Ivan shivered. Then as the woman turned to the fire and rattled the pans, he said sharply in English:
"Warren, do not eat!"
The three turned threateningly as he spoke, but as he made no effort to continue the speech in what was to them an unknown tongue, they once more went about their tasks. As they became interested in the tasks they were doing, Ivan spoke again.
"Warren?" he said.
Warren heard. "Yes!"
"Don't try to keep the girls if they start to take them," he said as rapidly as he could talk.
"There they go again!" said the woman "What are they up to, do you think?"
Michael went over to Warren.
"Do you want your head broken again?" he scowled. "You will get it. And you, too!" He turned to Ivan, and shouted threateningly across the room. "It will be your turn if I hear you speak again."
Ivan, who had said all he wanted to, nodded and was silent.
Soon Michael and Patro picked Ivan up and carried him to the massive bench that stood at one side of the table, and seating him there, tied his legs in a clever fashion so that he was unable to reach the bonds, he was so wedged between the bench and table. The place must once have been a public wine room, and what furniture there was of the heaviest sort.
Warren they lifted and tied in the same manner on the opposite side of the great table.
"There!" said the woman Martha. "Now you can see each other, and talk as long as you like." She looked at the men and laughed.
"Where are you going?" said Ivan in Polish.
"Well," said the woman, "I don't mind telling you in the least."
"Don't do it!" warned Patro.
"Why not? They are safe," said the woman.
"Won't your bonds hold as long as necessary? You see," she said, turning to Warren, "it will be a day or two perhaps before your friends find you. And even then I don't believe you will tell my plans. It will be too late. We are going to tame these nice little girls, and make beggars of them. Something useful, you see, instead of letting them grow up in idleness as they would if they stayed with you. We will go to Prague from here and I will give the little one to my sister. Then we will get out of this accursed country soon as we can, and get away where money comes easy to the poor war refugees. What do you think of that?" She leered close to the boy's face.
Everything was ready. The food, poisoned as Ivan knew it to be, stood temptingly between them, on the table. It was not an unpleasing meal. To Warren, who had not tasted solid food for two days, everything looked inviting. Ivan felt himself shaking with excitement. All was ready. The men unbarred the door, and the woman with a last sneering jest at the boys, picked up little Rika, while Michael lifted Elinor. The child screamed.
"Warren, don't let them take me away! Don't let them take me!" she cried over and over.
"Be a good girl! We will come for you very soon," said Ivan swiftly, as she paused for breath.
The child screamed again, and Michael wound a thick muffler across her face.
The heavy door closed with a clash. The boys heard a faint cry, and then the great key turned in the lock. They looked at each other.
"What does it all mean?" said Warren. He struggled furiously to release his feet, but gave up to sit staring at Ivan. "What does it all mean?"
"Well, for one thing, " said Ivan, "that food is poisoned." He proceeded to recount to Warren, the strange circumstance of the whispered conversation which he had so clearly overheard.
"It has saved our lives," said Warren solemnly. "I am starved and would have eaten this stuff sure as nails . Gee, what an escape! Let us work out of these ropes and get out of here. Perhaps, we can get those cutthroats before they got away from the city."
For some moments the boys both wiggled and twisted to free themselves. It was in vain. So closely were they wedged between the benches and table, and so cleverly were their feet tied with rope and pieces of board to wedge them, that it was absolutely an impossibility to release themselves. All through the night they sat there, at intervals renewing their efforts to get free, and with despair growing in their hearts. They began to realize the seriousness of the situation. When Warren's watch told them that morning had come, they found themselves looking wistfully at the food. Its scent was in their famished nostrils. Warren drew a piece of fish toward him.
"I wonder if it is all poisoned," he said.
With a cry Ivan reached out and swept the food from the table. "There!" he exclaimed, "I found myself wondering the same thing. If we die, we die — but not that way, my Warren. We will be free yet. Ivanovich does not die today."
But Warren, weakened from, his hurts, laid his head down on his arms with a groan.
Ivan looked at him pityingly. The loss of his little sister had almost crushed Warren. He who was always the leading spirit, quick and resourceful, was for the moment crushed.
Ivan did not speak. He respected the grief of his friend. He knew that soon he would be himself again, planning for success.
Late that same afternoon three Boy Scouts sauntered down the dark and twisted alley leading to the river. The section of the city was strange to them, and it was now so wrecked by the recent bombardment that the enemy themselves shunned it. The poor creatures that had once found lodging in those dark holes of want and famine had all fled at the first gunshot; and the boys idled here and there, looking at the marks of the shots, and picking up many a queer memento of the battle.
Warsaw had fallen; but the spirit of boys is the same all the world over. In their imaginations, even while the smoke of battle still hung over the city, they had planned other and victorious battles. They had already saved Warsaw for a wonderful golden future.
As they climbed around, one of them pointed to the broken plaster on the ground.
"See!" he said. "A Scout! Two of them have been here. There are the marks of the nails in their Scout shoes."
The other boys looked. Sure enough they saw distinctly the marks of the well known Scout shoes, sold even in distant Warsaw.
"Let's follow them up," said another boy, leading the way.
It was something to do and they bent to the chase like young hounds on a fresh fox trail. Rather to their disappointment, the tracks did not double or disappear here and there. They led directly down the street. As they followed, a faint cry sounded. The boys stopped, startled.
"What's that?" whispered one.
The cry was repeated. "Someone in trouble," cried the first boy, hurrying forward.
The boy behind took a quick step, and caught him by the arm.
"Stop!" he whispered. "Don't go on! That's not a human voice."
Frozen in attitudes of astonishment, the boys stood listening with all their might.
"Pshaw!" said the tall boy, Thaddeus, in his rapid Polish. "What think you would cry like that — spirits?" He laughed.
"It might be," said the second lad doggedly. "There are spirits, of course; and when souls are set free in the violence of war they say they ever return to haunt the scene of their passing."
"Well, nobody has passed here," said Thaddous, "alive or dead. Let's go on!"
"Wait just a minute," said the second boy. "I tell you there is evil somewhere about here!"
"The street is dark and crooked enough to hold almost anything," said Thaddeus. "I am not surprised now that my father always ordered me to keep away from these streets leading to the river. They say many and many a poor wretch has been bundled down there and pushed off into the Vistula. She tells no tales, that river."
The cry was repeated. It was faint, and there was a note of pain or terror in it that chilled the listeners. Very faint and far away it was too.
"I'm going back," said the second boy.
"Go!" said Thaddeus scornfully, "Go and give up your Scout badge, and tell the chapter that while the sons of Warsaw were not afraid to meet a bloody death, you are not one of them because you think the spirits are abroad in the town.
The boy blushed.
"Come!" said Thaddeus. "I know you don't mean it. There is someone in trouble. Let us find them quickly."
Following the tracks and listening every few steps for the voices, the boys reached the place where Warren and Ivan were imprisoned. They were nearly exhausted from the cramped positions and the long fast. They had called until their throats were parched, and their voices croaked and wheezed. But as they heard the boys familiar and welcome voices sound faintly through the heavy door, new energy thrilled then and they lifted their voices together in a shout that echoed in the vaulted room. It was answered.
So thick and close fitting was the door that they could not make the listeners outside understand anything but the word "Help!" which, spoken in any language, is certain to bring response. The boys outside shouted assurances which were, also not understood, but the sound of friendly voices put now life into Warren and Ivan every moment. The great locked door was baffling; but there was plenty of heavy timbers around, and finding a sort of battering ram was a moment's work. The three went to work with a will. Blow after blow fell on the heavy door. It did not yield an inch. The lock also held firm, but the new casing was built in old and rotted wood. It gave, and with a dusty splintering the door toppled in, and the boys, springing over without a moment's hesitation, entered.
They hurried to the exhausted prisoners and cut the ropes and freed them. Both boys were so numb that it was some time before the Scouts could rub feeling into the cramped legs and feet.
Warren pointed to the floor where the pieces of food were scattered. Three dead rats lay near.
"You were right, Ivan," he said with a great shudder.
"What is it?" said the Scout who was rubbing him.
"Poison," said Warren. "Meant for us." A little at a time he told the newcomers the adventures of the past long hours.
After the blow on the bead Warren had lain unconscious for so long, and when he finally roused the darkness and dungeon-like appearance of the room so perplexed him, that he thought himself delirious. He was very dizzy, and tried to sleep, feeling that if he could lose himself, he would wake and find the whole thing a bad dream. Even when his sister came and caressed him, he did not change his mind.
But finally full consciousness came, with all the suffering of his hurts, as well as the dreadful anxiety about Elinor and Rika and the seeming hopelessness of escape.
The boys all shook their heads when Ivan broke in to tell bow he had given up the great ruby, only to be thought a thief. They listened breathlessly when he told of the strange whisper that came so clearly to his ears, and when they reached the account of the poison they scarcely breathed.
"Yon couldn't see the rats, could you?" Warren asked Ivan.
"No!" said Ivan.
"Well," said Warren, "it queered me so I thought I wouldn't say anything about it. After you threw the food off the table, I looked down and presently something slipped out of the shadow. It was the biggest rat you ever saw. Much bigger than any of those. He walked around bold as anything, and I began to think what a big fellow like that could do if a fellow got down and out. Well, it made me cold. Then he went off, and I think he told a lot of the others that there was a lot of good eats on the floor, and half a dozen of them came along, and went after that meat and stuff. And when they ate it, one by one they just went staggering around for a little as though they didn't know what ailed them, and then they fell down, and I never hope to see such agony. It was back of you, Ivan, and I thought there was no use telling you. But it is all over now, for the rats and for us too; and we can be glad you fellows found us. As soon as we can walk," he ended, "we must take this thing to headquarters. We know where to look for the girls, and they must help."
The largest Scout laughed.
"You don't know what you are talking about," he said. "You can't get help from anyone. Our people, the people of Warsaw, are so scattered, that it is the same as though they did not exist. As for the others, the enemy, they laugh. I know of one lady who lost a child — But there is no use to talk. Whatever is done — we will have to do ourselves."
"We will go down ourselves, now we know where to look, and we will take the children. We are strong, if it comes to a fight; we can still get them away.
We ourselves will rescue the children." He laughed and helped Warren to his feet. "We are Scouts," he said.
"It is a good thing we are," said another boy, busy rubbing Ivan who lay with set teeth, stifling the pain of returning circulation in his tortured ankles.
"You did a wonderful thing, Warren," he continued, addressing the boy he named, "when you started the Boy Scout movement over here. Well I remember the day I told my people about it. They were amused. They called it one of the crazy plans of the Americans. They were afraid to have me join. They were afraid that I would get into trouble with the government. Everything is so strictly watched. But they were so glad to have me have a good chance to learn the American language, that they would not quite forbid me. I thought I never would learn. Sometimes I thought I knew it well; and there would appear in your speech some strange words that you could not seem to translate to us, and you called it all with one word, 'Slang!' You said you could not get along without it. And it was and is the most difficult part of all the noble language. Yet now that I can read your native language, I never seem able to find this slang you talk in the books or magazines. I have kept a careful list of all I have heard you say, and I am teaching it to my mother and to my sister who was to have been presented at Court, had not this war come up. It would be fine for them to be able to talk this slang to your ambassador." He stopped speaking Polish, and broke into lame and halting English. "Do you get me, Lissee!" he asked.
"For the love of Mike!" he said. "No, I don't mean that! For Pete's sake —" He groaned again. "I don't know what I mean," he said, "but I do get you. Mikelovo and you don't want to teach your precious family any more gems." He hastily sought an excuse. "You see only men and boys talk it as a general thing. Better teach the women stuff out of the books."
"All right," said the earnest student of the American language, "but in all other things the Boy Scouts are all right for my family."
"When the books and other things came from your country, I showed them to my father with trembling; but he approved. And now we will do all the great things, we ourselves, that our poor country cannot do. We will help your good father, and rescue the little children."
"One thing I have noticed," said the first boy. "There are no boys around the streets giving any help to the hurt or lost or troubled except the Boy Scouts. When Warsaw rises again, there will be a great order here, and all the boys in the city shall have a chance to prepare for it."
"Gee whiz, yes," said the student of slang, solemnly, "we will get 'em all in line."
THE CARVED PANEL
We will leave the Boy Scouts puzzling over the tremendous problem of getting in touch with headquarters and releasing Professor Morris and the others, while we visit a magnificent home far up in the residential part of the city, where the beautiful parks, wide streets and fine buildings all told of great wealth.
Many of the places lay in ruins, but here and there arose a dazzling white marble building that bad happily escaped the destruction of the iron rain that had poured over the ill-fated city. Many of these were occupied by the officers and men of the invading army. Destruction of the worst sort went with them, and the unhappy owners had, whenever possible, secreted the most valuable of their belongings. Pictures, jewels, silver, furs and even rugs were hidden in secret vaults or buried in gardens and cellars. For the people of Warsaw, as well as their fair city, were ruined, although sooner or later the scraps saved could be converted into money. Rich and poor fared alike; for the present, at least, everyone needed food and, safe shelter.
In the dining-room of one of the finest places saved from the destroying shells sat a group of officers. They were big, blonde men, and they talked roughly and rapidly in their native German. It was plain to see that they were quarreling. One of them, rising from the great carved chair in which he had been lounging, kicked it from his path and walked nervously up and down the room. He was scowling ferociously while with his saber point he jabbed little holes in the Russian leather covering the back of the chair opposite him.
He shook his head as the man who was walking up and down neared his chair.
"I tell you, Otto, you can't do it," he said. "You can't burry things so. Those people are Americans. You can't execute that old man on a bare suspicion. What if his notes are a code? We have them, at all events; and we have him; and we must wait until the General returns."
"That's not my idea at all!" scowled the other man. "This is war. I am in command, my friend, and if I think I have a spy, and see that it is my duty to stand this man up against a wall, then what? Bang! Bang! It is all over. What can be said?"
"What is your idea exactly?" asked the man at the table. "What is the use of hurrying things so? It sounds like murder to me. I think the old man is perfectly harmless . He is probably just what he claims, a professor in one .of the American Universities. I've heard of this Princeton. It is a place of some size and standing."
"That is just it, Gustav!" cried the other.
"That is one reason for suspecting him. He is too glib with his Princeton. Himmel! Did you ever hear a man talk so fast and so much and use such words? I can speak as good English as any man my age, but there were words, dozens of them, that I had never dreamed of."
"Is that the real reason why you are going to shoot him as a spy?" asked Gustav, coming back to the main point once more.
"I don't suppose I shall shoot him at all," answered Otto grimly. "I want to, that's all, but I can't do it unless I have sufficient cause, no matter how would like to remove him. He is in the way."
Gustav stared, and laid down his saber. "I See!" he said, nodding his head slowly. "The girl?"
"Yes! The girl!" said Otto. He frowned and continued to walk up and down, while the other laughed.
"What would you?" he demanded. "You would get yourself into all sorts of trouble. There is no kidnapping of young women in this campaign, remember!"
"I would like to marry her," said Otto coolly. "She is so pretty and sweet."
"So are the German girls," declared Gustav, loyally.
"What a romantic episode!" sighed Otto, rolling his eyes in a sentimental manner. "I discover this beautiful American here in Warsaw, in the heart of the war; I love her; I marry her. It is wonderful!"
"It certainly is," said Gustav. "Wonderful indeed! And in order to bring her to a proper idea of your goodness and charm, you shoot her father and brother - do you shoot her brother, by the way?"
Otto scowled. "You are coarse, my friend," he said. "I do not shoot anyone.
Germany merely destroys a spy. As for the brother, he is small, I think he disappears."
"Does the German army cause that too?" asked Gustav.
"Don't jest," said Otto. "I am in earnest."
"In truth, so am I!" answered Gustav. "You are crazy, just plain crazy. The man is no more a spy than I am, I'll be bound!"
Otto shrugged his broad shoulders. "You don't know whereof you speak," he said. "You have not heard him talk, have you?"
"No, I'll grant that," Gustav acknowledged. "Have him brought in and let me hear him."
"Very well," said Otto, "but speak English to him. His German is so bad that he ought to he shot for that if for nothing else."
He turned and summoned an orderly. The two men sat in silence. At a nearby table two lieutenants were busy writing. They did not speak but looked eagerly as the door opened, and the prisoners entered. The Lieutenants shifted in their chairs and smiled at each other in anticipation. Gustav caught their fleeting grins and dismissed them from the room with a curt command, then turned his attention to the group standing just within the door.
Professor Morris stood with a protecting arm around each of his children. He looked broken and old, and wore the air of a man who has been rudely wakened from a secure and comfortable sleep to view some unimagined horror. The War, the bombardment and the fall of Warsaw, had at last become something more than a spectacle to be transferred to the pages of his book. It was a frightful fact, a living reality in which men died by thousands, and little children perished, where women's hearts broke with their anguish and despair.
He found that War recognizes but few laws, and even fewer obligations. It seemed that his standing as a man of learning, his claim as a citizen of the United States, availed him nothing. Standing there, a prisoner, with a helpless child on either side, the ivy-covered walls of his beloved Princeton seemed far away indeed. As lie closed his tired eyes for an instant he could see a clear and lovely picture of the velvet green campus and the great iron gates opening on the smooth and level streets shaded by lofty trees. He heard the chimes, the laughter of happy young fellows passing to and fro. There were rows and rows of peaceful homes, stately mansions and simple cottages. On level, perfectly kept tennis courts, here and there, men and girls all in white played tennis. He saw his friends —
But opening his weary eyes, he saw a gorgeous, tumbled room whose princely draperies were torn and full of saber cuts, a sideboard where priceless glass had been a target for the rough play by rougher men. Before him were the two hard, blonde German faces, and there he stood, a prisoner, with his two children clinging to him. Warren and Elinor were gone, he knew not where.
Captain Handel stood motionless, but Captain Schmitt rose civilly and bowed when he saw Evelyn. He could not help it. The girl was so noble, so lovely, and hid her fright so gallantly, that he was compelled to pay her the slight courtesy that he did.
"Captain Handel tells me that this notebook is yours, Professor Morris," Gustav commenced in almost perfect English.
"It is," said the Professor. He eyed it hungrily, and reached a hand out without thinking what he did.
Gustav drew the book back.
"It has a suspicious look," he said. "So many plans and measurements and specifications. Will you not explain?"
The Professor reddened. He shut his mouth stubbornly.
"Those are private notes," be said. "I was sent over here to make what discoveries I could along certain lines."
"What, did I tell you, Gustav?" broke in Otto, turning to his brother officer and speaking in a low tone. "There is the whole thing! He was a spy sent to make discoveries along 'certain lines.' He confesses that. He has succeeded in doing so. The book tells us that."
"Wait, wait!" begged Gustav. "Professor Morris, do you understand that you are here facing a most serious charge?"
"It is a silly, trumped up charge," declared the Professor, irritably. "Silly trumped up charge! I absolutely will not answer your questions. Wait until you hear from the American Consul."
"We won't hear from him," said Gustav gently. "You are in our hands, bearing suspicious documents, and you refuse to answer our questions. Do you realize the seriousness of this affair?"
"Certainly not!" declared the Professor, "and let me tell you, my young friend, I shall write this thing up in the papers when I return to America. I shall make public your personal attitude in the matter. At the present all I demand is release and that manuscript on the table beside you. Also my notebook." He bowed slightly and stood waiting as though he fully expected the officers to do his bidding, as indeed he did.
"Will you explain your notes?" asked Gustav quietly.
Otto was nervously biting his small moustache, his eyes fixed on Evelyn's lovely face.
"No! No!" cried the Professor loudly, "a thousand times no! I refuse to share with you the results of my researches. What, and have you get the credit of all my labor? Never!" He clenched his hands.
"Father —" began Evelyn pleadingly.
"Be silent, Evelyn!" commanded her father sternly. "I know what I am about! I refuse to say anything, whatever happens."
"You had better think this over, Professor," said Gustav. "We will leave you here alone for half an hour. Talk it over with your children and decide if you wish to give up your life for the sake of these notes. Explain them to us, and we will promise you safe conduct out of the country. The girl and boy will have to remain as guarantee of your good faith. They will not he harmed. In case you will not do as we suggest —" He tapped his saber, and started to the door.
Otto spoke abruptly.
"The windows are barred," he said. "Two men guard the door. You cannot escape. Decide!"
He looked longingly at Evelyn and followed Gustav from the room. The heavy door shut silently behind them but not before they had a glimpse of the two soldiers standing at attention in the hallway.
While they stood looking at it, it opened and Otto entered, closing it after him.
"I may as well tell you," he said. "You will shoot as a spy if you do not explain your charts and figures and leave the country."
Then as though he could not conceal his triumph, he added, "In any case, you know your daughter remains here."
"Remains here?" cried the Professor. "How is that? What do you mean?"
Otto shrugged his shoulders.
"I like her," he said coolly. "I might marry her. You are very lovely," he added, turning his bold, cold eyes on Evelyn.
She hid her face against her father's shoulder.
Jack sprang at him with a shrill cry. The big man caught the boy, and flung him contemptuously to the floor.
"Be careful, little sparrow!" he said. "A second time and I will crush you! I'm going now," he said, turning to the Professor. "In half an hour we will come and you will tell us which you prefer — death or safe conduct." He bowed. "Good-bye for a little, Mees Evelyn, he said and closed the door behind him.
Evelyn threw herself on her father's shoulder and burst into sobs. "Oh, father, father, what shall we do?" she cried.
The Professor was silent, then he said, "Well, my dear, I actually believe that young man meant what he said."
"Of course he did!" sobbed Evelyn.
"In that ease," said the Professor firmly, "I would as lief be dead as to have the work of a lifetime destroyed by those rascals."
He hastened to the table and took up the portfolio enclosing his book. "It's all here," he said after a glance.
"But father, whatever they do to you, they are going to keep me here. What will I do? What will I do?"
She ran to the windows and looked out. It was just as they had been told. The casements were heavily barred and there was but one door, the one through which the officers had passed. The walls were paneled half way up with old oak. The room was solid as a dungeon. There was not a chance for escape. In a few minutes the soldiers would return and tear her father from her.
Her father was speaking. She listened.
"All here," he said, "every page! That is fortunate indeed."
He looked searchingly at Evelyn. "I have a plan, my," he said. "This is a very dreadful affair, but on second thought a scheme occurs to me. I will explain somewhat of my notes, but not enough so they could amplify them. Then, with my safe conduct, I will go over to Germany, explain the whole affair, and demand your release. You will doubtless be absolutely safe here, absolutely safe. This young Handel seems rather a rattle-brained youth, but Captain Schmitt looked conservative and sane. I will place you in his Charge. John is with you, and you will be perfectly safe, I am positive."
Evelyn grew deathly pale. She kissed her father's cheek, then listlessly approached the table. A revolver was lying there.
"Yes, I know that I will be safe," she said firmly. She took the weapon in her hand and looked up.
As she raised her eyes, she looked straight into the face of a girl about her own age, who stood motionless against the wall, one hand outstretched its though to call her. Evelyn stared in unbelief. An instant before they had been alone in the room! Were her senses leaving her? She looked at her father and brother. They, too, were staring, speechless and wild-eyed. So she did not imagine the graceful figure and lovely face with its dark troubled eyes.
The stranger pressed a finger on her lips in a gesture of silence, then she beckoned, and as they approached, tiptoeing over the thick rug, she turned and pressed a finger on a carved rosette in the oak panel. Without a sound it slid open, and they found themselves in a narrow, stone passage. Once more the strange girl motioned for silence. Then she slid an iron grating across the secret door through which they had come, and turning ran lightly down the passage. Without a moment's hesitation, Evelyn started after, her hand still clasping the revolver which she had taken from the table. The Professor, clutching his recovered manuscript, followed, while Jack brought up the rear.
As they turned a corner, a faint shout reached them. The officers had returned to the empty room!
The way was long, with many sharp turns. It seemed to be a space between rooms. Once or twice shouts and laughter were faintly heard, as they seemed to pass near a room full of soldiers. It was dark. The girl ahead felt in her pocket, and brought out a tiny flashlight. They came finally to a steep flight of stairs.
Now for the first time the girl spoke. In a cautious whisper she said, "Be careful!" and holding the flash behind her for their guidance, went swiftly and lightly down, with the manner of one who is familiar with every inch of the way. The stairs were wide and shallow. There were a great many of them and they seemed to go down a long way. Evelyn wondered if the place was built on a hillside, making it a long way to the underground regions she suspected beyond or below. She afterwards found out that this was correct. A door barred with iron was at the foot of the stairs. Indeed, they ended right against it. The girl pushed the door open, and when they had entered, closed it behind them and dropped a massive bar across it. They were in a large, stone chamber, empty save for a few scraps of furniture.
Their guide swiftly crossed the room and opened another forbidding looking door. The second room was like the first, but was filled with casks and huge barrels. Beyond this again they entered a narrow passage, so very narrow that their garments brushed the walls at either side. The stones underfoot were rough and uneven.
Professor Morris walked carefully, picking his steps by the aid of the flashlight. Evelyn and Jack, more careless, stumbled frequently, but still the girl, light as a feather, flitted on, swift and sure footed.
Once more the flash revealed a wall ahead. As she approached it the girl turned and smiled. Evelyn stared. There was no sign of any opening in the rough wall and the great stones seemed fast in their cement, but the girl, stooping, pressed a corner of one of the paving stones. To their amazement it slid from its place, revealing another very narrow flight of steps. The girl descended, and when they were all down, pressed another spring, and the stone slid in place. Another flight of steps exactly like the ones they had just descended rose against the flooring; and when the girl had led the way, they one by one stepped into a large and brightly lighted room.
Professor Morris blinked; Jack turned red; Evelyn gasped with surprise.
THE SECRET CHAMBER
It was a vast apartment of stone, but the rugged walls were nearly covered with the most rare and beautiful hangings — curtains, tapestries and strange oriental rugs. Numerous paintings apparently of great value also hung about, or stood on the floor leaning against the wall. The stone floor was deep with rugs and fine furs. A number of couches, wide and comfortable, were set here and there, and one corner of the room was hidden by a great black and gold screen. From this corner came the comforting odor of coffee.
Professor Morris sniffed it with joy.
In the center of the ceiling hung a simple drop light of great power illuminating the place with almost the glare of sunlight. Beneath the light stood a large table littered with magazines, papers and articles of value. Beside it, in a deep easy chair, sat a woman. She was about forty years of age and beautiful. Her garments were very rich, and she sat listlessly leaning her head on her hand for she had been weeping. At her side, evidently bent on comforting her mistress, knelt a woman in the costume of a servant. A footman in livery stood at attention behind her chair. Even in that strange, sunless, underground place, everything in sight, confused though it was, gave evidence of immense wealth and luxury.
After the dark, blank, twisted passages, and the horrors so lately escaped in the room above them, the scene seemed unreal enough to be a dream. As they appeared through the small square in the floor and stood in a hesitating group the lady in the easy chair leaned forward and looked at them earnestly.
Their guide, the young girl, pressed the spring that replaced the flagstone, and as soon as she was sure that it was adjusted, ran eagerly across the wide space and knelt at the lady's knee. She spoke rapidly and excitedly in Polish. Evelyn could catch a word occasionally. Then the lady rose and advanced with a graceful gesture of welcome.
"You are indeed welcome," she said easily in English. "I cannot be thankful enough that my daughter overheard those brutal soldiers and was able to rescue you. Come and tell me about it."
Professor Morris bowed low over the hand extended him. Then leading the way, the lady returned to the table where the footman drew chairs for the group.
Professor Morris told his story of the arrest and imprisonment and the result of the conference in the dining-room. The lady shuddered.
"You are safe now, at least," she assured him when the story was finished. "And we are happy .to have you with us. It is a comfort to have someone with whom to share one's sorrows. One has no happiness to share now." She smiled sadly.
"I am the Princess Olga Nicholani; with my husband and children I have lived here all my life. The Prince is with his troops, living or dead I know not. Our son is with him. When the war separated us I, Modjeska here and my baby girl, with a few of our old servants, remained in Warsaw.
"We were perfectly safe until the bombardment of the city commenced. Then we decided to escape, if possible. We clothed ourselves plainly, and under cover of darkness crept from the house the first night. All lights were out, and we reached the corner safely. We had planned to go down to the river front, where we had a motor boat, in which we planned to escape. But just as we turned into the river street, we were met by a maddened crowd of citizens all rushing to safety. They met us like a great wave. Modjeska and the servants were crushed against a building, but I was thrown down and for a moment stunned. When the crowd had passed, my people assisted me to consciousness, but oh, my heart — my heart! How can I tell?"
She bid her face in her hands and shuddered. Modjeska clasped her in. other in her arms, murmuring loving words of comfort.
In a moment the Princess looked up.
"You can imagine our agony, Professor Morris, when we found that our baby was gone. She had been torn from me in the crowd. We could not find her. We searched all night. Then they brought me home here by a secret passage, and, the men hastened to bring down everything movable of value or comfort. We have plenty of light because we have our own electric light system, and this building was not struck by shell or bomb.
"The secret passage through which Modjeska brought you was revealed to me by my husband, the Prince. His father had taught him the way, and not long before the war we carefully taught our two elder children the secret springs and all the turnings. I do not know why Modjeska happened to venture along those dark passages to the dining-room."
"I don't know either, mother," said Modjeska, shyly. "I had a strange feeling that I had to go. Something seemed to drag me there."
"Did you hear the conversation?" asked Professor Morris.
"Part of it," answered Modjeska. "Enough to tell me that something terrible was going on. I was wild with fright. I did not know how I could help you until I heard that dreadful man say that he and the other officer would go out for half an hour. And mother, he told them they could not escape, because the windows were barred, and the door guarded. Then at first, when I pressed the spring, the panel would not open. Something had rusted. I worked and worked before it slid, back."
"A moment later would have been too late," said the Professor, shaking his head.
"This room is absolutely safe," said the Princess. "There are seven or eight of these chambers, about fifty feet from the house, under the garden. So compose yourselves and rest. I cannot leave — half the city is searching for my baby - - I can do nothing but sit here in agony and pray for her return. I know she is dead; I almost pray that she is, but how can I ever rest until I know?" She bent her head and sobbed.
Professor Morris cleared his throat.
"I do not doubt that the infant is safe, Madame. No one would deliberately molest a helpless baby. "
"She wasn't really a baby," said Modjeska. "Mother calls her that because she was so tiny. She could walk, and talk a little too."
"Don't say was!" cried the Princess. "Don't talk as if she was dead!"
"No, mother darling, no!" soothed the girl.
"How old is she?" asked Evelyn.
The Princess again controlled herself. "Rika -"
She had no chance to continue —
"Rika?" cried Professor Morris, and Evelyn, and Jack, and again, "Rika?"
Evelyn reached inside her blouse, and pulled out a heavy gold chain hung with a splendid diamond ornament.
"Is this yours?" she cried.
The Princess took one look, then seized Evelyn by the shoulders.
"Yes! Yes!" she cried, chokingly. "Tell me where is she? Have you seen my baby? Tell me! Tell me!"
Evelyn said the thing quickest.
"She is with my sister, and I think they are safe," she cried.
The Princess gave a deep sigh and fainted quietly away.
It was a long time before she recovered, and then she wanted to be told over and over all about little Rika. How she had looked, how she had borne the separation, everything. The Morrises having been assured by Ivan that Warren was on the track of the men who had kidnapped the children, and knowing the cleverness and determination that Warren always put into everything he ever did, were positive that Warren had the children safely in his possession. And Evelyn knew well that once with him, they would not get out of his sight again. All of this she used to comfort the Princess who could scarcely contain herself for joy.
"Now it will all come out right!" she said. "When the men come back next time, we can set them to hunting up your son and Prince Ivan, and we will soon be reunited."
She clapped her hands softly, and the footman approached.
"Luncheon, Michael!" she said, and the Professor watched with pleasure the speed with which the Princess was obeyed. Soon they were eating a delicious and much needed meal. The Princess herself was so strengthened by the tonic of hope and joy that she was able to enjoy the delicate food. She could not hear enough about Rika and at every sound declared that the men must be returning, although Modjeska reminded her over and over that they were unlikely to return before dark.
The afternoon wore on, Professor Morris and Evelyn glad to rest after the recent shocks, and Jack playing games with Modjeska, while the Princess walked restlessly about the vast chamber, constantly looking at her watch. Finally she said joyfully:
"It must be growing dark now. The men will soon return, and we will send them to your house where the boys and your little daughter will be waiting with my baby Rika. Oh, how can I ever be thankful enough to you for your goodness to her?"
Professor Morris smiled. "Considering the fact that Miss Modjeska has saved all our lives," he said, "I think that you need feel under no obligations to us. We were delighted to entertain the little Rika. I am positive that my son will have them in safety somewhere, so you really need not worry. I do not."
Evelyn suppressed a smile. She was quite sure her father did not worry. He was always ready to let someone else do the worrying for him.
Suddenly a silver knob fastened to the wall dropped from its place and swung back and forth on a thin chain.
"They have come!" cried the Princess. She rushed across the room, and as the footman drew aside one of the heavy hangings, she pressed with all her might on a rough spot in the granite wall. As in the case of the flooring, the wall itself parted and slowly swung open. In the dark opening stood not one of the well-known house servants, but a slight figure covered with dirt and grime. He was tattered and barefooted. Under the dirt his pallid face looked deathly, but fire blazed in the dark eyes, the fire of love.
"Mother!" he cried. "Don't you know me?"
The Princess gave a cry, and clasped her son in a passionate embrace.
"Ignace!" she cried; and "Ignace!" over and over, while she patted him and felt of him as though to assure herself that it was not a dream.
"Where is your father, Ignace?" she whispered finally, as a dreadful thought pierced her.
"I come from him," said the young man wearily. "He is wounded, mother, and needs you, but be brave, because he will live. Let me sit while I tell you."
He sank wearily into a chair, still clinging to the hand of the Princess. He paid no attention to the strangers, but closed his eyes.
"I thought I would never see you again, dear ones," he said huskily. "I simply can't tell you now what we have been through. All I can say is that in the final encounter, as the enemy passed Lodz, my dear father was desperately wounded. I missed him, and searched for him. When I found him he was unconscious. Mother, I thought he was dead. But he lived, and under cover of darkness we carried him to the house of our Aunt Francoise. She has turned it into a hospital, mother, and all the forty rooms are filled with soldiers. Well, father had good care then, for all the rush Aunt Francoise had him taken to the hidden chapel in the east wall, and it is quiet and safe. But you must come and care for him, mother, for there are not enough nurses by half, and the men suffer so."
"Where was he injured, Ignaee?" asked the Princess, shuddering. The boy hesitated.
"Mother dear, it is pretty bad, but I have see it so much worse. He has lost his left arm."
The Princess covered her eyes. "Oh, my dear, my dear!" she murmured. "How can I bear this for you?"
"It might be far worse," said Ignace cheerily. "We must start back to him tonight. Did you save any of the motor cars?" He turned to Michael.
"Two, your Excellency," said the man. "They are hidden in a haystack down past the woods at the end of the estate. The large touring car, and your racer."
"Good!" said Ignace; then suddenly, "Where is my little Rika?"
At once the Princess and Modjeska commenced the story of her loss, and all the other events leading up to the appearance of the Morrises and the strange coincidence of their having found the little girl.
Ignace listened breathlessly.
Once more the silver knob fell. Someone else was coming.
The footman opened the stone portal, and three men entered. They bowed profoundly to the Princess and greeted Ignace with deepest respect.
They had of course no news of Rika but the Princess was able to impart the good news to them and to tell them that, after they had eaten, they could go to the Morris house and fetch the two girls, Ivan and Warren back.
"I am not sure that we can do so tonight, Excellency," one said. "There is great confusion in the house. A triple guard surrounds it. So far the guards are no nearer than our doorway, but if they spread their lines we will not be able to get back. I heard a soldier say that two important prisoners had slipped out from under the very eyes of the officers and could not be found. They are in hiding somewhere, and every effort is being made to find them. They know they have not left the building."
He glanced suspiciously at the strangers.
"Yes, they are here," said the Princess. In a few words she explained. The man bowed low.
"By your leave, Excellency, I will take the others and go — at once," he said. "One may eat some other time perhaps. We are in danger even here, and I will not feel safe until we are on our way."
"Go then by all means," said Ignace. "He is quite right, mother, and the sooner we are out of this, the better."
"Go, and in the meantime we will prepare for the journey."
The men saluted and left silently, and the Princess with the woman-servant and the two girls, collected dark cloaks and warm rugs. A bountiful lunch was prepared and packed.
Professor Morris, holding his manuscript, sat searching through one pocket after another with a mournful persistence. Finally Evelyn noted him and asked what was the matter.
"I have lost my reading glasses," he said.
"Can't we find them for you?" asked Modjeska politely. She started to look on the rugs.
"They are not here," said the Professor. "I heard the ease fall out of my pocket when we were coming through the passage."
"Then we will get them," said Modjeska. "It will only take a minute. Would you like to come with me, Evelyn?"
"Yes, I would!" said Evelyn, who was nervous and wanted to do something.
"Hurry!" said the Princess. "I know it is absolutely safe, but I can't bear one of you out of my sight for a moment."
The passage was very cold and damp, and the girls each put on a heavy, dark cloak. They threaded their way through the rooms that lay between the living- room and the passage, and went up the narrow hallway with the flashlight illuminating the stone floor. The case was found at last and they were turning to go back, when the sound of an explosion reached their ears and a dim light appeared at the end of the corridor. For a moment the girls stood motionless; then they turned, and ran swiftly down the twisted way to the sliding stone, and found themselves once more in the room they had left, but it was in darkness.
The electric lights were out and the little flashlights made but a dim illumination in the room.
The men had returned, and all stood staring as the two girls raced into the room and told their story.
"I think they are dynamiting the dining-room to find the prisoners. We must leave now," cried Ignace. "No one knows how they may guard the grounds. They are bound to find their victims."
"'Where is Rika?" cried Modjeska.
"They could find no trace of any of them," said the Princess. "We can only hope that the boys have taken the little girls either to the American Consul's or away from Warsaw. We will have to trust to them and believe that they are all together, until we can get in touch with them. In the meantime there is but one course open. We must go to the Prince at Lodz."
"And at once, mother! I have a feeling that we are not safe even here. Have you your jewels?"
"I have them all," said the Princess. "All that I had placed on Rika, and which Miss Evelyn has returned, and the court jewels as well.
"Then let us go," said Ignace. "I'll lead the way, Jan. When we reach the waterfall, go ahead and see if all is safe."
In perfect silence they left the room, slipping along a narrow, low passageway that at first seemed walled with stone, then gave forth a moldy, earthy odor.
Presently they heard the sound of gently falling water, and found themselves under a narrow waterfall. Again a clever spring was touched by some hand in the darkness, and one by one they emerged so close to the edge of the falling water that the spray wet them.
They were in the open air once more.
Ignace clasped Evelyn by the hand, and she could feel the nervous strain in his grasp. Noiseless as shadows, they slid from tree to tree through the great park, and down the grove of interlacing trees. It was a long walk. As Evelyn was wondering if she could possibly go much further, a dark, round shape appeared in the opening ahead.
It was the haystack.
Walking along in the pleasant, fresh air, Warren and Ivan soon gained control of their cramped muscles. It was good to be free. They were faint from lack of food, however, and at the suggestion of one of the Boy Scouts, retraced their steps to the deserted bakery and once more raided the ovens. Then, rested and refreshed, they picked their way into the residential section where they knew the officers of the invading forces had settled themselves.
Repeated questions finally led them to the building where Professor Morris and his son and daughter had been taken as spies. As they approached it, they noticed a triple guard at the gate and a large number of soldiers close around the palace. The boys hesitated.
"Let's see what this all means," said Ivan. "There is some special reason for all these soldiers on guard. Perhaps we can get one of them to talk."
"They are not allowed to, you know," said Warren.
"We will try this," said Ivan. He took a large cake from his pocket and approached the nearest soldier. He was a young fellow with a wistful, hungry face, and as Ivan approached, his keen eyes fastened themselves on the bread.
"Eat?" said Ivan.
"Yes," said the soldier, seizing the cake and biting off a great corner of it. "Bless you, brother, I was starving!"
"There is more where that came from," said Ivan. "If you are hungry, why don't you go eat your supper."
"Eat?" said the soldier bitterly. "Who knows how many hours we have been on guard here? I guarded a door in there all day, and now they have sent me here. The Captain is so enraged that he thinks nothing of us, nothing!"
Ivan leaned carelessly against the wall and shrugged his shoulders.
"What happened?" he asked, idly.
The soldier laughed. "It is funny," he said. "You are nothing but a boy, so it will not hurt to talk to you, and I have been silent so long that my tongue's stiff. Besides, this is good cake. Well, know then, little brother, that some people were brought here last night with suspicious papers on them. An old man, a boy and a beautiful girl. The old man would not explain the mysterious words in his little book, and they threatened him with death. He did not believe it. Did I tell you he was an American? He was. These Americans never fear. They say simply, "Kill me? That is impossible. Postpone it, if you please, while I write to the Consul!" Always it is so. Well, that old man, he could not be made to realize that Captain Handel is absolute ruler now, right here. They were brought to the state dining-room this morning, and the Captain told them straight what he intended to do. It was death for the old man and the boy, and he would spare the girl." The soldier laughed. "I and one other were guarding the door, so we heard. Presently the two Captains came out. As they left the room Captain Handel called back, 'Half an hour. Just half an hour, understand!'
"Then he closed the door sharply. The two Captains went to a little table not far from the door, and sat down. They were not for one second out of sight of the door.
"We two stood directly facing it about three feet away in the hall.
"The half hour passed., Captain Handel looked every minute at his watch, and Captain Schmitt kept saying, 'Wait, wait; be fair.'
"At last the time was up. They went to the door. Captain Schmitt straightened his saber belt, and threw the door wide.
"He looked, then he dashed in, almost upsetting Captain Handel. The room was empty. We could see. He called us, and together we searched in and on and under everything in the great room. We rapped on the wall. We examined the iron bars, but the windows had not even been opened.
"Captain Handel went into a fearful rage. The prisoners had disappeared as though they had never been. Even the book was gone from the table, and the package of papers the old man had guarded.
"We went over every foot of the place again and again. There was not an inch that sounded hollow, as though there was a secret passage. We even tore out a panel of the woodwork, and found a stone wall behind it."
The soldier finished his cake, and drew a grimy hand across his lip.
"That was good, brother," he said.
"What happened then?" asked Ivan, while Warren pressed closer.
"Why, we hunted all day," said the soldier, "but of course we couldn't find them. Why should we?"
"Why not?" asked Ivan.
"Why not?" repeated the soldier. "Why, those were not human beings at all. The old man was too silly for a real man, the girl was too beautiful. Human beings do not disappear from a guarded room with four stone walls about it."
The man lowered his voice, and spoke in a whisper. "They were devils, of course," he said.
The boys were silent.
"Of course," said the soldier, "Captain Handel would not believe anything so simple. He would not believe they were gone, so tonight he fixed them. It is all over now, and I wish I could go get some supper."
"What did he do?" asked Ivan, trying to keep the anxiety out of his voice.
"He dynamited the room," said the soldier calmly. "That part of the palace is in ruins. The stones fell like rain. No human being could have lived in it.
But they did not find the bodies. However, they may be buried under the wreckage. I don't believe it, though." He sighed. "That was good cake," he said.
"Here's another," said Warren. He clutched Ivan and sunk into the shadow. He was shaking.
"It is all over, Ivan," he whispered. "They have killed them."
Ivan pondered. "I don't know," he said finally. "One thing is sure, if all those soldiers could not find them, it is certain we can't. They are either safe, Warren, or else they are where we can never help them any more. It seems to me that the only thing to do now is to go straight to Lodz and find Elinor."
"Yes, that is the only thing to do," said Warren. "If I let myself think about Evelyn, I will go mad. We will go to Lodz."
"How?" asked Ivan.
"We will have to walk," replied Warren.
"Well, I hope we can get a lift someway or other," said Ivan. "At any rate, we must get out of this. I know every step of this part of the city. This place belongs to Prince Nicholani. I used to play all the time in this park."
He led the way rapidly through the beautiful grounds and entered a grove of noble trees. They went on and on through the shadows, until they reached the open fields. Beside the highway a great pile of hay lay scattered.
"We might sleep here for the rest of the night," Ivan suggested.
"Not if you can go on," said Warren. "I think we had better get as far from the city as possible."
"Very well," said Ivan, "but let us rest for half an hour."
They flung themselves on the hay, and in a moment Ivan was asleep. Warren could not rest, however, and sat staring moodily into the night. In half an hour he roused his friend, and they started onward. They proceeded in silence, each busily thinking. Warren trying to bear up and take his blows manfully, and Ivan at a loss to know what to say to the brave boy who had lost all he held dear in so terrible a manner.
The road was level, and they went rapidly. As they rounded a sharp turn, they saw an automobile ahead of them. It was a low racing car and stood at the side of the road. There was some trouble on, for a couple of men were bending over a wheel.
"They have had a puncture," exclaimed Warren, "and they are headed toward Lodz. Let's see if they will give us a lift."
He boldly approached the men, who started, then looked relieved to see that it was a couple of boys.
"What's the trouble?" said Warren in Polish. The main straightened, and threw his hands up in a gesture of despair. "All the trouble in the world!" he exclaimed. "The tire is punctured, and I cannot mend it. I am not a chauffeur, but I can drive this ear a little, and my master told me to bring it to him. I don't know what to do. Of course, as soon as it comes light the soldiers will seize it."
"I can fix the tire," said Warren. "I know all about it, but we are going to Lodz and we ought not to wait. It is a long way."
"Good!" said the man. "We are going to Lodz, too. There are only two seats, but we will carry you somehow. Only be quick and mend the fire. Our lives may depend on it."
Warren turned the light on the wheel and went to work. He had always prided himself on his swiftness in working out tire troubles, and when he saw the bad tear in the tube, he took it off and replaced it with one of the new tires strapped to the rear of the machine. He worked in desperate haste, and Ivan, at his side, worked with equal desperation. I
The men watched or restlessly walked up and down the road talking in undertones to each other. It was evident that their knowledge of cars was but slight, and they were forced to trust to the young stranger if they were to proceed at all on their perilous journey.
When the tire was in place and pumped up, Warren hastily collected the tools and started to replace them in the tool box but Ivan stopped him with a word. He spoke sharply to the men.
"Take these things," he said. "We are ready!"
The man who had spoken first took the wheel, and his companion the other seat. Ivan sat on his knee, with Warren on the running board.
It was soon evident that there was something wrong. The car went plowing along on low speed, the engine bucking and starting.
"Good heavens, Ivan!" exclaimed Warren, after a few miles of this jerky progress. "What ails the thing? Do you suppose the dub knows how to drive?"
Ivan turned to the man at the wheel.
"What's the matter?" he asked. "Do you know how to drive? What ails the car?"
"I don't know," said the man. "In truth I have never driven but twice, but I thought I could and when the Princess told me to bring this car after her I was sure I could. She is ahead with her son and Princess Modjeska and some guests. I fear I will not be able to reach Lodz." He pressed a lever at random, and the ear shot forward with a speed that nearly threw Warren from the step. Another frantic attempt and she slowed down with a suddenness that almost put the others through the wind shield.
"Here, stop!" commanded Warren. "Get out of that seat and let me drive! Ivan, tell him I simply eat cars!"
The machine stopped, and the Man thankfully resigned his seat to Warren, who drew up the heavy motor gloves, and settled himself in his seat. The car, a beautiful French model, was familiar to Warren, and he pressed the starter with perfect confidence. And he was justified. Like a swallow, the beautiful machine skimmed the smooth and level road, leaving Warsaw with all its tragedy and far behind.
Warren had scarcely slept for two nights. He had had but little food, and his bandaged head felt light and strange. As they went on and on, Warren commenced to wonder if he could possibly make the distant city. At intervals strange colored lights flashed before his eyes, and faint, booming noises sounded in his ears.
They had not encountered a soul. It was as though the whole country, after its terrible conflict, lay dead. Finally a faint streak of gray appeared in the east. Dawn was coming.
"How far to Lodz?" he called. "Just over the hill?"
"Just over yonder hill," said the man at his side.
Warren slowed down, and dropped one tired hand from the wheel.
"Where are you going when you get to the city?" he inquired.
"If we get through," the man replied, "I am to go to the palace where lives a sister of our Princess. She has turned it into a hospital. By a strange chance, our Prince was taken there when he was wounded. The Princess must, be there now.'
"Very well," said Warren. "Direct me when we reach the city."
It grew brighter, and was quite light when they entered the quiet streets. Fortunately they were not stopped, and with the guidance of the man beside him Warren drew safely up before the wide stone steps of the palace.
The car stopped. Warren shut off the engine, and the others jumped out, glad to stretch themselves. Warren alone made no effort to move. The others after stamping their cramped legs, turned to look at him.
His hand was still on the wheel, but he was unconscious.
They carried him into the great hall, and a nurse in uniform directed them to an empty cot and hurried after a doctor. He pronounced it simply a case of exhaustion, and gave orders which the nurse rapidly filled, motioning the others to leave as she did so.
The servants turned to Ivan and thanked him for his assistance. For a moment Ivan thought that it would be a good plan to go to the Princess, and tell her that he was in Lodz. Then he decided that the presence of a boy in the city, although he was the son of her very good friend, would only cause her to feel responsible for his welfare or safety; so he merely nodded, turned his back to tell the nurse that he would return shortly, and then he walked listlessly down into the heart of the town.
Hucksters were driving into the open market. Doors were opening here and there. A company of soldiers passed at double quick. Ivan wondered where they were going. He wondered, too, what possible chance he had to get something to Pat.
There were no Scouts in Lodz besides his tired self and the exhausted boy back in the hospital cot. Ivan thought of Warren with a gratitude that he could not have put in words. Warren had taught him so many things. With Boy Scout principles and Boy Scout training, he had changed from a haughty, helpless young aristocrat to a helpful, well-balanced boy, perfectly capable of taking care of himself and of assisting others as well. Ivan felt the change; he was so reliant, so strong. A few months ago, he would have stood helpless in his present situation, conscious only that he was Prince Ivan Ivanovich and must be looked after. Now, as he faced the morning light, hungry, ragged, and with only the American nickel in his pocket, he smiled at fate and went on without fear to enter whatever adventure might come.
The only thing that worried him was the want of enough money to buy himself a bit of bread and a dried fish. He reflected that he could easily have asked the Princess for enough to supply his wants, but he would not turn back.
Ahead of him, an old man with a heavily laden cart was having trouble with a skittish horse. In vain he pulled on the lines. In vain he threatened and coaxed. The young creature would not stand, and while the old man worried with it, vegetables and long sticks of black bread were slyly stolen out of the end of his cart. Ivan approached.
"Let me hold the horse, father," he said, taking it by the bridle as he spoke.
The old man threw his hands up in a gesture of thankfulness.
"Blessings on you, my son!" he cried. "These thieves will ruin me while I speak with that foolish animal. Hold fast, my son, and I will give you your breakfast."
Ivan nodded, and the old man turned eagerly to his customers.
Presently he reached over, and handed Ivan a generous pie6e of bread and some fresh fruit. Ivan watched the throngs as he ate, holding the horse with his left hand, although it was now perfectly quiet.
As he idly watched the persons passing, he noted that with the passing time, the market had become crowded. People moved in throngs.
And then, as the crowd before him happened to part, Ivan noticed in the distance a woman hurrying away. She had a big basket on her arm, filled with provisions. A little girl clung to her other hand. She was ragged, dirty and pale; but Ivan recognized Elinor.
Dropping the horse's rein, he dashed toward them, but the crowd had closed, and he was too late. The earth seemed to have swallowed them. Like a hound on a trail, he searched the market over and over, but not a trace could he find of the woman or child. In his surprise at seeing, Elinor, he had failed to take particular notice of the woman. But as he thought of it, he felt that, it was not the one he had seen in Warsaw and be remembered that that woman bad spoken of her sister in Lodz.
Feeling that there was nothing to be gained by remaining longer in the market, Ivan hurried back to the hospital, where he found Warren much better, and fretting because he was not allowed to get up.
"Well, I've seen Elinor!" said Ivan, as soon as he entered the ward.
Warren sat up, his eyes bulging under, his bandage.
"Have you, honest?" he cried. "Where is she?"
"Well, I lost her in the crowd," said Ivan, and told the whole story.
Warren lay listening carefully.
"Well, as long as we know she is here in the same town, we know we will find her. And there won't be any slip the next time." His face clouded. "But, Ivan," he said huskily, "I can't bear to think of my dear Evelyn, and poor father, and little Jack." He closed his lips and shut his eyes in a desperate effort to control his grief.
Warren's cot was drawn across a closed door. And on the other side of that door sat Evelyn, crying her heart out for her lost brother and sister!
When poor little Elinor found herself dragged forcibly from her brother and away from the comparative safety of the underground room where Warren and Ivan had so mysteriously appeared, as she thought, to get her and take her home, her childish heart was filled with a terror so overwhelming that she did not know what she did. Notwithstanding the efforts of the woman who held her, she screamed as hard as she could and stiffened in the woman's brutal grasp until she was obliged to put her down. Elinor tried to run, but she was too tightly held. Then with a muttered rush of comments, the woman rained blows on the poor little shoulders and body until the child sank to the ground, nearly stunned from the force of the blows. Her cries died, and she lay gasping.
"Now will you be silent?" demanded the fury, shaking her. "You just try that again! Just try it, and see what I will do to you." She overwhelmed the fallen child with terrible threats until Elinor was silenced and shook as though in a chill.
"Now you had better do as I tell you," the woman said. "You will never see your brother again, never; never! And you will have to live with me, and do as I say." She jerked the child to her feet and dragged her down the street after the two men who had gone on, one of them carrying Rika.
She was still muttering when she reached them.
"This one has got to be trained," she said savagely; "and I might as well begin it right off."
Michael shrugged his shoulders. "Why don't you show a little, mercy at the first?" he inquired carelessly. "It doesn't matter to me, but I tell you, Martha, you will spoil her for everything if you handle her too roughly. She will die. I've seen her sort before."
"Then let her die!" said the woman. "Good riddance it will be if she does not take kindly to my tasks."
"Suit yourself," said Michael; "but take my advice and give her a little time."
"Time!" said Martha. "Time! What are you thinking of? There is no time! She has lost two years, as it is. You don't seem to remember, Michael, that I am as good a pickpocket as there is in Europe. That child is almost too old to begin to learn the art. The other one, Rika, is just about right; and she has such fine, delicate, little fingers. Well, this one has good hands too. But you know well that they are clumsy after they reach five. Do you remember the yellow-haired child I trained about ten years ago? Ali, she was a wonder! But you never could keep her down. How I used to beat her! She would be black welts from her shoulders to her knees. No, you could not keep her down. She was so ambitious. If she had only kept out of politics, she might have been stealing yet. But now she is in Siberia, in the mines. Bah! A home life for me, I say! What care I who is in power, so long as pretty ladies carry shopping bags and wear sparkling bracelets and flashing brooches! I say a woman wants to keep to her own place. Isn't it so, my Michael?"
"Yes, indeed, " said Michael heartily. "I read the other day —"
"Read!" said Martha scornfully. "That's another mistake. Why should a man like you read? Sooner or later it will get you in trouble. You never know what the reading may contain. Better not know. What you don't know won't hurt you."
"You are wrong," said Michael stubbornly. "Sometimes what you don't know does hurt you. If I could live again, I would be a better man. When I was a boy there was no learning to be had, except for the upper class and the priests. Now when I am old and it is too late, you can learn everything. I have loitered around the schools and listened to the boys talking their lessons over. It is amazing what they know. Why, they know everything! And there are schools where they are set to work at all sorts of trades. I took a job cleaning floors once so that I might go in and see what it was they did. Martha, those boys (they were quite little ones, too) made such beautiful things — furniture and all that. There was one little chair that you could set on your hand. It was as perfect as though it was big enough for you. I thought that I would steal it. Then I thought how sad the little fellow who made it would feel. The janitor told me there were prizes for the best workmen, and I knew that chair was best. So I didn't take it. I never wanted anything more, in my life!"
"Silly," said Martha. "Always bothering your old head about someone's feelings! I do wish you would stop it! As for these children, I tell you, Michael, it is a matter of business. We are no longer young. We must prepare for the time when we can no longer stand on corners and in church doors and beg. My fingers even now are growing clumsy. Who will take care of us then if we do not train these children?"
"I suppose so," said Michael wistfully, "But it does seem a pity. You should have seen that chair."
"I've heard about it enough at any rate," said Martha. "You should have taken it. You could have sold it for a few kopeks.
"I couldn't," said Michael.
"All right," said Martha. "This is another matter; these children. You heard what I said. Now here is what I plan. We will go to Lodz and there we will stay for the next year or two. This war cannot last forever, and when it is well past, why, then we will strike out in the world. I know little girls. These will both be beauties when they are a few years older." She laughed as she dragged Elinor along. "I tell you I did well when I picked up these pearls."
"No doubt; no doubt!" Michael answered. He could not but look with pity on the two children however. He was a man whose whole life had been evil, but somewhere in him was a spark of kindness and tenderness. He fought, he drank, he stole, he lied; but the sight of the two poor little girls dragging miserably along with the remorseless woman somehow touched his heart. He knew that he would often beat them, and he would also give them their first lessons in picking pockets; but he knew, too, that there would be times when he would shield them from the cold, relentless fury of the woman.
So it was with a feeling of pity for the weary little feet that he asked, "Where do we go tonight? I am tired."
"Tired?" scorned Martha. "You are ever tired! However, we will eat some supper, and then on to Lodz."
"Walk?" asked the other man, who had not spoken before.
"No," said Martha. "I have a pocketful of money. No, you don't," she added as the man came close to her. "Here's a handy knife if you try that. Something tells me to get out of here as soon as we can and it will take too long to walk with these burdens. Besides, they would never stand it. You may be sure I would not spend this money on the railroad if I could help myself.
She turned into a doorway. The house was deserted.
"Here," she said, "I will stay here with these two, while you get something for me to drink. Also go to the railroad and see if the trains are running. And hurry!"
She found a chair for herself, pushed the two children in the corner farthest from the door, and settled herself to wait, while the two men walked leisurely out of the house and away.
An hour later Michael hurried back. Martha greeted him sourly.
"Don't pretend to hurry, lazy one," she scolded. "I know where thou hast been. Did you bring what I asked?"
"I bring news," said Michael, glancing at the two children.
"Bah! That is dry drinking," said Martha, making a face. "Well, have it over!"
"There is a search on for the little one," said Michael. "I know who she is.
If they find her with us —" He drew his hand across his neck with the whistling sound of a knife.
"Who is she then?" asked Martha in astonishment.
Michael stooped and whispered in her ear.
"Ai! Ai!" exclaimed Martha. "No wonder her hands are delicate and small! Well, we have got to go on with it now. And quickly, too. How will we get out of here? Shall we trust the cars? Do they run? Answer, Michael, what did you find out?"
"A lot of things," said Michael. "First place, the station is watched, so I bought two tickets for Lodz. We men will go down there tomorrow."
"And leave me here!" asked Martha furiously.
"No, no, no!" said Michael. "Will you wait until I finish? When I came from the railroad, I passed a great empty motor truck. Some soldiers are getting it ready to go to Lodz tonight. They are going for more munitions. It belongs to the enemy, but thanks to my German mother, I am German at will; so I spoke to them. I told them about my wife and two little children who were going to walk to Lodz. It was great luck. They said you could go with them.
"Think of that!" said Martha. "Not to walk a step, and to ride down that beautiful road in a truck. What a wonder! I never expected to get into one of those great horseless things. Well, what did you say then, stupid?"
"You are to go down now, and they will start soon. But they do not want the officers to know they are taking you. It is only because of my German and my nice way," he laughed. "Well, get up, and we will go over."
"I am almost afraid," said Martha.
"There is no way as good as this," the man assured her. "You will be safe. You will rest quite well under the canvases in the truck. And the road is indeed smooth."
He lifted Rika and led the way. It was growing late, and they hurried to the place near headquarters where the great track stood. Michael did not wait for anyone to come. He jumped in, and made a sort of nest in the canvas covers that were lying in the bottom. In this he seated Martha and the children, warning the woman to hold fast to the girls. Then he covered them cleverly with the lightest of the covers, saw that no one would guess that the truck was occupied, and proceeded to sit on the nearby curb and smoke. He was afraid that someone would throw something heavy in the truck, and bring a scream, from one of the children.
Presently the two soldiers who were to drive came out. They had had a good meal and were smoking contentedly. Michael went up to them. He opened his hand and showed three coins.
"Here is all my wealth. I will share it with for your kindness to my wife and dear little ones," he said in a trembling voice.
The men shook their heads, but he insisted, and they took the offered coins, protesting that they would take their passengers safely to Lodz.
"Ah! What goodness!" said Michael with deep feeling. "If I could ever repay you!"
"That's all right," said one of the soldiers. "Just be silent about the load we are carrying. Tell no one. Our Captain is in the deuce of a temper. He would punish anything today." He drew on his gloves and mounted to his seat. The other soldier swung up beside him.
"It's a pity we can't take you too," said he; "but it wouldn't be safe. Good- bye."
"Good-bye," said Michael in a trembling voice. "Good-bye, wife! Good-bye, my sweet children!"
Martha pinched Elinor roughly. "Say goodbye!" she hissed, and a frightened little voice called, something that was almost lost in the sound of the engine as the car started. Martha stifled a shriek. This was a terrifying experience. As the car rolled onward, the two children, both accustomed to riding in motor cars, and too tired to mind the unyielding springs and hard tires of the truck, were lulled to sleep; but Martha sat wide-eyed, not daring to make the least outcry, and afraid to follow her heart's wish and jump to the ground. The night was filled with terrors, and when at dawn the car stopped, and a soldier brought her a can of coffee she was too stiff and frightened to speak.
When at last they reached Lodz, the two men were obliged to lift her to the ground. They set them down on the outskirts of the city and Martha hurried, as well as she could with her tired muscles, and the children dragging at her side, to the hovel where her sister lived.
There was a long talk then, and many explanations, and Martha rested and slept as though she never would rise again. When she did finally get up, she had lost all count of the time, but Michael was there, and the children were trying to get a handkerchief from the pocket of a coat suspended from the ceiling by a cord.
"Get it so carefully that you will not stir the coat, and you will have a piece of candy." The children tried again and again.
Martha groaned and disturbed them.
"Well, at last I am rested," she said. "Michael, thou fool, when next you get me such a place —" She groaned again.
"Better that than not at all, eh, Martha?" laughed the man.
"We might have walked it," she declared.
"Yes. In how many days, he demanded, "'with those children at heel?"
"Of course," she said, "but it was frightful." She shook her head. "We rocked and tossed like a ship at sea. And those children slept. Slept all the way. I could have beaten them!"
She turned to her sister. "You say you have no money? We will have to go and get some then." She turned to the children and studied them critically. "Those clothes won't do," she said. "Where is there a place where I can get them something else to wear?"
"Two houses down," said her sister. "I will go with you."
The women were not gone long, and came back with a bundle of children's clothing. Michael was still patiently teaching them the handkerchief trick, Rika's little face was puckered, and she was ready to cry although Michael had given her several pieces of candy. It did not take long to take off the clothes the children had been wearing, and dress them instead more in accordance with the parts they were to play.
Then Martha took a stick and stood before Elinor.
"Look at me!" she commanded, and when the child's frightened eyes sought her face she said, "You are to beg for your supper, do you hear? As soon as you see a kind looking lady or gentleman, you are to put out your hand, and say, 'Please, we are starving,' like that. Say it!"
Elinor was silent.
"Say it!" she repeated. But Elinor was still.
"Do you want to be beaten?" Martha asked in a terrible voice. "Do you?"
Elinor found her voice. "No," she said in Polish. "No, please do not beat me, but I cannot beg. My brother will come soon and get me. I do not want any supper. I will wait for him."
Martha sat down, the stick still in her hand, and thrust her ugly face close to the child's.
"Hear me!" she growled. "Your brother will never come for you. He is dead. Dead, I tell you! You will never see him again. You are going to live here with me, and you are going to do just what I tell you or I shall beat you so you will never forget it. Now do you understand?"
Elinor looked her steadily in the eyes.
"Yes," she said.
"Then say what I told you," said Martha, getting to her feet.
Elinor looked at her, then reading the threat in her eyes, she said, "Please, we are starving." It seemed more than her independent spirit could bear even with the fear of the stick on her heart. She added, "Some day I shall ran away."
"That settles it!" cried Martha. "We will settle this now!"
She threw the helpless child on the ground and began beating her with the stick. For a long while Elinor endured it, then unable to keep silent under the pain, she burst into screams and sobs. The woman continued her blows until Elinor's voice held a thin note of agony, and she lifted her and flung the quivering little body on a pile of rags, and sat herself down by the table.
"That ought to break her spirit," she said.
She waited until the sobs and cries subsided, and then called the child. The terrified little girl slipped from the bed and ran to her tormentor. Martha looked at her critically.
"That did you good," she said. "Now we will get out of here, and go to work."
"Have you any money at all?" asked her sister, turning to Michael.
"A little," he grudgingly admitted.
"Well, let us have enough to go to the market while it is open. I go late each morning, and buy the spoiled vegetables that are left over."
"A good plan," said Martha.
When they had finished with the market, the women walked slowly down through the city, begging wherever they could. They were able to recognize foreigners wherever they met them, although they were not many. Always, however, they gave, and gave generously. The store of coins in Martha's sack grew and grew.
"We will have to exchange this stuff for a few larger coins somewhere," she said. "I think we can do so safely at the railroad station. Let us go there."
The day had been a time of torture for the two children. Elinor was so tired that she thought that she would fall at each step, but the relentless hand held her up and pulled her on.
Rika, in the other woman's arms, had fallen asleep several times.
They did not mind that; her tear-stained little face with its long, curling lashes looked very pitiful, and as long as she slept they told a sad story, about her being lame. But Elinor had to walk; and she was sure that when she fell from exhaustion, Martha would probably kill her.
There was a great crowd at the station, and dozens of other beggars; but Martha noted with satisfaction that none had such beautiful children to beg for. There were many more coins in the sack before long, and just as Elinor's knees bent, under her, and she thought that now at last she would fall, the women set the children on a big box, and with the most horrible threats if they, stirred or spoke to anyone, walked off to the ticket office to change the small coins into something safer to handle.
THE RED CROSS CAR
When Warren was dismissed from the hospital, he found himself being stared at by Ivan in a very perplexing manner. Finally he demanded the reason. Ivan laughed.
"You look so clean," he said. "Your face does not go with the rest of you, those ragged clothes and all that. Besides, I have not seen what your natural face looked like for a few days. I had forgotten just what you did look like."
"Just the same, it did seem good to clean up little," he said. "However, just to oblige you I'll put on a few frills." He stooped and rubbed his hands in some plaster dust, and transferred it to his face. Ivan studied the change.
"That's better," he said. "As long as we have to wear these clothes, I think we had better look the part. There is one thing certain though. We are dressed exactly as we were in Warsaw, when we were visiting our friends, the thieves. I wish we could get some other clothes."
"I hadn't thought of that," said Warren. "I wish we could change, but how can we?"
"I don't know," said Ivan. "Certainly we can't risk having those people see us. We will have to be cautious."
"Where shall we go, I wonder?" mused Warren.
"I don't suppose it matters now," said Ivan. "It is so late in the afternoon. Tomorrow morning we will have to watch the market. They will be sure to come for more provisions."
"True enough," said Warren. "Let's go down to the central station and see if the trains are running again."
The boys sauntered down through the streets without being molested by the sharp- eyed soldiers who patrolled the way. They found the station a busy place. The trains were once more running, on broken schedules of course, but everything was so nearly adjusted to the usual order that there was transportation for the hundreds who were eagerly seeking passage. There were a great many foreigners carefully clutching their transports and hurrying out of the country. At the back of the station stood an automobile, a low, racing roadster.
"We had a ride in her last night," said Warren, as he approached and recognized the machine. "And it was some ride, wasn't it, Ivan?"
"It certainly was," said Ivan, smiling. "What's the red cross flag on it I wonder?"
"The Princess has given it over to the hospital, I suppose," said Warren. "No one will stop it now. Wonder who drives it? I'm sorry for anyone who rides with the crazy guy who tried to run it last night. "
"Here is the chauffeur now," said Ivan, stepping back as a dark, burly man approached the machine and took a package from the tool-box.
"He is a new one," said Warren.
They wandered around the corner of the building and mingled with the throngs waiting for the train. It came puffing in, and as the crowd pressed forward, Warren heard a familiar, coarse, whining voice behind him. He looked; and as he did so, he was conscious of Ivan who, with the quickness of a bird, slipped between two people, and was out of sight. Instantly Warren followed him. They met behind a truck loaded with boxes.