The Man on Horseback/Chapter 41

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CHAPTER XLI

THE MOB SPEAKS

What had puzzled Tom, what he had wondered about and, finally, tentatively solved while looking from the window at the maddened German mob, was this:

Thousands of motor-cars of all sorts had been commandeered during the last few days and rushed to the frontier towns, including Metz—taxicabs, roadsters, heavy touring machines, massive trucks, racers, and armored cars. Given his uniform, his rank in the army, it would not be difficult, arrived at Metz, to do a little commandeering himself, to pick out a fast racer and then—whizz!—across the border. But the trouble was that, try as he might, his mind had never been able to grasp even the rudiments of machinery, the most ordinary mechanical details. He knew as much about automobiles as a baby in arms.

He was, in that respect at least, an atavistic throwback to an earlier, simpler age—a man on horseback.

Horses he knew, from withers to fetlock.

"Give me a horse," he used to say, "a clever, fast mare and an ugly bit of country, and I'll ride rings around your stinking, clanking motor-cars! Not on level ground, of course. But on hilly, treacherous ground, where the rider's brains count—and the horses!"—and he had learned, at War School, that the sweep of land from Metz to the West was just that sort—broken, hilly, ugly.

Horses, then. One for Bertha, one for himself. And how could he get them?

All the fast horses, for days past, had been picked and entrained for the Northwest, the Belgian frontier, where three divisions of cavalry were supposed to make a flanking sweep through the rolling Belgian fields under General von Manteuffel. Too, the Russian border had absorbed thousands and thousands of picked animals as a mounted counterweight against the expected Cossack onrush. On the Metz-Verdun sector the War Lord was pinning his faith on incessant bombardment, followed up by countless waves of infantrymen. Of course, there was some cavalry there, too. But no picked, fast horses.

All that Tom had gathered during the last few days when the officers of the Uhlans had talked about it excitedly, had complained rather bitterly that their regiment, the best in the Guards, had been robbed of its finest mounts and was being sent to Metz, where there would be no chance for a dashing, clashing charge.

He would get to Metz all right. He would take the midnight train, the same by which he supposed Mrs. Wedekind and Bertha would travel. He would have to, since a later train would not get him there in time, and since he doubted that old Mrs. Wedekind would have more than one chance to bring Bertha to him. He imagined in fact that she would proceed to St. Mary's Church directly from the depot, before the Colonel knew that the two women had left Berlin.

There was yet another danger. That morning he had received orders to leave Berlin for Metz, together with Captain von Quitzow, on the next day. Further more, the latter was expecting him back at barracks to-night.

Well—he would have to run that risk. He would rush back to his room in barracks, evade the Captain and von Königsmark, tell his soldier servant, his Bursche, some cock-and-bull story, and make the midnight train all right.

But—he needed help once he reached Metz, help to get him the right sort of horseflesh.

Tom had been doing a good deal of thinking during the last months. The sudden coming of war had not altogether surprised him. He had listened to the mumbling, sinister voice of the undercurrent, he had thought over the many things that had happened to him since he had made his stake in the Hoodoos. He was now quite convinced that, what he had suspected, was true:

Vyvyan, inane, drawling Vyvyan, was a British Secret Service man. So were many of the other Englishmen whom he had met in Berlin, chiefly some of the little, wizened jockeys and trainers who foregathered at the "Gross Berlin American Bar."

These jockeys, through their original calling, were familiar with the horses of the German racing stables as a Boston dowager is with the passenger list of the Mayflower. Metz was a rich, prosperous town. Some wealthy man was sure to have a racing establishment there—and to that racing establishment, to the best two horses in it, he would have to win—and for that end he needed advice, help. For everything depended on the horses he and Bertha would ride.

But—whom should he ask?

It was the hysterical yell of the Berlin mob: "On to the British Embassy!" which gave him the cue, and he thought again of the strange words that Vyvyan had said to him many months earlier:

"If ever you should get into trouble, if by that time I should have left Berlin, you must go to the British Embassy. Once inside you must find, somehow, the man who has the duplicate of my ring. Him you can trust. And nobody else."

Before this he had tried to get into the Embassy to find the mysterious stranger with the ring—that time when Bertha had told him that she was being held in Berlin against her will. He had failed then; and, since, he had been watched, shadowed.

But now he had a chance, with that crazed, yelling, blood-thirsty mob, rolling on relentlessly toward the same goal.

"On to the British Embassy!"

The shout was taken up like the response in some Satanic litany.

Steadily the mob gathered strength, impetus, brutal, tearing sweep. From all sides men joined it, even women and children, shaking fists and sticks and umbrellas, picking up bricks and stones.

A mob! A raging mob with but one thought, one mania:

"Kill the English!"

The cry rose like some horrible incantation of lust and cruelty. Tom pushed into the thick of them, using fist and elbow and foot, until he had reached the front rank. He yelled and shouted and cursed with the best of them:

"The English!"

"Kill them!"

"Gott strafe England!"

"On to the Embassy! Tear it stone from stone! Give it to the flames!"

During that crazy rush down the streets of Berlin, Tom learned something about mob psychology. Too, about that accursed, insidious poison called Hatred.

He was not a German. He disliked everything German, had done so ever since the blindness of ignorance had been taken from his eyes and he had seen the real heart of the Teuton Beast. Yet, momentarily, he felt with this mob.

His mouth felt dry. His eyes bulged. Colossal, half -sensuous excitement quivered down his body, from head to toe, touching his spine with softly cruel hands, electrifying him. It was an incredible, trembling, unclean elation.

His fingers clenched. He shouted with the others, in a horrible, insane fervor of lust:

"Kill the English!"

But, after a second that seemed an eternity, he regained control of himself, and when finally the mob had reached the corner of the Wilhelm Strasse and rolled down toward the British Embassy, he was perfectly cool.

Heretofore, instead of stemming the human avalanche, instead of beating them back with their sabers and pistol butts that were usually so ready, the police, as if acting under orders, had only helped to swell the mob, had joined in the mad, killing chorus. Then they must have received counter-orders. Perhaps the shame of it had even pierced the thick skin of the German rulers. For, within a stone's throw of the Embassy platoons of blue-coats, on foot and mounted, hurled themselves against the oncoming horde.

"Back! Back!"

"Zurüch!"

"Hey there—look out—" as the flat of a saber swished down on head or arm.

But they had acted too late. Already some of the crowd had broken through to the Embassy, had torn down the British escutcheon, trampling it, spitting on it. Stones and bricks and sticks were hurled. Windows broke with a crash.

A woman cried hysterically.

Again the police advanced, this time using their sabers to good effect. The mob was hurled back, but not before a few of them had succeeded in battering down the doors to get inside the Embassy … to be immediately thrown out by athletic Englishmen, attachés and flunkeys battling loyally side by side.

All the invaders were flung out on the street except one—a man in a Uhlan uniform, who, sorely beset by a young Englishman on the left and another on the right, suddenly shouted in unmistakable American:

"Say! Cut it out! I'm not a punching-bag—nor am I a Dutchman!"

"I should say you aren't!" came the noways cordial rejoinder. "You're a disgrace to your country, to America"—a statement accompanied by another severe cuff—"and"—a blow—"what the devil do you mean by …

"Cut it out!" Tom yelled again, defending himself as best he could. "I am looking for—for"—and, side-stepping a particularly vicious right to his jaw, he blurted out: "I am looking for the guy with the B.E.D. ring!"

There was silence—broken the next second by a drawling, familiar voice:

"Hello, hello, hello!"

Tom turned. There, in the doorway, stood Vyvyan, and the Westerner, relieved, amazed, gave a stammering, gasping exclamation:

"Well I'll be …"

"Right-oh!" Vyvyan turned to the young attachés, who had again laid hold of Tom. "It's all right, dear chaps! This gentleman's a friend of mine. He's the chap who sent McCaffrey to us with the warning about the steamship line—the changed names and rigging and all that sort of rot. Remember?"

"Yes."

"To be sure," wonderingly.

"Very well. Then don't biff him any more." He turned to Tom. "Come along up to my room."

Arrived there, to the Westerner's first question, Vyvyan replied that he had never left Germany. That time when he had been sent away as persona non grata, he had turned straight round on the Holland frontier and had come back to Berlin.

"I have been here ever since, doing my little bit."

"So you got my message about the transfer of those ships to American registry?"

"Right-oh. Thanks awfully. We spoiled that little German game. Tell you all about it some other time. And now—what can I do for you?"

The Westerner explained, and Vyvyan inclined his honey-colored head.

"Certainly I'll help you. I'll get you some sort of motor-car."

"No, no. You didn't get me, Vyvyan. I don't know a darned thing about machinery. Between you and me, I'm afraid of it. A horse—that's what I've got to have—two horses. One for Bertha, and one for me."

Vyvyan smiled.

"You won't have to drive," he said.

"Won't I though?"

"Of course not. I shall sit at the wheel."

"You?"

"Yes. I am coming with you."

"Why?"

And Vyvyan explained that the German Government had put a train at the disposition of the British Ambassador to leave for Holland that same night.

"But our German friends have labeled everybody who is supposed to be with the Embassy staff. And, my word, I am not supposed to be here! If they catch me, they'll line me up against a neat white wall as sure's pop. Old Titmouse, the Ambassador, y'know, is trembling about that jolly little contingency even now. Of course the borders into neutral countries will be watched very close—for spies. But the French border, the battle front? There's the chance. And now you come, like my jolly old guardian angel, and solve the whole question. Yes. I'll go with you and Miss Bertha. We'll do the regular Prussian thing and commandeer the first speedy looking car we see in Metz."

"But—how are you going to get out of the embassy?"

"Nothing to it. I have as many uniforms as the Emperor himself. Wait."

Vyvyan left, and returned five minutes later in the complete regimentals of a Uhlan of the Guard. He saluted.

"Herr Kamerad!" he snarled, and drew his arm through Tom's.

"But"—stammered the latter, pointing at the window—"the policemen there—the people. They will suspect!"

"Tom!" laughed the Englishman, "there are times when I think seriously of settling in America and earning an honest living by playing poker with the natives. Why, when it comes to bluff, I have you tied to the mast. Watch me!"—and, arm in arm with his friend, he left the Embassy and swaggered up to the Captain of Police in charge of the blue-coat cordon.

"My man," snarled the Englishman in his very best Prussian, "I just brought word to the Ambassador from His All-Gracious Majesty. See to it that nobody leaves the building without permit. Also"—he shook his finger—"see to it that no more mobs attack the Embassy. Understand?"

"Zu Befehl, Herr Hauptmann!"

The Police Captain saluted, while Vyvyan and Tom turned down the street. They parted at the Pariser Platz.

"Meet me at the depot to-night," said the English man. "I'll get the tickets."

Tom looked after him. He shook his head.

"You're right," he mumbled. "You ought to go to America. But you'll never get me to play poker with you! No, sir!"