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Aces Up by Covington Clarke

The guardsman again took up his beat


The

resounding footfalls of the guardsman came to a clicking halt, followed by a guttural challenge which was replied to in a softer voice. The guardsman again took up his beat.

A moment later the door to the council room opened. A smooth-faced, blond young man stood at stiff salute in the doorway--dressed in the uniform of an English officer!

For a long minute he stood at salute while the four at the table eyed him studiously. Then the hand came down, and a quick smile spread over his face as he stepped forward into the brighter light of the room. He carried in his hand one of the swagger sticks so commonly used by English officers.

"Well, _Herr Hauptmann_," he addressed the officer at the head of the table, "do you find my disguise, and my English, sufficiently correct?"

"Correct, yes," the heavy-jowled officer replied in German, "but not pleasing, Count von Herzmann. _Himmel!_ How I hate the sight of the Englander's uniform and the sound of his thin, squeaky tongue. And I say to you again that this wild plan of yours is a fool's errand. I would forbid it, had you not gained the consent of the General Staff. I do not understand it. You are too valuable to the cause for the General Staff to permit you to take such a chance. I say again, it is a fool's errand."

Count von Herzmann smiled reassuringly. "Fool's

errand, _Herr Hauptmann?_" he responded in German. "Is there anything more precious to our cause than to learn just now where this next blow is to be struck? For the past ten days all of our secret operatives have sent us conflicting reports. The English and the French are too quiet on their fronts. It presages a storm. As for the Americans, we need not worry. They are still boasting of their victory at St. Mihiel. They will not be ready to strike again before late Fall--perhaps not until Spring. We must--"

"Speak in English," interrupted one of the other officers. "Much as we hate it, we must see to it that it is perfect."

"Right you are!" von Herzmann replied with the perfect accent of a well-bred Englishman. "My three years' schooling in England was not for nothing, sir. Accent top hole, eh, what! Rawther." He smiled at his own mimicry. "I was saying," he went on, "that we must discover where the English will strike next. Victory depends upon it."

"_Ja_, _das ist richtig_" spoke up the stolid _Oberst-leutnant_, who had been listening without comment as his grey eyes, deep set under stiff, bristling eyebrows, appraised the confident von Herzmann. "_Ja_, we must learn where the swine strike next. But must it be you to take the chance? You know the cost--should you fail?"

"Quite well, sir," von Herzmann replied, smiling. "A little party in front of a firing wall with myself as the center of attraction. Ah, well! What matter. I have about played out my string of luck in the air. Sooner or later, there must be an ending. I have a great fear that it will be the luck of some cub, fresh at the front, to bring me down. Ha! How he would swank around, boasting how he brought down the great von Herzmann. Bah! Death, _Herr Hauptmann_, I do not fear in the least, but I hate the thought of a cub boasting over my bones. Besides, there are no new adventures left for me in the air. I am a little weary of it all. But this--this is new adventure and--"


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