The Man on Horseback/Chapter 43

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CHAPTER XLIII

METZ

Hardly was the train out of the Berlin depot when Tom Graves turned to his friend and asked the one question that had been puzzling him for so many weeks:

"Vyvyan," he said, "what is the secret of the Yankee Doodle Glory? The secret why I …"

"Why you were caught in the German Web and jolly near crushed? You and Bertha and Martin Wedekind and your old partner Truex and God knows how many others? Why both you and Truex received that cable from Johannes Hirschfeld & Cie, offering an exorbitant price for control of the mine? Why Baron von Götz-Wrede came to Spokane, making you a similar offer? Why, half jokingly, he made you promise to visit him in Berlin? Why Bertha was called there by a faked telegram to act as bait for your innocence? Why Truex was kidnapped and Eberhardt Lehneke found? Why, failing in this, they made you a German citizen by asking you to join the army? Why you had to sign the paper that gave control to the German Government? Why they chucked Gamble and put their own engineers in charge? Why they subsidized a steamship line to Hamburg from Tacoma? Why, when you seemed obstreperous and less innocent than at first they had imagined, they tried to murder you in a shameful duel? Why, after I had caused the Hongkong authorities to refuse clearance papers to the first ship of the line, bound from Tacoma to Germany, they tried to transfer the line to American registry, first through Wedekind by holding his daughter as a hostage, then, Wedekind refusing to be bullied, through you?"

"Yes!" laughed Tom. "All these several and many Why's! Also—why did you get that sudden wireless appointment to Berlin when the wireless was bust? Why did they have you recalled as persona non grata? Why did you make me promise not to give up the mine? Why …"

"Oh! You did catch on to one or two things, what?" It was the Englishman's turn to laugh. "Well—the answer to all these Why's is the unknown metal in the Yankee Doodle Glory!"

"That stuff that scared Truex, affected the sense of hearing of the workers, puzzled Newson Garrett …"

"And did not puzzle the German chemist—wasn't Conrad Sturtzel his name?—in New York! Right-oh, old dear. You have it!"

"Except," said Tom, "what the fool metal is supposed to be good for. They ran, tried to run, that line of steamers to ship the ore, didn't they?"

"Go to the head of the class!"

"But …"

"The answer is—Great Britain, Sea Power!"

Lord Vyvyan went on to say that Germany, preparing for war, had always lulled itself into the blissful belief that Great Britain would repeat the blunder of Eighteen Hundred and Seventy, would sit tight on its money bags, and watch, nervously, selfishly, with protests, but without telling deeds, the dismemberment of France. France crushed, new iron and coal fields annexed, Germany would then have consolidated her power, prepared another forty years, and swooped down upon England.

"But," cut in Tom, "the British navy? Your merchant marine? Your rich colonies ready to help you?"

"Exactly!" Vyvyan inclined his head. "That's just what puzzled the German war clique. They have a great army—an army that has fought. Too, they have a navy. But it is an untried affair, their navy, without traditions, without practical training. While our very life, our very blood, our very secret thoughts, are bound up with the sea, the navy, the merchant marine."

"Sure," grinned Tom, with a malicious little wink, "I know … Rule, Britannia, rule the waves …' I heard tanked remittancemen sing it out West, on the Killicott …"

"They sang the truth," came Vyvyan's sober, unsmiling comment, "and Germany knew that it was the truth. Of course they have submarines. They'll use them mercilessly, I know, and they'll do a frightful lot of damage, they'll spill oceans of innocent blood. But they'll jolly well fail when it comes to the last chapter. For we are a race of sailors. And then that Sturtzel chap in New York or whatever is his filthy name, got that ore sample from Newson Garrett, and the German Secret Service got properly busy. For the unknown ingredient is …"

"What?" asked Tom, breathlessly.

"I'm no bally good at chemistry and all that sort of scientific drivel. But, as near as I can make it out, it's some stuff which, prepared, used a certain way, causes sound waves to multiply a hundredfold in as many fathoms of water as you jolly well please. A submarine fitted out with whatever devilish ingenuity the German engineers jolted together with that ingredient of the Yankee Doodle Glory, could lay doggo on the bottom of the ocean, listen for hundreds of miles to the sound of the propellers of merchant and warships, wait for the psychological moment, pop up, shoot a torpedo, and pop down again. Such submarines would spell death to British sea power. All rather clumsily expressed. But, I's pose you get it?"

"Sure." Tom scratched his red head. "All's as clear as pea soup. Only—where exactly do you sit in this game? How did you get wise to all this dope?"

"I'm in the British Secret Service"—he took out the little silver ring and pointed at the three letters: B. E. D. "British Ethnological Department," he gave the innocuous translation, and then, to Tom's further questions, he replied that the trouble with England, and incidentally with America, was that men like himself were held at a discount at home.

"It's different in Germany. A German Secret Service man has all the help he wants, all the money, every last bit of assistance the War or Foreign Ministries can possibly give him. With us"—he laughed bitterly—"we are lone wolves, we hunt alone, and when we are caught, God help us! Our Government won't! Those smug chaps back in London will shrug their shoulders, promptly deny our existence, and pass on to the next County cricket match. So, you see, old chap, I played a lone hand. Of course we have some money, contributed by patriotic individuals, but nothing to compare with what our German confrères can draw on. That's why, once I found out about the secret ingredient in the Yankee Doodle Glory, I didn't make you an offer for it, as the Baron did." He interrupted himself. "Wait. I'm doing myself an injustice. There was still another reason. A wretched racial short-coming …"

"You mean—that time when you whispered to yourself that you couldn't accept a block of stock in the Yankee Doodle Glory? That it wouldn't be playing the game?"

"Yes," replied the Englishman. "To keep the Yankee Doodle away from German hands, that's one thing. But to acquire it for England, under false pretenses, to even acquire a small interest in it? Why, man, don't you see? You and I are of the same stock, the same blood. But—there was that silly old josser of a King George the Third, and there were also Washington and Franklin. Well—our two rations are friends, at peace forever, I hope. But suppose something should happen, suppose the German element in your country, attaching to it other, dissatisfied, elements should attain power, perhaps the Presidency, get the majority in Congress. Suppose …"

"War between England and America?"

"Yes. A far-fetched possibility. Perhaps, God grant, an absolute impossibility. But—who can tell? This war, too, was unexpected. All the world will be drawn into it. America, too, who knows! Then, if I owned that mine, if I had piled up tons of the unknown ingredient, your land and mine at each other's throats, why—can't you see the temptation?"

"Yes," said Tom gravely.

"That's why I side-stepped it. I did not want the mine. I did not want to acquire it under rotten, false pretenses, and then use it against your land—after you might have sold it in good faith. I fancy I'm not a very efficient Secret Service man," he added whimsically.

Silently Tom Graves shook his hand. Silently they sat, facing each other, while the train hooted through the gray night, skirting the flat meadows of the Havel, passing Potsdam that was a splotch of sad black punctured with malign, flickering, yellow lights, on to Magdeburg, the first stop.

Morning came with the latter town, and with morning, as the train rolled away southwest to the Weser, the rolling, pleasant fields, the neat white highways, the very oak forests that stabbed, wedge-shaped, into the distance, seemed alive with soldiers on foot and on horseback or bumping woodenly on rumbling gun carriages. On they swarmed to the west in endless lines of trucks and lorries, or on railway lines paralleling the main road with every form of carriage pressed into war service, from the newest affair turned out of the Stettin yards to historical bits of rusty iron rescued from the Breslau scrap heap, from the luxurious wagon-lits of the Southern Express to drab, rickety cattle cars that, up to twenty-four hours before the war, had carried thousand of tons of live Russian geese and Serbian pigs to feed Germany's crunching maw.

The Metz train, carrying a number of high-ranking officers, had the right of way, and the soldiers turned and cheered as they saw, painted on every car, the flashing initials that proved the train to be in the service of the General Staff.

At every station there were troops, crowds, flags, bands. There was hustle and bustle. Singing, laughter, shouting. Words of command. Curses.

Booted, spurred officers piled into the train, half-a-dozen of them into Tom's and Vyvyan's compartment. Two were staff officers, conscious of their importance, the other four young subalterns of a crack Saxon Hussar regiment, a little the worse for liquor and inclined to be boisterous.

There was an exchange of salutes, and inquiries about the latest news from the capital.

"Any more declarations of war?"

"Is it true that England has mobilized all the Central African gorillas and put them into kilts?" And ringing laughter, and more questions, rather more serious.

But they hardly listened to Vyvyan's replies, though the latter, in his rôle as "Berliner" officer, succeeded in being every bit as drawling and inane as he had been in his native language when the Westerner had first met him aboard the Augsburg. Their questions were really only meant rhetorically—boasting, arrogant questions that were supposed to answer themselves—all about German preparedness, German greatness, German invincibility, German triumph. All about the German Herren Nation—the Fate-chosen Race of Masters, of Supermen!

For that day, with the scent of blood in their nostrils, the ruling caste of Prussia was keyed to its highest, shrillest note.

Tom clenched his fist. Savage they seemed to him, but, too, childish and, somehow, whining, as if not quite sure of themselves in spite of their brave, clanking words.

There was a little infantry lieutenant sitting across from him—wizened, silly, a vacant, fatuous smile curling his thick, cherry-red, sensuous lips. He was speaking about himself, as a chosen specimen of the race of Supermen.

A wave of nauseating disgust swept over the American. Pleading a headache, he closed his eyes. At his left, the two General Staff officers were conversing in a sibilant, dramatic undertone.

"That Thionville plan is a bluff," said the one. "I tell you it's going to be …"

"Verdun? Has the Crown Prince …"

Tom closed his eyes yet more tightly. Presently he commenced snoring. An hour later, night already brushing low, the train pulled into Metz.

The depot was in a turmoil. Other trains were rattling in from all directions, from Stuttgart and Coburg and Dresden and Munich, all carrying officers and high civilian officials, the latter the vanguard of that army of governors and judges and tax collectors whom efficient Germany had already appointed to rule the lands to be conquered and stolen.

Vyvyan and Tom passed rapidly down the platform and out to the street. They saw Mrs. Wedekind and Bertha enter a cab.

"I shall try and see what I can do about commandeering a motor-car. Once I have it, I can't hang around town with it. No joy-riding in time of war. I must take it somewhere. Let me see—" he paused, thought, then asked: "You know Metz?"

"No."

"Listen, then." Vyvyan gave a string of rapid directions, winding up with: "You can't miss the Archbishop's palace. From there you turn straight west, out to the fortifications. You've got to bluff there."

"You bet." Tom smiled. "You know a whole lot about this town, don't you?"

"Rather. Did a bit of work here once. Beyond the outer ring of fortifications is an old fort. A sort of curiosity. They don't use it any more except for summer picnics. It's called the Hohenzollernwarte. Just the other side of it you'll find a thick clump of beech trees. I'll meet you there with whatever car I manage to commandeer."

"We got to hurry."

"Of course," said the Englishman, a little impatiently. "That's no news."

"Sure. But … Say, 'member when I fell asleep on the train?"

"Rather. You snored damnably."

"Well, it was a fake snore. I was listening. Yes, sir, I stole your thunder, my Secret Service friend! I was listening to those two staff officers."

Vyvyan looked up excited.

"What did they say?"

"They said that the proposed attack from Thionville against Verdun is only a feint, a bluff. The real attack is going to be launched direct from Metz. They say they're going to catch the French with their boots off!"

"They will not!"

"You said something there, young fellow. You just bet they will not—if you get the motor-car, and can drive as I can ride!"

And they shook hands and parted, the Englishman turning north, the American, despatch case and leather bag swinging from his left arm, saber truculently bumping against the ground, turning south, towards the Marienkirche—and Bertha.