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EVA DARIEN had waited dinner until after nine o'clock and still her brother Carlile had neither turned up nor sent the usual message explaining the delay; he had not even 'phoned her to expect it.

It was so unusual and so unlike him that Eva began to feel vaguely anxious. Then, at ten-thirty, the vagueness became a certainty—acute—intense—unbearable. So much so that at ten-forty-five she rang up his clubs, only to ascertain that he had been at neither of them at any time that evening.

At one of them—the Aviators'—the commissionaire said that Mr. Darien had been expected there to meet Lord Fenton Henry at seven o'clock and that Lord Fenton had left a message with him in case Mr. Darien had been delayed and should turn up later. He repeated the message over the wire at leva's request, and as she listened she suddenly realized that the situation was alarmingly serious.

For Lord Fenton Henry could do great things for those in whose favor he interested himself, and the message the commissionaire repeated was of such tremendous consequence to Carlile's future career that only a man who was either a fool or else prevented by some extraordinary happening would have permitted himself to be deterred from keeping an appointment of such importance and magnitude. And Carlile was no fool.

With beating heart and swimming brain his sister hung up the receiver and sank back inertly in her chair. What had happened? What could have happened?

What was to be done? Ring up the hospitals in case there should have been an accident? But surely if there had been, she would have heard of it ere this. Carlile was a public man, secretary to Sir Dean Densham of the Secret Service, known to Scotland Yard and every possible constable in London. Sir Dean! Why, perhaps Sir Dean would know something! Or at least he would be able to advise her.

She picked off the receiver again and listened impatiently for the operator's voice. It was fully three minutes before she got through and the tension of her nerves was growing tighter every second. She held the line while the servant made inquiries, and it was with a mixture of gratification and alarm that she heard Sir Dean himself reply to her after a short interval.

"Is that Miss Darien? Good-evening. My man tells me you are asking for your brother. But surely he is at home? No, no, quite close here—just across the road— the Foreign Office, to be exact. Yes, he told me he was to meet Lord Fenton at seven o'clock. I remember commenting on it and saying it would probably lead to a good thing. Left here a little before six. Yes, I admit it is strange, but do not permit yourself to get anxious just yet. He may have been detained—he may have, forgotten the appointment."

"Oh, no, Sir Dean! It was prominent in his mind from the moment it was made. I know he wras building so much on a meeting with Lord Fenton, though I did not know it was for to-night. He can't have forgotten it!"

"I must confess it is not likely—still——"

"Was there no answer required to your errand, Sir Dean? Do you know if he ever went to the F. 0.?"

Eva, as she put the question, could have sworn that she heard a peculiar click come from Sir Dean's end of the wire—a sharp click as though he had suddenly gritted his teeth together in quick annoyance.

There was a perceptible pause before his answer came, and when it did come it was given slowly and haltingly, as though he were weighing most carefully every word— giving each word a momentous meaning and gravity.

"To be perfectly frank with you, Miss Darien, your question has startled me. Your brother left me with a wallet of papers for the Foreign Office at about ten or five minutes to six. At six o'clock a telephone message came through that the papers were safely delivered. I was in rather a hurry and did nothing more than receive the message. I thought at the time it was Darien's voice—Darien in a hurry——"

'"And now?" asked Eva sharply.

"And now I'm not so sure. I should not like to swear to it——"

Eva uttered a gasp of dismay—then her quick brain leaped to a sudden understanding.

"One question, Sir Dean! If no message had come through at all, would you have made inquiries at the time?"

Sir Dean hesitated for the barest fraction of a second. Then: "Yes, Miss Darien, I would have made inquiries. It was arranged between us that your brother was to telephone me on the private wire so soon as the papers were in the care of Mr. Follett. If no message had come through I should have been uneasy."

EVA put up the receiver with a chill fear growing up round her heart. Her worst forebodings were becoming stronger and stronger every moment. Something had happened to her brother. Even in Sir Dean's studied sentences she had discerned an underlying current of alarm. Then there was the message purporting to be from her brother and in his voice. What could that mean? Was it Car who had sent that message, Car himself, or was it part of the mystery? Had some one imitated his voice? But if so— why? What purpose was it to serve? How could any one know of the arrangement to inform Sir Dean of the safety of the papers? How could any one—any outsider—use the private wire of the F. O.?

In an agony of apprehension she sprang up and walked to the door with the intention of getting into some outdoor things so as to be ready in case of emergency. For by now she dreaded she knew not what—the worst—the unknown worst!

But as she touched the door-handle the sudden sharp tinkle of the telephone bell rang out its brusk summons and she flew back to the table in the window in a passion of expectation.

"Yes—yes—are you there? Yes, I am Miss Darien——"

She gripped the receiver and held it to her ears, and as she listened her face grew white as chalk, her body quivered as though a lash descended on the stroke of every sinister word spoken over the wire by an unknown voice.

"You were speaking a moment since to Sir Dean Densham? Quite so. Oh, thanks, I heard everything I wanted to—I tapped the wire at a very opportune moment. You are anxious about your brother, eh? Again quite so. Your brother has been useful to me on the past two or three occasions—oh, quite unintentionally I assure you—and he was useful again to me to-night. But to-night I'm afraid he was just a shade too smart—for his own sake! However, that is beside the mark and concerns only himself and myself. What I rang you up for was to say that if you desire to meet your brother on his return, be at Sir Dean Densham's house in Whitehall at twelve midnight to-night! Understand? Twelve midnight. And you might also acquaint Sir Dean Densham with the fact that I hope to make his acquaintance very soon now—and Mr. Algy Brett also. Can you remember the names? It's not really important—it won't do them any good to know it and it won't do me any harm. Good-by. So sorry you were anxious about your brother; Twelve midnight!"

In a passion of hysteria, of dread, of agonizing doubts, Eva still held the receiver to her ears, begging, shrieking to the unknown sinister voice to explain, to say that Car was safe, to say that Car would be safe!

Until the Exchange called through to ask what number she wanted she poured a prayer of piteous entreaty into the inanimate mouthpiece, straining every nerve to catch even the semblance of an answer.

But none came save the operator's harsh demand, and with a tortured cry of mental anguish she ran blindly from the room to the hall below, calling out as she ran for a servant to call a cab immediately.

Within a minute a taxi swept to the steps and she sprang in, bribing the man with a sovereign to drive his fastest to Sir Dean Densham's, to get her there in ten minutes! To get her there in time! Bribing him again to drive faster—faster—— A madness in her brain made her scream to him again and again to go faster! The clock in St. James' Palace pointed to twenty minutes past eleven and again she urged him to drive faster.

SIR DEAN came to her immediately, his face showing anxiety. He listened without commenting until she had finished. She told him everything—of her fears and of the unknown voice at the telephone.

"And you suspect foul play? You think——?"

"I suspect anything, Sir Dean! I suspect anything and everybody! That voice—that awful voice! It was dreadful—every word a menace!"

Eva Darien sat like a statue of despair in the chair Sir Dean had placed for her. Her fingers twisted and tore her gloves to shreds; her eyes, black with fear, never left Sir Dean's face.

"It is barely half-past eleven—we still have thirty minutes in which to try to find out what it means. I think perhaps some one ought to be stationed in the porch in case your brother does not return alone. The odd thing is why Darien should come here instead of to his own home. Why come to my house at midnight—I mean, why has the man who evidently knows his whereabouts counseled him to come to me? If the man who spoke to you on the telephone is the man who is accountable for your brother's disappearance, then he is also the man whose benefit it was to secure the papers—and I can not think that he would be so ready, so eager to permit Darien to give his account of what has happened! Only six hours have elapsed since the papers left my charge—even the most daring criminal does not deliberately send his scapegoat back to tell his story so early in the game! If you——"

"I think I saw Jacobs and another detective in the hall as I came in?"

Eva's voice was jerky, but Densham could see her mind working clearly and quickly. behind the enveloping feverish anxiety.

"Yes, Jacobs and Martin. As a matter of fact, Mr. Sterrith and Lord Vales are here —about the missing papers, and the two men are attending them. The Cabinet have many enemies just now and—— But I will go down and give instructions to the men. Will you wait here?"

"I would rather go with you, Sir Dean. It is almost twelve—oh, let us go!"

Without a second's delay the detectives received their orders and acted on them, stationing themselves within an alcove between the front door and the flight of steps leading down to the street. The lights in the hall were lowered and the massive doors left imperceptibly ajar. Eva moved restlessly in the shadows and Sir Dean never left her side. The hall seemed full of whispering shapes, barely visible in the dimness. The Prime Minister and Lord Vales, impelled by the sudden sense of something untoward afoot, stepped from the library and stood listening, motionless beside the banks of palms circling the stair-foot.

The sound of the traffic in Whitehall and Parliament Street buzzed dully across the dividing distance; the harsh hoot of a horn echoed like a thunderbolt in the straining ears of those who watched and waited, and close on the heels of the discordant noise the clock of St. Stephen's boomed out majestically—One.. two...... eleven.. twelve!

Twelve slow and ponderous notes—a lifetime of agony held between each reluctant stroke.

TWELVE! Ere the resonant vibration had died away a sudden commotion arose beyond the door—a great cry ringing through the night, a cry of horror and dismay, arid then the sound of some one running on the asphalt pavement, some one dashing up the steps to the door, taking them three at a time, stumbling on the last.

THE double doors opened wide under the onslaught, and the two detectives and a slim, slight, boyish-looking man literally fell into the hall. Breathless, panting, choking back inarticulate sobs, the newcomer came to a halt opposite Sir Dean. It was Algy Brett, but an Algy so white and shaken with horror of something he had seen that his uncle could scarcely recognize him.

"Algy!" he cried, starting out from the shadowy wall and twisting the boy under the light of the electrolier. "Algy, for God's sake—what?"

Brett tried to control his palsied mouth, but his lips slid from side to side and his tongue refused to form the words. His usually merry eyes were wild with the terror of the thing he had just witnessed. His fingers clawed his uncle as though dreading he should leave him.

Then a voice, clear and strong, ringing with despair, cut through the babble of whispers and questions and there was an insistence in it he obeyed.

"My brother! My brother! You have seen my brother?"

Brett spun round and met Eva's eyes.

"My brother!" she whispered.

Also in a whisper Algy answered her, but he laid his quivering fingers over hers as they rested on his coat and conveyed a sympathy his distorted words could not summon.

"Yes, it's your brother! Poor Darien— out there at the foot of the steps in the road—poor Darien! What a fate, poor lad! It was awful! I was coming along in answer to your message, Uncle Dean—didn't get it till twenty minutes ago—then just as I was crossing the street I heard a funny noise in the air above me—a swishing, slipping noise, and stood still. It was—— Oh, sir, I wish I'd run away as hard as I could! If I'd only run then! But I stayed, and the next second something fell through the air and smashed on the stones at my feet—something heavy! I stooped down to look at it—I thought it was a bundle. It was poor Darien!"

"Dead!" whispered Eva.

"Stone dead—thank God, stone dead——That devil!"

Sir Dean's ears pricked suddenly. He had caught Brett's muttered ejaculation and in a flash the whole black mystery of that miserable night became clear to him. In an instant he was once again the cool, calm man of affairs and he flung curt orders at the gaping servants; motioned the two detectives and the men-servants who were bringing in the secretary's body on an improvised stretcher to take their burden into the little waiting room to the left of the hall; gave Eva Darien into the housekeeper's charge until she was calmer, and then in a voice of such bitter acidity as made them wonder, called his nephew, the Prime Minister and Lord Vales into the study and shut the door behind him.

"And now," he said in a voice of thunderous anger, "and now we will go through the mill!"


EVA escaped at last from the housekeeper's attentions and protestations of sympathetic horror and crept down the stairs till the sound of voices guided her to the room where Sir Dean was closeted with Sterrith and Lord Vales.

A fierce anger against Sir Dean was burning in her breast and she blamed him bitterly for making so inexperienced a youth as Carlile the messenger for such an important despatch. She felt a hatred for him as the man to blame for Car's death. The sound of his voice, raised and slightly shrill, penetrating the door of his library, filled her with an angry, grief-laden sense of wrong. She turned the handle noiselessly and stepped within the room with some intention, vague and undefined, of accusing him, of blaming him.

An immense mahogany screen guarded the room from the door and she stood still, hidden by it, trying to choke down the hysteric anger surging up in her throat.

And then, even as she stood hesitating, a strange feeling came to her. It was as though the room were charged and alive with electricity—as though a mighty pulse beat somewhere within those lofty, book-lined walls—a mighty pulse drowning the throb of hers and of those pigmy men seated at the distant table. She awoke suddenly to the knowledge that not anxiety or regret for her brother's fate was the vital factor—there was that other something, that unknown, tremendous quantity which had been embodied in Sir Dean's voice when he called the Prime Minister and the others into his room without even so much as a glance at the shapeless bundle that had been his private secretary a few hours earlier!

It was a something which she had quite failed to grasp—something which had driven her to futile anger against Sir Dean. And now it seemed to loom up out of the shadowy room and grip her soul. The papers! It was their fate that mattered! It was their fate menaced a nation! Their fate meant the fate of an empire! The death of her brother was only a little side issue—a pain felt by only one person!

She stared at Sir Dean's face. It was as though she had never seen him before—it was the face of an old, old man. There were four other men in the room, all seated at the table facing Sir Dean—Sterrith, the Prime Minister; Lord Vales of the Admiralty; Brett, pale and distressed still, but animated by a deep excitement that burned like molten fire in his youthful eyes; Schlesinger, the famous detective for whom Sir Dean must have sent immediately.

Sterrith and Vales were very pale and the same anxiety that lined Sir Dean's face was becoming visible in theirs and deeper as every moment passed. They were men in the grip of a fear, indefinite in a measure and yet so horribly real. They were men in the grip of an evil, and the evil was very plain— it was panic!—panic!—PANIC! Even Sir Dean was inclined to be destroyed by it; its influence had marked him unmistakably.

Schlesinger — a tall, narrow-shouldered man with an emaciated, clever face and sunken eyes overhung with thick brows— was leaning over the table, his hands loosely clasped before him, his all but invisible eyes never straying from Sir Dean's haggard face. He was speaking in a soft, monotonous tone that barely penetrated to the recess behind the screen.

"The bald facts are, Sir Dean, that you sent Mr. Darien, unaccompanied, to the Foreign Office with the despatches because you thought it would avert suspicion if there should be suspicion, and because the other and ordinary channels were, in your opinion, being watched and were the most likely to be attacked—if, as I say, an attack was meditated. It has to be taken into account, Sir Dean, that you, and you only, suggest that your late secretary's death is traceable directly to his possession of the papers. Mr. Sterrith here does not, I take it, believe—"

"But he must believe it!" interrupted Algy Brett, his voice ringing through the room with vibrating earnestness. "You must believe it! If you don't, how are you going to account for the papers? Where are they? Not at the F. O., not on poor Darien's body. You may take it from me, gentlemen, that they are safe in the possession of an old pal of ours! He it is who has waved his magic wand over them! Our old pal, Alsopp Ostermann, whom you, Mr. Schlesinger, are invited to hunt down!

"You look supercilious, Mr. Sterrith, but, if you will cast your mind back, you will remember that you looked supercilious once before over the prowess of Mr. Ostermann! On the occasion—exactly a week since—of the affair of the missing war-ships? You scouted the idea that there was any invention under the sun that the impregnable British fighting forces on land and sea did not possess—except in the imagination of the Daily Mail!

"When Sir Dean suggested to you—when he jolly well tried to poke it down your throats—that this man Ostermann was the owner and inventor of a marvelous air-ship, you smiled and smiled, and Lord Vales here smiled, and the whole Admiralty, and the Minister for War was pointed to the miserably few, miserably misunderstood aeroplanes which in flat, calm weather manage to fly a few yards or so over Laffan's Plain and come to earth with a dashed sight more ease than they rise from it!

"To those amateur and speculative toys you proudly pointed and boasted of them as war-ships which would rout any enemy that dared to invade our shores—always provided, I suppose, that they did not dare for the next forty years or so till we were ready for them!"

"AND in the meantime," continued Sir Dean, some of his old suavity back in his voice as his nephew's thrilling voice awoke an answering throb in his heart. "And in the meantime, Alsopp Ostermann, a man working hand in hand with a foreign Power for the downfall of England, striving night and day to weaken her defenses, is watching with the eyes of a hawk for the moment when the opportunity will arise to throw her at the mercy of the enemy, her strength broken—by his means;—her defenses crippled—by his means; her coast unguarded and her army a panicstricken mob!

"For the past month Ostermann has been working-for this—he and his masters across the water! You, as Prime Minister of England, Mr. Sterrith, should have known this; you as the First Sea Lord, Lord Vales, should have known it—twice I have told you my suspicions and twice you refused to be warned. Even now, now at this very moment, with those despatches in his possession, with the knowledge they contained at his disposal, with the knowledge, gentlemen, that we have fallen one over the other and without a single protest into his trap— hear me out if you please, gentlemen—with, as I say, the knowledge that we have swallowed the bait and that for at least twelve hours almost the entire east coast is unprotected, unprepared, you still refuse to believe! You won't take a warning, eh? Yes, a trap, I say, a trap! And you fools have insisted upon us walking into it!"

His voice rose almost to a shout. He threw calmness to the winds—he threw etiquette to the winds; he cared naught for it. The sight of John Sterrith's smug face—startled now at his vehemence and twitching with nervousness—filled him with rage. At all costs he must rouse them! At all costs, or England—London—would be conquered within a night by an enemy who perhaps even now were steaming full speed across the channel!

John Sterrith had risen to his feet. His face was drawn and pallid and he looked like a man with his back to the wall, suddenly awake to the reality that he must fight.

"A trap?" he asked thickly. "What trap?"

His stupid eyes stared into Densham's snapping gray ones. "What trap?" he repeated.

Densham minced no words. He was a wild beast roused. He spat out the answer like shrapnel:

"By whose orders were the Atlantic fleet cruisers and the Nore torpedo-destroyer flotilla sent to sea? By whose orders was the Atlantic battleship squadron sent on a wild goose chase to the Hebrides? By whose orders was the east coast denuded of a single man-of-war worth putting into action? By whose orders I say?"

Vales stiffened himself into-a semblance of dignified authority.

"The orders were sent through in code from Admiral Lord Fredom—he conferred with me on the advisability of preparing for sudden attack and we arranged that an imaginary enemy was trying to land forces——"

"And as it happens you prophesied rightly! They are trying to land forces! Ostermann is a clever rogue!"


"Ostermann. Codes can be stolen—or perhaps you didn't guess that? Who but Ostermann sent those orders to the fleets? Who but Ostermann spoke to me from the Foreign Office and gained a clear five hours by making me believe Darien had got the despatches through safely?"

Sterrith ran his finger between his neck and collar as though choking.

"My God!" he said breathlessly. "My God!"

"The despatches," continued Sir Dean, his voice icy with ill-suppressed anger, "the despatches were the germs of the terms of a private treaty with—you know with whom, gentlemen. A private treaty, which, seen as it stands, is so hostile that even a weaker country than Ostermann's, a far more peaceable one, would be justified in declaring war upon us! To provide themselves with the civilized orthodoxy of an excuse Ostermann planned and succeeded in waylaying the messenger who was taking them to Follett for consideration. With those papers in their possession no Power will blame them for their attack when they publish the facts. I can not blame them myself. They have been waiting and waiting and preparing for this opportunity, and it is childish to quarrel with them for being clever enough to foresee it and seize upon it! And in the background—always in the background—is Alsopp Ostermann!"

"But we ought to do something! What can we do?" Sterrith asked the question of every one and any one. His nerves were on fire and the thought that England would hold him largely responsible crushed him. "What can we do?" he insisted, appealing to each one of them, little red shoots tingeing his pale, shifty eyes, his nervous fingers playing with his high collar.

"There's nothing to be done further than I have done—just yet. I have sent instructions broadcast. Every ship has received orders. There is nothing to do but to sit still and wait."

A LITTLE silence fell upon the room and each man was busy with his thoughts. And in that silence, noiselessly, like a phantom figure, Eva Darien walked slowly up the room from behind the screen. Not until she was within the yellow circle of light thrown down from the hanging lamp above the table did any one speak, and then Algy Brett leaped to his feet and crossed over to her.

"Miss Darien," he said quickly, anxiety in his voice as he looked into the ashen face. " Surely you ought to have rested——"

She interrupted him with a little gesture. And then, continuing her way across the yellow patch, she walked up to Sir Dean.

"I think I have a message for you from my brother," she said simply.

Every man was standing and every man's eyes were on her face. She looked like a woman in a trance, her deep eyes burning blackly in the pale setting of her face, the only sign of consciousness.

"A message——" Sir Dean's voice was almost a whisper, and a wave of compassion passed over his face as he looked down at her. The thought flashed into his mind that the sudden tragedy had upset her brain. He tried to say something, but his tongue formed only the words "A message?"

She looked at him steadily. Not an emotion stirred from the frozen chill of her face—only those haunting eyes, blazing with something which he could not read as sorrow, met his and told of life.

"Yes, a message. Just now they permitted me to see him. I kissed his hand— they would not let me see his face—I kissed his hand and as I pressed my lips to it it opened slowly as though drawing my attention to that which lay within! I think it is a message meant for you—I think it is!"

Her voice weakened; she took a step nearer the table and laid upon it a paper— crushed and creased and red in places.

Sir Dean picked it up and read it through. Then read it through again and then again.

I am a prisoner in Alsopp Ostermann's air-ship. I can remember seeing him walk toward me as I was halfway down the terrace, then nothing more. I suppose they drugged me. I am supposed to be still insensible, but I have been conscious for the last hour. They have flung me into a lazarette between two steel walls—such a narrow space that makes it agony to breathe and a worse agony to write this message, but I must try and let some one know. The drug still fogs me, yet I can hear them talking quite plainly and clearly in the cabin beyond the inner wall of steel plates—the rivets of the plates are sinking deeper and deeper every moment into my flesh, so tightly am I wedged.

Whoever finds me, take this paper to Sir Dean Densham in Whitehall. To him the following—Break the news of my fate to my sister. Look in the lower left drawer of your ebony desk and there find the despatches and papers which by this time you will believe to be stolen and in the hands of the enemy. But I had observed strangers following me the last day or so, and as a test I carried faked despatches with me this afternoon.

Ostermann's anger is maniac at the deception; I can hear him raving and wrangling and shouting orders. They are going to murder me—to throw me overboard. It's horrible, the helplessness of waiting for them to come for me!

They have wireless on board and the operator has been working it for the last hotir. Once I heard Ostermann say "Call up the fleet and tell them——" the rest of it was lost. Then another order: "Strew London with the Seeds of Destruction. Strew them broadcast over England! Sow them on every ship they possess! Seeds of Destruction! Seeds of Death! A sower of the name of Ostermann! A reaper of the name of Gray Ghost, who will sound the last trump!"

He is laughing now—horrible laughter—and I can hear him emptying bags on the table—bags of something that rattle and roll like quantities of bullets and yet have the sound of stones being heaped together. I'd give the world to be able to seethrough this impenetrable steel, to warn you more clearly!

I think they are coming for me now—the ship is dropping and shooting to earth. Eva, my last thought——

"He saved the papers, thank God! He saved the papers!" Sir Dean muttered and passed the blood-stained page, torn from a pocket-book, across the table to Schlesinger.

Schlesinger read it once and handed it to Algy Brett, who was next to him, with the brief comment, "Bombs, I suppose!"

Algy read the posthumous message with his brain working rapidly and ever circling round the one man—Ostermann. Ostermann had been balked of the papers he had kidnapped Darien to get hold of. Ostermann had ordered the wholesale "sowing" of "Seeds of Destruction" in revenge, besides the brutal murder of Densham's secretary. What did he mean by "Seeds of Destruction?" Bombs? Schlesinger thought so. Bombs! Could it be? Were his allies from across the Channel already steaming toward England with the pennant of war flying in defiant triumph, or had the loss of the despatches delayed them? Were the "Seeds of Destruction" purely and solely a holocaustic revenge on Ostermann's part and entirely independent of the threatened invasion? Bombs? Bombs? But if they were bombs something would have happened before this! London could have been wrecked in the time which must have elapsed between the writing of the blood-stained little note and now. Now it was almost one o'clock. An hour after that fatal midnight! An hour since St. Stephen's had boomed out Carlile Darien's death-signal! In an hour something would have happened? And yet that warning, written by a hand that was barely cold in death! It was impossible to disregard it!

And then, in a flash, light came to him. It was as though a voice breathed in his ear —the chill, wraith's voice of the murdered Darien!

He flung round in a frenzy of excitement, the blood flaming in his face, his eyes snapping.

"The late edition of the Westminster Gazette?" he cried eagerly. "I saw Edmonds hand it to you, uncle."

He searched among the papers on the desk and found it. It was a midnight edition on the Parliamentary crisis. He turned in awkward haste to the stop-press news and read a short three-line sentence out loud.

A van-driver was killed late this evening in Fleet Street by a meteorite. It struck him with such great force that it was found imbedded in his brain on arrival at St. Bartholomew's Hospital.

Brett flung the paper down before Schlesinger.

"A meteorite?" he said, his voice shrill with meaning. "A meteorite, or a 'Seed of Destruction?' Which?"


THE dawn found Algy Brett returning from a laborious, systematic search which had resulted in his possessing three peculiarly round, peculiarly similar, dead-white, lead-heavy stones. One he had picked up in an area of the new War Office buildings, one in the yard of "St. Paul's Cathedral, and one he had been permitted to secure from St. Bartholomew's, spotted red with its victim's blood.

He took them straight to Schlesinger.

Schlesinger looked at them almost carelessly and tossed them on to a side table.

"Bombs—deadly bombs!" he said shortly. "Bombs, but devilishly ingenious! That little lot of three must alone have cost a pretty big sum, and the man who is responsible for their being where you found them must either be a lunatic or an enemy more than ordinarily vindictive and cruel."

Brett received the big detective's verdict without moving a muscle. That the evilly pallid things were bombs of some sort of other he had guessed—it would be absolute foolishness to attempt to think otherwise-and he also realized that, whatever their ultimate purpose, at present they were harmless. So he watched Schlesinger toss them on the side-table with the composure of a war veteran.

"We guessed that at one o'clock this morning!" he said coolly. "We only wanted to authenticate Darien's message that they were sowing what they facetiously called seeds! What I now want to know is what will send them off? That they are intended to go off at a certain time is obvious —but when! That's the mighty question? When? And another mighty question is, How? It's a certainty that Ostermann, when he has finished 'placing' the beastly things, isn't going to spend some more time hunting 'em up and setting 'em off! That isn't likely, is it? Especially if there's a daisy little fleet of men-of-war twiddling their thumbs outside there waiting for London to be blown to eternity so they can then rush in and sing 'We're King of the Castle' at long, long last?"

"I should say it was not at all likely, Mr. Brett. The things will go off by themselves in due course."

"And we can do nothing but sit still and twiddle our thumbs till they do?"

"We can do something, certainly—we have done already a great deal. Sir Dean has made the communication wires in every inch of England red-hot with instructions; secret agents have almost worn a path from Whitehall to all the arsenals, barracks, depots, telephone exchanges; the coasts are alive with moving gun-barrels; the water is black with scouting destroyers; every ship is cleared for action! Sir Dean is a wonderful old fellow. You ought to be proud of being his nephew. According to him he's a little proud of you, eh? I heard of your adventure of the stolen battleships and the Liverpool affair. Good lad! I wish you belonged to me."

"It would be exciting, wouldn't it? But tell me more. Tell me in what numbers do you think they have sown these things? I searched the War Office from ceiling to cellar—we all did—and we found nothing but that one white stone, and that was outside the building. Do you think they'd be satisfied with one?"

"One would be more than sufficient to make hay of Whitehall itself, let alone the War Office! Staking everything to the unit System, I think we have London anyway almost freed from the menace. My men have been busy. They have swarmed over the face of the map like bees. And they've collected a, most satisfactory amount of honey!"

"Phew! That's good news, isn't it?" exclaimed Algy, his face lighting up.

"Very good," assented the detective, smiling at the other's enthusiasm. "But it would be more satisfactory if we could collect Ostermann. For two reasons I want him!"

"It's easier to put salt on a bird's tail than to try and catch Ostermann. What are the two reasons?"

"First, he may set to work any moment the power which is to explode his 'Seeds of Destruction.' Secondly, we do not know that he has sown them all!"

"If I could only discover the secret—the unholy secret of those anemic pebbles! If we knew that——"

"Even then we would not be much better off than we are now. It's that man Ostermann, the master hand! Ostermann, who, by a finger pressed upon a tiny button, can gain the power to slaughter us all!"

BRETT sprang up from his chair and leaned over Schlesinger, peering into his clever, emaciated face with eyes ablaze.

"You know? You've solved the riddle? You know the secret of the bombs? Lord, here have I been chewing my nails trying to puzzle it out and you've known it all the time! Tell me!"

The detective, famous in two continents, known the world over, reverenced by his satellites, consulted by every crowned head in Europe, the Czar's personal friend, stood up suddenly before Algy Brett and bade him look at him.

He was more than ordinarily tall, emaciated to a point verging on a skeleton, with narrow shoulders shrugged up to his ears, a mass of stringy hair strikingly white and lifeless, a pair of brilliant eyes deeply sunk. Above them protruded a pair of bushy brows whose inky blackness was. almost grotesque in harsh comparison with his ashen hair and colorless face, seered and lined and pitted as though a lingering, unconquerable disease devoured and fed it.

"Look at me!" he commanded. "In me—in the wreck of a fine man you see—a martyr to science! Years ago my name was beginning to be whispered abroad as a scientist. I intended to make it a name to conjure with. Perhaps, after all, I have succeeded in that aim, though not in the career I loved best in the world. Perhaps—who knows?—I have done better work in this sphere than I might have done in that other. But to continue.

"One of the mysteries I attacked day and night was the mystery of why some operators of what is known as the X-rays should have become attacked by a virulent, incurable disease—why its most persistent disciples should, almost without exception, be stricken by the deadly malady. I failed to succeed. I fell a victim myself and was ill for years—for so many years that my place was filled; striplings had raced ahead of me; I was a forgotten quantity.

"There was nothing for it but to turn my attention to the profession I loved next after science. I became what you know me to be to-day, but I dabbled still, and one day, not a great many since, I stumbled across the secret which had baffled me so long, which had baffled the whole company of medical men for so long. I discovered the poisonous fang!

"I discovered one solitary, isolated, single ray—a ray so deadly in its undreamed of power, so malignant, so tremendous in its consequences when used alone that it will make the whole world sick with horrified wonder and dismay when the knowledge is given to it! A thin, pale purple ray—in reality a flaming sword—the swiftest messenger of death ever sent from heaven or hell or from the cankered mind of him who also has discovered it! He who has known of it, improved on it, welded it to his colossal purpose, sold it to his allies for thirty pieces of silver!

"This is Ostermann's secret! This is how he will destroy England—how he hopes to pave the way for that attacking army which may even now be awaiting the signal to empty its numbers into London and seize a victory on the heels of panic! First he sows the seeds, and as the sun in the heavens shines down and brings to life the seeds we sow, so Ostermann, flashing like a meteor through the skies, will with his purple ray shine on the seeds he has scattered broadcast upon the earth, and each of those curiously shaped, curiously innocent-looking little white stones there will burst forth and shoot out tongues of fire! Ingenious, isn't it?"

Algy licked his lips. They were burning and parched as though a fever gripped him. Perhaps it did—the fever of an almost insane and helpless anger against Alsopp Ostermann.

"Ingenious!" he cried bitterly, his eyes wet. "Ingenious! The Man of Hell himself couldn't have invented anything more monstrous—or used it worse! Ostermann! We're helpless! We're in Ostermann's power!"

"We've done the one and only thing we could have done without capturing the man himself. Thanks to poor Darien we've been able to do something!"

"YOU mean reaping his harvest? Or at least reaping a patch or two of it? " cried Brett with a cackle of laughter shaking his voice.

"We've reaped most of it, I hope," said Schlesinger slowly. "Those bombs must have taken days and days to fashion and cost thousands of pounds each. It is not likely on the face of it that our enemies—no matter how rich and envious and ambitious—would supply Ostermann with a larger quantity than necessary. I am relying on the theory that Ostermann does not allow for any possible hitch occurring. He has sown every 'Seed of Destruction' he had aboard his air-ship and, for a space at least, we are safe."

"The toss-up is whether he has any emergency store of them somewhere handy to fall back on."

"Not in England!" said Schlesinger grimly.

"Why not?"

"The ray would explode the emergency store at the same time it was blowing up the others! I doubt whether he'd even risk keeping one aboard his air-ship while he was working the ray apparatus! Thanks to that. poor fellow Darien, I think we have him hip and thigh over this little job, eh?"

Schlesinger clasped his thin fingers and a flame of triumphal pride shot from his hidden eyes.

"Thanks also to your wonderful brain, Schlesinger!" cried Algy, grasping the' folded hands and pressing them with boyish gratitude and hero-worship. "If you hadn't figured what those beastly little pebbles meant and had delayed sending out every bobby in London—and every village out of it where they possess a bobby—to hunt all out, we'd have been preparing to die at any moment! They ought to let you loose in the Mint for this, with a couple of sacks!"

"We're not out of the wood yet, sonny!" said the detective, smiling. "We can not be certain that we have even picked up half——"

Even as he spoke the ground beneath them quivered, a dull roar filled the little room with thunder, a horrible, sickening sound of tremendous explosion shook the world, and for a long, long, unending century that was but a minute of time it was as though the universe had fallen and were crashing about their ears.

Stunned and pale they clung to each other—the man and the boy—fearful and shaking. Then they dashed to the window and tore the blind aside.

Peering out, they saw the eastern sky just cutting a thread of opal-tinted pink, foretelling dawn.

Upon the river below, the wharfs were tinging slowly with the reflection of the thread, and beyond the river, hovering like a fog-clogged cloud, shapeless and distant, gray and menacing, something sailed rapidly through the clearing air!

Algy leaned heavily against Schlesinger, craning his neck round the dividing middle frame of the narrow window.

He pointed to it, his breath catching as though sobs choked him, his eyes flecked with the funny little streaks of red which had shot through them when he fled from the secretary's broken body as it lay at his feet in the street.

"Gray Ghost!" he whispered pointing. "Gray Ghost!"

"And the Ray!" assented Schlesinger.

Yes, and the Ray! It was falling from the air-ship like a stream of molten lead—thin, purple in color, unwavering. At times it also reflected the radiant rose color of the coming dawn and became a flaming sword —the sword of battle and murder and death, tinged and streaked with crimson bloQd!

And to meet it, as though welcoming its coining, the earth shot into red and yellow flames, licking the purple ray and staining the dawn with smoke-grimed fingers.

"Woolwich Arsenal!" cried Schlesinger, a bitter chagrin eating into his voice, "Woolwich! Those fools!"

Osteonann had drawn first blood.


AN HOUR passed—an horn: of agony and anxiety. London had poured out into the streets—a jostling, fighting swarm of terrified creatures who had taken the terrific explosion of Woolwich Arsenal to be the sign and signal that the end of the world was approaching. They marched down Whitehall, armies of them, ragged and rich, singing hymns and offering up delirious prayers to the heavens which were red and menacing with the glare of burning Woolwich. They massed together in side streets, afraid to go back to their homes, refusing to believe that all danger was at an end.

And as though to determine them in their obstinacy a second shock, though less violent than the first, shattered the stillness and made the earth heave and rumble beneath their flying feet! Once more the Ray had done its work. This time it was farther away—somewhere toward the mouth of the river. And then, in quick succession, a third explosion followed hard on the heels of the second, and again the lurid glow lighted up the sky!

Schlesinger turned to Brett.

"Probably Gravesend—and Sheerness. The last one was a considerable distance off. Probably the unit system has failed to work! Though I am thankful to say I did not rely absolutely upon it, especially in places of naval or military importance! But all the same, even three is more than I hoped he would get!"

Algy turned round from the window. In the last hour he had not moved an inch away from it. But at the last explosion the mob had scurried away like frightened rabbits and the street was almost clear again. He pointed it out to the detective. "It's fairly clear now. Shall I run over and see Uncle Dean? He asked me to slip across as soon as I could with safety."

"Yes, do. I'll just get through to him again and tell him you're going. I will follow you, perhaps, but at present I must stay here and take the messages as they come in."

THE look of age had deepened on Sir Dean's face. It was the face of a man who had lived a troubled century in the hours that had gone. He turned to his nephew with a flash of relief lighting up the gloom of his eyes.

"Well, boy, any more news? I'm very glad to have you here. I'm very lonely."

"Has Miss Darien gone?"

"Yes. Vales took her home. Tell me what Schlesinger thinks. Algy, it's driving me mad to realize that I must sit here and wait, wait, while that fiend up there does his evil work at will! Three victories for him in London and four from the country! Thank God, our ships are safe and are searching the Channel—scouring the North . Sea for the enemy. Though I expect that, as things have not turned out quite as they planned, they have gone back to port to await further advice from Ostermann."

"Thanks to Schlesinger, this night's work must be as gall and wormwood in Ostermann's mouth! And I'd give all I possess in this world if we could only see him tasting the bitterness of his failure!"

"I would give the rest of my life itself to be able to rid England of such an enemy! If I could only do something! It's this awful state of helplessness that's driving me mad! If we could do something!"

"Still, the list isn't a quarter as bad as it might have been, sir. Only seven. Woolwich, Shorncliffe, Aldershot, a Tyneside yard, and unauthenticated reports from Dover and Sheerness and Gravesend! A severe bucketing, but nothing like it might have been! Think of the carnage if Schlesinger had not acted within five minutes of leaving here!"

"A worse bucketing! Aye! And we must swallow it without a murmur because we can do nothing! We have no proof! We have a man like John Sterrith at our head—frightened, intent on keeping his ministerial fingers clean, starving England on his peace-at-all-costs policy! Peace, forsooth, because he is afraid of the sound of shots!"

"Well, he's got some in advance and unasked for this time. Perhaps it will wake him up. If he had only sanctioned that loan to Hafner and myself we might have had the nucleus of a fine fleet of aerial men-of-war now and could have gone out on the stroke of twelve and fought Ostermann on his own level! Even if I could have managed Star of the Sea I would have at least tried to wing that monster bird of prey, but since Hafner lias disappeared the engine has broken down and no one seems able to understand the stupid thing. If only Hafner——"

"Hafner? What has become of him? Disappeared?"

"Yes, immediately we landed after the stolen battleship affair. I had prophesied that his share of the deal would be enough to keep him for the rest of his life and that he could at least enjoy himself building air-ship models. I even suggested to him that the Government might be able to see wisdom in a year or so and that then his fortune would be made. But he didn't care for anything I said. He seemed dazed.

"I think that the excitement of being so close to his hated enemy, being, as it were, within an inch of victory and the consummation of his long-cherished revenge, and then for Ostermann to escape him in the last was too much for his brain. Anyway, he escaped me and, though I have searched everywhere for him, I can't find him. I suppose he'll turn up again some day.

"There's one thing that makes me think so and that is he gave me his word of honor that if he possibly could he'd let me in at the death! And if I know anything of Hafner he's the kind of beggar to glory in the fact of there being witnesses to his final, gloating triumph! Oh, Hafner will turn up again, I've no doubt, but I wish he'd have done it before this!"

The words were scarcely out of Brett's mouth when the telephone-bell rang sharply at his elbow and, with a nod of assent from Sir Dean, he took off the receiver and listened.

A raucous voice, stifled and barely intelligible, came through, and at the sound of it Algy's face flushed up with sudden excitement and he uttered a name for his uncle's benefit, motioning him to take up the second receiver.

Hafner! It was Hafner's voice! Hafner trying passionately to control his words and failing! They came tumbling and racing through the telephone, tripping one another up, stumbling one upon the other, somewhat incoherent, sometimes utterly incomprehensible, but always thrilling with a fervid excitement and a fierce, unholy joy.

"I've got him! I've got him! I have watched all night and wondered what his game was! Then when Woolwich Arsenal blew up I knew! I watched him still, 'im and 'is purple searchlight, watched him circling and darting away up and out of sight! Then coming back slowly down like a bird, down, down, close as 'e dared to the earth, as though searching for summat he couldn't find. Sometimes he'd go off for a long time and then swoop back again an' search again with his purple light. An' then it 'appened. Something went wrong with 'Gray Ghost'! I could hear her groaning as she flew—it looked as though she was coming straight in my direction, and flying low and listing badly and one of 'er wings drooping! She's manned and broken for the first time in 'er life—a bad break, and Ostermann is in my power——"

The raucous voice died away in a wild sob and Brett shouted wildly for him to go on— to go on—that every minute was precious—every second meant a chance for Ostermann!

"Where are you speaking from, Hafner? Where are we to find you?" he yelled, forgetting everything in his wild excitement. "Where are you, and where is Ostermann? "

Hafner laughed like a madman at the other end of the wire and they could hear him gurgling, delirious with the frenzy of his sudden opportunity.

"Where are you?" demanded Algy for the third time, a fierce impatience shaking him. "If you won't tell us we will have to set the Yard on to find him, and the moment we do that he will know! And he's not the man to sit still and wait for them to run him down, is he? Look here, Hafner, if you don't work with us you'll let him slip through your fingers! Where are you?"

"In a call-office in Wapping. I've been doin' a bit of work down 'ere and livin' in a garret of a house. The garret has a door on to the roof and I was up there when I caught sight of Gray Ghost. Ostermann and Gray Ghost disappeared somewhere on the river banks. I'm going out now to find out where. I'm goin' to 'unt him down, and if I meet him face to face——!"

"Tell me where you are! Give me your address, you idiot, or tell me where I can meet you! You can't hunt that man down alone! Wait for me to come along with you. Will you? Why not? You promised me I should be in at the end! I promise you I won't try and stop your taking your revenge—you can tear his heart out and jump on it if you like—only let me be there, too! Will you?"

They listened to him growling and grumbling and grunting at the other end and waited anxiously for the decision he 'Was struggling to. And then at last it came—reluctant and ungracious, but a consent.

"Well, yer can come when I've found 'im —not before that, mind yer, though! I won't 'ave yer nosing around and giving 'im the straight tip to clear out! And if yer won't try and tell me murder ain't nice and the sight not pretty enough to suit yer! Yer can come if yer'll promise me yer'll wait till I tell yer to come—oh, no fear of that, I'll give yer time and plenty! You go to yer bed and sleep till I want yer—that'll be time enough for you. Aw, I'll find him! He can't !ave gone far. He was winged too bad, he was! Now give me yer word you won't come hunting round with a lot of 'tects till I tell yer I'm ready. Thank yer. I'll 'old yer to that, mind!"

He rang off without a word, of warning, and Brett hung up his receiver with an air of bitter disappointment.

"More delays! " he said pettishly, flinging himself back in his chair. "I am sick of them all! Hafner is an ungrateful turncoat. I thought we'd got Ostermann at last! I thought we'd got him at last!"

"And perhaps we have," said Sir Dean slowly. "Perhaps we have. At least we are sure of one thing—Gray Ghost is disabled and out of the battle for a few hours, and without Gray Ghost Ostermann is powerless! For a few hours, then, we are safe. Although we can do nothing, for a few hours we are safe! Thank a merciful God—safe! And now ring through and tell Schlesinger I command him to go to bed!"