THE FORBIDDEN FOREST
When the news of a Hun atrocity committed on Swiss territory
was flashed to Berne, the Federal Assembly instantly suppressed it and
went into secret session. Followed another session, in camera, of the Federal
Council, whose seven members sat all night long envisaging war with haggard
faces. And something worse than war when they remembered the Forbidden
Forest and the phantom Canton of Les Errues.
For war between the Swiss Republic and the Hun seemed
very, very near during that ten days in Berne, and neither the National
Council nor the Council of the States in joint and in separate consultation
could see anything except a dreadful repetition of that eruption of barbarians
which had overwhelmed the land in 400 A. D. till every pass and valley
vomited German savages. And even more than that they feared the terrible
reckoning with the nation and with civilisation when war laid naked the
heart-breaking secret of the Forbidden Forest of Les Errues.
No! War could not be. A catastrophe more vital than war
threatened Switzerland--the world--wide revelation of a secret which, exposed,
would throw all civilisation into righteous fury and the Swiss Republic
itself into revolution.
And this sinister, hidden thing which must deter Switzerland
from declaring war against the Boche was a part of the Great Secret: and
a man and a woman in the Secret Service of the United States, lying hidden
among the forests below the white shoulder of Mount Thusis, were beginning
to guess more about that secret than either of them had dared to imagine.
There where they lay together side by side among Alpine
roses in full bloom--there on the crag's edge, watching the Swiss soldiery
below combing the flanks of Mount Terrible for the perpetrators of that
hellish murder at the shrine, these two people could see the Via Mala which
had been the Via Crucis--the tragic Golgotha for that poor girl Helsa Kampf.
They could almost see the gaunt, black cross itself from
which the brutish Boches had kicked the carved and weather-beaten figure
of Christ in order to nail to the massive cross the living hands and feet
of that half-senseless girl whom they supposed had betrayed them.
The man lying there on the edge of the chasm was Kay McKay;
the girl stretched on her stomach beside him was Evelyn Erith.
All that day they watched the Swiss soldiers searching
Mount Terrible; saw a red fox steal from the lower thickets and bolt between
the legs of the beaters who swung their rifle-butts at the streak of ruddy
fur; saw little mountain birds scatter into flight, so closely and minutely
the soldiers searched; saw even a big auerhahn burst into thunderous flight
from the ferns to a pine and from the pine out across the terrific depths
of space below the white shoulder of Thusis. At night the Swiss camp-fires
glimmered on the rocks of Mount Terrible while, fireless, McKay and Miss
Erith lay in their blankets under heaps of dead leaves on the knees of
Thusis, cold as the moon that silvered their forest beds.
But it was the last of the soldiery on Mount Terrible;
for dawn revealed their dead fire and a summit untenanted save by the stark
and phantom crucifix looming through rising mists.
Evelyn Erith still slept; McKay fed the three carrier-pigeons,
washed himself at the snow-rill in the woods, then went over to the crag's
gritty edge under which for three days now the ghoulish clamour of a lammergeier
had seldom ceased. And now, as McKay peered down, two stein-adlers came
flapping to the shelf on which hung something that seemed to flutter at
times like a shred of cloth stirred by the abyss winds.
The lammergeier, huge and horrible with scarlet eyes ablaze,
came out on the shelf of rock and yelped at the great rock-eagles; but,
if something indeed lay dead there, possibly it was enough for all--or
perhaps the vulture-like bird was too heavily gorged to offer battle. McKay
saw the rock-eagles alight heavily on the shelf, then, squealing defiance,
hulk forward, undeterred by the hobgoblin tumult of the lammergeier.
McKay leaned over the gulf as far as he dared. He could
get down to the shelf; he was now convinced of that. Only fear of being
seen by the soldiers on Mount Terrible had hitherto prevented him.
Rope and steel-shod stick aided him. Sapling and shrub
stood loyally as his allies. The rock-eagles heard him coming and launched
themselves overboard into the depthless sea of air; the lammergeier, a
huge, foul mass of distended feathers, glared at him out of blazing scarlet
eyes; and all around was his vomit and casting in a mass of bloody human
bones and shreds of clothing.
And it was in that nauseating place of peril, confronting
the grisly thing that might have hurled him outward into space with one
wing-blow had it not been clogged with human flesh and incapable, that
McKay reached for the remnants of the dead Hun's clothing and, facing the
feathered horror, searched for evidence and information.
Never had he been so afraid; never had he so loathed a
living creature as this unclean and spectral thing that sat gibbering and
voiding filth at him--the ghastly symbol of the Hunnish empire itself befouling
the clean-picked bones of the planet it was dismembering.
He had his pistol but dared not fire, not knowing what
ears across the gorge might hear the shot, not knowing either whether the
death-agonies of the enormous thing might hurl him a thousand feet to annihilation.
So he took what he found in the rags of clothing and climbed
back as slowly and stealthily as he had come.
And found Miss Erith cross-legged on the dead leaves braiding
her yellow hair in the first sun-rays.
Tethered by long cords attached to anklets over one leg
the three pigeons walked busily around under the trees gorging themselves
on last year's mast.
That afternoon they dared light a fire and made soup from
the beef tablets in their packs--the first warm food they had tasted in
A declining sun painted the crags in raw splendour; valleys
were already dusky; a vast stretch of misty glory beyond the world of mountains
to the north was Alsace; southward there was no end to the myriad snowy
summits, cloud-like, piled along the horizon. The brief meal ended.
McKay set a pannikin of water to boil and returned to
his yellow-haired comrade. Like some slim Swiss youth--some boy mountaineer--and
clothed like one, Miss Erith sat at the foot of a tree in the ruddy sunlight
studying once more the papers which McKay had discovered that morning among
the bloody debris on the shelf of rock.
As he came up he knew he had never seen anything as pretty
in his life, but he did not say so. Any hint of sentiment that might have
budded had been left behind when they crossed the Swiss wire beyond Delle.
An enforced intimacy such as theirs tended to sober them both; and if at
times it preoccupied them, that was an added reason not only to ignore
it but also to conceal any effort it might entail to take amiably but indifferently
a situation foreseen, deliberately embraced, yet scarcely entirely discounted.
The girl was so pretty in her youth's clothing; her delicate
ankles and white knees bare between the conventional thigh-length of green
embossed leather breeches, rough green stockings, and fleece-lined hob-nailed
shoes. And over the boy's shirt the mountaineer's frieze jacket!--with
staghorn buttons. And the rough wool cuff fell on the hands of a
duchess!--pistols at either hip, and a murderous Bavarian knife in front.
Glancing up at him where he stood under the red pine beside
her: "I'll do the dishes presently," she said.
"I'll do them," he remarked, his eyes involuntarily seeking
A pink flush grew on her weather-tanned face--or perhaps
it was the reddening sunlight stealing through some velvet piny space in
the forest barrier. If it was a slight blush in recognition of his admiration
she wondered at her capacity for blushing. However, Marie Antoinette coloured
from temple to throat on the scaffold. But the girl knew that the poor
Queen's fate was an enviable one compared to what awaited her if she fell
into the hands of the Hun.
McKay seated himself near her. The sunny silence of the
mountains was intense. Over a mass of alpine wild flowers hanging heavy
and fragrant between rocky clefts two very large and intensely white butterflies
fought a fairy battle for the favours of a third--a dainty, bewildering
creature, clinging to an unopened bud, its snowy wings a-quiver.
The girl's golden eyes noted the pretty courtship, and
her side glance rested on the little bride to be with an odd, indefinite
curiosity, partly interrogative, partly disdainful.
It seemed odd to the girl that in this Alpine solitude
life should be encountered at all. And as for life's emotions, the frail,
frivolous, ephemeral fury of these white-winged ghosts of daylight, embattled
and all tremulous with passion, seemed exquisitely amazing to her here
between the chaste and icy immobility of white-veiled peaks and the terrific
twilight of the world's depths below.
McKay, studying the papers, glanced up at Miss Erith.
A bar of rosy sunset light slanted almost level between them.
"There seems to be," he said slowly, "only one explanation
for what you and I read here. The Boche has had his filthy fist on the
throat of Switzerland for fifty years."
"And what is 'Les Errues' to which these documents continually
refer?" asked the girl.
"Les Errues is the twenty-seventh canton of Switzerland.
It is the strip of forest and crag which includes all the northeastern
region below Mount Terrible. It is a canton, a secret canton unrepresented
in the Federal Assembly--a region without human population--a secret slice
of Swiss wilderness OWNED BY GERMANY!"
"Kay, do you believe that?"
"I am sure of it now. It is that wilderness into which
I stumbled. It overlooks the terrain in Alsace where for fifty years the
Hun has been busy day and night with his sinister, occult operations. Its
entrance, if there be any save by the way of avalanches--the way I entered--must
be guarded by the Huns; its only exit into Hunland. That is Les Errues.
That is the region which masks the Great Secret of the Hun."
He dropped the papers and, clasping his knees in his arms,
sat staring out into the infernal blaze of sunset.
"The world," he said slowly, "pays little attention to
that agglomeration of cantons called Switzerland. The few among us who
know anything about its government might recollect that there are twenty-six
cantons--the list begins, Aargau, Appenzell, Ausser-Rhoden, Inner-Rhoden--you
may remember--and ends with Valais, Vaud, Zug, and Zurich. And Les Errues
is the twenty-seventh canton!"
"Yes," said the girl in a low voice, "the evidence lies
at your feet."
"Surely, surely," he muttered, his fixed gaze lost on
the crimson celestial conflagration. She said, thinking aloud, and her
clear eyes on him:
"Then, of the Great Secret, we have learned this much
anyway--that there exists in Switzerland a secret canton called Les Errues;
that it is practically Hun territory; that it masks what they call their
Great Secret; that their ownership or domination of Les Errues is probably
a price paid secretly by the Swiss government for its national freedom
and that this arrangement is absolutely unknown to anybody in the world
outside of the Imperial Hun government and the few Swiss who have inherited,
politically, a terrible knowledge of this bargain dating back, probably,
"That is the situation we are confronting," admitted McKay
She said with perfect simplicity: "Of course we must go
into Les Errues."
"Of course, comrade. How?"
He had no plan--could have none. She knew it. Her question
was merely meant to convey to him a subtle confirmation of her loyalty
and courage. She scarcely expected to escape a dreadful fate on this quest--did
not quite see how either of them could really hope to come out alive. But
that they could discover the Great Secret of the Hun, and convey to the
world by means of their pigeons some details of the discovery, she felt
reasonably certain. She had much faith in the arrangements they had made
to do this.
"One thing worries me a lot," remarked McKay pleasantly.
She said: "Now that the Boche have left Mount Terrible--except
that wretched creature whose bones lie on the shelf below--we might venture
to kill whatever game we can find."
"I'm going to," he said. "The Swiss troops have cleared
out. I've got to risk it. Of course, down there in Les Errues, some Hun
guarding some secret chamois trail into the forbidden wilderness may hear
"We shall have to take that chance," she remarked.
He said in the low, quiet voice which always thrilled
her a little: "You poor child--you are hungry."
"So are you, Kay."
"Hungry? These rations act like cocktails: I could barbecue
a roebuck and finish him with you at one sitting!"
"Monsieur et Madame Gargantua," she mocked him with her
enchanting laughter. Then, wistful: "Kay, did you see that very fat and
saucy auerhahn which the Swiss soldiers scared out of the pines down there?"
"I did," said McKay. "My mouth watered."
"He was quite as big as a wild turkey," sighed the girl.
"They're devils to get," said McKay, "and with only a
pistol--well, anyway we'll try to-night. Did you mark that bird?"
"Yes; mark him down?"
She shook her pretty head.
"Well, I did," grinned McKay. "It's habit with a man who
shoots. Besides, seeing him was like a bit of Scotland--their auerhahn
is kin to the black-cock and capercailzie. So I marked him to the skirt
of Thusis, yonder--in line with that needle across the gulf and, through
it, to that bunch of pinkish-stemmed pines--there where the brook falls
into silver dust above that gorge. He'll lie there. Just before daybreak
he'll mount to the top of one of those pines. We'll hear his yelping. That's
our only chance at him."
"Could you ever hit him in the dark of dawn, Kay?"
"With a pistol? And him atop a pine? No, not under ordinary
conditions. But I'm hungry, dear Yellow-hair, and that is not all: you
are hungry--" He looked at her so intently that the colour tinted her face
and the faint little thrill again possessed her.
Her glance stole involuntarily toward the white butterflies.
One had disappeared. The two others, drunk with their courtship, clung
to a scented blossom.
Gravely Miss Erith lifted her young eyes to the eternal
peaks--to Thusis, icy, immaculate, chastely veiled before the stealthy
advent of the night.
Oddly, yet without fear, death seemed to her very near.
And love, also--both in the air, both abroad and stirring, yet neither
now of vital consequence. Only service meant anything now to this young
man so near her--to herself. And after that--after accomplishment--love?--death?--either
might come to them then. And find them ready, perhaps.
The awful, witch-like screaming of the lammergeier saluted
the falling darkness where he squatted, a huge huddle of unclean plumage
amid the debris of decay and death.
"I don't believe I could have faced that," murmured the
girl. "You have more courage than I have, Kay."
"No! I was scared stiff. A bird like that could break
a man's arm with a wing-blow.... That--that thing he'd been feeding on--it
must have been a Boche of high military rank to carry these papers."
"You could not find out?"
"There were only the rags of his mufti there and these
papers inside them. Nothing to identify him personally--not a tag, not
a shred of anything. Unless the geier bolted it--"
She turned aside in disgust at the thought.
"When do you suppose he happened to fall to his death
"In the darkness when the Huns scattered after the crucifixion.
Perhaps the horror of it came suddenly upon him--God knows what happened
when he stepped outward into depthless space and went crashing down to
They had stayed their hunger on the rations. It was bitter
cold in the leafy lap of Thusis, but they feared to light a fire that night.
McKay fed and covered the pigeons in their light wicker
box which was carried strapped to his mountain pack.
Evelyn Erith fell asleep in her blanket under the dead
leaves piled over her by McKay. After awhile he slept too; but before dawn
he awoke, took a flash-light and his pistol and started down the slope
for the wood's edge.
Her sweet, sleepy voice halted him: "Kay dear?"
"May I go?"
"Don't you want to sleep?"
She sat up under a tumbling shower of silvery dead leaves,
shook out her hair, gathered it and twisted it around her brow like a turban.
Then, flashing her own torch, she sprang to her feet and
ran lightly down to where the snow brook whirled in mossy pools below.
When she came back he took her cold smooth little hand
fresh from icy ablutions: "We must beat it," he said; "that auerhahn won't
stay long in his pine-tree after dawn. Extinguish your torch."
She obeyed and her warning fingers clasped his more closely
as together they descended the path of light traced out before them by
his electric torch.
Down, down, down they went under hard-wood and evergreen,
across little fissures full of fern, skirting great slabs of rock, making
detours where tangles checked progress.
Through tree-tops the sky glittered--one vast sheet of
stars; and in the forest was a pale lustre born of this celestial splendour--a
pallid dimness like that unreal day which reigns in the regions of the
"We might meet the shade of Helen here," said the girl,
"or of Eurydice. This is a realm of spirits. ... We may be one with them
very soon--you and I. Do you suppose we shall wander here among these trees
as long as time lasts?"
"It's all right if we're together, Yellow-hair."
There was no accent from his fingers clasped in hers;
none in hers either.
"I hope we'll be together, then," she said.
"Will you search for me, Yellow-hair?"
"Yes. Will you, Kay?"
"And I--always--until I find you or you find me." ...
Presently she laughed gaily under her breath: "A solemn bargain, isn't
"More solemn than marriage."
"Yes," said the girl faintly.
Something went crashing off into the woods as they reached
the hogback which linked them with the group of pines whither the big game-bird
had pitched into cover. Perhaps it was a roe deer; McKay flashed the direction
"If it were a Boche?" she whispered.
"No; it sounded like a four-legged beast. There are chamois
and roe deer and big mountain hares along these heights."
They went on until the hog-back of sheer rock loomed straight
ahead, and beyond, against a paling sky, the clump of high pines toward
which they were bound.
McKay extinguished his torch and pocketed it.
"The sun will lead us back, Yellow-hair," he whispered.
"Now hold very tightly to my hand, for it's a slippery and narrow way we
The rocks were glassy. But there were bushes and mosses;
and presently wild grass and soil on the other side.
All around them, now, the tall pines loomed, faintly harmonious
in the rising morning breeze which, in fair weather, always blows DOWN
from the upper peaks into the valleys. Into the shadows they passed together
a little way; then halted. The girl rested one shoulder against a great
pine, leaning there and facing him where he also rested, listening.
There reigned in the woods that intense stillness which
precedes dawn--an almost painful tension resembling apprehension. Always
the first faint bird-note breaks it; then silence ends like a deep sigh
exhaling and death seems very far away.
Now above them the stars had grown very dim; and presently
some faded out.
And after a little while a small mountain bird twittered
sleepily. Then unseen by them, the east glimmered like a sheet of tarnished
silver. And out over the dark world of mountains, high above the solitude,
rang the uncanny cry of an auerhahn.
Again the big, unseen bird saluted the coming day. McKay
stole forward drawing his pistol and the girl followed.
The weird outcry of the auerhahn guided them, sounding
from somewhere above among the black crests of the pines, nearer at hand,
now, clearer, closer, more weird, until McKay halted peering upward, his
As yet the crests of the pines were merely soft blots
above. Yet as they stood straining their eyes upward, striving to discover
the location of the great bird by its clamour, vaguely the branches began
to take shape against the greying sky.
Clearer, more distinct they grew until feathery masses
of pine-needles stood clustered against the sky like the wondrous rendering
in a Japanese print. And all the while, at intervals, the auerhahn's ghostly
shrieking made a sinister tumult in the woods.
Suddenly they saw him. Miss Erith touched McKay and pointed
cautiously. There, on a partly naked tree-top, was a huge, crouching mass--an
enormous bird, pumping its head at every uttered cry and spreading a big
fan-like tail and beating the air with stiff-curved drooping wings.
McKay whispered: "I'll try to shoot straight because you're
hungry, Yellow-hair"; and all the while his pistol-arm slanted higher and
higner. For a second, it remained motionless; then a red streak split the
darkness and the pistol-shot crashed in her ears.
There came another sound, too--a thunderous flapping and
thrashing in the tree-top, the furious battering, falling tumult of broken
branches and blindly beating wings, drumming convulsively in descent. Then
came a thud; a feathery tattoo on the ground; silence in the woods.
"And so you shall not go hungry, Yellow-hair," said McKay
with his nice smile.
They had done a good deal by the middle of the afternoon;
they had broiled the big bird, dined luxuriously, had stored the remainder
in their packs which they were preparing to carry with them into the forbidden
forest of Les Errues.
There was only one way and that lay over the white shoulder
of Thusis--a cul-de-sac, according to all guide-books, and terminating
in a rest-hut near a cave glistening with icy stalagmites called Thusis's
Beyond this there was nothing--no path, no progress possible--only
a depthless gulf unabridged and the world of mountains beyond.
There was no way; yet, the time before, McKay had passed
over the white shoulder of Thusis and had penetrated the forbidden land--had
slid into it sideways, somewhere from Thusis's shoulder, on a fragment
of tiny avalanche. So there was a way!
"I don't know how it happened, Yellow-hair," he was explaining
as he adjusted and buckled her pack for her, "and whether I slid north
or east I never exactly knew. But if there's a path into Les Errues except
through the Hun wire, it must lie somewhere below Thusis. Because, unless
such a path exists, except for that guarded strip lying between the Boche
wire and the Swiss, only a winged thing could reach Les Errues across these
The girl said coolly: "Could you perhaps lower me into
A slight flush stained his cheek-bones: "That would be
my role, not yours. But there isn't rope enough in the Alps to reach Les
He was strapping the pigeon-cage to his pack as he spoke.
Now he hoisted and adjusted it, and stood looking across at the mountains
for a moment. Miss Erith's gaze followed him.
Thusis wore a delicate camouflage of mist. And there were
other bad signs to corroborate her virgin warning: distant mountains had
turned dark blue and seemed pasted in silhouettes against the silvery blue
sky. Also the winds had become prophetic, blowing out of the valleys and
UP the slopes.
All that morning McKay's thermometer had been rising and
his barometer had fallen steadily; haze had thickened on the mountains;
and, it being the season for the Fohn to blow, McKay had expected that
characteristic warm gale from the south to bring the violent rain which
always is to be expected at that season.
But the Fohn did not materialise; in the walnut and chestnut
forest around them not a leaf stirred; and gradually the mountains cleared,
became inartistically distinct, and turned a beautiful but disturbing dark-blue
colour. And Thusis wore her vestal veil in the full sun of noon.
"You know, Yellow-hair," he said, "all these signs are
as plain as printed notices. There's bad weather coming. The wind was south;
now it's west. I'll bet the mountain cattle are leaving the upper pastures."
He adjusted his binoculars; south of Mount Terrible on
another height there were alms; and he could see the cattle descending.
He saw something else, too, in the sky and level with
his levelled lenses--something like a bird steering toward him through
the whitish blue sky.
Still keeping it in his field of vision he spoke quietly:
"There's an airplane headed this way. Step under cover, please."
The girl moved up under the trees beside him and unslung
her glasses. Presently she also picked up the oncomer.
"I don't know. A monoplane. A Boche chaser, I think. Yes....
Do you see the cross? What insolence! What characteristic contempt for
a weaker people! Look at his signal! Do you see? Look at those smoke-balls
and ribbons! See him soaring there like a condor looking for a way among
The Hun hung low above them in mid-air, slowly wheeling
over the gulf. Perhaps it was his shadow or the roar of his engines that
routed out the lammergeier, for the unclean bird took the air on enormous
pinions, beating his way upward till he towered yelping above the Boche,
and their combined clamour came distinctly to the two watchers below.
Suddenly the Boche fired at the other winged thing; the
enraged and bewildered bird sheered away in flight and the Hun followed.
"That's why he shot," said McKay. "He's got a pilot, now."
Eagle and plane swept by almost level with the forest
where they stood staining with their shadows the white shoulder of Thusis.
Down into the gorge the great geier twisted; after him
sped the airplane, banking steeply in full chase. Both disappeared where
the flawless elbow of Thusis turns. Then, all alone, up out of the gulf
soared the plane.
"The Hun has discovered a landing-place in Les Errues,"
said McKay. "Watch him."
"There's another Hun somewhere along the shoulder of Thusis,"
said McKay. "They're exchanging signals. See how the plane circles like
a patient hawk. He's waiting for something. What's he waiting for, I wonder?"
For ten minutes the airplane circled leisurely over Thusis.
Then whatever the aviator was waiting for evidently happened, for he shut
off his engine; came down in graceful spirals; straightened out; glided
through the canyon and reappeared no more to the watchers in the forest
"Now," remarked McKay coolly, "we know where we ought
to go. Are you ready, Yellow-hair?"
They had been walking for ten minutes when Miss Erith
spoke in an ordinary tone of voice: "Kay? Do you think we're likely to
come out of this?"
"No," he said, not looking at her.
"But we'll get our information, you think?"
The girl fell a few paces behind him and looked up at
the pigeons where they sat in their light lattice cage crowning his pack.
"Please do your bit, little birds," she murmured to herself.
And, with a smile at them and a nod of confidence, she
stepped forward again and fell into the rhythm of his stride.
Very far away to the west they heard thunder stirring
behind Mount Terrible.
It was late in the afternoon when he halted near the eastern
edges of Thusis's Forest.
"Yellow-hair," he said very quietly, "I've led you into
a trap, I'm afraid. Look back. We've been followed!"
She turned. Through the trees, against an inky sky veined
with lightning, three men came out upon the further edge of the hog-back
which they had traversed a few minutes before, and seated themselves there
In the shelter of the crag. All three carried shotguns.
"You understand what that means?"
"Slip off your pack."
She disengaged her supple shoulders from the load and
he also slipped off his pack and leaned it against a tree.
"Now," he said, "you have two pistols and plenty of ammunition.
I want you to hold that hog-back. Not a man must cross."
However, the three men betrayed no inclination to cross.
They sat huddled in a row sheltered from the oncoming storm by a great
ledge of rock. But they held their shotguns poised and ready for action.
The girl crept toward a big walnut tree and, lying flat
on her stomach behind it, drew both pistols and looked around at McKay.
She was smiling.
His heart was in his throat as he nodded approval. He
turned and went rapidly eastward. Two minutes later he came running back,
exchanged a signal of caution with Miss Erith, and looked intently at the
three men under the ledge. It was now raining.
He drew from his breast a little book and on the thin
glazed paper of one leaf he wrote, with water-proof ink, the place and
date. And began his message:
"United States Army Int. Dept No. 76 and No. 77 are trapped
on the northwest edge of the wood of Les Errues which lies under the elbow
of Mount Thusis. From this plateau we had hoped to overlook that section
of the Hun frontier in which is taking place that occult operation known
as 'The Great Secret,' and which we suspect is a gigantic engineering project
begun fifty years ago for the purpose of piercing Swiss territory with
an enormous tunnel under Mount Terrible, giving the Hun armies a road into
France BEHIND the French battle-line and BEHIND Verdun.
"Unfortunately we are now trapped and our retreat is cut
off. It is unlikely that we shall be able to verify our suspicions concerning
the Great Secret. But we shall not be taken alive.
"We have, however, already discovered certain elements
intimately connected with the Great Secret.
"No. 1. Papers taken from a dead enemy show that the region
called Les Errues has been ceded to the Hun in a secret pact as the price
that Switzerland pays for immunity from the Boche invasion.
"2nd. The Swiss people are ignorant of this.
"3rd. The Boche guards all approaches to Les Errues. Except
by way of the Boche frontier there appears to be only one entrance to Les
Errues. We have just discovered it. The path is as follows: From Delle
over the Swiss wire to the Crucifix on Mount Terrible; from there east-by-north
along the chestnut woods to the shoulder of Mount Thusis. From thence,
north over hog-backs 1, 2, and 3 to the Forest of Thusis where we are now
"Northeast of the forest lies a level, treeless table-land
half a mile in diameter called The Garden of Thusis. A BOCHE AIRPLANE LANDED
THERE ABOUT THREE HOURS AGO.
"To reach the Forbidden Forest the aviators, leaving their
machine in the Garden of Thusis, walked southwest into the woods where
we now are. These woods end in a vast gulf to the north which separates
them from the Forbidden Forest of Les Errues.
"BUT A CABLE CROSSES!
"That is the way they went; a tiny car holding two is
swung under this cable and the passengers pull themselves to and fro across
the enormous chasm.
"At the west end of this cable is a hut; in the hut is
the machinery--a drum which can be manipulated so that the cable can be
loosened and permitted to sag.
"The reason for dropping the cable is analogous to the
reason for using drawbridges over navigable streams; there is only one
landing-place for airplanes in this entire region and that is the level,
grassy plateau northeast of Thusis Woods. It is so entirely ringed with
snow-peaks that there is only one way to approach it for a landing, and
that is through the canyon edging Thusis Woods. Now the wire cable blocks
this canyon. An approaching airplane therefore hangs aloft and signals
to the cable-guards, who lower the cable until it sags sufficiently to
free the aerial passage-way between the cliffs. Then the aviator planes
down, sweeps through the canyon, and alights on the plateau called Thusis's
Garden. But now he must return; the cable must be lifted and stretched
taut; and he must embark across the gulf in the little car which runs on
grooved wheels to Les Errues.
"This is all we are likely to learn. Our retreat is cut
off. Two cable-guards are in front of us; in front of them the chasm; and
across the chasm lies Les Errues whither the aviator has gone and where,
I do not doubt, are plenty more of his kind.
"This, and two carbons, I shall endeavour to send by pigeon.
In extremity we shall destroy all our papers and identification cards and
get what Huns we can, RESERVING FOR OUR OWN USES one cartridge apiece.
"(Signed) Nos. 76 AND 77."
It was raining furiously, but the heavy foliage of chestnut
and walnut had kept his paper dry. Now in the storm-gloom of the woods
lit up by the infernal glare of lightning he detached the long scroll of
thin paper covered by microscopical writing and, taking off the rubber
bands which confined one of the homing pigeons, attached the paper cylinder
Then he crawled over with his bird and, lying flat alongside
of Miss Erith, told her what he had discovered and what he had done about
it. The roar of the rain almost obliterated his voice and he had to place
his lips close to her ear.
For a long while they lay there waiting for the rain to
slacken before he launched the bird. The men across the hog-back never
stirred. Nobody approached from the rear. At last, behind Mount Terrible,
the tall edges of the rain veil came sweeping out in ragged majesty. Vapours
were ascending in its wake; a distant peak grew visible, and suddenly brightened,
struck at the summit by a shaft of sunshine.
"Now!" breathed McKay. The homing pigeon, released, walked
nervously out over the wet leaves on the forest floor, and, at a slight
motion from the girl, rose into flight. Then, as it appeared above the
trees, there came the cracking report of a shotgun, and they saw the bird
collapse in mid-air and sheer downward across the hog-back. But it did
not land there; the marksman had not calculated on those erratic gales
from the chasm; and the dead pigeon went whirling down into the viewless
gulf amid flying vapours mounting from unseen depths.
Miss Erith and McKay lay very still. The Hunnish marksman
across the hog-back remained erect for a few moments like a man at the
traps awaiting another bird. After awhile he coolly seated himself again
under the dripping ledge.
"The swine!" said McKay calmly. He added: "Don't let them
cross." And he rose and walked swiftly back toward the northern edge of
From behind a tree he could see two Hun cable-guards,
made alert by the shot, standing outside their hut where the cable-machinery
Evidently the echoes of that shot, racketing and rebounding
from rock and ravine, had misled them, for they had their backs turned
and were gazing eastward, rifles pointed.
Without time for thought or hesitation, McKay ran out
toward them across the deep, wet moss. One of them heard him too late and
McKay's impact hurled him into the gulf. Then McKay turned and sprang on
the other, and for a minute it was a fight of tigers there on the cable
platform until the battered visage of the Boche split with a scream and
a crashing blow from McKay's pistol-butt drove him over the platform's
And now, panting, bloody, dishevelled, he strained his
ears, listening for a shot from the hog-back. The woods were very silent
in their new bath of sunshine. A little Alpine bird was singing; no other
sound broke the silence save the mellow, dripping noise from a million
McKay cast a rapid, uneasy glance across the chasm. Then
he went into the cable hut.
There were six rifles there in a rack, six wooden bunks,
and clothing on pegs--not military uniforms but the garments of Swiss mountaineers.
Like the three men across the hog-back, and the two whom
he had so swiftly slain, the Hun cable-patrol evidently fought shy of the
Boche uniform here on the edge of the Forbidden Forest.
Two of the cable-guard lay smashed to a pulp thousands
of feet below. Where was the remainder of the patrol? Were the men with
the shotguns part of it?
McKay stood alone in the silent hut, still breathless
from his struggle, striving to think what was now best to do.
And, as he stood there, through the front window of the
hut he saw an aviator and another man come down from the crest of Thusis
to the chasm's edge, jump into the car which swung under the cable, and
begin to pull themselves across toward the hut where he was standing.
The hut screened his retreat to the wood's edge. From
there he saw the aviator and his companion land on the platform; heard
them shouting for the dead who never would answer from their Alpine deeps;
saw the airman at last go away toward the plateau where he had left his
machine; heard the clanking of machinery in the hut; saw the steel cable
begin to sag into the canyon; AND REALISED THAT THE AVIATOR WAS GOING BACK
OVER FRANCE TO THE BOCHE TRENCHES FROM WHENCE HE HAD ARRIVED.
In a flash it came to McKay what he should try to do--what
he MUST do for his country, for the life of the young girl, his comrade,
for his own life: The watchers at the hog-back must never signal to that
airman news of his presence in the Forbidden Forest!
The clanking of the cog-wheels made his steps inaudible
to the man who was manipulating the machinery in the hut as he entered
and shot him dead. It was rather sickening, for the fellow pitched forward
into the machinery and one arm became entangled there.
But McKay, white of cheek and lip and fighting off a deathly
nausea, checked the machinery and kicked the carrion clear. Then he set
the drum and threw on the lever which reversed the cog-wheels. Slowly the
sagging cable began to tighten up once more.
He had been standing there for half an hour or more in
an agony of suspense, listening for any shot from the forest behind him,
straining eyes and ears for any sign of the airplane.
And suddenly he heard it coming--a resonant rumour through
the canyon, nearer, louder, swelling to a roar as the monoplane dashed
into view and struck the cable with a terrific crash.
For a second, like a giant wasp suddenly entangled in
a spider's strand, it whirled around the cable with a deafening roar of
propellers; then a sheet of fire enveloped it; both wings broke off and
fell; other fragments dropped blazing; and then the thing itself let go
and shot headlong into awful depths!
Above it the taut cable vibrated and sang weirdly in the
silence of the chasm.
The girl was still lying flat under the walnut-tree when
McKay came back.
Without speaking he knelt, levelled his pistol and fired
across at the man beyond the hog-back.
Instantly her pistol flashed, too; one of the men fell
and tried to get up in a blind sort of way, and his comrades caught him
by the arms and dragged him back behind the ledge.
"All right!" shouted one of the men from his cover, "we've
plently of time to deal with you Yankee swine! Stay there and rot!"
"That was Skelton's voice," whispered Miss Erith with
an involuntary shudder.
"They'll never attempt that hog-back under our pistols
now," said McKay coolly. "Come, Yellow-hair; we're going forward."
"How?" she asked, bewildered.
"By cable, little comrade," he said, with a shaky gaiety
that betrayed the tension of his nerves. "So pack up and route-step once
He turned and looked at her and his face twitched:
"You wonderful girl," he said, "you beautiful, wonderful
girl! We'll live to fly our pigeons yet, Yellow-hair, under the very snout
of the whole Hun empire!"