The Thrilling Adventures of Dick Anthony of Arran/Go, Tell the Czar!
GO, TELL THE CZAR!
DAY dawned on the Caspian. On a tongue of land that stretched out through the marsh to make the only landing place two men fought savagely, with tearing fingers—hot, hissing, face to face.
From out of the mist to seaward came the unexpected, deadened thump of oars, but the two fought on.
A sail developed out of the immeasurable haze. It swayed and grew nearer, silent, slack-draped, shadowy.
A rudder gurgled as an angle changed. But the two on shore lay locked in their hate-hold—deaf, dumb—oblivious, except to blood-lust.
The creaking of the weary oars began again, and a heavy-beamed unpainted native craft crept shoreward, head on, to the slow flap of an unfilled sail.
A giant leaped from the bows, face forward, ready for happenings. He caught the hellish rasp of breath, fought for between clenched fingers, and leaned forward with one hand to his ear.
"They'll be fechtin', Mr. Dicky, close at han'!"
"Make fast then and wait for me!"
The giant dragged the anchor overboard and plunged it into clay with one sweep of his tremendous arms. The action was instant, but he had not finished before another man stood beside him, who surely seemed lord of all he looked at; stood and looked as Viking never did—for the Vikings were slaves to superstition, and this man, Dick Anthony, was free. He had a strange old claymore hung to his side.
Dick stopped, and stooped to look closer into a patch of trampled grass. Andry MacDougal crouched behind him like a well-trained hound in leash. Dick seized a human leg and tugged at it; but there was no response.
Andry moved and chose another leg from out the tangle. He pulled as if he were helping to get an anchor up and the instant they were wrenched apart each turned on his rescuer; and—numb, dumb, breathless—they had spite enough remaining to be dangerous. Dick had to kneel on his man and squeeze the fight out of him.
Andry carried his half-throttled savage to the water's edge and ducked him until he was too weak to remonstrate; then he laid him on the grass.
"See yon!" he grinned, pointing.
Dick followed the direction of his finger, stooped where the grass had been trampled by the fighting, and picked up a little leather bag.
At the same instant, at the sight of the same small bag in Dick's hands, the men who had fought to a stalemate recovered breath, will, reason, or at least instinct. Instinctively Dick and Andy glanced, each to make sure that the other was alert. They glanced back, and there was nothing where the two had been; they had vanished like frightened animals.
"Did the bag have a deal o' silver in it?" wondered Andry.
"Gold!" said Dick.
From the boat that had borne them out of unexpectedness the rowers and their chief—eight men in turbans—were pitching their belongings to the shore in hurried silence.
"Do you happen to recognize this place Usbeg Ali Khan?" Dick asked.
"Nay, sahib! But I recognize dry land and know that Allah made it!"
"Would you care to sail farther and try for a better landing?"
"God forbid, sahib!" The Afghan stepped ashore, and bowed his stateliest.
"Didn't like it, eh?"
"May devils rot the boat and Russians ride in it!" swore Usbeg Ali Khan.
"Russian gunboats are scouring the Caspian now for a sight of it," said Dick.
Andry pricked up his ears; Usbeg Ali Khan stroked his black beard, and his seven waited silently in line, as became the henchmen of a warrior.
"Burn the boat, Andry!" ordered Dick.
A moment later smoke came from the half-decked-over afterpart. Two minutes more, and a tongue of flame licked up. They watched until a Caspian ripple lapped over the sizzling bulwarks like the lip of Nemesis, and there was nothing left but embers staining the smooth sea.
Dick turned to see eight Afghans with their hilts thrust out toward him. At a word from Usbeg Khan they drew. Eight blades shot upward, shimmering in the morning sun. Eight pairs of level, Asiatic eyes looked into Dick's.
And so, in the cool of a Trans-Caspian morning, the last of the Anthonys took his first steel-tipped salute, and answered it. The claymore's jeweled hilt went to his own lips, and he knew then that he and these eight men stood pledged in the bond unbreakable—the soldier's.
It was Andry who broke the spell.
"What's yon?" he asked, pointing.
"A horse!" said Dick. "A horse grazing!"
Eight of the ten had been war taught in the trick of looking quickly; Andry had learned in the Army and at sea; yet Dick was quickest. Centering from a horse that grazed with an empty saddle on his back, all eyes searched out the plain in widening rings. In a moment Dick was off, running head forward, withdrawn sword, and the others—not yet knowing why they ran—where streaming after him, Andry last.
Then they all saw what Dick had seen at once, and yelled in chorus.
But no yells ever scared a pricked pig from his quarry. Gray, red-eyed, foaming at the mouth, squealing and grunting with indignation, the great-great-grandfather of all the boars was squandering the minutes, trying to turn a man over and so gore his stomach. The boar bled where lance had touched him, the man where the four-inchhad ripped through his clothing in a dozen places to the skin. But the man still lived, and still had wit, and strength enough to shield his face.
The gray boar was too busy at his worry to heed shouts, and it was not until Dick Anthony—running as if there were thirty men behind him and a Rugby goal in front—had reached within ten yards that the brute looked up at him, blinked twice and charged.
The sword blade went in like a streak of light and came out reeking crimson.
"Is that good fellow hurt?" said a voice.
They all turned together to face a one-eyed man in a battered sun helmet and muddied Vandyke beard. His clothes were nearly ripped from him; one long riding boot was cut from knee to heel as if it had been paper, and he was bleeding here and there, though in no place badly.
"Your horse?" Dick asked.
"Yes." The man was more interested in Andry's wound than in his own troubles. He was watching over Dick's shoulder.
"A mile away."
"Two. Cook bearer and groom."
"Any money in the camp?" asked Dick.
"Yes. Some. Why?"
"How much money, contained in what?" asked Dick.
The man stared harder yet, and looked uncomfortable.
"I keep my money in a leather bag with my initials on it."
"Gold, by any chance?" asked Dick.
"English gold," said the one-eyed man. He was satisfied by this time that Dick meant to rob him.
"What are the initials on the bag?" asked Dick.
"R. L." The man was speculating again, wildly now. Then Dick reached in his pocket and pulled out the little leather bag.
"Count 'em!" he said, holding it out.
The man chose not to count. He slipped the bag into his pocket, and his face expressed astonishment, apology, bewilderment in turn.
"May I reward your men?" he asked.
He held out the bag that Dick had given him, and for once in his life Dick did not understand. He actually blushed. The stranger, feeling very much a stranger, wilted.
"I beg pardon," he said.
It was plain that he still did not quite believe his senses.
"Won't you catch his horse?" said Dick, for most of the Afghans were clustered close to listen.
"My own servants ought to be somewhere near," said the one-eyed man uneasily.
Two of Usbeg Ali Khan's men lead the horse up at a walk, and held it while its owner climbed into the saddle clumsily; his hurts were stiffening.
"I'd like to do more than just say, 'Thank you'," he said, looking from Dick to Andry and then back again. "My name's Lancaster—Robert Lancaster."
"You might have mentioned that before," said Dick. "I am Richard Anthony."
A new world of understanding and a dozen mixed emotions swept across the man's face.
"If that's who you are, I can be of service," he said emphatically. "Will you come over to my tent? I'll be happy to give you some information."
"Information about what?"
"About the Okhrana."
"Never heard of it."
"Ever hear of the Princess Olga Karageorgovich?"
"Yes," said Dick, frowning.
"She's the paw of the Okhrana. Will you come?"
BY the time they reached the two white tents that glistened only one degree less than the myriad salt deposits, Lancaster had formed about as many false conclusions as one man well may form within one hour.
Then they all took seats on chairs and boxes in the larger of the two tents, and Robert Lancaster at once thrust out his muddy little beard as he found himself at a terrible disadvantage. Three pairs of calm, unfrightened eyes were leveled at him. He felt them read him to the marrow. And he had only one eye to answer back.
"Who's going to talk first, you or I?" he asked.
"You are," said Dick; and Robert Lancaster, nearly closing his one eye, became aware that what Dick said was so.
Lancaster fished inside an inner pocket which had escaped ripping by a miracle; he produced a hard case, drew out a clean card, and laid it in front of Dick, as if it were the ace of trumps. Dick picked up the card and recognized the name of a financial house that is nearly as well-known as some nations are. Robert Lancaster's name was in a bottom corner.
"I am their representative in Persia," he said.
"Banker is what I have called myself in Teheran for twenty years. Agent is what I am. That includes a lot of things. It includes, for example, the cultivation by means at my discretion, of intimate relations with certain of the telegraph people and others."
His one eye was watching keenly for signs of some effect on his audience.
"I know all of your recent history, Mr. Anthony!"
"For instance," he continued. "I know you are offered the command of the ex-Shah's army, in the third attempt he wants to make on the throne of Persia. You refused. You broke through the ranks of a Cossack Regiment that tried to arrest you, and put to sea in the teeth of a storm through which not even the gunboat dared follow you. Am I correct, as far as I have gone?"
"So far," said Dick.
"Then, believe me, Mr. Anthony, I am correct, too, when I say that your description has been telegraphed to every point around the Caspian, and every avenue for escape has been cut off. You are certain of arrest if you should try to move in any direction."
He pointed a finger at Dick, and looked along it with his one eye, as a man squints down a rifle barrel. Dick did not blench or answer.
"The Princess Olga Karageorgovich—I understood you to say you know who she is—has telegraphed to all points the offer of a reward of 5,000 rubles for your capture alive."
Dick looked interested, but was not moved to comment.
"Under all the circumstances, our meeting is the most fortunate thing that could have happened, and not to you only. I flatter myself that many, very many, will benefit by it later on. The point I'm driving at is this; from all accounts, you are a man worthwhile. If you had seemed an easy man to frighten or make use of, you would have been of no use to me. But a man who can break through Russia's hold as you did is the very man I have been looking for—is a man, Mr. Anthony, who can set me to writing cablegrams in code!"
He sat back and looked away, as if he expected Dick to arise and answer him; but Dick sat still; so after a minute he continued:
"Reasoning along the line that the Okhrana not not make such frantic efforts to capture a nonentity, I decided before ever I met you to befriend you if I could as a matter of business policy. The business policy remains, but a very strong element of personal regard is added to the motive for the offer I will make."
He might have been addressing three Supreme Court Judges. All three looked interested, and Dick by no means least of them; but Lancaster felt like the pleader for a weak cause, instead of what he was actually—a man of influence with influence to offer, at a price. Not one of the three was inattentive or indifferent. Yet no three men he had ever met had look so noncommittal.
"You said you had never heard of the Okhrana. It is the secret police of Russia. The Okhrana is the devil, busy about building hell—and the hell is here, in Persia, Mr. Anthony!"
Dick sat a little straighter, but said nothing.
"I invite you to wage war on this devil, Mr. Anthony—you, with whatever following you have as yet!"
"Is the invitation your own?"
"No, sir; my firm's. It shall be confirmed."
"And on whose behalf am I asked to fight?"
"First consider your position, Mr. Anthony," he cautioned, holding out that forefinger again. "You dare not go home, even supposing you could escape. There is a warrant out for you on account of the part you played in Egypt. You are a British officer. You see my information is complete about you—my telegraphic tentacles reach far and wide!"
"Here goes the first lie in your teeth!" said Usbeg Ali Khan, arising and rattling his saber. "I fling it—I, who reported the whole of that affair in Alexandria to the authorities! There is no warrant for him, and there will be none. I told how he fought, and then fled from men who would have killed him because he knew too much, yet would not be one of them! They answered that my word was good. It is good now, and by the beard of the Prophet I swear I will ride anywhither with him, and bear him witness in any court in any land. And I will fight beside him with this saber, wherever and against whom he sees fit to lead. My word is given. I am Usbeg Ali Khan!"
He sat down again, his white teeth showing a fierce, thin line between his black beard and moustache, and his very whiskers bristling with fight.
"I wish you had mentioned that before," said Dick. "I've been all this time imagining the British and Egyptian governments were both after me."
"Sahib," said the Afghan, proudly, "have I not spoken, now that there is need?"
"Thanks," said Dick.
Robert Lancaster, watching like a ferret with his one eye, and possessed of enough sense to toss aside conclusions when he found them wrong, decided that Dick Anthony was not a man to frighten into doing things. Dick, he felt sure, would have nerve enough to dare all the Cossack officers on earth, now that he knew his own honor to be safe.
"I suppose you'll go home, then, Mr. Anthony?" he said.
"I have three years' leave of absence," answered Dick.
"Then may I ask what you propose to do?"
"To listen. Weren't you making me an offer?"
"Yes. I was asking you to help Persia."
"What have you or your firm got to do with it?"
"We have many millions, Mr. Anthony, invested in northern Persia. We are ready and willing to spend more millions to defend what we have spent already. We will not, if we can help it, stand by and see Russia—nose led by organized conspiracy—penetrate, and occupy, and keep, as she is doing in defiance of all promises and treaties." He leaned forward, and again the long forefinger pointed straight at Dick. "We have been waiting for a man—for the man!"
"To do what?"
"To lead whom?"
"I mean, Mr. Anthony, that the patriots, the few good, loyal men who love Persia and would fight for her, dare not show themselves for fear of Russia. Most of them are in hiding in the mountains—many of them not very far from here. Take command of those men, drive the Cossacks out of northern Persia by quick, stern action, and within two weeks you will have the whole of Persia at your back, and the Great Powers (goaded, remember, by finance) behind Persia. All that are needed are the courage and the initial heroic effort!"
"It's tempting enough," laughed Dick, "supposing, of course, that you could prove your authority for making promises. Your firm, I suppose, would ship arms and ammunition, and I haven't a doubt they could be smuggled. I'd like the adventure. But I must refuse as a British officer, if for no other reason."
Robert Lancaster detected a movement of Usbeg Ali's eye that gave him unexpected encouragement. He looked at Andry and read disappointment on the big man's face. So long as he could speak, Robert Lancaster could voice an argument.
"Will you talk to these patriots, Mr. Anthony and say a few words to encourage them?"
"Certainly," said Dick. "I'd be glad to talk to them. First, though, I need food for my men, horses and transportation."
"I was coming to that," said Lancaster. He turned to Usbeg Ali Khan. "You," he said, "are the least likely of the party to be recognized. Will you be good enough to take my horse and the message I will write to a place about ten miles away from here? My signature under a requisition will be enough to produce everything needed."
"I take my orders from Anthony Sahib!" said the Afghan.
"Go, please," said Dick.
Some twenty minutes later Robert Lancaster gave Usbeg Ali Khan repeated, definite directions, and the Afghan drove his heels in. The horse leaped forward like a shaft bow driven.
IF Dick Anthony supposed that by escaping out of Russia into Persia he had shaken off the Princess Olga Karageorgovich, that was clear proof of his ignorance of women.
The Princess Olga had taken leave of him, a little ostentatiously, on the deck of the Russian tramp at Trebizond; and, though he had been certain that it was her voice whispering orders through a hole in a wall at Baku, he felt quite sure now that pride must have come to her aid and have made her see the impropriety of following him farther.
Fate piled the odds a hundred high against Dick Anthony when Olga Karageorgovich, princess of Russia, and arch decoy for Russia's underworld—whose power was the strength of the Okhrana, whose youth and beauty were twin foils for her ambition, loveliest, most versatile, least squeamish of all women—set her heart on him.
While Cossack officers still cursed the stern of the boat that disappeared into a Caspian hurricane, she was already sending telegrams. Questions and replies, orders and acknowledgments, Dick's minute description, even to his scars, flashed back and forth through a whole storm-shrieking night.
Five evenings later she and her maid applied their united genius to the task of dressing her for a ball that was all but quite official.
She danced with a dozen men whose breasts were a blaze of decorations, and she found her way at last to a sitting-out place between half tropical ferns and flowers on the arm of a man who wore no decorations.
"Well?" he asked, when he had satisfied himself that none could overhear. "Is this to be another Egypt? More millions of rubles, more promises, still less result?"
"I have done my utmost in each instance," said the princess, divining that she stood on the verge of danger.
"Certain other precautions have been taken this time," he said. "Anthony meets with approval—the very firebrand for the business!—but your plan goes into the discard. Yes, we have a better plan."
"Have I a part in it?" she asked with as little display of interest as she dared show.
"Yes, once again," he added darkly. "What do you know of Lancaster?"
"Nothing," said the princess, and the man beside her raised his eyebrows.
"Lancaster calls himself a banker, and is agent for big financial interests. He has missed no opportunity for the last three years of trying to find a leader for the so-called 'Patriotic Party' in northern Persia. He will offer Anthony what amounts to a kingdom. Being a British officer, Anthony will probably decline, although he may accept, in which case our game is one. But let us suppose that he declines. The play is then thoroughly to insult him and to force him to reprisals; I understand he is not the man to swallow an insult readily."
The princess chuckled. "He will fight!" she asserted.
"Anthony is to be harried from pillar to post, but never killed or caught until he had given us excuse enough for occupying northern Persia with two or even three army corps. Possession is nine points of the law, and——"
"And Richard Anthony is then mine!" said the princess unguardedly.
"No," said the grim man at her side, decisively. "By that time, Mr. Anthony will have ceased to be useful and will have grown dangerous. You shall choose his tombstone if you wish!"
At the end of ten miles of savagely bad going. Usbeg Ali Khan's thoughts were interrupted by sight of a battered caravansary whose walls bought traces of more than one Cossack visitation in the shape of bullet-marks. The gate was shut, but he shouted and the man in charge came out to parley, only to be kept waiting while the Afghan made a keen-eyed survey of the ground. Then it did not sweeten Usbeg Ali's humor in the least that a Cossack officer should swagger out beneath the gate, look him over with studied insolence, read the latter, and nod contemptuous permission before he was admitted.
The keeper of the caravansary came down from the heights of arrogant suspicion to the deeps of grovelling servility, and the stables were thrown open that Usbeg Ali might make choice.
The horses, except for three of them, were a sorry bunch of crocks, and the men who lined up to go in charge of them were sorrier-looking yet. Their grovelling servility did no more than help to arouse suspicion latent in Usbeg Ali's Oriental mind and to put him, soldierwise, on the offensive. As he rode in he had seen the fresh dung and the hoof marks of two or three troops at least. He was quite sure they would not have left their unattended officer far behind or for any length of time. Therefore this was a plan and possibly a trap.
"So the Russians back in Baku know that we have landed, eh?" he reasoned. "For me—an Afghan—there would be no orders to hold hard. The Cossacks would have to leave to work their sweet will on me and my seven. They know Dee-k-Antonee has landed, and they have learned by telegraph a description of him and of his prowess that has turned their bones to water! So far so good!"
But his war-trained brain assured him that there had been a trap laid. Orders given in advance to stable hands, and troops of cavalry that galloped out of sight when one man came were proof to him of a preconcerted plan.
So, with a final cat-call of derision and a last peppery jest that included all Russia and all Cossacks, horse, infantry, and guns in one atrocious summary, Usbeg Ali marshaled his little party and set it clattering through the gate in the direction of the camp.
"Ho! Followers of Islam!" He flattered them at the limit of his soldiers lungs, well knowing that not one of the ragged ten deserve the title. "I lead you now to see a man of men, to see a warrior, to see a king, who landed in the morning mist with a sword hung at his side that once Iskander wore—Iskander—the sword of him who conquered the world."
Luck was all with Usbeg, as it usually is with men whose eyes are skinned and who's wit plays second to their pluck. Dick, who would have been furious had he guessed a fragment of the Afghan's game, and who would never under any circumstances have agreed to it, was all unwittingly setting the stage to rights and getting ready for a perfect climax.
Bored, as he always was when there was nothing strenuous and difficult to do, Dick bethought him of the boar's blood on his claymore. Usually Andry cleaned the sword and kept it brighter than a mirror; now Dick busied himself about the polishing and took his time to do the job thoroughly.
And while Dick polished, Usbeg Ali's brain was busy, at the center contriving new details of his plan. Like the Russian government, Usbeg Ali wanted Dick committed to a course. Unlike the Russian government, he wanted that course to be along the road to Kabul, and he prayed as did Russia, for an insurrection in the hills in order that Dick might be driven in the right direction.
He wanted this rabble of a post-horse party to be Dick's advance guard, the messengers of rumor, sowing rumor.
"Listen," he shouted, "followers of Islam!" And they loved him while they listened, because he accorded them a title to each none of them had any right; to a man they were rank backsliders. "First, we will canter to the seashore where will be seven men of my race. So ran the prophecy! There will be seven Afghans waiting by the sea, with saddles, but no horses; with baggage, but no transport; with no sign of the ship that brought them, and yet with new, unsoiled shoes in proof that they did not march! Them we will take with us!"
They cantered in sight of the two white tents and swerved for the seashore instantly. For a mile or two then Usbeg Ali made strange signals as he rode; he assured them that he waved his arms to guard against witchcraft and powers unseen, and they grew less timid as they saw no seven Afghans, though their eyes could search the whole plain down to the seashore reeds.
But Usbeg Ali left off signaling. And suddenly seven armed men in turbans leaped from the long coarse grass and leveled automatic pistols at them in grim silence. Usbeg Ali gave curt orders in a tongue they did not understand, and the seven mounted. After that there was no chance of escape, for each of the seven had a dagger at his belt and the hand that twitched to use it. In silence, most unwillingly, the Persians rode the mile that lay between them and the tents, noting with fear-widening eyes a pile of baggage that was left behind, that there was no sign of a ship, and that the seven wore new shoes.
They rode very slowly, very grudgingly, but the mile rolled up, and the two white tents drew near, and a man with a drawn sword in his hand arose from between the tents to look at them.
True to Usbeg Ali's most minute description of him, with the Caspian sun rays glinting golden from his bare red head, a man stood as kings ought to stand, and smiled as a man should who is quite unafraid and quite uncovetous. He spoke in a strong strange voice that carried far, and a giant arose beside him from the grass. Usbeg Ali broke the spell with an Afghan oath, and the Persians broke and fled.
"What did you say to frighten them?" asked Dick. "And why aren't they headed straight for home?"
"Nay, sahib, it was none of my doing!" answered Usbeg Ali. "They fear the Cossacks behind them. And as we came they talked of an eagle, and of a man with golden hair, and of bloody war. There is an eagle overhead," he added, looking up.
"Why didn't you bring your baggage along?" asked Dick. "You'd better go for it, and we'll see how far we can travel before night. The mountains tempt me much more than the plain."
There was no pause in the game the Okhrana played, although there did seem a few days of peace while Lancaster led Dick and his party up over the spurs of the Elburz Mountains, traveling far more slowly than the "banker" wished because Dick would not overtax the poor, leg-weary horses. They had no means of knowing that a Cossack Regiment had taken advantage of their dallying to make a ring around them and precede them to the hills.
At a point where three hill spurs coincided at a ridge and the only passage to the mountain-range beyond was a neck of land, well wooded, that narrowed gradually to a notch of fifty feet between two cliffs, to open again into a natural walled amphitheater, the Russians bivouacked. And there, one by one, eight of the straggling, leg-weary victims of Usbeg Ali Khan's imagination strolled into the trap and were made prisoners. They were instantly recognized and flogged by Russian Cossacks for having deserted the Persian service. It was the crack of a knout and a victim's scream that warned the last two in time; they turned aside, climbed the unclimbable, preferring nearly certain death to the chance of Cossack mercy, and hurried to the mountains by a jackal trail. They reached a camp of refugees in a valley of the next range half dead and wholly convincing because they had been so thoroughly convinced themselves.
"Dee-k-Antonee is on his way to massacre them!"
They were telling their story for the twentieth time to a swarm of fierce, bearded men who listen with cocked rifles on their knees and cursed at the mention of the name of Russia, when Dick Anthony, blissfully unconscious of impending trouble, breasted the rise before the Russian's gap, riding at the head of his little party.
The old two-edged sword with its jeweled basket-hilt still hung from an old Sam Brown belt at his hip; and his mood as he rode was advertised by the tune he played for the rocks to echo back. He had his precious bagpipes out, and over his shoulder the beribboned drones were monotoning their fierce accompaniment to "Scots Wha Hae!"
"Halt!" rang a sudden order, and Dick halted. A Cossack outpost brought his rifle to the challenge, and the music ceased.
"Put your hands up!"
The soldier spoke in Russian, but Dick understood him.
"Shoot, if you feel that way!" he said in English; then he legged his horse forward, feeling nearly certain that the Russian would not dare.
At the sound of voices his whole party, except Lancaster and the baggage train, came cantering up. Then a Cossack officer showed himself in the middle of the gap and said something in a quiet voice to the man who had challenged; for answer, the rifle butt went to the ground again.
"Have a care, Sahib!" whispered Usbeg Ali. "See the smoke of twenty fires beyond the rise! They be many and we but ten, for Lancaster sahib is no fighter—he hides already among the baggage animals."
"Are you certain we are in Persia?" Dick asked.
Dick's strange eyes blazed, and had the Russian had the luck to see him once or twice in a fighting mood, as Andry had, and Usbeg Ali Khan, he would have called up his regiment then and there and finished the trouble before it could properly begin. But he made the mistake of thinking Dick an ordinary man; and he had his orders, which gave him very little latitude.
"For the love o' Scotland, give me a weapon, somebody!" said Andry in fierce undertones, and Usbeg Ali Khan slipped him a dagger. The rest loosened their sabers in the scabbards and looked to their automatic pistols when they judged the Russian's eye was not on them. Without another word to anybody Dick rode on and they pressed in cluster after him.
"Halt!" cried the Russian officer.
"For whom?" demanded Dick, still advancing. "Who are you?"
"I am commandant," he answered, "of this regiment of Cossacks, and at present I blockade this pass!"
He answered in English, and spoke fairly well, although without much fluency.
"On whose behalf?" asked Dick, advancing closer yet.
"On Persia's behalf," said the Cossack officer.
"Then show me your authority!" said Dick, still advancing.
"Here is my authority!" he smiled, pointing down the gap.
Down two sides of the natural amphitheater a regiment stood by its arms; a little farther off, amid the trees, the horses grazed at the end of picket ropes, saddled and ready.
"There is no road this way!" sneered the officer, doing his best to pick a quarrel on the first, directest line that offered. "We don't allow Britishers or Afghans or robbers of any kind!"
Dick had reached a sudden resolution, and before the Russian plan was changed or was in action and gaining speed. A leader who can lead by dint of being is all that ten good fighters lack to give them the advantage over numbers.
"Forward!" he shouted, and the cold steel cut a wide swath through the Russian ranks in the direction least expected. The Russian had expected in another minute to be shooting down the pass at ever-lengthening range, for it was fair to guess that Dick would retreat and try to get his party once more mounted. Their guess proved right, but in one way only—Dick charged like a sudden whirlwind for their horses and not his.
It was the football field again, the unexpected at an unexpected angle, by a resolute swift runner, well-backed up, and then, again, the unexpected. Each had a horse—even Andry had a horse—before the Russians were quite sure what the move meant.
Silent, except for drumming hoofs, the men swept down a forest glade, and this time the pursuers dared not fire for fear of hitting the remaining horses that were squealing at their picket-ropes.
The Persians, sniping from between the boulders, saw burst around the corner into view a ten-man party that, like the Duke of Wellington, would have been worth as many thousands to any side. They roared a welcome to them.
In a moment the rocks gave up their snipers, and a horde of savage riflemen swept down the hillsides, yelling, "Zindabad Dee-k-Antonee Shah!" In another minute Dick was riding in the midst of a surging mob that, mob or not, was sweeping the Cossacks back to where they came from; it was no longer a question of whether to retreat or not. The Russians were caught napping, outnumbered and intent on getting away. Within five minutes they had lost their commanding officer and fifty men.
At the head of a rabble that was fired by such new hope as to change it into stuff for making armies, Dick swept back through the amphitheater driving the Cossacks through it at the lower end. He reached the narrow gap himself in hot pursuit in time to see a woman gallop up, riding astride on a Cossack horse. He knew her instantly, and she knew him. She waved to him, and he did not answer.
He watched her gesticulating. He saw her rally the retreating Cossacks and get them to line up again. And then he saw her send one Cossack forward with a white flag. So he waved a handkerchief in answer.
"Bonjour, monsieur le bandit!" the Princess Olga laughed at him. "I have come to ask you for our Cossack wounded, and to offer you your baggage. Will you exchange? It seems we have no prisoners."
"Send my things and my men's along with Mr. Lancaster," said Dick, "and I'll have your wounded carried through the gap."
She sent the flag-bearer galloping back for Dick's belongings.
Dick watched the Cossacks lower down driving his pack horses in a little timid bunch toward him, and then for nearly a minute looked at the princess, seeming almost to scorch her with his calm, strong eyes. She felt him read her inner secrets, and loved him the more for it.
"Dick," she said. "Let us play this game together!"
"You can do this," said Dick. "You can go back whence you came and tell your master, the Okhrana, that I am not its tool or fool. Tell whoever it is who owns it, the Czar if need be, that I will be the worst thorn ever Russia had in her side until Persia is free! I am an outlaw, am I? I will be one with a vengeance!"
"Dick! Dick Anthony!"
She made as if to put her arms out, but he answered with a grim salute and rode away.