With Airship and Submarine, by Harry Collingwood.
This is the second book about the strange vessel, the "Flying Fish", that can travel on the surface of the waters, or below them, and that can rise in the air to a great height, and travel to great distances. All this is achieved by the fact that the vessel is made of the novel metal aethereum, which is lighter than air, and that the power is produced by another novel source. These two books place Collingwood among the very first authors to explore the science-fiction genre, which makes this book very important in the history of literature.
The other book about this vessel, "The Log of the Flying Fish", has several characters in common with this one, and some of their deeds, in particular the relations with various African chieftains, are continuations of the same adventures. However there are plenty of new episodes in this book.
The book dates from slightly after the Victorian era, though many of the episodes have a strongly Victorian flavour. Makes a brilliant audiobook, great fun to listen to.
WITH AIRSHIP AND SUBMARINE, BY HARRY COLLINGWOOD.
A LUCKY MEETING.
It was late afternoon, on a certain grey and dismal day, toward the latter part of February, that two men happened to encounter each other, after a long interval, upon the steps of the Migrants' Club.
The one—a tall, well-built, and exceedingly handsome man, with blond curly hair, and beard and moustache to match—was entering the building; while the other—a much shorter and stouter figure, with a cast of features which rendered his German origin unmistakable—was standing upon the top step, puffing at a cigar, as he leisurely drew on his gloves preparatory to his emergence upon the street.
As the two men glanced at each other the light of mutual recognition leaped into their eyes, and in a moment the right hand of each was locked in the cordial grip of the other.
"Ach, mine vriendt," exclaimed the shorter of the two, as he beamed up at the other through his gold-rimmed spectacles, "how are you? and how is her ladyship? Both quite well, I hope!"
"Thanks, Professor, yes; we are both as hale and hearty as we can possibly wish. But I am sorry to say that my little daughter—by the way, are you aware that I have a daughter?"
"Ach, yes; I heard of it; zomebody toldt me of it, but I vorget who it vas, now. Led me gongradulade you upon the zirgumstance, if it be nod doo lade."
"Thanks very much, Professor; congratulations upon such an event are never too late, especially when they are sincere, as I know yours to be. But condolence is more appropriate than congratulation just now, for I am sorry to say that the poor child is far from well; indeed, Lady Olivia and I are exceedingly anxious about her; so much so that we have brought her up to town to secure the opinion of a medical specialist upon her case, and he advises complete change of air and scene for her. And that is what brings me to the Migrants' to-day, where, by the greatest piece of good luck, I have found the very man—yourself, Professor—that I was most anxious to find."
"Good!" exclaimed the professor; "you wanted to vind me, and here I am, quide at your service, my dear Sir Reginald. Whad gan I do vor you?"
"A very great deal, if you will," answered the baronet,—"or rather, if you have nothing particular on your hands just now, I ought to say; for I feel sure that, if you are not otherwise engaged, I may depend upon your falling in with my scheme, now that I have happily found you."
"Of gourse," replied the professor. "That goes midoudt zaying. Well, I am not engaged at bresend upon anydings bardigular, excepd the elaboration of a rather Utopian scheme for the benefit of mangind generally, and esbecially those unfordunate beobles who, in gonsequence of the over-bobulation of the gread zentres of indusdry, vind themselves unable to brogure embloymend and earn a living. Bud this scheme is only in my brain as yed,"—energetically pointing to his expansive forehead as he spoke—"and gan be worked oudt anywhere widoud obstruction to other projecds; so, my dear Sir Reginald, if you require my aid in any way you may gommand me. Berhaps we may be able to help each other."
"You are, of course, more than welcome to any aid that I can afford you," answered the "handsome baronet," as Sir Reginald Elphinstone's friends sometimes called him—behind his back, of course. "But where are you going?" he continued. "Anywhere in particular? If so, I will walk a little way with you. Or, if you are not bound upon the fulfilment of any engagement, let us go up into the smoking-room and have a chat there."
"I am not boundt anywhere in bardigular, and the smoking-room is quide empty, so led us go there, by all means," exclaimed the professor, as he linked his arm in that of his companion; and together the strongly contrasted pair wended their way through the handsome entrance-hall of the building and up the spacious marble staircase to the cosiest smoking-room in all London.
The taller and more striking-looking of the two was Sir Reginald Elphinstone, a baronet, and an immensely wealthy man, with a magnificent estate in the heart of the most picturesque part of Devonshire, a lovely wife, and a most charming, lovable little daughter, now just five years old. The baronet himself had barely passed his fortieth year, and was a superb specimen of English manhood, standing full six feet two in his stockings, with a fine athletic figure, blue eyes that ordinarily beamed with kindliness and good-humour, but which could, upon occasion, flash withering scorn or scathing anger upon an offender, and curly golden hair, with beard and moustache to match, that made him look like a viking got up in the style of a twentieth-century English gentleman.
His companion, much shorter and stouter of figure, was Professor Heinrich von Schalckenberg, a German by birth, but a cosmopolitan by nature and by virtue of his own restless disposition, which would never permit him to settle down for very long in any one place, however attractive. He was a perfect marvel in the matter of learning, a most accomplished linguist, and an indefatigable delver in the lesser-known fields of science, wherein he was credited with having made discoveries of vast importance and value. If such was the case he was in no hurry to make his discoveries public property, chiefly, perhaps, because—as some of his more intimate friends suggested—they were of such a nature as rendered them capable of disastrous misuse in the hands of the evil-disposed, especially those enemies of society and the human race, the Anarchists. Be that as it may, it was undoubtedly the fact that he had discovered two hitherto unknown substances, the properties of which would render them of priceless value whenever he should see fit to make them known: the one being an unoxidisable metal of extraordinary strength and tenacity, yet of so little weight that it was the lightest known solid, to which he had given the name of aethereum; while the other was a new power, derivable from certain chemically prepared crystals which, treated in one way, yielded electricity in enormous volumes, while, powdered and treated with a certain acid, they evolved an expansive gas of stupendous potency, capable of being advantageously used in place of any of the known explosives, or of steam. And it was known to a few of the more intimate friends of the professor and of Sir Reginald, that the former had designed and constructed of his wonderful metal a marvellous ship, appropriately named the Flying Fish, capable not only of navigating the surface of the ocean, but also of diving to its extremest depth, and—more wonderful still—of soaring to hitherto unapproachable altitudes of the earth's atmosphere. And it was further known that in this extraordinary ship—constructed for and at the expense of Sir Reginald Elphinstone—the baronet, the professor, and two other daring spirits had already accomplished two voyages; on the first of which they had actually succeeded in penetrating to the North Pole; while, on the second, they had visited a hitherto unexplored region of the great African continent, discovering the site and ruins of ancient Ophir; and, of course, in both cases meeting with many astounding adventures.
Such were the two men who unexpectedly met on the steps of the Migrants' Club, and, after an interchange of greetings, made their way together to the smoking-room of that rather exclusive institution, whither the reader is now invited to follow them.
As we enter the apartment, unobserved, we note, with some astonishment, that it is evidently one of the largest rooms in the building; the reason being that the Migrants are, almost to a man, ardent devotees of the goddess Nicotina; and as it seemed probable that the smoking-room would be the most-used room in the building, they very wisely determined that it should also be one of the largest. Another peculiarity which we notice is that, with the exception of the space over the massive and elaborately carved black marble mantelpiece—which is occupied by an enormous mirror—the walls are almost entirely covered with pictures in oils, water-colours, crayons, photography, ay, and even in pencil; most of them bearing evidence in their execution that they are the productions of amateurs, although here and there the eye detects work strong enough to suggest the hand and eye of the veteran professional painter. But, although so much of the work is amateurish, it is nevertheless thoroughly good, no picture being permitted to be hung upon the walls until it has been subjected to the scrutiny, and received the approval, of a Hanging Committee of artistic members. Looking more closely at these pictures, we note that—with the exception of the photographs, which mostly portray scenery of an exceptionally grand or otherwise remarkable character—they all illustrate some singular incident or adventure. Here, for example, is a water-colour sketch of a rent and collapsed balloon falling to the earth from a height that must be appalling, if we are to accept as faithfully represented the neutral tones and dwarfed dimensions of the several features of the landscape that occupies the lower half of the picture. And next it we observe a very powerfully executed oil painting representing a schooner-yacht, with topmasts struck and all other top-hamper down on deck, hove-to under close-reefed storm-trysail and spitfire jib, in close proximity to an evidently disabled and sinking ocean steamer, over whose more than half-submerged hull the mountain seas are breaking with terrific violence, sweeping away boats, hencoops, deck-fittings, bulwarks, and even some of the unfortunate people, who are dimly seen through the torrents of driving spray and cataracts of pouring water clinging here and there to the stanchions and rigging: the fury of the gale in which the great ship is perishing is admirably conveyed in the height and shape of the huge olive-green seas, their crests torn off and swept away to leeward in horizontal showers of spindrift, and the black, menacing hue of the sky, across which tattered shreds of smoky-looking cloud are careering wildly. And next to this, again, is a large water-colour, admirably executed, representing a broad moon-lit river, concealed amid the tall reeds of which a man is portrayed, picking off the game as it comes down the opposite bank to drink, the character of the sportsman's "bag" being indicated by several prone shapes that, indistinctly as they are seen in the misty moonlight, yet admirably suggest the idea of slain rhinoceros, buffalo, lion, and giraffe. And so on, all round the walls, each picture in fact being a more or less truthful delineation of some specially thrilling adventure experienced by a member of the club.
The Professor and the baronet, having entered the smoking-room, which they found empty—as was quite usual at that hour of the day—selected two of the capacious and exceedingly inviting-looking armchairs that were scattered about the room; and, drawing them up to the fire—for the weather was very bleak and chilly—ensconced themselves therein, and settled themselves comfortably for a chat.
"Well, my dear Professor," began Sir Reginald, as he carefully selected a cigar from a handsome and capacious case that he drew from his pocket, "I need scarcely ask how you are, for you appear to be in superb condition; but where have you been, and what doing, since we parted— which is it, five or six years ago?"
"Rather over six years," answered the professor, in the strongly German-accented English which he prided himself upon being undistinguishable from the genuine British accent, but which it is not necessary to inflict further upon the reader. "Rather over six years. How time flies when a man is busy! Yet during those six years I have done scarcely anything. Would you believe it? Beyond the writing of my five-volume treatise on 'Ancient Ophir: Its Geographical Situation, and Story, as revealed in the Light of certain Recent Discoveries'; undergoing eighteen months' imprisonment in the fortress of Peter and Paul, in Saint Petersburg, as a suspected Nihilist; and a two years' fruitless exploration of central Mexico, I have done absolutely nothing!"
Sir Reginald laughed heartily. "Upon my word, Professor, you are insatiable," said he. "Why, the writing of your five-volume treatise— which, by the way, I have read with the keenest enjoyment—should, of itself, have found you ample occupation for those six years, one would have supposed. But, not content with this, you have experienced for eighteen months the manifold miseries of a Russian prison; and have topped off with two years of wandering in Mexico—with more thrilling adventures and hairbreadth escapes than you can count, I'll warrant—and still you are not satisfied!"
"Ah, my friend," answered the professor, "it is all very well for you, who have a lovely wife and a sweet little daughter, to laugh at me. But I am a bachelor; I have no wife, no daughter, no domestic ties of any sort to beguile my restless nature and render me content to settle down in the monotonous placidity of a home; I must always be occupied in some exciting pursuit, or I should go mad from very weariness and ennui; and since our memorable cruise in your Flying Fish, I have been unable to find anything exciting and adventurous enough to suit my taste. That cruise has spoilt me for everything else, and I am sometimes inclined to wish that I had never participated in it."
"Oh, but you must not feel like that," remonstrated Sir Reginald. "Why, my dear sir, you were the backbone, the life and soul of the cruise! Without you the whole thing would have been a dreary failure! Besides, I want you to join us in another."
"What!" exclaimed von Schalckenberg, springing to his feet excitedly, while his broad German visage fairly beamed with delight; "what! Another cruise in the Flying Fish! My dear sir, of course I will join you, with the greatest possible pleasure. But upon one condition," he added, more soberly, and after a moment's reflection. "I am at present engaged, as I told you a little while ago, upon the elaboration of a colonisation scheme for the relief of those who, although perfectly willing to work, find themselves unable to obtain employment in consequence of the present overcrowded condition of every conceivable avocation. I can see my way perfectly clearly up to a certain point; but there I find myself brought to a standstill for want of means—for I must tell you that although my colony, once fairly launched, would be self-supporting, the launching of it would be a terribly expensive operation. I therefore want money—or money's equivalent—as much as I can get; and there are enormous sources of wealth accessible to the Flying Fish, and to her alone; if, therefore, you will permit me to avail myself of such opportunities to acquire wealth as may present themselves during the progress of the cruise, I will join you with the utmost pleasure. But, if not, I must remain where I am, and endeavour to hatch out of my brain some other method of obtaining the means that I require."
"No need for that, my dear fellow," exclaimed Sir Reginald. "If you will but consent to become one of our party, you may make use of the Flying Fish exactly as if she were your own—with one reservation only, namely, that you do not take us to a cold climate. This cruise is projected especially with the object of restoring my daughter's health, and I am informed that pure air and a genial climate are absolutely necessary for this. But, keeping this in mind, you have my full permission to map out our route yourself if you please."
"By no means," answered the professor. "That would be the height of presumption on my part. The wishes and inclinations of all concerned must be fully considered in the decision of so important a question. But, of course, I shall be very happy to be allowed to offer suggestions, or to afford any information that I may happen to possess in relation to such localities as it may be proposed to visit. By the way, how many shall we be, and who are the other members of the party?"
"I have not yet decided," answered Sir Reginald. "But I should naturally prefer to have Lethbridge and Mildmay again, if I can find them and induce them to join us. Indeed, it was with the object of ascertaining whether I could learn any news of either of them and of yourself that I called here to-day."
"Well," said the German, "I can tell you something about them both, for I saw the colonel only a few days ago, here in town. I met him in the Park. He was looking very ill, and in reply to my inquiries I learned that he had been down with typhoid fever, and had only been up and out again about a week. He said that he was trying to brace himself up to go away somewhere for change of air, so I have no doubt that you will find him more than willing to fall in with any proposal you may make to him. As for Mildmay, I met a man here only yesterday who had seen him a few days ago at Cowes, on board his yacht, which I understood he had retained in commission all through the winter. But I also understood that he was now about to lay her up; and, if so, you will probably find him also disengaged. A letter addressed to him at the Royal Yacht Squadron Club House will no doubt find him."
"I will write to him forthwith," said Sir Reginald. "And, by the way, do you happen to know Lethbridge's address?"
"No, I do not," confessed the professor, apologetically; "but I dare say we can discover it by inquiring of the steward, here; and if he does not know it we shall perhaps be able to obtain it by inquiring at the Army and Navy, of which he is a member."
It proved unnecessary, however, to seek so far, for, upon inquiry of the steward of the Migrants', it was ascertained that Colonel Lethbridge had dropped in at that club every evening regularly for the last four or five days, and might be expected to put in an appearance there again on that evening, a few hours later. Sir Reginald therefore wrote two letters—one to the colonel, which he left in the hall letter-rack, and one to Captain Mildmay, which he posted—setting forth the particulars of his projected cruise, together with the information that von Schalckenberg had consented to make one of the party; and concluding with a cordial invitation to the individual addressed to join the expedition as a guest. This done, he invited the professor to dine with him that night and make the acquaintance of his little daughter, as well as to afford an opportunity for the full discussion of the details of the projected trip. On the following day, he journeyed down with his wife and child to their magnificent Devonshire home, Chudleigh Park.
THE FINAL PREPARATIONS.
Chudleigh Park was an estate of some fourteen hundred acres in extent, situate, as has already been mentioned, in the most picturesque part of Devon. It had been acquired by Sir Reginald Elphinstone about six years before, just prior to his marriage, the area at that time consisting chiefly of moorland, of so hilly and broken a character that it could scarcely be cultivated profitably, although for Sir Reginald's purpose it was everything that could possibly be desired. Having secured the land, a site was chosen on a sheltered hillside, overlooking a long stretch of beautiful valley, through which a fine trout stream picturesquely meandered; and here, under the superintendence of an eminent architect, a charming mansion, fitted with every luxury and convenience of modern life, was erected, the entire estate being meanwhile laid out to the best advantage by a skilled landscape gardener, who, with the aid of quite an army of underlings, eventually so completely changed the aspect of the locality that it became one of the most lovely and picturesque little bits of landscape to be found within the confines of the British Isles.
It was about a month after the date of the meeting of Sir Reginald and the professor, recorded in the preceding chapter, that, late in the afternoon, the baronet, with his wife and their little daughter, descended the short flight of broad steps that gave access to the chief entrance of their stately mansion, built in the Elizabethan style of architecture, and began to saunter slowly to and fro along the spacious terrace that graced the front of the building, the weather happening to be of that delightfully mild and genial character which occasionally in our capricious British climate renders the early spring the most charming period of the year.
From the frequent glances cast by the trio along the valley—through which a splendid carriage-drive wound its way beside the brawling stream—one might have guessed that they were expecting the arrival of visitors. And indeed shortly afterwards two vehicles appeared round the shoulder of a hill far down the valley, which, as they rapidly approached, resolved themselves into a smart dog-cart drawn by a tandem team of thoroughbred bays and driven by an upright soldier-like figure in a tweed travelling suit, with a groom occupying the back seat, and an equally smart game-cart loaded with baggage.
"Here they come!" exclaimed Sir Reginald, as, turning in their walk, the trio first caught sight of the rapidly approaching vehicle. "At least, here comes one of them," he corrected himself, "and that one undoubtedly Lethbridge; there is no mistaking that figure for any other than that of a soldier! But where is Mildmay, I wonder? I hope no hitch has occurred in the arrangements!"
"I sincerely hope not," agreed Lady Olivia—a lovely brunette, with a rather tall, superbly moulded figure that yet looked petite beside her husband's lofty stature. "I shall be supremely sorry if, after all, Captain Mildmay finds himself unable to join us."
"Yes," assented the baronet. "But I do not anticipate anything quite so unfortunate as that. My worst fears point to nothing more serious than a certain amount of delay. However, we shall soon know; for I dare say Lethbridge will be able to tell us something about him."
A few minutes later the dog-cart came rattling up the gentle slope of the winding drive, and pulled up at the foot of the broad flight of stone steps that led up to the terrace. The groom dropped lightly to the ground, and ran nimbly to the leader's head. The tall, soldierly-looking figure divested himself of the rug that covered his knees, and, alighting from the vehicle, made his way slowly up the steps, at the top of which his host and hostess awaited him.
The newcomer was Cyril Lethbridge, late a colonel in the Royal Engineers, but now retired from the service. He had been a successful gold-seeker in his time, a mighty hunter, a daring explorer—in short, an adventurer, in the highest and least generally accepted form of the term. He had also been one of the quartette of adventurous spirits who formed the working crew of the Flying Fish in her first two extraordinary cruises, and was therefore an old and staunch comrade of Sir Reginald Elphinstone, and an equally staunch, though more recent, friend of Lady Elphinstone, whose acquaintance he had first made some six years before under startling and extraordinary circumstances. He was a man in the very prime of life; tall, and with a very fair share of good looks—although certainly not so handsome a man as his friend the baronet—upright as a dart, and, when in his normal state of health, singularly robust of frame; but now, as he slowly mounted the broad, yet easy, flight of steps, there was a perceptible languor of movement and a general gauntness of visage and figure that told an unmistakable tale of very recent illness. Nevertheless, his eye was bright, and his voice strong and cheery, as he returned the greetings of his friends on the terrace, and replied to their inquiries as to his comfort during the long journey from town.
"But where is Mildmay?" inquired Sir Reginald at length, as the party turned to enter the house. "How is it that he is not with you?"
"He is with von Schalckenberg," answered the colonel. "When we met last night at the Migrants', to make our final arrangements for to-day, we came to the conclusion that for the professor to go alone in search of the Flying Fish would entail upon him a great deal of unnecessary trouble and labour—although von Schalckenberg himself would not admit it—and therefore Mildmay determined to accompany him. So they arranged to meet at Waterloo this morning, and to run down to Portsmouth by the eleven fifteen, which is a fast train, you know; and I have no doubt that they are at this moment engaged in getting the bearings of the Flying Fish, in readiness to descend to her as soon as the darkness has set in sufficiently to conceal their movements from too curious eyes. And if the staunch old craft is in the perfect condition that von Schalckenberg anticipates, we shall probably have them with us by ten o'clock or thereabouts."
"Ah!" exclaimed Lady Olivia, "that is just the point about which I cannot help feeling apprehensive. Do you think, Colonel, that it will be quite safe to trust ourselves to a ship that has been lying all these years neglected and uncared for at the bottom of the English Channel?"
The colonel shrugged his shoulders.
"Why not?" he demanded with a smile. "No possible harm could happen to her, so far as I can see, beyond the penetration of a certain amount of dampness into her interior. But even that the professor will not admit. He insists that all the openings in the vessel's hull were so carefully made and accurately fitted as to be absolutely impervious to damp, much less to any more serious influx of moisture. And, as to her machinery, the good man declares that, with the precautions that he took for its preservation when she went out of commission, it ought to remain in perfect working order for at least a hundred years."
"Well, we shall soon know, shall we not?" remarked the lady. "Meanwhile, Colonel, you must come and have a cup of tea before you go to your room. I remember your weakness for tea, you see; and a cup will refresh you after your journey."
Dinner at Chudleigh Hall that night was a very quiet, unostentatious function; for the numerous guests that were usually to be found beneath its hospitable roof had now gone their various ways, and Lady Olivia had, of course, at once ceased to issue further invitations as soon as the projected expedition had been finally determined upon. The party, therefore, consisted merely of Sir Reginald, Lady Olivia, and the colonel; and when Lady Olivia rose from the table the two men merely dallied over their wine long enough to smoke a cigar, and then rejoined her in the drawing-room.
It was then about half-past nine o'clock—time for Sir Reginald and the colonel to set out, if they wished to witness the arrival of the Flying Fish—and the baronet was altogether of too courteous and hospitable a nature to allow his expected friends to arrive at their destination, and make their way to the Hall unwelcomed. The two men, therefore, after swallowing their coffee, sallied forth into the park, and strolled off in the direction of the spot where it had been arranged that the ship should come to earth.
This was a level, open glade, some ten acres in extent, completely surrounded and hemmed in by noble forest trees, at a distance of about a mile from the house; it was the only part of the estate that had been fully wooded when it came into Sir Reginald's hands, and the trees were consequently full-grown, thus affording perfect concealment for the huge and marvellous fabric that was expected so shortly to make her appearance on the spot. A carriage-drive led through it; but Sir Reginald and his friend took a short cut through the quaintly arranged old English garden that lay at the back of the house.
Arrived at the glade, the two friends settled themselves comfortably upon a rustic seat, and chatted animatedly upon the prospects of their forthcoming adventure, as they waited the appearance of the Flying Fish. Nor had they to wait very long. They had scarcely been seated twenty minutes when Sir Reginald, who had kept his gaze fixed steadily skyward, exclaimed—
"Ah, there they are at last!"
And his companion, glancing in the direction indicated by the baronet, was just able to see, far up, as it seemed among the stars, a dim, misty shape that, even as he looked, grew rapidly in bulk and in distinctness of form as it descended from aloft, until it became an enormous cigar-shaped structure of such gigantic dimensions that it seemed doubtful whether there would be space enough in the glade to accommodate it. This appearance, however, was to a certain extent delusive, due no doubt to the semi-obscurity of the starlit night, for when at length it came to earth, lightly as a snowflake, it was seen that there was abundance of room for it.
The moment that it had fairly settled down, Sir Reginald and the colonel rose to their feet and sauntered toward it; but they were still several yards from it when suddenly two figures emerged from the deep obscurity under the flying ship's bottom, each carrying a small travelling bag. One figure, short and stout, was instantly recognisable as that of the genial Professor von Schalckenberg; while the other, taller, yet of a sturdy build and an easy swinging carriage, that bespoke the athlete and the sailor, was, with equal ease, identified as Captain Edward Mildmay, R.N.
The friends shook hands heartily, and the newcomers handed over their bags to George, the baronet's valet—who at that moment mysteriously appeared upon the scene—as Sir Reginald inquired—
"Well, gentlemen, how have you managed? and in what condition did you find the old ship after her long submersion at the bottom of the Hurd Deep?"
"Oh!" answered the professor, "we managed well enough. We reached Portsmouth at three o'clock, and found the boat all ready for us—that man, Sparshott, who has had the care of her, is a really good man, and a thoroughly discreet fellow—so we at once got on board and made our way very soberly out of Portsmouth harbour, not putting on the speed until we were well clear of all observation. We cut ourselves rather too fine, however, in the matter of time, not arriving at our destination until it was nearly dark; consequently we had some difficulty in finding our bearings, and at one moment I almost feared that we should have to defer our search until morning. But at length, just as we were seriously thinking of giving it up for the night, a lucky cast of the lead showed us to be immediately over the ship; so I at once donned my diving-dress, went down, turned on my electric light, and found myself within half a dozen fathoms of the Flying Fish. After that, everything was easy. I opened the trap-door in her bottom without the slightest difficulty, entered the chamber, expelled all the water, and passed into the diving-room, which I found absolutely dry. Then I divested myself of my diving-suit, entered the engine-room, and forthwith proceeded to charge the generator from the reserve stock of crystals which we had left on board. Everything was looking exactly as we left it six years ago; there was not a sign of damp discoverable anywhere; and the only objectionable thing noticeable was that the air in the hull smelt decidedly stale and offensive. However, I soon had vapour enough generated to start the dynamo, when I switched on the light in the pilot-house lantern, as a warning to Mildmay to get out of the way; after which I slowly ejected the water from the water chambers, and rose very gently to the surface. Then, throwing open the door of the pilot-house—and so letting some fresh air into the hull—I went out on deck to look for Mildmay, and immediately fell heavily to the deck, which I found completely covered with a thick growth of slippery sea-grass. Ach, my friends, I reproach myself that I did not think of and guard against that when we sank the Flying Fish to the bottom for her long rest, six years ago! But I am only human, you see, after all; I have not yet acquired the gift of thinking of everything. It is a trifle, however, and I will soon put it right to-morrow. Well, I found the trap-door in the deck, despite the sea-grass, opened it with some little difficulty, raised the davits into position, and dropped the tackles into the boat which Mildmay had by this time brought alongside, and in a few minutes we had that boat hoisted up and stowed away. By this time there was vapour enough in the generator to move the engines, so we created a partial vacuum, rising in the air to a height of about a thousand feet, after which we wended our way hither, finding the spot without difficulty, thanks to the light displayed in the tower of your house. And—here we are."
The next three days were devoted to the shipping and storing away of the enormous quantity of stores of all kinds which Sir Reginald had ordered for the voyage. This brought the time up to Saturday evening, it being about 6:30 p.m., when George, and the chef who was to have charge of the kitchen on board, reported that the last case had been conveyed on board the Flying Fish, and stowed away. There was, of course, no reason why a start should not now have been immediately effected; but, as the completion of the arrangements had brought them so very close to Sunday, Lady Olivia expressed a wish that the departure of the expedition should be deferred until the following Monday, in order that she might have an opportunity to attend one more service at the quiet little parish church close at hand. The wish, of course, had but to be expressed to meet the ready acquiescence of the other members of the party, and, accordingly, they all with one consent appeared at the church on Sunday morning; the afternoon being devoted to a final visit to, and inspection of, the Flying Fish, with the twofold object of making assurance doubly sure that nothing in the least likely to be wanted during the forthcoming expedition had been forgotten, and to afford Lady Elphinstone the opportunity to satisfy herself, before starting, that every arrangement for her comfort and convenience was complete.
The Flying Fish was still lying concealed in the spot where she had alighted four nights before; and it happened that, Lady Olivia having been too fully occupied to visit the ship until now, this was the first time that she had beheld the wonderful craft for fully six years. It was also only the second time—save on one memorable and never-to-be-forgotten occasion—that she had ever obtained an exterior view of the vessel, and, upon the first occasion referred to, the conditions had been such as to impress the appearance of the ship upon her ladyship's memory only very vaguely. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that upon emerging from the forest path into the open glade, and catching for the first time a full view of the vast proportions of the structure, her ladyship should stop short with an exclamation of astonishment at what she beheld.
THE FLYING FISH.
Towering high in the air, and almost filling the glade from end to end with her enormous length, was an object measuring no fewer than six hundred feet long, of cylindrical shape, sixty feet in diameter at her so-called "midship" section, and tapering away fore and aft by a series of finely curved lines, to the pointed extremities of the bow and stern. The bow portion of the structure was considerably longer and more sharply pointed than the after extremity, to which was attached, by a very ingeniously devised universal joint, in such a manner as to render a rudder unnecessary, a huge propeller having four tremendously broad sickle-shaped blades, the palms of which were so cunningly shaped and hollowed as to gather in and concentrate the air—or water, as the case might be—about the boss and powerfully project it thence in a direct line with the longitudinal axis of the ship. To give this cigar-shaped curvilinear hull perfect stability when resting upon the ground, it was fitted with a pair of deep and broad bilge-keels, one on either side of the ship, extending fore and aft for just a third of her length. These bilge-keels contained four grip-anchors—one at either extremity of each keel—by means of which the ship could, when necessary, be firmly secured to the ground, as she now was, in fact; and they also formed chambers for the reception of water-ballast, when such was required. Immediately over the "midship" section of the hull, and extending one hundred and fifty feet in either direction fore and aft from this point, placed upon the "back," so to speak, of the hull, was a superstructure shaped somewhat like the above-water portion of a double-ended Thames steamboat, with a deck, thirty feet in width at its broadest part, protected by an open railing in place of the usual bulwarks. And in the exact centre of this deck stood a two-storey pilot-house, the lower storey of which permitted ingress and egress between the promenade deck and the interior of the ship, while the upper storey—completely surrounded by large circular scuttles, or windows, which afforded an unobstructed view all round—constituted the navigating platform from which the ship was worked.
The whole of this enormous fabric, with the exception of the planking of the promenade deck, was built of the wonderful metal called aethereum, discovered by Professor von Schalckenberg, which, being unpainted, shone in the sunlight like burnished silver. There was only one exception to the rule which appeared to have forbidden the use of paint on the exterior of this wonderful ship, and that was in the case of the superstructure supporting the promenade deck and the pilot-house. This portion of the hull was painted a light, delicate, blue-grey tint, which was relieved by an ornamental scroll-work of gold and colours at each end of the ship enclosing the name Flying Fish on each bow and quarter, the whole connected by a massive gold cable moulding running fore and aft along the sheer strake of that portion of the ship. The painting and gilding had all been done when the ship was built, nearly seven years ago, and it had then been coated with a transparent, protective varnish of the professor's own concoction, which had proved so absolutely water-tight and imperishable that, although the Flying Fish had lain submerged at the bottom of the Hurd Deep for more than six years, the paint and gilding now looked as fresh and clean and brilliant as though it had been newly applied. It may be as well to mention here that all the interior decks, bulkheads, doors, staircases, machinery, and furniture of every kind, even to the boats, and the guns, firearms, and weapons of every description with which the ship was liberally provided, were, like her hull, constructed of aethereum, the most striking properties of which metal were its extraordinary lightness, toughness, hardness, strength, and its stubborn resistance to all tarnishing or oxidising influences.
There were two modes of ingress to the interior of the ship, one, as has already been mentioned, from the deck, by way of the pilot-house, and the other by way of a trap-door in the bottom of the ship, behind the starboard bilge-keel. This latter was used when it was desired to enter or leave the ship when she was resting upon the solid ground, either above or under water, and it was the means of entrance which the party used upon the present occasion. The professor, to whose genius was due the entire design of the wonderful ship, undertook, at Sir Reginald's request, to point out to Lady Elphinstone a few of the most remarkable characteristics of the structure; and accordingly, when her ladyship had exhausted her wonder at the enormous proportions of the Flying Fish, Herr von Schalckenberg conducted his hostess forward and into the space between the starboard bilge-keel and the bottom of the ship, where there was just sufficient room for a tall man to stand upright close to the inner face of the bilge-keel. At a certain point in the tunnel-like passage the professor came to a halt, and remarked—
"Now, Lady Olivia, kindly favour me with your attention. Although you cannot distinguish it, there is a trap-door here, giving ingress to the interior of the ship, and as it is possible that you may at some time or other wish to make use of it when none of us are at hand to help you, I should like to show you how the door is to be opened or closed. Now, in the first place, you will observe that there is a vertical and also a horizontal joint in the plating, meeting just here—it is the only junction of the kind in this passage-way, so you cannot possibly mistake it. Now, kindly take notice of these vertical and horizontal rows of rivet-heads, and especially of this particular rivet that is common to both rows. There is nothing whatever to distinguish it from the others, is there? No. But if you will place your finger upon it, thus, and push firmly to the left, thus, you will see what happens."
And, as the professor spoke, a section of the polished silver-like plating of the ship's bottom folded gently out until its outer edge rested upon the ground, forming a kind of sloping gangway, by means of which it was easy to enter the yawning aperture that now appeared in the ship's bottom.
"Supposing, however," continued the professor, "that you are leaving the ship, and wish to close the trap-door behind you, all that you have to do is to push the rivet back into its original position, and the mechanism operating the door at once responds, closing the flap, thus, and leaving no indication whatever of its existence. Now, Lady Olivia, let me see whether you can open the flap."
Thus invited, Lady Elphinstone laid her finger upon the rivet-head and gave it a vigorous push to the left, upon which the flap folded out as before, and von Schalckenberg, taking her ladyship's hand, led her with old-fashioned gallantry up the gangway, the others following.
As well as the party could discern in the obscurity, they now found themselves standing in an apartment some ten feet square by seven feet in height, with no other perceptible means of egress from it than the trap-door by which they had entered; but upon the professor stretching forth his arm and groping for a moment about the wall, the room became suddenly illumined by the radiance of an electric light set in a very thick and strong glass globe let into the ceiling, and it now became apparent that there was a door in the bulkhead opposite them as they entered.
"This small room," said the professor, "is known as the chamber of egress, because, as is quite obvious, it is from here that one leaves the ship for the outer world. But it has also another purpose besides the mere furnishing of access to the trap-door, as I will endeavour to explain to your ladyship. You are, of course, aware that one of the objects with which the Flying Fish was constructed was to enable her crew to explore the ocean depths, and to examine and, if necessary, operate upon the ocean's bed. Now, in order to leave the ship and walk out upon the sea floor, an aperture of some kind in the hull is clearly necessary, through which we may pass; and that aperture you see before you in the shape of the trap-door. But you will readily understand that, with the ship sunk to the bottom, the water will pour violently through that trap, if it is opened without the observance of proper precautions; and unless some special means are adopted to prevent such a catastrophe, the water will quickly invade and fill the entire hull. Hence this room. Its use, in actual practice, is this: having donned our diving-suits in the diving-room, we pass into this small chamber by means of the door of communication, which you see in that partition, close the door carefully behind us, and turn on this tap, which admits a small stream of water into the room from outside. The pressure of water being considerable, the room quickly fills; but the partition, with its water-tight door, effectually prevents the water from penetrating any farther into the hull of the ship—and we then throw open the trap-door, and walk forth on to the sea floor. Upon our return we close the trap-door behind us, thus, turn on this air tap, and immediately a stream of densely compressed air rushes into the chamber, expelling the water through this valve in the floor. And when the water is all out, we turn off the stream of compressed air, and open this valve, which allows the compressed air to pass into the habitable portion of the ship, quickly reducing the air-pressure in this room to what it is in the other habitable portion of the ship; then we open this door, and pass into the diving-room."
The professor then threw open the door and, with a profound bow, stood aside to allow Lady Elphinstone to pass through.
The room in which the party presently found themselves was an apartment about twenty feet square, one side of which was wholly occupied by four cupboards labelled respectively "Sir Reginald Elphinstone", "Colonel Lethbridge", "Captain Mildmay," and "Von Schalckenberg."
"This," explained the professor, "is the room wherein we shall equip ourselves for our submarine rambles; and," throwing open the door of one of the cupboards and disclosing certain articles neatly arranged upon hooks fastened to the walls, "here is a suit of the clothing and armour that we shall wear upon such occasions."
"Oh yes," responded Lady Olivia, "I remember having heard Sir Reginald speak of his 'diving-armour'; what a very handsome suit it is,"—as she touched and thoughtfully opened the folds of a surcoat of scale armour that looked as though made of silver; "but it seems a queer idea to don armour for the purpose of walking about at the bottom of the sea. Yet, what a man of foresight you must be, Professor! My husband has often told Ida the story of your terrible fight with the conger eels, the first time that the party ever sallied forth from the Flying Fish. You appear to have foreseen and provided against every possible danger."
"No, no!" exclaimed von Schalckenberg, laughingly disclaiming any such prescience; "I am not nearly as clever as that. For instance: the armour was not provided as a protection against the attacks of savage animals or fish, but for quite a different purpose."
"Indeed!" exclaimed her ladyship; "for what purpose, then, was it provided?"
"For the purpose of protecting the wearer against the enormous pressure of the water to which he would be subjected when moving about on the bed of the ocean at a great depth below the surface," answered the professor. "You must understand," he continued, "that water exerts a pressure upon everything immersed in it; and the deeper the water, the greater is the pressure upon the immersed body. So rapidly does this pressure increase, that divers attired in an ordinary diving-dress are only able to descend to a depth of about fifteen fathoms, or ninety feet; there are a few cases where this depth has been exceeded, but they are few and far between. Now I have always held the opinion that to descend into the sea to merely such a trifling depth as this, for the purpose of scientific investigation, is scarcely worth the trouble; so when Sir Reginald was good enough to furnish me with the means to materialise, as it were, in this ship, the fancies and longings that had haunted me, day and night, for years, I determined that it should not be my fault if we did not, all of us, completely eclipse all previous achievements in diving. The great difficulty that I had to contend with was the enormous water-pressure of which I had spoken. Could I but contrive to encase our bodies in some garment that would receive and successfully resist this terrible pressure, and yet be flexible enough to permit of free movement to the wearer, the problem would be solved. And these diving-suits are the outcome of my efforts; they sustain and resist to perfection, without permitting them to be transmitted to the body, the most severe pressures to which we have ever exposed them, while at the same time they afford complete protection in other respects to the wearers—as when, for example, we were attacked by the conger eels."
Lady Olivia thanked the professor for his explanation, and murmured an additional word or two of admiration for the wonderful armour; whereupon von Schalckenberg—perceiving perhaps that her ladyship's interest in what was really one of his masterpieces of ingenuity was not, after all, particularly keen—opened a door opposite the one by which they had entered the diving-room, disclosing a small vestibule from which sprang a spiral staircase made of the same beautiful white metal that was everywhere to be met with on board this marvellous ship.
Leading the way round past the foot of the staircase, the professor halted before a door inscribed with the words "Engine-Room." This door he threw open, and, as before, with a profound bow, motioned Lady Elphinstone to enter. The first emotion of those who entered this important compartment for the first time was invariably one of disappointment; for the room, although full of machinery, was small— disproportionately so, it appeared, compared with the bulk of the ship and the power required to drive it at the enormous speeds that had been indisputably attained by the Flying Fish. And this emotion was further increased by contemplation of the machinery by means of which these high speeds had been attained. The main engines, consisting of a set of three-cylinder compound engines, constructed throughout of polished aethereum, and consequently presenting an exceedingly handsome appearance, suggested rather the idea of an exquisite large-sized model in silver than anything else, the set occupying very little more space than those of one of the larger Thames river steamers. But the impression of diminutiveness and inadequacy of power merged into one of astonishment nearly approaching incredulity when the professor casually mentioned that the vapour by which the engines were driven entered the high-pressure cylinder at the astounding pressure of five thousand pounds to the square inch, and that, although the engines themselves made only fifty revolutions per minute, the main shaft, to which the propeller was attached, made, by means of speed-multiplying gear, no fewer than one thousand revolutions per minute in air of ordinary atmospheric pressure!
From the engine-room the professor led the way up the spiral staircase for a considerable distance, passing landings here and there, with doors in the bulkheads, giving access, as von Schalckenberg explained, to the several decks of the vessel. Arrived at length at the top of the spiral staircase, the party found themselves in a spacious vestibule extending the whole width of the ship, and lighted on each side by a large, circular port. The vestibule floor was covered—with the exception of a margin about three feet wide all round—with a magnificent carpet, the margin of floor beyond the edge of the carpet being occupied by a number of beautiful flowering plants and shrubs in spacious and ornamental pots and boxes. From the centre of the vestibule floor sprang the grand staircase—a magnificent example of sculptured aethereum—leading to the pilot-house and promenade deck above; and immediately opposite the foot of the staircase, forming, in fact, one side of the vestibule, was a bulkhead of aethereum decorated with a series of Corinthian pilasters surmounted by a noble cornice, from which sprang the coved ceiling of the apartment. The panels formed by the pilaster were enriched with elegant mouldings of scroll-work and painted in creamy white picked out with gold. Two of the panels were occupied by massive, handsomely mounted doors of frosted aethereum, the panels of which were decorated with fanciful scroll-work of the polished metal, imparting a very rich and handsome effect. These doors, the professor reminded Lady Olivia, gave admission to the dining and drawing-rooms.
Behind the grand staircase was another bulkhead, similar to the one already described, but having one door only—and that in its centre— instead of two, as in the case of the other bulkhead. This single door gave access to a long corridor, on either side of which were to be found the staterooms, or sleeping apartments, the bathrooms, and the domestic offices generally of the ship. Lady Elphinstone was tolerably familiar with this part of the ship already; and as she wished to peep into the room which she and her husband were to occupy, she now took the lead and, opening the door leading into the corridor, passed through it, while the men turned in the other direction and entered the dining-room.
Passing along the corridor, Lady Elphinstone presently reached the stateroom which she was desirous to inspect, and, turning the handle of the door, entered. The room in which she now found herself was an apartment about twenty feet square, lighted at one end by two very large circular ports, or scuttles, let into the side of the ship, affording ample illumination during the daytime, while the hours of darkness were provided for by half a dozen electric lights disposed about the cabin, mounted on handsome aethereum brackets, and furnished with opal shades, shaped and tinted to represent flowers. The bulkheads were of frosted aethereum, divided up into panels by fluted Corinthian pilasters of the same metal, supporting a massive cornice and a coved ceiling, the wall panels being enriched with graceful designs in polished aethereum surrounding choice paintings in water-colour, while the ceiling was painted to represent a cloud-dappled sky, with cupids flitting hither and thither among the clouds. Handsome wardrobes, chests of drawers, wash-stands, toilet tables, couches, and chairs of most exquisite workmanship in frosted aethereum, upholstered in richest silk and velvet, were conveniently grouped about the apartment; and in the centre, automatically balanced on gimbals, hung a spacious and beautifully carved and chiselled bedstead of aethereum, upon which the occupant would find luxurious repose. The deck, or floor, of the apartment was covered with a thick, rich Turkey carpet, the colouring of which matched the upholstery of the furniture; and the ports were draped with costly silk and lace curtains of the finest texture, to soften or exclude the light when desired.
Finding everything here to her liking, her ladyship joined the rest of the party in the dining-room, and intimated that her inspection of the ship was ended, whereupon the spiral staircase was descended, and in a few minutes the little group once more found themselves outside the ship and wending their way back to the house.
A MAIDEN IN DISTRESS.
As the party passed in through the principal entrance of the stately building, laughing and chatting animatedly together upon the possibilities of the forthcoming expedition, a footman came forward and announced that a young lady, who most urgently desired to see Professor von Schalckenberg, had been waiting for fully an hour in the library, to which apartment she had been conducted.
The professor looked momentarily surprised and disconcerted by this intelligence; but, quickly recovering himself, and excusing himself to Lady Olivia, he hurried away to the library, to see who this unexpected visitor might be.
Entering the apartment, von Schalckenberg at once found himself confronted with a singularly handsome young woman, closely veiled, and quietly but richly attired, who, throwing back her veil and stretching forth both hands in eager, joyous greeting, exclaimed in Russian—
"At last, Professor, at last I have found you, thank God!"
"What?" stammered the professor, as he gazed in astonishment at his lovely visitor, holding both her hands in his meanwhile. "Can it be possible that this is my dear little friend Feodorovna Sziszkinski? Ach! yes, it must be; there can be no mistaking that charming face!" And he forthwith kissed his fair visitor on both cheeks, in true continental fashion. "Welcome, my dear child, welcome a thousand times to England," continued the professor, beaming benignantly at his visitor through his spectacles. "And how is your father and my dear friend, the colonel?"
"Ah, Professor, would that I knew!" answered the girl, as tears sprang to her eyes. "I fear the worst for him. I am in bitter trouble about him; and it is on that account that I have sought you. My father had a foreboding that trouble was in store for us, and only a few weeks ago he said to me, 'Child, if anything should happen to me, and you are plunged into trouble or difficulty, seek out our dear friend, von Schalckenberg. He will help you, if any man can.'"
"Of course, of course," answered the professor, beaming more benevolently still, if that were possible, upon his visitor. "Your father and I are old, staunch, and tried friends; and he does me no more than justice in feeling that he, or his daughter, may absolutely rely upon me to do gladly the utmost in my power for either of them. Now, sit down, little Feodorovna, and tell me all about it."
The girl, with a sigh of relief and renewed hope, sank into the chair that the professor placed for her, and began by asking—
"Did you ever, while in Saint Petersburg or elsewhere, meet a certain Count Vasilovich, Professor?"
"Often, my dear; much more often, indeed, than I at all desired," answered the professor.
"He is a bad man, Feodorovna; a thorough-going scoundrel, without a single redeeming trait. Has he anything to do with your trouble?"
"Alas, yes! he has everything to do with it, dear friend," answered Feodorovna. "It was my misfortune to meet him last winter at a ball at the Imperial Palace, and from that moment he began persistently to press his odious attentions upon me. My dear father saw, with the utmost alarm, the unfortunate turn that affairs had taken, and warned me against the count. Not that any warning was necessary, for I seemed so clearly to divine the nature and character of the man at a glance, that nothing would have induced me to afford him the slightest encouragement.
"For a time the count contented himself with following me everywhere, and making violent love to me upon every possible occasion; but at length, about two months ago, finding that his attentions were so clearly distasteful to me that there was no prospect whatever of his suit being successful, he began to threaten—vague, covert threats at first, but afterwards so outspoken that I felt I must fly from Saint Petersburg, and seek safety in concealment. I spoke to my dear father about it, and he—distressed as he was at the prospect of being compelled to part with me—agreed that my only hope of safety lay in flight; and twenty-four hours later I was, as I hoped, safe in the house of a friend at Boroviezi. But on the day following my arrival at this refuge, one of my father's servants, named Petrovich, appeared with the information that on the night of my flight from Saint Petersburg, a domiciliary visit had been paid by the police to our house, and my father had been dragged off to the fortress prison of Peter and Paul, and that search was everywhere being made for me.
"I had not the least doubt that this was the work of Count Vasilovich; but, feeling myself to be quite safe where I was, and knowing the count's power and influence at the palace, my whole anxiety was on my father's account, for Vasilovich is not only unscrupulous, he is mercilessly vindictive, and I feared that, finding himself baulked in his desire to get me into his power, he would wreak his vengeance on my father. And, oh, Professor, my fears proved to be but too well founded; for, five days later, Petrovich appeared again with the information that my father had been convicted of high treason, and was even then being hurried away south to Odessa, at which port he was to be placed, with a large number of other unfortunates, on board a convict-ship for transportation to Sakhalien.
"Oh, my friend, I cannot describe to you the depth of my despair at this intelligence, which I soon learned was only too true. In my desperation I would have returned to Saint Petersburg, sought out the count, and consented to marry him upon condition of his saving my dear father. But my friends denounced such a scheme as utter madness, and would not hear of it; they asserted that the count, having gone to such extremes, would not now be at all likely to undo his own work—even if that were possible—and that if I were so imprudent as to enter into negotiations with him, he would soon find the means to get me into his power and at his mercy; while, my father having been convicted of high treason, the whole of his property would certainly be confiscated, and what I had always regarded as the count's chief reason for desiring to marry me— namely, the command of the wealth which I should inherit from my father—would no longer exist.
"These arguments prevailed with me, and I abandoned the mad idea of appealing to Vasilovich; but I was in despair for my dear father, until in a happy moment I remembered the words that he had spoken to me about you only a short time before this dreadful misfortune befell us; then I felt that, if I could but find you, something might yet be done. I spoke to my friends about it, and they approved of my proposal to seek you. But when I mentioned that it would be necessary for me to come to England in search of you, another difficulty arose. Count Vasilovich had no doubt already anticipated and provided against the possibility that I might endeavour to leave Russia; and to make the attempt openly would but too surely result in my falling into his power. But my friends were very, very kind to me; they were determined that I should escape, and at length they were fortunate enough to find a lady who was about to travel from Saint Petersburg to London, and who consented to bring me with her as her maid. In this way all difficulties were overcome; and yesterday I arrived safely in London, and at once went to the address that my father had given me when he spoke of the possibility of your being able to help me, should trouble come upon us. I had some difficulty in finding the place—being a stranger in London—and when I did so it was only to learn that you had last been heard of as being here; so I determined to follow you at once, taking the midnight train from London, and staying in the village only long enough to get some lunch—of which I stood sadly in need—before driving over here. And, thank God, I have been fortunate enough to find you!"
"Ah, thank God, indeed, my dear child," echoed the professor, "for I assure you it is only by a combination of the most trifling circumstances that I did not leave here yesterday; in which case further pursuit of me would have been equally useless and impossible. But never mind that, now; 'all is well that ends well,' as they say here in England; you have found me, and that is enough for the present. Now, tell me, are you absolutely certain of the accuracy of Petrovich's information as to your father being en route for Sakhalien?"
"Oh yes," answered Feodorovna; "there is, unfortunately, no room for doubt as to that. The son of one of the under-gaolers at Peter and Paul happen to be affianced to Petrovich's sister, and it was through this man that Petrovich obtained the information."
"Just so," assented the professor. "And in any case," he added, "I suppose Vasilovich would be certain to possess full and perfectly accurate information as to the whereabouts and ultimate destination of your father?"
"Oh yes," answered Feodorovna, "he would be sure to know everything. But I do not see how that fact is to help us; because, you see, dear friend, we have no power to compel him to reveal what he knows."
"Have we not?" retorted the professor, good-humouredly. "Ah, well, we shall see; we shall see! Meanwhile, patience and courage, little one; I think I can already see my way to the bringing of this business to a satisfactory conclusion. And now, come with me, and let me introduce you to a very dear and gentle lady friend of mine; and, later, to three men friends—who will not only listen to your story with the most sympathetic interest, but will also—unless I am vastly mistaken—assist me to right effectually the wrong that has been done to your father and my friend, Colonel Sziszkinski."
So saying, the professor conducted his young Russian friend to Lady Elphinstone's boudoir, where, having craved permission to enter, he forthwith introduced his protegee to his hostess, and briefly recapitulated the story of wrong to which he had so recently listened. Lady Olivia listened with deep sympathy to the story, and at its conclusion, said—
"Of course, my dear Professor, there can be no question as to what you ought to do; if you really have the power to help your friend, this poor girl's father, in his present terrible situation, you must go to his assistance, regardless of everything else, and we must manage as best we can without you. We shall heartily wish you the most complete success in your arduous undertaking, but we shall miss you dreadfully; and your absence will be a terrible disappointment to us all."
"Ah, dear lady, you will completely spoil me if you talk like that," protested the professor. "But," he continued, "as to my leaving you, I do not contemplate any such step; indeed, it is only by remaining with you, and by virtue of the assistance of your good husband and the others, that I hope to be of any real assistance to my friend. My idea is this. If you all consent, we will, in the first place, go to Saint Petersburg in the Flying Fish, seize Count Vasilovich—I know his chateau well, and I already have a plan whereby we can obtain possession of his person without any one being the wiser—and compel him to disclose everything that he knows respecting the colonel. Then, armed with this information, we can easily follow and overtake the convict-ship, rescue my friend from his gaolers, give them Vasilovich in his place, and—voila tout!"
"That seems simple enough, so far as my limited understanding of such matters will permit me to judge, and I have not the least doubt that, when you have laid the facts before Sir Reginald and the other members of the party, they will one and all help you to the utmost extent of their ability," answered Lady Olivia. "Meanwhile, my dear child," she continued, turning to Feodorovna, "since we seem to be about to attempt the rescue of your unhappy father, you must do us the favour to become our guest on board the Flying Fish during the progress of the adventure. You will naturally be anxious to know what is happening, and you can only possess that knowledge by becoming one of our party. Did you bring any baggage with you from London?"
"I brought a small portmanteau, so that I might be prepared for any emergency; but I left it at the village inn," answered Feodorovna, hesitatingly.
"Very well," said Lady Olivia, "then you had better send for it at once. The fly that brought you over is still waiting, I see; so you can give the driver a note to Collins, the landlord, informing him that you are staying here, and asking him to send over your baggage forthwith."
Gratefully accepting Lady Elphinstone's invitation, the young Russian lost no time in penning the suggested note to the landlord; and then, as the first dinner bell had already rung, the trio separated to dress, a maid conducting the new guest to a room, and assisting her to prepare herself, as far as was possible, for the impending function.
When, about twenty minutes later, the party re-united in the drawing-room, Feodorovna—introduced to Sir Reginald, Colonel Lethbridge, and Captain Mildmay by Lady Elphinstone, who had made a point of being down early to receive her—created quite a little sensation by her refined and delicate loveliness, and her perfect yet unaffected manner; and when they were given to understand by Lady Elphinstone that the unexpected guest had a tale to unfold that would enlist their deepest sympathy, they were all impatience to get through the ordeal of dinner, so that they might be free to listen undisturbed to the story. Sir Reginald, of course, took the young stranger in to dinner, and soon contrived, by the polished courtesy and gentle kindliness of his manner, to win her entire confidence. The gentlemen that night sat over their wine only long enough to enable them to smoke a single cigarette each, and then hastened to the drawing-room, where they listened with breathless interest to the story, as told by von Schalckenberg, of Colonel Sziszkinski's wrongs; and when the history had come to an end, they were unanimous in their conviction that there was but one thing to be done—namely, to carry out the professor's scheme without a moment's unnecessary delay, especially as von Schalckenberg, in reply to a delicately veiled question by Lethbridge, declared himself ready to stake his life upon Colonel Sziszkinski's absolute loyalty and fidelity to the Tsar.
"But, of course," continued the professor, "loyalty and fidelity are not allowed to count in Russia; while Justice finds but few worshippers, at least among the nobility. There exists an unwritten law among the Russian nobles that they, as a class, are to stand by each other through thick and thin, under all circumstances and conditions, quite irrespective of any considerations as to what may be right or just; hence the stubborn tenacity with which Nihilism maintains its grip upon the middle and lower classes. If the 'Little Father' wishes to stamp out that terrible scourge of secret and deadly conspiracy which is the bane and menace of his existence, he must purge the Russian nobles of their present lust of cruelty and oppression, and must render it possible for every one of his subjects, from the highest to the lowest, to obtain absolute justice. When he has accomplished this herculean task, he may go where he will, unarmed, unguarded, and unhurt; but not until then."
"Meanwhile," remarked Sir Reginald, "until the consummation of that much-to-be-desired reform, wrong must either remain unrighted, or be righted by the only process which appears to be possible in 'Holy Russia'—namely, a resort to physical force. And so, my dear young lady," he continued laughingly, addressing himself to Feodorovna, "we three respectable and responsible Englishmen—to say nothing of our amiable friend, the professor, there—are about to become abductors and pirates, on behalf of your father—since there seems to be no help for it. But do not let that very trivial circumstance distress you in the least; we mean to deliver your father; and when we make up our minds to do a thing, we generally do it. And now, Professor, as to details. If I understand your scheme aright, our first step must be to kidnap your very estimable friend, Count Vasilovich?"
"Ach! do not call him my friend; he is no friend of mine!" exclaimed the professor, with such indignant energy as to provoke the whole party to hearty laughter, at which the worthy man first stared at them in amazement, and then, perceiving that he had allowed himself to be "drawn," joined heartily in the laugh against himself. "Yes," he continued, suddenly becoming grave again, "we must kidnap the count, for two reasons; first, because it is necessary that we should obtain the fullest and most complete information as to Colonel Sziszkinski's whereabouts and movements; and, secondly, because it would not satisfy me merely to release my friend. He has been beggared, rendered an outlaw in his own country—to which it will be impossible for him ever to return—and his career destroyed by this unscrupulous scoundrel, Vasilovich; and justice cries aloud for the punishment of such wickedness; therefore Vasilovich must be punished. Moreover, the mysterious fate which I have in store for him may possibly exercise a salutary influence upon such of his fellow scoundrels as happen to be aware of the wrong that he has wrought upon poor Sziszkinski; for I will make it a part of my business to leave behind me a statement to the effect that Count Vasilovich has been 'removed' as a punishment for his conduct to Colonel Sziszkinski."
"That is all right; such a statement may do good, while I cannot see that it is likely to do any harm, so we will prepare a conspicuous placard, worded to that effect, and will place it where it is certain that it will be found," remarked Sir Reginald, cheerfully. "There is one point, however, upon which I should like a little enlightenment, Professor; and that is as to the course you propose to pursue in order to obtain possession of Vasilovich's person in this awe-inspiringly secret fashion."
"I do not anticipate much difficulty as to that," answered the professor. "When I was in Saint Petersburg a year ago, Vasilovich held a post of responsibility at the War Office, and it was his habit to ride into Saint Petersburg from his chateau at Pargolovo in the morning, and out again at night, arriving home about seven o'clock, in time for dinner at eight. And I imagine we shall find that he does so still. The chateau stands in a park of considerable extent, and is approached by a drive nearly a mile and a half long, up which Vasilovich usually rides at a foot-pace. Now, at this time of the year, it will be quite dark in the park at seven o'clock, and nobody will then be likely to be out about the demesne. I know the place well, and happen to be aware of a spot, about midway between the chateau and the lodge gates, where the Flying Fish can be effectually concealed for the moment, close to the road, and near which it will be easy for us to secure our man and convey him on board the flying ship, where we will simply put him in irons and lock him up in the tank room; he will be perfectly safe there, without the power to do the slightest harm."
"And, having got him, how do you purpose to make him speak, Professor?" demanded Mildmay.
"I shall simply tell him what information it is that I require of him; and if he evinces any disinclination to speak, I shall add that he will be kept without food or drink until he communicates it," placidly answered the professor.
"And supposing that he should tell you a pack of lies?" suggested Lethbridge.
"Oh, he will not do that, I think," replied von Schalckenberg. "He is a cruel, unscrupulous, and absolutely selfish man, but, if I have read his character aright, we shall also find that he is far too much of a coward to attempt to deceive us."
"But what if he should?" persisted the colonel.
"In that case, as soon as I make the discovery that he has deceived me, I shall tell him that he will be kept without food or drink until Colonel Sziszkinski has been found and is actually in our hands," answered the professor, triumphantly.
"It appears to me," remarked Mildmay, reflectively, "that unless Count Vasilovich keeps his weather eye lifting, there is rather a rough time ahead of him."
"There is, in any case," observed von Schalckenberg, "but it will be no part of my plan to tell him so until I have obtained from him all the information that I require."
"Well," said Sir Reginald, "having secured our man, and compelled him to divulge all the information we require of him, what will be our next step?"
"We shall proceed forthwith to Odessa, and ascertain, first of all, whether the convict-ship has sailed," answered the professor. "If she has not, I shall make it my business to see her, and to take such particular notice of her name and appearance that I may be able to identify her again at sight; but if, as I anticipate, she has sailed, I shall find out, if possible, the date of her sailing, her name, rig, tonnage, and any other particulars that will help us to recognise her when we see her. If she has not sailed, it will be necessary for us to lie in wait for her either in the Black Sea or wherever else may be deemed a suitable spot at which to effect her capture; while, if she has sailed, we shall simply go in pursuit of her."
THE BEGINNING OF A STRANGE VOYAGE.
"Just so," remarked Sir Reginald. "And here," he continued, "it seems to me that we reach the most important point in the whole adventure. This convict-ship will, of course, carry a small detachment of troops as a guard over the convicts; do you think that we four are sufficient to capture a ship carrying a crew of, say, thirty or forty men, with probably, a like number of soldiers?"
The professor seemed to be rather taken aback at this question.
"It has not occurred to me that there will be any difficulty in the matter," he answered. "What do our military friends say?"
"Well," responded the colonel, "the task you propose to set us seems to be, at first sight, rather a tall order. Remember, we have thus far had no experience of the capabilities of the Flying Fish as a fighting ship; and, to tell you the truth, I have almost forgotten the details of her armament, and how it is worked."
"I have not," answered Mildmay. "She is fitted with a torpedo port for'ard, for firing what the professor called 'torpedo-shells'; two 10-inch breech-loading rifled guns, fired through ports in the dining-saloon, and six Maxim guns, fired from the upper deck, to say nothing of small-arms. Such an armament is ample for every occasion which is at all likely to arise; and if the professor will only furnish me with the particulars of which he has spoken, as to the sailing and so on of the ship, I will undertake to find and capture her. But I presume you are all fully aware that such capture will be an act of piracy?"
"Y-e-es," replied Sir Reginald, hesitatingly; "but thus far I have been influenced by the conviction that the end justifies the means. Still, if you, Mildmay, or you, Lethbridge, have any qualms of conscience—"
"'Nary a qualm,' as our cousins, the Yankees, would say," answered Mildmay, cheerfully; "only, remember this, we must take the whole onus and responsibility of the act upon our own shoulders; we must show no colours—unless you feel disposed to sport a 'Jolly Roger' for this occasion only. What I particularly mean is, that we must take care not to betray our nationality, and so involve Great Britain in a difficulty with Russia. So long as that contingency is avoided, I shall be ready to become a pirate of as deep a dye as you please."
"We will take whatever precautions you may deem necessary in that respect," answered Sir Reginald; "in fact, I thought it was quite understood by us all that every such precaution would be taken, or I would have especially mentioned the matter. And now, Professor, as to the disposal of Vasilovich—when we have caught him. Your idea, I believe, is to hand him over to the authorities aboard the convict-ship, in place of Colonel Sziszkinski; but will the authorities accept him, think you?"
"Yes," said the professor, "I believe they will. So long as they are able to account satisfactorily at Sakhalien for the full number of convicts placed in their charge, I do not think they will care whether one of them declares himself to be Count Vasilovich, or not; they will simply assign to him the number which Colonel Sziszkinski now bears, and that will end the matter. If not, we must maroon the fellow upon some spot from which it will be practically impossible for him to escape, as he is altogether too wicked a man to be permitted the opportunity to perpetrate further wrong."
"Oh, we will find a means of satisfactorily disposing of the fellow, never fear," rejoined Sir Reginald. "And now, our plan of campaign being complete, when do we start? To-night?"
"That is for you to say," answered the professor. "So far as the capture of Vasilovich is concerned, if we arrive within sight of his chateau by nightfall, or in time to berth the Flying Fish in his park with the last of the daylight, we shall be quite early enough. And if the weather happens to remain calm, as it is at present, we can accomplish the run from here to Saint Petersburg in eight hours; while, with a moderately fresh breeze against us, we can do the distance in about nine and a half hours. But we must not forget that Saint Petersburg time is two hours and five minutes fast on Greenwich time, and we must make our dispositions accordingly. Taking everything into consideration, I am of opinion that if we leave here to-morrow morning about seven o'clock, it will be early enough.
"There is, however, one other point to consider: I presume you will desire to attract as little attention as possible; in which event I would suggest that a start from here should be made, say, about two hours before daylight to-morrow morning, which will afford us time to make a long circular sweep in a north-easterly direction, clearing the British Isles before dawn. After that we shall almost certainly meet with weather which will enable us to conceal our movements by remaining all day above the lower cloud level, a mode of procedure which will possess the further recommendation of being advantageous to your daughter's health by keeping her in a dry, pure, bracing atmosphere."
"Such an arrangement would mean that we must all take up our quarters on board to-night," remarked Sir Reginald. "How would that suit your convenience, dear?" he inquired of Lady Olivia.
"Quite well," answered her ladyship. "Everything that Ida or I shall require is already on board, and, so far as we are concerned, it makes no difference whether we go on board immediately, or some time to-morrow. Only, if you should decide to accept Professor von Schalckenberg's suggestion, I should like to know soon, as it is nearly Ida's bedtime; and if we are to start early to-morrow morning, I will send her and Nurse on board at once."
And so it was presently arranged, the whole party making their way to the ship together, and there and then taking possession of their quarters.
It wanted a few minutes of four o'clock the next morning, when Professor von Schalckenberg rose from his couch and, wrapping himself in a gorgeous dressing-gown, made his way quietly to one of the luxurious bathrooms with which the Flying Fish was fitted, where he took his matutinal cold tub, returning, a quarter of an hour later, to his cabin, fresh and vigorous, to find that, according to orders, George, the chief steward, had already brought a cup of coffee for his delectation while dressing. And punctually at a quarter to five the professor might have been seen making his way, on slippered feet, into the pilot-house. Arrived there, he turned on an electric light of moderate power and, with the assistance of the illumination thus furnished, peered about him as he satisfied himself that everything was in perfect order. Then he laid his hand upon the crank of a large wheel within reach, and gave the wheel three or four turns, directing his gaze, meanwhile, upon two large dials which were attached, side by side, to the wall of the pilot-house. Each of these dials was provided with an index hand, both of which began to move almost simultaneously with the first movement of the large wheel by the professor. One of the dials was simply a very sensitive and accurate pressure gauge; the other was an instrument for registering the weight of the ship, or the pressure with which she bore upon the ground. The index hands of both dials were travelling backwards towards zero along their respective graduated arcs; and simultaneously with the registration by the pressure gauge of a pressure of six pounds—which indicated the air-pressure in the air-chambers of the ship—the other dial registered zero, thus indicating that the partial exhaustion of the air in the air-chambers had rendered the ship so buoyant that she was now deprived of weight and was upon the point of floating upward, balloon-like, in the air. Another moment, and the incredible was happening; the ship had become converted into a gigantic metallic balloon, and the professor, extinguishing the electric light which illuminated the interior of the pilot-house, peered out through one of the circular ports in the walls of the structure, to see by the starlight that the Flying Fish had already left the earth, and, in the still air, was rising in a perfectly horizontal position past the tops of the trees in the park.
"Good!" muttered the lonely scientist to himself. "Everything works just as sweetly as it did that night, six years ago, when we backed out of the building-shed on the banks of the Thames, and started upon our first memorable journey!"
He reversed the great wheel controlling the valve which admitted the vapour that drove the air out of the air-chambers of the great ship, thus creating a vacuum there by the subsequent and almost instant condensation of the vapour, and, softly made his way out on deck where, walking to the rail, he looked forth upon the landscape that was dimly widening out beneath him as the Flying Fish continued to float gently upward.
It was a beautifully fine, clear, starlit night, without the faintest suspicion of a cloud anywhere in the soft, velvety blue-black dome of the sky; and presently, when the professor's eyes had grown accustomed to the dim, mysterious radiance of the twinkling constellations, he was able to see the landscape steadily unfolding around him like a map, in a rapidly widening circle, as the great ship steadily attained an ever-increasing altitude in the breathless atmosphere. For some ten minutes the scientist remained thoughtfully leaning upon the rail, watching the noble expanse of park beneath him dwindle into a mere dark, insignificant blot upon the face of the country, dotted here and there with feebly twinkling lights, until the sleeping waters of the Channel came into view to the southward. Then he returned to the pilot-house, turned on the electric light once more, and glanced at the barometer. It registered a height of nearly six thousand feet above the sea-level. This seemed to satisfy the professor; for he opened a valve which admitted air into the hull, leaving it open until the mercury ceased to fall in the tube. Then he drew from his pocket a paper which he had obtained from Mildmay a few hours before, carefully studied for a few moments the instructions written thereon, and, refolding the paper, began to manipulate certain of the levers and valves by which he was surrounded. As he did so a gentle, scarcely perceptible thrill stirred the gigantic structure which bore him—a humming sound, low at first, but rapidly increasing in intensity, arose and came floating in through the pilot-house windows—all of which the professor thereupon closed— and, seizing the tiller, the lone watcher thrust it gently over, fixing his gaze meanwhile upon the illuminated compass card of the binnacle. Presently a certain point on the compass card floated round opposite the "lubber's mark," whereupon the professor pulled toward him a small lever upon which he had laid his hand, and two slender steel arms forthwith slid in through a slit in the side of the compass bowl, one on each side of a slender needle that projected up through the edge of the compass card. This ingenious piece of mechanism at once caused the ship to become self-steering. Then the professor gave three or four turns to a wheel which controlled the valve admitting vapour to the engine, throwing the valve wide open, whereupon the humming sound suddenly rose to a loud and rather high, but pleasing, note as the huge propeller whirled round at its full speed of one thousand revolutions per minute. At the same moment the professor noted the exact time by a clock that formed a portion of the complicated furniture of the pilot-house, and then, seating himself in a comfortable deck chair, he proceeded to make certain calculations upon a leaf of a notebook which he drew from his pocket. At the expiration of a period of twenty minutes the professor threw the self-steering apparatus out of gear for a moment, altered the course a trifle to the eastward, threw the self-steering apparatus into gear again, and waited another twenty minutes, when the same process was repeated a second time, and so on, a slight alteration of the ship's course being effected at intervals of twenty minutes. The professor was causing the ship to make the long, circular sweep of which he had spoken to Sir Reginald a few hours earlier.