Von Steegman, who seemed to be the only man among them to remain quite unmoved, raised his hand.
‘All this is highly irregular,’ he said harshly. ’Captain Hartmann, it is our duty to interrogate these prisoners.’
’What’s the use of interrogating us if you have already made up your mind to shoot us?’ retorted Ken.
Von Steegman glared at him.
‘Because,’ he answered in his harsh German English, ’it is bossible that, by giving us certain information, you may yed save der lives which you haf justly forfeited.’
Ken stared back, and there was something in his face which made even the German’s bold eyes drop.
‘I don’t advise you to say any more,’ he answered grimly. ’You’d better proceed at once with your firing party, you miserable German murderer.’
Von Steegman’s hand dropped to his sword hilt, his face went the colour of a ripe plum, for a moment Ken thought—hoped that he was going to have a fit.
Before he could speak there came a stir behind, the door leading from the house to the yard opened sharply, and a stout, coarse-looking man in the uniform of a colonel in the Prussian Army, strode heavily in.
Hartmann and Von Steegman rose like two ramrods, and saluted him. They stood at the salute while he came across to the table.
‘So these are the two prisoners,’ he said in a thick guttural voice, as he seated himself, ‘the two who were captured spying behind our lines.’
He stared first at Roy, then at Ken. As his bloodshot eyes fell upon the latter he started ever so slightly. At the same moment Ken seemed to recognise him, for a look of disgust crossed his face.
THE FIRING PARTY
‘These are the spies, Herr Colonel,’ he said with an air of deference. ’They were captured more than two miles behind our lines. We have interrogated them, but they refuse information.’
The colonel looked at Ken.
‘Have you nothing to say for yourselves?’ he demanded.
‘Plenty, but not to you, Colonel Henkel,’ replied Ken with a sarcasm he did not trouble to conceal.
Henkel, however, did not lose his temper as Von Steegman had done. He turned to Hartmann and Von Steegman and spoke to them both in a low voice.
‘As you wish, Herr Colonel,’ said Hartmann presently, but there was an air of distinct disappointment about him.
‘Corporal,’ said Henkel to the non-com, who had taken the place of the brute whom Roy had finished, ’take the prisoners back and lock them up securely. Set a guard over them.’
‘Mind this—that you are responsible for them,’ he added harshly.
The man saluted, and Ken and Roy, who had hardly expected to leave the place alive, found themselves marched back down the evil-smelling street and shut up once more in the same hovel as before.