"Tiresome here, isn't it?" murmured Dan, aloud. "We might as well go back on board ship."
THE ADMIRAL UNLOADS HIS MIND
Reporting their coming aboard to the officer of the deck, Dave and Dan hastened to their respective quarters.
While Ensign Dalzell performed a "lightning change" from "cits" to uniform, Dave first seated himself at his desk, where he wrote a note hurriedly.
This done, he passed the word for an orderly, who promptly appeared.
"Take this note to the Captain," ordered Darrin.
"Aye, aye, sir," said the messenger.
Dave then hastened to make the necessary change in his own apparel. So quickly did he act, that he had his uniform on and was buttoning his blouse when the messenger returned.
"The Captain will see Ensigns Darrin and Dalzell immediately," reported the orderly.
Returning the orderly's salute, Dave buckled on his sword belt, hung on his sword, drew on his white gloves, and started. He found his chum ready.
Together the young officers reported at the Captain's quarters. Captain Allen was already seated at his desk.
"Orderly!" called the commanding officer briskly.
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Guard the door and report that I am engaged."
"Aye, aye, sir."
In an instant Captain Allen, who had briefly greeted his youngest officers, turned to them.
"Your note, Mr. Darrin, stated that you had a matter to report to me of such importance that you did not believe I would wish to lose a moment in hearing what Mr. Dalzell and yourself could tell me."
"That is the case, sir," Dave bowed. "Have I your permission to proceed, sir?"
"Yes. You may take seats, if you wish."
Bowing their thanks, the young officers remained on their feet.
Ensign Dave plunged at once into the narration of what had befallen them ashore.
Captain Allen listened to the tale without comment, but when Dave related what he had overheard the two men say when passing the imitation grove on the darkest part of the Casino veranda, the commanding officer sprang to his feet.
"Mr. Darrin," he demanded, "are you positive of the words that you have just repeated?"
"I am, sir. In a matter of such importance I was careful to record every word in my mind just as it was uttered."
"Then I must communicate with the Admiral at once," continued Captain Allen, seating himself again. "Even if the Admiral be abed I consider this a subject of enough importance to call him."
Taking down the receiver of the telephone that led direct to the fleet commander's quarters, the Captain sent in a call to the Admiral's quarters.
Soon there came a response.
"This is the Captain speaking, Admiral," announced the "Hudson's" commanding officer. "Although the hour is late, sir, I request permission to report to you on a matter of importance."
"I will see you, Captain, in five minutes."
"Thank you, sir. I request permission to bring two officers with me."
"Permission is granted, Captain."
"Thank you, sir."
Hanging up the transmitter, Captain Allen sank back in his chair.
"Is there anything else, gentlemen, that you wish to say to me before we go to the Admiral?"
"I think I have told you all, sir," Dave replied.
"And I, too," Dalzell added.
Keeping his eye on the clock, Captain Allen presently arose, girded on his sword, parted the curtains, and led the way.
"If I am wanted, Orderly, I shall be in the Admiral's quarters."
"Aye, aye, sir."
The three officers then filed rapidly along the deck, presented themselves at the Admiral's quarters, and were admitted.
Admiral Timworth was standing at the rear of his cabin when the subordinate officers entered. He came quickly forward, instructed his orderly to guard the door, then turned to his visitors.
"I believe it will be best, with your permission, sir," began Captain Allen, "to let Mr. Darrin make his report to you."
"Mr. Darrin will proceed, then."
So Dave repeated the story he had told the Captain. Admiral Timworth listened until the recital had been finished, and then asked several questions.
"It does not sound like a hoax," commented Admiral Timworth, at last. "Yet it is impossible for me to conceive how two British battleships are to be sunk near Malta, or near anywhere else, and Americans blamed for the act. Captain Allen, can you imagine any way in which such a thing might be effected?"
"I cannot, sir."
"The subject must be given careful thought," declared the Admiral. "By the way, Mr. Darrin, do you think you could identify those two men who talked of the proposed destruction of the British battleships?"
"I am positive that I could do so, sir," Dave rejoined, "provided they were not disguised."
"Then you may meet them again, as we shall stop at various Mediterranean ports. If you do, sir, I wish you to report to me anything that you may find out about them. Mr. Dalzell did not see them, did he?"
"I may have passed them, sir," Dan replied, "but I would not know them, if meeting them, as the men whom Mr. Darrin mentions."
"Then, Captain, you will see to it," directed the Admiral, "that Mr. Dalzell has shore leave whenever Mr. Darrin does. The two young men will go ashore together so that Mr. Darrin, if opportunity presents, may indicate the plotters to Mr. Dalzell."
The Captain and the young officers bowed their understanding of this order.
"The presence of Gortchky here, taken with what Mr. Darrin overheard those men talking about, and coupled with what took place on the mole at Gibraltar, leads me to believe that some foreign government has plans for involving the United States government in serious complications," resumed the Admiral, after a pause. "Gortchky is not in charge of any very extensive plot. He is simply a tool of greater minds, and it may easily be that the pair whom Mr. Darrin overheard are those who are directing Gortchky in some really big and dangerous scheme. By the way, gentlemen, was either of you introduced to any young or charming woman ashore?"
"We were both presented to the Countess Ripoli, sir," Darrin answered, at once.
"And at the Countess's request, I took a little turn with her on one of the verandas, sir," Dan added.
"Tell me all about the Countess and your meeting with her, Mr. Dalzell," Admiral Timworth directed.
So Dan plunged at once into a narration of his chat with the Countess, to which Admiral Timworth listened attentively.
"Ripoli?" he mused aloud, at last. "I do not recall the name as that of a supposed secret service agent. Ripoli? Let me see."
From a drawer of his desk the Admiral drew out an indexed book. He turned over, presumably, to the letter "R," then scanned the writing on several pages.
"She has not been reported to me as a suspected secret service agent of any country," said the fleet commander, aloud. "Yet she may very likely be a spy in the service of some ring of international trouble-makers. I will enter her name now, though I cannot place anything positive against it."
"If either of us should meet the Countess Ripoli again, sir," queried Dan, "have you any orders, sir, in that event?"
"If you do meet her," replied the admiral, "do not be too distant with her, and do not let her see that she is in any sense under suspicion. Just treat her as you would any charming woman whom you might meet socially. However, should you meet her again, you may report the fact to me. I shall doubtless have some further instructions for you, gentlemen, but that is all for the present. Captain, you will remain."
Formally saluting their superiors, Dave and Dan withdrew and returned to Dave's quarters. For half an hour Dan remained chatting with Dave, then went to his own quarters.
By daylight the "Hudson" was under way again, bound for Naples. Dan and Dave were called to stand their watches, and life on the battleship went on as usual.
It was but an hour after daylight when Admiral Timworth, who had remained up the rest of the night with Flag Lieutenant Simpson, sent a long message to the Navy Department at Washington. The message crackled out over the "Hudson's" wireless aerials, and was soon afterward received in Washington at the huge naval wireless station there.
"Good night, Simpson," said the Admiral, when his flag lieutenant reported that the message was in the hands of the wireless operator.
"Shall I leave any instructions for your being called, sir?" asked Lieutenant Simpson.
"Have me called at ten o'clock, unless a reply from the Navy Department should arrive earlier. In that case have me called at once."
The flag lieutenant is the personal aide of the fleet commander.
If the Admiral received an interesting reply from the Navy Department during the voyage to Naples, he at least concealed the fact from Ensigns Darrin and Dalzell. Ensigns, however, are quite accustomed to reserve on the part of admirals.
It was one o'clock one sunny afternoon when the "Hudson" entered the Bay of Naples. Her anchorage having already been assigned by wireless by the port authorities at Naples, the "Hudson" came to anchor close to the "Kennebec" and "Lowell" of the Mediterranean Fleet. Admiral Timworth now had three war vessels under his own eyes.
At four bells (two o'clock) an orderly called at Dan's and Dave's quarters, with orders to report to the Admiral at once.
When the two young ensigns reached the Admiral's quarters they found Lieutenant Simpson there also.
"Be seated, gentlemen," directed the Admiral.
For a few moments Admiral Timworth shuffled papers on his desk, glancing briefly at some of them.
"Now, gentlemen," said the Admiral, wheeling about in his chair and looking impressively at Darrin and Dalzell, "it seems to me I had better preface my remarks by giving you some idea of the Fleet's unusual and special mission in the Mediterranean. That may lead you to a better comprehension of why a certain foreign power should wish to create, between Great Britain and the United States, a situation that would probably call for war between the two greatest nations of the world."
ON LIVELY SPECIAL DUTY
"In the first place," resumed the Admiral, "you must know that relations between Great Britain and the United States are, and for some time have been, of an especially cordial nature. Throughout the great war Great Britain has been compelled to buy a large part of her food and munitions in the United States. Except for her being able to do so she would have been forced out of the war and the Entente Allies would have been defeated. There are Englishmen who will make you feel that the saving force of the United States is greatly appreciated in England, just as there are other Englishmen who will remark stupidly that the United States as a seller, has had a great opportunity to grow rich at England's expense.
"There can be no doubt that thinking Englishmen are prepared to go to almost any extent to cultivate and keep the friendship of the United States, just as duller-witted Englishmen declare that the United States depends upon England for existence.
"During the present war Great Britain has felt compelled to impose certain blockade restrictions upon our commerce with neutral powers in Europe. This has hampered our commerce to some extent, and there are many in the United States who feel deep resentment, and favor taking any steps necessary to compel England to abandon her interference with our merchant marine. Some Englishmen take an almost insolent attitude in the matter, while others beg us to believe that England hinders some of our commerce only in order to preserve her own national life. In other words, if she did not carefully regulate the world's trade with, for instance, Denmark and Holland, those countries would sell much of their importations to Germany, whereby the duration of the war would be prolonged by reason of help obtained by Germany in that manner.
"As you can readily understand, the situation is full of delicate points, and many sensibilities are wounded. There have been times when only a spark was needed to kindle a serious blaze of mutual wrath between Great Britain and the United States. And you may be sure there are some governments in this world that would be delighted to see feelings of deep hostility engendered between Britons and Americans.
"At present, however, there seems to be not the slightest cloud over the relations between Great Britain and our country.
"Now, Mr. Darrin, you have obtained clues to a startling plot that has for its object the causing of distrust between the two greatest nations. If one or more British warships should be sunk, by some means that we do not at present know, and if the blame could be plausibly laid against Americans, there would be hot-tempered talk in England and a lot of indignant retort from our country. It would seem preposterous that any Englishman could suspect the American government of destroying British warships, and just as absurd to think that Americans could take such a charge seriously. Yet in the relations between nations the absurd thing often does happen. Should England lose any warships it would seem that only Germany or Austria could be blamed, yet it might be possible for plotters to manage the thing so successfully, and with so much cleverness, that the United States would really seem to be proven to be the guilty party. Our duty as officers of the Navy can be performed only by frustrating the hideous plot altogether.
"So, Ensigns Darrin and Dalzell, while we are at Naples you will spend as much of your time as possible on shore. You will go about everywhere, as though to see the sights of the city and as if bent on getting your fill of pleasure. Unless under pressing need you will not be extravagant in your expenditures, but will conduct yourselves as though sight-seeing within the limits of your modest pay as ensigns. You will, however, not be put to any expense in the matter, as all your expenditures will be returned to you out of an emergency fund in my hands.
"Your object in going ashore will be to report if you see Gortchky in Naples. I feel rather certain that the fellow is already there. You, Mr. Darrin, will also keep your eyes wide open for a sight of either or both of that pair whom you overheard talking at Monte Carlo. You will also note and report if you find the Countess Ripoli in Naples."
"And if we meet her and if she speaks to us, sir?" asked Dalzell. "What if she even wishes to entertain us, or to claim our escort?"
"Do whatever you can to please the Countess," replied the Admiral, promptly. "Be agreeable to her in any way that does not interfere with other and more important duties to which I have assigned you."
Judging by a sign from the fleet commander that the interview was now at an end, Dave and Dan rose, standing at attention.
"Perhaps I have given you a wrong impression in one particular," Admiral Timworth continued. "I do not wish you to understand, gentlemen, that I have intimated that any power, or any combination of powers, has directly ordered any act that would lead to the sinking of British warships. Governments, even the worst, do not act in that way. The thing which the power I have in mind may have done is to give certain secret agents a free hand to bring about war between England and the United States. Undoubtedly, the secret agents at the bottom of this conspiracy have been left free to choose their own methods. Thus the foreign government interested in this conspiracy could feel that it did not order the commission of a crime, no matter what might happen as the result. Now, gentlemen, have you any questions to ask?"
"None, sir," Dave Darrin responded immediately.
"None, sir," echoed Dalzell.
"Then you may go," rejoined Admiral Timworth, rising and returning the parting salutes of the young officers.
* * * * *
It was presently noised about among the ship's company that Ensigns Darrin and Dalzell had been ordered ashore on special duty.
"How did you work it?" Lieutenant Barnes irritably demanded of Danny Grin.
"Why? Do you want to work a trick yourself?" asked Dalzell, unsympathetically.
"No such luck for me," growled Barnes. "While in port I am ordered to take charge of shifting stores below decks."
"Fine!" approved Dan.
"And I wish I had you for junior officer on that detail," growled Barnes.
"If I get tired of staying ashore," Danny Grin proposed genially, "I'll make humble petition to be assigned as junior on your detail."
M. DALNY PLANS A TRAGEDY
"Say, I wonder if these people call this a square deal," muttered Danny Grin, as he surveyed the dish that the waiter had just left for him. "I called for ham and eggs and potatoes, and the fellow has brought me chicken and this dish of vegetables that none but a native could name."
"Call the waiter back and ask him to explain his mistake," Ensign Darrin suggested, smilingly.
"I can't talk their lingo," returned Dalzell plaintively.
"Nor can I speak much of it, either," admitted Dave.
"Can you speak any Italian?"
"Only a little, and very badly at that."
"Where did you learn Italian?" demanded Danny Grin.
"From an Italian-American cook on board our ship," Darrin explained.
"Whew! You must have done that while I was asleep," Dalzell complained.
"I don't know enough Italian to carry me very far," laughed Darrin. "Perhaps between two and three hundred useful words, and some of the parts of a few verbs. Let me see just what you thought you were ordering."
Dan held out a somewhat soiled bill of fare on which the names of the dishes were printed in Italian and English.
"I tried to pronounce the Italian words right," Dan went on, with a grimace.
"Let me hear you read the words over again," Dave begged.
Dan did so, his comrade's smile deepening.
"Dan," said Dave dryly, "you speak Italian as though it were French. Italian is too delicate a language for that treatment."
"But what am I to do about this chicken?" Danny Grin persisted.
"Eat it," suggested Darrin, "and use some of your time ashore in getting closer to the Italian language."
Dave was served with just what he had ordered for a pleasing meal—an omelet, spaghetti and Neapolitan tomatoes, with dessert to follow.
"I'm no great admirer of chicken, and I did want ham," sighed Dan, as he glanced enviously at his chum's dainty food. Nevertheless Ensign Dalzell ate his meal with an air of resignation that greatly amused Dave Darrin.
The restaurant was one of the largest and handsomest to be found along that great thoroughfare of Naples, the Riviera di Chiaja. The place would seat perhaps four hundred guests. At this hour of the day there were about half that number of persons present, many of whom were Americans.
The chums had succeeded in obtaining a small table by themselves, close to an open window that overlooked the sidewalk.
Watching the throngs that passed, both on foot and in carriages of many types, the young naval officers felt certain that at no other point could they obtain as good a general view of the city of Naples. Many well-to-do Italians were afoot, having sold their carriages and automobiles in order to buy the war bonds of their country. As there were several Italian warships in port, sailors from these craft were ashore and mingling with the throng. Soldiers home on sick leave from the Austrian frontier were to be seen. Other men, who looked like mere lads, wore new army uniforms proudly. These latter were the present year's recruits, lately called to the colors and drilling for the work that lay ahead of them, work in deadly earnest against hated Austria.
All that went on before the cafe was interesting enough. It was not, however, until near the end of the meal that anything happened of personal interest to Dave and Dan.
Then there was a quick step behind them, next a voice cried gaily:
"My dear Monsieur Darrin, who could have expected to see you here?"
"Any one who knew that my ship is in the harbor might have expected to see me here," replied Dave, rising and smiling. "How do you do, Monsieur le Comte?"
It was indeed the Count of Surigny, and that dapper, well-set-up young Frenchman was nattily dressed, smiling, and with an unmistakable air of prosperity about him.
Dan had also risen. Then as the three seated themselves Dave inquired what refreshment his friend of Monte Carlo would allow them the pleasure of ordering for him. The Count asked only for a cup of coffee, after which the chat went merrily on.
"My dear Darrin, I rejoice to be able to tell you that I have determined never again to visit Monte Carlo," said the Count. "Moreover, I am prosperous and happy. Ah, what a debt of gratitude I owe you! I know you must be wondering why I am not serving my country in the trenches."
"I knew you must have some good reason for not serving in the French army at such a time," Dave replied.
"I tried to enter the army," Surigny replied, "but the surgeons refused to pass me. One of my eyes is too weak, and there is, besides, some little irregularity in the action of my heart that would make it impossible for me to endure the hardships of a soldier. So, despite my protests and entreaties, the surgeons have refused to accept me for military service."
"Is it permitted to ask if you have found employment?" Dave inquired.
"I have found employment of a sort," the Count rattled on, without a shade of embarrassment. "It might be questioned if I am worth the remuneration which I receive, but at least I am happy. I am permitted to serve a friend in some little matters of a personal nature."
That answer was enough to prevent Dave from making any further inquiries as to the Count's new means of a livelihood.
"It gives me the greatest happiness to be able to see you again, and to hear your voice," continued the Count. "I am here in Naples only as a matter of accident, and it may be that my stay here will be short. I was at a table in the rear with a friend when I espied you sitting here. Is it permitted that I bring my friend over and present him?"
"We shall be delighted to meet any friend of yours, Surigny," Dave replied pleasantly.
"Then I shall bring him here at once," replied the Frenchman, lightly, rising and moving rapidly away.
"I wonder what line of work the Count can be in now," mused Dalzell, aloud. "It would appear to be something that pays him very well and allows him to travel. I wonder if the friend he is to introduce to us is the one that employs him."
"We shall know that if Count Surigny chooses to inform us," smiled Dave.
Then their talk ceased, for they heard the Count's voice in conversation with some one as he came up behind them.
"My dear Monsieur Darrin," cried the Count, "I am honored in being able to present to you Monsieur Dalny."
Ensign Darrin rose, wheeled and thrust out his hand. Then his eyes turned to the newcomer's face.
Nor could the young naval officer repress a slight start, for M. Dalny was unmistakably one of the two men whom he had overheard on the veranda of the Casino at Monte Carlo.
"Monsieur Darrin," replied M. Dalny, accepting Dave's hand, "I feel that I am indeed honored in being able to meet one who, I understand, has been such a friend to my friend the Count of Surigny. I shall hope to see much of you."
Dalny was then introduced to Dalzell, after which, at Dave's invitation, the newcomers seated themselves. Fresh coffee was ordered.
But Dave Darrin's head was now in a good deal of a whirl.
As to the identity of M. Dalny, there could be no mistake whatever. And here was the Count of Surigny, evidently in the friendship of this plotter against the American Navy. It was not unlikely that the Count, too, was in the employ of this enemy of the United States.
"What can this whole thing mean, and does Surigny know that he is working against the peace and honor of my country?" Dave asked himself, his pulses throbbing.
"Are you to be here long at Naples, Monsieur Darrin?" Dalny soon asked in his most velvet-like tones.
"I really haven't the least idea, Monsieur Dalny," Dave replied truthfully, forcing a smile. "I am not deep in the confidence of Admiral Timworth."
"I thought it very likely," purred Monsieur Dalny, "that you might have heard from your officers as to how many days of shore liberty are likely to be granted your sailors."
"Oh, probably we shall—" began Dan, who found the French conversation easy to understand in this instance.
But the slightest of signs from Darrin was sufficient to check Dalzell's intended statement. So Danny Grin merely finished:
"Probably we shall hear soon how long our stay here is to be."
"Are you interested, Monsieur Dalny, in the length of our stay here?" queried Ensign Dave, gazing carelessly into the eyes of the stranger.
"Oh, it is but a matter of idle curiosity to me," replied the other, shrugging his shoulders amiably. "Just as you understand it would be a matter of a little curiosity, my dear Monsieur Darrin, to know whether the American fleet now in the harbor here will keep together for the next few weeks, and what ports you will visit. But I imagine that you have, as yet, no information on such points."
Dave did not reply to M. Dalny's remarks, who, however, did not appear to notice the omission. Drawing forth a long cigar and lighting it, Dalny puffed away, seeming to prefer, after that, to listen to the conversation of the others.
"Who can this Monsieur Dalny be?" Dave asked himself, racking his brain. "And of what nationality? The word 'Monsieur' is French in itself, though Dalny is hardly a French name. Perhaps it makes little difference, though, for men who sell their time and services as I am afraid this Dalny fellow is doing, are quite likely to masquerade under assumed names."
Presently M. Dalny excused himself for a few moments. Sauntering toward the rear of the restaurant, he stepped into a side passage, then made a quick entrance into a private room, the door of which he instantly locked. He now crossed the room and stood before the solitary diner in that room.
"My dear Mender!" cried Dalny.
"Your face betrays interest, Dalny," remarked the other, who was the older of the pair whom Dave had heard on the Casino veranda.
"And I am interested," continued Dalny, in a low tone. "I have met the two young officers from the American flagship."
"That is what you are here to do," smiled Monsieur Mender.
"The fellow Darrin refuses me any information about the movements of the American fleet."
"That was perhaps to be expected," answered Mender reflectively.
"But I fear matters are worse than that," Dalny went on hurriedly.
"Explain yourself, Dalny."
"Darrin did not see my face until he rose to greet me, when Surigny introduced us," continued Dalny. "Then he started, slightly, yet most plainly. Monsieur Mender, that young American naval officer knows something about us."
"Not very likely, Dalny."
"Then he at least suspects something."
"Why should he?"
"Monsieur Mender," hurried on Dalny, "you recall that evening on the Casino veranda at Monte Carlo? You and I, as we approached a little grove of potted trees, talked rather more incautiously than we should have done."
"It was an indiscretion, true," nodded the white-haired Mender thoughtfully.
"And, afterwards, as you know, I told you I thought I heard someone move behind those little trees."
"I suspect, Monsieur Mender, that it was Ensign Darrin, of the battleship 'Hudson,' who stood behind those trees, and who overheard us."
"I wish I knew if such were the case," replied M. Mender huskily, his face paling with anxiety.
"If Darrin overheard our talk, he doubtless reported it to his superior officers," declared Dalny.
"Unquestionably—if he really heard," admitted Mender.
"Then that pair of young officers, for they are close friends, must have been sent ashore to see if they could get track of the numerous party whom you direct, my dear Monsieur Mender."
"You believe that the two young American officers are ashore in Naples as spies upon us?" questioned Mender, his tone cold and deadly.
"It would seem so," Dalny answered readily.
"In that case—" began Mender, slowly, then paused.
"In that case—what?" demanded Dalny, after waiting a few moments while his chief reflected.
"It would mean that the Italian authorities, as soon as informed of what is suspected against us, would send out their keenest men to locate us, and then we should be arrested."
"What could be done to us?" queried Dalny.
"In these war days not very much evidence is required against men who are accused of being spies, my excellent Dalny. We might or we might not be accorded a trial, but one thing is quite sure; we would be shot to death on the charge of being spies."
As he pronounced these significant words Mender shrugged his shoulders. His manner was cool, one would have said almost unconcerned.
"You are right," agreed the younger plotter. "The Italians, like all the other peoples engaged in this war, hate spies bitterly, and would be quick to mete out death to us."
"It would be desirable," Mender proceeded, "to prevent the young officers from going back aboard their ship."
"How?" asked Dalny, bluntly.
Mender laughed, cold-bloodedly, in a low tone.
"In Naples," he explained, "there are, as you know, my dear Dalny, hundreds of bravos, some of whom are the most desperate fellows in the world—men who would stick at nothing to earn a few lira. And they will ask no awkward questions as to which country they serve in aiding us."
"Then you would have Darrin and Dalzell seized, by night, by some of these bravos, and carried away to a secure place where they could be confined until your plans have been carried through?" inquired Dalny, thoughtfully.
"It is always dangerous to have banditti seize men and hide them away, especially in a country that is engaged in war," replied Mender, slowly. "Now, if, in one of the narrow, dark streets of Old Naples, these young Americans were settled by a few quiet thrusts with the blade, their bodies might then be dropped into a sewer. The bodies might not be found for weeks. On the other hand, captives, no matter how securely hidden, may find means to escape, and all our care in the matter would go for naught. Besides, these Sicilian bravos of Naples much prefer to settle a man with one or two quick thrusts with a narrow blade, and then—But what is the matter, Dalny? Does the use of the knife terrify you?"
"No!" replied Dalny, huskily. "I was merely thinking that, if a man like either Darrin or Dalzell escaped from a knife, after seeing its flash, and if he suspected me of being behind the attempt, either young man would be likely to lay hold of me and snap my spine."
"If you are fearful of the chances and of the possible consequences, Dalny," replied Mender coldly, "you may withdraw."
"No, no, no!" protested Dalny quickly. "You are my chief, Monsieur Mender, and whatever you wish I shall do."
Mender puffed for a few moments at a Russian cigarette, before he again spoke.
"Dalny," he said, "you may be sure I do not distrust either your loyalty or your courage. Go back to your Americans. Detain them as long as needful at the table, no matter by what arts. Within twenty minutes I shall have a leader of Neapolitan bravos here, and I shall have a plan to unfold to him. Then he will go and post his men. You will receive instructions from me that you cannot mistake. You are right in fearing Darrin and Dalzell. We can afford to take no chances. That pair of young American officers shall have no chance of reporting our presence in Naples to their superior officers. Sooner than permit the least risk of interference with our plans I shall remove them from our way."
"Darrin and Dalzell are to be killed, then?" asked Dalny hoarsely.
"They shall be snuffed out," replied Mender, flicking the ash from his cigarette. "Go, Dalny, and do your part as far as you have heard it from me. I will attend to the rest. Do not be uneasy."
Dalny made a low bow before his cold-blooded chief, then left the private room, returning to Ensigns Darrin and Dalzell, whose death, under the knives of cowardly treachery, he must do his best to help bring about!
TREACHERY HAS THE FLOOR
"You will not have much time for sight-seeing, I am afraid," Count Surigny was saying, as Monsieur Dalny soft-footedly returned to the table.
"I do not know how much time we shall have," Dave answered.
"If you have but little time, then it will be most unfortunate," spoke Dalny softly, with his engaging smile. "Naples is vastly rich in things that are worth while seeing."
"We are not likely to have the time to see many of them," Darrin answered.
"That is most unfortunate," replied the Count, in a regretful tone.
"Yet there is a way to partly overcome that misfortune," suggested Mr. Dalny.
"How, Monsieur?" inquired Darrin, turning his gaze on the face of the international plotter.
"Why, secure a good guide, engage a carriage drawn by good horses, and then move from point to point as fast as possible," replied Dalny. "I know Naples well. Perhaps I can offer my services for, say, this evening."
"Are the public places of interest likely to be open in the evening?" questioned Dave.
"Not the museums," admitted M. Dalny. "But there are many other things to be seen. Naples has several beautiful parks. Some of them contain notable statues. These parks are the nightly resort of all classes of the Italian community, who are always worth observing. Then, too, there are many curious glimpses to be had of the night life of the underworld of Naples. In a word, Monsieur Darrin, there are enough night sights, of one kind and another, to fill profitably a month in Naples. And, as I know the city, you may command me. I will be your guide. Shall we go to-night?"
"Where could we go, with the most advantage in the matter of sight-seeing?" Dave asked.
"Out toward Vomero," suggested young Count Surigny.
"Too fashionable, and very dull," replied Dalny, with a shake of his head.
"Then where?" asked Dan.
But Dalny's reply was lost to him, for at that moment Darrin, holding a rolled napkin at one side of the table, and below the level of the table top, waved it slowly back and forth. Dan was the only one of the party at the table who could see the moving napkin. By this simple wig-wag signal device Dave Darrin sent to his chum the silent message:
"Dalny is one of the plotters I overheard on the Casino veranda. Think he suspects us. Follow my lead."
The instant that the message ended Dan glanced slowly around him, then upward at the ceiling.
Soon Dalny's interest in the table talk waned for outside on the sidewalk he caught sight of a young Neapolitan dandy, standing on the curb, his back turned to the restaurant as he swung a jaunty little cane. The motions of that cane spelled out a message that only Dalny, of all the party at the table, could read. And that message read:
"Get carriage, take Americans for drive at dark. Finally, direct driver to turn into the Strada di Mara. Leave carriage with Americans when urged by shop-keeper."
That was the whole message. It was plain enough, however, to instruct Dalny as fully as he needed to be directed. The scoundrel, as he watched the swinging movements of the cane, looked out into the street between half-closed eyelids, slowly puffing out rings of smoke from his long cigar.
"We are becoming dull, good friends," laughed Dalny presently, glancing at the others. "Suppose we order more coffee."
"No more for me, thank you," protested Dave.
"But you have had hardly any coffee," Dalny declared.
"I am ready to admit that I can't keep up with the average American in drinking coffee," Dave replied.
"But you will have more, my dear Dalzell," urged Dalny.
Dan, who was inwardly agitated over the information he had received secretly from his chum, looked at Dalny almost with a start. In Dan's soul there was loathing for this foreigner with the engaging smile.
"I do not believe I can stand any more coffee," confessed Dan.
"So you and I, Surigny, must drink all the coffee at this table," said Dalny, with a shrug of his shoulders.
"I can drink a little more," replied the Count.
The day was now rapidly waning, bringing on a balminess of evening such as is found in few places other than Naples. The streets were becoming crowded with pedestrians.
"Waiter," called Dalny, "you will be good enough to secure for us a carriage with good horses. Get it as quickly as you can."
But the waiter, perceiving a signal from Dalny, knew that the carriage must not arrive too soon.
In the meantime Dave scanned the bill that had been presented for the meal, then laid a banknote on the bill. The waiter, returning, attended to the paying of the bill and received his "tip" from the change that he brought back.
The party lingered at the table to wait for the arrival of the carriage that was intended to convey Dave Darrin and Dan Dalzell to their death.
"My dear Count," said Dalny presently, "I regret much that the appointment which you told me you had for this evening will prevent you from going with us. Can you not manage to break the appointment without doing injustice to others?"
Taking his cue from the manner in which the question was put, the Comte of Surigny replied:
"It would delight me beyond measure to be one of the party to-night, but it is impossible. My appointment cannot be set aside."
The restaurant was brilliantly lighted, and the street lights had begun to flash out as the carriage arrived.
"Now, for a night of real sight-seeing!" cried Dalny, rising eagerly. "My dear Americans, I promise you something such as you have never before experienced!"
"I am heartily sorry that you are prevented from going with us, Surigny," declared Dave, holding out his hand to the young Frenchman.
"I shall pray for better fortune next time," smiled the Count, rather sadly.
"We are all desolate that you cannot go with us, Surigny," declared Dalny, also holding out his hand. Dan, too, shook hands with Surigny. Then the international plotter led the two Americans to the carriage awaiting outside.
After the Count of Surigny had waved his hand to the party and had walked away, Dalny placed Dave and Dan on the rear seat of the barouche, while he himself sat facing them.
A few words in Italian from Dalny, and the horses started. For half an hour the driver took his fares past ordinary sights.
"But we are not much interested, driver," cried Dalny, turning at last to the man who held the lines. "We are bored with this dullness, when Naples holds so much that may be seen by night. Take us through the Strada di Mara."
So the driver headed his horses toward the eastern, or older, part of the city. The Strada di Mara leads through one of the most thickly populated sections of Naples, and a part of the street extends up a steep hillside.
"You see how poor the people are here," said Dalny, as the horses slowed down to a walk. "We shall come soon, however, to a more interesting part of the street. Crime lurks here, also; not the more desperate crimes though. The Strada di Mara, in one part, is the resort of thieves who wish to dispose of their petty plunder by turning it into cash. And, as strange merchandise is dealt in here, the shops offer a variety of wares. We will presently look into one or two of the shops."
"What on earth can Dalny be driving at?" wondered young Ensign Darrin. "Can he think that we would enter such shops, and buy the plunder that thieves have sold there?"
At the next street corner an Italian lad with a sweet voice began to sing. Danny Grin noticed that most of the people in this steep, narrow alley, that was by courtesy called a street, were now going indoors. Only a man here and there remained outside.
"That's curious," thought Dan to himself. "Don't these people like music, that a street singer should drive them inside?"
When the carriage had passed on to the next block a man came out of a shop and waved his hand to the driver, who promptly reined in his horses.
"Gentlemen," urged the shop-keeper, in English, "be kind enough to step inside and look at some of the bargains I am offering."
Dave, who understood, whispered to Dalny:
"It can hardly be worth while to get out and look at what is probably stolen goods."
"On the contrary," rejoined Dalny, "this man is likely to show us some things that will help me in explaining the interesting points of Naples to you. Come!"
Opening the door of the carriage, the international plotter stepped out, leading the way. Of course Dave and Dan followed him.
It now turned out that the Italian's shop was some doors farther up along this block. As he led the way, and Dalny and the Americans followed, neither young officer observed that the driver had turned his horses around and was driving away.
At the same time, the few men now on the sidewalk of this block started to close in on the little party.
Tragedy was stepping across the threshold!
HEMMED IN BY THE BRAVOS
Suddenly out of a doorway lurched a big Sicilian, seemingly intoxicated.
He lurched against Dave, then drew back, scowling fiercely at the young ensign.
"Your mistake, sir," spoke Darrin, purposely using English.
Dave would have passed, but now the fellow placed himself squarely in Darrin's way.
"You have struck me!" snarled the Sicilian in his own language. "Why?"
Then, uttering a peculiar cry, the man, with a movement of wonderful swiftness, drew a knife. In the dim light that blade flashed like subdued fire.
"One, two, three—out!" gritted Dave Darrin, leaping forward.
Striking up the fellow's arm, Dave caught at the knife-wrist. He twisted it savagely and the weapon clattered to the rough pavement.
Bump! Dave struck the fellow hard between the eyes, sending him to earth, where he lay still.
Dan, now keenly alert, discovered that the pretended shop-keeper had also drawn a knife.
"To quarters!" yelled Danny Grin.
"Back to back!" shouted Dave, placing his shoulders close to his chum's. "Dan, we must fight for our lives. The lives of all these cattle are not worth a scratch on our bodies! Down 'em!"
"We'll make ten-pins of 'em," hissed Dalzell.
And Monsieur Dalny? That honorable gentleman was now scuttling down the street to safety.
The fight that followed was a mixture of boxing, football tactics and sheer Yankee grit that Dave and Dan now employed as they faced more than half a dozen scoundrels armed with the long, thin knives of the bravos of Naples.
Bump! Ensign Darrin struck up the arm of the first scoundrel to reach for him. In a twinkling Dave had broken that rascal's right wrist, forcing the fellow to drop his weapon.
Like a flash Dave caught his victim up, holding him overhead and sending the bravo, heels first, into the face of another scoundrel. The man, struck by this human missile, went to earth dazed, and with a broken jaw to boot.
Dalzell, too, was proving the stuff that was in him. Dodging a descending hand that held a knife, then landing a smashing blow over the fellow's heart, Dan sent him to earth. At that instant a knife would have gone through Danny Grin's ribs had not Dalzell let one of his feet fly with such speed and skill as to break another bravo's shin-bone.
Crouching low, Dave received still another assailant. Seizing him below the knees, then rising, he hurled the ruffian over backward on his head, the fall nearly snapping the owner's spine at the neck and leaving him unconscious.
Two more men were quickly downed, and seemed inclined to stay there. The young ensigns had not received a scratch so far, which was due as much to luck as to their own skill.
Now a wail of terror rose on the air. Two of the bravos took fairly to their heels. The rest wavered, then gave way, glaring with sullen looks at these young Americans who could fight so terribly without weapons.
"Come on!" urged Dave, in a low voice. "Let's get out of here! There is no credit in staying here and taking on more fighting. Let's hurry while the hurrying is good."
Only one of the bravos was ahead of them as the young naval officers began their sprint. That fellow was trying to get out of harm's way, but hearing pursuit at his heels, the frightened fellow halted suddenly, wheeled and struck out with his knife at Ensign Darrin.
Dave dodged, then landed both fists against the ruffian's ribs, knocking the fellow clean through a window with a great crashing of glass.
"Hustle!" muttered Dalzell, as he halted to wait for his chum. "There may be a hundred more of these fellows who can be called out on a single block."
But there was no pursuit. The bravos had had enough. Afterwards it was a matter of local report that two of the rascals handled by Darrin and Dalzell all but died of their injuries. The Strada di Mara contained no bravos reckless enough to follow these incredible Americans on this wild night of trouble.
Still sprinting, Dave, with Dan at his heels, overhauled a running figure. Dave shot out his right hand, gathering in, by the coat collar, Monsieur Dalny.
"My friend," uttered Dave grimly, as he halted the fugitive, "this does not appear to be one of your best fighting nights."
"I—I—I—" stammered M. Dalny, his face white. "I—I—"
"So you said before," Dave retorted dryly. "Let it go at that."
"Do you mean to charge that I ran away?" demanded Dalny, with a show of injured dignity.
"Certainly not," retorted Dave, ironically. "You were merely trying to show two scared Americans the shortest way back to a safe part of Naples."
"It's not safe here," whispered Dalny, trembling. "We are almost certain to be followed by an enraged mob. Let us use discretion."
The word "discretion" recalled Darrin to the fact that he must not be too rough with the fellow through whom he hoped to learn something of great interest to Admiral Timworth.
"You are right, Monsieur Dalny," agreed the young ensign. "Let us waste little time in getting away from this part of Naples."
No walk could have been too brisk, just then, for Dalny. He was not a coward in all things, but he felt a deadly terror of cold steel.
In addition, this international plotter had, just then, a lively conviction that friends of the men whom these American officers had handled so roughly might, if they overtook him, feel a decided thirst for vengeance upon the man who had led such giants against the bravos of the Strada di Mara.
"Why are you looking back so often?" Dave asked, as the three gained the next corner.
"To see if we are pursued," confessed Dalny.
"That is prudent," Darrin smiled, "yet hardly necessary."
"What do you mean?" asked the international plotter.
"Because," explained Dan, grinning, "the only bravos who have any reason to be afraid of us to-night are those who might get in front of us. Those who keep behind us will have every chance to get away unharmed."
"You are a droll pair," muttered Dalny.
"And, unless I am greatly in error, my fine fellow, you led us into that trap for the purpose of having something bad happen to us," muttered Dave, but he kept the words behind his teeth, for he did not care, as yet, to come to an open quarrel with this fellow.
Before long the three reached one of the broader, well-lighted thoroughfares. Here they engaged a driver and carriage, and were soon once more in the Riviera di Chiaja.
As they passed one of the larger buildings, Mender, looking down upon the avenue through the blinds of a window of a room at the hotel, saw the three as they drove past an arc light.
"What can be the matter with that simpleton Dalny?" muttered the arch-plotter. "Did he, at the last moment, fail in the courage necessary to lead the Americans into the trap that I had baited for them?"
Ten minutes later Dalny, closeted with his chief, was relating to that astounded leader the story of what had happened in the Strada di Mara.
"I cannot understand it," muttered Mender.
"No more can I," rejoined Dalny. "The Americans are demons when it comes to fighting."
"At some point, my good Dalny, you must have bungled the affair."
"Why not say that the fault must have been with your choice of bravos?" jeered the subordinate. "Why did you pick out alleged bravos who would allow themselves to be put to flight by unarmed men?"
"I must wait until I have a fuller report of this night's misadventure," declared Mender. "I dare say that, within a few hours, I shall have more exact information."
In this belief Mender was quite right. Before daylight he was visited by the leader of the bravos of the Strada di Mara, who announced that he must be paid two thousand lira (about four hundred dollars) as extra money to be divided among his outraged followers.
In the case that this extra money was not forthcoming, declared the leader of the bravos, Mender and his friends might find Naples much too dangerous a city for them.
EVIL EYES ON SAILORMAN RUNKLE
In the center of a huge room in the Hotel dell' Orso, overlooking the Chiaja, Dave Darrin and Dalzell came to a halt.
Below they had just left Dalny in the carriage, and had come straight up to their room, which they had engaged when first they came ashore.
They had not, as one might suspect, overlooked the opportunity of finding whither Dalny drove after leaving them. For a short, broad-shouldered young man, Able Seaman Runkle, U. S. S. "Hudson," had been on the lookout for them on the sidewalk.
Runkle, by special order of Captain Allen, U. S. N., was not in uniform, but in civilian attire. In another carriage Able Seaman Runkle, at Dave's order, followed the conveyance that took Dalny back to the appointed meeting place with Mender. The sailorman's carriage did not, of course, stop when Dalny's vehicle did, but kept slowly on.
"Shadowing" is often a two-edged tool. When Runkle returned to his post he, in turn, was followed by the same dandy who had done the cane signaling late in the afternoon.
"That fellow Dalny is almost too bad medicine for me to swallow," Dan muttered with a wry smile.
"Of course he is a liar and a villain," Dave returned seriously. "But when a man is wanted to do the foulest kind of work, I suppose it must be rather hard to find a gentleman to volunteer. Probably Dalny's employers feel that they are fortunate enough in being able to obtain the services of a fellow who looks like a gentleman."
"He led us into that trap to have us assassinated," Dan declared hotly.
"Or else to have us so badly cut up that we would feel, in the future, more like minding our own business," suggested Ensign Dave with a smile.
"We got out of it all right that time," Dan went on bluntly, "but I don't want any more such experiences. The next time we might not have luck quite so much on our side."
"What puzzles me," Dave continued, wrinkling his brows, "is why Dalny or any of his crowd should want us stabbed."
"They wanted us killed," Dan insisted. "Nothing short of killing us would have satisfied those bravos if they had succeeded in getting us at their mercy. Yet why should our death be desired?"
"For only one reason," Dave answered, the truth coming to him in a flash. "Dalny is here in Naples, for which reason his white-haired fellow-plotter is probably here, too. We were sent ashore to find out if they are here. When Dalny shook hands with us this afternoon he perceived that I recognized him as one whose remarks I undoubtedly had overheard at Monte Carlo. He then concluded that I had been sent ashore to find out if he were here. He knew, or suspected, that I would report my information to the Admiral. Hence the determination to kill me, and, since you are with me, to kill you also. Our bodies would have been hidden, and the Admiral would have been able only to guess why we did not return to the ship. Dan, what hurts me most is the practical certainty that the Count of Surigny is now with that band of international cut-throats. I had hope for a nobler future for the Count, and also I am disappointed to find him working for my enemies. He must hate me fearfully because I thwarted his one-time purpose to commit suicide!"
"I wouldn't have believed the Count could be so bad," Dan mused. "Yet the proof appears to be against him."
"Why, of course he's one of their band," Dave continued. "It's a fearful thing to say, but it is plain that I saved only an ingrate and a rogue from the crime of suicide. However, Dan, we are losing time. I must begin my report to Captain Allen."
At that instant there came a slight scratching sound at the door. Tiptoeing to the door, Dalzell opened it far enough to admit Seaman Runkle, who, as soon as the door had been closed and locked, promptly saluted both young officers.
"What is your report, Runkle?" Dave demanded.
"Your party in the carriage, sir, dismissed the rig at this address," reported the sailorman, handing Ensign Darrin a slip of paper.
"You did well," Dave answered. "Find a seat, Runkle, until I have written a note which you are to take aboard to Captain Allen."
Within fifteen minutes the letter was completed. It was not a long document, but gave, in brief form, a summary of the adventures and discoveries of the two ensigns since coming ashore.
"You will take this aboard, Runkle," Dave directed, "and you will see that it reaches Captain Allen, even though he has turned in and has to be awakened. You will tell the officer of the deck, with my compliments, that such orders were given me by Captain Allen. Now, Runkle, don't let anything interfere with your speedy return to the ship. Also remember that you may be followed, and that Naples is a bad town in which to be trailed at night."
"I'm not afraid of the bad people of Naples, sir," rejoined the sailorman, with a quiet smile. "Do you expect me to return to you, sir?"
"That will be as Captain Allen directs."
"Very good, sir. Good night, sir."
Able Seaman Runkle was shown out by Ensign Dalzell, who locked the door of the room after the departing sailorman.
In the meantime a spy who had followed Runkle back to the Hotel dell' Orso had telephoned, in a foreign language little understood in Naples, the information concerning that sailorman's reporting to his officers, and had added the suggestion that very likely the sailor would be sent out to the fleet with a written report.
"I think it highly probable that the sailor will be sent with a written report," agreed Mender, at the other end of the telephone wire.
"And if the sailor does try to get out to the fleet?" insinuated the spy.
"If the man leaves the hotel to go to the water front," commanded Mender, in a voice ringing with energy and passion, "see to it that he is laid low and that the letter is taken from him. At any cost I must have turned over to me any written report that Ensign Darrin tries to send to his commanding officer. Nor am I through with Darrin himself!"
ORDERS CHANGE IN A MINUTE
"Hullo! What does that fellow want?"
Able seaman Runkle was within a block of the mole where the "Hudson's" launch was due to cast off at half-past ten o'clock, but he halted in his tracks.
From a doorway, a little nearer to the mole, a head was thrust out slightly as its owner surveyed the sailorman.
Then the man stepped out of the doorway to the sidewalk. He was a big fellow, with something of the slouch and swagger that are to be observed in the tough the world over.
Now this stranger stood quite still, sharply regarding the pausing sailorman.
"If there are less than six of that breed ahead of me," muttered Runkle, staring ahead once more, "then it doesn't make any real difference."
Two more men slipped out of dark recesses further on, while, an instant later, Runkle became aware that two men, who had not been visible a few moments before, were now closing up behind him.
"I wonder what these chaps think they're going to do," mused Runkle, his sailor heart quaking not at all, though he scented fight in the air. "Hullo!"
Now a sixth man stepped out from a doorway just at his side. With a lusty push this sixth man sent Runkle out into the street.
"Where are your manners, my man?" demanded Seaman Runkle, returning to the sidewalk. "And what do you mean by that?"
Suddenly the muzzle of a revolver gleamed in Runkle's face, but the sailor did not betray any sign of fright.
"Put that down!" ordered Runkle sharply, at the same time making a gesture to indicate his command.
A reply was volubly given in Italian, of which Runkle understood not a word.
In the few seconds that this was happening the five other swarthy men began to close in on the sailor. Runkle lost no time in discovering that fact.
A gesture from the man with the pistol showed that he expected Runkle to hold up his hands.
"You'd rather see my mitts aloft, eh?" asked the sailor, in a mocking voice. "All right, then!"
Up went the sailor's hands, as high as he could raise them. A gleam of satisfaction shone in the eyes behind the revolver, but that look instantly changed to one of pain.
For Runkle, while holding his hands high, also raised one of his feet. That foot went up swiftly, and high enough to land against the lower edge of the bravo's pistol wrist. In a jiffy the wrist was broken and the pistol came clattering to the pavement.
"Much obliged," offered Runkle, snatching up the weapon. Then he raised his voice to yell:
"If there are shipmates within hail let 'em hurry here to keep Jack Runkle from killing a few rattlesnakes!"
Just in time to escape the points of two knives, Seaman Runkle backed against a stucco wall, thrusting out the revolver and his able left fist.
The first two men who leaped at him went down under the impact of that fist. A third received a scalp wound from the butt of the revolver. Any court would have exonerated the sailorman for killing his assailants, but Dave's messenger was much too good-natured to kill while there was another path to safety.
That kindliness undid Runkle's defense. As a man rushed him on each side a third bravo dropped low in front of him and seized the seaman's legs, upsetting him.
"Foul tackle, with a dozen to one!" growled Runkle, as he felt himself going down.
Still he laid about, freeing his feet and using them while he plied his left fist and struck out with the revolver. Even now he did not want to press the trigger of the weapon, which was soon snatched away from him.
With hoarse cries, several of the bravos now held the sailor so that he could barely squirm.
Swiftly moving fingers roamed rapidly through his pockets. Then one of the cowardly assailants snatched out of one of Runkle's pockets a letter, muttering a few words to his companions.
Striking a match the thief glanced at the address on the envelope. Even if he knew no English he could discern that the envelope was addressed to Captain Allen of the "Hudson."
With another quick word the thief vanished through a doorway. Up from the enraged sailor leaped those who had been holding him down.
"Sheer off there! Belay! belay!" growled several hoarse voices. Rushing up, cat-footed, came a dozen or more fresh-faced, husky young jackies from the fleet.
"Come on, mates! The maccaroni-eaters are sneaking away!" yelled the foremost of the rescue party, that had come from the mole in answer to Runkle's call.
Only two of the Italians were slow enough to be overtaken and manhandled by the jackies. The rest of the assailants vanished swiftly into nearby houses, the doors to which were instantly closed and bolted.
For perhaps twenty seconds the two captured bravos were badly used. Then, thoroughly cowed, they were allowed to slip away.
"What happened to you, shipmate?" demanded one of the rescuers.
"Enough!" growled Runkle. "They got my money."
"All I had."
"Tough luck," declared one of the sailors.
"The chap who has your money surely got away before we could reach him."
"I've got to get aboard the flagship as soon as I can," exclaimed Able Seaman Runkle ruefully.
"The launch leaves in ten minutes, mate," volunteered another. "Those of us who are going aboard will now do well to get back to the mole."
So Jack Runkle departed with his rescuers, but his eyes flashed the vengeance he would take should he meet his despoiler again.
On the way out to the flagship Runkle sat silent and out of the run of talk that was going on around him.
Going up over the side of the "Hudson," Runkle reported himself on board, and then added to the officer of the watch, Lieutenant Totten:
"I've a message for the Captain, sir, and have orders to report to him immediately on coming aboard."
"Orders from an officer of this ship?"
"I'll send an orderly to see if the Captain is still awake," replied Lieutenant Totten.
"I beg your pardon, sir," Runkle persisted, "but I have orders to say that Captain Allen, by his own request, is to be called, if necessary, sir, in order to hear my message."
"Very good," nodded Lieutenant Totten, and turned to an orderly, sending him to Captain Allen's quarters.
"The Captain will see Seaman Runkle at once," the orderly reported a few moments later.
Saluting Lieutenant Totten, Runkle turned and hastily presented himself before the door of the Captain's quarters.
"You have something to report, Runkle?" questioned Captain Allen, seating himself at his desk.
"Yes, sir. Ensign Darrin gave me a letter to bring to you, sir. It may interest you, sir, to know that on my way back to the ship I was attacked near the mole by a mob of cut-throats. One of them held me up with a revolver, but I got it away from him. Then they all attacked me, and soon had me down, sir. One of the rascals took all my money and a letter addressed to you."
"Took Ensign Darrin's letter away from you?" demanded Captain Allen, looking, as he felt, a good deal disturbed.
"No, sir; not Ensign Darrin's letter, sir," replied Able Seaman Runkle, with just a shadow of a grin. "It was a letter addressed to you, but I have reason to believe, sir, that Ensign Darrin's letter is still safe. If you'll permit me, sir, I'll look for the ensign's letter where I placed it, after leaving the ensign and before quitting the hotel."
Captain Allen at once nodded his permission. Runkle partly undressed, then explored the place where he had concealed Dave's letter.
"What was the other letter addressed to me that was taken away from you, Runkle?" questioned the captain, while the search was going on.
"It wasn't really a letter, sir," the sailorman replied, this time with a very broad grin. "It was just an envelope addressed to you, and filled with blank paper."
"Who addressed that envelope?"
"I did, sir."
"Because I thought that Ensign Darrin's letter might be important, and I had an idea that some skulking sneaks might try to take it away from me."
Then Runkle, having put his clothing in order, stepped towards Captain Allen, holding out an envelope.
"I think, sir, you'll find that this is Ensign Darrin's letter, and that it's just as he gave it to me, sir."
Captain Allen hastily broke the seal, took out the enclosure, and read rapidly, a frown gathering on his face all the while.
"Runkle," cried the Captain, springing up and placing a hand on the sailorman's shoulder, "did Ensign Darrin suggest to you the ruse that fooled your assailants?"
"You did it on your own initiative?"
"I—I did it out of my own head, sir, if that means the same thing," replied the puzzled sailor slowly.
"It does mean the same thing," continued Captain Allen, "and, Runkle, I'm proud of you. That's a good headpiece you have on your shoulders, and I shall make note of it on your record. You have shown good judgment. You have a head fitted to meet difficulties. You may look for promotion in the near future."
"Have I your permission, sir, to ask if that was Ensign Darrin's letter and if it was in good order?" asked Runkle.
"It was, my man, thanks to your intelligent and courageous performance of duty. Runkle, how much money did the bravos take from you?"
"Eighteen dollars in real money, sir, and about two dollars in lira money."
Sailors sometimes call the Italian money "lira money," because the lire, which is worth about the same as the French franc, or twenty cents, is the common unit of Italian currency. "Lira" is the plural of "lire."
"I am afraid you don't like the Italian money very well, Runkle," smiled Captain Allen.
"I don't, sir, and I don't like the people of this country any better. Not after the beating I got to-night."
"That wasn't the fault of the Italian people, Runkle," declared the Captain. "Toughs in New York would use you at least as badly as did the bravos ashore to-night. The Italian people themselves are very friendly to us, and the government does all in its power to show its friendship for our country. If I were to send ashore complaint of your being attacked to-night the police would dragnet the city in an effort to find the men who attacked you, and, if found, it would go hard with them. But for reasons that I cannot explain to you, no complaint will be made. I do not wish the Italian police to know what took place to-night. As to the money that you lost, I will have you make affidavit before the paymaster, to-morrow, and will see that the money is repaid to you. Runkle, you may tell your mates anything you like about the fight, but do not mention the fact to any one, that you bore with you and were searched by bravos for a letter from Ensign Darrin."
"Very good, sir."
"That is all, Runkle. You may go, but remember that I have you in mind as a man of good and quick judgment, and as one who has the courage to carry his duty through in the face of any obstacles."
"Thank you, sir."
Saluting, the sailorman left the Captain's quarters. A minute later Captain Allen sent an orderly to the Admiral. Three minutes later Admiral Timworth received the commanding officer of the flagship.
Quickly Captain Allen placed Dave's letter in his superior officer's hands.
"This is live news, indeed," cried the Admiral, as he laid the letter down. "Darrin and Dalzell are doing clever work."
"But their work is suspected, sir, as the letter shows. Moreover, the fellow spies of Gortchky and Dalny are shadowing our two young officers ashore, for the messenger who brought this letter was attacked by bravos. Our messenger was robbed of his money and of a faked letter with which the sailor had provided himself."
Captain Allen then repeated Runkle's story.
"You have Runkle slated for promotion, of course?" asked Admiral Timworth.
"A man like Runkle, if he keeps to his present promise, should go as high in the Navy as it is possible for an enlisted man to go," declared the Admiral. "But, Captain, the organization and desperation of our country's enemies worry me. It is plain that some very desperate scheme is afoot for making trouble between England and our country. That would drag us in against all of the Entente Allies if the success of the plot should involve us in war with England at this time. The proposed sinking of a British warship is the inkling we have had, but the real scheme may be something else. The first clue of all that we had, even before Darrin and Dalzell came aboard at Gibraltar, came from the American Embassy at Paris. Our Ambassador, under orders from Washington, has our secret service at work there, which keeps our government directly in touch with many of the doings of international plotters. It seems to me highly important that Ensign Darrin should be detached long enough from this ship to be sent to Paris, where he should repeat to our Ambassador all that he knows, and give close descriptions of the spies with whom he has come in contact. Having made his report, Darrin can return to the ship at Genoa, which will be our next port of call in these waters."
"Would you send Mr. Darrin alone, sir?" asked Captain Allen. "He might be trailed and again attacked. Would it not be far better for Ensign Dalzell to go with him?"
"Yes, and perhaps it may be as well for Runkle to go, too, as their orderly," replied the Admiral, after a moment's hesitation. "There is a train leaving for Paris at four in the morning. Where is Lieutenant Totten?"
"He will be off watch in an hour, sir."
"Let Lieutenant Totten go ashore to carry my written instructions to Ensign Darrin. I will enclose the necessary funds in an envelope with my instructions. Totten, on his return to the ship, will be able to assure me that the communication reached Ensign Darrin safely, and that Darrin, after reading my instructions, which will be brief, tore up and burned my letter."
"Shall I send Runkle ashore in uniform or in citizen's dress?" asked Captain Allen.
"In citizen's clothes, as before," replied Admiral Timworth. "I will call my flag lieutenant. Kindly see that the paymaster is sent to me, Captain."
Fifteen minutes later the Admiral's letter of instruction had been signed, and a substantial amount of money enclosed.
On coming off deck duty at eight bells, midnight, Lieutenant Totten was instructed to order a launch alongside. Then, with the bulky envelope in an inner pocket, and accompanied by Seaman Runkle, Totten went over the side.
A few minutes later the launch delivered them at the mole, then glided out into the bay.
"I hope we shan't run into a gang of hoodlums again," said the sailorman respectfully.
"I have my revolver with me," smiled the lieutenant. "The Italian police would feel grateful if I sank its six bullets into six bravos of Naples."
DAN HAS VERY "COLD FEET"
That sound brought Dave Darrin out of a sound sleep. Dan slumbered on.
"Who's there at this hour of the night?" asked Dave, through the door, in the best Italian he could muster.
"From the 'Hudson,'" came the answer, in a voice so low that Dave did not recognize it.
"One minute, then."
Dave slipped back, shaking his chum to rouse him, then drew the curtains around Dalzell's bed.
In record time Dave drew on his own shirt, slipped into trousers, put on collar, cuffs and tie, and followed this with coat and vest.
Then he stepped to the door, opening it. Repressing his natural cry of astonishment, Dave silently admitted his visitors, next closed and locked the door.
"Orders from the Admiral," said Lieutenant Totten, in an undertone, and passed over the envelope.
Stepping under the light which he had hastily turned on, Darrin read his orders.
"Read this, Dan," said Dave, passing the letter of instructions to his chum, who was now also fully dressed. "Then I will read it once more, after which we will burn it."
"Suits me," commented Dan, when he had finished and was passing back the letter. "I've always wanted to see Paris."
"You won't see much of it this time," smiled Ensign Dave. "This is business, and nothing else."
Then Dave tore the letter into strips. Taking these to the open fireplace he set fire to them. All three officers watched until the letter had been completely burned.
"And now," Dave continued, "I will mix this charred paper thoroughly with the ashes that, fortunately, are left in the grate."
When he had finished, the mixing had been done so well that they would be keen eyes, indeed, that could note the presence of minute particles of burned paper in the grate's contents. His next act was to telephone the hotel clerk to send up a time-table.
"We have plenty of time, yet," smiled Darrin, glancing at his watch, after he had finished consulting the time-table. "It won't be the height of comfort to travel to Paris without baggage. However, when we get there we can buy anything that we may need."
"It will be great to shop in Paris," cried Dan, his eyes gleaming.
"Don't get the idea that we are going to do any running about in Paris," Dave warned his chum.
"Not even if we have some idle time there?"
"Not even then," Dave answered. "I am very sure that neither the Admiral nor the Ambassador would wish us to show ourselves much at the French capital. We might thereby attract the attention of spies."
"That is true," agreed Lieutenant Totten.
Business being now attended to, Dave and Dan had time to finish dressing comfortably. Then followed a period of waiting. Later the hotel clerk was asked to summon an automobile. In this the Paris-bound party, including Runkle, left the hotel, Totten accompanying them.
No sooner, however, had the American party left the hotel than an Italian, crouching in the shadow of a building further along on the same block, whispered to his companion:
"Telephone Signor Dalny for instructions."
Within three minutes a second automobile rolled up to the hotel.
"To the railway station first, on the chance of finding the Americans there," the spy called to the driver.
Dave's party did not have long to wait at the station. Totten remained with them to the last, however, that he might be able to report a safe start to the Admiral.
"Don't look, sir, but coming up behind you, I am certain, is a fellow I saw on the street outside the hotel just before we started," reported Seaman Runkle.
"Then we are being trailed," Dave said.
Not until the time came for starting did Lieutenant Totten shake hands hurriedly with his brother officers and leave them, though he still stood near the train.
Dave and Dan sprang into their compartment in one of the cars, Able Seaman Runkle following more slowly.
"There's that spy fellow getting on the running-board further down the train, sir," whispered Runkle.
"I expected him," answered Dave dryly.
"Would you like to lose him, sir?"
"Off the train altogether, do you mean, Runkle?"
"Can you put him off without hurting him?"
"I think I can get him off, sir, without even scraping one of his knuckles."
"You're at liberty to try, Runkle, if you are sure you won't injure the man."
As the guard came along, locking the doors, Runkle leaped down to the ground.
"Help, Mr. Totten, help!" called the seaman in a low voice that none the less reached the ears of the departing lieutenant.
Then Runkle moved directly up to the spy leering into his face and making insulting signs that caused the fellow to flush red.
"You're no good—savvy?" insisted Runkle in a low tone, making more faces and gestures.
So quickly was it done that the now thoroughly insulted spy, though he did not understand English, leaped at Runkle in a rage.
"He's going to try to rob me, sir!" cried Runkle, not very effectively dodging the blows that the fellow aimed at him.
"Here, what are you up to?" demanded Totten, also in English, as he reached out to grab the spy's collar.
In that strong grip the spy writhed, but could not escape.
"Thank you, sir," cried Runkle, with an unmistakable wink, after which he raced for the car and the compartment in which the two young ensigns waited.
"Lieutenant Totten is holding on to the chap, sir," announced Runkle gleefully. "He won't let him go until the train's out, either."
Holding the unlocked door open a crack, Dan Dalzell watched as the train pulled away from the station.
"Totten has him, and is explaining to a policeman," Dalzell chuckled. "That spy doesn't travel with us this trip."
"What's the odds?" asked Darrin, after a pause. "Dalny must belong to a big and clever organization. He can wire ahead to spies who will board the train later on and follow us into Paris."
"Then, with your leave, sir, I'll keep my eye open for spies until we're back aboard the flagship," suggested Runkle.
"Very good, so long as you break neither laws nor bones, Runkle," Dave laughed.
The Americans had the compartment to themselves. Had all been in uniform Runkle would not have been likely to travel in the same compartment with the young officers, but in citizen's dress much of discipline could be waived for greater safety.
Though Dan Dalzell did not now have much hope of sight-seeing in Paris, he was able, after dozing until daylight, to gaze interestedly out upon the country through which he was traveling.
Able Seaman Runkle was another absorbed window-gazer. As for Ensign Dave Darrin, while he caught many interesting glimpses of the scenery, his mind was mainly on the question of how the international plotters were planning to break the friendship between the two strongest nations on earth.
By what means could these plotters sink a British ship, and yet make it appear to be the work of Americans?
Hundreds of miles had been traveled, and one day had swung far on into another before a plausible answer came to Darrin's mind.
Then Dave fairly jumped—the thing that Admiral Timworth so dreaded now looked quite easy.
"What's the matter?" asked Dan, staring at his chum.
"Why?" countered Dave.
"You jumped so hard," Dan replied.
"I was thinking."
"Stop it!" advised Danny Grin. "A little harder thinking than that might wreck the train."
Dalzell enjoyed every hour of the journey. In the daylight hours he was busy "taking in" all the country through which the train passed. In the evening hours, Dan was outside on the platform, at every station, to watch the crowds, large or small.
As for Seaman Runkle, that splendid lad was absorbed, almost to the point of gloom, in watching at every station for a sign of a spy on the train with them.
Before they reached the French-Italian frontier Dave realized, with a start, that Admiral Timworth had failed to provide them with such credentials as would probably be called for in crossing the Italian-French frontier, and that they had forgotten to ask for such papers. However, at the frontier stop their friend Dandelli, the Italian naval officer, in uniform, almost ran into them. He was glad to vouch for the pair to the French and Italian guards at that point, and, after some hesitation, Dave and Dan were allowed to proceed into France.
"But be careful to have proper papers when returning, if you come this way," Dandelli smilingly warned them.
It was seven o'clock on the second morning after leaving Naples when the express reached Paris.
Hardly had the train stopped when Darrin and Dalzell were out and moving through the station. Seaman Runkle kept at a distance behind them, his sharp eyes searching for any signs of spies. But Runkle was able to make no report of success when he stepped into the taxicab in which his superior officers sat.
Danny Grin was again busy with his eyes as the taxicab darted through the beautiful streets of the French capital.
"What are you laughing at?" Dave asked suddenly, noting that Dan's grin was even wider than usual.
"Paris strikes me that way—that's all I can tell you," drawled Dan.
"Do you consider Paris a joke?" demanded Darrin.
"Of course not. But Paris has the name of being such a gay town—in peace times, of course. But at this early hour the city looks actually gray to me. If the look of the city doesn't improve, later in the day, I can't understand how any one can feel like being gay."
"Paris and the world have managed well enough, in the past, to combine for gayety," Dave replied. "Just now, of course, with all the men thinking of war, and so many women wearing black for dear ones they've lost at the front, the city can't show much of its former gayety. Paris is going through her ordeal of fire. These are dark days for good old France!"
Suddenly Dan's face fell grave.
"Now, what's the matter?" quizzed Darrin.
"I've just had a horrible thought," Dan confessed. "You haven't been concealing from me, have you, the fact that, though you had no frontier passport you have a letter or some form of credentials to the American Ambassador?"
"I haven't anything of the sort," Dave rejoined, he, too, now looking grave.
"A fine lay-out this is, then," growled Danny Grin. "Here we are, going to the American Ambassador on a matter of the utmost delicacy. We are going to tell him and ask him some of the secrets of the United States government, and we haven't a scrap of paper to introduce us. Do you realize what we'll get? The Johnny-run-quick! We'll get the balluster slide, the ice-pitcher greeting! Dave, we're going to land hard on the sidewalk right in front of the Embassy. And then some frog-eating, Johnny Crapaud policeman will gather us in as disorderly persons! Fine!"
AT THE AMERICAN EMBASSY
As the taxicab dashed around a corner Dave raised his cap.
"Well, this must be our destination," he announced. "I've just saluted Old Glory as it flutters over the building."
The taxicab came to a stop before a handsome building.
On each side of the posts of the gateway stood a brass shield on which was the inscription:
"Embassy of the United States of America."
Very gravely Dan and Runkle followed Dave, each raising his hat to the Flag as soon as his feet touched the sidewalk.
"There's a carriage entrance below," said Dave, "but we'll take the plain way and walk in."
Paying and dismissing the taxicab driver, Dave led the way to the entrance.
"A naval party to see the Ambassador, at his convenience, on business," Dave announced to the attendant at the door.
They were shown to an anteroom near the door, where they were soon joined by a Mr. Lupton, who introduced himself as Second Secretary to the Embassy.
"The ambassador, Mr. Caine, will not be here before nine o'clock," announced Mr. Lupton. "I know that you are expected. You have not breakfasted?"
"No," Dave confessed.
"Then I will ask you to let me be host. Before I lead the way I will ring for some one to see that your sailorman is well taken care of."
Five minutes later Darrin and Dalzell were seated at a small breakfast table with Mr. Lupton.
"Just before reaching here," began Dave, "it occurred to Mr. Dalzell and myself that we have, beyond our card-cases, no means of identification. Can you tell us how Mr. Caine will be sure that he is talking with the right persons?"
"I believe that will be arranged all right," smiled Mr. Lupton. "I, too, have taken you gentlemen on trust, but presently, I believe, we are going to be satisfied."
Two minutes later there stalked into the room a tall, handsome young man whose navy uniform set off his good figure to great advantage.
"Jetson?" exclaimed Dave, rising.
"The same," smiled the newcomer, advancing and holding out his hand.
He and Dave shook hands heartily, after which Dan came in for a similar greeting.
Readers of the Annapolis series will recall Jetson as being a fellow member of the Brigade of Midshipmen with Darrin and Dalzell at the U. S. Naval Academy. At one time, there, Dave and Jetson had not been good friends, but Dave had, at the very great risk of his own life, saved Jetson from drowning. Now, the two young officers were on excellent terms.
"I understand, now, what was darkness to me before," murmured Dave, after Jetson had seated himself at table. "Admiral Timworth knew that you were here, Jetson, and able to identify us."
"I have been here for three months," explained Jetson, smiling, "doing some work to assist the naval attache of this Embassy, Commander Tupper. I have had three months of the hardest work in this old capital, but now, confound it, my work here has ended and I'm ordered to join my ship. The bridge and the quarter-deck are places of boredom to a fellow who has seen what I've seen here. Why, I've even made two trips up to the front—one of them to Verdun."
"Lucky dog!" cried Danny Grin, with feeling. "So you've seen some of the big fighting!"
"It may be well to state that I know fully the business on which you are ordered here," Jetson continued, "so you may mention it freely before me if you are so inclined."