Read SECRET NUMBER NINE of The Secrets of Potsdam , free online book, by William Le Queux, on


It was five o’clock on a bright September morning when His Imperial Highness climbed with unsteady gait the three flights of stairs leading to the handsome flat which he sometimes rented in a big block of buildings half-way along Jermyn Street when he made secret visits to London.

As his personal-adjutant and keeper of his secrets I had been awaiting him for hours.

I heard him fumbling with the latch-key, and, rising, went along the hall and opened the door.

“Hulloa, Heltzendorff!” he exclaimed in a thick, husky voice. “Himmel! I’m very glad to be back.”

“And I am glad to see Your Highness back,” I said.  “I was beginning to fear that something unpleasant had happened.  I tell you frankly, I do not like you going out like this alone in London.  Somebody is certain to discover you one day.”

“Oh, bosh! my dear Heltzendorff.  You are just like a pastor ­always preaching.”  And as he tossed his crush hat upon the table and divested himself of his evening overcoat he gave vent to a half-drunken laugh, and then, just as he was, in his dress-coat and crumpled shirt-front, with the stains of overnight wine upon it, he curled himself upon the couch, saying: 

“Tell that idiot of a valet not to disturb me.  I’m tired.”

“But don’t you think you ought to go to bed?” I queried.

“Too tired to undress, Heltzendorff ­too tired,” he declared with an inane grin.  “Oh, I’ve had a time ­phew! my head ­such a time!  Oh, old Lung Ching is a real old sport!”

And then he settled himself and closed his eyes ­surely a fine spectacle for the German nation if he could then have been publicly exhibited.

His mention of Lung Ching caused me to hold my breath.  That wily Chinaman kept an establishment in the underworld of Limehouse, an opium den of the worst description, frequented by yellow men and white women of the most debased class.

A year before one of the Crown-Prince’s friends, an attache at the Embassy on Carlton House Terrace, had introduced him to the place.  The fascinations of the opium pipe had attracted him, and he had been there many times to smoke and to dream, but always accompanied by others.  The night before, however, he had declared his intention to go out alone, as he had been invited to dine by a great German financier living in Park Lane.  It was now evident, however, that he had not been there, but had gone alone to that terrible den kept by Lung Ching.

There, in the grey light of dawn, I stood gazing down upon the be-drugged son of the Emperor, feeling relief that he was back again, and that no trouble had resulted from his escapade.

I called the valet, and, having handed his master over to him, I went out, and, finding a taxi, drove out to Lung Ching’s place in Limehouse.  I knew the sign, and was soon admitted into the close, sickly-smelling place, which reeked with opium.  The villainous Chinaman, with a face like parchment, came forward, and instantly recognized me as the companion of the young German millionaire, Herr Lehnhardt.  Of him I inquired what my master had been doing during the night.

“Oh, ’e smoke ­’e likee pipee!” was the evil, yellow-faced ruffian’s reply.

“Was he alone?”

“Oh, no.  ’E no alonee.  ’E lil ladee,” and he grinned.  “She likee pipee.  Come, you see ­eh?”

The fellow took me into the long, low-ceilinged room, fitted with bunks, in which were a dozen or so sleeping Chinamen.  Suddenly he indicated a bunk wherein lay a girl huddled up ­a well-dressed English girl.  Her hat and jacket had been removed, and she lay, her face full in the light, her arm above her head, her eyes closed in sound slumber, with the deadly pipe beside her.

I bent to examine her pale countenance more closely.  I started.  Yes!  I had not been mistaken.  She was the young daughter of one of the best-known and most popular leaders of London society.

I had no idea until that moment that she and the Crown-Prince were such friends.  A fortnight before the Crown-Prince, as Herr Lehnhardt, had attended a gay river party at Henley, and I had accompanied him.  At the party the pair had been introduced in my presence.  And now, within those few days, I found her oblivious to the world in the worst opium den in London!

After considerable effort, I aroused her.  But she was still dazed from the effect of the drug, so dazed, indeed, that she did not recognize me.  However, I got her into a taxi, and having ascertained her mother’s address from the “Royal Blue Book” in the London club of which I was a member, and where I arrived at an unearthly hour, I took her to Upper Brocklion Street.

Of the woman who opened the door I learned, to my relief, that the family were at their place in Scotland, and that the house, enshrouded in dust-sheets, was in the hands of herself and her husband as caretakers.

When I half lifted the young lady ­whom I will here call Miss Violet Hewitt for the sake of the good name of her family ­out of the taxi the woman became greatly alarmed.  But I assured her there was nothing wrong; her young mistress had been taken ill, but was now much better.  A doctor was not needed.

For half an hour I remained there with her, and then, as she had recovered sufficiently, I rose to go, intending to let her make her own explanations to the caretaker.

We were alone, and she was seated in a big arm-chair.  She saw my intention to leave, whereupon she struggled to her feet, for she now realized to her horror what had occurred.

“You are Count von Heltzendorff!” she exclaimed, passing her hand across her brow, as though suddenly recollecting.  “We met at Henley.  Ah!  I know I ­I can’t help it.  I have been very foolish ­but I can’t help it.  The craving grows upon me.”

“You met my friend Lehnhardt last night, did you not?”

“Yes, I did.  Quite accidentally.  I was waiting in the lounge of the ‘Ritz’ for a man-friend with whom I had promised to dine when Mr. Lehnhardt came in and recognized me.  My friend had not turned up, so I accepted his invitation to have dinner at Claridge’s.  This we did, and during the meal he spoke of opium, and I admitted that I was fond of it, for I smoke it sometimes at a girl-friend’s at Hampstead.  Therefore we agreed to go together to Lung Ching’s.”

“He left you there,” I said.

“I know.  I certainly did not expect him to go away and leave me in such a place,” said the girl, who was very pretty and not more than twenty, even though addicted to the terrible opium habit.  “But,” she added, “you will keep my secret ­won’t you?”

“Most certainly, Miss Hewitt,” was my reply.  “This should serve as a severe lesson to you.”

Then I bade her farewell, and left her in the good hands of the caretaker.

On my return to Jermyn Street the Crown-Prince was in bed, sleeping soundly.

I remember standing at the window of that well-furnished bachelor’s sitting-room ­for the place was owned by an old German-American merchant, who, I expect, had a shrewd suspicion of the identity of the reckless young fellow named Lehnhardt who sometimes, through a well-known firm of house-agents, rented his quarters at a high figure.  The Crown-Prince used eight different names when abroad incognito, Lehnhardt being one of them.

“His Highness is very tired,” the valet declared to me, as he entered the room.  “Before I got him to bed he asked for you.  I said you had gone out.”

“And what did he say?”

“Well, Count, all he said was, ’Ah, our dear Heltzendorff is always an early riser.  He gets up before I go to bed!’” And the ever-faithful valet laughed grimly.  When the Crown-Prince went upon those frequent debauches in the capitals of Europe, his valet always carried with him a certain drug, a secret known to the Chinese, an injection of which at once sobered him, and put both sense and dignity into him.  I have seen him in the most extreme state of helpless intoxication at five in the morning, and yet at eight, he having received his injection, I have watched him mount his horse and ride at the head of his regiment to an inspection, as bright and level-headed as any trooper following.

The drug had a marvellous and almost instantaneous effect.  But it was used only in case of great emergency, when, for instance, he was suddenly summoned by the Emperor, or perchance he had to accompany his wife to some public function.

That the drug had bad effects I knew quite well.  I have often seen him pacing the room holding his hands to his head, when, three hours later, the dope was gradually losing its potency, leaving him inert and ill.

When the valet had retired, I stood gazing down into the growing life of Jermyn Street, deploring the state of society which had resulted in the pretty Violet Hewitt becoming, at twenty, a victim to opium.

Truly in the world of London, as in Berlin, there are many strange phases of life, and even I, familiar as I was with the gaieties of the capitals, and the night life of Berlin, the Montmartre in Paris, and the West End in London, here confess that when I discovered the pretty girl sleeping in that dirty bunk in that fetid atmosphere I was staggered.

Before three o’clock in the afternoon “Willie” reappeared, well groomed and perfectly dressed.  I had been out lunching at the “Berkeley” with a friend, and on re-entering the chambers, found him in the sitting-room smoking a cigarette.

The effects of his overnight dissipation had entirely passed.  He seated himself upon the arm of a chair and asked: 

“Well, Heltzendorff, I suppose you’ve been out to lunch ­eh?  Anything interesting in this town?”

“The usual set at the ‘Berkeley,’” I replied.

“Oh!  The ‘Berkeley!’ Very nice, but too respectable.  That is where one takes one’s aunt, is it not?” he laughed.

I admitted that it was a most excellent restaurant.

“Good food and good amusement, my dear Heltzendorff, one can never find together.  The worse the food the better the entertainment.  Do you remember the ’Rat Mort’ ­eh?”

“No,” I said sharply.  “That is a long-past and unwelcome memory.”

The Imperial profligate laughed heartily.

“Oh, my dear Heltzendorff, you are becoming quite pharisaical.  You!  Oh! that is really amusing!”

“The ‘Rat Mort’ never amused me,” I said, “a cafe of the Montmartre where those who dined were ­”

I did not finish my sentence.

“Were very pretty and interesting women, Heltzendorff,” he declared.  “Ah! don’t you recollect when you and I dined there not long ago, all of us at a long table ­so many charming ladies ­oh!”

“I have forgotten it, Prince,” I said, rebuking him.  “It has passed from my memory.  That place is just as unfitted for you as is Lung Ching’s.”

“Lung Ching’s!  Ah ­yes, the old yellow fellow is a good sort,” he exclaimed, as though recollecting.

“And the lady you took there ­eh?”

“The lady?” he echoed.  “Why, Gott! I left her there.  I did not remember. Gott! I left little Miss Violet in that place!” he gasped.

“Well?” I asked.

“Well, what can I do.  I must go and see.”

I smiled, and then told him what I had done.

“H’m,” he exclaimed.  “You are always a good diplomat, Heltzendorff ­always a good friend of the erratic Hohenzollerns.  What can I do to-night ­eh?  Suggest something.”

“I would suggest that you dined en famille at the Embassy,” I replied.

“The Embassy!  Never.  I’m sick and tired of His Excellency and his hideous old wife.  They bore me to death.  No, my dear Heltzendorff.  I wonder ­”

And he paused.

“Well?” I asked.

“I wonder if Miss Hewitt would go to the theatre to-night ­eh?”

“No,” I snapped, for my long service gave me permission to speak my mind pretty freely.  “She is, I admit, a very charming young lady, but remember she does not know your identity, and if her parents discover what happened last night there will be a most infernal lot of trouble.  Recollect that her father, a financial magnate, is acquainted with the Emperor.  They have raced their yachts against each other.  Indeed, Henry Hewitt’s won the Kiel Cup last year.  So, personally, I think the game that your Imperial Highness is playing is a distinctly dangerous one.”

“Bah!  It is only amusement.  She amuses me.  And she is so fond of the pipe.  She has been a visitor of Lung Ching’s for over a year.  She has a faithful maid who goes with her, and I suppose she pays the old Chinaman well.”

“I suppose so,” I remarked, for I knew that if the villainous old Ching were paid well he would guarantee her safety in that den of his.

I could see by the Crown-Prince’s face that he was unimpressed by my warning.  Too well did I know to what mad, impetuous lengths he would go when of a sudden a pretty face attracted him.  So utterly devoid is he of self-control that a woman’s eyes could lead him anywhere.  A glance at that weak chin of his will at once substantiate my statement.

His visit to Lung Ching’s had left him somewhat muddled and limp, and the next few days passed uneventfully.  We went down into Surrey to stay with a certain Baron von Rechberg, who had been a fellow-student of His Highness’s at Bonn.  He was now head of a German bank in London, and lived in a beautiful house surrounded by a large park high among the Surrey hills.  Count von Hochberg, “Willie’s” bosom friend, whom he always addressed as “Mickie,” while the Count in turn called him “Caesar,” being in London at the time, accompanied us, and so merrily did the time pass that the incident at Lung Ching’s went out of my memory.

One night when we had all three returned to London “Willie” and Von Hochberg spent the evening in the lounge of the Empire Theatre, and both returned to the Prince’s rooms about one o’clock in the morning.

“Heltzendorff, Mickie is going with me to Scotland to-morrow morning,” said His Highness, as he tossed his overcoat upon the couch of that luxurious little sitting-room within sight of the Maison Jules.  “You will stay here and attend to anything that may come through from Potsdam.  A courier should arrive to-morrow night, or is it Knof who is coming?  I forget.”

“Your Highness sent Knof over to get the correspondence,” I reminded him, for it was necessary that all pressing matters should be attended to, or the Emperor’s suspicions might be aroused that his son was absent abroad.

“Ah, the good Knof!  Of course, he will be back to-morrow night.  He will have seen the Princess and told her how ill I have been, and how I am gradually growing better,” he laughed.  “Trust Knof to tell a good, sound lie.”

“All chauffeurs can do that, my dear Caesar,” exclaimed Von Hochberg, with a grin.

Naturally I was filled with wonder regarding the nature of the expedition which the pair were about to undertake, but, though we all three smoked together for an hour, “Willie” seemed unusually sober, and did not let drop a single hint regarding their mysterious destination.

Von Hochberg was living at the Coburg Hotel, and before he left “Willie” arranged to breakfast with him at eight o’clock next morning, so that they might leave Euston together by the ten o’clock express.

I roused the valet, who worked for an hour packing His Highness’s suit-case.

“One case only,” the Crown-Prince had ordered.  “I shall only be up there a couple or three days.  No evening clothes.  I shall not want them.”

That remark told me that he did not intend to pay any formal visit, as he had done on most of his journeys to Scotland.

“Your Imperial Highness will take guns, of course,” I remarked.

“Guns!” he echoed.  “No ­no guns this time.  If I want to shoot rabbits I can borrow a farmer’s blunderbuss,” he laughed.

That “Mickie,” the hare-brained seeker after pleasure, was to be his companion caused me some uneasiness.  It was all very well for the Crown-Prince to live in London as Herr Lehnhardt.  London was a big place, and those who catered for his Imperial pleasures were paid well, and did not seek to inquire into his antecedents or whether he was really what he represented himself to be.

Money talks in the underground London, just as it does on the Stock Exchange.  But it sometimes, I assure you, took a long purse to keep the foreign papers quiet regarding the wild escapades of the Kaiser’s heir.

That night somehow I felt a good deal of apprehension regarding this mysterious flying visit to Scotland.  That the pair had some deeply-laid scheme on hand I knew from their evasiveness.  But what it was I failed to discover.

Early that morning I put “Caesar” into a taxi with his suit-case.  He wore a rough suit of tweeds, and took with him his walking-stick and a khaki-coloured waterproof coat, presenting the picture of a young man going North to shoot.

“I’ll be back in a few days, Heltzendorff.  Attend to the letters,” he urged.  “Throw away as many as you can.  If I want you I will telegraph.”

And with that he drove to the “Coburg” to meet his old chum, “Mickie.”

About three o’clock that same afternoon, while walking along Piccadilly, I was surprised to come face to face with Von Hochberg.

“Why!  I thought you had gone North!” I exclaimed.

“No, Heltzendorff.  Caesar went alone,” he replied, somewhat confounded at our unexpected meeting.  “He wanted to be alone, I think.”

“Where has he gone?” I inquired.  “He left me no address.”

“No.  And I have none either,” the Count replied.

This set me thinking.  The situation was even worse with the Crown-Prince wandering in Scotland alone.  His indiscretions were such that his identity might very easily leak out, and the truth concerning his absence would quickly reach the Emperor’s ears.

As I stood chatting with His Highness’s gay companion I confess that I felt annoyed at the manner in which I had been tricked.  He was often afraid of my caustic tongue when I spoke of his indiscretions, and it was further quite plain to me that Von Hochberg had simply pretended that he was accompanying his friend North.

That evening Knof arrived from Potsdam with a satchelful of correspondence, and until a late hour I was kept busy inventing replies which would eventually be taken to Holzemme, in the Harz Mountains, and posted from there.  We always made arrangements for such things when His Highness was secretly out of Germany.

I snatched a meal at Jules’, close by, and resumed my work till long after midnight, inventing some picturesque fictions in reply to many official documents.

One letter was from Her Imperial Highness.  At her husband’s order I opened it, read it, and sealed it up again.  It contained reproaches, but nothing of extreme urgency.  There had been occasions when I had read “Cilli’s” letters in the absence of her erratic husband, and sent to her little untruths by wire, signed “Wilhelm, Kronprinz.”

Truly my position was one of curious intimacy.  Sometimes His Highness trusted me with his innermost secrets, while at others he regarded me with distinct suspicion.  That the elegant Von Hochberg knew of “Willie’s” whereabouts I felt convinced, but apparently His Highness had given him orders not to divulge it to me.

The next day and the next I waited in vain for some word from His Highness.  I had sent Knof back to the Harz to post the replies I had written, and with nothing to do I idled about London.

On the third day, when I returned to Jermyn Street after lunch, I found a stout German, named Henkel, who carried on a hairdresser’s business near High Street, Kensington, but who was really a secret agent.  He was one of the few persons who knew of the Crown-Prince’s visit, for each time we came to London we took this man into our confidence.

“I have received a telegram from Holzemme, Count,” he said as I entered, and then he handed me the message, which, after a few minutes’ examination ­for though in plain language it was nevertheless not what it purported to be ­I saw to my dismay was an important message to “Willie” from the Emperor, who was at that moment in Corfu.

The message had been received by Koch, my assistant, whom I had left at Holzemme.  He had disguised it and re-transmitted it to Henkel to hand to me.  We always took this precaution, because when abroad incognito, both the Crown-Prince and myself frequently changed our names.  So, by employing Henkel in London and a man named Behm in Paris, we were always certain of receiving any important message.

When the spy Henkel had left I stood looking out of the window down into Jermyn Street, quite at a loss how to act.  The message was one of the greatest importance, and, if not replied to at once, the Emperor would, I knew, institute inquiries, for he was well aware of his son’s wild escapades.

My first impulse was to wire Koch a reply to be dispatched to His Majesty, but on reflection I realized that the question was one which I could not answer with truth.  No.  I must find His Highness at all hazards.

At once I went to the Coburg Hotel, and fortunately found Count von Hochberg, who at first refused to reveal where his friend was hidden.  But when I showed him the telegram and explained the great urgency of a reply, in order to prevent the Emperor from inquiring and knowing the truth, he realized the necessity.

“Well, Heltzendorff,” he said, somewhat reluctantly, “Caesar is at some little place they call St. Fillans, in Scotland.”

“I know it,” I cried eagerly.  “A place at the end of Loch Earn!  We motored past it one day about two years ago.  I shall go North at once.”

“But you can telegraph to him,” the Count suggested.

“To what address?”

“Ah!  Why, of course, I don’t know his address ­only that he is at St. Fillans.  I had a note yesterday.”

Travelling by way of Perth and Gleneagles, I next morning found myself strolling along the picturesque village at the end of the beautiful loch, which presented a truly delightful picture in the autumn sunlight.  At the hotel nothing was known of Mr. Lehnhardt, and though I devoted the whole morning to making inquiries I could find no trace of His Highness.  The latter would certainly not betray himself as a German, for, speaking English so well, he might very easily adopt an English name.  I ate my lunch at the hotel which faces the loch, with Ben Voirlich rising high beyond, and afterwards resumed my wanderings.  In many quarters I described my “friend” of whom I was in search, but nobody seemed to have seen him.  The precious hours were flying, and I knew that the Emperor at Corfu was impatiently awaiting a reply.

I hired a car and drove seven miles to the farther end of the loch, to the village of Lochearnhead.  There I made inquiry at the hotel and elsewhere, afterwards going on to Balquidder with similar result.  It was past six o’clock when I returned to St. Fillans with the feeling that His Highness had deceived even his friend “Mickie,” and that I had had my long journey and quest for nothing.  Not a soul seemed to have seen anybody answering to “Willie’s” description.  I snatched another hasty meal at the hotel, and then, in the dusk, set off in the opposite direction along the pretty road which led to Comrie.  The light was fast fading, but I knew that there would be a full moon, and the night was perfect.

I had walked about three miles, and had probably lost my way, for I was off the main road, when, on my left, saw the lighted windows of a comfortable-looking cottage standing back from the road behind a well-kept flower garden.  There were woods on each side of the road, and I concluded that it was a keeper’s house.  As I passed I heard voices, and saw two figures standing at the garden gate ­a man and a woman ­chatting confidentially.

In the next second I recognized the man’s voice as that of the Crown-Prince, and as quickly I stepped upon the grass so that they might not be attracted by my footsteps.  Concealed by the shadow of the hedge on the opposite side of the road, I stealthily approached until I could distinguish, by the light from the open door of the cottage, that the woman was a stout, elderly person, probably the keeper’s wife.

Both surprised and interested, I stood there watching.  It seemed as though they were awaiting someone, for after a few moments, they both retired inside the cottage.

Presently, however, “Willie” emerged alone.  He had on his hat and carried a stick, and as he swung through the gate and went forward he whistled softly to himself the air of a gay waltz of which he was particularly fond.

Within myself I chuckled at being thus able to watch his mysterious movements, for he seemed entirely preoccupied and quite unconscious of being followed, though I fear my footsteps fell heavily at times.

Suddenly, while passing along a part of the road overshadowed by woods on either side, he halted in the darkness.  I heard him speak, and I also heard the welcome he received in a girl’s voice.  It was as I had surmised, and I drew a long breath.

I heard the pair talking, but from where I stood I could not overhear any of their conversation.  I heard His Highness laugh gaily, and though he lit a cigarette his companion’s face was turned from me so that I could not catch a glimpse of it in the fitful light.

Presently, after he had held her in his arms and kissed her, they turned back in my direction.

As they passed I heard the girl say: 

“I’ve been waiting for quite a quarter of an hour, Mr. Lehnhardt.  I thought perhaps something had prevented you from keeping the appointment.”

“All my mistake, dear,” was his reply.  “My mistake.  Forgive me.”

“Of course,” she said, laughing, and I saw that she had her arm linked in his as they walked back in the direction of the keeper’s cottage.

I followed in wonder, and not without anger.  For the Heir of the Hohenzollerns to ramble upon such rural escapades was, I knew, distinctly dangerous.  Exposure might come at any moment.

They had strolled together nearly half a mile when of a sudden, as they again passed into the deep shadows, the girl gave vent to a loud scream for help, and at the same moment men’s angry voices were heard.

The pair had been attacked by three men who had apparently been lying hidden in the wood.

I heard a man shout, and then a sharp crack like that of a whip.  The Kaiser’s son was shouting, too, while the girl was screaming and crying shame upon those who had attacked the man with whom she had been walking.

“You infernal German!” I heard one of the men shriek.  “I’ll teach you to come sneaking here and take my sister out for midnight walks!  Take that ­you cur ­and that! ­whoever you are!”

Next second the startling truth was plain to me.

His Imperial Highness the German Crown-Prince was being ignominiously and soundly thrashed by an irate brother!

I saw that it was high time that I interfered.  The Crown-Prince had been flung upon the ground, and the angry young man was lashing him as I dashed in among them with my revolver drawn.

“Come, cease that,” I shouted.  “Down with that whip.  You’ve attacked these people on the high road, and if you strike again I’ll fire.”

“Hulloa!” cried one man.  “Why, here’s another German!”

“German or not ­enough!” I commanded, and bending down, assisted the fallen Prince to rise.

“You ­you shall pay for this, I swear!” declared “Willie,” angrily facing the man who had struck him.  Then, turning to me, he apparently recognized my voice, for he asked ­“How in the name of Fate did you come here, Heltzendorff?”

“I will explain later,” I replied in German.  “Let us get out of this.”

“But I cannot leave Violet.  I ­I ­”

He had replied in the same language, which the men apparently did not understand.

“Enough; come,” I said.  Then in English I added, “We will wish these gentlemen good-night.”

I took his arm and led him away amid the derisive laughter of the irate brother and his two friends, leaving the girl with them.

When we were out of earshot I told him of the Emperor’s telegram, and added: 

“That lady was Miss Hewitt, was she not?”

“Yes.  Her father’s estate is a few miles from here.  She’s a perfect little fiend for opium ­got bitten with the habit when she was travelling with her married sister in China, and Maggie, her old nurse, who lives in the cottage we shall pass in a minute, lets her go there on the quiet and smoke.  I have had two or three pipes there lately,” he added merrily.

Himmel!” I gasped.  “How dangerous!  She has no idea of who you are, I hope?”

“Not in the least.”

“Good.  Let us attend to the Emperor’s telegram at once.”

And a quarter of an hour later we were discussing the Kaiser’s inquiry in a clean, comfortable, but out-of-the-way cottage in which “Willie” had established himself so as to be near the pretty girl for whom he had conceived that passing fascination.

Until to-day Violet Hewitt has been entirely ignorant of the identity of the man who, like herself, was so addicted to opium.  These lines, if they meet her eye, will reveal to her a curious and, no doubt, startling truth.