The Thrilling Adventures of Dick Anthony of Arran/No Name
LIKE shadows in the wet mist, two Afghans pressed their horses forward uphill at wheezy jog trot, dispirited and fagged out, horse and man.
Two hundred yards behind them rode another man, redheaded this one, six feet five in his socks, built bull-wise, broad in the beam, heavy of neck and hip and thigh.
Two hundred yards again behind this giant there rode yet another man with red hair—bare-headed and with no more dejection about him than the dawn wears when it bursts red angry through a bank of cloud.
This last man halted every now and then, and waited to listen for pursuit.
They rode in the same order, until at last the air grew less saturated and the pine trees were more frequent. Seven thousand feet above sea level Dick Anthony was near his own now, and pursuit would have been serious business for any less than a brigade or two. There was no need any more to guard the rear; he had reached an altitude where he was king. He rode alone, ahead then, with Andry MacDougal laboring behind him and the Afghans last.
In an hour they reached a stream that boiled and gurgled through a gap by which the trail entered Dick's headquarters.
The gap wound around beside the stream, until it narrowed to twenty feet, and stream and track filled up the whole of it. There on a big horse sat a black-bearded Afghan, staring ahead of him with an eye that claimed authority.
"Salaam, bahadur!" he said, saluting.
"Salaam, Usbeg Ali Khan!" said Dick, returning the salute.
"Is it peace or war, bahadur?"
"War!" said Dick.
The Afghans eyes blazed, for he was a man of war, born into the babel of it.
He wheeled his horse, and led at a trot into the huge amphitheater.
"Zindabad Dee-k-Anthonee!" they roared.
Usbeg Ali Khan and Dick rode side-by-side down a living lane of men, who breathed in silence for fear of missing the first word Dick might utter.
"How many are they?"
"Eight thousand, sahib, all but eight."
"Very well," said Dick quietly, riding to the exact center of the amphitheater.
"Persians!" he shouted, seeming to face three ways at once. "The whole world is at war! Germany and Austria are at the throats of England, France and Russia! Now, then is Persia's opportunity!"
He paused for the information to sink in.
"A little while ago I was a British officer. I rode to ask British recognition of your cause. I have been refused. They say Dick Anthony is dead, and that I am an imposter. I am free, then—as the dead are free—to serve a new cause and a new covenant. Ye asked me to be leader. Some of you have fought behind me. Now, new men as well as old, think deep and choose again, for after this there shall be no more choosing!"
He drew his claymore, and it shone in the sunset like a flame.
"Those who are afraid to follow me—or who do not care to follow—may go!"
"Zindabad!" they yelled. "Zindabad Dee-k-Anthonee!"
"Now, swear ye!" Dick ordered.
At the word Usbeg Ali spurred his horse, and brought him to a plunging halt again in front of Dick, facing him.
"We obey! In the name of Allah, we obey!" thundered the eight thousand.
"Dismiss them!" ordered Dick "that will do."
Dick's tent, that had been a Russian officer's not long ago, was fenced about with branches, so that he had some privacy. By Usbeg Ali's orders, Dick and he and Andry could approach that tent unchallenged, but no other man could try the trick and live.
There was a fire inside the brushwood fence, and a couple of rough chairs stood by it. Dick sat down with evident relief that yet did not lack dignity, and Usbeg Ali at a sign from him took the other chair with a painstaking effort to imitate his manner.
"We must move at once," said Dick, "before——"
"Hah! Bismillah, yes!" said Usbeg Ali suddenly squinting upward at the stars. "Surely I understand! Before she—that woman—makes more trouble we must move!"
All that his retort drew was a smile of amusement that was so evidently genuine it riled Usbeg Ali to the verge of being insolent.
"Aye! Surely it is a great jest, bahadur! By Allah, a jewel of a jest! It was a jest when she flung her knife and missed you but so much! It is a jest that she warns the Russians now, and gathers an army for our undoing! Tell me, bahadur, what good—what tiny, one small atom of the least good thing has come of your acquaintance with the Princess Olga Karageorgovich, or of the mercy you have shown her again and again?"
Dick patted his shirt, and something bulky showed for a second, bulging underneath.
"If we had not met the princess," said he, "Andry would not have met her maid. If I had killed the princess, she could not have slipped and given her maid the chance to get this to Andry."
He drew the bulky package from inside his shirt and laid it on his knee. Usbeg Ali's eyes sparkled at once.
"Spread it out, bahadur!" he urged, for he recognized on Dick's knee what the whole secret government of Russia would have given all it could to recover.
The table that Andry brought him out of black space was big and firm. Dick laid the packet on it and drew a map out of the envelope.
"See?" said Dick. "See Russia's game? See the treachery? While the fighting goes on in Europe Russia moves southward into Persia, square by square. The occupation will be an accomplished fact before whoever wins in the big war will have time to remonstrate!"
The Afghan knitted his brows above the map as if he would devour. Whichever way he looked, along whichever route, they're seemed nothing but Cossack preparations for invasion.
"See here, Usbeg Ali. The Russian plans are for an invasion of Persia from the north and east of the Caspian. They've made no plans on the basis of a possible reverse. These camps up here, where they're concentrated, aren't fortified; there are practically no forts anywhere that amount to anything. And the western side of the Caspian is open to us."
Usbeg Ali Khan saw Dick's plan now, and gasped at the daring of it.
"There is an enormous difference," said Dick, "between eight thousand men and five hundred thousand. We can travel forty miles a day, which half a million can't do. We'll invade Russia! Raid like a whirlwind up the western shore of the Caspian! See the point? A raid, that will take Russia off her guard!"
"By the blood of Allah, that will be the greatest wonder of the world!"
"Good! Get me twenty gallopers!" said Dick. "Twenty must start at dawn and pass the word all through the north! Pick me the best two hundred men we have to scout to the westward. Let our advance scouts leave at dawn; we'll follow them as soon as may be! There are five hundred miles of trail ahead, and after that—the fighting!"
It was barely, midnight, but the darkness seemed awake, and the far-spaced pickets now shouted words that were not mere numbers. The tang of the campfire smoke grew stronger as some sleepers moved, listened to the shouting and began to stir the embers. In a minute more the whole camp listened with held breath.
"All right!" somebody remonstrated, in an accent that was neither clubland English nor yet less than gentlemanly. "They're up! Can't you see?"
Then a horsemen came careering out of the blackness and reined in on his horse's haunches to yards from Dick's private hedge, with a bayonet exactly one-eighth of an inch away from his naked throat.
"Let him come!" commanded Dick.
The bayonet withdrew, and its wielder held the horse while the man dismounted.
"Amerikani!" said the horsemen, salaaming low to Dick.
Dick sat and the others stood as a rather fat man dressed in a well-cut khaki was brought forward between a dozen guards.
"Go!" commanded Dick, and the guard hurried away, back to the outer ring of gloom.
"My name is Jenison," said the newcomer, "Morgan Jenison. Am I right in supposing you are Richard Anthony?"
"His name is No Name!" Usbeg Ali boomed; his voice was like an echo from the dead, so that the American could not resist a shudder.
"It was that that I came to speak about," he said, looking straight at Dick.
Dick did not speak.
"I am deliberately risking the charge of not minding my own business—of butting in!"
The American spoke like a gentleman.
"I've become acquainted with a lady who calls herself the Princess Olga Karageorgovich," said Jenison, watching Dick's face with lynx eyes, that yet were not inquisitive enough to arouse resentment.
"I've nothing to do with her," said Dick at once.
"Let me tell you what my business is? You might change your mind."
Dick nodded. The American looked left and right, at Andry and Usbeg Ali Khan.
"I've no secrets from these two men," said Dick.
"Well, that's your affair. I was in Teheran on business until recently, and I may say I've heard from a dozen sources about your campaign against the Russians."
Dick looked very interested, which was proof that the American had made a good impression.
"So, when this news of a European war came you seemed to me the most likely man within reach who could help me take a hand in it. At the American Legation they're in a state of nervous exhaustion trying to be neutral, and I'd have been arrested if I'd let out a hint of my intentions. But I managed to round up ten Americans, and what with their servants and some Englishmen we knew, and their servants, and some Afghans who had come through from Kabul to do business with me, I got together a party, fifty strong.
"We slipped out of Teheran at night before they had shut the lid down quite so tight as they've got it now. We headed straight in your direction, and on the way the boys agreed to elect me captain of the force. I accepted. I'm Captain Jenison at present, in command of fifty men."
Dick looked up and stared at Usbeg Ali. The Afghan did not move.
"Didn't I give you orders?" Dick enquired. "Are those gallopers ready, and the scouts?"
Usbeg Ali hurried out of the enclosure, and almost at once his voice split the night apart as he shouted for company commanders. Dick took paper and pencil and wrote in Persian.
"Give that to Usbeg Ali," he ordered, and Andry marched out of the enclosure.
"Go on," said Dick, and the American smiled, for that was Dick's first admission of real interest.
"I came on the princess on the way. She was destitute in the hands of Persians in a filthy village about half way between Teheran and Astrabad. They had her in chains and I had a hard job. On the way here she opened up to me, and I understand your sentiments towards her are not exactly cordial." He paused to chuckle, and Dick swore softly to himself.
"She told me that she daren't go back to Russia because things she did for you have cost her the pull she had with the secret government. There was nothing for it but to take her under my protection. And I did."
"I don't envy you!" said Dick.
"It occurred to me that you'd take that attitude. So I played safe. I've made quite a story about my being your man. They ended by believing me your deputy. If we can't come to terms now, I shall raise the whole countryside—not against you, you understand, but under my command and independent of you—and you'll find that awkward. My men are less than a half mile away. I'll lead them away again if you prefer it, and——"
Dick's eyes were twinkling, and Jenison cut short his argument.
"Very well," said Dick, and Andry took stand again behind Dick's chair. Dick looked at Jenison and smiled with quiet amusement that was very aggravating. "In about ten minutes, Mr. Jenison, your men will be here."
You mean you've taken advantage of my being here to capture them?"
"Exactly that," said Dick.
"Am I a prisoner!"
"Not at all," said Dick. "You may go if you wish."
Then Jenison caught sound of the approaching tramp of men and horses, and the lines of his face showed speculation.
Dick left him sitting where he was and walked through the gap in his enclosure into the outer darkness. In two minutes he was standing before a weary little crowd, who eyed him distrustfully, leaderless and out of heart.
"Are you men Jenison's?" Dick asked.
"We are," said an Englishman with that voiced disregard of consequences that is a trademark of his kind and breed.
A woman—surely the princess, even through her rags, for no woman in the world could sit on a horse with half her grace—thrust her horse forward through the crowd.
"Dick!" she said; but Dick took no notice of her.
"Very well. See that they have rations, Usbeg Ali. Quarter them beyond the artillery lines."
He strode back, in through the gap in his hedge into the firelight.
"It's a pity you took such a high hand," said Dick, "and committed yourself so hopelessly with the princess."
"I did what no gentleman could have helped doing," said Jenison testily.
"You're responsible for the princess, and I shall hold you so. Keep her under guard; see that she doesn't interfere with me, my men or the woman who used to be her maid. On those terms, if you wish to follow me on this expedition, I'll take your oath now. I warn you it won't be a picnic party! Better think twice!"
"I'll come!" said Jenison.
"Very well," said Dick, and Andry clucked as the two shook hands and looked into each other's eyes.
Proof of the charm that the Princess Olga Karageorgovich possessed was that even in her tattered clothes, awry, wet and travel-stained, she still looked lovely.
As she sat on a rough-hewn campstool, looking like a humble Cinderella with her toes in the ashes, a woman passed her whom she recognized at the first swift glance.
"Marie!" she whispered; but the woman hurried on.
"Was I never good to you?" the princess asked. "Did you ever go hungry in my service?"
Mother pity took possession instantly of Marie Mouquin's will, whispering to her plausible bad logic about gratitude. She looked down at an untouched mess of greasy rice on a dirty wooden platter, and a second later she was hurrying through the darkness, dodging here and there between the groups of armed men.
Within five minutes she had snatched and put together half a dozen different sorts of food that had been prepared under her supervision for the wounded.
The princess did not look up. She ate daintily, and thrilled Marie Mouquin's generous little soul by the evident relish with which she ate. Then—slave of habit as we all are—Marie Mouquin checked a little scream.
"Have you no stockings?" she gasped.
"One torn one," said the princess between mouthfuls.
Marie Mouquin had only one pair of her own that she washed daily at a stream. Without a second's hesitation she sat down on the earth and pulled them off. The princess pulled them on with a matter-of-fact air that did not lack gratitude, but did not suggest the possibility of any other course.
"But I have no other clothes!" she wailed. Sheer shame would not permit Marie to leave the princess in such predicament, yet she could not take her own clothes off and go naked.
"There are only a Persian woman's clothes," she said after a moment.
"I could make a shift," said the princess. "I would be grateful."
Almost before the words had died Marie Mouquin was gone again, barefoot, at a run through the noisy camp. Andry, hurrying across the amphitheater with giant strides on some errand for Dick, intercepted her, picked her off the ground, and demanded to know what the bare toes meant. But she struggled free, slapped his face for his trouble and ran away laughing.
She pounced on a Persian woman who was sleeping near the quiet lines where the wounded lay, and shook her into consciousness.
In a very few moments there sat a Persian woman, veiled and mute, where the Princess Olga Karageorgovich had been.
Before the first pale rays of morning lit the peaks near by, two hundred men drew up, each standing beside his horse, to listen to a homily from Dick.
"You men are scouts," said Dick, "not skirmishers. So, ride and report! And remember that the fate of this expedition lies for the present on your individual wakefulness!"
Jenison proved to be a gift from the god of war to a man who could use gifts to their best advantage. He took charge of the guns, and set to work at once to pick the brains of all the men in the force who knew anything about them.
It was obvious to anybody of discernment that there were spies in the camp. But Dick expected to move too fast when he once got started to need to worry over what news filtered to his rear.
Neither Dick nor yet Jenison made the mistake of overlooking the Princess Olga Karageorgovich. Only they made the mistake of imagining their wits and watchfulness a match for hers.
Dressed as a Persian woman—talking Persian reasonably well—and keyed to the highest pitch of cunning by desperation, the princess, however, was a different creature, in a different mood from the forlorn, disheveled woman who had ridden into camp.
Within an hour of her change of costume she had overheard and guessed all of Dick's chivalrous arrangements about women. It was as good as signing his own death warrant for any man in that camp to interfere with any woman. The women came and went unquestioned so long as they kept within the limits of the camp.
There was nothing to be said, nor anything for the guard to report to Dick, when the woman whose clothing Marie Mouquin had commandeered came next day to see her dress on its new owner. It was no business of the guard or of anybody else that the woman stayed with the princess in her tent and talked.
But, on the other hand, it was a logical corollary that one of the spies should be hand in glove with the princess before the middle of the afternoon, and that without seeing her or trespassing within earshot of her tent.
He happened to be a veteran in his service—one whom other spies obeyed by reason of a master-word he knew. He happened to be one of the men on night-guard duty. His place by a dark rock in the middle of the far-spaced outer ring of pickets.
So he established communication that night with another man whose specialty was existence on the outer edge—a man who never trespassed into traps, but who could run like the desert wind and carry a message between a camel and his shadow.
But long before that arrangement was complete another and more complex one had been made within the camp. Messengers without messages would have been useless as messages without meaning or authoritative source. There was need of a master mind within the camp, free to make use of these links with the outer world. So at dusk, when the tired men lay by their arms and stared into the fires or talk or sang, and nobody within the camp was very watchful, the woman whose clothes the princess wore entered the tent and stayed there. And the princess passed out among the shadows!
Dick Anthony, striding by five minutes later, asked the guard if all was well and was answered in the affirmative.
The princess, in borrowed plumes, was making use of that minute of liberty to find out for herself what chance she had.
Men passed her, and some greeted her; but it was none of their affair whither she was going nor why she did not answer.
The shadows grew blacker and the men less watchful. All eyes were for the bright spots where the fires glowed hot—even Dick Anthony's.
His guards, thrusting their bayonets in here and there, were the only men on the alert within the amphitheater. At intervals they shrugged up underneath whatever shelter they could find to warm themselves, and when at last they saw Dick Anthony draw out a plan, lay it on a table at his side and grow absorbed in it, they almost ceased from their activity.
It was not very difficult then for a woman in dark Persian costume to crawl close to the hedge and peer through it undetected. It was not very difficult for the two clearest, most desperate violet eyes in Asia to recognize a map—nor presently, when Dick raised it to see better, to recognize the map. The princess gasped and nearly gave herself away.
She had thought Marie Mouquin's love for the giant Andry the sole reason for her presence in Dick's camp, and she had thought the woman's seizure in front of Astrabad due to no more than Andry's wishfulness. But if the map to which only the maid, besides herself, could ever have had access was in Dick's hands, what other secrets might not be his?
She hurried now. And, as her wit returned in a hot wave while she dodged among the shadows, she thought she saw a way of stealing a march on Dick and bringing him at last to beg of her.
She regarded her given word to Jenison, provided she thought of it at all, as subterfuge. She was thinking of nothing but the game she had to play, and as she fell panting into her tent and lay upon the earth inside, she clutched at the Persian woman and held her tight, as if she could draw strength from the plump, warm body.
"Go! Send me Marie Mouquin!" she said grimly, and the Persian woman started as if whipped, for the words came from between thin lips, propelled by desperation.
The woman disappeared between the tent flap and the princess rose, to stand waiting beside the entrance in an attitude that had changed each instant as she hesitated between a choice of force or soft persuasion. Finally, pattering through the dark slush, Marie Mouquin caught her undecided and checked a little scream as she saw the princess' face by the lantern light. "Mother of God!" she murmured. "Are you ill?"
"No," said the princess. "Come! Listen to me! No, don't be afraid! Come in!"
She pushed and pulled her in; then stood with her back to the entrance, holding the lantern she had snatched out of Marie's hand.
"Do you know why I dare not go to Russia?"
"No," said the maid, and it was the truth.
"I dare not go to Russia because Anthony has that map. I am here—to—get—the map! It was you, Marie Mouquin, who stole that map! And it was you who sent it to Andry MacDougal, he who gave it to Anthony! So I am here—to deal with you and your man Andry! Yes—you hear me rightly—you and your man Andry! Listen! No, listen! Andry MacDougal dies tonight unless I get that map first and the plans that go with it!"
It was Usbeg Ali Khan, weary of telling tales to men who would have listened eagerly to twice as many, who took upon himself to hurry the army off to bed. His eyes were on a tent in which a light shone low, and cast an unexpected shadow. Used to the dark, he saw what the tent guards seemed to miss—a figure that slipped out of darkness, and dived through the tent flap on all fours.
As he hurried he saw the light inside beginning to move, and almost as he came abreast of the tent he saw a Persian woman leave it in a hurry, running as if a ghost were after her. The light inside the tent went out, so he knew that the tent had another occupant; she might be the princess, and she might be a substitute, but he chose to wait and see what the minutes might explain.
Soon Marie Mouquin came, carrying a lantern. He heard her checked scream as she passed inside the tent. He saw her swung round and pushed backward, and the snatched lantern held nearly level with her eyes. And he heard words in Russian that were enough for him. In another second he was gone, as the bats go, swift and dumb.
He loosed a horse from the long line staked down the middle of the camp and spurred him bareback to Dick's tent.
"Come! I said from the first it is foolishness to trust a woman! Come and see! Come and listen!" he choked. Dick pocketed the map, and his face was eloquent of uttered detestation of the business on which Usbeg Ali summoned him.
"Lead on!" he commanded.
He passed within the circle of the guards. They came to a stand six feet from the tent, on the side where a double shadow moved in time to a wavering light. He heard Russian voices, talking Russian, and not by any means for the first time he thanked the instinct which had warned him to conceal his knowledge of Russian from everybody.
"Andry MacDougal dies tonight," he heard, "unless I get that map and the plans that go with it!"
"I cannot! I do not even know where it is!"
"He is reading the map—under the canopy before his tent. Oh, yes, he is, for I have seen him. He is reading what must not reach the eyes of the British government! And the price of what he is reading, Marie Mouquin, is the life of your man Andry now, tonight!"
The voices in the tent died down though Dick could hear whispering, and in a minute more Marie Mouquin crept from the tent stealthily, leaving the lantern behind her.
Dick watched her go, then beckoned Usbeg Ali.
"Did you hear what was said, bahadur? Did you understand any of it? Or shall I tell?" he managed to gasp.
But Dick, with his eyes on the alert to pierce each shadow, did not seem to hear him. He reached his own enclosure, and passed in. He seemed surprised, though not displeased to find Andry there waiting for him.
"Andry," he ordered, "get your girl!"
Andry's jaw dropped and he hesitated in amazement.
"You'll find her behind the hedge at my back! Quick, man!"
Big as a bull, and heavy for his size, Andry could move like a landslide when he chose or Dick's order called for it. He hurled himself past Dick, and took the branch fence at a bound, turning sharp back as he landed and pounced on somebody who squealed.
"It's her!" he gasped, more astounded than his captive.
"Bring her in!"
There was a struggle as he lifted her—a sharp smack as she slapped his face—a squeal as she was crushed into subjection in great iron arms that could have held four of her helpless.
Andry jumped the fence again with his girl held tight against his breast, and in another moment he had set her on her feet in front of Dick.
"Send Jenison!" Dick ordered suddenly. "Yes, you Andry. Go and wake up Jenison, and hurry!"
For five minutes Marie Mouquin stood beside Dick under his smoke-blackened canopy, studying his face and forgetting that she herself had been caught in the act of spying.
She was startled out of reverie by the approach of Jenison, screwing his face up and unscrewing it to get the sleep out of his eyes. He did not speak; he stood still in front of Dick, looking from him to Marie Mouquin and then back again.
"About the princess," said Dick, and Jenison looked startled.
"I'm responsible!" he answered
"I know you are! She's making trouble. It has got to stop!"
Jenison began to look exceedingly uncomfortable, and Usbeg Ali Khan's white teeth displayed themselves in a wide grin of amusement.
"If the princess gets what she wants," said Dick, "and asks to be let go, will you be content to let her go?"
"Yes, if I get your meaning rightly."
"That's all," said Dick.
"No, it's not all! I've a right to know what's going on! If I am answerable for her, I am answerable for what you do to her!"
"I'll tell you. Tomorrow she will be begging us to let her go, supposing that she hasn't given us the slip in the meanwhile. Will you agree to let her go?"
"D'you mean to try to frighten her?" asked Jenison, looking Dick straight in the eyes; and Dick said:
"No. You may take my word for it implicitly."
Jenison stalked off.
"You have your orders," he said quietly to Usbeg Ali, and the Afghan swaggered away muttering.
Then Dick turned on Marie Mouquin, and for a second she felt her heart jump to her throat, for he looked sterner than she had ever seen him.
"Whose side are you on?" he asked her suddenly, and she did not know how to answer him, for she was spellbound.
"That woman's? Russia's?"
She shook her head.
"Then do exactly what I say! Understand? Go to her tent one hour from now. Tell her you've watched me. Tell her I'm reading what she wants. Bring her here and show her. Then offer to steal the plans. Steal them, when you see the chance. Yes, steal them. But keep her to her terms. Insist that the plans leave camp within an hour! Give her no time to make any other disposition of them. Threaten to tell me otherwise. D'you understand?"
"Go and do it!"
Andry strode away into the night, his great feet sploshing into pools and squelching out again, marching like a dozen men.
The minute he was gone, Dick sent his sentries all away. Nothing loath, they hurried to snuggle into blankets by the different fires that claimed them. Then Dick went inside his tent and stayed there for ten minutes.
He came out with his cloak on, and sat down beneath the fluttering canopy by a fire that spat and sputtered. He pulled out a bulky package from beneath his cloak presently—extracted a paper from it—spread it on the table—and settled down, or seemed to, to a night of study.
It seemed a very long time before he arose at last and folded up the paper, and then he did a very strange thing. He slipped the paper back into the package, and tied the package with a string. Next he put the whole into a little steel cash box that had lain on the table under the cape of his great cloak. It was a strong steel box that once had held the papers of a Russian regiment. He locked the cash box, and put the key into his pocket.
Then, leaving the steel box on the table, in the full light of a lantern and the flickering fire blaze, he walked out of his enclosure, not troubling to look behind him once.
Wet to the skin and shivering, Marie ran through the dark to her own tent, where she took off her clothes and wrung them. A minute or two before the hour had passed she pulled on the still damp garments and ran out into the night with all her speed to make sure she would be out of breath.
"Imbecile!" the princess hissed at her, as she dived into the tent, under the eyes of guards whom Usbeg Ali had instructed to say nothing. "How long have you been! Where are they? Where are the plans? Give them to me!"
Marie Mouquin burst out sobbing, and threw herself on her knees.
"I am afraid!" she moaned. "I am afraid! What shall I do? What can I do?"
"There is only one thing you can do," the princess assured her pleasantly, prying loose the fingers that clutched at her Persian trousers.
"There is nothing I can do!" sobbed Marie. "Come with me and I will prove it to you." The princess drew the tent flap open and peered out, but all was black darkness except for the glow of a fire a hundred yards away.
"Come! Show me!"
The princess slipped through the opening, not flinching for a second when the cold rain came driving into her face. Marie slipped out after her, seeming to drag back, and not needing to pretend to be afraid, but after twenty yards of hurrying through whirling, whistling, wet blackness she gathered courage and began to lead, and presently they lay together very close to the place where the princess had escaped a bayonet thrust not long ago.
They lay for ten minutes, watching Dick Anthony, and he sat still studying what lay before him on the table. They saw him rise—saw him lock the papers in the small steel box—and saw him walk away, leaving the steel box on the table.
"Now!" said the princess savagely, gripping Marie Mouquin's arm with fingers that seemed to burn, so that the maid barely repressed a scream. "Now, imbecile! Go get it! Bring that box and save your man!"
Marie made a dash for it, for the princess might forestall her otherwise, and she was afraid, too, that she might laugh unless action brought relief. Hysterical excitement had her in its grip. Her dress caught in a twig and tore; she heard the princess curse her in fierce whispers; but she hurried—on through the gap in the fence through which Dick Anthony had passed—straight past the fire, to the table—grabbed the box and ran!
She ran as she had never moved in all her life—as if grim death himself were after her—back the way she came, past the princess, on into the night.
She took a header into her own tent, and fell prone on the rough bough bed, clutching at the blankets and biting them. The princess burst in after her, too out of breath to speak. She sprang on Marie, clutched her neck and groped for the box with her other hand.
So desire to laugh died out of Marie Mouquin to give place to desperation. She fought for a minute like a tiger-cat. She struck the wrist that tried to hold her, bruising it with the edge of the steel box. What she fought for was breath—time to get her breath, and name her terms.
"Give me the box!"
"No! No! No! I will not! I will give it to your messenger. I—with my own hands—I will give it to him! I will not have this in camp—a minute! It shall not be found on you or on me!"
"Imbecile! Ingrate! I tell you I will send it away at once!"
"I don't believe you! Move toward me and I scream!"
And the princess knew enough of her maid to know when her ultimatum had been reached.
"Have it your own way!" she panted. "Find me the man who has a bald head—Hussein Khalil—find him!"
"Stand back, then. No—out of the tent! Outside with you!" The princess walked out, seeing she had no alternative, and followed Marie through the mud and rain at what the maid considered a safe distance.
"There is your man!" said Marie suddenly, pointing to an open-sided hut of boughs and mud, within the deeper gloom of which a man swore horribly at dripping water. "Go and give him directions! I wait here."
So the princess went ahead, and what she said inside the hut was whispered too low for Marie to overhear, though she tried her best. In about a minute the princess and her man came out together, the man still swearing at the rain. It was much too dark for anyone to recognize them. They both approached Marie, but she stepped backward.
"If you have given him his orders," said Marie, "let him come alone. Go you away—back to my tent!"
Trembling with fury, the princess did as ordered. Then the man approached Marie, and she held the box out to him. He snatched it and made a swipe at her with his close fist, but she stepped back and he missed her. With an oath that only filthy lips could mouth, he ran then for the horse lines.
He seemed surprised to find the end horse ready saddled and bridled, but he did not stop to quarrel with his luck.
He rode on in silence, and did not know that two men talked about him from behind.
"Are you sure you warned all the pickets to let him by whatever word he gives?" asked Dick.
"Aye, bahadur," said Usbeg Ali.
"Very well," said Dick. "I'll wait here. Go on ahead, keeping behind that man. Warn them in case a woman follows to let her through too—and watch which way she goes! I want her tracked!"
In ten minutes' time, after pacing the distance twice between the exit and the nearest tents, Dick heard another horse, and this one was not coming at a walking gait. He had just time to step into a shadow before the horse, whose white foreleg he recognized, came cantering toward him and he saw go by, astride of a high-built Cossack saddle, none other than the Princess Olga Karageorgovich.
He waited and listened. He heard her horse increase the pace from a canter to a gallop—heard him leap the stream lower down where it crossed the trail—and then heard him settle down to do his best.
The peaks on every hand were being tinted by the earliest red rays of dawn, heralding a day of downpours, when Dick turned to order the first trumpet blown that should announce the start of his raid into Russia. He stopped with the word on his lips, for at that instant there was a commotion down at the main entrance. Two dismounted scouts were brought in, dead dog weary, and hurried along to where he stood by Jenison, Usbeg Ali Khan and Andry.
"Which way did she go?" Dick asked, for there was only one question uppermost in his mind.
"To the west," one man answered, hawking to get the dryness from his throat.
"To the west? How d'you know? Do you know where the west lies?" The man was standing with his back to the rising sun, so he nodded in the direction that he faced.
"How far from here?" demanded Dick.
"A long march. As far as a good horse—my horse—can gallop between midnight and dawn."
"You have my leave to go," said Dick, and the man departed to get food.
Then Dick turned to the three beside him and gave them an inkling of the swift deductions passing through his mind.
"Their main plan now is likely to be what it was originally; this force of ten thousand—or whatever the number may be—is for our express benefit, to take us in the rear; the half million will swoop down on the east side of the Caspian as arranged, and we're to be caught between the upper grindstone and the nether."
"Sound the advance!" he ordered.
It was about four in the afternoon of a squashy rain-swept day before Usbeg Ali Khan sent word back that the enemy were now in touch, and that their scouts had escaped to give the warning. It was half-past four when Dick found a gorge between two hills that seemed to suit his purpose.
In an hour, while Usbeg Ali stung the Cossacks again and again to hamper their advance, Dick had the guns on a hill brow. In an hour he had placed them, and had built protection for the gunners. In another hour Jenison was in charge of them, with the ranges memorized.
Dick's plan shaped itself out of chaos as the night wore on and the storm continued. He let Usbeg Ali rest his men now, setting them to guard his flanks while he attacked. The guns under Jenison pounded the oncoming Russians until there was no choice left the Russian commander but to try to take them; and Dick fell back slowly toward them, growing every minute stronger as the reinforcements reached him from the rear and putting up a stronger resistance.
Dick opened fire at about eight hundred yards' range on the Russian column, and it squirmed on itself like a snake stung in the side. It changed front instantly, to find itself then outflanked by Andry and in the way of the machine guns that should have had clear play, Dick advanced; the guns overhead squandered ammunition, and Andry's contingent kept up a steady fusillade. The Cossacks could not help but fall back, and could not fall back on their own reserves.
By that time Dick had sent two thousand men to add heft to the drive, and the prelude to the dawn, played by pale shafts of reflected sunlight on a saturated sky, showed the commander of the Russians cut off from his fleeing men, surrounded and at bay.
The field was a shambles. Sick at heart with the sight of it, Dick gazed about him trying to see something that would cheer. It was the road to Russia, open and undefended, that gave him at last thoughts that were not so dread; and Andry came on him at gaze northward, planning the next move in the game.
"Yon's their commander!" he said pointing. He will na' surrender. What will we du? Wad ye shoot the body in cauld bluid?"
"Order him off the field!" said Dick. Send him after his fugitives into Persia!"
Andry grinned and walked off to obey. It was not for ten minutes that it dawned on Dick he had been ill-advised. He sprang on his horse and cantered toward the hillock on which the Russian and his staff had elected to make their last stand. As he rode he saw something that appalled him, and he spurred his tired charger into frantic effort.
The Russian commander appeared to have changed his mind, he could see him standing by Usbeg Ali Khan, and he saw that Usbeg Ali had the Russian's sword. They were standing at the foot of the hillock, looking upward, and shouting altogether, prisoners and captors alike. He could see, even from that distance, that Usbeg Ali yelled approval, while most of the Russians roared dissent.
On the little hill stood Andry, at the brow of a twenty-five-foot drop. He stood astride, his great thigh muscles strained to the bursting point and his knotted arms aloft. Gripped in his iron fingers up above his head he held the Princess Olga Karageorgovich, and she fought like a tiger to free herself, in vain.
Andry stopped, and his grin of rage died as he saw Dick's pistol leveled at him—died and changed to a look of stupid grief.
"Set her down!"
The giant obeyed, and Dick lowered his pistol.
Andry stumbled down the hill and slunk away with his chin low on his breast. Dick rode closer to the hill, and the princess looked down at him from its edge. She looked from him to a steel box at his feet, where Andry had hurled it preparatory to sending her after it.
"I'll bribe you," said Dick.
"With what, monsieur le bandit?"
"With that box and its contents. You may go. You may follow those fugitives that are being herded into Persia by my cavalry. I'll give you a horse. And as a reward for going you may take that box."
"Monsieur le bandit is crazy, but I will accept his terms!" she said in English.
She came down from the hill, picked up the box and mounted a horse Dick ordered brought for her. Then she rode off with a merry laugh at him, and it was not until she was out of earshot that Usbeg Ali Khan found tongue, standing beside a Russian general who was his prisoner.
"Bahadur! What is it less then madness to save that she devil's life and on top of it to give her back the map and plans that are our key to victory? That box is worth a rajah's ransom nay, an amir's! And you give it to her! Those plans and that map are——"
Dick felt inside his shirt and pulled a package out.
"Here are the map and plans," he said.