The Invasion of England
THE INVASION OF ENGLAND
THIS is the true, inside story of the invasion of England in 1911, by the Germans, and why it failed. I got my data from Baron von Gottlieb, at the time military attaché of the German Government with the Russian army in the second Russian-Japanese War, when Russia drove Japan out of Manchuria, and reduced her to a third-rate power. He told me of his part in the invasion as we sat, after the bombardment of Tokio, on the ramparts of the Emperor's palace, watching the walls of the paper houses below us glowing and smoking like the ashes of a prairie fire.
Two years before, at the time of the invasion, von Gottlieb had been Carl Schultz, the head-waiter at the East Cliff Hotel at Cromer, and a spy.
The other end of the story came to me through Lester Ford, the London correspondent of the New York Republic. They gave me permission to tell it in any fashion I pleased, and it is here set down for the first time.
In telling the story, my conscience is not in the least disturbed, for I have yet to find any one who will believe it.
What led directly to the invasion was that some week-end guest of the East Cliff Hotel left a copy of "The Riddle of the Sands" in the coffee-room, where von Gottlieb found it; and the fact that Ford attended the Shakespeare Ball. Had neither of these events taken place, the German flag might now be flying over Buckingham Palace. And, then again, it might not.
As every German knows, "The Riddle of the Sands" is a novel written by a very clever Englishman in which is disclosed a plan for the invasion of his country. According to this plan an army of infantry was to be embarked in lighters, towed by shallow-draft, sea-going tugs, and despatched simultaneously from the seven rivers that form the Frisian Isles. From there they were to be convoyed by battle-ships two hundred and forty miles through the North Sea, and thrown upon the coast of Norfolk somewhere between the Wash and Mundesley. The fact that this coast is low-lying and bordered by sand flats which at low water are dry, that England maintains no North Sea squadron, and that her nearest naval base is at Chatham, seem to point to it as the spot best adapted for such a raid.
What von Gottlieb thought was evidenced by the fact that as soon as he read the book he mailed it to the German Ambassador in London, and under separate cover sent him a letter. In this he said: "I suggest your Excellency brings this book to the notice of a certain royal personage, and of the Strategy Board. General Bolivar said, 'When you want arms, take them from the enemy.' Does not this also follow when you want ideas?"
What the Strategy Board thought of the plan is a matter of history. This was in 1910. A year later, during the coronation week, Lester Ford went to Clarkson's to rent a monk's robe in which to appear at the Shakespeare Ball, and while the assistant departed in search of the robe, Ford was left alone in a small room hung with full-length mirrors and shelves, and packed with the uniforms that Clarkson rents for Covent Garden balls and amateur theatricals. While waiting, Ford gratified a long, secretly cherished desire to behold himself as a military man, by trying on all the uniforms on the lower shelves; and as a result, when the assistant returned, instead of finding a young American in English clothes and a high hat, he was confronted by a German officer in a spiked helmet fighting a duel with himself in the mirror. The assistant retreated precipitately, and Ford, conscious that he appeared ridiculous, tried to turn the tables by saying, "Does a German uniform always affect a Territorial like that?"
The assistant laughed good-naturedly.
"It did give me quite a turn," he said, "It's this talk of invasion, I fancy. But for a fact, sir, if I was a Coast Guard, and you come along the beach dressed like that, I'd take a shot at you, just on the chance, anyway."
"And, quite right, too!" said Ford.
He was wondering when the invasion did come whether he would stick at his post in London and dutifully forward the news to his paper, or play truant and as a war correspondent watch the news in the making. So the words of Mr. Clarkson's assistant did not sink in. But a few weeks later young Major Bellew recalled them. Bellew was giving a dinner on the terrace of the Savoy Restaurant. His guests were his nephew, young Herbert, who was only five years younger than his uncle, and Herbert's friend Birrell, an Irishman, both in their third term at the University. After five years' service in India, Bellew had spent the last "Eights" week at Oxford, and was complaining bitterly that since his day the undergraduate had deteriorated. He had found him serious, given to study, far too well behaved. Instead of Jorrocks, he read Galsworthy; instead of "wines" he found pleasure in debating clubs where he discussed socialism. Ragging, practical jokes, ingenious hoaxes, that once were wont to set England in a roar, were a lost art. His undergraduate guests combated these charges fiercely. His criticisms they declared unjust and without intelligence.
"You're talking rot!" said his dutiful nephew. "Take Phil here, for example, I've roomed with him three years and I can testify that he has never opened a book. He never heard of Galsworthy until you spoke of him. And you can see for yourself his table manners are quite as bad as yours!"
"Worse!" assented Birrell loyally.
"And as for ragging! What rags, in your day, were as good as ours; as the Carrie Nation rag, for instance, when five hundred people sat through a temperance lecture and never guessed they were listening to a man from Balliol?"
"And the Abyssinian Ambassador rag!" cried Herbert. "What price that? When the Dreadnought manned the yards for him and gave him seventeen guns. That was an Oxford rag, and carried through Oxford men. The country hasn't stopped laughing yet. You give us a rag!" challenged Herbert. "Make it as hard as you like; something risky, something that will make the country sit up, something that will send us all to jail, and Phil and I will put it through whether it takes one man or a dozen. Go on," he persisted, "and I bet we can get fifty volunteers right here in town and all of them undergraduates."
"Give you the idea, yes!" mocked Bellew, trying to gain time. "That's just what I say. You boys to-day are so dull. You lack initiative. It's the idea that counts, Anybody can do the acting. That's just amateur theatricals!"
"Is it!" snorted Herbert. "If you want to know what stage fright is, just go on board a British battle-ship with your face covered with burnt cork and insist on being treated like an ambassador. You'll find it's a little different from a first night with the Simla Thespians!"
Ford had no part in the debate. He had been smoking comfortably and with well-timed nods, impartially encouraging each disputant. But now he suddenly laid his cigar upon his plate, and, after glancing quickly about him, leaned eagerly forward, They were at the corner table of the terrace, and, as it was now past nine o'clock, the other diners had departed to the theatres and they were quite alone. Below them, outside the open windows, were the trees of the embankment, and beyond, the Thames, blocked to the west by the great shadows of the Houses of Parliament, lit only by the flame in the tower that showed the Lower House was still sitting,
"I'll give you an idea for a rag," whispered Ford. "You want one that is risky, that will make the country sit up, and that ought to land you in jail? Have you read "The Riddle of the Sands?"
Bellew and Herbert nodded; Birrell made no sign.
"Don't mind him," exclaimed Herbert impatiently. "He never reads anything! Go on!"
"It's the book most talked about," explained Ford. "And what else is most talked about?" He answered his own question. "The landing of the Germans in Morocco and the chance of war. Now, I ask you, with that book in everybody's mind and the war scare in everybody's mind, what would happen if German soldiers appeared to-night on the Norfolk coast just where the book says they will appear? Not one soldier, but dozens of soldiers; not in one place, but in twenty places?"
"What would happen?" roared Major Bellew loyally. "The Boy Scouts would fall out of bed and kick them into the sea!"
"Shut up!" snapped his nephew irreverently. He shook Ford by the arm. "How?" he demanded breathlessly. "How are we to do it? It would take hundreds of men."
"Two men," corrected Ford, "and a third man to drive the car. I thought it out one day at Clarkson's when I came across a lot of German uniforms. I thought of it as a newspaper story, as a trick to find out how prepared you people are to meet invasion. And when you said just now that you wanted a chance to go to jail——"
"What's your plan?" interrupted Birrell.
"We would start just before dawn—" began Ford.
"We?" demanded Herbert, "Are you in this?"
"Am I in it?" cried Ford indignantly. "It's my own private invasion! I'm letting you boys in on the ground floor. If I don't go, there won't be any invasion!"
The two pink-cheeked youths glanced at each other inquiringly and then nodded.
"We accept your services, sir," said Birrell gravely. "What's your plan?"
In astonishment Major Bellew glanced from one to the other and then slapped the table with his open palm. His voice shook with righteous indignation.
"Of all the preposterous, outrageous— Are you mad?" he demanded. "Do you suppose for one minute I will allow——"
His nephew shrugged his shoulders and, rising, pushed back his chair.
"Oh, you go to the devil!" he exclaimed cheerfully. "Come on, Ford," he said. "We'll find some place where uncle can't hear us."
Two days later a touring car carrying three young men, in the twenty-one miles between Wells and Cromer, broke down eleven times. Each time this misfortune befell them one young man scattered tools in the road and on his knees hammered ostentatiously at the tin hood; the other two occupants of the car sauntered to the beach. There they chucked pebbles at the waves and then slowly retraced their steps. Each time the route by which they returned was different from the one by which they had set forth. Sometimes they followed the beaten path down the cliff or, as it chanced to be, across the marshes; sometimes they slid down the face of the cliff; sometimes they lost themselves behind the hedges and in the lanes of the villages. But when they again reached the car the procedure of each was alike—each produced a pencil and on the face of his "Half Inch" road map traced strange, fantastic signs.
At lunch-time they stopped at the East Cliff Hotel at Cromer and made numerous and trivial inquiries about the Cromer golf links. They had come, they volunteered, from Ely for a day of sea-bathing and golf; they were returning after dinner. The head-waiter of the East Cliff Hotel gave them the information they desired. He was an intelligent head-waiter, young, and of pleasant, not to say distinguished, bearing. In a frock coat he might easily have been mistaken for something even more important than a head-waiter—for a German riding-master, a leader of a Hungarian band, a manager of a Ritz hotel. But he was not above his station. He even assisted the porter in carrying the coats and golf bags of the gentlemen from the car to the coffee-room where, with the intuition of the homing pigeon, the three strangers had, unaided, found their way. As Carl Schultz followed, carrying the dust coats, a road map fell from the pocket of one of them to the floor. Carl Schultz picked it up, and was about to replace it, when his eyes were held by notes scrawled roughly in pencil. With an expression that no longer was that of a head-waiter, Carl cast one swift glance about him and then slipped into the empty coat-room and locked the door. Five minutes later, with a smile that played uneasily over a face grown gray with anxiety, Carl presented the map to the tallest of the three strangers. It was open so that the pencil marks were most obvious. By his accent it was evident the tallest of the three strangers was an American.
"What the devil!" he protested; "which of you boys has been playing hob with my map?"
For just an instant the two pink-cheeked ones regarded him with disfavor; until, for just an instant, his eyebrows rose and, with a glance, he signified the waiter.
"Oh, that!" exclaimed the younger one. "The Automobile Club asked us to mark down petrol stations. Those marks mean that's where you can buy petrol."
The head-waiter breathed deeply. With an assured and happy countenance, he departed and, for the two-hundredth time that day, looked from the windows of the dining-room out over the tumbling breakers to the gray stretch of sea. As though fearful that his face would expose his secret, he glanced carefully about him and then, assured he was alone, leaned eagerly forward, scanning the empty tossing waters.
In his mind's eye he beheld rolling tugboats straining against long lines of scows, against the dead weight of field-guns, against the pull of thousands of motionless silent figures, each in khaki, each in a black leather helmet, each with one hundred and fifty rounds.
In his own language Carl Schultz reproved himself.
"Patience," he muttered; "patience! By ten to-night all will be dark. There will be no stars. There will be no moon. The very heavens fight for us, and by sunrise our outposts will be twenty miles inland!"
At lunch-time Carl Schultz carefully, obsequiously waited upon the three strangers. He gave them their choice of soup, thick or clear, of gooseberry pie or Half-Pay pudding. He accepted their shillings gratefully, and when they departed for the links he bowed them on their way. And as their car turned up Jetty Street, for one instant, he again allowed his eyes to sweep the dull gray ocean. Brown-sailed fishing-boats were beating in toward Cromer. On the horizon line a Norwegian tramp was drawing a lengthening scarf of smoke. Save for these the sea was empty.
By gracious permission of the manageress Carl had obtained an afternoon off, and, changing his coat, he mounted his bicycle and set forth toward Overstrand. On his way he nodded to the local constable, to the postman on his rounds, to the driver of the char à banc. He had been a year in Cromer and was well known and well liked.
Three miles from Cromer, at the top of the highest hill in Overstrand, the chimneys of a house showed above the thick tangle of fir trees. Between the trees and the road rose a wall, high, compact, forbidding. Carl opened the gate in the wall and pushed his bicycle up a winding path hemmed in by bushes. At the sound of his feet on the gravel, the bushes flew apart, and a man sprang into the walk and confronted him. But, at sight of the head-waiter, the legs of the man became rigid, his heels clicked together, his hand went sharply to his visor.
Behind the house, surrounded on every side by trees, was a tiny lawn. In the centre of the lawn, where once had been a tennis court, there now stood a slim mast. From this mast dangled tiny wires that ran to a kitchen table. On the table, its brass work shining in the sun, was a new and perfectly good wireless outfit, and beside it, with his hand on the key, was a heavily built, heavily bearded German. In his turn, Carl drew his legs together, his heels clicked, his hand stuck to his visor.
"I have been in constant communication," said the man with the beard. "They will be here just before the dawn. Return to Cromer and openly from the post-office telegraph your cousin in London: 'Will meet you to-morrow at the Crystal Palace.' On receipt of that, in the last edition of all of this afternoon's papers, he will insert the final advertisement. Thirty thousand of our own people will read it. They will know the moment has come!"
As Carl coasted back to Cromer he flashed past many pretty gardens where, upon the lawns, men in flannels were busy at tennis or, with pretty ladies, deeply occupied in drinking tea. Carl smiled grimly. High above him on the sky-line of the cliff he saw the three strangers he had served at luncheon. They were driving before them three innocuous golf balls.
"A nation of wasters," muttered the German, "sleeping at their posts. They are fiddling while England falls!"
Mr. Shutliffe, of Stiffkey, had led his cow in from the marsh, and was about to close the cow-barn door, when three soldiers appeared suddenly around the wall of the village church. They ran directly toward him. It was nine o'clock, but the twilight still held. The uniforms the men wore were unfamiliar, but in his day Mr. Shutliffe had seen many uniforms, and to him all uniforms looked alike. The tallest soldier snapped at Mr. Shutliffe fiercely in a strange tongue.
"Du bist gefangen!" he announced. "Das Dorf ist besetzt. Wo sind unsere Leute?" he demanded.
"You'll 'ave to excuse me, sir," said Mr. Shutliffe, "but I am a trifle 'ard of 'earing."
The soldier addressed him in English.
"What is the name of this village?" he demanded.
Mr. Shutliffe having lived in the village upwards of eighty years, recalled its name with difficulty.
"Have you seen any of our people?"
With another painful effort of memory Mr. Shutliffe shook his head.
"Go indoors!" commanded the soldier, "and put out all lights, and remain indoors. We have taken this village. We are Germans. You are a prisoner! Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir, thank'ee, sir, kindly," stammered Mr. Shutliffe. "May I lock in the pigs first, sir?"
One of the soldiers coughed explosively, and ran away, and the two others trotted after him. When they looked back, Mr. Shutliffe was still standing uncertainly in the dusk, mildly concerned as to whether he should lock up the pigs or obey the German gentleman.
The three soldiers halted behind the church wall.
"That was a fine start!" mocked Herbert. "Of course, you had to pick out the Village Idiot. If they are all going to take it like that, we had better pack up and go home."
"The village inn is still open," said Ford. "We will close it."
They entered with fixed bayonets and dropped the butts of their rifles on the sanded floor. A man in gaiters choked over his ale and two fishermen removed their clay pipes and stared. The bar-maid alone arose to the occasion.
"Now, then," she exclaimed briskly, "what way is that to come tumbling into a respectable place? None of your tea-garden tricks in here young fellow, my lad, or——"
The tallest of the three intruders, in deep guttural accents, interrupted her sharply.
"We are Germans!" he declared. "This village is captured. You are prisoners of war. Those lights you will out put, and yourselves lock in. If you into the street go, we will shoot!"
He gave a command in a strange language; so strange indeed, that the soldiers with him failed to entirely grasp his meaning, and one shouldered his rifle, while the other brought his politely to a salute.
"You ass!" muttered the tall German. "Get out!"
As they charged into the street, they heard behind them a wild feminine shriek, then a crash of pottery and glass, then silence, and an instant later the Ship Inn was buried in darkness.
"That will hold Stiffkey for a while!" said Ford. "Now, back to the car."
But between them and the car loomed suddenly a tall and impressive figure. His helmet and his measured tread upon the deserted cobble-stones proclaimed his calling.
"The constable!" whispered Herbert. "He must see us, but he mustn't speak to us."
For a moment the three men showed themselves in the middle of the street, and then, as though at sight of the policeman they had taken alarm, disappeared through an opening between two houses. Five minutes later a motor car with its canvas top concealing its occupants rode slowly into Stiffkey's main street and halted before the constable. The driver of the car wore a leather skull-cap and goggles. From his neck to his heels he was covered by a rain-coat.
"Mr. Policeman," he began; "when I turned in here three soldiers stepped in front of my car and pointed rifles at me. Then they ran off toward the beach. What's the idea—manœuvres? Because, they've no right to——"
"Yes, sir," the policeman assured him promptly; "I saw them. It's manœuvres, sir. Territorials."
"They didn't look like Territorials," objected the chauffeur. "Looked to me like Germans."
Protected by the deepening dusk, the constable made no effort to conceal a grin.
"Just Territorials, sir," he protested soothingly; "maybe skylarking, but meaning no harm. Still, I'll have a look round, and warn 'em."
A voice from beneath the canvas top broke in angrily:
"I tell you, they were Germans. It's either a silly joke, or it's serious, and you ought to report it. It's your duty to warn the Coast Guard."
The constable considered deeply.
"I wouldn't take it on myself to wake the Coast Guard," he protested; "not at this time of the night. But if any Germans been annoying you gentlemen, and you wish to lodge a complaint against them, you give me your cards——"
"Ye Gods!" cried the man in the rear of the car. "Go on!" he commanded.
As the car sped out of Stiff key, Herbert exclaimed with disgust:
"What's the use!" he protested. "You couldn't wake these people with dynamite! I vote we chuck it and go home."
"They little know of England who only Stiffkey know," chanted the chauffeur reprovingly. "Why, we haven't begun yet. Wait till we meet a live wire!"
Two miles further along the road to Cromer, young Bradshaw, the job-master's son at Blakeney, was leading his bicycle up the hill. Ahead of him something heavy flopped from the bank into the road, and in the light of his acetylene lamp he saw a soldier. The soldier dodged across the road and scrambled through the hedge on the bank opposite. He was followed by another soldier, and then by a third. The last man halted.
"Put out that light," he commanded. "Go to your home and tell no one what you have seen. If you attempt to give an alarm you will be shot. Our sentries are placed every fifty yards along this road."
The soldier disappeared from in front of the ray of light and followed his comrades, and an instant later young Bradshaw heard them sliding over the cliff's edge and the pebbles clattering to the beach below. Young Bradshaw stood quite still. In his heart was much fear—fear of laughter, of ridicule, of failure. But of no other kind of fear. Softly, silently he turned his bicycle so that it faced down the long hill he had just climbed. Then he snapped off the light. He had been reliably informed that in ambush at every fifty yards along the road to Blakeney, sentries were waiting to fire on him. And he proposed to run the gauntlet. He saw that it was for this moment that, first as a volunteer and later as a Territorial, he had drilled in the town hall, practiced on the rifle range, and in mixed manœuvres slept in six inches of mud. As he threw his leg across his bicycle, Herbert, from the motor car further up the hill, fired two shots over his head. These, he explained to Ford, were intended to give "verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative." And the sighing of the bullets gave young Bradshaw exactly what he wanted—the assurance that he was not the victim of a practical joke. He threw his weight forward and, lifting his feet, coasted down hill at forty miles an hour into the main street of Blakeney. Ten minutes later, when the car followed, a mob of men so completely blocked the water-front that Ford was forced to stop. His head-lights illuminated hundreds of faces, anxious, sceptical, eager. A gentleman with a white mustache and a look of a retired army officer pushed his way toward Ford, the crowd making room for him, and then closing in his wake.
"Have you seen any—any soldiers?" he demanded.
"German soldiers!" Ford answered. "They tried to catch us, but when I saw who they were, I ran through them to warn you. They fired and——"
"How many—and where?"
"A half company at Stiffkey and a half mile further on a regiment. We didn't know then they were Germans, not until they stopped us. You'd better telephone the garrison, and——"
"Thank you!" snapped the elderly gentleman. "I happen to be in command of this district. What are your names?"
Ford pushed the car forward, parting the crowd.
"I've no time for that!" he called. "We've got to warn every coast town in Norfolk. You take my tip and get London on the long distance!"
As they ran through the night Ford spoke over his shoulder.
"We've got them guessing," he said. "Now, what we want is a live wire, some one with imagination, some one with authority who will wake the countryside."
"Looks ahead there," said Birrell; "as though it hadn't gone to bed."
Before them, as on a Mafeking night, every window in Cley shone with lights. In the main street were fishermen, shopkeepers, "trippers" in flannels, summer residents. The women had turned out as though to witness a display of fireworks. Girls were clinging to the arms of their escorts, shivering in delighted terror. The proprietor of the Red Lion sprang in front of the car and waved his arms.
"What's this tale about Germans?" he demanded jocularly.
"You can see their lights from the beach," said Ford. "They've landed two regiments between here and Wells. Stiffkey is taken, and they've cut all the wires South."
The proprietor refused to be "had."
"Let 'em all come!" he mocked.
"All right," returned Ford. "Let 'em come, but don't take it lying down! Get those women off the streets, and go down to the beach, and drive the Germans back! Gangway," he shouted, and the car shot forward. "We warned you," he called, "and it's up to you to——"
His words were lost in the distance. But behind him a man's voice rose with a roar like a rocket and was met with a savage, deep-throated cheer.
Outside the village Ford brought the car to a halt and swung in his seat.
"This thing is going to fail!" he cried petulantly. "They don't believe us. We've got to show ourselves—many times—in a dozen places."
"The British mind moves slowly," said Birrell the Irishman. "Now, if this had happened in my native land——"
He was interrupted by the screech of a siren, and a demon car that spurned the road, that splattered them with pebbles, tore past and disappeared in the darkness. As it fled down the lane of their head-lights, they saw that men in khaki clung to its sides, were packed in its tonneau, were swaying from its running boards. Before they could find their voices a motor cycle, driven as though the angel of death were at the wheel, shaved their mud-guard and, in its turn, vanished into the night.
"Things are looking up!" said Ford. "Where is our next stop? As I said before, what we want is a live one."
Herbert pressed his electric torch against his road map.
"We are next billed to appear," he said, "about a quarter of a mile from here, at the signal-tower of the Great Eastern Railroad, where we visit the night telegraph operator and give him the surprise party of his life."
The three men had mounted the steps of the signal-tower so quietly that, when the operator heard them, they already surrounded him. He saw three German soldiers with fierce upturned mustaches, with flat squat helmets, with long brown rifles. They saw an anæmic, pale-faced youth without a coat or collar, for the night was warm, who sank back limply in his chair and gazed speechless with wide bulging eyes.
In harsh, guttural tones Ford addressed him.
"You are a prisoner," he said. "We take over this office in the name of the German Emperor. Get out!"
As though instinctively seeking his only weapon of defence, the hand of the boy operator moved across the table to the key of his instrument. Ford flung his rifle upon it.
"No, you don't!" he growled. "Get out!"
With eyes still bulging, the boy lifted himself into a sitting posture.
"My pay—my month's pay?" he stammered. "Can I take it?"
The expression on the face of the conqueror relaxed.
"Take it and get out," Ford commanded.
With eyes still fixed in fascinated terror upon the invader, the boy pulled open the drawer of the table before him and fumbled with the papers inside.
"Quick!" cried Ford.
The boy was very quick. His hand leaped from the drawer like a snake, and Ford found himself looking into a revolver of the largest calibre issued by a civilized people. Birrell fell upon the boy's shoulders, Herbert twisted the gun from his fingers and hurled it through the window, and almost as quickly hurled himself down the steps of the tower. Birrell leaped after him. Ford remained only long enough to shout: "Don't touch that instrument! If you attempt to send a message through, we will shoot. We go to cut the wires!"
For a minute, the boy in the tower sat rigid, his ears strained, his heart beating in sharp, suffocating stabs. Then, with his left arm raised to guard his face, he sank to his knees and, leaning forward across the table, inviting as he believed his death, he opened the circuit and through the night flashed out a warning to his people.
When they had taken their places in the car, Herbert touched Ford on the shoulder.
"Your last remark," he said, "was that what we wanted was a live one."
"Don't mention it!" said Ford. "He jammed that gun half down my throat. I can taste it still. Where do we go from here?"
"According to the route we mapped out this afternoon," said Herbert, "we are now scheduled to give exhibitions at the coast towns of Salthouse and Weybourne, but——"
"Not with me!" exclaimed Birrell fiercely. "Those towns have been tipped off by now by Blakeney and Cley, and the Boy Scouts would club us to death. I vote we take the back roads to Morston, and drop in on a lonely Coast Guard. If a Coast Guard sees us, the authorities will have to believe him, and they'll call out the navy."
Herbert consulted his map.
"There is a Coast Guard," he said, "stationed just the other side of Morston. And," he added fervently, "let us hope he's lonely."
They lost their way in the back roads, and when they again reached the coast an hour had passed. It was now quite dark. There were no stars, nor moon, but after they had left the car in a side lane and had stepped out upon the cliff, they saw for miles along the coast great beacon fires burning fiercely.
Herbert came to an abrupt halt.
"Since seeing those fires," he explained, "I feel a strange reluctance about showing myself in this uniform to a Coast Guard."
"Coast Guards don't shoot!" mocked Birrell. "They only look at the clouds through a telescope. Three Germans with rifles ought to be able to frighten one Coast Guard with a telescope."
The whitewashed cabin of the Coast Guard was perched on the edge of the cliff. Behind it the downs ran back to meet the road. The door of the cabin was open and from it a shaft of light cut across a tiny garden and showed the white fence and the walk of shells.
"We must pass in single file in front of that light," whispered Ford, "and then, after we are sure he has seen us, we must run like the devil!"
"I'm on in that last scene," growled Herbert.
"Only," repeated Ford with emphasis, "we must be sure he has seen us."
Not twenty feet from them came a bursting roar, a flash, many roars, many flashes, many bullets.
"He's seen us!" yelled Birrell.
After the light from his open door had shown him one German soldier fully armed, the Coast Guard had seen nothing further. But judging from the shrieks of terror and the sounds of falling bodies that followed his first shot, he was convinced he was hemmed in by an army, and he proceeded to sell his life dearly. Clip after clip of cartridges he emptied into the night, now to the front, now to the rear, now out to sea, now at his own shadow in the lamplight. To the people a quarter of a mile away at Morston it sounded like a battle.
After running half a mile, Ford, bruised and breathless, fell at full length on the grass beside the car. Near it, tearing from his person the last vestiges of a German uniform, he found Birrell. He also was puffing painfully.
"What happened to Herbert?" panted Ford.
"I don't know," gasped Birrell. "When I saw him last he was diving over the cliff into the sea. How many times did you die?"
"About twenty!" groaned the American, "and, besides being dead, I am severely wounded. Every time he fired, I fell on my face, and each time I hit a rock!"
A scarecrow of a figure appeared suddenly in the rays of the head-lights. It was Herbert, scratched, bleeding, dripping with water, and clad simply in a shirt and trousers. He dragged out his kit bag and fell into his golf clothes.
"Anybody who wants a perfectly good German uniform," he cried, "can have mine. I left it in the first row of breakers. It didn't fit me, anyway."
The other two uniforms were hidden in the seat of the car. The rifles and helmets, to lend color to the invasion, were dropped in the open road, and five minutes later three gentlemen in inconspicuous Harris tweeds, and with golf clubs protruding from every part of their car, turned into the shore road to Cromer. What they saw brought swift terror to their guilty souls and the car to an abrupt halt. Before them was a regiment of regulars advancing in column of fours, at the "double." An officer sprang to the front of the car and seated himself beside Ford.
"I'll have to commandeer this," he said. "Run back to Cromer. Don't crush my men, but go like the devil!"
"We heard firing here," explained the officer, "at the Coast Guard station. The Guard drove them back to the sea. He counted over a dozen. They made pretty poor practice, for he isn't wounded, but his gravel walk looks as though some one had drawn a harrow over it. I wonder," exclaimed the officer suddenly, "if you are the three gentlemen who first gave the alarm to Colonel Raglan and then went on to warn the other coast towns. Because, if you are, he wants your names."
Ford considered rapidly. If he gave false names and that fact were discovered, they would be suspected and investigated, and the worst might happen. So he replied that his friends and himself probably were the men to whom the officer referred. He explained they had been returning from Cromer, where they had gone to play golf, when they had been held up by the Germans.
"You were lucky to escape," said the officer. "And in keeping on to give warning you were taking chances. If I may say so, we think you behaved extremely well."
Ford could not answer. His guilty conscience shamed him into silence. With his siren shrieking and his horn tooting, he was forcing the car through lanes of armed men. They packed each side of the road. They were banked behind the hedges. Their camp-fires blazed from every hill-top.
"Your regiment seems to have turned out to a man!" exclaimed Ford admiringly.
"My regiment!" snorted the officer. "You've passed through five regiments already, and there are as many more in the dark places. They're everywhere!" he cried jubilantly.
"And I thought they were only where you see the camp-fires," exclaimed Ford.
"That's what the Germans think," said the officer. "It's working like a clock," he cried happily. "There hasn't been a hitch. As soon as they got your warning to Colonel Raglan, they came down to the coast like a wave, on foot, by trains, by motors, and at nine o'clock the Government took over all the railroads. The county regiments, regulars, yeomanry, territorials, have been spread along this shore for thirty miles. Down in London the Guards started to Dover and Brighton two hours ago. The Automobile Club in the first hour collected two hundred cars and turned them over to them in Bird Cage Walk. Cody and Grahame-White and eight of his air men left Hendon an hour ago to reconnoitre the south coast. Admiral Beatty has started with the Channel Squadron to head off the German convoy in the North Sea, and the torpedo destroyers have been sent to lie outside of Heligoland. We'll get that back by daylight. And on land every one of the three services is under arms. On this coast alone before sunrise we'll have one hundred thousand men, and from Colchester the brigade division of artillery, from Ipswich the R. H. A's. with siege-guns, field-guns, quick-firing-guns, all kinds of guns spread out over every foot of ground from here to Hunstanton. They thought they'd give us a surprise party. They will never give us another surprise party!"
On the top of the hill at Overstrand, the head-waiter of the East Cliff Hotel and the bearded German stood in the garden back of the house with the forbidding walls. From the road in front came unceasingly the tramp and shuffle of thousands of marching feet, the rumble of heavy cannon, the clanking of their chains, the voices of men trained to command raised in sharp, confident orders. The sky was illuminated by countless fires. Every window of every cottage and hotel blazed with lights. The night had been turned into day. The eyes of the two Germans were like the eyes of those who had passed through an earthquake, of those who looked upon the burning of San Francisco, upon the destruction of Messina.
"We were betrayed, general," whispered the head-waiter.
"We were betrayed, baron," replied the bearded one.
"But you were in time to warn the flotilla."
With a sigh, the older man nodded.
"The last message I received over the wireless," he said, "before I destroyed it, read, 'Your message understood. We are returning. Our movements will be explained as 'manœuvres.' And," added the general, "the English, having driven us back, will be willing to officially accept that explanation. As manœuvres, this night will go down into history. Return to the hotel," he commanded, "and in two months you can rejoin your regiment."
On the morning after the invasion the New York Republic published a map of Great Britain that covered three columns and a wood-cut of Ford that was spread over five. Beneath it was printed: "Lester Ford, our London correspondent, captured by the Germans; he escapes and is the first to warn the English people."
On the same morning, in an editorial in The Times of London, appeared this paragraph.
"The Germans were first seen by the Hon. Arthur Herbert, the eldest son of Lord Cinaris; Mr. Patrick Headford Birrell, both of Balliol College, Oxford, and Mr. Lester Ford, the correspondent of the New York Republic. These gentlemen escaped from the landing party that tried to make them prisoners, and at great risk proceeded in their motor car over roads infested by the Germans to all the coast towns of Norfolk, warning the authorities, Should the war office fail to recognize their services, the people of Great Britain will prove that they are not ungrateful."
A week later three young men sat at dinner on the terrace of the Savoy.
"Shall we, or shall we not," asked Herbert, "tell my uncle that we three, and we three alone, were the invaders?"
"That's hardly correct," said Ford; "as we now know there were two hundred thousand invaders. We were only the three who got ashore."
"I vote we don't tell him," said Birrell. "Let him think with everybody else that the Germans blundered; that an advance party landed too soon and gave the show away. If we talk," he argued, "we'll get credit for a successful hoax. If we keep quiet, everybody will continue to think we saved the country. I'm content to let it go at that."