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.