ESCAPE

Halfway down the path, the man paused and lighted a gasoline lantern. In
the bright glow Flash distinguished the caretaker, Fleur.

“Anyone here?” the old man called. He turned his lantern at different
angles, throwing the beam over the ground.

Flash stepped from behind the tree.

“Good evening, Fleur.”

The caretaker gave a gasp of surprise and nearly dropped the lantern.

“Well, if it ain’t the young feller!” he exclaimed. “And us givin’ you
up fer dead! I’m mighty glad to see you back safe and sound, I sure am!”

“Where is Rascomb?” Flash demanded curtly. “And my very good friend,
Doyle?”

“They both came back together hours ago. Mr. Doyle and Mr. Rascomb was
bad upset over the accident.”

“Accident?”

“You fallin’ out of the boat the way you did and upsetting it.”

“Oh, so I upset the boat?”

“Don’t you remember nothin’ about it?” Fleur asked, raising the lantern
so he could see Flash to better advantage.

“I don’t remember it that way.”

“You’re sure a sight,” Fleur said quickly. “Must have had a bad time of
it. How did you get out alive?”

“Swam through Gersham Pass and walked around the lake.”

“And all the time Mr. Rascomb and Mr. Doyle was worried sick thinkin’
you was drowned! Mr. Rascomb said you went down just like a rock and
never came to the top even. They kept draggin’, long as they dast. Then
they gave you up and made a dash through the gap. Barely made it by the
skin o’ their teeth.”

“Where is Rascomb now?”

“Him and your friend started for town ’bout an hour ago to notify the
coroner. They’ll be happy to see you back safe and sound.”

“_Surprised_ is the right word.”

“You will have your little joke,” chuckled the old man. “I’m tellin’ you
it wasn’t no joking matter with them. They both was bad hit. Mr. Rascomb
spoke out sharp to me for the first time since I come to work for him.”

Flash scarcely listened. “I must get to Excelsior City at once!” he said
abruptly, cutting Fleur short. “Is there a car here?”

“Mr. Rascomb’s sedan. I’ll fetch it from the garage while you wash up.
Want me to lay out some clean clothes and a pair of shoes for you?”

“Never mind. I’ll help myself to what I need. You bring the car. I’m in
a big hurry.”

Carrying the lantern with him, Fleur disappeared in the direction of the
garage.

The door of the lodge had been left half open. Flash limped to it, but
at the threshold he hesitated. He seemed to sense a presence—sinister
and very close at hand. Yet he heard nothing.

Shaking off the uncomfortable sensation, he entered the lodge. A light
burned in the living room but the other rooms and the entrance hall were
dark.

Flash crossed to the bathroom where he switched on a light and washed
what grime he could from his hands and face. His hair and eyebrows were
singed; a large knob had appeared on his head.

He had changed his clothes, when he heard a slight sound in an adjoining
room.

“That you, Fleur?” he called.

No one answered.

Turning off the light, Flash stepped outside. A board creaked. He
whirled swiftly.

Before he could defend himself, he was struck directly behind the knees.
Thrown off balance, he crumpled and fell to the floor.

A flashlight beam played upon his face, blinding him. The muzzle of a
revolver pressed into his ribs.

“Stay where you are!”

The voice, low-spoken and cool, belonged to Herbert Rascomb.

“So it’s you, Povy?”

“There is no such person as Albert Povy,” Flash’s captor corrected. “It
will pay you dividends to keep that fact in mind. No! Don’t move! I
really shouldn’t enjoy pumping you full of lead.”

“You prefer to assault your victims with oars?”

Rascomb laughed as he snapped on a lamp above the desk. Keeping Flash
covered, he motioned for him to rise and sit on a straight-back chair
against the wall.

“You forced my hand this afternoon,” he said. “I acted without due
thought or I should have handled the situation differently.”

“You mean you would have cracked me harder,” Flash retorted.

“Your unexpected return has inconvenienced me,” Rascomb admitted
pleasantly. “Yet, I hope you believe that I did not desire your death.
You are a fellow with nerve. I admire courage. Unfortunately, your
curiosity in a matter which never need have concerned you jeopardizes my
interests.”

“So you have decided to blot me out?”

“Nothing that drastic, providing you decide to forget a few of your
remarkable observations.”

“Meaning I am never to reveal that you are Povy?”

“We understand each other, Evans. Now I had planned to retire to a quiet
life here at my lodge, but you have made that impossible. I shall attend
to a few necessary tasks, one deal in particular, and then disappear. My
only demand from you is that you forget you ever knew either Rascomb or
Povy.”

“And if I refuse?”

“I shall find an effective means of dealing with you if you become
annoying. However, your wagging tongue can do me very little harm. By
the time you are free I shall be a long distance from Excelsior City.”

Still keeping his revolver trained on Flash, Rascomb picked up an
overcoat and hat from the table. He had changed into a well tailored
business suit, and had re-touched the telltale scar so that it no longer
was visible.

“You will be quite safe and comfortable here,” he said, backing toward
the door. “The fire will miss the lodge by many miles. As soon as I am
well away I will mail the key to one of the rangers. Good evening.”

He slipped swiftly out the door. A key turned in the lock.

Making a quick appraisal of his prison, Flash saw that it was one of the
few inside rooms of the lodge, a small den with no windows. The only
exit was through the door. Its panels were heavy oak and could not be
rammed even with a piece of furniture.

Quiet settled over the lodge. After a short time Flash heard a car drive
out of the yard. There was a shuffling of shoes through the gravel, then
a heavy step outside the door.

“Fleur!” he shouted, pounding on the panel.

“Take it easy, young feller, take it easy,” the caretaker called
soothingly. “It won’t do you no good to try to pound your way out o’
there. Mr. Rascomb’s gone for the doctor.”

“Let me out of here, Fleur!” Flash pleaded. “Rascomb will get away! You
don’t know who he is! He’s Albert Povy, a spy—”

“You’re plumb out o’ your head just as Mr. Rascomb said,” Fleur returned
sadly. “It must of come from what you went through during the fire. Just
take it easy.”

“Listen, Fleur, I’ll pay you well to let me out of here!”

“Mr. Rascomb’s orders are to keep you in there until he gets back with
the doctor. I wouldn’t dast to do different even if I was a mind to.”

Flash argued until he realized he was talking for his own benefit. Fleur
had gone.

Despondently, he sank down into a chair. Never had he been more
discouraged. The key to a mystery in his hand and he was powerless to
use it! Unless he escaped quickly, Rascomb would vanish and leave no
trace.

Flash sat staring at the oaken panel. Suddenly he made a significant
observation. The door swung on large ornamental brass hinges which had
been fastened on the inside with tiny screws.

He sprang to his feet.

“Maybe I’ll get out of here yet!” he thought exultantly. “Maybe I will!”

Flash searched his pockets for a knife he usually carried. It was
missing, as were many other articles which had been lost in his flight
from the forest fire.

A desk occupied one corner of the room. Crossing to it, he began
searching for an object which might be used to pry off the hinges of the
outside door.

Save for a few scattered pins, blank paper and metal clips, the drawers
were empty. They all gave evidence of having been hastily cleaned out.

“Just my luck,” grumbled Flash.

In disgust, Flash slammed one of the drawers shut. It jammed and did not
entirely close. For a moment he thought the wood had warped. Then he saw
that a piece of cardboard prevented it from returning to its normal
position.

Jerking out the drawer completely, he ran his hand into the opening, and
brought to light an old faded photograph. One glance assured him that it
was a picture of Albert Povy in his younger years. The man wore the
military uniform of a foreign country which Flash did not recognize.

Across the bottom of the picture had been scrawled a name and date:

“Albert Povy … December 22, 1917.”

Flash studied the photograph with deep interest. Povy’s face was marked
with the same jagged scar which had identified him in later years.

Deciding to keep the picture as evidence, he carefully folded it and
placed it in an inside coat pocket.

“This may prove useful,” he murmured.

To make certain no other article had dropped behind the drawer, he again
ran his hand into the opening. His fingers encountered a paper booklet
of smooth finish. Pulling it out, he saw that it was a railroad time
table.

Flash would have tossed it aside had not a penciled circle drawn his
attention to the second page. A train number had been marked, and it was
the same streamliner which Povy had taken from Brandale.

He stuffed the time table into his pocket along with the photograph. The
two discoveries added nothing to his general knowledge, but if ever he
should meet Rascomb again, the evidence might be of use.

Next his search took him to the bathroom, which connected with the den
and which also lacked windows. Almost at once he was rewarded. In the
medicine cabinet he found two tools, a nail file and a rusty razor
blade.

Diligently, Flash set to work, trying to remove the screws which held
the ornamental door hinges. The task was a tedious one. Twice he was
compelled to wait as he heard Fleur’s step in a near-by hall.

Success crowned his efforts at last. With the hinges off, he swung back
the door and stepped from his prison.

Flash stood for a moment, listening. The only sound came from a dripping
faucet in the kitchen.

He moved stealthily to the door. It had been locked from the outside.
The door opening from the dining room likewise was barred.

Testing a window, he found it both locked and nailed. In no mood to
delay, Flash seized a plate from the sideboard and hurled it through the
pane. Enlarging the hole, he climbed through, lowering himself to the
ground.

The sound of splintering glass had brought Fleur running from the dock.
He swung his lantern so that the beam fell upon the cameraman.

“Hey, get back in there! Get back or I’ll fire!”

Flash did not believe that Fleur was armed. To be on the safe side he
dodged behind a tree. Hidden by the darkness, he kept watch of the
moving lantern, and when he saw his chance, ran for the road.

Fleur made no attempt to follow. Actually he was afraid for his own
safety, believing his employer’s story that the young man had lost his
mind.

Flash ran until he was exhausted. After that he walked at a fast pace.
The shoes he had borrowed from Rascomb’s wardrobe were too large for his
feet, and rubbed up and down at every step. Soon he was tormented by
painful blisters on each heel.

Driven by the knowledge that minutes were precious, he kept steadily on.
The road was deserted of traffic. Cars neither approached nor passed
him.

Turning a bend he came within view of Rascomb’s private air field. A
sudden fear assailed him. Already he might be too late! In all
probability the man had made a quick get-away by plane.

Crawling under a fence, he hastened to the hangar. The huge doors were
padlocked.

Striking a match, he gazed through a window. To his great relief, the
monoplane was still there.

“Then Rascomb must be at Excelsior City or somewhere fairly close,” he
reasoned. “That final ‘deal’ he mentioned! It is holding him here and
may yet prove his undoing!”

As far as Flash was concerned, Rascomb’s espionage work still was
shrouded in deep mystery. His knowledge of the man’s past was merely
vague rumor.

But there were certain definite points from which he might work. He
definitely knew that Rascomb and Albert Povy were the same man. From his
own observation, Povy had displayed interest in Bailey Brooks’ new
parachute, which might or might not have significance.

And Povy’s interest in Major Hartgrove was a factor not to be ignored.
Obviously he had boarded the streamliner with the intention of keeping
the army man under observation. The wreck itself might have been an
accident, but one which possibly had given Povy the opportunity he
sought.

“He tried to steal something from the Major and seemingly failed,” Flash
reasoned. “Then, knowing that his identity had been learned, he deemed
it wise to disappear. But now he may make a final attempt to achieve his
purpose. The first thing I must do is get in touch with the Major and
warn him!”

The road curved and a cluster of lights could be seen ahead. Flash
quickened his step. He was within view of Clear Lake at last.

A few minutes later he walked into the general store at the edge of the
village. The only occupant was a woman who stood behind the counter. She
stared as he moved toward her.

“Where can I hire a car to take me to Excelsior City?” Flash asked.

“Well, now, I don’t know,” she answered with deliberate speech. “All the
men folks is fightin’ the fire. I’m lookin’ after the store for my
husband.”

“Isn’t there someone here who has a car I could borrow or rent?”

“You look like you been in the fire yourself, Mister.”

“I have,” Flash replied briefly. “It’s very important for me to get to
town—”

“Claude Geiser might take you,” the woman interrupted. “He’s too
no-account to do an honest lick of work or help the rangers, but he has
a car.”

“Where will I find him?”

“Second house past the post office. He may not be at home.”

A light shone in the dwelling, and Flash was relieved to find Claude
Geiser there. The young man displayed no interest in making the long
trip to Excelsior City, but his attitude changed when a ten dollar bill
was waved before his eyes.

“All right, I’ll take you,” he agreed reluctantly. “How soon you want to
start?”

“Now,” said Flash. “And I’ll do the driving.”

The trip to Excelsior City was made in fast time despite young Geiser’s
frequent protests that his new car was being shaken to pieces. At the
hotel Flash paid what he owed and they parted company.

Left alone, the cameraman hesitated. After an instant of debate he
decided to talk with Major Hartgrove by long distance telephone before
taking any action against Rascomb.

“Accusing a man of being a spy even when I know it to be true, is
ticklish business,” he thought. “I’ll need someone to back me up.”

Flash entered the hotel. He crossed to the desk and asked for the key to
his room.

“Mr. Evans!” exclaimed the clerk. “We understood—that is, your friend
told us you were lost in the forest fire!”

“I’m very much alive,” Flash snapped. “When did you last see Doyle?”

“I haven’t noticed him in the lobby since midnight.”

“Midnight! How late is it?”

“Twenty after one, sir.”

Flash nodded and walked to the elevator. So intent was he upon his
thoughts that he failed to see a familiar figure slip quietly from a
telephone booth on the opposite side of the lobby.

The man was Herbert Rascomb.

Continue Reading

Flash and Doyle stared in sheer fascination

George Doyle sat down on the edge of the dock, leaning his back against
a post.

“You bore me with those schoolboy ideas of yours, Flash,” he yawned.
“Who cares about Rajah Mitra? We’re here and we can have a good time if
you’ll act fairly appreciative, instead of being so blamed suspicious.”

“There’s something about our friend Rascomb I don’t like.”

“Oh, you make me tired!” Doyle said in exasperation. “Go soak your head
in the lake!”

Flash turned angrily and walked down a cindered path which led into the
woods. It was useless to argue with Doyle. He had been unwise even to
mention his thoughts. Yet it was possible that his misgivings were
without foundation.

Gravel crunched behind him. Whirling around he faced Herbert Rascomb.

“Hope I didn’t startle you,” his host said pleasantly.

They fell into step. Feeling certain that the man had joined him for a
purpose, Flash waited for Rascomb to introduce the topic of
conversation.

For a time his host talked casually of work he was having done on his
place. He pointed out various kinds of trees, displaying a genuine
knowledge and interest in nature. Finally he remarked:

“Yesterday at the polo game you spoke of an acquaintance of mine, the
late Albert Povy. You knew the man?”

“Only by reputation. I have been told he was a spy who plotted against
our government.”

“A spy?” Rascomb smiled broadly. “Well, possibly, but I doubt it. I’ll
admit his life had mysterious aspects. Yet he was an interesting man,
most interesting.”

“In some ways you remind me of him,” Flash said boldly. “You have the
same dark eyes and facial contours. When first I saw you it struck me
you might be related.”

“Indeed? Povy had no relatives in this country. That was why I claimed
his body—from a feeling of charity. So you think I resemble him, eh?”

“It was only a first impression. Povy’s face had an ugly scar. Your
voice and manner are entirely different from his.”

“Then you are satisfied I have not adopted a disguise?” Rascomb asked
lightly.

“Quite satisfied.”

“No doubt it may strike you as strange that I should befriend a man of
Povy’s type,” Rascomb went on after a moment. “I never did believe all
the stories about him. And, as I say, he was an interesting fellow and
very entertaining.”

“Where was Povy buried, Mr. Rascomb?”

“In the church yard at Clear Lake. The grave has no marker as yet. I
expect to arrange for one soon. Perhaps you would like to visit the
cemetery?”

“No, I believe not,” Flash declined. “Povy meant nothing to me.”

“Yet I must say you seem deeply interested in him.”

“Merely curiosity. To be frank, Mr. Rascomb, I wondered about your
connection with the man. It seemed odd.”

“I’m not surprised at that. I met Povy a year ago at one of my clubs.
Then a few days ago I read about his death in the newspapers. Learning
there was no one to take charge of the funeral, I assumed the
responsibility.”

“It was a fine thing to do.”

It seemed to Flash that Rascomb was trying a little too hard to impress
him. However, the man’s explanation was logical. He had no reason to
doubt it.

“Strange you thought I resembled Povy,” Rascomb chuckled. “Not very
flattering, I fear.”

“I meant no offense,” apologized Flash. “The resemblance, if any, is
slight.”

“And I have no scar,” Rascomb laughed good-naturedly. “That should place
me above suspicion.”

They talked of other subjects. Presently the ringing of a bell summoned
them to luncheon.

Throughout the meal, Rascomb took special pains to be agreeable to his
two guests. Once he arose to close a window, apologizing for smoke which
filtered into the dining room.

“The fire is moving in fast,” Doyle remarked uneasily. “Any danger of
being caught here with our sound truck?”

“None whatsoever,” Rascomb replied, undisturbed. “If there is the
slightest danger the rangers will warn us in ample time.”

“While we’re here I wish we could get some pictures,” said Flash. “You
don’t want to try it, George?”

“Well, we could, I suppose,” he returned reluctantly.

Mr. Rascomb obligingly drew a rough map, showing the location of the
fire in relation to the lodge.

“There are no roads which would take you near enough,” he said. “Now you
could go by boat across Elbow Lake. If the fire reaches the beaver dam
and Gersham’s Pass, you should get interesting pictures.”

“How soon can we start?” Flash asked eagerly.

“Any time, but I suggest waiting at least an hour. It will save us a
long, tedious trip. Your best chance for pictures is at Gersham’s Pass.”

Flash and Doyle went at once to their truck to select the camera and
equipment they would take with them. The technician’s interest in the
adventure had been greatly stimulated by their host’s enthusiasm.

“Rascomb is a real fellow,” he declared.

“I guess I was wrong about him,” Flash acknowledged. “He’s obliging
enough.”

While Doyle returned to the house to talk with Rascomb, he wandered down
to the water’s edge.

A loud, clattering sound, not unlike a battery of machine guns all
firing at once, caused him to turn his head.

A gray-haired old man in a checkered black and white shirt was testing
an outboard motor which had been mounted on a barrel. He shut it off as
Flash walked over to him.

“Good afternoon,” the old fellow said pleasantly.

“Been puttin’ this consarned put-putter through its paces. She runs
pretty good when you get ’er goin’ but she’s derned backwards about
startin’. Guess it’s the ignition.”

“You’re Mr. Fleur, aren’t you?”

“That’s me.”

“You seem to be able to turn your hand to almost anything.”

“Got to, around this place,” Fleur said gruffly. “I look after it for
Mr. Rascomb all year ’round. That means bein’ a cook, a mechanic, a
guide, a fisherman and general handy man.”

“Don’t you get lonesome?”

“I used to, yes, sir. That was when Mr. Rascomb first bought this place.
But the last year he’s spent more time here so it hasn’t been so bad.
I’m not kickin’. Mr. Rascomb is as fine a boss as I ever had.”

Fleur paused and looked intently out across the lake, the pupils of his
steel-gray eyes contracting in the bright sunlight.

“See that deer swimmin’ in the water. First time I’ve ever known ’em to
come near the lodge. They’re being driven by the fire.”

Flash made out a dark form in the water but soon lost it.

“Is the fire coming this way?” he asked.

“Looks like it to me,” Fleur answered. “Rascomb says you’re aimin’ to
take some pictures over Gersham Pass way. Better watch yourself—that’s
my advice.”

Doyle and Rascomb came briskly down the path to the dock.

“Are you ready?” asked Flash.

“Mr. Rascomb is going along with us,” the technician said. “He thinks we
need a guide.”

“We don’t like to put you to so much trouble,” Flash responded.

“You never could find the pass without someone to show you the way,”
Rascomb replied. “I’ll enjoy the trip. Anything with an element of
danger always interests me!”

Selecting a boat, he attached the outboard motor which Fleur had been
testing.

“She ain’t acting none too well, Mr. Rascomb,” the caretaker warned as
he watched the three leave the dock.

At a steady but slow pace, the boat plied its course across the lake and
then along the shore for three miles. The air was filled with smoke, and
fine cinders drifted down. In the treetops myriads of birds made an
excited racket as they fled the marching flames.

Coming to the mouth of a small river which emptied into the lake,
Rascomb switched off the motor.

“This will be the best way to go,” he said, indicating the stream. “It
will take us beyond the beaver dam and the pass.”

When Rascomb switched on the motor again it would not start. In turn,
Flash and Doyle tinkered with it. The trouble, as Fleur had suggested,
was in the ignition, but they could not locate it.

“We’re wasting time,” Rascomb said, getting out the oars. “If we want to
get there we’ll have to row.”

Flash rather admired the manner in which his host accepted a difficult
situation. Clearly, Rascomb was not one to turn back when confronted
with trouble. He was an out-of-doors man, a person who used his wits and
adapted himself to whatever came.

As the boat made slow progress upstream, Rascomb seemed to be the only
member of the party who enjoyed the adventure. His eyes flashed and he
kept up a steady stream of animated conversation.

At length he steered the boat to shore, explaining that it was necessary
to portage around a beaver dam which blocked the river.

While Doyle and Rascomb moved the craft, Flash took pictures. Rejoining
his companions, they rowed on through a narrow pass lined to the water’s
edge with dry brush and scrub trees.

By this time the low rumble of the fire plainly was audible. Flaming
brands carried on the high wind, dropped with a hissing sound about the
boat.

Rascomb indicated a cliff to the right, a quarter of a mile beyond the
pass.

“You might get a fairly good view of the fire from that high point.”

After a hard climb, the three at last reached the summit. Gazing to the
eastward they saw a great wall of flame and smoke. A wave of heat rose
from the valley, smashing at their faces.

Setting up his camera, Flash ran through fifty feet of film and
reloaded. So engrossed did he become in his task that he lost all count
of time.

Rascomb touched his arm.

“We should be starting back,” he said. “The wind is bringing the fire
this way. If the brush should catch behind us from a flying brand, we
might easily be trapped.”

Flash shouldered his camera. At a fast pace they started down the
hillside.

Reaching the boat, Rascomb tried once more to start the motor and
failed. For the first time he displayed anxiety.

“I’ll feel safer when we are beyond the pass,” he said, seizing the
oars. “But the current should take us down fairly fast.”

Rascomb rowed tirelessly, refusing to allow Flash or Doyle to relieve
him. He sent the boat forward in powerful spurts. They swept around a
curve of the river.

A gasp of horror escaped from Doyle who sat in the bow. Rascomb stopped
rowing.

Directly ahead lay Gersham’s Pass. And on either shore, lining the
narrow space, rose walls of flame.

There was a moment of stunned silence. Then Rascomb spoke.

“Well, boys, we’re trapped if we stay here. Only one thing to do! We
must wet our clothing and try to run through it!”

Flash and Doyle stared in sheer fascination at the sight before their
eyes. Even as they recognized the danger, their pulses quickened at the
possibility of a spectacular picture of the flaming pass.

“What a shot that will make!” gasped Doyle. “Give me the camera, Flash!”

Rascomb had no interest in pictures at such a moment. Steering the boat
to shallow water, he sprang out, ordering tersely: “Wet your clothing
and be quick about it!”

The newsreel men both obeyed, but Doyle dragged the camera after him.
Moving up shore a few yards he focused it upon Gersham Pass.

“Come back here! Don’t be a fool!” Rascomb shouted harshly. “We’ve no
time for pictures now.”

Dousing his entire body in the river, he motioned for Flash to do
likewise.

“Now into the boat!” he commanded. “If Doyle wants to stay here that’s
his funeral, not ours!”

Flash hesitated. He had no intention of leaving Doyle behind. But
unquestionably, it was no time for picture taking.

“Get in, I say!”

Rascomb’s hard tone brought Flash up sharply. In this moment of stress,
the man’s voice had changed completely. Gone was every trace of the
cultivated drawl which had made his speech distinctive.

Flash stared at Rascomb. With wet clothing clinging to his body, hair
plastered against his forehead, the man looked much thinner. Even more
startling, a tiny pink smear was visible on his left cheek. The edges of
a jagged scar were faintly perceptible.

Flash saw the disfiguring mark and suddenly understood.

Taken completely by surprise he could not hide an expression of
horrified amazement. Nor was he able to choke off a low cry: “_Povy!_”

Rascomb’s face became contorted with rage. Seizing an oar, he swung it
with deadly aim.

Flash ducked and jerked up a hand to ward off the blow. Swiftly as he
acted, he was not quick enough to entirely deflect it. The oar struck
him glancingly on the head.

Momentarily stunned, he staggered sideways, clutching at the boat for
support. His weight pulled it over, throwing Rascomb into the water.

Before Flash could struggle to his feet, brutal hands were at his
throat. He fought weakly to free himself.

Then he was given a powerful shove out into deep water. The current
caught him, pulling him downstream.

Dazed, Flash could not battle against it. He rolled over on his back.

“Doyle!” he tried to shout.

His words came only as a choked gurgle. He slipped beneath the surface,
fought up again, and losing interest in the struggle, knew no more.

Flash recovered consciousness to find himself lying on his side in the
soft mud. His feet trailed in the water. Whether or not he had reached
shore by his own efforts or the current had brought him there, he did
not know.

Pulling himself to his knees, he gazed about. Downstream, the wall of
fire had risen to greater height. Burning brands dropped like
snowflakes, making a hissing sound as they were extinguished by the
water.

There was no sign of Rascomb, Doyle, or the boat.

Bitter thoughts surged over Flash. So he had been deserted and left to
die! He might expect such treatment from Albert Povy who had masqueraded
as Rascomb, but Doyle’s actions were unexplainable.

Struggling to his feet, he gazed hopelessly upstream.

Fires were starting everywhere and slowly spreading together. Rascomb
had said the only way out was through Gersham Pass. Should he attempt to
reach the lodge by the woods route, he was almost certain to find
himself soon hemmed in by flames. Either he must attempt the pass or
remain submerged in water until the fire had burned itself out.

Flash was in no mood to wait. A frenzy possessed him to get back to the
lodge and confront both Rascomb and Doyle.

As yet, the full meaning of his important discovery was not entirely
clear. But about one point he was certain. Albert Povy never had lost
his life in the wreck of the streamliner. Instead, the man merely had
found it expedient to disappear.

Rascomb actually was Povy!

Yet, it seemed fantastic. Had the man lived a dual life for years,
planning toward the day when he might wish to blot out one personality
and assume another?

“Povy must be wanted by officials for questioning as a spy,” Flash
reasoned. “Probably that was why he decided to disappear. I must get
back to town and let the authorities know!”

Raising a hand to his throbbing head, he forced himself to think only of
the problem immediately confronting him. Unless he acted quickly, he
might never escape to tell his story.

Determining to attempt the pass, Flash waded out into midstream.
Allowing the swift current to carry him off his feet he floated with it,
stroking only enough to keep from being swung toward shore again.

The suffocating, cinder-filled air was a little easier to breathe close
above the water, but the terrific heat became almost unbearable.

As the shores of the river narrowed, he took a deep breath and swam
below the surface. After a few moments he was forced to emerge again.
Flames seemed to be everywhere about him.

Gulping in air, Flash dived again. This time he kept under until his
lungs ached. When he came up, the worst lay behind him.

Aided by the current, he alternately swam and floated until he reached
the river’s outlet. Staggering from the water, he leaned against a tree
and gazed across the lake.

He knew where the lodge should be, but he could not see it because of
the smoke. The sun had been entirely blotted out.

Following the shore line, Flash walked as rapidly as he could. His wet
clothing impeded him and chills began to rack his body. Several times he
slipped into bog up to his knees.

The day seemed to grow steadily darker. With a sense of shock Flash
realized that night actually was coming on. He tried to walk faster but
could not. Each step had become a torment, for he had discarded his
shoes while swimming in the river.

With darkness closing in swiftly, Flash lost all sense of bearing and
clung doggedly to the shore. To the rear, the sky was red with leaping
flames. Ahead, there was nothing to guide him.

Blindly he staggered on. And then, through the trees, he caught the
gleam of a light shining from a cabin window. He had reached the lodge!

The clearing opened up ahead of him. Finding himself on Rascomb’s
property, Flash tempered his approach with caution. Save for the light,
there was no sign of anyone about the place.

Reaching the dock, he counted the boats and bent to examine them. The
one which Doyle and Rascomb had used was tied to a post with a charred
rope.

“They returned safely, all right,” he muttered, “and they’re figuring
they’re well rid of me!”

Flash had taken no time to consider his next move. But sober reflection
now convinced him it would be folly to confront Doyle and Rascomb in his
present weakened condition. At best, it would be two against one. His
wisest course was to go into town and tell his story to the authorities.

Walking unsteadily, he made his way to the road where the _News-Vue_
truck had been parked hours before. It was gone.

As Flash stood leaning against a tree, debating, the door of the lodge
slammed shut. A dark figure moved down the gravel path toward him.

“That may be Rascomb coming now,” he thought.

Quickly he stepped behind the protecting trunk of the giant birch, and
waited.

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