"Then can you tell me," Dave asked, "if it is known how our enemies propose to sink a British warship and make it appear to be the work of someone in the American Navy?"
"I cannot," Jetson replied. "In fact, it was only on receipt of a wireless from near Monte Carlo that the Ambassador had any knowledge that the international plotters intended to attempt the destruction of a British warship as a means for creating bad feeling between the two countries. The whole plot seems foolishly improbable to me."
"It doesn't seem so to me, any longer," rejoined Dave.
"Then you must know some thing that I haven't heard about," murmured Jetson curiously.
"Mr. Darrin," broke in Mr. Lupton, "I will be the Ambassador's authority for you to speak as freely of the matter as you choose."
Dave and Dan thereupon told all that had befallen them at Monte Carlo and at Naples.
"But still," Jetson broke in perplexedly, "how is the sinking of a British warship to be brought about with safety to the plotters, and how is the crime to be laid at the door of the American Navy?"
"I wish to speak to the Ambassador on that point before I mention it to any one else," Dave answered.
"Have you told Dalzell?" pressed Jetson.
"I have not."
"He certainly hasn't," complained Danny Grin sadly. "Dave always tells me after he has told every one else."
"Danny boy," Dave rebuked him, "where do you hope to go after you die?"
"Paris," Dalzell answered promptly.
Breakfast lasted until word came that the Ambassador was ready to receive the two young officers from the flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet. Then Jetson left his friends.
Mr. Caine, to whom Mr. Lupton presently introduced the ensigns, was a man in his fifties, rather bald, and with a decided stoop in his shoulders. At home he was a manufacturer of barbed wire, and his business, as Danny later suggested, had perhaps helped to give him some of his keenness and sharpness. He was slenderly fashioned, and reminded one, at first, of a professor in a minor college.
It was when the Ambassador transacted business that some of his sterling qualities came out. He was recognized as being one of the cleverest and ablest of American diplomats.
"I am glad to meet you, gentlemen," said the Ambassador, shaking hands with Dave and Dan and then motioning them to seats, which an attendant placed for them. "Mr. Lupton, you have doubtless had Jetson's assurance that these young men are the persons they claim to be?"
"Yes, sir," Lupton rejoined.
"Then tell me all you can of this matter," urged Mr. Caine.
At a look from Second Secretary Lupton, the attendant withdrew from the room. Dave and Dan were soon deep in the narration of events in which they participated at Monte Carlo and at Naples.
"I know the young Comte of Surigny," remarked Mr. Caine, "and I am deeply disappointed to learn that he is among our foes, and in such a mean capacity as the one in which he must be employed. The young man comes from one of the most ancient families in France, though he has never been well-to-do, for his ancestors attended to the insuring of his poverty. The gambling streak has run through several generations of the family."
Then Dave and Dan continued with their story, Ambassador Caine paying close attention to all they said.
"Gortchky is expected in Paris soon," announced the Ambassador presently.
"Is he, sir?" Darrin asked quickly. "Would it be indiscreet for me to ask if you know why he is coming here?"
"I have nothing more definite than suspicion," replied Mr. Caine. "Paris, which has one of the best detective systems of the world, is also noted as being the principal headquarters for conspiracies against governments. Not only do the anarchists and nihilists look upon Paris as their Mecca; but other scoundrels working out nefarious plans for wicked governments also meet here to lay their dastardly plots. Gortchky may be coming here to secure new agents to take the place of those already known to the Americans who are watching him and his men; or he may be coming here to hold a conference with the men higher up, who are directing his scoundrelly work against the peace of England and America."
"I take it, sir, that your secret service men will make every effort to find out what Gortchky does in Paris, and for what real purpose he is here, and—"
Here Ensign Dave Darrin broke off abruptly, coloring deeply.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he apologized hurriedly. "I had no right to ask you such a question."
"I have no objection to answering you," said the Ambassador seriously. "Of course my men will make every effort to find out what Gortchky is up to here, if he comes to Paris, but I do not know how well they will succeed. In the game of making trouble between nations Emil Gortchky is an old and wary bird. It may very likely be that the fellow is coming to Paris only to try to draw my secret service men into the worst kind of a wild-goose chase leading only to clues that are worse than worthless. Gortchky, in other words, may be on his way to Paris only to draw our attention away from vital moves about to be made elsewhere by other members of his rascally band. Of course, on due complaint, we could have him arrested as a spy, and it would go hard with him here in Paris before a military court. But in that case there are others in the band of plotters whom we do not know and cannot locate. So, for very good reasons, we prefer to have Gortchky at large."
"I would like immensely to see Gortchky in Paris," Dave muttered.
"Perhaps you will have your wish," replied Mr. Caine, with an odd smile.
Soon after that the interview came to an end, but Dave and Dan remained in the Embassy building through the day. An attendant was sent out to get them what they needed in linen and other small items.
Dinner was to be served at seven o'clock, and, as Mr. Caine did not wish the presence of the young officers from the Mediterranean Fleet in his house to be known, it was arranged that they should dine in a smaller room alone with Mr. Lupton.
At six, however, the Ambassador sent in haste for Dave to come to his office.
"That invitation doesn't seem to include me," remarked Dalzell, rather ruefully, as he glanced up from a book he was reading in the Embassy library.
"I'm afraid it doesn't," Dave returned.
Mr. Caine was at his office desk, holding a telegram sheet in his hand.
"Gortchky is expected in town at 7.30 this evening, Mr. Darrin," announced the Ambassador.
"Is there anything that I can do in this matter, sir?" Darrin asked, after a pause.
"You may go and watch for Gortchky, if you think it possible to do so without his detecting you," Mr. Caine replied slowly.
"The opportunity would delight me beyond measure," Dave rejoined quickly. "I suppose I had better take a taxicab that I may be ready to give effective chase in case Emil Gortchky uses that kind of transportation."
"I can supply you with a taxicab and with a chauffeur who can be trusted," replied the Ambassador. "The driver I have in mind is a highly intelligent fellow who has many times been employed by me. And you can dismiss him at any point, or retain him as long as you wish. The bill for the taxicab charges will be sent to the Embassy. How soon do you wish to have this taxicab here?"
"Perhaps I should have it at once," Dave replied. "Gortchky would know me in these clothes at first glance, so it would be advantageous if I arranged to disguise myself. On the streets, as we came here, I noticed not a few young men wearing baggy suits of clothes of most un-American cut. They wore also flowing neckties, and some of them had blue eyeglasses. There are so many of these young men about that one more would hardly attract Gortchky's attention. That style of dress would make a good disguise for me."
"The young men you describe are largely students and artists," replied the Ambassador. "A disguise of that kind would be less conspicuous than any other."
"Then, sir, if the chauffeur can come here soon, he will have time to take me to stores where I can get the articles of apparel I need, and I shall still have plenty of time to meet Emil Gortchky if he reaches Paris this evening. I will go and tell Mr. Dalzell about Gortchky being expected to arrive here to-night."
"Tell Mr. Dalzell, if you wish, but you had better not take him with you," replied Mr. Caine. "Two young men would attract more attention than one. I am approving of your undertaking this because, to date, you have learned more about this conspiracy than any three of the secret service men whom I have at my orders."
Dave hurried away to Dan, who was highly disappointed at being left out of the evening's work.
"But I have the joke on you, anyway," Danny Grin suddenly declared.
"How so?" asked Dave.
"I shall have my dinner," laughed Dalzell; "you won't have any."
"I could forget my meals for three whole days to stay on the trail of Gortchky," Dave answered, simply.
Then he hurried out, for the arrival of the taxicab was now announced. Darrin had a minute's conversation with the chauffeur, after which he entered the car.
One thing the young ensign quickly discovered, and that was that on the smooth pavements of Paris, and in the well-ordered traffic, taxicabs travel at a high rate of speed. Within five minutes he had been set down at the door of a shop in which he found it possible to buy every item of his disguise, even to shoes, for Darrin suddenly remembered that his footwear was plainly American.
In fifteen minutes more Dave Darrin emerged from the store. In one hand he carried his discarded clothing, packed in a new bag, which he turned over to the chauffeur for safe keeping. All of his money, except a small sum, he had left behind at the Embassy.
If any policeman had seen him enter the shop and come out again presenting so changed an appearance, and if for that reason the policeman should question him under the impression that Darrin might be a spy, Dave decided that he would rely upon his chauffeur to declare that he had been hired at the American Embassy. That statement would remove suspicion.
"You had better kill time for a few minutes," Dave explained to the chauffeur, who understood English. "It is not desirable to reach the railway station earlier than 7.20."
Accordingly the young ensign enjoyed a brief, rapid panoramic view of a considerable part of Paris. The driver, accustomed to taking Americans about who were strangers in the city, frequently turned his head to offer information as to the places or points of interest that they were passing.
"It's a shame that Danny boy isn't here to enjoy all this," Dave told himself. "Even this way of seeing Paris would be a great treat to him."
Almost to the second of 7.20 the taxicab drew up as one of a long line of similar vehicles under the bright lights of the railway station.
Alighting, Ensign Darrin, feeling rather well concealed in his disguise, and looking out through his blue-lensed eyeglasses, strolled about, careful not to saunter into the most brilliantly lighted spots.
Presently he heard a train enter the station. A thin stream of passengers filtered out. Dave promptly shifted his position and watched the arrivals, who later came out in a more compact throng.
And there was Emil Gortchky, at last, with no more marked hand luggage than a light cane, which he swung jauntily.
"I hope you don't look my way, my fine bird!" uttered Ensign Darrin under his breath. "But if you do, your observation won't do you much good."
A hand beckoned from a taxicab. Emil Gortchky, who had been on the lookout, sauntered over to the vehicle and clasped the hand of M. le Comte de Surigny.
"Surigny, the ungrateful!" uttered Dave disgustedly to himself. "I induced you to spare your own worthless life, and then when you found life sweet once more, you turned against me! I hope you did not notice me as you sat in that cab."
By this time Dave was at the side step of his own taxicab. A few words to the chauffeur, and he entered.
Surigny's cab drew out of the line, gliding away. The one in which Dave sat gave chase at a cautious distance.
Soon the speed of the leading cab increased, and the pursuing one followed at the same speed. After a considerable run both cabs turned into the broad, well-lighted Boulevard Haussman. For some blocks both cabs ran along. Then the one ahead turned in before an imposing-looking building with a gleaming white marble front.
"The Grand Prix Club," explained Dave's chauffeur, glancing back as he stopped on the other side of the boulevard some distance to the rear.
It was the Count of Surigny who left the cab, which then started forward.
"Is there gambling going on in that club?" asked Darrin, as his man started the car forward again.
"Naturally," replied the chauffeur, shrugging his shoulders.
"It is easy to understand, then," Dave muttered to himself. "Poor Surigny is no longer his own master in anything, for he is a slave to the gambling craze that ruins so many lives. Gortchky furnishes the young man with money for gambling—lends it to him, of course, and thus keeps the Count desperately in his debt. And so the young Count has to do, when required, the bidding of the scoundrel who gloats over the helplessness of his dupe. Poor Surigny!"
Into less handsome avenues and streets the taxicabs now turned. Then a distinctly shabby looking part of Paris was unfolded to the gaze of the young naval officer.
"The Rue d'Ansin," announced the chauffeur, at last.
"A bad street?" Dave inquired.
"The haunt of criminals?"
"Criminals are seen here," the chauffeur explained, "but their real lurking places are in some of the alleys, farther along, that lead off from the Rue d'Ansin. Late at night, monsieur, it is better to ride through this street than to be afoot on the sidewalk!"
"Is it the part of Paris where one would come to meet or to confer with desperate criminals?" Dave asked.
"Many of the Apaches live hereabouts," replied the chauffeur, with another shrug.
Dave had read of these dangerous thugs, the so-called "Apaches," native toughs of Paris, who commit many bold robberies on the streets by night, and even, sometimes, by day, and who seldom hesitate to kill a victim or a policeman if murder will render their own escape sure.
To an observer the Apache appears to be equally without fear and without conscience. The Apache is many degrees more dangerous than his more cowardly cousin, the "gun-man" of New York.
"I hope you will not have to take to the streets here, Monsieur," said the chauffeur.
"If I have to do that, I am not afraid to take a chance," Darrin answered, imitating the Frenchman's shrug with his own broad shoulders.
Ahead, Gortchky's taxicab was slowing down, and the pursuing vehicle did the same. Dave peered about to see if some one were waiting to be taken up by Gortchky, but, instead, Gortchky descended.
"Drive close to the curb on the other side of the street," whispered Darrin. "Merely slow down so that I may slip to the sidewalk. Then go ahead, waiting for me around the corner two blocks away."
"One block away would be better, Monsieur," urged the chauffeur.
"Make it two," Dave insisted crisply.
Stepping out on the running board, Dave leaned well forward, thus making it possible to close the door of his car as it slowed down. Then, as Dave stepped to the sidewalk, the taxicab moved forward more rapidly.
Searching in an inner pocket, Emil Gortchky, down the street on the other side, did not look up, and apparently did not observe the maneuver on the part of Dave's chauffeur. Dave slipped quickly into a darkened doorway, from which he could watch the international spy with little danger of being observed.
Taking out a little packet of papers, and moving toward a street lamp, Gortchky selected one of the papers, thrusting the rest back into his pocket. As he did so, one white bit fluttered to the sidewalk.
Reading under the street lamp the paper he had selected, Gortchky put that particular paper in another pocket. Then he turned abruptly, plunging into the depths of an alley-like street.
Sauntering slowly across the street, in order not to attract too much attention from other passers on the badly lighted Rue d'Ansin, Ensign Darrin, his gaze glued to that piece of paper, soon reached it and picked it up.
"For that scoundrel to drop this paper, of all others that he had in his pocket!" gasped Dave Darrin, as, under the street light, he took in its nature.
Then he paled, for this paper seemed to confirm absolutely the young ensign's suspicion as to the way in which the British battleship was to be destroyed.
All in a twinkling Dave's pallor vanished, for he had something else to think about.
On the alley-like side street a quick step was heard that Darrin recognized. It was that of Emil Gortchky, hastily returning to find the paper that he had dropped in the heart of Apache Land!
"SEEING" THE PARIS APACHES
Like a flash Darrin thrust the paper into one of his own pockets. Then he turned, darting into a near-by doorway dark enough to conceal him from Gortchky's eyes, if he should look in that direction.
"I've no reason for fearing an encounter with Gortchky, unless he knows how to summon the murderous Apaches to his aid," Dave told himself as he pressed back as far as he could into his hiding place. "I don't want Gortchky, however, to know I'm watching him, and I don't want to lose this precious paper any more than he does."
Touching the door accidentally with the hand that rested behind his back, Dave was delighted to feel it swing slightly open. In another instant he had backed into a corridor, softly closing the door after him.
"Now Gortchky won't find me, and I'm all right, unless I am discovered by one of the occupants of this house, and turned over to the police as a burglar!" thought the young naval officer exultantly.
Gortchky's step, now slower, went by the door, which Dave had left ajar by only the tiniest crack.
"I cannot have lost that paper here, after all," Dave heard the international spy mutter in a low voice. "Certainly it has not been picked up, for I came back almost instantly, and there was no one near. It is not likely that I shall ever see that important little bit of paper again."
Yet for a few moments longer Dave heard the international spy moving about as though still searching. Then the fellow's footsteps died out as he went around the corner.
"I'll wait a few minutes before I step out," Darrin decided. "Gortchky may only be laying a trap, and even at this instant he may be peering around the corner to see if any one steps out of one of these doorways."
Waiting for what seemed to be a long time, but what was actually only a few minutes, the young ensign stepped out to the sidewalk again.
There were a few people on his own side of the block, and the sight of any one leaving a house was not likely to arouse curiosity in the minds of the denizens of that neighborhood.
As Dave neared the next corner, however, four rough-looking fellows came out of a little cafe. Their bearing was full of swagger. These young men, in dress half student and half laborer, with caps pulled down over their eyes and gaily-knotted handkerchiefs around their necks, displayed the shifting, cunning look that is found in the hoodlum everywhere.
As they reached the sidewalk, moving with the noiseless step peculiar to the Apache, they heard Darrin briskly coming along. Halting, they regarded him closely as he neared them.
"They look like hard characters," Dave told himself. "However, if I mind my business, I guess they'll mind theirs."
It was not to be. One of the Apaches, the tallest and slimmest of the lot, regarded Darrin with more curiosity than did any of the others.
"Ho!" he cried. "See how stiffly our little student carries himself! He must have been to see his sweetheart, and feels proud of himself."
"He has the stride of a banker," jeered another. "I wonder if he has his bank with him."
Dave's ear, quickly attuned to the French tongue, caught and understood the words.
"Let me see what you look like," urged the slim fellow, reaching out and plucking from Darrin's nose the blue eye glasses just as Dave was passing the group.
That gesture and the act were so insulting that Ensign Darrin could not keep back the flash that leaped into his eyes. He halted, regarding the Apache steadily.
"Why, bless me! He's an American!" cried the Apache. "All Americans are rich, you know. My friend, have you a few sous for a group of poor workingmen?"
Dave essayed to pass on. As he did so, a foot was thrust out. Dave saw the movement and leaped over the foot to avoid being tripped.
"At him!" hissed the slim Apache. "Let us shake out his pockets."
Dave sprang forward, although he knew that he could not hope to run away. Instead, he leaped to a wall, placing his back against it. There he halted, glaring defiantly at his assailants, his fists up and ready for instant action.
"Sail in! Trim him!" snarled the slim one. "If our little American shows fight—kill him!"
The first who reached Dave reeled back with a broken nose, for Darrin's first was hard.
"Stick the pig!" cried the leader, meaning that the young officer was to be stabbed. Not one of the four had a knife, it seemed.
As they surrounded him, the one with the injured nose having returned to the fray, that slim Apache drew out a sandbag, long and narrow, shaped like a sausage, made of canvas and filled with sand. This is one of the most deadly weapons in the world.
"Let us see what soothing medicine will do!" he jeered.
In an instant all four had brought sandbags to light, and all closed in upon the desperate American.
"Come on, you cowards!" roared Dave, forgetting his French and lapsing back into English. "If I go out I'll take one of you with me."
Trying to tantalize their victim, the Apaches made thrusts at Ensign Dave, and then leaped nimbly back. It was their hope that he would spring forward at them and thus leave his rear unguarded. It is easiest to use the sandbag on a victim from behind, though the tactics now employed were favorites with the Apaches.
Dave had sense enough to divine the nature of their trick. Unless the police arrived promptly he expected to be killed by these jeering scoundrels, but he was determined to sell his life dearly enough.
Suddenly the young naval officer saw his chance and used it. One of his dancing tormentors got in too close. Darrin's right foot shot up and out, landing across the Apache's knee-cap.
Uttering a howl of rage and pain, the fellow all but crawled back.
"Kill the American," he howled. "Don't play with him."
Instantly the three remaining assailants worked in closer, yet with all the caution of their wily natures.
"Rush me!" taunted Dave, again in English. "Don't be so afraid. If you mean to kill me why don't you show courage enough to do it? Come on, you sneaks!"
Though the Apaches could not understand what the young ensign said to them, they knew the drift of his jeering words. Their faces contorted with rage, they struck at him, Dave's arms working like piston rods in his efforts to ward off their blows.
Close to the wall, slipping along on tip-toe came a tall figure. Then suddenly a newcomer leaped into the picture.
Biff! smash! Struck from behind in the neck, two of the Apaches pitched forward, going to earth. Dave Darrin, with a feint, followed up with a swinging right-hand uppercut, laid the last of the Apaches low, for the fellow sitting in a doorway, nursing his knee and cursing, no longer counted.
"Quick! Out of here!" ordered the newcomer, seizing Dave by the arm and starting him along.
"Jetson!" gasped Ensign Darrin, looking into the face of his rescuer.
"Yes," answered his brother officer. "Hurry along!"
"Jetson, you've saved my life this time. That pack of wolves would have killed me in spite of my best defense."
"We're not out of trouble yet," retorted Jetson, fairly pushing Darrin along. "Those Apaches will revive in a few seconds."
"Pooh! Together, Jetson, we could thrash half a dozen of their kind, and find it only exercise."
"But, my boy, don't you realize that there are more than three or four Apaches around the Rue d'Ansin? The alarm will sound, and a score more will rush up. These rascals are sure death, Darry, if they get at you in sufficient numbers! The Parisians fear them. You don't see a single citizen on the street now. Look! Every one of them flew to cover as soon as the Apaches moved into action. If bystanders interfered, or even watched, they too would have to reckon with these Apaches. Now, Darry, you're no coward, and neither am I, but if you're wise you will imitate me by taking to your heels."
Still holding Dave's arm lightly, Jetson sprinted along to the next corner.
"To the right," whispered Dave. "I've a taxicab here."
More than halfway down the block they saw the car at the curb. The chauffeur, when Dave called, stepped from a doorway in which he had taken refuge.
"The Apaches!" gasped the driver.
"Hustle!" urged Dave. "Come on, Jetson."
As the two young naval officers sprang into the car, the driver leaped to his own seat. Pressing the self-starter, the chauffeur soon had his machine gliding along. Nor did he go back, either, by way of the Rue d'Ansin.
Not until he was four blocks away from the scene did the man ask for his orders.
"Back to the Embassy," Dave instructed him. Then he remembered his comrade's swift, fine rescue.
"Jetson," he asked, "did you know it was I who was menaced by the Apaches?"
"I did not," replied his brother officer. "But I heard enough, at a distance, to know that an American was in trouble. In Paris that is sufficient for me. Darry, I am delighted that I happened along in time."
"You saved my life, Jetson, and at the risk of your own. If you had missed one of the Apaches, or had lost your balance, your career would have been ended right there, along with mine."
"You risked your life for me, Darry, back in the old Annapolis days, so we are even," answered Jetson gently. "However, we won't keep books on the subject of brotherly aid. All I can say, Darry, is that I am glad I chose this night to call on an artist who lives in dingy quarters half a mile beyond where I found you. And I am also glad that I did not accept his invitation to supper, or I should have come along too late to serve you."
As soon as the machine had left them at the Embassy, Darrin sought out Mr. Lupton.
"May I see Mr. Caine at once?" asked the young officer.
"You have seen Gortchky, then?"
"Yes, and I have found what I consider positive proof as to the plans of Gortchky's crew."
"I think Mr. Caine can be seen," replied Lupton.
Ensign Darrin was soon with the American Ambassador, who nodded to Lupton to leave the room.
"Here, sir," began Darrin, "is a bit of paper that Gortchky dropped and which I picked up."
Mr. Caine scanned the paper.
"I do not see anything so very remarkable about it," he replied.
Dave whispered a few words in his ear.
"Is that true?" asked the Ambassador, displaying sudden agitation.
"Then I believe you are right, Darrin," gasped the Ambassador, sinking back into his chair, his face paling slightly. "Oh the villains!"
"Then you believe, sir, that I have really discovered the plot?" asked Dave, who looked only a whit less agitated.
"If what you have just told me is true, then it must be that you have made a correct guess."
"Will you send word by wireless to Admiral Timworth, then, sir?"
"I dare not trust such news, even to the cipher, which the international gang thought they had filched, and which they did not get," replied Mr. Caine. "I believe that the wisest course will be for you to take the midnight train to Genoa."
"Then I shall take this paper with me?"
"Yes, Mr. Darrin, for the Admiral is far more capable than I of estimating it at its true worth. It is a matter for a naval man to comprehend and decide."
The Ambassador did not neglect to provide the young ensign with documents, approved by the French Foreign Office, that would take them safely over the border into Italy on their return trip.
DAVE'S GUESS AT THE BIG PLOT
"Friends tell me that in being in the Navy I have such a grand chance to see the world," grumbled Dan Dalzell, as the launch headed for the anchorage of the American warships. "I went to Paris and had two short taxicab rides through the city. That was all I saw of Paris. Then a long railway journey, and I reached Genoa. I spent twenty-eight minutes in Genoa, and boarded this launch. Oh, I'm seeing the world at a great rate! By the time I'm an admiral I shall know nearly as much of the world as I did when I studied geography in the Central Grammar School of Gridley."
"Don't be a kicker, Danny boy," smiled Dave. "And just think! When you get home, if any one asks you if you've been in Paris, you can say 'Yes.' Should any one ask you if you've seen Genoa, you can hold up your head and declare that you have."
"But my friends will ask me to tell them about those towns," complained Dalzell.
"Read them up in the guide books," advised Jetson, who was of the party. "I've known a lot of Navy officers who got their knowledge of foreign places in that way."
Dave and Dan had had but a fleeting glimpse of the fine city that now lay astern of them. Hundreds of sailormen and scores of officers, on sight-seeing bent, had been ashore for two days.
But now the recall to the fleet had come. All save Darrin, Dalzell and Jetson, with Seaman Runkle, who was now up forward on the launch, were already aboard their respective ships. The Admiral waited only for the coming of this launch before he gave the sailing order.
Jetson was assigned to the battleship "Allegheny," a craft only a trifle smaller than the massive "Hudson."
The three brother officers and Runkle had traveled by express from Paris to Genoa, and had come through without incident. At last even the watchful Runkle was convinced that they had eluded all spies.
"Boatswain's Mate," said Dave, "as this launch belongs to the flagship, it will be better to take Mr. Jetson, first, over to his ship."
"Aye, aye, sir," responded the man in charge of the launch.
Twenty minutes later Dave Darrin found himself leading his own party up over the side of the "Hudson."
"Captain Allen wishes to see Ensigns Darrin and Dalzell at once," announced Lieutenant Cranston, the officer of the deck. "You will report to the Captain without further instructions."
"Very good, sir," Dave answered, saluting.
Exactly ten minutes later the two young ensigns were ushered into the presence of their commanding officer.
"Admiral Timworth has been notified by wireless from Paris that you have important communications to make to him," began the Captain. "I will not waste your time or the Admiral's in questioning you here. You will come with me to the fleet commander's quarters. The Admiral is awaiting you."
Admiral Thomas Timworth, seated at his desk, and with his flag lieutenant standing by, greeted his callers with exceeding briskness.
"Gentlemen," he said, "time presses, and we must dispense with formalities. Ensign Darrin, I am advised by the Ambassador at Paris of the importance of your news, but he does not tell me what the news is."
"Its importance, sir, depends on whether the evidence I have to present supports the guess I have made as to the nature of the plot that has been planned against the peace and safety of Great Britain and our own country."
As Dave spoke he produced from an inner pocket the sheet of paper dropped by Gortchky, that he had picked up in the Rue d'Ansin.
"This piece of paper, sir," Darrin continued, passing it to the fleet commander, "is one that I saw Emil Gortchky drop from a packet of several papers that he took from his pocket at night on one of the worst streets in the slums of Paris."
Admiral Timworth scanned the paper, then read it aloud. It was a receipted bill, made out in the name of one unknown to those present, though perhaps an alias for Gortchky himself. The bill was for a shipment of storage batteries. At the bottom of the sheet was a filled-in certificate signed by a French government official, to the effect that the batteries had been shipped into Italy "for laboratory purposes of scientific research." Just below this statement was an official Italian certificate of approval, showing that the batteries had been admitted into Italy. In time of war, with the frontier guarded tenfold more vigilantly than in ordinary times, such certificates are vitally necessary to make shipments from France into Italy possible.
"In other words, sir," Dave went on eagerly, when the fleet commander scanned his face closely, "it needed some very clever underhand work, very plausibly managed, to make it possible to buy those batteries in France and to secure their admittance into Italy."
"Why?" quizzed Admiral Timworth, as though he did not know the answer himself.
"Because, sir," Dave went on keenly, full of professional knowledge of the subject, "these batteries are the best that the French make for use aboard submarines."
"True," nodded the fleet commander. "What then?"
"Why, sir, by the use of the cleverest kind of lying that spies can do, Gortchky and his associates have hoodwinked the French and Italian governments into believing that the batteries are to be lawfully used for research purposes, when, as a matter of fact, they are to be used aboard a submarine which the plotters intend to use for destroying a British battleship."
"We will admit, then," said Admiral Timworth, as a poser, "that the plotters have probably gotten into Italy storage batteries that can be used serviceably on a submarine. But where and how can the plotters have obtained the submarine craft itself? Or, if they haven't got it yet, how are they to obtain one? For submarines are not sold in open market, and it would be difficult to steal one."
"I cannot answer that, as yet, sir," Dave admitted gravely.
"And such storage batteries might be used for purposes of scientific research," continued the fleet commander.
"Yes, sir; but the habits of the buyers should be considered, should they not? Gortchky and his associates can be hardly believed to be interested in science. On the other hand, they are arch plotters, which would lead us to suppose that they have bought these batteries to further a plot. Outside of scientific work the batteries would not be likely to be used anywhere except on board a submarine. Storage batteries of different size and pattern are used for industrial purposes, but those described in this bill are used on board submarines."
"Your reasoning is plausible, Darrin, and probably correct, too," nodded Admiral Timworth.
"Besides which, sir," Dave pressed home, "if we admit that the plotters have conspired to sink a British battleship at Malta, the easiest way in war-time, when unidentified strangers cannot get aboard a warship, would be to effect the sinking by means of a submarine's torpedo. And, if this be the plan of the plotters, then the crime is likely to be attempted only when there are British and American war craft, and none others, in the Grand Harbor of Malta."
"Yet surely the plotters must know that, between good friends like Britain and America, it would take more than the mere sinking of a British ship to make the English suspect us, as a nation, of being involved in such a dastardly plot."
"Our country couldn't be suspected, as a government or a nation, of being guilty of such a wicked deed," Dave answered. "But Englishman and Frenchmen might very easily believe that the torpedoing was the work of a group of officers and men in our Navy who hated England enough to strike her below the belt. With the British ship sunk, sir, and with none to suspect but the Americans, there is no telling to what heights British passion might rise. The British are feeling the tension of the great war severely, sir."
"There is one flaw in your reasoning, Mr. Darrin," Admiral Timworth replied. "We will admit that the torpedoing happens at a time when only American and British war craft are visible in Grand Harbor. Why would it not be wholly reasonable for the British to suppose that the torpedoing was the work of a German submarine that had sneaked into the harbor of Malta under the surface of the water?"
"That occurred to me, sir," Dave admitted, "and at first I couldn't find the answer, but at last I did."
"I shall be glad to hear that answer."
"The submarine, let us suppose, sir, discharges one torpedo with such accuracy as to sink the British battleship. Why could not another torpedo be fired immediately, which would not strike, but would rise to the surface and be afterwards identified when found as an American torpedo? For a torpedo that does not strike and explode can be so adjusted that it will afterwards sink or rise and float. And this torpedo that rises can be of American pattern."
"But where would the plotters secure an American torpedo?" demanded Admiral Timworth.
"The plotters, if they had a secret factory, could make some torpedoes of the American type, provided they had obtained the services of a draftsman and workmen familiar with the American torpedo."
"That could be accomplished, in this wicked old world of ours," nodded Admiral Timworth, after an interval of deep thought. "I won't declare that I think it really has been done. Yet your various reports to me, Mr. Darrin, convince me that plotters really intend to sink a British battleship and lay the blame at our country's door. And such a deed might really provoke English clamor for war with our country."
In the Admiral's quarters a long silence followed.
At length the fleet commander looked up.
"Captain Allen," he asked, "what do you think of Mr. Darrin's surmise?"
"It looks probable to me," said the "Hudson's" commanding officer promptly.
"It looks likely to me, also," sighed Admiral Timworth.
Then the famous old sea-dog brought his clenched fist down on his desk with a bang.
"Malta shall be our next stop," he declared. "We shall see whether any band of plotters can put such a plot through while we are watching! All mankind would shudder at such a tragedy. All the world would side with England and condemn the United States and her Navy! Gentlemen, I now believe that Mr. Darrin has revealed the details of a plan that will be tried. We must prevent it, gentlemen! We shall prevent it—or some of us will lose our lives in the effort to stop it! Darrin, you shall have your chance in helping us to stop it. Mr. Dalzell, you, too, shall have your chance! And now—Malta."
SURIGNY'S NEXT MOVE
In the Grand Harbor, overlooked by the town and fortress of Valetta, on the island of Malta, there lay at anchor the British dreadnaught "Albion," the cruiser "Wrexham" and the gunboat "Spite."
Less than half a mile away lay the American battleships "Hudson" and "Allegheny" and the cruiser "Newton."
It was early evening now. During the day, soon after the arrival of the American craft, the usual visits of courtesy had been exchanged between the two fleets.
Admiral Barkham, of His Majesty's Navy, received a most disagreeable shock while in conference in Admiral Timworth's quarters. In other words, he had been accurately informed of all that was so far known to the American fleet commander.
"But it is impossible," declared Admiral Barkham. "Quite impossible!"
"It would seem so," replied Admiral Timworth. "Yet the outcome will be the best proof in the matter. Sir, with your help, I propose to catch that submarine, should she appear in these waters."
"She will not appear," declared the Englishman. "I am convinced that such a thing is impossible. Only madmen would undertake to accomplish such a horrible thing. True, we have enemies who employ submarines in this war, but they do not dare to use them in attacking battleships. Nor would plotters without the backing of a government dare try it."
Then Admiral Timworth caused Ensigns Darrin and Dalzell to be summoned. They came. Admiral Barkham listened to their story, his gaze all the time fixed on their earnest faces.
It was impossible to doubt the word of two such intelligent young officers. Admiral Barkham found his doubts vanishing. He was prepared to admit that such a crime as he had heard discussed might be in course of planning.
"Of course I know the fellow Gortchky," admitted Admiral Barkham, "and also that trouble-breeder, Dalny. Yet this is something amazingly more desperate than they have ever attempted before. I now admit, sir," turning to Admiral Timworth, "that there is good reason to suppose that such a plot may be afoot."
"The 'Maine' was sunk in Havana Harbor," rejoined the American Admiral, dryly. "That incident sent two nations to war. Might not something like the 'Maine' affair be attempted here in Valetta Harbor?"
Sitting with bowed head the British admiral looked most uncomfortable.
"At all events," he said, "it is certainly a matter of duty for the officers of both fleets to be on the lookout, and for them to work in concert. Yet I still find it all but impossible to believe what my judgment tells me might be possible."
"You are going to advise the officers of your fleet, then?" asked Admiral Timworth.
"I think so," replied the Englishman slowly.
"In the American fleet," said Admiral Timworth, "very few officers will be told outside of those who are going to be charged with keeping a lookout for the submarine."
At a sign Dave and Dan withdrew, leaving the two fleet commanders in earnest conversation.
"It's hard for an Englishman to conceive of such a crime as being possible, isn't it?" asked Dan, with a melancholy grin.
"Perhaps it's to the honor of his manhood that he cannot believe in it," Dave answered gently, as the chums sat in the latter's quarters.
Dave and Dan had been excused from ship duty on account of other duties that were likely to be assigned to them at any time.
Half an hour after the chums left the Admiral's quarters an orderly summoned them to Captain Allen's office.
"Both admirals are convinced," said Captain Allen, when Dave and Dan had reported, "that the crime, if it is to be attempted, will be tried at night. As there are still a few hours before dark Admiral Timworth wishes you to take one of the launches and go alongside the British flagship. There will you find three or four young British officers ready to join you. You will all go ashore in Valetta and remain there until nearly dark. You will circulate about the town, as sight-seers usually do. While ashore you will keep your eyes open for glimpses of the Gortchky-Dalny plotters and their subordinates, whom you may find there. Admiral Timworth particularly desires to know whether any of that unsavory crew have reached Malta."
The launch being ready alongside, Dave and Dan, both in uniform, went at once over the side. They were soon alongside the "Albion," and a voice from deck invited them aboard. There the officer of the deck introduced them to four young English officers. Three minutes later the party went aboard the launch, and headed toward shore.
Outside of the forts and garrison buildings the town is a small one, though at this time there were several places of amusement open on two of the principal streets.
Through these places the party strolled, seemingly bent only on having a good time.
"Have you seen any of the bally spies?" murmured one of the young English officers, Whyte by name.
"Not a sign of one," Dave answered in a low tone.
"What if they're not here?" persisted Whyte.
"It may be that none of them will show up at Malta," Darrin answered. "Or it may be that those who do come will come only on that submarine we are looking for."
"I would like to meet one of those plotters," grumbled Dorcliffe, another of the English party and the possessor of a bulky frame and broad shoulders.
"What would you do?" asked Dave smilingly.
"I believe I'd jolly well choke the breath out of him!" asserted Mr. Dorcliffe.
"That would betray the fact that we know the gang and the work that they're planning," Dave returned.
"Would it?" asked Mr. Dorcliffe, looking thoughtful. "Oh, I say! It's bally hard work to contend with such bounders. Why can't all men fight in the open?"
"Real men do," Dave answered. "The fellows we are trying to run down are not real men. Beings who can do wholesale murder for pay are bad beyond the comprehension of honest men."
"But we're not finding any one that we want to see," complained Sutton, another of the English party.
"I didn't expect to find that crew on parade," Dave replied, "and I think it extremely likely that none of them is now in Valetta or on the Island of Malta."
Then all fell silent, for the leaders of the party had turned in at one of the cafes most frequented by visitors.
There were but few people at the tables. Glancing across the room Dave felt a sudden throb of astonishment and disgust.
Hastily rising from a table was a young man who averted his face.
"There's the Count of Surigny!" whispered Dave to Whyte.
An instant later a door at the side of the room closed almost noiselessly, with the young French nobleman on the other side of it.
"Did you see that fellow?" Dave demanded, hoarsely.
"We did," came the acknowledgment of Dave's group.
"That is Surigny," Darrin informed them. "He is the fellow whom I saved from suicide at Monte Carlo, and now he is in the ranks of the men who have planned the worst crime of the twentieth century. Surigny is now where his follies have placed him—associated with the vilest creatures who disgrace the name of Man!"
The party had seated themselves at a table where beverages and refreshments are served. A tireless Italian soprano and a Russian tenor were grinding out some of the stock music of the place. Two dancers were waiting to follow them.
The naval officers looked bored. They were not in this cafe for pleasure, but strictly for business—that of national honor.
A waiter strolled leisurely into the room, looked about, then approached the table at which the American and English officers were seated. Dropping a towel at Dave's side, the waiter bent over to pick it up, at the same time slyly pressing into Dave's hand a piece of paper.
Holding it under the table and glancing at it, Dave found it carried a brief message in French. Translated, it read:
"For vital reasons, I beg you to follow the waiter, who can be trusted, and come to me at once. Come alone and secretly. Honor depends upon your compliance! S."
"Surigny!" muttered Ensign Darrin, disgustedly, under his breath. "That impossible scoundrel! He has sold himself to those plotters, and now would betray me. The wretch!"
Yet, after a moment's thought, Dave decided to see the man.
Bending over, Dave whispered to Dan the message contained in the note.
"Are you going?" quivered Dan, his eyes flashing indignation.
"You will remain here, Dan. Tell the others if you can do so without being overheard. Make my excuses after I have left you."
Then, his head erect, his heart pumping indignantly, Dave Darrin rose and sought the waiter, who lingered at the end of the room.
TRUTH, OR FRENCH ROMANCE
"You know what is expected of you?" Dave asked the waiter, in an undertone.
"Yes, Master," replied the man, a Maltese who spoke English with an odd accent.
"Then I will follow you," Darrin added.
At the heels of the waiter Dave went through a narrow corridor, then climbed a flight of stairs.
Pausing before a door, the waiter knocked softly, four times.
"Entrez, s'il vous plait" ("Come in, if you please"), a voice answered.
Throwing open the door, the waiter bowed and swiftly departed.
Ensign Dave Darrin stepped inside, closed the door, and found himself face to face with the Count of Surigny.
That young Frenchman, his face unwontedly pale, searched Dave's face with his eyes.
"You are not glad to see me," he said at last.
"Do I show it?" inquired Darrin, his face without expression.
"You are not glad to see me," Surigny went on rather sadly. "Then it is because you suspect."
"Suspect—what?" Dave demanded, to gain time.
"You know the company that I have been keeping," the young Count continued.
"Has it been the wrong kind of company for a gentleman to keep?" Ensign Darrin asked coldly.
"You know!" cried the Count bitterly.
"Then," asked Dave, "is it indiscreet for me to ask why you have permitted yourself to associate with such company?"
"I doubt if you would believe me," replied Surigny, wincing.
"Is there any good reason why I should believe you?" Dave returned, studying the Frenchman's face.
"Perhaps none so good as the fact that I am a gentleman," the Count of Surigny answered more boldly. "The word of a gentleman is always sacred."
"May I ask to what this talk is leading?"
"I hardly know how to proceed with you," complained the young Frenchman. "Once you did me a great service. You taught me to live and that to die by my own hand was cowardice. Monsieur, you taught me how to be a man."
"And you have remembered the lesson?" Dave inquired, with the same expressionless face.
"I at least know," the Frenchman returned, "that a man should remember and serve his friends."
"Then you have been serving me?"
"I have been working hard, swallowing insult and stifling my sense of decency as far as possible, in order that I might serve you and prove myself worthy to be your friend," replied Surigny, with such earnestness that Darrin now found himself staring in open-eyed astonishment at the young nobleman.
"Perhaps you are going to try to offer me particulars of how you have been preparing to serve me," Dave said with a shrug.
"Monsieur," cried the Frenchman, as if in sudden desperation, "are you prepared to accept my word as you would wish your own to be accepted?"
"Wouldn't that be asking considerable of a comparative stranger?"
"Then answer me upon your own honor, Monsieur Darrin," the Count of Surigny appealed eagerly. "Do you consider me a gentleman or—a rascal?"
Ensign Dave opened his lips, then paused. He was now asked to speak on his own honor.
His pallor giving way to a deep flush, Surigny suddenly opened his lips to speak again.
"Monsieur Darrin," he urged, his voice quavering, "do me the honor to look in my eyes. Study me from the viewpoint of an honest man. Tell me whether you will believe what I have to say to you. Do not be too quick. Take time to think."
As Dave found himself gazing into the depths of the other's eyes, and as he studied that appealing look, he felt his contempt for Surigny rapidly slipping away.
"Now, speak!" begged M. le Comte de Surigny. "Will you believe what I am about to tell you, as one man of honor speaks to another?"
For an instant Ensign Dave hesitated. Then he answered quickly:
"Yes; I will believe you, Monsieur le Comte."
"In doing so, do you feel the slightest hesitation?"
"Naturally," rejoined Darrin, a slight smile parting his lips, "I am assailed by some doubts as to whether I am wise in doing so, but I will believe what you have to say to me. I prefer to believe you to be, of your own choice, a man of honor."
Surigny uttered a cry of delight. Then he went on:
"Perhaps, Monsieur Darrin, you will even be willing to set me the example in truthfulness by telling me whether you know of the plot of those with whom I have had the shame of being associated."
"You will doubtless recall, Monsieur le Comte, since it was said only a moment ago, that I promised only to believe what you might have to say to me. I did not promise to tell you anything."
Indeed, at this point, Ensign Dave was perilously near to breaking his word as to believing Surigny. It looked to him as if the Frenchman were "fencing" in order to extract information.
"Well, then," exclaimed Surigny, with a gesture of disappointment, "I will tell you that which I feel I must. Listen, then. With Gortchky, Mender, Dalny and others, I have been engaged in a plan to cause a British warship to be sunk in the harbor yonder, and under circumstances such as to make it appear as the work of you Americans. Did you know that, Monsieur?"
"Go on," urged Dave Darrin.
"At first," murmured the Count, coming closer, "I believed Gortchky's statement that I was being engaged in secret diplomatic service. When I learned the truth, I was deeply involved with the miserable crew. Also, I was very much in debt, for Gortchky was ever a willing lender.
"There came a day, Monsieur, when there dawned on me the vileness of the wicked plot in which I had become engaged. For a few hours I felt that to destroy myself was the only way in which I could retrieve my honor. But the lesson you had taught served me well in those hours of need. Then the thought of you, an officer in the American Navy, brought a new resolve into my mind. No pledges that I had ignorantly made to such scoundrels could bind me. I was not their slave. Pledges to do anything that could bring dishonor upon one are not binding on a man of honor. I did not even feel a sense of debt to Gortchky, for he had used the money with evil intentions. From the moment of these realizations I had but one object in view. I would go on taking such money as I needed, and with no thought of the debt; and I would serve these monsters with such seeming fidelity that I could at last find my way open to serving you fully, Monsieur Darrin. I pause for an instant. Do you believe all that I have just told you, my friend?"
"Yes," answered Dave. The next second he caught himself wondering if, through that "yes," he had unintentionally lied.
THE ALLIES CLEAR FOR ACTION
"I left Naples for this island on an east-bound liner," continued the Count of Surigny. "Not until within an hour of sailing did I know the whole of the terrible story that now spoils my sleep at night and haunts me by day. Monsieur Darrin, if you have scented any dreadful plot, at least I do not believe you know just what it is."
Once more the young Frenchman paused. Dave, however, having regained his expressionless facial appearance, only said:
"Go on, Monsieur le Comte."
"Then I have but to tell you what the plot is," resumed Surigny. "Gortchky, Mender, Dalny and others knew that the American fleet would stop at Malta, because American fleets in these waters always do stop at Malta. They knew also that a British fleet often remains here for months at a time. So these arch scoundrels knew to a certainty that the 'Hudson' of your Navy would be here in due course of time. In a word, every plan has been made for sinking a British battleship here at Malta under circumstances which will make it appear to be plainly the work of a group of American naval men."
Darrin, still silent, steadily eyed the Frenchman.
"You do not start!" uttered Surigny, in amazement. "Then it must be because you already know of the plot!"
"Go on, please," urged Dave quietly.
"The plan must have been made long ago," the Frenchman continued, "for, before August, 1914, before the great war started, though just when I do not know, Gortchky and the others, or their superiors, had a submarine completed at Trieste. It was supposed to be a secret order placed for the Turkish government. The craft was not a large one. Gortchky and some associates took the submarine out for trial themselves. Days later they returned, reporting that the underseas craft had foundered, but that they had escaped to land in a collapsible boat. Most of the payments on the submersible had already been made. Gortchky paid the balance without protest, and the matter was all but forgotten.
"I do not know what reason Gortchky had given the builder, if indeed he offered any explanation, but the tubes in the submarine had been made of the right dimensions and fitted with the right mechanism to fire the American torpedo. And a man whom I judge to have been a German spy in America before the war—a German who had served as draftsman in the employ of an American munitions firm—was at Trieste to furnish the design for both the torpedo tubes and for the four American torpedoes that the Trieste firm also supplied.
"You will have divined, of course, Monsieur Darrin," Surigny continued, "that the submarine was not lost, but concealed at a point somewhere along the shores of the Mediterranean until wanted. So far ahead do some enemies plot! Where the submarine has remained during the interval I do not know, but I do know that, submerged only deep enough for concealment, she has been towed to these waters recently by relays of fishing boats manned by Maltese traitors to Britain. Ah, those rascally Maltese! They know no country and they laugh at patriotism. They worship only the dollar, and are ever ready to sell themselves! And the submarine will endeavor to sink the British battleship to-night!"
"To-night!" gasped Darrin, now thoroughly aroused.
"To-night," Surigny nodded, sadly, his face ghastly pale. "Even the yacht that carries the plotters is here."
"These are hardly the times," Dave remarked, "when it would seem to any naval commander a plausible thing for a yacht to cruise in the submarine-infested Mediterranean. And, if the plotters are using and directing the movements of a yacht, I am unable to see how they could obtain clearance papers from any port."
"Oh, the yacht's sailing papers are correct," Surigny declared, eagerly. "The yacht has Russian registry and is supposed to be sold to Japanese buyers to be put in trade between the United States and Japan, carrying materials from which the Japanese make Russian munitions of war. So you will see how plausible it is to be engaged in transferring a Russian yacht to Japanese registry at this time."
"Humph!" grunted Darrin. "It seems a stupid thing, indeed, for any Japanese shipping firm to buy a low, narrow craft, like the typical yacht, to convert her into a freighter."
"Ah, but the yacht is neither low nor narrow," replied Surigny. "She is a craft of some three thousand tons, broad of beam and with plenty of freeboard."
"What flag does she fly?" Dave asked.
"That I do not know," was the Count's answer. "It may be that she does not fly any. Two of her passengers are reported to be a Russian prince and a Japanese marquis. But Monsieur Mender is not a Russian at all, and no more a prince than he is a Russian. As for the Japanese, he is merely a Filipino, once a mess attendant in your Navy, and now a deserter, for he hates your country."
"When will the yacht reach these waters?" Dave inquired.
"As I have said, she is here already, or as near as she will come," the Frenchman continued. "At noon she was at anchorage in the channel between the islands of Comino and Gozo. It is known as the North Channel."
"I know the spot," said Dave, nodding. "Comino is the little island that is used as a quarantine station. Monsieur le Comte, do you know anything more, of importance, that you have not already told me?"
"Monsieur Darrin, I believe that nothing of importance has been left out of my narrative. But you believe me? You will now accept my hand?"
"Yes," Dave burst out, extending his hand almost impulsively. M. le Comte Surigny seized it delightedly.
"Ah, it is good, it is grand!" cried the young Frenchman, "after such associates as I have had for weeks, to find myself again fit for the confidence and the friendship of a gentleman!"
"But what will become of you?" asked Dave, a feeling of regret suddenly assailing him. "What will become of you, my dear Surigny? Is it likely that the plotters, if they be foiled, will suspect you? Is it likely that they would seek your life as a forfeit?"
"What is my life?" laughed the Frenchman gayly. "I have never valued it highly, but now, when I have won back my self-respect, a blow in the dark would be but a mark of honor. If they wish to kill me, let them. It would be a glorious death, in the cause of honor!"
Dave glanced out of the window, then gave a start of alarm.
"Time is passing," he murmured. "I must take my information where it will be of the most service. And you, Surigny, may I take the liberty, without waiting to ask our Admiral's leave, of inviting you to accept the hospitality of the flagship? Will you come on board with me?"
"Afterward," replied the Frenchman. "Afterward, when the truth of what I have told you is recognized."
"Where will you stay for the present, then?"
"Where I am now," smiled the Count.
Dave took one long step forward, again gripping Count Surigny's right hand with both his own hands.
"Surigny, I am under more obligations than I can ever repay. Few men with the instinct of a gentleman could have endured, for weeks, having to associate with and serve such rascals as this grewsome crew. You have, indeed, proved yourself noble, and I deeply regret that I have ever allowed myself to distrust and dislike you."
"Let us say no more," begged the Count. "After the chase is over—and may you win the game—you will find me here, reveling in the thought that I have been able to warn you so completely."
Had it not been that he again remembered how late it was growing, Ensign Darrin would have remained longer with this now bright-faced Frenchman. As it was, Dave tore himself away from Surigny, and lost no time in rejoining his party below.
As Dave stepped to the table, Lieutenant Whyte, of the British Navy, raised his eyebrows in slight interrogation. None spoke.
"I don't know," smiled Darrin, "how it goes with you gentlemen of England, but I am sure Dalzell will agree with me that it is time to get back to our ship."
"It is," Dalzell affirmed, taking the cue.
The score was settled, after which the party left the hotel. Dave stepped to Whyte's side. Through the streets of the little town the party passed quickly by twos, gayly chatting. Once they were clear of the streets and near the mole Dave began:
"Mr. Whyte, the moment for action is at hand. Surigny sent for me, and I believe he has told me the truth. He felt under obligations, and, when invited, joined the international plotters in order to find out how he could serve me. He has told me that a yacht bearing the supervising plotters is now anchored in North Channel, and that the submarine is concealed somewhere under neighboring waters. It is the intention of the plotters to attempt to sink one of your ships to-night."
"Do you believe the fellow?" demanded Whyte in a shocked tone.
"At first I found it hard to believe him," Dave admitted, "but now I believe that he told me the truth."
"And if he has not?" questioned the British officer.
"In any event, Whyte, the yacht must be watched. However, your Admiral Barkham will have to decide what action shall be taken."
"Do you know whether others of the crew, besides Surigny, are in Valetta?" Whyte asked.
"I did not ask Surigny," Dave rejoined. "Indeed, it is not important to know. What we must do is to catch the submarine; the conspirators may wait for subsequent overhauling."
At Darrin's signal the launch from the flagship promptly put off. Darrin ordered that the English officers be put aboard their own ship first. As the launch drew alongside the "Albion" Dave added:
"Mr. Whyte, I shall wait until you ascertain whether your Admiral has any message to send to Admiral Timworth. That, of course, would be after hearing your report."
For ten minutes the "Hudson's" launch lay alongside the "Albion." Then Mr. Whyte appeared, coming nimbly down the gangway and stepping into the launch.
"With Admiral Barkham's compliments, I am to carry a message to Admiral Timworth," Whyte announced. "I am also to inquire whether your Captain desires a conference with Admiral Timworth before I deliver my message."
Dave conducted the English officer aboard the American flagship. Captain Allen soon received them. He heard Ensign Darrin's report, then telephoned to Admiral Timworth for permission to bring to his quarters the English admiral's representative, together with his own youngest officers.
Admiral Timworth received them, listening attentively to the report that Dave had to make of his conversation with the Count of Surigny.
"Do you believe that the Frenchman was telling the truth?" the fleet commander inquired. Dave answered in the affirmative.
"Does your message from Admiral Barkham concern the Frenchman's report?" inquired Admiral Timworth, turning to Whyte, who had kept modestly in the background.
"It does, sir," Lieutenant Whyte answered, stepping forward. "Admiral Barkham's compliments, sir, and he has used the wireless to the quarantine station on Comino Island. Such a yacht as the Count of Surigny described is at anchor in North Channel, and is reported to have a Russian prince and a Japanese nobleman on board. So Admiral Barkham gives at least that much credence to the Frenchman's story."
Whyte paused a moment, that Admiral Timworth might speak, if he chose, then continued:
"Admiral Barkham imagines, sir, that you would like to have a share in searching the yacht and in guarding against submarine attack. To that end, sir, he signaled to the military governor at Malta and secured the latter's assent to a plan of having the American naval forces co-operate with us in running down the plot."
"Of course we shall be glad to aid," declared Admiral Timworth, heartily, "and we are much complimented over being invited to help you in British waters."
MAKING STERN WORK OF IT
Lieutenant Whyte then unfolded, briefly, the plan of Admiral Barkham for procedure against the yacht and the submarine. To these plans Admiral Timworth quickly agreed.
"We have four large launches on the flagship," the fleet commander stated. "Three of these shall be put over the side, officered and manned and ready for instant service."
"Admiral Barkham also suggests, sir, that, during the night, the officers in command of your launches run without lights, when possible, for secrecy," Whyte continued.
"How many launches will Admiral Barkham put in service?" Admiral Timworth inquired.
"Three, sir," responded Whyte.
"Who will be the ranking officer in your fleet of launches?"
"I believe I am to be, sir," Lieutenant Whyte replied, bowing.
"Very good," nodded Admiral Timworth. "It would not be courteous, in British waters, Mr. Whyte, for me to appoint an officer who would rank yourself, so I shall ask Captain Allen to designate Ensign Darrin as ranking officer in our launch fleet. Ensign Dalzell will naturally command another of the launches. Who will command the third, Captain?"
"Ensign Phillips," replied Captain Allen.
The courtesy of appointing an ensign to head the American launch fleet lay in the fact that an ensign is one grade lower in the service than a junior lieutenant. When naval forces of different nations act together the ranking officer, no matter what country he represents, is in command. Had Admiral Timworth put his launch fleet in charge of a lieutenant commander, for instance, then the British launches, too, would have been under the command of the American officer. As it was, Lieutenant Whyte would be ranking and commanding officer in the combined launch fleet. This was both right and courteous, as Malta is an English possession, and the waters near by are British waters.
Plans were briefly discussed, yet with the thoroughness that is given to all naval operations. Lieutenant Whyte departed, and Ensign Phillips was sent for. Admiral Timworth and Captain Allen charged the young officers with their duties, upon the successful performance of which so much depended.
"Remember, gentlemen," was Captain Allen's final word, "that, in line with what the Admiral has stated, you are merely to co-operate with, and act under the orders of, the British ranking officer. Yet, if occasion arise, you will display all needed initiative in attaining the objective, which is the capture of the scoundrelly plotters and the seizure of the submarine before it can work any mischief. You will even sink the submarine by ramming, if no other course be open to stop her wicked work."
Each of the flagship's launches was equipped with a searchlight. While the council was going on in the Admiral's quarters the electricians of the ship were busy overhauling these searchlights and making sure that all were in perfect working order.
From the British flagship came a prearranged signal to the effect that Lieutenant Whyte was about to put off.
Dave's launch crew comprised, besides machinists and the quartermaster, twenty-four sailors and eight marines. A one-pound rapid-fire gun was mounted in the bow, and a machine gun amidships.
"Send your men over the side, Ensign Darrin," Captain Allen ordered, as he took Dave's hand. "Go, and keep in mind, every second, how much your work means to-night."
"Aye, aye, sir," Dave answered.
When the word was passed, Dave's launch party was marched out on deck and sent down over the side. Dave Darrin took his place in the stern, standing by to receive any further instructions that might be shouted down to him. "Cast off and clear!" called down the executive officer.
Dan Dalzell, whose launch party was not to clear until a later hour, waved a hand at his chum. Dave waved back in general salute.
At the same time Lieutenant Whyte put off from the "Albion" and sped onward to meet the American craft.
"We are to sail in company to North Channel," called Whyte.
"Very good, sir," Dave answered, saluting.
With three hundred feet of clear water between them, the launches moved rapidly along.
The distance to the middle of North Channel was about fifteen miles. Time and speed had been so calculated that the yacht should not be able to sight them by daylight. After dark the two launches were to maneuver more closely together, and Whyte, who knew the North Channel, was to be pilot for both craft until it came time to use their searchlights.
Over in the west the sun went down. Darkness soon came on. Neither launch displayed even running lights. One had a sense of groping his way, yet the launches dashed along at full speed.
Dave Darrin was now in the bow, with the signalman at his side, who would turn on the searchlight when so ordered. With his night glasses at his eyes, Ensign Dave could tell when the British launch veered sharply to port or starboard, and thus was able to steer his own course accordingly.
Twelve minutes later a brief ray shot from the Englishman's searchlight. It was the signal.
"Turn on your light," Dave ordered to the man at his side. "Swing it until you pick up the North Channel. Then pick up and hold a yacht—"
Ensign Darrin followed with the best description he had of the strange yacht.
Less than a minute later the lights on both navy launches had picked up the strange yacht, well over in the Channel. Dave studied her through his glass.
"That's the craft," Darrin muttered to himself. "My, but she looks her part! While she isn't large for a freighter, she's well calculated for that class of work."
"Your best speed ahead, sir!" shouted Whyte, through a megaphone. "Board the yacht on her starboard quarter. Quick work, sir!"
"Very good, sir!" Dave called back.
Then he stepped swiftly amidships to the engineers.
"Get every inch of speed to be had out of the engines, my man."
Next, to the helmsman:
"Quartermaster, steer straight ahead and make that yacht's starboard quarter!"
As Dave turned, he found his own face within three inches of Seaman Runkle's glowing countenance.
"Runkle," Dave smiled, "we are fond of the Englishmen. Their commanding officer called for our best speed, and we're going to show it."
"Aye, aye, sir!" grinned Runkle. "When any foreigner asks for the best we have in speed, he's likely to see it, sir."
Already the "Hudson's" launch had drawn smartly ahead of the British craft, and the distance between them grew steadily, though the Englishman was doing his best to keep up in the race.
Under the yacht's stern dashed the launch, and brought up smartly under the starboard quarter, laying alongside.
"Hullo, there! Vat you call wrong?" demanded a voice in broken English from the yacht's rail.
"Naval party coming aboard, sir," Dave responded courteously. "Take a line!"
"I vill not!" came the defiant answer.
"All the same, then," Dave answered lightly. "Bow, there! Make fast with grapple. Stern, do the same!"
Two lines were thrown, each with a grappling hook on the end. These caught on the yacht's rail. Three or four sailormen, one after the other, climbed the grappling lines. Two rope ladders were swiftly rigged over the side, by the Americans on the yacht's deck. Dave Darrin was quickly on board, with twenty of his seamen and all his marines, by the time that the English launch rounded in alongside the port quarter.
"You? Vat you mean?" demanded a short, swarthy-faced man, evidently captain of the yacht, as he peered at Dave's party. "You are American sailors!"
"Right," Darrin nodded.
"And dese are British vaters!"
"No matter," Dave smiled back at the blustering fellow. "Here come the Englishmen."
For he had sent four of his men to catch and make fast the lines from the British launch, and now the British jack-tars, taking their beating in the race good-humoredly, were piling on board.
"Captain," cried Lieutenant Whyte, striding forward, "I represent Admiral Barkham, ranking officer of His Majesty's Navy in these waters. I have the Admiral's orders to search this craft."
"You search him for vat, sir?" demanded the skipper.
"My orders are secret, sir. The search will begin at once. Ensign Darrin, if you will leave your marines to hold the deck, we will use all our seamen and yours below."
"Very good, sir," Dave replied, saluting. "You do not wish any one allowed to leave the yacht, do you, Lieutenant?"
"Not without my permission or yours, Ensign."
Dave accordingly gave the order to the corporal in charge of his marine party.
In another minute American and English tars were swarming below decks on the yacht.
On deck and in the wheel house Darrin had not seen more than four men of the yacht's crew, besides the skipper.
"There do not seem to be any men below," Dave muttered, as he explored the yacht between decks. "I wonder if that skipper gets along with four deck hands in addition to his engine-room and steward forces."
His men in squads, under petty officers, worked rapidly. Dave Darrin moved more slowly, passing on into the dining cabin and the social hall of the yacht, which were below decks.
Adjoining the social hall were several cabins. Dave threw open the doors of the first few he came to, finding in them no signs of occupation.
Then a steward, smiling and bowing, appeared and asked him in French:
"Do you seek any one here?"
"You have a Prince aboard?" Dave asked.
"And a Japanese nobleman?"
"I wish to see them."
"Both are resting at present," the steward expostulated.
"I must see them immediately," Dave insisted.
"It is hardly possible, sir," protested the steward. "It is not to be expected that I can disturb such august guests."
"Steward, do you wish me to summon my men and have these cabin doors battered down?"
"Do not do that!" urged the steward in alarm. "Wait! I have pass-keys. Which would you see first?"
"The Prince, by all means."
"I will admit you to his room, Monsieur, and next silently slip away. But be good enough to let the Prince believe that he left his door unlocked. This way, monsieur."
Finishing his whispered speech, the steward glided ahead. He unlocked a cabin door, opening it but a crack. Dave stepped softly inside. Instantly the door was pulled shut and locked.
Through transoms on opposite sides of the cabin Mender and Dalny showed their evil faces, as each trained on the young naval officer an ugly-looking naval revolver.
AFTER THE PEST OF THE SEAS
"Make a sound, and you feed the fishes, my fine young naval dandy!" hissed Dalny.
"Pooh!" retorted Dave, contemptuously. "Order your steward to unlock that door, or I shall be put to the trouble of smashing it down with my shoulder."
"And be shot in the back while you are doing it," jeered Mender.
"I haven't had the honor of meeting you before, but I take it that you are the bogus Russian Prince," laughed Dave. "Just now, though, you look much more like an apprentice to the Black Hand."
"You should be saying your prayers, instead of talking impudence," sneered Dalny.
"As for this cardboard Prince, words fail me," mocked Dave, still speaking in French, "but as for you, Dalny, I have already tested your courage, and know it to be worthless. You are a coward, and would not dare to use that revolver, knowing, as you must, that my men are aboard and would tear you to pieces. Go ahead and shoot, if you dare. I am going to break my way out of this cabin, and then I shall arrest both of you."
"Is there no way of compromising?" begged Dalny, his evil face paling, "In exchange for your life, Monsieur Darrin, can you not offer us a chance for escape?"
"One brave man down!" laughed Ensign Dave. "That was spoken like the coward that you are, Dalny."
Darrin turned to break down the door. He knew that he was taking chances, for the sham Prince might be a man cast in a braver mould than Dalny, and, in his desperation, might shoot at the back that Dave so recklessly presented.
At the third lunge from Darrin's sturdy shoulder, the door snapped open at the lock. The young naval officer stepped out into the social hall. There was no sign of the steward.
"Seaman here!" Dave bawled lustily. He was obliged to repeat the summons twice before a hearty "Aye, aye, sir!" was heard in the distance.
Then Jack Runkle showed his jovial face at the top of the companionway. Catching sight of his officer, Runkle bounded down the steps and came up on a run, saluting.
"Runkle, go to the corporal of marines and ask him to send two men here. Then stand by."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Runkle was off like a shot on his errand and soon returned with two marines.
"Now, men," Dave directed, pointing to the doors, "batter them down. That door, first."
As the men aligned themselves for the assault, Darrin, mindful that the sham Prince was armed and might prove ugly, stood by with his revolver drawn.
Bang! crash! The door was down.
"It will be wise to surrender to superior force," Darrin called sternly. "We shall shoot to kill at any sign of resistance."
As the words were uttered in French the marines did not understand, but they advanced unhesitatingly on Mender, disarmed him and led him outside the room.
"Take care of him, Runkle," ordered Dave. "Now, marines, that other door!"
Down came the barrier, and Dalny, shaking and white, was brought out to keep Mender company.
"Break down every door that's locked," was Darrin's next order.
Within five minutes a little, quaking brown man was secured and led out. All the locked cabins had now been entered.
"You're the Japanese marquis, are you?" Dave jeered. "Do you find, Marquis, that it pays any better than being a Filipino mess attendant?"
The Filipino hung his head without answering.
"Take these prisoners to the corporal of marines, and ask him to iron them and watch them closely," Dave directed. "Runkle, do you know where Lieutenant Whyte is?"
"In the hold, sir, or was."
"Follow me, then, and we'll see if we can find him."
Down in the main cargo hold forward, Dave and Runkle came upon Whyte and a party of English and American sailormen.
"Ah, there you are, Mr. Darrin," called Whyte. "We've been making a jolly big search through the hold, but, except for ship's supplies, it appears to contain nothing very interesting. However, we shall have time to examine it further later on. And you?"
"I have three prisoners," Dave explained, and told who and what they were.
"Take them with you, Ensign, if you have room on your launch," Whyte directed. "I will now take my men above and post a guard, so that you may withdraw your own guard and get under way at once."
"We have done well so far," Dave answered, as he gripped the English officer's hand. "I pray that we may be permitted to do as well all through the night."
Runkle was sent through the craft to recall all of the American sailors.
When Dave reached the deck he found that the entire crew of the yacht, including the engine-room force and the stewards, had been rounded up and driven to the deck.
"Over the side," directed Darrin, as his men, recalled, gathered near him. He followed, but went over last of all. Orders for casting off and shoving clear were instantly given.
"Keep the engines up to their best performance all the way," was Dave's order. "Boatswain's mate, watch sharp for the courses, as I may change frequently."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Heading out of North Channel, Dave drove back for Valetta, keeping about a mile off the coast.
After making a few knots, he came abreast of another British launch that lay further to seaward. With lantern signals the Englishman asked:
"Is the submarine supposed to be loose?"
"Yes," Dave had his signalman reply.
"I'm here to warn incoming ships against entering Grand Harbor to-night," the Englishman wound up. "Are you seeking the submarine?"
"Yes," Dave had flashed back.
"Good luck to you!" came heartily from the English launch.
"Thank you," was Darrin's final response.
The searchlight of Dave's launch was swinging busily from side to side, searching every bit of the water's surface that could be reached.
"If the submarine comes up, Runkle, you may be the first to sight her," Dave smiled to that seaman, who stood beside him.
"Aye, aye, sir; if I sight that craft I won't be mean enough to keep my news to myself."
"I wonder where Dalzell is," thought Dave. "What is he doing in this night's work?"
As for Ensign Dave, his every nerve was keyed to its highest pitch. Outwardly he was wholly calm, but he felt all the responsibility that rested upon him to-night, as did every other officer who commanded a launch from either fleet.
Searchlight and naked vision were not enough. Almost constantly Darrin had his night glass at his eyes.
Suddenly, as the light shifted over the water, Dave thought he caught sight of something unusual.
"Steady with that light there, signalman," he commanded suddenly. "Back slowly to port with the beam."
Darrin forced himself to be calm.
"Steady," he called, again. "Hold the light on anything you see, signalman."
"Aye, aye, sir; I do see something," replied the man who was manipulating the searchlight.
That he did see the mysterious something was proved by the manner in which he kept the light upon it.
That on which Darrin now trained his night glass was a marked rippling on the water, half a mile away, and farther seaward. A landsman would have missed it altogether. Yet that rippling on the sea's surface was clearly different from the motion of the water near by.
"It might be a school of large fish," Dave mused aloud, in Runkle's hearing, "though at night they are likely to rest. Runkle, and you, men, keep your eyes peeled to see if you can make out fish leaping out of the water."
The ripple continued, unbroken at any point. Moreover, it moved at uniform speed, and in a line nearly parallel with the coast.
Gradually the launch gained on that ripple. Dave could not turn his fascinated gaze away from the sight.
"I think I know what that is, sir," broke in Seaman Runkle, after three minutes of watching.
"I am sure that I do, Runkle," Dave Darrin returned. "It's a submarine, for some reason just barely submerged. That line of ripple is the wake left by her periscope."
As if to confirm the young naval officer's words, the ripple parted. As the line on the water broke, the periscope came fully into view, and the turret showed above water, continuing to rise until the deck was awash.
"There's the pest of the seas!" cried an excited voice.
Every man on the launch was now straining his eyes for a better look at the submarine, barely a quarter of a mile away.
THE PUZZLE OF THE DEEP
"Coxswain!" shouted Dave.
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Send up three blue rockets!"
"Aye, aye, sir."
One after another the rockets ascended, bursting high overhead and slowly falling.
From Grand Harbor, several miles distant, a rocket ascended and burst, showing red.
Darrin's signal had been seen and answered. Both fleets now knew that one of the launches had sighted the submarine craft. The three blue rockets had been the signal agreed upon in advance. Runkle was at the gun. Ensign Darrin gave him the range.
"I wish we had a four-inch gun in the bow," Dave muttered wistfully, "but we'll have to do the best we can with the one-pounder. Ready! Fire!"
Even before the command to fire had been uttered the craft ahead had begun to submerge.
As the brisk, snappy report of the little piece sounded, and a faint puff of smoke left her muzzle, Runkle's head bobbed up to watch the result of his shot.
"Forward of her turret by about a foot!" Runkle muttered in disgusted criticism of his own shooting.
A sailor had thrown the breech open, while a second swabbed the bore through and the first fitted in a fresh shell, closing the breech with a snap.
Runkle seemed to sight and fire almost in the same instant, and, as before, straightened up to watch the accuracy of his shot by the splash of water on the other side of the craft. The launch's searchlight held a steady glare on the mark.
"Nearer by a few inches, sir," Runkle called over his shoulder while the men with him swabbed and loaded. Again Runkle fired.
"The shell must have passed aft of the turret by about six inches," remarked Darrin, catching through his glass a glimpse of the splash of water where the little shell struck the waves.
"I'll do better, or drown myself, sir," growled Runkle.
"Quick! She is submerging rapidly," commanded Darrin.
Bang! An instant after the report a smothered exclamation came from the unhappy gunner. The submarine had safely submerged. Not even her periscope was above water now.
"If the turret had been four inches nearer the sky you'd have put it out of commission," declared Ensign Darrin.
"Rotten work," growled Runkle in disgust.
"It's night shooting, my man," Dave answered. "Good work just the same."
Runkle had an excellent gunnery record, and Darrin did not like to see that fine fellow fretting when he had done his best. None the less it was highly important to send that submarine to the bottom and quickly at that.
"We've got to go by bubbles, now," Darrin declared. "She isn't likely to show her eye again."
Had he gotten the launch close enough to observe the bubbles it is possible that the young ensign could have followed the enemy trail. Twice or thrice Dave believed that he had picked up glimpses of bubbles with the searchlight, but at last, with a sigh, he gave orders to shut off speed and drift. Inaction became wellnigh insupportable after a few moments and Darrin called for slow speed ahead.
"There she is again" he cried. "There's her periscope. The scoundrel is standing out to sea."
Over the starboard quarter the searchlight signals of two other launches were observed.
"What's taking place?" came the signaled question from one.
"Fired a few shots at a vanishing turret, but missed," Dave ordered signaled back. "Enemy standing out to sea. Am following."
"Will follow also," flashed back the answer.
"And one of their gunners will bag the game at the first chance," groaned Runkle. "The jinx is sitting tight on my chest to-night!"
"It might be, if there were any such animal as a jinx," laughed Darrin. "Your missing was just plain bad luck, Runkle. Your shooting was good."
"The periscope is being pulled inboard, sir," called one of the seamen who stood by with Runkle.
"I see it. There she goes, under again," Dave answered.
The Navy launch was dashing full speed ahead. But with no clue to follow, Darrin passed some anxious seconds. Should he follow on the course he had been taking, or should he shut off speed? In the dark there was a good chance that the submarine commander, if so minded, would be able to double and head back for shore.