ROUND THE WORLD IN SEVEN DAYS
Illustrated by A. C. Michael
I THE CABLEGRAM
II EASTWARD HO!
III ACROSS EUROPE TO THE BOSPHORUS
IV A FLYING VISIT
V THE TOMB OF UR-GUR
VI WITH GUN RUNNERS IN THE GULF
VII THE WHITE DJINN
VIII A SHIP ON FIRE
IX A PASSENGER FOR PENANG
X SOME PRAUS AND A JUNK
XI AUSTRALIAN HOSPITALITY
XII STALKED BY PIGMIES
XIII THE RESCUE
XIV SIR MATTHEW IMPROVES THE OCCASION
XV HERR SCHWANKMACHER'S CABBAGES
XVI A STOP-PRESS MESSAGE
XVII A MIDNIGHT VIGIL
XVIII THE LAST LAP
Lieutenant George Underhill, commanding H.M. surveying ship Albatross, had an unpleasant shock when he turned out of his bunk at daybreak one morning. The barometer stood at 29.41'. For two or three days the vessel had encountered dirty weather, but there had been signs of improvement when he turned in, and it was decidedly disconcerting to find that the glass had fallen. His vessel was a small one, and he was a little uneasy at the prospect of being caught by a cyclone while in the imperfectly-charted waters of the Solomon Islands.
He was approaching the eastern shore of Ysabel Island, whose steep cliffs were covered with a lurid bank of cloud. If the shore was like those of the other islands of the group, it would be, he knew, a maze of bays, islets, barrier reefs, and intricate channels amid which, even in calm weather, a vessel would run a considerable risk of grounding, a risk that would be multiplied in a storm. Anxiously noting the weather signs, Underhill hoped that he might reach a safe anchorage before the threatening cyclone burst upon him.
As is the way with cyclones, it smote the vessel almost without warning. A howling squall tore out of the east, catching the ship nearly abeam, and making her shudder; then, after a brief lull, came another and even a fiercer blast, and in a few minutes the wind increased to a roaring hurricane, enveloping the ship in a mist of driving rain that half choked the officers and crew as they crouched under the lee of the bulwarks and the deckhouse.
The Albatross was a gallant little vessel, and Underhill, now that what he dreaded had happened, hoped at least to keep her off the shore until the fury of the storm had abated. For a time she thrashed her way doggedly through the boiling sea; but all at once she staggered, heeled over, and then, refusing to answer the helm, began to rush headlong upon the rocks, now visible through the mist.
"Propeller shaft broken, sir," came the cry from below to Underhill as he stood clinging to the rail of the bridge.
He felt his utter helplessness. He could not even let go an anchor, for no one could stand on deck against the force of the wind. He could only cling to his place and see the vessel driven ashore, without being able to lift a hand to save her. Suddenly he was conscious of a grating, grinding sensation beneath his feet, and knew that the vessel had struck a coral reef. She swung round broadside to the wind; the boats on the weather side were wrenched from their davits and hurled away in splinters; and in the midst of such fury and turmoil there was no possibility of launching the remaining two boats and escaping from the doomed vessel.
All hands had rushed on deck, and clung to rails and stays and whatever else afforded a hold. Among those who staggered from the companion way was a tall thin man, spectacled, with iron-grey hair and beard, and somewhat rounded shoulders. Linking arms with him was a young man of twenty-two or twenty-three: the likeness between them proclaimed them father and son. The older man was Dr. Thesiger Smith, the famous geologist, in furtherance of whose work the Albatross was making this voyage. The younger man was his second son Tom, who, after a distinguished career at Cambridge, had come out to act as his father's assistant.
Underhill knew by the jerking and grinding he felt beneath him that his ill-fated vessel was being slowly forced over the reef towards the shore. His first lieutenant, Venables, crawled up to the bridge, and, bawling into his ear, asked if anything could be done. The lieutenant shook his head.
"Water's within two feet of the upper deck forward, sir," shouted Venables; "abaft it is three feet above the keelson."
"Get the lifebuoys," was the brief reply.
Venables crawled down again, and with the assistance of some of the crew unlashed the lifebuoys and distributed them among the company. Meanwhile the progress of the vessel shorewards had been suddenly checked. She came up with a jerk, and Underhill guessed that her nose had stuck fast in a hollow of the reef, and prayed that the storm would abate for just so long as would enable him to get the boats clear and make for the land before the ship broke up. But for a good half-hour longer the hurricane blew with undiminished force, and it was as much as every man could do to avoid being washed away by the mountainous seas that broke over the vessel.
At length, however, there came a sudden change. The uproar ceased as by magic, and there fell a dead calm. Underhill was not deceived. He judged that the vessel was now in the centre of the cyclone; the calm might last for forty or fifty minutes, then a renewal of the hurricane was almost certainly to be expected. Without the loss of a moment he gave his orders. The boats were made ready; into one they put arms, ammunition, and tools, together with the ship's papers and chronometer, a compass, and Dr. Thesiger Smith's specimens and diaries; into the other more ammunition, and a portion of what provisions could be collected from above or below water. The boats were lowered, the men dropped into them and pulled off, leaving Underhill and two or three of the crew still on the vessel to collect the remainder of the provisions and whatever else seemed worth saving. The sea was so high that the boats had much difficulty in making the shore; but they reached it safely, and one of them, after being rapidly unloaded, returned for the commander.
Before it regained the ship, Underhill felt a light puff of wind from the south-west. Lifting a megaphone, he roared to the men to pull for their lives. The boat came alongside; it had scarcely received its load when the hurricane once more burst upon them, this time from the opposite quarter. Underhill leapt down among his men, and ordered them to give way. Before they had pulled a dozen strokes the storm was at its height, but the force of the wind was now somewhat broken by the trees and rocks of the island. Even so it was hard work, rowing in the teeth of the blast, the boat being every moment in danger of swamping by the tremendous seas. Underhill, at the tiller, set his teeth, and anxiously watched the advancing cliffs, at the foot of which the remainder of his company stood. The boat was within twenty yards of them when a huge wave fell on it as it were out of the sky. It sank like lead. Thanks to the lifebuoys Underhill and the men rose quickly to the surface. Two of them, who could not swim, cried out despairingly for help. Underhill seized one and held him up; the other was saved by the promptitude of young Smith. Seeing their plight, he caught up a rope which had been brought ashore, and flung it among the group of men struggling in the water. The drowning man clutched it, the others swam to it, and by its aid all were drawn ashore, gasping for breath, and sorely battered by the jagged rocks.
"All safe, thank heaven!" said Underhill, as he joined the others; "but I'm sorry we've lost the boat."
The shipwrecked party found themselves on a narrow beach, behind which rose steep cliffs, rugged and difficult to climb. Against these they crouched to find some shelter from the storm, and watch the gradual dismemberment of the ill-fated Albatross. Wave after wave broke over her, the spray dashing so high that even her funnel sometimes disappeared from view. The spectators held their breath: could she live out the storm? At last a tremendous sea swept her from the hollow in which she was wedged, and she plunged beneath the waters.
"Tenez! up! up! Ah ca! A clean shave, mister, hein?"
A touch on the lever had sent the aeroplane soaring aloft at a steep angle, and she cleared by little more than a hair's breadth the edge of a thick plantation of firs.
"A close shave, as you say, Roddy," came the answer. And then the speaker let forth a gust of wrathful language which his companion heard in sympathetic silence.
Lieutenant Charles Thesiger Smith, of H.M.S. Imperturbable, was normally a good-tempered fellow, and his outburst would have deceived nobody who knew him so well as Laurent Rodier.
It was the dusk of an evening in mid spring. Above, the sky was clear, washed by the rain that had fallen without intermission since early morning. Below, the chill of coming night, acting on the moisture-laden air, had covered the land with a white mist, that curled and heaved beneath the aeroplane in huge waves. It looked like a billowy sea of cotton-wool, but the airmen who had just emerged from it, had no comfort in its soft embrace. Their eyes were smarting, they drew their breath painfully, and little streams of water trickling from the soaked planes made cold, shuddering streaks on their faces and necks.
An hour ago they had sailed by Salisbury spire, calculating that a few minutes' run, at two or three miles a minute, would bring them to their destination on the outskirts of Portsmouth. But a few miles south the baffling mist had made its appearance, and Smith found himself bereft of landmarks, and compelled to tack to and fro in utter uncertainty of his course. He was as much at a loss as if he were navigating a vessel in a sea-fog. To sail through the mist was to incur the risk of striking a tree, a chimney, or a church steeple; to pursue his flight above it in the deepening dusk might carry him miles out of his way, and though a southerly course must presently bring him to the sea, he could not tell how far east or west of his intended landing-place. Meanwhile the petrol was running short, and it was clear that before long his dilemma would be solved by the engine stopping, and bringing him to the ground willy-nilly, goodness knows where.
This was vexing enough, but in the particular circumstances it was a crowning stroke of misfortune. To-day was the twenty-first of his twenty-eight days' leave: to-morrow he was to begin a round of what he called duty visits among his relatives; he would have to motor, play golf, dance attendance on girls at theatres and concerts, and spur himself to a thousand activities that he detested. There was no escape for him. Perhaps he could have faced this seven days' penance more equably if he had had the recollection of three well-employed weeks to sweeten it. Even this was denied him. Ever since he came on leave the weather had been abominable: high wind, incessant rain, all the elements conspiring to prevent the enjoyment of his hobby. Rodier had suggested that he should apply for an extension of leave, but Smith, though he did not lack courage, could not screw it to this pitch. He remembered too vividly his interview with the captain when coming off ship.
"Don't smash yourself up," said the captain, "and don't run things too fine. You're always late in getting back from leave. Last time you only got in by the skin of your teeth, when we were off shooting, too. If you overstep the mark again you'll find yourself brought up with a round turn, you may take my word for it."
"I couldn't beg off after that," he said to Rodier. "Anyway, it's rotten bad luck."
"Precisement ca!" said Rodier sympathetically.
For some little time they sailed slowly on, seeking in vain for a rift in the blanket of mist: then Rodier cried suddenly—
"Better take a drop, mister. In three minutes all the petrol is gone, and then—"
"I'm afraid you're right, Roddy, but goodness knows what we shall fall on. We must take our chance, I suppose."
He adjusted the planes, so as to make a gradual descent while the engine still enabled him to keep way on the machine, and it sank into the mist. Both men kept a sharp look-out, knowing well that to encounter a branch of a tree or a chimney-stack might at any moment bring the voyage, the aeroplane, and themselves to an untimely end. All at once, without warning, a large dark shape loomed out of the mist. Smith instantly warped his planes, and the machine dived so precipitately as almost to throw him from his seat. Next moment there was a shock; he was flung headlong forward, and found himself sprawling half suffocated on a damp yielding mass, which, when he had recovered his wits, he knew to be the unthatched top of a hayrick.
His first thought was for the aeroplane. Raising himself, and dashing the clinging hay wisps from his face, he shouted—
"Is she smashed, Roddy?"
"Ah, no, mister," came the answering cry. "She stick fast, and me also."
Smith crawled to the edge of the rick and dropped to the ground. Two or three dogs were barking furiously somewhere in the neighbourhood. A few steps brought him to the aeroplane, lying in a slanting position between the hayrick and a fence, over which it projected. Rodier had clung to his seat, and had suffered nothing worse than a jolting.
"This is a pretty mess," said Smith despairingly, "one end stuck fast in the hayrick, the other sticking over the fence: they'll have to pull it down before we can get her out. Get off, you brute!" he exclaimed, as a dog came yapping at his legs.
"Seize him, Pompey: seize him, good dog!" cried a rough voice.
"Call him off, or I'll break his head," cried Smith in exasperation.
"You will, will you?" roared the farmer. "I'll teach you to come breaking into my yard: I'll have the law of you."
"Don't be absurd, man," replied Smith, fending off the dog as well as he could. "Don't you see I've had an accident?"
"Accident be jiggered!" said the farmer. "You don't come breaking into my yard by accident. Better stand quiet or he'll tear you to bits."
"Oh, come now!" said Smith. "Look at this. Here's my aeroplane, fixed up here. You don't suppose I came down here on purpose? I lost my way in this confounded mist, and don't know where I am. Just be sensible, there's a decent chap, and get some of your men to help us out. I'll pay damages."
"I'll take care of that," said the farmer curtly. "What the country's coming to I don't know, what with motors killing us on the roads and now these here airyplanes making the very air above us poison to breathe. There ought to be a law to stop it, that's what I say. Down, Pompey! What's your name, mister?"
Smith explained, asking in his turn the name of the place where he had alighted. Farmer Barton was a good patriot, and the knowledge that the intruder was a navy-man sensibly moderated his truculence.
"Why, this be Firtop Farm, half-a-mile from Mottisfont station, if you know where that is," he said. "Daze me if you hain't been and cut into my hayrick!" He sniffed. "And what's this horrible smell? I do believe you've spoilt the whole lot with your stinking oil." He was getting angry again.
"Well, I've said I'll pay for it," said Smith impatiently. "Get your men, farmer, or I shan't be home to-night. I suppose I can get some petrol somewhere about here?"
"You might, or you might not, in the village; I can't say. My men are abed and asleep, long ago. You'll have to bide till morning."
"Oh well, if I must, I must. Roddy, just have a look at the machine and see that she's safe for the night. I'll run down to the station and send a wire home, and then get beds in the village."
"Better be sharp, then," said the farmer. "You can't send no wire after eight, and it's pretty near that now. I'll show you the way."
Smith hurried to the station and despatched his telegram; then, learning that there was a train due at 8.2 from Andover, he decided to wait a few minutes and get an evening paper. An aviation meeting had just been held at Tours, and he was anxious to see how the English competitors had fared. The train was only a few minutes late. Smith asked the guard whether he had brought any papers, and to his vexation learnt that, there being no bookstall at Mottisfont, there were none for that station. However, the guard himself had bought a paper before leaving Waterloo.
"Take it and welcome, sir," he said. "I've done with it. You're Lieutenant Smith, if I'm not mistaken. Seen your portrait in the papers,' sir."
"Thanks, guard," said Smith, pressing a coin into his reluctant hand.
"Englishmen doing well in France, sir. Hope to see you a prize-winner one of these days. Goodnight!"
The train rumbled off, and Smith scanned the columns by the light of a platform lamp. He read the report of the meeting in which he was interested: a Frenchman had made a new record in altitude; an Englishman had won a fine race, coming in first of ten competitors; a terrible accident had befallen a well-known airman at the moment of descending. The most interesting piece of news was that a Frenchman had maintained for three hours an average speed of a hundred and twenty miles.
"I'm only just in time," said Smith to himself. He was folding the paper when his eye was caught by a heading that recalled the days of his boyhood, when he had revelled in stories of savages, pirates, and the hundred and one themes that fascinate the ingenuous mind.
SHIPWRECKED AMONG CANNIBALS.
TERRIBLE SITUATION OF FAMOUS SCIENTIST.
(From Our Own Correspondent.)
A barque put in here to-day with four men picked up from an open boat south of New Guinea, who reported that the Government survey vessel Albatross has run ashore in a storm on Ysabel Island, one of the Solomon group. The crew and passengers, including Dr. Thesiger Smith, the famous geologist, were saved, but the vessel is a complete wreck, and the unfortunate people were compelled to camp on the shore. They are very short of provisions, and being practically unarmed are in great danger of being massacred by the natives, who are believed to be one of the fiercest cannibal tribes in the South Sea.
Four of the crew put off in the ship's boat to seek assistance, but they lost their mast and had to rely on the oars, and drifted for several days before being picked up in the Coral Sea. A gunboat will be despatched immediately, but since it cannot reach the island for at least five days, it is greatly to be feared that it will arrive only to find that help has come too late.
Smith ran his eyes rapidly over the lines, then folded the paper, and put it into his pocket. He did not notice that his hand was trembling. The station-master looked curiously after him as he strode away with set face.
"Seems to have had bad news," he said to his head porter.
"Bin plungin' on a wrong un, maybe," replied the porter.
Smith left the station, and hastened down the road towards the farm. He had clean forgotten his intention of bespeaking beds in the village; indeed, he walked as one insensible to all around him until he caught sight of the word GARAGE, painted in large white letters, illuminated by an electric lamp, over a gateway at the side of the road. Then he swung round and, passing through the gate, came to a lighted shed where he found a man cleaning a motor car.
"Any petrol to be got here?" he asked quickly.
"As much as we're allowed to keep, sir," replied the man.
"Send a can at once to Firtop Farm, down the road."
He turned, and was quitting the shed when a word from the man recalled him.
"Beg pardon, sir, but—"
"Oh, here's your money," cried Smith, handing him a crown-piece. "Be quick. By the way, can you lend me two or three men for half-an-hour or so at five shillings an hour?"
"Right you are, sir," was the reply. "I'm one; I'll get you a couple more in no time. Be there as soon as you, sir."
Smith hurried away. On reaching the farm he found that Rodier and the farmer were engaged in a friendly conversation, by the light of a carriage lamp which flickered wanly in the mist.
"Wonderful machine, sir," said the farmer, whom Rodier had talked out of his ill-humour. "Your man has been showing me over it, as you may say, leastways as well as he could in this fog."
"We must get her out at once," rejoined Smith. "Some men are coming up. We must get on to-night."
"Good sakes! that's impossible. She lies right athwart the fence, and you'll have to rig a crane to lift her."
"The fence must come down. I'll pay."
"But drat it all—"
"Look here, farmer, it's got to be done. Here are the men; just oblige me by showing them a light at the fence, and set them to take down enough of it to free the aeroplane—carefully; I don't want it smashed. There's a sovereign on account; you shall have a cheque for the rest when you send in the bill."
Apparently the magic touch of gold reconciled the farmer to these hasty proceedings, for he made no more ado, but took the lamp and bade the three men to follow him.
"What's wrong, mister?" asked Rodier. "You look as if you had been shocked."
Smith drew the paper from his pocket, gave it to Rodier, and then, striking a match, showed him the paragraph, and lighted more matches while he read it.
"Mon dieu!" ejaculated the Frenchman, when he was halfway through. "It is your father!"
"Yes; my brother is with him. I must get home; it will kill my mother if she sees this."
Rodier read the paragraph to the end.
"My word, it is bad business," he said. "These cannibals!... And they have no arms. What horror!"
Smith left him abruptly and walked to the fence to see how the work of dismantling it was proceeding. Rodier whistled, and thrusting his hands into his pockets, sat down on a bag of straw and appeared to be deep in a brown study. Sounds of hammering came from the fence; a light breeze was scattering the mist, and he could now see clearly the three men under the farmer's direction carefully removing the fencing beneath the aeroplane. Rodier watched them for a few minutes, but an onlooker would have gathered the impression that his thoughts were far away.
Suddenly he sprang up, muttering, "Ah! On peut le faire, quand meme. Courage, mon ami!" and hastened to rejoin his employer.
"What distance, mister," he said, "from here to there—to the cannibals?"
"Thirteen thousand miles, I suppose, more or less."
"Ah!" the Frenchman's face fell. "Thirteen thousand!" he repeated, then was silent for a while, touching his brow as if making some abstruse calculation. Smith turned away.
"Ah! Qu'importe?" cried Rodier, after a few moments. "On peut le faire!"
He hastened to Smith, drew him aside, and spoke rapidly to him for a few moments. The look of doubt that first came to Smith's face was soon replaced by a look of confidence. He engaged in a hurried colloquy with his man, at the close of which they shook hands heartily and went to the fence to lend a hand there.
In half-an-hour the work was done; the fence was down, and the six men carefully dragged and lifted the aeroplane over the debris, and placed it on the road outside. While Rodier made a rapid examination of it, to see that no damage had been done, Smith got the men to empty into the tank the can of petrol they had brought, paid them for their work, and handed his card to the farmer.
"Send in your bill," he cried. "Ready, Roddy?"
"All right, mister."
They jumped into their seats. Smith called to the men to stand clear, and pulled the lever. At the same moment Rodier switched on the searchlight. The propellers flew round with deafening whirr; the aeroplane shot forward for thirty or forty yards along the road, then rose like a bird into the air.
The men stood with mouths agape as the machine flew over the tree-tops, its light diminishing to a pin-point, its clamour sinking to the quiet hum of a bee, and then fading away altogether. In a minute it had totally disappeared.
"Daze me if ever I seed anything like that afore," said the farmer. "A mile a minute, what?"
"More like two," said the motorman. "I lay she'll be in Portsmouth afore I'm half-a-mile up road. Good-night, farmer, I'm off to the Three Waggoners."
"Bust if I don't go, too. There be summat to wet our whistles on to-night, eh, men?"
Before the farmer reached the hospitable door of the Three Waggoners, Smith had made his descent upon a broad open space in his father's park near Cosham. There stood the large shed in which he housed the aeroplane; adjoining it were a number of workshops. It was quite dark now, and no one was about; but Smith clearly had no intention of putting his machine up for the night. As soon as he came to the ground he hurried off on foot in one direction, Rodier on a bicycle in another, their purposeful movements betokening a course of action arranged during the few minutes' conversation at the farm.
Smith walked rapidly through the park, and, entering the house, found his mother placidly knitting on a settee in the large old-fashioned hall.
"Ah, my dear boy," she said, as he appeared; "how late you are, and how dirty! We have waited dinner for you."
"You shouldn't have done that, mother," he replied cheerfully; "though it's very good of you."
"Well, you see, it's your last night with us for ever so long, and with Tom and your father away—"
"Yes, I'm sorry I'm so late," Smith broke in hastily. "We were caught in a mist. I shan't be ten minutes changing."
He ran up the stairs, and before going to his room put his head in at the door of his sister's.
"You there, Kate? You didn't get my telegram, then? Come to my room in ten minutes, will you? I want to see you particularly before dinner."
With a seaman's quickness he was bathed and dressed within the time he had named.
"Come in," he said, as his sister tapped. "You've got a pretty cool head, Sis; look at this, quickly."
He handed her the evening paper, pointing out the fateful paragraph. Kate went a little pale as she read it; her bosom heaved, but she said nothing.
"It must be kept from Mother," he said. "Get hold of to-morrow's paper, and if the paragraph is there, cut it out or tear off the page."
"But people will write, or call. They are sure to speak of it."
"That's your chance. Intercept 'em. You always read the Mater's letters to her, don't you? Keep the servants' mouths shut. And I want you to write for me to all those people and cry off; pressing business—any excuse you like."
"But you, Charley?"
"I'm off to London, to-night; must see what can be done for the old dad, you know."
"How shall we explain to Mother? She has been looking forward to your spending your last night at home."
"Roddy will come up by and by with an urgent telephone message. The Mater is so used to that sort of thing that she won't smell a rat."
"How you think of everything, Charley! But I'm afraid Mother will notice something in our manner at dinner."
"Not if we're careful. You take your cue from me. Come along!"
No one would have guessed at that dinner table that anything was amiss. Smith seemed to be in the highest spirits, talking incessantly, describing his sudden descent on Firtop Farm and his interview with the farmer so racily that his mother laughed gently, and even Kate, for all her anxiety, smiled. In the middle of the meal the belated telegram arrived, giving Smith an opportunity for poking fun at official slowness.
Dinner was hardly over when a servant announced that Mr. Rodier was below, asking to see Mr. Smith upon particular business. Smith slowly lighted a cigarette before he left the room. He found Rodier in the hall.
"Got it, Roddy?" he asked.
"Yes, I ask for globe: Mr. Dawkins give me first a pink paper. 'Sad news this!' says he."
"I hope to goodness he'll hold his tongue about it."
"He must have it back to-morrow, he said. The inspector is coming."
"All right. Now cut off to the housekeeper and stroke as hard as you can. I don't know when you'll get another meal."
Returning to the dining-room, Smith said—
"Sorry, Mater, I've got to go to London at once. Too bad, isn't it, spoiling our last night. Ah well! it can't be helped."
"Is it Admiralty business, Charley?" asked his mother.
"Well, not exactly; something about a wreck, I think."
"I suppose I had better send on your things to the Leslies in the morning?"
"I'll send you a wire. I mayn't go there, after all. Nuisance having to change again, isn't it?"
He hastened from the room, got into his air-man suit, covered it with an overall, emptied his cash-box into his pocket, and returned to say good-bye. Kate accompanied him to the door.
"Buck up, old girl," he said, as he kissed her. "I'll let you know what happens, if I can. By the way, there's a globe in the shed I want you to send back to Dawkins, the school-master, first thing to-morrow. Good-bye! Send Roddy after me as soon as he has finished his grub."
He hurried through the park, and coming to the shed, switched on the electric light, which revealed a litter of all sorts of objects: models, parts of machinery, including an aero-cycle on which he had spent many fruitless hours, and, on a bench, a small geographical globe of the world. Taking up a piece of string, he made certain measurements on the globe, jotting down sundry names and rows of figures on a piece of paper. Then he went to a telephone box in a corner of the shed, and rang up a certain club in London, asking if Mr. William Barracombe was there. After the interval usual in trunk calls, he began—
"That you, Billy? Good! Thought I'd catch you. Can you give me an hour or two?... What?... No: not this time. No time for explanations just now.... Right!... Exactly: nothing ever surprises you." (A smile flickered on his face.) "Well, I want you to wire to Constantinople—Con-stant-i-no-ple—to some decent firm, and arrange for them to have eighty gallons of petrol and sixteen of lubricating oil ready first thing to-morrow.... Yes, to the order of Lieutenant Smith.... Also means of transport, motor if possible: if not, horses.—I say, Central, don't cut me off, please. Yes, I know my time's up: I'll renew.—You there, Billy? That all right?... No, that's not all. I want you to meet me on Epsom Downs about midnight.... Yes, coming by 'plane.... Wait a bit. Bring with you four bottles of bovril, couple of pounds meat lozenges, half-dozen tins sardines, bottle of brandy—yes, and soda, as you say; couple of pounds chocolate, two tins coffee and milk.... No: I say, hold on.... Also orographical maps—maps ... o-ro-graph-i-cal maps ... of Asia Minor, Southern Asia including India, Straits Settlements, Polynesia.... I don't know: Stanford's will be shut, but I must have 'em.... That's up to you. Bring 'em all down with you.... Well, you'd better light a bonfire, so that I can tell where you are. You'll manage it? Good man! See you about midnight then.... Yes: I saw it; bad business. Hope they'll manage to hold out.... Tell you when I see you. Goodbye!"
He replaced the receiver, and turned to find Rodier at his elbow.
"Now, Roddy," he said, "we've got two hours. Slip into it, man."
For the next two hours they worked with scarcely the exchange of a word, overhauling every part of the engine quickly, but with methodical care, cleaning, oiling, testing the exhaust and the carburettor, filling the petrol tank and the reservoir of lubricating oil, examining the turbines and the propeller—not a square inch of the machinery escaped their attention. When their task was finished they were as hot and dirty as engine-drivers. They washed at a sink, filled two stone jars with water and placed them in the cage, adjusted the wind screens, and then sat down to rest and talk over things before starting on their night journey. Smith pencilled some calculations on a piece of paper, referring more than once to the globe. Then taking a clean piece, he drew up a schedule which had some resemblance to a railway timetable.
"There! How does that strike you, Roddy?" he said, when he had finished it.
"It strikes me hot," said the Frenchman. "What I mean, it will be hot work. But that is what I like."
"So do I, so long as I can keep cool. At any rate we can start to the second. Are you ready?"
The sky was brilliant with stars when, just after midnight, they took their places in the aeroplane. Twenty-five minutes' easy run, east-north-east, brought them within sight of the dull red glare northward that betrayed London. Smith had so often made this journey that, even if the stars had been invisible, he could almost have directed his course by the lights of the villages and towns over which he passed. He knew them as well as a sailor knows the lights of the coast.
Just before half-past twelve, in a steep slope on his right, looming up black against the sky, he recognized Box Hill. Passing this at a moderate pace, which allowed them to take a good look-out, they saw in a minute or two a small red flame flickering in the midst of a dark expanse. Every second it grew larger as they approached; Smith did not doubt it was the bonfire which he had asked his friend Barracombe to kindle. Dropping to the ground within a few feet of the fire, which turned out to be of considerable dimensions, he found a motor-car standing near it, and Barracombe walking up and down.
"Well, old man," said Barracombe, as Smith alighted; "they call me a hustler, but you've hustled me this time. What in the world are you after?"
"Have you got the stuff?" returned Smith with the curtness of an old friend.
"Yes; chocolate, bovril, the whole boiling; but—"
"And the maps?"
"And the maps. A nice job I had to get them. All the shops were shut, of course. I stole 'em."
"Played the burglar?"
"No. I went to the Royal Societies' Club, and pinched them out of the library. Posted a cheque to pay for 'em, but there was nobody about and I couldn't stop for red tape."
"Well, you're a big enough man to do such things with impunity. That's why I 'phoned you: knew you'd do it somehow."
Although Barracombe was a potentate in the city, who controlled immense organizations, and held the threads of multifarious interests, he was very human at bottom, and Smith liked him all the better for the glow of self-satisfaction that shone upon his face at this tribute to his omnipotence.
"But now, what's it all mean, you beggar? Are you off to reorganize the Turkish navy or something?"
"I'm off to the Solomon Islands."
"That's it: going to have a shot at helping the poor old governor."
"But, my dear fellow, he'll either be relieved or done for long before you can get there. The paper said they were practically unarmed."
"Exactly. I'm going to pick up some rifles and ammunition at one of the Australian ports, and so help 'em to keep their end up until the gunboat reaches them. I'll probably get there a day before the boat."
"But do you know how far it is? It's thirteen thousand miles or more."
"I know. I'm going to have a try. I've got seven days to get there and back; then my leave's up. I can do it if the engine holds out, and if you'll help."
"My dear chap, you know I'll do anything I can, but—well, upon my soul, you take my breath away. I'm not often surprised, but—what are you grinning at?"
"At having knocked the wind out of your sails for once, old man. Seriously, we've thought it out, Roddy and I. We've more than once done a speed of a hundred and ninety. Of course it's a different matter to keep it up for days on end, but how long have you had your motor-car?"
"Three months. Why?"
"And how often has it broken down?"
"Not at all; but I haven't done thirteen thousand miles at a go."
"You've done more, with stoppages. Well, I shall have stoppages—just long enough to clean and take in petrol and oil, and that's where I want your help. I want you to arrange for eighty gallons of petrol and sixteen of oil, to be ready for me at three places besides Constantinople. Here's the list; Karachi, Penang, and Port Darwin. Could you cable me to the address in Constantinople the names of firms at those places?"
"Of course. I'll look 'em up the first thing in the morning."
"Too late. It must be done to-night. If all goes well I shall be in Constantinople soon after eight to-morrow—our time; and I must leave there in a couple of hours if I'm to stick to my programme."
"Very well. I'll look out some names as soon as I get back to town. You mean to keep me up all night. There you are, man; it's absurd; you can't drive night and day for seven days without sleep."
"Roddy and I shall have to take watch and watch."
"But suppose you're caught in a storm; suppose the engine breaks down when you're over the sea—"
"My dear chap, if we fall into the sea we shan't hurt ourselves so much as if it were land. I've got a couple of lifebuoys. If a storm comes on, too bad to sail through, we must come down and wait till it's over. Of course any accident may stop us, even a speck of grit in the engine; but you're the last man in the world to be put off a thing by any bogey of what-might-be, and I'm going to look at the bright side. It's time I was off, so I'll take the things you've brought—oh, I see Roddy has already shipped them, so I'll get aboard."
"Well, I wish you all the luck in the world. Send me a wire when you land, will you, so that I may know how you are getting on."
"If I have time. Good-bye, old man; many thanks."
They shook hands, and Smith was just about to jump into his seat when there came the sound of galloping horses, and the incessant clanging of a bell. Smith laughed.
"Your blaze has roused the Epsom Fire Brigade," he said with a chuckle.
"Well, I thought I'd better make a big one to make sure of you," replied Barracombe.
Smith waited with his hand on the lever until the fire-engine had dashed up.
"What the blazes!" cried the captain, as he leapt from his seat, looking from the motor-car to the aeroplane with mingled amazement and indignation.
"Good-bye, Billy," cried Smith; "I'll leave you to explain."
The propeller whirled round, the machine flew forwards, and in a few seconds was soaring with its booming hum into the air. Smith glanced down and saw the fireman facing Barracombe, his annoyance being evidently greater than his curiosity. He would have smiled if he could have heard Barracombe's explanation.
"W-w-why yes," he said, affecting a distressing stutter; "this kind of b-b-bonfire is a hobby of m-mine; it's about my only r-r-recreation. M-m-my name? Certainly. My name's William bub-bub-Barracombe, and you'll find me in, any day between t-ten and f-five, at 532 mum-mum-Mincing Lane."
ACROSS EUROPE TO THE BOSPHOROUS
It had just turned half-past twelve on Friday morning when Smith said good-bye to his friend William Barracombe on Epsom Downs. The sky was clear; the moon shone so brightly that by its light alone he could read the compass at his elbow, without the aid of the small electric lamp that hung above it. He set his course for the south-east, and flew with a light breeze at a speed of at least two hundred miles an hour.
His machine was a biplane, and represented the work and thought of years. Smith never minimized the part which Laurent Rodier had had in its construction; indeed, he was wont to say that without Rodier he would have been nowhere. Their acquaintance and comradeship had begun in the most accidental way. Two years before, Smith was taking part in an aeroplane race from Paris to London. On reaching the Channel, he found himself far ahead of all his competitors, except a Frenchman, who, to his chagrin, managed to keep a lead of almost a mile. Each carried a passenger. Not long after leaving the French coast, a cloud of smoke suddenly appeared in the wake of the Frenchman's aeroplane, and to Smith's alarm the machine in a few seconds dropped into the sea. Instantly he steered for the spot, and brought his own aeroplane to within a few feet of the water. To his surprise, he saw that part of the wreckage was floating, and a man, apparently only half conscious, was clinging to one of the stays. But for the engine having providentially become disconnected in the fall, the whole machine with its passengers must have sunk to the bottom.
Smith saw that it was impossible for him to rescue the man while he himself remained in his aeroplane, for the slightest touch upon the other would inevitably have submerged it. There was only one thing to do. Leaving the aeroplane to the charge of his friend, he dived into the sea, and rising beside the man, seized him at the moment when his hold was relaxing, and contrived to hold him up until a fast motor launch, which had witnessed the accident, came up and rescued them both.
The man proved to be the chauffeur of the aeroplane; his employer was drowned. Smith lost the race, but he gained what was infinitely more valuable to him, the gratitude and devotion of Laurent Rodier. Finding that the Frenchman was an expert mechanician, Smith took him into his employment. Rodier turned out to be of a singularly inventive turn of mind, and the two, putting their heads together, evolved after long experiment a type of engine that enabled them to double the speed of the aeroplane. These aerial vessels had already attained a maximum of a hundred miles an hour, for progress had been rapid since Paulhan's epoch-making flight from London to Manchester. To the younger generation the aeroplane was becoming what the motor-car had been to their elders. It was now a handier, more compact, and more easily managed machine than the earlier types, and the risk of breakdown was no greater than in the motor-car of the roads. The engine seldom failed, as it was wont to do in the first years of aviation. The principal danger that airmen had to fear was disaster from strong squalls, or from vertical or spiral currents of air due to some peculiarity in the confirmation of the land beneath them.
Smith's engine was a compound turbine, reciprocating engines having proved extravagant in fuel. There were both a high and a low pressure turbine on the same shaft, which also drove the dynamo for the searchlight and the lamp illuminating the compass, and for igniting the explosive mixture. By means of an eccentric, moreover, the shaft worked a pump for compressing the mixture of hot air and petrol before ignition, the air being heated by passing through jackets round the high-pressure turbines. The framework of the planes consisted of hollow rods made of an aluminum alloy of high tensile strength, and the canvas stretched over the frames was laced with wire of the same material. To stiffen the planes, a bracket was clamped at the axis, and thin wire stays were strung top and bottom, as the masts of a yacht are supported. The airman was in some degree protected from the wind by a strong talc screen, also wire-laced; by means of this, and a light radiator worked by a number of accumulators, he was enabled to resist the cold, which had been so great a drawback to the pioneers of airmanship.
In this aeroplane Smith and Rodier had made many a long expedition. They had found that the machine was capable of supporting a total weight of nearly 1,200 lbs., and since Smith turned the scale at eleven stone eight, and Rodier at ten stone, in their clothes, the total additional load they could carry was about 900 lbs. Eighty gallons of petrol weighed about 600 lbs. with the cans, and twenty gallons of lubricating oil about 160 lbs., so that there was a margin of nearly 150 lbs. for food, rifles, and anything else there might be occasion for carrying at any stage of the journey.
Smith was in charge of the aeroplane attached to his ship, the Admiralty having adopted the machine for scouting purposes. It was only recently that he had brought his own aeroplane to its present perfection, after laborious experiments in the workshops he established in the corner of his father's park, where he toiled incessantly whenever he could obtain leave, and where Rodier was constantly employed. His machine had just completed its trials, and he expected to realize a considerable sum by his improvements. Of this he had agreed to give Rodier one half, and the Frenchman had further stipulated that the improvements should be offered also to the French Government. This being a matter of patriotism, Smith readily consented, remarking with a laugh that he would not be the first to break the entente cordiale.
Just as a voyage round the world was a dream until Drake accomplished it, so a flight round the world was the acme of every airman's ambition. It was the accident of his father's plight that crystallized in Smith's mind the desires held in suspension there. The act was sudden: the idea had been long cherished.
He had decided on his course after a careful examination of the globe borrowed from Mr. Dawkins, the village school-master. The most direct route from London to the Solomon Islands ran across Norway and Sweden, the White Sea, Northern Siberia, Manchuria, Korea and Japan, and thence to New Guinea. But since it traversed some of the most desolate regions of the earth, where the indispensable supplies of petrol and machine oil could not be secured, he had chosen a route through fairly large centres of population, along which at the necessary intervals he could ensure, by aid of the telegraph, that the fuel would be in readiness.
And now he was fairly off. Constantinople was to be the first place of call. He knew the orographical map of Europe as well as he knew his manual of navigation. It was advisable to avoid mountainous country as far as possible, for the necessity of rising to great heights, in order to cross even the lower spurs of the Alps, would involve loss of time, to say nothing of the cold, and the risk of accident in the darkness. Coming to the coast, in the neighbourhood of Dover, about half-an-hour after leaving Epsom, he steered for a point on the opposite shore of the Channel somewhere near the Franco-Belgian frontier. As an experienced airman he had long ceased to find the interest of novelty in the scenes below him. The lights of the Calais boat, and of vessels passing up and down the Channel, were almost unnoticed. On leaving the sea, he flew over a flat country until, on his right, he saw in the moonlight a dark mass which from dead reckoning he thought must be the Ardennes. The broad river he had just crossed, which gleamed like silver in the moonlight, was without doubt the Meuse, and that which he came to in about an hour must be the Moselle. At this point Rodier, who had been dozing, sat up and began to take an interest in things; afterwards he told Smith that they must have passed over the little village in which he was born, and he felt a sentimental regret that the flight was not by day, when he might have seen the red roof beneath which his mother still lived.
After another half-hour Smith began to feel the strain of remaining in one position, with all his faculties concentrated. The air was so calm, and the wind-screen so effective, that he suffered none of the numbing effects which the great speed might otherwise have induced; but it was no light task to keep his attention fixed at once on the engine, the map outspread before him, the compass, and the country below; and by the time he reached a still broader river, which could only be the Rhine, he was tired. As yet he had been flying for only three hours: could he live through seven days of it? He had once crossed America in the Canadian Pacific, and though he got eight hours' sleep every night, he felt an utter wreck at the end of the journey. To be sure, he was now in the fresh air instead of a stuffy railway carriage, and he was riding as smoothly as on a steamer, without the jar and jolt that made journeys by rail so fatiguing. Still, he thought it only good policy to pay heed to the first signs of strain, and so he slowed down until the noise of the engine had abated sufficiently for him to make his voice heard, and said:
"Roddy, you must take a turn. We're near the frontier between Baden and Alsace, I fancy. The Bavarian hills can't be far off. You had better rise a bit, and don't go too fast, or we may be knocking our noses before we know where we are."
"Right O, mister," replied the Frenchman. "You take forty winks, and eat some chocolate for what you call a nightcap."
"A good idea. I'd rise to about 4,500 feet, I think. Keep your eye on the aneroid."
They exchanged places. Smith ate two or three sticks of chocolate, took a good drink of water, and in five minutes was fast asleep. But his nap lasted no more than a couple of hours. It appeared to him that he never lost consciousness of his errand. When he opened his eyes the dawn was already stealing over the sky, and at the tremendous pace to which Rodier had put the engine the aeroplane seemed to rush into the sunlight. Far below, the earth was spread out like a patchwork, greens and whites and browns set in picturesque haphazard patterns; men moving like ants, and horses like locusts.
"Where are we?" he bawled in Rodier's ear.
The Frenchman put his finger on the map. Smith glanced at his watch; it was past five o'clock. They must be near the Servian frontier. That broad streak of blue must be the Danube. Another three hours should see them at Constantinople, the first stage of their journey. On they rushed, feeling chill in the morning air at the height of nearly five thousand feet. Lifting his binocular, Smith saw a railway train running in the same direction as themselves, and though from the line of smoke it was going at full speed, it appeared to be crawling like a worm, and was soon left far behind. Now they were in Bulgaria: those grey crinkly masses beyond must be the Balkans. Crossing the Dragoman Pass, they came into an upward current of air that set the machine rocking, and Smith for the first time felt a touch of nervousness lest it should break down and fall among these inhospitable crags. Rodier planed downwards, until they seemed to skim the crests. The air was calmer here: the aeroplane steadied; and when the mountains were left behind they came still lower, following the railway line.
Here was Philippopolis, with its citadel perched on a frowning rock. It seemed but a few minutes when Adrianople came into view, and but a few more when, descending to within five hundred feet of the ground, they raced over the plains of St. Stefano. Now Rodier checked the speed a little, and steering past the large monument erected to the memory of the Russians who fell in '78, came within sight of Constantinople. Smith was bewildered at the multitude of domes, minarets, and white roofs before him. It would soon be necessary to choose a landing-place, and Rodier planed upwards, so that he could scan the whole neighbourhood in one comprehensive glance.
"Slow down!" Smith shouted.
There was a large open space below him; it was the Hippodrome. He made a quick calculation of its length, and decided not to alight. A little farther on he came to the Ministry of War with its large square; but there a regiment of soldiers was drilling. Rodier steered a point to the north-west, and the aeroplane passed over the Galata bridge that spans the Golden Horn. The bridge was thronged with people, who, as they caught sight of the strange machine flying over their heads, stood and craned their necks, and the airmen heard their shouts of amazement. To the right they saw, beyond the hill of Pera, a stretch of low open country. Passing the second bridge over the Horn, they came to a broad green space just without the city. It was the old archery grounds of the Sultans.
"Dive, Roddy!" Smith cried.
Rodier jerked the lever back: the humming clatter of the engine ceased; and the aeroplane swooped down as gracefully as a bird, alighting gently on the green sward.
A FLYING VISIT
It was Friday morning. Groups of Turkish women, out for the day, hastily veiled their faces and ran away, shrieking, "Aman! Aman! oh dear! oh dear!" Swarms of children, clustering, like ants, about nougat-sellers, fled in terror, screaming that it was the devil's carriage, and the devil was in it. Two Greek teams playing at football stopped their game and gazed open-mouthed; young naval cadets at leapfrog rushed with shouts of excitement towards the aeroplane; and a crowd of Jewish factory girls (for all races and classes use this common playground), realizing with quick wit what it meant, flocked up with shrill cries: "C'est un aviateur: allons voir!" A grave old Turk mutters: "Another mad Englishman!" A Greek shouts: "Come on, Pericles, and have a look"; and suddenly, amid the babel of unknown tongues Smith hears an unmistakable English voice: "Oh, confound it all, Crawford, I'm in the ravine."
Peering through the crowd of inquisitive faces, Smith sees two golfers and hails them heartily. They elbow their way through, and Smith, who has not yet dared to leave the machine lest the mob should invade it and do it an injury, steps out and grasps the hand of a fellow Englishman.
"Well, I'm hanged!" cried the new-comer; "Charley Smith, of all men in the world."
"Hullo, Johnson!" said Smith, recognizing in the speaker a messmate of his middy days, now a naval officer in the Sultan's service; "I say, you can do something for me."
"I dare say I can," replied the other laughing, "but where do you spring from? I didn't know you were in these parts."
"Only arrived five minutes ago, from London."
"Not in that machine?"
"Yes, certainly. Eight hours' run; a record, isn't it? But I'm short of petrol. There's some ordered by wire from a man named Benzonana; can you put me in the way of getting it quickly?"
"Of course. Benzonana's a Jew, with stores at Kourshounlou Han. But there's no hurry. We'll get some one to look after your aeroplane, and you'll come back with me to the club: this sort of thing doesn't happen every day, old man. By Jove! Do you really mean to say you've got here in eight hours from London?"
"I left there at 12.35 this morning. Barracombe—you remember him—saw me off. But I'm sorry I can't come with you, Dick. I've only a couple of hours to spare, and must get the petrol at once."
"My dear chap, are you mad? You can't go on at once, after eight hours in the air. You'll crock up. Of course, if it's a wager—"
"It's a matter of life and death."
"Oh, in that case! But I'm afraid you won't get off in two hours. Things go slow in this country, and here's the first obstacle."
He pointed beyond the crowd, and Smith saw a troop of cavalry approaching at a hand-gallop. The throng of Turks, Jews, and Armenians, who had all this time been volubly discussing the wonderful devil machine, broke apart with shouts of "Yol ver! Yol ver!" (Make way!) The troop of horsemen clattered up, and Smith saw himself and his aeroplane surrounded by a cordon of soldiers.
The captain looked suspiciously from the two grimy travellers to the spick-and-span Englishmen in golfing costume. He said something in Turkish to his lieutenant.
"What does he say?" asked Smith in a whisper.
"He's telling the lieutenant they must draw up a proces-verbal. Don't lose your temper, old man; he talks of putting you under arrest as a Bulgarian spy. You'll have to be patient. I'll do what I can, but if they make a diplomatic incident of it you'll be kept here a week or more."
Johnson went up to the captain and addressed him politely in Turkish. The officer looked incredulous, and said something to his lieutenant, who trotted off across the field. In a few minutes Johnson returned to Smith, who was walking up and down in agitation. Rodier was fast asleep in the car of the aeroplane.
"I've given the captain the facts of the case," said Johnson, "and he does me the honour to disbelieve me. The lieutenant has gone off to the Ministry of War for instructions. Meanwhile, you are under arrest, and they won't let you quit this spot without authority. If you really mean that you must go at once——"
"I do indeed. The loss of an hour may ruin everything. My plan was to leave here at 10.30."
"But, my dear fellow, it's that now, and past."
Smith drew out his watch: it indicated 8.50. "London time," he said. "You're two hours in advance of it, aren't you?"
"Of course, we get used to our own time, here. But I was saying, if you must go, this is what I suggest. You can't appear, and it's as well, for you would certainly be delayed. I will go off to the Embassy and hustle a bit. If the wheels can be hurried, they shall be, I assure you. Then I'll go on to Benzonana, get your petrol, and come straight back. Meanwhile take my advice and have a sleep, like your man there. You look dead beat, and no wonder. Why, I suppose you've had no breakfast?"
"I've had something, but not bacon and eggs, certainly. I shall do very well. I will take your advice; sleep is better than food just now. When you see Benzonana, ask if he has any addresses for me: Barracombe was going to wire some from London. Many thanks, old man."
Johnson said a word or two to the captain, who nodded gravely as Smith flung himself down beside the aeroplane, and, resting his head on his arms, prepared to go to sleep.
The golfer knew the short cuts from the Ok Meidan to the city. He went at a fine swinging pace through the hamlet of Koulaksiz, down Cassim Pasha, up the steep hill through the cemetery, past the Pera Palace Hotel. At that point he jumped into a carriage, and commanded the driver to make all speed to the British Embassy. There he was lucky to find a friend of his on the staff of the Embassy, a man well versed in the customs and character of the Turks.
"The only thing to do," said the official, when Johnson had briefly explained the circumstances, "is to get an order from the Minister of War; but we shall have to hurry, as he may be attending a council, or a commission, or something of the sort. What is your friend's hurry?"
"I don't know. He says it's a matter of life or death."
"I should say death if he goes at such a preposterous speed. It must have been nearly two hundred miles an hour: the Brennan mono-rail is nothing to it. At any rate, it's rather a feather in our cap—this record, I mean, after so many have been made by the French and the Americans—and if he has more recording to do we mustn't let Oriental sluggishness stand in the way."
This conversation passed while they were making their way from an upper room of the Embassy to the street. There they jumped into an araba with a kavass on the box, dashed down Pera Street, past the banking quarter, over the Galata bridge, up the Sublime Porte Road and into the Bayazid Square, where they reached their destination. A crowd of servants was grouped about the Grand Entrance, and as Johnson and his friend Callard came up, the Turks flocked around them officiously, assuring them with one voice that the Minister was attending a commission. Callard took no notice of them, but passed on with Johnson into the central hall, where, sitting over a charcoal brazier, they found a group of attendants rolling cigarettes and discussing the merits of the city's new water supply. Among them Callard spotted an acquaintance, who rose and said politely, "Welcome, dragoman bey, seat yourself."
Callard knew very well the necessity, in Turkish administrations, of having a friend at court, and was aware, too, that where a high official failed, a servant might succeed. But he was too well acquainted with the customs of the country to attempt to hasten matters unduly. He began to discuss the weather; he compared the climate of his interlocutor's province with that of the city; he spoke of the approaching Bairam festivities. Then, apparently apropos of nothing, the man said, "I have been at the sheep-market to-day," a remark which Callard took as a broad hint for bakshish: the Turk wanted money to buy a fat sheep for the impending sacrifice. He produced two medjidies. The effect was magical. The two Englishmen were guided to the small chamber where the Minister's coat hung, where his coffee was prepared and his official attendants sat. From this room access could be had to him without the knowledge of the hundreds of people outside waiting for an audience: wives of exiled officers, officials without employment, mothers come to plead for erring sons who had been dismissed.
Introduced to the Minister's presence, Callard wasted no time. The case was put to him; Johnson, whom he knew by sight, vouched for the respectability and good faith of his old comrade; and the Minister, apologizing for his subordinate's excess of zeal, scribbled an order permitting Lieutenant Smith to pursue his business free of all restrictions by the military authorities.
"But," he said, "I have no power to give him exemption from Custom House control."
The Englishmen thanked him profusely, and with many salaams retired.
"We have succeeded better than I hoped," said Callard, as they passed out; "but we are still only half way, confound it! We shall have to hurry up if Smith is to get off in time. Arabadji," he cried to the coachman awaiting them at the door, "the Direction-General of the Custom House."
The driver whipped up his horse; they dashed down the Sublime Porte Hill, and drew up at the entrance to the Custom House.
"Is the Director-General here?" Callard asked of the doorkeeper.
"He is a little unwell, but the English adviser is here."
"We will see him," returned Callard; adding to Johnson, "We are in luck's way; the English adviser does his best to lessen the inconveniences of the Circumlocution Office."
They went up-stairs, and were met by an attendant who showed them into an unpretentious room, where an Englishman, wearing a fez, was seated at a table covered with papers and surrounded by a crowd of merchants and officials. Questions of infinite variety were being submitted to him.
"Excellence, are we to accept as samples two dozen left-hand gloves? This merchant brought two dozen right-hand gloves last week."
Then the merchant and the official began to wrangle. For some minutes Callard in vain tried to get a word in edgeways; then at last the Councillor, pushing back his fez with an air of weary patience, turned to the newcomers and asked their business. A few words sufficed; the Councillor rang a bell on the table, and when his secretary appeared, ordered him to make out a laissez-passer for Lieutenant Smith for all the Custom Houses of the Empire. This done, he turned once more to listen to the interminable dispute about the left-hand gloves.
"We are doing well," said Callard, as the two left the Custom House. "There's still nearly an hour to spare. Now for the petrol."
They drove across the Galata bridge to the district of Kourshounlou Han, and found that Benzonana had had the petrol ready at early morning, and, what was more, had it at that moment in a conveyance for transport. Johnson asked him if he had received any addresses from London, and the man handed him a folded paper. Then, asking him to send the petrol and some machine oil at once to the Ok Meidan, the two Englishmen reentered their carriage, dashed up the Maltese Street, past the Bank and the Economic Stores, up the Municipality Hill, and again down by a short cut to the Admiralty. It was an hour and a half since Johnson had set forth on his errand.
They found Smith and Rodier talking to the second golfer, boiling coffee in a little portable stove, and eating a kind of shortbread they had purchased of one of the simitdjis or itinerant vendors of that article who had been doing a roaring trade with the children, and even the elders, among the sightseers.
"Don't taste bad, spread with Bovril," said Smith, as Johnson and Callard alighted from their carriage.
The crowd had grown to immense proportions. Smith said they had been clamouring ever since Johnson had been gone, and he would rather like to know what they said.
"Probably discussing whether the Commander of the Faithful won't order you to be flung into the Bosphorus," said Callard.
The soldiers were still on guard round the aeroplane. Johnson approached the captain and showed him the Minister of War's order. Almost at the same moment an aide-de-camp came galloping up from the Minister himself to assure the officer that all was right.
"But don't go yet, captain," said Johnson anxiously. "My friend will require a clear space for starting his aeroplane, and without your men we shall never get the crowd back."
The officer agreed to wait until the Englishman departed, and Johnson returned to Smith to give him the paper he had received from Benzonana. Callard had already related their experiences at the Ministry of War and the Custom House.
"But what about the petrol?" asked Smith. "Time's getting on."
"He said he had it all ready to send. Ah! I guess this is it coming."
A way was parted through the crowd, and there came up with great rattling and creaking a heavy motor omnibus of the type that first appeared on the streets of London. It was crowded within and without with Turks young and old.
"Where did you get that old rattler?" asked Smith, laughing.
"Oh, several came out here a year or two ago; bought up cheap when the Commissioner of Police couldn't stand 'em any longer. They're always breaking down. No doubt your petrol is inside, and you may think yourself lucky it has got here."
The car came to a stand: the Turks on the roof retained their places; those within lugged out the cans of petrol and oil, and placed them in the aeroplane at Rodier's direction. Smith meanwhile was chatting with the Englishmen, fending off their questions as to his destination.
"I may send you a wire from my next stopping-place," he said. "That reminds me. Will you send a wire to Barracombe for me, Johnson? You know his address. And one to my sister at home. I promised I would let her know. Simply say 'All well.' Now can you get the captain to clear the course for me?"
The captain and his men took a long time over this business, and Smith longed for a few London policemen to show them how to do it. But the excited crowd was at length forced back so far as to allow a sufficient running-off space. Smith shook hands warmly with the Englishmen; with Rodier he took his place in the car; then at a jerk of the lever the aeroplane shot forward, and, amid cries of "Good luck!" from the Englishmen, clapping of hands and loud "Mashallahs!" from the excited mob, it rose gracefully into the air.
"Only five minutes late, mister," said Rodier. "All goes well."
THE TOMB OF UR-GUR
Charles Thesiger Smith was not one of the romantic, imaginative order of men. Even if he had been, the speed at which he travelled over the Bosphorus gave scant opportunity for observation of the scenes passing below. He had no eye for the tramps, laden with grain from Odessa, coming down from the Black Sea; for the vessels of ancient shape and build, such as the Argonauts might have sailed in when questing for the Golden Fleece; for the graceful caiques rowed by boatmen in zouaves of crimson and gold, in the sterns of which the flower of Circassian beauty in gossamer veils reclined on divans and carpets from the most famous looms of Persia and Bokhara. These visions touched him not: he was crossing into Asia Minor, a country of which he knew nothing, and his attention was divided between the country ahead and the map with which Barracombe had nefariously provided him.
The next stage of his journey, the first place where a fresh supply of petrol awaited him, was Karachi, in the north-west corner of India. It was distant about 2,500 miles. A gallon of petrol would carry him for forty-five miles, and his tank had a capacity of eighty gallons, so that with good luck he would not need to replenish it until he reached Karachi. Though he hoped that his own endurance and the engine's would stand the strain of the whole distance without stopping, he had chosen his course so that, if he felt the necessity of alighting for brief intervals, he might at least find pleasant country and amicable people.
His aim was to cross the Turkish provinces in Asia and strike the Persian Gulf, a slightly longer route than if he had gone through central Persia, but having the great advantage of affording a possible half-way house at Bagdad, Basra, or Bushire, in each of which towns he would almost certainly find Europeans. It had the further advantage that, when he had once sighted the Gulf, he would have no anxiety about the accuracy of his course, since by keeping generally to the coastline of Persia and Baluchistan he could not fail to arrive at Karachi. It was a great thing to be independent of nautical observations, for as he approached the shores of India it might be difficult to take his bearings by his instruments, this being the season of the monsoon.
When he left Constantinople his anemometer indicated a velocity of eighteen miles in the south-west wind, which, as he was steering south-east, was partly in his favour. One of the disabilities which he, in common with all airmen, suffered, was the impossibility of ascertaining the velocity of the wind when he was fairly afloat. He had to make allowance for it by sheer guesswork, unless he was prepared to slow down or even to alight. He had reckoned that, even with the slight assistance of the wind, he could hardly hope to reach the head of the Persian Gulf before six o'clock, which would be past nine by the sun; but he thought he might reasonably expect to reach the Euphrates before sunset; and since the map assured him that that river ran a fairly direct course to the Gulf, he might follow it without much difficulty if the night proved clear, and so assure himself that he was not going astray.
The country over which he was now flying was hilly, and he kept at a fairly high altitude. The map showed him that the great Taurus range lay between him and the eastern extremity of the Mediterranean. Within an hour and a half after leaving Constantinople he came in sight of its huge bleak masses stretching away to right and left, but still a hundred miles or more distant, although, on the right, spurs of the Cilician part of the range jutted out much nearer to him. On the right, too, he descried from his great height a broad and glittering expanse of water, which the map named Lake Beishehr. Making for the gap in the mountains near the Cilician coast he found himself passing over a comparatively low country, and soon afterwards descried the blue waters of the Mediterranean and the island of Cyprus rising out of it a hundred miles away.
Setting now a more easterly course, he passed over an ironbound coast, its perpendicular cliffs fringed with dwarf pines; and then over a large town which could be none other than Antioch. Half-an-hour more brought him within sight of another city, doubtless Aleppo. He still steered almost due east, though a point or two southward would be more direct, because he wished to avoid the Syrian desert; a breakdown in such a barren tract of country would mean a fatal delay. Soon afterwards he reached a broad full river, flowing rapidly between verdant banks.
"The Euphrates," he shouted to Rodier.
"Ah! I wish we had time for a swim," replied the man.
For some time Smith followed the general course of the river, avoiding the windings. Severely practical as he was, he could not pass through this seat of ancient civilizations without letting his mind run back over centuries of time, recalling the names of Sennacherib, Cyrus and Alexander; and how Cyrus had not shrunk from drying up the bed of this very river in his operations against Babylon. On the ground over which he now flew mighty armies had fought, kingdoms had been lost and won, four or five thousand years ago. The passage of so modern a thing as an aeroplane seemed almost a desecration of the spirit of antiquity, an insult to the genius loci.
Hitherto the weather and the conditions for flying had been perfect. The wind had dropped, the sun shone brilliantly, but its heat was tempered to the airmen by the very rapidity of their flight. At length, however, about two hours before sunset, Smith noticed a strange wobbling of the compass needle. It swung this way and that with rapid gyrations, its movements becoming more violent every moment. Suddenly the aeroplane reeled; the sky seemed to become black in one instant; there was a vivid flash of lightning, followed by a tremendous thunder-clap and a flood of rain.
Smith was desperately perturbed. He had run straight into an electric storm. It was hopeless to attempt to make headway against it; the strain upon the planes would certainly prove more than they could stand. He had already slackened speed and planed downwards, so as to be able to alight if he must, with the result that the machine became more subject to vertical eddies of the wind, that continually altered its elevation, now hurling it aloft, now plunging it as it were into an abyss. Once or twice he tried to rise above the storm, but abandoned the attempt when he saw how great an additional strain it placed upon the planes. It seemed safer to keep the engine going steadily and make no attempt to steer. He was no longer over the river, and the ground below was comparatively flat, presenting many a clear spot suitable for alighting; but with the wind blowing a hurricane a descent might well prove disastrous. The worst accidents he had suffered in the early days of his air-sailing had always happened near the ground, when there was no way on the machine to counteract the force of the wind.
All that he could do was to cling on and do his best by quick manipulation of the levers to keep the machine steady. After fifteen very uncomfortable and, indeed, alarming minutes, the violence of the wind abated, and the rain became intermittent, instead of pouring down in a constant flood. The compass was oscillating less jumpily, and it was now possible to see some distance ahead. Owing to the extraordinary behaviour of the compass, the baffling gusts of wind, and the necessity of keeping his whole attention fixed on the machinery, he had lost all idea of direction and even of time, and he began to be anxious lest darkness should overtake him before he had regained his course. But guessing that the area of the storm was of small extent, he hoped to run out of it, and increased his speed, expecting in a few minutes to discover the Euphrates again, when all would be well.
Unhappily, though the wind had dropped, the sky became blacker than ever, and another deluge of rain fell, so densely that at a distance of a few yards it seemed to be an opaque wall. Coming to the conclusion that he had better take shelter until he could at least see his way, he planed downwards, calling to Rodier to keep a sharp look-out for a landing place. Suddenly, in the midst of the downpour, a huge dark shape loomed up ahead, appearing to rise almost perpendicularly above the plain. For a few seconds it seemed to Smith that he was dashing into a solid wall of rock. Luckily he had checked the speed of the engine. He now stopped it altogether, but the aeroplane glided on by its impetus, and he felt, with a sinking of the heart, that nothing could save it.
All at once the mass in front seemed to open. Instinctively Smith touched his steering lever; the aeroplane glided into the fissure; in two or three seconds there was a bump and a jolt; it had come to a stop, and was resting on an apparently solid bottom.
Monsieur Alphonse Marie de Montause, a distinguished member of the Academy of Inscriptions, a pillar of the Societe d'Histoire diplomatique, and a foreign member of the Royal Society, had been for nearly a year engaged at Nimrud in the work nearest to his heart, the work of excavation. It was a labour of love for which he was very jealous. He believed it was his mission to reveal to an astonished world the long-buried secrets of ancient civilizations; he could not bear a rival near the throne of archaeological eminence; and in this exclusive attitude of mind he had undertaken this expedition without the companionship of a fellow-countryman, or even of any white man, devoting himself to his patient and laborious toil, assisted only by an Egyptian cook, a number of Arab labourers, and such natives of Babylonia as he had attracted to his service by the promise, faithfully kept, of good and regular pay.
His excavations had been, on the whole, disappointing. He had unearthed specimens of pottery and metal-work, tradesmen's tablets of accounts, seals, bas-reliefs, differing little from those which could be found in many a European museum; but he had not for many months lighted upon any unique object, such as would open a new page in the history of archaeological research, and make Europe ring with his name.
His money was nearly all expended; his permit from the Ottoman Government was on the point of expiring; he was sadly contemplating the necessity of leaving this barren field and returning to France; he had, indeed, already despatched a portion of his caravan to begin its long journey to the coast, remaining with a few men to finish the excavation of the tell—the mound covering the remains of a Babylonish city—on which he was engaged, in the hope of discovering something of value, even at the eleventh hour. He had almost completed it, and he could easily hurry after the slow-moving caravan, and overtake it in a day or two.
One Friday, to his great joy, he came across, in the wall of the tell, a large inscribed mass of brickwork, weighing, perhaps, half-a-ton, which, from the cursory inspection he was able to make of it in the semi-darkness, he believed might prove sufficiently valuable to compensate all the disappointments of the weary months. In his enthusiasm he had no more thought of his caravan, and though a terrific thunderstorm burst over the place just as his men were getting into position the rude derrick by means of which they would lower the masonry into the trench cut in the side of the tell, his ardour would suffer no intermission in the work. It is true that in the trench they were in some measure protected from the storm. The lashings had been fixed on the brickwork under his careful superintendence; the men were on the point of hauling on the ropes, when a thing of monstrous size and uncouth shape glided silently into the opening of the trench, and came to rest there.
Instantly the men gave a howl of terror, released the ropes, and took to their heels. Monsieur Alphonse Marie de Montause was left alone.
Remembering that he was an explorer, an enthusiast, and a Frenchman, the reader will hardly need to be told that Monsieur de Montause was beside himself with fury. The dropping of the ropes had caused the masonry to fall against one of the feet of the derrick, and it came down with a crash. But this was not the worst. In the semi-darkness, the nature of the intruder could not have been clear to Monsieur de Montause; but he heard a voice calling in some unknown tongue; some human being had dared to interlope upon his peculiar domain; and the wrathful explorer did only what might have been expected of him: he began to pour forth a torrent of very violent reproof and objurgation, to which the sober English tongue can do scant justice.
"Ah! scelerats!" he cried. "What do you mean? De quoi melez-vous? You are rogues: you are trespassers. Know you not that I—oui, moi qui vous parle—have alone the right of entry into this tell? Has not the administration of the French Republic arranged it? Allez-vous-en, allez-vous-en, coquins, scelerats!"
"Mais, monsieur—" began Rodier, stepping out of the car.
The sound of his own language only added fuel to Monsieur de Montause's wrath. Had some rival appeared on the scene at the very moment when he saw the crown of his long toil? Had some overeager competitor obtained a permit, come before his time, and arrived to enter upon the fruits of his predecessor's labours and rob him of half his glory? "Mais, monsieur," said Rodier, but the explorer fairly shrieked him to silence, approached him, smote one fist with the other, and hurled abuse at him with such incoherent volubility that Smith, whose French was pretty good, could not make out a word of it, and held on to the levers in helpless laughter.
"Mais, monsieur, je vous assure—" began Rodier again, when he thought he saw a chance; but the explorer shouted "Retirez-vous! J'insiste que vous vous en lliez, tout de suite, tout de suite!" And then he began over again, abuse, recrimination, expostulation, entreaty, pouring in full tide from his trembling lips. More than once Rodier tried to stem the flood, but finding that it only ran the faster, he resigned himself to listen in silence, and stood looking mournfully at his ireful fellow-countryman until he at length was forced to stop from sheer lack of breath.
"Mais, monsieur," Rodier's voice was very conciliatory—"I assure you that our visit is purely accidental. My friend and myself desire only too much to quit the scene. But you perceive, monsieur, that our aeroplane—"
"Ah, bah! aeroplane! What have I to do with aeroplanes? You interrupt my work, I say: the aeroplane is a thing of the present; I have to do only with the past; there were no aeroplanes in Babylonia. Once more I demand that you withdraw, you and your aeroplane, and leave me to pursue my work in tranquillity."
"Mais, monsieur, il s'agit precisement de ca! Withdraw: yes, certainly, at the quickest possible: but how? You perceive that our aeroplane is so placed that one cannot extricate it without assistance. If monsieur will be so good as to lend us his distinguished help, so that we may remove it from this hole—"
"Hole! Mille diables! It is a trench; a trench excavated with many pains in this tell. As for assistance, I give you none, none absolutely. You brought your aeroplane here without assistance: then remove it equally without assistance; immediately: already you waste too much time."
"Mais, monsieur, our mission is of life or death."
"N'importe, n'importe. I tell you I am quite unmoved. No interest is superior to that of science—the science of archaeology. I tell you I have just made a discovery of the highest importance. I have but a short time left; you, you and your ridiculous machine, have scared away my imbeciles of workmen; they will not return until you have gone away; the leg of my derrick is smashed; I demand, I beseech, I implore—"
"Pardon, monsieur," said Smith, coming forward, and courteously saluting the stout, spectacled little Frenchman, whom he could just see in the growing darkness. "We regret extremely having put you to this trouble and inconvenience, and I assure you that but for the storm we should never have dreamed of entering here, and interrupting the great work on which you are engaged."
Smith's quiet voice and slow, measured utterance made an instant impression. A man can hardly rave against a person who remains calm. Moreover, the Frenchman was mollified by the speaker's evident appreciation of the value of his work.
"Eh bien, monsieur?" he said courteously.
"I am a seaman, monsieur," proceeded Smith; "my friend here is an engineer, and between us I have no doubt that we can repair the leg of your derrick and assist you to place the masonry where you will. All that I would ask is that you in return will help us to remove our aeroplane from your trench into the open plain."
"Certainly, certainly; with much pleasure," said the Frenchman eagerly; "I will light my lantern, so that we may see what we are about."
Smith and Rodier stripped off their drenched coats, and by the light of Monsieur de Montause's lantern soon spliced up the broken leg of the derrick, set the contrivance in a stable position, and lowered the mass of brickwork to the spot the explorer pointed out. It was no sooner safely settled than Monsieur de Montause, oblivious of everything else, bent over it, and, holding one of the lanterns close to the inscription, began to pore over the fascinating hieroglyphics. Smith could not help smiling at the little man's enthusiasm: but it was necessary to remind him of his share of the compact.
"Ah, oui, oui," he said impatiently; "in a few moments. This is a magnificent discovery, monsieur; your aeroplane is completely uninteresting to me. This is nothing less than a portion of the tomb of Ur-Gur; see, the inscription: 'The tomb of Ur-Gur, the powerful champion, King of Ur, King of Shumer and Akkad, builder of the wall of Nippur to Bel, the king of the lands.' This was written nearly five thousand years ago; what is the aeroplane, a thing of yesterday, in comparison with this glorious relic of antiquity?"
"Precisely, monsieur; beside it the aeroplane sinks into insignificance; yet, as a man of honour—"
"Ah, oui!" cried the Frenchman, starting up. "Let us be quick, then; you take one end, I the other. You push, I pull; voila!"
"It is perhaps not so simple, monsieur," said Smith; "we must first see that there is no obstruction, and then if you could persuade some of your men to come back, we should be able to remove the aeroplane more quickly. I fear we could hardly do it alone."
Monsieur de Montause was so anxious to get rid of his visitors that he assented eagerly to this course. Four or five of the men, drawn back by the light of the lantern, were hovering at the end of the trench; the explorer hailed them, and assuring them that they would suffer no harm, persuaded, them to lend a hand. Rodier, meanwhile, had walked through the trench to see that the course was clear, and shoved aside with little ceremony some of the objects Monsieur de Montause had unearthed. With the aid of the Frenchman himself and his men the aeroplane was carefully dragged out into the open.