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Title: The Cruise of the Gyro Car
Author: Herbert Strang
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Language: English
Date first posted: August 2009
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Cruise of the Gyro Car
Author: Herbert Strang



PREFACE


ALBANIA, once a Roman highway to the East, has been for many centuries
the wildest and most inhospitable of European countries. The mountains
that had echoed to the tramp of Roman legions, and had witnessed the
culmination of the struggle between Caesar and Pompey, became some
fifteen centuries later the scene of one of the most glorious struggles
for liberty of which we have record. For nearly a quarter of a century
Scanderbeg, the national hero of Albania, with a few thousands of his
mountaineers, stemmed the advancing tide of Turkish conquest. When at
length the gallant Prince and his people were borne down by sheer weight
of numbers, and Albania became a Turkish province, this mountain land,
which had been a principal bulwark of Christendom against Islam, served
to buttress the unstable empire of her new masters. It has been the
settled policy of the Turk to keep the Albanian in a condition of
semi-independence and complete barbarism, as a kind of savage watchdog at
the gate. From time to time the dog has turned upon his master, and in
many a fierce struggle the mountaineer has shown that he has not lost the
fine qualities of courage and love of liberty that inspired Scanderbeg
and his followers.

To the few Europeans, including J. G. von Hahn, Edward Lear, H. A. Brown,
and E. F. Knight, who at no little personal risk have made a study of
this romantic land and people, I am indebted for many interesting
particulars, and especially to Miss M. E. Durham for the stories of "The
Man and the Ass," and the "Dismembered Cow." The opening up of the
country under the new regime in Turkey may soon render the visit of a
motor- or gyro-car not more perilous there than in other parts of Europe,
at present of better repute. But it will be long before the Via Egnatia,
once the eastward continuation of the Appian Way, becomes as good a
highway for motor or other traffic as it was two thousand years ago.

My young friend, George Buckland, is at present the sole possessor of a
gyro-car, and he looks forward somewhat ruefully to the day when his
scamper across Europe will no longer have the charm of novelty.



CONTENTS:

CHAPTER I     INTRODUCES THE HYDRO-CAR
CHAPTER II    UNWELCOME ATTENTIONS
CHAPTER III   THE YELLOW CAR
CHAPTER IV    RUNNING THE PLANK
CHAPTER V     ACROSS THE ALPS
CHAPTER VI    A NARROW MARGIN
CHAPTER VII   AN ACT OF WAR
CHAPTER VIII  A ROMAN ROAD
CHAPTER IX    THE HONOUR OF AN ALBANIAN
CHAPTER X     SOME RIDDLES AND A NURSERY RHYME
CHAPTER XI    IN THE SMALL HOURS
CHAPTER XII   THE SWAMP
CHAPTER XIII  A LANDSLIP IN THE HILLS
CHAPTER XIV   A RUSH THROUGH THE ALPS
CHAPTER XV    THE END OF THE CRUISE
CHAPTER XVI   RECONCILIATION AND REWARDS


* * *



CHAPTER I--INTRODUCES THE GYRO-CAR


AMONG the passengers who alighted from the train at the terminus of
Shepperton, the little village near the Thames, one evening in early
summer, was a young man differing noticeably, but in a way not easy to
define, from all the rest. He was tall, but so were many; dark, but most
men are dark; bronzed, but the young men who spent idle hours in sculling
or punting on the river were as sun-tanned as he. Nor was it anything in
his attire that marked him out from his fellow-men, unless, perhaps, that
he was a trifle "smarter" than they. Yet many eyes had been attracted to
him as he walked down the platform at Waterloo, and many followed him, at
Shepperton station, as he stepped out of the compartment and doffed his
soft hat to a young girl, who stood evidently awaiting him, and whose
face lit up at his approach.

"Hullo, kid!" he said, in the young Briton's casual manner of greeting.
"Where's George?"

"He'll be here in a minute or two," replied the girl. "I am glad to see
you, Maurice."

"Thanks. How's Aunt?"

"The same as ever," said the girl with a smile. "Have you brought your
luggage?"

"Just a valise. The porter has it. Take it to that fly, will you?" he
added, as the man came up.

"Oh! Wait a minute," said his sister, laying a hand on his arm. "George
will be here in a minute."

"That means ten, unless George has reformed. Well, well, children must be
humoured."

Brother and sister stood side by side chatting.

The porter set the valise down by the fence. We may take advantage of the
delay to explain that Maurice Buckland was one of the secretaries of the
British agency at Sofia, and had come home on short leave. It was nearly
two years since he was last in England. Affairs in the Balkans had been
in a very ticklish condition, the focus of interest to all the
chancelleries of Europe. A grave crisis had just been settled peaceably
after a long diplomatic game of Puss in the Corner, and Buckland was at
last free to take his well-earned holiday.

He showed an impatience far from diplomatic as the minutes flew by, and
his younger brother George did not appear.

"Really, Sheila--" he began after five minutes.

"Please, a little longer," interrupted his sister. "George has a surprise
for you."

"Has he, indeed! The greatest surprise would have been to find him
punctual. What is he cracking his wits on now?"

"I mustn't tell you. I wish he would come."

They stood at the gate. A hungry flyman touched his hat. The porter was
distracted between keeping one eye on the valise, the other on an old
lady who seemed determined to enter the train before it had shunted to
the up-platform.

Five more minutes passed.

"His surprise can keep," said Maurice.

"Porter!"

The man shouldered the valise and carried it to the waiting fly. Buckland
and his sister entered the vehicle, the driver shut the door, touched his
hat, clambered to his seat, and drove off. He knew the address; for the
past year The Acacias, on the Chertsey Road, had been occupied by the
Hon. Mrs. Courtenay-Greene, a middle-aged widow who kept house for her
orphan nephew and niece. The fly rattled along through the village.

About half a mile from the station, as everyone knows, the road sweeps
round in a sharp curve to the right. To the left, at right-angles with
it, stands the Anchor Hotel, with the vicarage adjacent and the old
ivy-clad church beyond. Just as the fly reached the curve, there was a
warning hoot from the opposite direction, and Buckland, glancing past the
driver, saw a motor-car of unusual shape rushing towards them at the
speed of an express train. With great presence of mind, and a violent
execration, the flyman whipped up his horse and pulled it sharply to the
near side towards the little post-office. Quick as he was, he could not
prevent an accident. The motor-car, indeed, did not cut the horse and
vehicle in two, as had seemed imminent, but merely grazed the off
hind-wheel. Its occupant let forth a shout; the flyman had much ado to
prevent his horse from bolting; and the motor-car, swerving from the
shock, and wrenched round by its driver, dashed across the road, into the
brick wall that bounds the curve, and fell with a crash.

"Oh! He's killed!" cried Sheila, rising to spring from the fly.

"Sit still," said her brother sternly, holding her down. "Pull up,
driver."

"Easier said nor done," growled the man, "with the hoss scared out of its
wits."

But in a few seconds he had the horse in hand, and pulled up a few yards
down the road. Buckland then helped his sister out, and rushed to see
what had become of his unfortunate brother. The landlord, ostler, and
boots of the Anchor were already on the spot; the proprietor of the Old
King's Head opposite was running to join his rival; and as Buckland came
up, the vicar hastened out of his gate in his shirt-sleeves.

The late occupant of the car, a young fellow of eighteen or thereabouts,
turned from contemplating his battered machine to greet his brother.

"Hullo, old man!" he said. "Here's a pretty mess!"

"H'm! No bones broken, then. Is this your surprise?" said the elder
brother in his best ironical manner.

"More or less," replied George with a rueful grin. "Why didn't you wait
for me?"

"It appears that by not doing so I narrowly escaped extinction."

"She's a beauty, really, you know--or was," said George.

"I notice a beautiful hole in the wall. But come, we are being stared at
by the whole population. What are you going to do with this beautiful
machine of yours?"

"I shall have to put her into garage for to-night, and get her to my
workshop for repairs to-morrow. The front wheel is buckled; it's a wonder
the whole thing isn't smashed. If you had only waited, instead of taking
a wretched old fly, we should have been safe home by this time."

"Meanwhile the fly is waiting. I will leave you to make your
arrangements, and may I beg you to be expeditious."

Maurice Buckland affected at times a formal mode of speech that his
brother, fresh from Winchester, found very galling.

Maurice returned to the fly with his sister, ignoring the crowd which
had, by this time gathered about the car. Having seen this wheeled by a
score of helpers into the garage attached to the Old King's Head, George
rejoined the others, and the homeward Journey was resumed.

"Just my luck!" said George. "I was going to drive you home in fine
style. That's my new gyro-car."

"Indeed!"

"It goes like winking."

"So I saw," said Maurice dryly.

"Yes; my own idea, you know--that is, it's an adaptation of Louis
Brennan's mono-rail car. You saw it has four wheels tandem; It's like a
motor bicycle. You've heard of the gyroscope, of course?"

"I am not aware that I have."

"Goodness! Is Sofia such a dead-alive place as that? I'll show you how it
works to-morrow."

"Spare me! I have seen how it plays the dickens with time-honoured means
of locomotion."

"But you know, it's a splendid--"

"So are you, dear boy, but if you'll allow me to say so, it was quite
time I came home. As your guardian, I must really exercise a little
restraint upon your exuberance. Your allowance is clearly far too big, if
you are squandering it in devising means for the slaughter of your
innocent fellow creatures."

George felt somewhat resentful of his brother's superior attitude, and
held his peace for a minute or two. But his enthusiasm soon got the
better of him, and he began again.

"It's perfectly stunning, Maurice, the way she goes: Isn't It, Sheila?"

"Yes; it really is, Maurice," said the girl eagerly. "We have had some
splendid rides."

"Do I understand that you are so dead to all decency of feeling as to
endanger your only sister's life as well as your own? said Maurice
severely.

"There's no risk at all," replied George; "that is, no more than in an
ordinary motor.

"It was simply a piece of rotten bad luck. The gyroscopes are  all right,
but there's a terrific amount of side thrust in turning a corner, and
they've watered the road recently, so that in making allowance for the
possibility of skidding--"

"Pray don't treat me to a lecture on mechanics. The accident, as I
conceive it was the fault of your making an ass of yourself.'

"Here we are," said Sheila, before George could answer, as the fly drew
up at the gate of a large house. "We've got a lovely lawn, Maurice; I
hope you've brought your tennis racquet."

"My dear child, we have left the dark ages behind," replied her brother
acidly, and the two others, as they followed him into the house felt that
Maurice was even more insufferable than when he first put on high
collars.

This impression was deepened at the dinner-table. The Honourable Mrs.
Courtenay-Greene was a dowager of severe and wintry aspect, who wore
pince-nez and had the habit of "looking down her nose," as George
irreverently put it. During dinner she and Maurice exchanged notes about
common acquaintances, ignoring George until a chance mention of the
gyro-car drew upon him a battery of satire, reproof, and condemnation.

"I shudder for our reputation," said the lady. "We are already, I am
sure, the talk of the neighbourhood."

"Judging by what I have seen," said Maurice, "we shall be lucky if we are
not more than the talk. It will be manslaughter, at the least."

"And our name will be in the papers!" said Mrs. Courtenay-Greene. "I live
in a constant state of nervous terror. A motor accident on the road is
disgraceful enough, but George is actually talking of running his
ridiculous machine on the river."

"Well, Aunt," began George, but the lady closed her eyes and waved her
hands as though warding off something ineffably contaminating.

"I will not listen to your plausible impertinences," she said. "Maurice,
shall we go and hear Tetrazzini to-morrow?"

George looked daggers at his aunt, and stole away as soon as dinner was
finished, to talk over his grievances with Sheila.

Next day, he went early into the village, and returned in an hour or two,
sitting on a lorry next to the driver, the damaged car behind him. It was
taken to his workshop at the foot of the garden. Maurice was walking on
the lawn, smoking a cigarette. He did not so much as lift his eyes as the
vehicle passed, and George turned his head aside: the brothers might have
been strangers.

For several days George was hardly to be seen. He had ordered a new front
wheel and fork from the maker, and until they arrived forbore to speak of
the gyro-car, and occupied himself in repairing the wind-screen in front,
and in working at various mechanical models with which he was
experimenting. He was going up to Cambridge in October, and the science
master at his school foretold that he would take a first-class in the
engineering tripos, if he would only concentrate himself and not dabble
in things outside the curriculum.

The new parts arrived. On the next day Maurice was strolling past the
workshop, which he had never yet deigned to enter, when his attention was
arrested by the sight of his brother's car standing by itself on the
path. A faint humming proceeded from its interior. George was not to be
seen. In spite of himself, Maurice found himself gazing at the machine
with interest, for, though it had four wheels tandem, and was not
supported on either side, it stood perfectly upright. He glanced round
furtively to make sure that his brother was not watching, and then walked
round the car, stooping at every few paces to look beneath it and assure
himself that he was not mistaken. There were no supports; the machine was
actually balancing itself on its four wheels.

"Rummy!" he murmured. "How's it done?"

He was peeping over the side of the car, when George's voice hailed him
heartily.

"Hallo, Maurice! Isn't she a beauty?" Instantly he moved away, and began
to stroll down the path as if nothing could be less worthy of his
attention.

"Swank!" said George to himself.

He turned the starting-handle, mounted into the car, depressed the
clutch-pedal, and having advanced the speed-lever a little, ran up the
path, out at the front gate, and disappeared.

Maurice flung his cigarette away, looking a trifle disconcerted. He went
to his room opening on to the road, and remained at the window until he
heard the hum of the car returning. Then he slipped into the garden, and
was sauntering up and down, when George ran the machine down the path to
its garage.

"I've had a jolly spin," said George. "Nearly ran into a foreign fellow
in the village: there appears to be a little colony of foreigners there:
come to try boating, I suppose."

He sprang out of the car, causing it to set up a slight rocking motion,
and went into his workshop. Maurice stood at a distance of a few yards,
contemplating what was to him an embodied mystery.

The machine was several feet longer than an ordinary motor-car, but about
half as wide, and shaped like a boat. Indeed, its general appearance was
that of a motor-cycle which had broken through the bottom of a rowing
boat. Abaft amidships there was a seat for two persons, arranged pannier
fashion, and sunk somewhat below the top of the framework on which it
rested. A little to the rear of the seat was a glass chamber, in which
were two top-like things, connected by a bar. It was, apparently, from
these that the humming proceeded, but they were not visibly rotating,
though they swayed slightly. In front was the casing, presumably covering
the motor; behind was a similar object, but smaller.

George came out of the workshop.

"Hallo!" he said, as if recognising his brother for the first time.
"Taking a squint?"

"What are those things?" asked Maurice, nodding towards the glass case.

"Those? Oh, they're the gyroscopes."

He got into the car, and let down, one on each side, two supports, each
with a small wheel at the end. Then he moved a lever to stop the spinning
of the gyroscopes, got out again, lifted the cover of the motor, and
proceeded to oil the engine. For some time not a word was spoken. Then
Maurice broke the silence.

"Er! H'm! What, may I ask, is a gyroscope?"

"A top."

"H'm! Do you think you could manage to speak in words of more than one
syllable?"

"Well, gyroscope has three."

"Undoubtedly. I am still a little doubtful as to the accuracy of your
definition, or perhaps I should say, of the perfectness of my
apprehension. Will you condescend to be lucid?"

"Oh, you want to be treated to a lecture in mechanics, do you? Are you
sure it won't hurt you? Aren't you afraid of your name getting into the
papers?"

Maurice opened his cigarette-case and offered it to his brother.

"Thanks, old man," said George, contritely. "Got a light?"

Maurice struck a match, replaced the box in his pocket with deliberation,
and said:

"George, old boy, what is a gyroscope?"

"Well, old man, it's a sort of top, as you see. They're stopping: it
takes some time when they're going at 5,000 a minute. You can see'm
spinning now. They're in a vacuum, to get rid of air resistance and skin
friction, and so you get a high velocity with a minimum of power."

"That is not beyond my intelligence. Proceed with your lecture, and,
if I may make a suggestion, begin with the use of this--gyroscope, I
think you said."

"It's to keep the machine steady--balance it, you know."

"I saw that it remained upright when stationary. That is very
remarkable."

"But that's not all. Having two, I can take the sharpest corners with the
greatest ease. I set them spinning in opposite directions, and they are
so linked that as one sways to one side, the other sways to the, other,
so that the car doesn't topple in turning a corner."

"The machine apparently goes like a bicycle with this difference, that
you can stop dead without tumbling!"

"Yes, but it's better than a bicycle. A cyclist has to keep his machine
upright: the gyroscopes do that, and you can give your whole attention to
steering. The wheels being tandem, too, I can use ball-bearings. I've got
a petrol motor that actuates a dynamo, and so avoid the necessity of
altering the gear going up-hill, and the noise it makes."

In his enthusiasm he had forgotten his brother's former aloofness, and
was now bent on instructing him. He proceeded with a piece of stick to
draw a diagram on the gravel in illustration of the scientific details he
gave.

Maurice listened and looked patiently, but at the end of five minutes'
technical explanation he yawned and said:

"Ah! Very interesting, but quite beyond me. In other respects the thing
is an ordinary motor-car?"

"Yes, but as much faster as a bicycle is faster than a tricycle. I can go
faster than a four-wheeled motor of double the horse-power."

"A doubtful advantage. The temptation to exceed the speed limit must be
rather distressing."

"Besides, being so much narrower, it can go where a motor cannot."

"That would certainly be an advantage in a tight place, but I presume
they don't allow you to run on the pavement? By the bye," continued
Maurice, "I see that your gyro-car, as you call it, has no doors, and you
have to vault over the side in getting in and out. That strikes me as
being somewhat of an inconvenience, and an unnecessary one, to boot."

"Not a bit of it. The car is built so low that it doesn't matter.
Besides, it's an amphibious animal, old man; any sort of opening in the
sides would hardly tend to increase its sea-worthiness."

"You don't mean to say that the thing goes in the water too?" said
Maurice, genuinely surprised.

"Aha! I thought I'd surprise you. I tell you what, Maurice, we'll go for
a spin this afternoon, and I'll show you how it goes, both on land and
water: that is, if you're not afraid to trust your precious skin to me."

"My dear boy, I have made my will. Let us wait and see the condition of
my pulse after luncheon."



CHAPTER II--UNWELCOME ATTENTIONS


THE gyro-car ran that afternoon with such easy speed that Maurice
Buckland was stirred out of his carefully cultivated indifference. Before
it had gone a quarter of a mile he had ejaculated "By George!" three
times in a crescendo of admiration, and gave a heart assent to George's
assertion that "she" was a spanker. Nor was he perturbed when she
narrowly shaved a foreign looking man hanging about at the corner of the
road that led to the Weybridge Ferry. After half an hour's spin George
suggested that they should try her on the water, but then Maurice
relapsed into his former sceptical manner and declared that he had had
enough for one day.

On the way back they again passed the foreigner, who stood aside and
watched the strange car as it flashed by.

"Did you notice the greedy look on that fellow's face?" said George.

"I am not in the least interested in him," replied Maurice coldly.

"I suppose not. You see foreign Johnnies every day. He looked as if he
wished the car were his. Will you come on the river tomorrow?"

"No. I am going to Town."

"You'll let me drive you to the station?"

"By all means, if you'll promise to go carefully round the corner."

"Rather! Those old flies are dangerous, and ought to be abolished."

Next afternoon George had the pleasure of driving his brother to the
station. As they passed the Anchor they noticed a large motor-car with a
yellow body standing at the door of the little hotel. Several foreigners
were lounging on the garden seat in front of the coffee-room. They broke
off their conversation as the gyro-car ran by, looking after it with
curiosity. A minute after it arrived at the station the motor-car dashed
up. Two men alighted from it, and went into the booking-office, where
Maurice had just taken his ticket. George did not leave the gyro-car or
wait to see the train off, but called a good-bye to Maurice over the
fence, and promised to meet him on his return.

Maurice came back by the train arranged.

The gyro-car was awaiting him. Behind it stood the yellow motor-car, and
Maurice was followed out of the gate by the two foreigners who had
travelled by the up train.

"One of those fellows is a Count something or other," said George as they
drove back.

"A general too. The village is quite excited about him."

"British snobbishness!" said Maurice. "They came down in my compartment:
don't know our ways, I suppose."

"How do you mean?"

"There was another smoker two compartments off, quite empty, but they
came in with me: don't know we prefer to travel alone when we can."

"British standoffishness!" said George with a smile. "Did they speak to
you?"

"Yes. It was rather amusing. They spoke in French about all sorts of
subjects, and by and by got on to 'le cricket,' as they called it--with
the deliberate purpose of attracting my attention, I believe. They talked
the most fearful tosh. By-and-by one of them turned to me. 'I beg your
pardon, sir,' he said, in excellent English, 'but I see that Kent has
beaten Yorkshire by three wickets. Will you have the goodness to explain
precisely what that means?'"

"What did you say?" asked George.

"Oh! I explained to them that the wickets were three stumps stuck in the
ground, and without waiting for any more, the man turned to his companion
and said, 'Eh bien! Je l'ai bien dit. Les vainqueurs rossent les vaincus
avec les stomps.'"

"Construe, construe, old man: they didn't speak French like that at
school."

"More's the pity. What he said was: 'I told you so. The winners whack the
losers with the stumps.'"

"By gum!" said George with a laugh.

"That stumped 'em. What happened next?"

"Oh! I buried myself behind my paper. I dislike extremely being disturbed
in that way."

"There are about half a dozen altogether," said George. "The Count and
another are at the Anchor: the rest, servants, I suppose, have overflowed
into the Old King's Head. Rather hard on the boating-men, isn't it?
Several couldn't get rooms to-day."

"Really, George, I hope you are not becoming a Paul Pry."

"Of course not. Sheila went into the post-office to get some stamps, and
had it all thrown at her by the girl there. Foreign counts are a rarity
in Shepperton. What in the world brought them here? They don't appear to
go in for boating."

"My dear fellow, does it matter?"

"Well no but it's funny, that's all."

Mrs. Courtenay-Greene agreed with her elder nephew that it was
undesirable to pay any attention to the strangers, even though one of
them was a count and a general.

"It is perfectly shocking," she said, "the way we are being eaten up by
aliens."

To Maurice Buckland's great annoyance, however, it proved impossible to
avoid the foreigners. If he walked to the village, he was bound to meet
some of them. Whenever he went to Town, it appeared that one or more of
the party had business there too. Sometimes they returned by the same
train, and then, no matter how many empty compartments there might be,
his privacy was sure to be invaded. Once, when the train was full, the
man whom he supposed to be the count entered the compartment at the last
moment, and stood between Maurice and the passenger opposite, courteously
apologising for the inconvenience he caused. Room was made for him when
some of the passengers got out at Clapham Junction, and he seated himself
next to Maurice, and remarked on the immensity of the station. His manner
was so polite and conciliatory that it was impossible to snub him
outright, but Maurice took refuge in a cold reserve that discouraged
further advances.

One day George persuaded his brother to attempt a spin on the river. They
ran the gyro-car down on to the ferryboat, and George having made the
necessary adjustments, took the water and proceeded up stream in the
direction of the lock. Only a minute or two afterwards the yellow
motor-car came dashing down the road. Three of the foreigners dismounted
from it, hired a boat, and followed in the wake of the gyro-car, which
had by this time entered the lock. The gates were still open; the
lock-keeper thought it hardly worth while to fill and empty for the sake
of one toll. Consequently, as the gyro-car lay against the side, waiting,
the Buckland's saw the foreigners' boat coming in at the lower gates, and
zigzagging in a manner that proved its occupants to be inexperienced
watermen.

George smiled as he watched the men's clumsy movements. The boat entered
the lock, the gates were shut, and the lock-keeper ran along the side to
let in water at the upper end. When the vessels lay opposite to each
other, with only a narrow space between them, it was natural enough that
a word or two should be exchanged between their occupants; and George,
who was free from any taint of standoffishness, responded readily to the
distinguished-looking stranger in the stern of the boat when he said:

"This is a very remarkable car of yours, sir. I have seen it once or
twice, and always with great admiration."

At the same time he made a courteous salute to Maurice, who acknowledged
it freezingly.

"Yes it is rather useful," said George, flattered by the stranger's
attentions. A conversation ensued between them, in which George described
his mechanism with some minuteness. The gyro-car was simply a hobby; he
had no idea of making a secret of it; and the stranger's interest was so
genuine, and yet so devoid of inquisitiveness, that George was soon on
friendly terms with him.

While they were talking, the upper sluices were opened, and the water
poured with rush and whirl into the lock. The mechanism formed another
topic of conversation, which lasted until the lock was filled, the keeper
had collected the toll, and there was free access to the higher reach.

"I am very much interested," said the stranger. "Permit me, sir." He
handed George a card. "I am staying with my secretary at the Anchor
Hotel, and I shall be charmed if you will do me the honour to call on me
there. And you also, I need not say sir," he added, bowing to Maurice.

"Thanks awfully," said George.

"I am exceedingly obliged," said Maurice.

Salutations were exchanged; the gyro-car ran smoothly out of the lock,
and the boat followed slowly, watched with a quizzical eye by the keeper.

"General Count Slavianski," read George from the card. "Russian,
Maurice?"

"Or Polish. You will not call on the man?"

"I don't see why not."

"Oh, well, do as you please, but don't drag me with you. I am fed up with
continentals."

George called next day on Count Slavianski at the hotel, and was charmed
with his new acquaintance, and also with Major Rostopchin, his secretary.
He would have liked to return their hospitality, but Mrs.
Courtenay-Greene refused to have anything to do with them, so that the
budding friendship did not develop. One of the Count's servants scraped
acquaintance with the under-gardener at the Acacias, who told his
fellow-servants that the foreigner was a decent chap, and a dab at
billiards, as he had discovered at the Old King's Head.

Three weeks went by. One Monday morning Maurice received a letter from
the Foreign Office requesting him to call that afternoon on important
business. He took the 2.10 train to Waterloo, carrying a black official
bag in which he had a few unimportant papers that he intended to leave at
the office. Just as the train was on the point of starting, two of the
Count Slavianski's servants rushed through the gate and sprang into the
nearest third-class compartment. Maurice congratulated himself that they
were not the Count himself and his secretary; he was a little tired of
the too-frequent company of those gentlemen.

At Waterloo he entered a taxi-cab, which landed him within a few minutes
at the door of the Foreign Office in Whitehall. He was somewhat surprised
when he learnt that his interview was to be, not with one of the
principal clerks, but with the Foreign Secretary himself, and still more
surprised at the communication which that great man made to him.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Buckland," he said. "I am sorry to cut short your
leave, but you must return to Sofia at once. I have a despatch of the
highest importance for your chief, and you must start to-morrow. I wanted
to see you myself, for this reason: it will be better for you to go by
some route that does not pass through Austrian or German territory. That
is unfortunate on the score of time, for the quickest way is undoubtedly
by Vienna; but you will remember that during the last crisis a
Montenegrin Minister was stopped and searched by the Austrians--a
flagrant violation of the etiquette of civilised nations, but one that
Montenegro was not strong enough to resent."

"I understand, sir," said Buckland.

"I need not enter into particulars with you," pursued the Secretary. "It
is enough to say that things are once more looking exceedingly black in
the Balkans--so black that I do not care to trust to the telegraph. The
despatch will be written to-night, and you will call for it to-morrow in
time to catch the day train for Paris. Probably your best course will be
to go straight to Brindisi, where I will arrange for a torpedo-boat to
meet you and convey you to Constantinople. From Constantinople you will
go by train to Sofia. The Paris train leaves Charing Cross at 2.20 as you
know; you will find the despatch ready for you by 11."

The Secretary was a man of few words.

He had given his instructions, and had nothing more to say. Buckland
Withdrew, left his papers with one of the clerks, and, looking at his
watch, saw that he had plenty of time to catch the 5 o'clock train from
Waterloo.

When he left the Foreign Office, the news-boys were crying the evening
papers, and on one of the bills Buckland read, in large block letters,
the words BALKAN CRISIS. It was clear that the foreign correspondents had
already got hold of something. He wished that the Secretary had been more
communicative; it was tantalising to carry an important despatch of whose
contents he knew nothing. No doubt it was an instruction as to the policy
of the British Government. He bought two or three papers to see what the
rumours were, then turned into the National Club to wait until it was
time to return to Waterloo. Just as he entered the door he saw one of
Count Slavianski's men, who had come up by the same train from
Shepperton, walking along from the direction of Trafalgar Square. The man
gave him a salute and passed on.

The few men in the club smoking-room were talking about the news from the
Balkans. Buckland, an infrequent visitor, was unknown to them, and they
went on with their conversation, while he sat by the window reading his
papers. He smiled as he caught an oracular remark occasionally, in a keen
discussion as to what the British policy would be. As to that he knew no
more than they, but his knowledge of the general situation enabled him to
listen to their random shots with amusement.

What he knew was as follows.

Austria, having absorbed the Bosnian provinces some years before, and
digested them with more or less satisfaction to herself, was now hungry
for another meal. The raids of a number of Servian bands into the
discontented portion of the annexed territories had given her a cause of
complaint against Servia. The Serbs of Montenegro had been implicated in
these raids, and it was common knowledge that Austria had long fixed a
covetous eye on the little mountain principality which had lately become
a kingdom. The papers now announced that three army corps were mobilising
on the south-eastern frontier of the empire, threatening Belgrade and
Cettinje. It was not announced, but all well-informed people knew, that
behind Austria in these movements, as in the earlier annexation of Bosnia
and Herzegovina, was the second member of the triple Alliance-Germany.

The question that interested journalists, clubmen, and the Services was,
what attitude would Britain take up in face of this menacing action? She
had not shown up very well when Bosnia and Herzegovina were absorbed;
would she do anything now to protect the tiny kingdom of Montenegro
against her powerful neighbour? Buckland suspected that these questions
would be answered in the despatch which he was to receive for conveyance
to his chief. He hoped and believed that the answers would satisfy all
who cherished the prestige of Britain. The British Cabinet would probably
make a firm stand. Russia was now much more able to stiffen her back than
she had been during the previous crisis, when she was only beginning to
recover from the strain of the war with Japan. Turkey, too, was in a
better position to resist the southward movement by which Austria was
creeping to her ultimate goal-Constantinople. An improved government, and
a general overhauling of the army and navy, had made her a power to be
reckoned with. The third member of the Triple alliance--Italy--certainly
had no interest in seeing an Austro-German Empire extend from
the Balkans to the Bosphorus, perhaps, indeed, to the Euphrates. Britain
might therefore expect support from the Powers which had formerly been
helpless.

One unfortunate element in the situation was the probability that Austria
would have assistance from the mountaineers of Albania. These had always
looked with suspicion on the reforms in Turkey, and their distrust had of
late been carefully fomented by Austrian agents.

This being the general situation, the attitude of Bulgaria was of the
highest importance in the calculations of each of the Powers concerned.
It was rumoured that Austria was tempting Bulgaria with promises of large
territorial gains when the projected dismemberment of Turkey became an
accomplished fact. Bulgaria had an excellently appointed army; her
support would be of great value to Montenegro; and the diplomacy of the
interested Powers was therefore keenly engaged in the attempt to sway the
counsels of the Government at Sofia. Buckland's despatch would without
doubt convey the advice of the British Cabinet, through their
representative.

Such were the facts, and such the speculations, discussed in the papers
on that July afternoon. Buckland had a cup of tea in the club, and at
4.40 hailed a taxicab to drive him to Waterloo. The 5 o'clock train was
not crowded. Many of its usual passengers were holiday-making; it was too
early for the rush of men returning from business. Buckland settled
himself in the near corner of an empty first-class compartment, placing
his official bag on the seat next to him. A few moments before 5, Count
Slavianski and his secretary strolled down the platform, smoking very fat
cigars, and entered the compartment in which Buckland was seated.

"A beautiful day, is it not?" said the Count genially, as he stepped past
Buckland.

"Rather hot in town," replied Buckland, burying his face in his
newspaper. Really, these intrusive Russians were very annoying.

The two foreigners occupied the far corners of the compartment, and
chatted to each other on subjects in which Buckland took no interest. The
train crawled down the line; it takes forty-seven minutes to perform its
short journey of nineteen miles; and Buckland felt rather sleepy. At
Sunbury, just as the guard's whistle sounded, the two foreigners suddenly
jumped up, the Count saying to his secretary in French, "We must get out
here." There was a moment of hurry-scurry; the train was already in
motion when the two men sprang on to the platform. The Count waved his
hand to Buckland, with a hurried "Bon soir, monsieur!" and Buckland
wondered for a brief moment why they had alighted a station short of
Shepperton. But he was so little interested in them that before he
reached his own station he had forgotten them.

When the train drew up, he rose and took up the black bag from the seat.
An unaccustomed something in the feel of the handle caused him to look at
it. It was exactly similar to his own bag, but it was not his.

"I suppose I took up the wrong bag at the Foreign Office," he said to
himself; "though I didn't notice anything in the feel of it before."

The bag was not locked, and he opened it.

There was nothing in it but a morning newspaper.

The household at the Acacias was variously sorry when Buckland announced
his immediate departure. Mrs. Courtenay-Greene was regretful at losing
the company of a man of the world; Sheila was fond of her brother when he
allowed his natural self to appear; and George had found him a very
pleasant companion since he had become interested in the gyro-car.

"How rotten!" said the boy on hearing the news. "Why can't they let you
enjoy your holiday in peace?"

"My dear George," replied Maurice, "our little private concerns are as
dust swept by a broom when world-forces are at work. You'll learn that
some day."

George merely snorted.

Before dinner Maurice made all his preparations for leaving by the 10
o'clock train in the morning. After coffee and a game of billiards he
scribbled a note to an old college friend with whom he had arranged to
spend a few days in the following week, and went out with George to post
it at the little post-office opposite the Anchor Hotel. When they reached
their gate they saw a man walking slowly up the road, and at the second
glance recognised him by the light of a gas-lamp as one of the servants
of Count Slavianski. He turned at the sound of their footsteps but
immediately faced about and went on more quickly towards the village.

Maurice Buckland was not by nature a suspicious man, but the sight of the
foreigner brought to his recollection the incidents of the day and of the
past fortnight, and for the first time he wondered whether he was being
dogged. The arrival of the foreigners in the village a few days after his
own; their apparent want of occupation; their frequent visits to town,
going and returning by the same trains as himself; their persistent
endeavours to improve their acquaintance with him: all these incidents,
which appeared to have no special significance when they happened, seemed
now, in the light of the European situation, to gain importance. He
recalled the strange matter of the bag, and, thinking backward, fancied
he remembered that the Count's secretary had a black bag when he entered
the carriage at Waterloo. If in the hurry of their departure at Sunbury
they had taken his bag by mistake, surely it would have been returned by
this time; his name was in it. Short though his experience in the
diplomatic world had been, he was alive to the dangers of espionage; was
it possible that Count Slavianski and his subordinates were agents of one
of the Powers?

"A penny for your thoughts," said George suddenly.

Maurice slackened his pace.

"What would you say to your friend the Count being a spy?" he replied in
a low tone.

"I say, do you mean it?" said George.

"What a lark! Who is he spying on?"

"Speak low, and I'll tell you what I suspect."

He told George some of the essential facts of the situation, winding up
with the incident of the bag.

"It's rummy, certainly," said George, considerably excited. "But do you
think it's likely? Why should half a dozen foreigners spy on you? What
reason have they to suppose that you would have any information of
importance to them?"

"Only this; that I am the only member of our agency at present in London.
These foreigners do things very thoroughly; it is not at all unlikely
that they would keep me under observation. The Count did not travel up
with me to-day, but two of his men did. I wonder whether you could find
out discreetly in the village, when the Count went up?"

"Oh! I can tell you that. I went down to the village this afternoon to
arrange for some petrol to be sent up. I was standing near the door of
the King's Head, when I saw a telegraph boy go into the Anchor with a
telegram, and a minute afterwards the Count and his secretary came out,
got into the motor, and rushed off full pelt to the station, just in time
for the 4 o'clock."

"Sharp work!" said Maurice. "Those fellows must have handed in a telegram
directly we got to Waterloo. No doubt they heard me tell the taxi-driver
to drive to the Foreign Office, and the Count hurried up to see what he
could get. He couldn't have reached Waterloo more than five minutes
before the down train started. He must have arranged for the car to meet
him at Sunbury, so that there would be no inquiries about the exchange of
bags here. My bag was empty; it's lucky the Secretary hadn't his despatch
ready."

By this time they had reached the post-office. Maurice slipped his letter
into the aperture, and threw a look round. The man who had preceded them
along the road had disappeared. There were lights in the Anchor, but no
one was in sight.

"I say, Maurice," said George as they returned, "would a nobleman descend
to such dirty work as spying?"

"If he's a spy, he's no more a count than I am," Maurice replied. "He's
probably some clever rascal with a turn for languages; certainly his
appearance and manner would pass muster anywhere. Of course I may be
utterly mistaken; but seeing this is an important business, it will be
just as well to take a few precautions to cover my departure to-morrow.
We'll suppose they are actually spying on me. Well if I leave the house
with baggage they'll know I'm off on a journey, and will dog me. I'll go
up by the 10 0' clock without my valise, and one or more of those fellows
ill come too, you may be sure. They won't watch you in my absence; you
can bring up my valise by your gyro-car, and meet me in the lounge of the
Grand Hotel at Charing Cross after I've left the Foreign Office. You can
leave the car in the garage. Don't go through the village, and they won't
be any the wiser."

"I say, this is jolly. It will be no end of a lark to do them. But look
here, old boy, if they are spies, they must keep watch night and day."

"I daresay they do. We'll find that out."

About midnight the brothers, wearing overcoats and slippers, left the
house by the backdoor, stole along the shrubbery that bounded it on one
side, and so came to the hedge dividing the garden from the road. George
crawled through the hedge at the bottom where the foliage was thinnest,
and peered up the road towards the village. Nobody was in sight. But as
they went up to their bedrooms they glanced out of a window on the
staircase, overlooking the field on the other side of the road. A full
moon threw its light from behind the house. Just beyond the hedge of the
field opposite they caught sight of a man smoking a cigar.

"There's our proof," said Maurice quietly.

"By gum! we'll dish them," cried his brother.



CHAPTER III--THE YELLOW CAR


NEXT morning Maurice left the house at half-past nine, and walked through
the village to the station, carrying his black bag. Seeing Count
Slavianski and his secretary on the bench in front of the hotel, he
saluted them with a shade less coolness than usual, fully expecting to
hear the motor-car behind him before he was half-way to the station. To
his surprise, however, none of the foreigners arrived in time for the
train, and he supposed that he was to be allowed for once to make the
journey to London unshadowed. This idea was dispelled as soon as he
reached Sunbury. When the train drew up, he saw the Count and his
secretary on the platform. They entered a compartment some little
distance away.

At Waterloo he stood at the bookstall for a few moments, looking out for
the Russians with sidelong glances. He saw nothing of them. Hailing a
taxi-cab, he was driven to the Foreign Office, which he reached at a
quarter-past eleven. On entering, he was taken this time to the
Under-Secretary's room.

"Good morning, Mr. Buckland," said the official; "I am sorry to say that
the despatch is not yet ready. News came early this morning which caused
the Secretary to modify his instructions to your chief. He has drafted a
new despatch, which is in course of being translated into cipher. I am
afraid it will not be ready for a couple of hours yet."

"That will give me time to make a few purchases," said Buckland. "I shall
be able to catch the two-twenty!"

"I hope so. It will be a pity to lose half a day.

"I will leave my bag with you, then, and return in good time. By the way,
you don't happen to have heard of a gang of Austrian spies in London?"

"Not a word. Why do you ask?"

"A number of foreigners have been living at Shepperton for a week or two,
and I've an idea they may be shadowing me. The chief of them passes as a
Count Slavianski."

"I never heard of him. Wait a minute."

He touched a bell, and a clerk appeared.

"Ask Mr. Rowlands if he knows anything of a Count Slavianski, now lodging
at Shepperton."

The clerk soon returned.

"Mr. Rowlands heard of the Count this morning, sir," he said, "and has
sent Williams down to inquire."

"Thank you." The clerk disappeared.

"We shall know more presently. Perhaps you had better have a detective or
two with you, as far as Dover at any rate."

"I think not. They would only draw attention to me and show the
importance of my journey. These fellows, if they are spies, no doubt have
agents abroad, and would put them on the qui vive. I had better go
quietly, and try to find some means of throwing them off the scent."

"Just as you please," said the Under-Secretary, with a smile.

Buckland went up Whitehall into the Strand, made his purchases, and
started back again to the National Club. There was no sign of the
foreigners. He took an early lunch, and returned to the Foreign Office at
half-past one. The despatch still not being ready, he sat down to wait.
While so doing an idea struck him. He got some Foreign Office paper, and
amused himself by writing an imaginary despatch in the usual cipher,
jotting down the first words that came into his head. This he sealed up
in a long envelope like those that were ordinarily used, but took the
precaution to make a small mark on it, by which he would be able to
distinguish it from the real despatch.

The minutes flew by. Two o'clock came.

Holding his watch in his hand, he began to doubt his chance of catching
the Paris train. At a quarter past he gave it up. It was half-past before
he was summoned to the Secretary's room.

"You have lost the train," said the Minister. "It was unavoidable, and is
perhaps not altogether unfortunate. The police have just reported a
number of suspicious characters hanging about the termini."

"I fancy I have been shadowed this morning, sir," said Buckland. "A Count
Slavianski has been living at Shepperton for some weeks, with a suite. A
detective has been sent down to make inquiries."

"Indeed! Then it will certainly be inadvisable to charter a special train
and hold up the boat at Dover. We must do nothing to attract attention. I
leave the route entirely to your discretion. A torpedo-boat will be at
Brindisi on Friday, but should circumstances render it necessary for you
to choose some other route, you are perfectly at liberty to do so. One
thing is essential: that you should lose no time."

"Might I have an Admiralty launch to put me across the Channel?" asked
Buckland.

"Certainly. What is your idea?"

"To dodge these fellows, if I can, and join the slow train to Dover at
some little station down the line. Then I could slip out at Dover Town
station, and cut off to the launch."

"That sounds promising. I will telephone to the Admiralty at once."

The arrangement was quickly made. Buckland shook hands with the
Secretary, locked the despatch in his bag, and left the building.

Glancing down Whitehall, he saw one of Count Slavianski's underlings
forty or fifty yards away on the opposite side of the street. He began to
walk in the other direction towards Trafalgar Square, and was not much
astonished to see another of the foreigners hanging about, in an
apparently aimless manner, nearly the same distance away. As he went
slowly towards the Grand Hotel, this man moved on also. Buckland crossed
the road, and halted to look in at a bookseller's window. A glance to the
left showed him that the other man had followed him at about the same
pace. There was no longer the least room for doubt. He was being dogged.

He went on, and glanced down Northumberland Avenue, on arriving at the
corner. At the entrance of the Victoria Hotel stood a large racing
motor-car, with a yellow body. It was empty, and neither Count Slavianski
nor any of his party was to be seen. But Buckland felt certain that it
was the Count's car. "A very keen lot," he thought. Keeping a careful
guard over himself so that he should not betray any sign of consciousness
that he was surrounded by watchers, he walked into the hall of the Grand
Hotel.

"I thought you were never coming," said George, springing up to meet him.
"I've been here hours. You have lost the train.

"Yes. Speak low, and don't look towards the door. I'll tell you all about
it."

They seated themselves on chairs, placing them where there was no danger
of being overheard. Buckland lit a cigarette.

"I had to wait while a new despatch was ciphered," he said. "There's no
doubt that I'm being shadowed, George. The Count and his secretary got in
at Sunbury; their car's outside; and I've just seen two of their men in
Whitehall."

"By gum! the two others are somewhere about. I drove across country to
Richmond, but I believe I saw the yellow car behind me as I came through
Putney. It was a good way behind, and I couldn't be sure of it. I had
enough to do to steer clear of the traffic from Putney on; but, you may
depend on it, they had their eye on me, and they know I've got your
baggage."

"Well, it's pretty clear that they mean business. They're bent on
intercepting my despatch. We know there are six of them; how many more we
can't tell; but it looks as if they've made their plans on a pretty large
scale."

"It must cost a heap of money," said George.

"That's a small matter compared with the value of the information they
hope to get. For every hundred they spend in obtaining news they may save
at million. They mean by hook or crook to find out what England's next
move is to be, and when they take a matter of that sort in hand they
don't do things by halves. I'm certain they have made very complete
arrangements to shadow and run down anyone passing between the Foreign
Office and our agency at Sofia."

"By Jove!" was all that George could utter for a moment. His notion of
it's being what he had called a "lark" had quite vanished. "What will you
do, old man?" he asked at length.

"I think I had better slip out by the back entrance in Craven Street, and
make a dash in a taxi for Herne Hill. You stay here till I 'phone you
from the station; then send the porter with my valise to Charing Cross
and tell him to book it through to Paris by the 9 o'clock. I'll wait at
Herne Hill for the next Dover train."

"That sounds all right. But did they see you come in?"

"You may be sure they did."

"Well, they'll watch for you to come out again."

"They may not know of the back entrance. I'll go and see."

He rose and left the hall. In less than five minutes he was back again.

"One of the fellows is standing at the corner of Craven Street and the
Strand" he said quietly. "There's another, whom I don't recognise,
strolling a little way down the street, and near him there's a taxi with
its flag down."

"Just what you might have expected. You can't get away without being
seen, that's clear."

"Well, I must simply go openly, and take my chance. Where's the gyro-car,
by the way?"

"In the garage."

"Then this is what we'll do. I'll engage a taxi, and tell the chauffeur
to drive northward, and zigzag for a quarter of an hour or so through the
streets between here and Oxford Street. If he's up to his work, it will
be impossible for the Count's motor to keep the taxi in sight. When we're
clear, we'll drive straight to Herne Hill. You must get away as soon as
you can without attracting attention; then run out and make for Herne
Hill too. You'll get along faster than any ordinary motor, because you
can squeeze through the traffic. I hope that I shall draw them all off,
so that they won't trouble about you; but if they see you, you must come
on as fast as you can, with due regard to the speed limit. Pick me up at
Herne Hill, and run me down to Dover; an Admiralty launch will be waiting
for me there. Have you plenty of petrol?"

"Enough to drive from here to Edinburgh. This is going to be great sport
after all."

Maurice beckoned the hall porter and asked him to call a taxi. In half a
minute it was at the door. Maurice walked out slowly, threw the end of
his cigarette away, and, as he stepped in, told the chauffeur to drive to
73, Cavendish Square, the first number and address that came into his
head.

"Beg pardon, sir, there is no number 73," said the driver.

"Oh no! Thirty-seven. Drive slowly." At a glance towards the Victoria
Hotel, Buckland saw that the yellow car was no longer there but he caught
sight of it in a moment drawn up on the south side of Trafalgar Square,
opposite the offices of the Hamburg-American Line. Looking over the
lowered tilt of the taxi-cab he failed to see the car in pursuit, but on
reaching the Haymarket he noticed another taxi-cab about forty yards
behind, and behind that, rapidly overhauling it a small private
motor-car. He was not sure that these were on his track, and determined
to put it to the test.

"Driver," he said through the speaking tube, "I think that taxi behind is
following me, and I want to shake it off. Take all the side streets you
come to; never mind about Cavendish Square; a sovereign if you do it."

The cabman winked. He ran up the Haymarket, was checked by a policeman at
Coventry Street; then, when the traffic was parted, cut across into
Windmill Street, swept round into Brewer Street, turned the corner into
Golden Square at a speed that caused an old gentleman to shake his stick
and call for the police, and so by Beak Street into Regent Street and
presently into Savile Row. Long before this the taxi-cab which had
followed was lost in the traffic.

"Well done," said Buckland. "Now turn back and hurry to Blackfriars
Bridge, and then to Herne Hill. Choose the quietest streets."

He sat well back in the cab, congratulating himself on the success of his
stratagem. The driver made his way by a roundabout course to the Strand,
down Arundel Street to the Temple, and along the Embankment. At the
entrance to De Keyser's Hotel Buckland noticed a man standing with his
hands in his pockets beside a stationary taxi-cab. No sooner had Buckland
passed than the man darted towards the cab, and said a few words to a
person inside. The vehicle instantly started in pursuit across the
bridge, the man who had given the alarm dashing into the hotel.

"Well I'm hanged!" said Buckland to himself; he had watched these
movements intently. The pursuers had evidently guessed that he might make
for one of the southern stations, and had set a watch probably at all the
bridges. He had no doubt that the man who had run into the hotel was now
telephoning to his friends, and the taxi-cab following close behind would
keep him in view. The number of his own cab had almost certainly been
noted as soon as he entered it.

The affair promised to become even more serious than he had expected.
Considering the best course to follow, he decided that there was nothing
better than to make all speed to Herne Hill, and then get George to drive
him straight to Dover. The Admiralty launch would be there awaiting him.
He could cross the Channel at once, while the pursuers would have to wait
for a boat.

The chances of the traffic, and the eagerness of the cabman, enabled him
to outstrip the pursuing cab as soon as he had passed the Elephant and
Castle, and it was not in sight when he reached Herne Hill. There the
gyro-car was awaiting him. It was surrounded by an admiring crowd, and
Buckland wished that he could have chosen a less conspicuous vehicle.
Having paid and tipped his driver he sprang into the car.

"Straight for Dover, George!" he cried.

"Right. I have kept the gyroscopes working, in case anything happened.
Are they on your track?"

"Yes. There's a taxi after me: there it is, not a hundred yards away."

"Well, they can't interfere with you openly. There's no hurry. They'll be
sold when they find that you are not going into the station. Couldn't we
have them arrested?"

"There's no time. I should be wanted as a witness. Besides, there's no
policeman. Now for Dover: you know the road?"

"Yes. We'll give them a run, at any rate." The taxi-cab had by this time
pulled up, but no one had as yet alighted from it. George started the
gyro-car, and the crowd gave a cheer as it ran forward at ten miles an
hour. The occupant of the pursuing cab had now stepped out, and stood on
the pavement watching the departing car with ill-concealed chagrin. He
was a foreigner, but not one of those whom the Bucklands had previously
seen in the suite of Count Slavianski.

"He sees he is no match for us," said George gleefully. "I think we are
safe now."

The suburbs were soon left behind, and as soon as the gyro-car came into
the main Dover Road, away from the bewildering traffic of London, he
increased the speed to twenty miles an hour.

"Remember the limit," said Maurice warningly. "We don't want to be held
up."

"We'll chance it," replied George. "In any case, they'll only take our
name and address, and the Government won't mind paying the fine, I
fancy."

The gyro-car ran with much less noise than a motor-cycle, and being also
much less cumbersome than an ordinary motor-car, it was able to travel at
a high speed without attracting too much attention. Its unusual shape did
indeed arouse a certain curiosity and excitement among pedestrians and
carmen, but they were more interested in the vehicle itself than in any
calculation of its speed. There might, of course, be police traps on the
road, but it was probable that before the police became aware of the
approach of a car at excessive speed, it would have shot past them.

When they had passed through Gravesend, George ventured to increase the
speed to thirty-five miles.

"I can get eighty or more out of it, if you like," he said, and in truth
he was itching to put it to its maximum speed, in defiance of all
regulations.

"I am quite satisfied as it is," said Maurice with a smile. "We are going
faster than the ordinary train, and there's no pursuit."

Here and there the speed had to be reduced in order to avoid the traffic,
but the narrowness of the vehicle enabled it to pass with much less delay
than a motor-car.

"We're nearly halfway," said George, as he slowed down on approaching
Sittingbourne. "I say, old man, why shouldn't I take you all the way to
Brindisi?"

"My dear fellow--"

"Oh I mean it. I can send a wire to Aunt, and get some pyjamas and a
toothbrush in Paris. It would be the jolliest thing out."

This suggestion, which Maurice was at first inclined to scout, started a
train of thought. There was very little doubt that Count Slavianski would
take the first train to Dover, in the expectation of crossing the Channel
by the ordinary boat with Buckland. Having made such elaborate
arrangements, he would not stick at trifles to gain his end. On the 9
o'clock train from Charing Cross there would probably be the Count
himself and several of his men. They would cling to his track as he
journeyed across France, and not until he joined the torpedo-boat at
Brindisi could he feel safe.

Moreover, when he remembered the outrages that had been committed with
impunity on the continental trains, he could not doubt that he would meet
with his greatest dangers on the other side of the Channel. Three or four
desperate men could certainly find or make an opportunity of attacking
him during the long and tedious journey to Brindisi, especially on the
Italian portion of it when the train, as he well knew, crawled along for
twenty-two hours at an average speed of twenty miles. He had his revolver
but that would avail him little if the attack were of the nature of a
surprise, as it assuredly would be. If the train journey could by any
means be avoided, he would have a much better chance of eluding the
trackers, keeping a whole skin and ensuring the safety of his despatch.

"I don't see why we shouldn't try it," he said after a minute's
consideration.

"Good man!" cried George, delighted.

"Don't be in a hurry," proceeded Maurice. "Your licence doesn't run in
France."

"Of course it doesn't; but don't you remember I spent the Easter holiday
in Normandy on a motor-bicycle! I wrote you, didn't I? I've got my
licence for that in my pocket-book, and we'll make that do."

"I foresee the necessity for a little diplomacy," said Maurice, laughing.
"But you haven't any licence at all for Italy."

"That's true, but the Italians will do anything for a tip, won't they? I
hope you've got plenty of money with you: there'll be import and octroi
duties to pay.

"I think I can manage them. As for the licence, we shall see."

"Yes, and I shall say you are not fit for your job if you can't manage a
trifle like that. It will be great fun. With luck we should get to
Brindisi as soon as the train: and if you're game to do without sleep, or
take turns with me at snatching a nap, we'll beat the train."

"The roads in south Italy are pretty bad, you know."

"So are the railways. I'll go bail. Besides, we don't want such a good
road as the ordinary motor. I'm sure we can do it."

"Very well; I'm game, as you put it. There's this advantage, that if we
come to grief--"

"My dear chap, we shan't come to grief; that is unless we are smashed up
by some scorching motorist."

"I wasn't thinking of a smash-up. We may find ourselves held up for want
of a licence, you know, and have no end of trouble. What I was going to
say was that we can join the train anywhere en route. If they find we
don't leave Paris by it, they'll not travel by it themselves. We've
several hours' start of them, allowing for the Admiralty launch, and if
we go straight ahead we shall be a good many miles on our way before the
train starts even; the Turin train doesn't leave Paris until 2.10
to-morrow afternoon. We shall have time for a rest in Paris, and even
then start several hours ahead."

"Ripping, old man. This will be better sport than going to Scotland with
Aunt Muriel. Here's Harbledown; we shall be in Dover in another
three-quarters of an hour."

It was a quarter to four when they left Herne Hill. At twenty minutes
past six they arrived at Dover. They ran straight down to the Admiralty
harbour, where the launch with steam up, was awaiting them. It was a
temporarily awkward matter, getting the gyro-car on to the launch, for no
preparations had been made for that. But British tars are handy fellows.
At a word from the lieutenant ten men, five on each side, lifted the
vehicle bodily and carried it on to the deck. Maurice gave a hurried
explanation to the officer, and scribbled a telegram to Mrs.
Courtenay-Greene to say that George would not be home for a few days. He
handed this to one of the harbour men, the vessel cast off, and the two
brothers mounted to the bridge at the lieutenant's invitation.

Just as the launch was getting under way, George suddenly called
Maurice's attention to a large motor-car dashing down the hill above at a
somewhat dangerous speed. It was coloured yellow.

"Hanged if old Slavianski isn't on our tracks already!" he cried. "By
Jove! I wonder how many policemen he has knocked over!"

The car ran straight on to the quay and pulled up.

"Can you lend me a telescope?" asked Maurice of the officer.

In a few moments a seaman brought a glass from below. Looking through it,
Maurice saw Count Slavianski, his secretary, and two other men standing
beside the car, and speaking to a policeman, whose right arm was
outstretched towards the launch.

"It's rather a joke to think of these foreigners applying to a British
bobby for information about us," said Maurice, handing the glass to his
brother.

Next moment the men sprang into the car again, and drove quickly in the
direction of the inner harbour.

"I hope we've seen the last of them," said George.

"You may be sure we haven't," replied Maurice, who more fully realised
the seriousness of this headlong pursuit. "We must make the most of our
start. The Calais boat lands passengers in time for the train that
reaches Paris at 5.50 in the morning. We shan't have more than a couple
of hours at the most."

"What's in the wind?" asked the lieutenant, whose curiosity had been
aroused by the appearance of the odd-looking gyro-car and the evident
interest of his passengers in the proceedings on shore. And Maurice
Buckland told him as much as he thought proper of the story.



CHAPTER IV--RUNNING THE PLANK


THE Admiralty launch made the Harbour of Calais about a quarter-past
eight. There was a train for Paris waiting at the Gare Maritime, but
learning that it did not arrive until 4.15, the Bucklands decided to
stick to their plan of riding through the night. The production of
George's card of membership of the Automobile Club, and a short and
pleasant interview between the naval lieutenant and the Custom House
officer, sufficed to frank the gyro-car without the payment of import
duty. Having enjoyed a meal on board the launch, the brothers were ready
to start at once and with cordial good-wishes from the officer, and amid
many "He's" and "Ahs" and other exclamations from the onlookers, they set
off on their journey.

The distance from Calais to Paris is a hundred and eighty odd miles.
George had cycled over the route in the previous spring, and knew its
general features. It would be easy he thought, to maintain an average
speed of at least twenty-five miles on a highway kept in such admirable
repair as are all the French main roads, even allowing for slowing down
when passing through villages and towns. The sky was clear, and
illuminated by a half-moon, and the powerful acetylene lamp which he
carried at the front of the car shed its rays many yards ahead. The
interior of the car was lit by two small electric lamps one on each side.

"There's no chance of their catching us is there?" said George, as the
car spun merrily along.

"I think not," replied Maurice. "They will have to wait for the train,
which doesn't get to Paris until 5.50. We ought to be there before four,
so that at the worst we shall have an hour and a half before they can
arrive."

Before they had been two hours on the road they were glad to think that
they had so much margin. George was not accustomed to steering the car at
a rapid pace by night, and Maurice's experience was even less than his
brother's, so that they found it by no means easy to maintain the speed
that George had mentioned. Until they reached Béthune they had a clear
run, but thenceforward they had to slow down more often than they wished.
There were octroi barriers, where they were halted and examined, much to
George's disgust. He found also that the places through which they passed
had quite a different aspect at night from what he remembered of them by
day, and more than once he had to stop to allow Maurice to ask the way of
a gendarme or an innkeeper. At such times the curiosity excited by the
unusual appearance of the car found expression in questions which had to
be evaded rather than answered.

It was growing light by the time they reached the Porte Maillot. Here
they had to submit to an interrogatory by the officer of the gate, and
George smiled discreetly as he witnessed for the first time his brother's
diplomatic manner.

"I never knew you could be so polite," he said, as they ran down the
Avenue de la Grande Armée. "Perhaps it sounds politer in French than it
really is. But it's rotten to have to pay a tax on the petrol we carry."

A few yards from the gate they saw a taxi-cab standing at the side of the
road. The driver was in his seat, and two men were entering the cab as
the gyro-car sped by.

"Early birds-or late," said Maurice.

The street cleaners paused in the work to wonder and admire, and when the
car came to the Place de l'Etoile Maurice turned about to glance back at
an old fellow whose comical expression of face amused him. He noticed the
taxi-cab coming at a good pace behind them; but the road was so broad,
and so clear of traffic, that George drove the gyro-car through the
Champs Elysees at a much higher speed than he would have dared in Hyde
Park, and moment by moment it increased. He turned to the left into the
Rue Royale, then to the right into the Rue St. Honoré, and ran the car
into the garage of the Hotel St. James, where he and Maurice had both
stayed during previous visits to the city. Having arranged for the
replenishment of the petrol tanks and the cleaning of the car, they went
into the hotel to get a wash and brush up, which they much needed after
their long journey over dusty roads. It was half-past four.

Few of the hotel staff had as yet risen, and the travellers might perhaps
have been received with less consideration had not their former visits,
and their generous tips, been remembered. But a few minutes after they
descended to the salle à manger an appetising little breakfast was put
before them.

"What a difference from England!" said George. "I say, Maurice, I'll just
run into the garage to see that things are going all right. The fellow
looked rather sleepy. Pour out my coffee, will you? I shan't be a
minute."

While he was in the garage, he heard the clatter of a horse's hoofs and
the hum of a motor-car in the street; the sounds struck his ear all the
more forcibly because of the peacefulness of the neighbourhood. In mere
unreflecting curiosity he stepped to the door and glanced out. Next
moment he started back, pushed the door outwards until he felt that he
could not be seen, and peeped out through the narrow opening just as the
motorcar passed. There were three vehicles. The first was a large racing
motor, not unlike that with which he had become so familiar at home, but
its colour was a bright green. In it were seated--and the sight sent a
strange thrill through him--Count Slavianski and Major Rostopchin, his
secretary: Behind it came a taxi-cab, and a few yards in the rear of this
a fiacre, the driver of which was gee-hoing and whipping up his horse to
its best pace, with the evident intention of keeping up with the motors
in front. Within this two men were seated. One of them George recognised
as a servant of the Count's; the other's head was at the moment turned
away.

George was thunderstruck. By what means had these persistent foreigners
arrived in advance of the mail?

"Tell me," he said in his best French to the man who was rubbing the car
own, is ere there a train from London at this hour?"

"Ah non, monsieur," replied the man, "but there is a train from Calais.
It arrives at the Gare du Nord at 4.15, an hour and a half before the
London mail."

"A slow train?"

"Certainly, monsieur, a very slow train."

"It must be the train we saw at Calais," said George to himself. "Those
fellows must have caught it: but how on earth did they cross the Channel
so soon?"

He had the presence of mind to show no sign of his consternation and
anxiety, but strolled out of the garage, and then dashed into the salle à
manger.

"I say, Maurice"--he began, but then remembering that the garçon had a
thorough command of English, he checked his impetuous tongue, and sat
down beside his brother, who had already started upon his breakfast.

"Send him to fetch something," he said in a low tone.

"Bring me an omelette aux fines herbes," said Maurice to the waiter.

"Certainly, sir, in five minutes."

"What is it?" asked Maurice, when the man had gone.

"Those fellows are on our track," said George breathlessly. "The whole
gang by the look of it. I have just seen a large green motor, a taxi, and
a fiacre go down the street. The Count and his secretary were in the
first."

"They went by?" said Maurice in amazement.

"Yes."

"Then they don't know our whereabouts, yet," said Maurice, heaving a sigh
of relief. "But it won't be long before they do. The place is full of
German spies, and if this so-called Russian is a German, as I suspect,
he'll soon learn from one of his agents about the appearance of an
odd-looking thing like the gyro-car. Indeed, I shouldn't be surprised if
those fellows I saw get into a taxi just this side of the Porte Maillot
were his men."

"But how did they get here in the time?"

"They must have had a swift vessel with steam up waiting at Dover.
There's no end to their resources when anything big is at stake. We're in
for a race, George."

"You take it pretty coolly," said George, who was quivering with
excitement.

"That's the first lesson I learnt from my chief. 'Never get flustered,'
he dinned into me, We shall have to trust to the speed of your car. They
don't know where we are, nor which way we are going, which is one to us.
Get on with your breakfast; I'll think it out."

He ate his omelet with an air of abstraction. After a few minutes he
called the waiter.

"Have you got a road-guide?" he asked.

"Yes, sir: I will fetch it."

He soon returned with a copy of the Guide Taride. Maurice glanced at the
title page: "Les Routes de France, à l'usage des conducteurs
d'automobiles et cyclistes."

"The very thing. I will buy this, waiter; the proprietor can easily
replace it. It gives everything we want, George."

He turned over the pages until he came to the section dealing with the
roads out of Paris.

"They'll watch the bridges, as they did in London," he said, "but they
can't watch all the gates, unless they have a much larger number of men
than is likely. We mustn't cross the river, so we can't take any of the
three roads to Marseilles; they all go by the Porte de Choisy, and that's
on the other side of the Seine. Here we are: Paris to Melun, forty
kilometres. They don't recommend the first route, by the Porte Daumesnil
and the Bois de Vincennes, so we'll choose that. We shall join the direct
road at Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, thirteen kilometres distant. And the
sooner we start the better. Go and set your gyroscopes working, while I
pay the bill."

It took several minutes to set the gyroscopes running at full speed.
Maurice was anxious to start before this, but George pointed out that
they had better not appear in the street until the car was thoroughly
ready, in case any of the Slavianski scouts were on the watch.

A few minutes after 5 o'clock they set off, running back through the Rue
Royale, thence into the Rue de Rivoli, until, having crossed the Place de
la Bastille, they struck into the Avenue Daumesnil. There was little
traffic as yet in that broad thoroughfare, except for the wagons of
tradesmen and market gardeners coming into the city from the suburbs.

"We mustn't go too fast while we're within the walls," said George, "but
as soon as we're outside I'll let her rip, old man. Keep your eye on the
map and tell me how to steer."

Maurice had opened the map of Paris and spread it on his knees. Directed
by him, George turned into the Rue de Charenton, left the city at the
Charenton gate, after exchanging a pleasant word With the officer, and
then set the are spinning along until they came to the bridge over the
Canal de Marne. Being now beyond the probable risk of interference,
George increased the speed to thirty-five miles an hour, which he
maintained for forty minutes, until they reached the outskirts of Melun.
There the road made a sharp descent.

"Slow down here," said Maurice anxiously.

"This hill is dangerous, according to the Guide, and the pavé is rather
slippery with dew. A sideslip here would break us up."

Reducing speed to fifteen miles an hour, they ran down the hill. Before
they had reached the foot of it they saw, on turning a bend, that the
road about two hundred yards ahead was broken for mending on the
right-hand side--the side on which they were travelling, according to
the rule of the road in France. A thin rope was stretched half-way across
the road, supported on a light iron rod, from which hung a lantern, that
had, no doubt, been lit during the night. It was not yet 6 o'clock, and
no labourers were on the spot; but on the left-hand side of the road,
where there was a space between the excavation and a wall just wide
enough for the passage of an ordinary market cart, a small motor-car was
approaching the gap in the same direction as the gyro-car at a low speed.
There was plenty of time for it to pass through the narrowed portion of
the roadway before the gyro-car overtook it, so George did not reduce his
speed any further, but sounded his hooter as a measure of precaution.

The motor-car crawled on towards the gap, the chauffeur throwing a glance
over his shoulder, as if to see whether he had time to win through before
the vehicle behind overtook him. Moment by moment the space between the
two cars diminished. The gyro-car was within a few yards of the narrow
portion of the road, when suddenly the motor stopped dead, completely
blocking the passage, and the chauffeur sprang from his seat towards the
wall bordering the road on the near side. George involuntarily let out a
cry. There was no time to consult with Maurice nor even to hesitate
between two courses.

The momentum of the gyro-car was so great that it could not be checked
before dashing into the stationary vehicle. To the left was the wall, to
the right an excavation several feet deep. Across it lay a narrow plank,
used, no doubt, by the workmen in wheeling their barrows from one side of
the hole to the other.

It was supported on the nearer side upon some loose earth that had been
thrown up from below. What the support on the further side was George
could not pause to determine. His brother had waxed satirical about his
unpunctuality, but in this critical moment, when there was only an
instant of time for decision, the boy showed a surprising quickness.
There was one desperate chance of avoiding a collision, which, even if it
did not result in personal injury, might at least cripple the car. He
steered straight for the plank.

There was a jolt, a sudden dip, and the sixteen-foot plank sagged under
the weight of the car. A moment of suspense; then there was a more
serious jolt as the front wheel apparently left the plank and struck the
bank of earth on the further side, just high enough to make a passage for
itself through the loose soil at the edge. The two front wheels were
through. After an almost imperceptible interval the third wheel dropped
from the end of the plank on to the earth, and immediately afterwards the
fourth wheel. The gyro-car was safely across.

Almost before either George or his brother could fully realise the narrow
escape they had had, the car was forty or fifty yards down the road.

"Shall we stop?" asked George, panting with relief. "I'd like a word with
that ass."

"No, go on," said Maurice quietly. He was looking back towards the gap.
"They are there!"

"The Count?"

"I don't see him, but there are others. You were too busy to notice them,
but just as we came to the gap I saw several men jump up from behind the
wall and help to hoist the chauffeur over. The whole thing was planned."

"Great Scott! How in the world did they get there in time?"

"I expect they wired or 'phoned from Calais last night. They knew we must
take this road if making for Italy, and their agents must have left Paris
early to find a convenient place for waylaying us. They couldn't have
chosen a better one, though, of course, the opening in the road was
purely accidental. You're a wonder, George. I should never have had the
nerve to do it."

"My dear chap, you would run the car across Niagara on a tight-rope if
you knew it as well as I do. But hang it all I-I hope it isn't damaged.
Don't you think we might pull up for a minute to have a look?"

"We had better go on. The Count will be here before long to see how his
trap had succeeded, and the sooner we are beyond his lordship's reach the
better. We are not out of the wood yet."

"Can't we stop at Melun and put the authorities up to collaring the
fellows as German spies!"

"We've no proof that they are, and it would never do for me, in my
position, to set France and Germany by the ears. It would mean delay,
too. No: our job is to get to Brindisi as soon as we can. Run a few miles
farther; then we'll halt to examine the car; but it goes so easily that I
don't think much damage is done."

"All right. Are they after us?"

"There's no sign of them. We win the trick."



CHAPTER V--ACROSS THE ALPS


IT was still so early in the morning that the gyro-car ran through Melun
without attracting attention, except from a few market-people and a
priest on the way to church. Maurice inquired the way to Sens of a
wagoner, and they mounted the hill towards the village of Sivry at a
speed of twenty miles an hour. On reaching level ground again George
increased the speed, and before 7 o'clock arrived at the crest of the
long hill descending to Montereau. The morning sun shed a brilliance over
the town, which had scarcely yet awaked to activity; and as the
travellers coasted down the hill, they forgot their excitement for a few
moments as their eyes delighted in the spectacle of river, church, and
castle.

There being still no sign of pursuit, they halted at a blacksmith's and
alighted. The clang of hammer on anvil ceased, and the smith, attracted
by the sound of the engines, came to his door.

"Hé, messieurs!" he said on beholding the gyro-car balanced on its four
wheels, "comment ce diable de machine se tient-il debout?"

Maurice laughingly explained, while George stopped to examine the wheels.
He found that the tyre of the foremost of them was gashed. Luckily he had
a spare tyre in the car, and, replacing the injured one with assistance
from the smith, he was ready to set off again in a few minutes.

On leaving Montereau they spun along the excellent road at the rate of
thirty-five miles an hour.

"I presume they have a speed limit in France," said Maurice, warningly.

"Oh yes, thirty kilometres. Every town can fix its own, I believe, and
it's as low as six kilometres in some, but we needn't bother about that.
There are no bobbies on the roads here, with stop-watches."

"But there's a penalty, I suppose?"

"No doubt, but I don't believe they prosecute unless you do some damage.
Far more sensible than our ridiculous regulations."

"Mieux vaut prévenir que guérir," said Maurice.

"What's that mean?"

"Your ignorance is deplorable. Haven't you heard that prevention is
better than cure?"

"That's all rot: you don't have all your teeth pulled to prevent
toothache. I wonder the French have such a proverb. It's our confounded
British caution that let them get ahead of us in motoring and aviation.
And look here, Maurice, don't for goodness' sake talk French to me. Keep
it for emergencies. I can't stand it."

At Sens they waited only to purchase a spare tyre and to swallow a plate
of soup at the Buffet. Then they set off again, intending to get a
substantial déjeuner at Dijon. Both were rather sleepy, and as the
temperature increased Maurice began to doze. George took advantage of
this to spin along at a much higher speed than before. The road was so
good, running almost all the way through a valley, that the gyro-car
travelled with as little vibration, noise and dust as a motor-car of the
best make going at half its speed.

It was a little past twelve o'clock when George came in sight of a large
town, which he guessed was Dijon. He nudged Maurice, exclaiming:

"Here we are! I'm desperately hungry, and now's the time for you to air
your French."

"Surely we're not at Dijon already! It's--let me see"--he turned over
the pages of his Guide--"it's over three hundred kilometres from Paris--a
hundred and eighty miles. You must have been tearing along at a
terrific pace."

"Not fast enough to wake you. You don't snore very loud, old man; but I
haven't had to use my hooter."

Maurice ignored his brother's impudence.

"This Guide is all very well," he said, "but it doesn't name any hotels.
I shall have to inquire."

"Well, there are plenty of people about, staring at us with all their
eyes. Ask that dear old Sister of Mercy there: did you ever see such a
happy-looking old lady!"

But here a red-trousered gendarme came up and requested Monsieur to show
his certificat de capacité. George was producing his motor-bicycle
licence, and a corner of it was visible, when Maurice slipped a franc
into the man's hand and asked him to direct him to an hotel.

"Ah! Monsieur is English!" said the gendarme. "There is a good hotel in
the Place Darcy to Monsieur's left. Merci bien monsieur."

"As you've driven so fast," said Maurice, as they went in the direction
indicated, "we ought to have plenty of time for a decent meal, even if
the Count is still after us. I'm afraid there won't be time for you to
have a nap."

"Oh! I'll take my turn when we start again. I think I can trust you to
drive--for a few miles at any rate."

For seven francs they had a capital dejeuner at the hotel. When they had
finished, George had the machine oiled, and bought a supply of petrol,
and about 1 o'clock they started for the next stage of their journey,
Beaune, thirty-six kilometres distant.

"Now, old boy, it's up to you," said George, as they left the town behind
them. "The road is quite flat, and we'll get along all right if you're
careful. Wake me if anything happens."

Maurice had driven the car once or twice at home, so that he undertook
the piloting without any tremors. But, being cautious by nature and
training, he contented himself with a speed of twenty miles. It was more
than an hour before he reached Beaune. George was fast asleep, so his
brother made no halt, but ran on at the same pace along an equally level
road for another two hours. Then, just after passing the village of
Romenay, where for the first time in more than fifty miles the road
undulated, he heard the characteristic hum of a motor-car some distance
behind. The gyro-car itself, moving at a comparatively low speed made so
little noise that he was aware of the sound almost as soon as if he had
been walking.

The road was clear, and, keeping his hand on the steering wheel, he
ventured to look round. A considerable quantity of dust was rising, and
through this cloud he was for a few moments unable to see whether the
motor was actually travelling the same road or not. But going round a
slight curve in the direction from which the breeze was blowing, he saw,
as the dust was carried aside, a motor-car running at a great rate
towards him about half a mile away. He could take only a fleeting glance,
the alternate dip and rise of the road necessitating watchfulness; but
that glance sufficed to tell him that the car was running at a much
higher speed than his own.

He wakened George.

"There is a motor behind us," he said. "Just take a look at it."

George was up in an instant.

"There's so much dust that I can't be sure of the colour of it," he said,
"but it's a powerful car, and gaining us. What's your speed?" He glanced
at the indicator. "Twenty! quite lady-like, upon my word. Let me get back
to my place."

"I don't like the idea of running away" said Maurice. "It may not be the
Count's car at all."

"Prevention is better than cure, as you reminded me a while ago," said
George with a grin. He looked back along the road again. "By gum!" he
cried, "it's coming at a spanking pace. It must be a racer. Better be on
the safe side. I'll drive; you keep your eye on it. You may be able to
see the colour of it when we come to a curve."

They exchanged places. George immediately increased the speed to forty
miles. At that rate he dashed through the village of Mantenay,
outstripping a train that was running along the line. Farm labourers
trudging home from the fields pressed into the hedges to avoid the car,
and at St. Julian, a mile and a half further, George narrowly escaped
dashing into a flock of geese, which waddled off into the village pond
uttering shrill cries of alarm.

"Better be careful," said Maurice.

"Oh, geese don't matter. I killed one near Caudebec at Easter, and the
owner came up in great excitement with a gendarme. But the gendarme only
shrugged his shoulders and said, as near as I could make out 'It is
forbidden to pasture geese by the roadside.'"

Maurice smiled.

"Pasturing geese is distinctly good," he said. Again the road was quite
level.

"It is still gaining, very rapidly now," said Maurice, who caught
fleeting glimpses of the motor through rifts in the cloud of dust. "And
it is green as grass!"

"Well, I hope the Count likes our dust," said George. "He must be
getting his fill of it. We'll go a little faster."

He advanced the speed-lever, and increased the pace to fifty, and finally
sixty miles an hour, at which rate the car dashed through Javat. The
horse attached to a market-wagon there took fright, and galloped into a
by-road only just in time to avoid a collision. The kilometre stones
flashed by at two a minute. A Signpost with a staring warning "Allure
modérée," at the entrance to Montrevel, forced George to reduce his speed
to fifteen kilometres; but since this applied equally to the pursuing
motor he did not care a rap for that, as he said. By the time they
reached Bourg there was no sign of the motor, but when they had run up
the narrow wooded valley of Alberine beyond Ambérieu, Maurice, looking
back, descried the pursuer rushing along at a reckless speed, its dust
trailing behind like the smoke of a steam-engine.

"They'll lose up-hill," said George. "We have the better of them there.
But it's lucky the road is dry and pretty straight. If it were wet I
should have to slow down to avoid skidding."

The road now undulated frequently, the slopes in some places being very
steep. They dashed along beside a picturesque lake; then, a little
distance ahead, they saw a level crossing, and a man in the act of
shutting the gates. George sounded his hooter and increased the speed.
The man hesitated, looking up the railway line. Before he could make up
his mind the car raced through.

A few miles further on they came to another level crossing. Here the
gates were already shut. Continuous hooting failed to bring out the
gate-keeper, and George had perforce to pull up.

"Another chance for your French, old man," he cried to Maurice. "Skip out
and run to the cabin yonder. Tip the man handsomely, and he'll let us
through."

Maurice sprang out and hurried to the gate-keeper's hut. The man was
eating his supper. Maurice lifted his hat, and, jingling the coins in his
pocket, said:

"Will you be good enough to open the gates?"

"Impossible, Monsieur; a train is due" replied the man.

"We have a little wager with some German gentlemen in a green car
behind," proceeded Maurice, pouring out the words with extraordinary
quickness. "They say 1870 is forgotten: they can run across France as
quickly and easily as a Frenchman. They have only to call, and a
Frenchman will spring to do their bidding. We don't believe that, we
English. You'll let us through, I'm sure, and we shall be able to show
our German friends that the entente cordiale stands for something."

Before he was half-way through this speech the gate-keeper had moved to
the door. By the time it was ended he was running to the gate: he looked
up the line; the train was not in sight, and in less than half a minute
the gates were thrown open.

"Conspuez les Allemands!" said the man as the gyro-car ran across.

The moment it had passed he closed the gates, and stood looking up the
road for the--impudent Germans.

A few kilometres beyond Aix-les-Bains the road was blocked by the gates
of another crossing. Here Maurice told the same story, and the keeper
entered into the spirit of the trick even more thoroughly than the other.
The train would have passed, he thought, before the German car could
arrive, and he would have no reason for keeping the gates closed against
it.

"But no matter, Monsieur," he said. "If no reason, I can find an excuse.
I have a little shunting to do. The Germans shall see!"

Pocketing Maurice's coin with a cheerful grin, he shut the gates behind
the gyro-car and re-entered his cabin.

Evening dusk was falling; it would soon be dark. Maurice was anxious to
cross the Italian frontier that night. The little town of Modane, where
he must necessarily stop to deal with the Customs officers, was still
more than a hundred kilometres ahead. It might not be so easy there as it
had been at Calais to get the gyro-car passed. Maurice was ignorant of
the regulations, whereas he had little doubt that the pursuers were well
informed on all essential points.

"The worst of it is," he said to George, "they are so horribly persistent
that we hardly dare stop even for a meal. They are determined to run us
down."

"Couldn't we lay a trap for them and smash up their old motor?" suggested
George.

"It's too dangerous a game to play. We might trap the wrong people. And I
confess I take a sporting interest in the race. We don't want to harm the
fellows; they are only doing what they are paid for. I regard it as a
match between our Government and the Austrian, and so much the more
credit to us if we play the game."

"They won't scruple about playing the game."

"That hardly absolves us, does it? Their only chance of getting my
despatch is to overhaul us and take it by main force so that it's
essential that we should keep ahead of them. We have managed to delay
them at the level crossings; we must see what we can do at Modane, and if
you're game, and we get through, we'll go right on to Turin."

"Don't you want your dinner?" asked George.

"I am ravenous. We ought to have gained an hour or two by the time we
reach Turin, and can then get a meal. Look out George' this is rather
steep."

They were descending the hill into Chambery, and here, for the first time
since leaving Paris, they were delayed at the octroi barrier. It was not
yet dark, and hearing the hum of the approaching car, the official
stepped out of his little house into the road and held up his hand as a
signal to stop.

"There is no tax on petrol here; why can't they leave us alone?" grumbled
George, as he brought the car to a standstill.

"They like to show their authority, I suppose," replied Maurice. "Treat
them civilly, and all will be well."

"Permit me, Monsieur," said the man courteously, lifting his hat.

"Certainly, Monsieur," said Maurice, rising in his seat.

The man looked into the car to see if the travellers had anything taxable
concealed: then poked a bamboo stick down among the air-chambers, George
being on thorns lest he should puncture them. Finding nothing suspicious,
he smiled pleasantly, lifted his hat again, and waved his hand to
indicate that the car might proceed.

"Confounded red tape!" growled George, as he re-started, after lighting
his lamp. "Now I'll let her rip. What sort of road is it, Maurice? Switch
on the light and look at your Guide."

"It's a hundred and one kilometres to Modane, a gradual ascent all the
way. We're coming among the mountains."

"That's all right. We'll beat Slavianski easily, going up-hill. And how
much farther to Turin?"

"A hundred and twelve: that's about a hundred and twenty-seven miles
altogether."

"Well, we'll do it in under four hours if the Customs don't cause
trouble. We ought to get to Turin about eleven; there'll be no traffic on
the road at this time of night; then we'll have dinner, and follow it
with supper: I feel as if I hadn't eaten for a week."

They reached Modane in an hour and a half, and halted at the Customs
station. Maurice, feeling very stiff, alighted from the car, and met the
official at the door. He had already ascertained from his Guide that the
dues on motor-cars were levied by weight, but that motor-cycles were
passed on payment of a fixed due of forty-two francs.

"Monsieur will place the car on the weighing-machine," said the official,
politely.

"Certainly, Monsieur, if you insist," replied Maurice: "but, as you
perceive, our car is of the nature of a motor-cycle."

The man walked towards it.

"It is as you say, Monsieur," he said, staring at the car. "But, pardon
me, it runs on four wheels: ma foi! it stands on four wheels! I have
never seen such a thing before: it is not mentioned in the regulations."

"No, it is a new invention," said Maurice courteously, as if he were
addressing a prince.  "It is, as you see, a sort of double bicycle, and
is kept upright when stationary by the gyroscopes spinning at the back
there. You would like to look at them, no doubt."

"Don't waste time," said George in English.

"It will save time in the end. Stop the spinning and let down the
supports."

The official was vastly interested in the novel mechanism. Maurice
explained it as well as he could, perpetrating several howlers, as George
informed him afterwards; when he suggested that, as there was no
provision in the regulations, the law might be satisfied on the payment
of the sum for a motor-cycle.

"But it is double, Monsieur. I must ask, I fear, for eighty-four francs."

"Very well," said Maurice, handing over the money.

"Now, Monsieur," said the official, "I must make out the certificate for
importation temporaire. You will give that up when you leave the country,
and the sum you have deposited will be returned to you."

"Do you think you could stretch a point, and let us go without that! We
are in a great hurry, and I will tell you why. I am proceeding on an
important mission for the English Government. There is a party of
Austrian gentlemen pursuing me in a green motor-car, hoping to defeat me.
They know your country thoroughly, every pass and byroad; it used to
belong to Austria, as you know, and I think they would like to get it
again."

The man let out an exclamation in Italian: there are no friends of
Austria in Italy!

"But I think that while you have your Alpine troops on the frontier,"
pursued Maurice, "the Austrians had better remain on their own side of
the Alps."

"Per Bacco! I agree with you, Monsieur. These Austrians are coming behind
you?"

"Yes. They have chased us from Paris. Perhaps when they arrive you would
suggest that we are proceeding to Venice?"

"Ah! I perceive. Yes, I will do so. You may pass without a certificate if
you will take the risk. But you should have a green light as well as a
white; it is the regulation,"

"We will get one to-morrow, We must take our chance to-night. What is the
speed-limit in Italy?"

"Forty kilometres in open country, Monsieur; twelve in town. At night
fifteen."

"Thank you. George was smiling. Maurice thanked the official, profusely,
and with mutual compliments the interview closed.

"Fifteen!" said George, as they set off again. "Fifteen be hanged! we'll
do forty at the least," and at that speed he set the car spinning along
the mountainous winding road that connects Modane with Turin. There was
little but the coolness of the air to tell them that they were now
crossing the Alps. It was too dark to see the form of Mont Cenis towering
above them, and even George felt a little regretful that he could not get
a glimpse of the mountains. They reached Turin soon after eleven, and at
the Hotel Europa did full justice to the excellent repast with which they
were provided at extraordinarily short notice.



CHAPTER VI--A NARROW MARGIN


THE Bucklands spent very little time over their supper at the Hotel
Europa. Not knowing how far behind the pursuers were, Maurice hid under
his imperturbable mien a very real anxiety. George, for his part, was
much concerned about the gyro-car. After so long a journey as he had just
made, a railway engine would have a thorough overhauling; but there was
no time for more than a rapid examination of his mechanism. He required
petrol and oil; the hour was late, and no doubt all the establishments
where these essentials could be procured had been closed long ago. It was
just possible that they might be obtained in the garage of the hotel; so,
after satisfying his hunger, he left Maurice to attend to the wants of
his inanimate steed.

Maurice, as he sipped his coffee, found himself wishing that someone had
invented a means of seeing in the dark, or of hearing at immense
distances. If he had possessed either of those as yet hitherto unattained
powers, he might have indulged in the sleep he needed, with a mind at
ease.

A quarter of an hour after the gyro-car ran the plank at Melun, Count
Slavianski (whose name in private life was Max Mumm) arrived on the scene
with his so-called secretary, who was neither a major nor a Rostopchin,
but a German ex-sergeant of cavalry, by name Ernst Böhmer. The Count--let
him enjoy his brief ennoblement--was furious at the failure of his
trap. As Maurice Buckland surmised, he had telephoned from Calais to his
agents in Paris instructing them to watch the southern road, and to
devise any plan that seemed good to them for stopping the gyro-car. The
unusual shape of that unique vehicle made its identification easy, and
the Paris agents laid their trap at the spot where the chance breaking of
the road seemed to promise certain success. Perhaps the Count's anger was
the more intense because he had no reasonable ground for complaint. His
instructions had been carried out, and if he had not wasted time by
waiting for information from his emissaries at the bridges, he would
almost certainly have reached Melun before the men he was pursuing.

His stratagem having failed, there was nothing to do but to continue the
pursuit.

Without doubt the gyro-car would keep to the main road, and in fact the
Count had tidings of it at every place where his racing-car had to slow
down in obedience to local regulations. When he caught sight of it for
the first time a mile or two beyond Romenay he exulted. If he could only
catch it before it reached Turin, he felt very pretty sure that at some
lonely spot on the mountain road he and his three companions in the car
would have the diplomat at his mercy.

But at the level-crossing near Le Viviers he suffered an exasperating
check. The gates were closed. Insistent appeals failing to bring the
gate-keeper from his cabin, one of the men got out of the car to open the
gates himself. But a prudential management had ordained that the
apparatus should not be easily manipulated by the first-comer, and the
man was still fumbling with it when the keeper appeared from behind a
hedge, and with great indignation demanded what he meant by interfering
with the property of the railway.

Then ensued a brisk and heated altercation in which the honours lay with
authority. It is wonderful what assurance even the meanest office gives.
The Count demanded that the gates should be opened instantly. The
gate-keeper replied that not for the President of the Republic himself
would he open them until the train had passed. The Count produced his
card.

"Germans!" muttered the official, sniffing.

"But no; we are Russians!" cried the exasperated Count.

"I know those Russians!" replied the man grimly.

The Count produced a five-franc piece;

"Hé quoi! you think to bribe me!" said the scandalised official.

"Really, my good man," said the Count, struggling to command his temper,
"you exceed your duty."

"Ah! Monsieur perhaps knows his duty well. Where is Monsieur's certificat
de capacité?"

"What right have you to ask that?"

"Never mind," said the Frenchman.

With an oath the Count drew from his pocket-book the licence headed
"République Française." The man took it and scrutinised it carefully,
comparing the little photograph pasted on its left-hand side with the
original before him, wrinkling his brow as he read the name Alexis
Slavianski, the birthplace, Borisoglebsk, and the other details required
by the authorities. This wasted another five minutes. Then the Count lost
his temper utterly, and exchanged a wordy war with the gate-keeper, which
had no other result than to waste more time. It was twenty minutes before
the train ran by, and not till then did the man open the gates for the
passage of the motor-car.

"We have forgotten 1870, have we?" he said with a chuckle, as the car
disappeared in a cloud of dust.

At every crossing the Count had the same experience, with slight
variations, chiefly against him, in the period of waiting. His eagerness,
impatience, and finally abuse convinced the gate-keepers that they were
serving their country in delaying him, and the absence of other traffic
on the road enabled them to give free play to their patriotism without
inconveniencing their fellowmen. Consequently the green motor reached
Modane nearly two hours after the gyro-car had left it.

At Modane occurred the worst check of all. The Customs officer took a
long time in weighing the car, and then, by an unfortunate
miscalculation, asked for a hundred francs more than was due. He demanded
to see the Count's certificat de capacité, and made out with great
deliberation a similar licence for Italy. He was equally deliberate in
preparing the certificate for importation temporaire, and the Count, fume
as he might, had to wait for that document. Every impatient word he spoke
lengthened the delay; the officer broke a pen, made a blot which he
erased until not a vestige of it was visible, all with the most charming
courtesy and frank apologies. He entertained the Count with a full
description of an extraordinary car which had passed through on the way
to Venice a little earlier, noting with keen enjoyment the exasperation
which the traveller, weary after his long journey, vainly tried to
conceal. By the time the motor-car once more took up the pursuit, the
Bucklands had finished their supper, filled their tanks, and run forty
miles beyond Turin in the direction of Venice.

This was, however, only a blind. If the Count could be deluded into
rushing on to Venice, so much the better. About forty miles from Turin
George turned into the road leading southward through Alessandria to
Genoa. It was a beautiful night, the air crisp and clear, the sky a dark
blue vault spangled with stars, and a rising moon shedding a white
radiance over everything. The road was good and fairly level. The
brothers took turns at driving and napping, and kept up an even pace of
about thirty miles an hour. It was five o'clock in the morning when they
reached Genoa. Putting up at a quiet hotel where Maurice had formerly
stayed, they got a bath, breakfasted, and spent some time in studying the
map. In Italy the Guide Taride no longer served them, and they had to
choose their own route. They decided to run to Rome by way of Pisa and
Leghorn, then to Naples, and thence across the Peninsula to Brindisi. By
six o'clock they were again on the road.

"This is the Grand Tour with a vengeance," said George as they sped
along, with the blue Mediterranean on their right, and on their left the
olive-clad slopes of the Apennines. "I should like to do it at a more
leisurely pace."

"I don't know. I find the speed exhilarating."

"That's a confession for a cautious old diplomat! Well, if you like it
you shall have it. There's no one about."

He  opened the throttle, and soon had the car spinning along at nearly
seventy miles an hour.

"Look out for the turn ahead," said Maurice anxiously, after a minute or
two.

"All right."

He threw off the power, but there was scarcely any slackening of speed.
He clapped on the brakes gently; the bend in the road was very near. It
happened to occur at a little hollow, partly overshadowed by trees, and a
few yards of the roadway were covered With a film of greasy mud. The
brakes, now fast set, were unequal to the demand upon them. Experienced
motorist as he was, George had the sickening feeling to which the most
hardened never becomes accustomed; the car was skidding. It swung round;
he managed to steer it past a stone post at the roadside, shaving the
obstacle by an inch; and then it seemed to vault the shallow ditch and
was finally brought up in the middle of a hedge of brambles. But it
maintained its balance.

"This is more excoriating than exhilarating," said Maurice coolly, as he
passed his handkerchief over his scratched cheeks. "You steered
wonderfully, but I think for the rest of our journey we had better be
respectable, even if we are dull; we can't afford time for repairs."

"You're right, as usual, old man. By jove I that was a squeak. I had the
most ghastly feeling. I hope there's no buckling."

They got out and examined the car. There was no apparent injury. Dragging
it back to the road they resumed their journey, content to jog along, as
George described it, at thirty miles an hour.

It was a pleasant ride along that coast road, through fishing villages,
with the sea; sparkling in the early sunbeams, on one side, and groves of
oranges, lemons, and olives on the other. Here was a row of date-palms,
there an avenue of plane trees, and at intervals brightly decorated
Villas gleaming amid abundant greenery. The road began to be populous
with fishers, donkey-drivers, girls going to the lace factories,
barefooted young labourers on their way to the vineyards and olive-yards.
They stopped to gaze at the gyro-car; a youth would raise a. "Viva!" a
girl wave a coloured kerchief--smiling, happy people in a smiling
country.

Presently Pisa hove in sight, with her marble cathedral and leaning tower
gleaming white in the sunlight. But the travellers could not wait for
sightseeing; they ran across the Arno and along the pine-clad road to
Leghorn, passed through this grimy seaport, on and on until, as they
topped a rise, the battlements of the fortress at Volaterra struck upon
their view. Through the narrow, steep street of Colle, crowded with
children, who shrieked as they tumbled out of the way; along the
cypress-shaded road, winding over and around the hills; and they see the
towers of Siena. Still they do not halt, until one of the front tyres
burst with a loud report, and they had to stay at a little village while
it was replaced.

They profited by the enforced stop to take their luncheon. The village
inn had little to provide them except hard brown bread and eggs fried in
butter, with a sourish wine for beverage. But they were hungry enough not
to be fastidious. After a halt of half-an-hour they set off again, and
ran along steadily through the hot afternoon until, about four o'clock,
they came to Rome.

Here they stayed an hour for an early dinner. The next important stage
would be Naples, and as they could not hope to reach that city until past
midnight, they thought it best to have a full meal before going on. They
bought petrol and two new tyres at the British Stores, and left at 5
o'clock. Six hours later they came to Naples, having again slept and
driven in turn. There they took a light meal. The mail train, as Maurice
knew, arrived at Brindisi at 11.30 a.m. It was possible that the Count
himself or if not he some of his men, had boarded 'the train, and since
it was all-important that it should not reach the port before them, they
refused to yield to the solicitation of fatigue, and started at 2 o'clock
in the morning for the ride across from sea to sea.

They had an easy run to Eboli, but after crossing the Sele river, when
dawn was breaking, they found the road difficult. The soil was loose;
there was scarcely half a mile level; the ascents and descents were steep
and dangerous. George was in a constant state of anxiety lest a tyre
should be punctured, and drove more slowly than at any previous part of
the journey. They had almost forgotten the pursuers. What was their
amazement and consternation, as they began the ascent of a steep
acclivity, when, hearing the sound of a motor behind them, they turned
their heads and beheld the green motor flashing at headlong pace down the
incline they had just descended.

George instantly threw open the throttle, and the gyro-car raced up the
hill at a speed of forty miles. The motor was little more than fifty
yards in the rear when it reached the foot of the hill. Then it lost
ground, but as soon as it arrived at the crest it picked up its speed
again. It was a tremendous race. For many miles the road switchbacked
among the hills. Now the motor would gain, now the gyro-car. Wherever he
could, George ran along the fairly level foot-track by the roadside, thus
escaping the loose shingles of the ill-kept highway. Here the motor-car
could not follow it. Fortunately there was little traffic. At one point
he swerved suddenly to avoid a man driving a diminutive donkey. Warned by
the hooter, the man snatched up the donkey, and carried it to the side
out of harm's way. Dense volumes of dust rose behind the gyro-car flying
full in the faces of the pursuers; but ever and anon the hum of their car
could be heard, and the Bucklands could not but admire the reckless
courage of the Count and his party in maintaining so high a speed on so
rough a road.

Through Potenza both vehicles rushed like whirlwinds, separated by only a
few hundred yards. The speed-limit was set utterly at defiance. Then the
switchbacking began again, the dips occurring at eyen shorter intervals.
The road would drop several hundred feet within half-a-mile; in ten miles
there were as many as sixteen steep ups and downs. Sometimes the green
motor was left out of both sight and hearing, and then George would hope
that it had broken down. But it always reappeared whenever an abrupt
curve forced him to slacken speed for fear of skidding, even though in
his excitement he took the corners at a pace that he would not have
dreamed of risking a few hours earlier. The gyro-car had always this
advantage in the race: that it was capable of higher speed than the motor
when pressed. It was only a question of taking risks, and neither Maurice
nor George was unready to do this.

The sun was now beating down fiercely on the travellers, and gilding the
dust-cloud that almost continuously hid the pursuers from view. But the
heat was tempered by the rush of air as they whirled through it, and at
these altitudes the air itself was cool. As the gyro-car spun along, the
few pedestrians whom it met or overtook turned to gaze at it in
amazement. Mile after mile was covered until at Ginosa nearly
three-quarters of the distance between Naples and Brindisi had been
completed.

"We shall do it!" cried George jubilantly, as they ran down the hill a
few miles farther on.

Hardly had he spoken when he was suddenly conscious that the power had
given out. The car ran on for some distance by its own momentum, but it
was only too clear that the engine had ceased to work. With a smothered
exclamation George brought the car to a standstill, let down the
supports, and sprang out. Maurice listened anxiously; there was no sound
from behind. Had the green car broken down too?



CHAPTER VII--AN ACT OF WAR


FOR a brief, breathless moment George almost lost his head. Then, pulling
himself together, he said:

"We can't go on, Maurice. We must get the car out of the road before
those fellows come up."

There was nobody in sight of whom to ask assistance. But a little way
down the road Maurice spied a narrow by-lane.

"Can you put the engine to rights?" he asked.

"I can have a shot at it," replied George.

"The ignition is all right; there may be something wrong with the
compression or the carburettor."

"Well, let us wheel the machine down that by-lane and hope the Count will
run by and not discover us, though that's hardly likely when he doesn't
see our dust."

"I hope to goodness he's had a smash," said George as they wheeled the
car as fast as possible down the by-way. It was narrow, but not so narrow
that a motor-car could not follow it. It was also stony, and broken by
deep ruts; but George was able to pick a track for the gyro-car, and the
two pushed it for about a kilometre until they were out of sight from the
highway. Then George stripped off his coat and began to examine the
engine, while Maurice walked lit few yards back to a spot whence he could
see the road.

Almost before he got there he heard the fast-approaching sound of the
motor-car. A minute later he saw it dash by the end of the lane.
Evidently the pursuers had not yet discovered that the gyro-car was no
longer in front of them. But they were rushing at such a pace that the
absence of dust ahead must soon make them suspect the truth, and then it
was hardly doubtful that they would cast back and look about for tracks.
It happened just as he expected. Within five minutes he heard the
returning hum: the motor passed slowly back. Two men were walking beside
it, examining the road. They discovered the track of the gyro-car turning
into the lane, jumped into the motor-car, which swung round and began to
run towards the place where Maurice stood concealed.

"They fancy we have taken a short cut," said Maurice to himself; "they
would come on foot if they thought we had broken down."

It was soon clear that the motor was in difficulties. The road became
rougher the farther it proceeded. It jerked and jolted over the stones
and into the ruts, going quickly, at the imminent risk of overturning, or
of an axle breaking. Its pace was soon reduced; for a moment or two it
came to a stop, but started again immediately. Maurice, keeping out of
sight, did not report progress to George for fear of flustering him: The
boy was working busily inside the engine.

As the seconds passed, Maurice became more and more anxious. The pursuers
would soon come in sight of him; then they would instantly guess that the
gyro-car had broken down and the two brothers would stand a poor chance
against four determined and unscrupulous men in a wild country. He ran
back; George had heard the throb of the approaching car, and called him
with a low whistle.

"A few seconds, and we'll be all right," he said.

At that moment the motor came in sight, moving now at less than a
walking-pace. Two hundred yards separated pursuers and pursued. The Count
and two of his followers sprang from the car and rushed towards the
gyro-car. George slammed down the casing and started the engine. Maurice
was already in his place. In a moment George was beside him. He pulled
over the gear lever, depressed the pedal, and the car was off. The Count
was now within twenty yards of them. When he saw George spring into the
car he whipped out his revolver and fired shot after shot; but his haste
and the movement of the car ruined his aim. George had already declutched
and changed into the second speed. The car gathered way, and, running
within a wide rut, in less than a minute was out of sight.

"Won by a neck!" said George with a gay laugh.

"By a head, I should say," remarked Maurice, "a head with brains in it. I
had no idea you were so expert a mechanician. What was wrong with the
engine?"

"The carburettor. The nozzle was foul, so that the petrol couldn't get
into the float-chamber fast enough. It didn't take me long to put it
right when I discovered what was wrong: that always takes time."

"We had a lucky escape. Now we really owe a good deal to the Count. He
will have to back his car to the main road; there's no room to turn it,
and to follow us is impossible; the road gets worse and worse. We get off
through his error of judgment. He ought to have run straight on and cut
us off from Brindisi. Now, barring another accident, he is too late."

"We may lose ourselves."

"Oh no! According to the map, this road runs to Castellane, which is not
very far from the main road. It makes a sharp turn a few miles from where
we left it. We shall find somebody there who'll direct us, and then we
shall only be about sixty miles from Brindisi."

They ran on to Castellane, thence regained the highway below Mottola, and
the road being fairly level, reached Taranto in twenty minutes. There
they halted for a few minutes to drink a glass of lemonade, then made by
way of Francavilla for Brindisi, where they arrived at 11.20, ten minutes
before the mall train was due.

"Do you remember that Virgil died here?" asked Maurice, as they passed
the column marking the end of the Appian Way.

"Poor chap!" said George. "He might have chosen a cleaner town. Perhaps
it was cleaner in his time; it is a disreputable-looking place now."

The streets were indeed squalid in the extreme. Here and there stood
half-finished buildings, the ground floor complete, but falling into
decay. On open patches heaps of garbage polluted the air, and the harbour
itself had an air of neglect and stagnation.

The gyro-car was soon surrounded by a motley crowd, apparently of many
nationalities. Maurice rejected the officious offers of shabby touts to
guide him to an hotel, and George steered direct for the harbour. As good
luck would have it, they saw an English naval officer walking along by
the harbour wall. Maurice sprang out of the car and accosted him.

"Yes, I am in command of the torpedo-boat wired for from London," he
said, in reply to Maurice's question.

"My name is Buckland. My brother and I have come across the continent in
his gyro-car. We want to get on to Constantinople without delay."

"I'm sorry to say we've had a mishap. My vessel went aground outside the
harbour in the mist this morning. If we can get her off, it will be two
or three days before she can put to sea. Understanding that the job was
urgent, I wired to Malta, but I doubt whether another vessel can arrive
within a couple of days; they are all at manoeuvres. They might recall
one by wireless, but she would certainly have to return to Malta for
fuel. It's rather a bad job."

"It is indeed. We have been chased all the way by a gang of German or
Austrian spies, who want to get hold of a despatch I have. We only got
away by the skin of our teeth; no doubt they'll be here before long."

"The deuce they will!" said the officer. "Did they molest you at all?"

Maurice related the circumstances of the breakdown, and how the pursuers
had fired at them.

"That's good enough. Charge them with assault on the highway. The
authorities here will take care of them."

"I'm afraid I can't afford the time. It would mean endless delays, and
I'm sorry to say we haven't quite clean hands ourselves--we don't
possess a licence."

"That's a trifle. Our consul can put that right; the authorities won't
interfere with a man in your position."

"The less said about that the better," returned Maurice; "my errand is
best kept quiet. What I am concerned about is how to get to Sofia. I want
to save time, and don't at all relish the idea of kicking my heels here
for days waiting for a torpedo-boat. Isn't there a vessel in the harbour
that will take me?"

"There's a weekly service to Port Said, and an occasional boat to
Constantinople. It takes more than three days, though. Look here, let us
get out of this crowd and go to the hotel and talk it over. That's a
queer machine of yours."

They proceeded to the hotel, George explaining the mechanism of the car
as they went. At lunch they discussed the situation, having asked the
proprietor to let them know if a green motor-car appeared in the town.

"The delay is very annoying!" said Maurice.

"If we wait for a vessel It will take us four or five days to get to
Sofia; that's a week altogether. Isn't there a steamer across the Strait
of Otranto?"

"There's a sailing vessel that takes eleven hours to make Corfu, but that
won't help you much."

"Why not cross in the gyro?" suggested George.

"What!" exclaimed the officer.

"It goes perfectly well on the water," pursued George. "How far is the
strait across?"

"From about fifty to a hundred miles. But the idea, pardon me, is absurd.
The sea is calm enough now; but these waters are subject to sudden
storms, and your car could not live through anything like a sea."

"I'm inclined to think we might try it, nevertheless," said Maurice. "If
the weather holds we could make the passage in seven or eight hours."

"And then?"

"Then we should have to make our way across Albania."

"Over the mountains! My dear sir, it's quite impossible."

"Our gyro can go wherever there's a track," protested George.

"You would be murdered en route," said the officer; "they're all brigands
there."

"When I was in Constantinople," said Maurice, "I made acquaintance with
several Albanians, and learnt something of the language. I think we might
get through safely."

"But, my dear sir, what about petrol? You will use far more in crossing
the Adriatic than you would over the same distance by land, and you can't
possibly carry enough with you to take you to Sofia over mountainous
country. There's no chance whatever of getting petrol on the other side."

"Yes, that is decidedly awkward," said Maurice.

"Don't give it up," urged George. "Surely there's a vessel of some sort
that could take us over, and plenty of petrol too."

"Let us ask the proprietor; he will know," said Maurice.

The proprietor, on being summoned, told them that a small trading vessel,
the Margherita, plied between the Italian and Dalmatian ports, frequently
trading at Durazzo and Hagio Saranda. She was lying in the harbour, and
would, no doubt, sail in the course of the afternoon. Maurice at once
decided to go down to the harbour in company with the naval officer and
interview the skipper, leaving George to look after the gyro-car and be
on the watch for Slavianski and his crew.



There were two or three Austrian vessels in the harbour, including an
Austrian-Lloyd liner bound for Trieste. Maurice had no doubt that,
although the arrival of the green motor-car had not yet been reported,
Slavianski had by this time reached the town. Probably he was keeping out
of sight, but some of his party would be spying on the movements of the
Englishmen. If they went openly on board the Margherita, she would almost
certainly be followed by one of the Austrian vessels and overhauled at
sea. But suddenly an idea occurred to Maurice: that the Margherita should
put off at her appointed time, carrying some tins of petrol, if they
could be taken on board without attracting attention. Somewhat later, the
gyro-car should run to some little spot northward, take the water, join
the vessel in the offing, and be towed by her across the Adriatic. By
that means not only would petrol be saved, but immediate pursuit would be
rendered impossible; for though Slavianski would certainly chase the
gyro-car as soon as it was clear of Brindisi, he would be quite helpless
when it ran into the sea, and be compelled to return. At any rate, much
time would be gained.

The naval officer laughed when Maurice put this plan to him.

"This is strategy, if not diplomacy," he said. "You are determined, I
see; the next thing is to interview the skipper of the Margherita, and
find out whether he will make terms with you."

"Five English sovereigns will go a long way, I think," returned Maurice.

And so it proved. The skipper, a stalwart native of Gallipoli, whose
broad Southern patois was not easy to understand, readily agreed to
undertake what was required of him. Maurice took him to a certain extent
into his confidence, and he needed no persuasion to play a trick on
Austrians. He suggested, as the spot to which the English signori should
drive, Villanuova, a little place about thirty kilometres up the coast.
It was not so far distant as Maurice would have liked, but Antonio
Fagazzi assured him that beyond it the coast roads were impossible. The
arrangement made was that the gyro-car should start about three hours
after the Margherita sailed.

"When I have you in tow, signor," said the skipper, "I will make all sail
for Durazzo, and with the fair south wind behind us, we shall make port
early to-morrow morning."

"Durazzo is farther north than I want to go. On the other side I must
make for Monastir and join the railway from Salonika. Hagio Saranda would
suit me better."

"We shall make better sailing to Durazzo, unless the wind shifts,
signor," said the skipper.

"Very well, we will be at Villanuova at dusk."

They turned to retrace their way to the hotel. At the harbour gates they
were met by a postal official, who handed a telegram to the naval officer
and stood patiently expecting a gratuity.

"Just like our Intelligence Department," said the officer on reading the
telegram. He handed it to Buckland, who read:--

Nobleman notorious foreign spy: be on guard.

"The fruit of the inquiry set on foot by the Foreign Office three days
ago," said Maurice. "It's very good of them. Now I wonder whether I could
get a map of Albania in the town? I don't know the country, except in a
very general way, and I should like to be able to take my bearings."

"The chances are a hundred to one against you," said the officer; "but
we'll see."

Inquiries at all the likely shops in the main street proved fruitless.

"We shall have to take our chance," said Maurice. "Now I must return to
my brother, and tell him what we have arranged. We must also have some
petrol sent to the Margherita at once--as much as we can load on to our
car; and a couple of tyres. We can't expect to get through without
punctures on the mountains yonder."

"Let us hope only your tyres will be punctured," said the officer grimly.
"I don't envy you your Journey."



CHAPTER VIII--A ROMAN ROAD


MEANWHILE George had thoroughly overhauled the car.

"She's in tip-top condition," he said. "Not a sign of weakness anywhere.
Have you seen anything of Slavianski?"

"Nothing," replied Maurice. "I don't think he has come into the town. The
arrival of a racing motor could not fail to attract attention. The
Foreign Office has discovered who he is, and telegraphed to us to be on
our guard."

"Thank you for nothing," said George with a grimace. "Have you made all
arrangements?"

"Yes. The skipper is a stout fellow, and if his seamanship is as good as
his Italian is bad, we shall make Durazzo in less than twelve hours."

"What about passports, by the way?" asked the officer. "You can't travel
in Turkey without them."

"I have mine," replied Maurice. "George must pass as my chauffeur; I
daresay they'll let him in without difficulty in that capacity."

Having dined early as the guest of the officer, they left the hotel about
five o'clock running the gauntlet of a crowd of urchins who shrieked
entreaties for alms. George had started the gyroscopes while still in the
garage. They proceeded due westward over a gradually ascending road until
they ran down into the little town of S. Vito de Normanni. Immediately
after leaving this town Maurice, looking back, saw the green car speeding
after them at a tremendous pace.

"They haven't given it up, then," said George, when Maurice informed him.

He opened the throttle until the car spun along at the rate of nearly
seventy miles an hour. For a few minutes the racer held its own, but then
began to drop away, not from any defect of speed, but owing to the
bumpiness of the road. Just before reaching Ostuni there was a short,
steep hill, first down and then up. George did not slacken speed until he
reached the by-road that turned abruptly to the right towards the sea.
When round the corner he drove at maximum velocity, crossed the railway
line, and came to the hamlet of Villanuova, within twenty minutes of
leaving Brindisi. Maurice looked anxiously behind. There was no sign of
the motor-car; it had indeed overshot the by-road.

Amid the wonderment of the fishermen, the gyro-car ran down the beach,
and into the sea. The Margherita was not in sight, and George steered
eastward to meet her. They were nearly a mile from the shore when they
saw the motor-car emerge from the village. It halted for a few minutes;
no doubt Slavianski was scanning the sea. Then it turned about, and
disappeared from view.

"He's running back to Brindisi," said George. "Will he pursue us in one
of those Austrian boats, I wonder?"

"It's a lost game, I think," replied Maurice. "It will be dark before he
can overtake us, and even his perseverance won't be able to discover us
then. But I wish the Margherita were in sight."

There were several craft, including a large steamer going south, near the
horizon, too far off to be distinguished with any certainty. None of them
was the Margherita. The travellers became anxious; had Antonio Fagazzi
failed them?

"If she doesn't appear soon we shall be in a pretty hobble," said George.
"I can't do more than seven knots on the water."

"We could steer for Durazzo by your compass if the weather keeps
reasonably fine," suggested Maurice.

"That's true, but we should consume a terrible quantity of petrol, and
probably shouldn't have enough left for a hundred miles' run in Albania.
Has that skipper sold us?"

"I doubt it. Perhaps he had to wait for the petrol. We had better cruise
about, and not too far from Villanuova."

An hour went by; darkness fell, and they switched on one of the small
electric lamps that lit the interior of the car. The wind blew cold, and
their spirits sank: the Margherita might easily pass them in the dark,
and they hesitated to light the powerful acetylene lamp, lest it
attracted foes rather than friends. At last, when they almost despaired,
they caught sight of a light some distance out at sea to the north-east.
Immediately afterwards a second light appeared, near the first, but
swinging like a pendulum.

"I fancy that's a signal," said George; "I'll light our lamp and show it
in that direction; it's too far northward to be seen towards Brindisi."

"We might make towards it, don't you think?" said Maurice. "If you find
we are wrong, we must try to slip away in the darkness."

They moved slowly towards the swinging light, George every now and then
turning his lamp inwards. In half an hour they came up with a sailing
vessel, hove to.

"Is that the Margherita?" Maurice called in Italian.

"Si, Signori," came the reply. "An Austrian gunboat ran down a little
while ago, and I thought it best not to take you in tow while she was in
sight. Now that they have this telegraphing without wires, I feared she
might communicate with the Austrian vessels in the harbour."

Maurice complimented the man on his forethought. A rope was thrown from
the deck; George made it fast to the gyro-car; the skipper hauled up his
courses, and the vessel sailed away on the smooth sea, under a cloudless
sky, towards the Illyrian coast. The brothers slept for the greater part
of the night, too fatigued to feel the want of overcoats or rugs.

At daybreak on the following morning they saw, far ahead, the castellated
fortress of Durazzo gleaming white on its rocky headland, with the
Albanian hills behind. Just as Brindisi had evoked memories of Virgil and
Horace, so Durazzo-the Dyrhacchium of the ancient world, and the
starting-point of the Via Egnatia--had familiar associations in
Maurice's mind. As they stepped on to the jetty he said to George:

"It's odd to think that Cicero may have come ashore on this very spot! He
chose Dyrhacchium as his place of exile when he fled from Clodius."

"Well, all I can say is," said George, "that I've lost all my respect for
Roman noses. Brindisi was bad enough, but there are several generations
of stinks here."

Maurice smiled, and turned from him to meet the Customs officer, who
addressed him in Italian. The gyro-car was being swung ashore from the
deck of the Margherita.

"I am at a loss, Signor," said the officer, eyeing the vehicle in
perplexity. "I have no scale for such a thing. Is it a boat or a
motor-car?"

"It is both, Signor," replied Maurice. "Then I fear I must refer the
matter to Constantinople. It will be a week or more before I receive a
reply. Meanwhile I must, of course, impound the machine."

"Perhaps that will not be necessary, Signor," said Maurice, pleasantly.
"As a boat it is not subject to duty, I presume. I am quite willing to
pay the duty on a motor-car and on the petrol we carry."

"That will be sufficient, Signor. But have you a passport?"

Maurice produced it, and the official handed it back after inspection.

"And this other?" he added, indicating George, who stood looking on with
the air of suspicion common with persons who hear a conversation in a
language they do not understand.

"He is my chauffeur; he doesn't count, Signor," replied Maurice, smiling
as he thought how indignant George would be if he understood him.

This explanation satisfied the official, who accepted the English money
offered him in payment of the duties, and allowed the travellers to pass.
They made their way, wheeling the gyro-car, through the single dirty
street of which Durazzo consists, avoiding the small hairy bullocks that
lay here and there, and the swarms of red-capped children who buzzed
about them, calling out: "Capitagno! O capitagno! Para! Para!" Maurice
beckoned one, and asked him in Italian to lead him to the little hotel
recommended by the skipper of the Margherita, promising him a couple of
paras for his trouble. Meanwhile the sailors were trundling the tins of
petrol in the rear.

The hotel was kept by an Italian, who gave the English capitani--all
well-dressed strangers are captains in Durazzo--a satisfactory
breakfast.

Maurice entered into conversation with him, and learnt, with a certain
misgiving, that there were several Austrians in the town. For some time
past there had been an influx of Austrians into the seaboard districts of
Albania. They had been diligent in making friends with the people,
sympathising with them in the diminished prosperity of the ports due to
the railway from Salonika, hinting that the day of independence would
soon dawn for them, and that when they finally threw off the Turkish yoke
they might get a slice of territory from Servia or Montenegro. These
hints and suggestions fell on a ready soil. The Albanians were still sore
from the stern suppression of their rising a few years before, and the
disarmament which had been attempted by the Turks. They resented also the
endeavours of the Turkish Government to enforce the use in their schools
of Arabic characters instead of the Latin alphabet, which had been
formally adopted in a national congress. Their discontent was being
artfully fomented by Austrian agents, who had plenty of secret service
money at their disposal. Something of this was already known to Maurice;
but the hotel-keeper having, as a good Italian, a cordial dislike of the
growth of Austrian influence, told his English guest a great deal that
was not suspected by the British Foreign Office.

Maurice was making a careful mental note of all this for the benefit of
his chief, when Antonio Fagazzi came in hurriedly:

"Per Bacco! Signor," he cried, "there is a steam-launch making all speed
for the harbour. She shows no flag yet, but she is as like an Austrian
launch that lay in Brindisi harbour yesterday as one egg to another."

This news was disquieting, in the light of what Maurice had learnt from
the hotel-keeper. He had good hope of escaping the pursuit of Slavianski
if they once got among the mountains and had only natural difficulties to
contend with. These difficulties, of course, were serious enough. Apart
from the risks of travelling through a wild and unknown country of rugged
mountains, there was the danger of falling among brigands. To this must
now be added the probability that the Albanian mountaineers, who would,
perhaps, in any case be likely to regard the travellers as fair game,
would be egged on by the Austrians to attack them, not merely as
travellers, but as enemies of the country. It was the Young Turks that
were troubling Albania, and the Young Turks were encouraged by England.
Slavianski, if he was in the approaching launch, would not scruple to
make use of odium and prejudice to effect his purpose.

Maurice thanked the skipper, and learning from him that the launch would
probably not make the harbour for half an hour, decided to leave Durazzo
at once. The gyro-car could travel a good distance in half an hour. He
told George rapidly what he had heard. They laid in a stock of food and
wine--this of a poor quality, but the best, and indeed the only,
beverage the hotel afforded--and bought a fez each as a measure of
precaution, Maurice saying that if they passed through the country in
infidel hats, some fanatical Moslems might be provoked to molest them.
Then they prepared to start.

But they were not to get away easily. At the door they were beset by
people, old and young, begging the nobili capitani  to purchase their
wares. Maurice sternly refused, knowing that if he bought from one, the
rest would clamour the more persistently. They had mounted into the car,
when the bimbashi of the Turkish garrison came up and demanded to see
their taskereh. Maurice amiably showed him the passport, and gave him the
same explanation about George; whereupon the officer became very
friendly, and began to ask questions about the mechanism of the car. It
required all Maurice's tact to make his answers brief without offence;
and when at last the car was started, nearly a quarter of an hour had
passed.

Maurice felt miserably handicapped by the lack of a map. Monastir, the
place he intended to make for, was, he knew, due east of Durazzo, but he
did not know how far distant it was, nor could the hotel-keeper tell him
with any certainty. The road at first ran over a plain, but it was worse
than the worst by-lane in the wildest part of England. To an ordinary
motor-car it would have been quite impassable, and even a cyclist would
have had to dismount frequently. But over such rough ground the gyro-car
had an advantage. Its equilibrium was not easily disturbed; it could even
run in a rut that would prove fatal to motor-car or bicycle. Yet it was
only at a very modest pace that the travellers were able to pick their
way along this apology for a highway. George's patience was severely
taxed when he found it impossible to maintain a higher average speed than
about six miles an hour.

The ground rose gradually towards a barren range of hills, along the
sides of which ran a track so narrow, that if it had rained there would
have been the greatest risk of skidding on the slippery clay soil. George
had to drive with infinite care, crawling along at a walking pace, and
often applying the brakes. When they had crossed the ridge they saw a
broad river winding picturesquely between high cliffs, and a village
nestling among olive-grounds. Here Maurice would have liked to engage a
guide, but reflected that there was no time to make inquiries, and it
would be imprudent to employ a man without recommendation. Maurice knew
enough of the Albanian language to ask the way of the keeper of a small
han, as the inns are called, and learnt that Tirana, the first town of
any size, lay about four hours' journey across the river. Beyond Tirana,
another four or five hours' march, lay Elbasan, and though its distance
from Durazzo could scarcely have been more than forty miles as the crow
flies, it was clear that they would be lucky if they reached it by
nightfall.

They passed on, and found that the river wound so frequently that they
had to ford it eight times before they finally crossed it by a stone
bridge. At this point the road was a trifle better, and they were able to
drive faster. At another time they might have been interested in the
scenes along the road--the luxuriant olive-gardens, the women trudging
with heavy bundles on their backs, knitting as they walked; the teams of
mules laden with black wool, and driven by black-cloaked men who call
upon Allah as the strange vehicle ran past them. But their anxieties
forbade more than a fleeting attention to their surroundings. They
crossed little streams on crazy plank bridges, each one of which gave
George a shudder; and as they approached Tirana were amazed at the
immense flocks of turkeys that infested the road, and stubbornly refused
to heed the warnings of the hooter.

Tirana itself proved to be even more dirty than Durazzo. They were
hungry, but wished to reserve for emergencies the food bought at Durazzo,
yet hesitated to seek a meal in the wretched-looking hans. Plucking up
their courage, they entered that which appeared least offensive, and
found themselves in a low room, suffocatingly hot, festooned with
cobwebs, and swarming with cockroaches. They made a meal of grapes, the
only article of food for which they had any appetite, and left the place
in a few minutes, to find the whole population gazing with awe at the
gyro-car.

On again, through a broad, undulating plain, and once more into the
mountains covered with beech and oak and a tangle of ferns and creepers.
Looking back over the splendid prospect when they reached the crest, they
saw, in the valley about four miles away, a party of horsemen following
the same track as themselves, and riding at extraordinary speed,
considering the nature of the ground. They were too far away to be
distinguished, but, strung up to anticipate pursuit, the Bucklands did
not doubt that Slavianski and his companions had engaged Albanian guides,
and were hot-foot in chase.

"We can go wherever horses can," said George, "and faster. They daren't
go at more than a walking-pace in these hills. By the time they get here
we ought to be a dozen miles away."

"I shouldn't risk too high a speed," said Maurice; "a single slip, and
we're over a precipice."

"Don't be nervous, old man. Those white minarets yonder should be
Elbasan; but we can't venture to put up for the night, can we?"

"I'm afraid not. It will be four o'clock by the time we get there, at a
guess; we shall have to go on until it's dark, and then either find a
shelter in some village, or camp in the open. It will be quite impossible
to run by night, as we did in Italy."

"Well, luckily it's fine. I suppose there are no wild beasts in these
parts?"

"I don't know."

"I've got a fit of the blues," said George. "I hoped we had seen the last
of those fellows."

"I confess I'm off colour too. There is evidently a good deal at stake
with Slavianski, or he wouldn't have kept it up so long. We have had good
luck so far, but the country is getting wilder as we go on, and we shall
come across the mountaineers before long. If we are held up, we shall be
overtaken."

"Confound your despatch!"

"I'm not troubled about my despatch," said Maurice with a laugh; "that
is, I don't think Slavianski will find it. The bother is the delay. The
Foreign Secretary would have risked the telegraph, I think, if he had had
any inkling of Slavianski's game."

"Well, we've had some fun," said George; "but I hope it's not going to be
spoilt now. I'd relish a stand-up fight, with a fair chance; but this
handicap's rather unfair, don't you think so?"

"My dear fellow, have you lost faith in your gyro-car?"



CHAPTER IX--THE HONOUR OF AN ALBANIAN


PASSING a long stretch of walled olive-gardens, the travellers arrived at
Elbasan. The gate in its high and massive wall stood open. They ran
through into a narrow, dirty street, roofed over with matting and dry
leaves, scattering the groups of wild, sullen-looking inhabitants, some
of whom raised a fierce cry of "Shaitan!"; others put their fingers into
their mouths and whistled shrilly, after the manner of English
butcher-boys. But the travellers were not molested; they left the town,
spun through a barren valley, and crossing the river Skumbi by the high
one-arched bridge, found themselves climbing a steep and difficult path
that wound along at the edge of clay precipices, so narrow that if they
had met another vehicle, or a mule-train, further progress would have
been impossible.

They had nearly reached the top, going slowly as the perilous nature of
the path demanded, when they saw, bright against the grey wall ahead, a
young man with a rifle in his hand, intently watching them.

"Our first brigand!" said George. "Have your revolver handy."

"The disarmament is evidently a fiction," said Maurice. "Sound your
hooter; he is stepping into the middle of the path."

"Better not, in case Slavianski is within earshot. I'll give him a shout
when we come near, and if he doesn't budge I'm afraid we shall have to
bowl him over."

But at that moment a shot rang out from the hill above. The man gave a
cry, staggered, and dropped his rifle, which fell over the precipice, and
could be heard clashing against the saplings that grew out of the clayey
wall. There was a shout from the hill-top, and a second man scrambled
down the steep and rugged slope about two hundred yards away. The wounded
man drew his dagger and faced about as if to await the onslaught of his
enemy; but as the car came up with him, he seemed to realise that without
a rifle his case was desperate, and with a sudden spring clutched at the
side of the vehicle and began to run along beside it. His action would
have overthrown a motor bicycle, but the gyro-scopes kept the car steady.

"Beat him off!" cried George, thinking that the man meditated an attack.
It was impossible to shake him off by increasing the speed on such a
dangerous path, so he slowed down in order to give Maurice assistance if
it were needed. But the man begged him earnestly to proceed, and on the
impulse of the moment Maurice leant over the side and helped him to
scramble into the car. There was a sharp bend in the path a few yards
ahead. As they came to this, a bullet struck the face of the cliff at an
angle, and bespattered them with crumbs of hard clay. Next moment they
turned the corner, and were out of sight of the man who had now descended
to the path.

George, though dubious of the prudence of his brother's impulsive action,
ventured to run a little faster in spite of the risk. Before the car
reached a second bend another bullet whistled past, unpleasantly close,
and again he increased the speed.

"Go easy," said Maurice, after a minute or two. "We must be out of reach
now. The oaks below there are very picturesque, but I shouldn't care for
a closer acquaintance with them."

At this point the precipice on their left broke away at the height of
several hundred feet, and through a cleft beyond they saw a snow-capped
mountain towering into the sky. On the other side, far below, lay a dense
oak forest, through which they caught glimpses of a river sparkling like
a silver thread.

Mustering his stock of Albanian phrases, Maurice questioned the man.

"You were attacked. Why?"

"For blood, excellence," was the reply.

Maurice had lived long enough in the Balkans to understand what the man's
answer implied. Either he, or one of his family, perhaps generations
before, had injured a man of another family, and there was a relentless
blood-feud between them. Maurice did not press the question, but, as dusk
was falling, asked the man whether he knew of a han in the neighbourhood
where they might put up for the night.

"No han, excellence," replied the man; "but the house of my family is
near; there you will be welcome. You have saved me, excellence. Tan giat
tjeter!" (Long life to you!)

They went on for a short distance. Then, at a narrow defile in the hill,
they left the track at a word from the Albanian, and climbed up a still
narrower path, winding intricately amid dark, overhanging woods. After
about half a mile they came to an opening among the trees, where stood a
tiny village clustered at the foot of the hill. First was a square
three-storied building, with a narrow door in one face, and small windows
on two sides. This was the kula, a sort of watch-tower for the village,
and there, as the Albanian explained, lived his grandfather, his father,
two uncles, three brothers, and a cousin, with their families. Beyond
were smaller houses, which appeared to be entered through a hole in the
wall, approached by ricketty ladders.

At sight of the gyro-car, a child, dressed in a kind of sack, screamed
shrilly and fled into the house. George stopped the car; they all
alighted, and the Albanian led them to the doorway, paying no heed to the
exclamations of the neighbours who flocked up.

Following him, the travellers mounted a crazy ladder to the top of the
house, and found themselves in a vast dark room. At the further end a
fire was smouldering under a kind of tent. As their eyes became
accustomed to the dimness, they saw nearly a score of persons, male and
female, squatting on chests ranged round the walls. Their guide spoke a
few words. Instantly there was commotion. A woman threw a faggot on the
fire, which flared up, revealing smoke-blackened rafters, from which, as
from the walls, hung weapons, field implements, haunches of dried meat,
and festoons of smoked fish. Others of the company strewed the floor with
sheepskins and cushions for the visitors, and an old man removed a
millstone that blocked a narrow window, and shouted: "We have guests; we
have guests." The travellers wondered at this, until they learnt
presently that it was a warning to the people of the hamlet: while guests
were in the house, blood-feuds were in abeyance.

The family's reception of their guests lacked nothing in warmth. A kid
was instantly cut up in preparation for a meal; rakia, a kind of spirit,
was poured from stone pitchers into earthenware goblets; no questions
were asked. When the grandson of the old man explained what the strangers
had done for him, there were loud cries of praise and gratitude; and
hearing that they had come on a devil machine, the whole party trooped
out of the house to inspect it. Maurice asked that it might be placed in
safety, and it was wheeled into the large chamber that occupied the
ground floor, and served as stable and storeroom.

The old man meanwhile attended to his grandson's injury. He professed to
be an expert in the treatment of gunshot wounds He took the white of an
egg and a handful of salt, mixed them together, poured the liquid on the
man's injured arm, and bandaged it. This would suffice for an hour or
two, until he had compounded a lotion of rakia and pine resin. While he
was doing this he explained to Maurice, who knew enough of the language
to follow him, that the man who had fired the shot owned the house
opposite. He had accused Giorgio--such was the young man's name--of
setting fire to his haystacks. The charge had been considered by a
council of elders, and Giorgio was acquitted. But in Albania acquittal is
no bar to a second trial; indeed, the case had been heard two or three
times, always with the same result. Then the ill-feeling between the
families found vent in a free fight, in which a relative of the accuser
had been killed. Now there would be no peace until either Giorgio or one
of his family had been slain, and the honour of the accuser "cleaned."
For some weeks Giorgio had not ventured to leave the house alone until
this day. If accompanied by a relative he would be safe, but alone he was
always in danger. It was only because the enemy had been absent for some
days that he had gone out unattended, and evidently he had met the
avenger returning home.

While they were eating their supper, Maurice, knowing that, as a guest,
he could depend on his host's friendship, explained briefly, and in
halting speech, the circumstances in which he was placed, and his
intention of proceeding next day to Monastir. The old man was much
troubled. The Inglesi, he said, were disliked in Albania. They were
represented by the Austrians as friends of the Turks and the Serbs, whom
the Albanians hated and distrusted equally. He recommended that the
travellers should call themselves Austrians, and be very free with their
money as they passed through the villages in the interior.

They were still talking, when there was the sound of a shot without. The
women and children shrieked: the men started up in great indignation at
this breach of the besa or truce, which ought to remain inviolate while
guests were in the house. One of the sons ran to the door, and soon
returned shaking with laughter. The shot had merely been fired by one of
their neighbours in sport.

An hour or two later, when the women were preparing for the guests beds
of reed mats felt sheets, and red-cotton pillows, laid on the chests by
the wall, a loud voice was heard outside hailing the master of the house.
Feeling secure in the besa, the old man once more removed the millstone
from the window and asked who spoke and what he wanted:

It was too dark to see. Maurice tried to follow the ensuing dialogue, and
understood enough of it to make him desperately uneasy.

You Giulika, I know you, Christian dog that you are, cried the man
without. "I demand that you give up the English spies, who are
overrunning the country on a contrivance of Shaitan himself."

"What, you Moslem pig, have you come from Elbasan on a fool's errand?
Shall I deliver up my guests? It is no custom of my house to betray those
who seek my hospitality. Know that I take what guests I please and keep
them."

"Hound, they are spies, infidels like yourself. Give them up, or you will
suffer a grievous punishment when the Bey hears of it."

"Get you back whence you came," cried the old man "lest evil befall you.
Who are you to bid Giulika lose his honour by betraying a guest? Begone!
Trouble me no more."

He spat out of the window and replaced the mill-stone.

Maurice had understood only a part of what had been said. The old man
explained to him that the summoner was a swordsmith of Elbasan, a Moslem,
and an ill-conditioned fellow. And from the clanking of horses' bits that
he had heard at a little distance he believed that the swordsmith was
accompanied by a considerable party. But no matter who they were or how
numerous, he would never defile his honour by betraying his guests.

Begging old Giulika to excuse him, Maurice turned to consult with George,
who was looking puzzled and anxious.

"It's very unfortunate that we are here," said the elder brother. "The
old fellow refuses to give us up, but I'm afraid he'll suffer for it. The
man who summoned him is a Moslem; he's a Christian himself; and though
the Christians and Moslems live peacefully enough as a rule, they fight
like tiger-cats if they're set by the ears. I've no doubt that,
Slavianski has hired a lot of ruffians who'll commit any sort of outrage
for pay, and if he works up the anti-English feeling, we may have a whole
tribe attacking us. We've no right to involve the old man and his family
in our difficulties."

"Couldn't we slip away in the darkness? One of the family might guide
us."

"I'll ask him. My good friend," he said to the old man, "we thank you for
your hospitality, but we know what trouble we may bring upon you. We wish
to go to Monastir; could one of your sons or grandsons guide us, if we
slip out of the house by-and-by?"

Giulika reflected, and spoke to his sons.

"It is not wise, stranger," he said at length. "My honour is engaged, by
the law of Lek, to protect you for a day after you leave my house. By
night, it is true, you could go up into the hills, and be safe: but when
it is light, you would be seen, and your presence would be shouted from
hill to hill, until the whole country was roused. That is certain if you
proceed to Monastir by Ochrida."

"Could we not go some other way?" suggested Maurice. "I wish ultimately
to reach Sofia."

"Yes, there is a long and difficult road to the north. It would be safe,
perhaps, to travel by way of Prizren. The people of the north do not love
the Austrians: it is only they of the south that are flattered and
deluded by them. They do not love the Serbs nor the Montenegrins, but
they have no wish to change bad neighbours for worse masters. Do they not
remember what has befallen the Bosnians?"

It is a very long way to Prizren, and thence to Bulgaria, objected
Maurice.

"True; it is farther than to Monastir, and more hilly. But I tell you,
friend, it is safer."

"How could we go?"

"Along the banks of the Black Drin. It is a bad road; but not
impossible."

At this an idea struck Maurice. If they could gain the bank of the river,
they might float down the current on the gyro-car without any expenditure
of petrol. The river would only take them a short distance in the
direction they wished to go, because it swept westward towards the
Adriatic; but a river journey would have the advantage of keeping them
off the frequented roads, and probably out of sight from the pursuers.

"How far is it to the river?" he asked.

"About five hours' march to Struga, by the main road: about seven hours
to the Drin below Struga, by the mountain paths. Why does my friend ask?"

"The machine you saw is a boat. Could we take it over the paths you
mention?"

"You have brought it from Elbasan, by the mercy of God," said the old man
with a smile. "Why should you not take it to the Drin? For myself, I
would not trust my life to it; but the Inglesi are great adventurers. The
mountains to the north are higher than those you have passed, but I know
of a pass that avoids the highest summits. The track begins but a little
way behind this house; it climbs the hill, and then winds in and out
among the lower slopes of the mountains above the Drin."

All this time the old man had preserved a cheerful demeanour, evincing no
anxiety as to what might be going on outside. The silence there seemed to
Maurice suspicious. Slavianski had shown such persistence hitherto that
he was hardly likely to draw back when, to all appearance, he had his
quarry in a trap.

Suddenly there was a great commotion without. Shots rang out, followed by
fierce cries. Then came from below a crash as of some heavy body driven
against the massive door, which had been closed and bolted at nightfall.

"They are trying to break in!" cried George.

The old man showed no trace of alarm.

Some of the younger members of his family climbed up a ladder in a corner
of the room, leading to the roof, where a store of stones and
combustibles was kept for just such an occasion as this. George, thinking
of the safety of the gyro-car, snatched up a rifle and cartridges and
hurried down the ricketty ladder to the ground floor. Maurice followed
him, gripping his revolver; and Giulika took a rifle from the wall and
descended the steps more slowly.

The Bucklands had just reached the door when it was burst in, yielding to
a tremendous blow from something of the nature of a battering-ram. They
fired at the crowd beginning to swarm in. In darkness themselves, they
were able to take good aim at the enemy by the glare of combustibles
flung down from the roof. The shots from the black doorway checked the
rush. The assailants shrank back, into a shower of stones hurled at them
from above. At the same time, to Maurice's surprise, they were met by a
fusillade from the opposite house--the dwelling of the man who owed
"blood" to Giorgio, and had that very day attempted his life. It was one
of the inconsistencies of this strange people. As a private person
Giorgio was the man's deadly enemy, to be stalked and shot down without
remorse as a family duty. But as a fellow-villager, attacked by men of
another place and another religion, he was to be helped even at personal
risk. "Blood" was forgotten in face of a public danger.

Taken thus between two fires, and battered by the falling stones, the
assailants were utterly discomfited. The crowd fell apart, they flitted
away into the blackness beyond, and in the fitful light of the fireballs
from the roof, Maurice caught a glimpse of Slavianski and his party
hastening after the Albanians.



CHAPTER X--SOME RIDDLES AND A NURSERY RHYME


OLD Giulika, laughing with a childish delight in the discomfiture of the
enemy, closed the door, and, since the bolts had been broken, had it
barricaded with balks of timber that were kept on the ground floor. Then
he returned with his guests to the living apartments at the top of the
house. He was quite cheerful. He joked with the men of his family on
their victory, and ordered the women, who showed no alarm, to prepare a
sumptuous supper to celebrate it. The larder, which consisted of two
large dug-out troughs, did not contain anything very dainty; but a fowl
and a young pig were soon simmering in a huge pot of beans, and on these,
served in wooden ladles, and hard maize bread, the men feasted; the women
would eat when their lords had finished.

The guests had little appetite. They were very weary, but too anxious and
troubled to sleep. The air of the room was hot and oppressive, and
by-and-by the old man, perceiving how pale they were, asked if he could
serve them in any way, and, at their request, immediately removed the
millstones from the two unglazed windows, and let in a current of cool
air. He chuckled as he returned to the company. The enemy, he said, had
encamped some little distance away, around a large fire; evidently they
wished to be out of reach of stones from the roof. They, too, appeared to
be cheerful. Strains of song rose from the encampment-fierce songs of
war, of struggles with the Turks, and the heroic deeds of Scanderbeg.
Presently these ceased, and there was a vast stillness without.

But not within. After supper the guests expected the family to repair to
their mat beds, and felt some delicacy in remaining among them. But
Giulika commanded the women and children to retire behind their curtains,
and the men to form a group in the middle of the room.

"We must cheer our guests," he said, "unless they wish to sleep."

Maurice assured him that to sleep was impossible.

"That is well," said the old man; "too much sleep is bad for men. Now,
Marko, ask a riddle. And you, Doda, go to the roof to watch."

One of his grandsons drank off a mug of rakia, and mounted to the roof.
Another cleared his throat, and said:

"Though it is not an ox, it has horns; though it is not an ass, it has a
pack-saddle, and wherever it goes it leaves silver behind."

"Ah! that is a good one," cried Giulika. "What is the answer, friend
Inglesi?"

Maurice's head was racking, but he smiled, and pretended to consider; he
would not hurt the feelings of these hospitable folk. But he confessed in
a few minutes that the riddle was beyond him.

"Aha! it is a fine riddle: a snail, friend," and he chuckled with glee.
"Ho, Doda!" he called up the ladder, "is there anything?"

"Nothing," was the reply.

"That is well. Now, Dushmani, it is your turn."

His second son, a big, fierce-looking fellow, with a huge moustache,
scratched his shaven head; all heads in Albania are shaven, leaving
patches of hair of various shapes.

"What is that which wears the wool inside and the flesh outside?" he
asked.

"A splendid riddle!" cried his father; "Answer that if you can, friend."

Again Maurice considered. He repeated the riddle in English to George,
who was making heroic efforts to appear interested.

"They must think we're kids," he said, sourly.

"Well, smile, old boy; they've done a good deal for us."

George grinned vacantly at his host, who slapped his thigh, and asked if
the young Inglesi had discovered the answer.

"No, we are not good at riddles in England," said Maurice. "We cannot
tell."

"A candle!" shouted the old man, triumphantly. "You would never have
guessed that. Now I will give one myself."

So an hour or two passed, every riddle being received with the same
gravity, every answer with the same simple joy. At intervals Giulika
called to his grandson on the roof; the answer was always the same. Then
they fell to telling stories.  One of these tickled even George when
Maurice translated it to him.

"A man" said Giulika, "bought a donkey in the bazaar and led it away. Two
thieves followed him. His back being turned, one slipped the halter from
the donkey and put it over his own head. The other went off with the
donkey. When he had had time to escape, his mate began to pull and groan.
The purchaser looked back, and lo! there was no donkey, but instead, a
man. 'Where is my donkey?' he asked, in great amazement. 'Woe is me!'
cried the thief; 'I am that luckless being. A magician turned me into a
donkey for fifteen years; the time has just come to an end. I am a man
again, and have nothing, and know not where to go.' And the kind man
released him, and gave him some money."

Roars of laughter greeted the end of the story. Then Giorgio, the young
man who had been wounded, and had hitherto kept silence, announced that
he had had a very funny thought. It tickled him so much that for a time
he could not tell it; and even while he told it, laughter interrupted him
after every sentence.

"Suppose a cow fell from the cliff opposite" he said. "It would be broken
all to pieces. Every man would run to pick up a bit for supper. Then
suppose, just as they got there, the bits all joined into a cow again and
ran away!"

The thought of their disappointment amused the company so much that they
shouted again and again. More stories followed, and all the time Maurice
was pondering on his plight, wondering what the next day would bring
forth. Slavianski had not given up his purpose; the encampment outside
was proof of that. The darkness had been to his disadvantage in the first
attack; would he renew his onslaught on the morrow? Was the kula strong
enough to withstand him? Was it right to imperil the lives and goods of
these kindly, simple Albanians? Presently, from sheer exhaustion, both
George and Maurice fell into an uneasy sleep, from which they were
roused, as the dawn was stealing into the room, by a shout from Doda, who
had remained on the roof. The enemy were advancing to the attack. There
was a score of Albanians, and four Europeans, and the tall, bearded
leader of the Europeans was urging on men who bore a heavy tree-trunk
slung on ropes.

The old patriarch instantly ordered the ladder leading to the ground
floor to be drawn up. He knew that the door would not withstand a
battering-ram. At the same time the rest of the men went to the windows
and the roof and fired at the assailants, some of the boys hurling stones
down among them. There were scattered shots also from the other houses in
the village. The enemy replied briskly with a fusillade. Several of them
were hit, but the others rushed forward to the door, broke it in with one
stroke of the ram, and poured into the house, followed by the Austrians.

But here they were baffled by the removal of the ladder. They shouted to
the old man, commanding him to deliver up his guests. They fired through
the trapdoor; there was no one on the second storey, but the Mauser
bullets pierced the logs that formed the floor of the upper room, and
sent the inmates for safety to the roof. Thence they fired, but
sparingly, for they had not many cartridges; their stock of missiles also
was becoming exhausted: but the old man declared that they were
safe--there was no ladder in the village long enough to replace that
which had been withdrawn.

What was to be the end of it? The answer was soon made clear. A smell of
burning arose from the bottom of the house. The invaders had set fire to
some of the stores. Maurice could not but regard this as merely a
warning; he could scarcely believe that Slavianski, however unscrupulous,
deliberately intended to burn down the house and all that it contained.
Giulika, looking grave at the destruction of his property, took the same
view, and declared that such threats were vain; every Albanian must know
that his honour was committed to the preservation of his guests, and he
could never give them up. Such loyalty in a half-savage mountaineer
stirred Maurice to admiration.

"The car!" cried George suddenly. "If a spark catches the petrol the
whole place will be blown up."

Without an instant's hesitation Maurice sprang down into the room, down
the ladder to the next floor, and, leaning over the opening, called aloud
that he surrendered.

"Count Slavianski," he cried, "spare the household."

"Assuredly, Mr. Buckland," replied the man.

"And wheel the gyro-car into the open, away from the fire, or the petrol
will explode."

The Count evidently had not thought of that. The fire had indeed been
started by the men of Elbasan, without orders from him, and he had been
too much occupied to remember the danger. Fortunately the car was at the
rear of the large chamber; the fire was at the front. He ordered the
Albanians to beat out the fire, explaining to them that the Inglesi had
surrendered, and the siege was at an end.

By this time Maurice had been joined by George and the men of the
household. Giulika was almost angry at the turn of events. But Maurice
courteously waved aside his expostulations, and, the ladder having been
let down, descended to the ground.

"I congratulate you," said the Count in French his eyes gleaming with
satisfaction.

"On what, may I ask?" said Maurice.

"First, on the ingenuity of your scheme of travel; now, on your return to
your senses. The air is fresher outside; shall we continue our
conversation there?"

They went into the open air. At a sign from Rostopchin, George and the
members of the household were disarmed as they came one by one down the
ladder, the Austrian explaining, in answer to Giulika's indignant outcry,
that the weapons would be returned very soon.

"Now, Monsieur," said Slavianski when they were outside, "I have wasted
so much time that we had better come to business at once. You have a
despatch from your Secretary of State?"

"You say so, Monsieur le Comte."

"I ask you to hand it to me--to save trouble."

"Of course I shall hand you nothing."

"Then I must search you. Resistance is useless." He glanced significantly
at the group of Albanians who stood beside their horses a few yards
distant.

"I shall not resist," said Maurice with a smile. "But you will permit me
to make a formal protest."

"A protest can do no harm," said the Count, grinning, "Now, if you
please."

The search was concluded in a surprisingly short time. From one pocket
the Count removed a revolver, from another a long envelope with the
official seal, and addressed to His Majesty's agent and consul-general at
Sofia. He did not attempt to conceal his elation. Breaking the seal, he
drew from the envelope the folded paper it contained, opened it, and,
after a glance, said:

"Seeing that the game is up, you will no doubt save time by deciphering
the despatch."

"I won't deprive you of that pleasure," said Maurice serenely.

The Austrian smiled. Taking a little book from his pocket, he turned
quickly over a few pages.

"We are not without resources, Mr. Buckland," he said. "I have here the
key to your Foreign Office cipher."

A faint smile showed itself on Maurice's face. George, who, a moment
before, had glowered with indignation, for Rostopchin had tied his hands
behind him, now grinned broadly. The scene was peaceful. Hostilities had
ceased: Giulika and his men leant disconsolate against the wall of their
house; the half-dozen neighbours lolled at their doors, idly watching;
and the intruders from Elbasan stood beside their horses, looking on with
silent curiosity.

The Count rapidly pencilled, with the aid of his key, the translation of
the despatch. After a word or two a look of puzzlement stole upon his
face. He knit his brows, compared the words before him with the key, and
summoned Rostopchin to his side. The two spoke in whispers inaudible to
Maurice, who had lighted a cigarette, and was pacing up and down
unconcernedly.

"It is clearly correct," said Rostopchin.

"Finish it; we shall get the explanation by-and-by."

The Count proceeded with his task. In twenty minutes he had finished. His
puzzlement had but increased. With a frown of irritation he pored over
what he had written with Rostopchin.

"There must be a secret within a secret," said the secretary.

The Count strode towards Maurice.

"Zis, is it correct?" he asked in English curtly, spreading his
transliteration.

Maurice glanced over it.

"Quite correct, Monsieur le Comte," he said.

"Zen vill you tell me vat zis mean? I do not understand it--"


"Hey, diddle, diddle,
Ze cat and ze fiddle,
Ze cow jomp over ze moon--"


"Vat is ze meaning of zis--zis galimatias?" demanded the Count, his
English failing him.

"It is very idiomatic," said Maurice, "but as you have deciphered it
correctly, I have no objection to putting it into plain English. 'Hey,'
Monsieur, is an exclamation of warning: equivalent to 'look out,'
'beware,' in French, gare. 'Diddle,' is 'to deceive,' 'take in,' 'to
spoof,', 'lead anyone a wild-goose chase.' The cat, as you are aware, is
not a musical animal, but there is a certain variety, bred in our county
of Cheshire, that smiles at any mention of fiddlesticks. The cowis--just
a cow. It may be of any nationality: Russian, German, or even
Austrian, but it is merely a cow, unless specially qualified. 'To jump
over' or 'shoot the moon' is English argot for a sudden change of
address. The moon refers to the lunatics--you have the same word,
Mondsüchtige--who are deceived or diddled thereby. 'The little dog
laughed to see such sport'--that is quite clear; but we usually say in
English, 'it is enough to make a cat laugh,' referring to--"

But at this point in Maurice's commentary, delivered in an even, placid
tone of voice, the Count's rising fury burst its bounds.

"Sapperment!" he cried. "You dare to play viz me! I give you ten
minutes--ten minutes, and no more, to consider. You vill tell me vere
your despatch is"--he tore up and cast away the fragments of the bogus
despatch--"or if your message is merely verbal you vill acquaint me viz
it."

"And if I do not, Monsieur le Comte?"

"If you do not, you shall be shot."



CHAPTER XI--IN THE SMALL HOURS


THE amusement with which George had listened to his brother's ironic
nonsense turned to dismay and despair. Helpless with his hands bound
behind him, he hurried to Maurice's side.

"He does not mean it!" he cried.

Maurice shrugged, and lighted another cigarette.

"Whatever happens to me, old boy, you won't betray our secret."

"No; but--he can't mean it, Maurice." Further speech was prevented when
Slavianski came up and demanded that Maurice should take off his coat and
waistcoat. These he searched thoroughly: there was no despatch in pockets
or lining. Meanwhile Rostopchin and the other Austrians had gone to the
back of the house, taken the valise from the gyro-car, turned out its
contents, and thoroughly overhauled them. Then Slavianski himself joined
them and searched the gyro-car, finding nothing but the Guide Taride, the
maps they had bought en route, and the provisions brought from Durazzo.
By this time the ten minutes had expired.

The Count returned to the front of the house. His face was black with
rage. Addressing George, he cried: "Are you a fool like your brozer? Vere
is ze despatch?"

"I have nothing to say to you,' replied George, his cheeks going white.

"Zen I vill shoot your brozer before your eyes: and if zat does not cure
you of your obstinacy, ze next bullet shall be for you."

He raged up to Maurice.

"Once more I demand zat you tell me vere is your despatch, or vat it
contained. It is ze last time. Refuse, and you vill be shot. Don't
flatter yourself zat I shall hesitate."

"I have no information to give," replied Maurice, between puffs of his
cigarette.

The Count strode to him, snatched the cigarette from his lips, and bade
his men tie his hands behind. When this was done he called forward one of
the Albanians from Elbasan.

"Shoot that man," he said, pointing to Maurice.

The Albanian lifted his rifle slowly. Maurice faced him squarely, with
not so much as the tremor of an eyelid. The man hesitated, looked from
Slavianski to the prisoner and back again, then grounded his rifle.

"No, no, excellence," he said. "In fair fight, yes; for blood, yes; it is
my duty. I have killed five men for blood; but I will not shoot a man
like a dog. If that is the way in your country, do it yourself; it is not
our way."

Cries of applause broke from his comrades.

Slavianski turned angrily towards his own countrymen. There was a
something in their demeanour that gave him no hope of finding among them
an executioner. With a snarl of rage he whipped out his own revolver and
pointed it at Maurice, whose eyes looked into his unflinchingly, and
whose lips curved in a slight smile. His finger was on the trigger.

"My Government has a long arm, Monsieur le Comte," said Maurice quietly
in French. "Had you not better think it over?"

"Bah!" cried the Count, dropping the muzzle slightly, nevertheless. "Your
ambassador at Constantinople was given warning that Englishmen travel in
this country at their own risk."

"True," replied Maurice, as calmly as if he were discussing a matter
quite impersonal; "at their own risk--of interference by the people of
the country. You are not an Albanian, Monsieur."

"You will disappear--the mountains swallow you."

"But not you, Monsieur. You are known to have tracked me to Brindisi; it
is known at Brindisi that you followed me to Durazzo. This is a time of
peace. If you shoot me, if I disappear, you will be suspected of
murdering me, and whatever your services may have been to your
Government, I think it will hardly protect you."

Rostopchin touched his chief on the arm and spoke to him in low tones.
The Count gnawed his moustache, frowned, muttered a curse. Then, with an
angry gesture, he called to his men to take the prisoners into the house,
and walked towards his Albanian allies. After a short conversation with
them, he too entered the house.

The brothers, on reaching the first floor, were placed against the wall.
Their legs were bound. Leaving two of his men to guard them, Slavianski
mounted to the upper floor with Rostopchin. In a few moments the women
and children came hurriedly down the ladder. On reaching the ground floor
they were turned out of the house. Giulika and his men looked on
sullenly; they were too few to oppose any resistance. The men from
Elbasan laughed. They had no quarrel with them. Even though some of them
had been wounded in the recent fighting, they were too much accustomed to
hard knocks to bear a grudge on that account, so long as their honour was
not concerned. They had been engaged to hunt down the Inglesi, and knew
that if they raised a hand against the villagers, now that the Inglesi
were captured, it would start a feud that might involve the whole
countryside.

Slavianski and Rostopchin took up their quarters in the upper floor of
the kula. By and by they summoned one of the men left to guard the
prisoners to prepare a meal. After a time all three came down, descended
to the lower floor, and passed out of the house.

"You were fine," said George in a murmur to his brother. "I was in a most
horrible funk. I'm glad I wasn't put to the test."

"Oh, you'd have come through all right. What I was most conscious of was
a raging thirst. Monsieur," he said, addressing the guard in French, "may
I have some milk, rakia, coffee, or water, if it is drinkable?"

The man grinned.

"The Count's order is that you have nothing," he said.

"They're going to starve us into giving in," said Maurice to his brother.

"The fiends!" muttered George. "How long can you hold out?"

"Long enough to tire them, I hope. When they think of it, they'll see
that we're no good to them dead. They haven't found, and won't find, the
despatch; they'll suppose I carry a verbal message; and starvation is
just as much murder as shooting."

"If they'd only give us a drink! It's like an oven here now that the sun
is getting up. My mouth is parched already: don't people go mad from
thirst?"

"Oh! it won't come to that. They'll give in presently."

But the hours crawled on, and neither food nor drink was given to them.
The Austrians re-entered the house. As they passed, Maurice, in a rough,
husky whisper, said to the Count:

"Monsieur, will it not satisfy you that we are hungry? Is it in your
instructions to torture us with thirst?"

Slavianski went by without a word. The man who had been on guard mounted
the ladder, his place being taken by the fourth member of the party.

The long day drew out towards evening.

The two prisoners at first lay still and tried to sleep. But the heat and
stuffiness of the room, the cramping of their limbs, and their increasing
thirst caused almost unendurable pain. They tossed and writhed, now and
again calling in hoarse whispers for water, only to be answered with a
jeer. The voices of the others came to them from above; through the
window floated sounds of laughter and singing; and as the light faded
they felt creeping upon them the numbness of despair.

Again the guard was changed. The man lit a small candle-lamp, and sat
against the wall a revolver beside him. Within and without the sounds
were hushed; their enemies slept, but no sleep came to cool their fevered
brows. Their guard began to doze; breathing hard, waking with a start,
then dozing again. By and by his breathing became regular; he too was
asleep. How many hours passed it was impossible to tell. Wakeful,
tortured with pain, the prisoners longed for morning.

Suddenly they heard a slight creaking sound. The guard awaked, sat erect,
and looked about him. The prisoners were lying where they had been
placed; all was well; and after a minute or two his loud breathing
proclaimed that sleep had again overcome him. There was a second creak, a
rustle, and a man slid into the room through the window. He stole across
the room towards the sleeping guard; there was a gurgle; then silence.
The prisoners raised themselves slightly from the floor, and saw the
intruder approaching them. Without a word he stooped and with swift,
silent movements cut their bonds. Then for a few moments he rubbed their
numbed wrists and ankles, and signed to them to follow him. They saw now
that the bars had been removed from the window. He motioned to Maurice to
climb up. When he did so, he saw a ladder resting on the wall just below
the sill, its lower end standing on a wagon beneath. He looked anxiously
below. Nobody was in sight, but from round the corner of the house came
the glow of a fire. He descended, slowly, painfully; George followed him;
last of all, their rescuer issued forth and climbed down.

From the wagon they reached the ground.

In the dim glow the Englishmen saw that their deliverer was Giorgio.

"Where is the car?" whispered Maurice.

"At the front of the house," he replied. "Come with me."

They followed him towards the trees at the back of the house. Here they
were met by Giulika, Marko, and the other men of his family, together
with half a dozen strangers.

"Come with us, friends," said the old man.

"We cannot leave the car," whispered Maurice.

"Is it worth a life?" was the reply.

"Yes, we must have it."

They spoke in whispers. How was the car to be removed without discovery?
There was no time to lose. The men in the upper floor might waken; there
would be no wakening for the guard in the room below. Marko stole to the
corner of the house. Between the house and the camp fire a number of
horses were tethered. They cast a shadow on the spot where the gyro-car
rested against the wall. Marko beckoned, and George joined him. After a
moment's hesitation they crept round on all fours, placed themselves one
on each side of the car, and wheeled it silently round the corner to the
side of the house, and thence to the back.

"Come with us," said Giulika.

He led the way through the trees, up a steep path in the hill-side.
Maurice helped George and two other men to wheel the car. It was a rocky
path; there were frequent stumbles in the darkness, and they shivered
lest the slight sounds they made should reach the ears of the men
encamped below, who were not all asleep. The hum of voices rose and fell.

After a few minutes the slow procession halted, and Giulika offered a
gourd full of sour milk to the famished Englishmen, of which they drank
greedily.

"Long life to you!" said the old man cheerily. "My honour is clean, and
only one man is dead."

"Could we not have gagged and bound him?" said Maurice.

"The other was the shorter way," said Giorgio. "He might have waked while
I cut your bonds, and made a sound."

"And we had to think of our honour," added his grandfather.

Maurice did not reply. Honour has different meanings in different places.

They went on again. The moon was set, and the stars gave little light.
Following a winding gorge between two almost perpendicular cliffs, George
thought that there would be no danger in lighting his lamp. By its bright
flame they were able to see the way, and marched more quickly. Giulika
went first, behind him came the Bucklands, with four men wheeling the
car; the rear was brought up by the rest of the company, to keep a watch
over the backward track. Maurice drew out his watch; it was nearly one
o'clock. They had three or four hours until dawn, and Giulika said they
must travel as far as possible before sunrise. The car had probably left
a track by which the direction of their flight would be discovered. There
were few dwellers in these mountain solitudes, but someone might see them
when daylight came, and the passage of so strange a vehicle would almost
certainly be announced from hill to hill by shouts.

"Where are you leading us?" asked Maurice.

"By the path I spoke of, to the Black Drin," answered Giulika.



CHAPTER XII--THE SWAMP


YARD by yard the path became steeper, and at times bent so abruptly that
only with the greatest care, and by the united efforts of the whole
party, could the gyro-car be dragged or pushed round. More than once
Giulika muttered an imprecation on the people who invented machines. On
foot, even on horseback, the narrow path presented little difficulty to a
mountaineer, and the simple old man could not understand why two
travellers, in peril of their lives from enemies, should enhance their
danger by clinging to a thing of metal. He admitted, however, that the
lamp was a good one, and even said that he should like to have a light as
brilliant in his kula; it would enable the women to knit at night!

When they had gone so far from the village that there was no risk of a
sound reaching the Albanians at their camp fire, George started the motor
actuating the gyroscopes, and so made the haulage of the car easier,
since the men no longer needed to concern themselves with keeping it
upright. This fact caused no little consternation among them, and one
asked earnestly whether the Inglesi would assure him that the car was not
a creature of Shaitan.

They soon found that, difficult as it was to get the machine up-hill, it
was still more difficult when the path took a downward trend. At such
times the car had a tendency to break away from the hands of those who
held it. By-and-by it occurred to George to climb into the car at the
head of such descents and apply the brakes. Even then, however, the men
had to hang upon it, for powerful as the brakes were, they were scarcely
strong enough to hold it at the steepest parts.

Progress was slow. To start the driving motor was out of the question:
the one consolation was that no petrol was being consumed. Eager as all
were to reach the river, Maurice was determined not to jeopardise the
remainder of his journey to Sofia by over-haste. Both George and he felt
utterly worn out. The strain of constant travelling, the want of sleep
and food, the agitation of the past day, were telling upon them heavily.
They nibbled at hunks of hard maize bread given them by Giulika, and at
some polonies they had bought at Durazzo; but with the exhaustion of
their nervous energy they had lost appetite. Their present perils, and
the thought of possible dangers to come, kept them on the rack.

It was indeed anxious, terrifying work, this scrambling up rough,
tortuous acclivities, then diving headlong into what seemed at times an
almost perpendicular gulf. The path was little more than a goat track.
Here a huge mass of rock blocked the way; there the track diminished to a
width of little more than four feet, with a sheer cliff on one side and
on the other a precipice of unknown depth. Giulika confessed that but for
the light of the lamp he would never have attempted the more hazardous
portions of the path; and the Englishmen were thankful that the
surrounding darkness concealed from them the full measure of the risk
they were running.

Suddenly they heard the baying of dogs.

"We are coming to the house of Zutni; he is a friend," said Giulika.

Descending a long incline, a bend in the track brought them in sight of a
rectangle of light. A door stood open, and out of it came a gigantic
mountaineer, gun in hand. He was dazzled by the white glare of the lamp,
and called suspiciously to the strangers to halt. Giulika went forward;
his friend recognised him, and kissed him affectionately. A few words
passed between them: then, hearing that two Englishmen were with the
party, Zutni advanced, shook them warmly by the hand, and invited them to
enter his house.

"Be welcome!" he said.

"Is it safe to delay?" Maurice asked of Giulika.

"Yes, indeed," replied the old man. "We have come far; the Austrians will
not dare to follow on horseback in the dark, and they may not discover
our flight until the morning."

The house was a small one, perched on a rocky eminence. The whole party
entered; Giulika and his men, according to Albanian custom, handed their
weapons to their host, who hung them beside his own on the wall. He
placed mats for the Englishmen before a blazing fire; his women pulled
off their boots, and in a few minutes grilled for them some mutton steaks
on skewers. Rakia was produced: "Good health, friends," said the jovial
host; and the travellers, basking in the warmth, ate and drank with
relish.

Giulika related what had occurred. His friend listened with indignation.

"You have done well," he said, "but will not the villains slay your women
and children and burn your house when they find that you have gone?"

"Aha!" chuckled Giulika. "The women and children are safe: I sent them
this afternoon towards Ochrida to my brother." (It was really a very
distant cousin, but the ties of blood are close in Albania). "As for my
house, it is likely to be burnt; but it is God's will. I could not betray
my guests."

"True. And do I see Leka among you! Is it besa?"

"Yes: it is besa until we return to the village. Leka is an honourable
man."

And then Maurice learnt, with amazement, that among the villagers who had
accompanied him was the man who had shot Giorgio. The blood-foes were at
this moment squatting side by side, laughing and talking in the
friendliest way, drinking alternately out of the same mug. The truce
between them would hold until they returned to their village: then Leka
would watch for an opportunity of stalking and slaying his enemy, with no
more compunction than if he were a noxious beast.

"Sleep, friends," said Zutni presently to the two Englishmen, who were
nodding. "The Inglesi need much sleep; it is one of God's mysteries. I
will wake you when day comes. Long life to you!"

They needed no pressing. Zutni's wife brought some mats for pillows,
tucked them up in blankets with her own delicate fingers, and they slept
till daybreak, oblivious of the insects that feasted on them.

In the wan, grey light Zutni awoke them.

The fire was raked together: the women made strong coffee; and after a
breakfast of coffee and hot maize bread baked on the hearth they set off
to resume their journey. Zutni himself accompanied them; like Giulika, he
felt responsible for his guests, and had resolved to see them safely to
the Drin.

When they looked back upon the track they had traversed, they could
scarcely realise that it had been possible to cross the rugged mountains
behind them. Looking forward, it seemed equally impossible that they
could climb the heights in front with so cumbrous a vehicle as the
gyro-car. Peak after peak thrust its pinnacles into the sky. The path was
visible for only a few yards ahead, and as each rugged corner was
rounded, another came into view. But the terrors of the night had
vanished. Daylight, while it revealed the difficulties and dangers of the
journey, enabled the travellers to avoid them; and the Albanians hauled
and pushed and dragged joyously, grunting with satisfaction as each new
obstacle was surmounted. The only check upon their high spirits was the
necessity of moving quietly, in order not to attract attention from any
who might be wandering on the heights. For the same reason George did not
start his engine. In the clear mountain air its throbbing might be heard
for many miles. But it was possible now to let the car run down many a
downward slope by its own weight, so that the progress was nearly twice
as rapid as it had been in the darkness.

After they had been marching for about an hour, and began to find the
descents longer than the ascents, they came to the blackened ruins of a
small mountain village. In answer to Maurice's inquiries, Giulika
explained that the houses had been burnt by the Turks in the last rising.
The Ottoman troops, coming to a village and finding any of the men absent
from their homes, would assume that they were with the insurgents, and
burn their houses. There was no more effective means of crushing an
insurrection, for the Albanian's house is his all.

"What we want is a good government," said the old man. "You Inglesi have
a good king, they say; why does not he come and govern us?"

This was a question which Maurice found it difficult to answer in any way
that could satisfy the simple mountaineer, to whom international politics
was an unknown world. He was listening sympathetically to Giulika's
recital of the misdeeds of the Turks, when the party encountered a more
serious obstacle than any they had yet met. A mountain stream, running
towards the Drin, had spread out into a wide swamp, dotted with boulders.
So soft and oozy was the soil, that the leaders of the march sank deep
into it. There was not water enough to float the car, and its weight
would clearly prevent its being run across. Nor was there any possibility
of carrying it as the sailors had carried it from the quay to the launch
at Dover: the men could not get a firm footing.

They halted, looking blankly at one another.

Zutni said that the morass could be circumvented but only by striking
back into the mountains and following a track that would take them
several hours' march out of the direct course. Such loss of time was
dangerous, and might prove fatal. Remembering how the man from Elbasan
had refused to shoot him at the bidding of Slavianski, Maurice asked
Giulika whether the Austrian might not have permanently lost the help of
his allies. But the old man answered that this was, unlikely. The Elbasan
had obeyed the dictate of honour in refusing to kill a helpless prisoner;
but the same sense of honour would bid him fulfil his obligation to his
employer when the prisoners were free. They would certainly pursue on
horseback, and the delay involved in fetching a circuit about the swamp
would enable them to gain upon the fugitives.

"While they were discussing the perplexing situation in which they found
themselves, George's eyes lighted on the ruined buildings perched on the
heights about half a mile in their rear.

"If there are any planks left whole in those buildings," he said to
Maurice, there is a chance for us. "We could lay them on the mud and form
a track. It would be slow work getting across even then, but quicker than
going miles round."

Maurice explained the suggestion to Giulika.

He at once sent half a dozen men back to the village to see if the fire
had spared enough timber to serve the purpose. The Englishmen gazed with
admiration as the lithe young men hastened up the slope, as nimbly as
goats. In an extraordinarily short time they were seen returning, each
carrying one or more long, rough, blackened planks, ripped from a
half-demolished barn. They brought news as well. They had caught a
glimpse of horse-men approaching through a defile in the hills behind.

"How far away?" asked Maurice anxiously. Their answers left him very much
in the dark. Time and distance are alike vague to the people of Albania.
One said an hour's march, another declared that it was less; all were
agreed that if the swamp were dry ground, the pursuers would overtake
them before they had reached the other side, and from this Maurice
inferred that the distance between the two parties was even less than the
mountaineers supposed.

Without the loss of a moment he instructed them how to lay the planks.
The first having been thrown down upon the mud, a man carried a second
along it and placed them end to end, and so on, until there was a kind of
pier, sixty or seventy feet long, extending into the swamp. George then
mounted into the car to steer it, and it was pushed from behind until it
reached the furthermost plank. At times the planks sank until they
disappeared below the surface; but then, although the wheels were running
in several inches of ooze the boards beneath them afforded a sufficiently
firm foundation. Each plank was held by a man at the nearer end as the
car ran over it, so that it should not swerve, George well knowing that
the slightest deviation to right or left must precipitate the vehicle
into the morass.

Behind the car marched the whole of the party in single file. The last
man, on gaining the second plank, lifted the first and handed it to his
comrade in front. Thus each board was raised in turn. When the car
arrived at the end of the pier, and came to an enforced standstill a man
passed through it and laid a plank beyond, and the pier was reconstructed
as before. Then the advance was carried for another sixty feet, and the
operation was once more gone through.

"Upon my word, I'd rather face the precipices," said George to Maurice,
as the car reached the end of the third section. "They were not half so
trying to the nerves as this slow crawl."

"Have patience, my dear fellow," replied his brother.  "It was an
uncommonly happy thought of yours. We've the consolation of knowing that,
as we take up our path behind us, Slavianski can't follow, and will have
to go the roundabout way that we have escaped."

"Do you see any sign of the fellow?"

"Not yet. The mountain track winds and undulates so much that we shan't
catch sight of him till he comes to the ruins."

"Well, I hope that won't be yet, for if the Albanians are anything of
marksmen, they can pick us off long before we get to the other side. And
we can't go any faster; these fellows are working splendidly. I suppose
if we get through to Sofia safely your chief will reward 'em pretty
handsomely."

"It isn't in the regulations, as the Customs officer told us," said
Maurice with a smile. "Still, I daresay we shall be able to do something
for them--if we get through; we're not out of the wood yet."

By slow stages the party had advanced about a quarter of a mile into the
swamp, and only forty or fifty yards yet remained, when there was the
report of a rifle. Glancing round, Maurice saw a group of horsemen halted
in the ruined village; several had dismounted. Then came three cracks in
rapid succession.

"They're no good!" cried George gleefully, when neither man nor car was
hit.

"The range is too long for accurate shooting," said Maurice, "but they
can alter that. See, they are coming down and much faster than we did."

The horsemen were putting their steeds to a pace that seemed to the
onlookers dangerous. Before they were half-way down the hillside, indeed,
one of the horses stumbled, throwing its rider.

"He is an Austrian," said Giulika laughing. "No Albanian, Christian or
Moslem, would leave his saddle so quickly as that."

On coming within a quarter-mile of the swamp the horses began to gallop;
but the fugitives had advanced another sixty feet before they reached the
edge. There the horsemen reined up, flung themselves from their saddles,
and fired a scattered volley. Maurice looked grave as the shots whistled
round, but the danger of the party was not so great as might be supposed,
even had the Albanians been better marksmen, because the fugitives were
not grouped, but marched in a line. The car itself formed the best
target. One or two bullets struck its framework, and George felt a little
nervous lest one should find its billet in the petrol-tank. But no harm
was done until a shot struck Giorgio in the arm, just below the spot
where his former wound was bandaged. He growled with rage; but his
grandfather laughed at his ill-luck, and Maurice could not help smiling
when Leka, the young man's blood-foe, said cheerfully:

"Never mind. Well have besa until your wounds are healed."

"Hadn't you better be friends for life?" asked Maurice.

"And lose my honour, excellence?" said Leka. "No; I would sooner drown
myself in this swamp."

The Albanians laid the track over the last stretch with wonderful speed,
and in a few minutes the car and the whole party touched terra firma. The
pursuers were still firing, but without effect. Some of Giulika's party
paused to return the shots, but their marksmanship was no better than
their opponents', and Giulika presently ordered them to desist.

By this time Slavianski had recognised the hopelessness of further
shooting. Mounting his horse again, he rode for a few yards into the
swamp, as if to test the possibility of direct pursuit, but he halted
when the animal's legs had disappeared almost to the knees, and returned
to the shore. In a few moments his party were in their saddles, and
started at a gallop to make the circuit of the swamp.

"Really, his perseverance deserves to be rewarded," remarked Maurice, as
he mounted to his place beside George in the car.



CHAPTER XIII--A LANDSLIP IN THE HILLS


ON the eastern side of the swamp the ground rose so gradually that it was
possible, for the first time since the escape from the kula, to start the
engine. The car's easy motion surprised and delighted the Albanians, who
ran along beside it with cries of admiration. Giulika himself, old as he
was, kept as good a pace as the younger men, and when Maurice invited him
to enter the car he declined.

"Never in my life have I been carried by anything but a horse," he said,
"and I am too old to try new things. Nothing but a horse shall carry me
until I am borne to my grave."

After a time the path again became steep and rough, and the pace had to
be moderated. "How far are we from the river?" asked Maurice.

"About an hour's march," replied Zutni, who was more familiar with this
part of the country than Giulika. "The track is very bad."

"Shall we not come to a valley?"

"No, excellence. The river runs between high rocky cliffs. There are but
few places where we can get to the water."

"And will the horsemen come to the track we are following?"

"They must. But it is a long way round, and, if we do well, we may reach
the river before they discover us. But it is a very bad track."

It proved, indeed, to be even more difficult than any they had formerly
traversed. Again their progress was checked at every few yards, either by
an abrupt bend that demanded the most careful manoeuvring, or by a
narrowing of the path between a perpendicular wall on one side and a
yawning chasm on the other. To keep the engine going was only a useless
expenditure of petrol, except when mounting an incline. At one spot the
ascent was so steep that the car had to be lifted by the whole party and
hoisted over a sharp ridge. Progress was terribly slow. The sun was now
high in the heavens, and its rays were reflected with scorching heat from
the rocks. The Englishmen began to feel sick and dizzy. Their boots,
soaked through during their passage of the morass, were torn into shreds
by hard marching over the rugged ground, and both felt that if they did
not soon gain the river, they would be incapable of continuing their
journey without a prolonged rest; then all hope of escaping Slavianski
must be abandoned, and when once again in his clutches they would hardly
win release.

They struggled on. Then, rounding a bend in the narrow track, they saw
themselves faced with an insurmountable obstacle. To the right was a
craggy precipice, to the left a steep and rugged hill-slope. A mass of
earth, loosened, apparently, by rains, had slid down the slope across the
path, blocking it to the height of several feet. Even the Albanians were
aghast.

"It is God's will," said Giulika, with the fatalism of his race. "God
sent rain that washed the earth down. The way is blocked for ever. No man
will reach the Drin by this path again."

"Is this the path by which the Austrians must come?" asked Maurice.

"Certainly it is; there is no other," was the reply. "We must go back and
meet them, or, if you please, stay here and shoot; we can kill a good
many of them before we ourselves are killed."

Maurice consulted with his brother.

"The question is, are you willing to be collared again?" said George,
when he understood the position. "I am not, I tell you frankly. There
will have to be a fight, and it's not our fault; they fired at us. If any
of these fellows have pluck enough to keep Slavianski off while the rest
of us work, I don't see why we shouldn't cut a way through this
obstruction--it's loose earth."

Maurice put the suggestion to Giulika and Zutni, and with them examined
the position. It was clear that, posted behind the rocks at the bend in
the path, a few bold spirits could hold a regiment at bay. Screened from
sight themselves, they would have the enemy in full view, and as these
approached the bend they would be completely at the mercy of the hidden
marksmen. The Albanians, accustomed to mountain warfare, grasped the
possibilities of the situation; their only doubt was whether the
obstructing bank of earth could be cut through in time, but they were
ready to make the attempt.

Accordingly a division of the party was made. Zutni and a few of the best
marksmen posted themselves behind convenient rocks; the rest, with
assistance from the Englishmen, set to work with knives and rifles to
cleave a way through the obstacle. It was arduous work, lacking proper
implements, and with the sun beating upon them in all its midday
strength. As George pointed out, the gyro-car needed only a narrow
passage, and if the enemy could be held off for an hour or two the task
might be accomplished.

Some ten minutes after they had begun work, there was a crack from
Zutni's rifle. Slavianski and his party, approaching on horseback in
single file, at once came to a halt. The Albanians among them recognised
that they had the worst of the position, and though as yet only one shot
had been fired, they guessed that there were other marksmen lurking
behind the rocks. They dismounted and held a consultation, their
perfectly-trained horses standing stock-still.

Presently the man next to Zutni caught sight of the muzzle of a rifle
edging round the bend and then the arm of the Albanian holding the
weapon. Keeping his eye fixed on the slowly-moving objects, the watcher
bided his time. Then there was a crack and a flash: the rifle dropped
from the hand of the advancing enemy on to the path. The arm disappeared.
But in a few moments the fallen rifle was drawn slowly backward by an
unseen hand.

Save for the noise of the shots, and the sounds made by the men in
clearing the path, the silence of that mountain solitude had hitherto
been scarcely broken. Now an eagle, which had been startled by the crack
of the rifles, flew over the place with a hoarse scream, and there broke
in upon it the voice of Count Slavianski urging the Albanians, in their
own tongue, to make a dash upon the fugitives. Maurice smiled when he
heard the answer, roared in so loud a tone that it was plain the Count
was some distance behind his vanguard."

"You are our leader, excellence," cried the men. "We follow you."

It was not surprising that the mountaineers were reluctant to advance.
They knew from what had happened already that the first man to show
himself round the corner would be shot before he could see his enemy to
make a target of him. And there was a delicious irony in the man's retort
that pleased Maurice. The Count, however courageous he might be--and the
Englishmen had had no reason to doubt his courage--was debarred from
undertaking the office of leader by the narrowness of the path. It was
blocked by the men and horses of his party, and no change could be made
in the order of their advance, unless they were willing to retrace their
steps for some distance to a spot where a cleft in the rocky hill-side
would permit them to turn without falling over the precipice. But this
plan had apparently not yet occurred to them, for Slavianski continued
his exhortations, which led to an altercation that became increasingly
acrimonious.

Meanwhile the men of Giulika's party had been working like navvies, or
rather, with much more alacrity than George had ever seen English navvies
display. The discussion beyond the bend was still proceeding when a
narrow passage for the gyro-car was completed.

"It is done, praise God!" cried Giulika, who, in spite of his years, had
toiled as hard as any of the younger men. "Now I will tell my English
friends what they must do. We cannot all go at once, because when those
Moslem pigs beyond discover our absence they will follow at once, and we
shall have gained nothing. It will be best for you to go on with your
machine, while we remain to hold the path. Giorgio, poor unlucky one, is
no good as a fighter until his wounds be healed: he will guide you."

"Is it much further to the Drin?" asked Maurice.

"Not a great way, and presently the road will be easier, This track runs
into a broader path when you come within sight of the Drin, and you will
be able to make your machine buzz."

"And you can hold the path behind us?"

"Surely we can. You have seen how slow those infidels are to face our
bullets. Without doubt we can keep them back until our cartridges are all
spent."

Clearly the plan suggested by the old man was the best in the
circumstances. George vaulted into the car to manipulate the brakes, the
path now becoming a gradual descent, and Maurice and Giorgio walked
ahead.

For some two miles they threaded their way between bluffs and precipices.
There was no sound of firing behind them, which Maurice regarded as a
favourable sign. But to his surprise Giorgio became more and more uneasy.
Every now and again he stopped to listen, and to scan the path behind and
the country around, where a view was possible.

"What are you troubled about?" asked Maurice.

"Why are there no shots, excellence?" Giorgio asked, in return.

"I suppose our pursuers are still considering whether to try to force the
pass or not."

"Ah no! Look!" cried Giorgio, pointing to the left.

Following the direction of his outstretched finger, George and Maurice
saw, far above them on the skyline, perhaps a mile distant, a series of
specks moving in the same direction as themselves.

"That is why there are no shots, excellence," said Giorgio. "They must
have gone back to a narrow gorge that runs up into the mountains, a very
bad path, but shorter than this one. It leads to the road my grandfather
spoke of. If they get there first they can block our way to the Drin. But
the road there is pretty good, and if you make the machine buzz loud, you
can dash into them and throw them over the cliff, horses and all."

"We had better get there first, if we can," said Maurice, repeating to
George what he had just heard.

"We must make a dash for it, and take our chance," said George. "I'm not
going to be collared again. Get into the car, old boy, and Giorgio too.
The path isn't so bad as it was, and if we don't get a puncture we shall
do very well."

Maurice mounted to his seat beside his brother. There was no proper
accommodation for a third person in the car, but Giorgio crouched in the
narrow space between the seats and the gyroscopes. George started the
engine, and the car began to gather away. The Albanian, stolid and
iron-nerved as he was, gasped with dismay as the vehicle ran down the
incline, bumping a little when, in spite of George's careful steering, it
crossed a hollow or a knob of rock. The path began to switchback. Then it
was a series of rushes at the up grades and scrambles down the slopes on
the other side, with the brakes hard on. George knew well that a few
yards of specially bumpy ground might break a spring or puncture a tyre;
but the risk seemed to him negligible by comparison with the greater risk
of being intercepted. More than once he felt the indescribable movement
of the rear wheels that betokened skidding, and he could not repress a
shudder as he recognised how the swerving of an inch or two to the right
must plunge them over the chasm. But he set his teeth and kept a firm
grip on his levers, and after nearly half an hour of this perilous
driving he saw with joy that the path left the rocky face of the cliff,
and ran into a wider and more level track.

They looked ahead. No one was in sight.

They looked behind, along the narrow track by which the pursuers must
come. There was no sign of them. But they heard shouts from the heights
above them, long, vociferous, howling calls that must have made great
demands on the lungs of the shouters. To Giorgio's dismay these shouts
were answered on their right. It seemed as if they would have to reckon
with enemies on both sides of them. But at present on neither side was an
enemy visible.

The path being now less ragged ad tortuous, with no yawning precipice at
its edge, George increased the speed of the gyro-car. Giorgio said that
they would soon come in sight of the Drin. All at once George was
conscious of a lack of power in the engine. He opened the throttle, to no
effect.

"We are done for," he said in despair. "Something is wrong."

He brought the car to a standstill and leapt out. The explanation was
immediately obvious. A trail of petrol lay behind the car, stretching out
of sight.

"The outlet plug of the tank has fallen out," he cried, "and I haven't
another."

He ran back, searching the path for the missing plug. Maurice sprang
after him, snatching up Giorgio's rifle, in case the enemy came in sight.
George hurried to the spot where the trail of petrol began, but there was
no plug.

"What an ass I am!" he cried. "We were going at a good speed, and of
course the plug might be carried some yards. Hunt back along with me,
Maurice."

So many stones lay on the path that they almost despaired of finding the
plug. But Maurice's foot by-and-by struck against something which the
instinct acquired in searching for lost golf balls told him was not a
stone. He stooped, and picked up the missing plug.

"Good man," said George. "It's lucky we've plenty of petrol left, for the
tank is as empty as a drum, you may be sure."

They ran back to the car, replaced the plug, and filled the tank from one
of the tins. Then they started again; the accident had cost them more
than five minutes. The shouts from the hill-tops sounded nearer. Giorgio
now and again flung out his hand on one side or the other, to signify the
exact direction from which the shout came. Like a batsman who has just
been "let off" in the long field, George seemed to become reckless. He
drove the car at a speed that made Giorgio cling in terror to the back of
the seat, and even provoked a remonstrance from Maurice.

"All right, old man," said George jubilantly. "We've got another life,
and--By Jove! Is that the Drin?"

"Yes, yes," shouted Giorgio in wild excitement. "It is the Black Drin. We
have won the race."



CHAPTER XIV--A RUSH THROUGH THE RAPIDS


FAR below the travellers, at the foot of steep cliffs, clothed here and
there with forest, but in many places bare, flowed the Black Drin. It
seemed to Maurice to belie its name, for its waters were of lit yellowish
brown. They drove on rapidly, sometimes losing sight of the river, but
catching glimpses of villages and cultivated fields in the distance.

In a few minutes they entered a narrow gorge which, as Giorgio explained,
led straight down to the river. A fast run brought them to the brink of
the stream. To the Albanian's amazement and alarm George ran the car
straight into the water. He was rather uneasy himself when he found how
the additional weight of a third person depressed the car. The stream was
shallow and sluggish, and he had to bring the car very near to the middle
of the current before he was satisfied that it would float without risk
to the wheels. If they should strike with any force upon a rock in the
bed of the river they might buckle, or the tyres might be punctured, and
then it would be good-bye to any chance of finishing their journey.

Owing to the make of the car, it was impossible to employ the rods that
supported it when the gyroscopes were not working to fend off obstacles
in the channel. All that George could do was to keep a sharp look-out
over the edge of the wind-screen, and steer what appeared to be the
safest course.

"I suppose the channel deepens as we proceed, and we shan't be in such
danger," he said.

Maurice asked a question of Giorgio.

"Yes, excellence," replied the man. "The river becomes deeper after the.
rapids are passed, and deeper still when it joins the White Drin and
flows towards the sea.

"Rapids, are there!" cried George, when the man's reply was translated.
"I hope they're not bad ones."

"The water is very Swift there," Giorgio replied to a question from
Maurice. "And many rocks stand out of it. Assuredly you will not think of
running through the rapids, excellence!"

George declared that he certainly would run the rapids, unless they were
very bad.  What else could be done? The bank of the river on either side
appeared too high and rugged even for a climber to scale.

Giorgio explained that before they came to the rapids they must pass the
bridge that spanned the river near the hill-side village of Trebischte to
their left. He threw out his hand to indicate the locality of the
village.

"A bridge?" said Maurice. "Then there is a road, and we may still be
intercepted."

"That is true, excellence. The river makes many windings, and there are
goat-tracks over the hills leading to Trebischte."

"And if we run on to the land and cross the river by the bridge at
Trebischte, what then?"

"Then, excellence, you will have a difficult path until you come to the
road to Prizren."

"The only thing to be done," said George, is to make all speed for the
bridge, and get there first. I think old Giulika might have managed this
a little better. Why didn't he make straight for the bridge instead of
leading us over that wretched mountain path?"

"He was discretion itself," replied Maurice. "You remember we have not
passed through a single village. The old man chose an unfrequented route
to ensure that we should not be molested or checked."

"I daresay you are right. I'll set the propeller going, though I wanted
to trust to the current alone, so as to save petrol. But if there's a
chance of those ruffians reaching the bridge before us, the faster we go
the better."

Almost immediately after the propeller was started there was a faint
shout from some elevated spot on the left.

"They hear the buzz," said Giorgio.

"Trebischte is over there."

A few minutes afterwards there were more shouts, much louder, and now on
both sides of the river. It appeared that one party was answering
another. As yet no one was to be seen. But in a few moments, as the
gyro-boat rounded a bend, its occupants saw a lofty one-arched bridge
spanning the stream. On either side a steep path led up into the hills.
Giorgio looked anxiously around.

"See," he said, pointing to the left-hand path.

The Englishman espied a number of men hurrying down towards the river.
Just above them stood some horses.

"The path is too steep for horses," said Maurice. "Do you see Slavianski
and Rostopchin among the men?"

"I see them," said George grimly.

"We've got to shoot the bridge before they get to it, or they can pick
us off as we pass. Slavianski won't care a rap what he does now. Despatch
or no despatch, he means to have his revenge on you for the dance you
have led him. We'll beat him with the current in our favour we are going
ten or twelve knots now. But--great Scott! there's another lot on the
other side, and much nearer, too."

"No doubt the fellows we heard shouting," said Maurice, with an anxious
glance at a line of men running at breakneck speed down the path on the
right. "Some of them must reach the bridge before we do. But they have no
rifles; that's one point in our favour."

That the men were unarmed was due to the fact that they had been working
in the field above the river, and had left their labour in response to
the cries from the further bank. But they were followed at a long
interval by some of their comrades, who had delayed to fetch their rifles
from the hedge under which they had laid them. The Albanian and his
weapon are rarely parted.

Three or four men gained the bridge when the gyro-boat was still some
fifty yards from it. Shouts from the hills beyond had already apprised
them that the travellers were to be intercepted. For a second or two they
were lost in amazement on beholding the extraordinary craft bearing down
towards them. Then, stationing themselves in the middle of the bridge,
they prepared to hurl down on the gyro-boat, as it passed beneath, some
heavy stones from the more or less dilapidated parapet.

Maurice had already divined their probable action. It was a fearsome
prospect, and one that called for promptitude. He caught up Giorgio's
rifle--

"Put the helm hard over George, when I give the word," he said.

At the same time he rested the rifle on the gunwale and took aim at the
man nearest to the right bank.

"Now!" he said, as he fired.

The wheel spun round, and the gyro-boat swerved abruptly towards the
right bank. It was impossible to tell whether the shot had taken effect.
The Albanian, when he saw the rifle pointed at him, dropped down behind
the parapet, loosing his grip on the stone he was preparing to cast. His
fear not only robbed him of his chance, but prevented his companions from
hurling their stones, for those who were already on the bridge imitated
his ducking movement with great celerity, and those who were still
running had to pass him before they, too, could seize upon the missiles.

There was a moment of confusion. Then the men began to hurry towards the
bank, evidently supposing that the occupants of the gyro-boat intended to
land there. But another turn of the wheel caused the boat to swing back
into its former course. It shot under the arch, and before the Albanians
could turn about and rush to the further parapet, the boat was beyond the
reach of their missiles, speeding merrily on in the middle of the stream.

Shouts now sounded on all sides; rifles cracked, and bullets began to
patter in the water, none striking the boat or any of its occupants.

"Dished 'em, old man!" cried George, gleefully, stopping the engine.
"That was a very neat idea of yours. We must be going ten knots with the
current, and as they can't possibly pursue us along the banks, I think
we're safe."

"What do you say, Giorgio?" asked Maurice of the man, who had crouched
low in the boat while it ran under the bridge, but now raised himself and
looked around. For a few moments he made no reply; then, pointing first
to the right bank and then to the river ahead, he said--

"There is danger, excellence. You see!"

"I see them running from the bridge back up the hill, but what of that?"
asked Maurice.

"They will run to the rapids and cut us off there," replied Giorgio.
"There is a short path to them across the hills."

"But they can't run so fast as we are going."

"True, excellence; but the river bends and twists so much that they will
be there long before we shall, and we shall be in very great danger. No
fisher of this country has ever dared to go down the rapids."

"We shall see when we come to them. Where is the other party--those who
were pursuing us?"

Giorgio looked back along the left bank, but Slavianski and his men were
not in sight. There was no path along the bank, which was a line of
precipitous cliffs, and Giorgio surmised that the pursuers had retraced
their steps towards their horses, and would make their way over the hills
towards the rapids.

A moment later he cried out that he saw another party ahead of them, and
pointed to a spot on the left, where, high on a ridge, and too far away
to be distinguishable, several men were hurrying down towards the river.
Apparently they were few in number, and in a few moments they were lost
to sight behind a shoulder of the hill.

"It looks as if the whole countryside has been roused," said Maurice.
"There's no doubt we are in a fix, old boy."

George looked much perturbed. The situation was a desperate one. On each
side lofty and precipitous rocks: ahead, unnavigable rapids; two parties
on the hills, making for this critical place by short cuts; and in front
a third party already approaching it. These numerous enemies would choose
spots on the cliffs above the river from which they could pour a hail of
bullets on the gyro-boat as it came level with them.

"We must run the gauntlet. We've no choice," said George. "Perhaps when
we get there we shall find some way of escape. I'd give anything at this
moment for a bullet-proof awning. But it's no good wishing for what we
haven't got. You ought to have shot that ruffian Slavianski when you had
the chance."

"I rather grudge him my revolver," said Maurice. "If we do manage to get
away, the fellow will never dare to show his face in England, at any
rate."

"Nor if we don't, either; but that won't be much comfort to us. . .  The
current is rather swifter here; we can't be far from the rapids, I should
think."

The river wound from side to side erratically, and the cliffs seemed to
be higher. None of the enemy were now in sight. Ahead, and on both sides,
mountains many thousands of feet high appeared to hem the stream in
completely. The surroundings reminded George of the scenery in the fjords
of Norway, or the lochs in Scotland: its rugged majesty was softened by
the sun's engilding rays.

Never very, wide, the river at length narrowed to little more than a
gorge, with almost perpendicular walls, several hundred feet high,
descending into the water. It was hard to imagine that the stream could
find a way through what appeared to be a solid barrier of rock; but as
the gyro-boat sped on upon the quickening current, there was always a
bend where the river swept round a bluff.

The boat was now rushing on at a greatly accelerated pace, and the
proximity of the rapids warned George to stop the propeller. There might
be just the possibility of running into some creek or upon some level
bank if the rapids proved too dangerous. Almost suddenly they came to a
reach where the swirling and foaming of the water told of rocks in the
bed of the stream, and there was a perceptible increase of speed. Tense
with nervous excitement, George bent forward over the wind-screen, his
eyes fixed on the channel, his fingers clutching the steering wheel.

Meanwhile Giorgio, stout-hearted enough on land, cowered like a very
craven in the bottom of the boat, ejaculating Aves and Paternosters as
fast as the words would pour from his lips. From moment to moment Maurice
and his brother glanced around in search of any possible landing-place or
refuge; but on either hand there was nothing but bare rock rising sheer
from the stream.

The boat made its own course down the tortuous channel. As the current
became ever swifter, it was almost hopeless to attempt to steer: the boat
went in whatever direction the seething torrent bore it, swerving to this
side and that, dashing between the rocks, shaving their jagged edges, as
it seemed, by a hair's-breadth.

A sudden bend in the river gave the voyagers at once relief and a new
alarm. The water ran more smoothly, the worst perils were passed; but the
perpendicular walls had given place to banks still steep, but more
broken--rather a succession of crags and irregular columns of rock than
walls. And here, at several points on the right bank, perched on rocks
overhanging the river, stood armed Albanians in wait, while on the
hillside above them others were clambering and leaping down to find a
post of vantage.

Hitherto the brothers had conversed cheerfully, neither letting the other
guess the full measure of his anxiety. But now the moment was too
critical for speech. Numerous as were the perils they had met and
overcome since they started on their adventurous journey, both recognised
that the severest ordeal of all was imminent. They sat firmly in their
seats, with tight-closed lips, and eyes fixed straight ahead.

Maurice offered no suggestion. He knew that George would act as the
emergency demanded. To both it was obvious that the single chance of
escape, and that a desperate one, lay in rushing past the enemy at the
highest speed of which the boat was capable. The Albanians had been
hurrying over a toilsome path; even allowing for the short cuts, they
must have made extreme haste to arrive at this spot before the boat,
favoured as it had been by a current of ten miles an hour. The Bucklands
knew from experience how detrimental to steady aiming is such violent
exertion, and both nourished a faint hope that the Albanians' arms would
prove too unsteady to take good aim at a rapidly-moving target.

It was no time for half-measures. George started the motor. The effect
did not become manifest for some few seconds; but then, under the
combined impulse of current and propeller, the boat shot forward at the
rate of at least seventeen miles an hour--a desperate speed considering
the rocky nature of the channel.

The ambuscaders had been timing their attack by the rate of the boat when
it first came into view. Taken aback by the sudden and unlooked-for
increase of speed, they were flustered. Some raised their rifles hastily
to their shoulders; others, who were unarmed, stooped to lift the rocks
and small boulders which it was their purpose to hurl at the boat when it
came within striking distance. The man nearest to it was a trifle too
late in his movement. His rock was a large one; before he could heave it
above his head to make a good cast, the boat shot by, and he had to jerk
it from him at haphazard. It splashed into the river, being only a yard
behind the boat, in spite of the man's unpreparedness. The occupants were
drenched with the shower of spray.

Picture the scene. The gyro-boat dashing along in mid-stream at the mercy
of the impetuous current. In it two young men, conspicuous by the red
fez, their features pale and strained. Only George was needed to manage
the boat; Maurice might have crouched with Giorgio in the space between
the side and the gyroscopes; but he disdained to shrink from a danger
which his brother could not evade. Above, at heights varying from sixty
to a hundred and fifty feet, big moustachioed Albanians, rugged mountain
warriors, standing on rocky ledges, firing down at the boat, or hurling
stones and rocks with the force of sinewy muscles and high altitude. For
a hundred yards the occupants of the boat carried their lives in their
hands, and over all the sun beat mercilessly down.

Bullet after bullet flashed from the rifles.

Rocks of all sizes plunged into the river, behind, before, to right and
left of the boat. Now and then there was a metallic crack as a bullet
struck the steel framework. A boulder crashed upon the vessel, tearing a
long gash on the exterior of the hull, but above the water line. A
smaller rock hit the wind-screen, rebounded, struck George's arm, and
rebounding again, found a final goal on the head of Giorgio, who crouched
face downwards on the bottom, pattering his prayers. George was in terror
lest a large boulder, more accurately or luckily aimed, should plunge
into the interior of the boat, for such a missile might break a hole
through the bottom, or hopelessly damage the engine if it struck fair.
But the only injury suffered by the vessel during that terrible
half-minute was the shattering of the glass case of the gyroscopes, which
were not in motion.

Nor were the passengers destined to escape unscathed. When they had half
run the gauntlet, a rifle shot struck Maurice above the knee. The
burning, stinging pain was intolerable; yet neither by sound nor movement
did he give sign that he was wounded. Everything depended on George's
nerve, and Maurice felt that a cry of pain might draw his brother's
attention from his task. George knew nothing of the wound. Looking
neither to right hand nor to left, he kept his gaze fixed on the channel
ahead.

Suddenly a new factor entered into the situation. There were rifle shots
from the heights on the left bank. Maurice glanced up in dismay; surely
their case was now hopeless; they were running into the jaws of
destruction. For some seconds he was unable to catch a glimpse of these
new assailants. Then an abrupt turn in the channel carried them out of
sight from the enemy on the right bank, and at the same time brought the
men on the left into view. A gleam of hope dawned upon Maurice's troubled
mind.

"Giorgio," he cried, "look up. Who are these?"

The Albanian timorously raised his head.

Then he sprang up in the boat and, looking upward, shouted with delight.
On the bare hillside above the river stood a party of eight or ten
Albanians. As the gyro-boat swept into view they shouted and fired off
their rifles, not, however, aiming downwards, but shooting into the air,
their usual mode of expressing pleasurable excitement.

"It is grandfather Giulika," cried Giorgio, "and Marko, and Doda, and
Zutni; yes, and there is Leka, my blood-foe. All are there. Praise to
God, excellence! They have come over the hills to our help. While they
stand there those dogs behind cannot pursue us further. We are saved!"

"But where are the Austrians?" asked Maurice. "They were on the left
above the bridge as we passed."

"We shall soon know, excellence," said Giorgio. "Stop the boat, and I
will speak to my grandfather."

George shut off the engine, and the current being much less swift now
that the boat had come beyond the rapids, they drifted along slowly. Then
Giorgio lifted up his voice, and in clear trumpet tones, with a force
that caused his face to flush purple and the veins in his neck to swell,
he bellowed a question to the party above. The answer came in a long,
loud chant from Marko, and though the distance was several hundred feet
his words were clear and distinct.

He explained that, some while after the travellers had left the scene of
the landslip, the enemy retreated along the path, and turned into the
narrow gulley leading up to the hills. Giulika, suspecting their
intentions, decided to follow them. After some time, when the pursuers
came in sight of a village on the further bank, they called to the people
there to hasten down to the river and intercept the boat. Their shouts
were heard by Giulika and his party, who instantly left the direct track
towards the Drin and hurried to a point above the rapids where they in
their turn could command the ambuscaders.

"Where is the Austrian hound?" asked Giorgio.

"That we know not," replied Marko. "We can see the Moslems behind, across
the river; they are no longer pursuing; but there is no Austrian among
them."

"Surely he has not found another short cut to head us off again?" said
Maurice to Giorgio.

"No excellence; he cannot do that, for he would have to cross the river
by the bridge at Lukowa, and then recross. There is no other way."

"That is good news indeed. And now what had we better do?"

Giorgio shouted to the men above. This time the answer came from Zutni.
He said that about three hours' march down the river was a bridge, and
the bank was low enough there to allow the boat to run ashore.

"And what then?" asked Maurice.

"Then there are mountains for many days' march eastward. It is a very
difficult road," replied Zutni.

"We had better keep to the river," said Maurice to George. "It is joined
by the White Drin some distance to the north, and if I am not mistaken,
Prizren, the old Servian capital, is not far from the confluence. From
there we can make our way to the railway, and then we can either go by
train to Nish and change there for Sofia, or make straight across
country, whichever seems best. We shall find somebody to advise us in
Prizren."

"Whatever you like, old man," said George. "At present I want nothing but
a rest. Look how my hand trembles."

"My dear fellow, you are dead beat, and no wonder. Let me take your
place. We can float on the stream, and I can steer."

"What's wrong?" asked George, seeing his brother wince as they changed
places.

"Oh, I've got a scratch on my leg-nothing to speak of."

"Let's have a look."

On examination it proved that the bullet had passed through the flesh
just above Maurice's right knee. Luckily it had not severed an artery.
They dipped their handkerchiefs in the stream and extemporised a bandage.

"That will do until we get to Prizren," said Maurice. "Now take it easy."

"What about Giorgio?"

"He must leave us at the bridge they spoke about. I daresay his friends
will meet him there. We can't take him with us out of the way of his
blood-foe; probably he wouldn't come if we asked him, so far from his
home, and he would be of no use to us as a guide. But we owe a great deal
to old Giulika and his family, and must do something to repay them."

It was arranged between Giorgio and his friends that all should meet at
the bridge, and the marching party soon disappeared among the hills. As
the boat floated down with the stream the Bucklands and Giorgio ate and
drank ravenously of the food they had with them.

"This is like heaven," said George, as he leant back, "after the strain
of the last few hours. D'you mind if I go to sleep, old man?"

"Not I. You must want sleep badly. I'll see that we don't run aground and
jog you when we come to the bridge."

It was more than two hours before they came to the bridge, and they had
waited another hour before Giulika and his party arrived. The meeting was
hilarious. The Albanians appeared to take it all as a great joke, and the
fact of having got the better of an Austrian and a Moslem from Elbasan
afforded them vast satisfaction and amusement. Giulika regretted that,
being so far from home, he could not give a feast to celebrate their
triumph, but assured the Englishmen that if they would honour him with a
visit at some future time he would assemble all his kinsfolk and hold
high revel.

"Will you give Giorgio a tip?" asked George, as the man stepped on to the
bank to join his friends.

"He would be terribly insulted," said Maurice. "Whatever we do for him
and his people must be done delicately. I'll see to that when we get to
Sofia."

He thanked Giulika warmly for his hospitality and kindnesses, and
promised to accept his invitation some day. Then they parted with mutual
congratulations and compliments, the Albanians to face the long march
across the hills, the Englishmen to continue their voyage down the river.



CHAPTER XV--THE END OF THE CRUISE


IT was now late in the afternoon. The Bucklands were both on the verge of
exhaustion after the fatigue and the excitements they had undergone, and
since it was impossible to reach Prizren before dark, they decided to
float down the stream for a short distance until they came to some
secluded spot where they might rest. In little more than an hour they
reached a cove in the left bank where they could lie up without the risk
of being seen, except from some passing boat, and since they had as yet
neither passed nor met a vessel of any kind, it seemed likely enough that
nothing would disturb them.

So it proved. Taking turns to watch, they remained throughout the night
in the cove, and when day broke felt refreshed by their rest. They
breakfasted on the remnants of the food they had brought from Durazzo,
and set off about 7 o'clock.

The voyage down the Black Drin was slow and uneventful. Careful
navigation was required to avoid the rocks and reefs with which the bed
of the river was studded. Here and there they caught sight of villages
perched far up on the hillsides. At one point they saw a file of horsemen
winding along a path two or three hundred feet above the river, and for a
moment feared that they might be Slavianski's party; but the boat had
apparently not been noticed, and the horsemen disappeared.

About 3 o'clock they came to the junction of the Black Drin with the
White. Since the united stream flowed from this point westward, they
could no longer avail themselves of the current, nor could they proceed
up the White Drin without an expenditure of petrol which they did not
care to afford. It was time to resume their land journey. The banks of
the river were still so lofty that they found no landing-place until they
arrived at a many-arched bridge. Here they left the water and took to the
road which was little more than a bridle-track. A few minutes' run
brought them to another bridge, crossing a tributary stream. At the near
end of the bridge was a kula, and as the gyro-car came to it a man
stepped into the path, holding a rifle.

"Shall we run past him?" asked George.

"I think we had better pull up," replied Maurice. "We don't want a bullet
in our backs. I daresay he will give us some food if we approach him
properly."

George halted the car, and Maurice gave the man a courteous salutation,
and, taking the bull by the horns, asked if he could provide a meal. The
man looked amazed at the question, then curious, and finally said gruffly
that the strangers might eat if they chose, but he had nothing but bread
to offer them. This Maurice accepted, and while eating it asked how far
it was to Prizren. Hearing that it was only four hours' march, he decided
to push on at once; and, thanking their reluctant entertainer, the
travellers set off again. The road improved as they entered the dusty
plain of Prizren. They overtook many people as they sped
along--goat-herds, mule-drivers, horsemen, women carrying huge bundles
of wood, and here and there an ox-sledge. George was amused to see
them skip aside at the sound of the hooter, and many were the cries
of consternation and affright as the humming car ran by.

At length the minarets of Prizren came into view, and in a few minutes
they passed the guard-house at the entrance to the town. The main street
was cleaner than any they had seen since leaving Italy. It was thronged
with people, who had come out of their houses, now that the heat of the
day was past, to shop in the bazaars and gossip with their neighbours.
Here was a tailor's shop, blazing with colour; there a saddler's, where
hung bright saddle-bags, and horse-trappings with scarlet tassels; in
the open spaces were piled vast quantities of luscious fruit, the sight
of which made George's mouth water. But the car was attracting so much
attention that Maurice thought it best to find a han at once before they
were mobbed. They stopped at the first han they came to, and by that time
there was a considerable crowd about them, who looked on in hushed
amazement as they alighted.

Entering the place, Maurice was received by a portly hanji, whose guests
rose from their seats and courteously saluted the newcomer. George
remained outside to keep an eye on the gyro-car. When Maurice explained
that he wished the car to be taken to a safe place for the night, the
host sent two of his household to wheel it to the stables. Maurice took
occasion to explain that anyone who meddled with it would suffer a severe
shock, and to emphasise his warning got George to let off a cloud of
smoke into the faces of the bystanders, who scuttled away holding their
noses. Feeling assured that the car would not be molested, the travellers
entered the inn; the innkeeper and his attendants removed their boots and
pressed strange drinks upon them, which they politely declined, asking
for coffee. Soon they were furnished with an excellent supper--a fowl
boiled with rice, maize bread and honey. This was a banquet, compared
with the meagre and uncertain meals they had had since leaving Durazzo,
and they enjoyed it thoroughly.

"We will stay here for the night, and go on to-morrow," said Maurice.

"Is it safe to delay?" asked George.

"Quite, I think. The people here are very suspicious of Austrians, and
Slavianski won't venture to follow us any further. But we'll start as
soon as it is light to-morrow. Is there enough petrol to take us to
Sofia?"

"That depends on whether we can make a straight run of it. If we have to
double and wind as we have done up to the present, we certainly shall not
have enough. It is about a hundred and fifty miles from here to Sofia, I
think you said?"

"About that. We shall have to cross the railway. There's a branch line to
Mitrovitza, a few miles from here; a few miles further on there's the
main line running north to Nish and Belgrade; and about forty miles
beyond that, across the hills, there's Kustendil, from which there's a
wretched train service to Sofia; so if we do break down en route, we
shall have opportunities of boarding a train. The mischief is that
there's such a poor service that we may be hung up for twenty-four hours
or more."

"Let us hope it won't come to that," said George.

Here one of the inn attendants offered him a cigarette which he had just
rolled, and another a glass of a liqueur called rosolio. George accepted
the former, but declined the latter, which led to a polite inquiry on the
part of the host whether his guests were Mussulmans. Before Maurice could
reply, there came a tremendous banging at the door, which had been
fastened to keep out the crowd. The hanji sprang up and rushed, uttering
loud imprecations, to deal with the inquisitive person who he supposed
was intruding upon his guests. But on throwing open the door he became
suddenly dumb, smiled with great deference, and bowed himself nearly
double as a stout Turkish officer in a green-braided uniform clanked into
the guest-room, followed by half-a-dozen soldiers similarly attired.

The inmates instantly rose from their stools or the bundles of hay on
which they were sitting, and made humble obeisance. Maurice got up and
saluted, telling George in a low tone to do the same. Ignoring the
obsequious bowings of the company, the officer marched up to Maurice,
gravely saluted him, and then, with an air of great importance, addressed
him in Turkish.

"The effendi will have the goodness to show his teskereh," he said.

Maurice smiled as he replied to the man, and produced the document from
his breast-pocket.

"Who is the buffer?" whispered George.

"An officer of zaptiehs--a kind of gendarmerie," said Maurice. "No doubt
everybody in the town knows of the arrival of two strangers in a devil
machine. We were bound to be questioned."

The officer proceeded to examine the document with great solemnity, and a
frown showed itself on his features as he read. After a minute or two he
looked up and said sternly:

"The teskereh is not in order, effendi. You must come with me immediately
to the konak."

"That I must decline to do," replied Maurice with a smile, "at least
until I have finished my meal and washed. We have come a long way, and
are, as you see, dirty. We are Englishmen, and we should discredit our
nation and dishonour the Chief of the Police if we appeared before him in
our present condition. If, therefore, you will be good enough to wait for
a few minutes, we shall be happy to accompany you."

"Very well, effendi," said the officer, "we will wait." He spoke to his
men, who squatted on the floor in a half circle round the travellers,
lighted cigarettes, and stared solemnly at the prisoners.

"What did he say?" asked George, somewhat uneasy.

"He is going to take us to the police station."

"But he read your passport!"

"I am not at all sure that he did. He held it upside down, from which I
infer that he knows no language but his own. A few words with the Chief
of the Police will no doubt set things right. But we are
disreputable-looking objects, and I'm afraid there are no toilet
arrangements here. Unluckily my valise is at Giulika's kula: we haven't
so much as a comb between us. We must do the best we can."

Explaining to the host that they desired to wash, they were led to the
courtyard behind the inn, where two of the servants poured water over
their heads from a tin wine-measure, this performance being stolidly
watched by two of the zaptiehs. There was no soap to be had, and the
travellers had to be content with this imperfect ablution. They returned
to the inn; their battered boots were pulled on, and amid respectful
salutes from the hanji and his people, they passed into the street under
the escort of the officer and his men.

A slight evening mist was gathering over the city. They marched up the
steep cobbled streets towards the konak, perched on a ridge up the
mountain side, a motley crowd following at their heels. After a fatiguing
climb they came to the courtyard of the konak, guarded by sentries
perched on wooden platforms, and, passing these, came to the long untidy
building. Mounting a few steps, they reached the great hall, where the
officer left them under charge of his men while he went to report their
presence.

The scene was more novel to George than to Maurice. The great hall was
thronged with people, dressed in every variety of costume and colour.
Here was a rough countryman from the hills, there a portly merchant;
soldiers marched up and down with clanking heels, or lounged against the
wall; messengers elbowed their way through the crowd with shrill
outcries. The noise was deafening as the people chatted, laughed,
disputed in a score of different dialects. George thought that they were
politer than an English crowd would have been, since they paid little
attention to the newcomers.

Presently the officer returned, and led the travellers through a
curtained doorway into a large room railed off at one end, where a number
of officers and secretaries were seated on a divan raised a few inches
above the floor. In the centre, cross-legged in an arm-chair, sat the
Chief of Police. He rose as the prisoners were led forward, saluted, and
signed to them to seat themselves on the divan near him. George was
amused at the elaborate ceremony that followed. The whole company rose
and saluted, then sat down again, but immediately half rose from their
seats in turn, and repeated the salutation. George copied his brother
faithfully, thinking what a pleasant description he would make of the
ceremony when he got home again.

These preliminaries being concluded, the Chief ordered the officer of
zaptiehs to make his report.

"Excellence," he said, "these men came into the city in a strange
machine, that makes a noise like a motor-car, but is such as I have never
seen before. They are Austrians, and spies; their presence in this city
is very injurious to our Government. The elder has a passport, which I
deliver to your excellence, who will no doubt give orders that the spies
be lodged in the prison."

"What have you to say, effendi?" asked the Chief, not looking at the
passport, from which Maurice inferred that he, too, was unable to read
it.

"I compliment you, excellence," said Maurice blandly, "on the zeal of
your officers. His information is not absolutely correct, but that is a
small matter; it is well that in these times every care should be taken.
In the first place we are not Austrians, but Englishmen."

Here there was a rustle of interest among the company.

"How do you prove that?" asked the Chief suspiciously. "You speak
Turkish; how should Englishmen do that?"

"I have lived for some time in Constantinople, excellence," replied
Maurice.

"Why are you here?"

Maurice thought it inadvisable to explain either his position in the
diplomatic service or the object of his journey. There was in Prizren, as
he knew, an Austrian vice-consul from whose ears he wished to keep these
particulars.

"Your excellence knows the singularity of our insular habits," he said
gravely. "We think that travel has a beneficial effect on the mind.
Tastes differ, of course, but having a wish to cross the mountains, I
came with my brother, a student of mechanics, to test the merits of a car
that he has invented. You are doubtless aware that the English are
friends of your country, and I assure you that we have none but innocent
designs in coming here."

The Chief of Police stroked his chin.

"You say you are English," he said at length. "What is the chief town of
England?"

"To the best of my belief it is London," replied Maurice, whereupon the
official nodded gravely.

After a few more questions, he announced that the Englishmen were free to
return to the inn, but since the hour of business was already past, they
must present themselves before the Pasha next day; he would give a final
decision. Thereupon a lengthy ceremony of leave-taking ensued, and the
travellers were permitted to depart without a guard.

George laughed heartily as Maurice, on the way back, repeated the
substance of the conversation; but Maurice was annoyed at the further
delay which a visit to the Pasha would involve. Turkish etiquette
demanded that he should remain until the Pasha had paid a return visit,
and then he would be lucky if he got off without visiting other important
men in the town.

"We should have done better to go to Constantinople from Brindisi," he
said.

"My dear chap," replied George, "I wouldn't have missed this for
anything. To be arrested as Austrian spies, after being chased by
Austrians for a thousand miles, is decidedly comic. Of course, if you
really want to escape the Pasha we might scoot off in the night, but I
confess I'd like to see him, and I'd rather have a good night's rest and
ride in daylight."

"Well, let us hope the Pasha won't keep us long."

On regaining the inn, they found that the only sleeping apartment was a
tiny box of a room, approached by a rickety ladder. Here they settled
themselves on rugs provided by the genial host, and tumbled off to sleep,
unaware that sentries had posted themselves at the door.

Next morning they were awakened by the sound of the ladder being
replaced, and rose to see the host and three of his family climbing up,
laden with towels and battered wine-pots full of water.

"Good morning, excellencies," said the smiling hanji. "Knowing your
fondness for water, we have brought plenty for the washing. If you will
be pleased to step on to the balcony yonder, and lean over, we will pour
the water over your heads."

The travellers good-humouredly accepted the host's kind attentions. A
crazy balcony ran along at the back of the inn. They stepped on to this,
removed part of their clothing, and leant over, while the wine-pots were
emptied successively over their heads and bare backs. In the courtyard
below, two sentries and a dozen idlers watched the performance with grave
interest. When it was over, and the assistants had rubbed them dry, they
descended to the common room, to eat a breakfast of the same fare as
their supper.

Maurice knew that it was impossible to see the Pasha until midday was
passed, so George and he spent the morning in wandering about the
streets, always closely attended by the sentries. After an early dinner
they set off for the Seralio. At the door an official wanted to pull off
their boots, but Maurice objected to this, pointing out that it was not
the custom of his countrymen, who showed respect by taking off their
hats, whereupon the man pulled aside a heavy curtain over the doorway,
and gave them admittance.

They found themselves in a long room furnished in European style. The
Pasha, a tall, handsome Turk, gorgeous with medals and decorations, was
seated at a small table at a window overlooking the city. Rising at their
entrance, he motioned them to seat themselves on chairs beside his own,
and offered them glasses of a pink syrup.

"I am exceedingly sorry, Messieurs," he said in French, "that you have
been inconvenienced by the action of our police. When they heard of your
arrival, they suspected you to be Austrian spies, but no sooner did the
Chief of the Police see you, and perceive your noble appearance, than he
felt the groundlessness of his suspicions."

Maurice made suitable acknowledgment of so handsome a compliment,
remembering that he was dirty and tattered, and had several days' growth
of bristles on his chin. He then had a short conversation with the Pasha
on the state of the country, the last revolution, the reforms of the
Young Turks, and finally asked permission to continue his journey
eastward.

"You are travelling on some wonderful machine, I am told," said the
Pasha.

"It is novel, excellency," replied Maurice, and if you would care to see
it, we shall be most happy to show it to you."

"You do me great honour," said the Pasha.

"I shall return your visit presently, and shall then be charmed to
inspect your car."

Coffee and cigarettes were brought in, and after the interview had lasted
an hour the visitors rose to go. Maurice's wound had as yet given him
little trouble, but he moved somewhat stiffly after remaining seated. The
Pasha noticed this, and asked whether Maurice, like himself, suffered
from rheumatism. On being told that the lameness was due to a slight
accident in the hills, he insisted on summoning his hakim, who
immediately discovered that it was a gunshot wound, and reported the fact
to the Pasha.

"You were molested on your way?" the Pasha asked. "I will provide you
with an escort for the road."

"It is unnecessary, excellency," said Maurice quickly. "Our car will go
so fast that even horsemen would find it difficult to keep up with us,
and we shall rely on our speed for safety."

"Then we will have a race," said the Pasha eagerly. "There is a suitable
course along the valley of the river. It will amuse me to see a race
between a horseman and your car. I will arrange it, and let you know the
time fixed."

No one could have guessed from Maurice's demeanour that he was annoyed at
the proposition. He politely assented, and after having had his wound
dressed with strange ointments by the hakim, he returned with George to
the inn.

George spent the greater part of the afternoon in overhauling the
mechanism of his car. The glass case in which the gyroscopes spun was
wrecked, and could not be replaced in Prizren; but the gyroscopes
themselves, the motors, and the dynamo were uninjured, and there was
quite enough petrol left to make the run to Sofia, if a direct route
could be followed. The proposed race, George thought, was rather a
nuisance, for it would consume a good deal of petrol, without carrying
them a yard on their way. And yet!--an idea struck him that made him
chuckle with anticipated delight, and astonished the grave bystanders,
who had watched his proceedings in stolid silence.

Maurice meanwhile had found the time drag.

Unwilling to leave the inn in case the Pasha called in his absence, he
sat in front of the door to watch the passers-by. Down the steep street
came hill-men driving pack-animals, women with empty pitchers on their
heads, zaptiehs with rifles slung over their backs, long-bearded scribes,
gipsy tinkers--but never a sign of the Pasha. Small boys gathered
opposite the inn and watched the stranger as he smoked cigarette after
cigarette, and rushed forward at intervals to pick up, not the discarded
ends, but the matches he had thrown away. After a time Maurice got the
hanji to despatch one of his sons to find out if the Pasha was coming;
but the youth could get no farther than the sentries at the entrance of
the Seralio, who replied to his question with a threat to kick him if he
was impertinent.

When George had satisfied himself that the engines were in good working
order, he sought his brother.

"Well, old man," he said cheerily, "how's the leg?"

"Quite easy. The hakim's ointments seem to be effective. But I'm getting
very tired of this."

"What will happen if we don't wait for the Pasha?"

"We shall have some trouble to get out of the city. They will immediately
jump to the conclusion that we are shady characters. The Pasha's exeat is
necessary. The worst of it is that if he has set his heart on this
ridiculous race we shall have to waste more time. Probably he won't be
satisfied with one, but will want to keep us racing for hours."

"We'll get over that," said George, laughing. "I've had an idea."

And then he told his brother of the notion which had occurred to him as
he cleaned the engines.

"A very happy thought," said Maurice.

"I'll question our host and see how the land lies."

Evening came, but still no Pasha; and at sunset, there being nothing else
to do, the Bucklands turned in, expecting to be honoured by a visit in
the morning. They had not been long asleep, however, when they were
roused by the sound of shots in the street. They sprang up and ran to the
hole in the floor, from which the ladder had been removed to secure their
privacy. More shots were fired outside; there was a loud banging at the
door and a hullabaloo of voices.

By the dim light of a small lamp the guests saw the hanji hurry to the
door and throw it open. Instantly he fell forward in an attitude of
supplication, to receive a cuff on the head from one of the Pasha's
guard, who entered, followed by the Pasha himself.

"Where are the Inglese effendis?" said the great man. "Acquaint them that
I am come to pay them a visit."

"Great Scott!" ejaculated George, when Maurice told him what was
happening. "What a time to come! We can't receive him here."

"We must. Roll up these rugs and make some sort of a divan, and for
goodness' sake don't smile; you must be as grave as I judge, or he'll be
mortally offended."

The hanji, having placed the ladder in the hole, clambered up with a lamp
and announced the august visitor, and descended again, to be soundly
cuffed for being so long about it. When the Pasha mounted and entered the
room, he found the two Englishmen sitting in state on what had but
recently been their bed.

"A thousand regrets, Messieurs, for disturbing you," said the Pasha,
smiling affably, and seating himself on the rugs beside the Englishmen as
soon as he had acknowledged their respectful salutations. "I thought it
would be quite in the Frankish manner to call on you at this time; such
is the custom in Paris and London, I understand, and I did not dream that
you would have retired to rest so soon."

"We are charmed to see you, excellency," replied Maurice, "and only
regret that you should have been troubled to waken our sleepy host."

He called for coffee. After a little more polite conversation the Pasha
broached the matter of the race. Maurice suggested that the
starting-point should be some little distance eastward of the city, where
the road was not likely to be blocked by traffic, and that the course
should be to the railway line and back, a distance of about forty miles,
the horseman to be allowed a fresh mount for the second half. To this
proposal the Pasha assented the more eagerly because he was by nature
somewhat indolent, and would be spared by this scheme the necessity of
riding out to a distant winning-post. He said that he would send out
swift messengers to forbid any movement of man or beast on the road until
the race was over, and to arrange for a horse to be in waiting at the
railway line. The hour fixed for the start was 10 o'clock next morning.

Before leaving, the Pasha wished Maurice to accept a fine Roman coin that
he wore among his medals; but having no present of equal value to offer
in return, Maurice gracefully declined it. The Pasha departed with his
guards, and the Englishmen, relieved at having come through the interview
without disgrace, unrolled their rugs and devoted themselves again to
slumber.

The town was agog next morning. News of the race had penetrated
everywhere, and the whole population, dressed in all their finery wended
their way from a very early hour towards the vast plain where, in the
year 1389, the Turks won the great victory that established them in
Europe. A company of soldiers marched with much bugling and drumming to
clear the way for the Pasha, and at 11 o'clock--only an hour late which
was punctuality to a Turk--he rode out resplendent amid his staff. A
great throng of boys ran after the gyro-car as it went slowly to the
starting-place, a rival crowd following the horseman chosen for the
contest, a lithe and sinewy Albanian arrayed in festive colours, and
mounted on a superb arab.

At the starting-point the soldiers had much trouble in keeping back the
immense assembly of spectators, who shouted and gesticulated in great
excitement, every now and then letting off a rifle fully charged. The
Englishmen wondered that no one was injured in this promiscuous firing;
the expenditure of cartridges in Albania in mere festive sportiveness is
enormous.

It was clear that horse and gyro-car could not start side by side, for
the animal reared and plunged at the sound of the engine, evoking shrieks
of mingled terror and delight from the boys. Maurice suggested that the
horseman should have a hundred yards start. With the car behind him the
horse would not be alarmed, though perhaps he might be spurred on by the
humming sound. This plan approved itself to the Pasha, who appeared to be
thoroughly enjoying himself, and told Maurice in a confidential aside
that, whether he won or lost, he was to be entertained at a magnificent
banquet that night. The course was cleared; the competitors took their
places on the road; and at the sound of a whistle, followed instantly by
a wild discharge of firearms, the race began.

The horseman set off at a furious gallop.

George contented himself with a moderate pace, smiling at the frenzied
cries that broke from the spectators lining the road. On each side
extended the plain, the soil cracked by the summer heat, the scattered
hawthorn scrub burnt brown. Clouds of dust flew from the horse's hoofs,
and still denser volumes behind the gyro-car. At one spot a line of
bullock-carts loaded with maize was drawn up beside the road, and the
drivers burst into shouts of applause for the horseman, and derision for
the gyro-car dropping behind moment by moment.

"It's a shame to take in the Pasha; he's a decent old boy," said George,
when, after about five miles, the spectators being now out of sight, he
quickened pace.

"The King's business must be attended to," said Maurice sententiously;
"we have wasted quite enough time."

As the gyro-car made up on the horseman, he made desperate efforts to
keep his lead. When almost upon his heels, George reduced speed, and
allowed him to draw away for a few minutes; then quickened again. At
length, ten miles having been covered, and all danger of pursuit being at
an end, George thought it time to put in practice the idea which had
occurred to him at the han. He opened the throttle, increased his speed
to fifteen, twenty, thirty miles an hour, caught up the horse, and as he
passed, let out a volume of smoke. Startled by the noise and the fumes,
the horse broke from the control of his rider, and dashed madly across
the plain. By the time that he again answered the bit, the gyro-car was
far ahead, concealed in a cloud of whirling dust.

Still further increasing the speed, George drove the car over the
undulating plain until suddenly the railway line came in sight. A group
of horsemen were halted there, with a led horse among them. George
steered a little to the left to avoid them, slackened pace when he
approached the line, and when the car had bumped over the rails, set off
again at full speed, heedless of the shouts of the waiting party.

"The horseman is not in sight," said Maurice, glancing back.

"At any rate he'll win the prize," said George with a laugh. "I hope the
Pasha will give it him."

On they went, across the Morava river, across the main line from Salonika
to Belgrade, past stockaded villages, over low dusty hills, never
checking the pace until, about 5 o'clock, the domes and minarets of Sofia
hove into view. Soon they entered the city, slowing down as they ran
through the street. They passed shops where cheese and onions lay on open
counters, larger establishments where silk hats and French gloves were on
sale, dodged electric cars, and a gendarme who was too much amazed to
call on them to stop.

"There's the Italian agent," said Maurice, indicating a frock-coated
gentleman crossing the street. "He won't recognise me."

They drove through a crowd of wondering market-people, and finally halted
at a large building, surrounded by trees, that might have passed for an
English country-house.

"Here we are," said Maurice, heaving a sigh of relief. "Now I'll deliver
my despatch, and then for a bath, a meal, and bed."

The door-keeper stared as Maurice alighted from the car and approached
him. A puzzled look appeared on his face, then a smile of recognition. He
saluted; Maurice stepped into the hall. In a few minutes he returned with
his chief, who listened with amazement to the outlines of his adventures.
Maurice introduced him to George, who had remained in the car. Then,
lifting the bonnet, George produced a soiled envelope which had lain
concealed in the mechanism.

"The despatch, sir," he said, handing the document to the agent.



CHAPTER XVI--RECONCILIATION AND REWARDS


IT would be too much to say, perhaps, that the receipt of the despatch
prevented a European war; but certain it is that within a few days
afterwards the troops which had been mobilising on the frontier
disbanded, and the British Foreign Office was credited with an unusually
successful stroke of diplomacy. Among the telegrams that passed between
London and Sofia was one from the Foreign Secretary warmly complimenting
Mr. Buckland on his achievement, and another from the editor of a
well-known paper asking for a detailed narrative, a request which, by the
rules of the Service, Maurice was bound to refuse.

The Bucklands were for a week or two the lions of Sofia society. They
were dined, danced, invited to receptions and reviews; George was
introduced to the King, who honoured him with two words and a cigarette.
Then, in response to an agitated letter from the Honourable Mrs.
Courtenay-Greene, he one day left by train for Constantinople, the
gyro-car being conveyed on a truck, and thence returned home by steamer.

He had just come down from Cambridge for his first vacation when he
received a letter from Maurice that threw Mrs. Courtenay-Greene into a
fresh state of agitation. His leave having been cut short in the summer,
Maurice had been recompensed with a fortnight at Christmas, and had
decided to avail himself of this opportunity to revisit the hospitable
Albanian and reward him, or, if his pride forbade the receipt of
pecuniary compensation for the losses he had suffered, to thank him in
person for the services he had rendered. George at once announced his
intention of joining his brother, and despatched a telegram asking where
they could meet. Mrs. Courtenay-Greene protested against being left to
spend Christmas without her nephew's society, but George was determined,
averring that Christmas in Albania would be much better fun than in
London. Sheila called him a pig, but in the next breath said he was quite
right, and she only wished she could go too.

The brothers met at Trieste, went thence to Scutari by steamer, and
engaging a trustworthy guide, set off on horseback for Giulika's dwelling
in the hills.

It was a bright, cold afternoon when they jogged along the high road from
Elbasan. The weather for the last week had been rainy, and George was
aware for the first time that mud is not at its worst in London. On the
low ground the road was sometimes impassable, and the riders had to pick
their way where the mud was at least fathomable. When they came into the
hills they found that their journey was scarcely less dangerous than it
had been in summer with the gyro-car, for the horses slipped often on the
rocky, frosted track, and the riders had to dismount and lead them.

They had nearly arrived at the path leading from the road to Giulika's
little village, and were resting at the top of a steep ascent, admiring
the scene of wild grandeur outspread before them, when suddenly their
ears were caught by the sound of a shot.

"Blood, excellency," said their guide with a careless shrug.

They lifted the field-glasses which were slung over their shoulders, and
scanned the surrounding country. For some time they saw nothing but the
rocks and crags, the dark fir forest below, the snow-clad peaks above.
But presently there were more shots, and now they descried, far away, but
in the direction of the road they were travelling, several puffs of
smoke. Then, a sunbeam lighting the spot, they saw four men crouching
behind some rocks, with rifles in their hands.

"I say, Maurice," said George, "do you see that one of those fellows is a
European!"

"D'you think so?"

"I am sure of it. I can't see his features, but he's a European by the
cut of him. I suppose he's a traveller attacked by brigands. Hadn't we
better lend a hand?"

"I think you're right," said Maurice, after a long look through his
glass. "There are some Albanians creeping round the hill above them to
take them in the flank."

"Yes; I see their white caps. Come on. There are not too many of them for
us to tackle. The traveller is probably an Englishman; no one else would
tour in Albania at this time of year."

They had dismounted to rest their horses after the climb. Springing to
their saddles, they rode down the hill as fast as they dared, in spite of
the expostulations of their guide, who declared in much agitation that it
would be fatal to intervene between Albanian mountaineers and "blood."

There was a cessation of the firing. In a few moments the combatants were
concealed from view by the craggy cliffs; but hurrying on, the riders
came on the scene at a moment when the European and the two Albanians
with him were hard pressed by a dozen men, who had surrounded them, and
were on the point of charging home. Letting out a shout, Maurice fired
his revolver, and with George at his side dashed to the rescue.

The attacking party paused in astonishment.

At the same moment the European, whose back had hitherto been towards the
riders, turned his head.

"By gum!" ejaculated George.

It was Slavianski. His glance was but momentary; he turned about to face
his enemy, and the Bucklands noticed that in spite of the peril of his
situation he appeared quite unperturbed. His right arm had been wounded;
he grasped his revolver with his left hand, and his mouth was set with
grim determination. But just as Maurice and George sprang from their
horses he swayed, staggered, and fell to the ground. And then from beyond
the rocks rushed Giulika, Giorgio, Marko, and the other men of his
household. Maurice shouted to them to halt, not before two or three shots
had been exchanged between them and Slavianski's escort.

Hostilities ceased. While some of the men kept a watch on Slavianski,
Giulika warmly greeted his former guests.

"Welcome, excellencies," he said. "You are come in time to see vengeance
taken on your enemy and mine."

"How does he come here!" asked Maurice.

"The Austrian dog, when running down the steep path towards the Drin that
day, fell and broke his thigh," answered the old man. "We did not learn
of it until the other day. He has been laid up ever since in the house of
a man of Trebischte, who is a famous bone-setter. But it was a bad case,
and needed much time, and only now is the cure complete, and one leg will
always be shorter than the other.

"A few days ago we learnt by examining the breastbone of a black cock,
one of my own breeding, that an enemy would fall into our hands, and we
made besa with Leka until this happy event should come to pass. And lo!
one told me that the man from Trebischte was taking to Durazzo the
Austrian who burnt my kula when he found that you had escaped; and we
made an ambush for him here, and we have him, and now he shall die."

"Let me have a word with him" said Maurice.

Slavianski was seated on a rock. His escort of two were amicably chatting
with Giulika's party. Maurice, as he went up to him was struck by his
worn and haggard appearance.

"I hear you had an accident, Monsieur le Comte," he said in French.

"Precisely, Monsieur," replied Slavianski. "My thigh was broken, and the
healing has been long, though the limb was set with marvellous skill by
the Albanian yonder. I am not so young as I was."

"And Major Rostopchin?"

"Is doubtless enjoying himself, Monsieur. He has apparently forgotten me.
He left me, intending to make his way with the third member of my party
to Trieste."

"I am sorry to see you in such a plight," said Maurice, "but, of course,
you are in no danger now. My friend Giulika will not be implacable."

"I am not sure that I thank you, Monsieur," said the Count bitterly. "I
am lamed for life; my failure in that little business in the summer has
discredited me with--you know whom; and a bullet through the head would
be an easy way out of a hopeless situation. But I should have killed a
few of these ruffians first."

"It was evidently a mistake to burn the kula, Monsieur--"

"But they killed my man," interrupted the Count. "The mistake was in
turning aside on the road to Castellane. If I had got into Brindisi
before you it would have been all up with you."

"Perhaps," responded Maurice with a smile. "By good luck and my brother's
ingenuity I managed to score a point, and I bear you no grudge. The thing
now is to secure your safety. We have come to compensate the old man for
the losses his loyalty to us entailed, and I daresay we can persuade him
to let bygones be bygones. You had better accompany us to the kula, I
think."

He returned to Giulika, and after a short conversation the old man gave
orders to Giorgio and Marko to bring the Count to the kula. The whole
party set off, and, striking up the bypath, soon came to the village.

The evidences of Slavianski's vengeance were manifest. The kula was a
mere shell. The interior had been burnt out, with all the old man's
furniture and stores. He could not hope to repair the damage until he had
reaped the crops of several years. Since the destruction of his property
he and his family had lived in the houses of neighbours. The Englishmen
were invited to enter one of these, Slavianski being left outside in
charge of the young men.

Giulika entertained his guests with the same kindly hospitality as on
their former visit. He did not speak of his misfortunes, but begged to
have a full account of their adventures after leaving him at the Drin.
Nothing more delighted him than the story of the race at Prizren, and he
laughed heartily at the thought of the Pasha's disappointment when the
horseman returned alone.

Maurice had to exercise much circumspection in broaching the object of
his visit. The old man was restive at the least suggestion that he should
take a reward for his services, or even accept compensation for the
losses he had suffered.

"Shall I be paid for keeping my honour unstained?" he said.

"That is not the way to look at it," replied Maurice. "Your honour was
concerned with protecting us as individuals, but through us you were
doing a service to our King, to your own Sultan, and to the people of
this country and of others. It is on their behalf that I come to you. If
I had not succeeded in reaching Sofia, there might have been war."

"Well, we are ready," said the old man with a smile. "We are a free
people; we obey none unless we choose; but if there is a war, we flock
like butterflies."

Finding that he was on the wrong tack, Maurice tried again. After a long
argument he persuaded Giulika that the King's honour demanded that he
should make some recognition of the services rendered to him by a
stranger, and assured the old man that he durst not return to England
with the money he had brought. Giulika agreed that if the King's honour
was involved, it would not become him as an honourable man to do anything
to smirch it, and consented to accept a sum that would enable him to
rebuild his kula and replace the weapons and furniture he had lost.



Having succeeded on this point, Maurice turned to the question of
Slavianski. In this, too, he found that "honour" was a good card to play.
He pointed out that the Austrian had been entrusted with the duty of
obtaining a paper on which his Government set much store; that he had
soiled his honour by his failure; and that, by the traditional laws of
Lek, the slaying of his man while asleep demanded blood. In this regard
the vengeance taken by Slavianski had been moderate. He reminded Giulika
that the Austrian was ill and weak, incapable of doing further harm, and
for ever disgraced with his employers. By harping on this string Maurice
in course of time aroused in the old man's breast a feeling of sympathy
for the Austrian, and he at last declared that he might go free.

While they were talking, a young man entered whom Maurice recognised as
Leka, the man who had wounded Giorgio.

"Welcome, excellency," said the man. "I am glad to see you again."

"Is there still blood between you and Giorgio?" asked Maurice."

"Why, yes, excellency, there must be. We have besa just now; but when
Christmas is past he must look out."

Giulika explained that, except during besa, Giorgio never left the house
unless accompanied by his mother or sister, whose presence protected him
from the attack of his enemy.

"And how long is this to last?" asked Maurice.

"Until Giorgio is killed, excellency," said Giulika simply.

"But why not pay blood-gelt, and end the feud?"

"Giorgio is the innocent one," replied the old man, indignantly. "He was
falsely accused: why should we pay? Besides, we have no money: there are
too many to be paid Leka must have one purse, and the elders of the
village another, or else an ox; and the Sultan's officer another, but we
never pay him unless we can help it. Still, we have not money enough for
the others, so it is useless to speak of it."

Inquiry elicited the fact that the total amount came to about £25 in
English money. "It is a pity that two such brave men should be enemies,"
said Maurice.

"We are not enemies," said Giorgio, quickly: "there is only blood between
us. In besa we hunt together and are very good friends.

"Well, I have some money that is lying idle," said Maurice. "It cannot be
better employed than in removing the blood between you. Will you let me
have the pleasure and the honour of settling your feud?"

"It is good of you, excellency," said Giulika.

"I think myself that it is foolish that there should be blood between two
such fine young men, and if Leka's honour is cleaned they will be like
brothers."

"I am ready, excellency," said Leka. "It is a pity I did not kill Giorgio
when I shot at him, and then you would have kept your money."

Maurice smiled as he handed over the necessary piastres. When the payment
had been made, Leka and Giorgio kissed each other, and the former
promised to buy a new rifle for his friend.

The Bucklands spent Christmas with their Albanian friends, accompanying
them for ten miles over the hills to a little church. It was packed with
people in bright costumes; a week's besa had been sworn, so that all the
blood foes of the neighbourhood could meet as friends. Hundreds of rifles
were stacked against the wall outside. After service there was a wild
rush for these, and a shooting competition began, the spectators firing
off their rifles out of sheer high spirits. Shots were fired again as the
assembly broke up and returned to their several villages, to resume their
feuds on the morrow.

Next day the Bucklands started for Scutari, accompanied by Slavianski,
for whom a mule had been provided. At Scutari they parted. Maurice had
thought of warning the Austrian not to set foot in England again, but the
man was so much broken down with illness that he forbore to increase his
bitterness of spirit.

He saw him only once again. The course of promotion brought Maurice at
length to Vienna. He was one day entering a club with an Austrian officer
with whom he was on friendly terms. The door was opened by a man who had
once been handsome, but was now worn and haggard, and walked with a limp.
He started as he saw Maurice, hesitated a moment, and raised his hand to
the salute.

"He knows you?" asked the officer in surprise.

"Yes," replied Maurice. "I met him during a little trip I made a few
years ago in a gyro-car."



THE END



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