There the monster lay, outstretching its enormous sextuple wings, each wing with an area of 376 by 82.5 feet. The non-inflammable celluloid surfaces shone white as fresh-cut ivory, clean, smooth, unbreakable. The plane reminded one of some Brobdingnagian dragon-fly, resting for flight, shimmering with power as it poised for one swift leap aloft into the night.
Bohannan, still a bit confused, noted the absence of any exhaust from the speeding engines. This, too, gave a sense of vast, self-contained power. He saw stupendous propeller-blades, their varnished surfaces flicking out high-lights as the incandescents struck them. Motionless these propellers were; but something in their tense, clean sweep told of the raging cyclone to which they could whip the air, once the spinning engines should be clutched in on their shafts.
The captain's eyes wandered over the whole enormous construction, towering there above him. He saw rows of lighted windows, each cased in shining metal; a V-pointed pilot-house—the same where the still figure had dropped over the sill of the open window—a high-raised rudder of artful curve, vast as the broadside of a barn; railed galleries running along the underbody of the fuselage, between the floats and far aft of them.
Everything gleamed and flickered with bright metal, varnish, snowy celluloid. The body of the machine looked capable of housing twice as many men as the Legion numbered. But everything, after all, was quite shrunk by the overpowering sweep of the wings. These dwarfed the fast-gathering group that stood peering up at them, like pygmies under the pinions of the fabled roc in Sinbad the Sailor's story.
These stupendous wings, the captain now saw, were not braced together by hampering struts and wires, but seemed cantilevered into position, giving a clean run to the structure, great simplicity, and the acme of mechanical beauty. This giant bird of heaven lay in its nest, free of pattern, powerful beyond any air-mechanism ever built by man, almost a living thing, on whose back its captors might ride aloft defying man and nature, to whatsoever goal they chose.
"Everything is ready," said the Master. "That is quite obvious. Let us get aboard now, with no further delay, and be off!"
He drew a little notebook from his pocket, took a pencil, and faced the gathering group inside the second stockade.
"Stow your equipment," he directed "according to your orders. Ten minutes will be enough for you to unload your machine-guns and all gear, each in the assigned space. Bring out all the sleeping men and lay them down along the stockade, here. Injure no man. Valdez, are the take-off gates, over the Palisade, correctly opened?"
A dark, thin man saluted, as he answered with a Spanish accent:
"Yes, sir. Everything is ready, sir."
"Very well. Now, all to work! And then, each to his place, in engine-room, cabins, or however and where assigned. Come, come!"
As the men trailed up the gangplank, that steeply rose to the sliding door in the fuselage, the Master checked them on his list. Not one was absent. He shut the notebook with a snap, and slid it back into his pocket.
"This goes on well," he commented to the major. "So far, we are within three minutes, eighteen seconds, of schedule."
The little group of four stood waiting, watching, while the others carried out all orders, aboard. There was no hesitation, no confusion. Each had already learned the exact plan of the airship. Each knew precisely where every door led, what each passageway meant; each understood perfectly his own post and what to do there.
Two by two, Legionaries came down the gangplank, bearing limp bodies. These they laid in a row along the stockade, till seventeen had accumulated. No more came.
A figure appeared in the sliding doorway, and saluted.
"The last sleeper is out, sir," he reported.
The Master nodded, and gestured to his three companions. The group of four ascended the sharp tilt of the plank and entered the airship. As they did so, Legionaries hoisted the plank aboard, with its tackle, and lashed it to the waiting chocks. Others could be heard, in the penetralia of the vast structure, coming, going, busily at work.
The entrance door slid shut. A bolt shot home. All the Legion was now aboard, and communication with the ground had been broken.
The four men found themselves in a brightly lighted corridor that led directly across the fuselage to a similar door on the other side. This corridor was of some metal, painted a glossy white. Doors opened out of it, on either hand. Its length was just a few inches over forty-two feet. Half-way along it, a wider corridor crossed it at right angles—the main passage of the ship.
The Master led the way toward this median corridor. His tall, big-shouldered figure swung along, triumphant, impressive in the long coat, dominant and free. Followed by the other three, he turned to the left, forward of the ship.
The main corridor, like the other, was flanked by doors. Two or three stood open, giving glimpses of comfortable staterooms. The men's footfalls sounded with softened tread on a strip of thick, brown carpet that made pleasant contrast with the gleaming white walls. Light from frosted glass circles, flush with walls and ceiling, made the corridor bright as day.
The Master walked with the confident precision of one who already had passed that way a score of times. He opened the third door on the left—it slid into the wall, instead of swinging, thus economizing space—and all entered what was obviously the main saloon of the giant plane.
This saloon measured seventeen feet six inches, from corridor to windows, and twenty-nine fore-and-aft. It was furnished with a center-table, book-cases, easy-chairs, two commodious sofa-lockers, and had an excellent carpet. Bohannan noted a Victrola, with many records.
Like all parts of the ship, its lighting was splendid. Well-curtained windows gave it a homelike air. At first glance, one would have thought oneself in a rather luxurious private house; but second inspection showed all possible construction and furnishings were of aluminum alloy, of patterns designed to cut weight to the lowest minimum.
The walls bore lightly framed photographs of men famous in the annals of flying, from Santos-Dumont and the Wrights to Gruynemer and Nosworthy; also pictures of famous machines—the Spad, Bristol Fighter, Sopwith Pup, 120-135, and others. More conspicuous than any of these was a framed copy of the International Air Commission's latest condensed rules.
Signs of recent occupancy were not wanting. An extinct cigar lay on the carpet, where it had fallen from the mouth of some airman swiftly overtaken by sleep. The table bore an open cigar-box, several packs of cigarettes with loose "fags" scattered round, and a number of champagne bottles.
Two of these were opened; one had been emptied. The other had lost part of its contents. Several champagne glasses stood on the table, and one lay on its side, where perhaps a falling hand had overset it. In one of the glasses, a few last, vagrant little bubbles were still rising from the tall, hollow stem.
"Hm!" grunted the Master contemptuously. "Fools! Well—there'll be no alcohol aboard this craft!" He loosened the buckles of his rucksack, and cast the burden on one of the sofa-lockers. The others did as much.
"Shall we stow the gear in our cabins?" asked Bohannan, gesturing at the doors that led off the saloon.
"Not yet," answered the Master, glancing at the chronometer that hung beside the air-rules. "Time enough to get settled, later. Every second counts, now. We're due to start in seven minutes, you know. Rrisa will attend to all this. We three have got to be getting forward to the pilot-house."
"Let's have some air in here, anyhow," said he, turning toward one of the windows. "This place is damned hot!"
"We'll need all the heat, soon," the Master commented. "At a few thousand feet, the engine-exhaust through those radiators won't be any too much. Forward!"
THE EAGLE OF THE SKY
He slid open another door. The three men passed through the captain's cabin and pilot-house. This place measured twelve feet on its longer axis and nine on its shorter, being of approximately diamond shape with one point forward in the very nose of the machine, one ending in a door that gave access to the main, longitudinal corridor, and the right and left points joining the walls of the backward-sloping prow. It contained two sofa-lockers with gas-inflated, leather cushions, a chart-rack, pilot's seat, controls, and instrument-board.
The whole front was a magnificent stretch of double plate-glass, with warm air between the sheets to keep snow, frost, or dew from obscuring the vision. Bright light flooded it.
Though one window had been slid partly open—the window on the sill of which the sleeping aviator had lain—a scent of cigarette-smoke still permeated the place. The Master sniffed with disgust. Then suddenly, to the great astonishment of Bohannan, he commanded:
"Bring me that champagne, in the saloon. All of it!"
The major opened wide eyes, but unquestioningly obeyed. Could it be possible the Master, in this moment of exultation, was about to break his lifelong rule and drink a toast, in sparkling bubbles, to success thus far achieved, to the stupendous voyage now about to begin?
Wondering, Bohannan departed. The Master gestured for Captain Alden to seat himself on one of the lockers. Alden kept complete silence as he sat down, crossed one leg over the other and began to study the complex apparatus before him. Most of it was familiar; but some new factors needed inspection.
The Master peered curiously at him. Surely, this man was odd, unusual. Most aviators, thus confronted by strange problems, would have grown loquacious, tried to exhibit their knowledge, asked questions, made much talk. But Alden held his tongue.
A look of appreciation, of liking, came upon the Master's face. It was just the suspicion of a look, for in all this strange man's life no great show of emotion ever had been permitted to mirror itself upon his countenance. But still, the look was there. He half opened his lips, as if to speak, then closed them again, and—like Alden—fell to studying the control apparatus.
All was beautifully arranged, all nicely calculated for instant use. Not here, as in small machines, could the pilot handle his own engines, tilt his planes, or manipulate his rudders by hand. That would have been as absurd to think of, as for the steersman of an ocean liner to work without the intervention of steam steering-gear.
No, these controls actuated various motors that, using current from the dynamos, produced the desired action with smooth and certain promptness. A turn of the wrist, perhaps no more than the touch of a finger, and the whole vast creation would respond as easily as a child's toy can be manipulated by a strong man's hand.
Hooded dials, brightly lighted push-buttons, a telephone headpiece and receiver combined, and switches all lay in easy reach. Here was the tachometer, that would give to a fraction the revolutions of each screw per minute; here the altimeter, to indicate height; here the air-speed indicator, the compass with reflector, the inclinometer, the motometers—to show the heat in each engine—and there, the switch to throw on the gigantic searchlight, with the little electric wheel to control its direction, as accurately as you would point a wand.
Throttle and spark, of course, there were none. All engine control was by telephone, with the engine-room which lay a little aft of midships. But the controls of the vacuum apparatus were within easy reach, so that at will the pilot could exhaust the floats, or fill them.
Here were the starting, stopping, and speed controls of the helicopters, which were under direct electrical motivation by the pilot. Here also were the magnetic-anchor release and the air-skid pump control; here were telephonic connections with the wireless-room and with the fore-and-aft observation pits, where observers were already lying on their cushions upon the heavy, metal-reinforced glass floor-plates.
"This is really very complete," approved the Master. Not Alden, but he, had been first to speak. The Master spoke half against his own wish, but a resistless impulse to make some comment, in this moment of triumph, possessed him.
"Only as expected, sir," replied Alden. The Master bit his lip a second, and said no more.
Bohannan's return with several champagne bottles in his arms, put an end to any possible developments the terse conversation might have had.
"Well, sir," said the major, "here it all is. And I've got glasses in my pocket—and a corkscrew, sir. It never does to forget the corkscrew! We'll drink to happy days, eh, sir?"
Already the Celt's mouth was watering for draughts of the precious liquid. Joy pervaded him that, for once at least, the iron rule of the Master was to be broken, and that the journey was to begin with proper libations. The Master's curt syllables, however, instantly dispelled any illusions he might have entertained on that score.
"Drop them all out that open window, there," commanded the Master.
"What, sir? Good Pommery? Veuve?"
"No argument, Bohannan! Out they go!"
Dismayed, the Celt did the other's bidding, while Alden smiled grimly. Far below, glass crashed and jangled.
"What's the idea?" demanded the major ruefully.
"You know very well, Major, my ruling on alcohol. It doesn't mix with any motive power on this trip. Moreover, it's customary to christen every launching with champagne. We've done it!"
"Well, that's not so bad an idea, at that," Bohannan admitted, scratching his fiery head. "What name have you given this bus?"
"Nissr Arrib ela Sema."
"Come again, sir?"
"Eagle of the Sky, in Arabic. I suppose we'll have to cut that down to Nissr, for everyday use. But at any rate, our craft is christened. Well, now—"
He settled himself in the pilot's seat, reached forward and drew toward him a shining metal shaft. Four stout spokes unfolded; and from these, quadrants of a rim that easily snapped together. The Master laid one hand easily on the rim of the big steering-wheel, flung his cap upon a locker, pulled down the telephone headpiece and snapped it on.
He touched a button. The light died in the pilot-house, leaving only the hooded glows of the dials, switches, and small levers. Night seemed suddenly to close in about the vast machine. Till now it had been forgotten, ignored. But as darkness fingered at the panes, something of the vastness of sky and air made itself realized; something of the illimitable scope of this adventuring.
Bohannan slid the window shut and settled himself beside Captain Alden. He glanced at his wrist-watch, and a thrill of nervous exultation stabbed him.
"Only two minutes and six seconds more!" he murmured, gnawing at his mustache and blinking with excitement. Alden remained calm, impassive as the Master himself, who now, pressing another button, sent a beam of wonderful, white light lancing through the darkness.
Track, buildings, trees all leaped into vivid relief as he tested the searchlight control. He shot the beam up, up, till it lost itself, vaguely, in mist and cloud; then flung it even across the river, where it picked out buildings with startling detail.
He turned it, finally, square down the launching-way, through the yawning gates where the track abruptly ended at the brow of the Palisades—the empty chasm where, if all went right and no mistake had been made in build, engine-power, or control, the initial leap of Nissr Arrib ela Sema was to be made.
Came a moment's wait. Faintly the pulsing of the engines trembled the fabric of Nissr. Finely balanced as they were, they still communicated some slight vibration to the ship. The Master snicked the switch of the magnetic-anchor release; and now the last bond that held Nissr to her cradle was broken. As soon as the air-skid currents should be set going, she would be ready for her flight.
This moment was not long in coming. Another turn of a switch, and all at once, far below, a faint, continuous hissing made itself audible. Compressed air, forced through thousands of holes at the bottom of the floats, was interposing a gaseous cushion between those floats and the track, just as it could do between them and the earth wherever Nissr should alight.
Suspended thus on a thin layer of air, perhaps no more than a sixteenth of an inch thick but infinitely less friction-producing than the finest ball-bearing wheels and quite incapable of being broken, the ship now waited only the application of the power in her vast propellers.
"Let in numbers two and four," commanded the Master, suddenly, into the engine-room telephone. "In five seconds after we start, hook up one and three; and five later, the other two."
"Aye, aye, sir," came back the voice of Auchincloss, chief engineer. "Ready, sir!"
Almost at once, the vibration of the engines altered, grew more marked, seemed to be taking hold of something with strong but easy effort. Another trembling made itself felt, as two of the giant screws, connected by reducing-gears with the engine-shafting—all three engines being geared to one shaft, but any one being capable of separate running—began to revolve.
From astern, a dull, droning hum mounted, rose, grew rapidly in volume and power. And, as two more screws began to whirl, the Eagle of the Sky shook herself slightly. She awoke from slumber. Steadily, smoothly on her air-cushions she began to move forward down the long, sloping trackway to the brink of the cliff.
"Lord above!" breathed Bohannan, chewing at his nails. "We're off!"
Neither the Master nor Captain Alden moved, spoke, manifested any excitement whatever. Both might have been graven images of coolness. The Celt, however, got up and leaned at the window-jamb, unable to keep still. He turned suddenly to Alden.
"Come, man!" he exclaimed, half angrily. "Got no heart in you, eh? No interest? Come along out of that, now, and see what's what!"
He laid hold on the captain, and drew him to the window as the airship accelerated her plunge along the rails. The hum of the propellers had now risen to a kind of throaty roar; the craft was shaking with strange quivers that no doubt would cease if she but once could launch herself into the air. Under her, in and in, the shining metal rails came running swiftly and more swiftly still, gleaming silver-like under the vivid beam of the searchlight.
Wind began to rise up against the glass of the pilot-house; the wind of Nissr's own making.
Cool as if in his own easy-chair in the observatory, the Master sat there, hand on wheel. Then all at once he reached for the rising-plane control, drew it over, and into the telephone spoke sharply:
"Full speed ahead, now! Give her all she's got!"
A shout, was it? Many shouts, cries, execrations! But where? Over the roar of the propellers, confused sounds won to the men in the pilot-house. And all at once, by the dim aura of diffused light reflected from the huge beam, the major saw dim figures running, off there to the left, among the buildings of the stockade.
"For the Lord's sake!" he cried, amazed, with drooping jaw. "Men—after us! Look there—look!"
The Master remained utterly impassive, eyes keen on the in-rushing track, now close to its abrupt ending over the vacancy of space. Captain Alden's pupils narrowed, through the mask-holes, but he said nothing. Bohannan gripped the captain's shoulder painfully, then reached for the pistol in his own holster.
"They're on to us!" he vociferated. "Somebody's got wise—they're—"
Little red spurts of fire began to jet, among the buildings; the crackling of shots started popping, like corn-kernels exploding. Dark figures were racing for the Palisade gate—the gate where, if any slightest thing went wrong with track or giant plane, the whole vast fabric might crash down, a tangled mass of wreckage.
Then it was, that for the first time in all his knowledge of the Master, Bohannan heard the strange man laugh.
Joyously he laughed, and with keen pleasure. His eyes were blazing, as he thrust the rising-plane lever sharply up.
More shouts volleyed. From somewhere back there in the body of the ship, a cry of pain resounded.
Bohannan flung the window-pane to one side, and blazed away like mad at the attackers.
A shatter of broken glass burst into the pilot-house. Alden, catching his breath, quivered. He uttered no outcry, but his right hand went across and clutched his wounded left arm.
"Got you?" cried the major, still pumping lead. He paused, jerked Alden's automatic from its holster and thrust it into the captain's hand, now red.
Alden, a bit pale but quite impassive, opened fire through the jagged hole in the double pane. Accurately the captain fired at dark figures. One fell. Another staggered; but as the machine swept on, they lost sight of it.
Men rose up before the rushing airship. One of the great gates began to swing shut, far at the end of the track. The Master laughed again, with the wind whipping at his hair. "Full speed ahead!" he shouted into the telephone.
The Nissr leaped into a swifter course. Then all at once she skidded clear of the track, slanted upward, breasted the air. Her searchlight blazed. All along her flanks, fire-jets spangled the night. Cries echoed from her, from the great stockade.
The Master gave her all the lift the farthest wrench of the levers would thrust on her. The gate was almost shut now—would she clear it?
Below, track, earth, everything was spinning in and in. Ahead, above, yawned vastnesses. The Master could no longer see the gate. A second of taut thrill—
The Nissr quivered, staggered, yawed away. The forward starboard float had struck. A faint yell rose as someone, hurled backward by the shattered debris of the gate, plunged down the cliff.
For half a second, the giant plane reeled over the abyss. Her rush and fury for that half-second threatened to plunge her, a mangled, flaming wreck, hundreds of feet down on the black, waiting rocks below the Palisades.
But engine-power and broad wings, skill of the hand at the levers, and the good fortune that watches over bold men, buoyed her again.
Suddenly she lifted. Up at a dizzy angle she sped.
A thing of life, quivering, sentient, unleashed, the gigantic Eagle of the Sky—now in heroic flight toward the greatest venturing ever conceived by the brain of man—steadied herself, lifted on the wings of darkness, and, freed from her last bonds, leaped quivering and triumphant into the night.
Not all the stern discipline that had been enforced by the Master—discipline already like a second nature to this band of adventurous men—could quite prevent a little confusion on board the Eagle of the Sky.
As the huge machine crashed, plunged, staggered, then righted herself and soared aloft, shouts echoed down the corridors, shots crackled from the lower gallery and from a few open ports.
At sound of them, and of faint, far cries from the Palisades, with a futile spatter of pistol-and rifle-fire, the Master frowned. This intrusion of disorder lay quite outside his plans. He had hoped for a swift and quiet getaway. Complications had been introduced. Under his breath he muttered something as he manipulated the controls.
The major, laughing a bit wildly, leaned from the shattered window and let drive a few last pot-shots into the dark, at the faint flicker of lights along the crest of the black cliff. In the gloom of the pilot-house, his shoulders bulked huge as he fired. Captain Alden, staggering back, sat down heavily on one of the sofa-lockers.
One or two faint shots still popped, along the cliff, with little pin-pricks of fire in the dark. Then all sounds of opposition vanished. The Nissr, upborne at her wonderful climbing-angle toward the clouds painted by her searchlight—clouds like a rippled, moonlit veil through which peeped faint stars—spiraled above the Hudson and in a vast arc turned her beak into the south.
Disorder died. Silence fell, save for the whistling of the sudden wind of the airship's own motion, and for the steadily mounting drone of the huge propellers.
"Made it all right, by God!" exclaimed Bohannan, excitedly. "No damage, either. If the floats had smashed when they hit the gate, there'd have been a devil of an explosion—vacuum collapsing, you know. Close call, but we made it! Now, if—"
"That will do!" the Master curtly interrupted, with steadfast eyes peering out through the conning windows. Now that the first elan of excitement had spent itself, this strange man had once more resumed his mantle of calm. Upborne on the wings of wondrous power, wings all aquiver with their first stupendous leap into the night-sky, the Master—impassive, watchful, cool—seemed as if seated in his easy-chair at Niss'rosh.
"That will do, Major!" he repeated. "None of your extravagance, sir! No time now for rodomontade!" He glanced swiftly round, saw Captain Alden by the dim aura of light reflected from the instrument-board. Blood reddened the captain's left sleeve.
"Only a scratch!"
"Report to Dr. Lombardo. And have Simonds, in charge of the stores, replace this broken pane."
Alden saluted with a blood-stained hand, slipped his gun back into its holster and got up. He swayed a little, with the swinging slide of the air-liner and with the weakness that nerve-shock of a wound brings. But coolly enough he slid open the door leading into the main corridor, and passed through, closing the door after him. Where his hand touched the metal, red stains showed. Neither man of the pair now left in the pilot-house made any comments. This was all in the day's work—this and whatever else might befall.
Spiraling vastly, up, up climbed the giant plane. A colder air nipped through the broken window. Cloud-wisps began to blur the glass; the stars began to burn more whitely in a blacker sky.
The Master touched a button at the left side of the steering-post. Below his feet, as they rested in their metal stirrups, an aluminum plate silently slid back. An oblong of dim light blurred up through the heavy plate-glass sheet it had masked.
Glancing down, the Master saw far, far below him a slowly rotating vagueness of waters black and burnished, of faintly twinkling lights. Lights and water drew backward, as the rotary motion gave way to a southern course. The Master slowed the helicopters. A glance at the altimeter showed him 1,965 feet. The compass in its binnacle gave him direction.
"Pit number one!" he sharply exclaimed into the phone connecting therewith.
"Yes, sir!" came back the observer's voice.
"Keep a sharp eye out for Niss'rosh! Remember, two red lights showing there!"
"Yes, sir. I'll report as soon as I pick them up."
The Master, knowing his course thither should be S.E. by S., drew the liner to that exact angle. Under his skilled touch at the wheel, the compass needle steadied to the dot. The searchlight lanced its way ahead, into the vague drift of the smoke arising from New York.
"Sight it, yet?" demanded the Master, presently.
"Yes, sir. Just picked it up. Hold hard, sir!"
Almost at once, the Master also got a glimpse of two tiny pin-pricks of crimson, high in air above the city-mass. Swiftly Nissr drew over the building. Far, very far down in the chasm of emptiness, tiny strings of light—infinitesimal luminous beads on invisible threads—marked Broadway, Fifth Avenue, countless other streets. The two red winks drew almost underneath.
Down plunged the searchlight, picking Niss'rosh out of the gloom. Through the floor-glass, the Master could descry it clearly. He slowed, circled, playing with vacuum-lift, helicopters, engines, as if they had been keys of a familiar instrument. Presently the liner hovered, poised, sank, remained a little over 750 feet above the observatory on the roof-top.
"Cracowicz!" ejaculated the Master, into the phone again, as his deft fingers made another connection. A foreign voice answered: "Yes, sir!" alertly.
"Ready in the lower gallery now, with the winch and tackles!" bade the Master.
Again came: "Yes, sir!" from the man in charge of the three who already knew perfectly well what was expected of them. As Nissr slowly turned, a trap opened in the bottom of her lower gallery, almost directly between the two forward vacuum-floats, and down sped a little landing nacelle or basket at the end of a fine steel cable.
Swiftly the electric winch dropped the nacelle, containing three men. It slowed, at their command, through the phone that led up the wire. With hardly a jar, the basket landed on the roof.
The men jumped out, made fast their tackles to Captain Alden's plane there, leaped in again and signaled: "Hoist away!"
With noiseless speed the winch gathered in the cable. Up swooped the nacelle. As it cleared the roof, Nissr purred forward, slid away, gathered speed over the city where already the alarm had been given.
In four minutes the men had safely landed in the lower gallery once more, and the plane was being hoisted by davits and made fast on the upper platform, known as the take-off, which served as a runway for planes leaving the ship or alighting thereon.
Over the light-spangled city the giant air-liner gathered way. Three or four searchlights had already begun trying to pick her up. Quiverings of radiance reached out for her, felt into the void, whirled like cosmic spokes. The Brooklyn Navy Yard whipped the upper air for her. Down on Sandy Hook, a slim spear of light stabbed questingly through the night. Then all at once the monster light on Governor's Island caught her, dazzling into the Master's eyes.
He only smiled, as he sheered eastward, dropped East River behind and unloosed the Sky-eagle's course above Brooklyn.
"Just a little fireworks, as a send-off, Major," said he, notching the speed ahead, ever ahead, till a whipping gale began to beat in at the broken pane. "They got word of it pretty quick, eh? I suppose they'll send up a few planes after us."
"After us, yes!" exulted the major. "Faith, they'll be after us, all right—a devil of a long way after!"
To this the Master gave no answer, but signaled Auchincloss in the engine-room for full speed. Now a subtle tremor possessed the vast fabric, mistress of the upper spaces and the night. The close-compacted lights beneath commenced to sprinkle out into tenuous dots. The tiny blazing fringe of Coney burned a moment very far below, then slid away, under the glass flooring. Still heading sharply upward, with altimeter needle steadily mounting, with the cold becoming ever greater, the liner flung herself out boldly over the jet plain of ocean.
Right into the eye of heaven she seemed to point, into a vast and profound blackness, that, as the Master snicked off the no-longer needed searchlight, unleashed myriad stars—stars which leaped out of the velvet night. Already man and the works of man lay far behind. If there had been any tentative pursuit, the Legionaries knew nothing of it. Outdistancing pursuit as an eagle distances sparrows, the liner gloried in her swift trajectory.
The Master nodded, well pleased. Bohannan laughed like a boy, and holstered his gun. He moved over to the starboard window, out of the gale. With mocking eyes he watched the futile searchlight at the Hook.
"They've got as much chance of overhauling us as the proverbial celluloid cat has of catching the asbestos rat," said he. "A clean getaway, barring the little damage we've taken—this window, and Alden, and—"
"Better unpack your kit, and settle down," the Master dryly interrupted him. "Take a look around and see that everything's shipshape. Be sure the port and starboard watches are chosen. Everything's been arranged, already, but in dealing with human beings there's bound to be a little confusion. They aren't automata—unfortunately. And, Major!"
"Yes, sir?" answered Bohannan, who despite his familiarity with the Master was now constrained to formality. Resentment sounded in his voice.
"Send Brodeur to relieve me, in about ten minutes."
"Yes, sir," repeated the Celt. For a moment, standing there in the gloom of the pilot-house, he eyed the dim, watchful figure at the wheel. Then he turned, slid the door, and disappeared.
As he walked aft, past the aluminum ladder that led to the upper galleries, he muttered with dudgeon:
"He rates us two for a nickel, that's plain enough—plain as paint! Well, all right. I'll stand for it; but there may be others that—"
He left the words unfinished, and went to do the Master's bidding.
Alone, the Master smiled. Wine of victory pulsed in his blood and brain. Power lay under his hand, that closed with joy upon it. Power not only over this hardy Legion, but power in perspective over—
"God, if I can do it!" he whispered, and fell silent. His eyes rested on the instruments before him, their white dials glowing under the little penthouses of their metal shields. Altitude now showed 2,437 feet, and still rising. Tachometers gave from 2,750 to 2,875 r.p.m. for the various propellers. Speed had gone above 190 miles per hour. No sign of man remained, save, very far below through a rift in the pale, moonlit waft of cloud, a tiny light against a coal-black plain of sea—the light of a slow, crawling steamer—a light which almost at once dropped far behind.
Vast empty spaces on all hands, above, below, engulfed Nissr. The Master felt himself alone with air and sky, with power, with throbbing dreams and visions.
"If it can be done!" he repeated. "But—there's no 'if' to it, at all. It can be! It shall! The biggest thing ever attempted in this world! A dream that's never been dreamed, before! And if it can't, well, a dream like that is far more than worth dying for. A dream that can come true—by God, that shall come true!"
His hands tightened on the wheel. You would have said he was trying to infuse some of his own overflowing strength into the mechanism that, whirling, zooning with power, needed no more. The gleam in his eyes, there in the dark pilot-house, seemed almost that of a fanatic. His jaw hardened, his nostrils expanded.
This strange man's face was now wholly other than it had been only a week before, drawn and lined by ennui. Now vast ambitions dominated and infused it with virile force.
As he held the speeding air-liner to her predetermined course through voids of night and mystery, he peered with burning eagerness at the beckoning stars along the world's far, eastern rim.
"Behold now, Allah!" he cried suddenly. "Labbayk! I come!"
[Footnote 1: Labbayk (I am here) is the cry of all Mohammedan pilgrims as they approach the holy city of Mecca.]
"I AM THE MASTER'S!"
The arrival of Simonds, with the spare window-pane, and of Brodeur—one of the boldest flyers out of Saloniki in the last months of the war—broke in upon the Master's reveries. Only a few minutes were required to mend the window. During this time, the Master explained some unusual features of control to the Frenchman, then let him take charge of Nissr.
"She's wonderful," said he, as Brodeur settled himself at the wheel. "With her almost unlimited power, her impeccable controls and her automatic stabilizers, I hardly see what could happen to her."
"Fire, of course, m'sieur," the ace replied, "always has to be guarded against."
"Hardly on an all-metal liner. Now, here you see—and here—"
He finished his explanations, and, satisfied that all was safe, passed into his own cabin. Rrisa, he found, had already unpacked his kit, and had arranged it to perfection. Even a copper bowl of khat, the "flower of paradise," was awaiting him.
The Master sat down, chewed a few leaves and indulged in a little time of what the Arabs call kayf, or complete relaxation and inner contemplation—a restful trick he had learned many years ago on the coast of Yemen. The ticking of the aluminum-cased chronometer, now marking a little past 2 a.m., soothed him, as did the droning hum of the propellers, the piping whistle of the ship-made hurricane round the fuselage, the cradling swing and rock of the air-liner hurling herself almost due east.
After some quarter-hour of absolute rest, he rang for his Arab orderly. Rrisa appeared at once. Already he had got himself into his military uniform, the one he had worn at Gallipoli when the Master had saved his life. As he stood there in the doorway, he swung his left foot out and back, with clicking heels, and made a smart salute.
"What does M'alme desire?" asked he, in Arabic.
"I desire to know thy opinion of all this, Rrisa. Tell me, did thy great prophet, M'hamed, ever ride in such state through the air? Was Al Burak, his magic horse, on which he traveled to the paradise of the houris, more swift or mighty than this steed of mine?"
The Master speaking Arabic, weighted every word with its full meaning.
"Tell me, Rrisa, what of all this?"
"Your steed is very swift and very mighty. Your flying ship is very great," the Arab admitted. "But Allah and his Prophet are greater! Allahu akbar!" (Allah is greatest!)
"Of course. But tell thou me, Rrisa, if I were to appear at Mecca in my Nissr Arrib ela Sema—my Eagle of the Sky—would not thy people give me great honors?"
"My head is at your feet, M'alme, and I am yours to do with as you will, even to the death, but I implore you, by the beard of the Prophet, do not do this thing!"
"And why not, Rrisa?"
"You and I, Master, are akhawat. Therefore I can speak true words. You must not go to Mecca. No man of the Nasara may go there—and live."
[Footnote 1: Akhawat signifies in Arabic the tie of sworn brotherhood between an Arab and one of different blood.]
"Thou meanest that if we go to Mecca and they capture us, they will kill us all?"
"Yea, Master. And I too shall die, for being with you, though I count that as less than nothing."
The Master kept a moment's silence, pondering; while, without, the voices of empty heaven whistled by, from strut and wire, brace and stay. The wild mystery of that outer night, excluded by the close-drawn curtains, contrasted strongly with the light and the warm comfort of the cabin with its snug berth, its aluminum furniture, its shining walls where were affixed charts and maps, rules, photographs.
Under the clear, white light, Rrisa anxiously studied his master's face. Great anxiety had begun to make itself manifest in the Arab's voice and in his eyes. Another troubled look came, too, as he glanced at the chronometer.
It struck, sharply. The Arab, contrary to all his habits and training, spoke first, without being spoken to.
"Master," said he, timorously, "excuse the speech I offer without waiting. But I must ask. This is my hour of night prayer, and I must bow to Mecca. Whither, from here, lieth The City?"
The Master raised a hand, glanced at a compass set like a wrist-watch, peered a moment at one of the charts, and then nodded toward the door that led into the pilot-house.
Without delay, Rrisa faced that door and prostrated himself. The ancient cry: "La Illaha illa Allah! M'hamed rasul Allah!" was raised there in the cabin of the rushing Eagle of the Sky—surely the strangest place where Moslem prayer was ever offered since first the Prophet's green banner unfurled itself upon the desert air of Araby.
Devoutly Rrisa prayed, then with a "Bismillah!" (In the name of Allah!) arose and faced his master. The latter, wise in Eastern ways, remained gravely unsmiling. Never in all his dealings with the son of the East had he by word or look offended against Islam. There was, however, iron determination in his eyes as he demanded:
"Is it indeed true that in Mecca stands a building called the Ka'aba, also called Bayt Ullah, or Allah's House?"
"Yea, Master, that is true," answered the Arab, with strange eyes.
"And is it indeed covered with a wondrous silken and gold cloth, every year renewed, known as the kiswah?"
"Those words are true."
"All Moslems greatly revere the Ka'aba?"
"It is the center of our mighty faith, Master."
"And thou hast seen it with thine own eyes?"
"With my own eyes, Master, for I am a Hadji." Attentively the Arab was now watching the Master. Slowly he continued: "Prayer, with face to Mecca, alms-giving, the keeping of the fast of Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to the Ka'aba, these are our law. Yea, Master, I have myself seen the Ka'aba, and more than once!"
[Footnote 1: Title among the Arabs and Moslems in general for one who has performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, a journey which every good Moslem considers necessary for salvation.]
A certain trouble had now grown manifest in Rrisa's eyes. His lips moved silently, as if still praying; but no words were audible. The Master pondered a moment more, then demanded:
"Is it true there is a sacred Black Stone in the walls of the Ka'aba, precious to all followers of the Prophet, from Africa to China and to the farthest isles? Revered by all the two hundred and thirty million of your faith?"
"That is true, M'alme. I myself have touched and kissed the Black Stone."
"Mecca, the Ka'aba, and the Black Stone are forbidden to all heretics?" relentlessly pursued the Master.
"Wallah! Yea, so they are to—all who are not of Islam," Rrisa tried to soften the answer.
"They tell me," persisted the Master, "the Black Stone is in the western wall of the Ka'aba, about seven feet from the pavement."
"That is a lie!" flared Rrisa, with indignation. "It is in the northeast corner, at the very corner, Master. It is between four feet and five from the ground. That, and no other, is the true place, Master, the place of Hajar el Aswad!" (Black Stone.)
"Ah, yes, yes, the books lie," agreed the Master. "And they say, too, that certain of the Feringi have indeed touched and even kissed the Black Stone, and still lived."
Rrisa's face clouded. It burned coppery, with a flush of hot blood under that dark skin. By the clear white light in the cabin, the Master closely observed him. Idly he broke off a leaf of the khat, and nibbled at it.
"Is that the truth?" he inquired, pitilessly.
"I must speak truth to you, Master," confessed the Arab, with bitter shame. "Two of the Feringi—Nasara men like yourself—have indeed touched and kissed it. Two that we know of. Shaytan el Kabir (the Great Satan) may have permitted others to do that, but we know of only two who have done it—and lived."
"Thou meanest one named Burckhardt, and Sir Richard Burton?"
The Arab shuddered at sound of those names, and silently nodded. Then he burst out:
"Those were their names, M'alme! Those two, disguised as Hujjaj, defiled the Black Stone, which was given by Allah to the first Arabs; and they both escaped. But many others who have tried—"
"Have died at the hands of thy people?"
"Bismillah! Yea!" A flash of pride irradiated the dark face of Rrisa. His figure drew itself erect. Beneath the veneer of civilization with which life among the Feringi had overlaid him, the Master sensed the wild, fierce, free soul of the desert man, to whom the death of the unbelieving dog is sweet.
"It is well," nodded the Master. Then, suddenly he stood up, faced the Arab, and bent on him a sternly penetrant look.
"Rrisa," said he, impressively, his voice slow, grave, sonorous, "only for me thy bones would today be moldering in the trenches at Gallipoli or maybe rotting in a Turkish grave. The life that is in thee belongs to me! That is thy ancient law. Is it not true?"
"It is true, Master. Nahnu malihin." (We have eaten salt together.)
"And the salt is still in thy stomach?"
[Footnote 1: Some Arab tribes hold that the salt binds protection for only twenty-four hours and at the end of that time must be renewed, otherwise it is "not in their stomachs."]
"Aye, Master. You are still dakhil (protected) to me."
"Thou art mine to do with as I will?"
"I am the Master's!"
"Treason to me, Rrisa, is treason to thy holy laws. Surely, such treason would plunge thy soul far into the depths of Eblis. When thy time cometh to walk across the burning pit, on the bridge as fine and sharp as the edge of a simitar, if it be laden with treachery to one who hath saved thy life and whose salt thou hast eaten, surely it shall not pass over, but shall fall. Far into the deeps of Jehannum it shall fall, where the Prophet says: 'Stones and men shall be the fuel of the everlasting flame!'"
"I am the Master's," repeated Rrisa, with trembling mouth. He raised his hand to forehead, lips, and heart. "My head is at the Master's feet!"
"Forget that not, thou!" cried the Master, dominantly. "Ru'c'h halla!" (Go!)
CAPTAIN ALDEN STANDS REVEALED
Hardly had the trembling Arab salaamed and departed in terror of soul, knowing not what fearful events might be impending, when Bohannan appeared. The smile on the Master's lips, the sternly calculating expression in his eyes, faded into something as near astonishment as this strange man ever felt, when the major exclaimed:
"Well, faith now, what d'you think? The most improbable thing you can imagine!"
"What may that be, Major?"
"It's not what it may be, it's what it is that's astonishing me. We've got a stowaway aboard us!"
"True, nevertheless. Manderson has just now routed him out of the starboard storage-room, near the reserve petrol-tank."
"Hm! Who is he?"
Bohannan shrugged stout shoulders.
"Don't know yet. He's still dopy. Just coming out of the effects of the lethalizing gas."
"Ah, yes, yes, I see. One of the former crew, I suppose. This is quite inexcusable. That a man should have been overlooked and left aboard—it won't do, Major. Kloof was responsible for that room. Kloof will have to suffer. Any other news?"
"Travers, the New Zealander, is wounded."
"I'm afraid he's hard hit, sir."
"Well, I'll have a look at him and at this stowaway. Where are they, now?"
"In the lazaret, I suppose you call it. Though what a hospital is, aboard an air-liner, blest if I know!"
"Sick-bay, we'll call it. Problems rising already. A stowaway—rather odd, I must say. Still, as a problem, it's not hard to solve. Nothing simpler than dropping a man overboard."
"You—surely, you wouldn't do that!" ejaculated the major, startled. His rubicund face grew round with amazement.
"That remains to be seen. Come, let's have a look at him!"
Together they went out into the brightly lighted main corridor, near the ladder to the upper gallery, turned to the right and walked aft. A door, just a little abaft the chartroom and, opposite the Master's cabin, gave a glimpse of the as yet unoccupied smoke-room. Astern of this, they passed the dining-saloon with its long table and its swivel-chairs. Beyond several stateroom doors they came to the transverse corridor at the other side of which, directly facing the main corridor, the engine-room door opened.
Entering the engine-room, they found themselves in a brightly lighted compartment fifteen feet wide by twenty-six feet, seven inches long. This compartment contained six Norcross-Brail engines, each capable of developing 1,150 H.P. The engines were in charge of Auchincloss and two assistant engineers, who had all six engines filling the room with a drowsy drone, like ten billion bees humming themselves to sleep in some mysterious hive.
So nicely adjusted was every part, so accurately true was every shaft, bearing, gear, that practically no vibration could be noted. The voice, in ordinary tones, carried perfectly; and yet in that small space nearly 7,000 H.P. were being produced and transmitted to the propellers and to the storage batteries that operated helicopters and compressed-air system, as well as the lighting-plant of the air-liner.
As the two men entered the engine-room, the Master nodded to Auchincloss. He stood a moment gazing at the brightly flecked metal of the engines, the gleaming walls—hollow and filled with noninflammable helium gas of great lifting power—the men on watch over all this splendid mechanism. Then he passed between engines No. 4 and No. 5, toward the aft wall of the compartment.
Four doors opened in the bulkhead, there. Two communicated with storerooms, one opened into the passage that led to the aft observation pit, the fourth gave access to the sick-bay. This door the Master slid back. Followed by the major he passed through.
A small but fully equipped hospital met their eyes. Cots, operating-table, instrument-cases, sterilizers, everything was complete. Immaculate cleanliness reigned. On two of the cots, men were lying.
Beyond, Captain Alden—still fully dressed—was sitting on a white metal chair. The captain's face was still concealed by the celluloid mask, but a profound pallor was visible on the lower portion of his right cheek and along his left jaw. The set of that jaw showed an invincible obstinacy that bespoke rebellion.
Dr. Lombardo, a dark-skinned Florentine, who had been talking with Captain Alden, turned at the Master's entrance into the sick-bay. Already Lombardo had put on a white linen jacket. Though he had not yet had time to change his trousers, he nevertheless presented a semi-professional air as he advanced to meet the newcomers.
"I'm glad you're here, sir," said he to the Master. "There's trouble enough, already."
"Stowaway?" The Master advanced to the nearer cot.
"Yes, sir. Perhaps not voluntarily so. You know how he was found."
"Such oversight is inexcusable!" The Master leaned down and shook the man by the shoulder. "Come, now!" he demanded. "What's your name?" Curiously he looked at the stranger, a man of great strength, with long arms and powerful, prehensile hands that reminded one of an ape's.
"It's no use questioning him, sir," put in Lombardo, while the major peered curiously at Alden and at the other cot where a man was lying with a froth of bright, arterial blood on his lips. Though this man was suffering torment, no groan escaped him. A kind of gray shadow had settled about eyes and mouth—the shadow of the death angel's wings.
"It's no use, sir," repeated the doctor. "He hasn't recovered consciousness enough, yet, to be questioned. When he does, I'll report."
"Do so!" returned the Master, curtly. "I hardly think we need use much ceremony in disposing of him." He turned to the other cot. "Well, sir, how about this man?"
"I'm—all right, sir," weakly coughed the wounded New Zealander. He tried to bring a hand to his forehead, but could hardly lift it from the sheet. The doctor, with compressed lips, slightly shook a negativing head, as the Master raised interrogative brows.
"Serious," Lombardo whispered. "Shot through the right lung. Bullet still there. Severe internal hemorrhage. I may be able to operate, with Daimamoto assisting, but only in case the patient rallies. We really need a nurse, on this expedition. Medically speaking, we're short-handed. However, I'll do my best, sir."
"I know you will," answered the Master. He stood a moment gazing down at the New Zealander, with stern face and tight mouth. This man on the cot had already given much for the expedition, and might give all. Not without blood and suffering—death, perhaps—was the Master's dream to come to its fruition. After a moment, the Master turned away. He faced Captain Alden.
"Your wound not yet dressed?" demanded he.
"No, sir, not yet."
"And why not, pray?"
"He's simply refused all attention, whatever!" put in the doctor.
"I have a reason, sir," Alden proffered.
"No reason can overrule my orders!" the Master exclaimed. "I commanded you to report to Dr. Lombardo for treatment."
"Nevertheless, sir, I refuse—"
"Insubordination will not be condoned, sir!"
"My reason is valid. When you have heard it, you will understand."
"State your reason, sir!"
For a long moment the eyes of the Master met those of Captain Alden, that strangely peered out at him through the eyeholes of the pink, celluloid mask. Bohannan and the doctor stood by, curiously observing this conflict of two wills. Silence came, save for the droning purr of the engines, the buffeting gusts of wind along the fuselage, the slight trembling of the gigantic fabric as it hurled itself eastward through the high air of night.
"This is inexcusable," said the Master, crisply. "I give you one last chance. Either permit treatment, or consider yourself under arrest."
"Before you proceed to such lengths," the captain replied, "I ask one favor of you."
"Two minutes alone with you, sir."
"Come with me!"
The Master turned and left the sick-bay. Alden rose, weakly enough, and followed him. As the door opened and closed again, the engines hummed louder, then sank again to their dull murmur. Bohannan remained with the doctor.
"Well, faith, can you beat that?" exclaimed the major. "There's an Ethiopian in the woodpile, sure enough. Something strange, here, I'm thinking! Something damned strange here!"
"Is there anything here that isn't?" asked Lombardo, with an odd laugh, as he turned back to the cot where lay the dying New Zealander.
Alone in his cabin with Captain Alden, the Master faced the insubordinate member of his crew with an expression of hard implacability. The captain stood there determinedly confronting him. His right hand held to the table for support. His left sleeve was sodden with blood; the left arm, thrust into the breast of his coat, was obviously numbed, paralyzed.
"Well, sir, what have you to say for yourself?" coldly demanded the Master.
"I repeat that I cannot—and will not—submit myself to any medical attention from any member of this expedition."
"This is dangerous ground you're treading!" the Master exclaimed. His voice had deepened, grown ominous. "You understood perfectly well the conditions of the undertaking—unquestioning obedience to my orders, with life-and-death powers in my hands, to punish insubordination."
"I understand all that, sir," answered the captain. "I understand it now. Nevertheless, I repeat my refusal to obey."
"By Allah! There must be some deep cause here!" ejaculated the Master, his eyes smoldering. "I intend to work my will, but I am a man of reason. You are entitled to a hearing state your objection, sir. Speak up!"
The captain's answer was to raise his right hand and to loosen the cords securing the celluloid mask. As the Master watched, steadying his nerves against the shock of what he felt must be a nameless horror underneath, Alden tore away the mask and threw it upon the table.
"Here is my reason, sir," said he very quietly, "for not permitting Lombardo, or any other man here, to dress my wound."
"Good God!" exclaimed the Master, shaken clean out of his aplomb. The shock he had expected had come to him, but in far other guise than he had counted on. With clenched fists and widening eyes he peered at Alden.
The face he now suddenly beheld, under the clear white light of the cabin, was not the hideous, mangled wreck of humanity—The Kaiser's Masterpiece—he had expected to see.
No—far, and very far from that!
It was the face of a woman. One of the most beautiful women his eyes ever had rested on.
THE WOMAN OF ADVENTURE
A moment's utter silence followed. The woman, with another gesture, drew off the aviator's cap she had worn; she pulled away the tight-fitting toupee that had been drawn over her head and that had masked her hair under its masculine disguise. With deft fingers she shook out the masses of that hair—fine, dark masses that flowed down over her shoulders in streams of silken glory.
"Now you see me as I am!" said she, her voice low and just a little trembling, but wholly brave. "Now, perhaps, you understand!"
"I—but you—" stammered the Master, for the first time in all his life completely at a loss, dazed, staggered.
"Now you understand why I couldn't—wouldn't—let Dr. Lombardo dress my wound."
"By the power of Allah! What does all this mean?" The Master's voice had grown hoarse, unsteady. "A woman—here—!"
"Yes, a woman! The woman your expedition needs and must have, if death and sickness happen, as happen they will The woman you would never have allowed to come—the woman who determined to come at all hazards, even death itself. The woman who—"
"But, Lord Almighty! Your papers! Your decorations!"
"Quite genuine," she answered, smiling at him with dark eyes, unafraid. Through all his dazed astonishment he saw the wonder of those eyes, the perfect oval of that face, the warm, rich tints of her skin even though overspread with the pallor of suffering.
"Madam," said he, trying to rally, "this is past all words No explanation can make amends for such deception. Still, the secret is yet yours—and mine. Until I decide what to do, it must be respected."
Past her he walked, to the door, and snapped the catch. She, turning, leaned against the table and smiled. He saw the gleam of perfect teeth. A strange figure she made, with loose hair cascading over her coat, with knickers and puttees, with wounded arm slung in the breast of her jacket.
"Thank you for your consideration," she smiled. "It is on a par with my conception of your character."
"Pray spare me your comments," he replied, coldly. He returned to his desk, but did not sit down there. Against it he leaned, crossed his arms, and with somewhat lowered head studied her. "Your explanation, madam?"
"My papers are en regle," said she. "My decorations are genuine. Numbers of women went through the great war as men. I am one of them, that is all. Many were never discovered. Those who were, owed it to wounds that brought them under observation. Had I not been wounded, you would never have known. I could have exercised my skill as a nurse, without the fact of my sex becoming apparent.
"That was what I was hoping for and counting on. I wanted to serve this expedition both as a flyer and as a nurse. Fate willed otherwise. A chance bullet intervened. You know the truth. But I feel confident, already, that my secret is safe with you."
The light on her forehead, still a little ridged and reddened by the pressure of the edge of the mask, showed it broad, high, intelligent. Her eyes were deep and eager with a kind of burning determination. The hand she had rested on the table clenched with the intensity of her appeal:
"Let me stay! Let me serve you all! I ask no more of life than that!"
The Master, knotting together the loose threads of his emotion, came a step nearer.
"Your name, madam!" he demanded.
"I cannot tell you. I am Captain Alfred Alden to you, still. Just that. Nothing more."
"You continue insubordinate? Do you know, madam, that for this I could order you bound hand and foot, have you laid on the trap in the lower gallery, and command the trap to be sprung?"
His face grew hard, deep-lined, almost savage as he confronted her—the only being who now dared stand against his will. She smiled oddly, as she answered:
"I know all that, perfectly well. And I know the open Atlantic lies a mile or two below us, in the empty night. Nevertheless, you shall not learn my name. All I shall tell you is this—that I am really an aviator. 'Aviatrix' I despise. I served as 'Captain Alden' for eight months on the Italian front and twenty-one months on the Western. I am an ace. And—"
"Never mind about all that!" the Master interrupted, raising his hand. "You are a woman! You are here under false colors. You gained admission to this Legion by means of false statements—"
"Ah, no, pardon me! Did I ever claim to be a man?"
"The impression you gave was false, and was calculated to be so. This is mere quibbling. A lie can be acted more effectively than spoken. All things considered, your life—"
"Is forfeited, of course. I understand that perfectly well. And that means two things, as direct corollaries. First, that you lose a trained flyer and a woman with Red Cross training; a woman you may sorely need before this expedition is done. Second, you deny a human being who is just as eager as you are for life and the spice of adventure, just as hungry for excitement as you or any man here—you deny me all this, everything, just because a stupid accident of birth made me a woman!"
Her clenched right fist passionately struck the table at her side.
"A man's world! That's what this world is called; that's what it is! And you—of all men—are living down to that idea! You—the Master!"
The man's face changed color. It grew a little pale, with deepening lines. He passed a hand over his forehead, a hand that for the first time trembled with indecision. His strong teeth gnawed at his lower lip. Never before had he lacked words, but now he found none.
The woman exclaimed, her voice incisive, eager, her eyes burning:
"It is because you are a master of men, and of yourself, that I have taken this chance! It is because I have heard of your absolute sense of justice and fair play, your appreciation of unswerving loyalty and of the heart that dares! Now you understand. I have only one more thing to say."
"And what is that?"
"If you respect my secret and let me go with you on this great enterprise, no man aboard the Eagle of the Sky will serve you any more loyally than I. No man will venture more, endure more, suffer more—if suffering has to be. I give you my word of honor on that, as a fighter and—a woman!"
"Your word of honor as—"
"A woman! Do you understand?"
Silence again. Their eyes met. The Master's were first to lower.
"Your life is spared," he answered. "That is a concession to your sex, madam. Had you been a man, I would inevitably have put you to death. As it is, you shall live. And you shall remain with us—"
"Thank God for that!"
"Till we reach land. There you must leave Nissr."
"I shall not leave it alive," the woman declared, her eyes showing dilated pupils of resentment, of anger. "I haven't come this far to be thrown aside like a bit of worthless gear!"
"You and your machine will be cast off, over the first land we touch," the Master repeated doggedly. "Whatever information you may give, cannot injure us, and—"
"Stop! Not another word like that, to me!"
Her eyes were blazing now; her right fist quivered in air.
"You accuse me of treason," she cried. "Oh, what injustice, what—"
"I accuse you of nothing, save of having deceived us all, and of being very much deplacee here. The deception shall continue, as far as the others are concerned. You came to us, as a man. You shall go as one. Your secret shall be absolutely respected, by me. But, madam, understand one thing clearly."
"What is that?" she demanded, still trembling with indignation.
"The fact that you are a woman has no weight with me, so far as your persuading me to let you remain of the party may be concerned. Women have never counted in my life. Their wiles, arts, graces, tears, mean nothing to me. Their entreaties seem futile. Their arguments appear like trivial puerilities.
"Other men are sometimes influenced by such. I tell you now, madam, I shall not be. Your entreaties will have no weight. When the time comes for you to leave Nissr, I trust you will go quietly, with no distressing scene."
A certain grimness showed in the woman's face, making it sternly heroic as the face of Medea or Zenobia. She answered:
"Do you think me the type that entreats, that sheds tears, that exercises wiles?"
"We won't discuss your personality, madam! This interview is drawing to an end. Until we reach land, nothing can be done. Nothing, but to look out for your injury. Common humanity demands that your wound be dressed. Is it a serious hurt?"
"Not compared with the hurt you are inflicting, in banishing me from the Flying Legion!"
"Come, madam, refrain from extravagant speeches! What is your wound?"
"A clean shot through the left arm, I think, a little below the shoulder."
"I realize, of course, that to have Dr. Lombardo dress it would reveal your sex. Could you in any way manage the dressing, yourself?"
"If given antiseptics and bandages, yes."
"They shall be furnished, also a stateroom."
"That will excite comment."
"It may," the Master answered, "but there is no other way. I will manage everything privately, myself. Then I will let it transpire that there was some injury to the face, as well, and that the mask had to be removed. I can let the impression get about that you refused to allow anyone but me see your mutilated face.
"I can also hint that I have helped you with the dressing, and have ordered you to keep your stateroom for a while. When it comes time to leave Nissr, I will dispatch you as a messenger. Thus your secret will remain intact. Besides, no one will dare inquire into anything. No one ventures to discuss or question any decision of mine."
Something of hard arrogance sounded in the Master's voice. The woman thanked him, her eyes penetrant, keenly intelligent, even a trifle mocking. One would have said she was weighing this strange man in the balance of judgment, was finding him of sterling stuff, yet was perhaps cherishing a hope, not untinged with malice, that some day a turn of fate might humble him. The Master seemed to sense a little of this, and took a milder tone.
"I must compliment you on one thing, madam," said he, with just the wraith of a smile. "Your acting has been perfection itself. And the fortitude with which you have borne the discomfort of that mask for more than a week, to achieve your ends, cannot be too highly praised."
"Thank you," she replied. "I would have stood that a year, to be one of your Legion! But now—tell me! Isn't there any possibility of your reversing your decision?"
"Isn't there anything I can say or do to—"
"Remember, you told me just a minute ago you were not the type of woman who entreats!"
THE ENMESHING OF THE MASTER
She fell silent, biting her full lip. Something in her eyes shamed the man. Not for all his inflexible sternness could he feel that he had come out a winner in this, their first encounter. A woman—one of the despised, ignored creatures—had deceived him. She had disobeyed his orders. She had flatly thrown down the gage of battle to him, that she would never leave Nissr alive. And last, she had forced him into planning to disseminate falsehoods among his crew—falsehoods the secret of which only she shared with him.
Unwilling as this man was to have anything in common with her, he had been obliged to have something in common—to have much. Something existed; a bond, even if an unpleasant one, had already stretched itself between these two—the first secret this man ever had shared with any woman.
"Captain Alden" smiled a little. The honors of war, so far, lay all in her camp.
The Master, feeling this to the inner marrows, humiliated, shaken, yet through it all not quite able to suppress a kind of grudging and unwilling tribute of admiration, sought to conceal his perturbation with a stern command:
"Now, madam, I will call my orderly and have you escorted to a stateroom; have you provided with everything needful for your injury. I trust it is not causing you any severe pain?"
"Pray don't waste any time or thought on any injury of mine, sir!" the woman returned.
"Very well, madam! Resume your disguise!"
She tried to sweep up her magnificent hair and secure it upon her head. But with only one hand available this proved impossible. They both saw there was no way for her to put on the toupee again.
She smiled oddly, with a half-whimsical, wholly feminine bit of malice. Her eyes seemed dancing.
"I'm afraid I can't obey you, sir," she proffered. "You can see for yourself, it can't be done."
A dull, angry flush crept over the Master's rather pale face, and lost itself in the roots of his thick, black hair. Perfectly well he saw that he was being cornered in an untenable position of half-command, half-intimacy. Without apparently exercising any wiles, this woman was none the less involving him in bonds like those the Lilliputians threw round sleeping Gulliver.
Anger welled up in his proud heart that anyone—much less a woman—should thus lower his dignity. But still his manhood dictated courtesy. He came a few steps nearer, and said:
"I must admit this seems rather an embarrassing situation. Frankly, it does not tend to ameliorate the relation between us. You have placed yourself—and me—in a peculiarly compromising position. I must try to meet it.
"Obviously you cannot expect one so unskilled as I, in things feminine, to help you in the capacity of lady's maid Therefore only one thing remains to do. Instead of calling my orderly, and having him show you your stateroom, I must in some way arrange to get you there, myself."
"That's kind of you, I'm sure," she answered, half in mockery, half in gratitude.
"There I will supply you with medical supplies. In some manner or other you can manage to do up your hair and resume your disguise. You will remain in your stateroom—under arrest—until such time as you are cast loose, tomorrow, in your plane."
"I should say, sometime before night of the day that has already begun. Food and drink will be brought you, of course."
"That's very good of you, sir." Her smile tantalized. The curt laconicism of her manner, in the masculine role, had changed to the softer ways of womankind. Despite himself, the Master was constrained to admire her ability as an actress.
"Of course you realize," she continued, "that to cast me loose in a plane, with only one serviceable arm, will be equivalent to committing cold-blooded murder."
"A mere detail!"
"A mere detail—to murder a woman?"
"Pardon me, you misunderstand. I mean, the manner in which you are to leave Nissr matters little, so long as you leave. I will see that you are safely landed—that no harm arrives to you.
"But you—shall not remain with us. Now, kindly stay here. Lock the cabin door after I have gone, and admit no one until I return. I will signal you with two triple knocks, thus."
He illustrated the knocks, on the table, and, unlocking the door, left the cabin in a black humor. The sound of the woman locking the door after him, the knowledge that he had been obliged to make up a little code for readmission, angered him as he rarely had been angered.
Self-protection, however, demanded these subterfuges. To let the secret escape, and to be obliged to admit having been deceived by a woman, would fatally lower his prestige with the Legionaries. How could he, if known to be the dupe of a woman, command those hard, bold men?
Humiliated, yet in his heart thankful that no one had yet penetrated the secret—as Dr. Lombardo easily might have done, had he laid forcible hands on "Captain Alden"—the Master set about the necessary task of himself preparing a stateroom and providing the requisite medical supplies.
Lombardo asked no questions. His eyes, however, had grown quizzical. No one else seemed to notice what the Master was about. Each was busy in his own place, at his own task.
Twenty minutes had passed before all was ready and the Master could return to his cabin. He rapped as agreed, and was admitted, feeling his cheeks burn at even the analogy between this clandestine entrance and some vulgar liaison—a thing he scrupulously had avoided all his life.
"Come!" he directed. She followed him. Silently he ushered her into her appointed place. No one had seen them. He followed her into the little stateroom, closed the door, folded his arms and confronted her with a grim face.
"Before leaving you, madam," said he, "I wish to repeat that only your sex has saved you from summary execution. You are guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, in the code of this expedition—guilty of falsehood and deception that might have introduced fatal complications into my most carefully evolved plan.
"Nevertheless, my code as an officer prohibits any punishment other than this merely nominal arrest. I must offer you temporary hospitality. Moreover, if you need any assistance in dressing your wound, I will give it. Common humanity demands that."
"I don't need anything, thank you," she answered. "I don't ask for anything, but to stay with the Legion."
"That's a point I must positively decline to argue, madam," he informed her, shaking his head. "And, since there is nothing more to say, I wish you a very good night!"
Bowing, he left the stateroom. He heard the door-catch snap. Somehow, in some way as yet inexplicable to him, that sound caused him another discomfort. For the first time in his life he had been having private conversation with a woman—conversation that might almost have been construed as intimate, since it had held secrets. For the first time he had felt himself outwitted by a woman, beaten, made mock of. Now he was being shut away from her.
Inwardly raging as he was, hot, confused, unhorsed, still a strange, fingering insinuation of something agreeable had begun to waken in him. The Master, not understanding it at all, or being able to analyze sensations so foreign to all his previous thought and experience, cut the Gordian knot of puzzlement by roundly cursing himself, by Allah and the Prophet's beard, as a fool. And with a vastly disturbed mind he returned along the white, gleaming corridor—that dipped and swayed with the swift rush of Nissr—back to his own cabin.
There he found the buzzer of his little desk-telephone intermittently calling him.
"Yes, hello?" he answered, receiver at ear, as he sat down in the swivel-chair of aluminum with its hydrogen cushion.
The voice of the wireless man, Menendez, reached him. In a soft, Spanish-accented kind of drawl, Menendez said:
"Just picked up two important radios, sir."
"Well? What are they?"
"International Air Board headquarters, in Washington, has been notified of our getaway. They have sent out calls for all air-stations in both America and Europe to put up scout-squadrons to watch for us."
"Two squadrons have been started westward across the Atlantic, already, to capture or destroy us."
"Indeed? Where from?" The Master spoke coldly. This information, far from seeming important to him as it had to Menendez, appeared the veriest commonplace. It was nothing but what he had expected and foreseen. He smiled grimly as he listened to the radio man's answer:
"One squadron has started from Queenstown. The other from the Azores—from St. Michaels."
"Well, sir, now and then I can get a few words they're sending from plane to plane—or from plane to headquarters. They mean business. It's capture or kill. They're rating us as pirates."
"Very well. Anything really important?"
"Nothing else, sir."
"Keep me informed, if any real news comes in. But don't disturb me with trifles!"
The Master hung up the receiver, sat back in his chair and stretched his long, powerful legs under the desk. He set both elbows on the arms of the chair, joined his finger-tips and sank his lips upon them.
"I'd better be rigging that vibratory apparatus before long," he reflected. "But still, there's no immediate hurry. Time enough for all that. Lots of time."
His thoughts wandered from Nissr and the great adventure, from the coming attackers, from the vibratory apparatus, yes from the goal of all this undertaking itself, back to "Captain Alden." The who and why, the whence and whither of this strange woman urgently intruded on his mind; nor by any effort of the will could he exclude these thoughts.
For a long time, while Nissr roared away eastward, ever eastward into the night, he sat there, sunk in a profound revery.
"A woman," he whispered, finally, the words lingering on his lips. "A woman, eh? Strange—very strange!"
Resolutely he forced himself to consider the plans he had laid out; his success thus far; the means he meant to take with the attacking squadrons; the consummation of his whole campaign so vast, so overpowering in its scope.
But through it all, persisted other thoughts. And these, he found, he could not put away.
The buzzer of the desk-telephone again recalled him to himself. "Hello, hello?"
"I have to report that a third squadron has been ordered into the air, from Monrovia," announced Menendez.
"Very well! Anything else?"
The Master hung up the receiver, arose, and seemed to shake himself from the kind of torpor into which his thoughts of the woman had plunged him.
"Enough of this nonsense!" growled he. "There's work to be done—work!"
With fresh energy he flung himself into the task of planning how to meet and to repel the three air-fleets now already on the westward wing to capture or annihilate the Flying Legion.
The first slow light of day, "under the opening eyelids of the morn," found the Master up in the screened observation gallery at the tip of the port aileron. Here were mounted two of the six machine-guns that comprised Nissr's heavier armament; and here, too, were hung a dozen of the wonderful life-preservers—combination anti-gravity turbines and vacuum-belt, each containing a signal-light, a water-distiller and condensed foods—that, invented by Brixton Hewes, soon after the close of the war, had done so much to make air-travel safe.
Major Bohannan was with the Master. Both men, now in uniform, showed little effect of the sleepless night they had passed. Wine of excitement and stern duties to perform, joined with powerful bodies, made sleeplessness and labor trivialities.
For an hour the two had been standing there, wrapped in their long military overcoats, while Nissr had swooped on her appointed ways, with hurtling trajectory that had cleft the dark. Somewhat warmed by piped exhaust-gases though the glass-enclosed gallery had been, still the cold had been marked; for without, in the stupendous gulf of emptiness that had been rushing away beneath and all about them, no doubt the thermometer would have sunk below zero.
Nissr's altitude was now very great, ranging between 17,500 and 21,000 feet, so as to take advantage of the steady eastward setting wind in the higher air-lanes. A hard, frozen moonlight, from the steely disk sinking down the western sky, had slashed ink-black shadows of struts and stanchions across the gallery, and had flung Nissr's larger shadow down the hungering abysses of the sky that yawned beneath.
That shadow had danced and quivered at fantastic speed across dazzling moonlit fields of cloud, ever keeping pace with the Sky Eagle, now leaping across immense and silent drifts of white, now plunging, vanishing into black abysses that showed the ocean spinning backward, ever backward toward the west.
With the coming of dawn, the shadow had faded, and the watchers' eyes had been turned ahead for some first sight of the out-riders of the attacking fleets. Bohannan, a little nervous in spite of his well-seasoned fighting-blood, had smoked a couple of cigars in the sheltered gallery, pacing up and down with coat-collar about his ears and with hands thrust deep in pockets. The Master, likewise muffled, had refused all proffers of tobacco and had contented himself with a few khat leaves.
Silence had, for the most part, reigned between them. Up here in the gallery, conversation was not easy. The hurricane of Nissr's flight shrieked at times with shrill stridor and with whistlings as of a million witches bound for some infernal Sabbath on the Matterhorn. A good deal of vibration and of shuddering whipped the wing-tip, too; all was different, here, from the calm warmth, comfort, and security of the fuselage.
The men seemed standing on the very pinion-feathers of some fabled roc, sweeping through space. Above, below, complete and overwhelming vacancy clutched for them. The human is not yet born who can stand thus upon the tip of such a plane, and feel himself wholly at ease.
As darkness faded, however, and as approaching dawn began to burn its slow way up the stupendous vaults of space above the eastern cloud-battlements—battlements flicked with dull crimson, blood-tinged blotches, golden streaks and a whole phantasmagoria of shifting hues—something of the oppression of night fell from the two men.
"Well, we're still carrying on. Things are still going pretty much O.K., sir," proffered the major, squinting into the East—the cold, red East, infinitely vast, empty, ripe with possibilities. "A good start! Close to a thousand miles we've made; engines running to a hair; men all fitting into the jobs like clockwork. Everything all right to a dot, eh?"
The Master nodded silently, keeping dark eyes fixed on the horizon of cloud-rack. Above, the last faint prickings of stars were fading. The moon had paled to a ghostly circle. Shuddering, Nissr fled, with vapory horizons seemingly on her own level so that she appeared at the bottom of an infinite bowl. Bohannan, feeling need of speech, tried to be casual as he added:
"I don't feel sleepy. Do you? Seems like I'd never want to sleep again. Faith, this is living! You've got us all enthused. And your idea of putting every man-jack in uniform was bully! Nothing like uniforms—even a jumble of different kinds, like ours—to cement men together and give them the esprit de corps. If we go through as we've begun—"
The Master interrupted him with a cold glance of annoyance. The Celt's exuberance jarred on his soul. Since the affair with "Captain Alden," the Master's nerves had gone a little raw.
Bohannan rallied bravely.
"Of course," he went on, "it was unfortunate about that New Zealand chap going West. He looked like a right good fellow. But, well—c'est la guerre! And I know he wouldn't have chosen a finer grave than the bottom of the Atlantic, where he's sleeping now.
"By the way, how did Alden come out? Much hurt, was he? I know, of course, he didn't go back to the sick-bay. So he couldn't have been badly wounded, or he would be—"
"The Arabs have a saying, my dear fellow," dryly answered the Master, "that one ear is worth ten thousand tongues. Ponder it well!"
The major's look of astonishment annoyed the Master, even while it hurt him. He took scant pleasure in rebuffing this old friend; but certainly "Captain Alden" would not bear discussing. Feeling himself in a kind of impasse regarding Alden, and fearing some telltale expression in his eyes, the Master swung up his binoculars and once more swept the cloud-horizons from northeast to southeast.
"We ought to be sighting some of the attackers, before long," judged he. "I'm rather curious to see them—to see flies attacking an eagle. I haven't had a real chance of testing out the neutralizers. Their operation, in actual practice, ought to be interesting."
He tried to speak coldly, impersonally; but he well realized a certain strained quality in his voice. Even now, in the hour of impending attack, his thoughts could not remain wholly fixed on the enemy which—so the wireless informed him—lay only a little beyond the haze-enshrouded, burning rim of cloudland.
Despite every effort of the will, he kept mentally reverting to the midships port stateroom containing the woman. He could not keep himself from wondering how she was getting on. Her wound, he hoped—he felt confident—could not be serious.
Had it been, of course, the woman would have asked some further aid. And since the moment when he had left her, no word had come to him. More than once, temptation had whispered: "Go to her! She has deceived you, and you are master here. But, above all, you are a man!"
Twice he had all but yielded to this inner voice. But he had not yielded. Another and a sterner voice had said: "She is an interloper. She has no rights. Why give her another thought?"
This voice had prevailed. The Master had told himself only a few hours more remained, at all events, before the woman should be cast off and abandoned in whatever strange land might befall—probably Morocco, or it might be the Spanish colony of Rio de Oro on the western fringes of the Sahara. After that, what responsibility for her safety or her welfare would be his? Why, he had none, even now!
"But, man," the small voice insinuated, "she came to you on an errand of mercy, to nurse and care for such as might fall ill or be wounded. It was not wholly the desire for adventure that led her to deceive you. Her motive was high and fine!"
"A curse on all women!" retorted the other voice. "Away with her!" And this sterner voice again prevailed. Still, at thought that sometime during the day now close at hand he was to see the last of this woman who had stood there before him in his cabin, with dark eyes looking into his, with eager, oval face upturned to his, with all that glory of lustrous hair a flood about her shoulders, something unknown, unwonted, fingered at the latchets of his heart.
He realized that he felt strange, uneasy, uprooted from his sober aplomb. Unknown irritations possessed him. Under his breath he muttered an Arabic cynicism about woman, from the fourth chapter of the Koran: "Men shall have the preeminence above women, because Allah hath caused the one of them to excel the other!"
Then came the philosophical reflection:
"Man, you were seeking new sensations, new experiences, to stir your pulses. This woman has given you many. She has served her purpose. Now let her go!"
Thus, seeming to have reached a certain finality of decision, he dismissed her again from his mind—for perhaps the twentieth time—and with new care once more began studying the gold-edged, shining clouds where now a dull, broad arc of molten metal had burned its way out of the mists.
The Master slid colored ray-filters over his binoculars, to shield his eyes from the direct dazzle of the rising sun, and swept that incandescent arc. Suddenly he drew a sharp intake of breath.
"Sighted something, eh?" demanded the major, already recovered from the snub administered.
"See for yourself, Major, what you make of it! Right in the sun's eye, and off to southward—all along that fantastic, crimson cloud-castle."
Bohannan's gaze narrowed through his own glasses. Bracing his powerful legs against the quivering jar of the aileron, he brushed the horizon into his eager vision. The glasses steadied. There, of a truth, black midges had appeared, coming up over the world's rim like a startled covey of quail.
THE BATTLE OF VIBRATIONS
Two, five, a dozen, now a score of tiny specks dotted the mist, some moving right across the broadening face of the sun itself. As Nissr's flight stormed eastward, and these gnats drove to the west, their total rate of approach must have been tremendous; for even as the men watched, they seemed to find the attackers growing in bulk. And now more and ever more appeared, transpiring from the bleeding vapors of dawn.
"Looks like business, sir!" exclaimed the Celt, his jaw hard.
"Bad business for us, eh?"
"It might be, if we had only the usual means of defense. Under ordinary circumstances, our only game would be to turn tail and run for it, or cut away far to the south—or else break out a white flag and surrender. But—"
"That must be the Azores air-fleet," judged Bohannan. "The others couldn't have made so much westing, in this time. Faith, what a buzzing swarm of mosquitoes! I had no idea there were that many planes on the Azores International Air Board station!"
"There are many things you have no idea of, Major," replied the Master, sharply. "That, however, is immaterial. Yes, here come the fringes of attack, all right enough. I estimate forty or fifty in sight, already; and there must be a few hundred back of those, between here and land, north and south. Technically, we're pirates, you know."
"Pirates?" demanded the major, lowering his glass.
The Master nodded.
"Yes," he answered. "That's what the wireless tells us. We'll get short shrift if—my apparatus fails."
"How do they make us out pirates?" Bohannan ejaculated. It was not fear that looked from his blue eyes, but a vast astonishment. His ruddy face, amazed under the now strengthening light of day, brought a smile to the Master's lips.
"What else are we, my dear fellow?" the Master queried. "To seize a ship—a water-ship or one of the air matters nothing—and to overpower the crew, kill or wound a few, throw them outboard and sail away, comes pretty near constituting piracy. Of course the air-rules and laws aren't wholly settled yet; but we're in a fair way of giving the big-wigs a whacking precedent to govern the future. I fancy a good many cases will be judged as per the outcome of this expedition.
"We're pirates all right—if they catch us. And they will catch us if they get within gunshot. The next few minutes will settle that question of whether they're going to, or not!"
"Nice, comforting prospect!" muttered the Celt. "What do they do with pirates, anyhow, these days? They can't hang us at the yard-arm, because airships don't have 'em. Of course they might stage a hanging-bee with this Legion dangling from the wings, but that would be pretty hard to manage. It'll be shooting, eh?"
"Probably, if my neutralizer fails."
"You're cheerful about it! The neutralizer may be all right, in its way, but personally I'm rather strong for these!" He laid a hand on the breech of the Lewis machine-gun mounted in the gallery, its grim muzzle pointed out through a slit in the colloid screen. "The six guns we've got aboard, in strategic positions, look like good medicine to me! Wouldn't it be the correct thing to call the gun-crews and limber up a little? These chaps aren't going to be all day in getting here, and when they do—"