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Round the World in Seven Days
by Herbert Strang
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Cows and horses walk on four legs, Little children walk on two legs; Fishes swim in water clear, Birds fly high into the air;

and impressing on me that boys mustn't be little beasts, nor try to be fishes, or birds, or anything else they wasn't meant to be. But now, gentlemen, in this wonderful twentieth century, them old doctrines are as dead as Queen Anne. We've got submarines diving and roving along in the depths of the sea; we've got aeroplanes that fly up into the air; and we've got men, gentlemen, men of grit and backbone, men of courage and determination, that 'fear no foe in shining armour,' men like our friend Mr. Smith (roars of applause), who brave the perils of the deep and the chance of the empyrean, who take their lives in their hands and think nothing of it. Some croakers will tell you the Old Country is going to the dogs. Don't you believe it. ("We won't.") I don't believe she ever will go to the dogs while she's got left a man of the old, honourable, and respected name of Smith. (Laughter and cheers.)

"Mr. Underhill just now referred in feeling terms to the personal results of Mr. Smith's enterprise. But for him, some of our number would by this time have crossed the bourne whence no traveller returns. I need not speak of the joy and pride that must have filled a father's and a brother's breast—" (Here the speaker blew his nose and wiped a mist from his spectacles. Then he resumed.) "As I was saying, our friend has accomplished a wonderful feat, gentlemen. He has come twelve thousand miles in three days and a half. That's a thing to be proud of. He tells me he's going to get back in another three days and a half. I am sure I speak for you all when I say 'good luck to him!' ("hear! hear!") Think what it means, gentlemen. It means going round the world in a week. When I was last in England I met a man at a hotel who kept me up till three in the morning proving to me that the earth is flat. I'll give Mr. Smith his address, and when he gets home he can go and prove to him that he's a flat. (Laughter.) You remember in a play of Shakespeare there's a little chap that says he'll put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes. His name was Puck, gentlemen. Mr. Smith won't do it quite so quick—not this journey, at any rate—but who knows what these young scientific fellows will be a-doing of next? Mr. Smith's aeroplane hasn't got a name, I believe, but he'd better christen it Puck, which is the same as the Indian word pukka, and means 'jolly good.'"

"Now I'm not going to make a speech, so I'll just conclude these few remarks by wishing Mr. Smith a safe journey home, quick promotion, and a seat in the House of Lords. He's used to going up, and that's about as far up as he can go."

When the cheering had ceased, the company crowded about the aeroplane, and gazed at it as if by sheer hard staring they might discover the secret of its speed.

While Rodier explained its working to some of them, Smith sat with the officers, his father and brother, and Sir Matthew, discussing the immediate future.

"You must be very tired," said his father. "Don't you think you have better give up the idea of returning at once, and come with us? The Admiralty will stretch a point if we cable an explanation."

"On no account, father," replied Smith. "I am going back. I had the good luck to get here in time. That's all right so far. But after coming through the air I couldn't stand a slow voyage back; it would be like riding in a growler after a taxi. Besides, I confess I am out to make a record. I can't make a name in geology, but why shouldn't I go down to posterity as the first man to fly round the world?"

"In seven days, as Sir Matthew remarked," added Tom. "It will be rather a feather in your cap, old fellow, if you can do it."

"Oh, I'll do it, if only my engine holds out. By the way, Roddy ought to be cleaning up in preparation for starting. I hope he won't be demoralized by this ovation. Roddy," he called, "it's time to clean up."

"All right, mister," replied the French man. "I'll take the shine out of her."

"Roddy's English is not perfectly accurate," said Smith, laughing; "but he's exactness itself in his work." He pulled out his watch. "It's exactly eighty-one hours since I left London; I've got eighty-seven to get back in."

"How will you go?" asked Underhill.

"First to Samoa, then Honolulu, then 'Frisco, and straight across the States."

"You'll have to beware of interviewers," said Tom. "You may be sure the newspaper men have got wind of you by this time."

"I don't know. Barracombe wouldn't say anything; I don't think Johnson in Constantinople would, and—"

"My dear fellow, don't make any mistake," said Captain Warren. "Nobody ever does say anything, but the newspaper men somehow or other know what you think about when you're abed and asleep."

"They must all be Irishmen, then."

"Or Americans. I wouldn't mind betting that they are getting up a reception for you at 'Frisco—"

"But they don't know I'm going there."

"No matter; the word has gone out to keep a watch for you, and every town in the States will be on the qui vive. I'm rather sorry for you when you come down for petrol; you won't get off so easily as you did on the way out."

"Of course you won't," said Tom. "I suppose you'll wire ahead for petrol to be held ready for you? That will give you away."

"No, I shall chance it. I can get petrol in any town in the States, and I won't risk delay by announcing myself."

"You had better have a good sleep before you start," said Underhill. "What time do you want to go?"

"Not later than midnight."

"Well, you've got nearly four hours. Your man had better sleep, too. I'll see to the engine."

"Roddy won't allow that. I see that he has got help. He'll be finished in half-an-hour. By all means put him to bed then, if you'll promise to wake us both in good time."

"I'll do that. I won't spoil sport. Go to the further end of the camp, and I'll tuck you up in the tarpaulin, put some food on board, and see that everything is shipshape."

Smith was glad enough to avail himself of the opportunity of three or four hours' continuous sleep on land. Rodier showed more reluctance, declaring that he was as fit as a fiddle; but Captain Warren bore him away from the crowd of admirers, and stood over him until he, like his master, was sleeping soundly.

A quarter of an hour before midnight the two airmen were awakened. Farewells were said, hands were shaken all round, every one wish them good luck, and precisely at twelve they took their seats and set forth on the two thousand miles flight to Samoa.



CHAPTER XV

HERR SCHWANKMACHER'S CABBAGES

A little before twelve on Monday, Herr Rudolph Schwankmacher, one of the most respected residents of Apia, capital of Samoa, was reclining under the shade of a plantain in his garden beyond the promontory of Mulinuu, enjoying the conversation of a friend and the refreshing bitterness of a bottle of light lager beer. The garden rose a few feet above the level of the ground in front of it, and afforded an excellent view over the sea. Hither Herr Schwankmacher was wont to retire for a brief spell of rest and meditation in the heat of the day, and on this occasion he had been accompanied by a compatriot newly arrived from Germany, to whom he was expatiating on the pleasures of colonial life in general, and in particular on the delights of rearing cabbages in so rich and prolific a soil.

"Yes," he said, "you will find no cabbages like these in Germany. You see them. They are grown from seed. It is not a month since I put the seed in the ground, and the plants are already flourishing. They will soon be full-grown, and then I shall pickle them, and have for every day in the year a dish that will remind me as I eat it of the days of my youth in the dear Homeland. Ach! the Homeland; it is very dear. I love it, although I would not return to it for the world. This is the happy land, my friend. It is a fairland. It is a beautiful land for copra, flowers, and cabbages. I am content."

He tossed off a glass of beer and lay back on the green sward, puffing at a pipe and gazing benignly up into the broad-leaved canopy that sheltered him from the midday sun. For some time he reclined thus, dropping a word now and then to his companion, answering his questions, but always returning to the cabbages.

As they lay in this placidity and ease they were suddenly aware of a slight buzzing in the air. Herr Schwankmacher raised himself on his elbow, and looked around for the insect that had dared to intrude into this peaceful cabbage-patch. There was no insect in sight of such a size as to account for the deep-toned hum, which was growing louder moment by moment.

"This is strange," he said. "I never heard such a noise before."

"I have heard it," said his friend. "I have heard it very close. The last time was when Count Zeppelin's airship came down in the Teutoberger Wald. I was there."

"So; but Count Zeppelin would not be here in Samoa. We have no airships here. The newspapers say that there is much activity in Europe, especially among the French and English, in this new pastime, but I dare say the greater part of what they say is lies. But really, the noise is becoming very great; I am unable to explain it."

Both men were now sitting erect, looking to right, to left, seawards, landwards, towards the hills. All at once the sound ceased, a shadow was cast upon them, and before they could realize the situation a strange, uncouth object glided from behind them over the plantains, and came to rest in the centre of the cabbage-patch.

Herr Schwankmacher sprang to his feet with a nimbleness surprising in a man of his size, and rushed forward, snorting with rage and indignation. His friend followed, neither indignant nor enraged, but very much interested in the occurrence. His intelligent eyes gleamed behind his glasses; he had himself experienced aerial adventures.

It chanced that Rodier was the first to step out of the machine. As the burly, bearded, white-clad figure of Herr Schwankmacher cantered heavily toward him, he lifted his cap, and with that sunny smile which had accompanied him through life, he said—

"Monsieur, je vous fais mille excuses. Voudriez-vou bien me dire ou l'on puisse obtenir de la petrole."

"Sapperment!" cried the infuriated German. "Es ist ein kriechender Franzose!"

It was well that Rodier did not understand him, or, never having been called a sneaking Frenchman before, he would certainly have fallen tooth and nail on the offender, though in respect of bulk the German would have made two of him. Fortunately for the keeping of peace, he was quite ignorant of the German tongue, and when Herr Schwankmacher proceeded to shake his pipe at him, and deliver his opinion of trespassers in general and French trespassers in particular, with intermittent allusions to cabbages, Rodier only listened with the same gentle smile and deprecating movements of his grimy hands.

Smith, joining him, addressed Herr Schwankmacher in English, but his intervention seemed only to add fuel to the flames. The German knew no English; neither Smith nor Rodier knew German; and the affair promised to come to a deadlock. But here a peacemaker stepped in. Herr Schwankmacher's friend, who appeared to be greatly amused, stepped forward with a noticeable limp.

"Gentlemen, gentlemen, zis is not business. Permit me, sir," he said to Smith.

He took Herr Schwankmacher by the arm, and spoke a few words to him; upon which the German consented to be silent and in dudgeon resumed his pipe.

"My friend, sir," the second man went on, "is vat you call chippy because you come plomp into his bed of cabbage, very fine vegetable, vich remind him of his youthful days in ze ever-to-beloved Homeland."

"Oh, well," said Smith, "assure him that I am very sorry. I didn't mean to hurt his cabbages, and I'll pay for any damage that I've done."

"Was sagt er?" said Herr Schwankmacher suspiciously.

His friend translated Smith's words. Schwankmacher grunted.

"The fact is," continued Smith, "we've run short of petrol, and I had to come down. I hoped to make Apia; that is it, yonder, I suppose?"

"Zat is so. You vant petrol. Zen I introduce you to excellent firma vat supply ze Commandant. It is good petrol; I know it, for ze firma receive large consignments of it from ze highly respectable firma I haf ze honour to represent—Schlagintwert Gesellschaft of Duesseldorf. Sir, viz compliments."

He took from a capacious pocket a bulky book in a red paper wrapper.

"Zis is our price list, sir, revise and correct. Ve can supply anyzink vatefer, and I shall esteem it great favour to haf ze opportunity to quote for petrol, machine oil, planes, stays, plugs, propellers, levers, air-bags, goggles, overalls, accumulators—"

"Thanks, but at present I want nothing but petrol and machine oil, and I must have them at once, as I have to start for Honolulu without delay."

"For Honolulu, sir?"

"Yes."

"Across ze sea?"

"There's no other way, is there?"

"Sree sousand miles?"

"Rather less, isn't it?"

"Ach! zis knocks me into a—vat you call it?—into a billycock."

He turned to Herr Schwankmacher, who had just refilled his pipe, and repeated to him the astounding announcement. The German scoffed. Seeing that there was no help for it if he wished to get away in a reasonable time, Smith explained that he was halfway on a voyage round the world, and had not a minute to spare.

"Ach! business are business. Zat is vat take me round ze world. Permit me, sir."

He handed Smith a large business card, inscribed with the name "Hildebrand Schwab," and the address of his firm in Duesseldorf.

"Ve shall lose no time, sir," he added. "Zis is ze most amazing zink zat efer haf I heard, and I esteem it great honour to haf ze opportunity to introduce you to ze excellent firma vat supply you viz petrol for your so vonderful machine. Vun minute until I tell Herr Schwankmacher, zen ve go doublequick."

Herr Schwankmacher's vexation and incredulity vanished together when his friend told him the facts of the case. He was a good fellow at bottom, and now that he knew that the aeroplane's descent in his garden was purely accidental, he was ready to do all in his power to speed the parting guest. In a few minutes Smith was hurrying along the shore road with a German on either side, at his left the surf roaring on the fringe of coral reef, at his right a screen of tufted palms and plantations running up the lower slopes of the mountains. He soon came to a collection of drinking-bars and stores, all bearing German names. Herr Schwankmacher, now transformed into a cordial host, invited him to drink a bottle of lager with him at one of the bars, but he excused himself and followed Schwab into a large store where every sort of requisite for machines was kept in stock.

The purchase of petrol proved to be a lengthy transaction, for Schwab was impelled to tell the story to the store-keeper, he repeated it to his clerks, they ran out to tell the neighbours, and the place was soon thronged with Germans—merchants, clerks, sailors, stokers—all eager to see the airman who was flying round the world. The store was filled with smoke and gutturals. The purchase being at last concluded, the cans were rolled to a motor lorry which lumbered along in the direction of Mulinuu like a triumphal car at the head of a procession. First came Smith with Schwankmacher on his right and Schwab on his left; then a crowd of the German population, in which wealthy merchants found themselves neighbours to grimy stokers, and youthful clerks to the inevitable uniforms; the tail was formed of swarthy Samoans, men and women, skipping boys and laughing girls with flowers in their hair.

Rodier had cleaned the engine, and was eating his dinner among the cabbages. He favoured the crowd with a pleasant smile, although some were Germans, and because others were pretty.

The petrol was placed on board and the tank filled, Smith, with long-suffering patience, replying to the questions of the English-speaking spectators. All was at last ready for the start; Schwab, who alone of the company had knowledge of the conditions, made himself useful in clearing the course; and Schwankmacher positively declined to accept payment for the plants which had been crushed under the aeroplane, and those which were trampled by the spectators' feet.

When the airmen were in their places, Schwab limped up.

"Permit me to shake hands viz ze first circumnavigator of ze sky," he said with effusion, "and to remind you zat my firma Schlagintwert vill be most happy to supply you viz anyzink vatefer zat you need, and in vatefer region of ze globe you may be, on receipt of postcard, telegram, cable, or Marconigram. Hoch!"

His cheer was taken up by the crowd. The machine moved forward. Herr Schwankmacher, stepping back, fell into the arms of a grinning stoker, and a little native boy, shrieking with fright, ran head-first into the corpulent frame of a merchant who was more stable in his copra business than in his legs. The aeroplane flew up; the crowd watched its ascension like adoring worshippers of some sky deity; and in three minutes it was a mere speck in the cloudless blue.



CHAPTER XVI

A STOP-PRESS MESSAGE

Mr. John McMurtrie, editor of the Toronto Sphere, a capable journalist and a man of many friends, strolled into his office about three o'clock one Wednesday afternoon. His first extra edition was due at four, and it may seem that he had allowed himself a very short time for dealing with fresh items of news that had come to hand since noon; but he had an excellent assistant, who took a real interest in his work, so that there was no need for the editor to hurry his luncheon or the ensuing cigar.

"Well, Daniels," he said genially, as he entered his assistant's room. He sat across a corner of the table, exhibiting a well-developed calf neatly covered with golfing hose. "Is there anything fresh and frothy on the tape?"

"Not much. A wire from 'Frisco about those flying men."

"You don't say so?"

"Here it is."

He handed the slip to his chief, who ran his eye over the message. The words employed were few, but a journalist of McMurtrie's experience instinctively covered the bare bones with a respectable integument, and clothed this with a quite picturesque raiment by force of the more ornamental parts of speech.

The substance of what he read was as follows: A cable message had reached San Francisco from Honolulu in the afternoon of the previous day, announcing that an aeroplane had alighted there about three o'clock that morning, the owner, a Lieutenant Thistleton (so it was corrupted) Smith declaring that he had come from Samoa in sixteen hours, and was proceeding to San Francisco. He had left three hours later, having waited only to take in a stock of petrol. On receipt of this message the editor of every newspaper in the city had arranged for a relay of reporters to be up all night and watch for the arrival of this extraordinary machine. Shortly after midnight the hum of the propellers was heard over Golden Gate, and a light in the sky indicating the course of the aeroplane, a dozen journalists, in motor-cars, rushed after it, but were hopelessly out-distanced. They discovered it on the outskirts of the city. The airmen had already landed. The reporter who was first in the race seized upon Lieutenant Smith, and learning that he had only alighted to obtain more petrol, rushed him back to the city in his car. His comrades and competitors, on arriving, sought to interview the second man, whose name they had not been able to ascertain; but he was very uncommunicative, being occupied in cleaning the engine. Lieutenant Smith was back with petrol in twenty minutes; in half-an-hour he was again on his way. This extreme haste caused great disappointment to the airmen and civic dignitaries of the city, they having risen from their beds on hearing of his arrival to honour Lieutenant Smith with a reception. When they reached the spot where he had descended, he had been gone some ten minutes. In the race to meet him, one of the motor-cars collided with an electric-light standard and was overturned, its occupant, Mr. Aeneas T. Muckleridge, being carried to hospital in a critical condition. Several San Francisco newspapers had published interviews with Lieutenant Smith, one of them ten columns long.

Mr. McMurtrie chuckled as he read this dispatch in the shorthand of the news agency.

"Bedad, 'tis worth a special editorial, Daniels. But why didn't we get it before, man? It ought to have been in time for the morning papers."

"You remember, sir, there's been something wrong with the line to-day through the storm."

"So there has, indeed. Well, take out that stuff about the new British tariff, and send Davis in to me."

He went into his room, sat back in his chair, pushed up his golfing cap, and smiled as he meditated the periods of his editorial. In a few moments a thin, ragged-headed youth entered with an air of haste and terror. He carried a paper-block, which he set on his knee, looking anxiously at the editor. Mr. McMurtrie began to dictate, the stenographer's pencil flying over the paper as he sought to overtake the rapid utterance of his chief. The article, as it appeared on the second page of the Sphere an hour later, ran as follows:

HOCUS POCUS

A hoax, or as our merry ancestors would have called it, a flam, is usually the most ephemeral and evanescent of human devices. Like a boy's soap bubble, it glitters for a brief moment in iridescent rotundity, then ceases to be even a film of air. It is unsubstantial as the tail of Halley's comet. On rare occasions, it is true, its existence is prolonged; many worthy people are beguiled; and some enthusiasts are so effectually hoodwinked as to persist in their delusion, and even to form societies for its propagation. But mankind at large is sufficiently sane to avoid a fall into this abyss of the absurd, and, having paid its tribute of laughter, goes its way without being a cent the worse.

San Francisco appears to be the latest victim of The Great Aviation Hoax, and we shall watch the progressive stages of its disillusionment with sympathetic interest, or the development of its newest cult with sincere commiseration. Like many other phenomena, good and bad, this gigantic flam, it will be remembered, took its rise in the east. Its genesis was reported in Constantinople nearly a week ago: then at intervals we learnt that these mysterious airmen, one of whom with artful artlessness had adopted the plain, respectable, and specious name of Smith, had manifested themselves at Karachi, Penang, and Port Darwin successively. The curtain then dropped, and the world waited with suspense for the opening of the next act, though there were some who suspected that the performers had slipped away with the cash-box during the interval, and would never be heard of again. However, the curtain has at last rung up at the golden city of the west, and it is certainly a mark of the ingenuity of the concocters of the hoax that they allowed at least twenty-four hours for the passage of the Pacific. In another column we give an account of a visit to San Francisco, in the small hours of this morning, from which it will be seen that the city fathers narrowly escaped making themselves ridiculous, the flying men having wisely disappeared before the municipal deputation, hastily summoned from their beds, had time to make the indispensable changes in their attire. It need scarcely be hinted that there are many accomplished aviators in San Francisco who would take a jovial pleasure in lending themselves to this amusing hoax, if only for the chance of seeing their most reverend seniors in pyjamas.

A glance at the itinerary of the alleged world tourists, coupled with a comparison of dates, will show how impossible it is for them to have covered the stages of their tour in the time claimed. Indeed, it is almost an insult to our readers' intelligence even to suggest this comparison. The record put up by Blakeney in his New York-Chicago flight was 102 miles per hour for six consecutive hours. If the flying men who are now asserted to have touched at San Francisco are the same as were reported by the Constantinople correspondent of the London Times on Friday last, a simple calculation will show that they must have flown for many days at a time at twice Blakeney's speed, with the briefest intervals for food and rest. It is not yet claimed that the alleged Smith and his anonymous companion have discovered a means of dispensing with sleep, or that they are content, like the fabulous chameleon, to live on air. Our children may live to witness such developments in the science of aviation as may render possible an aerial journey of this length and celerity; but so sudden an augmentation of the speed and endurance of the aeroplane, to say nothing of the more delicate mechanism of the human frame, demands a more authentic confirmation of the midnight impressions of the San Francisco journalists than has yet come to hand. In short, we do not believe a word of it, and our speculation at the moment is, what brand of soap or tinned meat, what new machine oil, or panacea for human ills, these ingeniously arranged manifestations are intended to boom.

"What do you think of that, Davis?" asked Mr. McMurtrie at the end of six minutes' rapid dictation. It was his pardonable weakness to claim the admiration of his subordinates.

"Bully, sir," replied the shorthand-writer timidly. As a matter of fact, he thought nothing at all, his whole attention having been so completely absorbed by his task of making dots and curves and dashes as to leave no portion of his brain available for receiving mental impressions. But the editor was satisfied. Telling the youth to transcribe his notes and send the flimsies page by page as completed to the printer, he took up his golf sticks, passed through the outer office, instructing his assistant to read the proof, and departed to his recreation.

There is an excellent golf course on the Scarborough Bluffs, the rugged, seamed, and fissured cliffs that form the northern shore of Lake Ontario, near Toronto. Boarding a trolley-car, Mr. McMurtrie soon reached the club-house, where he found his friend Harry Cleave already awaiting him.

"Hullo, Mac. Day's work done?" was Mr. Cleave's salutation.

"Indeed it is. The best day's work I have done for a good while."

"Then you are pitching into somebody or something, that's certain. What is it this time?"

"Bubbles, my boy. Those flying-men are after spinning again. Some of the 'Frisco men will have a pain within side of 'em when they read how I have touched 'em up. Now then, Cleave, we've got the course to ourselves. I'm sure I can give you half a stroke and a beating. 'Tis your honour."

The consciousness of having touched up the 'Frisco men seemed to have a salutary influence on Mr. McMurtrie's play. He was in the top of form, won the first two holes, and was in the act of lifting his club to drive off from the tee of number three, when a faint buzzing sound from the direction of the lake caused him to suspend the stroke and glance over the placid blue water. Far away in the sky he saw a dark speck about the size of a swallow, which, however, grew with extraordinary rapidity, and in a few moments declared itself to be an aeroplane containing two men.

"Be jabers!" quoth Mr. McMurtrie, resting his club on the ground and watching the flying machine with eyes in which might have been discerned a shade of misgiving.

It was, perhaps, thirty seconds from the time when he first caught sight of it that the aeroplane came perpendicularly above his head, the whirring ceased, and the machine descended with graceful swoop upon the well-cropt turf within fifty yards of the spot where the two golfers stood. As soon as it alighted, Mr. McMurtrie handed his sticks to the caddie, and, as one released from a spell, hurried to meet the man who had just stepped out of the car.

"That's Toronto over yonder?" said Smith without ceremony.

"Indeed it is," replied McMurtrie, taking stock of the dirty dishevelled figure. "Your name's not Smith?"

"Indeed it is!"

"Holy Moses!" ejaculated McMurtrie, and, to Smith's amazement, he turned his back and sprinted at the speed of a race-horse towards the club-house a few hundred yards away. He rushed to the telephone box, rang up his office, and, catching at his breath, waited with feverish eagerness for the answer to his call.

"You there, Daniels? I'm McMurtrie. For any sake stop press, cancel that leader, put back the tariff, votes for women, anything, only stop it.... What!... Edition off the machine!... Don't let a copy leave the office.... What!... First deliveries made!... Recall 'em, or the paper's ruined. Smith's here!... No, This-something Smith ... no, you ass, the naval lieutenant, he flying man: don't you understand!... understand!... are you there?... Get out a special edition at once.... Where's Davis? Bring him to the 'phone to take a note.... That you, Davis? Take this down.... 'As we go to press we have the best of evidence for the statement that the marvellous world-flight of that intrepid young airman, Lieutenant Thistledown Smith, of the British Navy, is a sober fact, and not, as our sceptical wiseacres have asserted, an ingeniously concocted hoax. Lieutenant Smith descended at 3:50 this afternoon on the Scarborough Bluffs, having accomplished the enormous distance from San Francisco without a stop, in the marvellous time of twelve hours, twenty-one minutes, and fourteen seconds. In our final edition, which will be accelerated, we shall publish an interview with Lieutenant Smith, with exclusive particulars of his remarkable voyage and his romantic career."

"I'm not so sure of that," said Smith dryly. He had entered with Mr. Cleave, and heard the frenzied editor's concluding sentences. "To begin with, I stopped at St. Paul, and was lucky enough to escape without attracting any attention. I shouldn't have been here but for the storm."

"For goodness' sake, Lieutenant, don't tell anybody that. A little stop at St. Paul isn't worth making a fuss about. You'll come along into the city with me, and we will get a few of the boys together and give you a topping dinner."

"I'd rather be hanged," said Smith. "The fact is, I only came down to get enough petrol on board to take me across the Atlantic. You can tell me where to get what I want?"

"Indeed I can. I tell you what. I'll 'phone for the petrol—how much do you want?—and get it out here in no time. You won't mind me ringing up a few particular friends, and inviting them out to see you?"

"Please don't do anything of the kind. I'm very tired; I'm not presentable; and I've no time to spare."

"Sure you wouldn't be after declining to answer a question or two—to be worked up into an interview, you know?"

"Really, I've nothing to tell. You appear to know a good deal about me already, and I'm sure your imagination can supply the rest."

"But there's a gap, lieutenant. We can't account for you between Port Darwin and Honolulu."

"We're wasting time," said Smith despairingly. "Be so good as to order up the petrol; then I'll give you a few headings."

McMurtrie was delighted. He gave the order to a firm in the city, requesting that the petrol should be sent out by motor at once. Then he took Smith and Cleave into the luncheon-room, which they had to themselves, ordered a meal for Smith, and drinks for Cleave and himself, and while Smith was eating, filled his note-book with jottings, which he foretold would sell out two editions of his paper like winking.

Rodier, meanwhile, was cleaning the engine.

To execute an order smartly is one of the first of business virtues. Smith was satisfied that the virtue was appreciated in Toronto: the petrol arrived, as McMurtrie assured him, in the shortest possible time. Unluckily the Toronto men of business had their share of humanity's common failing—if it is a failing—curiosity. McMurtrie, with Smith at his elbow, had scrupulously refrained from explaining what the petrol was wanted for; his assistant, Daniels, had been too busy seeing the special edition to press to run about gossiping; and Davis, the shorthand-writer, the third in the secret, had become so mechanical that nothing stirred emotion within him; he wrote of murders, assassinations, political convulsions, Rooseveltian exploits, diplomatic indiscretions, everything but football matches, with the same pencil and the same cold, inhuman precision. But it happened that one of the compositors in the Sphere printing office, who took a lively interest in the affairs of his fellow mortals, had a bet with a friend in the plumbing line about this very matter of the mysterious flying men. No sooner had he set up his portion of the editor's note than he begged leave of absence for half-an-hour from the overseer, whipped off his apron, and rushed off to demand his winnings before the loser had time to spend them in the Blue Lion on the way home from work. They repaired, nevertheless, to the Blue Lion to settle their account; they told the news to the barman, who passed it to the landlord; a publisher's clerk heard it, and repeated it to the manager; the manager acquainted the head of the firm as he went out to tea; the publisher mentioned it in an off-hand way to the man next him at the cafe; and—to roll the snowball no further—half Toronto was in possession of the news before the Sphere appeared on the streets.

The result was a general exodus in the direction of the Scarborough Bluffs. On foot, on bicycles, in cabs, motor-cars, trolley-cars, drays, and all kinds of vehicles, every one who had a tincture of sporting spirit set off to see two men and a structure of metal and canvas—quite ordinary persons and things, but representing a Deed and an Idea.

Thus it happened that close behind the dray conveying the petrol came a long procession, the sound of whose coming announced it from afar.

"'Tis the way of us in Toronto," said McMurtrie soothingly, when Smith vented his annoyance.

The crowd invaded the club-grounds, to the horror of the green-keepers, and rolled past the club-house to the aeroplane, where Rodier, having finished cleaning, was regaling himself with an excellent repast sent out to him by Mr. McMurtrie. Cheers for Lieutenant Smith arose; Rodier smiled and bowed, not ceasing to ply his knife and fork until a daring youth put his foot upon the aeroplane. Then Rodier dropped knife and fork, and rushed like a cat at the intruder. The Frenchiness of his language apprised the spectators that they were on the wrong scent, and they demanded to know where Lieutenant Smith was. Knowing Smith's dislike of demonstrations, Rodier was about to point lugubriously to the edge of the cliff, when some one shouted "Here he is!" and the mob flocked towards the club-house, from which Smith had just emerged. Rodier seized the opportunity to finish his meal, and direct the operations of the men who had brought the petrol.

Smith had not found himself in so large a crowd of English-speaking people since he had left London. The early morning enthusiasm of the San Francisco journalists was hard to bear, but the afternoon enthusiasm of Toronto was terrible. Hundreds of young fellows wanted to hoist him to their shoulders; dozens of opulent citizens perspired to carry him to the city in their cars; some very young ladies panted to kiss him; and a score of journalists buzzed about him, but upon them McMurtrie smiled with a look of conscious superiority. Smith whispered to him. The editor nodded.

"Gentlemen!" he shouted, holding up his hand.

"Silence!... Hear, hear!... S-s-sh!... Don't make such a row!... Same to you!... Let's hear what Jack McMurtrie has got to say."

Thus the babel was roared down.

"Ladies and gentlemen," said McMurtrie; "Mr. Smith—"

"Three cheers for Smith!" shouted some one; horns blurted; from the edge of the crowd the first notes of "For he's a jolly good fellow" were heard, and they sang it through twice, so that those who had missed the beginning should not be hurt in their feelings.

"Ladies and gentlemen," began McMurtrie again, when he could make his voice heard, "Mr. Smith, who is rather hoarse from constant exposure to the night air, asks me to thank you for the warmth of your reception. He has been good enough to give me full particulars of his wonderful journey, which you will find in the final edition of the Sphere. As I've no doubt at all that you are anxious to have the chance of seeing Mr. Smith performing the evolutions which up to this time have been witnessed by next to nobody but the stars and the flying fishes, he has consented, at my request, to give a demonstration, provided that you'll allow him a clear run, and don't be accessory to your own manslaughter."

This announcement was greeted with loud cheers. The crowd fell back, allowing Smith a free course to the aeroplane.

"Bedad," said McMurtrie; "I wouldn't wonder but they tear me to pieces before I get safe home. But I'll skip into a motor-car as soon as you are started. Now, is there anything I can do for you before you go?"

"Only send two cables for me; one to my sister: here's the address; say simply 'All well.' The other to Barracombe, 532 Mincing Lane, London, asking him to meet me at home at eleven p.m., to-morrow. You won't forget?"

"I will not. But you're a cool hand, to be sure."

A space was cleared; the aeroplane ran off, soared aloft, and for a few seconds circled over the heads of the spectators. Then a voice came to them from the air, not so much like Longfellow's falling star as an emission from a gramaphone.

"Good-bye, friends. Thanks for your kind reception. Sorry I can't stay any longer; but I've got to be in Portsmouth, England within twenty-four hours. Good-bye."

The aeroplane wheeled eastward, and shot forward at a speed that made the onlookers gasp. When it had disappeared, they became suddenly alive to the suspicion that Jack McMurtrie had practised a ruse on them. They gave a yell and looked round for him. A motor-car was making at forty miles an hour for Toronto.



CHAPTER XVII

A MIDNIGHT VIGIL

Mr. William Barracombe was the most punctual of men. He entered his office in Mincing Lane precisely at ten o'clock on Thursday morning. His letters had already been sorted and arranged in two neat piles on his desk. Topmost on one of them was a cablegram from Toronto: "Meet me home eleven p.m. Smith." He never admitted that anything would surprise him, and in fact he showed no sign of excitement, but looked through his correspondence methodically, distributing the papers among several baskets to be dealt with by respective members of his staff, or by himself. This done, he rang for the office boy, ordered him to remove the baskets, and then took up the cablegram again.

"By Jove!" he said to himself.

He reached down his A B C and looked out a train for Cosham.

"I may as well go down to dinner," he thought.

His next proceeding was to telephone to his chambers instructing his man to meet him at Waterloo with his suit-case. Then he wrote a telegram to Mrs. Smith announcing that he would dine with her that evening. Thereupon he was ready to tackle the business problems which would absorb his attention until five o'clock.

On arriving at Cosham Park he was taken to the study, where Kate Smith was awaiting him.

"You have heard from Charley?" she said anxiously, after shaking hands.

"Yes. Have you?"

"He wired 'All well.' He is very economical. All his messages have been just those two words, except yesterday's from Honolulu. That was 'Father safe.'"

"That's magnificent. He didn't tell me that, the rascal. Like you, I have nothing before but 'All well.'"

"Do tell me what he wired you this time. I was afraid when we got your telegram that something had happened."

"Not a bit of it. He expects to be here at eleven."

"How delightful! I am quite proud of him, really. You can come and see Mother now. I wanted to speak to you first because she knows nothing about Charley's journey. I thought it best to keep it from her until I knew about Father, and having kept it so long I decided to leave it for Charley to tell himself. I don't know whether I can manage it. I'm so excited I could scream."

"Don't mind me. Ah! How d'ye do, Mrs. Smith?" The lady had just entered. "You'll forgive my presumption?"

"Not at all—that is, an old friend like you doesn't presume, Mr. Barracombe. Have you heard from Charley lately?"

"A word or two. He's coming home to-night. He asked me to meet him here."

"How vexing! I mean, I wish I had known before; I can tell you what I couldn't tell a stranger: we've fish for only three. But I am glad the dear boy will have a few hours at home before he rejoins his ship. It was very annoying that his leave should be spoilt. I am sure his captain works him too hard."

"I don't fancy he'll consider his leave spoilt. But don't be concerned about the fish; he won't be home till eleven."

"My bed-time is ten; I haven't made an exception for years; but I shall certainly sit up for him; if you'll play cribbage with me to keep me awake. We dine at eight. You know your room?"

A servant entered.

"Please, m'm, there's a man asking for Mr. Charley."

"Who is he, Betts?"

"A stranger to me, m'm. His name is Barton, and he's a farmer sort of man."

"Did you tell him that Mr. Charley is not at home?"

"Yes, m'm. He said he'd wait."

"Tell him that Mr. Charley will not be in till eleven. He had better call again."

The servant returned in a minute or two.

"Please, m'm, the man says he don't mind waiting. He has come miles special to see Mr. Charley, and he says he won't be put off. He seems a bit put out, m'm."

"I'll go and see him, Mother," said Kate. "It may be important."

"Perhaps Mr. Barracombe will go with you, my dear. The man may be intoxicated."

Kate and Mr. Barracombe proceeded to the hall, where stood a man in rough country garments, his calves encased in brown leather leggins.

"You wish to see my brother?" said Kate.

"I do so, if Mr. Charles Thusidger Smith, R.N., be your brother, miss. He give me this card wi's name prented on it, and vowed and declared he'd send me a cheque as soon as he got my bill for the damage he done. 'Tis a week come Saturday since I sent my bill, and daze me if I've got a cheque or even had any answer. That's not fair dealing; it bean't proper; that's what I say."

Mr. Barracombe's eyes twinkled. He glanced at Kate, and said—

"Your name is B-B—"

"Barton, sir; Firtop Farm, Mottisfont."

"What is this b-b-bill for d-d-damages you speak of?"

"Why, sir, 'twas like this. Last Thursday night as was, I was just a-strippin' off my coat to go to bed when I heard a randy of a noise out-along, and my dogs set up a-barkin', and goin' to look, there was a airyplane had shoved hisself into my hayrick, and a young feller a-splutterin' and hollerin', and usin' all manner of heathen language to my dog. He cooled down arter a bit, when I'd spoke to him pretty straight, axin' who'd pay for the mess he'd made, and he went down-along to village, sayin' he'd take a bed there for hisself and his man, and pay me what was fair. Drown me if he wasn't back in half-an-hour, all of a heat, tellin' me in a commandin' way—being an officer by what he said—to pull down my fence and help him hoist that airyplane on to the road. I wouldn't stir a finger till he'd promised faithful to pay, not me; then we worked me and some labourin' men he brought, till we was all of a sweat, and we got the dratted thing out, and off she went, whizzin' and buzzin' in a way I never did see. Come mornin' I took a look at things, and there was half my hay not worth a cuss for horse or ass, and thirty feet of fence fit for nowt but firewood. 'Send in your bill,' says he, and send it I did, and neither song nor sixpence have I got for it. Thinks I, I'll go and see if he give me a right name and address, and a mighty moil 'twas to find the place, and no train back till mornin', and my wife don't know where I be."

"Very annoying. What's the amount of your b-b-bill?"

"Here it be. Cast your eye on it, sir. I ain't overcharged a penny."

He handed Mr. Barracombe a soiled paper folded many times—"To damage to hay, repairing fence, and cleaning up, L4 2s 4-1/2d."

"What's the ha'penny?" asked Mr. Barracombe.

"I never thowt there'd be any question of a ha'penny, drown me if I did. The ha'penny be for the ball of twine we used to get fence straight. I didn't want it set up all crissmacross, mind 'ee, and you have to draw a line same as when you're plantin' 'taties."

"Well, Mr. B-B-Barton, I'm sorry Mr. Smith isn't at home, but the f-fact is he's been for a voyage round the world, and won't be home till eleven."

"That's a good 'un. Round the world! Why, I tell 'ee this was only a se'nnight ago. I seed him myself. He couldn't get a half nor a quarter round the world in the time. My son Jock be a sailor, and he don't do it under six months. That won't wash with Isaac Barton. No, no, if he'll be home at eleven he hain't been round the world. Anyway, I'll bide till he comes. I dussn't show my face to home without L4 2s. 4-1/2d., railway fare extry."

"If that's the case I'd b-better p-p-pay you myself. Mr. Smith will settle with me. Here's a f-f-five-pound note: that will pay your b-b-bill and your f-fare, and leave something over for a b-bed in the village if you can't get home to-night."

"Well now, that's handsome, be dazed if it hain't."

"Just receipt your bill, w-will you? By the b-bye, Mr. Smith didn't pay you anything on account?"

"I won't tell a lie. He did. He give me a pound, but that don't come in the reckonin'. Hay was L3, wood fifteen shillin', men's time L1, beer two shillin', odds and ends five shillin', nails four-pence, twine a ha'penny, makin' L5, 2s. 4-1/2d. I've a-took off L1, leavin' L4 2s. 4-1/2d."

"Very well. Here's a s-stamp."

The farmer receipted the bill.

"Thank'ee, sir." He cleared his throat, "If I med make so bold, sir, meanin' no offence—"

"What n-now?"

"Why, sir, speakin' in my simple common way, I never hears a body stutter in his talk but I think of my brother Sam and how he cured hisself. He was a terrible bad stutterer in his young days, he was, nearly bustin' hisself tryin' to get it out, poor soul. But a clever parson chap learned him how to cure hisself, and if I med make so bold, I'll tell 'ee how 'twas done."

"I shall be d-delighted."

"Well, this parson chap—ah! he was a clever feller, everywhere except in the pulpit—he said to my brother, 'Sam,' says he—he always talked in that homely way—'Sam, poor feller, I'll tell 'ee what the bishop told me when I stuttered so bad I couldn't say 'Dearly beloved brethren' without bub—bub—bubbing awful. 'Say the bub—bub—bub inside yerself,' says he, 'and then you can stutter as long as you like without a soul knowin' it. My brother Sam thowt 'a med as well give it a trial, and he did, and bless 'ee, in a week he could talk as straightforward as the Prime Minister, and no one 'ud ever know what a terrible lot of b's and m's and other plaguey letters he swallered. Try it, sir; say 'Baby mustn't bother mummy' that way ten times every morning afore breakfast, and 'Pepper-pots and mustard plasters' afore goin' to bed, and I lay you'll get over it as quick as my brother Sam. Good-night, sir and miss, and thank 'ee."

"Why do you pretend so?" said Kate, laughing, when the door was shut.

"My dear Kate, I have stuttered for pleasure and profit ever since I discovered the efficacy of it at school. When I didn't know my lesson one day I put on a stammer, and my bub—bub—bubbing, as the farmer calls it, made the master so uncomfortable that, ever afterwards, at the first sign of it he passed me over. That's why I'm such a fool to-day."

"You're incorrigible. Come, it's time to dress for dinner."

The time between dinner and eleven passed all too slowly. Mrs. Smith and Barracombe played cribbage; Kate was restless, opening a book, laying it down, touching the piano, going to the window and peering out into the dark.

"Why are you so restless to-night, Kate?" asked her mother. "One would think that Charley had been away for months instead of a week."

"Ah, but you see, Mother, he hasn't—"

"Hasn't what—Fifteen two, fifteen four—Well, Kate?"

"Has never been quite so late home on his last night of leave, has he, Mother?"

"That is true—one for his nob. I really think they ought to make him a captain, for he seems to be an exceedingly useful officer. He went away last Thursday, as I understood, on some business connected with a wreck. I do hope none of the poor men were drowned. I often think of my husband, Mr. Barracombe, on the other side of the world, going about among those dreadful coral reefs, and I wish he would retire and live safely at home. I could never understand what he finds interesting in bits of stone and things of that sort, but of course he is a very distinguished man."

So the good lady prattled on, placidly unconscious of her nearness to the border-line between comedy and tragedy.

The clock struck eleven.

"Thank you, Mr. Barracombe; I have enjoyed the game," said Mrs. Smith. "Charley will soon be here."

"Let us go to the door," said Kate. "Perhaps we shall hear him."

"Mr. Barracombe will go with you, Kate; I am a little afraid of the night air. Wrap yourself up."

The two went to the conservatory door, overlooking the park. The sky was clear, the air was still; not a sound was to be heard. Every now and then a broad flash of light fleetingly illuminated the sky; it was no doubt the searchlight at Spithead.

"I wish he would come," said Kate. "It would be terrible if anything went wrong at the very last. How far is it across the Atlantic?"

"It's three thousand five hundred miles to Liverpool from New York, and rather more from Toronto; a ticklish journey, with no chance of landing till he gets to Ireland."

"It makes me shudder to think of him crossing the sea in that frail machine."

"People shuddered at the first railway train, speed ten miles an hour; now we grumble at fifty. In a few years we shall have an aerial Marathon, with the circumference of the globe for the course."

"Hark! What is that?"

"The rumble of a train," said Barracombe, after a moment's silence. "Shall we walk down to the sheds? There's a clear view from there, without trees; we could see the aeroplane a long way off, though probably we should hear it first."

They went on, remained at the sheds for some minutes, scanning the sky, then retraced their steps. A quarter-past eleven struck. Kate grew more and more anxious, and Barracombe found it more and more difficult to talk unconcernedly. They returned to the house, and entering through the conservatory, discovered Mrs. Smith asleep in her chair. Barracombe noiselessly put some coal on the fire, and they stole out again.

Half-past eleven.

"Don't you think you had better go to bed, Kate?"

"I couldn't sleep if I did, Billy. I couldn't even lie still. Oh, how helpless one feels! Charley may be drowning, and we don't know it, and can't do anything to help."

"Pull yourself together, Kate. I am sure he is all right. He probably started later than he intended. You may be sure he wouldn't start unless the engine was in thorough good order. Let us go in and play patience."

"No, no; I must move. Let us walk down the road."

Barracombe was more perturbed than he would admit. It was unlike Smith to miscalculate. His telegram was probably sent off at the moment of starting, or even after he had started, from Toronto. If the engine had worked at all, it would work at full speed, so that the loss of time on the journey implied either contrary winds, a mistaken course, or a serious mishap. Kate was so little in the mood for talking that Barracombe in responsive silence could toss the various probabilities about in his mind until he felt a nervous excitability that annoyed him.

They walked up and down the silent road. The church clock struck a quarter to twelve. The minutes dragged until it was again heard. A little after twelve they stopped short at the same moment; Kate grasped Barracombe's arm.

"Listen!" she said.

A faint sound, like the murmur of the wind, but becoming louder with extraordinary rapidity.

"Oh, Billy!" cried the girl. "Run; he'll be at the sheds first."

She caught his hand and tugged him towards the park gate, a hundred yards distant.

"My dear Kate!" he protested; "I'm not so young as I was. Let him be there first, confound him!"

But he ran all the same. The engine was roaring overhead, fortissimo; looking up, the two panting runners saw the flashlight. A sudden silence, as when the word tacet in an orchestral score hushes to silence bassoons and horns, drums and cymbals, all the instruments that but a moment before were convulsing the air with myriad waves of sound.

"He's gliding!" cried Kate, standing breathless at the door of the shed. The machine descended silently and rested on the smooth level sward. Kate darted forward.

"Oh, Charley!" she cried; "you've come!"



CHAPTER XVIII

THE LAST LAP

"Rather late, ain't you!" said Barracombe, as Smith jumped from the aeroplane.

"Hallo, Sis. Hallo, old man!" cried Smith. "We've done it; seven days, to the minute!"

Kate flew into his arms: only next day did she discover the ruin of her dress.

"I've a voice like a corncake," said Smith, disengaging himself. "Glad to see you, Billy."

"You're a wonder! But, God bless me! you look awfully done up. You look positively ill. Come up to the house at once; we don't want you crocked."

"Come on, Roddy," said Smith hoarsely. "You'll stay with us to-night. Leave the machine for once. You see, Billy, I have to rejoin at nine to-morrow—to-morrow, I say; I mean this morning. That gives me nine hours, and as I haven't been to bed for a week I want seven good solid hours sleep."

"But really, Charley, you don't look fit to rejoin," said Kate. "Your cheeks are dreadfully thin, and your voice is nearly gone."

"Well, of course, I'm dead tired; feel all to pieces, in fact. But all I want is sleep."

"And a medical certificate," put in Barracombe. "I've known a fellow get two months' leave for what he called a strained heart. Strained it to some purpose, for he got married before his leave was up. We'll get you a certificate—a doctor's, not a parson's."

"I don't mind if you do, after I've rejoined; but I must show up without fail at nine a.m. I'm later than I meant to be. Got snowed up at St. John's."

"You didn't come straight from Toronto, then!"

"No. Didn't care to risk it. Besides, it would have meant eighteen hours in the air at a stretch. I don't think Roddy and I could have stood that. I took St. John's—in Newfoundland, Kate—on the way."

"But I thought Newfoundland was near the North Pole."

"A common mistake. St. John's is considerably southward of our latitude. But they've had a cold snap there lately, and we came down in a snowdrift and had to be dug out. We had an easy flight across the Atlantic; the engine has behaved splendidly all through, thanks to Roddy. But I'm glad to be home; by Jove, I am!"

This conversation passed as they walked up to the house. Mrs. Smith had been wakened by the noise of the engine, and stood just within the door to welcome her son. She, too, was struck by his haggard appearance, and declared she must send for the doctor.

"Why, Mother, you're not going to coddle me at my age," he said. "You ought to be in bed. Off you go: I shall be all right in the morning. I shall have something to tell you then. Breakfast at eight sharp, by the way; or I shan't get to Portsmouth in time."

"Very well, my dear. Simmons is up, keeping some food warm for you. I will tell him. Goodnight."

"I've such loads to tell you," said Smith, when she had gone; "but I'm afraid it must wait. By the way, Kate, I suppose nothing of importance has come for me?"

"A few letters, mostly from the people you disappointed, I suspect. I'll fetch them."

When she returned, Smith immediately noticed a long official envelope in the bundle. He tore it open.

"Great Scott!" he cried. "An order to rejoin on Wednesday without fail. That's a nasty whack."

"Any explanation?" asked Barracombe.

"Not a word. Some sudden whimsy of the admiral's, I suppose. Have you got yesterday's paper, Kate?"

"I remember now," cried Kate. "How silly of me to forget it! The Implacable broke down, and your ship was ordered to replace her."

"Just my luck!" exclaimed Smith gloomily. "Last time I was late the ship was going shooting. Now I shall miss her altogether when she's at manoeuvres. Captain Bolitho will put me down as a hopeless rotter."

"What nonsense, Charley! You had seven days left, and you're not bound to be within call at a moment's notice. I'm very glad the ship has left Portsmouth, for now you can't rejoin, and you'll have time to rest."

"I'm not so sure, Kate," he cried, suddenly sitting up, and scanning the paper she had brought. "Where's the fleet? Ah! Irish coast. I'll rejoin, as sure as I'm alive. You see, I'm due at nine. I'm not physically incapable, and in the aeroplane I can easily do it if I can find the squadron. The Implacable was with the Blue fleet, operating from Bear Haven, I see. It's worth trying, anyhow."

"Magnificent, but absurd," said Barracombe. "You won't find them, either."

"A fiver that I will."

"No, thanks. By the way, you owe me a fiver."

"How's that?"

"Look at this."

He handed Smith Farmer Barton's receipted bill, and related what had happened in the evening.

Smith laughed.

"I'd forgotten him; but his bill is no doubt among this batch. To come back to the point. I am serious. I mean to rejoin my ship at nine. To give myself plenty of time I'll start at six. It's now past twelve; I'll set my alarm clock for six. I'm sorry for Roddy, I'm afraid, he must clean the engine. D'you mind finding him?—Ah! here he is, and Simmons with soup. Thank you, Simmons. Sorry to keep you up so late."

"I'm glad to see you back safe and sound, sir," said the man respectfully.

Smith shot a glance at Rodier, but the look of surprise on the Frenchman's face showed that he, at any rate, had not been talking. Kate's expression proved that she was equally surprised.

"And I hope the Master and Mr. Tom are as well as could be expected, sir," added Simmons.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, sir, I knew the Master had met with a accident—"

"But I cut the paragraph out of the paper," cried Kate.

"Yes, miss, that's what made me go and buy one. I assure you I haven't said a word to a soul, miss, guessing as you wanted it kep' from the Mistress, and you can't trust female maids."

"But how did you know I had gone out to the Solomons?" asked Smith.

"'Twas a bit in the Times first put me on the scent, sir, about a sensation in Constantinople about two daring and intrepid airmen that came down there sudden-like and went away in a jiff. No names were named, sir, but I guessed it was you and Mr. Rodier."

"Johnson had discretion, at any rate," murmured Smith. "Well!"

"Next day there was a bit about two airmen coming down at some place in India, sir. Putting two and two together—"

"I see. No names again?"

"No, sir, not till to-night."

"To-night, eh?"

"Yes, sir. There's a bit in the Evening News to-night, not strictly true, sir. I've got it here."

He drew the paper from his pocket, and pointed to the following paragraph—

The mysterious airmen whose doings have been reported at intervals during the last few days have now appeared at San Francisco. One of them is said to be a Lieutenant Thistleton Smith, who, according to our correspondent, explained that he has a bet of L10,000 with a well-known sporting nobleman that he will circle the globe in a fortnight. The general opinion in San Francisco is that these sporadic appearances of airmen in far-distant spots are part of a cleverly devised scheme of world-wide advertisement, engineered by a Chicago pork-packing firm who have more than once displayed considerable ingenuity in pushing their products.

There was general laughter when Smith read this paragraph aloud. Rodier alone was solemn.

"They think we boom pigs!" he cried indignantly. "Pigs themselves."

"Well, Roddy, truth will out," said Smith. "I'm sorry to keep you up, by the way, but I shall have to leave at six o'clock. Would you mind running down to the shed and—cleaning the engine?"

"Mon Dieu! I do nothing for a week but clean the engine."

"Yes, poor chap, but you shall have a rest after this. Go to bed when you've got things shipshape; I shall go alone; only about four hundred miles this time."

"You really mean it, then?" said Barracombe.

"Decidedly. If you knew Captain Bolitho you would see that there's no help for it."

"Well, then, the sooner you eat your supper and get between the sheets the better. I'll tuck you up."

"Tuck in and tuck up. Very well."

"Your bath shall be ready at six, sir," said Simmons.

A few minutes after six o'clock, Smith made his ascent, his departure being witnessed by his sister and Barracombe and the whole domestic staff. He flew rapidly over Hampshire, Dorset, Devon; crossed the Bristol Channel, and made a bee-line for Bear Haven at the entrance to Bantry Bay. Soon after eight he descried a number of dull grey specks strung like beads on the western horizon. They must be one or other of the opposing fleets, either the Reds or the Blues; but which? He must go and see. Altering his course a point or two, in a few minutes he was running down the line of warships, which were steaming line ahead, apparently in the direction of Bear Haven. At a glance he recognized the Thunderbolt, notoriously the lame duck of the Reds, lagging three or four miles behind the rest. Smith slowed down to quarter speed as he passed the leading ships, and a few blank shots were fired at him for form's sake, for the guns were incapable of an inclination that would be dangerous to him at his height of 3,000 feet, even if they were throwing live shell.

He drew clear of the squadron, and was about to put his engine at full speed again when an aeroplane shot up from the deck of the flagship and started in pursuit, followed at a short interval by a second aeroplane from a vessel some distance down the line. Smith smiled to himself. From what he knew of the service aeroplanes, the Puck, as he had now named his vessel, was in no danger of being overtaken; but if the airmen of the Red fleet wanted a run, he was not the man to baulk them. In a few minutes the pursuers began to close in; he increased the speed to eighty miles; still they gained on him. Another notch in the regulator increased his speed to a hundred miles an hour, at which he felt that he should be able to hold his own. He found, however, that one of the aeroplanes was still gaining, and it was not until he had increased his speed another twenty miles that the Puck began to draw away.

"Now to business," Smith said to himself.

Paying no more attention to the pursuers, except by a glance to assure himself that, though hopelessly outstripped, they were still following him, he searched the horizon ahead for signs of the Blue fleet. The rugged coast of Cork county had been for some time in sight, and as Smith was well acquainted with it from experience in former manoeuvres, he was able to steer straight for Bear Haven as soon as the landmarks were distinguishable. It was more than half-an-hour after sighting the Red fleet when he flew over Bantry Bay to the harbour. Except for a number of colliers it was empty.

Smith had already decided on his course of action if he should find that the fleet had put to sea. He would adopt the tactics that had succeeded so well in Ysabel Island, searching, not the land this time, but the sea, fanwise, while his fuel lasted. The position of the colliers seemed to indicate that they had only recently been engaged in coaling, so that in all probability the fleet had left that morning and was not far away. Probably, too, it was in the open Atlantic, and not sheltering in any of the innumerable inlets of the western coast. He steered due west, noticing as he did so that the pursuers were still doggedly on his trail, and had gained considerably while he had been investigating the harbour.

He looked at his watch. It was twenty-five minutes to nine. He would reach his ship in time if it were not more than eighty-five miles distant, supposing that it was going in the same direction, or perhaps a hundred and ten if it were coming towards him. Rising to the height of 4,000 feet, he searched the sea in all directions through his binocular. He noticed with amusement that one of the pursuing aeroplanes had come down on Mizzen Head; the other was still labouring after him. There were fishing smacks here and there near the coast, looking like moths. Far to the left he saw a liner pouring its black smoke into the air; it might have been a cockroach in widow's weeds. And there, far in the west, what is that? Smoke, or a cloud? In two minutes there is no longer any doubt; in three minutes the shapes of a squadron of battleships can be clearly seen; in five minutes Smith's practised eyes, now that he has descended, can distinguish the Imperturbable, flying the admiral's flag, among what to a landsman would appear to be a dozen exactly similar vessels. Glancing back, he sees that the Red Scout has changed her course, and is already only a speck in the southern sky.

It was precisely ten minutes to nine by Smith's watch when the Puck, literally received with open arms by two-score sturdy tars, alighted on the deck of the Imperturbable.

"Come aboard, sir," said Smith cheerfully to his captain.

"So I see," was the laconic reply.

"Sorry I was away, sir, when your recall arrived—in the South Pacific."

"In the—what?"

"The South Pacific, sir, or thereabouts."

"Don't you think, Mr. Smith, you are going a little too far?" said the captain sternly.

"Well, sir," replied Smith naively, "it was a goodish distance. But I have managed to get back within my leave. Ten minutes to spare, sir."

Captain Bolitho gasped.

"Do you mean to tell me, seriously, you have been to the South Pacific?"

"Certainly, sir. I left home about midnight last Thursday, and got back not quite nine hours ago. Went to the Solomon Islands via Penang and Port Darwin, and come home via Samoa and 'Frisco."

"But—but—then you have been round the world, sir—in how long?"

"Seven days, sir. My leave expires at nine this morning."

Mechanically, like a man in a dream, the captain took out his watch.

"Twenty-five minutes past eight," he said. "You needn't have hurried yourself. You've another half-hour by Irish time. Perhaps you'd like to fill it up by a trip round Ireland," he added dryly.

Smith smiled. The first lieutenant broke in—

"Look-out reports, sir, another aeroplane was sighted behind Mr. Smith's."

The admiral, who had been an amused auditor of the colloquy between Captain Bolitho and his lieutenant, was a man of intuitions.

"There are no aeroplanes on this coast except the two with the Reds," he said. "Mr. Smith, you have now reported yourself for duty. Our single aeroplane has broken down; we must impress yours for public service. I will not ask you what you have seen; but you will at once follow the strange aeroplane, and endeavour to find out the position and course of the enemy's fleet."

In less than a minute Smith was in the air; in ten minutes he had overtaken the Red aeroplane, flying high as he approached, and hovering over his late pursuer, who made vain efforts to rise above him. The immense engine power of the Puck gave her as great an advantage over her rival in soaring as in horizontal speed. By the rules of the manoeuvres the Red aeroplane was out of action as soon as the Puck rose vertically above her. Wasting no further time, Smith continued his course, and in half-an-hour sighted the Red squadron, noted its strength and course, and in another half-hour was back on the deck of the Imperturbable.

"I found the enemy, sir, about ninety miles S.S.E., eight battleships and about a dozen scouts. Their course was west."

The admiral made a rapid calculation.

"By Jove!" he said, "they will catch Pomeroy before we join him. But there's time yet. We can warn Pomeroy to meet us twenty miles north-east of the spot previously arranged. I think, Captain Bolitho, we may perhaps overlook Mr. Smith's little irregularity in joining if he gives us a full account of his—er—experiences, after dinner to-night."

"And the Reds, sir?"

"Before dinner, one or the other of us will be out of action. Whether Reds or Blues, we shall have leisure to hear how Mr. Smith went round the world in seven days."



POSTSCRIPT

The following extracts from the Press, neatly pasted in Kate Smith's scrap book, have a certain historical and romantic interest for the persons concerned, directly or indirectly, in the incidents of the foregoing narrative.

(From Our Own Correspondent.)

CONSTANTINOPLE, Friday.

The appearance of an aeroplane this morning caused a considerable sensation. It descended in the old archery ground of the Sultans, to the terror of the juvenile population that now uses the Ok Meidan as a common playground. It contained two passengers, and though no authentic information is obtainable, it is rumored that the daring and intrepid airmen have made a rapid flight from Berlin, and are proceeding to Persia on a secret mission connected with the Bagdad railway.

(From Our Own Correspondent.)

BOMBAY, Monday.

The natives of the Mekran coast are again showing signs of insubordination. The gunboat Penguin has just come into harbour, and her commander, Captain Durward, reports that on Saturday he discovered a crowd of Baluchis in the act of smuggling arms into an apparently innocent fishing-village. He landed a party of bluejackets half a mile east of the village, and swooped upon it simultaneously with an attack from the sea. The villagers scattered in all directions, but the ring-leaders were captured, together with a large number of rifles and ammunition. The coup reflects the greatest credit on this able and energetic officer.

Later.

The craze for aviation has at last broken out in India. Two airmen made a sudden appearance at Karachi on Saturday, and departed after a brief stay for the interior. They are said to be in the employment of the Nizam of Hyderabad, who is spending vast sums on his latest hobby.

BRISBANE, Monday.

News has just arrived by wireless from the gunboat Frobisher, off Ysabel Island, that the crew of the survey-vessel Albatross, which was wrecked there a fortnight ago, are safe. The party, it will be remembered, includes the famous geologist, Dr. Thesiger Smith. The message is very brief, and a reference it makes to an aeroplane is thought to be an error.—REUTER.

SINGAPORE, Wednesday.

The Penang correspondent of the Free Press telegraphs—"The barque Elizabeth put in to-day in tow of a steamtug of this port, and reported an extraordinary incident in mid-ocean. She was dismasted a fortnight ago in a cyclone south of the Andamans, and while drifting, fire broke out in the forehold, and was kept under with the greatest difficulty. Her plight was discovered and reported here by the driver of an aeroplane who was making a flight in the neighbourhood, and the tug was immediately sent to her assistance. Conflicting rumours are prevalent as to the identity of the aviator in question; Captain Bunce, of the Elizabeth, insists that the airman's name was Smith, but his account is rather confused, and the most generally accepted opinion is that he is an officer of the German navy, which has recently adopted the aeroplane for scouting purposes. On no other supposition can his presence so far from land be accounted for. Owing to the facts that he arrived in the night of Sunday and departed immediately, no trustworthy information is obtainable."—REUTER.

(From Our Own Correspondent.)

TORONTO, Wednesday.

The later editions of the Sphere contain a detailed account of the extraordinary world-flight accomplished by Lieutenant Thesiger Smith of the British navy, which sets at rest the rumours and speculations of the past week. Lieutenant Smith left London last Friday at 12.30 a.m. (Greenwich time), and arrived here this afternoon, descending on the golf links on Scarborough Bluffs. I will wire full particulars later.

(From Our Own Correspondent.)

PARIS, Monday.

The Cross of the Legion of Honour was to-day presented by the President of the Republic to M. Laurent Rodier, who accompanied your Lieutenant Thesiger Smith last month on his adventurous flight around the world. It is understood that the French Government has taken up the remarkable invention due to M. Rodier and his English confrere, and has offered M. Rodier the headship of a new State aeronautical department.

THE NEGLECT OF GENIUS.

To the Editor of the Spectator.

SIR,—The paragraph in the Times of Monday relating to the honour awarded to M. Rodier, suggests sad reflections to a patriotic Englishman. We have not as yet heard that Lieutenant Smith's wonderful achievement has been in any way recognized by our government. Abroad, genius is fostered: here, it is slighted. How long shall such things be?—I am, Sir, etc.,

PRO BONO PUBLICO.

[We have repeatedly declared our hatred of Protection in every shape and form, so that we shall not be misunderstood when we say that we cordially endorse our correspondent's complaint. If the present Government, which in general has our hearty support, devoted as much energy to the cultivation of British Genius as it now devotes to the spoon-feeding of British Industry, we should have less reason to fear the growing menace of Socialism.—ED. Spectator.]

The King has been pleased to confer the honour of I knighthood on Lieutenant Charles Thesiger Smith, R.N.

THESIGER-SMITH—BUNCE.—On July 12th, at St. George's, Hanover Square, by the Rev. Canon Montague, uncle of the bridegroom, Sir Charles Thesiger Smith, Captain R.N., elder son of Dr. Thesiger Smith, M.A., F.R.S., to Margaret, only daughter of the late John Bunce, master mariner.

AN AIRMAN'S WEDDING.

An interesting announcement in another column recalls a romance of the air and sea. Sir Charles Thesiger Smith, whose famous flight round the world last year has not yet been repeated, was yesterday married to Miss Margaret Bunce, the lady whom he rescued in mid-ocean from a burning vessel, and carried with him to safety. Many notable people attended to witness the ceremony, and the presents include a gold scarf-pin in the shape of an aeroplane, the gift of the King.

THE END

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