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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBarbarians - Chapter 8. En Observation
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Barbarians - Chapter 8. En Observation Post by :rezell Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :1242

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Barbarians - Chapter 8. En Observation

CHAPTER VIII. EN OBSERVATION

The incredible rumour that German airmen were in Brittany first came from Plouharnel in Morbihan; then from Bannalec, where an old Icelander had notified the Brigadier of the local Gendarmerie. But the Icelander was very drunk. A thimble of cognac did it.

Again came an unconfirmed report that a shepherd lad while alternately playing on his Biniou and fishing for eels at the confluence of the Elle and Isole, had seen a werewolf in Lais Woods. The Loup Garou walked on two legs and had assumed the shape of a man with no features except two enormous eyes.

The following week a coast guard near Flouranges telephoned to the Aulnes Lighthouse; the keeper of the light telephoned to Lorient the story of Wayland, and was instructed to extinguish the great flash again and to keep watch from the lantern until an investigation could be made.

That an enemy airman had done murder in Finistere was now certain; but that a Boche submarine had come into the Bay of Biscay seemed very improbable, considering the measures which had been taken in the Channel, at Trieste, and at Gibraltar.

That a fleet of many sea-planes was soaring somewhere between the Isle des Chouettes and Finistere, and landing men, seemed to be practically an impossibility. Yet, there were the rumours. And murder had been done.

But an enemy undersea boat required a base. Had such a base been established somewhere along those lonely and desolate wastes of bog and rock and moor and gorse-set cliff haunted only by curlew and wild duck, and bounded inland by a silent barrier of forest through which the wild boar roamed and rooted unmolested?

And where in Finistere was an enemy seaplane to come from, when, save for the few remaining submarines still skulking near British waters, the enemy's flag had vanished from the seas?

Nevertheless the coast lights at Aulnes and on the Isle des Chouettes went out; the Commandant at Lorient and the General in command of the British expeditionary troops in the harbour consulted; and the fleet of troop-laden transports did not sail as scheduled, but a swarm of French and British cruisers, trawlers, mine-sweepers, destroyers, and submarines put out from the great warport to comb the boisterous seas of Biscay for any possible aerial or amphibious Hun who might venture to haunt the coasts.

Inland, too, officers were sent hither and thither to investigate various rumours and doubtful reports at their several sources.

And it happened in that way that Captain Neeland of the 6th Battalion, Athabasca Regiment, Canadian Overseas Contingent, found himself in the Forest of Aulnes, with instructions to stay there long enough to verify or discredit a disturbing report which had just arrived by mail.

The report was so strange and the investigation required so much secrecy and caution that Captain Neeland changed his uniform for knickerbockers and shooting coat, borrowed a fowling piece and a sack of cartridges loaded with No. 4 shot, tucked his gun under his arm, and sauntered out of Lorient town before dawn, like any other duck-hunting enthusiast.

Several reasons influenced his superiors in sending Neeland to investigate this latest and oddest report: for one thing, although he had become temporarily a Canadian for military purposes only, in reality he was an American artist who, like scores and scores of his artistic fellow Yankees, had spent many years industriously painting those sentimental Breton scenes which obsess our painters, if not their critics. He was a very bad painter, but he did not know it; he had already become a promising soldier, but he did not realize that either. As a sportsman, however, Neeland was rather pleased with himself.

He was sent because he knew the sombre and lovely land of Finistere pretty well, because he was more or less of a naturalist and a sportsman, and because the plan which he had immediately proposed appeared to be reasonable as well as original.

It had been a stiff walk across country--fifteen miles, as against thirty odd around by road--but neither cart nor motor was to enter into the affair. If anybody should watch him, he was only a duckhunter afield, crossing the marshes, skirting _etangs_, a solitary figure in the waste, easily reconcilable with his wide and melancholy surroundings.

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