, "Deva's" young lieutenant, and he was just below Rodney. As he shouted, he cut down a man who was driving at him with a bayonet. Next instant a big, square-headed German sergeant made a desperate lunge at him. Walters tried to spring aside, but tripped over the body of the man he had just cut down, and fell. Another moment, and the sergeant would have driven his bayonet into him when Rodney leaped from the bank and, landing square on the German's back, brought him down sprawling.

Even then the fellow struggled desperately, but Rodney quieted him with a rap over the head from his pistol butt, and the German sergeant dropped and lay still enough.

"Thanks," said Walters rapidly. "Do as much for you next time. I say, we've got 'em going."

He did not wait to say more, but dashed off, making for a stout German who was clambering out over the far side of the road, and, catching him by the legs hauled him down.

Next moment Rodney himself was in the thick of it, laying about him with the butt-end of a German rifle which he had snatched up. He floored two men, then a third, an ugly-looking beggar with a broken nose and close-shaven head, came driving at him with a bayonet. Rodney sprang lightly aside, pulled his revolver, and shot the fellow through the head.

"After them, men! Don't let any escape, if you can help it," rang out Ballard's voice above the din. "We don't want them to bring help."

The Germans were breaking. The rush of "Deva's" men had cut their column in two. Half of them were down. Those in front and behind were bolting like rabbits. Rodney saw three in succession scramble over the far bank and go running right up the dune, in the direction of the black house on top. He yelled at them to stop, but they paid no attention, so he fired at the nearest, and brought him down. The other two only scuttled the faster.

Mindful of Ballard's orders, Rodney made a jump, reached the top of the bank, and went after them for all he was worth. He gained, but they had a long start, and the sand was too soft, and the slope too steep for fast going. He pulled up and fired two more shots from his pistol. But he was badly blown, and both missed. Then the hammer snapped, and he realised that the magazine was empty.

There was no time to reload. He must trust to running them down, and off he went again up the dune. The two Germans reached the top thirty yards ahead of him, and he fully expected to see them bolt into the building. But they did not. Turning to the right, they reached the road again and running hard, vanished.

Rodney, too, gained the road. He saw that it curved to the right and led inland. He was already a long way from his friends but in the excitement of the chase he never gave that a thought. His one idea was to stop these beggars from getting away and fetching reinforcements.

Down the slope he went as hard as he could leg it. He was gaining fast and soon was within half a dozen yards of the hindermost of the two Germans. The fellow was flagging. Rodney could hear his breath wheezing and gasping in his throat.

Suddenly the man stumbled, and went flat on his face. Rodney could not stop himself. He tripped over the fallen German, and came down heavily on hands and knees.

At the sound of his fail, number one, a younger, stronger man than the one who had fallen, stopped short and spun round. Rodney, with all the breath knocked out of his body, made a desperate struggle to regain his feet, but before he could do so the other was on him, and swung at his head with the butt of his rifle.

Rodney felt a stunning shock; stars danced before his eyes; then everything disappeared in a whirling darkness.


AN aching head and a throat like dry leather—those were Rodney's first sensations as he struggled slowly back to consciousness. For a time his head felt too heavy to move, and his eyes so painful he dared not open them, and he lay in that sort of stupor which sometimes come after an ugly dream.

It was the sun shining full in his face that finally roused him. He blinked, and looked up to see the pale blue wintry sky, and the sun almost overhead.

This discovery gave him an ugly shock. "Great Scott, I must have been here for hours!" he muttered, and started up. But the movement sent such a pang of agony through his head that he dropped back in a sitting position.

He put his hand to his head and found that his hair was matted with dried blood.

"That chap must have given me the mischief of a swipe," he said to himself. "I wonder why he didn't kill me."

Now he suddenly discovered that he was no longer on the road. He was sitting in a sort of cavity in the side of the dune, among some stunted bushes. This bothered him a good deal, for he distinctly remembered that it was on the road he had met with his fall.

Another thing that puzzled him was the quietness that reigned all around him. Except for the slight rustling of the sea breeze in the dead grass stems, there was no sound of any sort to be heard.

Half mechanically he put his hand to his side to find his water bottle. It was gone. So was his haversack with his rations; so, too, was his watch and his revolver. It was clear that he had been stripped pretty thoroughly before being flung into this pit.

"Chap must have thought I was dead," was the only explanation which he could find. "And, by thunder, so I should have been if I hadn't the luck to have a pretty thick skull."

Thirst tormented him, and he realised that at all costs he must have water. Slowly and painfully he rose to his feet, but he was so weak and dizzy that he had to crawl on hands and knees, up the side of his living grave.

Reaching the top, he was able to see the road quite close to him. It was empty and deserted. There was not even a dead body to be seen. He glanced up at the top of the dune, and there stood the strange black building equally silent and deserted.

He strained his ears for any sound of man or beast, but there was none. British and Germans, alike, seemed to have vanished from the desolate scene, and slowly the truth dawned upon him that he was indeed alone. The battle was long ago over, and friends and enemies had left the scene.

A horrible feeling of depression swept over him. He was abandoned without food, water, or weapon in enemy country. For a time he felt as though nothing mattered. He might just as well stay where he was and wait for death. But as his head gradually cleared, his real spirit asserted itself, and he determined to try to find out what had become of Ballard and his men.

He did not like the look of that sinister black building on top of the dune. He had a sort of notion that some one might be watching from its narrow windows. So, instead of going up the road, he ducked down under the bushes and made his way slowly down the gully towards the beach, and so round towards the scene of the battle.

The dead lay thick where they had fallen in and around the sunken road. The great majority were gray-clad Germans, but here and there the blue-clad frame of a British matelot lay where bullet or bayonet had struck him down. Rodney was surprised to see that no effort had yet been made to remove the dead. It seemed to him a good omen. He thought it must mean that Ballard's men had escaped to the north, and that all the German resources must be centred on their pursuit.

Here at any rate were provisions, water, and weapons in profusion. He took a felt-covered flask from the strap which held it to the body of a dead bluejacket, unscrewed the stopper and drank long and deeply.

It seemed to him that never, in all his life, had he tasted anything so good as that cold water, and after he had finished he carefully covered the face of its dead owner.

From other bodies he proceeded to renew his own equipment. He took a haversack with food, a rifle and ammunition, a cap—for his own was gone—and, after a little hesitation, a watch, a compass, a pair of field glasses, and some money. He hated spoiling the dead, but it would have been madness to miss such an opportunity. It was impossible to say when he might have another chance of replenishing his resources.

He ate a biscuit and this and a second drink of water pulled him together wonderfully. Young as he was and hard as nails, the effect of a blow which would have killed an older, weaker man, was fast wearing off.

He stood over a dead German of about his own size and build, and wondered if his wisest course would not be to strip the man's uniform and put it on. But he could not bring himself to do it. The idea of disguising himself as a Boche was intensely distasteful. It could only be defended in a case where he had to act as spy for his country's good, not just for saving his own life.

"And, anyhow, they'd shoot me jolly quick if they found me in it," he said to himself, with a grim smile.

Being now fully equipped, the next thing was to decide on a plan of campaign. The only possible course seemed to be to follow Ballard's tracks to the northward, and trust to finding a boat, and under cover of night make for the Danish coast. It was a forlorn hope, for naturally every one along the coast would be on the qui vive.

He stood up and cautiously peered over the edge of the sunken road. Instantly he ducked down again. A figure had appeared on the desolate scene. A man was standing close by the black building on the top of the dune.

Rodney slipped the glasses from their case, and put them to his eyes. There was little danger of being seen, for he was standing close against the northern bank of the sunk road. The man stood quite still, gazing out towards the sea, and Rodney quickly focused the glasses upon him.

For a moment only he stared, then a gasp of utter amazement burst from his lips.

"Why—why!" he stammered, "it's Mandell—Mandell himself!"

Again he raised the glasses to his eyes, and scrutinised the man long and carefully. As he lowered them again, his face cleared a little.

"No," he said, "it's not Mandell, but almost as like him as two peas from one pod."

Presently the man turned and went back through a small and heavy door into the building, leaving Rodney in a state of the most extreme perplexity.

True, the man was not Mandell, but the likeness between him and the strange person who had leased Flatsea Island was too complete to be mere chance. This individual who had appeared so strangely in the midst of the Sylt sand dimes was distinctly shorter than Mandell, yet even broader in the shoulders. But the two had the same square head, the same heavy, protruding jaw, the colour of their hair was alike, and—strongest resemblance of all—they each had the same thick, fleshy and rather hooked nose.

"Must be his brother," muttered Rodney. Then he started. "But if that is so then the original Mandell must be a spy."

In the shock of this discovery, he forgot for the moment his own plight. "A spy!" he went on, "and I can't warn them at home. What rotten luck!"

A sudden desire seized him to probe the mystery—to find out who this man was, and what he was doing in this strange black building perched on the desolate dune.

"I'd think it was wireless," he said to himself "only there's no mast. But it's devilment of some sort, I'll swear."

His jaw tightened. "I've got to find out," he growled. "Yes, there's no question about it. It's up to me to find out what's going on. We've pretty well stopped the wireless at home, but these people may have hit on some new dodge for communicating. Now, how am I to do it?"

He turned and scanned his surroundings carefully, but as before there was no one within sight. Then he had another look at the slope leading up to the building.

It was horribly bare. He did not see how on earth he could get to it without being seen. And while he was pondering over this problem, the door above opened again, and Mandell's double came out once more.

Now he had a hat on his head, a soft felt, a light coat over his arm, and a stick in his hand. Rodney watched him lock the door behind him, put the key in his pocket, and walk off with a steady, ponderous step along the road. He turned inland, and within a moment or two was over the brow of the hill and lost to sight.

Rodney's eyes shone.

"Now's my chance!" he said gleefully, and turning to the right went quickly up the road.


FOR some distance he had to pick his way carefully so as to avoid treading upon the bodies which lay thick in the narrow road. They were nearly all Germans. There were not more than a dozen bluejackets in all, and it comforted Rodney much to think that Ballard and the rest had almost certainly made good their escape. If there were no other troops in the neighbourhood it seemed quite likely that they might reach Elbogen, unmolested, and carry out their original plan of commandeering boats and making for Manö.

Rodney longed to be with them, but for the moment the intense loneliness that had oppressed him was gone. He had something definite to do, and meant to do it, if it was humanly possible. He knew he had no time to waste. He felt sure that it would not be long before the news of the battle was all over the island and across to the mainland. Troops would certainly be sent with the least possible delay.

For the present, however, the desolate landscape remained as bare as ever of human life, and he reached the little plateau on which the building stood, without seeing a soul. He approached it fearlessly. Since the owner had locked the door on leaving, the chances were strong that there was no one inside.

Coming up, he found that it was most massively built of solid timber, which had been creosoted to protect it from the weather. The windows were small and too high up to see through. They were barred outside, and closed inside with wooden shutters. He walked all round, but there was only one door, and that was made of two-inch yellow pine. The lock, too, seemed tremendously strong, and it was a puzzle how to get in. Most men in Rodney's position would have given it up and cleared out. But Rodney Sterne was not that sort. He was also a person of considerable ingenuity and resource.

The pistol he had picked up was a heavy-bored navy revolver. Muffling it in his overcoat so as to make as little sound as possible, he put the muzzle close against the lock, and fired five shots, one after another and almost in the same spot. The heavy bullets tore right through the thick timber, and blew the lock to pieces. He put his shoulder to the door, threw all his weight against it, and, to his great joy, found it yield. Next moment he was inside.

The shutters being closed, the interior was very dim, but the light coming in through the door was enough to show that the interior was all one room. In one corner, behind a half-drawn curtain, was a cot, a chair, a table, and a wash-hand stand. To the left was an oil stove, with a few simple cooking utensils. But these things Rodney only glanced at. What captured all his attention was a mass of intricate-looking machinery which occupied the whole of the right-hand side of the room. He recognised powerful dynamos.

"Wireless, by Jove!" exclaimed Rodney, then as he looked again a puzzled look crossed his face.

"No, it's not. It beats me. I don't know what it is. All I can tell is that it's electric of some sort."

"Would you like me to explain, my young friend?" came a harsh, grating voice with a guttural German accent.

Rodney spun round, and there, almost blocking the narrow doorway, stood the bulky form of Mandell's double. In his right hand he grasped a small but ugly-looking Browning pistol. The shock made Rodney's heart drop a beat, but it did not for one moment destroy his presence of mind. He believed he was as good as dead, for he felt perfectly certain that he was not going to be allowed to live after once setting eyes on the secret machinery of the power-house. He read his sentence in the cold eyes of his enemy.

This flashed through his mind in the fraction of a second, and even as he turned, he jumped. Head down, body doubled like a crouching cat, he leaped straight at the burly German.

The pistol cracked, he felt the sting of a bullet grazing his left shoulder. Before the other could pull trigger a second time Rodney was on him.

The force of his rush drove the German clean backwards through the doorway; it bowled him over as a fast-pitched cricket ball knocks a wicket out of the turf. His arms flew up and he went down flat on his back, with Rodney on top of him. Instantly Rodney's fingers clutched the thick neck, and he drove his thumbs in on either side of the windpipe. With any ordinary man such tactics must have succeeded at once, but the German had the strength of a bull. Though taken so entirely by surprise, he struggled furiously, heaving up his great arched chest, and trying to fling Rodney off him. At the same time he pounded him furiously with his enormous fists.

His pistol had slipped from his hand in his fall. That was all that saved Rodney. Battered and beaten, he clung to the great muscular neck, like a terrier clinging to the throat of a bull. He was flung up and down, and his senses reeled under the devil's tattoo of those thundering fists. Though too close to feel their full effect, the blows that fell in showers on his back and shoulders seemed to knock all the breath and strength out of him; his head was spinning, and it was merely by instinct that he retained his hold.

But keep it he did, digging in his fingers with the energy of despair. He saw the great thick cheeks turning purple, foam showed on the wide, thin lips, the pale blue eyes began to start outwards. Then all of a sudden the mighty frame of his adversary went suddenly limp, the head dropped back, and Rodney, dazed and almost insensible, fell forward on the huge body of his adversary.

It was a minute or two before he was able to move, and when at last he did manage to stagger dizzily to his feet he found it difficult to believe that, single-handed, he could ever have conquered this giant of a man.

The German was not as tall as Rodney himself, but for breadth of shoulder and depth of chest Rodney had never seen his match. He must have weighed well over fourteen stone, and every ounce of it bone and muscle.

The formidable person was quiet enough for the moment, but there was no saying how long he might remain so, and Rodney was taking no chances. He staggered back into the building to look for rope. He could not find any, but there was a roll of insulated wire which would do just as well, and with this he managed to make his prisoner very secure.

Then, utterly done, he reeled back and dropped in the chair by the table. He noticed a spirit bottle on a shelf and took it down. It was half-full of Hollands gin. He poured out a stiff drink and swallowed it.

The fiery stuff stung his throat, but pulled him together marvellously. His head cleared, and after a few minutes' rest he felt almost himself again.

One thing was very clear. He had no time to waste. It could not be long now before people came to bury their dead or view the scene of the battle. Every minute that passed added to his danger. Once more he rose to his feet and glanced round the room, with its formidable array of powerful machinery. There was something sinister in the look of it all. He was convinced that, although he was ignorant of its purpose, it meant no good for his country. And it was important. Otherwise, it would not have been so strongly guarded.

It came to him that it was his duty to destroy it.

The risk was great, but that could not count. At once he began to cast about the quickest way of accomplishing his purpose, and first thing his eyes fell upon was a large can of oil, used no doubt for the stove.

He grasped it. It was nearly full, and it was the work of a moment only to upturn it, and send a flood of strong-smelling paraffin streaming over the floor.

Suddenly it occurred to him that his prisoner, lying almost in the doorway, would certainly perish in the conflagration. He must move him. He was stepping out to do so when he realised that the German had recovered consciousness. His eyes were open—queer pale blue eyes exactly like those of Mandell—and they were fixed upon him with the strangest expression.

"What are you going to do?" demanded the man. His deep, harsh voice had something like a note of fear in it.

"Shift you first," answered Rodney briefly.

"What for?"

"Because, although you probably deserve it, I have no wish to roast you alive."

"Roast me! What do you mean? Man, you don't tell me you are going to burn the—the building."

"That is just exactly what I am going to do."

There was no longer any doubt about the terror expressed in the great, square face of the German.

"You would not! You could not! It is my life's work. Herr Englander, you are an officer and a gentleman. Can you find it in your heart to destroy the results of a life-time's experiments?"

"It is just because I am an Englishman that I propose to do so," said Rodney sternly. "I don't know exactly what all the machinery is, but I have more than a suspicion that it means no good to my country."

"You are mistaken—entirely mistaken," cried the other eagerly. "It is a purely scientific invention. I will swear to you that it is that and nothing else."

"So is wireless, Herr Mandell," said Rodney shrewdly.

The violent start the other gave, and the twitch of his lips confirmed Rodney's suspicions. He had made a shot in the dark, and had hit the bull. He waited no longer, but laying hold of the big man, began rolling him over down the slope.

The German's composure, which up to the present he had kept wonderfully, left him. He struggled frightfully. Shrieking, raving, and pouring out the most terrible threats and imprecations.

Rodney stopped. "See here!" he said sternly. "If you don't shut up, I shan't worry about you any more. You can stay where you are, and burn with your beastly apparatus."

The threat quelled the German's outburst, but the look in his eyes was deadly. Rodney managed to get him over the flat top of the hill and down into a small hollow where he would be fairly safe.

"You'll do there," he said curtly, and straightened his aching back. Before he could move away the German spoke again, and now his voice was once more under control.

"Herr Englander," he said, in a level tone. "You are in Germany, not England. You have about as much chance of escape as a herring has with its gills fixed in the net. Listen to me one moment. Give me your word to leave that building untouched, and I will pledge mine that you shall reach Denmark or Holland, unharmed. Refuse, and when you are captured, as you must be, I warn you that your fate shall be worse than that of any criminal in the worst dungeon in Germany."

"It can't be much worse than that of the average prisoner of war in Prussian hands," replied Rodney. "Still, I thank you for confirming my suspicions."

He scrambled up out of the hollow, and without another glance back, went straight into the building. He struck a match with steady fingers, and laid it on the floor on the edge of the dark oil stain.

A little flash of blue flame rose, leaped forward across the floor, and almost instantly burst into a crackling roar. A blast of heat scorched Rodney's face, and he sprang outside into the open.


STRAIGHT down the far side Rodney ran at the top of his speed, and did not pause until he reached the shelter of a patch of tall, dry grass in the hollow beneath. There he stopped a moment to gain breath, and looked back. The oil had done its work. Already the Power House was flaming like a giant torch. The crackling of the flames sounded like volleys of pistol shots, and must be audible for miles around in the still air. Above the flames rose a column of black smoke, which towered upwards towards the cold, blue sky. It rose higher every moment, forming a huge plume, the top of which bent slowly over to the westward, while its lower part was illuminated by a million dancing sparks.

"Talk of beacons!" muttered Rodney. "They'll see that for twenty miles round. I've jolly well got to put as much ground as possible between me and it if I don't want the whole Germany army on my track."

He pulled himself together and started again. It was difficult to know which way to go. Inland, among the dunes, he would run less chance of being spotted but, on the other hand, he did not know the country, and might easily get lost. Also, his only real chance of escape was a boat, and that was an additional argument in favour of sticking to the coast.

"Yes, the coast for me," he said to himself, and hurried down towards the beach.

The sand was deep and soft, he was carrying a considerable weight of equipment, and now that the excitement of the past hour was over he began to realise that he was badly done. Not only was his head aching as the result of the heavy blow he had received early in the morning, but his back and shoulders were stiff and sore, and he was so tired that he would have given anything for an hour's sleep. But it was no use letting such thoughts enter his head. There was no sleep in prospect for a long time to come. The only thing was to keep a stiff lip, go ahead, and hope for the best.

Reaching the point where the little valley opened on the beach, he peered cautiously out. Northwards, the yellow strand stretched wide and empty, with no sign of life but a few gulls, which stood along the edge of the creaming waves. He turned and looked southwards, then dropped flat like a shot. About half a mile away, two men who looked like coast-guards were tramping rapidly up the beach.

Rodney bit his lip. So he was to be driven inland, whether or no. It would be madness to dream of facing these men in the open, for they were both armed. Of course he might lie where he was, and shoot them down as they passed; but this was a course which did not recommend itself to him. It was too like murder.

It struck him that very possibly they might turn aside up the road towards the burning Power House. He could see that they were staring at it, and gesticulating. He resolved to wait a little and see if they would do so.

Sure enough, his hopes were justified. They swung inwards and hurried up the road. His spirits rose a little, and as soon as they were out of sight he rose to his feet, glanced quickly round, then hurried off to the northwards.

He dared not go right down on to the beach where the sand was hard and the going good, for there he would be visible for miles. Instead, he kept along, close under the dunes, sheltering as much as possible among the inequalities of the ground, and taking advantage of every clump of long grass or shrubby bush. And all the time his eyes were busy, looking this way and that, watching for possible danger.

It was only his vigilance that saved him. He had not gone two hundred yards before he caught a movement in a patch of brush on the dune side not a hundred yards ahead. He dropped instantly, and wriggled into a little hollow. There he lay, hardly breathing, his eyes fixed upon the bushes in front.

For some moments the silence was broken only by the low plash of the waves on the beach, and the distant roar of the burning Power House. Rodney was beginning to wonder whether his eyes had deceived him when he caught sight of a head peering out of the bush.

It was gone again in an instant, but the one glance which Rodney got sent a shiver of loathing through him. Never in his life had he seen so hideous and evil a face. Next moment a faint whistle came from higher up the hill, and this was echoed from another spot to the left.

"They're all round me," murmured Rodney between set teeth. "Three at least, if not more. And regular beach-combers, if one can judge by the look of that first one."

He moved a little, and gradually drew his rifle forward so as to get it to bear on his nearest enemy.

But the movement was noticed; a fire-arm of some sort barked from above, and a bullet, bedding itself in the ground not a yard from Rodney's head, sent the sand splashing into his face. Rodney realised that at this range a second shot could hardly miss. Like a flash he whirled round and fired three times in quick succession into the clump of bush above. The third got home, for there was a yell of pain, then silence. But the yell was echoed from no fewer than three voices, and as Rodney dropped back flat into his tiny burrow two more bullets came screeching over, both within a yard of him. There followed the harsh rustling of feet in sand, and he realised that his enemies were closing in.

It was a tight place, and no mistake. By the sound, two were coming up from behind, while the one in front, the fellow with a face like a wolf, was still lying doggo, no doubt with a rifle in waiting. Rodney fired straight into the bush in front, then whirled round and took a snap shot at a lanky person who was already within twenty yards of him.

He missed, and the man flung himself down under cover of a little hummock, and vanished. So did another fellow who was almost as close. Rodney saw, with sinking heart, that the hummock or ridge ran within a few feet of his paltry refuge. They could creep up to him without exposing themselves, while, if he rose, he was dead certain to be potted by the fellow in front. He was cornered and he knew it, but all he did was to set his teeth and get his pistol ready for the rush.

Silence fell again. He strained his ears, but all he could hear was, as before, the plash of the waves, and the distant roar of the fire. He had not the least doubt but that his enemies were creeping up, but no sound of their stealthy approach reached him.

All of a sudden he caught a distant rattle like a machine-gun. It was faint and far away, and he could not imagine where it came from, nor what was happening.

His heart was beating painfully. The suspense was very hard to bear. Waiting like this was never Rodney's game. He was sorely tempted to leap to his feet and take his chances of attack. The rattle of the machine-gun grew louder and nearer. He could not understand it at all, but he had hardly a thought to spare for it. All his energies were concentrated on the task of meeting the rush which could not now be long delayed.

He caught a glimpse of something which bobbed just above the little sand ridge, and instantly let fly at it with his pistol. A hoarse shriek rewarded him, and a savage string of imprecations in guttural German.

"Winged him, by Jove!" muttered Rodney, and then he could stand it no longer. He shot out of his refuge as if fired by a spring and leaped across the little sand ridge. Two shots rang out. One cut his cap from his head, but did not touch him, the other missed.

He landed almost on top of a ragged-looking individual who was crouched in a heap, holding on to the side of his head, which was streaming with blood. As Rodney found later, his snap shot had cut half the fellow's ear off.

A crack over the skull with his pistol-butt floored this person, and rendered him harmless, but before he could recover himself the next man was on him.

This one had a gun, and if he had had the sense to fire at once Rodney would not have stood a dog's chance. But he did not. Instead, he swung his gun, by the barrel, aiming at Rodney's head. Rodney ducked, and the butt just brazed his shoulder. Then he snapped his pistol almost in the fellow's face. The bullet struck him full between the eyes and he was dead before he reached the ground. His fall was greeted by savage shouts from higher up the hill, and four or five rifles spoke at once. Glancing quickly round, Rodney saw no fewer than six more Germans rushing down from different points above him.

There was no use in running. There was nowhere to run except towards the sea. He dropped behind the little ridge determined to die fighting. A savage exultation possessed him. He had killed two, if not three already. It would be hard if he could not add a few more to his bag before the end came.

On they came, long, sallow, fierce-faced fellows, not soldiers, but the scum of some sea-side village along this savage coast. Rodney lay with his pistol ready, holding his fire until he could be certain of making every shot tell.

"Pig dog of an Englander!" they yelled, encouraging one another with furious shouts.

A shadow swept overhead, soundless, light and swift as a bird. There was a slight whistling sound, then a dark object hardly larger than a tennis ball flashed earthwards, and striking the sand in the very middle of the group of charging Germans, exploded with astonishing violence. A great cloud of dust flew up, and when it cleared four of the Germans were on the ground, the other two staggering blindly away.


A SECOND bomb, which missed them by a few yards only, set the survivors screaming with sheer terror, and Rodney, hardly able to believe his senses, saw swooping close overhead a great sea-plane, and painted on the under side of her wings the flag which he had never hoped to see again.

As the wide-winged machine ended her glide and rose again with a roar of shattering exhaust, a head appeared over the edge of the fuselage and a hand was waved, motioning towards the sea. Then the 'plane herself swung round, banking steeply, and shot back towards the water.

Rodney needed no second signal. Springing to his feet, he ran like a hare down the slope, and across the beach.

The plane dropped like a stooping bird, and settled, gull-like, on the gently heaving waves as close to the shore as was possible. Rodney did not hesitate an instant, but, plunging in, waded out towards her.

The sea was bitter cold, but he hardly felt its chill. Everything else was forgotten in the wild exhilaration of his miraculous escape.

"That's right. Here, climb on the float. I'll give you a hand," came a cheery voice, and Rodney waist-deep in the icy water, grasped a sinewy fist, and was hauled up on to one of the long, boat-like floats of the 'plane. From there it was only a scramble to get into the fuselage, where he dropped, panting and exhausted, into the observer's seat.

"You poor beggar!" exclaimed the pilot. "Here, drink this!"

He poured some whisky from a flask and handed it to Rodney in a metal cup. It was the second dose of spirits Rodney had had that day, but he needed it. He was shivering with the cold and the sharp reaction.

"That's good!" he said hoarsely. "I say, I'm most awfully obliged to you."

"Don't talk. You can explain afterwards. Strip off those wet trousers of yours, and wrap your legs in this spare coat. Yes, you must do it. It's cold enough down here, but nothing to what it is up above."

Rodney obeyed rapidly, while his new friend, a tall, lean, good-looking young fellow with a big aquiline nose, and clear, gray eyes, busied himself with some small adjustments to the engine.

"Now then, some hot cocoa and off we go," said the latter, pulling a big thermos flask from a padded case. "This ain't going to be exactly a health resort for any one of our nationality this afternoon. Ah, they've begun already," as a spatter of rifle-fire opened from near the still burning Power House. "My word, you seem to have stirred up a proper hornet's nest, old son."

He gave Rodney just time to swallow a mugful of the delicious, hot, well-sugared cocoa, then he turned a switch, and the huge 150 horse-power engine broke into roaring life, and the 'plane began to taxi across the little waves. She gained speed rapidly, and a few moments later the splashing under the floats ceased, and Rodney found himself lifted into the air so swiftly and sweetly he could not tell at what moment they had left the water.

"Jolly lucky for us both that I'm alone," said the pilot. "It would have been a tight fit if I'd had my observer along. Still, she'll carry three at a pinch. By the bye, I suppose there are no more of your chaps wandering around loose on the beach."

"There are about seventy of 'em if they haven't been mopped up yet," replied Rodney, with his mouth close to the other's ear, and then in a few quick sentences he explained the situation.

The other's eyes widened.

"By the great Horn Spoon, you chaps have been mixing it!" he exclaimed, and as he spoke he turned the 'plane due north. "It's flat against orders, but we're bound to see what's become of Ballard's crowd."

"What are your orders, if I may ask?" inquired Rodney.

"Oh, I'm lent to the Russians," replied the other casually. "This is a new type of 'plane which they're going to copy, and I'm going to give 'em a hand with it for a bit. I happen to know the workings of the beast."

"By the bye," he added, "in the excitement, I don't believe I've even told you what my name is. I'm Leslie Palliser."

"Leslie Palliser," repeated Rodney quietly. "Then your mother's name was Grace Sterne, and you come from Barramboola, New South Wales."

Palliser started, so that the big 'plane swerved several degrees off her course.

"Great ghost, are you a blooming thought-reader or are you a green tab man* in disguise?"

(*Green tab man—intelligence officer.)

"Neither," said Rodney, with a laugh. "I'm only your first cousin, Rodney Sterne."

Leslie Palliser turned and stared incredulously.

"Well, if this isn't the holy limit!" he exclaimed. "Here I've come twelve thousand miles and visited Flatsea, only to hear that you'd gone off with Beatty, and then I pick you up doing a one-man invasion of Germany. My word, this old war does bring a few miracles to pass."

"A jolly lucky miracle for me," observed Rodney.

"I should have been cold mince by now, if you hadn't happened along just when you did. D'ye know, I thought there was something familiar about the cut of your jib the minute I set eyes on you. You've got just the same nose and eyes as my old dad."

"And come to look at you, you're a chip off the old block yourself," replied Leslie warmly. "Well, this is simply fine. We'd better stick together now we've met."

"You bet," said Rodney. "As there's no chance of getting back to my ship for the present, I'm your man.

"But see here, Leslie," he added presently. "What are you going to do about it? You can't have petrol to cruise over half Europe."

"Don't you worry about that. I've got enough for a while yet, and there are ways—ways of filling up tanks, I mean. Some countries aren't so blessed neutral as they're generally supposed to be."

He winked genially.

It was clear that he knew his business, and Rodney asked no further questions.

By this time the big 'plane was about three thousand feet up, and a huge area of land and sea lay mapped below her. The whole island of Sylt was visible, and to the north, Romö, separated from Sylt by the Lister Deep. To the east lay the hilly coast of North Friesland, once Danish but now German territory.

Rodney peered over the side of the fuselage, eagerly scanning the northern end of Sylt and the sea beyond. "See anything?" asked Leslie.

Rodney turned, and put his mouth close to the other's ear. The roar of a 'plane's engines is so tremendous that ordinary speech is impossible while they are working.

"We're too high to spot people except as little dots. They don't look any bigger than ants. But there's a bunch of small sailing craft out to the westward of Romö. I'm inclined to think that Ballard has done what he said he would, and raided the fishing craft from Elbogen."

"Stout fellow! I hope he has. We'll go and have a squint anyhow."

"Ah, I see them," he added, as he peered forward through his goggles.

The 'plane, moving at something better than a mile a minute, made light of distance, and every moment the little group of sailing craft loomed larger and clearer. They were still too far away for Rodney to make anything of their crews, but by the way they were grouped together, and by the fact that they had every possible sail spread, and were evidently making the very most of the light breeze, Rodney's hopes rose high.

Then as he watched, he suddenly spotted a long, light craft slipping through the channel between the north end of Sylt and the south of Romö. By the pace at which she moved, she was evidently a fast motor-launch. She swerved swiftly around the southern point of Romö and turned northwards.

Rodney turned to his cousin.

"There's an M. L. chivying them, Leslie. She's picking 'em up hand over fist, and they're still all of ten miles from Manö and safety."

"Then it's up to us to take a hand in the game," responded Leslie quietly. He put over a little lever, and the speed of the 'plane, great already, increased perceptibly. The gale that beat on Rodney's face was like ice, and spite of the goggles with which Leslie had provided him, made his eyes stream with tears.

He wiped them with his handkerchief, readjusted his goggles and was in time to see a puff of white smoke jut from the fore-deck of the motor-launch.

"They're firing, Leslie," he said sharply. "There's no doubt about it now. Ballard's crowd are in those smacks."

Leslie merely nodded. By this time they were only a couple of miles behind the launch, and travelling three miles to her one. Suddenly Leslie cut out the ignition, and in a silence that was in startling contrast to the ear-splitting din of the open exhaust, they started on a flashing volplane.

"They've spotted us!" cried Rodney. "Look out! They're getting their gun round."

"You needn't worry about her," replied Leslie carelessly. "She's no Archibald."

As he spoke there was a sharp crack from the launch and a twelve-pound shell came screaming upwards.

"Told you so," said Leslie, as the shell burst in a puff of woolly smoke a long way below. "They can't get the elevation. I say, are you any good at dropping bombs?"

"I've had a bit of practice with a pal at Shomecliffe," answered Rodney, "but I won't guarantee to hit anything."

"Never mind. You can put the fear of Heaven into 'em, anyhow. There's the box right alongside you. Look out, now! I'm going down low."

The swoop of the 'plane nearly took Rodney's breath. He had barely time to snatch a bomb from the box before they were right over the launch. He caught a glimpse of upturned faces, white dots against the yellow deck; he heard the pop-pop of rifles and at least one clang against the armoured capote of the 'plane, then, judging his distance, he dropped the first bomb.

Down it whizzed, a tiny black ball, yet fraught with tremendous energy of destruction. The 'plane swept on so swiftly that Rodney could not follow its flight with his eyes, but next moment a spout of white foam leaped close under the port bow of the swerving launch.

"Oh, good shot, Rodney!" said his cousin, and switching on his engine again, began climbing steeply. "A top-hole shot! Didn't miss 'em by a yard, and scared the sand out of 'em! See, they're right off their course! Now, I'm going to turn again, and this time you must get 'em."

Again he banked steeply, and amid a fresh volley of harmless rifle bullets planed down towards the launch.

"Try two this time!" shouted Leslie above the roar of the engines. "Whack 'em in. Don't spare 'em. We've got plenty aboard."

As Rodney bent over again, a bullet better aimed than the rest ripped viciously past his head and passed through the wing above with a sound like the bursting of a paper bag. He hardly noticed it, but flung two bombs in rapid succession.

The first fell just under the bows of the launch, the second dropped plump on the engine-hatch and burst with a shattering explosion. A great cloud of steam arose, and when it cleared the launch had folded up like a biscuit-box that is stamped on by a heavy boot, and was sinking rapidly.

Leslie gave a howl of triumph, and once more switching on his engines came round for the last time, and flashed away northwards.

"You're the man for me, Rodney!" he cried delightedly. "My word, I never saw better potting! Man, you're wasted in the navy. Why don't you join us?

"Now, well just have a look at your pals over there," he continued, "then, hey for Russia!"

His mad spirits infected Rodney, who forgot his aches and pains in the glow of triumph. The 'plane, flying quite low, flashed on towards the little group of smacks that now, with a brisk breeze on the beam, were making good speed for Danish waters.

Coming right over them, Leslie cut out his engine again and swept down close to the sea. Rodney, leaning out and waving his cap saw the little craft crowded with bluejackets.

He was recognised at once, and with one accord a thundering cheer burst from every throat.

Rodney caught a glimpse of Ballard himself, cheering with the rest. Then the 'plane lifted once more, and the thunder of voices died away.


"THEY'LL be all right now," remarked Leslie cheerfully as he headed the big 'plane eastwards. "They're not two miles off the Danish territorial limit, and there's nothing else in sight to chase them. And now they know you're alive and kicking, the news will get home in a day or two."

"And jolly glad I am of it," replied Rodney. "My poor old dad would be worrying his life out if he thought I was in one of those filthy prison camps. Myself, I'd sooner be wiped out any day of the week."

"Me, too," agreed Leslie, as he kept the 'plane climbing.

"Bit nippy, isn't it?" he added, with a grin, and a glance at the thermometer, which showed fifteen degrees of frost. "But I'm bound to go high over the land. They're sure to have an 'Archie' or two tucked away somewhere."

"There's a town of sorts ahead," said Rodney, peering down. "Must be Apenrade. Better keep a bit to the left, Leslie."

"No need to bother. We're two miles up already. It 'ud puzzle any of 'em to hit us at this height, and 'tisn't likely they've got any of their best men up in this forsaken country."

As if in answer to his words, a puff of smoke leaped from a hill-top far below, and a shell came screaming upward. It burst wide to the right, but well up to their level, and a mushroom-shaped ball of smoke went drifting down the wind.

"Not so dusty!" remarked Leslie, and, pulling the cloche, went up at an even steeper angle.

Whew-ew-ew! came the wail of a second shell, and this burst close enough to make the light machine quiver in the rush of the shaken air.

"My word, I didn't reckon on this!" exclaimed Leslie. "I'm off." And with that he swung the 'plane right over to the north.

Only just in time, for a third shell, admirably aimed and timed, crashed into fragments so close that a jagged lump of steel struck the armoured capote, making it ring like a gong.

"I take it all back," declared Leslie. "That chap's a daisy gunner. I'm jolly glad I turned off in time."

Two more shells followed them before they were quite out of range, but these were both short, and within a very few moments the town and gun were left behind, and the pale blue waters of the Baltic were in sight.

Getting every ounce of speed out of his big machine, Leslie rushed onwards over the large island of Alsen. His course was now almost south-east, and presently they were past the land and over the wide channel known as the Little Belt.

"That's Aerö," said Leslie, pointing to an island which lay to starboard of their course. "We're over Danish waters now."

Rodney turned in his seat, and glanced at the sun sinking in crimson glory behind the Schleswig Hills.

"It's getting precious near dark," he remarked, "and we're the mischief of a long way off Russia still."

Leslie smiled.

"Don't worry. We haven't a lot farther to go to-night. And I'll promise you a good feed and a good sleep before you're two hours older."

Leslie seemed to know what he was about, and Rodney was content to let it go at that. He rolled himself up as tightly as possible, for the cold was bitter, and lay back drowsily in his not uncomfortable seat, while the 'plane hurtled on through the fast-gathering dusk.

The winter twilight was fast changing to night, and the stars already beginning to twinkle in the frosty sky when Leslie suddenly cut out the engine, and the wide-winged machine slid downwards through the clear air. Rodney looked down. A friendly light gleamed through the darkness. It glowed green, the signal of safety.

A few moments later the plane's floats splashed into water, and she came to rest on the quiet surface of a small landlocked bay.

Almost at once a sturdy dinghy pulled up out of the gloom, and a deep voice hailed them in good English.

"All serene!" answered Leslie cheerfully. "Wait a jiffy. I'm going to taxi over into the shelter."

"You see the light," came the answer. "Take her straight in. All's ready."

Leslie started up the engine, and a moment later they glided into a building which looked like a boat-house, but was big enough to shelter the 'plane. Leslie made all secure, then a door at the far end was opened, and a square-shouldered man with a fair beard appeared carrying a lantern. He wore the thick blue jersey of a fisherman.

"Glad you put up the light," said Leslie, shaking hands. "Rodney, let me introduce you to Mr. Odder. Mr. Odder, this is my cousin Rodney Sterne."

Rodney was quite beyond surprise. As a matter of fact, he was so dead done with all that he had gone through in the last forty-eight hours that he was in a dazed state. He was content to take things as he found them.

Very pleasant, too, he did find them. The gentleman with the curious name took them up a little cliff path and into a little roofed, stone-built house, where he led the way into a comfortable bedroom, warmed by a glorious turf-fire.

Dry kits were ready; rough, but warm and comfortable, and quantities of hot water. The joy of a bath and a change were beyond words to describe.

Odder put his head in.

"Supper's ready, Lieutenant Palliser."

A rich smell of cooking drifted in from the kitchen, reminding Rodney that his last meal had been some sixteen hours earlier. Although, a minute ago, he had felt as though sleep was the only thing in the world he wanted, now he was suddenly hungry.

They sat down to a table covered with a clean white cloth, and fairly loaded with good things. There were Baltic mackerel caught only a few hours earlier, split and grilled. There was a heavenly, home-cured ham; there was new bread made of rye and wheat-flour mixed, and such coffee as Rodney had never tasted.

Leslie, realising that his cousin could hardly keep his eyes open, made him begin with a big cup of this delicious coffee. It roused him wonderfully, and he was not only able to do justice to the good things before him, but to talk as well.

Naturally, Leslie was full of questions. Who would not be when meeting a cousin whom he had never seen before in his life? And presently Rodney found himself telling Leslie all about his recent leave, his father's money troubles, and the lease of Flatsea Island to the unpleasant Mandell.

Leslie looked grave.

"I don't like it, Rodney. My notion is that this fellow Mandell is a spy of sorts. I shouldn't wonder if he was a German in disguise."

"That's just what I've been thinking, myself," replied Rodney ruefully. "Specially since I spotted his double in that power house on the dune."

"His double! You didn't tell me that."

"No, I suppose I was in too much of a hurry when you picked me up. But the chap I knocked out up there in the power house was the dead spit of Mandell."

"Then it's wireless! Depend on it, it's wireless."

Rodney shook his head.

"There was no mast or aerial. It can't have been ordinary wireless."

"What was the machinery like?" inquired Leslie.

"Oh, electric. There was a big dynamo. I had no time to examine it."

"Then it's something of the same kind, I'll warrant," declared Leslie. "Some means of communicating with England on the sly. Probably this chap you knocked out is the brother of the one at Flatsea. Strikes me the whole thing wants looking into."

"It certainly does," declared Rodney. "Still, there's one comfort. I've scuppered their precious power house pretty thoroughly, and it will take 'em quite a while to rebuild it."

Leslie chuckled.

"Yes, you did a good job there, Rodney. All the same, well take the first chance that comes of sending home word to the Admiralty. Ill lay friend Mandell will be booted out one time."

He considered a moment and went on.

"I shall write to my governor, too, and tell him the whole yarn. The old boy will be tickled to death. And see here, Rodney"—he paused and a slight flush stained his tanned face—"no, I won't say what I was going to, at least, not now."

He pushed his chair back, and rose to his feet.

"I vote we turn in. You're just about tuckered out, and we've got to be moving from here early to-morrow."

Rodney, too, got up. "Where is 'here'?" he asked, with a smile.

"I call it Neutral Island," replied Leslie, with a chuckle.

"A very benevolent neutral," said Rodney. "However, we'll let it go at that."

Five minutes later, he was between blankets, sleeping the sleep of a very tired man.


"THE admiral wants to see you, Rodney. Come on quick. You mustn't keep him waiting."

"The admiral—what admiral?" demanded Rodney, who was at the moment toasting himself comfortably before a huge earthenware stove in his quarters at the Russian seaport town of Riga.

"Alexieff, you juggins," replied Leslie. "Stick your cap on, and come along."

"Alexieff—oh, my hat!" exclaimed Rodney, in sudden dismay. "My good chap, do look at my kit! How can I go like this?"

He jumped up as he spoke, and looked ruefully at his uniform. Stained with salt water, cut in several places with bullets, and showing many marks of what he had been through on the island of Sylt, it certainly was not what might be called smart.

But Leslie only laughed.

"I don't suppose the admiral will even see it. He's not that sort. It's a chap's face he looks at, not his clothes. And your old phiz will pass muster, Rodney."

As there was no possibility of getting a change, Rodney had to make the best of it, and he went with Leslie through the snow-covered streets of Riga to the unpretentious house where the great Russian admiral had his temporary quarters. It was bitter cold as they tramped along, and as they passed the quays great floes of ice glistened in the gulf, under the winter sun. Ships lay ice-bound in the harbour.

A quiet-looking official took their names, and without any delay or formality they were taken into a large, plainly-furnished room where Russia's greatest admiral sat at a big table, examining a chart of the Baltic.

He rose as the two young Englishmen entered, and returned their salute. Then he shook hands with them both.

"So this is your cousin, Lieutenant Palliser?" he said, in excellent English. "I am very glad to meet you, Lieutenant Sterne. I understand that you were with Admiral Beatty in the recent battle of the Dogger."

His manner was so easy and unaffected that Rodney was at his ease at once, but he found it a little difficult to realise that this quiet-looking man, with his fair hair brushed straight up, his soft voice, and unassuming appearance, was the great naval commander who had been Viceroy of the East, and had wielded power second only to that of the Tzar himself.

"Yes, sir," he answered, "I had the luck to be in it, but my ship, 'Alicon' is only a light cruiser, and we didn't have much to do with the real scrapping."

"Scrapping," repeated the admiral, a little puzzled.

"Fighting, I should have said, sir," said Rodney, colouring.

Alexieff laughed. "Forgive me. I talk English, but so far as slang goes, I am hardly up to date. But tell me, please, all about the battle. Of course, I have had the official account, but it will be a treat to hear of it from an eye-witness."

So Rodney told. At first he was a little nervous, but the admiral was so evidently interested that he soon forgot that, and gave a really capital account of the fighting, so far as he had seen it.

Alexieff drew a deep breath. "I only wish I had been there," he said earnestly. "But you have not finished your story, Lieutenant Sterne. I want to know what became of 'Deva's' men after they got ashore on Sylt, how you came to be separated from them, and of your meeting with your cousin. But wait a moment. I will ring for tea. Thanks be, Englishmen appreciate a cup of tea as well as we Russians."

The tea came. Caravan tea drunk without milk or sugar, but with a slice of lemon in it. Rodney had to acknowledge that never in his life had he tasted any tea to approach it.

Then, in answer to questions from the admiral, he went on to describe the battle in the dunes, his pursuit of the two fugitives, and, finally, his struggle with the great German and his burning of the power house.

The admiral sighed. "You young men have all the good fortune," he said, half sadly. "I think I would give the rest of my life to have had a day like that. But even now you have not told me how you were picked up."

"Oh, that was very simple, sir. I was tackled by some longshoremen, and they would have outed me only my cousin came sailing up out of the blue, dropped two bombs on them, and then came down on the sea and picked me up."

Leslie snorted. The admiral turned to him.

"I don't fancy it was so simple as all that?" he said, with a smile. "Let us hear your account, Lieutenant Palliser."

"Well, hardly, sir!" declared Leslie. "My cousin had about ten men round him, and he fought the whole lot of them, and knocked out three long before I could get near enough to put over a bomb. Just as I arrived, I saw him lay one out with his pistol butt and shoot another through the head. I do believe, sir, he would have scuppered the lot of them if he had been left alone."

"Ha, as I thought," said Alexieff, laughing outright. "You never can trust an Englishman to tell a story where his own doings are concerned."

"Lieutenant Sterne," he went on, addressing Rodney "I am not your commanding officer. I wish I were. But it is quite clear that you have behaved with gallantry and presence of mind. The burning of that power house, when you knew that the flames would probably betray you, was an especially fine piece of work. Your chief, Admiral Beatty, is an old friend of mine, and I shall take good care that your conduct is represented to him."

Rodney, crimson to the ears, stammered his thanks, but Alexieff cut him short.

"Now, what about rejoining your ship?" he said.

"I ought to do so as soon as possible, sir," replied Rodney. "I suppose I could get back by way of Sweden."

Alexieff shook his head. "You forget you are a combatant. You would be interned."

Rodney looked blank. "Then, I suppose, sir, I shall have to go all the way round by Vladivostok and America.

"Unless you wait until your cousin can take you back," suggested the admiral. "He will be returning in a month or six weeks, so you will not be losing time."

"In any case," he added, "it seems a pity that, now you are here, you should not see something of what we are doing, and I have no doubt you can make yourself useful."

"He'd do splendidly as observer with me, sir," put in Leslie eagerly.

"Just what I was going to suggest," replied Alexieff. "You will be doing good service in that way if you care to try it, Lieutenant Sterne."

"Care! I'd love it above all things, sir," declared Rodney earnestly.

"Then it shall be arranged," replied the great man, with a smile. "I will see that the British Admiralty has news of you, and, as your cousin says, you will be doing good work in the meantime. You will report yourselves, please to Captain Saranov."

"What gorgeous luck!" exclaimed Rodney, as they found themselves once more in the snow-clad street. "I say, Leslie, he's a good chap that."

"Absolutely topping. Tell you what, Rodney, it's going to be a case of 'buy a 'am and see life,' as Kipling says. I expect they'll send us right off to the front without much delay. I know Saranov, and he's a hustler, if you ever saw one. We'd best go and see him at once."

Captain Saranov was not in his office. Bitter as the weather was, they found him out at the aerodrome.

"I am delighted to see you, gentlemen," he said, speaking in French, a language which Rodney, at any rate, knew enough of to make himself understood. "Have you heard of our good fortune?"

The two Englishmen were a little astonished The latest news they had seen was anything but good. The Russians had been forced to retire from East Prussia.

"We got a Zeppelin at Libau," went on Saranov. "Brought her down, crew and all, and the whole pack of assassins are already behind barbed wire."

"Splendid!" declared Rodney. "I only trust that we at home shall be equally fortunate. And now, sir, we are ordered to report ourselves to you for service, by Admiral Alexieff. Will you give us our orders."

"Certainly, monsieur. And my first is that you both dine with me to-night."

Rodney hesitated. He glanced ruefully at his uniform.

Saranov understood, and laughed. "My dear lieutenant, you have no need to trouble your head on that score. In war-time one wears what one can; I shall expect you at seven."

It was a simple and soldierly meal that the cousins sat down to that evening, but to Rodney it was intensely interesting. There was about a dozen men present, all officers in the Russian army or navy. All talked French, and several English. Rodney's neighbour, a tall, lean man with a face like a hawk and coal-black hair and eyes, was Flight-Commander Ostoff, a well-known airman. He talked English perfectly, and he and Rodney were soon deep in conversation.

He made Rodney tell him the whole story of the Dogger battle, and Rodney was amazed to find how perfect was his knowledge of the British fleet and of British aircraft.

"The Germans have the best of the Allies in the way of aircraft at present," he said. That is one reason why we have been forced to fall back from East Prussia. They have been able to spot so perfectly for their guns that we have been under fire the whole time.

"But, mind you," he went on emphatically, "that is not going to last. The French have already got a number of 'planes quite as good as the latest German machines, and as for this machine in which you and your cousin have arrived, it is better than anything I have yet seen. More stability, more carrying power, and greater range. We shall put in hand several hundred like it at once, and when we have got them we shall turn the tables on the accursed Prussians."

"We want long-range machines," agreed Rodney. "Just think, if we could only get at Krupp's!"

"Exactly! That would break the backbone of the German offensive. It is guns and shells by which they drove through Belgium and France, and guns and shells which have driven us back out of Prussia. Smash up their factories and there is an end of them. They're good fighters, I'll admit, but man for man not equal to British or Russian or French."

"Is this von Hindenburg all he is cracked up to be?" asked Rodney.

"He's a good soldier and a good leader, but not a great general," Ostoff answered. "But I will tell you something,—he lowered his voice—"the man who is doing us more harm than any one else on the Prussian frontier is General Kramer. He's a ten times better strategist than old Hindenburg, and he knows the country even better than Hindenburg. He's commanding the Prussian army opposite Lyck, and I don't mind telling you we are much more afraid of him than of Hindenburg."

The door opened suddenly, and every one looked up. An orderly entered and saluted. He came across to Saranov.

"The general wishes to see you, sir."

Saranov went out quickly. There was anxiety on every face.

"Anything wrong, do you think?" asked Rodney of Ostoff in a low tone.

"I'm afraid so. We shall hear in a minute."

Very shortly Saranov was back, and one glance at his face told Rodney that something was very certainly wrong.

"Gentlemen," he said gravely, "I have bad news. General Slavinski's force is in sore straits in the Lafi marshes. It is said that General Kramer's army has surrounded him. General Slavinski has not a 'plane left, and we are asked to send as many as possible at once for scouting purposes, and to find out, if possible, whether the situation is as bad as is supposed."

Leslie and Rodney were on their feet in a moment.

"You will let us go, sir," begged Rodney.

"I shall welcome your assistance," replied Saranov.

Ostoff caught Rodney by the arm.

"Can you take me?" he said, with fierce eagerness.

"I know the marshes," he went on—"know them better than almost any man alive. My home is near Grodno."

"Then, of course we will take you," replied Rodney—"that is if the commandant allows."


WITH her three passengers, the big biplane sped swiftly over the frozen waste which lies between the River Neiman and the Prussian frontier. Above, the sky was cold and gray, with a threat of snow; beneath was a tangle of wild marshes and forests stark under the bitter frost.

Rodney, who sat with Ostoff behind the pilot seat, pulled his sheepskin-coat more tightly around him and shivered slightly.

"Cold?" asked the Russian airman.

"It isn't that so much," replied Rodney. "It's the look of things. I never saw such a howling desolation."

Ostoff glanced down at the endless frozen plain beneath.

"I suppose it is," he said quietly. "But you should see it in spring. It's lovely then. Beautifully green, and full of wild fowl of all sorts."

He leaned over and touched Leslie on the shoulder.

"A point south-west, Palliser. You see that railway? It's the line from Osowiec. We cross it where the road cuts it."

A few flakes of hard-frozen snow stung Rodney's cheek. Ostoff looked up apprehensively.

"I hope it is not going to snow," he said very gravely. "Nothing worse could happen."

Rodney felt sure that Ostoff was right, but even if he did not yet realise what a terrible misfortune a snow-storm would be for the Russian cause.

Ostoff peered forward through his goggles.

"This is the edge of the marsh," he said suddenly. "Ah, and I can see the smoke of the guns, too."

Far to the west, on the very rim of the wide horizon, Rodney caught tiny bursts of smoke. They looked like little white mushrooms against the gray sky, and as the 'plane flashed on, the air trembled under the heavy discharges of the great German guns.

They were now over the marsh itself, the vast Lafi swamp which, with its fellow, the Wizna Marsh, covers an area the size of an English county.

If the country they had already crossed was barren, this was the very abomination of desolation. Belts of frozen reeds alternated with stretches of black mire. Here and there were lagoons covered with ice, and islands of rising ground thickly clad with scrubby willows and other bushes.

With the breeze behind her, the 'plane made light of distance, and within ten minutes from crossing the edge of the eastern swamp they were near enough to the scene of the fighting to spot the German shells bursting in a long line of stunted timber which seemed to mark the western edge of the swamp.

"Seemed," we say, because there was no definite edge to this great area of marsh, and though no doubt the ground held by the Germans was drier than that into which they had driven the Russians, it was not perceptibly higher.

"The brutes!" growled Ostoff. "They are pounding our people the whole time, but by the look of it we cannot reply. I fear we are out of ammunition."

"But why cannot they retreat?" asked Rodney. "The whole marsh is frozen."

Ostoff shook his head.

"Not sufficiently to bear an army, Sterne. It is full of warm springs, and many parts never freeze, even in the hardest weather."

Rodney's face fell. Though he did not like to say so, the position of General Slavinski's army seemed to him to be absolutely hopeless. From the great height at which the 'plane was flying, he could see the German positions ranging in a semicircle around the Russians. The latter had been driven right into the swamp, they were plainly outnumbered, and if they were short of ammunition into the bargain it seemed to him that there was nothing for them but wholesale surrender.

Ostoff seemed to divine Rodney's thoughts.

"You are thinking the case is bad," he said. "You are right. But they are not yet hopeless. So long as the Germans do not attack in force there is still a chance."

"And why don't they attack?" asked Rodney.

"Because they don't want to waste their own men. They know by bitter experience that our fellows will fight like tigers, especially when cornered. They are trusting to siege. They are well aware that Slavinski's division cannot get either food or ammunition. They mean to starve them out."

He leaned over and spoke to Leslie.

Leslie at once cut out his engine, and the 'plane stooped like a homing-bird towards a patch of level ground at some distance behind the Russian lines.

Her floats had been replaced by wheels for land work, and Leslie took ground with his usual skill. Almost before the three were out of the 'plane they were surrounded by officers who had seen them from the distance and hurried out to meet them.

Rodney was struck by their gaunt, unshaven faces and haggard eyes. They looked like men who had been fighting for days without food or sleep. But there was no mistake about the warmth with which they greeted the new arrivals, and Rodney felt a little thrill of pride that he should have been allowed to assist in this forlorn hope.

No time was lost. A guard was put over the 'plane, and the machine itself covered with rushes and brushwood to protect it from the eyes of the German Fokkers. Then Ostoff and the two Englishmen were taken at once to General Slavinski.

They found him in a rough shelter made of frozen turf and roofed with tree trunks. There was no fire, and he sat at a folding table wrapped in a huge sheepskin coat.

He pushed aside the map he was studying and rose to receive his visitors. Rodney saw a man of about sixty, with a heavy gray moustache, a rather broad face, and narrow eyes under heavy brows. It was a fierce, almost forbidding face, yet it lit with a very pleasant smile as he held out his hand to Ostoff.

Ostoff introduced the two Englishmen, and the general greeted them in French. "Reinforcements, however small, are welcome, gentlemen," he said, "and I am particularly grateful to you for coming so promptly. I have not a single 'plane left, and you will be of the greatest assistance to me in spotting for the attack which I mean to make to-morrow."

"Attack, sir?" exclaimed Ostoff.

"Yes, Captain Ostoff. It is all that we have left. There is no other alternative but to inflict as much loss as possible upon our enemies, and to die fighting."

"Forgive me, sir," said Ostoff hastily. "You are wrong. You can retreat."

Slavinski stared.

"Retreat—retreat across the Lafi marsh! You are surely very ignorant of this country, Captain Ostoff, to suggest such a thing."

"On the contrary, sir, I was born and bred in this country. Grodno was my home, and I think I may say, without boasting, that I know these swamps better than almost any man alive."

"What do you mean? Tell me quickly." The general's face showed an excitement of which Rodney would not have believed the stern old man capable.

"I mean this, sir—that there is a secret path through the marsh, and that—providing it does not snow, I am able to guide your force through it to safety."

Slavinski's eyes flashed.

"A path!" he exclaimed. "You are sure, Ostoff?"

"I have travelled it many times in happier days, sir. It is narrow truly, and I fear it means the abandonment of guns and transport. But if it saves your men, that surely is the great consideration."

"It is, it is!" The general stood pulling his moustache, evidently thinking deeply.

Then slowly the look of hope died from his face. He shook his head.

"I fear it is useless after all, Captain Ostoff. The Germans are certain to discover our retreat. Kramer is as cunning as a fox. He seems to divine our plans almost before they are made. The moment we begin to retreat he will bring up his guns and we shall be smashed before we axe well started. Think of the hopelessness of it—men crowded on a narrow trail with the German 'planes above us spotting every yard for their artillery."

Ostoff was silent. His face showed his dismay. Even Rodney and Leslie, little as they knew of land warfare, realised how very right was Slavinski. The case was indeed hopeless, and it seemed to them all that the only alternative was an attack at dawn and the selling of their lives as dearly as might be.

Suddenly Leslie spoke. His French was halting, but he was able to make himself understood.

"Have the Germans many aeroplanes, monsieur le general?"

Slavinski turned his keen eyes upon the tall young Australian.

"A dozen, perhaps," he said.

"Would it not then be possible for us to bomb them this evening? If we could do so, catching them in their hangars. General Kramer would be kept blind. He could not know of your retreat."

Slavinski shook his head.

"It is a fine idea, and worthy of an Englishman," he answered. "But I fear, Lieutenant Palliser, that it is out of the question. One 'plane is no match for a dozen. Besides, the Germans are well provided with anti-aircraft guns, and would most certainly bring you down before you could accomplish your work."

"I am willing to try, sir," said Leslie simply.

"That I am sure of. But I do not wish you to cast your lives away in so forlorn a hope. I had rather make use of you to carry my papers to safety."

Leslie stepped back with a very disappointed air.

"As you order, sir," he said quietly.

Rodney raised his head sharply.

"I have another idea, sir, if you will allow me—"

"Yes, what is it? Heaven knows we need ideas."

"It's this, sir," said Rodney slowly. "You say that it is General Kramer who seems to know beforehand what your moves will be. I hear the same in Riga. If it is too much to hope for, to destroy his 'planes, would it be too much to tackle him?"

Slavinski stared at Rodney. There was for a moment or two complete and utter silence in that dark, little dug-out. Rodney flushed red under his tan. He felt that his plan must sound crazy to the general and the others.

Then the general suddenly brought down one clenched fist into the palm of the other hand.

"It is the maddest idea I ever heard. It is one that would never have occurred to any one but an Englishman. And yet—yet—its very madness might bring success. And if it succeeded it would be far better than destroying the aeroplanes. It would destroy not the enemies' eyes merely, but their brain."

Rodney drew a quick breath of relief.

"Then you consent, sir," he said eagerly.

"I consent to the attempt. And I will tell you the reason why. General Kramer and his staff are living in the old forest-keeper's hut, more than a mile behind their own lines. I have this information from Flight-Lieutenant Sharoff, whose 'plane was the last to be destroyed. He fell within our lines and was just able to tell us before he died."

"The forester's hut, sir?" exclaimed Ostoff eagerly. "I know it well."

Slavinski's deep-set eyes gleamed.

"And the way to it?" he asked sharply.

"I know every inch of the ground around it, sir, and as the trees are thick about it, I believe it will be possible to rush it."

"But how about getting through the enemy lines? That seems to me to be the crux of the matter."

"It will be difficult, sir, no doubt, but I do not think, impossible. It is not as though they had been able to cut trenches. And the marsh-growth is so thick that it should be possible for a small party to make their way through unseen."

"How many will you take?"

"Not more than a dozen, all told, sir. That will be enough, if we do get through. Every extra man adds to the risk of being heard or seen."

Slavinski nodded thoughtfully. Then suddenly he straightened himself.

"You shall try it," he said. "At any rate, you shall try it. You had better have some of my Cossacks."

He called up the orderly who stood just outside the entrance, and spoke to him in Russian.

"I have sent for Shasta," he said. "He is my Cossack attaman. He will know the best men for the purpose."

"And now," he added in a different tone, "you will be good enough to share my evening meal. Then I will wish you God speed on your errand."


"DOWN! Down with you!"

The voice was no more than a whisper, but Ostoff's hand was like steel as he gripped Rodney by the shoulder and pressed him down among the reeds.

Next moment heavy boots came crunching past so close that, by stretching out his arm, Rodney could have touched their owner, a burly German.

The little party—they were only twelve all told—lay flat on their faces, hardly daring to breathe, while the German sentry stood stock still, muttering to himself under his breath. It was quite evident that his suspicions had been aroused, and Rodney's heart was in his mouth, as he waited for the man's next move.

Although Ostoff had led them far round to the south, it had been impossible to make a complete circuit of the German lines which stretched too far to allow of doing so in the time; and now the raiders were in the very act of crossing the line. There were scores, if not hundreds, of their enemies within easy hail. If the sentry cried out or fired a shot, not one of them would have a dog's chance of escape.

The German moved a step or two. Rodney could just see his heavy outline in the gloom of the winter night. Then the man stopped again. But he was still so close to the Russians that he might have stepped on them if he had moved.

Suddenly, like a shadow, a figure rose behind him—swiftly, yet silent as a phantom. By his huge breadth of shoulder, Rodney realised that he must be Shasta the Cossack.

Two great hands lashed out, and locked around the German's neck. The cry the frightened man strove to utter was strangled in his throat. The grip tightened. There was a faint croaking sound. Then the burly form went limp, and a moment later Shasta laid him quietly down among the frozen reeds.

The whole thing was so deadly deliberate that Rodney felt almost sick. Yet he knew—none better—that it was the only thing to do, and that Shasta's action had probably saved them all.

Ostoff moved on, and the rest followed. It was eerie work, creeping through narrow channels in the stiff-frozen rushes or among the almost leafless brushwood. Beneath them, the mud was iron hard; overhead the stars twinkled frostily in a clear sky. A slight breeze from the east whispered uncannily across the waste, hiding the slight rustlings of their movements, but at the same time making it difficult to hear enemy footsteps.

Every minute or two Ostoff would stop and listen intently for a little, then push on again as steadily and silently as before. In spite of the darkness, he was never at fault, and he seemed to have some sixth sense which warned him when they were too near to an enemy outpost.

It was trying work, and in spite of the bite of the frost, beads of perspiration stood out on Rodney's forehead.

At last the character of the ground began to change. The reeds and low brush gave place to trees. They were old and gnarled, yet of no great height. Here Ostoff rose to his feet and began to move a little more rapidly, yet still with the most extreme caution.

Another quarter of a mile, and Ostoff stopped short and raised his arm. Following the direction of his pointing finger, Rodney glimpsed a faint glow of light in the distance, between the tree trunks. His heartbeats quickened, for he realised that they were very near their goal.

Ostoff put his mouth close to Rodney's ear. "That's the cabin," he whispered. "They will have a sentry at the door, perhaps two. And there will also be a field telephone connecting the general's quarters with the front line. The first thing to do is to cut the wire; the second to settle the sentries."

"I'll cut the wire," said Rodney eagerly.

Ostoff shook his head. "Shasta must do that," he answered. "You are a marksman, it is true, but the Cossack can move more quietly than any man on earth except perhaps a Red Indian. Besides, he had the strength, as you have seen, to kill a man with his bare hands."

The argument was unanswerable. Ostoff spoke a word to the attaman, and he glided away, with a silence amazing in one of his huge bulk.

The rest waited. To Rodney the suspense of the waiting was far worse than that of the long crawl through the frozen marsh. The night seemed full of ghostly sounds, and his vivid imagination pictured a dozen mishaps that might wreck their chance of achieving their great coup.

Ostoff, less highly strung, stood very still, while as for Leslie Palliser, whose nerves were of cast steel, he had seated himself upon a tree felled by some vagrant shell, and was leaning back comfortably, taking what rest he might.

More than once Rodney fancied that he heard steps approaching, and started eagerly forward. But there was no sign of the Cossack.

"That chap's taking the mischief of a time," drawled Leslie at last. "Hadn't I better go and look for him?"

The words were hardly out of his mouth before the Cossack himself came gliding up out of the gloom.

He went straight to Ostoff, and said something in his ear.

Ostoff gave a sigh of relief.

"It's all right. He's finished his work," he told the others. "There were two wires and he has cut them both."

"What was the delay?" asked Leslie.

"A fool of a linesman," said Ostoff. "But he"—he shrugged his shoulders—"he will trouble us no more."

"And now for the hut," he went on curtly. "Shasta and two of his men will attend to the sentries. The rest of us must be ready for a rush. Remember, all of you, that no shot must be fired. Everything must be done in absolute silence."

He moved on towards the light which still showed clearly among the trees. A few steps brought them to the edge of a small clearing, in the centre of which stood the forester's hut, a small, solid-looking building. Lights showed from a window on the side nearest to them, and also from the front.

The light from the front of the little house was enough to show that two big, powerful-looking men stood, one on each side of the door. They were in heavy overcoats which came nearly to their heels, and each had a rifle.

Ostoff stopped again, and beckoned to Shasta, and he and two of his men came forward. Ostoff spoke a word or two in Russian, and the three at once dropped down and went crawling away across the glade, as silent and almost as invisible as so many snakes. Coarse grass covered the ground, and Rodney found it absolutely impossible to follow their progress.

Voices came from the hut itself. There was evidently a number of men with the guard. Rodney himself breathing hard, with every nerve screwed up for the coming struggle. He envied Leslie who, cool and nonchalant as ever, leaned easily against a tree.

"That chap Shasta is a wonder," drawled Leslie. "I've been trying to spot him all the way across, and I'm hanged if I can see a sign of him."

"By Jove," he added, "I wouldn't be one of those sentry chaps for any price you could offer me."

As if in answer to his words, the nearest of the two sentries fell over forwards as if struck by lightning, and at the same moment a shadow rose behind the second, there was the gleam of a knife-blade, a choking sigh, and he too went down.

To Rodney, unaccustomed to this kind of primitive warfare, the business seemed gruesome. But he reminded himself that individual lives hardly counted, when the safety of a whole army was at stake. Next moment Ostoff had given the signal to advance, and was moving silently across the little glade.

It was only a few steps to the cabin. They were across in a moment. Ostoff held up a hand for silence, and went cautiously to the side window. He peered through the glass, then motioned Rodney to approach.

The glass was frosted, but the heat within had partly melted the ice so that it was possible to see through. In the centre of the room was a large heavy table. It was covered with a cloth and spread with such a meal as certainly none of the Russians under General Slavinski had seen for weeks. There was a ham, a boar's head, a large pâté de foie gras, and white bread and fresh butter, while a number of bottles of wine, some half-full, some empty, showed that the German general's cellar was kept well supplied.

Half a dozen candles lighted the place, and a big log-fire burnt in the open hearth.

But these details Rodney barely glanced at. His whole attention was occupied by the men who sat around the table. German officers all of them, and all, by their badges, evidently of high rank. There were ten of them, and most of them typical Prussians, with fair hair cut close to their heads, upturned moustaches, and the arrogant, overbearing expression which is typical of the East German.

"That's Kramer at the head of the table," said Ostoff in Rodney's ear. "Remember, whatever happens he must not escape. Rather than that, we must kill him. You understand?"

His voice, though the merest whisper, had a thrill in it which made Rodney fully realise bow desperately in earnest he was.

"All right," he answered curtly, and glanced again at Kramer to make sure of him. Kramer was different from the rest, not so tall, and much darker. He was older, too, and his thick moustache was nearly gray. His lips were very thin, his eyes the colour of steel. He looked to Rodney the very embodiment of the Prussian spirit—cold, cruel, and relentless.

Ostoff straightened himself. He was on the point of giving the signal to attack, when a door at the back of the room opened, and a quiet-looking, elderly man entered. He carried a dish in his hands.

Ostoff started slightly. "Why, it's Varkoe—Varkoe the forester!" he muttered. "An old friend of mine, Sterne. Thank goodness they haven't murdered him, at any rate."

The old man came forward with his dish. He was clearly very nervous, and as he approached the table he was unlucky enough to stumble over General Kramer's foot, which was stretched out sideways.

The angry oath the general uttered could be plainly heard by the watchers at the window. Instantly the nearest officer sprang from his seat; he snatched the dish from Varkoe's hand, and, raising it, brought it down with fearful force on the poor old forester's head. Varkoe's hands shot up, and, reeling backwards, he crashed to the floor.

All the blood in Rodney's body boiled with rage. His fists clenched, and in an instant whatever compunction he had left was gone.

"The brute!" he muttered fiercely, "The brute!"

The officer who had knocked down Varkoe turned to the door.

"Sentry, remove this carrion!" he ordered.

"It is other and worse carrion that he will remove," snarled Ostoff between set teeth, and darted for the door. Rodney, Leslie, and the rest followed hard at his heels.

Ostoff flung open the door, and the first thing that the astonished Germans saw was the black muzzle of his revolver pointed straight at their general's heart.


"UP with your hands!" he snapped, and his voice rang like cold steel. "If any one of you moves, your general dies."

There was no mistaking the deadly menace in his tone, and his words were backed not only by his own pistol, but by those of Rodney and Leslie, while the doorway behind was filled with the fierce, bearded faces of the Cossacks.

Never was surprise more complete. The expression upon the faces of those Germans would have made the fortune of any film show. Rage, disappointment, and unbelief struggled for the mastery.

But they were helpless and they realised it. Up went every pair of hands except those of the general himself. He stood perfectly still, hardly seeming to breathe, but the look in those steel gray eyes of his was absolutely deadly.

"Yours, too! Put up your hands, General Kramer," Ostoff ordered.

"I offer you my parole," said the general, in a queer, strained voice. He seemed to find a difficulty in speaking at all.

"And I refuse to take it," retorted Ostoff, with flaming eyes. "A man who will sit still and see such a piece of brutality enacted as that"—he pointed to Varkoe's unconscious body as he spoke—"a man who will act in such a way is not worthy to be treated as an officer or a gentleman.

"Shasta," he continued, "tie these men, all of them, and gag them securely."

"But this is an outrage," said the general, in a voice which quivered with ill-suppressed fury.

"A fine person you are to talk of outrages!" returned the Russian fiercely. "Keep your hands above your head. Be very careful, or I shall not trouble to take you back alive."

It was a new Ostoff, this. The brutal treatment of the poor old forester had stirred him to the very depths. Rodney realised that he was capable of instantly carrying out his threat, and that Kramer's life at present hung by a thread.

Kramer, his face white with fury, had sense enough to obey, and meantime the Cossacks who had crowded in were rapidly at work. The hands of each German were tied behind his back, and gags, made ready before hand, fixed between their teeth.

Three only remained to be tied, Kramer and an officer on each side of him. Shasta himself took Kramer's wrists in his great rough hands, and was in the act of slipping the noose of thin, stout cord around them when suddenly the young officer on Kramer's left, the same who had so brutally knocked down old Varkoe, stooped swiftly, snatched up a wine bottle, and aimed a terrific blow at Shasta's head.

Shasta flung himself back and saved his head, but the bottle met his shoulder with such force as would have felled a lesser man.

"Don't shoot!" hissed Ostoff, but there was no need for his warning. Before the German officer could make another move of any sort Shasta had him in his iron grip, while a second Cossack caught the general and held him helpless.

The German, a powerful man himself, struggled furiously, striking out with his fists, and kicking with his heavy boots.

Shasta paid no more attention to blows or kicks than if he had been a man of wood. He had his arms around the German's waist, and the power of his hug was something terrible to see.

Breathless and motionless the rest watched, while the Cossack's arms sunk into the other's flesh. The German's face went purple, foam formed upon his lips, his eyes began to start.

Suddenly there was a crack like the breaking of a rotten stick. Even the imperturbable Leslie gasped.

"Great ghost, it's his ribs!" he muttered.

Sick with horror, yet absolutely fascinated, Rodney saw the German's body go limp. Shasta lifted his twelve stone of weight clear from the floor, then flung him down with a crash on the bare boards, where he lay alongside the insensible body of his victim.

A moment later, Kramer and the remaining member of his staff were bound and gagged like the rest.

Ostoff turned to Rodney.

"Guard the door, please. I must search the place for papers."

There was not a moment to spare, for at any time messengers might arrive with news from the general. But Ostoff's search, if hurried, was absolutely complete. It was rewarded by several bundles of official-looking documents, a roll of maps and a quantity of German notes and gold.

The notes Ostoff flung into the fire; the gold he collected, and divided among his party to carry.

"It will pay for some of the stuff these swine have looted," he said contemptuously. Then he knelt down beside the old forester, and rapidly examined him.

"He is not dead," he said—"only stunned. But it is impossible to take him back with us. I think the best thing will be to leave him. He can truthfully say that he knows nothing of what has happened. But the brute who has half-killed him—him we must take away. It will not do to leave his body on the premises."

He gave an order to the Cossacks, and two lifted the German between them, and carried him out.

Ostoff turned to Rodney and Leslie.

"We must each of us take one of the prisoners," he said. "And each must be responsible for his man. If there is any trouble—" he touched his pistol-butt significantly, but did not finish his sentence.

"What about this place?" asked Rodney. "Do we leave it?"

"We must. If we burn it we only attract unnecessary attention."

Rodney nodded, and took the prisoner whom Ostoff assigned to him. Leaving the candles still alight, and the food untouched on the table, they moved silently away into the gloom.

Getting through had been bad enough. Rodney recognised that getting back was going to be worse by a long sight. To personally conduct a large and extremely sulky German major through his own lines was going to be the mischief of a job.

The others evidently shared his opinion, for as they started, Ostoff whispered in his ear, "Remember, Sterne, whatever happens, these men must not be allowed to escape alive."

This reminder made Rodney cold all over. It would be simply too ghastly if he had to butcher his prisoner in cold blood. Ostoff, however, meant every word of it, and himself took charge of General Kramer.

As they moved quietly through the wood, each man driving his prisoner before him at the end of a short rope, Rodney's ears were straining for some sound from the direction of the hut. He knew that it could not possibly be very long before the disappearance of the general became known. Messengers or other officers must constantly visit headquarters, and the first one who arrived and found the staff missing would not waste much time in giving the alarm.

But they got through the wood, and into the more open ground beyond, without hearing anything more than the moan of the night breeze, the distant neigh of a horse, and once a faint crackle of rifle-fire very far off to the north.

They bent away to the southwards, and Rodney realised that Ostoff was going by a longer route than that by which they had come. His knowledge of the ground was almost uncanny. Rodney, though he had known the marshes of Flatsea Island every since he could walk, would not have gambled on finding his way through them on a black winter's night like this.

They crossed the open in safety, and gained another patch of wood. They were barely in the shelter of this before three shots rang out in rapid succession in the direction from which they had come.

Almost instantly they were answered by other shots which clearly came from the German front line. Then a bugle sounded clear and sharp.

Leslie came up abreast of Rodney.

"The fat's in the fire now, old son," he whispered. "We'll have the whole Germany army on top of us in about two ticks."

"Trust Ostoff," replied Rodney. "I'll lay he's got something up his sleeve."

Ostoff quickened his pace. Rodney's prisoner was either sulky or stupid, for he began to stumble badly. Rodney did not know much German, but he contrived to make the man understand that it was not going to be healthy for him if he failed to keep his feet. He went better after that.

The wood grew thicker. Dense bushes met overhead. They had to dodge in and out of almost impenetrable thickets. The going grew worse and worse. Rodney wondered what on earth had induced Ostoff to choose such a terrible piece of country.

It was not long before he understood. All of a sudden the whole sky was seamed with white fire. Star shells were screeching upwards like huge rockets. The whole of the desolate country-side glowed like day under the brilliant illumination, but here beneath these stunted yet wide-spreading trees the raiding party was safe from observation.

The flares died away, only to be renewed again and again. It was clear that the German lines were in a tremendous state of excitement. But Ostoff paid no attention. He kept going as fast as he could drag his prisoners along.

Rodney's spirits began to rise. It seemed to him that they must be very near the southern horn of the German lines. But they were not to escape so easily. There came a sudden crashing of heavy footsteps behind them. It was clear that a German picket was on their track.

Ostoff turned his head.

"Run!" he said curtly, and driving Kramer before him, went on at a double.

It seemed madness, for the noise of their going must be heard by the Germans. But Rodney had such trust in his leader that he did not hesitate.

Sure enough, as they began to run, there came a shout from the gloom behind. Their pursuers had heard them.

Ostoff kept straight on. A moment later, the fugitives found themselves on the bank of a narrow, winding creek which was covered with thick dark ice.

"This way!" cried Ostoff, and turned eastwards along the ice. The others followed. Round the next bend Ostoff pulled up.

"Follow me!" he ordered. "When I leave the ice you are to do the same. You are not to go a yard farther than I. You understand?" He repeated his orders to the Cossacks, then started off again.

As they followed they heard the nailed boots of their German pursuers clatter on the ice. But the latter hesitated a few moments, evidently uncertain which way to take, and by the time they had made up their mind Ostoff's party and their prisoners had a long start.

They needed it, for, cumbered as they were by their unwilling prisoners, they could not travel as fast as the Germans. By the sounds Rodney could tell the latter were gaining, but the creek was so narrow and so crooked that the Germans could not sight them. Still it was only a matter of time before they must do so, and Rodney, as he drove his surly major in front of him, wondered vaguely what would happen then.

He had not long to wait. All of a sudden Ostoff, who was just in front of him, pulled up short, and dragged the general up the low bank to the right. Rodney at once followed his example, and so did the others.

In a moment the whole party and their prisoners were crouching in the thick brush on the bank.

They were hardly hidden before the Germans appeared round the bend behind. Though too dark to see their faces, Rodney could make out their bulky forms. There seemed to be nearly a score of them, and they were coming along full pelt, making the ice ring under their pounding tread. They never realised that the Russian raiders had gone to ground, but swept past as hard as they could go.

Ostoff grasped Rodney's arm, and pointed in silence. Rodney, utterly mystified, watched the Germans swing past. Then, without the slightest warning, came a crack which rang like a gun-shot through the night. Followed a shriek from half a dozen voices at once, then a loud splashing and despairing cries for help.

From Ostoff's lips came a gasping sigh, which told Rodney how deep was his relief.

"It's worked!" he said aloud. "It has worked, Sterne. Now I believe that we are safe."

"But how—" began Rodney.

Ostoff cut him short.

"A spring—a warm spring rises here. The creek never freezes over at that spot. Come! we must not waste a minute."

The screams had already died to silence. Ostoff sprang up, and the little party, with their prisoners, went rapidly on their way.


"THEY'RE still hunting for their blessed general, Roddy," chuckled Leslie, as the white glare of a distant star shell illuminated the sky.

"I fancy it will be some time before they find him," answered Rodney. "He must be miles away by now."

"That chap Ostoff is a real wonder," declared Leslie. "I say, it was a lark, wasn't it, Roddy?"

"Top hole!" agreed Rodney. "And the beauty of it is that it has worked to perfection. How sick the Germans will be when they find how they've been fooled!"

"Funny, how entirely they depend on their officers," said Leslie. "They're like a body without a brain when they lose their staff. I don't believe a single one of them has the faintest notion what we are doing. More than half Slavinski's men are out of their reach already."

"I wish they all were," said Rodney rather seriously, as he watched the seemingly endless files of Russians passing silently the spot where he and his cousin sat under the shelter of the wide wings of their 'plane. "It takes a precious long time to get a whole army off through a narrow track like this. I'm afraid they won't have finished before daylight."

"It will be rather a tight fit," allowed Leslie. "But the Huns will hardly venture to chase 'em through this thundering bog. It don't suit their style of fighting one bit."

"Chasing! No, they won't try that," replied Rodney quickly. "What they'll do is to get those big guns of theirs to work. And as they've got a range of at least six miles, they'll make a hash of the Russian rearguard."

Leslie stretched himself. "Ah, well," he said, "they've got to get the range first, and that's what we're here for—to stop 'em doing it. I've never had a turn up with a Fokker yet, and it might be quite interesting."

He yawned. "I'm beastly sleepy. Suppose we get forty winks while we can. Those Cossacks will wake us before it's light."

It seemed a good plan, and curling up in their sheepskins on the frozen ground, they slept until the deep voice of one of the sentries roused them.

"Jove, they're not all gone yet!" was Rodney's first remark as, in the dim grayness, he saw men still filing past.

"Can't be a lot left," replied Leslie. "Hallo, here's breakfast coming. What luck!"

"With General Slavinski's compliments," said the orderly in French, as he laid down a samovar of boiling hot tea, some boiled eggs, biscuits, butter, and a small pot of caviare.

"Good chap, the general!" said Leslie, as he quickly poured out the hot tea, then spread a biscuit with butter and caviare. "Eat hearty, old son. It's going to be hungry work up topside to-day."

The light had increased but little by the time they had finished their meal. The sky was a uniform gray, and the cold was bitter.

"Snow coming," said Leslie briefly, as he began to run over the straining wires of the 'plane with quick, clever fingers. "Well, it's a mighty good thing it didn't come last night. By this time, Ostoff must have got the head of the column pretty well clear of the swamp."

"Ready, old man?" he asked, as he slipped into the pilot-seat.

The ground was a bit rough for getting off it, but Leslie skilfully avoided trouble, and a few moments later the big machine was rising in corkscrew circles through the stark cold of the winter dawn. There was in the air that bitter rawness which is a certain sign of snow, but Rodney, peering out over the rim of the boat-shaped fuselage, had not a thought to give to the weather. All his mind was concentrated on the sight spread out below.

Behind, to the east, was a long, dark snake-like line, which wound in a series of strangely-shaped curves all through the heart of the seemingly impassable swamp. The head of it was hidden in the far distance, the tail was still immediately below. It was Slavinski's army retreating through the marshes under Ostoff's guidance, and though it went to Rodney's heart to see the brave Russians forced to fall back, yet he felt a little thrill of pride to think that he had helped to make their escape a possibility, and save many thousands of lives.

Next, he looked to the westward, and saw, beneath, the smouldering embers of the German bivouac fires. Around them men stamped their chilled feet, or sat, quietly eating their rations. But there was no firing, and nowhere did he see any signs of particular activity. It was quite clear to him that the Germans had no notion of the disappointment in store for them.

"You going over their lines, Leslie?" he asked, bending forward.

"What's the use? No good getting 'Archied' unless we have to, and we can see all we want from right here."

All of a sudden he pulled over the cloche, and sent the big 'plane up at a much steeper angle.

"Look at that!" he said sharply. "The beggar's have stolen a march on us."

Rodney looked, and saw a large monoplane swooping towards them out of the thick layer of cloud overhead.

"Get to work with the gun, Roddy!" cried Leslie. "We've got to nail the blighter. Let him get down safe, and it will cost Slavinski a thousand men."

Rodney was already busy with the Lewis. He had a tray of cartridges ready, and his eyes on the German 'plane.

"She's not a Taube," said Leslie, in a puzzled tone, "nor a Fokker. What the blazes is she?"

Then as the monoplane cleared the cloud and showed up more plainly, he gave a low whistle.

"A D.F.W., one of those new brutes from Leipzig. Roddy, old son, we've got our work cut out for us. She's as fast as we are—or near it."

He laughed recklessly. "Never mind. If it comes to the worst we can always ram her."

All the time, as he spoke, he was driving upwards for all he was worth, straining every stay to get the upper gauge. And the biplane responded nobly. She climbed faster than the German, and the pilot of the D.F.W. had thrown away half his advantage by his ill-considered swoop.

But with the rush of it, he still had the legs of the big biplane, and changing his volplane for an upward swoop, he came swirling towards her almost on a level.

As he came up, his observer opened fire. Clang! Clang! came two bullets flattening on the armoured underside of the British 'plane. Half a dozen little holes appeared in the wing just over Rodney's head, but neither he nor Leslie were touched and he held his fire, hoping for a better chance.

He got it. Round came Leslie, banking at a perilous angle. Flicking down his elevator, he turned and made for his enemy at top speed. With engines all out, the biplane roared straight down upon her adversary at a pace well over a hundred miles an hour. Rodney held his breath. It seemed certain that next instant the two 'planes must meet end on in mid-air, and crash earthwards together in a mass of tangled wreckage.

And so it would have been, but at the last second the German's nerve failed. Down went his elevator and down went his machine, right underneath the biplane, and so close that the air-wave of the latter's passage took—so to speak—the wind from the monoplane's wings, and caused him to drop helplessly in an almost perpendicular fall.

"Now!" yelled Leslie. "Now!" and banked steeply.

Rodney had already forestalled his intention, and snatching two bombs from the felt-lined box hurled them one after another down upon the helpless monoplane. The first went whizzing harmlessly past; the second—well—just where it hit her Rodney could not see. What he did see was a sudden burst of crimson flame, and as the dull roar of the explosion rose to their ears the enemy 'plane went tumbling earthwards, turning over and over as it fell.

"And you didn't fire a shot!" said Leslie, as he steadied his machine and brought her back to a level keel. "Well, a bomb beats bullets any day of the week."

He glanced round the horizon. "Any more of these gentry going to try conclusions, I wonder?"

"Don't see any," replied Rodney. "Hadn't you better shift out of this? We're right over the German lines."

The words were hardly past his lips before a white puff rose from among the trees immediately beneath, and a shell came screaming up to burst in a great mushroom of smoke not twenty yards in front of the spinning tractor. Something shrieked past Rodney's ear, and at the same instant he was conscious that Leslie had suddenly dropped forward over the wheel. And the great biplane, with her engines all out, was still heading straight across the German lines.

"Leslie!" he cried desperately, but Leslie did not move. And Rodney saw that the blood was streaming from a jagged wound over his left ear.

He leaped from his own seat, and scrambled over in front of Leslie. Though never in his life had he piloted a 'plane he knew the controls. Setting his teeth hard, he swung the cloche, and the 'plane, responding perfectly, came sharp round to the left, and turning completely shot away in an easterly direction. Next instant came the deep whuff of another bursting shell. A storm of shrapnel whistled all round the 'plane, and as she heaved and swung like a feather in the rush of the shaken air, Rodney felt a sharp blow on the left shoulder, and knew that he too was hit.


HIS head whirled. It was only the certain knowledge that if he too collapsed, nothing could save them, that enabled him to retain his consciousness. He clung to the cloche like grim death, and somehow managed to keep the 'plane on even keel. Once more the hidden gun barked out below, but this third shell burst a long way astern, and Rodney realised that they were already clear of the German lines and well out over the marsh.

The shock of his wound was passing, but his left arm felt numb and powerless, and the warm blood was soaking his sleeve and trickling down on to his wrist, where it froze almost instantly in the rush of the icy air. He wondered vaguely how long he could hold on, and what would happen if they had to come down in the heart of the great marsh below.

Some minutes passed. The German lines were now far behind, and all danger from their guns was at an end. And still Rodney found the 'plane running straight and true under his unaccustomed hands. Guiding a 'plane in mid-air is in fact no more difficult than steering a fast car along an open road, and Rodney had driven cars of all sorts ever since old enough to hold a licence.

"If it wasn't for that hole in my shoulder I'm sure I could carry on till we are clear of the marsh," he muttered thickly, and bit his lip in a desperate effort to keep down the horrible fog which seemed to rise within his brain.

Dark specks were dancing before his eyes, a deadly sickness came over him; he was conscious only of the steady roar of the exhaust and the endless sweep of icy air in his face. Presently even the roar began to die away, and in spite of his most desperate efforts to retain them he knew that his senses were going. Then his grip relaxed, and he slipped back helplessly on top of Leslie.

* * * * *

"They can't refuse you your certificate after this, Roddy," said a voice in Rodney's ear, and looking up vaguely, he saw Leslie bending over him. The roar of the engine, the beat of the icy air—these had ceased, and he realised that he was not only on firm ground, but under cover of some sort. More than that, he felt quite warm and comparatively comfortable.

"What—why—how the mischief—?" he began. His cousin cut him short with a laugh.

"Keep quiet. It's all very simple. I was only knocked out for a few minutes by that chunk of shrapnel. It didn't hit me full, thank goodness, though it did cut a small slab out just over my ear. I was just coming round when you dropped back on top of me, and as we were all of three thousand feet up there was plenty of time to lay you down and take over the controls. Still, I wasn't feeling exactly fit to run her all the way back to Riga, and to make matters worse it was beginning to snow. So I brought her down by a farm-house not far from Grodno, and got her and ourselves under cover as speedily as might be. That was a matter of five or six hours ago, and here we are as safe and comfy as possible.

"Ostoff is here and Slavinski has sent a surgeon; there's lashings of grub, and nothing to worry about."

Rodney gave a loud sigh of relief.

"By Jove, Leslie, I never expected to see you alive again," he said, and though he tried to speak lightly his voice was not very steady.

"Well, it was rather a close call," confessed Leslie. "If you hadn't taken charge we should certainly have been scuppered. Were you hit the same time I was?"

"No. That was a second shell. I'd managed to turn her just in time. It was only a rap, but I suppose I lost a lot of blood or something."

"It was a bit more than a rap, old son," replied Leslie quietly. "You've got a nasty hole in your shoulder, and how you managed to hang on as you did beats me. All I can say is that I'm mighty glad I had you along, and I shall be jolly sorry to have to go back to work with some other observer."

"But you won't. Alexieff promised me six weeks in Russia."

"And that's just about how long it's going to be before you get your arm out of a sling, Roddy," replied Leslie dryly. "At least, that's what the doctor-man says."

Rodney was dismayed at the prophecy, but the Russian surgeon who presently came in and dressed his wound told him that he had been lucky to get off as well as he had. It the bullet had penetrated another eighth of an inch, he would very likely have lost his arm. He warned him that he would have to lie up entirely for a week, and even then be very careful for some time.

"In any case," he added, "you could not do much if you were out and about. It looks like snowing for a week."

"What about General Slavinski's men?" asked Rodney anxiously. "Are they safe?"

"Every one of them. Most were clear of the marshes before the snow began. As a matter of fact, the snow came just at the right time, for it kept the rest of the German 'planes down, and as for the Germans themselves they won't get much farther for the present. Indeed, I rather fancy they will stay where they are for the rest of the winter. Now you had better get to sleep. I am to stay with you till you are better. Those are General Slavinski's orders."

So Rodney, who was still very weary after the experiences of the last forty-eight hours, lay back and closed his eyes. He did not open them again until after night-fall when some very excellent soup was brought him. With his toughly-knit frame, and excellent constitution he mended rapidly, and eight days later was able to get into a sleigh and be driven to Grodno, from which place he went by rail to Riga.

Every one seemed to know all about him, and at every station officers and civilians crowded to meet him and do all in their power for him. He was quite embarrassed by all the attentions showered upon him, and only wished that Leslie had been with him. But Leslie had left four days earlier, and was already at Riga, working on the new 'planes.

The big surprise came when Rodney reached Riga, and found Admiral Alexieff's own aide waiting for him with a splendidly-appointed sleigh and a pair of fine horses. He was driven straight to the admiral's house, and just as on the last occasion, found the latter hard at work in his plainly-furnished study. He rose as Rodney entered, and gave him his hand.

"I congratulate you, Lieutenant Sterne," he said warmly. "I told you that you could do good work for Russia, but I confess that I had no idea how good that work would be. We owe it to you that General Slavinski's army was extricated from an apparently hopeless position, and we are indeed grateful to you."

"To me, sir!" stammered Rodney, growing red. "Why, I had nothing to do with it. It was Commander Ostoff who led the troops through the marsh. And it was my cousin who piloted the 'plane."

"And who was it who planned the capture of General Kramer?" suggested the admiral mildly.

"Oh, any one might have thought of that, sir."

"Ah, perhaps they might. But as it happened, they did not. It was a master-stroke, Lieutenant Sterne, and undoubtedly saved the whole situation. I have the story from General Slavinski himself, and I am authorised to offer you this little memento of the occasion."

He picked up a small leather case from the table, and Rodney caught his breath as he saw that it was that most coveted of Russian military decorations, the Order of St. George. The admiral himself pinned it upon the lapel of Rodney's much-worn jacket, and cut short his stammered thanks by telling him that both Leslie and Ostoff had received a similar decoration.

"And now about yourself," he went on genially. "With that wounded arm, you will not be fit for service for some time to come. I suggest that you should spend the next few weeks here and in Petrograd, and then go back to England by way of Katharina. The new railway to that port will be open in a month or so, and there will be plenty of vessels, both British and neutral, on which you can find your way home."

"Thank you, sir," replied Rodney earnestly, "there is nothing I should like better. I have never seen Petrograd, and it will be tremendously interesting to see the new line to the north. But will ships be able to use Katharina Harbour so early in the season?"

"It is ice-free practically all the year round. That is why we have built this new railway," the admiral told him. "The Baltic freezes because it is nearly fresh water, but up there we are in the tail of the Gulf Stream, and the sea itself never freezes. As a matter of fact, it is almost our only avenue of communication with the outside world at present."

Rodney was turning to leave when a thought suddenly occurred to him.

"You said, sir, that you would communicate with the British Admiralty about that matter of the Power House which I saw on the Schleswig coast. Has anything been done?"

The admiral shook his head.

"That I cannot tell you. I sent word as you asked, and the information was acknowledged. I have heard nothing more. Perhaps when you return home, you will have an opportunity of going into the matter."

"I mean to, sir," replied Rodney firmly. A minute later he was in the sleigh again, being driven to the hotel, where he found himself most comfortably billeted.


THE sun was bright overhead, but thick ice still covered the broad Neva as Rodney, accompanied by a couple of Russian officers, drove to the Central Railway Station at Petrograd to start on his long journey home.

Arriving at the station, he was not allowed to lift a hand to help himself. His Russian friends' servants looked after his luggage, they themselves brought him books and papers, provisions and fruit for the journey. They had even insisted on sending a man with him as far as Katharina to look after him.

When at last the heavy train steamed out of the dark station on its long run to the north, Rodney dropped into his seat, feeling quite lonely. Glad as he was to be getting back to England, he knew that he could never forget the kindness which had been showered on him during the last six weeks, and he vowed to himself that the next time he visited Russia he would stay a whole winter.

He glanced out of the window. Already they were outside the city and rolling through the dreary wilderness which surrounds it, almost up to its edge. He shivered slightly and turned to the pile of books and papers on the seat beside him.

"They seem to have been doing you rather well, old son. You're positively plump."

At sound of the voice Rodney started violently and looked up.

"You, Leslie!" he gasped unbelievingly.

"You've struck it in once, Roddy. It's me myself, or as much of me as is left after the six most strenuous weeks I ever put in. Working all day at the new 'planes, and going out to dinner about six nights a week, I tell you it's been pretty strenuous."

"I can't say how glad I am to see you, old chap," declared Rodney; "I was feeling positively homesick. Those people in Petrograd gave me a topping time. But why didn't you let me know you were coming?"

"Didn't know myself, till yesterday. Then the admiral told me you were leaving by this train, so I packed up in a hurry and whooped off.

"Hope you won't be too bored by my company," he added with a grin.

"Dare say I can put up with it," chuckled Rodney. "I say, old man, if we get a few days' leave, you must come to Flatesea with me."

"I'll jolly well try. I say, Roddy, have you heard anything more about that big blighter on the Island?"

"Not a word. I wrote to my father to tell him about Mandell's double at the Schleswig Tower House, but I've had no reply. Of course it's even chances whether he ever got the letter. There's no real post from Russia in these days."

Leslie nodded. His laughing face was graver than usual.

"Yes, as likely as not the letter's at the bottom of the North Sea this minute. Those swine are torpedoing everything at sight. But the admiral's message went through to our people at Whitehall, didn't it?"

"Yes, and was 'acknowledged'!" answered Rodney dryly. "Filed by some clerk, and no more notice taken, I'll bet any money."

"Safe bet, old man," said Leslie. "The old country is still stiff with spies—and worse. A chap told me the other day that they found three German wireless installations in London in one week, and one of them not three hundred yards from Trafalgar Square."

"But this isn't ordinary wireless, Leslie. As I told you, there was no mast on the Schleswig Power House."

"Then it's some new infernal device," grunted Leslie. "We'll get to the bottom of it somehow, old son, and don't you forget it."

During the long journey north the two cousins had plenty of time to compare notes. Leslie, who had spent all his life in Australia, was all eagerness to hear about the English branch of the Sternes, and Rodney was equally interested in Leslie's story of his life on the big cattle run which belonged to his father.

The train travelled all round the southern shore of the great Lake Ladoga, then turned northwards through the huge province of Olonetz, past that inland sea, Onega, and next morning they were running through the frozen steppes close to the shore of the ice-bound White Sea.

Progress was slow, for the line was not yet fully completed. Great gangs of Austrian prisoners were still at work, even in this bitter weather, and the two young Englishmen were able to see the beginnings of what is to-day a magnificent broad gauge railway over a thousand miles in length.

Alexandrovsk, the port of Katharina harbour, was deep in snow, and although it was now late in March the weather was purely Arctic. Out in the bay itself great ice-floes swam, but the sea itself was open, and they were told there would be no difficulty in getting round the North Cape.

There was a ship ready to sail that day, the "Tula," a big Russian tramp of about 4000 tons, and they decided to go by her rather than wait for a British vessel, the "Chester," which was loading.

With the papers they carried, there was no difficulty whatever in taking passage, and within a few hours they were aboard and steaming out through Kola Bay. They stayed on deck for an hour or two, but then the cold drove them below, and they took it easy in the roomy, if roughly-furnished, cabin which had been assigned to them.

The "Tula" was not speedy, but she was sound and seaworthy. She ran through a nasty gale off the Varanger Fiord, then ambled round the North Cape, and so down the Norwegian coast, where she put in at several ports to land or take in cargo.

She was bound for Stavanger, and as, all the way down the long stretch of coast, she was within sight of land, her skipper and passengers were able to take it easy. Vicious as were the German submarines, they had not yet taken to invading the territorial waters of a neutral State.

The "Tula" reached Stavanger on a calm but misty day early in April, and as she was to be there for some hours the two cousins hurried ashore, and went off to a good restaurant for luncheon. Food aboard the Russia ship was plentiful, but rough, and it was a joy to get a really well-cooked and served meal.

They came aboard again in great spirits, just before the "Tula" was due to sail.

"Hull, to-morrow afternoon!" said Leslie, slapping his cousin on the shoulder. "It'll be great to be back again. I feel as if I'd been away a year."

"Hallo!" he broke off, as he noticed a fresh pile of luggage on deck. "More passengers."

Two or three men, who looked like commercial travellers, were standing about on deck, but as the ship steamed out into a chilly breeze they went below, an example which the cousins shortly followed. Leslie went straight into their cabin, but Rodney strolled forward into the little saloon.

Five minutes later, he came quickly into the cabin where Leslie was just changing out of his shore-going clothes.

"What's up?" asked the latter sharply, for he saw by Rodney's face that he was much disturbed.

"I—I hardly know," Rodney answered, frowning, "but it's my belief, Leslie, that that fellow I tackled in the Power House is aboard."

"What! Mandell's double, you mean?"

"Just so! I was sitting in the saloon, and a man put his head in at the door. I had my back to the door, but I spotted him in the mirror opposite. The moment he set eyes on me he hooked it."

"And you say this was the Power House man?"

"I—I think so. I couldn't be certain, for he was wearing a thick beard and moustache. But I could almost swear to that big, fleshy nose and those nasty cold eyes."

Leslie shook his head.

"It don't seem likely, Roddy. What would bring the chap up here? Fact is, you've got that blighter on the brain, and you see him in any one who looks the least bit like him."

"I hope you're right," replied Rodney gravely, but he was clearly not convinced.

"Well, we shall see at supper-time," said Leslie. "And if it is the fellow, why so much the better. We ought to be able to shadow him once he's in England, and with any luck to lay him by the heels."

"I shan't feel easy till he is safe behind barbed wire," said Rodney. "The more I think of it, the more certain I feel that there is something between him and that fellow at Flatsea. There could hardly be two men so much alike unless they were relations."

When they went to supper Leslie was looking round as eagerly as Rodney, but there was no sign of any one at all answering to Rodney's description.

"He's spotted me, and is lying low," whispered Rodney.

"Then we'll have a few words with the steward afterwards," replied Leslie. "Don't you worry, Rodney; we'll run the chap to earth."

They waited till the other passengers had finished and gone out, then Leslie called up the steward, a Dutchman named Hendrik.

"What's become of the other passenger?" he asked, "the man with the big beard?"

"Dere vos not any oder passenger," replied Hendrik, with a completely blank look on his large, smooth face.

"Come now, Hendrik, that won't wash," said Leslie sharply. "Out with it!"

"Dere vos not—" began Hendrik again stolidly, and at that moment a sharp report sent a quiver through the hull of the ship, and instantly came a rush of feet on the deck above, and loud shouts.

"A twelve-pounder!" cried Rodney, leaping to his feet, and making a dash for the companion. He and Leslie reached the deck together, and as they did so a second shell screamed overhead so close they could feel the wind of it, and pitched into the sea a couple of hundred yards away to starboard.

"A submarine!" said Leslie sharply, as he pointed to a long low craft with a sugar loaf structure rising from its deck, which was coming up hand over fist on the port quarter.

"And we've no gun," groaned Rodney. "What infernal luck! We don't stand a dog's chance."

"Wait a jiffy. Old Koslov isn't going to knuckle down without a run for it," replied Leslie quickly. "He's whacking her up for all she's worth."

He was right. Captain Koslov, knowing full well the fate in store for him and his ship, had telegraphed down for full speed, and the big "Tula" was already dashing through the water at much beyond her usual sedate ten knots.

A man standing in the conning tower of the submarine hailed them through a megaphone, but the submarine was not yet within hailing distance, and they could not hear what he said. Getting no result from his shouts, he bellowed an order to the gun-crew on the deck below, and a third shell came shrieking towards the tramp.

But Koslov was conning her with wonderful skill and judgment, dodging her this way and that, and the third shell went wide.

One of the passengers, a young, fair-moustachioed man with a white, drawn face came up.

"Think there's any chance for us, gentlemen?" he asked anxiously.

"There's always a chance," Rodney answered quietly. "We are calling help, you must remember, with our wireless."

"And, by James, that's our only chance," said Leslie in a low voice, as the other drifted away. "That Hun boat can move three knots to our two."

He was right. The enemy was coming up rapidly, and a fourth shell knocked the foremost port life-boat to flinders, while a moment later a fifth struck the bridge, wrecking one end of it, but luckily not hurting Captain Koslov, or the quarter-master at the wheel.

"This is getting a bit hot," said Leslie. "Good old Koslov! He's sticking to it like a soldier. But it's no darned use, Roddy. They'll get us sure as little apples."

"We ought to have a gun," growled Rodney.

"It's sickening to have to scuttle from a tin tank like that. Hallo, that about sees our finish!"

With a fearful rending and crashing, a shell had caught the poor old "Tula" full in the stern, just above the water-line, and passing through exploded in the after-compartment. In doing so, it completely wrecked the steering-gear, and, with her rudder jammed, the tramp began to wheel round in a wide circle.

"Stop your engines, or we shan't trouble to board you!" came a fierce shout from the German officer in the conning tower.

Koslov, with a shrug of his broad shoulders, rang off, the screw ceased to throb, and the maimed steamer presently lay helpless on the almost smooth surface of the sea.

"Stop your wireless!" roared the German through his megaphone.

Up to now the coil had been crackling constantly, sending out its desperate appeal for help across the fast darkening waters. Now it ceased, and all was still.

The submarine shot rapidly alongside.

"This means the rest of the war in a German prison camp," said Rodney bitterly.

"Not a bit of it!" replied Leslie sharply. "We're both in mufti. Who's to know we are not non-combatants?"

"Have we any right to try that game?" asked Rodney doubtfully.

"Every right," replied Leslie, with fierce emphasis. "Surely we needn't be too scrupulous with a pack of infernal pirates! I'm going to try it, I can tell you."

Before he could say anything more, the submarine was alongside, and a dozen fully-armed Germans swarming over the rail. They were headed by a heavily-built lieutenant with a long, lantern-jawed face and deep-set, sullen eyes.

"What do you mean by giving me all this trouble?" he demanded savagely of Koslov.

"I suppose I have a right to save my ship from pirates if I can?" returned the bearded Russian with spirit.

"You may think yourself lucky I didn't sink you at once," retorted the other fiercely. "As it is, I give you ten minutes for you, your crew and passengers to get into the boats. At the end of that time I sink the ship. Klemmer, you take charge here on deck while I go below and get the ship's papers. Donkel, you and Kuypers set the charge in the hold.

"As for the rest of you," he added, with a sneer, turning to the crew and passengers who were grouped together on the after-deck, "you'd best be smart about lowering the boats, if you wish to save your worthless lives."


"HELP get the boats out," whispered Leslie swiftly in Rodney's ear. "It's our best chance of getting away." He dashed off as he spoke, and Rodney, swallowing his disgust as best he might, followed. He would have given two fingers to have had five minutes on the quiet with that sour-faced brute of a German, but this, of course, was impossible. He realised, too, that Leslie was really right, and that it was no use sacrificing their liberty and possible services to their country by going out of their way to declare their identity.

Russians are sure, but these deck hands of the "Tula" were as a rule decidedly slow. On this occasion, however, they thoroughly realised that their lives depended on sheer speed, and the rate at which they got their boats over was a caution.

Naturally, Rodney and Leslie waited for the last. The blocks were stiff, and there was a momentary delay in getting them to work.

Suddenly came a rush of heavy feet across the deck, and the light of a powerful electric torch was flashed upon the group by the boat.

"That's the cub!" shouted a deep, harsh voice. "That's the cub, Nockler. Whatever you do, don't let him escape."

It was the man of the Power House who came rushing at Rodney, and following him was the lantern-jawed lieutenant and a German seaman.

"It's the cub, right enough," replied Rodney, and leaping forward, landed his fist on the big German's jaw, with all the weight of his body behind it. The smack was heard all over the ship, and heavy and powerful as the other was, the blow sent him down on the planking with a tremendous crash.

Nockler, the German lieutenant, uttered a furious oath, and snatching a pistol from the holster at his belt, was in the act of blazing straight at Rodney's head when Leslie, springing past Rodney, caught the man's wrist and flung it up. The pistol exploded harmlessly, and Leslie, roused to fury, seized Nockler by the throat and shook him till his teeth rattled.

"You infernal murderer, I've a mind to throw you overboard," he cried.

"Help! Shoot them down!" gasped Nockler hoarsely, and three of his men came rushing across with levelled rifles.

Another instant, and Rodney and Leslie both would have been shot down, when the big man recovered enough to interfere.

"No, don't shoot!" he ordered breathlessly. "Cover them with your rifles. We must take them alive. Shooting is too easy a death for dogs like these."

As he spoke, he had raised himself to a sitting position, and swiftly drawing a Browning pistol levelled it full at Rodney's head.

"Put up your hands!" he ordered in a voice of death-like menace, and at the same time the muzzle of one of the seamen's rifles was thrust against Leslie's forehead.

For a second or two Rodney and his adversary glared at one another. It was in Rodney's mind to chance the pistol, and fling himself on his enemy. But he realised that the chances were a hundred to one against his reaching him, while any such action on his part would instantly seal his cousin's fate.

"All right, my friend," he said, as he raised his hands. "Your trick this time, as it was mine last. But wait for the third."

"There will be no third," replied the other, with grim certainty, as he rose to his feet. Next moment Rodney and Leslie were seized, each by two men, and dragged across the deck.

Slung over the side, they were dumped roughly down on the steel deck of the submarine, where half a dozen pairs of hands seized them and lifted them up the conning tower. Without delay they were thrust down through the hatch, and a moment later found themselves in the interior of the submarine, which was brilliantly lit by incandescent lamps.

"Take them forward," said a voice in guttural German. "Put a guard over them, and see they do not move."

Both were half-dazed by rough handling, and before they had regained their breath or senses they found themselves seated side by side right forward, their backs against a bulkhead, and a squat, broad-shouldered German standing over them with a rifle.

"I told you that fellow was aboard," said Rodney, in a breathless whisper.

"And you were right, worse luck! My word, but you did paste him, old son!"

"Much good that's done," replied Rodney bitterly. "It has only made him more vicious than ever."

"He is a bit cross, and that's a fact. Wonder what he thinks he's going to do with us."

"We shall know pretty soon," replied Rodney, as the steel hatch dropped with a sullen clang, and the screw began to revolve with the deep hum peculiar to the electric engines used for driving a submerged submarine.

"I say, old man," he added. "I'm sorry for landing you up like this."

"Oh, don't be an ass, Roddy," replied Leslie, with a touch of impatience. "It had nothing to do with you. Instead of making foolish remarks bend your noble intellect to devising the best way out of the mess. There must be some, if we can only think of it."

The submarine, moving slowly through the water, suddenly throbbed to the concussion of a heavy explosion.

"That's the poor old 'Tula'!" said Rodney quickly. "And that's all they were waiting for. Now, they'll have time to attend to us.

"See here, Leslie," he added urgently, "that big brute means murder. He said as much. Now, don't you be foolish, and run your head—"

"Dry up, Roddy. This is my picnic every bit as much as yours, and if the big fellow has his knife in you, so has that sour-faced Nockler got it waiting for me. I nearly throttled him, and he won't forgive that in a hurry."

He broke off. "Here they are!" he muttered, and the next moment Nockler and the great bearded man of the Power House stood before them.

The latter looked down at Rodney, and his thin lips parted in a very ugly smile.

"This is the dog who burnt the power station on Sylt, Lieutenant Nockler," he said, turning to the commander of the submarine. "I warned him what his fate would be, but he foolishly disregarded my warnings. Now the day of reckoning has come."

"Insolent dogs!" said Nockler, glowering at the two young Englishmen. "And what is your purpose concerning them, Herr Baron?"

The Baron let his eyes rest gloatingly upon his prisoners. He did not answer Nockler directly, but spoke to Rodney.

"What is your name, Englander?" he demanded brusquely.

"If you asked me politely, I might possibly tell you," replied Rodney. "As it is, I prefer to keep my name to myself."

The Baron's pale eyes glowed with cold fire.

"I should strongly advise you to remember where you are," he said, "and that you are completely in my power."

"I have no illusions on that point," Rodney answered. "I am well convinced that you would murder me as lightly as your countrymen have murdered thousands of Belgians and French."

The Baron took a half-step forward, then checked himself.

"You fool," he said hoarsely. "Are you unable to understand that your life and that of your companion are in my hands? If I choose to give the word, you will both be flung overboard to drown like blind puppies. Your one chance of life is to answer at once such questions as I shall choose to put to you."

"You've missed your vocation, Mr. Baron," put in Leslie suddenly. "You ought to have been on the stage. You would have made your fortune in Drury Lane melodrama."

"Insolent scoundrel!" said Nockler fiercely, and suddenly struck Leslie across the face with the flat of his hand.

He ought to have known better, especially after his previous experience of the young Australian's sinews. Leslie was on him like a flash, and seizing him round the waist, picked him up like a child, and flung him backwards. He crashed to the steel floor with such fearful force that the whole frail vessel seemed to quiver, and Nockler lay where he had fallen, breathless and motionless, to all appearance dead.

"Dog!" cried the Baron furiously, and his hand flashed to his hip pocket. Before he could reach it Leslie was on him. His right fist caught the big German under the point of the jaw, and for the second time within half an hour the great brute fell sprawling on his back.

Up rushed the sentry, swinging his rifle. But the space was narrow up here in the alley-way between the submarine's side and her engines. The roof, too, was low. Before he could bring the butt down on Leslie's head, Rodney had backheeled him. In falling, his head struck the projecting casing of the engine, and he too lay quiet enough.

"Hurrah!" roared Leslie, snatching up the fellow's rifle. "Two can play at piracy. Come on, you blighters. Come on all of you!"

The submarine carried a crew of over twenty men, but except those who were actually tending the engines, the rest were all aft. Half a dozen came charging up the alley-way, but at sight of Leslie's levelled rifle, the leaders pulled up short. They, too, were armed, but they dared not shoot. The discharge of a rifle in such a confined space as the interior of a submarine may produce most dangerous results. Besides, who is to say where the bullet will go?

"Speak to 'em, Rodney," said Leslie quickly. "I can't talk their lingo."

"Keep back, all of you!" rang out Rodney's voice in pure German. "Keep back! We shall not hesitate to shoot if you come near us."

The Germans saw he meant it. They hesitated, not knowing what to do. Leslie still kept his rifle on them, while Rodney stooped swiftly and secured the unconscious baron's pistol. He also took Lieutenant Nockler's revolver.

A young German, a sub-lieutenant by his uniform, pushed forward past his men. He was a better type than Nockler.

"Surrender!" he cried. "Surrender, and I will promise you the treatment due to prisoners of war."

"I dare say you will," answered Rodney quietly. "The trouble is you could not carry out your promise. Lieutenant Nockler has already struck one of us, and we have been threatened with death by this baron person. I give you clear warning that we are desperate men, and will sooner sink the submarine and all in it than surrender."

"Then what do you think you are going to do?" demanded the sub-lieutenant. "You can't hold us up indefinitely, and you must know your threats will go for nothing with us."

"Look out!" cried Leslie sharply. "Look out, Rodney!"

Rodney wheeled just in time to see a fierce-faced engine-hand who had slipped round by the bow end of the engine-casing, come at him with a great steel spanner clenched in his fist.

He aimed a frantic blow at Rodney's head, a blow which but for Leslie's warning would certainly have brained him. As it was, Rodney was just in time to spring aside, and the spanner clanged against the inner skin of the submarine with such force as numbed its holder's wrist. As it slipped from his nerveless grasp Rodney dropped the butt of Nockler's big revolver on the German's skull, and the engine-hand added a fourth to the unconscious quota on the floor.

"Good for you, Rodney!" said Leslie. "Collar that spanner. And look out for a rush. These beggars in front are getting horrid impatient."

"Hi!" he shouted to the young sub-lieutenant. "Keep your men back there, or well start shooting. And don't send any more of your beauties round by the bow, or—"

A heavy iron bar hurled by some unseen hand whizzed past his head, and cut him short. At the same moment the men in the alley-way rushed.

"Crack! crack! crack!" said Leslie's rifle. The din was deafening within the long, cigar-shaped hollow, but did not drown the screams of two Germans who had fallen wounded. The others scuttled hastily back.

But the respite was only momentary. Almost instantly came a rush for the bow, and Rodney was forced to use his Browning to stop it. He also dropped two men, but a third, springing over the bodies of his companions, drove at Rodney with a knife, and got so close that he was almost within arm's length when Rodney's third bullet crashed through his head.

His arms went up like those of a clockwork puppet, he staggered backwards, his knees caught upon the low casing of the engine, and his body toppled over right among the intricate mesh of swiftly-moving rods and pistons.

There was a fearful grinding and tearing noise, a series of heavy jerks and bumps as the rods locked; then with a shock that made the whole vessel quiver from stem to stern the engine jammed, and the machinery came to a full stop.

The submarine was crippled!


"THAT'S finished it," cried Leslie, with a reckless laugh. "I suppose she's bound for the bottom now. Well, thanks be, we shall take this little lot to Davy Jones with us."

The confusion was frightful. The Germans, literally panic-stricken at the sudden catastrophe, were falling over one another and shouting frantically. Of them all, the young sub-lieutenant was the only one to keep his head.

"Get the port engine working!" he bellowed above the din. "Empty the tanks. Quickly, or we are all dead men."

He himself sprang forward and seized a lever, and a moment later the submarine began to jerk unsteadily upwards.

"Jove, she's rising!" exclaimed Leslie. "We're not going to drown this journey."

"If we don't drown, we'll be shot," replied Rodney. "They'll not forgive us this easily. Eight of 'em out, and their whole craft crippled. Well, we've done something for our side if we do end up."

"Let's rush 'em," suggested Leslie. "Let's rush 'em while they're still in confusion. There are only a dozen left. We could bag half of them before they knew what was up."

He broke off sharply. "Hallo, she's on the surface!" he exclaimed, as he felt the submarine heave under their feet. "Now then! Shall we try it?"

"No, wait a minute!" said Rodney. "I've a better scheme than that. Collar that young officer. Once he's in our hands we can tackle the rest all right."

"Yes, that's the tip," agreed Leslie. "Here, give me one of those pistols. Now then, sharp's the word."

Bending low, they slipped forward. With the collapse of the starboard engine, half the lights were out, and the rest beginning to burn dim.

Luck was against them. As Leslie stepped over the body of one of the men whom he had shot down, the fellow, who was only wounded, suddenly grasped him by the ankle and brought him down, at the same time shouting loudly for help.

The rest of the German crew, who seemed for the moment to have forgotten the very existence of their two prisoners, were roused by the shout. Five or six came dashing forward one after the other. The submarine rocked violently under their combined weight, and though Rodney fired hastily the sudden swaying upset his aim, and before he could recover himself the first two were on him and had borne him down.

Leslie who had dropped his pistol in the fall flung himself into the fray, but now that he had no weapon the odds were too long. He too was forced down on the steel plates and half crushed beneath the weight of two burly Germans.

"Kill them! Kill the English pigs!" shrieked a long, thin man in grimy overalls. As he spoke, he drew a knife with a blade like a butcher's, and brandished it above Rodney.

One moment more, and the blade would have been buried in Rodney's body, when there came a shock that sent prisoners and crew alike rolling over and over like peas on a drum head. There was a rending, terrible crash, and on the instant every light went out.

"Cut down!" came Leslie's voice. "Where are you, Roddy?"

"Here!" came the half-dazed answer as Rodney tried to struggle to his feet.

"Then hurry if you don't want to be drowned like a mouse in a bucket," answered Leslie. "My word, here's the water on top of us already. This way—this way!"

The crashing and grinding of torn metal was deafening. The great iron stem of a steamer had cut deep into the very vitals of the submarine, and as she backed out the sea came pouring in through the rent. It seemed plain on the face of it that the life of the submarine was a matter of seconds only, for already the cold, salt water was washing like a cataract around their knees.

Shrieks and despairing yells came out of the blackness on every side. Only a few of those aboard kept their heads. Rodney, who had been half-stunned by the force with which he had been flung down, was suddenly conscious of a strong hand on his arm and a flash of light.

"Come on!" cried Leslie, flashing his torch above the rushing water. "This way, Rodney!"

The chill of the icy water pulled Rodney together, and the two fought their way towards the ladder.

It was a forlorn hope, for the water was roaring through the rent made by the bows of the steamer. The submarine was nearly half-full and already beginning to settle. A fresh rush took Rodney to the waist, and lifted him clean off his feet. All around him were shrieks and screams from the miserable Germans.

"Here!" came Leslie's voice again above the din. His hand grasped Rodney by the arm and steadied him; his light glowed on the iron rail of the ladder, and Rodney seized it with the energy of despair.

As the two leaped together up the rungs the water chased them. The slide above was still closed. It seemed all odds against their being able to open the hatch in time.

It was Leslie, cool and unflurried as ever, who flung his weight on the catch, slid it back, and threw the slide open.

"All right!" he said, as he sprang up through the opening. "Come on, Roddy!"

"Give me a hand!" Rodney answered sharply. "There's some one hanging on to my leg."

Leslie stooped, got hold of his cousin by both wrists, and with a great effort dragged him clear of the clutching hands below, and through the hatch into the open air.

"Thanks be, we can make a swim for it!" he panted. "I couldn't stick drowning down in that trap."

Rodney gained his feet and glanced round. Only the conning tower was above water; the deck of the submarine was already submerged. She seemed to be trembling for her last dive.

"Come on," said Leslie again. "We must swim clear or be dragged down with her."

As he spoke he sprang off the conning tower, and, without hesitation, Rodney followed.

"Phew, it's cold!" he muttered, as he struck out alongside. "I say, Leslie, I'm afraid there's not a fat chance of being picked up."

"Oh, I don't know. I can still see the craft that butted into us. If she's a Britisher she'll get her boats out."

"Ah, I thought so!" he exclaimed a moment later. "Here's a boat coming. Shout, Roddy! Yell for all you're worth."

Shout they did, and presently came an answering cry, and a gig came flying across the dark and misty sea.

"Where are you?" came a voice.

"Here! Two of us," answered Leslie.

"Great ghost—Britishers!" they heard the voice exclaim in a horror-stricken tone. "We've sunk one of our own craft!"

"Don't worry," cried Leslie. "She was a U boat all right. We are prisoners—were, rather."

"Thanks be!" came the answer in a tone of heartfelt relief, as the boat shot up, and backed water abruptly. "I thought for a minute we'd got one of our own craft, and not a beastly U boat."

Strong hands seized Rodney and Leslie, and lifted them in over the gunwale.

"Any more floating around?" came the officer's voice from the stern.

"Can't say," Rodney replied between chattering teeth. "Hardly likely, for I see she's gone. You might try, though."

As he spoke, a hoarse cry came from out of the gloom to port.

"Give way, men!" cried the officer. "Even if he's a Hun we've got to have him."

"There he is!" said Leslie, pointing to a dark object which bobbed among the small waves. A man was swimming strongly towards them.

Rodney gave a sharp exclamation.

"It's the baron, Leslie! It's the Power House man!"

"I'd hoped we'd seen the last of the swine," muttered Leslie disgustedly. "Still, I suppose we've got to save him."

A moment later the bulky form of Rodney's enemy was hauled aboard, and the boat, after vainly searching for further survivors, turned and shot back towards the ship.

Leslie leaned across to Rodney and whispered in his ear. "Don't say anything about this baron chap until you can have a yarn with the skipper."

"Not me," answered Rodney, and turned to the officer in charge of the boat.

"What are you?" he asked.

"'Mercia,' patrol ship. We're all R.N.V.R. Our skipper is Comrie, and my name is Trinder. But I say, how on earth did you chaps come to be aboard that U boat?"

"Tell you when we get aboard," Rodney answered quietly. "It's a longish yarn."

Five minutes more, and the cousins were clambering up the side of a big ship of seven or eight thousand tons, evidently a converted liner. A burly-looking Scotsman with a strong, competent face and steady gray eyes was waiting to receive them.

"Two naval officers, sir," said Trinder, saluting, "and one German survivor. Those are all we could find."

"Naval officers!" exclaimed the skipper, clearly startled.

"Yes, sir," said Rodney. "I am Lieutenant Sterne of 'Alicon,' and this is my cousin, Lieutenant Palliser, R.N.A.S."

"What—are you the chaps who scuppered the German general?"

"Helped to, sir," answered Rodney.

"Come below—come below," cried Comrie heartily. "Come down and get ye a change and something hot. Losh, but this is luck! I'm nigh as pleased to have picked you up as I am about sinking that meeserable U-boat."

He was bustling them off below when Rodney checked him.

"One moment, sir. That prisoner is an important man, and a desperate one, too. Please see that he is very specially guarded."

"Right! I'll see yon fellow put where he won't come to harm. Now, get below, both of you. And when you're changed and warm I'll be glad to hear your story. By all seeming, it ought to be worth hearing. You look after them, Trinder," he added.

Trinder conducted them to a most comfortable cabin, steam heated and electrically lit. Warm clothes were brought and their own uniforms carried off to the engine-room to be dried. Hot cocoa—the navy's best medicine for the man who is chilled or exhausted—appeared in no time. Nothing was too good for them.

Poor Trinder was aching with curiosity, but had to console himself with the thought that he would hear all about it later. It was the skipper's due to have the story first.

Comrie was a stolid, unemotional Scotsman, but even so the yarn which he heard from Rodney and Leslie made him open his gray eyes very wide.

"Losh, but ye've had enough excitement for one afternoon! Weel now, I'm glad I picked ye up, but mighty sorry I was not in time to save 'Tula.' 'Twas her wireless brought me up, but though we do twenty at a pinch I could not get there in the time."

"Well, you got the U boat, sir, and that's the main thing," smiled Rodney. "And you've got a prisoner who ought to be worth having."

"Ay, I'm thinking yon baron'll be best behind barbed wire," replied Comrie thoughtfully. "And there I'll send him the verra first chance I get."

"Then I take it you're not bound for home, sir, just yet?" questioned Rodney.

Comrie shook his head.

"You are right, Mr. Sterne. It is not a week since we left Scapa Flow, and, as ye know well, there's six more at sea before we see port again."

Rodney looked at Leslie in some dismay, but Leslie only grinned.

"Never mind, Roddy," he said. "We can't help ourselves, and I dare say Captain Comrie will find plenty of work for us in the meantime."

"I will that," declared the big skipper heartily. "And I'm not saying it will not be work that will please you.

"Though most of it's dull enough, the deil knows," he added thoughtfully.


"TAKE 'em all round, you'd hardly know 'em from real matelots," remarked Leslie as, next morning, he and Rodney watched the ship's routine from the lofty bridge.

It was high praise from a navy officer, but Captain Comrie's crew deserved it. Though there was not an R.N. man aboard besides themselves, all the officers of "Mercia" being Naval Reserve, everything was done navy-fashion, with a silent promptitude that reflected infinite credit on those in charge. The great ship was clean as a new pin. Her brass work twinkled in the pale spring sunshine, and the gun mountings would have done credit to any warship.

"Mercia" was one of the scores of liners and merchant-men composing the Northern Patrol. If you look at a map of the North Sea, and draw one line from the Orkneys to Iceland, and another from the Orkneys to the coast of Norway, then complete the triangle by a third line from Iceland to the Norwegian coast, this will give you some idea of the area which was covered by our auxiliary cruisers at this time.

Not a vessel could come out of the Atlantic without being held up and examined, and it is only in this way that the blockade of Germany was effected.

Deadly work it was, too. Every one of these ships was in constant danger from the German submarines, which were always creeping out from their own ports. At any moment they might strike one of the mines with which the whole sea was dotted. For fifty days on end each braved some of the worst weather in the world before it was her turn to go back to Kirkwall, replenish her fuel and stores, and give a few days' well-earned leave to her crew.

All that day "Mercia" cruised over her appointed beat without sighting anything except a couple of Dutch trawlers. The next day and the next passed in similar fashion, and Rodney and his cousin began to get decidedly bored.

"If we could only sight one of our own destroyers," said Rodney, "I'd ask the skipper to put us aboard. I'm fed up with this job already."

"Me, too," agreed Leslie. "My word, I don't know how these chaps stick it."

"But it's worse for the baron," he added, with a chuckle. "I wonder how he feels, cooped up below there."

"I caught a glimpse of him when they brought him up for exercise yesterday afternoon," said Rodney. "And he spotted me. It's lucky for me that looks can't kill, or I should be cold meat this minute."

"It's no wonder he's got a grouch against you, Roddy," answered Leslie, with a twinkle in his eyes. "You've been up against him pretty frequent since your first meeting. I saw him myself, yesterday, and I noticed his left eye is still in mourning. It don't improve his natural beauty."

"I'm precious glad we've got him safe," said Rodney. "I can't help feeling that there's something out of the common dangerous about that chap. He's got any amount of brains in that big head of his."

"And any amount of wickedness, too," agreed Leslie. "Yes, he is dangerous—the brain of a scientist and the heart of an Apache Indian. The sort who'd skin you alive, and enjoy watching you wriggle."

A shout from the look-out in the fore-top came pealing down, and in an instant both the young men had forgotten all about the baron and his performances.

"There's a craft of sorts at last," exclaimed Leslie. "A biggish tramp, by the look of her."

"She's not British either," said Rodney, as he focused his glasses on the distant ship. "No, she's Swedish."

"Then we shall have a closer look at her," said Leslie, with much satisfaction. "Anything for a little excitement these dull days."

Sure enough, "Mercia" was already quickening her stride, and forging ahead rapidly to intercept the stranger.

"She's a big ship," said Rodney presently, in a rather surprised tone. "Must be all of ten thousand tons. I hardly thought the Swedes had any craft so large."

Leslie nodded.

"Yes, she's a big hulk of a craft. Don't seem inclined to stop, either. Wonder if she's running rubber or copper for the Huns."

"Mercia" was now ripping through the water at her full twenty knots, and running straight down towards the stranger. The latter, as Rodney had said, was a very big ship, quite two thousand tons heavier than "Mercia." She was flying Swedish colours, and had the same colours painted large upon her side.

Paying no attention to the British ship's signals, she steamed on.

"Told you so," said Leslie. "'Pon my Sam, I believe she's a blockade runner."

"Heave to!" signalled "Mercia" sharply, and as this signal was disobeyed there came the ringing report of one of "Mercia's" six-inch guns, and a round of common shell was flung across the stranger's bows.

"That's done the trick," observed Rodney. "See, she's rung off her engines."

Slowly and apparently sulkily the big stranger came to a standstill, and "Mercia" bore down upon her until she was within little more than half a mile. Then her engines, too, were stopped, and Captain Comrie's voice was heard ordering a boat out.

"Let's go and hear what the skipper thinks of her," suggested Leslie, and the cousins ran quickly up the bridge-ladder.

"I don't like the looks of her, and that's a fact," replied the skipper in answer to a question from Rodney. "She's unco big for a Swede. And fast, too. She was steaming nearer eighteen than seventeen when she found we'd the legs of her. I would not wonder if she had some funny stuff in those big holds of hers."

Clang! Clang! The sounds were like great steel doors being flung together.

"Great Scott, look at that!" gasped Leslie, as he saw false bulwarks dropping down, exposing to view a formidable array of guns.

"Ay, she's another 'Moewe,'" answered Comrie curtly, then sprang to the engine-room telegraph, calling for full steam on the instant.

He bellowed orders to his gunners, but his voice was drowned in the roar of two German five-point ones.

At such close range a miss was impossible, and both the shells hulled "Mercia," the heavy stuff going clean through her unarmoured sides and making pretty havoc within.

"Get ye down to the guns, and help," said Comrie sharply, but the cousins were already leaping down the ladder. As they gained the deck two more German shells crashed into the British ship, both close to her stern.

"First hits to the Hun!" cried Leslie, as he and Rodney together reached the big six-inch gun on the port quarter. "Now for our turn!"

His eyes were dancing, his face was alight with the joy of battle.

Even as they reached it, this gun, which was in charge of Lieutenant Trinder, fired its first shot. The hundred pound shell struck the big German's deckhouse and exploded, blowing half of it into the sea.

"Pretty shot!" exclaimed Rodney. "Pretty shot!"

"Too high!" growled Trinder. "It's her hull we've got to try for."

The battle, begun with such amazing suddenness, was now in full swing. Both ships were racing along at top speed, not more than a thousand yards apart. Their guns were spitting and cracking furiously, and almost every moment a shell got home on one or the other.

Rodney and Leslie were almost too busy to speak. They were both handing ammunition for all they were worth, and their gun was flinging out shells at the rate of one every thirty seconds.

The din was terrific, and clouds of smoke were rising from both ships. In each case half their crews were frantically endeavouring to put out the fires caused by the constant explosions.

The raider was the bigger and carried more guns. She also had the advantage of being partially armoured. "Mercia," on the other hand, was at least two knots faster, and her six-inch guns threw a heavier shell than the German fives.

"Mercia" began to draw ahead, thus presenting a somewhat smaller target to her big adversary. But even so, the two ships were only a mile apart, and the pounding each was getting was something terrific.

A German shell, a trifle high, actually grazed the upper edge of the shield of Trinder's gun, but fortunately failed to explode, but immediately afterwards another burst just forward, and splinters bowled over three of the gun men.

"Getting warmish, eh, Roddy?" chuckled Leslie, as he swung up another of the great shells. "Pace is a bit too hot to last."

His jacket was off, his sleeves were rolled up, showing his long bare, sinewy arms; his face was streaming with perspiration. Rodney, too, was dripping, while blood from a splinter scratch across his forehead smeared his face.

Suddenly "Mercia" swerved like a hare dodging a greyhound.

"Narrow squeak!" said Rodney curtly.

"What—torpedo?" questioned Leslie.

"Yes—just under our stern. By thunder, there's another!"

Again "Mercia" swerved, but this second torpedo went very wide. It passed fully a hundred yards astern.

"Rotten aim! They're getting rattled!" laughed Leslie.

Small blame to them if they were. Both ships were in a frightful state, but the big German's condition was much the worse of the two. Two of her guns had been dismounted by direct hits, one funnel was shot away, her deck-house and bridge were non-existent, her fore-mast had been cut off and lay over the side, while from the huge volume of smoke which rose aft, she was evidently very badly afire.

Her gunners had shot very well at the beginning, but as is nearly always the case with German gunners, their marksmanship had fallen off badly once they had begun to get the worst of it. Still—to do them justice—they were plucky enough and stuck to their guns, and were still getting home more shells on their adversary than was healthy for any unarmed ship.

"Mercia" looked an absolute wreck. Most of her top hamper had been battered to pieces, though her bridge had fortunately escaped, and she had been hulled over and over again. By the clanking of the pumps Rodney could tell she was leaking badly. Her engines, however, and steering gear had so far escaped, but she had lost a terrible lot of men.

The distance between the two ships had increased to between three and four thousand yards. This was all to "Mercia's" advantage, for her gunnery was so much the better that she was still making almost every shell tell.

Another ten minutes, and the big German's fire perceptibly slackened.

"She can't stick it much longer," observed Leslie. Then a moment later, "Ah, I knew it. She's going to hook it."

As he spoke, the German's bow swung round eastward, and a cheer arose from "Mercia."

"Now we've got her!" said Leslie triumphantly, as the British ship turned swiftly in pursuit.

"Don't be too sure," answered Rodney, frowning. "There's fog over there. That's what she's running for."

Sure enough, one of those fog banks which seem to rise like magic in the North Sea, was hanging like a band of smoke all across the eastern horizon. If the raider could once succeed in struggling into its shelter, it was plain that she might still make good her escape.

Captain Comrie realised the danger as quickly as did Rodney, and drove his ship forward at the very top of her speed, doing all he knew to cut off his big opponent.

Suddenly Rodney caught Leslie by the arm.

"Look! She's throwing out mines."

"You're right!" Leslie answered, as he caught sight through the veil of smoke of men busy on a platform under the stern of the German. "I'll cut up and tell the skipper. The smoke's so thick he may not have spotted it."

He rushed off. Before he reached the bridge a shell from one of the German's stern guns pitched on the deck of "Mercia," just for'ard of the gun which he and Rodney had been helping to serve, and exploded on impact. The whole deck was swept with jagged pieces of steel.

Leslie was flung down by the rush of air, but was up again in a moment, quite unhurt. He glanced round quickly to see Rodney flat on his face on the blood-stained deck.


A CRY of dismay burst from his lips, and forgetting everything else, he turned and dashed back. In a moment he was on his knees, beside his cousin.

"He's copped it, I'm afeared, sir," said one of the two surviving gun-layers, then turned fiercely to his work again.

On the face of it, it looked as though the man were right. Rodney's body was limp as that of a dead man, and his forehead was covered with blood which was running down from an ugly, jagged scalp wound.

Leslie's heart sank. In the few weeks they had been together he had come to know and like his newly-found cousin better than any man he had ever met. He felt at that moment what a fearful gap in his life it would make if Rodney were really dead.

An artery was cut. That he could see by the way in which the blood was pumping out from the wound. The only chance was to stop the bleeding as soon as possible, and gathering the other in his strong arms, he lifted him and staggered off with him to the sick bay.

He had just reached the hatchway when a tremendous explosion shook the very sky, drowning the sound of "Mercia's" guns, while a huge column of smoke shot up from the flying raider.

Abruptly the firing ceased, and a roar of cheering ascended from "Mercia's" decks. Leslie paused an instant, and as the great mass of smoke rolled aside, saw the German, her bows high in air, plunging stern-foremost down into the cold gray waters. A shell had reached her magazine.

He could not wait even to see her end, but hurried below with his insensible burden.

The sick bay was crowded with maimed and broken men, and the doctor, his assistant, and the orderlies were up to their eyes in work. Leslie laid Rodney on one of the few unoccupied bunks, and the doctor, who had just finished taking off a shattered leg, hurried across.

"Is he dead?" demanded Leslie.

"Not while he's bleeding like that," returned the other, "but, by Jove, he will be if we don't stop it."

He set to work without a moment's delay, and Leslie watched breathlessly as the bleeding was shut off and the wound bandaged with almost uncanny speed.

"Will—will he live?" asked Leslie, and in spite of his best efforts, his voice was not quite steady.

The doctor looked up sharply.

"Bless you, yes. It's nothing to signify. The bone's not injured.

"I mean it," he added, still with his eyes on Leslie's face. "Give you my word, he'll be none the worse in the long run."

The doctor, without another word, darted off to a fresh case, leaving Leslie standing by Rodney's side. There was a lump in Leslie's throat, and queer mistiness before his eyes. He was more moved than he cared to acknowledge, even to himself.

Some minutes passed, then Rodney's eyelids fluttered, and he gave a deep sigh.

"Hallo!" he said sleepily. Then he looked up and saw Leslie.

"What's up?" he asked, in a puzzled tone.

"You got knocked out by a splinter, old man," Leslie answered quietly. "Thank goodness, it's nothing serious, but you'll have to lie up for a bit."

"But what's happened?" asked Rodney eagerly. "The firing's stopped. Has the beggar got away?"

"The beggar's at the bottom," replied Leslie. "Blew up just as I was carrying you down. Now, don't ask any more questions. You've got to lie low and get to sleep."

"Nonsense, man! How can I sleep when I don't know all about it? Go up and scout for news—that's a good chap. I'm simply dying to know just what's happened."

Leslie paused, but Rodney begged him again to go, and as he saw that his cousin was too excited to sleep, he yielded and went.

On deck the scene of hideous confusion almost frightened him. The ship seemed little better than a wreck. He saw Trinder and hurried up to him.

"Any survivors?" he asked.

"Not one," Trinder answered grimly. "We've had a good look, but it's a clean job. She went so quick they didn't have a chance to get even a raft over. How's Sterne?"

"All right, thank goodness. Lost a lot of blood, but the doctor swears it's nothing serious. How's the ship making out?"

"Leaking pretty bad," replied Trinder, "but it might be worse. If we don't get weather we shall make home all right. Top hole show, wasn't it?"

"Absolutely!" declared Leslie emphatically. "I wouldn't have missed it for a farm. But I say, Trinder, does the skipper know that that blighter we've just sunk was strewing mines all over the sea?"

"You bet he does. That's why we've been moving so slow. It's one reason why we weren't up in time to pick up any of the Huns. But we're all right now. We're headed for England, home, and beauty."

The words were hardly out of Trinder's mouth before the whole North Sea seemed to rise up and hit the half-crippled ship with a shock like a giant's punch. The deck lifted beneath them, flinging them both down heavily. At the same moment a dull roar was heard, and over the bows of "Mercia" rose a huge fountain of foam, which fell upon the deck with a crash like that of a water-spout. The engines stopped. The ship lay rolling heavily upon the churned-up surface, which boiled and bubbled like a caldron on a fire.

Leslie scrambled to his feet and gave Trinder a hand.

"That's one we didn't see," he observed grimly. "Quick, Trinder, you see to the boats while I get my cousin up."

He knew, Trinder knew, every one in the ship knew that "Mercia" had her death-blow. The deadly mine, loaded with something like two hundred pounds of T.N.T., had been struck full by the British ship, and the enormous charge of the most terrible explosive used in warfare had blown out the whole of her forward compartment. It could be but a matter of minutes only before she followed her adversary to the bottom.

Leslie did not lose an instant in reaching the sick bay. There was no need to tell them there what had happened. They knew that it was either mine or torpedo, and the orderlies were busy with silent desperate haste, rolling the wounded in blankets and getting them up on deck.

"It's all right, Leslie. I can walk," declared Rodney. "You help with some of the other chaps."

He struggled to his feet as he spoke, only to collapse at once. But Leslie had him before he fell, and slinging him over his shoulder lifted him and made straight off up the ladder.

Panting with the exertion, for Rodney was no light weight, he carried him across to where Trinder and a dozen of his men were in the act of lowering a boat.

"Shove him in," said Trinder sharply. "There are only two boats left, and the wounded must go in them, the rest of us will have to chance the rafts. Sharp now! She won't last much longer."

Rodney was rapidly lifted into the boat, and after him a number more of the wounded. Some could sit, but most were laid flat on blankets in the bottom. There was no difficulty in lowering the boat. "Mercia" had already settled so far that it was only a few feet to the surface of the gray waves.

The other sound boat was already in the water, and the life-rafts being got out with all speed. Discipline was perfect. There was no panic of any sort.

Captain Comrie, a grim look on his strong face, was in charge. His eyes were everywhere, and nothing escaped his notice.

He saw Leslie busy cutting the ropes which held one of the life-rafts in place.

"Mr. Palliser," he said, "you will be good enough to take charge of one of the boats. Number 3, please."

Leslie had had no idea of going in a boat. Yet, though he almost felt as though it savoured of funk, he was intensely relieved at this order. He hated to leave Rodney.

"Very good, sir," he answered.

Then, as he stepped across to the side, a sudden idea came into his head, and he rushed back.

"Sir," he said breathlessly to Comrie—"the prisoner. Has any one thought of him?"

"Ay, he is being brought up," the skipper answered quickly. "Don't worry. I will see that he is taken off. Now get to your boat, and pull clear. There is not much time left."

Comrie was right. There was very little time left. Leslie had hardly got his boat to a safe distance before he saw the stern of the ill-fated "Mercia" beginning to cock up.

Luckily she went very slowly, giving time enough to get every raft off. The big circular life-buoys, for they were nothing more, were crowded with men, and the two boats between them carried nearly a hundred, and were dangerously overloaded.

"She's going!" breathed Rodney, as he saw the broken bows dipping into the sea. As he spoke, the fog-bank which had been spreading out of the east for nearly an hour past swept soundlessly over them, and a gray wave of vapour hid the last moments of the battered ship. It was only by the muffled roar as the air compressed beneath her decks blew them up, and by the wave that set the laden boat rolling, that they could tell that she had gone to her last end.

There was complete silence for some moments. Even Leslie's spirits were at a low ebb. To be in charge of a boat full of men, many of them wounded, in a fog, far out in the North Sea, with no particular hope of rescue, was not a lively position. To make it worse, he had the feeling that scores of plucky fellows were hanging to their life-rafts all around, half-frozen in the icy water, and every one doomed to death if help did not come speedily.

"Listen!" said Rodney suddenly. His quick ears had caught a sound in the distance.

"Its the beat of a screw," he added breathlessly. "Can you hear it, Leslie."

"Yes, by Jove, I can. Shout, men—shout for all you're worth."

Shout they did. Even the wounded did their best, and the shouts were taken up by the other boat, and by the men on the rafts.

But there was no reply.

"That's rum," muttered Leslie. "I can still hear the engines. Surely she can't be an enemy craft!"

"May be a Dutch trawler," suggested Rodney. "And her crew too scared to come close. Try another yell."

They did, but as before there was no reply, and it was now far too thick to see anything beyond a radius of about a hundred yards.

"Can't hear it any more." said Rodney. "The craft's gone, whatever it was."

"Plucky lot of swabs!" remarked one of the men bitterly, then silence fell again. The disappointment was bitter, for all had been so sure of rescue. Now there was nothing to do but wait—sit still in the chill of the fog and think of their pals slowly freezing to death in the ice-cold water.

Half an hour dragged by. The fog was thick as ever. More than once Leslie, looked at Rodney, and there was a very anxious expression in his eyes. Rodney had lost a lot of blood, and his face was very white. It had a nasty, pinched expression which Leslie did not like at all.

He took a flask from his pocket.

"Have a nip of this, old chap," he said; "you want it."

Instead of taking it, Rodney lifted his head sharply.

"Wait!" he muttered. Then after a moment, "By James, she's coming back!" he exclaimed.

"That's right, sir," said one of the men. "I hear her. But it ain't the same. This here's something bigger."

Then came a shout from out of the fog to the westward. They listened with quivering eagerness, and a moment later a hail, faint but distinct, came ringing through the smother.

"Hurrah!" cried Leslie jubilantly. "She's a Britisher, all right. Must have got our wireless. Now we shan't be long."

Again was heard the distant hail, and on top of it a long, gray cruiser came sliding up through the fog, and stopped her engines almost alongside the boat.

She was the light thirty-knotter "Alethea," one of the crack ships of her type, and the speed at which she accomplished the work of rescue was equally creditable to her skipper and her crew. Inside of half an hour the survivors from "Mercia" were all aboard, and Leslie saw Rodney safe between warm blankets and as comfortable as care could make him before he went on deck.

The first person he ran into was Captain Comrie.

"Are all safe, sir?" he asked.

Comrie shook his head.

"No, Palliser, there's still one raft missing. The boats are still out looking for it."

"A whole raft, sir? That's odd, isn't it?"

"Extraordinary!" frowned Comrie. "Even if the men were lost, the raft could not have drifted far."

The fog was lifting. Leslie could glimpse the boats circling here and there. But of the missing raft there seemed to be no sign. The search went on until dusk began to fall, and then just as "Alethea's" skipper was about to give the signal to abandon it, a boat came in, towing the missing raft.

"We found it, sir," said the officer in command, "but there wasn't a soul on it."

Leslie and Comrie, waiting at the rail, stared at one another.

"Who was on it, sir?" asked Leslie.

"I canna tell ye the names," answered Comrie, whose Scotch accent was always more pronounced when he was anxious or excited. "I canna tell ye the names, but ane o' them was yon bit baron chap that cam frae the submarine."


"YOU'RE not fit to travel, my boy. You ought to be in your bed for another week at least."

The speaker was Rodney's father, and his face and voice both were full of anxiety as he looked at his son. The exposure in the boat on top of his wound had brought on a chill, and Rodney had spent a month in hospital after his return in "Alethea," before he could be brought home.

Now another month had passed, and it was full summer, yet Rodney was still white and weak, and very far from his usual self. The fact was that he was worrying—worrying horribly. On his arrival at home he had made a report in writing to the Admiralty, giving details of the Power House on Sylt which he had destroyed, and describing the extraordinary likeness which he had noticed between its owner, the big baron, and the man named Mandell who had leased Flatsea.

This report had been formally acknowledged, and there the matter ended apparently. No steps had been taken to investigate Mandell's record or his lease, and Mandell still spent most of his time at a bungalow he had built upon the island.

So much Rodney knew, but what Mandell was actually after he could not make out at all, and he had not been well enough to investigate. He had hoped that Leslie might have been able to come down and help, but Leslie had been ordered to rejoin at once, and had had no leave since.

Now at last Rodney had made up his mind to go to town himself, and try to see Admiral Sir Francis Thorold, who was an old friend of his father, and who, he thought, would listen to his story, and act upon it.

"You are not fit to be out at all, Rodney," continued Mr. Sterne. "Why are you so anxious to go to London?"

"I have business at the Admiralty, dad," replied Rodney. "I can't tell you what, but it's really important, and I've simply got to go."

Mr. Sterne sighed. He knew that it was useless to argue. If Rodney had made up his mind, he would go. There was no stopping him. He himself knew nothing of his son's reasons for this journey, for Rodney had been careful not to mention them. What with his money affairs going wrong and his anxiety for Hugh, who was now in the fighting line in France, Mr. Sterne had worries enough, Rodney thought, without feeling that he might possibly be harbouring a spy on the island.

Rodney went up next morning, and drove straight to the Admiralty. But luck was against him. When he inquired for Sir Francis, he heard that the admiral had left for Egypt only two days before. The attendant informed him that Sir James Raynham had taken Thorold's place.

Rodney asked to see Sir James, and after a long wait was admitted to the big handsome room which Raynham used as his office.

The moment his eyes fell upon Sir James, Rodney's spirits sank. A greater contrast to big, bluff Sir Francis could hardly have been imagined. Raynham was a little, dried-up person, with a prim face and a formal manner. He did not look as if he had ever seen the sea. He, his clothes, his appearance, the very desk at which he sat all breathed one atmosphere, and one only—Red Tape.

He eyed Rodney with some disfavour. "You wished to see me, Lieutenant Sterne?" he said in a voice which was like the crackling of parchment. "I am very busy, but I can give you five minutes."

It was not an encouraging opening, but Rodney was desperate. He pulled himself together and told as briefly and clearly as possible of his burning of the Power House on Sylt, his two encounters with its owner, the baron, and then of the extraordinary resemblance between the baron and the man who called himself Mandell and had leased Flatsea Island.

Raynham heard him in silence, then took a pair of gold-rimmed glasses from a case, fixed them on his narrow nose, and stared at Rodney.

"And what inference, may I ask, do you draw from all this?" he asked.

"That Mandell and this baron are in league, Sir James."

"Have you any proof beyond the chance resemblance between the two men?"

"No, sir—only that this place on Sylt Island seemed to be rigged for some sort of wireless, and Flatsea would be an ideal spot for sending or receiving messages."

"Is there any sign of wireless on Flatsea Island—any mast or other installation?" asked Sir James dryly.

"Not that I know of, sir. But I have not been well enough to investigate."

"It would not require much investigation to observe a wireless mast," replied the other caustically. "And I may add, for your benefit, that we are perfectly aware of Mr. Mandell's presence on the island, and of his antecedents. He is a scientist pure and simple."

He took off his glasses, and carefully put them back in their case.

"I am busy, Lieutenant Sterne," he continued in his driest tones. "I will not detain you longer. Good-morning."

Rodney had never been worse snubbed in his life. He was raging inwardly as he made his way down the wide staircase and out again into the street.

"The fool!" he muttered. "The brassbound, red tape-swathed idiot! He's got about as much imagination as a mole. But I don't care. I know I'm right. Wait till I get a little fitter, and, by James, I'll go into this thing properly."

All the way down in the train he was thinking out methods of getting hold of some real information about Mandell and his doings, and most of that night, too, he lay awake, planning out a campaign.

Then, next morning, when he came down to breakfast, he found awaiting him an official envelope containing an order to rejoin his ship within twenty-four hours.

A bitter smile curled his lip. "That's Sir James!" he said aloud. "That's Sir James's work!"

There could, of course, be no doubt about it, and although he knew he was not yet fit for active work there was no help for it. He packed hurriedly, and was off by the noon train from Ipswich.

Seldom had he been so down in the mouth as during that long journey northwards. In the very soul of him he felt that there was mischief brewing down there on Flatsea Island, yet he could do nothing. He had not even any one left behind who could keep him informed of what was going on, for he could not bring himself to tell his father. The old man had worries enough of his own, and besides he was not in good health.

"Alicon" was at Kirkwall, and Totts and the others made Rodney very welcome. Captain Chesney, however, shook his head when he saw Rodney, and after making keen inquiries as to his state of health, handed him over to the ship's doctor. The latter said flatly that Rodney was not fit for duty, and sent him ashore to be examined by a Medical Board. The result was that Rodney found himself once more in hospital, and that "Alicon" sailed without him.

For a time he was very ill again, and the constant worry about Mandell did not help him to get better. But he was young and had a splendid constitution. In time he pulled round again, and by the end of August was fit enough to rejoin his ship, and get down to real work.

Dull work it was, too, for the Germans never showed their noses outside except when an occasional destroyer made a dash out of Zeebrugge. And the news was bad and became worse. The Russians were being steadily driven back, and by the end of August the Germans held everything almost up to Riga, and boasted that they had captured 270,000 prisoners and 2300 guns.

If the summer was bad the winter was worse. While the great Dreadnoughts lay in Scapa Flow, the cruisers, especially small, fast craft like "Alicon," were constantly at sea. They were the scouts, the eyes of the fleet, and they were up and down across the North Sea in some of the worst weather of that horrible winter of 1915-1916.

At Christmas Rodney got a few days' leave, and hurried home, burning with eagerness to set about smoking out Mandell. Imagine his disgust to find that Mandell was away—had been away for over a month, and no one had any idea when he was coming back!

Rodney picked a dark night, and went scouting on the island and around the bungalow which Mandell had built. The latter was silent, dark, and deserted, and although Rodney went so far as to try the doors and windows, he found them all solidly bolted, barred, and shuttered. There was no one living there—that was quite certain, and short of actually breaking in Rodney could find no way of gaining entrance. The fates were against him and he gave it up as a bad job.


IT was not until the following April that Rodney was able to see Flatsea again. Then he got his stripe and was gazetted as first-lieutenant, and with his promotion was given ten days' leave.

The trees were budding into thin spring greenery as he hurried southwards to Flatsea, and it was on an afternoon of brilliant sunshine that he drove from Ipswich across the great levels to his home on the edge of the North Sea.

The very first thing he looked for was the bungalow on the island. There it was, with smoke rising from its chimneys, and near it another building which Rodney had not seen before.

He turned to his father.

"What's that?" he asked. "Is Mandell building a new house?"

"That—no, it's his new marine laboratory which he has just finished. He asked me over to have a look at it the other day. Wonderful piece of work, and he must have spent a pot of money on it. He's got great tanks for his fish, and all sorts of lighting and warming apparatus."

"Funny, his spending such a lot of money here, when he's only got a short lease, eh, dad?" said Rodney.

"Yes, that did strike me," replied Mr. Sterne, with a rather puzzled expression on his worn face.

Rodney opened his mouth to speak again, then checked himself. It was no use saying anything just now. Having kept his father in the dark so long, he might just as well continue to do so. But all his own suspicions were again on the surface, and he instantly made up his mind to spend his leave in trying to solve the mystery.

The first thing he did on reaching the house was to sit down and write to Leslie. He told his cousin that he was at home, and begged him, if it was in any way possible, to get a few days' leave and join him.

"Mandell seems to be on the job again," he wrote. "He's been building on the island. A sort of aquarium, so far as I can gather, but I understand there are arrangements for heating some of the tanks, while he has lit the whole place with electric light. I needn't say more except that I mean to start in right off and do a bit of scouting. If you can only get away to give me a hand I'm sure we can do something between us. Anyhow, I'm dying to see you again."

He addressed this letter to the parent ship of the seaplane section in which he knew his cousin was serving, and then went down, got out the dinghy and some lines, and pulled down the creek ostensibly to catch a few whiting for next morning's breakfast.

He had got into mufti, and was wearing an old blue jersey and a stocking cap. This was for Mandell's benefit, in case the man was on the look-out. But there was no sign of him. As he rowed, Rodney kept his eyes open. He got a good view of the new building. It stood right on the water's edge, and Rodney, who knew every inch of the creek, noticed particularly that this was just the point where the water was deepest. It was a long, low building, solidly put together, and the site was a little knoll raised about a dozen feet above high tide.

It had large windows, and a bright, clean, airy look. In front was a well-built landing stage on which nets were drying. A stout dinghy floated beside the stage.

Rodney pulled on round the point so as to be more or less out of sight, and put out his lines. The fish were biting well, and he pulled them up one after another. But all the time his attention was not on the fishing, but on the island.

After a while he saw some one come out of the bungalow and cross to the other building. His heart beat a little more rapidly as he recognised the broad shoulders and heavy frame of Mandell himself. Although the distance was considerable, the air was so clear that he could see the man plainly, and he was struck once more by the extraordinary resemblance between him and the baron of Power House memory.

He wondered what had become of the latter. He did not believe for one moment that the man was drowned. The incident of the deserted life-raft had often come back to his mind, and he had talked it over with Leslie. They had come to the conclusion that her crew and their prisoner had probably been picked up by the first vessel which they had heard in the fog, and which might have been either a Dutch trawler or an enemy submarine.

Dusk began to fall. He pulled up his little anchor and rowed on around the island towards the other branch of the creek which cut it off from the mainland. The outermost point of the island was a bluff, perhaps twenty feet high, and on this stood the old lighthouse, a ruinous tower built of stone, which had long been abandoned as dangerous. The bluff had been so cut away by the waves that the old tower stood on its extreme edge, and must sooner or later topple over into the sea. The new lighthouse was a screw-pile erection which was built on a shoal a mile out from the coast.

Rodney had seen the old lighthouse almost every day of his life. He had become so accustomed to its existence that he had hardly noticed it. Now he looked at it with new and quickened interest. It seemed to him that here, if anywhere, was just the place for a wireless installation.

True, it would be a risky spot in which to arrange the wire necessary for picking up etheric messages, for all such places are liable to sudden and unexpected visits from the powers that be. On the other hand, its very obviousness made it all the more likely to be overlooked, while if Mandell had been cute enough to make himself safe with the authorities no one was likely to come prying about the island.

Then and there Rodney made up his mind that he would examine the place, and that before he was many hours older.

He went quickly back up the narrow branch of the creek, and tying up his dinghy securely, returned to the house, where he arrived in plenty of time to change for dinner. He and his father dined together, and afterwards sat and yarned for an hour or more. Then Mr. Sterne, who was still very far from being in good health, went off to bed, and Rodney, too, went to his room, but not to bed.

Rapidly he got into the rough kit he had been wearing in the afternoon, and went straight down to the landing place. The dinghy lay where he had left it, and stepping silently aboard he pushed out and let her float down the stream.

It was almost the last of the ebb, but there was still tide enough to carry the little boat seawards and Rodney merely helped her occasionally with a silent dip of the sculls.

The night was fine and clear, but there was no moon. Nor was there any wind to speak of, and the stars were mirrored on the smooth surface of the creek. Altogether tide and weather were well suited to Rodney's purpose, and his mind was fully made up to solve the mystery which had been worrying him for so long, or else to prove that there was no mystery to worry about.

He took the narrow channel at the back of the island, for his intention was to have a look at the old lighthouse before he did anything else. Afterwards and later, he might examine the bungalow and the new building.

The tide was almost at full ebb by the time he had rounded the point, and a strip of shingle was exposed at the foot of the bluff where the lighthouse stood. He pulled in close and beached the dinghy, then stepped quietly out and made for a point where he knew there was a way up the low bluff.

The top was bare turf, and gaining it he dropped flat and crept along very quietly and cautiously. There was no sign of life, no sound whatever except the soft hiss of the little waves breaking on the beach below.

Presently he was close under the ancient tower, and there he lay and listened for some minutes. But all was quiet, so rising softly to his feet he stepped cautiously around to the doorway which faced the land.

The door itself had gone long ago. It had rotted from its hinges, and some marshman had carried away the remains for firewood. He poked his head inside. The stone stairway, broken and cracked, ran up into the darkness overhead. He began to climb, feeling his way with the greatest care, and moving with absolute silence.

He reached the first floor, which had in old days been the tank room. There were no windows here, and he ventured to flash the electric torch with which he had provided himself.

He examined the place carefully, but could see no signs of anything having been changed or interfered with. Dust lay thick on the cement floor, the walls were just as he remembered them, with the rotten mortar slowly flaking away.

He went higher. He had switched off his torch, but he still moved with the same infinite caution. And it was only this extreme care that saved him. All of a sudden both feet slipped away beneath him, and he fell sprawling on his face with a force that almost stunned him. Broken stone and mortar clattered away beneath him and it was only the fact that he had been going so slowly that saved him from following it to the floor below.

It was quite half a minute before he recovered himself sufficiently to regain his feet, and then he was so shaken he could hardly stand. In falling he had struck his chest full upon one of the steps, and the blow had absolutely winded him.

He flicked on his lamp, and saw that two steps had broken away completely beneath his weight. They had absolutely crumbled, leaving a gap of nearly two feet wide. It seemed a miracle that he had not gone through, in which case he must have been killed or at least seriously injured.

He examined the broken steps closely.

"It may be pure accident," he muttered, "or it may have been a trap. I wonder."

His lips tightened. "I'm going to see it out anyhow," he went on. "But by Jove—I'll test every step the rest of the way up."

It was only when he began to climb again that he realised that his left ankle was damaged. In the fall he had either twisted or bruised it badly. It hurt like fury, and he could hardly put any weight on it. But still he stuck to it, and after a while reached the top floor in safety.

There was nothing there to reward him for his pains. No apparatus of any sort, wireless or otherwise. Deeply disgusted, he made his way down again, and eventually reached his boat.

But by this time his ankle was aching furiously, the pain shooting all up his leg in ugly throbs.

"Rotten luck!" he growled. "I can't do anything more to-night. If I try to I shall only be laid up for a month." He took off his boot, and soaked his foot for a while in the cold sea-water. Then he took to his sculls again, and rowing softly up on the first of the flood eventually reached the hard, and using a boat-hook for a crutch hobbled painfully back to the house.

He spent an hour fomenting his damaged ankle with hot water, then went to bed, and slept well.

In the morning the pain was gone, but the ankle still weak and swollen. He looked at it ruefully.

"Have to lie up for a couple of days," he growled. "Well, it can't be helped, and after all two days can't make much odds. It's more than a year since I first started on this game."


### Telegram


THIS was the message which arrived at Flatsea on the second morning after Rodney's return home.

"Next week-end," said Rodney to himself—"that means Saturday, I suppose, and it's only Wednesday now. Hang it all! I can't wait. My ankle is nearly all right, and I must have another shy to-morrow night at latest."

"All the same I'd give a lot to have him with me," he added thoughtfully. "Well, I'll just have a scout round to-morrow, and if there's anything to be done he'll give me a hand on Saturday night."

Thursday night was dull and cloudy. The glass was falling a little, but there was no wind. This time Rodney made his way down to the main creek but did not go so far as the landing-stage opposite the new building. He pulled into the bank before he got there, and drawing the dinghy quietly up set off crawling towards the bungalow.

Everything was intensely dark. There was not a gleam of light from either building. But this, of course, was only natural. In no part of the country are the lighting regulations more strict than on the East Coast, and if Rodney's suspicions were correct, Mandell would be the last person to break the rules and bring upon himself the notice of the authorities.

He gained a spot quite close to the door of the bungalow and dropped down in a clump of long grass, where he lay and waited as patiently as he could. Once or twice he heard sounds of some one moving inside the house, but his patience was nearly exhausted before the door opened and a figure came quickly out and made its way down towards the new building. By the great bulk and stiff, heavy walk, Rodney was sure that it was Mandell himself.

The man went straight down to the back-door of the laboratory. Dark as it was, he did not hesitate. The darkness was Rodney's best friend, for it hid him as he glided swiftly on the other's track. He was not ten yards away when Mandell opened the door, passed through it, and closed it behind him.

Rodney waited breathlessly. He strained his ears for the click of the key in the lock. There was no such sound, and after a pause of a few moments he ventured to move forward, and try the door.

It was not locked. It opened, and with beating heart Rodney found himself inside the building. He was in a passage, a passage that was faintly lighted by a single electric bulb in the ceiling and which ran at a right angle through the building from front to back.

Again he stopped, listening keenly for some sound. A door closed in the distance with a hollow slam. The sound came from the right and, greatly daring, Rodney went forward again. There was no cover of any sort, and what would happen if Mandell or any one else came out did not bear thinking of.

He came to another passage. It was long and narrow and cut right across the first. He turned to the right and passed quickly down it. At the far end some empty packing-cases were piled against the wall. These offered a hiding-place of a kind, and it took him only a moment to slip in behind them.

He was just in time. Next moment a door opened quite close by, and Mandell came out. In the dim light the man's gross figure towered gigantic.

"Otto!" he called aloud in his gruff, harsh voice.

Rodney's heart beat violently. A German name! His suspicions were instantly confirmed.

From a door at the other end of the passage emerged a little rat of a man with a cunning, fox-like face. He wore list slippers, and a pair of large tortoise-shell rimmed spectacles were on his nose.

"Yes, mein Herr," he answered in German as he came shuffling rapidly down the passage.

"Quickly!" said Mandell harshly. "The signal has been given. They wish to speak."

He turned and went back into the room. Otto followed, then, to Rodney's dismay, the door was closed again.

But Rodney's blood was up. Regardless of risks, he stepped out of his hiding-place and next moment his ear was at the key-hole.

There was a vague hum of machinery from inside. It was very low and faint and he could not guess its source. Next moment came the ting of a tiny bell, an electric signal of some sort.

Then followed a pause which lasted perhaps half a minute.

Then Rodney heard Mandell's deep voice. As before, he spoke in German.

"The 23rd, you say? Yes. That is Sunday. It is all settled, then?"

Again silence.

"Yes." It was Mandell's voice again. "If I may be permitted to say so, I advise the whole force of air ships—all that can be spared. They should attack to the south and so cause a diversion, while the fleet work to the northwards.

"No," he continued, "there is no force to speak of at Harwich, nothing but three destroyers and some smaller craft. I do not think that the vessels stationed at Dover can arrive in time."

Rodney's pulses tingled. All thoughts of his own danger were forgotten. He began to realise that he was listening to a plan for an invasion of England by her remorseless enemies on the far side of the North Sea. The secret, too, of the Power House on Sylt was a secret no longer. It was not wireless telegraphy, but wireless telephony. He had heard rumours that, since August 1914, great developments had been made in the matter of etheric telephone work, yet even so it was startling in the extreme to find Germans talking across the whole breadth of the North Sea.

But he had little time for these reflections. Mandell was speaking again.

"High tide will be a little after midnight. Yes, there will be plenty of water in the creek for the light transports. Yes, I have finished the road, and it will carry guns easily. The plans and maps are all ready, and if, as I hope, the surprise is complete, it should be an easy matter to seize and hold Ipswich, and so get astride the main line of the Great Eastern.

"The only troops in the neighbourhood are young and untrained, for the two battalions of Suffolks whose training was finished have just been sent abroad.

"Suspicion!" Mandell laughed harshly. "None as yet, I can assure you. Their only men who are worth anything are in the navy or in France, and as for their politicians, the war has taught them nothing.

"I assure you"—his voice became deeper and more earnest—"I can assure you that this expedition, although you call it a forlorn hope, may prove to be very much more. The British will have to recall troops from France to deal with it, and before that can be done our brave men may be in possession of half the munition works in the Midlands.

"It is a blow at England's vitals, and one from which she will not easily recover."

Silence again. Rodney could hardly breathe for excitement.

"Yes," said Mandell, "yes. Louder, please, I cannot hear."

He seemed to listen vainly, for when he next spoke it was to Otto. "Donner!" he growled, "there is some interference with the waves. I can hear no more."

"But it is sufficient," he added. "We know where we are now. The work of the past twenty months is to be crowned with success. On Sunday next the dream of my life will be realised, and a German regiment will tread the soil of hated England."

"But can they cross, mein Herr?" asked Otto eagerly. "Can they escape the British Fleet?"

"Yes, for our plans are well laid, Otto. Listen! Our own fastest cruisers will emerge and race up the coast of Denmark. They will be a bait for the British Fleet, but the British Fleet will not catch them, for before the enemy are within a hundred miles they will be observed by our airships who will warn our vessels.

"At the same time our great Zeppelins will advance on London. There will be fifty of them, and it will be a raid the like of which has never yet been seen. Thus, while north and south our enemies are kept equally busy, the transports will come forth from Emden and, convoyed by destroyers, travel at full speed across the sea. Before daylight twenty-five thousand of our finest troops will be raiding and burning from Ipswich to Norwich."

"It is a great thought, mein Herr," Otto replied, with enthusiasm. "Now, is it your will that I should stop the dynamos?"

"Yes, stop them, Otto. We have no current to spare. But be on the watch in case the call comes again."

Steps approached the door, and Rodney suddenly remembering the danger of his position, slipped back instantly behind the packing-cases.

Next moment the door opened and Otto came out, and went straight back down the passage. Rodney waited for Mandell, but the latter did not appear.

Minutes passed. Rodney became desperately impatient. He was aching to carry the knowledge which he had obtained to the proper authorities. He realised fully its enormous importance. Even the comparatively small force which the Germans intended to fling across would, if it succeeded in landing, work the most fearful havoc. And a better place for throwing it ashore could hardly be imagined. There was deep water, as Mandell had said, right up to the landing-stage, and even beyond. It was clear that small, fast transports were to be employed, and these could come right in alongside and discharge their cargoes of men and guns within a few hours. Before daylight the country would be alive with them, and although there were trenches two miles inland, the force holding them would not be sufficient to withstand an attack by picked troops such as the Germans evidently meant to send.

He waited for nearly five minutes, but though he strained his ears could hear nothing from the wireless room. At last he could stand it no longer. He slipped out of his hiding-place, and made down the passage on tiptoe.

He stole past the door, gained the corner, and had just turned in the direction of the back-door when he heard a door open behind him.

It was the door of the wireless room, and the heavy steps were undoubtedly those of Mandell himself.

Rodney glanced desperately round, but there was no cover of any sort whatever. He did the only thing possible—bolted for the door, opened it as swiftly and softly as possible, and darted out into the night.



AS Rodney bolted for the thick marsh grass the snapping report of a pistol cut the silence of the night, and a high velocity bullet sang its deadly song close above his head. Before the second was on its way he had flung himself head foremost into the tall dead growth, and for the moment was safe.

Only for the moment. Rodney had no illusions whatever on that score. He had been in plenty of tight places since August, 1914, but he knew in his bones that this was the tightest of them all.

If Mandell was anything like his double of the Power House, he would be a difficult man, indeed, to escape from, and of the two Rodney believed that this one was actually the more formidable.

Yet escape he must. This was no mere matter of life and death. It might actually mean the future of the whole Empire. On him and him alone hung issues so tremendous that even to consider them was madness.

While thoughts like these flashed through his brain, Rodney was up again and running with all his might for the spot where he had left his boat. Concealment was out of the question. Knowing the marsh as he did, he might have hidden himself, but that would only mean that Mandell or some of his crew would inevitably discover the boat, and then his last chance was gone. He could never hope to swim in safety across the swift tide which was racing down the channels, and even if he could he must be seen and scuppered before he reached the far side.

For a minute or so he was conscious of footsteps rattling through the heavy growth in his wake. Then they ceased, but this fact gave him little relief. He was fully conscious that Mandell was much too clever to trust to catching him on land. It was on the water that the chase would begin in earnest.

There were no more shots, there had been no shouting at all. Mandell was far too wise to risk giving any alarm which might reach the Sternes' house on the higher ground inland. But as Rodney, panting from his mad rush, reached his boat, a far more ominous sound reached his ears. It was the chug-chug of the engine of a powerful motor-boat.

As he leaped into his own light boat and rapidly shipped his sculls, Rodney paused an instant, and listened hard. It was everything to him to know which way the motor-boat was heading.

His heart sank as he realised that she was shooting upstream, not down. He was cut off from home.

Yet a moment's consideration was enough to make him realise that this was only natural. Mandell, of course, would be aware that the intruder had come down the creek and not up from the open sea. At least, he would have made up his mind that the probabilities were all against the latter being the case. And although Rodney did not believe that the German had recognised him, yet it was more than probable that he suspected his identity.

There was another point, too. The tide at present was running out strongly. Mandell would know that he could easily overhaul any one trying to row against it, and also be aware that, if he missed his prey in his up-creek swoop, he could easily turn and catch him as he pulled out to sea.

All these thoughts flashed through Rodney's mind in a matter of seconds, and equally rapidly he made up his mind as to his only possible chance for escape. Dipping his oars, he drove straight across the creek for the south bank.

On the face of it, the plan looked crazy, for the south side was the very worst of the marsh, a mere wilderness of mud intersected by little winding channels too shallow even for a gun-punt except at the top of a spring tide, and at low water nothing but liquid mud so soft that a man would sink to his middle in a moment. Even Rodney, well as he knew the marshes, could not cross such a stretch in broad daylight, let alone in the darkness of a chilly spring night.

He had no intention of attempting any such mad feat. What he was looking for was a hiding-place, not only for himself but for his boat. And here it was that his knowledge of the marshes, gathered during many a freezing night of mid-winter, stood him in good stead.

Reaching the far bank, he turned seawards and drifted down with the tide, carefully watching the mud as he swept by it. A moment later, and a narrow channel opened, half hidden by the tall reeds. With a quick, silent dip of his right hand scull, he turned the light boat, and shot into it.

There was just room to scrape through, and then the boat and he were floating in a little pool, a sort of tiny basin hidden almost completely from the main stream.

He turned, and tearing up a big armful of reeds threw it across the opening. There was no time for more. He had hardly done this before he heard the rapid beat of the launch's engines, and realised that she had turned and was coming downstream "full clap."

Every moment the sound grew nearer, but he did not dare to peer out. Indeed, he hardly dared to breathe as he crouched in the stern of his boat, hoping desperately that he might escape notice.

The launch was opposite. He caught a glimpse of her going like smoke, a white cushion of foam under her bow, and a long trail of pallid froth gleaming in her wake. He heaved a sigh of relief as she fled past, headed for the open sea.

Yet the danger was not over. There was the chance, almost the certainty, that, having gone a mile or so out, and seeing nothing. Mandell would suspect the trick played upon him, and come tearing back as fast as he had gone.

Rodney's original plan had been to wait until Mandell had passed—if he did pass—then turn and pull back up the creek for the home landing, after which he would make all possible speed for the house. Then he would have out the car and make tracks for Ipswich with all the pace he could get out of the old machine.

Suddenly it came to him that this plan was too risky. He would have a long half-mile to row against a three-knot tide. This would take nearly half an hour, and if, as he fully anticipated, Mandell came back, why, he would not stand a dog's chance of escape.

Besides, the chances were a hundred to one that Mandell would have some one watching at the upper end of the island. Rodney did not make the mistake of under-estimating his enemy's intelligence. No, his first plan would not do, and he changed it with the swift decision which was a part of his character and of his naval training.

It might have seemed wiser to stay where he was, but to do so was out of the question. The tide was running out so fast that, in half an hour at the outside, he would be hard aground. It was absolutely necessary to leave before that happened, and in a flash he had made up his mind to start at once, and make out of the mouth of the creek before Mandell got back into it.

Using an oar as a punt pole, he shoved out of his hiding-place, and back into the main creek. The swift current seized the boat, and he was a dozen yards away from the opening before he could dip his sculls. Then he set to pulling for all he was worth, and fairly fled down towards the mouth of the creek.

Every sense was alert for sight or sound of his enemies, but the only sounds he could hear were the low plash of waves outside, and the faint chug-chug of the motorboat, which was already more than a mile ahead of him.

His spirits began to rise. It looked as if he had dodged them after all.

On the face of it, pulling straight out to sea in this fashion seemed a crazy performance, for Rodney could hardly hope to row all the way down to Harwich. But, as a matter of fact, he had no intention of doing anything of the kind. Three miles down the coast was another inlet, Callow Creek, and a little way up it lived a man called Warland, an old friend of the Sternes. Warland had a small motor-boat, and Rodney's intention was to borrow this and make for Harwich at the top of its speed. The admiral there would be the man to see.

Rodney kept as close to the south shore as he dared. He could not go too close, for a sand-bank ran out, and, calm as it was, there was a lop across the bank enough to swamp him if he were not careful.

The light craft began to lift in the small short waves, spray splashed over him, but he drove through it, never slackening his efforts for a moment.

At last he was across it and in the deeper water beyond. Then as he swung round southwards the deep boom of Mandell's engines came plainly to his ears, and he realised that, failing to find him outside, the German had turned, and was questing back up the south branch of the creek.

Could he escape without being seen? That was the question. He dug his oars in and rowed as he had never rowed before.


EVERY moment the roar of the motor-boat's engines sounded louder in Rodney's ears. She was coming back at something like twenty knots, or at least four times as fast as he could possibly pull. True, he was moving at right angles to her course, but even so he began to fear that Mandell must see him. The night was so clear that a boat could be spotted at a considerable distance.

His worst fears were realised. A shout came across the sea.

"Starboard! Hard a-starboard!" It was Mandell's voice, and glancing back over his shoulder, Rodney saw the long, lean hull flashing straight in his wake.

For a moment it was in his mind to leap overboard, and chance swimming ashore. Then suddenly his lips set, and he swung his boat so that her bow headed almost straight for the shore. He was not done yet. He had one trick still up his sleeve, and he would play it for all it was worth.

He was now nearly a mile from the coast, and it was, of course, completely out of the question to reach land before Mandell caught him. He knew that; but he knew another thing which, he hoped and prayed, Mandell did not know. This was that a long narrow sand-bank, known as the Spaniard's Sword, ran out here in a scimitar-shaped curve. At low tide it was dry, but now he reckoned there would be just enough water for his boat to cross it, and just too little for the launch.

The launch was gaining by leaps and bounds, and he himself was panting from his tremendous exertions. It was doubtful even whether he could reach the edge of the bank before the German was on top of him.

Again, as on the island, a pistol cracked, but the light was too bad for any accurate aim, and though five shots were fired Rodney was none the worse.

He felt the boat lift. Her keel grated harshly, and for a moment she hung, half-fixed on the edge of the reef. The next wave lifted her, and with a vigorous stroke he forced over into deeper water beyond. He had shipped buckets of brine and was soaked to the skin, but he only pulled the harder. He did not even dare look back.

"Back her! Reverse her! Gott im Himmel, be quick about it! We are almost on the sand."

These words yelled in German were music to Rodney's ears, and more delightful still was the sharp crunch as the launch's bow took the sand, and with all the drive of her hundred horse-power engines, rushed high upon the bank.

Curses in furious German rang above the plash of the waves, and then the Mauser began to bark again with almost the rapidity of a machine-gun.

One bullet struck the boat and ripped the gunwale, but luckily without doing any harm; two more hissed in the water close alongside. Rodney only strained the more desperately at his oars.

The sound of the shots and the guttural German oaths died away, and, dripping at every pore, Rodney permitted himself to lask off for a moment, and look round.

Dimly through the star-lit gloom he caught sight of the launch hard and fast on the bank, and of her crew out in the water pushing and heaving for all they were worth.

He chuckled sardonically.

"Yes, push, you blighters. She'll never move till next tide, and then I wouldn't bet on her floating. One up to Rodney Sterne this time."

He took a long breath, dipped his sculls again, and giving the tail of the bank a wide berth, pulled steadily on for Callow Creek.

He was there in well under the hour. Warland, he knew, would be in bed, but Rodney's knocking would have roused the dead, let alone any sleeping man. Warland's old butler, Fishwick, came to the door. He was frightened and inclined to be crusty, but when he recognised Rodney his tone changed at once.

"Mr. Warland, sir; no, he's away," he said in answer to Rodney's rapid question. "We don't expect him back till to-morrow evening."

"Rotten luck!" growled Rodney, who had been intending to get Warland to accompany him. He hesitated a moment, wondering whether to tell Fishwick what had happened, but decided not.

"See here, Fishwick," he said sharply. "I have to get to Harwich in a hurry. Is the launch in running order?"

"Yes, sir. She's all right. Do you mean you want her now?"

"This instant. There isn't a minute to waste. It's a matter of the very greatest importance."

"Very good, sir. She's in the boat-house. Come this way."

Rodney knew the launch—had often handled her. He only waited long enough to see that her tank was full. It was not until he was off and away that he remembered that he might have told Fishwick to send word of his whereabouts to Flatsea Holme.

"But it don't matter after all," he said to himself as he shot out of the mouth of the creek. "I'll be back before the governor has a chance to get nervous."

Since there were no Germans to stop him, since the sea was almost perfectly calm and the little motorboat's engines running like silk, Rodney seemed to have every ground for believing what he said. But the North Sea is nearly as treacherous as a German, and ten miles down the coast Rodney ran into a thin mist which dulled the stars. It grew steadily thicker, and within five minutes he was clipping along through a white smother so heavy that he could not see two boat-lengths ahead.

North Sea fog is often patchy. Rodney did not slacken speed, but fled onwards, hoping every minute to run into clear weather again. Instead, the fog grew thicker, and he was forced to steer entirely by compass. He kept his fog-horn going, and a very sharp look-out for other craft.

"It's not good enough," he said at last. "I'll have to slack her down."

His hand was on the throttle when a dull, dark mass humped itself right in front of the launch's bow. With a yell, he pulled the tiller full over.

Too late! A crash that might have been heard a mile, and the motor-boat struck the stern of something big and heavy, and crumpled like a concertina. Rodney just managed to leap up and catch the stranger's rail before his own craft buckled and sank like a stone.

"What the something—something—do you mean by it?" roared a fierce voice, and a great, bull-headed fellow came leaping aft, pouring out a string of furious imprecations.

"Do you think I did it on purpose?" retorted Rodney. "Steady, you idiot!" For the big fellow had struck out, and his lumping fist jarred on the arm which Rodney flung up in self-defence.

"Steady!" he cried again, then as the bull-head came at him a second time, "All right! If you want it, take it."

He countered, and drove in under the big brute's guard. His knuckles crackled on his adversary's jaw-bone, and up went the man's arms as though a spring had driven them, and down he huddled on the deck with a crash that made the solid planking quiver.

It did more. The sound of the fall brought two more men running. One was a long, lean, wolf-like fellow, who came silently as the animal he resembled; the other was nearly as broad as he was long, and his short hair bristled like a porcupine's quills. As he came he bellowed like a bull.

"Steady!" again shouted Rodney. "Are you all mad? I'm English. I mean you no harm."

"Ach—English!" roared the square man, and he and his wolf-like companion hurled themselves together upon Rodney.

He, penned in the stern, could not escape. He hit out again with all his might at the shorter man. But the latter had his head down, and Rodney's fist merely jarred against his iron-hard skull. Next moment Rodney was down, and the two on top of him.

He fought desperately, and getting one foot up drove the long man back, groaning, with a tremendous kick in the stomach. But the other was on his chest, and he seemed to weigh a ton. Then, before he could do anything to free himself, bull-head had struggled up and flung himself into the fray. Rodney felt iron fingers at his throat. Their grip tightened till his head sank and sparks danced before his dimming eyes. Then something seemed to snap inside his brain, he dropped back and knew no more.


RODNEY'S next sensation was a throat so dry and parched that he could hardly breathe, and a head that seemed as big as a balloon and all one ache.

Through all his pain and weakness came a steady throb which he presently recognised as the beat of engines. Even so, it was a long time before he was able to open his eyes and take stock of his surroundings.

He found himself in the main hold of what was evidently a large trawler. This is the space usually given over to nets and fish, but at the present moment there were nets, but certainly no fish. Although the hatch was closed and it was very dark, there was light enough for Rodney to see that he himself was lying on a pile of ancient nets, and that the hold itself was nearly empty.

He had had a bad blow on the skull, and the wound had evidently bled a good deal. He tried to lift his hand to feel the extent of the damage, but he could not. He was tied with a rope around his body which pinned both arms to his sides, and another which fastened his ankles together.

Even after he had got his eyes open, it was some minutes before he could remember just what had happened. When he did, his thoughts were far from cheering. It was clear that, by the worst of luck, this trawler on which he had wrecked himself was an enemy, no doubt disguised as a neutral. It was a queer thing that she should be so close to the east coast, but probably she had taken advantage of the fog to creep in, either to lay mines or on some other hostile errand.

Whatever she was, he was perfectly helpless, and the more he considered his situation, the less he liked it. He might be carried as a prisoner to Germany. As they had not dumped him overboard at once, that was his probable fate. Or the trawler might be spotted, and chased or sunk. Anyhow, there was not much hope for him, and the sinister recollection crept into his brain of the threats used by the "Baron" at the Sylt power house. If that brute got his hands upon him, his fate would indeed be a terrible one. Worse than all was the knowledge that he had failed in his mission.

It was still foggy. Even in the hold the air was full of the cold, wet mist. But the day was dawning. A gray light crept in through a small port over his head.

Presently he tried to raise himself and sit up. But the only result was that he turned dizzy, and dropped back. Rodney, however, was not the sort to give up easily, and after a while he tried again, and with better success. He found that, by doubling himself up, he could reach the cords around his legs, and he set himself to try to loosen them. Before he had met with any success, there was a sound above, and he saw the hatch being raised. He dropped back quickly, and closed his eyes.

A man came heavily down the ladder. Under his half-closed eyelids Rodney saw that he was the big bull-headed skipper. He came across and stood over his prisoner. Seeing that he was breathing, he stirred him roughly with his boot.

"None of your shamming!" he said harshly. "Wake up, and tell us who you are."

He spoke perfect English, with only that touch of throat sound which told Rodney that he was Dutch or German.

Rodney saw no use in discussion. He lay still.

"Schweinehund!" growled the big man. "Never mind. He'll come round in an hour or so. Then—"

The fact that he did not finish his threat did not make it any the less formidable. Rodney realised that he was to be put to the question. Queer things are done in the silence of the North Sea. He determined to defer the evil hour as long as possible.

With a grunt the big man departed. As soon as he was gone, Rodney sat up again and set to work once more on the lashings round his ankles. The knots were hard, and his hands were so numb he could hardly use them. Every few moments cramp seized him, and he had to drop back in agony. At last it grew so bad that he lay back with a groan. He had to acknowledge himself beaten—at least for the moment.

All this time the trawler was steaming onwards. By the sound, Rodney knew that she was moving at little more than half-speed. Where she was going—in what direction he had of course no notion whatever. She might have turned east, or she might still be nosing her way northwards through the fog.

Rodney had been through a deal during the past night. He was worn out. Presently he dropped off into a sort of uneasy doze. How long he slept he had no idea. What roused him was the stopping of the engines. The trawler had come to a stand-still.

Yet she was not in harbour. That he could tell by the motion. She lay rocking to the send of a long, slow swell. Nor had she anchored. He would have heard the rattle of cable through the hawse hole if that had been the case.

Presently the engines began to revolve again. A few lazy turns, then they ceased. He realised that she must be lying off the coast, and that she was either waiting for a boat, or perhaps going to send one ashore.

Ah, it was the latter. He heard the squeal of blocks as a boat was lowered over side. A harsh order was given. He could have sworn to the voice of the big skipper, though he could not hear his actual words.

Where were they? What was happening? He would have given anything to know.

The boat pushed off, and all was silence save for the occasional creaking of a lock, and the slow wash of the waves against the side.

And then—then from somewhere in the distance a clock began to strike. Faint as the strokes were, he heard them clearly.

One—two—three, he counted the strokes up to ten. Ten in the morning. His heart was beating painfully. Surely he knew the sound of that clock.

A moment later, and all doubt was at an end. Bells began to play a chime. The bells of Flatsea Church, with the cracked tenor bell sounding its unmistakable tinny note.

Like a flash there came back to his memory that morning so many months ago, when he and Hugh Tottenham, on "Alicon's" bridge, had listened to those self-same chimes on the day before the battle of the Dogger. In spite of all his fortitude, a groan was wrenched from him as he thought of the contrast.

Then he was free and on the deck of a British warship; now he lay a helpless prisoner in the hold of an enemy ship. Worse than all, he and he alone of all his countrymen possessed the secret of the German raid, a secret which, if it remained so, might swing the scale and turn Britain's victory into inglorious defeat.

It was a situation to drive a man mad, and Rodney found himself tearing wildly at the lashings round his ankles, breaking his nails in useless efforts to get free.

The paroxysm did not last long. Sweating all over, trembling with weakness, he dropped back again on his pile of nets.

As he became more calm he began to wonder why the trawler was stopped here. It seemed to him that it would be for one thing only—that the skipper was meeting Mandell. He wondered what fresh villainy was being hatched, and ground his teeth as he realised his helplessness to balk it.

He dropped into a sort of stupor from which he was roused by a slight splashing outside his port. It was no doubt the boat coming back, and he wondered vaguely if Mandell was aboard her.

Suddenly the silence was broken by a hail.

"Trawler, ahoy!"

Rodney sprang up to a sitting position, quivering all over. The voice was that of his cousin, Leslie Palliser.


"TRAWLER, ahoy!" Yes, it was Leslie, shouting.

"What do you want? came the gruff reply from the trawler's deck.

"Have you seen anything of a boat adrift down the coast, with one man in her?" questioned Leslie.

"No, we ain't seed any boat. How'd we see anything in a fog like this," came the reply.

Rodney found his voice.

"Leslie!" he yelled at the pitch of his lungs. "Leslie!"

Leslie heard.

"Who's that shouting? Whom have you got aboard there?"

"You sheer off, young feller," was the answer from the trawler's spokesman. "There ain't any one aboard as has anything to do with you.

"Leslie!" shrieked Rodney, so loud that his voice cracked.

Next moment the hatch cover was hurled aside, and a furious face thrust through.

"If you make another sound you'll get a bullet through you," threatened a voice in tones of savage menace. A pistol was levelled straight at his head.

But now Leslie had recognised the call.

"Rodney!" he shouted back, "is that you?"

"Sheer off!" bellowed the man on deck. "Sheer off, or by—I'll shoot you."

Rodney was in an agony. Leslie was evidently alone, and in an open boat. What could he do against the armed ruffians in the trawler. But in a moment it became clear that the threats counted for little, so far as Leslie was concerned.

"Put that pistol down, you fool," he ordered. "I am an officer in His Majesty's Service."

"You may be the King himself, for all I care," retorted the trawler man. "Sheer off, or take the consequences."

Rodney, lying silent under the threat of the pistol pointed full at his head, shivered with apprehension. Not for himself, but for Leslie. He knew what these scoundrels were capable of, and would have given his own life to warn his cousin. He was on the point of taking his chances and shouting, when from above came the sharp crack of a pistol.

The echo came back in a roar like that of a small cannon, and overhead Rodney heard the heavy thud of a falling body followed by shrill screams of pain. At the same moment the head and arm which threatened Rodney from the hatch were suddenly withdrawn.

"Look out, Leslie!" shrieked Rodney, for he realised that the man would fire.

"Crash! Crash!" It was the double report of a shot gun, and again came the sound of a fall and yells of agony.

"Had enough?" Rodney heard Leslie shout. Though he could see nothing, he could visualise the whole scene. That first crashing report had been the charge from his own great punt gun, nearly a pound of B.B., while the shot gun was the ten-bore cripple stopper which he had used winter after winter when fowling on the marshes.

"Had enough?" demanded Leslie again. "Heaven help you if you try any more tricks! I can sink your rotten old tin can if I give you a dose between wind and water."

Apparently they had had enough, for the silence was complete.

"Where are you, Rodney?" asked Leslie. He was closer now.

"Here, in the hold. I'm tied. Look out for those swine, Leslie. They're Germans, every last one of them."

"All right, old son. There are not enough left to signify, and I've the ten-bore loaded with buck-shot. I pity the blighter who tries playing the fool. I'll blow the head off him.

"Wait now," he added. "I'm coming aboard."

Rodney heard the duck-punt grate against the side of the trawler, and sweated with agony lest any member of the crew should have hidden, ready to pot Leslie as he came aboard. But no shot was fired, and he heard the light thud of Leslie's rubber-soled shoes as he leaped on board.

He heard him slam down the after-hatch and bolt it, then run forward to make sure that no one was lurking in the bows.

"All serene, Rodney!" came his cheery voice, and gun in hand he came dropping down the ladder into the main hold.

"You poor old chap!" he cried, as he saw Rodney. Then out came his knife, the ropes were slashed away, and he lifted Rodney and helped him up the ladder and so to the deck.

"Bit of a mess!" observed Leslie, as they reached the deck. He pointed as he spoke to no fewer than four bodies stretched on the blood-stained planks. "The punt gun did for two of 'em and the other two I got with the ten-bore. Couldn't help it. It was me or them."

Rodney recognised the wolf-like brute, and a grim smile curled his lips.

"Good riddance!" was his curt comment.

"How many aboard, Rodney?" asked Leslie.

"I've no idea. It was night when I piled into her. But there's a boat gone off with her skipper and probably two men aboard. That makes seven, and there'll be two at least in the engine-room. Don't suppose there are more than nine all told. Ring down to the engine-room and order them to get way on her. We must head her for the creek. Then come back here. I've got the biggest thing ever to tell you."

The fresh air and the excitement had made a new man of Rodney. He snatched up a pistol from one of the dead men and kept watch while Leslie carried out his directions. As soon as the engines began to turn, he took the wheel and headed the ship for the creek mouth.

Leslie came up a moment later.

"Are you fit to steer?" he asked anxiously.

"Yes, I can hang on a bit. We've got to slip in the back way, and with luck Mandell won't take alarm. Now listen, Leslie."

Leslie's eyes widened as he heard Rodney's story of how he had overheard Mandell's plans, and tried but failed to reach Harwich. He told it as curtly and quickly as possible, giving only the barest details.

When he had ended, Leslie drew a long breath.

"Great ghost, but you've been mixing it, man! See here, we've got to get this infernal spy before we do anything else."

"No, we've got to send word to Harwich. That's the first job of all. Then we must get every man we can raise and go for Mandell.

"I wish it wasn't so confoundedly thick," he added, frowning.

"You're all right. I can spot the island. See?"

Rodney heaved a sigh of relief.

"Yes, I see it. Now we shall be all right. Ring them to slow down."

Whoever was left in the engine-room obeyed orders at once. The trawler went crawling up the narrow passage at the back of the island, and the fog was still heavy enough to hide her from any one in Mandell's bungalow.

Rodney brought her right up as far as the water would take her, then ran her deliberately on to the mud.

"We mustn't anchor," he explained. "They'd hear the chain running out. Anyhow, she'll come off at high tide. Now, we must tie up those chaps in the engine-room, and when that's done the sooner we're ashore the better."

They found two men in the engine-room, but they gave no trouble. They tied them safely and left them, and made sure that there was no one else aboard. Then they both slipped into the duck punt which had been towing astern, and got ashore with all speed.

Ten minutes later, they were at the house. Old Mr. Sterne got a nasty shock at sight of Rodney, who was ghastly white and in a horrid mess with dirt and blood. He had been desperately anxious at his son's long absence. But Rodney refused to listen to any suggestions as to bandages or surgical help. His one idea was to get the news of the proposed raid to the proper authorities without a moment's delay.

His father volunteered to take the car and go to Ipswich and see the commandant there, and Rodney would not even sit down until the car had left.

"Now," said Leslie, "you'll jolly well have some grub and get your head tied up. You're looking fit to drop, old man."

"I'm all right," declared Rodney. "A strip of linen, and a cup of hot coffee—that's all I want. Remember, we've got to catch that spy chap before he can take the alarm. If he finds the trawler gone he'll smell a rat at once."

Word had already been sent to bring in every available man on the place. There were precious few, for the Sternes had seen to it that every one of military age had joined up. They got four, all over fifty, yet stout and useful fellows. Meantime, Rodney had had his coffee and a few mouthfuls of food, and Leslie himself had washed and bandaged the wound on his cousin's head. Rodney vowed that he was as right as rain, but Leslie was none too happy about him. He still looked white as a sheet and very shaky.

However, Leslie knew better than to try to leave him at home. He knew that Rodney would not hear of that.

So presently the six set off together, and taking the Sternes' large boat, pulled across to the head of the island. They were all armed. Rodney and Leslie had pistols; the rest carried guns. Luckily, the fog hung thick as ever over the marshes and the sea, so there was every hope that Mandell had not yet realised the capture of the trawler.

"You busted up his launch?" whispered Leslie to Rodney, as they sighted the outline of the so-called aquarium, the building in which the wireless was installed.

"He did," replied Rodney dryly. "But he had two."

"There's not one at the landing now," said Leslie.

"The mischief! Then the fellow's off."

They stopped. Sure enough, there was no craft at the landing except a small row-boat. The whole place was deathly still. The only sign of life was a faint curl of smoke from a chimney of the bungalow.

"What about the other launch?" asked Leslie. "Was she any size?"

"Yes—a forty footer."

"My word—big enough to cross the North Sea! Rodney, the blighter has tricked us."

"Looks as if he had," replied Rodney bitterly. "But come on. We'll see what he's left behind him, anyhow."

"Go slow," advised Leslie. "Some of his fellows may be laying for us inside."

They went carefully, and reaching the door of the wireless building, tried it and found it unlocked. They opened it and looked in. No sign of any one about, no sound except the ticking of a clock.

"That's the wireless room," said Rodney, pointing.

Leslie paused.

"Hadn't some of us better go up to the bungalow before we overhaul this place?" he suggested. "There's just a chance some of them may be lurking there."

Rodney agreed, and leaving two of their men on guard they and the other two went up to the bungalow. Here, the door was locked. Leslie took a gun from one of his men and with the butt broke a window. A strong reek of pungent smoke blew out, and as the outside air rushed in, a crackle of flames was heard.

"He's fired the place!" exclaimed Leslie.

"Then he's gone—confound him!" growled Rodney.

A flash of crimson flame glowed through the smoke. The whole inside of the place was alight. The smoke poured out in choking clouds. It was quite plain that it was beyond them to get the fire under.

"We'd best get back to the other place," said Rodney quickly. "After all the wireless apparatus is our best proof against the chap."

Leaving the bungalow to its fate, they turned and hurried back towards the other building. They had almost reached it when there came a roar like thunder, and the whole thing rose into the air in a huge fountain of smoke, flame, and flying timbers.

"Duck!" roared Leslie. "Down with you!"

As he spoke he flung himself, face downwards, on the ground, and the others did the same. A moment later, a rain of embers and rubbish of all sorts came crashing down from the sky, covering half the island, and hissing far out into the water.

It was nearly a minute before Leslie staggered to his feet. But Rodney did not move.

"Rodney!" cried his cousin, in horrified alarm, and stooping, lifted him. Rodney was bleeding from a fresh wound in the head. A splinter of broken wood had fallen on him, and he was quite insensible.


"IT was Gray's fault."

Leslie, sitting beside Rodney's bed, was telling him of what had happened on the previous day.

"It was Gray's fault apparently. The poor fellow went in. He must have tripped over some wire which those fiends had set, and so switched on a current to the detonator. They found his body to-day."

"Mandell expected to get the whole bunch of us," said Rodney.

"Not a doubt of it. He nearly did get you, old son."

"Bless you, I'm all right," answered Rodney. "I'll be on my pins again in a day or two. Well, the Hun has tricked us this time, but I've a feeling we haven't seen the last of him yet, nor he of us. We'll get him, Leslie, and that blighted Baron as well."

"By the bye," he added, "did you get any one to go after them yesterday?"

"Yes. A destroyer went from Harwich, and the watchers were warned by wireless. But it was too late. Besides, the fog still lies over the whole North Sea, from here to Germany. Everything was in Mandell's favour. The chances are that he's safe among his brother Huns this minute."

"It don't matter. We'll get him," declared Rodney stoutly. "How much leave have you got, Leslie?"

"Only three days. I have to go back to-morrow."

"That's a pity. Still, I can never be grateful enough that you got off when you did. If you hadn't come to the rescue with that punt gun, it's I, not Mandell, would have been in Hunland by now."

"Next time we make a call over the way let's hope it will be together," replied Leslie, with a smile. "And a few hundred thousand of our chaps as well. Now, I'm going. If I don't, I'll have that nurse of yours about my ears. So long."

Rodney mended rapidly. He was out of bed within three days, and able to rejoin his ship in a fortnight. He found the Fleet in a state of rather unusual excitement.

"Think the beggars are going to come out at last?" he asked of Tottenham.

"No such luck," Totts answered mournfully. "No, Sterne, they'll never put their noses out unless they've got Zeppelins hanging up all round to warn them, and if any of our craft are sighted within a hundred miles, back they go like rats under a rick."

Rodney laughed. "It's good to be with you again, Totts. You have a funny way of hitting things off."

Some days passed, and "Alicon" pursued her usual routine when suddenly she was ordered back to Kirkwall and told to fill her bunkers to their utmost capacity. Coaling is a filthy job, but on this occasion there was no grousing, and the work was done at record speed. All felt that there was something up. Even Totts became more cheerful.

Then on Friday, May 26th, they put to sea, and to every one's utter amazement, steered due west. Officers and men alike were flabbergasted. The only possible solution seemed to be that a German raider had escaped into the Atlantic, and that it was their job to hunt her down. But no one knew, with the possible exception of Captain Chesney himself, and he kept a shut mouth. Course was changed to south-west, and next day they were off the west coast of Ireland.

"Surely the beggars can't be trying another raid, Totts!" said Rodney to his friend, in a puzzled tone.

"Not after last month's little game," replied Totts, with decision. "Besides, the poor, deluded Sinn Feiners are well in hand, and as for Casement, he'll never see Germany again, or Ireland either."

"We haven't been sent here for nothing," declared Rodney, as he stared across the brilliantly green sea to the tall, granite peaks of the Ten Pins which rose purple against the sky.

Speed had been slackened to ten knots, and the cruiser was poking her sharp nose quietly through the long slow swells, when all of a sudden she quickened her stride, at the same time swinging round to the northwards again. Presently, the news buzzed round that they were in chase of some craft which at present lay below the horizon. Excitement grew as speed increased. Shortly "Alicon" was tearing through the sea at thirty knots, flinging behind her acres of snowy foam. Three hours passed. Then from the fire-control station a smudge of smoke was viewed. It was the chase. And now Captain Chesney spoke openly.

"She is 'Kobold,'" he told them, "one of their newest and fastest cruiser destroyers. I am not at liberty to tell you what she has been up to, but I can tell you that her plot has failed. Now it's up to us to see she doesn't get home again."

This was work after the heart of "Alicon's" people. There were smiles on every face—smiles, however, which faded a little when it was seen that, even at their best pace, they could not overhaul the German. Apparently she was as fast as they. She could not draw away, but they could not get within gun-shot. All day "Kobold" ripped northwards; all day "Alicon" chased. The night was clear, and at dawn she was still in sight. The day was much colder. They were already a long way north, and still the German showed no sign of turning.

"She's going slap up into the Arctic," said Totts gloomily. "She reckons to run right round our blockade."

Events proved him right. All day she kept her head for the North Pole, and next morning Rodney came on deck at dawn to feel the bitter chill of ice in the air and on the horizon the queer white "blink" which means floes in masses.

"This means fog," he growled. "We shall lose her."

Two hours later, the chase was lost to sight in a bank of impenetrable mist, and "Alicon's" engines had slowed to half their former revolutions. There was no help for it. Great fields of floe-ice lay on all sides—and here and there a tall berg gleamed ghostly through the smother.

Gloom had fallen on every soul in the ship. It looked as though they had completely failed. As Totts said, "We might go nosing through this from now till Christmas, and never get any forrarder."

This was evidently the skipper's opinion, for all of a sudden he ordered course to be changed, and they went off in a sou'-easterly direction.

"I mean to try to cut her off," he said. "After all, her coal won't last for ever, and she's got to get home some time. We've every chance of catching her off the Norwegian coast."

Once out of the ice, "Alicon" soon got into her stride again, and though she met more fog, and the usual bad weather in the North Sea, she kept going all the time, and on the morning of Wednesday the 31st, was little more than two hundred miles from the mouth of the Skager Rak. Here she slackened speed, meaning to cruise up and down until she could catch sight of the elusive "Kobold."

A little before four that afternoon, the unmistakable thunder of guns came rolling up from the southward, and in a moment all was excitement. The wireless was busy, and a few minutes later the news flashed like magic all through the ship.

"The Germans are out."

For the moment "Kobold" was clean forgotten, and as "Alicon" went tearing southward at the very top of her speed every soul aboard was busy making those last preparations which, even in war time, are necessary before going into action.

At half-past four a squadron of great ships was visible to the westward. They were "Barham," "Warspite," "Queen Elizabeth," "Valiant," and "Malaya," and they were rushing south-east at fully twenty-five knots. A magnificent sight, the biggest and finest ships in the world, each belted with thirteen inches of armour, each carrying eight fifteen-inch guns.

By this time the distant cannonade had grown to a throbbing thunder that shook the air. "Alicon," five knots faster than even the great Super-Dreadnoughts, rushed ahead of them, and soon through a bank of mist caught the flashes of the guns. Ten minutes later, they were near enough to see the ships engaged on either side.

"There's 'Lion'!" said Rodney, his eyes glowing as he caught sight of Beatty's great flag-ship racing through the waves, and hurling shells from her long thirteen point fives at the Germans.

"My word, sir! It's battleships she's tackling," replied Telford, his gunner, who stood close by.

Rodney had his glasses at his eyes. He was counting the ships engaged.

"Where's 'Queen Mary'?" he asked. He did not know—none of them then knew that this magnificent ship was already at the bottom, and that of her crew of nearly a thousand men only about a score survived.

Banks of mist and smoke drifted across the sea, hiding half the scene. The roar of guns was deafening. All seemed confusion, and it was next to impossible to distinguish friend from foe. All that was certain was that the vanguard of the German fleet under Hipper was steaming southwards so as to fall back on his main body, while Admiral Beatty with his battle-cruisers was chasing them for all he was worth, and punishing them severely, regardless of his own losses.

In any case, Rodney had precious little time to watch, for almost at once "Alicon" herself was in action, and her two six and eight four-inch guns added their quota to the roar of battle. Her guns were splendidly served, and she got in several hits on one of the big Germans at a distance of over ten thousand yards.

The battle had been in progress just an hour when "Southampton," which was far ahead of the bigger ships, reported that she had sighted the main German fleet coming up hand over fist to the help of Hipper's cruisers. At once Admiral Beatty ordered his craft to alter course, and led them northwards so as to draw the enemy into contact with our own Grand Fleet.

Hipper's squadron swung also, and all raced north together.

Then came the worst bit of, luck for Beatty's ships. The sun, low in the west, broke through the clouds and showed them in black outline against the bright evening sky, while the Germans came foaming up under cover of a thick veil of mist. They were for a time quite invisible, and the British could not fire at all, while the German eleven and fourteen-inch shells rained upon Beatty's big ships, causing fearful havoc. "Invincible" and "Queen Mary" had gone in the earlier action. Now "Indefatigable," "Defence," and "Black Prince" were sunk. Not that the Germans had escaped. One at least of their cruisers was down; two others had steered out of the line, blazing to heaven.

In the very nick of time the five great Super-Dreadnoughts came to the rescue, and swinging in behind Beatty's squadron began slamming their fifteen-inch shells into the van of the German battle fleet.

"Alicon" was no use in such a battle of giants. She darted away to the westward, hoping presently to find an antagonist more of her own metal. As she came up behind the great battle-cruisers she saw one of them getting a terrific battering.

"It's 'Warrior,' sir," said Telford, his face set as he saw a great shell burst amidships. "Look, she's slewing round."

This shell, as they heard afterwards, had wrecked, the starboard engine-room and destroyed "Warrior's" hydraulic pumps, so that from then onward all her guns had to be worked by hand. Just afterwards, a salvo struck her, one projectile plunging into her dynamo room, and extinguishing all the electric lights. She was afire badly aft, and it looked all odds that she would share the fate of her sister vessel, "Defence." At this moment the huge "Warspite" came tearing up, and plunging herself between the enemy and the sorely-pressed "Warrior," took all the German fire, and started returning it with a vengeance.

"Alicon's" men cheered again as they saw the gallant action, and watched "Warspite" hurling a rain of huge fifteen-inch shells on the four German battleships which had been concentrating their fire on the unfortunate "Warrior." "Warspite" herself was struck time and again, but her tremendous armour saved her.

"What's she doing?" cried Telford suddenly. To the utter amazement of all the spectators, the great battleship had suddenly charged off straight at the Germans.

It seemed the maddest performance, and Rodney held his breath at the sight. Suddenly she turned again, and began steaming round in circles.

"Steering gear's jammed," said Telford, suddenly realising the situation. At the same moment "Alicon" turned inwards so as to help if possible, but a moment later "Warspite" recovered control, and turning north, parallel with the Germans, began firing as heavily as ever.

Five minutes later, the whole German fleet swung off and turned south. Rodney knew what this meant.

"The Grand Fleet, at last!" he said to Telford, and sure enough, out of the mists to the northwards, Jellicoe's mighty squadrons came racing to the fray.

"Now we'll get 'em"—said Telford exultingly. But Rodney glanced at the sky.

"Too late, I'm afraid, Telford," he answered gravely. "It'll be too dark to see 'em in another hour."

Telford refused to be discouraged.

"Don't you worry, sir. We'll get our chance after dark," he declared confidently.



"ALICON" was indeed to get her chance, but a chance far different from anything Rodney had anticipated. As she swept on southwards, waiting her chance to go for one of her antagonists, a 'plane was seen high overhead. One of our own sea-planes it was, sent up from a mother ship to scout, and send down news by wireless of the disposition of the German fleet.

The Germans saw her, too, and their anti-aircraft guns grew busy at once. Rodney, glancing up, saw white puffs bursting, mushroom-like, on all sides of the daring 'plane.

Suddenly she seemed to stop short in mid-air. She side-slipped, righted, then nose-dived at a frightful speed.

"She's copped it, sir," said Telford gravely.

It looked as if she was done for, but her pilot clearly had all his wits about him. When no more than two or three hundred yards up, he managed to flatten her out, but it was clear that her engines were finished. He turned her and she came volplaning down straight towards the nearest British ship, which happened to be "Alicon."

Captain Chesney snapped out a sharp order, the engines were reversed, and a boat was in the water almost before the ship had come to a standstill.

The 'plane was floating less than a quarter of a mile away, and within an amazing short time her pilot and observer were taken off. There was no time to salve the 'plane. They left her to sink, and within less than a quarter of an hour from the time she had fallen her crew were safe aboard "Alicon."

Short as the time had been, the tide of battle had already swept by, and only dim forms and flashes through the mist showed where the fight still raged. Rodney had time to glance round. He gasped and rubbed his eyes as though he could not believe them. That long, lean figure with the wings on the breast of his tight-fitting tunic—it was Leslie and no one else.

But he could not, of course, leave his gun, and it was Leslie's duty to report immediately to the skipper. The cousins had no opportunity to exchange a word. At once the cruiser sprang again into her stride, and with her tremendous speed soon reached again the fringes of the fight.

The evening was closing down dark and stormy, friend and foe were fearfully and terribly mixed, but almost at once "Alicon" found work at hand. A large armoured cruiser of the "Roon" class which had evidently had a terrible drubbing was limping out of the battle badly afire forward, yet firing viciously from her eight-inch guns as she went.

She was three times the size of "Alicon," but Captain Chesney went for her at once, and opened on her with his six-inch. She returned the fire, but wildly. One great eight-inch whistled overhead and carried away "Alicon's" top-mast, wrecking her aerial, another dumped into the water so close alongside that the shock of the explosion flung Rodney and all his gun-crew down, and deluged the decks with tons of water. Then a splendid shot from "Alicon's" bow gun wrecked the Germans last remaining eight-inch, and shortly afterwards the British ship got near enough to slip in a torpedo.

It caught the limping cruiser just forward of the foremost funnel. There was a roar that shook the skies. A vast fountain of smoke and spray hid the enemy ship, and when it cleared, she was on her beam ends, and sinking.

"Alicon" changed course, shot up, and got all her boats out. By the time that she had picked up the Hun survivors, some forty in number, darkness was beginning to fall and the battle was twenty miles south, roaring and booming below the horizon. Rodney had been in charge of one of the boats. As he came over the side Leslie met him, and the greeting between the cousins was very cordial.

"I'd no notion it was you, old man," said Rodney.

"Nor I that it was your ship I was making for, Roddy. Great luck, meeting like this! Makes me think of what you said the last day we were together at Flatsea."

"About Mandell, you mean?" replied Rodney. "Yes, I had the feeling then that we should tackle him together. But it can hardly be now, Leslie. He'll not be in this scrap."

The words were hardly out of his mouth before Totts came hurrying up to where the two stood together.

"Sterne, there's a craft coming up behind us," he exclaimed breathlessly. "Have a look at her. I could almost swear she's 'Kobold.'"

He handed his glasses to Rodney, at the same time pointing up to the north-east. Rodney focused the glasses. The light was dim, but there was still enough of the afterglow in the sky for him to get the outline of the approaching ship clearly. He lowered his glasses.

"You're right, Totts," he said sharply. "Wait, I'll tell the old man."

He bolted off to the bridge with his news. Captain Chesney's face lit up. He, too, used his glasses, taking a long, careful survey of the distant vessel.

"She's 'Kobold' all right," he said curtly. "What luck! What great luck! We'll have her after all."

He rapped out quick orders, and at once "Alicon" swung off in chase of the German, or rather in an effort to cut her off from joining her consorts to the south.

The men forgot the battle, they forgot everything except that they were once more on the track of the craft that had eluded them for so long. This time they were going to get her—get her, even if they had to follow her into the very mine-fields of Heligoland. Their wireless was gone. No one could recall them.

It was some minutes before the German awoke to the fact that she was being chased and in these priceless minutes "Alicon" had cut the distance down by two miles and more. Now, dark as it was growing, they could keep her in sight, for they knew by experience that they were at least as fast as she.

"We'll get her," said Rodney to Leslie. "The old man is right. Barring accidents, we're bound to have her."

"She's edging away," replied Leslie. "She's turning more easterly. What's she after?"

"Trying for Danish territorial waters, I shouldn't wonder."

"But then she'll be interned."

"What—on the Jutland coast! And by the Danes? I don't think, Leslie."

"The Jutland coast," repeated Leslie. Rodney, has it struck you we're getting back to the old place?"

"It has, Leslie. There's a fate about it. I feel it in my bones. It's my belief we'll see Sylt again before we are twelve hours older."

"But not Mandell, or the Baron," said Leslie, shaking his head.

Silence fell, and presently the two seized the chance of hurrying down to the ward-room, and getting a hasty meal. When they reached the deck again night had fallen with thick clouds. The wind had swung round south-west, and it was blowing stiffly.

"Bad for our lame ducks," said Leslie. Had he known it, at that very minute her crew were making preparations to abandon the sorely-battered "Warrior."

"But good for us," returned Rodney. "We stand a sea better than 'Kobold.' We are gaining."

So they were, but very slightly. As the weather grew worse both ships were forced to slacken speed. More than once "Kobold" tried to dodge, but it was useless. They kept her in sight, and followed every twist and turn. From below the horizon to the south they still heard the hoarse mutter of guns, and knew that the great battle still raged.

There was precious little sleep aboard "Alicon" that night, and the few who had turned in were brought out with a jump at two in the morning by the crashing report of one of the six-inch guns. It was a sighting shot, and though it fell short it proved that they were only just out of range. Half an hour later, they had closed to about eight thousand yards, and action began in earnest.

"Alicon" had a slight advantage in weight of metal, her two large guns being six-inch against the German five point one, but on the other hand the German had more guns. Not that this made much difference. It was so dark, and the weather so bad that for a long time neither scored a hit. The two vessels, being end on to one another, afforded very small targets. It was nearly three before "Alicon" scored her first hit. Her men shouted as they saw the flash of the shell bursting against "Kobold's" hull. It did not seem to have done much damage, for the Hun kept going at unabated speed.

A little later "Alicon" was hit in the bows. Two men were killed, but no serious damage was done to the vessel. So the desultory firing went on, the shells screaming through the darkness, until the gray of early dawn showed the two ships alone on the stormy sea. It showed something else, also—a line of brown dunes, bare and desolate against the distant horizon.

"Jutland," said Leslie, pointing.

"And Sylt just beyond," added Rodney significantly.

The two craft were now within easy range, and were firing with every gun they could bring to bear. "Kobold" was doing her best to escape into her own mine-fields which lay only a few miles farther down the coast, but in this rough sea, "Alicon" had the legs of her, and was pinning her closer and closer to the shallow shore.

The British gunnery was superb. As the light increased, shell after shell got home on the German cruiser, staining the wild dawn with vivid flares of flame. The Germans, too, fought well, and "Alicon" did not escape unscathed. She was hulled twice, but luckily well above the water line. Her surgeon was busy, and an ugly fire was started in the lower flat but was got under before it did serious harm.

The German's shooting grew wild, and most of her shells went high, but she still tore onwards recklessly, and each mile brought her nearer to safety.

"I'd give a year's pay to stop her," muttered Rodney. "Try for her funnels, Telford."

Telford sighted carefully, the six-inch crashed out, and the hundred pound shell went screaming across the waves at almost point-blank range. A scarlet flame leaped out against the German's hull, then as the smoke cleared a shout rose from the gun crew.

"Kobold's" forward funnel was gone. She staggered, and for a moment seemed almost to stop. Thick volumes of smoke rolled up from her deck.

"That's given 'em something to chew on," exclaimed one of the gun crew triumphantly, as he swung up another shell.

"And that's a second dose," added Leslie, with quiet triumph, as a shell from "Alicon's" after-gun exploded right against the German's stern.

A moment's pause. Then a roar from every British throat. "Kobold" had fallen off, and was lying rolling in the trough of the waves.

"Cut her steering gear, I rather fancy," said Rodney.

Twice more she was hit before she got under way again, then she turned due east and bolted for the coast.

"The blighters'll do us down after all, sir," growled Telford.

Rodney laughed.

"Not they, Telford. There's no water for her inshore."

He was right—more than right. Another minute and the German was seen to come to a sudden stop. Her bows heaved up, a wave broke over her stern.

"She is hard aground," said Rodney quietly.

Hard aground she was, and all of two miles from the shore. No doubt her commander had intended to beach her, but had been caught on one of the numerous sand-banks which strew this treacherous coast. And there she lay, a motionless target for "Alicon's" guns.

"Alicon" ceased firing. A string of signals fluttered up.

"Do you surrender?"

There was no answer.

"She's getting out her boats," said Leslie sharply.

Down came "Alicon's" signal-flags. Her guns opened again with a crash. Practically every shell found its mark, and when the smoke cleared the German ship looked a mere wreck. Her bridge was gone, so were her other two funnels. All her upper works were battered to scrap-iron.

Slowly and sullenly, up went the white flag and "Alicon's" men roared their delight at the welcome sight.

Captain Chesney snapped out orders. Boats were swung out in a tremendous hurry. The sea was growing uglier all the time, and there was not a minute to waste if the crew of "Kobold" were to be saved.

Leslie came tearing up to Rodney.

"Skipper says I can go with you, old chap."

"Good business!" Rodney answered, and a minute later they were pulling hard in the direction of the stranded German.

It was risky work and only the most careful handling saved the boats from swamping. "Alicon" moved in as near as she dared, keeping the lead going all the time, but she could not come within less than half a mile of the German.

Rodney's men gave way with a will, and soon they were close to the stranded German.

"My word, she's a scrap-heap!" muttered Leslie.

She was indeed. The once trim cruiser had been battered to such an extent that she hardly resembled a ship. She was a mere hulk lying hard and fast on the bank, with coils of smoke rising from her bows, and the waves making a clean breach over her broken stern. As Rodney's boat swung in under the lee of the wreck they saw the survivors of the German crew lining the rails. Pallid and hollow-eyed, many of them wearing blood-stained bandages, they were in the most pitiable state imaginable. It was clear that they had had enough of fighting for many a long day to come. It was no easy job to take them off, and what made it the more difficult was that many were so badly hurt that they could not help themselves, but had to be slung over and lowered into the boats.

"Alicon" had but four boats. When they were filled there were still nearly as many men aboard "Kobold" as had been taken off. There was nothing for it but a second trip.

It was blowing very hard now, and the sea was really dangerous for boats.

Rodney spoke aside to Leslie. "You stay aboard here, Leslie, will you, and sort them out ready to get aboard as soon as I get back. And see if there are any left below."

Leslie nodded, and Rodney pushed off without him.

It was a tremendous pull back against the wind, but Rodney handled his boat superbly, and got every one of his wounded Germans safely aboard "Alicon." He was back alongside "Kobold" in little over half an hour, and the soaked and frightened Germans were only too anxious to leave their wrecked ship.

Three boats were filled, and pushed off. Rodney remained until the last.

Leslie came to the side and beckoned to him, and Rodney scrambled up over the rail.

"What's up?" he asked.

I'm not sure, Roddy, but it's my belief there's some one hiding below. There's a cabin door fastened. They say it's jammed, but I don't believe it. I could almost swear I heard some one moving inside."

Rodney nodded. "We'll just make sure," he said quietly.


LESLIE led the way below. It was a blessing to get out of the lash of wind and spray, if only for a few minutes.

"Here we are," said Leslie, in a low voice. "It's the last cabin aft."

Warship cabins are provided with doors which open inwards. But these are rarely used. As a rule the inmates are content with the heavy curtains which hang across the opening.

In the case of this cabin, however, the door was closed.

"I've tried my best to open it," said Leslie. "My own impression is that it's locked, not jammed."

As he spoke he turned the handle, at the same time putting his shoulder against the door.

It opened promptly, and he nearly fell into the cabin.

"Must have been jammed after all," he said, with a laugh, as he recovered himself. "I say, Roddy, what a cabin! These Huns do 'emselves well, don't they?"

"Well—there's no one here, anyhow," said Rodney as he followed his cousin into the large, handsomely furnished cabin. It had escaped the effects of shell-fire, and was more like a cabin in a liner than one in a small warship. There were two beds furnished with spring mattresses, standing basins, and a couple of easy chairs as well. A neat office table was in a corner, and the chest of drawers and other furniture were of polished mahogany, brass-bound.

"Looks like the skipper's quarters," continued Rodney, "but surely they are aft as usual. They must have had distinguished visitors aboard."

As he spoke a slight sound made him spin round.

"They had," came a deep voice which was strangely and uncomfortably familiar. He found himself looking into the muzzle of a pistol held by Mandell himself. Beside him, in the doorway, bulked the gross form of the man of the power house—he whom his countrymen in the submarine had called the Baron. His face was set in a savage grin, and his eyes, under their thatch of shaggy brows, glowed with an unholy triumph. He, too, held a pistol with which he threatened Leslie.

Rodney could not suppress a gasp of surprise. But he recovered himself in a moment.

"So it's you!" he remarked quietly. "I might have known it. Well, you'd better put that pistol away, and resign yourself to the fact that you will have to visit England again."

"You think so?" sneered Mandell. "My brother and I happen to hold a different opinion. It is you and your precious cousin who are caught this time, and you may prepare yourselves for a long stay in the Fatherland."

"You talk like a fool," retorted Rodney impatiently. "My boat is alongside. I have only to call to bring half a dozen of my men."

"Try it," said Mandell. "Try it! Do you think that they will hear you?"

Rodney realised that the German was right. The shriek of wind, the pounding of the waves, the creaking and groaning of the shattered wreck—all these sounds combined in a deafening chorus. No shout, however loud, could possibly be heard on deck, let alone by the men in the boat alongside.

But Rodney was not discouraged.

"They won't go back without us," he said. "And if you delay us too long, they will certainly come to look for us."

"They will not," said the Baron, speaking for the first time. "Let me assure you, my young friend, that we have means for dealing with them. Indeed, you may make up your mind that they will never return to your ship, and we can trust to the weather to prevent any further visits from your 'Alicon' friends."

For a moment Rodney was taken aback. The man spoke with such assurance that it was clear he certainly believed what he said. It seemed almost possible that it might be true.

"But no more of this," snapped out the Baron, with sudden ferocity. "We have a boat aboard, and when the weather moderates we shall take you ashore. And let me tell you, Lieutenant Sterne, that I have not forgotten that day when you burnt the Power House, and that you will never forget it so long as your wretched life remains in you. Put up your hands!"

At this moment the heavy report of a gun thudded through the storm. It was the signal of recall from "Alicon."

The sound made both the Germans start slightly, and for the instant both the Baron's and Mandell's sullen eyes were taken off their captives.

That was all Rodney asked.

Like a flash, he flung himself at Mandell, hurling him backwards against his brother.

If he was quick, Leslie was not a whit behind. He had jumped practically at the same instant.

Two pistol shots crashed out simultaneously. Rodney felt a sharp sting across his left side, just under the arm-pit, but it did not stop him, and before his huge adversary could fire again, he had hold of the man's right wrist, and was forcing him back against the cabin wall.

The battle that raged in that cabin was a thing that neither Rodney nor Leslie will ever forget. Both were wiry, muscular, young fellows in the pink of physical condition, but their opponents were heavier far, men in the prime of life, and both possessed of enormous physical strength.

Rodney's one aim was to hold Mandell's wrist so that he could not use his pistol again. For some seconds the German exerted all his strength to break Rodney's hold, but finding himself unable to do so, he flung his left arm round Rodney's body and set to squeezing the breath out of him.

His grip was like the hug of a grizzly, and Rodney, feeling his very ribs cracking, retaliated by crooking his right leg around Mandell's left, and endeavouring to bring him down.

In this he succeeded. The German thudded down upon the floor, but having his back against the wall, was still in a sitting position, and still kept his grip on Rodney's waist.

And now Rodney found that his strength was failing. Slowly, but very surely, Mandell's right arm was bending his right over. It could be but a matter of moments before he was free again to use his pistol.

Mandell knew it. Rodney could see a grin of cruel triumph curling the man's thin lips. His hot, cigar-flavoured breath beat in Rodney's face.

Desperation lent Rodney strength. With a last frantic effort he banged Mandell's hand back against the panel behind—banged it with such force that the pistol dropped from his nerveless fingers and clattered to the floor.

A furious oath burst from Mandell's lips, but before the big brute could again use his tingling hand, Rodney had clenched his left fist and driven it with all his force between Mandell's eyes. The weight of the blow drove the German's great head against the wall with stunning force. His grip relaxed, and next instant Rodney's ten fingers were sunk in his hairy throat.

Mandell still struggled, but now Rodney was on his chest, and had him flat on the floor. The German's great face turned purple, the veins on his forehead swelled, he gave one convulsive heave, then lay flat and motionless.

"Good for you, Roddy!" said Leslie, and as Rodney, panting with exertion, struggled to his feet, he saw Leslie standing over the Baron. The latter, like his brother, was flat on the floor, and blood was trickling down on the linoleum from a gaping scalp wound.

Leslie's own face was bleeding, but his eyes twinkled merrily.

"Good for you!" he repeated. "I say, I'm glad we did it all by our little selves. This is the day we've got our own back, eh, old chap? Are you hurt, Roddy?"

"Nothing to signify," said Rodney, and then steps came rattling along the flat, and Telford and two others of the boat's crew were staring in amazement through the door of the cabin.

"Sling 'em along, Telford," said Rodney briefly.

"And be tender with them," added Leslie. "We need 'em both badly."

It took four men to carry the Baron on deck, and get him into the boat, and Mandell was an equally awkward burden. Neither of the big Germans recovered his senses until some time after they were aboard "Alicon."

Almost before "Alicon" was under way again the story of the fight in the cabin was all over the ship. Telford had seen to that, and Rodney and Leslie could not be blind to the admiring glances they saw on every side.

A little later, as "Alicon" was bucking her way through the heavy seas, bound due west, Captain Chesney sent for the two young officers to his cabin.

"Lieutenant Sterne," he said formally, "I have to congratulate you and Captain Palliser upon a capture of the greatest importance, and one which, but for your smartness, we should certainly have missed. The prisoners, I may tell you in confidence, are Baron von Wolfstein and his brother."

"Wolfstein!" exclaimed Rodney. "The wireless man!"

"Just so. He is the man to whom more than any other Germany owes her wireless system, and it is he who has perfected this new long distance telephony. After you had driven the younger brother out of Flatsea Island, the two had the impudence to endeavour to start a new station on the Irish coast. The authorities were warned and that was why we were sent in pursuit of 'Kobold.' I need hardly tell you that the loss of these two clever scientists and unscrupulous schemers will be a severe one to Germany. It will give me great pleasure to send a report of this capture of yours to the Admiralty."

"Th-thanks very much, sir," stammered Rodney.

Chesney stood up—and suddenly shed his official manner.

"Nonsense, Sterne! It's the least I can do. And I'll tell you this—that if I were the First Lord, I'd see you got something worth having. You both took big risks and came out on top. I congratulate you heartily."

The two went off, feeling extremely pleased and happy. They were still more pleased when—a month later—they found themselves both mentioned by Admiral Jellicoe among his recommendations for special promotion.

This they both obtained in due course, and Rodney's joy was complete when he found himself not only lieutenant-commander, but actually in command of a brand-new torpedo boat.

He and Leslie still spend their brief leaves together at Flatsea Holme.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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